By D. Harlan Wilson
All rights reserved.
Thursday’s prophet approached the lead investigator during the vetting process. He mentioned something about vaginal walls, then made a stink about the position of the body, namely the way the limbs had been compromised by the time of day and the uncertain future of night. The investigator drew a shape in the air with a long birdlike finger. Astonished, the prophet crossed his chest and uttered a sharp prayer as several detectives circled the carcass like liquid ferrets. Thereafter he threw himself onto the dais and groped the carpet. The lead investigator tried to have him arrested, but a magistrate intervened, and there was nearly a crucifixion. In the end, the corpse began to rot and the detectives went home to their imaginary wives.
Friday’s prophet turned to leave, hesitated, fidgeted with his tie clasp, appeared to take a mental note (likely a pretense), and turned back to Adam Damascus, determined to say something purposeful, maybe even relevant.
He could only manage one word: “Poltergeist.”
Adam Damascus took it the wrong way, mistaking the elocution for a personal attack on what may or may not have to do with his bone structure. He stubbed out a cigar in the crown of a propane tank and casually yet assertively lunged for the prophet, who evaded him, stepped aside with grace, maneuvering the long sleeve of his cassock like a matador’s capote and accomplishing a fluid verónica.
Adam Damascus tripped and stumbled headlong into the fireplace situated beside an antique TV on which old black-and-white movies floundered like stale wind chimes. On impact, the flue fell open and a load of black ice dumped onto his head. Choking on the stuff, he rattled his limbs and tried to right himself, but he couldn’t find his bearings. The prophet considered the bestowal of a helping hand, but he opted to play a mindful, solitary game of snooker while counting his own blessings—which, he rued, were always in short supply.
When Tuesday’s prophet arrived on Saturday, the seams came loose and the chief inspector declared a mandatory vigil in order to avoid any potential awkwardness.
“I thought it was Wednesday,” quipped the prophet.
But the vigil had already begun and Mad “Anthony” Onus had confiscated the helm. It was uneventful. Nothing happened out of the ordinary and nobody was claimed by the furies.
Plastered with semen, everybody relaxed on the floor and the chaises and the daybeds, breathing and scanning their bodies for unholy genetic kinks or breakages.
Mad Onus called the chief inspector a ruthless pimp. A reverie spilled from his pores and claimed several victims. Wielding specious logic, the plainclothes officers blamed Adam Damascus and tried to take him into custody, but Mad Onus intervened with a variety of solecisms that returned everything to a state of natural unrest.
In an attempt to conjure Wednesday from the ether, Tuesday’s prophet doubled-over and shriveled like an earthworm in the sun. This was the first time the death of a prophet had occurred under such auspices, let alone in the public sphere. Part of a prophet’s credo was to die alone—that is, to simply not show up on his apportioned day of the week, at which point the administration would simply assume he had died alone, somewhere, anywhere—but not here. Thus the commotion precipitated by the dead prophet appearing on Saturday. This is subsidiary to the occasion of Saturday’s prophet not appearing at all. That he had respectively died alone and of his own free will was too much of a coincidence to led slide; in all likelihood, Tuesday’s prophet had murdered him (out of spite? envy? idle psychosis?) and tried to cover it up by admitting that he “thought it was Wednesday,” a ridiculous assertion that insinuated he had both forgotten what day of the week it was and what day had been inscribed onto the fabric of his identity. Nobody believed that god or the universe had punished him for what he had done, of course. But it left a bad taste in everybody’s mouths.
“This is a bona fide travesty,” the chief inspector announced, staring down at the wrinkled, deflated corpse of Tuesday’s prophet. “I fear the socius will never be the same. Brace yourselves, if you please. Dimestore oblivion may ensue.”
