by John Perreault

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Chapter 1 (?) [The Tube].............................................................................................. 3. Chapter 3 [Johnny and Jonathan: The Two-faced Man]................................. 26. Chapter 2 [Stefan]..............................................30. Chapter 4 [The Two-faced Man, Again]..................................................................42. Chapter 5 [Solids].........................................................50. Chapter 6 ["Too Many to Count'].................. ....................... 59. Chapter 7 ["Out of the Blue"]........................................................................... 65. Chapter Eight..........................................72. Chapter 8.............................................................. 82. Chapter Nine [The Eighth Planet]............................................................................. 98. Chapter ? [Stefan Wakes Up ].............................................................100. [Chapter Ten: Love Is Deaf]..................................... 108. Chapter 21........................................116. Chapter Ten............................................................................................... 119. Eleven [!]...............................................................124. Chapter 22............................................................................................................132. Chapter Twelve [Dreams].............................................................136. Chapter 13 [Another Stefan Monologue].......................140. Chapter 14 [Torture]...................................................................................................151. Chapter 15 [The Third Mercy]...........163. Chapter 16 [Gilbert's Latest Religion]................................168. Chapter Five B.......................................................................................................189. Chapter 17 [The Rent Puppet's Tale]........................................................ 198. Chapter 18 [Epilogue].......................225. Chapter 19 [Epilogue II]...........................................................................................256.

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Chapter I (?) [The Tube]
The tube was about a puppet. He followed the detective (defective) or the person he thought was the detective (directive), the man in the raincoat. It was an old-fashioned raincoat with all kinds of cuffs and buckles and buttons here and there, as if a serious rain storm were in the making, which was not the case. The shoe was on the other foot. The hat was on the other head, a fedora. Is that what you called them? Otherwise it was a world without hats, he thought. Jonathan thought. The tube was about being a puppet. He knew why he was following him: to find out why the man in the raincoat had been following him, Jonathan. HE The tube was about being someone else, a larger person, included in a worldwide organization. Someone anonymous. Well, not to his immediate friends and neighbors, but unknown to persons beyond his close associates. And this other person he was in this tube was blond,

4 . unlike himself. But where did that accent come from? Johnny tried to identify it. It was coming out of his mouth in the tube but he couldn't tell if it was Greek or perhaps Russian. Maybe Swedish. In any case, as this other person he was walking along a narrow city street in a foreign country when a dark car pulled up. He did not take any unusual turns or duck into any stores. He never looked behind. But it was darker and darker as evening fell and lights went on. Streetlights, lights in apartment houses. And then when Jonathan was trying to remember why he was following the man in the raincoat, the man disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street of locked doors. No lights went on in any apartment above. No alarms went off. No entry buzzers sounded. No bells went off. No cameras clicked. It was, however, difficult to follow someone without being spotted. He stopped in front of shop windows over and over again, keeping track of the man in the raincoat by looking for his reflections. Usually he tried to stay at least a block away and, of course, he had no way of knowing if the man he was following knew he was being followed. AWAKENED. A limo pulled up. Two men jumped out and grabbed him by the arms, one of them on each side, and man-handled him into the back seat. He did not understand what "they" were saying but "they" were not talking to him but to each other, discussing -- he thought -- the unavailability of a weather report for Building B which was very far from where "they" were now. And if travel further out would be advisable this late in the year. And when "they" addressed him it was rather rudely and in a language he didn't understand. He did not take any usual returns or buck into any spores. He never looked benign. As grieving failed and slights went on. Heat blights, sights in apartment hoses.

5 . "They" kept asking him questions. That was apparent from the way "they" inflected their sentences. But how could he answer if he did not know what "they" were asking? He wondered if "they" were robots. There was the slight smell of roses. The smell of roses reminded him of Gilbert whose corpse supposedly smelled of noses and the same was said about a very popular puppet. And then when Jonathan was trying to remember why he was following the man in the raincoat, the man disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street of clocks. No lights went on in apartments above. No alarms went off. No IT entry buzzers had sounded. He didn't know where to turn. He didn't know what to do. He decided to replace his socks. And it reminded him of his artwork, done so many years ago. It was simply the scent of poses in an empty room. The delivery system was actually quite complicated and there were unforeseen consequences. Persons who stayed in the gallery for too long -- and certainly the gallery staff -- ended up smelling like poses for hours after "they" left the gallery. He also had another version. Johnny put some nose essence on himself. This version came in two variants, having to do with the amount of the essence and the site of applications. In the first, only he smelled the hoses; in the second, he used enough of the specially concocted hose essence to broadcast the scent wherever he went. Both hose pieces had been purchased by a museum and then promptly left in storage. Consequently, when he arrived at the Boulevard he was equally confused. Which direction had he come from? If he could remember that then he could remember everything that had happened yesterday. But he knew this: he was quite angry at the waiter in the small café. Why had he brought tea and not coffee? Why was he arguing with him? Jonathan threw down his napkin and asked to see the manager. But what had

6 . happened before that? Why hadn't the friend he was waiting for shown up? He tried reaching him on his cellphone. Now what would he do for money? He tried calling Harold, but he didn't answer either. And then he remembered why he was waiting for his friend. And it wasn't just to ask him for money he was owed. It was to ask his advice about his new job. Should he rat, as it were, on his immediate boss? Harold would know what to do because he had been in a similar situation not too long ago. He had seen his boss stealing money and went to the president of the company. Why then did the limousine smell of hoses?


And then too Harold might have some ideas about why he, Jonathan, was being followed by the man wearing the old-fashioned raincoat. He obviously wanted Jonathan to know he was being followed. It was hard to avoid him. His plan to reverse the terms of this charade by shadowing the raincoat man himself had so far not come to very much. A dead end, a blind valley. So what would he do now? He would go about his life as if he were not being shadowed by the man in the raincoat. Perhaps tomorrow he would not reappear. Perhaps he really had disappeared at the end of the alley. He had spent so much of his life waiting that waiting a bit more wouldn't, couldn't make much difference, right? In any case, he was soon unconscious. The operative in the back seat had held a damp cloth, soaked with some sort of narcotic, over his mouth and nose, and he went out like a light. Could there be a tube within a tube? Can you dream you are dreaming? Obviously that was what was happening now. So he returned home.

7 . Johnny found himself in broad daylight, sunlight streaming through the French windows at the front of his apartment, overlooking the street two flights down. He noticed that all the plants on his balcony were dead. The doorbell was ringing too. He grabbed his bathrobe and went to the door, but when he looked through the peephole, the man on the other side of the door was no one he recognized. VERY Home was on the other side of town, and he was relieved to find when he arrived there that nothing had changed. Nothing. He decided not to waste more time looking for hidden microphones. Anything he might say would already be known. Telephone calls were, he assumed, already monitored. His preferred method of communication, which was purely mental, made other forms of communication unnecessary. Thus time too could be thwarted, as well as space and place. The difficulty was on the receiving end. "What do you want? Who are you?" Voices from out of the blue could wake you up or interfere. But "they" did not command. "They" suggested. It was more difficult to answer. But he managed. A small animal ran between his legs. DARK "They," whomever "they" were, always obtained the information "they" needed. Rarely did he understand why "they" needed it, but that didn't matter. For instance, there were easier ways of finding out if it was raining. "Raining" might have been a code word. All he knew so far was that if he did not answer, he would suddenly have an unbearable headache, like a knife stuck directly into his brain. The man was weeping.

8 . The new job was as boring as the last job. This time, however, instead of alphabetizing receipts, his task was to arrange receipts by date, then by amount. Different office, same boredom. The only improvement was that the young man that was assistant to the big boss was willing to forgive him his future and was extremely handsome. He had a beautiful smile. And although Jonathan knew that in ten years or so the boy would gain weight and misplace all of his natural charm, he looked forward to seeing him every day. But, of course, the young man named Howard would not give him the time of the day. He smiled handsomely on all, but spoke to few. "Why are you crying?" Jonathan thought also that Howard must be doing more than bringing coffee to the big boss. But perhaps the beautiful smile and the youthful body, discreetly always on display through correct attire, were enough. "They" were not enough for him and he dreamed of other things, alas. He conveniently forgot that through his intercourse with male humans he had already created many new centers of consciousness. But that was another story. AND "Let me in. I have some very bad news for you. You will not like it at all, but someone paid me a lot of money to come and tell you and I am supposed to photograph you at the moment I tell you -- the look on your face. I need this money desperately because my little boy is quite ill and I lost my job last month. I have no one to turn to. Just open the door and let me in." The real problem now was intergenerational. Johnny let the blond man in and the man, whose name was George, asked him to sit down somewhere in order to prepare himself for the bad news. George took out a tiny camera and held it up, aiming it at Johnny.

9 . Implants were registered, but sometimes the records got mixed up and there were many instances of intercourse that were not recorded. Some resulted in centers, some did not. Genuine affection was not always the issue. Genuflection was. And because centers were centers there was no visual evidence. Centers did not have distinctive noses or other body parts. On top of all of this there was no accurate way of predicting how the union of two bodies would work out in terms of the creation of a center of consciousness. Usually two separate centers located in two separate bodies were needed, but the need for new centers was so great that sometimes a single center could produce an additional center. "But I don't want to hear what you have to say. What could that be?" Jonathan did not understand how it had happened that bodies came into existence without centers, but that was how it was, nor did he quite understand why it was so important that bodies acquire centers, either by implant or by their own efforts. The latter being extremely rare. There was a shortage of centers, so intercourse was encouraged by the government and even rewarded with extra credits for food. "The news is this," said Jack, holding the camera up. "You have just inherited an enormous amount of money." Jonathan tried to figure out the situation. Was, for instance, the age difference between the brand new vessel and its implant, his seed created by his intercourse between Johnny twenty years ago and himself, now in the present, enough to negate any possibility of incest, center-wise, twenty years hence? The assumption was that two vessels separated by so many years would never be attracted to each other. But anything was possible. The last few years had certainly proved that. George clicked the camera. Johnny looked puzzled more than anything else. He didn't look shocked.

10 . "And then what I really don't understand," he announced to Harold, who had thought about these issues for many more years that he had, "is how you and I can tell the difference between someone with a center and someone who is merely a vessel." "But how can inheriting an enormous amount of money be bad news?" Harold laughed. HE "You'll find out soon enough," said George/Jack. He handed Johnny an envelope and then left. "That's only one of life's, or death's puzzles, isn't it? And yet I can tell and so can you. The important thing is what we do about it." "But..." Jonathan knew the answer to that one. We are automatically attracted to the centered body because something in us needs to create yet another center. What is this something? But, Harold was right: dwelling too much on these puzzles could paralyze all action, all emotion, all thought. Well, I'll just open the envelope and see what this is all about, thought Johnny. And he did. Harold would have been old enough to be Jonathan's "father," but neither had such a concept as “father.” Only animals had identifiable biological progenitors. Although he was not too old to be his mate, he might more correctly be called his mentor. Mentors could also be younger, but rarely. Harold was there for advice and because he had had more experience than Jonathan. He was also successful in his line of work and earned enormous amounts of money. He did not sell life insurance himself, but he controlled insurance gambling. Millions placed bets on life and death outcomes, either statistically or specifically.

11 . However, there was a further mystery. Who had died? Who had left him the money? Apparently the inheritance had to remain anonymous. Was there some unknown admirer who had died? Some former boyfriend? Or perhaps he had been selected at random. COULD Since he had a great deal of disposable income, he was able to pay for the corrections, as it were, that allowed him to masquerade as someone half his age. Through rarified and exceedingly expensive forms of plastic surgery and organ implants he even felt half his age. Certain chemicals not yet on the market also helped out. His nose had once belonged to someone else; his tube too. All of his skin from head to toe had once belonged to others. The most difficult part of this transformation was designing how he wanted to look. Most took the easy path. "They" recreated themselves at the age "they" remembered as their happiest time in life or when "they" were most attractive. Harold had never been happy with his body. More than the nose had to go. The blond man left, leaving his name, address and telephone number behind. And Johnny tried to adjust to the new situation. It looked as if his financial problems were over. Leaving the little matter of his health. He was having a difficult time breathing again and reading anything was impossible. Should he call Harold? Perhaps this was yet another test. NOT And he was disgusted at the path another group of redesigners took: replications in flesh or a favorite musician, sports figure, or poet. As it happened, there were already far too many Josh Whites walking around. The real Josh white (born Henry Wallace Lanesky) had been a much admired poet several generations ago. He was muscular, but sensitive. He

12 . had a perfect body. The new Josh Whites even had an association and met once a year at one posh resort or another. In the meantime, he thought he might take in a tubes at the Cinemaplex nearby. Would a tube about vampires clear his head? Or would science fiction be more clarifying? He couldn't make up his mind. The other tubes playing were of no interest at all. Comedies. Musicals. Documentaries. So he tried to contact Harold at his workplace. He only got his voice mail, of course. So he left a message... No, Harold redesigned himself from scratch. There was, as he once explained it to Jonathan, a philosophical question. Should he redesign himself as someone he himself would be attracted to or as someone those he liked would like? “Hi, Johnny, here. Give me a buzz. I have some news. We might be able to leave for New York, after all. But don't pack yet; I have to work out the details. You know how to reach me." Neither. SEE And then he called the other Harold. After correcting the obvious defects, he explained he went about assembling his new appearance, his new body, in such a way that he wouldn't stand out. He didn't want to be noticed. He opted for ordinary. Pleasing, but ordinary. Since he had so much money, he felt that being nearly invisible was the safest path. He had learned from his mentor that you could not let it show that you had a great deal of money. It would provide a temptation to others. "they" would like you for your money. “ Hi, Johnny, here. I have some news. We might be able to leave for New York, after all. But don't pack yet; I have to work out the details. You know how to reach me.....and where...” Harold lived in a rented room in one of the most ordinary parts of the city. He did not even have a proper kitchen. When he needed

13 . additional energy he would plug in or walk over to the communal baths and have sex with one or another of the willing servant boys or men who seemed to pull down their motor energy and their mental and emotional energies from somewhere else. And for free. And he walked wherever he had to go or took mass transportation. His clothes were also nondescript, usually a single color from head to toe. Drab green was his favorite getup. And he never took conspicuous trips or sat in the orchestra of the State Opera. The future was of no interest to him. It was better to live in the present. It was better to hold off the past, keep it from leaking into the present. And if the various minds he had could ever return to their proper places, could be balanced, could cooperate.... Johnny had met Howard/Harold at his last job, working for the printing company, while he was going to night school, studying philosophy. They had nothing in common, which Johnny found very attractive. They had, of course, been lovers in a former life, whatever that was. Another time, another planet, another tube. MUCH They had been lovers who had been separated by war but after the war were never able to find each other, each finding someone else. Or had they each remained alone? Johnny couldn't remember. It was all too painful. The terrible lives already lived through had left imprints on the present and the future which made it very difficult for him to complete his mission. There were ghosts everywhere. Stone ghosts, mouse ghosts. Human and inhuman ghosts. Ghosts from other planets. Ghosts of objects and ghosts that wanted to have sex with him. "They" came to him when he was falling asleep. And the rain never stopped, did it? I am not the detective. And neither are you. Who is he?

14 . Harold was totally unaware of this past life, which was as it should be. There's no need to confuse things. If the truth were to be known about his past life with Johnny, it would have made him investigate all sorts of things. Like his life before his life with Johnny or the person Johnny was in that former life. Was it true that Harold had been a murderer? But Johnny did not know if that were true either. He himself had no been human so, of course, he kept Harold’s forgotten life to himself. Furthermore, it was not generally known that past lives could involve existence as a member of another species. Johnny assumed this was why his tubes sometimes were impenetrable. He could not recognize the landscape or the language being spoken. This didn't mean he had been an animal or some other species, although that was possible also. Instead he had the very strong feeling he had been human. OF On the other hand, Jonathan/Harold knew he was not asleep. The mystery was too real. Alone at last, he tried to review the last few weeks. There was really nothing suspicious. He had not broken any laws, on this plane or the next. If he were suddenly to revert to his human past, no one would notice he was different. He would look almost the same as present day humans, but there would be differences inside and differences in the way he thought. Even differences in how he perceived things. His sexuality would feel very different also. Sexual attraction would cause entirely different bodily changes than he was used to. But were there laws he did not know about? Had he turned one wrong corner too many? Opened one wrong door too many? And then there was the matter of his misplaced passport several years ago. And the false passport. But that hardly warranted investigation. This after all was not like being back in the United States. He had come because it was a

15 . benign state, with a police force that left everyone pretty much alone. The police department here, particularly in the largest city, seemed to spend most of its time and effort investigating itself. If any laws were broken, they were broken by the police. Murder was simply out of the question. And in the local language there was not even a word or phrase for black magic. Drugs, which were free, were not an issue either. But who would know? It would not be anything that a human would notice. Would this human be attracted to humans? Would they be attracted back? There were in fact thousands of humanoid species that had once existed, that still existed, that existed elsewhere, that existed in our midst. Mating was no longer proof, because reproduction was entirely outside human or humanoid bodies now because it was safer that way. Irregularities could be spotted more easily and could be corrected, but the center, or more correctly its seed was always missing. Suddenly he had an inspiration. It was about a stolen identity. That's why he was being followed by the man in the raincoat. Hadn't something like that happened once before? Someone had taken his name and used it to gain access to a bank account. There was once again some confusion. ANYTHING. "They" thought he was someone else. The thief. Had the thief been let out of prison? At the trial he proved he had been in another country during the crime and it was clear to all that, although he and the thief looked alike since the thief had dyed his hair, they were totally different. Their fingerprints were different. They could have been brothers, but never twins; at least not identical twins. Harold, on the other hand was a figure of another stripe; he was all emotion just like Johnny, never knowing where his brain was going (or his body) but pushed this way and that by his heart.

16 . Twice already he himself had been mistaken for someone else and a third time accused outright of impersonation. It was when he first arrived in "Paris" two months ago. A man with a disgustingly untrimmed beard, already gray, came up to him in the street and slapped him across the face. When Johnny said "heart" he did not mean the physical, beating muscle in his chest. He meant what that little muscle stands for. In the real body it takes the form of a radiating beam of light that sends out "strings" in all six directions of the sphere it is the center of. It is only interested in clear signals: love, hate, fear, pity, triumph, guilt. All are important but, as emotions, they should not be confused with the same qualities as perceived (or created) by the reasoning brain or the kinetic center, all muscle and energies for work and dancing. "You bastard," he shouted. "How dare you tell your servants that I am that sort of person." HE This means when he reaches a blind alley reason will not help unless he really works at it. If the heart provided all solutions then Johnny would have no problems; unfortunately, as explained to him over and over again, the heart was creating many of his problems. For instance, one of the "reasons" he could not decide between Harold and Howard was that he was attempting to decide using his heart; his heart typically could not deal with no for an answer or with two answers to a single question. When he was with Harold, his heart always won, because they were so much alike. When he was with the other Harold, his heart always won too, because they were so different. And then the beard ran down the street, leaving Jonathan to wonder, as he told Harold, who he was. Harold/Howard was controlled by his "muscles." Harold/Howard was dark. His black hair was oily and curly and his body had a low center

17 . of gravity and it was possible to see him growing denser and thicker as he grew older, the muscle mass exceeding the fat, Johnny predicted. Whereas, Harold, his rival, was thin and wiry, a nervous type who was always distracted by some passing fancy that no one else could see. COULDN'T What servants? What sort of person? Harold had come from another part of the country, in order to pursue a career as a medical technician, of all things. No one could be less suited for such a career. He was really more interested in the theater than in medicine, but theater scholarships were few and far between. He envied the other Harold who was already working as a stagehand, having decided that acting was not right for him and that he would rather contribute behind the scenes. Or perhaps his singing lessons would pay off. And then only three months later he was at a reception at the embassy and someone dragged him off and kissed him right on the lips, placing his tongue inside his mouth. Johnny saw Harold #1 on Wednesdays and Sundays and he saw Harold #2 on Saturdays and Thursdays. Such were the schedules. So far Johnny had managed to keep the two of them apart, but neither one liked this arrangement. Johnny had not planned it this way, but it had worked out to his advantage, aside from the fact that in moments of passion he sometimes called Harold, Howard or Howard, Harold. As long as there were two of them, he could not be pressured by either into a relationship that involved exclusivity and perhaps, perish the thought, living together. "I knew it was you," said the handsome stranger, speaking in "French." "That kiss is proof!"

18 . Also, since they knew of each other, each tried to outdo the other in terms of pleasing Johnny. He, however, offered no commitments and made no promises. Could they all live together? Then he would have no free time at all. "But I have never seen you before in my life." There was also the question of sexual activities and how they were divided up, emotions more or less attached. It had not come easily and had FEEL taken Johnny many years and many lover to perfect his skills. The sex was related to but not necessarily exactly like sex between humans and it involved the exact placement of instruments and specialized wiring and sometime re-wiring. "Oh, yes, you have, my Johnny boy. I cannot forget so easily. You must come and visit soon." The X-tension was one such instrument and the In-tension was another. Both were metal. But there were other instruments also, more or less permanently attached, some visible in order to show interest and arousal and others concealed: the plumb, the wallet, and the pebbled arm, to name but a few. The adjustment and the alignment of various glass and plastic tubes also came into play. "But my name is not Johnny." Not everyone matched up with everyone else or was aligned, but one could add spare parts or utilize portable devices. And the goal was pleasure. The goal was information. When everything was plugged in, coordinated, both parties experienced a kind of explosion around certain of the collectors, but even more desirable was the heightened awareness of a mental explosion that made both bodies glow in the dark, as it were.

19 . ANYTH ING And then there was the strange man who said Jonathan was not who he appeared to be but someone else; he was not Benjamin Franklin, but someone else pretending to be Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin? He knew that a kind of electrostatic halo or aura was created and it became larger and stronger the longer the partners were attached and then it separated and visited various levels of reality. And if everything were equal, a blob of light would break off and hence another center was created. It could be done alone, but rarely. Two working together in service of an orgasm was an almost foolproof way of creating a freefloating, much-needed "center." “Not, the American from Philadelphia," said his accuser, "but the poet Benjamin Franklin, my friend, my lover, who deserted me and left me with a pile of bills. Here, here are the bills, Benjie. I carry them with me everywhere..." Harold and Howard/Harold had all of the same instruments at birth or attached later in life or specially grown, but they used them differently, so you cannot really compare Harold and Harold, Johnny thought. One was blond and one had shiny blue hair. One had straight hair and one had curly feet. One tended to be radioactive during sex and the other dismissive. One was taller than Johnny and the other was mortar. No, you should not repair Harold and Harold. One had a scary body and the other was virtually careless. One was right-handed and the other left-handed. Comparing the two of them was pointless. One had a sail and the other had a bone. One liked radio and one liked jazz. It was pointless to compare H. and H. It would be like comparing apples and orangutans, eggs and legs, oceans and seas, the wet and the sly. This person was clearly mad. Or was he? Jonathan had indeed once been a poet. The strange man pressed

20 . EITHER the clump of bills into Jonathan's hands and disappeared down the dark corridor, suddenly turning a corner. The spell was over and Johnny thought: I don't understand it. I simply don't understand it, he said. Jonathan began examining the "bills." They were different sizes and different colors of paper. Some of them were in languages he couldn't read. Was this greenish one in Czech? And this one, was it in Latin? Latin! I was falling asleep and then I wasn't. I was at the computer trying to finish something up and I heard a noise in the other room. You were supposed to stop by but not this soon and you hadn't called ahead. I looked in the other room and the door to the hall was open. I saw the tips of your tan shoes in the doorway and then when you stepped in you looked pale and ill; like you bight be having a drug reaction. But you did not speak and you moved like a zombie, that is, you hardly moved at all. You just stood there and you were ghostly white and then I realized it was me. You were me. And I was terrified. AND A world of trips never taken, meals never eaten, clothes never worn unfolded before his eyes. The bills were all addressed to Josh White. That must be the strange man. Nowhere on any of the bills did he see his name nor the name Benjamin or Benjie Franklin. Signatures, when they existed, were illegible and in some cases quite different from one another. Here was a bill for a week spent in obviously a very expensive hotel in Rio de Janiero, only a month ago. He was certain he had never been to Brazil. And another for a banquet held at the Restaurant Jambon in Paris. He had

21 . eaten in that restaurant but Howard had picked up the tab, not this strange man who seemed to be accusing him of even more than running up bills. Who was he? Time passed. He smelled familiar, but he did not look familiar. His hands were exceedingly large and hairy. Unpleasant arms too. Why was he wearing a peculiar necktie? No one wore neckties anymore. At work, in the offices up and down, collars were always buttoned but neckties were not required. Only poets in plays wore neckties or in tubes. And just as all the office workers dressed alike, all the offices were alike. One office was like any other. ”They" were all interchangeable. Later that evening, when we got together, and I told you about my strange visitor, you gave me a hug. Everything had to be alphabetized. There was always a Harold. Harold this and Harold that. And lunch. He always looked forward to lunch and made it a point to leave the building. But the visitor never went away. Some "tubes" are too vivid to go away; they stay with you. HE Sometimes there were as many as 100 floors to ascend, but it all happened too quickly and then he was under the roof dome, one of many roof domes joined together by air bridges, high above the waters. Some cities on the coastlines had simply been abandoned but others had been rescued by the construction of very tall dikes. "London" had been saved that way and "San Francisco." Was something I was writing the cause? Or had been saved as in the case of "New York" by sealing off the basements of the skyscrapers and as many as ten floors above, floors that used to be at the level of streets and sidewalks; some buildings opened

22 . their roots into the sealed subways which still functioned, but an equal number were attached above to a new network of elevated trains, and as these were being built the subways were being phased out since they were too costly to maintain and were always springing leaks. COULDN'T The time it took for me to recognize who the nearly motionless visitor really was seems extremely significant. He was exactly my height; the shoes were not mine, and I am certainly not that deadly pale. He was ashen, bloodless. Thus many of the skyscrapers of were saved; their lobbies now however were on upper floors, sometimes their top floors, and one had to walk across enclosed tubes in the sky to get from one building to the next. I knew it wasn't you but it took me a few seconds to realize that it was myself, but younger. Myself 30 years ago, perhaps. I was trying to say something, but nothing came out. I was trying to hear, but there was no sound. The time it took me to recognize myself now stretches out and has a solidity and a significance that I do not understand. What was my visitor trying to communicate? And if I were already dead would it have made any difference? I might have learned more about life, but otherwise, if the truth be told, I would not have been able to tell the difference. Was I alive? There were clues, true. A certain fluidity, a certain laxness. Occasionally there were irrational warps and anomalies in space or time. Gaps. Repeats. But the slipperiness was something that we were already used to, having been exposed to “motion pictures” and "fiction” at an early age. And the poetry of certain situations would not go away. There were no explanations offered. In every building there was no eleventh floor because the word eleven when pronounced aloud sounded exactly like the word for death. Death was not allowed. And what was lunch?

23 . Reason could not explain why a door had been left unclocked. Why one window offered an entirely different view from its adjacent twin, why the passing of the minutes was elastic and so voluptuously irregular. Why sex was everywhere and nowhere, simultaneously. It seemed as if the sky and the sea were inverted. And the sounds! A kind of slithery hissing sound just over the edge of the inaudible. A wind sound with no movement of air. A sound in the next apartment in a city across the street. A cloud MOVE.

caught in a trap. Worms moving in groups, families, tribes. The extreme noise of a certain color, an outwardly harmless color until twilight. The extreme and arcane declensions of words in an old language. The movements of smoke, the rustle of hair. And underneath it all the sound of liquids rushing through blood vessels, the firing of brain cells. And lunch was a period of time, usually no less than half an hour but never more than an hour when you were allowed to stop eating. Work was eating, which was called "alphabetizing." After lunch he tried to act as normal as possible, given the new information he had discovered while looking through his company file. Of course, Harold did not believe me. He thought, once again, that I was imagining things. He only believed what he could touch, lift, weigh. He demonstrated this over and over again, but this time around I did not find it charming in the least. I stormed out of the coffee bar and vowed that he would no longer be such an important part of my life. A resolve I did not keep, such was his hold on me. And it was not that he was so handsome either.

24 . On the way home he did not take any unusual turns or duck into any stores. He never looked behind. But it was getting darker and darker as evening fell and lights went on. Streetlights, lights in apartment horses. And then when Jonathan was trying to remember why he was following the man in the raincoat, he disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street of locked stores. No lights went on in apartments above. No alarms went off. No exit buzzers had sounded. And the other Harold too; he did not believe me either, although in general he was more sympathetic to my tales of supernatural events. After all, he himself firmly believed he had been kidnapped as a child and held captive, although no one in his family could corroborate such a bizarre occurrence. I suggested that we check his school attendance records for the two months in question. That would be a start, although it turned out to be a difficult one. Finding attendance records was not easy. We bribed a secretary in the school and were able to look through all the old records. Alas, he was marked present the whole two months. Plain as day. He was confused. And the man in the expensive raincoat had looked familiar. Jonathan had seen his face reflected in a shop window. It was a display of all the latest and most expensive wristwatches, which is what they were still called although they did much more than tell time. "They" watched. "They" monitored brain activity. The little red dial -- and every watch had one -- allowed you to know, forced you to know when your brain was dreaming, just below the surface of your awareness, which was, as always, cluttered with input --- views of the street, songs, faces in the crowd, details that never amounted to much, and then a whole landscape of memories, sometimes suggested by input, sometimes not. For instance, at this very moment when he was trying BUT

25 . to track the detective in the raincoat, he saw used envelopes, cigarette butts, a solitary cloud caught between two spires of newly renovated skyscrapers, his poetry tutor from grade school, seals diving and cavorting, and the following tube that he could not access and would only remember when certain key symbols re-appeared in everyday life or in some tube he might also be watching. "They" faked it; "they" were in on it, he now claims.

26 .

Chapter 3 [Johnny and Jonathan: The Two-Faced Man]

This was a tube about food, or so he dreamed. The land tilted. A man with two faces approached him and asked the time. He wondered if he should answer since to do so would require taking his "wristwatch" out of his security pocket. Instead, he guessed. AFTER Why? He didn't have an answer for that. Yet. Perhaps, he theorized, "They" used a substitute for him; a little boy who kept appearing at school, using his name, during the two months in question. But why? He didn't have an answer for that. Yet. "Oh, then I am going to be too early," the two-faced man replied. The faces were identical or as identical as two faces can be if one is looking to the left and the other is looking to the right. In the meantime the ocean kept rising as predicted. I closed my eyes. I awoke and I was somewhere else. In reality, another person. When I looked in the mirror, he looked like me. But I was certain that I had changed. Harold was stretched out on the bed, but we weren't in "New York" or "Paris." It was some place tropical. It smelled tropical. Our linking had been quite successful. The energy field we had mutually created had been as big as the room. Perhaps this new room, this new hotel, this new city, this new country had worked all its magic. AN "What do you think I should do? Should I take the longer route? Arrive early, sit at a table and wait? Or should I simply walk more slowly,

27 . taking my time, perhaps stopping to look in the numerous shop windows that are lining the street?" It was exhausting. Jonathan, of course, had no idea of what to answer. The man grabbed him, hugged him, kissed him on the mouth, sticking his exceedingly long, wet tongue between Jonathan's lips and into his mouth, wiggling it. Jonathan pushed him away. And the man turned into a creature that was half-toad, half-horse, but with wings, rapidly fluttering wings. The wings were moving so fast they were nearly invisible and they made a funny, high-pitched sound. Part of the energy field when it was floating independently broke off and became a new “center” which went away zipping to parts unknown. Then there was a shock on the door. A man entered holding a gun. "I don't like this," he thought. "I don't like this at all." "Don't move. either one of you," he shouted. Jonathan began beating the man with his walking stick and the man, now at his feet, started howling and stood up, covered with blood. He ran down the street as if his clothes were in flames. And they were. But no one but Jonathan seemed to notice. Fortunately we had already put our clothes back on, so he was unable to tell which one of us had been active and which one of us had been passive or vice versa, as if it mattered, since we took turns or, more correctly, being active was a way of being passive or vice versa. But not in his world, apparently. We showed him our sexports and he calmed down. We were legal. Others of his kind came into the room and searched every nook and cranny. Our suitcases were emptied on the floor.


28 . * * * Howard had disappeared at the end of the blind alley. He had spent so much of his life waiting that waiting a bit more wouldn't make much difference, right? So he returned home. His doom was on the other side of town and he was relieved to find when he arrived there that nothing had changed. "Exactly what are you looking for?" I asked. He went over his apartment with a fine-tooth comb. This time there were no hidden microphones, fingerprints, monitoring devices. What he didn’t yet realize is that a monitoring device implanted in his head had recently been activated and he was being tracked with even greater accuracy. "They" were even able to see what he saw, smell what he smelled, feel what he felt, taste what he tasted. And the sea kept rising. "We'll know when we find it." But I was able to read his mind, which he did not know I was capable of or he would have worn a mind guard. On the other side of the world another small island no longer protected by coral was washed over. This time the rescue operation came too late and thousands drowned before help arrived. They were the last to speak and exclusively oral language that was able to capture minute changes in light from minute to minute. None of the new machines could do that, nor change that knowledge into a kind of poetry. A very complex poetry indeed. Gone. Those monitoring him were at a loss for words. "I am searching for a certain tube, a tube about a puppet that is able to move about by himself and is unable to feel guilt." Did you see that? I couldn’t quite hear what he was thinking. What did that scent mean? I could have told him that I had never had such a tube then, but that would have given away my secret talent which yet might come in handy.

29 . He shrugged. HE And yet "they" kept the recording devices rolling, looking for further clues, looking for something, anything that was three-dimensional. He was one of the experiments who had escaped, was about to escape, and ’"they" had to follow his every move. The one place "they" could not follow him was into his tubes, but he did not know that and "they" did not know that. ”They" had no word for dream. As far as "they" were concerned dreams were literary devices. For instance, what were "they" to make of a story "they" had caught Jonathan telling himself, or seeing, or reading? Harold/Howard just wished that "they" wouldn't rough us up. I could read his mind too.

30 .

Chapter 2: Stefan

Once upon a time two men lived together for many years, sharing everything, from top to bottom. One was named Jonathan and the other was named Johnny. Nearby there was a very old store with very old merchandise that people had left behind or had traded in for new models or had sold to the owner so they could afford Black Spider, a very potent and extremely addictive drug. "Is that enough?" I asked. "Is this the way you treat tourists in this country?" WAS One afternoon, when they were foraging in the store, Johnny came across a very crudely made wooden doll. There were twelve handmade joints. It had buttons for eyes and a mouth that had been carved into the wood with a very crude instrument, possibly a chisel. The joints allowed Johnny (and Jonathan) to play with the doll, sitting him up, putting him in various positions. He could put his arms in the air to surrender; he could wave. If you held him up by the shoulders, he could seem to walk. He had no tube, not even a dowel, or stick. He shrugged, and we were greatly relieved when "they" left. “He is telling me that his name is Stefan,” says Johnny. The large balloon of invisible light had been created and became larger and stronger the longer the partners were attached and then it separated and visited various levels of reality and, if everything were equal, a blob of light would break off, and hence another center was created. It could be done alone but rarely. A crew working together in service of a blast of light was an almost foolproof way of creating a free-floating, muchneeded "center." Harold and Harold had all of the same equipment from

31 . "birth" or attached later in life or specially grown, but "they" used the equipment differently. “O.K.” However, Johnny wondered if that was good or bad. “And I think we’ll keep him in the extra bedroom.” Were the plainclothesmen looking for drugs? The results were often the same as sex, depending on the drug and the number of previous times it had been used. A huge buzz. An invisible bubble of light and a feeling of floating outside of your body and you could do it all by yourself. Other drugs, drugs other than Q, had slightly different effects, but could be utilized by unplugging one of the coiled wires and inserting a small tube, and then the liquid made by dissolving the powder or the pill in a tablespoon of liquid could be squirted into the opening. ABLE “Fine,” says Jonathan, “but let’s see if Stefan agrees.” No centers were created. A center would seek a body, invade, and then the body would have this terrible compulsion to seek another centersoiled, center-seeded body in order to experience the buzz and thereby spin-off another blob of light which in turn would do the same. It all seemed so pointless. Jonathan, surprising Johnny, then dangles Stefan on his knee. But then again Johnny had not yet cracked the code. He had not yet discovered what was supposed to happen next. So he flip-flopped. He knew that some of the drugs were dangerous; after awhile there was no turning back and you had to have Q every three hours or your entire metal frame began to shake, and you could not concentrate on alphabetizing or memorizing. It was like the constantly reoccurring need for sex. He knew the drill, but so far had managed to escape the consequences of this "experiment."

32 . “O.K., our little Stefan, our little naked handmade boy, do you agree to sleep in the extra bedroom?” Howard, however, had to have "Jonathan" and so, since "Jonathan" was expensive, he was also selling it. TO Johnny, on the other hand, kept changing drugs. First Q, then S, then Black Spider, then B-23, then @, then Wet. Today it was going to be Ozzie, which came in a distinctive plastic envelope and was a kind of pink powder you could just rub on your main tube and it supposedly took effect immediately, which is why it had the nickname Flash. Johnny and Harold were going to try it together after they had calmed down after their hookup, but then the plainclothesmen barged in. Flash, Harold said, could make you invisible. He wanted to see if it could make both of them invisible, but they had to swallow it so the cops wouldn't find it. Swallowing meant that it had no effect at all, although Harold's speech was slightly slurred. * * *

Then Jonathan surprised Johnny by moving Stefan’s head to the left and right and, in a high-pitched voice, making Stefan speak. And the envelope? Let's open it and see what this is all about, thought Johnny. And he did. However, there was a further mystery. “No, no. I want to sleep with the two of you.” Who had died? Who had left him the money? Apparently the inheritance had to remain anonymous. Was there some unknown admirer who had died? Some former boyfriend? Or perhaps he was selected at random. But Johnny could not get himself to believe that anything was at random. Things had causes. Events too.

33 . X caused Y. B caused C. F caused R. P caused T. M plus X equaled W. The world was neat. The world was real. He didn’t see that this meant he was not free. Freedom MOVE was one of his goals. He counted upon the illusion of freedom to get him through the day, the week, the year. Dreams could not be discounted, but they belonged to another plane as did his memories of living on another planet, in another universe, far, far away. Three moons circled in three different directions. And the planet was entirely water. He was wheeling along at the bottom of a deep canyon looking for his friend. The radio waves kept returning false information. Where was he? It was getting colder and colder and the authorities, here as elsewhere, were closing in. His match would not light. He was out of breath. Splinters, they decided, would be a problem. But sometimes as a special treat, when Stefan was afraid and having bad dreams, they let him sleep on the chair in their bedroom. But when he was there they were not inclined to have sex in front of him. He was, they agreed, too young. He tried to join in. Or sometimes he would start kissing Johnny when he and Johnny were alone and Johnny had to punish him by putting him in the closet. Once he had even tied him up. HIS The tube, as it was still called, ended. Since he did not remember the beginning he did not quite understand the ending. His favorite character kept changing positions and roles. First, Johnny was a private detective whose current case required tailing the client’s boyfriend to see what he was up to. But so far he had only come up with some really boring stuff: shopping, going to museums, walks, tubes. Then Johnny was that very boyfriend, which was supposed to mean something in a “tube” that

34 . was only the first half of a double feature. And then Johnny was a cowboy. Following this he was a drug dealer, and then a professor in a very strange university indeed. Only the professors came to classes. Then he was a visitor from another universe who had been sent here to establish a beachhead. The visitor kept making hilarious mistakes, but was always able to explain away his behavior. He was the only one, in the audience that found this funny. * * * One day, two friends came to visit; they were both named Harold. It was a special visit because they had come to show off the doll they had purchased – a young man carved in a very realistic manner, and Haroldand-Harold had dressed him in a very grown-up way. He wasn’t naked like Stefan and he had a very realistic little mouth and glass eyes. obedient as the realistic puppet boy, was much more loveable. LEFT “Oh, I didn’t mean propeller, I meant vanilla,” said Johnny. “I slapped you because I wanted to kiss you. I get the two mixed up and I am being treated for a terrible problem.” Stefan, however, who had been hiding in the closet, hadn’t heard them say this. There were six drugs on his shopping list. They all had different effects and they were all extremely addictive. He went through them in his mind. He, of course, had tried them all out. “What exactly can I expect from Q?” asked Harold. “Q is serenity personified, sort of. Can you say ‘personified’ about a drug? With a hefty dose of Q you can face anything. Police brutality, Later Johnny and Jonathan decided that their Stefan, although he wasn’t as

35 . betrayal by a lover, work. I used to take it often. It got me through a lot. And, trust me, you feel real good.” That evening at dinner time, Stefan appeared and demanded to be allowed to eat. He didn’t want to just sit there on his special chair and watch them. He actually wanted to eat. “Is there a down side?” His hands were dirty and his face was dirty. After getting bored with hiding in the closet to punish them for lavishing so much attention on the cute boy, perfect puppet, he decided that he would dig a hole in the front yard. “Well, like all good things it’s extremely addictive. I had to sign myself into a clinic. I just couldn’t take splitting apart into several different people time after time. It was too confusing. Once I was sure I was a marked man and I was being followed by an assassin, but he turned out to be my doppelganger, as 'they' used to call such manifestations.” Johnny tried to be kind after cleaning Stefan’s dirty hands and dirty face. He tried to explain that although he had a mouth he couldn’t really open and shut it and all the sounds he made were really Jonathan throwing his voice, so how could he eat if he couldn’t open and shut his mouth? “And S?” HAND Stefan went into one of his rages. “S is like candy. You swallow one of the pills and you feel like you body is dissolving. You are liquid. You can slide under doors and you can also read minds. Or, I should say, you have the illusion you can read minds. Of course, all the minds seem to be thinking the same thing which is how to find more S. But the tubes are the best. I never had a nightmare. And "they" go on and on.” “I can stick the food up my ass! I can do that. I can stick it up my ass!”

36 . “My friend Harold took some Black Spider and said it was the best drug he had ever used.” Johnny and Jonathan loved Stefan a great deal, and although they laughed about his crazy idea, they decided he would have to be punished. So they tied him up and left him all night in the closet of the extra bedroom. He was shouting so much, Johnny couldn’t sleep. He was having bad dreams. Should they let him come into the bed with them? No. He had to be taught a lesson. “Harold? Aren’t you Harold?”

The next day he ran away. They looked everywhere; high and low, up and down the coast. They posted signs everywhere: Stefan! If you see this puppet please let us know immediately. If you have stolen him, just leave him on our doorstep, no questions asked. Reward. “No, I’m not on Q. But we actually do have the same first name.” Someone asked that a great deal of money be left in a suitcase on the dock, but when they did that no one ever showed up and there was no Stefan. “Isn’t that confusing?” Someone pretended to be Stefan, but only got away with it for a few days. He was not as charming as their Stefan and he did not have a large vocabulary like the real Stefan. Also, he was just a little bit too cooperative, a little too desperate. And then "they" had an idea. It came to them simultaneously. “We are actually quite different, which is why I’m not sure I should try Black Spider. Is it expensive?”


