[Void Galaxia] Chapter 26: Captive Ant

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Walking floating drifting gliding cauterizing minimizing

 through a forest that looked something like the forest of illusion in old Mario World and alongside me for the ride was the alien from Alien and I was trying to talk to it, but the alien wouldn’t talk back and every time I tried to grab its wrist, the alien shrugged me off and said, ‘dude, I don’t speak Japanese.’

I looked around the forest and saw Alec Guinness waving some kind of blue torch, screaming, ‘where are your fucking papers, spy?’ and then a bear hitting metal with a hammer, not saying a word, and other things related to other things that seemed to be important, but it doesn’t matter, I thought, not really, because I was bored of the forest and its dying leaves and its Alec Guinness act so I turned back to the alien to ask about forests on LV-426 but the alien was now ahead of me by a few trees and

I walked faster and caught up, asked my LV-426 question, but the alien ignored me and then the whole thing happened again about seventeen times until finally we came to a beach and the alien got into a kart and disappeared from view, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there for a while, and I wasn’t sure how long I stood there but the sky went dark and then light and then dark a couple of times so it must’ve been as long as it took for that to happen, and then when it became light again I looked down the shore and

A Japanese girl, Asami…no, a blonde…Sadia, or Julie Christie maybe…no, not a girl, a man…Nick Stahl, carrying a kart on his back, and when he got close, I could see Stahl was wearing a kimono and had his eyelids pulled out to look Chinese or Japanese, just like Connery in that racist Bond filmn, and I said it out loud, and Stahl said back, sure, Mr. Zhivago, just like that Bond filmn, and then he put the kart down and told me to get in so he could chase after the alien who ‘doesn’t really respect you as much as he should’, and I said, ‘yeah, I got that feeling too,’ then jumped in the kart and started driving even though Stahl kept calling him Mr. Zhivago, and we went faster and faster and sand flicked up into my eyes, but it didn’t matter cos now I was wearing goggles, and Stahl was somehow hovering next to me, moving at the exact same speed, yelling over and over that the alien didn’t respect me enough.

‘I know, I know,’ came up out my throat, and then Stahl vanished and up ahead was a heart attack-shaped cave dug into the cliff and in that cave was the alien, in its own kart, driving in little circles, not getting any further out of the cave, and I smirked and drove to the bottom of the cave and stopped my kart and called up to the alien, ‘hey alien, you’re stuck in a cave,’ and the alien didn’t look down or show any sign he’d heard anything, so I was forced to shout it again, and again, and again, until it was dark and it started to get cold and a voice that seemed to come from the cliff in front of me said, ‘hey doc, why don’t you do something with all this?’ and I said, ‘that’s an idea, but what? It’s the nineteenth century, she doesn’t love me anymore,’ and the voice replied.

‘Julie fucking Christie.’

I sighed, rubbed my eyes and stared at the sand and cried and all the other shit I  [Futsu ni] did when I was fucking miserable, but it was too obvious, too forced, like my body and brain were stuck in a parody with Val Kilmer plus dog ugly types from old British sitcoms, so I shook my head and stared at the sea in the distance and the sand nearby and the gas plumes and the chessboards and the astronaut helmet and remembered the ice palace and fur hats and Julie’s cunt and everything else that went with it, and when I looked up at the heart attack-shaped cave, the alien was gone, and when I looked down at my feet, they were gone too, and when I looked at other parts of my body, they were gone, all of it was gone and I realised I wasn’t a man anymore I was an essence of something, perhaps something miserable, and the only thing I could see was the beach and the only thing I could hear was Steve Martin saying, Nietzschean deadpan, ‘I could never fuck a gorilla.’

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      I woke up, surrounded by Steve Martins.

      In different coloured wigs.

      Some of him female.

      I blinked.

      Nope, not Steve Martins, different.

      There were people…the inside of a plane…Sentient Koala Farm star Nick Stahl.

      In a flash, everything came shooting back.

      The plane. My Japanese face. Fresno. Nick Stahl.