What does a prophet see when nobody else is looking? Fat owls descend from the red clouds and attack the gray shadows. I am a sensual addict. I can’t get enough of godlessness—a genuine concern and detriment to my healthy gyroscopic corporeality. Virgin mothmen belie their would-be moral compasses. The same message continues to materialize on the gleaming skin of the fog. “FREEDOM IS WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT’S BEEN DONE TO YOU,” it reads. Molotov cocktails. The difference between the Hexapla and a volley of sinews is non- negotiable. A headmaster folds into himself like an origami in flames. Osculating the microphone, the surrogate clears his throat until he can taste the nutrients in the wind. Several actors begin to scream as the bundle of nerves in the sky opens like a sphincter and speaks in the voice of a dead Roman, quoting ancient playwrights and Scientologists in equal measure. Conclusion: “Mindless violence is the lynchpin.” This Coptic-Byzantine tunic itches. Friday, in the aftermath of the faux rapture, as predictability usurps the authorship of spontaneity, I can finally have a drink and solicit a chicken for the cockfight. I am prepared to offer it 1500 pesos for its services. The chicken I have my sights on drinks blood from the fang of its jaundiced beak and stands over eight feet tall, wingtips dragging across the dirt like hairy knuckles. I will watch it win and feed it an Alka Seltzer, which will make its stomach explode before the eyes of the bedazzled crowd. Banal thunder and lightning. Is there any other kind?
Somewhere in the parking lot, he contracted a unique strain of meningitis. Rogue goosefeathers from an old body pillow still clung to his skin; last night’s sleep had been plagued by the cold sweats—not an ominous prelude to his current station, but the product of a cold turkey effort to get off St. John’s wort. His body came apart and his limbs began to flow around the asphalt, slamming into cars and frightening oblivious shoppers, some of whom ran screaming from the scene while others stared on in disbelief. To say the least, his train of thought was a one-car affair—a craving for the wort and the clarity it would provide him—and he couldn’t entertain anything else. When he marked the neon sign glowing and sizzling beneath the dry, blue dawn, his desire for sobriety crumpled like a tin can in an iron fist. Goosefeathers pressed into his flesh as he flowed into the grocery store from multiple entranceways. It was an excruciating sensation, but not as important as other matters, especially considering that the meningitis had slipped into a time-lapse phase, further defragmenting his identity. This manner of corporeal unmapping offset the many jewelers and cashiers that had congregated near the solar windows. Groping for some degree of mindfulness, he made his way(s) to the appropriate aisle, but by the time he reached it, of course, he had dissolved into various splatterings of particles that, looked at with a careful eye, reminisced snapshots of deep space.
“Helvetica 14,” murmured Adam Damascus. “Helvetica 14 . . . Helvetica 14 . . . Helvetica 14 . . .” Whenever he struck the chord of “14,” the geometry of scar tissue between his eyebrows twitched like a quartered insect.
An assessor entered from the fire escape, jotting notes onto a memo pad as he stepped through the window. He scrutinized Adam Damascus. The rhythm of his note-taking shifted gears, achieving a wild staccato, and returned to normal.
“What is this?” said the assessor.
Adam Damascus stopped chanting and opened his eyes. The scar disappeared. “Meditation.” He glared at the assessor with an iguana’s cool intensity. “One must keep one’s mind out of the gutter of the future.” Alarmed by the very mention of futurity, a poisonous Nom du pére, he wet his lips with his tongue. “The past is a gutter, too, but necessary for reflection and growth. In effect, the past is an antidote for the future. And the eternal present is a myth.”
The assessor stepped to a shelf, studied an oblong vase, and casually knocked it onto the floor, shattering it. He turned to Adam Damascus and said, “Helvetica is a font, not a mantra.”
Moving like a panther, Adam Damascus sprung from the mat, slipped a short thyrsus from his robe as he glided across the room, and struck the assessor on the cheek, breaking the skin and momentarily revealing a crescent moon of bone before the blood filled the cavity and poured into his scream. “An eye for an eye,” seethed Adam Damascus. He spun for momentum and thrust the thyrsus deep into the assessor’s skull. Abruptly he stopped screaming, stood there dumbly with the flaps of his mouth propped wide open, and collapsed like a wooden ventriloquist doll whose joints had suddenly lost all of their screws.
Blood and gore pooled across the gray laminate, paused, and retreated back to the source. Watching the rewind, Adam Damascus announced, “I’m glad I am not a prophet. Were I a prophet, I would not be able to perceive the veil that separates the aftermath from the dry equations.”