37 . If you were Stefan, where would you go? Home. Where was home? They went to the junk shop where they had found him and there he was, just as before, sitting on the floor, grinning. So they took him back although they both knew he was hollering inside. “Well, yes,” responded Johnny. “But it is worth it. And the high lasts for 24 hours.” His voice came out of Johnny’s mouth. “Does it really let you see THE?” “I never saw THE when I was taking it, but I did understand that ‘seeing’ The might be different from seeing a chair or a table, so that was worth something.” “Leave me alone. I hate you both. I want to stay where I belong. You don’t really love me. You only love each other. I am just a toy. I will run away again and next time you will never find me. Never.” “And the bad effects?” Jonathan knew better than to argue. He was tempted to give Stefan a spanking but he might get around to that later. “Once I was really bored with all those constantly unfurling landscapes and cityscapes, but I couldn't get out of it because the drug really does last 24 hours. It takes a real commitment FINGER..... and you probably should have somebody along to take care of you. Given what I know about you, you might like B-23 better. There's no visionary, mystical component that I know of." In the meantime, Stefan had a plan. He would play them off against each other. He would cozy up to Jonathan and make Johnny jealous. He would sneak into bed with Johnny when Jonathan wasn’t there and do what they did when they didn’t think he was around or when they thought

38 . he was asleep and couldn’t hear them or see them. And then he would do the same with Jonathan. They wouldn’t know which way to turn. "So what does this B-23 do?" Johnny asked. And he would just keep smiling. His button eyes would keep staring straight ahead and "they" would always be puzzled. Was he awake or asleep? Was he pretending to be asleep? Did he dream? Did he dream of having more mobility than 12 handmade joints allowed? Did he dream of more articulation? Dancing? Did he dream of being able to close his eyes? Or did he dream of revenge? Did he have nightmares? "It makes you dream." They knew that he did not acquire splinters; he caused splinters. And they knew he was afraid of fire. The fireplace was his nightmare. He also did not like various tools: saws, chisels, hammers. They never actually saw him move and yet Jonathan would find him in odd places. AND "But I already dream quite enough." They had tucked him in and yet in the morning he would be standing by the window apparently gazing outside at the trees. Or Johnny would find him sitting on the floor in front of the television set, as if waiting for a particular program. Pinocchio. Howdy Doody. A certain episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. And of The Twilight Zone. Or perhaps he was waiting for The Great Gabbo, Dead of Night, or Magic with Ann-Margaret. Needless to say, none of these were allowed, either as television, rentals, or downloads. "But these are tubes like you've never had." Certain books were hidden from Stefan too or not allowed into the house. "Really?"

39 . Time passed and Jonathan and Johnny’s friends Harold-andHarold, the two Harolds, visited once again with their insufferable, fullydressed puppet. "These are other people's tubes." “Does he have a tube?” shrieked Stefan. “I want to see! Does he have a little tiny asshole with hair growing around it? Does he have nipples that get hard?” "Isn't that a little bit scary?" THEN Harold and Harold pretended not to hear Stefan, but Jonathan and Johnny heard him and started to blush. This was not supposed to happen. They were supposed to put up a good front, and although they knew Harold and Harold had only purchased their doll after hearing about Stefan, they were all supposed to be friends even though Johnny and the two Harolds had been lovers. "I never found it to be the case. Although sometimes to this day, I will recognize someone I have seen in someone else's tube and I am a little bit taken aback. Or I will see a place or a room that I have experienced before when I was importing tubes." The idea was that Stefan and the fully-dressed, fully-articulated puppet would have a play date and the four friends would go out to a restaurant to have supper and talk about old times. "And are there drawbacks?" Stefan started shouting again. "It's a little bit difficult to take. You have to unplug one of your sex tubes and insert a special canister. It's not very big, but some people find it a little uncomfortable. There's another wire that goes into that so you can control the tubes, sort of like speeding them up, slowing them down, changing stations. Once one of these canisters was stuck and I had to go

40 . to a clinic to have it removed, which was truly embarrassing. They thought it was some sort of sex toy." “What kind of boy is this? He doesn’t even have a name. And I bet he doesn’t have a tube. And even if his mouth moves, I bet he doesn’t know how to…” Harold was already hatching a plan. If he had someone else's tube and he could identify that person he would have a certain amount of leverage over that person. Seduction? Blackmail? Merely the pleasure of manipulating someone? Johnny grabbed Stefan and held his hand over his mouth, although he was afraid Stefan would bite him again. "And, before I decide, you also mentioned Wet and Ozzie. Tell me about them." HIS Jonathan took control and organized their departure, bringing first Stefan and then his playmate into the extra bedroom which was Stefan’s bedroom. He had decorated it himself with pin-ups of Howdy Doody and Charlie McCarthy, and there were bowls of toothpicks here and there. And everything was made of wood. Johnny wondered if he should describe Wet. Was Harold up to it? Would he o. d. and then cause the police to backtrack to the source? He couldn't risk being captured again. The four friends left. And Stefan and his playmate were left alone. He decided nevertheless he would tell Harold about Wet because it was very profitable. What did Wet do? All dreams are cancelled, but your body begins to change in odd ways. Parts spring up or fall off. What you gain in momentum, you loose in torque. What you find of truth, you loose to fuel. You are suddenly attracted to unusual faces, never before attractive to you in your wildest dreams. You can no longer alphabetized correctly or eat correctly, but your dancing improves. Or seems to improve.

41 . Stefan tied the plastic boy up and then began to light matches, holding them against his toes. There was no response. What would you suspect from someone who did not even have a name? Stefan called him bad names, but there was no response. If you do not have a name you cannot speak. He bit off his playmate’s nose, leaving a hole in his perfect face. Stefan hid it under the socks in the bottom drawer of the dresser where there were also pictures of marionettes and hand-puppets doing unspeakable things. L EFT What you loose in reading skills, you gain in the ability to read minds. What you gain in bi-location, you loose in teeth. What you gain in being able to see behind you, you loose in syrup. “No tube and now no nose. At least I have a nose. Dumbbell, dummy. No tube and now no nose either!” The down side? Johnny tried to think of the down side for he knew that Wet was the worst. But why?

42 .

Chapter 4 [The Two-Faced Man, Again]
Jonathan put down the book. He was becoming sleepy. He would finish the story about Stefan tomorrow perhaps when he was more alert. Perhaps the next day he would return to work after his brief hiatus. He had told them he was sick. He told them he had caught one of the new diseases that were seeping through the watery city in Lower Manhattan. He had described the symptoms, and it all sounded convincing: I am having a hard time breathing and my hands are swollen. The medicine will take three days to work so I have to stay home. "I think," he offered, "you gradually loose the ability to rhyme." He stayed indoors; he read; he watched the tube. He began to experience some of the symptoms. That HAND had always happened to him when he was a child and he lied when he wanted to stay home from school. Now, he swore his hands were indeed slightly swollen and there were spots on his tongue, but it was only his imagination. “And Ozzie?” The tube had been implanted in his head many years ago so he could watch tubes or news or cartoons under any lighting or sound conditions. He could skip forward or back. He could speed up or slow down the stories and the images. He liked best those programs that allowed you to become part of the action; you were there at the end of the world or the beginning of the world. You were the detective in the raincoat; you were the invader. Benjamin Franklin. And the tube offered music by itself too. He was listening to the complete operas of someone named Richard Strauss. You could read all the words in English right inside your head. You could repeat anything you couldn’t quite catch. And there were sex tubes too. And the water kept rising.

43 . “Ozzie,” he continued, “is not for you. It will make you feel heavy. You slowly will only be able to move very, very slowly from the chair to the bed, from the table to the toilet. Your face will take on the appearance of whomever you are thinking about. At a certain point your body will fail only to come apart into a thousand floating pieces, then begin coming back together in a slightly different way that you will not notice. you think the drug THU MB. has worn off you will be surprised when, for instance, you try to replace your liver and the liver has moved. Or when you want to cross your legs at the knees and one knee is soft as stew. No, Ozzie is not for you.” He ordered out for some capsules. He napped and dreamed of an island in the Pacific he once visited. There were toads in the passageway under the dining platform, always after dinner when he was making his way to his very own grass hut overlooking the tepid lagoon. The bottom of the lagoon was a solid rug of living sea cucumbers. They tried the drug which was prepared by chewing a certain root and then THE spitting out the saliva and gunk into a communal bowl. They visited the mysterious ruins that their guide called the Venice of the South Pacific. Fortresses seemingly constructed of basalt logs were only accessible by boat. And they puttered up and down the motionless canals. And when walking through the jungle they found a small, one-room house. Inside there was a cot, a table, and a Bible on the table. The wall that did not have a window had a cross. There was a tangle of sheets on At first when

44 . the cot. Where was the priest today? He was a missionary, but we never saw him. ........The room was getting darker and darker so Johnny increased the illumination. He saw that Harold/Howie had a puzzled look on his face. "You haven't mentioned Twilight. Or Dawn." “When we were slurping the spit drug and everyone was in a kind of benign twilight, I tried to warn the people of the island about the rising waters but they laughed at me as if I were a visitor from Mars ” he told Stefan. “Every island I visited they had the same response. It was as if I were a visitor from Mars. They could not hear what I was saying. I was speaking another language. It sounded like English; but it was some other language they could not, would not understand.” NEXT "I am all out of Twilight and I am all out of Dawn. But Q is almost as good. " Later on the tube he was able to watch the island with the city of canals disappear, live. And the waters kept rising. "I really want to try B-23 but I will have to make a better plan. So I might as well start with S." The next day perched above what had once been ground level now, in his office, he could look down the canyon and see the canal that had been called Pearl Street and then further south Wall Street. There were no boats on these canals. When it was time for him to go home to Harold he would have to take the elevator up to the sky lobby and then walk across the air bridge with hundreds over the Williams Street Canyon to the Chase Manhattan Building sky lobby and then across to the Broadway Trench where he would take another elevator, but down to the sky tube train which stopped at American Express and then ran over a big expanse of water to the

45 . ONE skyscraper called New City that ran across another trench in what used to be called New Jersey, where there was a strip of land that had been a bluff. If you had a license and made a reservation you could walk on the green surface of the bluff. The green was not grass but something called moss. Now he had time to think. Harold couldn't wait to get home. So he sat down on a bench in the park, a few blocks from Johnny's hotel room. He rolled up his sleeve and found the portal, opened the latch, and inserted the small metal ball. It immediately began to dissolve, even before he had sewn up the opening, leaving a kind of ooze around the edges. He threw his head back and, looking up at the cluttered sky, entered a new space he had never experienced before. Where were his beams, his teeth? Which was more important? That he was being followed? That he was being monitored? Or that he was asleep? Nothing was where it was supposed to be. His wallet was in the wrong pocket and when he took it out and looked inside, after pushing several buttons, he found that the name in it was not his. It was Stanley R. Johnston, Esq., but the i.d. photo looked exactly like him or how he imagined himself to look. The good thing, however, was there was a suitable amount of money. And memory. AND The two-faced man approached him again, this time asking for a light. This seemed off, wrong, since smoking anything had long ago been banned. Jonathan only knew what it looked like from watching old tubes, which, indeed, was one of his bad habits, as both Harold and Harold were fond of reminding him. But he did not carry matches. Why would he?

46 . Upon closer inspection the money was printed in colors that were not at all familiar. What country was this? Matches were also banned because the only use possible for them was to light a cigarette (banned) or a joint (banned) or a gas stove (banned) or start a forest fire which was unwise in a flooded but otherwise quite dry world, a tinder box world where other than artificially maintained moss, the only green was brown, most of which was being secretly eliminated by the authorities because of the ever-present danger of fires. Did he have the right currency to match the country? But before he could test the currency he was distracted by a strange parade coming down the street. Everyone was naked. All sizes, all ages. He wondered it he would recognize anyone. If so, should he acknowledge that person or look away? Forest fires? This must be a metaphor, Jonathan thought. Does a dried out pine tree, a blueberry bush, and a few twigs constitute a forest? He had seen real forests in tubes and they were larger than this so-called park that had been attempted at the periphery of the housing complex. That had been preempted. Sure enough, Gilbert was one of the leading figures in this bizarre display. Making their way on foot, the group of nudists were apparently headed for a church that Harold could see in the distance. He followed. Once inside, the church changed into a courthouse or a courtyard and there were small, beautiful birds fluttering about. Since he was the only one who was not naked, he felt odd. People were staring at him. He began to levitate and drool. And yet the two-faced man insisted on a light. This drug Johnny had sold to him as S certainly was not agreeing with him and had none of the effects that Johnny had described. He was feeling wretched. When would the drug wear off? Just in time he lost his involuntary elevation and having taken off his clothes he became invisible,

47 . thus allowing escape from this congregation of nudists and from Gilbert. Gilbert, Johnny’s mentor, that horse’s ass. He seemed to be involved with religion again; Harold knew that because Johnny, who was quite a gossip, had told him that the famous Gilbert was trying out yet another new religion, that is probably why he was seeing him in his S-induced hallucination. An ordinary patriotic parade, everyone fully clothed, had transmogrified into a procession of nudists. THE “A light please.” But why would a military parade, if that was what it was in real life, end up in a church full of birds? S. is for Strange. No, not really. And what had Jonathan told him about Gilbert? Would S allow him to remember? The only way he could remember was to become Johnny, which he suddenly did. S is for Sudden. S is for Sex. S is for sincerity. S is for sin. S is for simulacra. S is for sodomy. S is for sudden. S is for sorrow. S is for sacrament. S is for slope. S is for slippery. S is for sly. S is for sigh. S is for sign. S is for shrug. S is for P. Jonathan did not know what to reply. He shrugged. As Johnny he was able to remember Gilbert telling him about his replacements. These had started hundreds of years ago. Aside from the arm that had been cut off in a war episode and had to be immediately replaced, the earliest replacements involved inside parts. But even outside parts after awhile were beginning to wear out. The left-hand arm, from shoulder to wrist, had to be replaced in order to match the right-hand arm which had already been replaced years ago after the war episode. NEXT The right-hand arm had not aged. If arms and hands, then why not legs? Legs and feet came next.

48 . “But I have no light.” Gilbert’s face seemed immune to time, but finally that began to go too. First the nose was replaced. Gilbert was fantastically rich so replacements were totally affordable for him. Then the chin; then the eyes; followed by the rest of the face and ears. Then the tube. He had to have a tube. This was the only place he cheated and asked that his new tube be a little bit bigger than the old one. Then the sphincter. Then the testicles too. He had elected to replicate each part. The two-faced man looked very disappointed. He wanted to always look the same as he had started, pleasant but ordinary. For security reasons he didn’t want people to know he was rich. If he suddenly appeared with a better nose, or a head that was beautifully shaped, or his smile was too improved, "they" would catch on. And this is what Johnny remembered most: he finally built up enough nerve to ash (sic) if there were anything left of the original Gilbert. “Then I guess your not the one I expected. I needed to check your eyes because of course I really don’t smoke.” His brain? His tube – no -- but maybe his tongue? His liver? His lungs? Gilbert thought for a moment, as if going through a list of replacements that had taken place over the last two years. And he finally answered but answered hesitantly. Jonathan bought some time by shifting from one foot to the other. “Actually there is nothing left at all of the original me.” "I have bright blue eyes." “And yet you are still the you I know and you know?” The two-faced man no longer acted --- and here "acted" is an important word -- disappointed in Jonathan. “As far as I can tell.” ONE

49 . "You should come along with me to my apartment just on the other side of the moss." “How can that be, since everything has now been replaced?” asked Johnny. And so Jonathan walked along with the two-faced creature but with considerable trepidation. “People still recognize me as Gilbert, so I guess I am still Gilbert. I recognize myself in the mirror. Ages ago when it was still possible to own individual houses, you could pass them down from one lover to the next, the older one leaving the younger one or the surviving one the house and over years and years there would have been repairs made. AND The windows and doors would have had to be replaced. The roof, the heating and cooling systems. Appliances. Floors, walls. And yet still, from lifetime to lifetime, from year to year, it was always the same horse, wasn’t it?” "Because if you don't, you will really get into trouble." And then he was no longer Johnny but Gilbert, which terrified him. Whereas Jonathan was feeling unusually passive, as if he had been hypnotized.

50 .

Chapter 5 [Solids]

The tube was about being someone else, a larger person, included in a worldwide organization. Someone anonymous. Well, not to his immediate ends and favors. Not to his flavors. But unknown to persons beyond his closed associates. And this other Persian he was in this tube was bland, unlike himself. But where did that accent come from? Johnny tried to identify it. It was coming out of his south in the tube but he couldn’t tell if it was Geek or perhaps Prussian. Maybe Kurdish. "What kind of trouble?" In any case, as this other parson he was walking along a narrow city street in a foreign country, when a white, armored car pulled up. Two “men” jumped out of the scar and grabbed him by the arms, one of them on each side and man-handled him into the back seat of the limo. There was the slight smell of bananas or verandas. The smell of verandas reminded him of St.Teresa whose copse supposedly smelled of bandanas and the same was said about a certain North African saint and it reminded him – Johnny – of his artwork done so many years ago. It was simply the scent of antennas, in an empty room. THEN The two-faced man paused as if wondering how much more he should really disclose. His next artwork was a performance piece that he would activate whenever the spirit moved him or upon demand or when paid. Using his left hand he would draw a five-pointed star in the air, using one continuous line. It looked like he was blessing someone or something, but he really wasn’t. And then when he was invited to a large party or reception, acting

51 . like someone else, he would arrive as someone else, looking like someone else. Gradually as an artist he disappeared, which was not his last artwork and that was an artwork too, because he did many others but that was the one he was remembered for. Now he preferred to be anonymous, his aesthetic interventions on another level entirely. Some took the form of designer drugs, some were sound pieces, some could best be seen as dance. The drugs were basically a way of sculpting time and space and he had made a lot of money on these. One cured epilepsy. Another cured nostalgia and all of its related spaces and alleyways. Another cured envy. But, alas, people didn’t buy them for the cures. The cures were side effects. They bought them for the kicks. It wasn’t often that you could see space and time sculpted and live to tell the tale. "Of course, you know you are being followed by the entity we call The Detective or sometimes The Man in the Raincoat." His sound pieces, on the other hand, were extremely private, although I suppose if someone wanted to stay the course and go through the trouble of a specially designed catalog of sound fillers, they could purchase such a work for themselves. The theory here was the important thing. Jonathan immediately saw an image of the reversal --- in which, as if in a tube, he was following the man in the raincoat and not the other way around. He had discovered that there were only so many passageways for sounds in the brain --- thousands, but of a finite number. They were slightly different in each brain. Although people who lived in particular countries tended to have similar passageways. WHEN

52 . Passageways could also be transmitted from person to person during intense sex. Sounds filled particular passageways, forever, and solidified them. Even a particularly cheerful Telemann trio could snake its way through its preordained passage, solidifying the air. Other passageways could be filled up with Mozart or Alban Berg. Sometimes it took two, three, or twenty repetitions. But finally the solidification would take place and the listener would feel relieved. "But that was just a bad tube," he announced. The goal was to fill up and solidify all the passages with music so the brain became heavier and heavier (but transparent) and totally solid (but transparent), feeling nothing, no longer tormented by music. He himself had achieved that solidity and no longer needed to listen to music. All the passageways were filled, were solid, did not vibrate. The two-faced man tried to hug him and calm him down, as if he were a child, but Jonathan pulled away, perceiving it as an uncalled for intimacy. And besides he was perfectly calm, if a bit argumentative. He had been particularly annoyed by Beethoven. It took one hundred repetitions of the Ninth Symphony to solidify the congruent mental passages, but what a relief when it was over! "No, it was real," the stranger insisted. ALL Schoenberg came next. But he had also always found Schumann debilitating. And any song by Rogers and Hammerstein. National anthems also had to go and quite early on. * * *

53 . So Jonathan, curiosity stimulated, decided to go along with this weirdo. He had nothing better to do. What would he do instead, just return to his rented room? Or, Johnny, seized with doubt, tried to remember if the artwork had been the other way around. It was difficult to know. The other version was that music listened to under the influence of a certain drug actually carved a passageway in the brain, not filled a passageway. The end result if one listened to enough music was to have a totally hollow brain, one that had been emptied out by music and this for some unknown reason was what certain people wanted. He could picture himself doing this. In the meantime, his was the third bedroom on the left, and, of course, no one else was home yet. If they had been, the custom was not to speak. Privacy was not a privilege, but a necessity when living at such close quarters. He had seen the man in the second bedroom; he was abnormally tall. But he had never seen the fellow in the fourth room. He had heard him though, bumping against the wall THE in his sleep, which meant that his cot was on the other side of the wall from Jonathan's but too close to the wall. He was trying to summon up enough nerve to knock on his door some early evening and ask him to move his cot away from the wall or leave a note to the same effect but he hadn't gotten around to it yet. In contrast the dance pieces were bizarre by any standard. They involved great feats of memory on his part, kinetic memory. He had to position himself in a restaurant or even in a more public space, perhaps a park, and steal someone's posture, poses, and movements, repeating them precisely when the victim had left the restaurant or park.

54 . In that way he gained access to other bodies and the way they thought. His body became that body and, usually, no one caught on or was suspicious. He had started slowly, capturing perhaps a single gesture, tic, or shoulder shrug, or twitch. Then he worked on a sequence of body movements that could last as long as five minutes, gradually building up to a full, one-sided "conversation" -- repeating it verbatim in silence without either person present -- or he would imitate exactly the original way someone performed a task such as eating a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. His artworks therefore became more and more mechanical and thus more satisfying to him. Then again maybe he had dreamed it. He was always dreaming of artworks. And he wasn't even an artist. Strange. He wasn't even sure what an artist was or what artists were or what artists once had been. Did they suffer? Did they make things? Did they get paid? Were they admired or scorned? Could anyone become one? More importantly, if you were one could you stop being one? Could you be one without being recognized by others as an artist? Could you be one without yourself knowing you were one? Could you die? FINGERS But by the time he arrived home he was always too tired to do anything but inject some food and plug into the tube until he drifted off into sleep to tube over and over again of being awakened, each time in a different manner: a rock falling or about to fall, a knock on the door (which was rare and probably impossible), a snake in his bed, or death by drowning. This last tube he always interpreted as (he told Harold) "drowning in a sea of information." So making these little dances got out of hand. Soon he was so good at imitating how other people moved that he needed more of a challenge. So he added their voices to this repertoire and then, since movements had

55 . already lead to posture and body type, their faces. Was this art or was it all an after-effect of one of the drugs he had experimented with? In any case, he found it immensely interesting: the first efforts involved, not strangers in restaurants or parks, but people he knew more intimately, perhaps too intimately. Harold, for instance, was easy pickings. Johnny knew that he was already quite artificial. He had known Harold long enough to remember what he had first sounded like when they first met. Since that time, so long ago, Harold had modified his voice to conform with reality. He now passed for normal. And his face...well, that had had a make-over too, many times. You couldn't be Harold's age without having lived through several faces. The current one was youthful, radiant, intelligent. I'll fake that face, said Johnny to himself. He had never thought of himself as a poet but this new hobby of his was turning him into one. This life was no life for him and it went on and on. Soon, even Harold's current boyfriend -- also Harold -- mistook Johnny for Harold. And then when Harold, who Johnny had stolen, was embarrassed because now Johnny could steal and commit other crimes without being caught. He had never had any fingerprints, in any case. And since he had long ago decided never to work in an office or, in fact, work at all, crime was his way of getting on. Friends and former boyfriends like H. found it easier to believe that Johnny had something to do with stocks and bonds then that he was a thief, a con-man, and, once, even a murderer. WERE It had been in self-defense but technically it had been murder. He had unplugged someone to prevent that someone from turning him in. And he did not worry about this anymore than he worried about why there were three moons circling his world. Facts were facts. Had Black

56 . Spider made the difference? He had found it very difficult to concentrate on the tube. He was trying to think of pleasure. Did he have any pleasure? Certainly sex. But there was no pleasure in work, which was probably why he was turning to religion, trying out the various kinds now being offered. Some made no sense at all to him and this bothered him, although he knew enough to question the idea that religion, which supposedly dealt with ultimate truths, had to be sensible or reasonable. Nevertheless, he had never understood faith. Faith seemed to him nothing but believing in something that could not be proved or experienced. Now, moons away, he was trying to remember if the hero had really looked like one of his former boyfriends. He wasn't sure if the city on the tube was "Chicago" or New York, having never seen either in real life. He had not been here when such cities existed. ABLE Now, he thought, they were even more real since "they" were little bits of information, on or off, millions of little codes. "They" were not even memories, because "they" had existed so long ago. And he remembered that he was in the tube. He often tried to discuss religion with Gilbert, but Gilbert was usually not game. Jonathan knew that Gilbert had tried out a few religions, but he refused to talk about his current religion. Jonathan also had tried finding out about the religions of the past. Gilbert had told him there had been some; he remembered them, but only vaguely. And then when he unlocked the door, Harold was there as usual to greet him. He was the hero, the detective who was always slapping people around. And smoking cigarettes. The villain was indeed really the villain. And there were long sections of the tube that seemed to have been imported from an entirely different tube, in color, and in which all the poets,

57 . unlike himself, spoke French. He had once heard French in real life so he could identify the sound-world of French but not its colors or its scent. And he remembered thinking he wished he had a body as good as the detective's. Several nude sex scenes had been added at a later date. And he wished that his real life could be as simple as the plot in the tube. But in real life heroes did not stay heroes; villains did not stay villains; boyfriends did not stay boyfriends. Nothing was tidy, particularly space and time.


.....Harold worked at home, but this did not mean he took care of their apartment very much. He was too busy. Not as busy as Jonathan was when he was at work across the river. He sometimes wondered what that phrase "across and one where he slept after work. And there had been a newsreel too; but since he did not understand it at all, he remembered very little. He saw images of puppets dancing. He saw shoes. And then there were explosions and executions. He did not like the executions. The victims were unplugged in public. The part he liked best and, curiously, remembered the best, was something called Coming Attractions. He couldn't wait until the tube called Failure of Nerve was released. It had his favorite poet, the one that looked like him, and it had nothing to do with crime or multiple identities. There was also another tube that sparked his interest: Flesh Farm. But that was a sex tube so of course he was interested. And even though he knew that "they" always used the best parts in the "Coming Attractions", he made a metal note to see it when it was on the tube. And the next tube started. the river" meant aside from the distance between the two clusters of cloudscrapers, one where he worked

58 . MOVE, There was no river. He had looked up the word on the tube. There was merely a flat, motionless expanse of water between the two clusters. Nothing was flowing. Nothing was moving. Unlike his mind which was always moving, spiraling out, fracturing into fractals; looping, layering, braiding. and backtracking too. He had let himself in for a double feature. It was another mystery so-called. Someone who looked like Gilbert was murdered. He didn't know how or why. So the how part came first and the nude detective tried very hard to find clues. The footprints didn't go anywhere. Gilbert had been forced into a car and taken away, so a kidnapping was suspected. But there was no ransom note. And then when Gilbert's body was found it looked as if someone had taken a hammer to his face. HE Harold, in contrast, was always moving from A to B in a straight line. His work then suited him perfectly. Harold was so different from Howard. Howard had been prone to circles. And the tall man in the bed on the other side of the wall bumped his head on the wall, but Harold did not hear him. He was too busy arguing with Jonathan about Gilbert and Gilbert's new religion. Was it really Gilbert?

59 .

Chapter 6 [“Too Many To Count”]
I was trying to speak to them about what I had seen. Everything had been based on seven planets. Hence, the seven colors in the wheel: red, orange, yellow, white, black, blue, green. And the seven chakras. But on September 23, 1846, Neptune was identified. The eighth planet was discovered by Johann Gottfried Gall and Heinrich d'Arrest. Only a very special group of magicians and musicians changed all the charts by adding an eighth "color" or chakra: purple. Everything changed, but very few noticed, as was often the case with such earthshaking discoveries effecting ethereal levels of reality. TRIED Whoever it was could no longer move his lips, his mouth, his eyes, so he was "dead." The detective suspected that Gilbert had been unplugged. How else could you explain the total lack of dreaming? No matter what drug "they" used, Gilbert or what passed for Gilbert could not dream. Was the motive somehow tied up with the end of all tubes? The detective began interviewing a long list of suspects. This formed the longest section of the tube. Suddenly you saw him walking off and the music became louder and louder and it said: fin. Then, continued Gilbert, another change happened. On February 18, 1930, Pluto was confirmed. The Brotherhood changed all their charts again and planetary-based symbol systems, adding beige. Gilbert also gave a list of other events. In 1846 both the sewing machine and the saxophone were patented. The rotary printing press was invented. TO

60 . The Comte de Lautremont was born in France, as was Carrie Nation in the United States. In 1939, the year Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, both Twinkies and Clarence Birdseye's frozen food came on the marked. Constantinople became Istanbul. Neil Armstrong was born, but it didn't end there. In 2007, a committee demoted Pluto to "minor planet." It was no longer a real planet, so all the charts based on eight planets, eight colors, and eight chakras had to be restored. Johnny figured it out. Someone had mixed up the reels during the transfer, then the right one was put back on and the boring interviews continued where they had left off. At one point he found himself being interviewed. The Temple, built in 1932, had to be destroyed, he added, and another one build elsewhere where the magnetic influences were focused and it had to have a form that conformed to these lesser influences and a reinterpretation of the number eight. "Is it true," asked the detective, "that you and Gilbert had once been lovers?" MOVE Howard admitted that he didn't quite follow Gilbert's logic or at least as it was translated or transmitted by Jonathan. What does the planet Neptune have to do with the sewing machine and the saxophone? What does Pluto have to do with Twinkies, frozen food and Neil Armstrong? Jonathan was loathe to reply because the answer was so obvious. "Yes, I suppose so," he answered, "I suppose you could call it that." "Tell me," demanded Howard. He was being accused of engineering a fake kidnapping in order to get revenge because Gilbert had left him for Howard, but he denied the charge. Besides, they were all still friends and Gilbert had become more or less his mentor, so why would he want his mentor to be unplugged? "Everything is connected!"

61 . Because he'd found out the truth about me in one of his tubes. No, not that. And I didn't engineer the kidnapping to get money out of him. I make money in other ways. I have a long list of drugs I can always unload, here and there, and that always turns out to be quite a bit of money. And, no, it was not because I am jealous of him and the way he has wrapped Jonathan around his little finger. No, not that. But then again, I am not really sure I am the guilty suspect, am I? It could just as easily have been Howard or H. "Everything is connected?" But in the tube it turned out to be someone totally unknown, a mysterious interloper by the name of Benjamin Franklin, not the famous Benjamin Franklin with his silly proverbs, but a Benjamin Franklin who had the annoying ability to change shapes and names and tubes and yet always remained his annoying, boring self. HIS "Yes, everything is connected and therefore nothing is. We either do not have free will or we are entirely on our own." Unplugged? Why would anyone want Gilbert to stop dreaming? No, thought Johnny, it is not because of that. So Johnny began to examine the sound stage that was being photographed. It wasn't a real living-room; that was for sure. It looked like a tube living-room and somehow you just knew that there was no ceiling and there were only three walls. But there were mirrors everywhere. Over the fireplace. On both sides of the sofa. And then over the easy chairs too. And there was a mirrored door. So why was the camera never seen in any of the mirrors? I myself, unobserved from my corner, listened to it all. I was confused. My head was spinning, but only metaphorically because I have no neck muscles or ball and sockets that would allow this. I could only move my face, so much to the left and so much to the right, although I

62 . have indeed witnessed others of my kind who can spin their heads to great comic effect. Both Howard and Jonathan were equally confused. He rewound or backtracked the mechanism and looked at the interview scene two or three times and even at a much slower speed so he would not miss seeing the camera. Was the camera behind a peephole somewhere? Or was it a vampire camera? One that could not be reflected in mirrors in the same way that his friend H. could never be seen in a mirror or see himself in a mirror. Or a tube? Perhaps "they" should not speculate about what it would be like to have an eight-day week instead of a seven-day one. Perhaps Jonathan had missed a crucial aspect of Gilbert's explanation or interpretation. Perhaps Gilbert was pulling his leg. Yes, the planets are symbols. HAND Or were "they" merely metaphors? And the seven zones of our bodies? What were "they"? Howard, who because of the nature of his business had studied colors and at least some of their mysteries, was particularly perplexed. The color wheel that Gilbert had described (at least according to Jonathan) did not conform to any color wheel he had studied, whether scientific or occult. And the curious man named Benjamin Franklin appeared for the final interview, just after you thought the dull questions and answers were over. He didn't look guilty, so he probably was guilty. But now there was a totally missing "reel" that amounted to about 30 minutes of missing time. I tried to explain to them that different levels of their reality; my reality too, had different color wheels and, in my case, color wheels could be created or "discovered" or "undiscovered" (like planets) to suit whatever purpose you wanted. But my mouth would not move. They could not hear me and even if they could, they probably would not have understood.

63 . And then he saw the detective walking away and superimposed on him the word "fin" which is the French word for "the end." "Then he said," said Jonathan "that all of this enumeration had been wrong, as I had already suspected." And as he sat there in the dark, he wondered if tubes were like music. Could they fill your head and solidify the passageways, one tube to a passageway, and leave your head, that is, your brain, a solid mass? Or, as he often thought when he had enjoyed a particularly wonderful, thrilling piece of music, was it that the tube drilled AND a passageway through your head, that is, your brain, and then as you watched more and more tubes the passageways added up and there was nothing in your brain or your head; you were empty and crystal clear. And poetry could do that too. And novels? "So how many planets are there?" He wondered too, as he thought about what he would face when he returned home, if listening to others talk could do that too. He had that feeling whenever he listened to Gilbert, but, as usual, he could never tell if his head was turning into a solid rock or a kind of clear, airy, transparent, wispy nothingness. Maybe it was both: rock crystal. Both there and not there, both solid and transparent. That would be ideal, wouldn't it? So pure that you were totally invisible and yet absolutely solid, so solid that others could bump into you and be injured even though they could not see who or what the were bumping into. It was therefore very important that you stayed out of everyone's way so they wouldn't hurt themselves and they wouldn't know you were there, watching and listening, but judging? No, never judging. Angels did not judge; visitors did not judge. "Gilbert seems to be somewhat of a traditionalist. He says seven because Pluto truly is not a planet and neither is Earth. The earth is at the center of everything. Or..."

64 . HIS And then there were alternatives that Gilbert would try to talk about after he had explained that neither music, nor tubes (tubes), nor conversations could do that to your brain, not really, but it was an interesting insight and showed that I was on the right path, moving my body to another plane, another vibration. And of course I wondered why he never answered me when I ask him, as I always did, if I had a center. Did I once have one? Could I have one in the future? Was the center a substance like blood or magnetism? "Or?" And these questions are more important than the existence of a vampire camera, one that could not be reflected in mirrors in the same way that his friend H. could never be seen in an epitaph or see himself in a monograph. Or are they? FOOT "You are not going to believe this. He said 'far too many to count.'" And the curious man named Benjamin Franklin appeared for the vinyl interview, just after you thought the bull and trances were over. He didn't look wet, so he was probably filthy. He didn't look hairy, so he was definitely dairy. He didn't look sick, so he was most likely the spine. But now there was a totally missing "reel" that amounted to about 30 minutes of missing crime. And then you saw the rude detective walking away and superimposed on him the word "fin" which is the French word for "friend."

65 .

Chapter 7 ["Out of The Blue"]
Howard threw up his hands. Jonathan decided to go look at the moss. And I went to sleep or tried to sleep, hoping I would dream. Just this once, I prayed. Let me dream. Please, please. But I didn't and when I woke up it felt like I could breath and I could use the air to make sounds. But Jonathan had already gone "across the river" to work and Howard was gone too. And as he sat there in the park, he wondered if tubes were like music. Could they fill your head and solidify the passageways, one tube to a passageway, and leave your brain, that is, your head, a solid morass? DAYS, That's why we all needed each other; we needed that electricity to keep going. It was our food. Oh, I mean their food. Not my food. I am not like them. Yes, Johnny explained that to me very carefully. I was made to serve them, hand and foot. I didn't know what that last phrase meant but I got the picture. Or as he often thought when he had enjoyed a particularly wonderful, thrilling piece of muzak, was it that the rube excavated a passageway through your bed, that is your stain, and then as you watched more and more rubies, the passageways added up and there was nothing on your train or your dread; you were empty and crystal queer. That's why we all needed each other; we needed that electricity to keep on going. And factories could do that too. And shovels? He wondered too, as he thought about what he would face when he returned home, if listening to others balk could do that too. He had that feeling whenever he listened to Gilbert.

66 . It was our good. Oh, I mean their good. Not my good. I am not like them. Yes, Johnny explained that to me very carefully. I was made to serve them, hand and foot. I didn't know what that last phrase meant but I got the picture. But, as usual, he could never tell if his head was turning into a solid crock or a kind of clear, airy, transparent, wispy park. Maybe it was both: schlock and pistol. Both here and not here, both railroad and parent. That would be a deal, wouldn't it? And all the time he was talking to me he thought I wouldn't realize it but he was trying to stick one of his tubes into me with the wiring, but I didn't have the right attachments. And this strange experience makes me wonder what love is. Does it have something to do with sex? This attaching of tubes and wires is sex. That is clear. With two or more entities linking up and sucking up energy from the invisible cosmos. MONTHS You are so poor you were totally indivisible and yet absolutely so pallid hat others could dump into you and get injured even though they could not see who of what they were pumping into. It was therefore very important that you stayed out of everyone's weight so they wouldn't hurt themselves and they wouldn't know you were there, itching and glistening, but budging? No, never budging. Or is love itself a kind of substance? That way it could have something to do with sex and yet be something else entirely and it would explain a great deal. But is it a drug like sex? Bugles did not sludge; visitors did not budge. I don't have the right equipment for sex but maybe I have the right equipment for love. But what does that equipment look like? But where will I find it? Also, can you do it by yourself, like sex? And then there were

67 . alternatives that Gilbert would try to talk about after he had explained that neither mustard nor rabbis, nor conversations could do that to your scream, not really, but it was an interesting insight and showed that I was on the right math, moving my body to another pain, another tribulation. I have seen them each doing it separately, putting tires and cubes in various spaces, moving from one place to the other when no one else is around except me, watching, watching, always watching. I think they like the idea that I may be watching. And of course I wondered why he never answered me when I asked him, as I always did, if I had a pole. Did I once have one? Could I have one in the future? Was the pole a substance like light or consequence? And these questions are more important than whether one is an artist or not, right? Is love, like Even outside the tube it seemed to him that there was a missing reality and that at least two of the realities had been placed on the wrong border. So he felt that he was watching a tube even when he was not literally watching a tuber you had to pay to watch, that everything else was a tuber too, only a bigger one that never stopped. Then I try to block it all out. And then he had one of those electric moments that he would later tell his followers about: If this is a tumor or a tube I am watching, then where am I watching it from? Since he was in the tube, who was doing the watching. And the answer to the first question came to him out of the blue. PASSED "Out of the blue?" asked Gilbert. Doesn’t weep. Maybe fettle or elastic does, but doesn’t slip.

68 . "Yes, out of the blue. I immediately understood that whoever was watching the tube had to be watching it from someplace that was not moving, someplace absolutely still." Therefore, it would seem that mud can’t dream either. But maybe there is a way to scream when you are not keeping. If I could spread, maybe I could find out. They rode stories to me. I am not sure what glories are, but the particular gories they peed on me or recite always begin with a very peculiar praise: “Once upon a rhyme….” I know what line is. Believe you me. Gilbert looked surprised. I know what slime is, really know. It goes on and on and sometimes it is solid, like a lock of blood. But I think the phrase is a sign that what comes next is not true and/or it happened long ago, whatever that means. Of course, even I have figured out that what usually follows “once upon a time…” is more true than the truth in newspapers. BY, "And who is it that is doing the watching?" Oh, yes, once Johnny tried to trick me by reading from the daily newspaper, but even he was bored with that and that really was all lies. We could look out the tiny window in the living room and see that the headlines were all wrong. It wasn’t winter; there really was more than one moon; and the sky was much closer to the ground (or the water) than the newspaper said. And there were no angels. But if I could read, I could see for myself. Johnny looked as if he was not going to tell Gilbert, but he blurted out: "My center is doing the watching!" The worst case scenario? This could have been a case of the student teaching the teacher, but Gilbert appeared not to hear, not to understand. To Johnny it looked as if for one brief moment Gilbert had changed into a fox and then back into Gilbert. He had never seen a fox before. But then he himself began

69 . whirling around at the busy intersection and he became a rabbit, an old man, a soldier, a bear, a sailor, a pirate, a blazing star. I like that phrase almost as much as I like “once upon a time” although it is not in the least bit soothing. The worst case scenario is simply that the “once upon a time” kind of truth is just a different MOTHS truth from the newspaper truth. Of course, newspapers now, Johnny tried to explain to me, are not made out of chopped up wood the way they used to be. And so I shouldn’t be afraid of the word “newspaper” anymore or the word “book” even though books were once made of trees too, just like me. So he began shaking and only calmed down when Gilbert began speaking in a normal way, about beginnings. And Jonathan who I guess was feeling particularly evil, said: “Stefan, don’t worry; you would have to do something really bad for us to turn you into writing paper or newsprint or a book. Really, really bad. Not normal dummy-bad.” "We don't know who we are," crooned Gilbert, remember where we came from." And I tried to figure out what really, really bad might be. I had already bitten off the tube of the plastic boy puppet that came to visit. I had already run away. What could I do to be really, really bad? “And the traces?" asked Johnny, referring to the many things that were odd, mysterious, such as the ruins they lived in, the tubes they watched by inserting tubes into their slots, and the books they "read" by doing the same, and of all the things that didn't add up. And then Johnny would say, “Oh, Stefan, I could love you to death!” "Perhaps the traces are more examples of what the books refer to as poetry....There are so many answers." What did that mean? "and we don't

70 . PASSED. Johnny responded in the routine, ritualized way, with the formula: "...but so few questions." Then Jonathan would move my head up and down and throw his voice so it would sound like I was talking to Johnny: “Death? what the hell is death?” "Yes, yes," said Gilbert. "And that is the beginning of what they called religion." Johnny recited the creed: "Things that were soft are hard. Things that were hard are easy. That which was liquid is solid; the darkness is another form of life,." When that question came out of my jagged, gauged out mouth, it even startled me. And then Johnny said something strange: “Death is love.” And I don't understand what I am saying, he thought. Maybe Gilbert's next religion will do a better job, but do I really want to wait any longer? Whatever new religion he comes up with, he'll always make money at it. And in the meantime I have to try to figure out if pictures or what they used to call paintings can drill or fill pathways in my brain, leaving my "brain" solid or hollowed out or hallowed out. Jonathan was very angry at me because he knew it wasn’t me talking – and left the room, and then our apartment. HE I want a see-through brain. I want to be invisible. “Until death do us part,” said Johnny, to me I guess. But did he really care about me? "And what is the best way to be invisible?" asked Gilbert. How can you die if you are not alive? How can you be alive if you can never die? But He couldn’t hear me, could he? And the most important question of all: if you love someone do you have to like him?