      I looked at the mini-screen in front of me, switching to the map of the Atlantic and the current position of the plane.

      Not bad. The red journey line was creeping up on the East Coast of the US.

      Or Canada.

      Or perhaps Maine?

      I turned to the side and looked at my impossible new pal Nick Stahl. He was reading something, covertly, his elbow propped up awkwardly, blocking my view.

      ‘Back in consciality, dude.’

      ‘Yeah…’ I slurred, rubbing my eyes, ‘consci-what?’

      ‘Consciality. Mix of conscious and reality. Though the reality part of it, guess that’s up for grabs.’

      I sat up and tried to look at what was in his hand. ‘Huh?’

      ‘Forget it, Keni…’

      ‘What?’

      ‘Keni Cat.’

      I leaned in, ignoring the toddler staring at me from the seat parallel. ‘That’s about the tenth time you’ve called me that. Why?’

      ‘Just a nickname, dude.’

      ‘I’m Mark.’

      ‘Uh-huh.’

      ‘Not Keni. Mark.’

      ‘Course.’

      I asked if he was listening, but he didn’t respond; his eyes were already back on that stupid paper.

      Peeking past his elbow, I managed to catch some of the text. What…no way, it couldn’t be. It was the thing I’d written, the amateur shit about the yellow blob. How the hell did he find that?

      ‘This is it, huh?’ He was looking at me now. ‘This is what you wrote?’

      ‘It’s the yellow blob thing?’

      He flipped the paper over, held up the title that took up half the page, that I’d done in bubble font.

      ‘Yeah, kind of. I mean, I didn’t finish it, I stopped after the first part…the first section. It’s not…’

      ‘Why’d you stop?’

      ‘…finished or anything. That’s why it was scrunched up in the seat pocket. It wasn’t really working. The flow wasn’t right, it was-…there were too many plot holes. I think.’

      He folded up the paper and gave it back to me.

      ‘Plane’s gonna be grounding soon,’ he said, watching me shove the yellow blob shit back in the seat pocket. ‘You should keep that, dude.’

      ‘Keep it?’

      Stahl reached over and pulled the paper back out, placing it carefully in my hand and closing it into a fist.

      ‘But it’s shit.’

      ‘Obviously. Total shit. But it’s also a step.’

      ‘Err…is it?’

      ‘Not a huge one, but defo a step.’

      ‘I don’t know. I’ll probably just leave it in the seat pocket here. Let the cleaners deal with it.’

      ‘No way, can’t do that. Gotta keep it, remember it. Channel it.’

      ‘But you just said it was shit.’

      ‘Doesn’t matter.’

      ‘And you’re right, it is shit.’

      ‘It’s a step and steps are important. Especially in your case.’

      ‘Wah, I don’t-…a step to what?’

      He turned sideways and pulled up the arm of the chair. Then drew in close to my arm and my ear. ‘Still got a little time before the plane drops, so…okay, dude, I’m gonna try and sketch things out a little for you. But no cut-ins. That’s annoying.’

      I nodded, unsure. Sketch out what?

      ‘Right. See, Keni, what I know about you is, you’re a writer. What I know about me is, I’m an actor. What I know about anyone else…is irrelevant. Though, to be blunt, I do know a lot. A hell of a lot, actually. More than your little monkey brains could comprehend. I’m talking about C beam shit, comrade. Up there, out in the void, all that beyond the Oort Cloud type of-…’

For a brief moment, maybe half a second, there appeared a purple glint in his eye, but then he blinked and everything was glint-less again.

‘Nah, I can’t. That side of things…can’t do it. Cannot be done, Enzo. Not just cos it’s beyond you, but…cos it is beyond you, basically.’

      I stared past him, at the toddler, drool sliding out the side of his open mouth.