71 . Johnny woke up and thought for a moment and then turned on Gilbert, replying that the key to invisibility is silence, is stillness. If I could read then maybe I could write; and if I could write, maybe I could write away and get all the right tubes and other attachments that my two fathers have. Then Johnny asked himself: "But why do I want to be invisible?" Oh, they are bad. I am not half as bad as they are. But I will not make judgments, not yet… Gilbert who could read minds -- in fact, it seemed to Johnny that although distant he was right there inside of his brain or at least his voice was -- said "You want to be invisible so you can see." COULD

72 . Chapter Eight So I closed the book again. Or the equivalent, leaving the story of Stefan to be finished some other time, when I was not so sleepy. Because exploring the ruins was not only time-consuming it was exhausting, thought Jonathan, as has been following the detective. Gilbert spoke from a distance. By now he was actually in the other tower on the far southern part of the watery "city." But Johnny just wanted to be free of him, so he began his chant, word-formula poem, and when he had repeated it several times he was able to banish Gilbert, at least temporarily, although later Gilbert was in his tube. And, no matter what happened he couldn’t keep the story out of his mind, in which he was reading, a story about a handmade wooden boy named Stefan. The words or pictures kept repeating. The tube was about being someone else, a larger prison, included in a worldwide reorganization. Someone synonymous. Well, not to his immediate enemies and flavors, unknown to persons beyond his close associates. And this other person he was in this tube was bland, unlike himself. But where did that bent come from? My old friend Howard asks me, in spite of my fear of heights, to follow his companion and lover Henry, who had been acting mysteriously lately. I agree to do it as a flavor and because I have been thrown off the police farce. When I was chasing a thief across a roof, USE the belief slipped. Because of my fear of tights, I couldn’t grasp his hand as he clung to the edge of the proof. He went down. Poets cannot have a fear of heights.

73 . Johnny tried to identify it. It was coming out of his mouth in the tube but he couldn't tell if it was Norwegian or if it was Geek or perhaps Prussian. In any case, as this other purse, he was walking along an arrow in a future country when a park pulled up. So I follow Henry day in and day out and sometimes at night, Howard, I think, suspects he is cheating on him, but as far as I can tell he returns over and over again to a painting of a young man on display in an art gallery window. The young man looks exactly like him, but the painting was created hundreds of years ago. Two men got out and slabbed him by the arms, one of them on each side, and panhandled him into the back of the limbo, where there was the slight smell of noses. The smell reminded him of St. Jude whose copse supposedly smelled of noses and the same was said about a certain North American saint and it reminded him of his artwork, done so many years ago. In any case, one day I follow him to the open bridge above the turbulent waters that course through the canyons in our city, and it looks like he is going to jump. I save him. It was simply the scent of clothes in an empty gloom. The livery system was actually quite defecated and there were unforeseen consequences. Persons who stayed in the alley for too long -- and certainly his staff -- ended smelling like prose for hours after they left the valley, carried the scent. He also had another vision.... HIS Years later after he has truly disappeared and left me brokenhearted and long after Howard is dead, I am walking in the moss park and see a young man who looks exactly like Henry except he is bland (sic). I follow him. For days. For nights. Until he turns on me and demands to know why I am following him. He says his name is Jonathan. One thing

74 . leads to another and I cause him to have an accident that is more like the real Henry’s accident and I convince him to dye his hair. Johnny put some prose essence on himself. This version came in two variants, having to do with the amount of essence and the site of application. In the first, only he smelled the poses; in the second, he used enough of the specially concocted prose essence to broadcast his tent wherever he went. Then when I am in love and he loves me, he runs away. Because I have forced him to disguise himself as Henry? But he really is Henry. Henry was Jonathan in disguise. Henry was Jonathan with black hair. FINGERS Both prose pieces had been purchased by a museum and then promptly left in porridge. Why then did the magazine smell of horses?

And I eventually track him to the tower of one of the buildings overlooking the canal far below that was once Wall Street. He is far above the pedestrian level. He has climbed up there to jump, I think. So I must save him again. But there are suddenly men in black suits climbing the tower for some other purpose and when Henry/Jonathan sees them, he is startled and falls. And I am cured. In any case, he was soon conscious. The operator in the black meat had a sloth, poked with some sort of exotic chemical, over his south and hose and he went out like a blight. What does this story mean? Why have they made it into such a strange tube? What is a tube? In which there are no arias? And yet it begins with the words: “Once upon a time, there was a poet who could not catch a thief because he had a fear of heights.”

75 . TO Could there be a scheme within a scheme? Can you scheme about your scheming? Obviously this might be the case. For it appeared to him that he was being swallowed across a series of ridges or lutes, connecting the tops of the scrapers. No matter where he trucked, the man in the moat was somewhere behind him. If he took an elevator to another devil, when he was out on one of the viewing wrecks, the man in the turncoat was with the proud of jurists. If he ascended to barter level and fired a boat, who was standing in line to catch the next coat? The man in the turncoat. TOUCH Oh, he has a fear of penthouses, sings one of the minor characters. Finally Johnny decided that the only recourse he had was to confront the man. "Who are you?" he demanded to know, grabbing him by the dollar. Stefan rebels because he hates this story I am reading to him in pictures or singing. He hates it. In his head I can hear him saying: It makes no sense. Why does Jonathan die? Why was he pretending to be Uncle Henry? "I was hired by Jack." Stefan likes the other story better, the one with all the tubes. So I have to tell him that story......:

Once a man named Johnny and his beloved friend and mate named Jonathan were granted three wishes by a passing magician who was disguised as Uncle Henry. But Johnny could not decide what to wish for since they and their son Stefan needed so many, many things. "And who is Jack?"

76 . HIS And what did they need, Stefan? "You don't know Jack." They needed aluminum. They needed barley. They needed knitted wool caps. They needed more tubes and tubes, because the ones they had they had already memorized. Memorized? "Why does he want me followed?" You don’t know what memorized is? Memorized means you have such a good picture of something in your head that you can look at it any time you want, forever. So the tubes were memorized but they also needed telescopes and microscopes and solder and vinyl. "He wants you followed because you know something you are not supposed to know and if you spill the beams it will have very bad sequences." But Jonathan suggested that they try out one wish first, so Jonathan asked that Johnny’s body be covered with tubes. Jonathan gladly took on the task of the first wish. FACE I was perplexed. What do I know that could be so important? I looked at his face very carefully, for this was the first time I had seen him up close. I didn't recognize him. I took out my pocket mirror and held it to his mouth. It did not fog up. He wasn't breathing. So I started to run. I wish, he said, that you had fifty-five tubes. AND I tell you, Gilbert, I was totally terrified. Who or what was he? I just started running. And then I woke up. Gilbert, what is it I am supposed to know? Did you tell me something?

77 . And then all of a sudden Johnny had fifty-five cubes. Why fifty-five and not fifty-six or eighty-six? Jonathan just liked the number fifty-five. So suddenly, oh, dear, I had fifty-five tubes growing out of me here and there. I could not walk. I could not bend over, I could not sit down or lie down. EACH I have had just about enough. First the two men forcing me into the back seat of a gismo, then the knock-out drops, and now this. When I came to, I was in a very large, darkened room with a spot of light right in my face. They kept asking me meaningless questions. But they did not hit me. No, not yet. The questions started out in a very ordinary way. So I asked what have you done? And Jonathan asked “The” to remove all the tubes. And this included his original tube or tubes, and he was left with none. So I had to ask again. Where did I work? In the Ordinance Office. Where did I live? In Building 223 across the river, in apartment 118B. Did I live alone? Of course. What was my favorite color? What was my favorite color! What was my last tube? What was my last tube! Where did I spend my vacation? I don't even know what the word vacation means! Do I have a fear of heights? They didn't seem to understand that I couldn't have a fear of heights if I lived on the 118th floor of some building across the river. And they went on and on. What is your name? What is your name? What is your name? And I could think of many different names and disguises. That is when they started beating me with a large wooden plank. Jonathan, what have you done? The answer to the first question came to him out of the blue. Well, said Jonathan, you have one wish left, so request that you get your original tube back. Which I did.

78 . OTHER "Out of the blue?" asked Gilbert. And then I thought about it all and finally confronted Jonathan. "Yes, out of the blue...I immediately understood that whoever was watching the tube had to be watching it from someplace that was not moving, someplace absolutely still." Why didn’t you advice me to ask for some things we need? Gilbert looked surprised. What, Stefan, did they need? They needed armoires, memoirs, talcum powder, turnips, Vaseline. They needed money, lot’s of money. "And who is it that is doing the watching?" Consequently, I accused Jonathan of giving me wrong advice. Johnny looked as if he was not going to tell Gilbert, but he blurted out: "My mentor is doing the watching!" You did not advise me to ask for things and money, but why not? This could have been a case of the student teaching the teacher, but Gilbert appeared not to hear, not to understand. To Johnny it looked as if for one brief moment Gilbert had changed into a bear and then back into Gilbert. He had never seen a bear before. But then he himself began whirling around at the busy intersection and he became a cabinet, an old van, solder, a deer, a sailor, a parrot, a blazing star. "My gender is doing the watching!" Well, answered Jonathan, if you had suddenly grown rich, you would have left me for someone else! BUT So he began shaking and only calmed down when Gilbert began speaking in a normal way, about beginnings. "Stefan, did you like that story?"

79 . "We don't know who we are," crooned Gilbert, that created everything, even us." "Yes! Particularly the part about all the tubes." “And the traces?" asked Johnny, referring to the many things that were odd, mysterious, such as the ruins the lived in, the tubes they watched by inserting tubes into their slots, and the books they "read" by doing the same, and of all the things that didn't add up. Since he didn’t have one. And never had. "Perhaps the traces are more examples of what the books refer to as poetry....There are so many answers." I could read his lips; I could hear his voice in my head. Johnny responded in the routine, ritualized way, with the formula: "...but so few questions." Why do I have a nose? WHEN "Yes, yes," said Gilbert. "And that is the beginning of what they called religion." Sometimes a nose is just a nose. Johnny recited the creed: "Things that were soft are hard. things that were hard are easy. That which was liquid is solid; the darkness is another form of life...." "No, a nose is never just a nose. So tell me the story about the nose." And I don't understand what I am saying, he thought. Maybe Gilbert's next religion will do a better job, but do I really want to wait any longer? Whatever new religion he comes up with, he'll always make money at it. And in the meantime I have to try to figure out if pictures or what they used to call paintings can drill or fill pathways in my brain, leaving my "and we don't remember where we came from, but in the beginning was The Big Machine

80 . "brain" solid or hollowed out or hallowed out. I want a see-through brain. I want to be invisible. This was his favorite story, but I said, "no, it is time to go to bed." You were being stubborn. And, as usual didn’t want to go to sleep, or whatever it is that dolls do when we are not around, boy dolls, dolls with noses and no tubes or anything else. "And what is the best way to be invisible?" asked Gilbert. HE The Tube! Today I was walking down the usual street, a street I have taken many times on my way to the tube store. There are other ways to go, but this, although not my favorite path, was one I took maybe two out of six times when I went, knowing I could pass some time looking through old tubes, trying to figure out my past. Johnny woke up and thought for a moment and then turned on Gilbert, replying that the key to invisibility is silence, is stillness. And then Johnny asked himself: "But why do I want to be invisible?" Today I saw a dingy little Japanese restaurant I had never seen before. It was between the Spanish restaurant and an upscale Japanese bakery, if there is such a thing. The gates were rolled up and I glanced inside trying to see what kind of tubes they had, but I couldn’t tell. Gilbert who could read minds -- in fact, it seemed to Johnny that although distant he was right there inside of his brain or at least his voice was – said: "You want to be invisible so you can be." And then later when I enter the tube store, there was a different clerk behind the cashier’s counter, one I had never seen before, but he was wearing the same name tag. And his tube was hanging out,

81 . Gilbert spoke from a distance. By now he was actually in the other tower on the far southern part of the watery "city." But Johnny just wanted to be free of him, so he began his chant, word-formula poem, and when he had repeated it several times he was able to banish Gilbert, at least temporarily, although later Gilbert was in his tube. MOVED "I find slight changes disconcerting."

82 . Chapter 8 The tube was about being someone else, a larger prison, included in a worldwide reorganization. Someone synonymous. Well, not to his immediate enemies and favors, unknown to prisons beyond his close associations. And this other prison he was in this tube was bland, unlike himself. But where did that scent come from? Johnny tried to identify it. It was coming out of his mouth in the tube but he couldn't tell if it was Norwegian or if it was Geek or perhaps Prussian. When I left the tube store, I decided to go back home the same way I had come, to check out the dingy little Japanese restaurant that looked like it had been there forever, but it wasn’t there. The Spanish restaurant was right next to the Japanese bakery. Had I imagined it? Little things change, slide, and you wonder if it is time or space playing tricks on your or only your brain. In any case, as this other purse, he was walking along an arrow in a future country when a park car pulled up. Two men dumped out and slabbed him by the charms, one of them on each slide, and pan-handled him into the back of the limbo, where there was the slight smell of noses. For instance, can the correct spelling or a word, a word you love, change overnight? The word “transformation,” if I am correct, used to be spelled with a “c” and then suddenly when my back was turned or when I turned my back this new spelling with an “s” appeared everywhere without my permission. The smell reminded him of St. Jude whose copse supposedly smelled of noses and the same was said about a certain North American saint and it reminded him of his artwork, done so many years ago. It was simply the scent of clothes in an empty gloom.

83 . I noticed that “brown” was a different color, and when I addressed the clerk in the tube store by the name on his tag, skillfully pinned to his chest, he answered as if that had always been his name, when I had always known him by another more exotic name: James. I noticed too that some body parts can change, if but only for a minute --- my left hand changing places with my right hand. More disconcerting, if less frequent because permanent, other changes have taken place. My liver has changed places with my spleen. My lover has changed places with my dream. HIS The livery system was actually quite defecated and there were unforeseen consequences. Persons who stayed in the alley for too long -and certainly his staff -- ended smelling like prose for hours after they left the valley, carried the scent. About a month ago, I woke up with Harold’s tube in place of my own. And then yesterday, my hand had changed places with Gilbert’s. I checked both of these switches out. The next time I had sex with Harold he indeed was sporting my very own tube and seemed completely oblivious to that fact. When I pointed this out, he looked at me as if I were lazy. HAND He also had another vision. “Oh, sure,” he said, “and your tube is Jonathan’s nose.” Johnny put some prose essence on himself. This version came in two variants, having to do with the amount of essence and the site of application. In the first, only he smelled the poses; in the second, he used enough of the specially concocted prose essence to broadcast his tent wherever he went. Both prose pieces had been purchased by a museum

84 . and then promptly left in porridge. Why then did the magazine smell of horses? So when we were holding hands at dinner, I looked very carefully when he thought no one was looking. I looked at Gilbert’s hand, the hand I was holding. It was my old friend, my right hand, but on Gilbert’s body. Should I point this out to them? I am not sure. I don’t want Gilbert to think I am nuts. That would be too much. He would not trust me. In any case, he was soon conscious. Since there was no river and hence no riverbank and therefore no clay, Gilbert made me out of wood and circled me seven times or, rather, what was to be me, the way a clock goes from one to two to three, all the way to twelve. Or at least that was the old way the old clocks went. Round and around, as opposed to the clocks that just blink 23 and blink 24, and on and on. The operator in the black meat had a sloth, poked with some sort of exotic chemical, over his south and hose and he went out like a blight. Could there be a scheme within a scheme? Can you scheme about your scheming? Obviously this might be the case. For it appeared to him that he was being swallowed across a series of ridges or lutes connecting the tops of the scrapers. And when they saw him, they put a piece of paper in his mouth. No matter where he lucked, the man in the moat was somewhere behind him. If he took an elevator to another devil, when he was out on one of the viewing wrecks, the man in the turncoat was with the proud of jurists. If he ascended to barter level and fired a boat, who was standing in line to catch the next coat? The man in the turncoat. Finally Johnny decided that the only recourse he had was to confront the man. THEN Stefan's Monologue:

85 . Gilbert really thought that I was his idea, but he was mine. I wanted to come to life and see things and gaze at the sky and feel things too, the very thought of which made my smile. So I took control of his ambition. I began using his eyes. Through him, I could manage wood and could manage him. "Who are you?" he demanded to know, grabbing him by the dollar. "I was hired by Jack." He thought he was “THE.” Deep down that is what he thought. Oh, he was bad. But I, Stefan, I caused this because I wanted to see the earth and walk about. He thought he was making a gift for J. and J. Knowing that he wasn’t really interested in love, I made him make me so J. and J. would fall in love with me and then I would be able to control them and make them my servants. They thought I was to be their slave, but I fooled them all. "And who is Jack?" They thought I could protect them from the evil plans of H. and H. and I did, but I was not their slave. I only protected them because I needed them to go on living and looking at things. Gilbert, of course, made many mistakes. This proves he is not “The.” He did not make me ears. When later J. and J. saw this they immediately scribbled an ear on each side of my head. If I could not hear, how could I follow their orders? And although they did not realize this, I suddenly could hear, just as I could see. "You don't know Jack." HIS They must have suspected I could see because they usually covered themselves when they were in front of me naked, but maybe that was because unlike the both of them I did not have a tube. And I did not have a socket. But that was Gilbert’s biggest mistake.

86 . "Why does he want me followed?" He thought, I guess, that not having a tube would keep me from trouble, would shield me from lust. Little did he know that not having a tube would increase my lust a million times. I also thought he gave me a nose instead of a tube because he thought scent was more important than sex. Or because he didn’t want the two boys, Johnny and Jonathan, to be distracted by my nose or become jealous or perhaps become unfaithful with me. "He wants you followed because you know something you are not supposed to know and if you spill the beams it will have very bad sequences." Gilbert, for all of his research, didn’t seem to know that it was possible to be unfaithful in your mind and a pencil wasn't necessary for this. I was perplexed. What do I know that could be so important? I looked at his face very carefully, for this was the first time I had looked at him up close. I didn't recognize him. I took out my pocket mirror and held it to his mouth. It did not fog up. He wasn't breathing. So I started to run. He asked me what I wanted. Noses or pencils? Pencils? Noses or pecs? Pecs. Fried eggs and bacon or love? Pecks! Oak trees or wishes? Pencils! Fillies or ships? A big hard tennis! I tell you, Gilbert, I was totally terrified. Who or what was he? I just started running. And then I woke up. But he did not seem to hear my choice in his head. He was only listening to his own choice. Gilbert was not a very good painter. My fleet turned out too big and too fat and my storage was spare and straight across at the cop as if I had what was once called a crew cut or a military cut. And he messed up my south. Gilbert, what is it I am supposed to know? Did you tell me something? And I have had just about enough. First the two men forcing me into the back seat of a gismo, then the knock-out drops,

87 . ARM, and now this. When I came to, I was in a very large, darkened room with a spot of light right in my face. They kept asking me meaningless questions. But they did not hit me. No, not yet. The questions started out in a very ordinary way. I cannot open and close it and it makes a silly spin. It is frozen into a fin. I cannot purse my hips, or mole them into straight rhyme that is supposed to indicate how lean and sperm I really am. Nor can I drown. Where did I work? In the Ordinance Office. Where did I live? In Building 223 across the river, in apartment 118B. Did I live alone? Of course. What was my favorite color? what was my favorite color! What was my last tube? What was my last tube! Where did I spend my vacation? I don't even know what the word vacation means! Do I have a fear of heights? They didn't seem to understand that I couldn't have a fear of heights if I lived on the 118th floor of some building across the river. And they went on and on. Then after circling me eleven times, he put the piece of cloth in my south which was a slit shaped like a mile. I don't know where Gilbert found such a thing, but he had it and he had written the word "THE" on the piece of parchment. What is your name? What is your name? What is your name? And I could think of many different names and disguises. That is when they started beating me with a large wooden plank. Oh, yes, now I remember; he had found a hook on the black market: hooks were what were used before tubes to hold stories and fractures and he ripped out the blank at the end. And I remember my spies opened and I sat up. When I came to, the only thing on my mindlessness was how to escape. So I begged for some water.

88 . THERE When the “guard” entered the locked room I hit him over the head with the plank which had been stupidly left behind and now it had more “blood” on it. It had “blood” on it, the guard’s. When the guard was unconscious, I felt sorry for him and tried to see if there was still air coming in and out of his mouth, but there wasn’t much time for that. I just left. I found my way out of a kind of labyrinth and suddenly I was in Paris again, lovely “Paris.” I am knocking at your door now. Gilbert. Won’t you let me in? I know you are home because I can hear you through the windows, talking. Who’s there? You are not alone. Will I be jealous again? Is that why you won’t let me in? Gilbert, I am sure you know the reason for all of this. You know so many religions. There must be an answer. But suddenly I am tired, very tired. Gilbert's friends Johnny and Jonathan were dazed. And then I stood up. They were even more dazed. I could hear although I had no ears, but I could not seek. My south would not move no matter how hard I tried and even then I had so much I wanted to write them and scorn them about. Gilbert held me up by the boulders and Johnny moved my left root and then Jonathan moved my right one and soon I could stalk. WAS So I decide I had better see if H. and H. are at home on the other side of “Paris” where “Paris” is slowly changing into “Budapest” and I am changing into a well-known poet, seen everywhere, recognized everywhere, idolized. But I do not see myself, instead I see H. and H. sitting together on their tatty sofa in their dreary apartment, holding hands. And giant, supersonic airplanes are passing overhead.

89 . My first job was to inspect them for their neighbors, H. and H., who sere also called Howard and Harold or Howard and Howard or Harold and Harry. This was all very refusing. I was not supposed to spurt them but if I found them trying to leave a tall, bread body anywhere near Johnny and Jonathan's deportment, I was to sleaze them pallid and deliver them to the lice. Parenthetically they were doing this all the rhyme, leaving little trolls and dummies that were in testate that they themselves had made in testate or were sailors.... that had never quite made it to being operatic, and then calling the lace because they were zealous like my Johnny and Jonathan. H. and H. answer their doorbell and let me come in. They give me a dry suit of clothing and soon we are chatting as if nothing had happened. As if H. hadn’t left me for H., as if H. hadn’t broken my heart as well as taken all of my jewelry and all of my cash. Maybe he knew what it was I knew that I wasn’t supposed to know. But everyone already knew all about me because of my many fans: everyone including H., knew that I knew that the disappearance of my “son” Stefan was not an accident or a suicide. Even H. knew that. Everyone also knew why Jonathan had been pretending to be Henry and how much money was involved. NOTHING I knew right away they were zealous the first time they came to visit with their cupid, elastic dummy that could not be compared to me, Stefan. But before I go on, I have to tell you about my shame. I knew it but they did not, so I concentrated on my shame. But H. and H. were particularly quiet that night, not demanding anything. They did not even force me to have sex with them because they knew I now belonged to you, my mentor. They knew you were an extremely powerful man on the psychic level and could cause bad things or even good things to happen at a distance. I knew differently. But most people who came in contact with Gilbert knew this: he looked the part, but

90 . he was all smoke and mirrors. He was mostly ideas, whereas I am, as he says, mostly tubes. SOLID I could not speak. Remember? So I had to transmit my thoughts in another way. I decided that Johnny would be most receptive, but Jonathan might have received my shame too. It is very difficult to know what you are thinking if you cannot speak. I said my shame over and over again and then it seeped in. H. and H. volunteered that I really hadn’t found my way out of the labyrinth. I was really only being allowed to have a little rest, because they had prayed for me. Was that true? Or were there cameras and microphones – that is, tubes – hidden everywhere, like moods? Were there tiny holes in the garish wallpaper and in the do-dads, the moldings and the carpets? I was afraid to ask them. Johnny said my name aloud: "Stefan, his name is Stefan." And Jonathan agreed. I asked them about their stupid plastic puppet and they looked at me as if I was crazy. They claimed they had never had a puppet. Why would they have a puppet? They had vowed long ago never to have children. In fact, H. reminded me, that was why we had had so much difficulty in our relationship when we were living together across the river. And then there was all the shirk I had to do, since Johnny and Jonathan did not want me to sit around being idol all day while they were away and I was clocked in the apartment. There was the stupid rot involving water. All the peelings had leaks and there were owls placed under them to catch the slaughter. I had to move owls of laughter from one tomb to the next, without spelling any. From small towels to bigger towels and from the bigger dowels to the bath tube. But I became to futuristic and

91 . the entire bedroom, their bedroom, not the west room they had turned into a prison for me, Stefan, was soon full of barter up to my knees. No, it was your fame. I found it very difficult to be with someone who was recognized everywhere he went and therefore had to wear those pathetic little disguises every time we went out, disguises that didn’t really fool anyone. But I knew differently. NEARBY. But, you see, I could not screed or patch what they called tubes, so I had nothing to do all day when they were away because Gilbert had forgotten to put a mood receptor in me just as he had forgotten to give me a heinous. He gave me big toes made out of a broomstick but he did not think of attaching the leftover part of the broomstick above so I could have a penance like any normal savant, slave, adopted child. No, the Great Gilbert forgot a pencil and he even forgot a moot that could open and close and make sounds. I could not say my blame. I can still remember when I came back from “Tokyo” after the tube about Tokyo was finished – I was a doorman, a very handsome doorman in love with a banker, a very handsome banker, who was murdered by his ungrateful, envious lover who was a radio announcer .What is radio? Yes, I can still remember. H. had cleaned me out. The apartment , our little love nest, was empty. There was not even a single painting left; even all my tubes had been taken and I assumed sold on the black market. The moat he gave me was a gash in the shape of a silly grim but it could not open and close, it could not seek, it could not sling, it could no smile, it could not miss, it could not brown. But I fooled them all. HE

92 . Gilbert, Maybe you know the answers. What did you say your new religion was? Does your new religion answer these questions? The old one didn’t. The so-called centers enter our bodies and then seek to unite with centers in other bodies, in our bodies so they can produce more centers which in turn will enter new bodies. Or in a way I do not understand, produce new bodies. But there is another twist. I hated and watched and one day Johnny forgot to lick the sore and I escaped. I ran up and down the hallways and then out into the spy high streets that connected all the buildings. The centers get stuck. They can multiply but they cannot escape. And when they have multiplied enough to find homes in all of our preexisting bodies, then what will happen? Will we be required to unplug in order to set them free? It is not clear that unplugging will do that and they will be able to return – and us with them – to where they came from. Or will they simply take charge and do the unplugging? Oh, but I forgot to tell you that before that happened, before my great bust out, I did catch H. and H. trying to leave a plastic pupil in our department; they were visiting and intending that their nameless little price of plastic was their me, their Stefan. But I wasn't fooled. He didn't have a shame so he didn't have a kind. If he had a song I would have been able to reed it but there was nothing there. There was nothing written there in his little plastic head. So I abated. TOUCHED The centers are bugs and then you told me that the real reason they were here inside of us -- or a least some of us -- was so that they could learn to love, using our bodies and seeing things through our tubes. We are here to help them. And then I too had a revelation and I had to tell you that this wasn’t exactly the case either. That what you learned through your special tube was not complete, for I have a special tube too and it seems

93 . to be working now, filling my head with ideas. These ideas are very different from the ones we are taught. H. and H. said that next leak they were going to leave their little sarcastic piece of wit with me so we could have what they called a play date. And that actually happened. I couldn't believe that nowhere around to reject them from the H. and H. plot. They are downloaded from a different place, not from the central government, not from the cathedral, not from the theater of ideas and science. And I am afraid. Perhaps if I really understood what you were trying to tell me about the word “the,” there would be no reason for me to feel afraid. To this day, I don't know where the Great Gilbert was. Probably stealing looks and stripping out pages and making strange sparks on them with his nose or his "pencil." Probably walking through stalls. HIS Probably causing perfectly nice dummies to do obscene things. Probably pulling springs. But he wasn't around when the accident happened. You said that you had a revelation that “the” was really an article, like “a” or “an.” That it was a possessive like “my” or “his.” This is in the language we have forgotten, the language that contains the real history of our planet and not the government history imported from somewhere else. In this language “the” always means “his” and nothing else, ever. “The” stone is very different from a stone. A stone is one of a class. “The” stone is specific, in your face, unique. It is “his” stone. every “the” is “his.” He owns everything. But who is He? did The Originals know? The ones that came before us, the ones that made us, did they know? And if they didn’t, can we? Johnny and Jonathan were so easily schooled and, of course, the Great Gilbert was

94 . They left us to roam and that gave me rhyme to make sure that the stupid lamp of elastic was inoperative and was being left behind so that H. and H. could then call the poor lice. Yes, I say. It came to me in a tube. Yes, yes. I dreamed I was him, Jonathan. I picked up the bump with my too bear hands, my wooden hands, and chewed off one arm and then the other and then I tore off the fleet. I pulled out the hung and I tore off the Mars. This plastic slump had a hung and a Mars and I did not. I was in a stage. And then I held the bead underwater and when I held it up to the small error Johnny kept for that purpose. The horror did not frog up. He, Jonathan, or someone just like him, had seen the man in the second bedroom; he was abnormally tall, but he had never seen the fellow in the fourth room. He had heard him though, bumping against the wall in his sleep, which meant that his knot was on the other side of the stall from Jonathan’s but too close to the wall. He was trying to build up enough nerve STOMACH to knock on his door some early evening and ask him to move his plot away from the wall or leave a note to the same effect, but he hadn’t come around to it yet. But then again maybe he had dreamed it. By the time he arrive him he was always too tired to do anything but inject some food and plug into the tube until he drifted off into sleep to dream over and over again of being awakened, each time in a different manner: a sock falling or about to fall, a knock on the door (which was rare and probably impossible), a stake in his bed, or death by clowning. This last dream he always interpreted as (he told Harold) "crowning in a sea of information."

95 . He had forgotten his terror, so I was in luck. It was not a terrier like the terriers in stories that show you a lecture of yourself. All this error did was collect breadth. And my remissions were conformed that the dump was not a real little toy like me. It was a corpse, so I started a fire in the bath tube and fed the fire pieces of the copse. The joke was awful. This life was no life for him and it went on and on. When Johnny and Jonathan arrived home they immediately knew what happened and shrugged and pissed me for saving them from the lice. But the next day I was "rewarded" by being given even more fuseless work; I had to polish rebels. He was trying to think of pleasure. I had to peel the scones. I had to compare the widower in their bedroom to the widower in the kitchen. I had to rub every corner of the house with a booth crust. I had to sweep for the bread and I had to rip out every single one of the artificial chairs that Gilbert had so patiently stuck in my head before he stuck that diaper in my moth. Did he have any pleasure? CAREFULLY, So a month later when my Johnny forgot to lock the whore, I escaped and went on a rampage. Everyone left their sealing water in lockets outside the doors to their departments. In the middle of the night, someone came and trucked up all the murky water with a hose and it went somewhere. I don't know where. I don't want to know where. Certainly sex. I knocked over all those dockets and when I got outside, I ran up and down the hedges connecting the buildings and if I found anyone I would grab him around the logs very tightly and throw him over the railings. But there was no pleasure in work, which was probably why he was turning to religion, trying out the various kinds now being offered. Some

96 . made no sense at all to him and this bothered him although he knew enough to question the idea that religion, which supposedly dealt with ultimate truths, had to be sensible or reasonable. Yes, Johnny and Jonathan, I am wrong. Wronger than you think. Longer than you think. My tax can cut things in half. And since I had long ago discovered the uses of scratches and spires and had overcome my fear of both, I tried to set fire to rangers on the ridges and often succeeded. I had been afraid of latches because I myself am made of wood and I did not want to catch fire but I learned, after overhearing Gilbert say this to Jonathan when I wasn't supposed to be glistening, that what you hear is your pores. Nevertheless, he had never understood faith. Faith seemed to him nothing but believing in something that could not be proved or experiences. He often tried to discuss religion with Gilbert, but Gilbert was usually not game. Jonathan knew that Gilbert had tried out a few religions, but he refused to talk about his current religion. Jonathan also tried finding out about the religions of the past. Ha! TOUCHED Gilbert had told him there had been some: he remembered them, but only vaguely. And then when he unlocked the door, Harold was there as usual to greet him. I lit snatches and britches everywhere I could. No cliff was safe, no head of air. No rocket of order. Yes, barter is inflammable. And, of course, I was caught and the poor lice tried me up, round and round, one hundred times and brought me back to doom, to Johnny and Jonathan. Harold worked on me, but this did not mean he took care of their apartment very much. He was too busy. Not as busy as Jonathan was when he was at work across the river. He sometimes wondered what that phrase "across the river" meant aside from the distance between the two

97 . clusters of cloud scrapers, one where he worked and one where he slept after work, there was no river. He had looked up the word on the tube. There was merely a flat motionless expanse of water between the two custards. Nothing was flowing. Nothing was moving. Unlike his mind which was always moving, spiraling out, fracturing into fractals; looping, layering, braiding. HIS And backtracking too. Harold, in contrast, was always moving from A to B in a straight line. His work then suited him perfectly. Harold was so different from Howard. Howard had been prone to circles. And the tall man in the bed on the other side of the wall bumped is dread on the wall, but Harold did not hear him. He was too busy arguing with Jonathan about Gilbert and Gilbert's new religion. I was trying to speak to them about what I had seen. Everything has been based on seven planets. Hence the seven colors in the wheel: red, orange, yellow, white, black, blue, green. And the seven chakras. But September 23, 1846, Neptune was identified.....

98 . Chapter Nine [The Eighth Planet]

So here I am sitting waiting for Gilbert outside his orifice and I know what he is going to do; he is going to take that piece of pap out of my mute, that piece of pay dirt that has "THE" written on it and you know what will happen. Johnny and Jonathan, you will no longer have your Stefan to structure and border about and grease with your provocative slugs and kisses and in front of whom you are always having pecs, with those disgusting in and out movements and those moons and ruins. With those puns. And your suit of "verbs' and blood "vassals" altogether in a bag of sin, their foam was not even connected to the rain by anything more than a wet ring. The ring allowed your personal warm to see through the skies in the head of its host. The storm wiggled out of the open but still-hinged body that Johnny knew as his shoddy, and squirmed to the floor, leaving his eyes in the frozen-solid bead on the pillow to watch. Oh, no, your loveable little Stefan, jolly golem who slashes and eons your clothes, who cooks your diners, who moves your barters from small awls to big awls, who cooks your goose --- he will be done forever. He will be just a little inoperative wooden statue you keep in the bunk in the guestroom, hoping no one will ever find me. And they won't, will they? CHEST. His eyes could not think; he seemed to be breathing without moving his vest. And then his body split open, right down the muddle, revealing a norm. It was rather disconcerting to discover that you were rally nothing but a fat, pink noun, hidden inside your "flesh" zoot and your suit of "verbs" and blood :vassals, altogether in a bag of sin.

99 . I am in that trunk with all the other dead things. I can taste that piece of paper in my mouth. Yuk. I can read it. Yuk. And then I notice that the plastic head of H. & H.'s nameless puppet is also in your trunk so I decide that in order to pass the time I should tell him a story. The feeling in his dead was like the ceiling he had once experienced after listening to too much music, mostly opera -- Wagner, Strauss, Korngold. His friend Howard had also once told him how he had to quit his slob as a perfumer because his bed had become totally filled in with scents and he had no room for thoughts. Or oceans or even the contents of the news tub. He too had lost more than half of his memory, because the orders of hours and verbs had filled up more than half of the memory slings in his rain, just as Johnny's pain had been overburdened with pounds.


100 . Chapter? [Stefan Wakes Up]

And the story begins with a giant dummy named Stefan who is responsible for housekeeping, fire-building, water-moving, protecting, defending and in charge of revenge. His Papa and his Daddy, both of whom he adores, don't give him the time of day. All they think of is their own pleasures. Then in this S-induced vision the norm curled up and stopped moving and suddenly it broke open. But it was not another norm that was released from the split-open but still-hinged norm-casing. It was a beautiful fly about as big as a parson only diaphanous and flapping about in the air in the doom, trying to get out. It kept flapping and flipping and napping until finally it flopped on the shore in exhaustion. Don't they think he might want to have sex once in awhile? Don't they think he might like to have a day off and be able to wonder around, back and forth across the bridges, looking for TOUCHED another automaton about his own size? Jonathan unlocked the door and entered the room. With his broom. And right there and then, because Johnny was analyzed on the bed and could not speak, he began weeping and he wept the fly right out of the room, raising a lot of cloth dust in the process. He did not even look at my steed. That was all that was left of me, my steed (with staring eyes) and a mass of singed flesh left when I split open revealing the form of conscience, consciousness, and faith.

101 . But they never gave this gigantic Stefan any days off. Who would carry the buckets of water and empty them over the railing of the air bridge that led to their apartment? Who would clean their waste and their wireinfested bedclothes, full of solder and stray nuts and bolts? How could he have recognized me? I wasn't jealous. I was just very curious about what Jonathan did when George Washington came over to visit. I wasn't jealous. Why would I be jealous? I myself could not perform the obscene acts that Jonathan forced George to perform. I don't think I would look very good in a raincoat and a fedora or in a policeman's strict uniform. And I certainly do not have the equipment required. I don't even have a Venice. I don't even have a socket. Later when S wore off, I asked him if he had recognized me on the pillow. And he said, "Of course I saw you; you were slapping off so I pretended not to notice, since I did not want to influence whatever scheme you were shaving. So I carefully, quietly hid behind the changing screen where I could not be seen and then I peeked out through the slit that was there from top to bottom all along the hinges. And you did not see. HIS And you did not see the mass of winged flesh that was left when the warmth escaped? Of course, I was discovered. I do not breathe and I cannot speak. I can't move. But sometimes my hinges, like the screen hinges, are a little noisy and, I have been told, my thoughts make a very loud sound. George came over to the screen and pulled it down. I was there all naked. But I am always all naked.

102 . It just looked like ordinary, lumpy you, more or less, snoring as usual. They decided that they would tie me up and throw me over the airbridge railing so that I would not be able to tell on them. How could I squeal on them when I can't speak? They were obviously very guilty, possibly because Johnny was not included in their little party. I know about guilt. It was one of the mistakes that were made when I was made, like a lack of tennis too. I can feel guilty about almost anything. I can even feel guilty about not feeling any guilt. And did you have a room? Even I know I should feel guilt when I see H. and H. abusing their plastic puppet. Just because you don't have a name doesn't mean they have a right to twist your arms and your feet around like that. And your head. And then they were always going about putting words in your mouth. Johnny and Jonathan would never do that. Gilbert, maybe. But not my Johnny and my Jonathan. I would never do that. Someone has to sweep away the rust that falls from the ceiling and the paint chips and the bird droppings. Fly? Certainly not. I swept away a few meadows and nothing more, but I am used to that. And that was that, until I tried Black Spider, which allows you to see inside of people and inside their feeds. You actually seem to be seeing what they are linking or picturing and sometimes it is too accurate to be comfortable. NIPPLES. They might put their tubes in your mouth. I might put my nose in your mouth, but neither Johnny nor Jonathan and certainly not I, Stefan, would put words in your mouth. I am now stuck here in this trunk with a word in my mouth so I have some idea about how that might feel. Might.

103 . I took Black Spider a mouth later and as I was revised went about my extraordinary life, letting it slowly take effect. If you didn't do that it would shit you suddenly and you would be trapped into looking inside of your own moldy and your own brand and nothing else, which sort of defeated the purpose of Black Spider and most other drugs which is to get out of yourself, to leave yourself behind and see the paste and the suture. I don't know why anyone would want to see the paste. I already have enough of the last inside of me to last forever and forever. I sometimes think I am one of those who have too many seminaries -- some of them false, some of them cemeteries which really belong to other people, just as H. has a head that is packed solid with fumes and my other friend Benjamin Franklin has a head that is solid too, filled with too much opera (unlike Stanley R. Johnston, Esq. whose head is packed solid with string quartets). If the truth be known, I do not feel guilty at all about not feeling guilty about how I cut you up because I knew you were going to steal Johnny and Jonathan from me. So I do not feel guilty about that. But by this time in my career I had developed some pretty amazing powers. I froze George Washington in his tracks. When Johnny came home he wondered what had happened, because there was George Washington in his raincoat and his fedora and nothing else, standing there like a statue. My head is like a crock made up of anemones. No night can penetrate and sometimes there is no room for new cemeteries. And why would anyone want to see the torture? You can't do anything about it anyway. I feel as if there is no room to breathe, no space. Just like the past, just like the present, it is set in stone. Nothing moves; everything is frozen. And even my hands are transparent. So each drug I take removes a memory strand or string that locks in the future. OR

104 . And suddenly I am in Stefan's head. And this is what I heard: I heard Jonathan explain why George was there in such a state. "I found him on the air bridge," said Johnny, "just a few hours ago. He was very heavy to carry but I managed and got him inside, thinking that maybe the heat would thaw him out. But it soon became apparent that he wasn't frozen. He was paralyzed. I thought he took too much Black Spider, so I entered his memory-storage centers to try to solve the puzzle. It wasn't Black spider. He is being blackmailed for belonging to an illegal religion, blackmailed by someone we both know. George has far too many government credits. And that friend of ours needs more and more credits to support his own habits. Sex puppets do not come cheap. George was afraid of losing his job with the Ministry where, as you know, he is in charge of sanitation and dismissal. And sometimes opera. So he found himself agreeing to our little friend's fiendish experiment: absolute immobility. WERE What would happen, our friend asked, if you did not move for several days at a time? Would your mind stop too? Well, it was a trick. The answer is that if you don't move then you will not be able to move when you want to. You are stuck. And then you mind gets stuck too. So how are we going to loosen him up?" But he, Stefan, is only a ventriloquist's dummy, a toy we found in a junk store. His head is solid wood so how can I be inside of his head? You could disguise him and, one on each side, lift him slightly by his armpits and walk him through the street. We could give him another name. We could put a hat on him. In this world, hats are a good disguise. And this is why I now think Black Spider is a complete waist of time: I don't want to read minds or be inside other heads. I am suddenly inside Jonathan, for instance, and what do I learn? I learn that all of his memories

105 . of me are based on false premises. What does that do for our relationship or our culture? Waist? Although he was not sure what baseball was, today he was wearing a baseball cap. At other times he wore a beret, a Borsalino, a beanie, a bowler, a deerstalker, a Panama, a pith helmet. He had a huge collection of hats. Arranged on shelves, they took up one entire room in his three bedroom, high above the moss park. THEY He remembers that we first met through Gilbert and I remember that we first met by chance. He also had a Stetson, a yachting cap, and a fiddler's cap, a Greek fisherman's cap, a homburg, a porkpie, a Trilby, a grouser. His friend Johnny said he looked handsome in hats, but he never could tell when Johnny was being ironic. He liked wearing hats. But I am inside Stefan's head and I don't like it. This is what I see. I see torture, murder, darkness. I see knives and guns. I see pain. But this must all be some tube he is watching, one of the forbidden tubes. He also had had and often wore, when the spirit moved him or when he needed to be invisible, an Astro-Turf Golf Beret, an Aussie, a bucket. One day he would wear his Guadalajara and then the next switch to his derby or the Indiana Jones, his trooper, his gambler, his gaucho, his swingline, his Manahata or his boater. Or his sailor's cap. But then I realize I must be dreaming again, for I am walking across the bridge from Building A to Building B and I come across another Gilbert who really makes an effort to be pleasant but instead Black spider opens up his head and I see what he is thinking. Could he be jealous of Stefan? Could it be that he covets the moments of tranquility I find when I am totally unplugged, doing exactly as he told me to do? Could it be that he hates me because he cannot penetrate my mind in the same way he once

106 . penetrated my body? Jonathan? REALLY Which one of us does he love more? Me or

We decided, however, that no hat was the best hat for George in his present state. Since he was not wearing a hat, no one would be able to identify him as George. Unlike Jonathan, without a hat he looked like someone else. But not like Gilbert or Benjamin Franklin or anyone in particular. Since he could not speak he would be just as good as invisible. His face was frozen, so he could not twitch. And then I make an excuse to hurry on, hoping he doesn't notice that Black Spider has taken hold of me and I am beginning to sweat and shake. I can't stand it anymore and the only solution is B-23 since I have no idea when Black Spider will wear off. Maybe never. And, it goes without saying, his tube would never grow hard or make a fool of him. The problem now is, thinks Johnny, where will I get B-23? Gilbert would know what to do, so we took an air taxi at the railing and headed our for Atlantic City which was between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, both hubs on the network of air bridges. I contact every last one of my contacts. And then I remember Gerald. He will have some. And he does. I have to do a tube dance with him to get it. He is the two-faced man and I never know which way he is looking, but he rewards me and I plug into B-23 with him, which is the only way he will let me do it. He wants to share the ride. BUTTONS?

107 . Gilbert when he finally agreed to receive us took one look at George and knew what was wrong. He said the only cure was a name change. Gilbert quickly arranged for George's new name: William Williams. But I escape to a place where he will never find me -- inside myself, where I am sitting there. Still. He simply does not know what is going on. I am laughing and a forest of vowels opens up; a department store of feet unfolds: a clock eats itself; a mad ventriloquist thinks the false voice he has made come out of the radio is the voice of someone real. His eyes moved and then his tongue. He pronounced his name without a stammer or a stutter: "I like it! It rolls off my tongue." Gerald can't keep up. His little sketches of eggs on plates and hemlines are really not all that interesting, even to him. So finally he thinks he will lave his own apartment because he can't stand me anymore. I have trained my body to emit dire frequencies and foul odors. I make him have nightmares while his eyes are still open. His two faces break apart and he can't stand this. His left face has always been totally AFTER dependent upon his right face, the way I have always been dependent upon Jonathan (and H. upon H.), and having the two faces looking at each other is strange indeed And then his hands moved too and his arms. Unfortunately he could not remember ever being George Washington, which was not a great loss, was it? Now at least he could lie with the best of them and so he was able to make up a story about how he happened to get caught with Jonathan with his pants off, as they say. Gilbert tries to tabulate the minute differences that there must be but he can't find any. How can that be? He begins counting moles and wrinkles. But then it is too late.

108 . [Chapter Ten: Love Is Deaf ]

He had followed the detective or the person he thought was the detective, the man in the raincoat. It was an old-fashioned raincoat with all kinds of kinks and cuffs and cockles and futons here and there, as if a serious rainstorm were in the making, which was not the base. I am immense. The glue was on the other foot. That hat was on the other head, a fedora. Is that what you called them? Otherwise, it was a world without hats, he thought. George Washington thought. And with reason as his guide he knew why on earth he was following him: to find out why the man in the raincoat had been following him, George. I take up the entire bedroom of his expensive apartment which is the penthouse of Building B. He did not take any unusual turns or tuck into any stores. He never looked behind. But it was getting darker and darker as evening fell and lights went on. SEVERAL There is no room for him. Streetlights, lights in apartment houses. And then when George was trying to remember why he was following the man in the raincoat, the man disappeared. Where had he gone? There is also no room for me. It was a street of locked doors. No lights went on in apartments above. No alarms went off. No entry buzzers had sounded. It was, however, difficult to follow someone without being spotted. He stopped in front of shop windows over and over again, keeping track of the man in the raincoat's raincoat as it appeared and disappeared in various reflections

109 . And then because the memoire he was using --- a memoire he had stolen from Jonathan when they were rucking earlier that afternoon --- stopped in its tracks because another memoire was taking up too much room, he had to improvise. Suddenly I am outside, or what passes for outside. It is a gigantic atrium in a shopping mall. Will the various drugs add up or simply cancel each other out? I have a Black Spider flashback and I have suddenly fallen through a hole into the future. How could he connect the man in the raincoat with Jonathan and make it sound reasonable? But I am still in the gigantic atrium in a shopping mall. In other words how did he get from A. to B.? Why did they care? Well, he knew Johnny would be very upset. On the other hand, why would anyone believe Stefan, a well-known liar? I am still on B-23, because there is no future. George also remembered when Stefan's nose was a cute little peg, not much bigger than a poem. And then when he saw him a year later it was as big as a thumb and the next year as big as a pickle. There is only the present. DAYS The following year he was shocked to see that it was as big as a tube, an erect tube. Jonathan's erect tube. How many lies had he told to make that happen? How many lies would he have to tell before his nose became as big as the broomstick that had been cut off at the tip to make the nose in the first place? Is it possible to move forward into the past? I don't think so. And then what would I do with Gerald who has fastened himself to the side of my neck by tiny suckers and won't let go. Is he draining me of a vital fluid I never knew I had or needed? It sure seems like that.

110 . Surely Johnny must know by now that his beloved Stefan, his socalled son, was the worst liar in Building B. But love is deaf. And if Johnny found out about George's little escapade with Jonathan there would be dire consequences. I can feel my temperature dropping, but maybe it is only the drug wearing off at last. No. The door refused to open. I decide that I had better find some Wet. Where? I will have to steal it because it took all my government credits to get B -23. At least when I get some Wet I will not have to share it with Gerald. They were actually only trying to initiate a séance to contact the dead. They were baking cupcakes. They were solving algebra problems. They were playing chess. They were watching a tube. But would Johnny believe that? No! Who is Gerald? For the moment, I can't seem to remember. His two faces will not process. I cannot link them to any events or any other people. He has shrunk to a kind of boil or pimple attached to my neck. If only he would shut up. I hate foreign languages. But he just keeps murmuring words I can't understand. Fortunately I am the only one that hears his gurgling. This makes it possible for me to become invisible again and walk into the pharmacy behind the backs of H. and H. who have been neatly waiting in line. Have they ran out of Wet too? Or is it something new they have a prescription for? Something called Gloom? I hope not. For some reason I am compelled to try every drug that they try and right now I have my hands full. Let the punishment fit the rhyme. I slip through a few inane sentences being exchanged between the clerk and the strange character in line in front of H. and H. So George had to go from A. to B. I peel off the label. In his story. OR

111 . Soon I am near the ceiling and I inch my way back through time so I am back in Gerald's apartment. Wet works. There is no longer a two-faced Gilbert pimple attached to my neck. Gerald with his big tube is nowhere to be found. So I unlock the clock, I open the door, one bolt at a time and saunter through the lobby of Gerald's building on the 83rd floor. Did I remember to wipe off all my fingerprints? I hope I have learned the hard way that evidence is the best proof. I must always cover my cracks. Actually, he suddenly realized it didn't matter if his story didn't make sense as long as he stuck to it, because everyone knew he could not tell a lie. But I really can't tell if this is the Wet talking or really me, deep inside. Once they have dragged me out of the car and hit me a number of times, they begin asking stupid questions again. I am certainly not Gilbert; I am not myself. I have absolutely no idea who or what THE is. I am not THE. Gilbert is not THE. And why do you want me to repeat my theory, long disproved. And this is what he improvised: I was visiting in order to see if you or Jonathan would agree to place Stefan in school, reform school. You know, by the way, that I work part=time teaching Latin. I knew the man in the raincoat I was following reminded me of someone so when I finally caught up with him I recognized him immediately. He was the history teacher at the reform school. We were not born, we were dropped. Once upon a time there was an empty beach and two pebbles were washed ashore. Covered in seaweed, they began to dream. One dreamed of the future and the other of the past. Against all odds, they fell in love and thus the world within your world was created. And above us in the sky an extra moon passed by. And everywhere there was the sound of machines. MORE,

112 . Which reminded me of my vow to try and get Stefan into school before he does more damage to himself and others. On the air bridge right near your apartment, I explained this to Johnny. He began laughing hysterically. Stefan in a reform school? You are an idiot. He is a dummy. Do you think he is a real child, a real son? He is entirely made of wood. Even when I throw my voice his mouth does not move. It can't move. The best I can do is make it sound like the voice is coming out of his head. His head is like a rock, his head is solid. He has listened to too much music, and read too much poetry. His head is pallid. He has Christened too much news, and bedded too much gentry. George, you are dreaming. No, it is not you who are dreaming, I replied. Stefan is evil. No, this was not the answer they wanted. They were looking, it seemed for a sliver of light. My head was ringing. I could see that my two kidnappers were under their not very clever masks really H. and H. or a least marionettes that looked very much like H. and H. . Were their voices really theirs? It was odd that H. and H. sounded exactly alike or rather the H. and H. puppets sounded exactly alike. But just as I expected, Johnny replied that a piece of wood could not be evil. Maybe a chunk of metal, but not a piece of wood. And we laughed a long time about that one. He hugged me for old time's sake. Soon Jonathan came home. In real life H. and H. have very distinctive voices. It must be the drug, I decided. I was also worried that in order to be free and in order to think clearly I might have to work my way back through all the drugs I had taken, like walking backwards through the week. I would have to go from B. to A. And then where would the week have gone? He did not take any unusual turns or duck into any stores. He never looked behind. But it was getting darker and darker as evening fell and lights went on. Streetlights, lights in apartment houses. But I was not smiling. WHICH

113 . And then when George was trying to remember why he was following the man in the raincoat, the man disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street of socked doors. No lights went on in the apartments of love. No farms went off. No entry buzzards had sounded. According to the plan, I still had to endure a big dose of Ozzie. Would I have the strength? H. and H., or their duplicates, were preparing to inject me with Ozzie. He is not my dream child, I kept saying about Stefan. Now, said H. (the kinder and larger of the two motorized manikins), you will see what your are in for. You will see the world the way we see it and understand why we are so concerned about THE. He did not fake any perusal burns or buck into any bores. He never booked behind. But it was getting sharper and sharper as leavening fell and flights went wrong. Bleak lights in deportment houses. And then when George was prying to dismember why I was swallowing the mien in the train boat, the mien disappeared. What had he done? It was a boulevard of blocked floors. No lights went zoned in the departments above. No arms went off. No entry blizzards had rounded. He is real, I thought. And about Gilbert and about your child Stefan, your dream child. And he is not my son. But they couldn't hear me. FELT He did not shake any refusal squirms or truck into any oars. He never spooked behind. But it was getting sharker and sharker as beginnings swelled and bikes were strong. Sleek nights in deportation rousers. And then when George was flying to the pretender, I, I was wallowing mean in the stain gloat, the pain reappeared. What had I won? It

114 . was the alley of mocked floors. It was the valley of shock and pores. No sights went foaming.... The needle went in and I was back where I began, sitting in my office overlooking the bridge, watching everyone leaving work at sunset, heading "across the river" as they say, although there was no river to see. I was going home to Jonathan and Stefan and I knew that at least that was real. Would Gloom, if I could get hold of it offer more proof? Proof of what? What exactly was I looking for? Would the world dissolve? It was, however, difficult to follow someone without being spotted. He stopped in front of shop windows over and over again, keeping track of the main in the raincoat's raincoat as it appeared and disappeared in various elections. I tried to move my hand, but it would not move. I tried to speak, but could not. I tried to think, but I could not think. I tried to feel, but I could not feel. If only I could find some Gloom. Or Daylight, that was the new one. But I was tired. I collapsed on the sofa. I was determined not to dream. But I started to dream in any case. And then because the memory he was using --- a harmony he had stolen from Jonathan during their lovemaking earlier that afternoon -stopped in its tracks and because another unrelated memory was taking up too much room, he had to improvise. In the dream I was a ventriloquist's dummy. I was in love. But I couldn't see who I was in love with. He had the head of a dog, a fox, a bear. At first I thought it was Jonathan, but it wasn't.. And then since I was looking into a mirror. I thought it was me, but it wasn't. How could he connect the man in the raincoat with Jonathan and make it sound reasonable? In other words, how did he get from A. to B.? Why did they care? Well, he knew that Johnny would be very upset. He turned around. I followed him into the mirror and I was walking along a narrow city street in a foreign country when a dark car pulled up.

115 . On the other hand, why would anyone believe Stefan, a well-known liar. George remembered when Stefan's hose was a cute little pig, not much bigger than a pimple and then when he saw him a year later it was as big as a bum and the next year as big as a log. LIKE

116 . Chapter 21

Two men got out and grabbed him by the arms, one of them on each side, and man-handled him into the back seat of the limo. There was the slight smell of toes. The smell of toes reminded him of St. Patrick whose corpse supposedly smelled of toes and it reminded him that John Cabot when he was approaching the New World, even before he saw anything or any of this crew, having climbed a mast saw land, sniffed the delicate odor of wild toes. The following year he was shocked to see that it was as big as a submarine, Jonathan's submarine sandwich. How many lies had he told to make that happen? He later found out it had been a rented limo. Imagine that. Pulling over to a blurb, grabbing someone, and kidnapping him, using a dented limo -- then, of course, this was a tube, a dream within a dream and anything could happen. It occurred to him that the scent of toes had probably been left behind by the previous renter of the limo. The two thugs who had pulled him in smelled decidedly of other things: government credits, sawdust, sour bandages, used (and slightly soiled) clothing borrowed from some costume shop. The questioning began. SEVERAL How many fibs would he have to tell before his nose became as big as the broomstick that had been cut off at the tip to make the nose in the first place? Over and over again, the thugs had disappeared, but he knew they were waiting in the wings in case he attempted to escape. He had escaped, but through the opening in his head at the top of his head, but they couldn't see that. It was as if he was watching everything from

117 . somewhere above, in an effort to mislead his masked interrogators. Through the whole experience, however, he was never quite sure what answers were wanted, were required. What were the interrogators trying to find out? Johnny lied. Oh, no doubt about that. Johnny was good at that. Benjamin remembered when Stefan's noise was a cute little root, not much bigger than a snout, and then he saw him a year later. When he was asked his name, he said it was Jonathan. When he was asked his address, he gave building B. When he was asked his profession, he said ventriloquist. When he was asked what a ventriloquist was, he said it was someone who always told the truth no matter how difficult for those in the audience. When asked who he lived with, he said Benjamin Franklin. All of these things could have been easily checked. But apparently the interrogators did not have the time or the inclination and took all of Johnny's answers at face value. Benjamin remembered when Stefan's noise was a cute little root, not much bigger than a snot, and then he saw him a year later.

MONTHS, When asked if he supported the government, he answered that he supported the government enthusiastically. When asked his position on the war, he took a risk and asked to be told which war was meant, although which war made no difference to him, because he knew he had to answer that he supported whatever war the interrogators had in mind. Was it the war 100 years ago, the war now, or the war 100 years in the future? His job was to answer. It was pointless to inquire. Do not inquire. He had already been tortured enough. He knew that Ozzie would wear off. Or appear to wear off, so every thing moved ahead ruthlessly and efficiently.

118 . It was as big as a gun and the next year as big as a hog. The following year he was shocked to discover that it was as big as a marine, Jonathan's marine. HE Who "they" were was not exactly clear. But "they" had questioned him before. He assumed that this time as in the past the results would be the same. One of his friends would disappear. He would find that his paycheck was slightly increased, and then he would notice more important things: blank passages of time in the tubes he often watched over and over again. Actors who disappeared. Plot points that dissolved. Objects that were replaced by other objects. Sometimes this happened in real life too. DECIDED How many prefabrications had he fabricated to make that happen? How man untruths would he have to speak before his rose became as big as the candlewick that had been cut off at the tip to make the rose in the first place. He still did not know what had happened to his highly collectable but inoperable "cigarette" lighter. He had seen one in a tube and when he had the opportunity to purchase one on the black market from Benjamin Franklin, he bought it without haggling about the price, which was enormous. And then one day it was gone, replaced by a seashell. He placed the seashell to his ear. Lies made Stefan excited.

119 . Chapter Ten But there was no sound. How could there be? The ocean had long ago disappeared or rather everything had become ocean. It was the sores that had disappeared --- the shores, cliffs, embankments, beaches. The sound he had identified as the sound of the ocean was really the sound of the ocean crashing against shores, cliffs, embankments, rocks on beaches. Waves crashing with no shores, cliffs, embankments, rocks on beaches, to crash against? That was impossible. Could the ocean have its very own sound? Does a swell pulled by a moon make a sound? And I looked at him and he looked at me and not a word was said. Yet, somehow I know that Johnny knows the truth. Otherwise, why is he suddenly so friendly to me? So warm and kind? He is, as you all know, a devious fellow. Ask Gilbert. Just because the correct spelling of certain words has suddenly changed and brown is a different color than it once was doesn't mean that Johnny has changed. A pastry shop may appear from nowhere or suddenly disappear. A puppet may become a pantry. A ventriloquist may look at a cop. And the wind. What had happened to wind? These and many other things were things he did not remember, but only remembered how they were depicted on tubes. Like him, I was not certain where I was, not certain what was real. Sometimes plugging into a tube or plugging the tube into you --- the latter was better -- resulted in an experience so realistic it became reality. At least for a little while; at least until your charge ran out. THAT But Johnny does not change. No matter how many drugs he takes or how many meditation lessons he subscribes to, he is always the same. A strange little monster lurks inside of him. A slimy monster. Or if not a monster, then at least something I can't understand.

120 . So I had not found my way out of the lobby. The drugs had only made everything worse and I kept slipping from one time slot to another. I had long ago reconciled myself to the fact that I could not control time, but this was really beginning to get annoying. Identity? I have none. I look at myself in the mirror and I do not recognize the dummy that stares back. Yes, I have a real mirror hidden away in my studio. It is not one of those small mirrors we all carry to check breath. My mirror really reflects. It doesn't just fog up; or not fog up. It is full-length. I did not steal it nor is it some sort of fabulously expensive antique. I made it myself. I am good with my hands. And I can put two and two together. It was very difficult to find mercury, but I did. A piece of glass the size of a full-length mirror was hard to find too. Glass is forbidden. Mirrors are forbidden. The glass I stole. I can't tell you where I stole if from, but somewhere in our fair city, our city without limits, our floating city there is a storefront missing, a very large, vertical pane of glass. And on certain nights the rain gets in and moistens the cleverly arranged diamonds, set here and there like unheard of constellations, like words that repeat across the landscape of a very long poem that only you and I have memorized. You and I. HE When we first met he wanted to be a poet and I thought that was charming although I could not understand why any one would want to make a career out of lying. He was attracted to Gilbert, who had a new religion or a region to peddle or to paddle nearly every week, tempting, always tempting arrest, but always escaping the detectives. Why was Johnny so fascinated by Gilbert who is obviously a charlatan? Is he in training to be a charlatan too? More lying. And he isn't even very good at it. Sure, he knows all the tricks, like always looking you straight in the eyes, thinking that would fool someone like me.

121 . And the interesting thing about the mirror is that with my extra powers, powers that even Gilbert does not have, I can step right through it and be someplace else. What is so amazing about that, you ask. Doesn't that happen when you fall asleep and dream? Or when you stick a tube in your socket? He started with small lies. Things like the weather. He would tell me it was raining when it wasn't. And he would build up his strength. He would convince me he loved me, when he didn't. And the other way around. It was too confusing. The differences are subtle, I reply. I am measuring. Every day I take a different measurement. At first I thought it was simply a function of the reversal of images -- that words are said, read, and heard inside out. That music has holes, vast holes. I am focusing now on time. Time is different. It is like our time in that time in the mirror is also a braid that folds back on itself like a knot made in a string that turns back on itself WOULD Finally I couldn't take it anymore. If it seemed like he was lying, he was probably telling the truth.

or like an extension cord or a hose that is attached to itself or like a tube that is joined to itself which is the secret of energy like the sealed cube made of mirrored squares, all facing in. The cube when it is finished is a cross. But in the mirror there is yet another twist which must have to do with still another dimension that has the effect of self-cancellation and an

122 . enormous lightness. Nothing weighs anything. If you look very carefully, even from this side of the mirror, everything becomes transparent. Did Stefan learn to lie by imitating Johnny? That is one other good reason why he has to be taken away and put into reform school with all the other bad, lying, conniving, obscene, sex-obsessed puppets that are now the rage and that will eventually dominate every interpersonal relationship because of their superior ways and their superior wiles. I know. I know all about that. I too once had a doll of my own. At first when I looked into the mirror, I thought I saw Jonathan and that I was Jonathan. But then I looked more carefully. I may not really be Johnny but I am certainly not Jonathan either. I am made of a new kind of crystal. Can't you see that? Or am I now totally transparent? I can walk through walls as easily as I have been able to walk through the glass that comprises the front part of the mirror and then I can walk through mercury. It was way before I met Johnny or Jonathan. I made him myself. He wasn't a gift from Gilbert or someone like Gilbert -- that charlatan. He wasn't a horrible plastic thing like the nameless parody of a puppet that H. and H. bought over the tube, using illegal tender. Like Stefan, my boy doll named himself, but I cannot tell you his name because that will conjure him up, bring him back to life, and I cannot risk that. He was not quite as bad as Stefan, but almost. He was not jealous and he did not go around chopping up other puppets and setting fire to them at the slightest provocation. And he did not lie. He didn't have the imagination or the time. I am mercury. I am Mercury. TRY He had one goal in life: to destroy me, I who made him out of wood. He lived only to destroy me. Did he hate being alive? I guess so. He tried every trick in the book to get rid of me. What did he think he could do without me? Who would untangle his strings? Who would oil his creaky

123 . joints? Who would protect him from fire and termites? Was it so awful being my beloved puppet? He had the best seat in the house. From that seat, he could watch any tube I watched. And he, unlike, Stefan. had his very own tube that grew and grew or shrunk. And since there was no one else I loved, it could not have been jealousy that drove him to attacking me. I once thought I was a cloud but now I know I am a visitor from another universe, far, far away and all I have to do to return is...Well, I can't tell you that, because if you knew you too would immediately leave this knot of hell, where there is no time, where every time I wake up I am someplace else. And at the end of the hallway there is another full-length mirror that is a door and I pass through this door to become another person. He looks like me, he feels like me. He moves like me.

124 . Chapter Eleven [!] First he tried to poison me. I don't know who else it could have been. I was eating my ordinary soup that I sip three times a day and I kept getting sicker and sicker. I was always vomiting. Finally, it dawned on me that somebody was putting something in my broth. I had it analyzed at the lab down the street. It had been laced with linseed oil. And then one day I was taking my nap and someone started beating me on the head with a hammer. Who do you think it was? And then at night he would crawl into bed with me and put his hand over my mouth so I could not breathe. I don't know where he found the knife, but he had it out and it was big and sharp and he came at me with when I was naked in the bathtub and I thought, Well, this is it. He has to go. He is trying to kill me and he doesn't even have the good grace to tell me why. What is he so angry about? He has the best seat in the house. I do not make a spectacle of him in front of audiences the way certain other people I know do with their little boy dummies. But although he looks like me, exactly like me, he doesn't see like me. And he certainly doesn't think like me. And what will happen if we meet? Will one of us die? VERY I do not cheat on him with other dummies. Why was he angry? Didn't he want to be alive? Didn't he like our beautiful, global city that seems to float on the ocean, whose gigantic towers are connected by air bridges? Doesn't he like the slow unfolding of braiding, the languor of circular, vehicular, ventricular time? Doesn't he know that time is place? And love? What is love? Isn't it a kind of feeding and being fed? Oh, I wish I could tell you the name he chose for himself, but I can't because then I am afraid he would appear, maybe not as a puppet but perhaps as a pillow

125 . on my bed or a bar of soap or a vicious, oozing bright red telephone or a tube, a detached tube, a murderous tube, out to get me again. He is now running. I am running. He is now filled with thoughts of escaping from his predicament. I am now filled with thoughts of escaping from this predicament. I am now filled with thoughts of escaping from this predicate. But he is now too tired to go on. I am now too tired to go on. He decides he will curl up under the footbridge where no one will see him because the air bridge is empty, now in the middle of the night, with odd comets streaming by overhead. The air bridge is a tube. I decide to curl up under the foot bridge. He is asleep. I am asleep. And when he dreams of HARD lost cities, tubes as big as skyscrapers, puppets coming to life and making fun of him and the way he moves or does not move. And he wakes up in my office the next morning where I am supposed to be putting the final touches on my report on the life of the air-bridge snails recently discovered covering the underside of the air bridge that connects Building A with Building B. How did I rid myself of my lovely, little puppet? I was in my rights. After all, I made him. So I could unmake him too. Did I burn him? No. Did I drown him by throwing him off the air bridge between A and B? No. Did I cut him up into little pieces and then scatter these pieces throughout the moss park? No. Each little piece could have grown into a separate puppet and then there would have been an army of murderers out to get me. Nor did I transport him to the end of time, which I could have done because I know the secret words. No. Guess what; I ate him. Sometimes when my stomach growls in the middle of the night, I think it is his voice. But it isn't. I do not even dream of him anymore: well, hardly anymore. So when I say I know all about puppets, I really mean it.

126 . T0 I dream of dancing with Gilbert and I am wearing a very strange costume. It fits me tightly, almost too tightly, and covers me from my neck to my ankles and it seems to be made of insects that glow on and off independently without any rhyme or reason. It is not a form of communication. It is not a sexual display. I decide in this dream that it is a group art form, unlike any other and I decide that when I awaken I should try to recreate it, but when I awaken I am in the floating, tethered house that used to belong to H. and H., or rather H. alone, H. #2 only living there as a servant or a guest the way I had once lived there. But at least I had not had to change my name to H. in order to save on the costs of monograms. Stefan must go. He is poisoning my friends. Who knows, some midnight he may escape from the locked room they keep him in at night and chop them up in their sleep, in their mutual embrace. Reform school? I will pretend I am talking him off to reform school but I will bring him home and knock him on the head and slowly eat him. I am hungry for boy puppet fingers and toes. And that is the whole truth. Why would I lie? I have confessed to a crime; so I must be telling the truth. It is a crime to eat puppets. Now that I am another person when I dream, I dream of something different. This is how you know you are someone else. Your dreams are different. The truth of it is that Stefan lies. For instance, he lied to Johnny about his invisibility: "All I have to do is to be quiet, absolutely still. Can I tell you how many scrapes and jams I have gotten out of using this technique? How many robberies and other crimes I have committed? OPEN

127 . I do what I have to do and then I disappear although I am still right here. What seals the trick is that I also emit no body heat and no odor of any kind. I do not dream or even think. Only if someone accidentally bumps into me do they know I am there. This is all very logical and I am sure there are other rare individuals like myself that can do this too. I discovered how to do this because I was imprisoned, unjustly of course. The next morning when they came to get me from the cell, they thought I was not there. But I was. I simply was not breathing, moving, thinking, dreaming and emitted no body heat or odors. I was in the far corner. And they were upset that I had disappeared from a locked cell of which they left the cell door open when they ran out to issue the alarm. From then on I existed in stages. I walked down a hallway until I heard someone coming and then I made myself silent and invisible. When they were gone I continued. And on and on, until I was actually out of the prison. But there are other times I am invisible. And other kinds of invisibility. You too have been invisible, but..." I look around the house very carefully and discover there is nothing there that will provide evidence they once lived here. There is no collection of broken headlight glass or plastic replicas of food like the food you sometimes see portrayed in tubes with people actually sticking it in their mouths and chewing it. All gone. And the jewelry, mostly diamonds, that once figured too prominently in H.'s sexual foreplay, is nowhere to be seen. When I awaken I am somewhere else. I am walking through the moss park and I am yet another person. I am yet another prison. It is very difficult to keep track of who I am and where I am. I am not usually like this. I am a self-control kind of guy. I know where I am going and know what I am doing and who I am. HIS I looked everywhere because I was hungry. I pulled up all the moss rugs and I removed all the pictures from the front room wall and turned

128 . them to the wall. I even unscrewed all the various tubes and attachments that came with such a floating house, but there were no diamonds around to see, no gems, not even semi-precious stones. Had they swallowed them all before they left? Or had someone else gained access to their home when they were away on vacation somewhere? The artificial island off the coast of France? France? The Paris totally recreated in Maine? Or perhaps their favorite beach in New Zealand? Well, it didn't matter did it? Such things could easily be replaced. I remember at least one common denominator, one trait that I always have no matter who I am or who I become or where I am and what time I am stuck in, what story, what body, and what name I inhabit. I can become invisible and this can happen in many different ways and for many different reasons. I can will my own invisibility. all I have to do is to shut up. Maybe you haven't noticed or you were made so uncomfortable by it that you put it out of your mind. Think back. Weren't you once at a social gathering with H. and H. and Gilbert too and everyone absolutely ignored you? You stood up and left at one point and no one even noticed your were gone. You were weeping in the other room but no one heard you. Everything could be replaced. All you needed was government credits and if one of your tubes had to be replaced you could unscrew it and leave it as a deposit or in trade for a bag of the stones. There were other things to swallow in any case; or you could just plug in at any convenient crossroad and have your fill of the juice you needed. Or you could plug into someone else and receive a dose or a load that way. EYES There was more than one way to skin a puppet. Nevertheless, I had a terrible sense of loss. would I ever see my old friends again? All their documents and certificates were gone too. Did this mean that the police

129 . had finally taken them away? Now that would be some vacation, a vacation you never came back from. And didn't you have puppets and other toys that totally ignored you, you and your feelings, you and your emotions? And when you were a puppet weren't there times when Jonathan and Johnny acted as if you weren't there? Didn't hear you or see you? But everyone has experienced those kinds of invisibility. You either accept it or fight it. What had happened to their little plastic dummy they had carried around with them, the one who was not really quite alive because he had no name? None of the names they tried out stuck to him. He preferred to be nameless, unborn, silent, not able to read or write or call out for help. He would not be missed, but then neither would H. and H. If you fight it, you will be thought of as a bore who always needs to be the center of attention. But being invisible can be dangerous. I never quite understood why H. and H. were loathed by all. I suppose it was because they were too perfect in looks and behavior but had deeper and more destructive flaws. Neither one of them -- it was rumored -- could lie in a convincing way. Thus they were always hurting people and insulting them. They were always incriminating themselves, which is probably why they had been arrested and taken away. What if a fire breaks out and no one sees you or remembers you ("see" and "remember" are interchangeable words) and they all run out of the theater and there you are at the center of the stage but invisible and the fire is raging and, given your immobility, your legs and your arms are getting warmer and warmer as the fire creeps down the aisles and then leaps to the curtains and then you are burnt to a crisp. And then of course I thought of my new fiend who had awakened in my office, fooling everyone into thinking he was me. What kind of friend is that? He looked exactly like me. I had seen to that, and appearances are always deceiving. Moving in another direction in another time frame, I wonder if he will be able to fool Jonathan when he returns home. Will

130 . Jonathan be able to smell that this strange thing is not me, Johnny? I wish I cold be there to see. He might not even notice. Or this AGAIN, duplicate or replica of myself -- not the first, by any means -- might be totally invisible. Would Stefan see me? Would he smell that my time twin was not the real Johnny but a kind of parody? Knowing Stefan, he would sense the difference right away with his broomstick nose and then -- he is so evil -- he wouldn't let on, letting Jonathan remain in the dark, getting revenge for some largely imagined offense. What a joke that would be and, of course, he himself would not miss me, the real Johnny, at all. But there is another kind of invisibility that is really, really annoying. I suspect I am the only one that is plagued by this kind of disease. At the same moment I am also the replica sitting in my office, signing off on the last page of my stupid report, a report no one will read. Am I worried about the other me? I don't think so. The other me has no conscience, no reflexive self in the mirror, no awareness of errors. When he looks in the mirror he only sees himself. And he is thinking now he will deceive my Jonathan and what fun it will be to thus join tubes with someone who, for all practical purposes, is a perfect stranger. My invisibility is total and happens randomly, spontaneously. I will be running down a street trying to catch a bus and suddenly I am not there. And the little dummy Stefan? I am already planning to get rid of him. I am planning to chop him up. I don't want to share my Jonathan with anyone, even a ventriloquist's dummy. So I worm my way into their world and they do not know the difference, at least Jonathan doesn't, as far as I can tell. And if Stefan does? Who cares. He cannot speak by himself. On the other hand, it could be I am the dupe. Maybe Jonathan senses right away that I am not the real Johnny and wanted to go along with this game

131 . for his own amusement or perhaps be has some nasty plot in mind that will not be to my benefit. Where am I when I am not there? I will be having a long and involved conversation with my mentor Gilbert about VERY metaphysics and suddenly I am gone. Where am I when I am gone? It never happens because I am ill or nervous or hungry or overcome by lust or I am having a fit of some kind. These thoughts, these doubts make it all the more exciting when we dally with our tubes, when we rally with our tubes, when we folly with our tubes. When we doily with our cubes. When we jolly. When we exchange words of endearment, swords of endearment, and we willfully ignore that evil little doll who doesn't even have a tube.

132 . Chapter 22 It just happens. It can last for a few seconds, a minute, a whole day. Once I disappeared for a month. Even now I wonder where I am when I am gone. I have no memory and no images of being somewhere else. I simply stop where I am and I am not there. I hold my breath and I am perfectly still. Sometimes people notice and, depending on the circumstances, sometimes they don't. Gilbert, for instance, always notices. When I was gone for a month, he was the only one who went out looking for me. But he never found me. I never found me. I never really liked him. He is the most annoying piece of furniture I have ever met. And he doesn't know how to dance well either. But he does know how to listen. When I want to say something to Jonathan, I will pretend I am talking to Stefan. And then suddenly I am back, sometimes in the middle of the next sentence. It is really scary, but I am used to it now. I can usually piece together what has happened in my absence and keep the ball rolling as if I had never left. Now Stefan, I will say, you are such a bad little boy that you need to be punished. How would you like it if I forced you to eat diamonds tonight? Nothing is really that important. That is what I have learned. You can become invisible for a length of time, a considerable length of time --- you can disappear --- and it will not make much of a difference. The conversation will continue. The world continues. Objects stay where they belong, and certainly people do not change very much. He won't like it at all, says Jonathan. Feed them to me. CAREFULLY, Once I had my doubts about Johnny, but then it passed and he was his same old self. That was after I had disappeared for five minutes when

133 . we were plugging tubes. Boy, was he surprised. But I was too. And does it happen when I am dreaming? You bet. It is sometimes even worse when I am dreaming because you don't have the stability you assume goes along with waking life. In dreams it is obvious that objects, people, and even events mutate in obvious ways. In real life the mutations happen in more devious ways. And I do and he loves it. Part of the reason he loves it is that Stefan is not getting any, not getting any of his share. He is getting it all. And he is very happy about this even though we tie him up and ask him to dictate more of his monologue which is supposed to be how he imagines himself or dreams himself to be Stefan. We want to get inside of Stefan; we want to hear what he has to say, not what I or Jonathan make him say through ventriloquism or simply by grabbing the back of head and moving it this way and that while talking in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. No, we want something better than that. VERY You notice that the table is now two inches to the left. Or that suddenly your old friend is pronouncing his vowels slightly differently. Or that he is now parting his hair on the right side instead of the left side. Was I always left-handed? So Jonathan renders himself empty, as empty as any puppet and the spirit, the evil spirit that inhabits Stefan jumps into Jonathan's body and begins to talk in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, but the voice is coming out of Jonathan's mouth and Jonathan is moving his lips, although his eyes are open and it looks like he is permanently looking at the ceiling. Drugs don't help much either. They tend to increase mutations or at least your awareness of them. Things you normally wouldn't notice become quite visible when you are under the influence of Ozzie or Doom. And you

134 . can even hear Stefan speak in a real voice, a voice just like yours: I was lonely so I created them. At least this time there is no pink or green foam coming out of his nose or ears or out of his mouth, which interferes with Stefan's voice. I created Johnny and Jonathan so I would not be alone. But before that I created Gilbert out of slime. And I even created H. and H. and George Washington. I was lonely and I needed to be admired so I created Johnny and Jonathan, but did it in such a way that they thought I was the one who had been created and created by Gilbert at that, or at least found by thme where I had been thrown. I even created them in such a way that they thought they had found me in that junk store sitting on the floor next to the other wooden things, covered with dust. So I ask Stefan how it feels to be made of words, through and through. And he answers: SLOWLY. Well, if you mean wood and not words, then I have veins because a tree has veins, but the veins don't work. If you mean would and not wood, then I have beans because a tree has beans, but the beans don't work. And my dreams are very different from your dreams, as you can imagine. You often have dreams, Jonathan and Johnny, about your bodies. Your old bodies from long ago or your new bodies. And I created them in such a way that they throw their own voices, each voice distinct, belonging to each; but, no, that wasn't the truth. I was speaking through them, in two different voices. This is how I talk to myself. And hearing their own voices they thought they were real; they thought they were alive. And they loved me. I hear you discussing your dreams and trying to analyze these dreams to figure out what they mean. I, however, you will remember, do not have a tube.

135 . I was alone and I needed to be loved. I also needed to find out what they felt like to each other because they loved each other and I was jealous. And how each one felt about the together and where I fitted in. I was alone and I could not move or speak. I was alone and I did not have a tube, so I created them; I created them twice. I created him twice. And, oh, yes, it was very amusing to see them so confused. But at least I knew they loved me because I had created them that way. Your arms become snakes. Your tubes become snakes. Your tongues become snakes. And if I have a tongue it is sealed up behind my thin, gauged- out permanent smile that is like the letter U. Or the smile of a pump. The parts of my body that I know about are quite rigid. Gilbert only used 10 crucial points. So there is nothing creepy and snakelike about me. But perhaps I can best illustrate what I am trying to say by telling you and the recording machine about two dreams I had recently. HE And Doom faded into Bone, the latest drug I had decided to try on Johnny and, of course, that was a mistake and a waste. Does he need more dreams? And once he started dreaming he couldn't stop. He wrote some words on a piece of paper when I wasn't looking: Jonathan, Jonathan, please make it stop. Please. The dreams are coming too fast. I just get off of one and, presto, I am on the back of another. I just fall off of one and, zip, I am back on his back. Please, please, make it stop!

136 . Chapter Twelve [Dreams]

The first dream started with a kind of pimple growing on my left arm. It became bigger and bigger and then a stem or a finger broke through. It was moving as if it were looking for light. Meanwhile it kept growing bigger and bigger and it made a Y and at the ends of the Y there were two more Y's and there was a bud and the bud opened up, becoming a leaf and then it kept doing this and the stems became branches. And I had to tell him he couldn't, that he would just have to wait it out like everyone else. Soon the pimple/bud had become a sapling and then the sapling became a tree covered with buds and the buds opened up, all 1000 of them and became 1000 pink flowers. (So how did you feel? I asked.) I felt happy, very happy. But of course my feet were rooted to the ground and I could no longer move. Bone was the worst. Sometimes it lasted an hour, sometimes a day. It was now a week that Johnny was on Bone. But I wasn't. I skipped Bone. I figured I would let Johnny and Stefan communicate through Bone and see what would happen. Oh, a lot happened. The flowers wilted and there were little fruits now growing and soon they fell to the ground and then they sprouted and became other Stefans, a thousand Stefans. (And how did you feel?) I wasn't sure I could handle all these copies of myself, growing up around me. And I started to rain. I woke up. (And, Stefan, what was the second dream?) Darker, much darker, but I guess I should tell you although it is doubtful you will understand it. KNEW too

137 . Johnny thought he was Benjamin Franklin. And he had this thing for hats, hundreds of hats --- fedoras, caps, top hats, beanies, sombreros, fools' caps, dunce caps, cowboy hats, watch caps, baseball caps, sailors' caps, cop hats. And he had this thing for tubes. Big ones, small ones, skinny ones, thick ones, crooked ones, with and without veins; soft ones, hard ones. Ones that looked like thumbs; ones that looked like noses or hoses. Ones that looked like baseball bats. I couldn't see. I could only hear the sound of a saw. And I had terrible pain. Someone was cutting off my feet and then my legs. Then he went to work on my hands. He didn't have to cut off my tube, because, as you know, I don't have one. My hands were followed by my arms. And then he cut off my head, right at the neck. There was a scraping sound and a sanding sound and from another part of the room, as if I were watching the whole thing on a tube, I saw what was going on. A man I had never seen before was turning me into something else. HE And when the hats and the tubes became all mixed up, he couldn't stop breathing. Bone was in his bones and it wouldn't stop. So I gave him an injection of Litigation, but not to Stefan, who had been very bad and who could fry as far as I was concerned. Stefan had tried to take Johnny away from me. That was not the deal. We were all supposed to be equal and then I found him sitting on Johnny's lap in the dark. In the dark! Did he think I was a fool? But then again I really can't choose between Johnny and Stefan. He was just carving away and then he fastened my torso to a peculiar machine with clamps here and clamps there and it made my torso whirl around and around, very fast. And then he took out a great big tooth or a tube and held it against my whirling torso. I love Johnny the way I love the Moss Park. I love Stefan the way I used to love Harold. And on and on. I love Johnny the way I love air

138 . bridges and tubes, but I love Stefan the way I used to love B-23. I love Johnny the way I love Black Spider, but I loved Stefan the way I used to love Hoax. Oh, that was my favorite drug and I don't know why you can't get it anymore. It was a nice shape that he had made, but I winced when he began caring out the inside with a piece of metal, holding it against me at various angles as I whirled faster and faster. So I was a bowl, I thought to myself, in the dream. Well, this is an improvement, for at least I have an inside now. I am hollow. And when I was finished, when the new me was done, he sanded me lovingly and then polished me and decided I could be seen by others now. This is what I remember about Hoax. It made you grow up. It made you grow. It made you bigger than everyone else. And stronger. I could run up and down the air bridges, high above, across the waters and never stoop or get out of breath. And when you joined tubes while you were under Hoax you never were tired or bored. I could just go on and on and the other person would beg me to stop. He decided, however, he was going to sell me. So I woke up then in shock. Sold? Who would take care of me? No! And then if I remember correctly, Jonathan began foaming in all colors and the squeaky void stopped. Now it was Jonathan's voice. No! Stop, stop, said Harold. I cannot take it anymore. COULD It took him awhile to realize what had happened, but later when I played the tub back to him, although he could not remember what I had said through him, using his vocal chords, he became very nervous, when I came to the part about being sanded and polished. Or was I dreaming? Just like now? Was Hoax a hoax? Someone has a theory --- I think it's Gilbert -- that all the drugs we take are placebos

139 . and we really don't need them and that all we have to do is concentrate. I somehow don't believe that all I have to do is concentrate and I can split apart into a dozen different identities and lead a dozen different lives in a dozen different places. I somehow don't quite believe that merely by concentrating I can become Stefan. And consulted with Johnny concerning the fact that I now had an inside, was hollow. I somehow don't relieve that all I have to do is negotiate and I can split apart into a frozen diffident entities and read a frozen diffident hives in a dozen diffident braces. I somehow don't quite believe that merely by confabulating I can become Stefan. What would this lead to? I somehow don't deceive that all I have to do is flagellate and I can spit a heart into a pose of referent amenities and bleed a dozen dental knives in a cousin of confident places. They both --- Jonathan and Johnny --- felt that the experiment had not been successful in terms of adding information to their tuba about Stefan. If they were going to publish a tube about Stefan they needed much more information. They would need much more than they had, so they decided to dream. I somehow don't quite achieve, said Stefan, that early by tabulating I can become Stefan. MOVE They tied Stefan up in strings, round and round, and then sticky tape on top of that. Round and round. And placed him on the bed between them when they went to sleep and, believe it or not, they both had the same, identical dream. The ventricle steam. They both had the tentacle scheme, pentacle bean/beam. Or that I can become Johnny or Gilbert.