      ‘Dude, don’t pout. That’s not an insult, it’s fact. It just means there’s a level I’m at, and there’s a level you’re at, and they’re nowhere near each other. Which in monkey brain shorthand means, I know some things you can’t even begin to comprehend. Okay, fine, maybe you could if I showed you, the surface of it, laid it out in colours and shapes on a little kiddie playmat, but I don’t have the time or the energy or the patience for any of that. And dude…honestly…you seem like an okay guy, but I don’t even know if you’re worth all this yet. Ja, harsh, but it’s the truth, comrade. These things I know…you just can’t even begin to comprehend the most-…’

      He broke off and looked around the plane, stretching out his right arm into the aisle, twisting the wrist erratically.

      ‘Are you okay?’

      ‘Don’t interrupt, I’m not done yet.’

      ‘Sorry.’

      ‘Okay, power point. Fine. I’ll feed you a few crumbs, the most basic of basic stuff, see how it goes.’

      He pulled himself up in his seat and pointed quite openly at the toddler, his parents, the row behind, most of the passengers beyond that. Some of them looked over, most stared at their screens.

      ‘See these people sitting around us now; that guy, his mistress, the flight attendant over there. Of course, she’s grinning, serving the coffee and tea and stuff, but what she’s really thinking is, yeah, one more hour then I’m gonna get off this shitty plane, get to the hotel, ditch Gary, lock the door, run a bath and watch Masque of the Red Death, no disturbances, no sloppy dick rubbing against my thigh.’

      He stared at the flight attendant for almost a full minute then lowered his arm and came back to me.

      ‘Jesus, can’t even tell you that, can I? That fucking face. Just utterly beyond you.’

      He looked up at the overhead lockers and said the same thing again, even louder.

      ‘Nick, are you-…’

      ‘Seriously fucking exhausting, dude. This whole revelation thing…the mental energy it takes to tell you people things. Just the numbers of it, the sheer gap between me and you, the universal library of shit in my head, all the empty space in yours. The constant coaching of my own thoughts. Looking around for eavesdroppers, CIA agents, survivalists, evangelicals. Being panoramic 24/7. Fucking draining. You know what I mean?’

      My expression was probably not that different from the toddler’s, minus the drool.

      ‘Ah, you don’t have a clue, do you?’

      ‘Not really, no. Sorry.’

      He stared at me then the Duty Free catalogue on the back of his seat then smiled.

      ‘Dude, what am I saying? Sounds loopy, right? Nah, forget it, just-…wipe off, forget all of it. Or most of it. Okay, forget it from the point I said…what was it? The point I said about the-…where I said I knew a lot. Forget that part, don’t think about it. Go back to earlier, the part where I said I know you’re a writer. Ja, from there.’

       ‘Okay. Edited.’

       ‘See, that part is true, undoubtable, I know you’re a writer. Ja, don’t ask me how I know, I just do. And that thing you just scribbled, the thing about the yellow blob, that was shit, obviously, but, on the flip side, you could see it was shit, which means, and this is my point…it means you have the filter set up already. And that filter is the thing that’s gonna make you great. Or good…great might be stretching it a bit…you guys aren’t really capable of that level, you’re ants, how could you be? But decent, good…that’s okay. You can be a good writer, comrade, at some point. That much I’m sure about.’

      He stopped and looked at me, leaving some space.

      Kuso, I had to say something.

      Humility?

      I coughed, clearly fraudulent. ‘This still sounds a little weird. I mean, I want to believe you, it’s a good thing to hear but…the thing you told me not to ask, that’s kinda what I want to know.’

      ‘What…how do I know you’re a writer?’

      ‘Yeah, that.’

      He played with the arm rest, putting it down, pulling it back up. ‘One day.’

      ‘You mean one day you’ll tell me?’

      ‘But the point I was trying to get across was…that blob thing you wrote, that’s your foundation stone. Is it shit? Yes, but it’s the base that you’re gonna build from. And what comes after the base? The next stone, dude. Ja, the next stone, that’s kinda obvious, but that is objectively what comes next, and then the third stone and the fourth and the fifth and on and on until you can look at your work in totality and you know. Know that you’re at the peak. And that peak, dude, when you get there…you won’t be the only one there, of course, there are about a thousand other ants out there at your level, but that’s okay cos you’re there, too, right? Better to be on the peak with others than in the shit with masses of others…way better.’