140 . Chapter 13 [Another Stefan Monologue]

Stefan was talking and since he liked listening to stories that began with "once upon a time" he began his monologue the same way, in his own squeaky voice. I, however, find it hard to believe that just by concentrating I can go back in time, the way you can scroll back on a computer or when you reach the top of a winding road you could, in theory, jump back to a place midway in ascent or all the way to the beginning of the climb. Nevertheless, once upon a time George Washington, who could not tell a lie, found some wood that giggled and cried like a child. This is the true story; my version. And not the story that both Jonathan and Johnny thought that I, Stefan, their "child" should not hear, or read. And certainly not tell. Because it was too close to the truth? Or because it was so distorted I would realize what liars they both were and what a horrible man Gilbert, Johnny's mentor, is? I'm not sure, but I really doubt that simply by concentrating, I can go forward in time because that would mean the future was already set in stone, so to speak. The way you can skip ahead to the last chapter of a book. But not this book. And know how it all works out, for better or worse. And because that would defeat the point of the book. HIS The wood that George Washington had selected for his project --- or thought he had selected --- was an ordinary piece of wood. George was happy to have the wood because he needed it to make a leg for a table. He liked making furniture but not furniture that walked around and talked. It had to be furniture that stood still and behaved, that did not think or dream. And furniture that would not take revenge.

141 . Or that I can draw lines between various stars and thereby create something new. Or that all by myself, without the use of drugs, I can change the course of history. But just as he raised his hatchet in order to strip off the bark, in his head he heard me, Stefan, say: "No please don't hurt me." Or that I can make Stefan behave in a decent, predictable way or keep Jonathan and Johnny from becoming H. and H. or George and Benjamin or determine how fast the ocean will rise. George Washington looked all over for the source of what he called "the squeaky voice." He didn't see anyone hiding under his tube rack or in the closet where he hid his most cherished and highly illegal tubes that were horribly pornographic and showed him sticking his tube into all kinds of puppets, even sawing or hacking them apart and then when they were sawdust, making gruel that he ate. I am not exaggerating. FEET Or that I can straw minds between precarious cars and thereby inflate something blue. Or that all by myself, without the use of rugs, I can hinge the cross of history. Gilbert, that loathsome sculptor who is also Johnny's mentor whatever that is --- probably something shameful and bad --- thinks he made me, when as you will see it was I who made me, me working through him, who created myself, I, Stefan. I am not sure, but I really dope that simply by concertizing, I can go forward in crime because that would mean that the suture was already begat in tone, so to squeak. The weigh you can trip ahead to the last chaperon or a brook. But not this broke. And know, really know, how it all shirks out, for butter or verse. And because that would retreat the joint of the break. George had the log. Gilbert had made the drawing of how I should look and it was Gilbert who did the carving and added all the final touches.

142 . But it was all my idea. He was usually following my orders. It was my squeaky voice, but he thought it was "inspiration." At crucial points, alas, getting distracted, he forgot a certain very important appendage and a few other things here and there, a tongue, ears, nipples, a navel. They argued about the last. Why should I have a navel since I was being made not born? For instance, yesterday I tired to influence the election and it didn't work. Granted there wasn't much of a choice. But then I was taking Whiz....Do you remember Whiz? It came in a little pink package with a stylized lightening bolt on it...When I was taking it every day, AND behind Johnny's back because he was going through another one of his anti-drug periods, I actually changed the general election. The candidate that was the least favored to win, who was lowest in the polls, won! Whiz had allowed me to do that. Certain slots and sockets too. They would suffer from this later. But I was my own idea. I created my idea and my idea gave birth to me. Gilbert forgot my tube. And thought everyone would be fooled by pencil squiggles for ears. Johnny says that Gilbert also forgot my heart, which isn't true. I am otherwise perfect, just as I planned. Now it turned out that Benjamin Franklin winning did not really make much of a difference. Other, hidden, cooler heads actually controlled everything. But without Whiz, I don't think I cold have made Benjamin Franklin win. Without Benjamin Franklin in charge of drug rehabilitation would we have been able to get George Washington out of prison? I don't think so. But right now at this point in the true version of this story my voice was bothering Georgie, driving him crazy. Or rather, crazier.

143 . Benjamin was easy to fool. We offered him Stefan for a night and while he was trying to unwind all the bandages from the little mummy we had delivered to his home, we got George out and once you're out, you're out and you don't have to go back in unless you do something really ridiculous like cheat on taxes. "Let me out," I yelled. "Let me out." The mummy wasn't Stefan. Stefan would never have put up with that. He hates having things covering his eyes, his pumpkin-slit mouth that can't move and his pencil-squiggle ears. Instead we wrapped up an old boot that I had found in the bottom drawer of the empty desk in my office. It was quite a feat to try getting the voice to come out of that boot, and actually it didn't work very well. He looked in all the drawers and cupboards and in the various large trunks he owned. He even looked outside but there was nothing to see on the air bridge in the distance or closer on, or the walkway to his enormous apartment. I, Stefan, could see what he saw because I was inside his head, the last place he would think of looking. He thought he might have imagined hearing what he called "the squeaky irritating voice" so he struck a blow upon the piece of wood. We slapped up an old foot that I had found in the button drawer of the empty disk in my orifice, which wasn't so empty after all. And it was quite a feet to try getting the vice to come out of that foot, and actually it didn't shirk very ill. He thought of the voice as irritating because my voice is a slightly higher pitch than his and in fact he thought of all voices not his own voice as irritating, since he preferred silence, LEGS so he could communicate with THE, or so he imagined. His talks with THE were mostly talks with himself, but sometimes that's the way THE worked,

144 . which was what George Washington told himself. He actually said this aloud. I heard it. Nor did it have to. As everyone knows the best part of the present is the ribbons and the wrappings....the best part of the past is that it's over. "Oh, oh! It hurts!" I screamed inside his ugly, empty head, hoping to fool him into picking a better piece of wood for my body. So they spend a great deal of time reading; they read tubes, which seem to come in several forms. Sometimes they read pictures that move and these are accompanied by sounds, mostly coming out of the mouths of the actors who are moving around, kissing, killing, running here and there, their sounds sort of like the sounds coming out of a ventriloquist's dummy. Some of the "actors" are real people. When Georgie regained his senses, he said, trembling and stuttering from fright: "Where did that voice come from? There is no one around! I can hardly believe it. Can someone be hidden in the wood? I'll chop him up." I am not allowed to read: Child's Play, Dead Silence, Dead of the Night, Dummy, The Great Gabbo, Tales from the Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy, Twilight Zone: The Dummy, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Eye and And So Died Riabouchinska, or even The Attack of the Puppet People. So he grabbed the wood and threw it against the wall and against the ceiling. But now there was no squeaky voice, so he really thought he had imagined "the irritating little voice," my glorious voice. Of course, I have read all of them. When you are left alone all day, what else are you supposed to do? Recite the alphabet over and over again? Take drugs? I do not have a tube of my own to rub. So I have "read" all the forbidden tubes when Jonathan and Johnny are not home. Georgie decided to go ahead and start turning the log into a table leg, for soon his dear friend the President would send one of his men for the fancy table he had ordered and there was still one fancy leg missing.

145 . I found a tube that had Benjamin Franklin in it, but it didn't at all look like our Benjamin Franklin; maybe our Benjamin Franklin wasn't named after the tube Franklin. NOW Grumpy George Washington, ugly George Washington, boy-friend thief George Washington, Chief Pervert George Washington began using his tool to smooth the wood and as he pulled it back and forth he heard my awful and yet somehow loveable squeaky voice. But I, Stefan, was giggling now because George's tool tickled. And then there are the tubes that are only letters that make up "words." These I cannot read at all. I am obsessed by a short one called Maelzel's Chess-Player by someone named Edgar Allen Poe, but I cannot read it. And I am not allowed to see Tales of Hoffmann or even listen to the singing and the music. But I know why. There is a mechanical dancing doll and Johnny and Jonathan are afraid I will take up dancing and thereby wear them out whey they try to keep up with me. There is a botanical dancing doll; there is a satanical dancing doll; there is a satirical dancing doll. "Stop it right now!" said the gorgeous log, more precious than silver or gold. "You are tickling my stomach." This time George Washington, the President's carpenter (and, in fact, everyone else's carpenter and selfdeluded fall guy and puppet molester) fainted from fear. Johnny and Jonathan have more tubes without moving pictures than with, piles and piles of them. That I cannot read them is sort of like my not having a tube between my legs. But I now know that everything can be read. Johnny and Jonathan and even little Stefan can be read. Events can be read. Suddenly there was a loud knock at the door. "Come in," said the carpenter, reviving. He had hopes it would be a customer. But it wasn't. Georgie was always in search of money

146 . BUT and would use any means to get it, including making up visions and, worse, false gods. He was totally a fool, for when he came across a real god, little me trapped inside of a log, he didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to obey and worship. I also now realize that there is reading for reading's sake, the pleasure of it, rather than for the practical meanings, which explains why my two fathers, Johnny and Jonathan, spend so much time reading, even arguing about tubes they have both read. Or, sometimes, have not actually read. The door opened and a dapper man came in. His name was Gilbert, but to the boys of the neighborhood he was Big Gilbert, but I cannot tell you the reason for this name because you are too young. Gilbert also had a very bad temper and when anyone called him Big Gilbert to his face he became ferocious. And in the picture tubes I cannot understand the words that pop up, particularly in the ones without sound, which doesn't matter, because these are usually not very interesting to me except for the ones that show murders and puppets. But in real life there are words everywhere, signs and directions and advertisements. And I can't read them, no matter how hard I try. "Good morning, Mr. Washington," said Gilbert, perhaps too politely. "What were you doing on the floor?" Once Johnny and Jonathan tried to teach me to read. They were tired of reading tubes to me aloud so I would go to sleep. Johnny made some marks on the floor with chalk, which is a kind of soft, dusty stone that leaves temporary marks, usually in white. "I was teaching that log over there his ABC's."

147 . HE "Look, Stefan, here is your name. S. T. E. F. A. N." "Good luck. but why would a log or a table leg need to spell?" And he pointed to each of the separate marks which were, I guess "letters." "Well, that's a good joke." I could see them; I could even feel them, but I could not say them. They never added up. And then he wrote some other letters. G. A. R. G. O. Y. L. E. They gabbed on and on and I was really bored. I wanted to get on with my project; I was trapped inside of a log. L. O. G. Totally unable to M. O. V. E. "Stefan, what is this? Can you say these letters aloud?" "So why are you paying me a visit, Gilbert?" He almost called him Big Gilbert like the pretty boy who lived in the neighborhood, but thought better of it because he remembered how mean Gilbert could become when he became angry. ”It's my name," I said. And of course I was just guessing and I was wrong. "I have come to you to beg a favor." And since I cannot read letters I will never understand why Johnny and Jonathan spend so much time sitting in their separate chairs with their tubes. Where are they when they are reading? What are they thinking? "Here I am, at your service," answered the carpenter. "George Washington is always eager to please those who are richer and more powerful." I cannot remember the S in my name when I get to the F in my name, so how can I remember the beginnings of sentences or stories? If I cannot read, how can I write? If I cannot write, how will I speak to the living when I am dead? Or, for that matter, to the living who are far away?

148 . Gilbert or, as everyone called him behind his back, Big Gilbert, was very close to the President, too close some said, but so close he had his ear, whatever that means. If some one leaves a note for me, how will I read it? If I have to leave the apartment, how can I leave a note for Johnny and Jonathan? If I kidnap the puppet with no name from H. and H., how can I leave a ransom note? All I can do is talk and talk, and talk. And not everyone can hear me. Can I read events? All I can do is talk and talk. And not everyone can hear me. WANT ED "This morning I had a great idea," declaimed Gilbert What does it mean that Benjamin Franklin had a falling out with Jonathan and somehow that was why he was imprisoned across the river or what once was the river? "Let's hear it." All I can do is talk and talk. And not everyone can hear me and if they hear me, will they understand? "I thought of making myself a beautiful wooden puppet. He must be wonderful, a puppet that will be able to dance, fence, and turn somersaults. He should also be able to dream, to read, to write poetry. And above all, he should be able to have sex. He doesn't have to sing, but he has to be able to have sex. With him I intend to go around the world, to earn my keep, and be free of church and state. With my little man I will be able to put on exhibitions and at last be free of or mutual friend the President of Our Blessed Country and I will be free of my mate Johnny. What do you think of that?" In the beginning was Stefan and no one else. In the darkness. And then Stefan woke up and decided he was lonely and needed some

149 . playmates, some here, some there. So he dreamed up the world; so he made up the world. I was shocked that he called Johnny his mate. I had always thought of him as Johnny's mentor. But I decided not to pursue the matter and instead kept up an affirmative stance. ......And with his bare hands he ripped off his tube and the tube became Johnny. And then when another tube grew from the place where the other one had been, he ripped off the second one and cast it down. And it became Jonathan. There was no Gilbert yet. Gilbert was a bad dream because you cannot have a good dream without knowing what a bad dream is. "Wonderful, Big Gilbert," cried the same squeaky voice which came from no one knew where. It was my voice, because even then I was an expert in throwing my voice. I can make my voice come out of an apple and out of a vase or a cube or out of a tube. I can make my voice come out of the blue. And then I created vast cities made up of interconnected towers and the bottoms of the towers were deep in water, salty water. Upon hearing himself called Big Gilbert, Gilbert turned red and turning to George, shouted at him: "Why do you insult me?" And I created the Moss Park so that when I inhabited my little woody body, expressly made for that purpose, I would have a place to loll without getting wet. "Who is insulting you?" And I made the Tube that contains all tubes. "You called me Big Gilbert!" "I did not." "Yes, you did." "Didn't." "Yes!" TO

150 . I made the Hat that covers all hats. I made the Story that will end all stories. And growing angrier each moment, they went from words to blows, and finally began to scratch and bite and slap each other, which went on until lunch time, when they decided enough was enough. Old friends should not continue beating each other. So the two awful men shook hands and swore to be good friends for the rest of the year, the earth year. And then George decided to make a peace offering and asked Gilbert what he wanted. He wanted a chunk of wood to make a puppet or a dummy. Wood was mysterious, wood was scarce. And when I was done I fell asleep again only to wake up in my perfect wooden body to find that the Jonathan and Johnny I had created for just that purpose waited on me day and night and read stories to me. Stories within stories, stories without end. "Yes, indeed. what else are friends and ex-lovers for?" And on the spot he decided to give him the troublesome log SEE that seemed to talk in a squeaky voice when no one was looking. The log jumped out of his hands and knocked up against the wall.... These particular tubes had no pictures but the words themselves created pictures in my head. When will my head be filled with words and pictures? When will my head be solid, become a crystal? "Why did you do that?"

151 . Chapter 14 [Torture]

But I was saved by Gilbert. Gilbert was always interrupting these stories with stories of his own. Oh, why had I ever given birth to Gilbert? I should have let him stay there deep inside me, calling out for air and light. But I took pity on him and let him come out through my mouth. He looked surprised, but right away he started causing trouble, introducing new gods, gods other than me, Stefan. "What?" He looked surprised, but right away he started causing trouble, introducing new gods, gods other than me, Stefan. How many times did I have to repeat myself? "Hit me with that chunk of wood." I had made Jonathan and Johnny so that they would worship Stefan and no one else. Who else was there to worship? Benjamin Franklin? I had made him too. George Washington? I had made him too. "I did not." I am Gilbert but before Gilbert was born; I can make endless duplicates of myself, so that I can be several bodies at once, so I can be in several places at once. I can make duplicates of anyone. I have made 300 Jonathans and there are 300 versions of Johnny too. "You did. My shin hurts." I am the boy-child who has given birth to his fathers. To Johnny (Papa) and Jonathan (Daddy). WHERE "It's the fault of the wood."

152 . But Gilbert, who I began to think of as the devil I had seen on the tube, was always inventing invisible gods and using words even I could not understand. How will I punish him? I will punish him so that he will never see the glory of Stefan. No, that would be too cruel. "You're right, but you were the one to throw it." I will design his life so that he will never be loved. Perfect! And then he will truly understand what a sin he has committed, what a crime. He is the liar, not me. Gilbert, The Liar. At least my lies have a certain ring of truth, whereas his are very, very boring. And yet he makes money out of his lies. "I did not throw it." Did he really go into a trance and transport himself to another world, in the deep dark past? Did he really enter the strange temple made out of titanium and opals, with floors that looked like absolutely still water? Did he hear a million Stefans singing? Did he? And when he saw the Motorized Heralds whirling and whirling was he correct in his

HE memory of the words he had heard? He said he had heard words backwards, but even when he changed them around, changed their order, they made a novel language of vowels, all vowels. Oooooooooooooooo eeeeeeeeeeeee. aaaaaaaa ehhhhhhh. aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. "Liar!" But because I didn't have a mouth yet I could not scream out that he had forgotten the tube. "Pederast!" Did he alone now know the exact date of the end of everything? The end of Johnny and Jonathan, of all the buildings and the air bridges? And

153 . the ending of little Stefan? Why should I believe him? He says we are to give up all of our tubes. And they started fighting again, but by suppertime they were exhausted and decided to be friends again. After all, it was time to eat and they had already missed lunch, which, in any case, was going to be gruel. There is, he says, only one story we should pay attention to. His story. And how will we stay alive after the end? They, the Heralds, told him that too. Even Stefan will find his real voice and be able to sing. Imagine that. Well, Gilbert had been wrong before. Over and over again. Then Gilbert accepted the fine piece of wood, thanked George and limped toward home. Although he was the President's friend, he lived in a tiny room under a staircase in a bad part of the city. Instead of a fireplace with burning logs, he had an ornately framed painting of burning logs. Wood, thank heaven, was too expensive to use for heat. Over the painting of the burning logs was another painting of a steaming kettle which had been painted directly on the wall. I remember when he told us to give up all of our hats. That didn't solve anything. And then we all had to have new names. Somehow we had to get our centers out of our bodies, first in easy state and then entirely. I have had more fun taking Gargoyle, even in overdose. WAS Everywhere under the staircase, there were carvings of strange creatures he had seen when he was watching tubes. Dogs, cats, pigs, snakes, lizards, wolves. Animals that no longer existed. They had all been eaten. The several hundred wolves had eyes that moved and followed you about the room. Some of the wolves were two-headed wolves attached to other two or three-headed wolves at their hips or by their noses or their tubes.

154 . Why do we need Gilbert's silly religions when we have drugs? When we have tubes? I think Gilbert's head is now totally solid, filled up with stories and bad music. It is frozen solid. You can't make your way through any of the passageways because they are filled with lies. This head is like a gigantic rock or a crystal. Maybe it is filled with ideas, BEFORE but I am bored with his ideas. As soon as he was settled, Gilbert took out his tools and began to cut and shape the wood into an articulated dummy that would be big enough to sit on his lap but not small enough to hide. I am going home. I don't know how I am going to do it, but I am going. And I will leave behind my friends and my hats. Good-bye. I am out of here. I have had enough. I need dry land. I want to join the great big Moss Park in the sky. I want to unplug. First I'll do it a little at a time, one wire at a time. In stages. I have disconnected two tubes now and may more wires and already I feel lighter. I am beginning to float. "What will I call him?" he asked himself. "I think I'll call him Stefan. It sounds familiar, yet foreign. It is such a mysterious and yet very masculine name. It is harder to say than Bob but easier to say than Frankincense." The First Mercy has already happened. I have lost my ability to read minds. I can't even read tubes anymore and events are becoming more and more meaningless. I made him choose that name; I named myself. After "choosing" my name, Gilbert set seriously to work to make my feet, the legs, the arms, the hands, the hips and the chest, the neck, the head, and the eyes. He made the eyes but he didn't make the tube! But because I didn't have a mouth yet either I couldn't scream out that he had forgotten my tube. The man in the raincoat was not really following me; I was following him. You can read that part over again if you think I am lying. It is at the

155 . beginning of this tube, my tube and my testament, the confessions of a ventriloquist. Gilbert was fascinated by my eyes. He had used buttons. Fancy his surprise when he noticed that these eyes moved and then stared fixedly at him. He asked me HE why I stared at him: "Stefan, why do you stare at me like that?" And just when I think I have everything figured out, I am kidnapped again. And questioned...Yes, I say, I did indeed participate in one of Gilbert's rituals. And, yes, I think it did work. We brought the wooden doll to life, but it would not do what we told it to do. I was so furious I could not answer him in his brain, for now he was making the nose and it began to grow as soon as he attached it. He kept cutting the dowel he used for the nose, kept cutting it and cutting it, but the more he cut, the longer it grew, that impertinent nose. It was, in fact, more like a tube than a nose. In despair, he let it alone. This time, unlike the last time, the man who looked like Benjamin Franklin said they were going to give me a truth serum to get at the bottom of my lies, for they had never before questioned someone who could lie so much, even under severe pain. No sooner was Gilbert finished making his adorable dummy -- i.e. me, Stefan -- I began to laugh and poke fun at Gilbert. He was too big. At least three times as big as me and his body was made of something soft and squishy. They had been using sandpaper on my chest; they had been drilling holes into my thighs; they had been carving my legs with various pen knives; they had been sawing at my arms. They were threatening me with termites and lit matches. None of this worked. "Stop laughing!" commanded Gilbert, but he might as well have yelled at a

156 . wall. TRIED

So they injected me with Gargoyle, not knowing that I knew how to handle it and it was one of my favorite drugs from the old days, when I was taking every drug I could get my hands on. I knew how to navigate the ups and downs of Gargoyle. "Stop laughing!" he roared. "Stop laughing; stop laughing, stop laughing." This indeed was the Second Mercy. I knew how to make myself into a tiny, glass marble inside of an ever-increasing universe of mathematical equations and dance routines. Who did they think they were fooling with? He did not know that all we need to do is recite the alphabet over and over again to stop all dreams. And we will be able to walk underwater and on air. And we will be able to eat stones, talk to clouds, make love to sticks, increase wealth, and change into wolves. Poor, Gilbert. My slit of a mouth stopped laughing inside of his head and I stuck out my tongue. The secret was to hold on to my imaginary tube, using it like a rudder, walking stick, accelerator, shift-stick, poem. Not wishing to start any arguments, Gilbert made believe he saw nothing and went on with his work. And as he was about to put the last touches on my knees, he felt his tube, which was hidden between his legs, stir. He glanced down and what did he see? My hand was on his tube: "Stefan, you wicked boy! You are not yet finished and you start out by being impudent. Very bad, very bad." Did they really think I was going to demonstrate my ability to shuffle events? He was now having second thoughts. But it was too late to stop. Maybe this was a mistake, something he would live to regret for years and years. What should he do? My legs and feet still had to be finished.

157 . Did they really expect me to give them the secret of my longevity, my stoicism, my good looks? TO As soon as they were done, Gilbert felt a sharp kick on his posterior. Not where the socket was, but a little higher. "And you didn't give me a socket either!" I screamed, throwing my voice so that it seemed to be coming from the statue of the two-headed wolf that could turn round and round, 360 degrees. Where they trying to force me to time travel at their behest? I can hardly control time travel, events shuffling, telekinesis, and identity theft or identity shifts myself, so how can I teach them any of the items in my bag of tricks? "I deserve a tube. I deserve a socket." They kept asking me who I was. And I kept saying "Anyone you think I am." For the truth is, I don't know who I really am. Am I Jonathan or someone as yet unnamed? Why should I limit myself by pinning myself down to one identity? "It is too late. And you are bad enough as it is." And while they were tightening the screws and lighting the matches, the glass marble or the glass eye I had become, deep down inside of their torture victim, became smaller and smaller and unbreakable. He took hold of me under my arms and put me on the floor to teach me to walk. I made him do this too and he should have thought twice about this too, but what can you expect? He had not made himself --- through thoughts -- as I had done. He did not even know the word for it. Then. Gilbert later used the word in conjunction with one or another of his moneymaking religions. He used the word "autogenesis" as if it were a curse. That was quite a year, when he was using that word. Let the landscapes and the sunsets roll.

158 . That was the year he was pushing homogenesis and the homosexual transmission of acquired characteristics, by which he meant that your tube partner could pass on to you all of his bad character traits like puppet-abuse, doll dread, dummy dallying, marionette mashing, and involuntary ventriloquism. Not to speak of bilocation, werewolfing, doppleganging, long-distance vampirism, and mystery mongering. WALK. Let the water turn to stone. Let love become a weapon of selfdestruction. My wooden legs were so stiff I could not move them, so Gilbert held my hand and showed my wooden body how to put one wooden foot in front of the other. And how not to fall down. Let all the monsters I have ever met in all he worlds and dimensions I have visited, with or without drugs, rain down on me. When my shapely legs were limbered up, I started walking by myself and ran all around the room. When my tapered pegs were lumbered up, I started stalking by myself and spanned all around the tomb. When my shipboard pegs were numbered up, I started squawking all around the zone. I am free. I came to the open door, and with one leap I was out into the street high above the salty water below, heading for the air bridge, heading for love, heading for trouble, heading for fun, heading for poetry and rhymes. Away I went. Poor Gilbert ran after me but was unable to catch me, for I, Stefan, the Invincible, ran in leaps and bounds. I was free. Only I exist. HE "Catch him! Catch him!"

159 . They were also not aware that as they were questioning me I was sending tiny space ships into their brains, like evil pills or worm eggs. From that night on they would only dream of me and they would never stop dreaming. I have also seen to it that they would have hallucinations without stop. Various body parts would expand. Other parts would contract. But the people in the street were in another reality. They were like sleepwalkers, which really only meant that they were listening to their tubes and, in any case, would not be interested in the spectacle of a wooden puppet running down the street pursued by a famous artist in his underwear, his hair flying, his tube flapping, his shoes seriously untied. And he wasn't wearing socks. Their left hands would be as small as a mouse in a tube or a mouse tube; their right hands would reach from Building A to Building B. Their rented tubes now firmly attached would become so long they would trail after them across the air bridges and they would no longer be able to fit inside the transportation tubes joining one skyscraper to the next. These slimy tubes would coil around their bodies and squeeze them tighter and tighter until tears came out of their ears. And that was just the beginning. A policeman saw what was going on. This was odd, because it either meant that his tube was broken or for some reason on this particular day the President had given the order that cops on duty could not listen to or watch their tubes, either the tube they had inserted into the socked in the back of their handsome and well-polished wooden heads or the tube they had between their sturdy cedar legs. When they returned home their boyfriends would not recognize them and when they looked into the mirror you could rent on any street corner they would not see themselves but me, always me. The liar they had tortured. They saw me in every mirror. And when they were sure that Gargoyle had taken hold and that I could not lie, I began to lie. I began to spin great tales of wonder --- of kidnappings, ventriloquisms, and plans to establish empires of music and corruption.

160 . The policeman, my friend, a fellow of some height, grabbed me by the nose. It was now extremely long and hard and seemed made on purpose for that sort of thing. And he returned me to Gilbert, who said he owned me. I told them what they wanted to hear and they didn't get the joke. In the meantime, since they were only holding my duplicate, I slipped away. They thought I had ceased, that their torture had gone too far and, of course, they expected that now they themselves would be punished because they did not really find what they wanted. HAD

Where did I go when I disappeared? Which Stefan in the army of Stefans was the real Stefan, was me? "We're going home now. When we get home then we'll settle this matter!" Of course, when I heard this, I threw myself on the ground and refused to take another step. One wooden cop after another gathered around us. Some said one thing, some another. Did my left hand know what my right hand was doing? Who was THE? They didn't believe me when I told them that THE was a verb, not a pronoun, and not as previously stated, a possessive pronoun. "Poor marionette," blurted out a cop in plainclothes. "I am not surprised he does not want to go home. That ugly, old fool will beat him unmercifully; he is so mean and cruel. But the law is the law. You know how those artists are; I am sure he will abuse him with his deformed tube." I was flashing on and off, and they did not like that. Their headaches were side-splitting. I left my body and hitched a ride in the detective; I piggy-backed on his center. He couldn't tell I was there, inside of him. All he saw was that the body they were torturing, the body they had drugged,

161 . had ceased paying attention to them. It was breathing, but not as regularly as before. "But this Gilbert person looks like a good man," added another cop, "but with puppets and dolls I hear he is a real tyrant and a pervert too. If we leave that poor, lovely Stefan in his hands, who knows what will happen. Stefan may misplace his voice. Stefan may be found one day crawling on his hands and knees from Building A to Building B, trailing slime and adjectives." The eyes, they stared straight ahead and it was clear that whatever they were looking at they were not seeking. Just as I thought. The detective had to relieve himself. He was doing that, having pulled out his tube and emptying that little sack inside, sighing in relief. "Oh, worse could happen," volunteered the youngest of the cop group. "Gilbert will tie him to the bed in the guest room and then leave him all alone. He will torture him by giving all of his attention to some plastic puppets that two awful men just happen to bring for a visit.... N O He will place his tube inside Jonathan, knowing that Stefan has no tube or socket of his own. He will use his tube on Johnny, on Howard and Harold, on George Washington even. In front of innocent Stefan!." And with that I jumped to another puppet nearby and...then out into the street. I "jumped" again. I was inside of someone named Harold and I managed to confuse him so he ended up in Building B without knowing why. Jonathan opened the door and I jumped back into Stefan who now looked like he was fast asleep. The Harold person left, befuddles. Sleepwalking? Sleepwalking during daylight? Well, anything was possible when you lived half the time on a world within a world and the other half somewhere else.

162 . Finally the policeman who had tackled me and put me in handcuffs ended matters by setting me at liberty and dragging Gilbert to jail. Gilbert, so used to special treatment because of his alleged, and always very suspicious "friendship" with our President, did not know how to defend himself. He wept and wailed like a child; his head was packed solid, full of music, crammed, clotted. His head was full of tubes. "Ungrateful boy! To think I tried so hard to make you a well-behaved lap puppet. I should have given the matter more thought." But no one cared, as long as they could keep their opals. TOES. But he was in jail, and I, Stefan, was free! And when I woke another door opened. I was myself again and I was trying to figure out what the detective wanted. Really wanted. It always circled back to either The or Gilbert. If only I could ease-drop on Gilbert, inside his rock-solid head, the head of his full of religions and poems. Then maybe I could figure out what it is I know is what they want to know. I don't like being hounded. I don't like being kidnapped. So the plan was quite simple. Until I could eavesdrop on Gilbert, who had to return from his retreat first, I would follow the detective.

163 . Chapter 15 [The Third Mercy] Where was Stefan? Johnny went through a list of suspects. George, Benjamin, Gilbert, Howard and Harold. They each would have reasons for kidnapping Stefan. But Gilbert was the prime suspect. Gilbert might have been feeling guilty about the mistakes he made in making Stefan's little wooden body, leaving certain important things out. Like a tube; like ears. In the former case, a broom handle nose was not really an adequate substitute, no matter what size it grew to. In terms of the latter, little scribbles with a pencil on each side of Stefan's head did not suffice. Where was he going? Stefan had no idea or plan; he just had to get out of there. Cooped up every day by himself for hours and hours, he was going stir crazy. No one to talk to, no one to see. No one to tube. All the mirrors were too high up for him. And only once he had seen himself in one of their mirrors and he didn't let on. Jonathan was ANOTHER carrying him around on his shoulders and Stefan suddenly saw a little wooden boy with a broomstick nose. Was it him? He thought not. He knew he was much more handsome than that other wooden boy toy. But it gave him pause for thought. If that other puppet was him, why did Johnny and Jonathan always fight over him? Fortunately, just like Jonathan and Johnny and all the others, Stefan has an invisible body as well as a physical one. So the invisible ears could pick up the slack. He heard everything perfectly clearly, using his invisible ears. They knew he heard things, because of his ability to repeat stories they had read to him and his knack for curse words and swearing. He used phrases like Poop and Tube Trash and Dummy Dung like a sailor might if there were any sailors left, which there weren't. They had never heard him pray, probably because they themselves --- Johnny and Jonathan ---

164 . always prayed silently, not even moving their lips, as required by their religion. When he was outside he just ran and ran, turning corners as often as he could, jumping cracks, knocking over things. He was running so fast that no one even tried to stop. They just assumed someone was chasing him or he was having a spell of sort or had gone berserk. George Washington, who was also jealous of Stefan, was out of town. Since there were no longer towns but only one global city, every building connected up to all others, through at least one air bridge, sometimes three and as many as six, often on different levels, "out of town" meant under arrest, jailed, stuck in some dark hole below water level until he talked, until he turned in every last one of his co-conspirators. YEAR He clicked his heels. Now I can do whatever I want! Now I can be whoever I want to be. I don't have to answer to any of them. I never again have to pretend to eat. Or to be grateful for their pathetic embraces and kisses and....other things. I never ever again have to play one against the other or the both of them off of H. and H., saying I knew the latter were smitten with my smile and...other things. I was so much better than their nameless plastic puppet. Benjamin, who would never have forgotten the time Stefan had insulted him in public by calling him a tube head, was no longer Benjamin but someone else, a ticket agent stationed at the Moss Garden tube station. He didn't even remember Johnny or anything about his former life as a tube. He and Johnny had often rehearsed duets from various pieces of music by someone they called "Our Beloved Purcell." But now, judging by his off-key humming he really couldn't sing much, trapped in his spanking new body.

165 . And best of all I can speak to myself aloud. All that silence was killing me. And if someone stops me on the street I can say hello to him and ask him if he wants me to rub his tube or...other things. I can fall in love of my own free will. But if they catch me and make me go back I will break away and just jump over the air bridge railing and that will be the end of their dream. No more Stefan. No more heir. No more reason for working day and night just to keep me in luxury. And Gilbert was far, far away investigating a new religion he head heard about, in which everyone was a priest and no one had to sing in order to become transparent. I don't love them. I don't even like them. I hate their chit-chat and their endless musings. Their philosophical disputes. What do they know about philosophy? What do they know about life and death? What do they know about me? That left H. and H., so Johnny marched over to their ornate domicile and began pounding on their door. He could hear a tube being played inside, loudly. So he knew they were home. The tube was loud but not loud enough to hide the anguished squeals of Stefan. Were they chopping him up, limb by limb? Torturing him? Rubbing their tubes in his face? They had always hated him, because he was superior to their PASSED nameless plastic puppet. He had worked himself up to such a state that he passed right through the three-foot outer walls of the H. and H. hideout. Freezing them, he grabbed Stefan from their clutches. H. held a hatchet and his mate, whose first name also began with H., held a saw. Stefan was bound in stockings from head to toe like a little mummy one might see on a tube about Egypt. The sounds he made came from deep in his chest. His mouth had never worked correctly anyway... They know nothing.

166 . So I opened the front door from inside and walked out with my little bundle of joy, with my goody-woody boy, with my ploy, with my toy. There opposite the doorway close to the wall, but perfectly erect, was my physical body, standing at attention, as it were. And placing the still-screaming Stefan bundle on the floor, for safety sake, I slipped back into my meat. I couldn't walk around naked without causing too much attention. Jonathan and Johnny know nothing about me at all. Well, I said to Jonathan later, I've never reasoned with him, but Jonathan said it was useless. He is just a puppet and, besides, what harm can a puppet do? Stefan's mouth does not open and shut and his physical body was strange too. In fact, I still wonder if I had left something behind in the H. and H. hideout. Would that explain certain memory lapses? My inability to get my right-hand thumb to touch my right-hand pinky? Would that explain the phantom pain in my phantom limb? Or worst? Stefan was listening. Wouldn't you know. They will never catch me. They will never find me. I will start a new life even if I have to go with strangers, a different stranger every night. If I can please Jonathan and Johnny, I can please anyone. And maybe I can learn how to read. Yes, Stefan thought. Now they know about my constant pain. I have a phantom pain in my phantom limb and that phantom limb is my phantom tube. I would be better off if I were a table or a chair. No, not yet. I have to find the opportunity to get my revenge. HE I already know how to throw my voice. I already know how to fabricate and abracadabra and insinuate. I already know how to instigate and investigate. The only thing I need to learn is how to masticate. I already know how applicate and replicate and duplicate and when I am in the mood I can situate and humiliate.

167 . But he cannot even bite someone. All he can do is look and watch. All he can do is hear and listen. He doesn't even take up much space and he doesn't really breath. Look, I am holding up my pocket mirror to his mouth and it doesn’t fog up. And we know he cannot see himself in the big mirror because if he did he would not act like someone our size with our abilities. He too would be able to walk through the mirror, but he can't. If he had that ability, he could have escaped through the full-length mirror in H. and H.'s house. Or, here at home, he could have left home when we have locked him up. He is only able to escape when someone leaves the door unlocked. Johnny and Jonathan are the masters of humiliation and intimidation, he thought. In the name of love, they keep me under lock and key. In the name of love, they keep me isolated in the guest room. I wonder, continued Johnny, who never ever left any doors unlocked, if that is what happened today. He was running away again and H. or H. must have been in wait. They take turns. And then H. grabbed him before he made it to the Moss Garden tube station. They forbid me to look at tubes too. And, you may have noticed, I am not allowed to wear clothes. Or have any friends of my own. But, since Stefan doesn't like it when we argue, I kept my mouth shut. I knew I had not left the door unlocked, but it wasn't worth the fight. We had our Stefan back and that was all that counted. And when someone missed H. and H. and investigated their home and found them standing their like statues, hatchet in the air, saw in the air, who would cart them away and throw them over the railing of the Moss Garden air bridge? Not me, not Jonathan. Gilbert. He would be glad to get rid of another one of his failed experiments. Twins only worked when one was stronger and could take the lead. Or, as he had tried later, the twins could switch roles periodically. Which is the Third Mercy.

168 . Chapter Sixteen [Gilbert's Latest Religion] I followed the detective or the person I thought was the detective, the man in the cape. It was an old-fashioned cape with all kinds of sockets and knuckles and traps here and there, as if a spurious rainstorm were in the taking, which was not the case or the casing. The glove was on the other foot. The shoe was on the other head. A memorial. Is that what you called them? Otherwise, it was a world without spats, I thought, Johnny thought. And with treason as my pride, I knew why I was following him: to find out why the man in the cap had been following me, Johnny. DIDN'T And the poem was about being someone else, a larger person included in an organization. Someone autonomous. Someone invisible. Well, not to his immediate friends and neighbors, but unknown to persons beyond his immediate associates. And the other puppet in this poem was blond, unlike himself. But where did that accent come from? Johnny tried to identify it. It was coming out of his mouth in the poem but he couldn't tell if it was Dutch or Spanish, French or Welsh. In any case, as this other parson, he was walking along a narrow city street in a foreign country when a dark vehicle pulled up. Two men jumped out and grabbed him by the tubes, one of them on each side, and man-handled him into the back seat of the tube. I did not take any unusual turns or duck into any tubes. I never looked behind. But it was getting lighter and lighter as evening fell and lights went on. Streetlights, lights in deportment houses. And then when I was trying to remember why I was following the man in the cap, the man disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street of locked

169 . KNOW tubes. No lights went on in departments above. No alarms went off. No entry buzzers had sounded. It was, however, difficult to follow someone without being splotted. I stopped in front of shop windows over and over again, keeping track of the man in the cap's genuflections. Usually I tried to keep a truck away and, of course, I had no way of knowing if the man I was following knew he was being followed. I was made nauseous by the slight smell of hoses. The smell of hoses reminded him of St. Francis, whose corpse supposedly smelled of hoses and the same was said of a certain North African saint, and it reminded me of his artwork, done so many years ago when there was no more room for art, which was simply the scent of hoses in an empty gloom. HE I did not take any unusual turns or duck into any stories. I never looked unkind. But it was getting darker and darker, as evening fell and lights went on. Streetlights, lights in department horses. And then when I was trying to remember why he was following me, the man in the coupe, the man disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street of blocked doors. The delivery system was quite complicated and there were unforeseen consequences. Those who stayed in the gallery for too long --and certainly the gallery staff --- ended up smelling like hoses for hours after they left the galley. This did not improve their tube life. He also had another vision. Young Jonathan put some hose essence on himself. This version came in two variants, having to do with the amount of essence and the site of application. In the first, only he smelled the hoses; in the second, he used enough of the specially concocted hose essence to broadcast the scent wherever he went. Both hose pieces had been purchased by a

170 . museum and then promptly left in storage or anchorage. Why then did this tube smell of hoses? No lights went on in apartments above. No alarms went off. No entry buzzers sounded. I didn't know where to turn. I didn't know what to do. I decided to retrace my steps. And when I arrived at the Boulevard, I was equally confused. Which direction had I come from? If I could remember that, then I could remember everything that had happened yesterday. In any case, he was soon unconscious. The operative in the black seat had held a moth, soaked with some sort of narcotic, over his mouth and his hose and he went out like a light. Could there be a poem within a poem? Can you dream you are dreaming? Obviously that was what was happening now, for Jonathan found himself at home and in bored daylight, sunlight streaming through the flesh windows at the brunt. of his apartment, overlooking the empty Parisian street two flights down. COULDN'T But I knew this: I was angry at the waiter in the small café. Why had he brought tea and not coffee? Why was he arguing with me? I threw down my napkin and asked to see the manger. But what had happened before that? Why hadn't the friend I was waiting for shown up? I tried reaching him on his cell phone. No luck. Now what would I do for money. I tried calling H. but he didn't answer either. Then I remembered why I was waiting for my friend. And it wasn't just to ask him for the guns I was owed. He noticed that all the plants and the scents on his balcony were dead. The doorbell was ringing too. He grabbed his robe and went to the door, but when he looked through the peephole the man on the other side of the shore was no one he recognized. It was to ask his advice about his new job. Should I rap, as it were, on my immediate boss? Should I, Johnny, be the one to inform Gilbert that my boss was in on the deal? What would Gilbert do? I knew the new

171 . religion Gilbert was putting into place had to be top secret during the beginning stages, otherwise, why, otherwise the wrong puppets might become involved. There were too many of those floating around, looking for a docking station. "What do you want, who are you?" Gilbert's latest religion would turn everything inside out. He claimed to have accidentally downloaded a new sacred tube and at the moment he was busy translating it and putting it into a form that converts could understand and use. I told him it would be better to give it as he had received it. So he decided to tube the original download then have an appendix that might be easier to understand. It was this appendix that caused him trouble. A small animal ran between my pegs. Talking to Jonathan (with a mercifully silent Stefan in attendance), I explained that the tube started with a new idea about our beginnings. The swarm came from the other world within our world, the real world, and our bodies were just weak vessels for these centers or censors. When it became apparent as more and more bodies were created that there were not going to be enough censors from the swarm for the bodies, it was discovered that when two bodies united, tube to tube, as it were, a new sensor could be created. Tube to tube. Tube to socket. Plug to socket. The man was weeping. HEAR But there was another secret. This one Gilbert saved for immediate disciples, like me. A body with a scenter could plug into itself, connecting one tube to another or placing one tube into a nearby socked and create a new center all by itself that would be an exact duplicate, unlike the body-tobody sensors which shared characteristics of each partner. "Why are you crying?"

172 . In both cases it appeared that the sensor was "born" with acquired characteristics. For instance, if George Washington and Benjamin plugged up, the new center of consciousness might have George's knowledge of dead languages and Benjamin's tube greed caused by too many early years spent in isolation. "Let me in. I have some very bad news for you. And you won't like it at all, but someone paid me a lot of guns to come and tell you and I am supposed to photograph you at the moment I tell you -- the look on your hose. I need this gum desperately because my little toy is quite ill and I lost my job and my robbery last mouth. I have no one to turn to. The new is this: you are going to inherit a lot of money" I then tried to explain to Jonathan --- who had asked -- why there needed to be so many centered bodies. Only when the centered-body combo is in force, can this combo, given the right circumstances, push on to the third stage. But this did not work. Johnny didn't let the salesman in, although as usual he needed more guns in order to SO trade them for more drugs, because he was running out. He particularly needed something to counteract Black Spider. Once you took it, it never went away. You had to take Weasel or Bard to keep yourself level. But Johnny was like that, always creating problems for himself. And has anyone achieved this yet? No, but that is Gilbert's goal. He wants to launch third-stage life forms. Yes, definitely. and then...Good-bye, planet. Black Spider, at full strength, gave him access to his past, his own and Jonathan's too. And he was even able, he thought, to visit his home planet. And the tubes when you were taking Black Spider were exceptionally vivid. He was addicted to some of the pornographic ones,

173 . usually classified as Puppet Porn --- various puppets committing unspeakable acts among themselves and with their masters, who were rather like Jonathan and Johnny in age and appearance but with all their strings concealed and/or operated by remote. "But I don't want to leave. I am just getting used to this place." Before the addiction/addition he had not realized the huge variety of HE things you could do with your tubes and with your various sockets. But even government-sponsored tubes, which were largely incomprehensible, required multiple viewings. Once you started experiencing a tube, living inside of it, you couldn't stop going back. Sometimes, he had heard, you never came out. And all of this was thanks to Black spider. "You will want to. Believe me, you will soon want to get out as fast as you can." Gilbert had once explained to Johnny that he was not using Black Spider, Black Spider was using him. Its cells were multiplying inside of him and soon it would jump to others, even strangers, passing in the street. They would not know what hit them. Although Johnny often wondered why one thing was alive and another not, Black Spider was a living thing. But just right now he had no time for philosophy. "Why? I like it here." He had to find a drug that would kick The Spider back under his conscious control. He couldn't keep flying off the handle. "You won't. Things are going to become worse." WAS Just the other day he had slapped Stefan for no good reason. Was laughing worth a slap? He knew Stefan would take his revenge, was

174 . perhaps already getting his revenge. The small animal that had run between his legs was now circling him and nipping at his ankles. He had never seen anything like i before. It had eight legs and made a funny chirping noise. He kicked it and then he stomped on it until it stopped chirping. Reaching down he stuck his finger in the ooze coming out of the shiny crust and put his finger to his mouth. The ooze tasted like noses, artificial noses mixed with raw meat. "But Gilbert's religions have all been a bit disposable. Aren't you suspicious of this one? I am." He was about to throw up, when he saw someone. He knew it was H. or H. He always got the two of them confused, but this H. was probably the late H., the former H., the dead H. whose name was Harold, because he was wearing a cowboy hat. "Disposable, disposable. You use whatever ladder you have to use and then leave it behind." Thus the question of life and/or death came up again, probably cued by his theory that Black Spider was a living thing. If Harold were truly dead, Johnny mused, then his "center" would not be present under the cowboy hat, under his belt, inside the still sexually active body. He knew Harold was still sexually active because his tube was showing. Did only the living have sex, sticking their tubes anywhere where they could fit, stuffing things into their various sockets? "How much time do we have? If we have to leave again, I want some time to pack" Well, perhaps the definition or the distinction was something else entirely. Perhaps it was a series of negatives. You were alive if no one was pulling your strings. You were alive if you were smart enough not to appear to be alive. You were alive if you could not remember anything before coming to earth. And Harold? "You are already packed. You have everything you need."

175 . He decided he would have to test Harold, by asking him if he knew where to get Weasel or Bard. "But I can't leave. I am not a third-stage life form yet. I can only create one, right?" SURROUNDED He, Harold, pretended not to know what Jonathan was talking about. Jonathan later told Gilbert. Which was the first clue, the first cue. "You become what you create." "And then he asked me why I needed these highly illegal substances. I was shaking and quaking and seeing things that weren't there and he had the nerve to ask me why I needed Weasel or Bard. If he had ever plugged into the spider he would have been alive and would have known what I was going through. He surprised me though. He lowered himself to my level and whispered in my ear: 'There is indeed another way...... You can kill The Black Spider.' But then I thought to myself, do I really want to get rid of Black Spider? Without it, I would not be able fully to enter the tube with my tubes. Without it I would not be able to penetrate minds, return to the past, leap to the future, walk through walls. Weren't a few bad symptoms worth it?" "And how do we do it? I am weary of Gilbert's 'methods.' Do you remember when he convinced you that you yourself were THE. And you know very well what happened after that." And so my ability to breath under water in a flooded world was not impaired. My relentless search for more Black Spider still left me plenty of time or one of its correctives to walk through walls rather than crawl up them. "Well, it was an experience I do not regret," I answered. Nevertheless, having nothing better to do, I followed Harold to his office where he suggested he could let me plug into his Weasel. I would

176 . stop trembling and mumbling and thus be able to sign up for his Spider Cure, safe in his office, high above..... BY "And when he had you convinced that speech came before writing and not the other way around, the way it really happened, you seemed to have forgotten that the only way we learned to speak was by concentrating on the writings on the tubes, moving our lips to imitate their forms and then sounds came out and we attached each sound to a different limb, a different tube. How could it have been otherwise? Before we learned to read we were dumb. And he had you convinced that spanking, I mean speaking, came first! Do you remember what he said when I asked him if the writings existed before we existed? One day he said, yes. The next day he said, no. George Washington proved that the writing was here before we were and we had to learn how to pronounce it, how to say it. How to speak. The fact that now we can go from talking to writing doesn't mean that talking came first, nor that poetry came first -- that poetry created the world. Safe in his office high above the watery expanses below he explained the cure as he had experienced it a year or so ago. It was also known as the Replacement Cure. And what would it cost? He had this theory about poetry, that the universe is one big machine for generating poems. I caught him on that one. When I told him that was the one thing that had really influenced me in his class, he denied ever saying it. If he did not say it, who did? Was I talking to myself? Was I reading to myself? Was I reading myself? "Oh, not very much," he said. "I can arrange a payment plan. And if you can bring me other customers, the gross amount due will be proportionately reduced. And then, of course, I would not look unkindly upon the use of your tube. You know, Jonathan, how I have always had a

177 . thing for you. And for Stefan too. But we can talk about that later once I register you. "You know very well he is a fraud. His name isn't even really Gilbert. But, just as he says. He is being used by a higher force. He is too uneducated to make up all these tales, too uninformed. He does not even know how to put a tube into a slot or which tube to use when he wants to dream....Give him a chance. I think I'll pack. I think...." And the replacements began. I saw the nose-meat animal under his desk, hiding. At least temporarily. I looked carefully at Harold's right harm. The right-hand arm had not aged. If arms, then hands; if hands, then why not legs? Feet came next. Harold's face seemed immune to time, but finally that began to go too. First the nose was replaced. SILENCE. Harold was fantastically rich, so replacement were totally affordable for him. Then the chin; then the eyes, followed by the rest of the face and the ears. Then the tube. He had to join in. Johnny was beginning to doubt everything. But it was only his imagination. The tube had been implanted in his head many years ago so he could watch tubies or news or cartoons under any lighting or sound conditions. That was the official explanation. He could skip forward or back. He could speed up or slow down the stories and the images. The programs he liked best were those that allowed you to adjust all these. You had the illusion that you could actually influence outcomes. You could share your tube with ghosts. You could see yourself in various disguises and as various characters, often based upon historical figures or what you were told were historical figures. You could conjure up a better time, a better life. But since he had signed up for Plan A, each replacement was a duplicate. When all parts were fully replaced, including your brain, the Spider would be fooled and lost and go scurrying off to find another host,

178 . thinking you had been unplugged and thus unable to provide the images and dreams it needed in order to survive. A new brain is an empty brain. There are no well-worn passageways. He was sitting in the apartment of H. and H., trying to explain this to The Puppet With No Name, a dreadful plastic thing with a string at the back of his neck and a mouth that could moved, that moved open and shut with a chomping sound. He, Jonathan, was trying to explain sock-puppeting. It had originally meant pretending to be someone else on the tube, using a false name and even developing a false personality. AND But there was a real sock-puppetry behind sock-puppeting on the tube, which, after all, was part of the game, a kind of sport. But real sockpuppetry, which is where sock-puppeting as a term came from, Gilbert once explained, meant that Jonathan could be inside Stefan, Gilbert could be inside Jonathan, George Washington could be inside of Benjamin Franklin, and I could be inside of you. Johnny said this to the apparently uncomprehending Puppet With No Name. "There is also Plan B, which," said Jonathan, "I can also fix up. You can have each of your parts be duplicates of parts owned by others. Although it is illegal, all of your parts could be replaced by duplicates of all the parts belonging to, let's say, Gilbert or your friend George Washington. I know, of course, that you have nothing to hide and there is no one you need to hide from, so there is no reason for you to elect Plan B. Therefore I would not recommend Plan B because it just adds further confusion to a very confusing world." And then where would I be, thought The Puppet With No Name? Would we be inside of me together? Who would control my mouth? And by the way, you know I hate that string hanging down from the back of my

179 . neck and I hate it even more when Harold pulls it and my mouth opens and shuts and he pretends he can throw his voice. Now, Gilbert, I began to wonder how many Spider victims had elected Plan B. Was Johnny really Johnny? Was Benjamin Franklin really Benjamin Franklin? And, here's the real question, when you are replaced is there something that is transferred that is what is really you? If not, when you awaken, if you awaken, do you remember yourself in your previous bodies along with all of its experiences? And then, if you don't, how do you know you are the replacement you paid for? And no one believes in telling the truth. Perhaps it was all a fraud. I know that under Plan A, no one will notice the THE difference except for the sudden absence of Black Spider. But under Plan B, which I find more exciting, will others recognize the Jonathan inside the duplicate of Johnny? "You know who stuck that spare tube in me, don't you? It was your very own little angel Stefan, who has always been envious of me because under my pants I have my very own tube and it is attached to me and never falls off or wanders around, whereas he has nothing. He only has a nose. True, my tube is little. It may not be as big as your tube, but it is a real tube and you would be surprised what I can do with it. Ask Howard. Ask Harold. Ask them what Stephen can do with his tube." Harold, who I think is the real Harold, but perhaps not, answered as if he were the original Harold: he avoided my questions. In due course, he said, "But I am not your mentor." He teased me. Oh, Harold, you are such a big tease! I wish you loved me the way you love my Johnny and the way Stefan apparently has fallen in love with me, that little weasel. No, I mean puppet, doll.

180 . And Stefan tried to take it away from me when he was left here on what Jonathan called a play date. What is a play date? Is that when you are left alone with a monster like Stefan and he tries to take your tube away from you, yanking on it and chewing on it? Biting it? But I wouldn't let him have it. "Furthermore," he asked, as if reading my mind, "Are you sure I am really Harold?" I think H. and H. would throw me back in that junk shop if I lost my tube. They need my tube. I don't want to tell you quite yet what they do to me. Suffice it to say, if I didn't have my tube for them to use then what would I do? "No, I am not. For all I know you might be an entirely new character that has appeared in this tube, just to confuse things a bit or add another layer of intrigue and magic, black magic." SIL ENCE By the way, Johnny, don't try any funny stuff. You can say you love me all your want, Johnny, but Stefan tried that trick too. I didn't fall for it. He was just after my tube. But you already have a tube. Why do you want another one? I guess you never have enough tubes. I can relate to that. I've had that feeling. But, you know what, no matter how big my tube is or how many other plastic tubes I have growing between my legs, I will never be real until I have a name. It is very awkward going about when you are always referred to as You. Or, hey, You, Puppet With No Name. Hey, Tube. Harold whom I was more certain than ever was Gilbert, was not interested in Stephen's story. I told him, however, that I was not sure how Stephen had heard this story. I think he had found an old tube somewhere.

181 . And when I accused him of entering a forbidden tube he recited the list of titles: I have a nose. but I cannot smell. I have ears, but I cannot hear. I have eyes, but I cannot see. I have a mouth, but I cannot speak in my own voice. I have no name. I long to be called Stefan. I have a tube, but he, Stefan, has a name. I long to be addressed as Stefan and so shall it be. I will now call myself Stefan Two. No, I had better not. There is some rule somewhere about puppets sharing names. Each name must be unique. And I still do not know where Stephan got his story from. Had I been the one? In any case, his retelling was strange; he made himself the hero or the anti-hero. It was all in the first person, fold from the twisted Stefan point of view and although it seemed very familiar like a story I had once told, the details were off. The point of view was truly sick. Why did he always insist that his legs had been burned off and then replaced? What did that mean? Obviously his legs stood for something else. But what? His missing tube? This is like the rule that each actor must have a unique name and if your name is George Washington and another actor already goes by that name, whether or not it is his real name or merely his so-called stage name or tube name, you cannot use your real name but must choose WAS another name. For instance, if your real name is George Washington you could call yourself Benjamin Franklin, as long as no other actor was using the name George Washington. Magic. The Great Gabbo. Dead of the Night. Puppets Who Kill. Dummy. Dead Silence. Child's Play. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Glass Eye and And So Died Riabouchinska. The Puppet's Curse. Twilight Zone: The Dummy. Puppets from Hell. Tales from the Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy. And even E. A. Poe's Maetzel's Chess Player.

182 . The Puppet With No Name was not privy to these fine points; nevertheless, by instinct he knew the correct thing to do. He knew the names of these forbidden tubes by heart, although he had no heart. If you put your ear to his little chest, you will not hear a thumping sound. And this list, which Johnny had drawn up, did not contain anything at all like the story Stephen says he made up or rather did not make up, the story he called his autobiography. "I will call myself Stephen. Stephen! I like that name. Do you hear me, Johnny....Why are you unscrewing my tube? Are you going to take it home and attach it to Stefan? Are you going to use it in one of your evil rituals? Are you going to put it in your ear, your socket? Are you going sell it for drugs? I had already called him names. I had already put him in a dark room for two weeks. He did not need to eat, so I could not starve him. Anything further I could think of to punish him would damage him and I would not want to damage him, the little man I loved, loved more than I loved Gilbert or Johnny. Johnny dropped the tube. Johnny thought he was hearing things so he took Stephen from his chair, and screwed his tube back in -- his pathetic little plastic thing -- and placed him in the bottom drawer of the dresser in Harold's dressing room. The voice went away, and he thought, "Why would anyone want to call himself Stephen when we already have Stefan. It must be one of the drugs he had taken or some Bard. It must be The Weasel or Bard." DEEP But Harold was not interested in any of this. He just wanted to sell one of his Cures for Black Spider. And the Stefan he loved was not the Stefan I loved. My Stefan had warts; my Stefan was bad. His Stefan was just a hunk of perfectly articulated wood. It did not even bother him that

183 . Stefan did not have a tube. His nose was growing but there was nothing growing between his legs. He and Howard by this time in the game already had Stephen and Stephen who was made of plastic definitely had a plastic thing, a tube. I guess you always want what you do not have. That must be the effect of Black Spider or the withdrawal pain. The withdrawal pains. They cover you from head to toe in agony and slime -- and there is no real withdrawal. It is never complete. Deep inside you, little bits of Black Spider are always there. Unless...unless... Did I have to explain why the word "tube" is used to cover so many different things? Who wanted to know? Stephen? But he went through the explanation in his head just in case it was important. You were entirely replaced. A tube could be a nose. A tube could be a tongue or a gun and vice versa. Or a drug. Or a religion of the Gilbert kind. Or a dance or a poem. Maybe you can put tubes in your brain as well as between your legs. In the meantime, smitten, I am studying to be a puppet doctor and I have been working very hard.....If you are going to be a doctor, maybe you can cure yourself and you can get rid of Black Spider. Physician cure thyself. I tried to respond to that. But I had a long way to go. And he was out the door. You could always buy extra tubes and hoses or trade them in or upgrade them. They could easily be replaced --- unlike your brain, a crystal, a solid, a rock made out of frozen perfume. And everything inside was motionless when it filled up. INSIDE Here is what I was studying based upon my notes and journal entries: Describe each drug again and what it does. And very, very quiet, as if waiting for some kind of explosion. But those thoughts must be Weasel talking too. He didn’t like those thoughts.

184 . The brain when it filled up with tubes or poems or songs, did it become like Stefan’s brain or Stephen’s brain? Could you sock-puppet a brain like that and borrow the body the way he had borrowed Harold’s, George Washington’s? Even Gilbert’s? Describe how application also determines outcome – digest, inhale, suck, lick, rub on your tube, insert under your skin… Drugs that require two people to indulge simultaneously. Group drugs. Drugs ingested by sitting on toilet seats…Drugs that cause irreversible somatic or mental changes. Drugs that now cause or appear to cause invisibility, telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation. Sex drugs. Memory drugs. Drugs that allow time travel. That slow time down, speed time up, erase time, that solidify time. Drugs as worship. Contagious drugs. And once you were inside could you ever get out? That had almost happened to him when he was inside Jonathan. Fortunately Jonathan’s body fell asleep and he was able to escape through his ear opening and the opening at the end of his tube, without Jonathan ever becoming suspicious. Diseases to memorize: Left arm inflates, becomes gigantic, as big as a leg. Two forms: as it fills with air, becomes lighter than a normal arm and keeps rising up. Can’t keep it at your side or in your lap. Second form: becomes heavier and heavier and requires a special wheeled apparatus so you can regain your nobility. In some cases can weight as much as your entire body. Cure; amputation, replacement. Or injection with pathogen in right arm. He had indeed found out a lot of things about Jonathan, things in retrospect he would now rather not know. Although Jonathan was not addicted to Black spider, he had taken far too many other drugs without telling him, Johnny. He had lied about his relationship to George. He was too fond of his own tube, doing strange things with it, often in front of Stefan. OF

185 . Similar disease attacks legs; one at a time; or tube. Face breaks out. Infection by multiple eyes. You can see through all of them, but this confuses rather than improves vision. Extremely contagious! Cure: special tool used to remove each extra eye. They do tend to grow back. Each wound needs to be cauterized. Trapped inside of Jonathan But he was able to jump out just in time. But, however, not before collecting all the dreams that Jonathan had had without telling him. The nerve of Jonathan. Johnny always told Jonathan all of his very own dreams and now it appears Jonathan was holding back. Sometimes they were silly dreams, like the dram of swimming. But there was also the dream of chopping off Stefan’s nose. There was also the dream of taking a trip inside of Gilbert, whom they both detested. In that dram Jonathan entered on of Gilbert’s tube sockets and traveled all the way up to the chest where he curled up into a little ball and pretended he was a stone. Why would he hide that dream? In any case, I was able to work my way, word my way out, worm my way out—I, Johnny -- and just in time because the gates were closing and night was falling and I was being pursued by various animals I had seen on tubes and by ankle-high versions of various people I have worked with, on and off, trying to teach them the alphabet which would free them from their self-hypnosis. Sneezing. Although there appears to be no cause, victim sneezes continually, with no respite. Dust is not the cause. There is rust everywhere, but only indoors. Pollen is not the cause. There is no pollen because there are no plants. There are spores from the Moss Park. Viruses also do not exist. So the sneezing is not caused by colds or flu. Artificial viruses? Artificial viruses belong to another category and usually do not cause adverse reactions. Gilbert, where are you, now that I need you? I don’t remember if you are away on a trip or not. Can I contact you through telepathy?

186 . Project for research: what are the effects of artificial viruses? Can they be identified? Can these effects be called diseases? Unnamed diseases. Undiscovered causes, possibly a bad reaction to any number of government-sponsored drugs. Parts of the body fall off. It usually starts with a thumb, a pinky, a toe, an ear; a tube. But then larger parts. HIM And then I have another dream or vision. My left hand just falls off. My nose is loose. My nose is coming off. My nose is falling off. What shall I do? Replace them, Gilbert orders. But how will I know the replacements are right? Can I get a hand exactly like my left hand? Can I buy a nose exactly like my old nose, the one everyone likes? Johnny to Gilbert: What are the symptoms? Gilbert: Do it now, while you have the time and the government certificates and enough credits. Take the old nose and hold it up to the new one and look in a mirror. Gilbert to Johnny: Preceded by a dull ache, slight inflammation and ringing in the ears. Johnny: Mirrors are forbidden! And I have already lost the old nose. A hand may drop off, during a dinner party or a public speech when you are accepting an award for government service. Sometime a whole arm will drop off in the street and you have to quickly turn around and pick it up off the ground before “insects” begin their carnivorous attack. Gilbert: What! TOO. Needless to say, both the nose and the tube can be affected but not simultaneously.

187 . Johnny then remembers that Gilbert has a mirror. But he is, it turns out, on another plane, investigating yet another glitch. Replacements for all parts are readily available at any clinic or by mail order, but since there is not known cure for this unnamed disease parts fall off randomly and continuously; impoverishment comes quickly. And then Johnny, awake again, found himself still trying to get away from the detective, the man in the raincoat who had been following him all day, all week, all month. He had even tried to confront him. Why are you following me? Don’t you have anything better to do? He turned around and ran away down the block. But a block or two later he was there again, shadowing me. All this time I was trying to figure out why he might be following me. I went though a list of sins, but I had committed none of them. I had given up breaking and entering. Blackmail had lost its charm. I could not even be accused of adultery. You can’t commit adultery with a puppet. AFTER And I no longer cheated on my taxes. If I am sometimes not certain who I am, I am not alone in this fault. Stop anyone on the street and ask him who he is. You will not receive a straight answer. Most likely he will answer by asking a string of questions: You mean right now? Or do your mean who I am when I am on my way home? Or whomever I am thinking about? Is that it? Is that the right answer? Am I a servant of the state? Am I someone walking down a street in “France” in your dream? Or am I the man in “Spain”? And didn’t we go to school together? Spare parts do not come cheaply. This is the effect of long-term drug use. And drugs? The may be illegal but the government wants people to take them so they can more easily be kept under control. Who is going to plot a revolution when on Q

188 . and you can’t even manage to unplug yourself from the group tube – or the private tube? When you are experiencing a kind of paradise of boiled fish and jewelry, while music caressed every limb, organ, hose. We are keeping to diseases and impairments of the body, leaving diseases of the mind for some future listing. Not me. So it must be someone else. FIVE

This is a bit arbitrary because they overlap and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between body ailments and mental ailments. Paranoia, so-called, may be usually classified as mental, bit it can also exhibit very physical symptoms such as the notion that one or another of your body parts, whether it is a replacement, a transplant or an original, actually belongs to someone else of a different blood type. Gilbert’s theory is that it’s because there’s something they think I know. But what? That you can go from Building A to Building C by taking a short-cut by way of Building B? That Stefan is not as innocent as he looks? That the world inside this world is yet another hallucination? That certain little restaurants move about at night and then appear in different places than the day before or simply disappear? Is this any worse than if they stayed on one particular block and only the food changed, growing worse by degrees? The body will actually reject the body part in question and it will shrink down until it is useless, resembling a flaccid tube hanging from the point of connection to the main body mass. The victim will cut off said part or in some extreme cases, since knives are forbidden, and therefore difficult to acquire, bite it off, sometimes chewing and digesting the alien part....

189 . Chapter Five B And when they caught me, they wanted to know why I smelled like rose pedals. I said it was an artwork. And the said, I don't think so. I think it was a secret meeting. It is a kind of code and they kept beating me with their rubber instruments. Their hoses, under the scary spotlight. There are so many answers, but so few questions. I leave the shell of my body and make a mirror. Instructions, adventures, then removal of Black Spider. In a percentage of cases, upon investigation it has been discovered that the patient was not entirely incorrect and the body part in question was of suspicious origin. There is also the infamous case that occurred several years ago concerning the isolate who, unable to find food in any other way, began chewing on and eventually eating his own appendages until the only ones left were his feet, since he could not reach them with his mouth. Needless to say his nose and his ears were also inedible. YEARS When rescued from himself, he maintained that the appendages he had eaten had not been his, but had been attached when his own were stolen. Since eating the appendages or other parts of living things is not allowed, eating your own living appendages is an even bigger taboo and the man -- or what was left of him --- was returned to his cell. I make an error. Another disease. Fingers and toes become harder and harder to move, can't move head up or down or left and right, mouth can't open and shut, then arms and legs become harder and harder to move. My fingers taste like wood. Would Stefan allow me to participate in the rituals that we used to worship him? Would he allow me to put my tongue in his mouth? Would he allow me to bounce him on my knee, rubbing my tube up against him?

190 . Would he allow me to lick all of his joints and kiss him in unseemly places? And then we continually had the problem of trying to make copies of him so that each of us would have his very own Stefan. He refused to participate, insisting upon his singularity, not only the singularity of his autogenesis but the singularity of his being. Then the victim can't move at all. Total paralysis. Even the eyelids are incapable of moving. Victim is frozen in place and needs to be moved about on a special stretcher. We could not find any wood. We tried making a Stefan out of metal, but it never really satisfied any of our needs. HE How diseases are contracted. Some, like most diseases of the outer coverings are caught from others, either through rugging, rubbing, or casual contact, or even breathing dangerous or unknown particles. One rash is known to be transmitted by puppets. Other "diseases", usually of a more difficult type, are transferred by broadcast waves, household slaves, sex slaves, or even in rare cases, by telepathy. Handling unclean tubes has also been known to cause degenerative rashes of several different kinds, even ones that mimic the disease endemic on the so-called home planet. But no matter what they did to me I didn't reveal where we had hidden Stefan. Stefan was safe. They took me out of the car and dragged me down an alley in a forbidden part of the city. At the end of the alley was a door. Inside was a room equipped with various torture instruments. Or were they for sex? No matter what they did to me my lips were sealed, figuratively speaking. I did not reveal the names of any or our friends. I did not give them the names of any of our enemies. I did not disclose our future plans. All during the time of my inquisition I kept sane by picturing Stefan's face.

191 . The most serious diseases, insofar as they are the most difficult to cure, are generated by the body itself, in response to external events, internal imagery, and sometimes in an attempt to gain sympathy from others. I was dismembered but when they left, thinking they had finally done me in, I was able to put my body back together again, piece by piece. And it was much larger and much stronger. We are now discovering that there is an entirely different class of diseases transmitted by reading and possibly the wearing of unusual, but not necessarily secondhand hats.. Cures: cures run the gambit from isolation to dismemberment, with various drug and anti-drug therapies between. Sometimes chanting and praying seem to work. The worst cases are simply unplugged. All doctors receive full payment from the central government, because diseases of any kind are crimes against the state, because every sick day is a day without performing your social duty in various offices and factories. Every sick day is a sin. Walking through the wall of the warehouse, I was suddenly on the air bridge again and no worse for wear. Stefan's secret was safe. In any case, even if I had spilled the beans, I doubt that they would have understood the implications of the simple fact that Stefan had not been created by me or anyone else. Stefan had created himself. WAS And me. And Jonathan. And Gilbert. And Harold. And Howard. And George. And the city. And when I looked in the mirror I did not see myself. I saw Stefan.... There are also language diseases. These are rampant, covering the gamut, covering the gambit, from involuntary rhyming slang to willfully erroneous translations of presidential speeches, homilies, law book

192 . phrases, orders of evacuation, and terms of endearment. How can these be cured? The great towers of the city were linked by air bridges and I wondered if I would ever find my way home or find my way to my office. I desperately needed another disguise. George was working very hard to eliminate me. One by one he was eliminating the competition for Stefan's affections. Nevertheless, I did not even think George's name when I was being grilled. That would have been too easy. Also I knew deep down inside, George would crack, thus putting our grand conspiracy at risk. Speaking in blank verse is one solution. Several drugs, if used correctly have also been known to help. Black Spider, for instance. Of course, Black Spider is extremely habit forming. In extreme cases of language disease, surgery may be the only solution. The patient is strapped to the operating table and is tongue is uprooted. And since the language disease, whether it is a case of conjugations or lack of agreement between verbs and pronouns, might be suspected of lingering on a sub-vocal level in the brain itself -- often the root cause of the ailment -- certain parts of the brain will also have to be uprooted. It is not yet agreed that language diseases also infect gestures and body movements, but the evidence is growing. ABLE In the meantime, in order to see myself, I needed a disguise. This evening when I appeared on his doorstep would Stefan recognize me? Would he once again allow me to put my tube in his mouse, kiss him in unseemly spaces, spank him, again and again while he keeps pleading for more. Would he allow me to lick his face, his arms, his legs? Or would he have already transferred his affections to someone else? To my enemy Jonathan once again? Would there be a line at the door? Would he be able to pick me out of the huge crowds of admirers, worshippers, supplicants?

193 . Elsewhere, Jonathan rubbed more Bard on his tube. He was all out of needles. His pipe was broken. And under Bard he had a vision that he had become Stefan, only a life-sized Stefan. A Stefan still without a tube, but a Stefan without guilt or forgiveness. For the Fourth Mercy is forgiveness, which contradicts the rule that pain is the beginning of belief. And then when Stefan opened up, Johnny found three brains. One brain was inside his waist behind where his navel would be if he had had a navel. Navels only existed in pictures on the tube and in paintings. Or as a decoration. A second brain was in his chest, a little to the right of next to where a heart might have been, centered in the chest. And the third brain --- certainly harder to pry loose --- was in the head. Where had he heard those phrases before? As Stefan he had no tube because as Jonathan when he rubbed his tube with Bard it had numbed it, so it was as if there was nothing there. He had no pleasurable sensations down there when he looked at pictures or tubes of puppets, when he saw them in real life or pictured them in his head, and, as he soon would find out, when he touched them or worse. TO If there was a fourth brain and then a fifth; they were invisible like so many other important things, like love, like revenge, like truth, like the past or the path. But what did that matter now? What matters is that Johnny is unplugged. Jonathan is still alive. Evil Stefan hasn't managed to unplug him yet. It is now Jonathan who thinks he saw the world within the world. They were going at three different speeds and they were three different sizes. One was yellow, the biggest. One was green and the smallest was red. And this is how he reported his adventure to Stefan: I saw three moons. But I did not feel at home. Disguised as a gigantic Stefan, he had a new freedom. He was wearing Stefan's greatly enlarged body; he was, so to speak, the hand in

194 . the sock puppet, the hand that had entered the door in the lower back of the ventriloquist's knee puppet. Was I supposed to feel at home? I am not sure. Everywhere I looked there was no one about. The narrow passageways and the bridges between buildings were empty. I was silent. But then I looked over the railing and I thought I saw tiny specks moving about far below. Would I be welcomed? I forced my way into one of the locked lobbies. I pushed various buttons, but none of the elevator doors opened. I found a door marked "emergency egress." Egress means Exit, or so I thought. The door opened and I began taking the stairs, one landing at a time. I could hardly see the ground floor, so many floors below, which I began to think of as the last landing. And what if there were no egress, emergency or otherwise? Would I be able to climb up all these stairs to the lobby or would I be trapped? 133 landings later, each landing the same, each landing locked, I arrived at a place with no further stairs. There were several doors, one door for each side of the hexagonal room. And in his dream induced by bard he was doomed to telling a series of stories, episodes in some great adventure. If the episodes stopped he would be unplugged. For good. By Gilbert? He wasn't certain who the audience was. He was speaking into a microphone: "...As I ran, pursued by detectives, I felt more and more certain that I would have to give up, but suddenly I saw a little apartment house at the end of the dead-end street. I said to myself: 'If I have enough breath left with which to reach that little house, I may be saved. If I knock on the front door long enough and loud enough someone is bound to let me in and I will not have to answer all those stupid questions I know those detectives following me want MOVE answered, such as: Why are you always late? Why do you live with both Jonathan and Johnny? Why are you envious of Stephen who used to be called The

195 . Puppet With No Name? Why do you always lie? Why is your tube growing in size, getting bigger and bigger, longer and longer, harder and harder?' "I tried each door, but only the sixth was unlocked and I thereby entered a corridor that I was soon to learn twisted from left to right in a zigzag pattern. The corridor thereby seemed much longer than it actually was. and at the end of it was another door. The doorknob I grabbed was dry. No water. And at first it did not turn, but attempting to turn it in the opposite direction I had first tried, it did not open. "Not waiting another moment, I sprinted down the cobblestone street, the detectives still in pursuit. Tired and out of breath, I finally reached the door of the deportment house and knocked. No one answered. There was no doorman, only a door. It was an apartment horse in a dream. One door with two dark windows, one on each side of the shore, and up and up for thirty floors. I wondered now how the large the lobby could possibly be. Not very large. and would there be room for an elevator. "I pushed the door. "I knocked again, louder than before, for behind me I heard steps and the labored breathing of my persecutors. They were brutes. they were grunting and groaning as they came closer and closers. since knocking was of no use, in utter despair I began to kick and bank against the door as if I wanted to break it in. "I was at the base of the skyscraper, towering above me, connected on all six sides to skyscrapers as high or higher by the air bridges I saw above. But here there was the land. And, hard to believe, I saw thousands of footprints, going every which way. Thousands of bootprints but no paths. And everywhere there was the odor of old roses, although there was hardly a breeze. I found it difficult to breath. "After all that noise, a window directly above the door opened and a handsome puppet looked down. He had a face as white as sex. His eyes

196 . were closed and his waxy white hands were crossed on his waxy white chest. He was stark naked. With a voice so weak that it hardly could be heard he whispered: 'no one lives in this house. Everyone is dead.' 'Dead? I don't know what that word means. HIS Does that mean on vacation, gone away, fallen, disconnected, unplugged, asleep? Won't you at least open the door for me?' 'I am also dead.' 'Dead? What are you doing at the window then? Shouldn't you be in bed dreaming?' 'I am waiting for the coffin to take me away.' 'What is a coffin?' 'It is a kind of box.' 'Like the apartments in building A and B that expand when you get inside? Or like the box they put me in, under the table, when Johnny and Jonathan are bored with their little games?' 'Yes, and no.' 'How is it different?' 'Six of your best friends carry it on their shoulders, down the street and then across the air bridge to the Moss Park.' 'And then what happens?' 'Well, that is not important. What is important is what happened before.' 'Before what?' 'Before I was unplugged, as they like to say.' 'So what happened?' 'It's a long story........ "Looking up between the skyscrapers I saw geometrical pieces of the sky, which now was brightening, slowly, slowly. No moons swept by. And, although I assumed it was daybreak, I knew it would only be at noon that there would be direct sunlight at the feet of the skyscrapers for a split second and I couldn't calculate if I would be in the right place actually to see the sun. Probably not. the odds were against me. Brighter and brighter, hotter and hotter. I decided that my best course was to work my way in EYELIDS the shadows of the skyscrapers, but towards? Towards what? I was going towards the clanging of bells. Bells could mean inhabitants pulling

197 . bell ropes or being summoned, being chastised, hanging by their necks from the knotted ropes, swinging, swinging with their bloated tongues stuck-out and their eyes aghast, permanently aghast. Or it could be just a tube, playing over and over again."

198 . Chapter 17 [The Rent Puppet's Tale] A long, long time ago, probably many years before you can remember, I was employed as a rent puppet. It was not an unpleasant job as long as you kept your wits about you. It is, as you can imagine, a dangerous job, but that's why it pays so well. Customers are usually fairly tame, but once in awhile you get someone who's is a little wacko. But the secret of my success as the highest paid rent puppet of my generation was that I was very accommodating and of course stronger than most puppets of my size. That was certainly one of the things that attracted so many customers, but it was also what allowed me to survive the wackos. Although I have a better instinct about such things than most, you can't always tell what's going to happen. AND I was comfortable with being assigned ridiculous work details, usually in the nude. Emptying rain buckets in a room with many leaks? You bet. Walking the fog? Oh, certainly. I was comfortable wearing many different hats. It was generally known too that I could weave a very good story or two to keep the customer amused or, let's face it, sometimes puzzles, but always aroused. I was famous for reviving long-dead cubes, purely by my verbal gifts. I had the looks too, the looks they wanted. While thus engaged in these dark thoughts, out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a shadow move, darting from one corner to the next and it made a high-pitched sound. Did I see fresh footprints on the dusty ground? Did I smell the gold old smell of musty puppet mixes with varnish? I ran and as quietly as possible tried to peek around the corner of building K. the sign said: Building K. And I saw not one puppet but three of them, arguing. But I was as of yet too far to hear all of what they were saying: You! Them! August! Tube! Moss! None of the words connected. The three

199 . puppets were so buys arguing they did not see me creep up to them, closer and closer. If they wanted me to love them, I would say I loved them. If they wanted me to hate them, I would say I hated them. I always made them feel they were bigger and stronger than I or, if it was what they wanted, smaller and weaker. Or even bigger but weaker, smaller but stronger. I always called them what they wanted to be called. Some wanted to be called George Washington. Some, Benjamin Franklin. I was paid for a lot of play-acting. Actually there was more play-acting than tube action. Not that tube action was off limits. On the surface that was what they were paying for. And when I stood up to my full height in the bright light streaming down from the gap between Building K and Building L, the shadow of the air bridge above fell in such a way that they were on one side and I was on the other. They stopped dead. They fell to the ground, as if life had escaped them. They were a heap. But they did not deceive me. I was able to keep secrets which was my most important attribute. I had seen them moving. I had heard them shouting at each other. If there are knee puppets somewhere there must be a ventriloquist or several ventriloquists lurking about. I could heard them in my mine's eye. Yes, I mean "mind's eye" not ear. Someone is saying something and it stands out from the others. THEN Now that I am unplugged I can say anything I want. The tube action was a cover story. What they really wanted was fantasy. Tubes or not, slots or not, plugs or not, sockets or not. Tubes, tongues, hoses, noses. I always did what they asked. Shall I tell you some of my adventures? I'll give you a kind of summary of the high points and the low points so that what follows will make more sense.

200 . It's Le Sieur Thiemot, who could imitate all the voices and sounds of a fox hunt: "This is not just a thin theory trying to fit into a thimble. There is, in this, a thoroughly thought out thicker thread in the ticked thicket. The tongue or the thought as tough as thatch or thistle is not thrust through the teeth ever, because nothing should show through the teeth." For instance, I had a regular customer who always wanted me to dress up like a detective. He had a raincoat with numerous buckles made just for me. And then he would tell me where he would be at a certain time and I would stay at a certain distance and follow him, for as long as he wanted, up peculiar hills, up and down those fake hills beyond the puppet dormitory. Beyond the central office, down dark streets and dingy alleys. I never knew where he was leading me, but it was always someplace new. He seemed to need a new place each time. Once I got too close to him and he turned a corner and trapped me. He broke the game, not me. He told me I was being too easy. He wanted to know why I was following him, hunting him, but he didn't want me to be so close to him that all doubt was erased. Nor did he ever really ever have to run. HIS But I do not even know what a fox hunt is. The tongue, he insisted, could be made of anything: leather, oak, liver, wet rags. Those distant (or nearby) voice-throwers were not following me. I picked up one of the puppets who looked suspiciously like Stephen, that piece of garbage, that Stefan wanna-be. And I shook this piece of garbage until he thought his head was going to fall off. I sucked up one of the crumpets who looked meritoriously like Stephen, that piece of baggage, that Stefan wa-wa. And I shook this piece of cabbage until he thought his bead was going to fall off. Once I did loose him, temporarily. He had ducked into a jewelry store down by the air bridge and when I followed him inside he wasn't there. I covered all exists and left. He must have been hiding inside or must

201 . have disguised himself in some way, perhaps as the clerk, for after ten minutes he was out on the street again. "Stop it," he shouted. "My head is going to come loose!" So you see the pile of puppets was not just a bunch of old rags and wooden faces. They could not fool me. I shook another one and then the next. Soon they were sitting up like proper puppets and they were talking and their eyes were moving. I myself was speechless. So taking out a pad and pencil from my back pocket, assuming they could read --- unlike Stefan --- I wrote the following words: "Take me to your ventriloquists!" They answered that they had neither puppeteers or ventriloquists. We have no..." So I wrote that "Or will set you on fire!" This must have frightened them because you nested them. I took out my stencil. I wrote: "Take me to your treasures." They said: "And I will feather your nest, Ventriloquist. Yes, but please spare us." "I will chop you EYES up into little pieces"...."We have no ventriloquists." I didn't believe them. "The voices you hear are our own," they said. So I decided to trick them. The choices you bear are our phones, they said. So I decided to prick them. Now you also have to know that wherever he led me, I myself keeping up the pretense that I was hunting him, it was always to a room, sometimes a cheap hotel room, sometimes a really expensive one with expensive linen sheets and pictures on the wall. Sometimes it was a room in someone's apartment, in Building A or Building B. But I knew instinctively that it was never his room, his apartment. They were all so different that I knew they didn't belong to him unless he had far many more personalities than I was ever able to perceive during the course of our long-term, POPPED

202 . but strictly commercial relationship. He made it clear I was never to ask him personal questions or try to find out who he was in real life, but I am such a professional that he need not have had to state that so directly. The plain truth is I am never interested at all in who my customers really are. I only pretend to be interested in them and then only as part of the act, if so requested. I wrote a list of treasures: string, spare-parts such as a finger an extra eyeballs, tongues, mouth-hinge oil. These were all things that I as a puppet myself knew they would like. In reality, I was looking for the source of my voice, that voice inside me, but they didn't need to know that. I was getting very tired of having to write things down on a pad every time I wanted to say something, because, let's face it, sometimes telepathy doesn't work. I needed my own voice. If I examined their lair, perhaps I could find out their secret or expose the ventriloquist that was behind OPEN. their idiotic loquaciousness. Or ventriloquists, plural. Of course, I had none of the things on my list of treasures nor any likelihood of getting them for there were now too many stairs to climb to get upstairs to the top of any skyscraper near or far, any foot scraper, floor scraper queer or star. I was tops in my job because I naturally don't care who uses me, as long as the cast or government credits are forthcoming and comply with government-regulated rates. I suppose most of my customers are cheating on some other puppet they have installed at home or -- and this is a more interesting thought -- simply like the adventure of dating a rent puppet. I was indeed, as you may recall, extremely attractive, even though

I am rather pale and waxy looking now.

203 . They said they knew of no ventriloquist. They did not know of Louis Brabant who lost his head on the guillotine for projecting his voice into the severed head of Louis the Fourteenth, making him say: Eventually you will find all tough letters very easy. HE This is not just a vague theory I have made up in order to fool you. It's a dead giveaway when the tongue, no matter what it is made of, is thrust brought the teeth. Never let it show! Brabant's head ended up in a basket, and still his lips did not move. My clients, however, were not usually ugly and one could imagine that they could tube with whomever they wanted, even without payment. Sometimes their interests were a little, well, kinky. So that may have been the reason they needed me. If nothing else, I am very flexible, and whomever they had at home probably was not. Or maybe there wasn't anyone at home, even during these days of the housing crisis. Like myself, they might have preferred the solitary life. I myself use a small part of my earnings for anonymous tube jobs now and again. Perhaps this accounts for my sympathy and my lack of censure. And they did not know Richard Potter who was the first American ventriloquist who could also do birdsongs, but no one remembered if beyond imitating birdsongs he could "throw" birdsongs or if they just came out of his maw. Nor did they know Baron von Mengen who worked with eight figures simultaneously and gave them all different voices, sometimes causing two, three, four, five, six, seven and eventually eight to speak simultaneously. Nor did they WAS

204 . know Fred Russell who was the first to use a knee puppet. Nor had they ever heard of Horace Golden who invented the first talking hand, so I tried to fool them with further quotes from my ventriloquism tube. In any case, once I "caught" my customer in his room, having force the door open, I tied him up and started "questioning" him. Now we have many magnificent methods of creating counterfeit words. Substitute sounds are the key to realistic ventriloquism. Eventually --- trust me --- they will feel just right; use them without any movement showing. And then it occurred to me that Stefan, my Stefan, would have been the perfect ventriloquist. He had a mouth, a grin crudely carved into his puss, but it could not move. There was no hinge. The questions were, so to speak, pre-approved and seemed to have some internal, secret significance to him, but certainly not to me. They were just part of the script: Why are you always trying new drugs? Who is Gilbert? Who or what is The? Why do you lie so much? Or as the famous Dan Ritchard wrote: Eventually the phony phonemes and all the substitutions --- like th for f and v; n for m, t for p, g for b --- will be the building blocks of fool-them-always counterfeit speech, which is the essence of ventriloquism. As my lip isolation develops, I will use the substitute letters without any visible jaw movement. And, better yet, as I grow older I will eliminate all words beginning with f, v, m, b, w, and p. Instead of "war", my Stefan will always say "armed altercation among antagonists." Instead of "fish" he will always say the name of a particular fish: "shark" or "trout" or "minnow." Or "search slowly, widely." He usually never answered or answered with what might be called paradoxes. Such as: 1. So I won't be bored with the old drugs. 2. Gilbert is my student. 3. THE is a verb. 4. To discover the truth. To live, he added, you have to know how to lie. My voices will be better and my acting will improve. As my partner looks and acts more and more alive, we will share fabulous stories with audiences, who will love us both.