      The tannoy came on and the pilot told us the weather was a step up from it was in Liverpool and we would be starting the descent into Philadelphia soon.

      ‘So, there’s the pep talk, comrade. Remember it, or forget it, whatever.’

      I put my seatbelt on, he twirled his in air circles.

      ‘Nick, can I ask one thing?’

      ‘Sure, dude. Hit me.’

      ‘Is there a time scale for when I’ll become…what you said, a writer?’

      ‘Time scale? Sure. Two years. Maybe one, depending what happens in the next few weeks.’

      ‘What do you mean?’

      ‘The girl, comrade. You’re gonna look for her, right?’

      ‘You mean Sadia?’

      He stopped spinning his seatbelt and tilted his head in a pretty obvious come on affectation.

      ‘I don’t know. Haven’t had a message from her in a while.’

      ‘Ha, I don’t think that part’s gonna be a problem.’

      ‘Which part?’

      His head went back against the seat and he closed his eyes. If there was a response, I’d clearly missed it.

      The flight attendant came past to check we were strapped in, and somehow didn’t notice that Nick’s seatbelt was hanging over the armrest.

      She smiled and moved on. Probably thinking of the hotel room and Masque of The Red Death. I sat back, looked at the Duty Free catalogue. Briefly thought about patching in for a final bit of beach VR. Vetoed it. Thought of Dream Fucker and Lunar Crone. Nuked both, let out an abrupt laugh. Remembered I just asked which part and Nick still hadn’t answered. Turned and asked him again. ‘Which part won’t be a problem?’

      Then the plane started to slope downwards.

      I waited for Nick to come back online and answer my question, but he stayed exactly where he was. Didn’t move an inch, not even to squirm around for a better position.

      After a few minutes he made a noise, something like an animal, a jackal maybe. Some of the other passengers heard it and looked over at us.

      ‘Nick, you’re…’

      He cut me off with another noise, this one more like a bird. I stared at the seat pocket, aware that everyone in the cabin was staring at us. Luckily, the toddler started mimicking the animal sounds, which took a bit of the weight off.

      Not that Nick Stahl gave a shit.

      Was he that confident that no one remembered his filmns?

      Evidently not.

      A few more surprisingly accurate jackal noises, a little bit of shaking…and then his eyes opened again.

      ‘Why the fuck is everyone looking at me?’ he asked, staring at the mini-screen on the back of the seat.

      ‘I don’t know, you…kinda zoned out there.’

      ‘What?’

      ‘You were making cat noises, like a jackal or something.’

      ‘Fucking ant-scape…’

      He mumbled something about taking off the top of the plane and watching them all smash down onto the fucking ground and squish open.

      The passengers turned away, going back to their screens and phones and flight attendant sex fantasies.

      ‘Are you alright?’ I asked.

      He continued staring straight ahead, the mini-screen on the back of the seat blank.

      ‘There’s no point going, comrade. She’s not there.’

      ‘What?’

      He turned sideways again, facing me.

      ‘I said, quite clearly, there’s no point going, comrade. She is not there.’

      ‘Sadia?’

      His eyes, in the flash of one single blink, turned purple.

      ‘She is not there, Keni. Not fucking there.’

      ‘Nick, your eyes…’

      Then another blink and they were normal again. Clear azure blue.

      ‘What?’

      I slouched back into my seat, half-checking for another, an empty one nearby, but everything was taken. And Nick Stahl was still glaring at the side of my face.

      ‘Nothing,’ I muttered, taking my story back out of the seat pocket, folding out the title page, pretending to read through. ‘Tiredness, probably.’

      ‘Ant exhaustion…’

      ‘Be better when we’ve landed.’

      ‘… … … … …’

      ‘Sorry?’

      He stared a second longer then faced forward, taking out the Duty Free catalogue. ‘Right, let’s see what cheap shit they’re flogging this year.’

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