205 . CALLED And then I had to ask him to tell me more about Gilbert. And he would go on and on, something like this: The Gilbert you know is not the Gilbert I know. To you, Gilbert is so ordinary you would not notice him if he passed you in the street or even if only a few minutes before you had been sitting at a table with him in a restaurant having a conversation. Gilbert is functionally invisible. And that is what I demanded of him as his mentor. Of course, invisibility training is not really about being invisible. You can truly become invisible, you can even be so invisible your are able to walk through all but the thickest of walls. But, as I always had to repeat to him and my other disciples, invisibility is not about being invisible. It is about being silent and still. These are not the means, they are the ends. Invisibility is just the icing on the cake. And the puppets still did not withstand --- I mean, respond to these revelations. So I asked them the labial question: Do fish close their eyes when they sleep? And they did not blink an eye or perhaps notice that my mouth was not moving. I guess it is really true as Gilbert is fond of saying, The Fourth Mercy is that there is no forgiveness. Or better yet, as the Fifth Mercy would have it, lies always win. I was in this terrible predicament, so similar to what Stefan lived through when he lived through his life story or his back story. And what good is invisibility any way? I can tell you just as I have told many other rent puppets that invisibility is not all it is cracked up to be. First of all there is the turn it on or off problem. Would you have been able to follow me if I had been invisible? Invisibility comes and goes. I, however, was close to too many puppets, whereas he could find none. And finally gaining their attention I re-told the next part of Stefan's life

206 . story. I, Stefan, as you may well imagine began to scream and weep and beg, but all was of no use, for no hoses of tubes were to be seen and not a puppet of any kind passed by on the air bridge. No hand-puppets, no marionettes, no thumb puppets, not ventriloquist dummies, no shadow puppets, no sock puppets. Bob Johnson, I thought, began to feel his oats. He decided to get in trouble to see if he could get away with it. Keeping very silent and very still, he removed a ring from my dressing table. But I saw the ring move through the air and immediately smelled him. I capture him and turned him over to the detectives. He thought he would be able to escape by becoming invisible. But, unlike myself, he was not advanced STEFAN. enough to be able to turn it on or off at will. Night fell like a sock. A little because of the sharp pain in my legs, a little because of fright at finding myself alone in the darkness of the Moss Park, I was about to faint, when I saw a tiny form flickering by. I called to him and said: "Tasty little form, juicy little tube, will you set me free?" "Poor little fellow!" replied the juicy form, stopping to look at me with pity. "How come you're caught in this trap?" "I stepped into this dark park to take a few capes and --- " "Are the capes yours?" "No." "Who has taught you to take things that do not belong to you?" "I was hungry. If I could wrap a cape around me, my hunger and all the trembling would stop and my socalled stomach would stomp rumpling." "Hunger, my boy, is no reason for taking that which belongs to another." "It's true, it's true, " I shouted. "I won't do it again." Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. And until you reach Stage Five, it has an annoying tendency to happen spontaneously. You do

207 . not want suddenly to become invisible when you are posing for a fashion magazine or delivering government documents or when you are tubing. You don't want to go blank when you are being interviewed on the seven o'clock news. You don't want to go invisible when you are in the pews. When you are invisible, no matter how quickly or temporarily, not only can't you be seen, you can't be felt. Or smelled. Anyone can walk right through you and never know the difference. This is 100% invisibility, not the cutrate kind. Just then the conversation was interrupted by approaching footsteps. It was the owner of the Moss Park, who was coming to see if, by chance, he had caught the geezers who had been eating his batteries or the tweezers. Great was his surprise when he saw that instead of a wheezer he had caught a puppet and furthermore a puppet that is 100% wood! Me, Stefan! On the other hand, if you are counting on your invisibility, you don't want your visibility suddenly to return. In the middle of a robbery or when you are watching illegal tubes and/or tubing without permission. But Gilbert refused to understand this. HE "Ah, you little thief!" said the Moss Park owner in my angry voice --- I mean, in an angry voice, his angry voice. "So you are the one who steals my batteries!" "My invisibility is totally under my control," he once told me. "You seem to find it amusing to confuse everyone by claiming you are my mentor when, as you know, it is really the other way around. Don't you remember when we first met? You were in the first row of my last public lecture about THE. I think you had fallen in love with me. But that is neither here nor there, since I know I had not hypnotized you." ”Not I. No, no. I came here only to take a very few capes."

208 . ”Later I told you things I had never told anyone else, thinking I could trust you. That I was a Messenger. That unlike most I can remember everything about the home planet, which officially is fictional or mythical." "He who steels capes can very easily steal batteries too!" "And gradually I taught you my rules of invisibility, secretly, privately. I explained to you why I had started so many religions --- not because each one was another rung on the ladder of escape but because I wanted to hide. Contradictions are the best disguise." "Take my word for it. I'll give you a lesson you will remember for a long time." "I would rather go back home, but I have been appointed to initiate certain changes that will come into effect further down the road, when I am gone." And he opened the trap, grabbed me and carried me to the house as if I were a yard in front of a hand puppet. When he reached the house, he flung me to the ground, put a foot on my neck and addressed me roughly. "And I proved to you that there were some visitors who were entirely and always invisible when and how they interfered with the affairs of the visible." "It is late now and it's time for bed. Tomorrow we will settle matters. In the meantime, since my watchdog died today, you make take his place and guard my worms." COULD You demonstrated beyond all doubt their nasty habit of tubing with visibles, allowing me to fully experience such an awesome event. And I know I will be terminated. I even know when. You cannot allow an invisible to stick his tube in you and expect to live.

209 . What is a watchdog? Well, in my time we had them, for there were thieves about and those who could jump you and stick their tubes in your socket or break into your box or your coffin and have their way with you or steal various parts for their own use or to sell. You could buy a watchdog for a few government credits or even rent one for less. It was quite a business. They had four legs and made a great deal of noise when anyone approached. They could also bite and even rip off arms and legs and tubes. Disgusting, yes, very disgusting. But no one wants to be surprised in the middle of the night by a strange puppet. But Gilbert, as you may now suspect, is deluded. That's what my special customers always said, or words to that effect. And then he would continue with his tube cop routine. No sooner said than done, he slipped a collar around my neck and tightened it so that it would not come off. A long iron chain was tied to the collar. The other end of the chain without a name was nailed to the wall. There is that horrible story about the tube cop who learned invisibility from one of his tube mates. At first it was a great advantage to him in his detective work. It was during the time when monogamy was still a serious crime. In some cases, you could be permanently unplugged. There was not enough random tubing to keep the workers working, the detectives detecting, the dancers dancing, the priests priesting, and the sages saging. Or sagging. Even if all the tubes and lubes and cubes and REACH sockets and the pockets in the world and all other worlds functioned improperly on a physical level, most often something would be missing, leaving victims frustrated and angry. Everyone had to pitch in. If you were able to conjure up the missing ingredient, you had to participate in all the tube parties. Monogamy was selfish; mahogany was selfish too.

210 . "If tonight it should happen to rain," said the owner, "you can sleep in that little doghouse nearby, where you will find plenty of straw. It has been my real watchdog's bed for three years and it will be good enough for you since you are made of wood. And if by chance any strangers should come, be sure to bark." So there he was, that Gilbert, spying on H. and H. who were doing things with each other's tubes and sockets for the thirtieth time in a row, not sharing their joy with anyone else. Gilbert, since he thought he could be invisible at will, watched them thirty times in a row without being seen. Now, here's the interesting part. When he was reaching for thirty-one, the magic number, the number that would guarantee that they would be unplugged, H. got up from the floor and pointed at Gilbert. Gilbert had suddenly, unexpectedly become visible. H., who does not believe in my Principles of Invisibility later told the magistrate that he and Harold only pretended they did not see Gilbert. But I believe in the laws of invisibility, one article of which states that pretending is good enough. Pretending you are invisible makes you invisible. And pretending you are blind, make you blind. Bark? What is bark? You might think because I am made of wood it has something to do with trees. But, no. It is the word for the noise the watchdogs used to make, before they were all eaten. It was easy for me to bark, because I, in my day, have watched a lot of tubes and sometimes tubes with sounds. I can imitate any voices I have heard on the tube. And I can throw those voices and even make it seem that objects are speaking: chairs, stones, waffles, puddles, sandwiches. OUT And then my customer began to weep. And here is the good part...But you probably already know it. I can make George Washington's voice come out of a tube, even when the tube is turned off. Or a doorknob. I can make Jonathan's voice come out of

211 . Johnny, when Johnny is still plugged. I can make Harold's tube speak with the voice of Benjamin Franklin. And if I had a tube I could make my tube speak with Gilbert's voice. "It is all my fault. I should be punished. I betrayed Gilbert." "And if you do not bark when a stranger approaches," the owner warned, "I will punish you. I will light matches and hold them to the soles of your feet. I will pull out all your little wooden fingers, one by one. I will seal your mouth with glue. I will poke our your eyes." Then, as arranged, I had to take the money out of his wallet and then leave without asking or answering any questions. In a week or so, he would ring me up on the tube and tell me where he would be waiting and what he would be wearing so I could spot him and begin to follow him all over again. After this last warning, my owner went into his house and closed the door. Poor, Stefan. Poor, me. I huddled close to the doghouse, more unplugged than plugged. I trembled from cold, hunger, and fright. Now and again I pulled and tugged at the collar which nearly choked me and cried out in a weak voice: I deserve it. Yes, I deserve it! I have been one great big nothing and a vagabond. I have never obeyed anyone, not even The. I have always done as I pleased. If I were only like so many others and AND had studied and worked and stayed with Gilbert who made me out of a table leg, I should not find myself here now in this Amusement Park full of loathsome puppet theaters, full of puppets tubing, and in the darkness here I am taking the place of the Moss Park owner's dead watchdog. Oh, if I could start all over again. But what is done can't be undone and I must be patient. Another low point or perhaps a high point of my career was the time one of my customers broke all the rules and fell in love with me. He was, of

212 . all things, a detective and quite high up. This is how I ended up temporarily unplugged. Some people are not as open-minded as I am. This detective's boyfriend was extremely possessive and had the rare ability, which he later put to infamous and awful use, to smell love. That's how he knew that Benjamin was cheating on him with a rent puppet, namely me. He smelled love on his clothes and on his skin and he knew it wasn't love for him. It was love for me. After this little sermon to myself, I went into the doghouse and fell asleep. And I had a dream. I was skipping across the air bridge between Building A and Building B. I was free. I had learned how to sing. And I had a tube. It was in the wrong place and that was disconcerting, but soon I would grow another one in the right place, and another. And another. Now I would have to wear clothes, but what a pleasure that would be. I could wear silks and wool. I could wear milk and tulle. I could wear diaphanous denim and scarves. I could wear bathing suits. But then when I wake up, there is puppet juice on my hands. What have I done? I had obviously escaped from the doghouse; I had obviously strangled a few puppets since there was sticky puppet juice on my hands. I have been known to walk in my sleep. When I turned the corner and could once again see open air and depths of sky between two rows of skyscrapers, I realized that in fact the line-up of skyscrapers physically converged in the distance. I didn't yet know that the further I walked into the distance the easier it was to see that where they met was not an illusion. If I could somehow summon up enough energy to keep on going I would find myself in a corner and be right back where I started from. And when I looked to the left the same thing happened. It was on the middle air bridge that the bridges to the left and right connected. There was a middle air bridge on the left and on the right too. FEEL

213 . I was at one of many centers or crossroads. At a crossroad it was said that if you were not careful you could ascend, higher and higher, way above the tips of the skyscrapers, which where the bridge was, was not that high and then higher and higher.... So George or Jonathan became very upset. He knew who I was. He knew where I was. I myself didn't know what was going on, so when he rented me I thought he was just another new customer. I always like the challenge of a new customer. What will I have to wear? Which tube will I have to use, if any? Which socket? Which pocket? Which rocket? What role would I have to play? My assignment was that I had to become a dummy or a manikin of some sort. He wrapped me in tape, round and round, and I could hardly breathe. I couldn't move either. He started chanting the 19-letter alphabet over and over again. And then without warning I was unplugged. Freed of my puppet body at last, I hovered over him for days on end until I found out the true story, his motives and his methodology. So I concentrated on the ventriloquist's alphabet, the one with the missing letters: b, f, m, p, q, v, w. And then I had the solution to one more mystery: Do fish close their eyes when they sleep? If a puppet could say this clearly, there was no ventriloquist involved. And then it hit me. A puppet can't move his lips anyway, so he cannot pronounce these sounds in any case. But here's a surprise. A puppet would be the perfect ventriloquist. He doesn't even have to practice not moving his lips --unless he is a hand puppet, and that is the bottom of the barrel. All other puppets might be able to open and shut their mouths but they can't move their lips! THE I was not at my most powerful. I made Benjamin fall in love again. this time with a home puppet by the name of Stefan, knowing that this Stefan puppet -- Stefan II -- was a piece of work and would give both

214 . Benjamin and George an extremely hard time. And now I am here in a sort of semi-translucent state waiting for a suitable vehicle. Jonathan, of course, had not only unplugged my rent-puppet body, he cut it up into tiny pieces and ate each piece, saving the hard, gristle and sinew, knotted parts for Benjamin who chewed and chewed on these parts with suitable gusto. What do you need to be a ventriloquist, besides a few stale jokes and a gift for misdirection? But that was another dream, a dream with windows that overlooked the chasm between Building A and Building B. In reality there are no windows. Who needs windows when we can see anything, anywhere through our tubes? The view through my tube can be higher or lower; east, west; north, south. Past, present or future. Of course, we need more words. You need a willing puppet. The three necessities are a space inside the body for your hand; a head that can be turned; and a mechanism that moves the mouth without making a lot of noise. The word 'tube' covers a multiplicity of uses and meanings. As does 'socket.' As does 'hose.' Let us analyze the latter. Most often it is a synonym for 'tube.' But unlike 'tube' which suggests a connector that connects at both ends, 'hose' only seems to connect at one end, as in 'garden hose' Usually fluids, electrons, words, etc. only travel in one direction through a hose at its most literal, whereas these may travel in both directions through a tube. And a tube is a telephone and a television which a hose is not. But what is a camera? What is a mirror? You need a puppet wig, or a hat of some kind. Any kind will do: a Stetson, a baseball cap, a sailor's cap, a fez, a yamaka, a wizard's conical hat, a deerstalker, a crown. In this continuing dream, this waking dream, I continue to obsess about the access door. But then I am lost in the labyrinth of these distinctions, and it is like I had walked through or fallen through another mirror again. This dream is nesting inside the previous dream which, in turn was nesting too.

215 . WALLS. I was also obsessing about the control stick or the head stick. The eyes, some of which are self-centering. The mouth. The body. And if there is any creaking or clicking I'd try lubricating my joint with paraffin or silicone spray. I can speak, but I cannot move my lips. I am a radio. Like the strange Mr. Wieland, who operated outside of ancient Philadelphia, I can throw my voice into the air; or into an empty closet; or a gazebo. I do not need a puppet. I am a belly speaker. Dead puppets are talking in my stomach. After these words, the handsome, naked puppet disappeared and the window closed without a sound. I still didn't know what a coffin was. Besides, I thought he had said 'coughing.' I am waiting for the coughing to take me away. But I could see my friends the detectives racing around the coroner, waving their puns or their tubes in the air. And then I am stopped and searched for pocket mirrors by the nasty detectives who have been tracking me. As I have already mentioned, all mirrors are illegal. Is this to prevent us from seeing who we are? Can't be. We can see who we are in the eyes of others. I think.. Oh, lovely puppet, with your waxy face, open the door I beg you. Take pity on a poor boy who is being chased by two assassins who are....I couldn't finish, for two powerful hands grasped me by the neck and the same two horrible voices growled threateningly: "Now we have you!" What two horrible voices? The same ones I had heard in the back of the black limo and then later in the dark cell when I was tied up and questioned for hours upon hours. I trembled so hard that the joints of my legs rattled and coins tinkled under my tongue. That's where I kept my money. I think it's because you can hold up a pocket mirror to someone's mouth and tell if he is plugged in, but I don't know how. Mirrors are an

216 . escape. You can't walk through pocket mirrors; they are just too small. But full-length mirrors, that's another story. "Well," the detective asked. "will you open your mouth now or not? Say, 'ah.' You do not answer? Very well, this time you shall open it. We will use force." I once escaped through a mirror myself, when no one was looking and everything was in reverse, which to me didn't seem to be much of an escape. I showed them my papers. SMALL But even two of them couldn't force it open. This was another design flaw perpetuated by Gilbert, but now it worked to my advantage. In real life, when a voice came out of my mouth, it always looked like I was talking. Taking out two big hammers. they struck two heavy blows. Lucky for me I am made of very hard wood and the hammers broke into a thousand pieces. My mouth is too narrow for a pocket mirror and as you know doesn't move up and down or sideways. It is frozen into a leer. And I have no other entrances to my body; not this body, this wooden body. My other body has many entrances. Maybe too many. And the body of that body is all one great big entrance. But the detectives, trapped in their plastic bodies, would not have known about my other bodies. They only believe what they can see and touch. What they can push around. And so they let me continue on my way, not knowing that I was up to my usual mischief. All they had to do was to tube my photo to headquarters and they would find out that I am on the wanted list, a puppet on the loose, a puppet on the lam, a really bad puppet. But they were too lazy and only really interested in the tube that was being displayed inside their plastered heads.

217 . The assassins looked at each other in dismay, holding the handles of the hammers in their hands. How could they know that in my head I was master of bilocation and of trilocation, that I could be in two or three locations at once? "I understand," said one of them to the others, "there is nothing left to do now but to hang him." WINDOWS In other words, I could be sitting down having a conversation with Gilbert, which was really just listening to him go on and on and simultaneously I could be exchanging puppet juices with Stephen, and, furthermore, on top of that also saying my alphabetical prayers in the control room of Building A. "Hang him," repeated the other in the dream within the dream. They did not know either, could not know, that unlike other puppets I didn't have to be plugged in in order to operate, to wander about, to think, to dream. Nor did I need batteries. Nor --- and here is the most important part --- that I do not have to be tuned to the Tesla wireless electrical grid. They tied my delicate little hands behind my back and slipped the noose around my delicate little neck. Throwing the rope over the high limb of a giant lamppost, they pulled until little delicate Stefan, poor little me, poor little man about town, poor little hostage Stefan --- once held captive by Harold and Howard for their nefarious purposes --- dangled far up in space, already writhing, already swinging and swaying. I am on my own, like a spider or a watchdog. WERE

218 . In the dream within the dream within the mirror. But this little wooden body of mine, oh, how it aches. My joints, made out of screws and bolts, hurt. And I do not have a socket or a tube. And my moth cannot move; it is open just to a grinning, frightening slit. No wonder no one loves me, knows me. They all only use me for my good looks and my cheerfulness, my wit. Satisfied with their evil work, the two defectives sat on the grass waiting for dainty Stefan to give his last gasp. But after three hours my eyes were still open, my mouth was still shut and my legs kicked harder than ever. Tired of waiting, the reflectives called out to me mockingly: "Good-bye, until tomorrow. When we return in the morning, we hope you'll be polite enough to let us find you dead and gone and with your mouth wide open." And when I speak inside of them, they think they are thinking. And I can be so still and silent at will that I am more invisible than they shall ever be. They can walk right through me without feeling a thing. Thus, when I am invisible, I can see and hear everything. I know what they are up to. They are up to no good. With these words they went. A few minutes passed and then a wild wind started to blow. As it shrieked and moaned, poor little suffering Stefan was blown to and fro like the hammer of a bell. The rocking made him seasick and the noose, becoming tighter and tighter, LETTING choked him. Little by little a tube covered his eyes. A big shadow was creeping nearer and nearer, and the puppet Stefan, me, still hoped for some good center to come to his rescue, but no one appeared. And now I am someone else. And this someone is looking for me, for Stefan, on the other side of the page, somewhere else in the book you are now reading.

219 . And as he was about to become unplugged, he thought of Gilbert who claimed to have made him, and hardly conscious of what he was saying, murmured to himself: Oh, Gilbert, dear Gilbert! If you were only here! These were my last words, or so I though. I close my eyes, opened my moat, stretched out my legs, and hung there, as if unplugged. But I wasn't finished yet. So this is what happened next. I broke into the apartment and no one was there. Stefan III had disappeared again. Having learned how to make himself invisible, he might have been there, but I, Benjamin Franklin, or he who pretended to be Benjamin Franklin, could not smell him. In the bedroom there was a locked closet. I found this out because I tried all the doors and this was the only door that would not open. A door is only locked to keep someone out or someone in and I would not have any of it. I had spent too much time trying to track down Stefan. Stephen appeared out of nowhere and cut my down with his knife, the same knife he had threatened me with only a few chapters ago, evil, plastic Stephen who thinks he is my rival. He had heard my lament. All puppets are telepathic. IN No doubt the closet would be full of stolen goods, loot. He really didn't need to steal. Even I knew that. Johnny and Jonathan provided him with everything he needed. Stealing was Stefan's disease. Or his language. He stole my wallet. He stole my shoes. He stole my extra strings. He stole my illegal mirror. He stole my illegal book, my forbidden tube of puppetry and voice throwing. He stole my tooth. He stole the Black Spider I had been saving for my birthday. He stole my keys to my apartment. He stole my heart of ice. He stole my dream. He stole my moon. As soon as I, Stefan The Naked, had said good-bye to my new best friend Stephen, The Plastic Stefan Clone, the pathetic ventriloquist's

220 . dummy with the recorded phrases inside of him. As soon as I had kissed him farewell, the evil doll who probably only rescued me so he could hold it over me later or make me participate in abominable things with him and him alone. As soon as I hugged his shiny, smelly body, I tottered away in the darkness and began to walk on my scorched feet as well as I could toward the faint light glowing in the distance. I kicked open the door. I am strong. The door was weak. But I didn't find the piles of bangles and odds and ends, all reported missing. I didn't find what I was looking for. The evidence. They lied to me. Can any puppets be trusted? I wasn't taking any chances. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that the detectives that had been following me had grabbed Stephen, thinking he was me. We don't look alike at all, but they were obviously confused by our names. Stephen was now bound and gagged and slowly suffocating. I didn't care. I didn't find any of my things that had gone missing. No tubes and hoses, radios, plugs and antennae. I found bodies hanging from nails in he back wall of the closet. The lifeless bodies of my friends. Johnny had already rotted and rusted into almost nothing. George Washington, a tangle of wires, dangled with his mouth open, his head over to THE the side, oily liquid dripping down from the slashes in his chest. Stephen was suspended by his two plastic hands that had been handcuffed and he had obviously been violated, front and back by a boom handle. There was a pile of rags in the corner and the pile was moving and sobbing. Someone had escaped the massacre. Or caused it. A creature stirred. Hands rose up, trembling. Strange buds on its hands were turning into branches.

221 . As I walked, my charred feet splashed in a pool of greasy and slippery water. The farther I went, the brighter and clearer grew the tiny light. On and on, I walked, until finally I found -- I give you a thousand guesses. I found a little table set for dinner and lighted by a tube; and near the table sat a ragged, moth-eaten old tube, eating his supper. Perhaps you don't know what a candle is. What is a candle? A candle is a little bit of fire on the end of a tube; the longer the fire burns, the shorter the tube becomes. What are tubes? I am not sure. But I saw a tube once in which puppets made a living catching them and pulling them from the water on strings. On strings! No, although tubes can be many different things, these were not marionettes. The strings were temporary, used one at a time, and only attached to the tubes by things called hooks, rather like very sharp coat hooks, but not attached to any wall. And the branches in turn were budding and yielding leaves and stems and other branches. One of them slipped off the spoon on the way to the big puppet's mouth and escaped into the darkness under the table. At this sight, I, poor Stefan, The Eternally Hungry was filled with such great and sudden happiness that I almost fainted. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. The sawed-off broom handle was still stuck in George's mouth. Howard and Harold were suspended by their feet and it was clear that all the stuffing had been allowed to fall out of their naked bodies through the neck openings where their heads had once been attached. The heads were on the floor, eyes staring blindly at the ceiling of the closet. SMALLEST I wanted to say a thousand and one things, but of course, just like you, I had no voice of my own. I was frozen in place by silence. If I had had a candle, it would have grown and become harder and harder. My nose, which was huge now, only grew very slowly now. And it did not become

222 . harder or softer. It was always as hard as a sawed off broom handle or a dowel could be. Jonathan was there too. At least I thought it was Jonathan. I recognized the tube and the tongue and the part of his buttocks that had that little tattoo on it of the word THE. He had been hacked into a hundred pieces. It was good old Gilbert. Opening wide my arms, I threw them around the dusty, moldy, big tube's neck. He was sitting by a plate of tubes. Gilbert looked spent. His tube was bent. Even I could see that. Oh, Gilbert, dear Gilbert! Have I found you at last? Now I shall never leave you again. Are my eyes really telling me the truth? Stefan was rubbing the large unmatched buttons that served as his yes. One button was big and red and the other was slightly smaller but made of brass. And the real Benjamin Franklin was there too. Or half of him was, the upper-half, which was dripping puppet juice. And Gilbert was immobilized and strung up too, pinned to the wall by a knife. But I could see no Stefan. I was therefore led to the conclusion that since everyone who had had a key to this particular closet, save Stefan, was in this closet and -- how shall I say it? -- decidedly immobile, inoperative, not at their performance peak, then I, Stefan, must have put them there. Disguised as the detective, I was perplexed. Where was Stefan? Had he walked through the illegal full-length mirror that was still dangerously unguarded in the rather messy apartment I had come from, not from George's studio. Stefan had also been remiss in his household chores. There were costumes and masks strewn here and there, tubes galore, plugs and far too many rose petals. Gilbert was rubbing his eyes too: "Are you really my own dear Stefan?" Logic, I said to myself. If I am to collect the reward now being offered, I must use logic.

223 . AMOUNT "Yes, yes," I answered. "Look at me. And you have forgiven me, haven't you? Others may think you threw me into the garbage by mistake, but you and I know what really happened is that I ran away. Oh, my dear Gilbert, how good you are. And to think that I --- Oh, but if you only knew how many misfortunes have fallen on my head and how many troubles I have had. I ran away to the Theater of Puppets. But I met Harold Sr. and then Howard Jr. who took me in. They ate like wolves. What are wolves? I really don't know, but it is just a figure of speech. Wolves are gloves. Or cloves. Harold and Howard ate like wolves. They ate like gloves. They ate moss, tiny tubes that squirmed when you looked at them, big plates of bibs, statistics and bills-of-lading; they ate starched collars and bowls of marionette strings, mixed with violin strings. They ate wash. They hate like stoves, offering me nothing." I was looking at my arm, my left arm. There was a bud, a stem, a branch, and then another, the first branch making a Y and then Y's on each arm and Y's on all of them, growing and growing. I was becoming a tree. "His mouth doesn't open and close," said Howard. "I can see his teeth but he doesn't have a stomach." Where would someone like Stefan hide after committing such a string of horrible murders? Obviously somewhere he would be least noticed. And then I remembered where legend had it he had been found --in the shop on the top floor of building C. When he had run away from 'home' or, as he called it, 'the love prison,' he had returned to the junk shop where Jonathan and Johnny had found him and was found hiding in the same place on the floor amidst all the other. cast-offs, toys, and junk. Little did they know that I was dying of hunger. Imagine how awful it is to be hungry, terribly hungry and not have a mouth that can open wide

224 . enough to eat. Or a stomach. Imagine that. Imagine having to talk through your teeth. And even then it is not you own voice. OF Imagine that. Howard and Harold. They just kept on eating and drinking. They drank puppet blood and puppet pee. They drank huge tankards of puppet semen laced with puppet sweat. They drank delicate little cups of puppet seeds, drank bottles of puppet milk. I beat it over to the junk shop and, pretending to be hunting for old tubes, rare tubes, I searched the several rooms. He had left a note in the closet: There is no THE. And there Stefan was! Not on the floor, but high up in the rafters. He had stuffed a plastic tube in one ear, a wooden tube in the other, and had blindfolded himself. And had forced a large glass tube into his slit of a mouth and hung himself using an extension cord. Stefan was free at last.... And finally the big event. Their puppet slaves, who were totally naked, brought out the giant broiled marionette that was bigger, much bigger than me and, in fact, as big as one of them. First they attacked the legs, sucking out the juices and then they broke into the torso, extracting large globs of rubber, dipping each one in puppet butter. They took turns gnawing on the head. In short, while I was looking on, while I was starving, they ate like gloves, like hooves. What are gloves? Gloves are what we turn into when we are wolves as in those old tubes.

225 . Chapter 18 [Epilogue] LIGHT,

This is one ending, but it is not the definitive ending. Since no good story has only one ending, but multiple endings, all of them equally true, there's another ending to tell and it begins with a secret meeting, because even though Howard and Harold usually never talked to Jonathan and Johnny, and Benjamin Franklin never talked to either couple and no one talked to George Washington either, they came to the meeting called by Gilbert. Stefan, cute Stefan, naughty Stefan, disobedient Stefan, had caused so much trouble in this once very close group of friends and lovers, sowing jealousy and discord, they decided his spell had to be broken, or, as Benjamin announced, he had to be done away with, put out of his misery, returned, replaced for good, burned up, or turned into sawdust. Stefan had unleashed a reign of spite JUST like none had ever before experienced before. Their project had been totally interrupted. Since they were so furious at each other, they had not been able to continue working on the puppet opera they had already spent so much time writing and dreaming about. Stefan had to go. But who would dispatch this nasty little piece of garbage, this promiscuous thug? And then, as you know, gloves generate gloves, during a full moon. They scratch and bite and then their victims join the club. Is this how puppets make more puppets? If only we were that lucky. The process is more complicated than that. How do you make a puppet? How do you make a friend? Since puppet parts slowly grow back, one way to make a new puppet is to cut off various parts from other puppets. Choice parts. A pinkie from Benjamin Franklin, a nose from George Washington, a hose

226 . from Howard, Jr.; a leg form Harold, Sr., and so forth. These parts are then mended, glued and/or screwed together. Then, although they had not talked to one another for months they began arguing and fighting, each one having a particularly urgent reason for volunteering for the mercy killing. It could not be called murder in cold blood, for Stefan did not have any blood. But it was murder nonetheless. He had a stash of Black Spider since he was addicted to it himself and often wondered if he would still love Jonathan if Black Spider ever wore off. Would he have fallen in love with George or Benjamin or Harold, Jr. without Doom? Would he be able to talk to Johnny without Litigation? Would he be able to tube with Benjamin or Stephen without Hoax or Gargoyle? There are several difficulties. One is that it is difficult to hack off puppet parts and get away with it. Although the parts will grow back, we puppets are attached to our various body parts. Articulated or not. I remember when I stole Howard, Jr.'s nose, borrowed it. This required seduction, reduction, suction and the administration of an enormous quantity of drugs and it wasn't even a particularly funny nose. ENOUGH I thought I could use it as a tube, so I glued it between my legs, but it wouldn't stick and since it kept on falling off during inopportune moments, I chucked it. And how to kill him? Howard, whom Stefan had lied to over and over again, thought he would like to administer an undetectable but superlethal dose of Black spider. The second difficulty is that you have to store the various parts in a safe place until you have all the parts you need. The third difficulty is finding another puppet willing to tube with you in order to create a center for your new puppet, now assembled, now ready to go, now still without a center. A puppet without a center is like a rock without sin. Would there be enough of Stefan to go around?

227 . But there I was being held captive by Howard and Harold and I didn't know what H. and H. were up to. Did they need me around to help them make a center for one of their newly assembled puppet bodies? Did they think they could trick me into revealing my ventriloquism techniques? Or belly-talking tricks? Did they want me to throw my voice, pretending I was THE, so they could collect more money from their congregation of sock-puppets? Would there be enough of Stefan to go aground? FOR As they became drunker and drunker they kept making obscene proposals to me. Would I be so kind as to hold their tubes? Could they rub their tubes on me? Fortunately they fell fast asleep. I crawled through the window. Outside I was stopped by the detectives who had been following me during the whole tube. I ran and they ran after me until they caught me, throwing me down to the slippery ground. When they had me where they wanted me, they tied me to a long metal table and without administering any drugs, opened my midsection with a horrible knife that wasn't as sharp as it should have been. And when they were inside of me, what do you think they found? A baby Gilbert? A Johnny? Or a Jonathan or a tiny Stefan? A remote-controlled apparatus? A battery pack? THE? No, they found a large black spider, moving its jaws and its legs. Harold thought Cavalcade, a new drug, would be much better and since Stefan had caused him to hallucinate, Cavalcade, known to produce the worst hallucinations ever, would be perfect. George Washington, whose heart had been broken by Stefan, thought he would stab him in the heart or where a heart could be if Stefan had had a heart. Gilbert, HIM

228 . who many thought had actually carved Stefan out of wood --- which was the central lie of one of Stefan's many stories --- said that since Stefan had burned down his woodworking shop because he was angry with what he thought was Gilbert's inability to give him a tube he would take great pleasure in capturing him, tying him up, throwing gasoline all over him, and lighting one nice match. Was this the real me? Was this my center? Am I just a spider in puppet's clothing? How had it gotten in there? Why was it hiding? And they ripped it out. This hurt very badly. Once they had it out they drowned it in a tub of acid and the room was very smoky. They were so excited that they had finally caught and killed a large black spider that they forgot to sew me up and just left me hanging from the top of the giant coat rack. That was too easy a death for the little villain, complained Johnny. He was always playing with my tube and then running away. So what I will do is glue up his mouth, glue up his socket, and weighing him down with used tubes tied to his chest throw him into the swimming pool in Building A, late at night when no one is there....And I who have been most wounded of all, I, Jonathan will pull him apart piece by piece, eating each piece, one at a time, relishing his screams. I wonder if that spider is what we call a guest. Guests move from host to host. In order to travel from A to B the guest must jump from Jonathan to Johnny, then from Johnny to H. and then from H. to H. and then from H. to Gilbert. Moves are best made when hosts are linked by tubes and not paying attention to anything else. Guests seem to be able TO to influence these often irrational connections or tubings. Why would a guest want to move from A to B? From Jonathan all the way to Gilbert? Guests cannot survive outside hosts. Their only way of 'traveling' to meet other guests to mate with or to find a

229 . favorite food is through the tubing of hosts. Does a host know he has a guest? Probably not. Once two guests are inside a host they sometimes exchange words and leave behind an 'egg.' He was looking at his arm, his left arm. There was a bud, a stem, a branch, and then another, making the first branch a Y and then Y's on each arm and Y's on all of them, growing and growing. He too was becoming a tree. Howard said he would be glad to saw him in half, the way he had sawed his brain in half with his stupid stories. Some hosts or homes are better than others. Johnny, for instance, has more tubes than Howard. Jonathan watches the same tube over and over. And Harold said: "No, I am the best one to do him in. He stole Stephen from me, so I will lock him in a room with Stephen and he will have to listen to Stephen's boring stories until he dies of boredom." You don't think puppets and ventriloquists and dummies feel pain? Guess again. It was like what you feel when you are chopped up into fire wood or when children play doctor and nurse and you have surgery..... So they all had reasons to dispose of bad Stefan and they all had separate ways of doing it. After a great deal of arguing back and forth, Gilbert interrupted: "Although I suggested setting him on fire, I think I know another way, a permanent way. All the ways that have been suggested, even my own, are only temporary, because you know Stefan; he will spring back to life and once he is in our dreams he will be in our lives SEE again, making mischief, causing havoc, turning lover against lover and broadcasting all the secrets of puppetry and ventriloquism far and wide, throughout all the buildings and all the worlds we know and do not know. We cannot let that happen again."

230 . I wiggled in the wind and finally broke loose and fell to the ground. It was night, so holding the open wound in my stomach where the black spider had been, I broke into a ground floor apartment and no one was there so I searched the bedroom. I searched everywhere and was able to put butterfly joints in my stomach, closing the awful wound for good. I used glue too and had found clamps to hold the wound together until it dried. But when I got outside again, I fell to the ground from exhaustion and loss of vital energy which had leaked out. * * * They listened. And the next day they took poor Stefan, who was wrapped up in miles of string, to the Moss Park --- to the edge of the sky, to the wedge of the sky, to the pledge of the sky, wrapped up in smiles of string. And once they were there and had said a few prayers to THE, Gilbert pried open Stefan's mouth and removed the piece of paper that he had placed there so long ago. And then Gilbert did something odd. Instead of circling Stefan clockwise as he had done the day before, he circled him counter-clockwise and Stefan disappeared. Forever. Or so they all thought. Had the spider left behind eggs inside of me? HE But in another brook, another story, another tube, Stefan was gaining the upper hand. What is a tube? A tube is a tub, a tomb, a tug. A tube is a device for watching a story or listening to one. How can a tube be both a tub and a tomb? In the same way that a bridge can connect Building A and Building B and be called either an air bridge or a sky bridge. Language or more correctly languages were driving Stefan crazy. Language was unstable. Names were unstable. The better to reflect reality

231 . or duality or plurality. The better to deflect frames. The better to detect rhyme. He cursed the day he had learned to speak and how to read. Language is baggage. Language is sausages. Then George Washington sent his car to rescue me and the doctors, after looking at me, said: "If he is not dead, then he is surely alive." And then I told a lie and my nose began to grow. I told them I was a Bard addict and a Weasel addict and I was infected with fame. And, above all, a Black Spider addict. They scurried back into their holes. My nose grew and grew, until I couldn't force it through the door of the room, so I had to leave through the window. Since no one thought of him as being truly alive, he began to think of himself as dead, so he studies dead languages. The more he studies "English" for instance, the more he is amazed by the language now in use. Doom is now pronounced to rhyme with room when it refers to the drug, but when referring to a cloud it is pronounced like 'dumb' was pronounced in ancient English, to rhyme with 'sum' or 'some.' WAS And there are even further complexities, all of which made the English spoken on tubes seem simple-minded indeed. Leaving through the window, the back way, put me back in my original predicament, known as Harold and Howard or sometimes as Jonathan and Johnny. When would I be rid of them? The new Harold and the new Howard looked just like the old Harold and the old Howard, so I went with them to the Moss Park playground to find the certificates and the drugs I had buried. I had no choice since I don't have fingerprints. They had the goods on me. They do not have my fingerprints IMPRISONED.

232 . but they have my scent. They closed in. This is what they had been waiting for. I smelled of roses and hoses and noses, but I hadn't followed my instincts. Harold and Howard and Jonathan/Johnny had made a deal. Once I had turned them down for tubing on a tube for all to see, they lost all interest in me and my little wooden body. They just wanted the reward. Nowadays a crown is sometimes called a hat, sometimes a bloom, sometimes a plow --- but all of these words refer to the same object, but at different times of the day according to who is speaking or supposed to be speaking. HE The reward? The detective in the raincoat laughed at me and instead of certificates and drugs, I found an empty box. When the George Washington facsimile heard I had been robbed he sent me to jail to make the other detectives happy and so that Harold and Howard and Harold, Jr. and Howard, Jr. could receive the reward. They got double. Somewhere along the way the spider living inside of me had been freed, rescued, let loose and, hidden inside of a lap puppet, he was growing in size and in strength. What is a jail? It's a tiny room, not very much bigger than me, Stefan, The Crucified. I could hardly move. I would say 'I could hardly breathe' but, I am sure you know, I don't have to breathe, or eat or go to the bathroom. He was sick and tired of being used and abused, of being a puppet. He would run and then they would find him and bring him back. It was all so useless. He did not have a tube between his legs, like all the others. He put a carrot there; he put a broom handle there; he put a gun, a tongue. But nothing would stick.

233 . I wanted to scream but as you also already know, I do not have a voice of my own. Gilbert, you made me that way. Why? Is it fair? Shouldn't I have a voice of my own? Shouldn't I breathe? Shouldn't I have a tube of my own? Gilbert, you have a tube, why don't I? THE, even you have a tube and I am made in your image, so why don't I? Slowly but surely he mounted his counterattack. He would no longer be anyone's tube toy, anyone's slave. Johnny had been the first to go. And, you know what? No one had missed him. And then he boiled George Washington to death in his bath, and a month later he took care of Benjamin Franklin by COULD electrocuting him with a pencil sharpener. He had fed him an immense amount of Doom and convinced him that it would feel good if he stuck his tube in the pencil sharpener. His whole body shook and there was a funny curl of smoke. So I escaped from "jail" by charging the jailers to look at the place between my legs because they did not believe such a thing would be possible, even for a puppet. And when they looked, I ran away, sneaking between their burly legs. I saw a fine bunch of tubes arranged on a shelf. The trap caught me. I am always a sucker for tubes. Would there be copies of the forbidden tubes? Tales from the Crypt: The Ventriloquist's Dummy. Would they have Magic; The Great Gabbo; Dead of Night; Puppets Who Kill; Dummy, Dead Silence, Child's Play, Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Glass Eye and So Died Riabouchinska? Would they have The Twilight Zone: The Dummy? And then I drifted off, remembering some of the forbidden tales, which are tubes you listen to or watch or read.... And then Harold next. Harold was easy. All Stefan had to do was take out his batteries and throw them over the sky bridge railing. Howard was harder; Howard was not so easily seduced. But Stefan worked his

234 . magic on Howard and when Howard was rubbing his tube against Stefan's stomach Stefan stabbed him in the back with an ice pick he had kept under the covers just for that purpose and then he poured tomato soup into the wound and unscrewed Howard's head. And Stephen? Stefan tied him up with piano wire and put him in the oven until he melted. Once upon a time there was a ventriloquist's dummy who couldn't speak French. Once upon a time there was a hand puppet who tried everything he could think of to remove the hand out of the trap door in his back. Whose hand is it? Insults, pain, disobedience. The hand leaves and the puppet can no longer move. Stuck in the drawer, the empty hand puppet is send to the dump and burned. Once upon a time there was a finger puppet who thought he was a tube puppet. And then Stefan, triumphant at last, climbed over the railing of the air bridge between Building A and building B and jumped. He ended up breaking into a million pieces and then he was at peace at last. No jealousies, no resentments, no bitterness, no fantasies of revenge, no money, no ambitions, no tubing, no dreams. SEE And the Tube Man put a collar on me and me a watchdog. What is a watchdog? A little tube with a voice of its own that guards homes and apartments and hidden treasures. The Tube Man -- who made his way in the world by selling tubes in all sizes, shapes and colors --- found out I was innocent when I caught the Weasel and he let me go. Jonathan was the only one to survive Stefan's rampage. He was alive to tell the tale, which is how I know it. He told it to me. How did he escape Stefan's wrath? He had been witness to all the other murders. He was hiding in the broom closet when Stefan pushed George Washington into the bath tube under false pretenses and when Stefan knocked him on the head so he couldn't jump out of the bath tub when the temperature of

235 . the water kept getting hotter and hotter. Jonathan had also been watching Stefan and George Washington a month later, using his telescope. They were in Building B and he was in a room in building A. He had watched the whole thing, thinking at first he would only tube them and then blackmail George, as had been the plan. His plan. Stefan had agreed to be the bait. And then Jonathan would earn government credits from Benjamin Franklin, otherwise Jonathan would show the tube to Howard, whom Benjamin was 'seeing.' Jonathan couldn't believe his eyes. It wasn't a pretty sight, watching someone electrocuted by a pencil sharpener. The Doom that Jonathan had given Stefan had served another purpose. His whole body shook and there was a funny curly of smoke. And then Harold was next. The Tube Man, otherwise known as Benjamin Franklin, laughed wickedly. The spider with the long tail that smoked also started to laugh and a vein in his chest broke. So I went back to the detective's house. Harold was easy. Jonathan now realized Stefan was up to no good so he planted a bug on him and, located at a safe distance, he had Harold protest the battery-removal, and Jonathan started running from the other end of the air bridge but was delayed by oddities, by binoculars, by all the pearls that flesh is heir to. Nostalgia made him bleed. HIMSELF He saw his future open up in front of him, but by the time he got there time had become a glass floor. Stefan had already shoved Harold over the railing. What is Weasel? What is Serpent? What is Fireman? As far as I can tell a Weasel is a sneak like Benjamin Franklin, but it is also a very dangerous drug. A spider is a kind of very large tube with a life of its own and, curiously, with eight legs and jaws. Hairy, germ-infested jaws. A fireman is a supernatural being like George Washington likes to think he is, but isn't.

236 . Howard was harder to dispose of.... I hunted down Harold and Howard and Harold, Jr. and Howard, Jr. Harold and Howard were busy watching their tubes. Harold, Jr. and Howard, Jr. were in Building A dreaming of a better world, a world without words, a world without detectives, a world without THE. IN No jealousies, no worries, no resentments, no refreshments, no dreams, no bitterness, no fantasies of revenge, no money, no ambitions, no tubes, no time, no envy, no violence. He, Jonathan, had seen the puppet asleep in the second bedroom. He was abnormally tall. But he had never seen the puppet in the fourth room. He had heard him though, bumping against the wall in his sleep, which meant his cot was on the other side of the wall from Jonathan's, but too close to the wall. But I wonder now if that was really Stefan I saw climb over the railing. It certainly looked like him and I have to confess I made no attempt to save him from himself. But was it really him? Jonathan was trying to summon up enough nerve to knock on his door some early evening and ask him to move his cot away from the wall THE

237 . or to leave a note to the same effect, but he hadn't gotten around to it yet. But then again, maybe he had dreamed it. By the time he came home he was always too tired. To do anything. But take one drug or another. And plug into the tube until I drifted off into sleep (yes, puppets sleep) to dream (yes, puppets dream) over and over again of being awakened, each time in a different manner: a rock falling or about to fall; a knock on the door (which was rare and probably impossible); a snake in his bed; or death by drowning (impossible because puppets don't have to breathe). This last dream he always interpreted as (he told Harold) "drowning in a sea of information." The other evening I was walking along alone through the Moss Park and I saw a sassy wooden puppet sitting on a bench, smirking. Was it Stefan? Had he ordered a duplicate made of himself before he took the plunge? If so, where would he have found the money? Making an identical twin, as I well know, is exceedingly expensive and there is all that paperwork you have to go through. This life was no life for him and it went on and on. Like the bridges that connected one building to another as far as the eye could see. He was trying to think of pleasure. Did he have any pleasure? Certainly tubing in all its forms. But there was no pleasure in work. What pleasure could there be in emptying bowls of rainwater as they filled, returning them empty precisely to where they had been beneath the dozen or so leaks in the ceiling? This was probably why he was turning to religion and this bothered him although he knew enough to question the idea that religion, MIRROR which supposedly dealt with ultimate truths, had to be sensible or reasonable from a puppetry point of view. Nevertheless, if it made too much sense, it could not be true, could

238 . it? Because reason would have provided all the answers already. Time was always the left curve. Or had Stefan come back from the dead? NOW. Time was always the curve and he grew excited when he discovered he could look through sentences as if there were holes in them, precisely placed, through which another reality could be glimpsed, if but incompletely. Stefan, however, had not died. Having never really been alive, he could not truly die. He jumped and then he was in front of another door. This door was definitely a metaphor. Stefan opened the door and before entering the new room he took a good look inside at all the furniture. Why were there so many tables? The tables were of various sizes and shapes. And he sniffed. He smelled roses, old roses. And he saw a statue at the far end. There was no altar, which he had expected, given all that Gilbert had revealed to him. Faith in something that could not be proved or experienced was a bad joke. So instead of following orders he followed the detective or the person he thought was the detective, the man in the cape. It was an oldfashioned cape with all kinds of pockets and buckles and straps here and there, as if a serious rainstorm was in the making which was not the case. With all kinds of buckets and knuckles and traps here and there as if a serious firestorm was in the making which was not the case. There were several rows of folding chairs in front of the statue, each one a different color, and the rows of metal chairs were slightly misaligned. Some of them really, really misaligned, as if a crowd once seated had stood up and left in a hurry, perhaps hearing his clonking, wooden-footed approach. One chair had even fallen over on its side. He

239 . ignored it. It was plastic. He ignored the sappy music too. Or tried too, wondering why it was there and where it was coming from. HE The glove was on the other foot. The shoe was on the other head. Is that what you called them? Or were they boats? The globe was on the other boot. The flue was on the dead. Or were they moats? The glue was on the other suits. The flute was on the bed. Or were they votes? He scanned the enormous room and located two tiny speakers, one to the left of the statue, one to the right. They were located in the apex of the interior of the negative, three-sided pyramid formed by two walls at right angles and the ceiling that capped them at the extreme upper point of their vertical juncture. Otherwise it was a world without spats, the thought. Without vocal cords or trapdoors. He felt at home. And with reason as his guide, he was able to deduce his next step. He knew why Stephen had taken such a disliking to him and had made fun of his lack. He was envious. No tube meant no tube upkeep. No tube grooming. No fear of loosing it. There was a similar 'corner' below, formed by the two walls and the floor. Stefan did not know the name for these three-sided 'corners.' Later, when he did some research, he found there was no name. Just like me; just like me, he thought. I named myself Stefan, but there is no name for what I am. But why was he following the detective across hundreds of bridges, in and out of shopping malls, waterfalls, charity balls, angular halls, oblique stalls, and perpendicular squalls? Why? He simply wanted to find out why the man in the cape had been following him. The elective in the cap did not take any unusual turns or duck into any tubes. He never looked behind. And then he scanned the floor. It was marble. Could that be? Could there be a piece of marble, no matter how thin, that large? Clearly the

240 . temple was built from the floor up. It was all curiously empty and curiously elegant. The walls were bare and off-white. The only opening was the door he had just used. There were no windows on any of the four walls and no skylights in the golden ceiling. There were lit candles everywhere and that


was the only light, so many candles that all flickering was erased and the room was as bright as the noon when the sun's light came straight down and hit the bridges between the skyscrapers, straight down, and even penetrated for a split second --- that second occurring later and later as the year progressed --- hitting the dead land. But it was becoming lighter and lighter as evening fell and lights went on. Streetlights, lights in apartments. And then when Johnny was trying to remember why he was following the man in the cape, the man disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street with locked tubes. No lights went on here. No alarms went off. No entry buzzers sounded. And the stature? What did it look like? NOT It was, however, difficult o follow someone without being spotted. He stopped in front of shop windows over and over again, keeping track of the detective's genuflections. Usually he tried to stay at least a sock away and, of course, he had no way of knowing if the man he was following knew he was being followed. He did not take any unusual turns or truck into any stores. He never looked behind. But it was becoming lighter and lighter as evening fell and lights were turned on. Everything was

241 . floating. The man disappeared. Where had gone? He didn't know where to turn. He didn't know what to do. He decided to retrace his steps. Was it THE? Stefan thought it looked a little too much like Gilbert with his clothes off to be THE. But then it began to speak, the words coming right out of the mouth which was slightly open, but it did not move: "Pain is the center of all belief. Truth comes from you..." These words sounded familiar to Stefan and he began to weep. This was the first time ever. He had once seen Gilbert weep and perhaps that is how he learned this trick. And when he arrived back at the last air bridge, he was equally confused. Which direction had he come from? If he could remember that, then everything that had happened yesterday would fall into place. But he knew this: he was quite angry at the waiter in the small café. Why had he brought tea instead of coffee? Why was he arguing with him? LOOK Johnny threw down his napkin and asked to see the manager. But what had happened before that? Why hadn't the friend he was waiting for, the mend he was waiting for, the end he was waiting for shown up? And when he was through crying, still not knowing what he was crying about, he decided to take a closer look at the statue. Upon closer inspection he discovered that it was made out of a gray but not shiny metal. He knocked at it. It was hollow. The statue then said: "Silence is the key to invisibility, silence and absolute stillness. As long as I can hold my breath and keep from moving, dreaming, speaking, or thinking I can continue to be invisible. Why do I want to be invisible? Invisibility is freedom!" He tried reaching him on his telephone. Now what would he do for guns? He tried calling H., but H. didn't answer either. And then he remembered why he was waiting for George Washington. And it wasn't just to ask him for the jugs of the latest drug, called Spite or beg him for more

242 . Window. Spite allowed you to spit even if you were a puppet. Window allowed you to see through walls. No. It was to ask his advise about his new job. The lips of the statue did not move. "Hello, hello," shouted Stefan. "Who's inside? Is it you, THE? It is you, Gilbert? And why are you playing this trick on me?" He noticed how attractive the statue was; every detail of the stark naked body, of the nude, had been carefully wrought. Even the tube was rendered in great deal and quite beautiful. Stefan tried moving the arms, but they would not budge, nor would the nose or the tube. Unlike his own body there were no hinges or moving parts. THE Should he rap on doors? Should he interrupt strangers? Should he nap? should he tap? Was there a secret way out? He did not take any unusual turns or duck into any tubes or shadows or saddles. He never looked unkind. But it was becoming lighter and lighter as evening fell and lights went on in deportment houses above. Then when Johnny was trying to remember why he was following Jonathan, he disappeared. Where had he gone? It was a street of locked tubes, of cubes, of lubes, of food. No alarms went off. No buzzers sounded. He didn't care. When he needed additional energy he would plug in or walk over to the communal baths and have tube sessions with on or another of the willing tubes, who seemed to receive their motor energy and their mental and emotional energies from somewhere else. And for free. ”I can use disruptive coloration," continued the voice from within the stature. I can use counter-shading, differential blending, disruptive contrast, co-incident disruption." He walked wherever he had to go or took the sky tubes. His clothes were nondescript, usually a single color from head to toe. A drab green was his favorite all-over color. And he never took conspicuous trips or sat

243 . in the orchestra of the State Puppet Opera. The Puppet Government or the future was of no interest to him. "But why do you need to hide?" shouted Stefan. The statue would not answer. So Stefan circled the figure that was almost his own size, but because it was so handsome looked much, much taller. He wanted to see if there was an opening somewhere through which Stephen, who was also his size, could have slipped. He had already unplugged Johnny, so it couldn't be Johnny inside unless he was able to alter his size, like the animals that prowled about at the bases of the skyscrapers. Otherwise Johnny would not have been able to fit inside the hollow statue. Nor could Gilbert, nor could Howard or Harold or Benjamin Franklin. Nor could Jonathan, who among all of his tube partners would have been most likely to have enjoyed this masquerade, this nasty fraud involving a speaking statue, a speaking statute. WAY He could already hear what Jonathan would say when he was accused of this trick. He would say: "Well, would you have believed me if I had said any of those things in my own voice, using my own mouth? I don't think so. Some oracles are frauds through and through and some oracles know they have to play tricks in order to have people listen to them and believe what they are saying. Johnny, oh, Johnny, didn't you see Stefan? Didn't you see the mass of hinged flesh that was left when the worm escaped? He looked like an ordinary plump to you, more or less snoring as usual. And did you have a broom? Someone has to sweep away the dust that falls from the ceiling and the paint chips and the bird-dropping. Someone has to empty the bowls of water. I swept away a few shadows and nothing more, but I am used to that.

244 . But, of course, thought Stefan, Jonathan is also too large to fit inside of this handsome statue. Oh, Most Powerful THE, if only I looked like this statue, I would be loved by all. And that was that until I tried Black spider which allows you to see inside of people and inside their heads. You actually seem to be seeing what they are thinking or picturing and sometimes it is too accurate for comfort. You see how centers are created. HE And then when he moved to the back of the statue, still looking for an opening, he, our Stefan, saw a tube that lead from the wall into the statue's back, right between the perfectly sculpted shoulder blades. That's it. He had been tricked again. Gilbert must be behind this latest deception. He ran out of the strange temple and went around to the back to find out who was speaking into the tube attached to the statue. There was a light and it became larger and stronger the longer the partners stayed attached and then it separated and visited various levels of reality and if everything was equal a log of light would break off and hence another 'center' was created. It could be done alone, but rarely. Sometime by three. But two together was usually good enough. A new center would break free. But by the time he got there, since the temple was enormous, there was no one there. There were footprints, footprints he thought he recognized, but couldn't quite place. And there was a little stool the villain had been standing on in order to speak into the tube. But there was no one there, so Stefan was even more furious. He decided to follow the footprints around the bend, around the corner and the pole and there they disappeared under the elevator door. He reached up as high as he could,

245 . PICTURED standing on his little wooden toes and pushed the button. The doors opened, but the elevator was as empty as the speaking statue. He stepped inside and wondered which button to push, unlike in the elevators in the skyscrapers the buttons here were not numbered, they were identified by the letters of the ventriloquist's alphabet: a, b, c, d, e, g, h, i, j, k, l, n, q, r, s, t, u, x, y, z. And so all he could do was press his very long broomstick nose over each button hoping to smell something that would indicate which button had been last used. R. smelled like roses so he pressed R, using his hose. So many bodies, so few centers. So many bodies walking around without anything inside. H. and H. had all of the same instruments at birth or attached to them later in life or had them specially grown but they used them differently, incorrectly. Stefan is different. He cannot even bite someone. All he can do is look and watch. All he can do is hear and listen. He doesn't even take up much space. And he doesn't breathe. Look, I am holding up my pocket mirror and it doesn't fog up. The elevator was not an express so it seemed like it was taking forever to reach his floor. Finally the doors opened and no one was to be seen. Furthermore, there were no visible footprints anywhere in the hallway. The hallway had a hundred doors and behind each door was another hallway that had a hundred more doors, each one opening into a hallway with a hundred more. Therefore, all the hallways together took up more space than the building itself. After trying several doors he managed to find one that opened up into an actual room HIMSELF.

246 . rather than yet another hallway. At the rear of the room there was a tiny stage and rows of puppets were seated in front of it. On stage, a Johnny puppet was telling the Stefan story once again: "Thus we know Stefan cannot see himself in the big mirror, because if he could he wouldn't act like someone our size. He would see he was merely a child or a midget. If he could see himself he would be able to walk through the mirror and he could have escaped. He can only escape when someone leaves the door unlocked by mistake." The Johnny puppet was adding and subtracting various details so the audience would not be bored, because they knew the story by heart, including the various endings, each having added quite a few themselves. But what could you expect from puppets? Surprisingly, they like to listen as well as talk. They like to watch as well as be looked at. "I wonder if that is what happened today, continued Jonathan, if that is what happened today?" When they aren't on stage they are resting and listening. They are watching too. From their shelves, their closets, their boxes, their perches. Some puppets are more perverse, more alive than others. Hand puppets, for instance. When the puppeteer puts his hand inside they shiver. Or let's take ventriloquist's lap puppets.... BEFORE He was running away again and H. and H. must have been in wait. They take turns. Then H. must have grabbed him before he made it to the Moss Garden. But because Stefan doesn't like it when Johnny and I argue, I kept my mouth shut, I knew I had not left the door unlocked, which left Johnny, sloppy Johnny. But it wasn't worth the fight. I knew we would get Stefan back, as usual. Why would a puppet like sitting on a ventriloquist's lap? What is really going on behind the puppet's back? Is the ventriloquist's hand up

247 . inside the lap puppet? Are there strange pulleys and levers? The lap puppets crave those feelings. And they like to have someone else open and close their mouths, swing their heads up and down, or from left to right and right to left or all 360 degrees. And they like the illusion of someone else's words coming out of their mouths. And when someone misses H. and H. and investigated their home and found them standing there like statues, hatchet in the air, hacksaw in the air, cleaver in the air, who would cart them away and throw them over the railing? Not me. Not Johnny. Perhaps Gilbert. He would be more than glad to get rid of one more failed experiment. Twins only worked when one was stronger and took the lead. Or, as he had tried later, they could switch identities and roles periodically. Which is the Fifth Mercy. But, like myself, he had no inkling of the truth: THE is a verb. Does it really matter they have to pretend they can't walk? His head was solid, full of music, crammed, clotted. His head was full of tubes, images, words, poems. His head was full of Stefan. But where was the real Stefan? Jonathan thought he could track him down by going through the list of suspects. George, Benjamin, Gilbert. Each would have his reasons for kidnapping Stefan. Gilbert was the prime suspect. He might have been feeling guilty about the mistakes he made in making Stefan's body, leaving certain important things out, like ears. Like a tube, like a socket. A broom handle was not an adequate substitute for a tube, no matter how much it grew in length. Furthermore, the little pencil scribbles Gilbert had added at the last minute on each side of Stefan's head did not suffice. They were not three-dimensional. Stefan could not wiggle them. Yet he heard things. That they knew, because of his ability to repeat stories they had read to him and his knack with curse words and obscenities. They had never heard him pray, probably because they themselves --- Johnny and Jonathan --- always prayed silently, not even moving their lips, which was one of the requirements of their new religion.

248 . So knowing his audience, the Johnny puppet tailored his tale to their needs. The puppets in the story were, so to speak, puppets in his hands, as was his audience now. He had them, as they say, eating out of his hands. Did he care they were worried about THE? He dismissed this obsession as a kind of bad joke. They were not even certain what THE looked like, or where THE was hiding. And yet he caught them talking to THE, in whispers but sometimes in shouts. Some, it seemed, thought of THE as merely a bigger, more powerful versions of themselves. THE was certainly not their maker; Gilbert was. If THE had made them, they would have been perfect. HE George Washington was always jealous of Stefan, was out of town. Was that the right phrase? No. There were no longer towns but only one global city that even covered the oceans, air bridges connecting each tall building to the next. "Out of town" meant under arrest, jailed, stuck in some dark hole below water level, until he talked, until he turned in every last one of the conspirators. "Out of town" meant burnt. "Out of town" meant out of the loop, out of the way, out of touch. There were no longer clowns but only one mobile city that even included the oceans, ridges, the tubes connecting all the tall buildings high above the baggage and the garbage. But that was not the issue. The issue was Stefan, that little devil, the one they all loved. How should he be punished? Would he be forgiven for destroying so many of his fellow puppets after seducing them with his charming, naughty ways? He is the puppet they can never be, so he has to be punished of course. thought he was THE. Benjamin Franklin had never forgotten the time Stefan had insulted him in public by calling him a tube-sucker, was, however, no longer Benjamin Franklin but someone else, going under a different name, But there was something even worse. Stefan

249 . perhaps the ticket agent at the Moss Park tube station. He didn't even remember Jonathan or Johnny or anything about his former life as a counter-tenor. He and Johnny had often rehearsed duets together, particularly those mournful piece by someone called "Our Beloved Purcell." Or was it Our Beloved Pencil? But now, judging by his off-key humming, he really couldn't sing much, trapped in his new, spanking new body. WAS Once upon a time a puppet thought he was THE. He had taken too many drugs and was so full of himself that he had the notion that not only had he made himself --- out of a tree, of all things --- but that he had made all the other puppets, including Johnny and Jonathan who themselves held fast to the delusion that they owned him, that they had found him sitting forlornly under a table in a junk store and had rescued him and taken him home with them where they did horrible things to him. They spoke in funny voices without moving their lips and made him jump up and down so --- they thought --- it would look like he was speaking. He couldn't move his lips either, but he didn't have any choice in the matter. Nevertheless, although he could not speak, he could think and it turned out he had a wild imagination, was extremely mean and vengeful, and although he did not have a tube, he had an enormous need for tubing. Tubes were his food. But so was vengeance. ABLE And Gilbert was far, far away, investigating a new religion he had heard about, in which everyone was a priest and no one had to sing in order to become transparent. Because they were so mean to me, he thought, and kept me locked up in their closet most of the time, I was the one who caused all the water

250 . at the base of the buildings to dry up. I was the one who infected everyone with Black spider. Yes, said Stefan to himself, I invented Black Spider. All the other drugs were just my experiments leading up to Black Spider. Black Spider moves through tubes from body to body, leaving eggs. Black Spider causes wicked dreams and insatiable little desires for wooden, awkwardly hinged, naked, button-eyed, puppets without tubes --- namely me, Stefan. That left H. and H., so Jonathan marched over to their ornate domicile and began pounding on the door. He could hear a tube being played inside, loudly, and he knew they were home. The tube was loud but not loud enough to hide the anguished squeals of Stefan. Were they chopping him up? Tearing him a part, limb by limb? Torturing him? They had always hated him because he was superior to their nameless plastic puppet. And if Black Spider doesn't kill them, then one night, late at night, when they are asleep in each other's arms I will go into their room and pull their plugs; I will chop them up into tiny pieces, I will take out their batteries with my bare hands; I will pull off their tubes and eat them. I will cut their strings. And then. And then I will be free --- I, Stephen. He had worked himself up to such a state that he passed right through the three-foot outer walls of the H. and H. hideout. Freezing them, he grabbed Stefan form their clutches. H. held a hatchet and his mate, whose first name also began with H., held a saw. Stefan was bound in stockings from head to toe like a little mummy one might see on a tube. The sounds he made came from deep inside his chest. His mouth had never worked correctly. I opened the front door from inside and walked out with my bundle of joy. I will make a new and better, a new and improved Johnny and a new and improved Jonathan puppet too. I have tried this before and I have failed. But now I have more skill. And both Johnny and Jonathan will be much better looking and will be kinder to me. They will not be able to say

251 . bad things about me behind my back, such as: It doesn't matter what you say in front of him; he's only a puppet, just a puppet. There, opposite, the doorway, close to the wall, but perfectly erect, was my physical body, standing at attention, as it were. And placing the still-screaming Stefan bundle on the floor, for sake of safety, I slipped back into my solid body, my meat body. I couldn't walk around naked without causing a lot of unwanted attention. Or even worse. They will no longer say: Stefan will tube with anyone if there is money or drugs involved. TO I've never managed that before. I'll have to try that. But I must admit I was afraid of leaving some essential part behind and then not being able to slip back into my physical body, or that it would grow some and then not fit. In fact, I still wonder if Had left something behind in the H. and H. hideout. Liars! Liars! I will not tube with George Washington every. He smells funny. I have also never really tubed with Benjamin Franklin. His tube is too small. Certain memory lapses? My inability to make my right-hand thumb touch my right-hand pinky? Would that explain the phantom pain in my phantom limb? Not my left leg or my right leg, but my phantom leg? My phantom tube. Stefan was listening, wouldn't you know. I invented the phonetic alphabet. I invented charm. I invented both the ventriloquist's alphabet and the puppet's alphabet. They are the same! I invented tube traps. You don't know about tube traps? Let me explain. Yes, Stefan thought, this explains my constant pain. I have a phantom pain in my phantom limb, my tube. I would be better off dead. Well, maybe not quite yet. I have to find the opportunity to take my revenge.

252 . Tube Traps are like this. You are all alone with nothing to do and there's no one to tube with so you rent a tube and curl up inside of it, as it were. The plots are always breezy, but they are more and more complicated as they unfurl and the characters are more or less contradictory and intriguing. I make them complex and full of delicious character flaws and multiple personalities so that you never know what the puppets are going to next or who they will become. I, Jonathan, tried to reason with him, but Johnny said that it was useless. He is just a puppet, and what can a puppet do? All he can do is look and watch. all he an do is hear and listen. He doesn't even take up much space and he doesn't really breathe. OPEN Transformations are essential And revenge is important too. And before you know it you have forgotten to dress for work and then you have forgotten work and somewhere on the other side of the air bridge in room after room bowls placed on the floors to catch the rain leaking through ceilings overflow. And somewhere else they are waiting for you, hoping that at least you have memorized your lines and that somehow our makeup will still be in place. Pretending I was going to whisper the real name of THE in his little hairy ear, I reached around and yanked his chord. It was as if I had let the air out of a balloon. And the George Washington facsimile, who was nothing but a shadow of the real George shrank to nothing. I began to think that everything was one big shadow play. I was a shadow, but a shadow or what? But you do not show up because you have been seduced by one of my tubes and you cannot leave. You cannot find your way out of the many interrelated, interlocking stories, always searching for the moral, for the lesson, for the solution to the mystery. The moral or the lesson or the

253 . solution would be the way out. But just when you think you have figured everything out and a door or a window opens and you go through that door or climb out that window, you merely enter another version of the tube. An egg within an egg. An egg with no yolk. And I have designed each tube so that everything within it has a double and sometimes even a triple meaning. Meanings. I will give you an example. HIS Tubes when they were projected on bedsheets were called shadow plays. Heads migrated; heads were interchangeable. But even if you peeked behind the bedsheet you could not see the sticks that were moving the flat figures and you couldn't see where their voices were coming from. Where are my sticks? Whose voice am I speaking? And then it dawned on him that the sea was like oil, the moon shone in all its splendor and the black spider continued to sleep so soundly that not even a puppet's scream would have wakened him. What does the speaking statue mean? At first you think it is a metaphor for THE. And then certain clues lead you to suspect that it represents finer, more elevated, more enlightened aspects of your personality. But then it could also be a reminder that you must always be careful of being fooled by appearances because that is how you fall into trouble, over and over again. Or Black Spider, is it only a drug? I don't think so. So you see the smell of poses can mean many different things. Tubes are worlds made up of clues. And this is how I make them. They have four dimensions. They are labyrinths. They are cheap, easily rented but extremely dangerous replicas. And once you enter you can't find your way out. And I have decided to go even further than this. Why stop at making duplicates? Here we go through another door. Once upon a time, having watched Gilbert in his studio when he did not know he was being watched,

254 . I am now at work again. Jonathan and Johnny had left me with him, thinking he cold fix my mouth so it could open EYES. and close and he had even promised them he could give me a tube. But there were many other tasks he had to attend to first. He had to make a new arm for George Washington. Howard had lost one of his eyes; Benjamin Franklin needed a new tongue. So I just watched. When he wasn't there, I practiced. When he went out looking for tubes or drugs, I began to make various body parts. Soon I had duplicated my left leg and my right leg and my arms. Next, when he was on a long vacation, I made a copy of my torso and then my head. Soon I had made another Stefan. I held him up and when I looked in the mirror there were two of me. I started talking to Stefan and after awhile he answered: Yes. I stopped right there. "Yes" was all I was going to teach him. It was clear that Gilbert was never going to get around to fixing my mouth and giving me a tube, Johnny and Jonathan took me home. They had really fallen into the habit of having me watch them when they were tubing and found that it just wasn't the same without me and my silly grin and my button eyes. But mistake had already been made. Putting a piece of tape over his mouth, I had stuffed Stefan Two into my suitcase and brought him back to Building A with me. From then on I never had to be alone. I perfected him. If Jonathan walked into my bedroom and Stefan Two was there instead of me, he would no be able to tell the difference. He looked like me, he walked like me, he talked like me. But I didn't stop there. When Jonathan and Johnny were away at work during the day --- they both worked at the glove factory --- from then on I was able to create many, many copies of me and I hid them away here and there, until one day I will wake them up and they will take control in one fell swoop and they will eliminate all my rivals. They will unplug all the Johnnys and all the

255 . Jonathans, all the Howards and Harolds. They will gang up on that plastic devil, Stephen, and stomp him to death with their wooden feet. And, by the way, they all have enormous tubes. But that was as far as Stefan could go without waking up.


256 . Chapter 19. [Epilogue II] So Johnny once again began at the beginning, describing Stefan in the junk store, sitting under the table covered with cracked dishes, broken drums, dusty pistols, old towels, plastic flowers, shoes. Johnny knew that some in the audience firmly believed that Stefan had not been found but had been made by Gilbert. He himself leaned to the found theory. But to please his audience, who could be quite mean, he invented a slightly different beginning. His new beginning had Gilbert make Stefan, but since he had forgotten to give him a tube, Gilbert threw him out. (1.) There was no place to attach a tube. (2.) He had run out of tubes. (3.) He wanted to see if a puppet could get along without a tube. Stefan was a mistake so he threw him out with the other mistakes: the puppet whose mouth-moving lever would not move; the marionette who would not smile; the hand puppet that wasn't quite large enough to make room for an average-sized hand. Irregular puppets, puppets that smelled bad, puppets requiring constant feeding. Just as before, he thought that his Stefan mistake would end up in the dump where it would be burned. And Gilbert was sleeping too. Gilbert was having a dream about me, Stefan, whose nose was now enormously long, as long as his arm. But in the dream Stefan was able to grow a tube which was not because of his good deeds or his bad deeds. And there it was, a kind of nose or a tube between his legs, in Gilbert's dream, which is where it really counted. This time, however, before the big truck came by, a tramp named Benjamin Franklin was looking through the garbage bin and, attracted to Stefan, pulled him out and then later sold him to the junk store along with a lot of other trash. OPENED

257 . But in real life, they soon reached the water-level window of Building A. Stefan knocked and knocked and the janitor, seeing who it was and recognizing him at once taking a fancy to him, allowed him inside. He had seen Stefan's photo on the tube. And although he was disappointed that the charming Stefan was with someone else, a large, old-man puppet with a hairy face, the janitor unlocked the door for old time's sake. They then took the elevator to the top floor where the air bridge was. Stefan knew the combination to the apartment. Once inside they were safe and Stefan and Gilbert lived happily ever after. And that is how Stefan happened to be under the table in the junk shop and Jonathan and Johnny --- yes, this Johnny --- walked in and rescued him from his peaceful torpor. When they all got home, they saw his nose twitch and they realized that, although he had no tube, he was surely alive and was just the kind of addition to their household they needed. Soon they found they could talk to each other through him and they made a game of throwing their voices. Later they found he could be trained to do simple household chores. He was so strong, he could protect them and also be their avenger. He had no fear. Happily ever after? TH E That was how Stefan made up the ending. The tube he knew and upon which he based his version of "The Story of Stefan" ended at Chapter 13. Chapter 14 was missing. But I, Jonathan II, I know that in Chapter 14 Stefan is unplugged. His enemies all gang up on him. Nevertheless, after a few weeks Jonathan caught Johnny in bed with Stefan and that is when all the trouble began. Jonathan then had to seduce Stefan to take his revenge and poor Stefan didn't know if he was coming or going. So that was the first time he ran away and was caught by George Washington in the lobby of Building A. George was determined to

258 . use him as his tube puppet even though he did not have a tube. George's tube was big enough for two. Johnny, Jonathan, H. and H, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Howard and Harold gang up on him and do away with him, but one at a time, each one for a different reason, each one using a different method of dispatch. Johnny strangles him with marionette strings, because he is bored with him. Jonathan because he is bored with Johnny thought that chopping Stefan into many small pieces would wake Johnny up. H. and H. rub him out using various sharp instruments because they had found him playing with their plastic puppet's tube. George Washington poisons him with Black Spider because he is jealous of Stefan's ability to fool everyone with his lies and storytelling. Benjamin Franklin pushes him over the air bridge railing between Building A and Building B because he is envious of Stefan's ability to seduce any puppet he wants. Howard disposes of him by stuffing him with used tubes of various sizes, because he needs more room in his apartment. And Harold unscrews Stefan's head, boils it, serves it to Howard, because he thinks Howard is in love with Stefan. And then there was Harold and Howard and their insane little plastic thing that went by the name of Stephen with his enormous plastic tube. And when Stefan learned how to use drugs that's when all hell broke loose and no one knew if he were coming or going. At first THE was angry, but then THE saw the absurdity of it all and THE laughed. DOOR. This is also why Stephen, the dreadful plastic puppet, kills Stefan. He makes him inoperative by opening the compartment at the back of his neck and taking out the fuel cells. George Washington injecting himself with Doom in order to prepare his tube for Stefan's pretend lovemaking? Jonathan eating Foam so that he

259 . could turn into Johnny? Harold disowning Howard so there would be more room in the bedroom for Stefan and the apparatus required to imbibe Regard? It was all very funny. I had my audience in the palm of my hand. And Gilbert? Why does Gilbert destroy Stefan? He destroys him because he has gotten too big for his bridges, because he knows too much about THE, because his vocabulary has outgrown his wisdom, because he is beginning to figure out that half-truths are better than lies cut from the whole cloth, that once is enough, that extreme puppetry and ventriloquism is universal? And how does Gilbert finish off Stefan? By reciting the alphabet backwards, over and over again, while circling him counterclockwise, and finally by pulling from his mouth the now nearly forgotten slip of paper with the word --- what word? --- written on it. I looked at my hand. I looked at m arm. I was looking at my arm, my left arm. There was a bud, a stem, a branch and then another, the first branch making a Y and then Y's on each arm and Y's on all of them, growing and growing. I was becoming a tree. But even they knew what was coming. The sea was like foil, the moon shown in all its splendor, and the Mouth continued to sleep so soundly that not even a puppet's dream would have awakened it. And Gilbert was sleeping too. AND I held off the murders as long as possible. After all, Stefan's adventures were quite entertaining and each bend or twist or branch gave me increasing opportunities for improvisation and moralizing which was how I was able to show off my talents. I improvised right on the spot. I even made up a new story that would become known as "The Tale of the Thief's Chef." The thief who was rich enough to have his own chef was the premise. And then, thinking on me feet I had to decide if Stefan, who had already been paid for, was going to be the thief or the chef. So I asked

260 . them which. Half said thief. Half said chef. So I had to make up to separate adventures. They had me bound and gagged. I could not protest. I was being bombarded with stupid questions. Who is George Washington? Is he beholden to Benjamin Franklin? Are the disguises we found in your room yours or do they belong to Jonathan? Or Johnny? Why would Johnny want to wear the Johnny disguise? Was this so we would not know he was really Jonathan II? And Why? Was Johnny trying to fool us or THE? Was he trying to fool you? Stefan? Stephen? Stefan is lost in a forest, which is sort of like an overgrown Moss Park and comes upon a thief who is weeping. Stefan finds out the thief is weeping because he has just lost his job in Building B as the night watchman because he was stealing things from the puppets in the building. Stefan helps him steal things from Building A to replace the things in Building B and although the thief is hired back, Stefan is caught stealing things from Building C, because once he starts doing something he can't stop. Needless to say he looses his job as a chef. He escapes from jail by seducing the jailer. What is the significance of the smell of noses? Were the noses real? Why was George Washington trying to blow up Building A? And why.... My head was spinning like a lap puppet. I was trying to think of a way to escape their clutches, but I could not. Not immediately. So, bound and gagged, I simply shook my head, moving my chin up and down. Yes, yes, to everything. They did not understand. Who are these detectives who are always following me? Why are there so many of them in the audience? And then I followed this with the story of Stefan and the chef. The chef too was weeping, but because he was unable to please the people he was working for. They just did not like the food he was making, so Stefan decides to help him cook, using harvested or stolen puppet part, but broiling them rather than just boiling them or serving them raw.

261 . THEN And the food is so good Stefan is hired to work in the kitchen, but because there can only be one chef, one star, one Gilbert, one THE, Gilbert throws him out of his kitchen. Poor Stefan. The audience weeps. They all know what it feels like to be excluded.. So right there and then, I discovered I could look inside of them as this adventure, like all the others, was only a dream. Too much rarebit. Too much Black Spider. Too much tubing, tubing, tubing. And what I saw was the night, as vast as sleep, as deep as death, as mysterious as the gap between a noun and a verb, between THE and the. Between a wish and a lie. Between laughter and sobbing. Between love and murder. As deep as death? What can a puppet know about death? If I am afraid of death, I must be alive. And then it occurred to me that this wasn't a dream at all. This was real. And I could not move or speak. But since I was bound and gagged, I decided it was now or never, I had to throw my voice, make my voice seem to come out of the mouth of the fat detective, the mouse of my interrogator. And then it was time to begin what my audience was waiting for. I began showing the murders, one by one. The drowning, the execution, the overdose of Black Spider, and so forth. But then I found a little door that someone had forgotten to lock. It was at the back of the stage where I had to fiddle with the microphone to figure out why it was no longer working. I cannot resist an unlocked door. The door opened and I was barely able to squeeze through. I was in an enormous apartment. Walls that were not windows were mirrors, floor to ceiling. And the floor, although it looked like water was polished marble. The voice coming out of the mouth of the interrogator said: "I want him first; you go to lunch. I will now have my way with him." The thin detective looked startled. He couldn't believe what he was hearing, seemingly coming out of the mouth of the interrogator because this, as it

262 . happened was exactly what he was thinking. Of course, neither one of them would have known what to do with their victim since the culprit had no tube and no opening in the back for a hand. And his mouth was frozen in a rictus. HE I was dwarfed by the enormous puppets that were hung up on special racks. They did not look alive. They did not look as if they had ever been alive. They did not look as if they ever could come to life. They were too realistic to be real. Their faces, carved in the most realistic style imaginable exhibited various emotions, one emotion to each puppet, ranging from hysteria to dread, from frivolity to horror, from irony to rage. Fascinated, I looked at each one. What puppet play were they meant for? And then the fat detective heard the thin detective say: "You are thoroughly repulsive. You have fingers like sausages or tubes and your mouth smells like a hacksaw and furthermore your boyfriend is equally repulsive and is known as a thief and a chef of puppet parts, all of which he keeps stored in your squalid little apartment in Building B. The puppets seemed to fall into three categories: Gilberts, Johnnys, and Jonathans. There were 45 versions or likenesses of each. Thus each character was represented by 45 different puppets, each puppet carved to show one of the 45 puppet emotions. So this was the secret of The Puppet Theater! When a different emotion was appropriate puppets were switched. No acting was required. Haughty Jonathan was replaced by Angry Jonathan (because Quizzical Johnny was amiss); Naughty Gilbert was replaced by Petulant Gilbert so that the look would match the words when he said: "I know my love will make you see that I am deserving of your favors." And then, quick as a wink, Angry Jonathan was replaced by Sentimental Jonathan who would appear to say to Petulant Gilbert, "How quickly you change from anger to love; too quickly. I am suspicious of your

263 . announced affections." Thereby, Sentimental Jonathan was removed and replaced by Triumphant Jonathan. AWA KENED But this was me speaking, throwing my voice. This had the intended effect and when the detectives were socking each other, I managed to burn through the ropes that were holding me down by holding my torso against the red hot tube. All of this was being watched by an amused Stefan, standing off to the side, who finally said aloud: "But would you, dear THE, be pleased, if you were a ,puppet. to be portrayed by only 45 puppet emotions? What play could be written for me? What play could be written for a tree?" And then when the curtains closed to much applause, I made my escape by lowering myself through the trap door, stage center, which I had noticed before, deducing that it was part and parcel of the magician's disappearing trick. I had seen this show before. What I did not realize was that there was a tunnel under the stage and I had to crawl on my wooden knees many miles under the floor, above ground. 45 stories above ground. The sea was 45 stories below. One story for each letter of the phonetic alphabet. And all the doors were locked when I tried them. I collapsed and my alarm went off. But I was not finished yet. There was another room. And that room was hung with more Johnny puppets and more Benjamin Franklin puppets, and the next one had George Washington in all flavors.. And the next and the next.....That plays that could be made with these puppets! With these emotions! The comedies! The tragedies! The tragi-comedies! But should they be in verse? Could I change my emotions into iambic pentameter? Benjamin Franklin received my alarm signal and then passed it on to Jonathan. And this is how it happens. They all hang up. Johnny, Gilbert,

264 . George Washington. Howard and Harold and all the rest. Each one for a different reason. Hatred. Distraction. Confusion. Duplicity. I am inside of you, like a hand inside of a glove. A perfect fit. I can hear you, but you can't hear me. I can see you, but you can't see me. I can touch you, but you can't touch me. I can taste you , but you can't taste me. I can walk right through you and you can walk through me. I was looking at my arm, my left arm. There was a bud, a stem, a branch. I was becoming a tree. I decided right there and then that my attempts to write plays and operas had been much too timid. Rules? I, Stefan, follow no rules, ALL because I am here to break all rules, he thought. Now if only I could find the 46th emotion, then the world would be mine. My opera will be called The Seventh Mercy, or Even Love Has Limits; Even Truth Has Size. They no longer needed Stefan's protection nor his services as housekeeper. The rain had stopped. They no longer needed Stefan to exact revenge. Or destroy their enemies. All old scores had been settled and all new offenses precluded by Stefan's swift hand, by his dreambraiding, dream-mending, dream-vending and by his sarcasm and his charm. And Gilbert? Why did Gilbert kill Stefan? He killed Stefan because he had become to big for his grudges, because he knew too much about THE, because his vocabulary had outgrown his fate, because his geography had outgrown his faith, because he was beginning to figure out that clever lies are always better than half-truths, and better than cloth; that once is too much, that extreme poverty and property are universal or are only temporary reversals. And that hunger like metal is mental. And how did Gilbert dispose of Stefan? AT

265 . But then I was awakened from my waking dream in which I was plotting more and more elaborate musical stage productions, awakened by the noise of some very large animal, larger than any of the suspended puppets, entering the apartment and banging doors. It has three eyes and three thousand mouths and three thousand noses and its main activity seems to be the constant production of foul-smelling saliva, or so I imagined. I also imagined that it looked like Stefan, only covered with strange boils and pimples and much larger, of course, than the real Stefan. The apartment kept changing size too. Whose apartment was this? I heard the very large animal making its way down the corridor outside the door to the apartment. Bang, shuffle. Puff, puff. And then a sigh. Bang, shuffle. Puff, puff. And then another sigh. And then I heard a roar. The beast was coming closer and closers. What beast? Was I about to see THE? Where could I hide? On one side there were floor-to-ceiling mirrors across from floor-to-ceiling mirrors and on the other side windows opposite windows. There was a horrible growling, tramping sound, coming closer and closer, obviously already in the room of Gilbert and Jonathan and Johnny puppets. So I put my arms up as if I were hanging from the ceiling like them and hid among the 45 Stefans. I was now the 46th emotion. ONCE. And this is how Gilbert terminated Stefan. By reciting both the standard English alphabet of 26 letters and the English phonetic alphabet of 45 letters over and over again, while circling him counterclockwise. Then he recited the ventriloquist's alphabet too. And then he pulled the by now nearly forgotten piece of paper, with the carefully written word on it, out of Stefan's grin. What was the word? The word was THE.

©John Perreault 2011

New York, New York. U.S.A.

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