The days of the week were removed from circulation. Mad Onus and the lead investigator conferred in a gazebo on the easternmost lobe of Grasmere Tarn and decided to subcontract Hansel Doomward to leverage the case in their favor. Sniffing a vial of clary sage, the chief inspector descended from the girders and meted out a lukewarm invective regarding certain iniquities committed by Adam Damascus. “Right. Bring my horse around the fell and let’s ride into the sunset like grizzled whores,” he concluded. It was dawn and the sky had been frowning like an evil genie for weeks; endless fields of electric clouds pulsed dimly in the ether, threatening to give up their ghosts and release the dead satellites that kept them afloat. Mad Onus stood sharply and somehow stubbed his toe without taking a step. He tried to clutch it but couldn’t reach it. Cursing, he toppled sideways into a fern. The detectives rushed to his aid and reaped a whirlwind of unexpected bliss involving their spouses in spite of the far remove of the spouses, who spoke to them in nerve-language. “Madam?” said Hansel Doomward, offering his hand. “Anthony” flew into a rage and assured the hitman that he was simply “Mad” even as he rearranged the bodice of his subjectivity. The lead investigator flinched, backtracked to the beginning of the issue, and announced the standing of the so-called “guerilla ideologue”: “Adam Damascus is not a prophet. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s nothing less than a man who stares at the obsidian night and prays to the dark side of the moon.” “What’s that got to do with anything?” retorted a dayless prophet, feeling naked under the umbrella of his new un-self. Flames consumed a blue heron that flew in too low. It didn’t matter. The issue had been settled. Adam Damascus was to be liquidated by a tenderfoot clergyman, one who hadn’t yet performed his first kill and grown the requisite beard of prey. How the performance would unfold remained a mystery. It would be up to the clergyman’s dreams to prescribe the flows of reality and, by extension, fatality.
END DREAM #1: Terrified prostitutes run screaming from the pharaohs as twenty-thousand centurions make artwork out of lackadaisical proles, canvassing the city with the paintbrushes of their swords and cocks. Beyond the city walls, the silhouette of a windmill stands idle in the middle distance. A drawbridge falls open, but the moat has been booby-trapped, and a curt explosion renders the bridge inconsequential. There are no casualties. The sewers of time lie in wait like rogue singularities. Three men with meat cleavers attack the centurions and overpower them, a feat more or less prophesized by the Cave Scrolls. Then: herbicidal warfare in the auditorium. Low-flying aircraft drop curtains of Agent Orange onto the stage as I explore the angles of my ex-wife’s new body and the audience squirms uncomfortably in their seats. Worried about the flows of desire, she had her breasts removed last week. The stitches have come undone; I see the source of the trauma. I attempt to thread them back in place, but I only manage to undo them, and the trauma spills into the orchestra pit and drowns the timid musicians.
END DREAM #2: The chief inspector’s face had nothing to do with the order of the world. And yet nobody could deny his physiognomic prowess, least of all the lead investigator, who, notwithstanding great efforts to negotiate the face, including talk and behavioral therapy, could not come to terms with it, although, like everybody else, he could still do his job. Moreover, every specialist on the team was a functional addict; even the board of directors couldn’t be trusted with a controlled substance as far as they could be thrown. History revealed a blank and sinister space on which the chief inspector always kept a sharp, birdlike eye, flexing his cinderblock jaw in consternation while leveling the full breadth of his urbane profile at potential insurgents. What exactly he would do in the event of an historical cataclysm—or even the slightest undulation or rift in time—was beside the point. Only vigilance and debonair mattered. The day ended when a woman with intricate scars running up the alloy orange skin of her arms and legs cornered a plainclothes officer and filed an insincere complaint, citing the Book of Mormon in tandem with Dianetics.
END DREAM #3: Sacrosanctum. The Israelite reminds the pigeons that the best reveries belong to solarized pedestrians. Halfway through the reminder a young man falls from the highest balcony, strikes a railing with a crunch of bone, spins awkwardly and falls through a vinyl awning onto a sewage grate. Overhead his mother shrieks. She leaps onto a fire escape and zigzags downwards in hysterics. The Israelite reminds her not to go too fast or she’ll trip and have an accident. Disoriented by the reminder, her legs knock together and she tumbles off of a platform . . . The body of the young man breaks her fall. “My son!” she cries, pawing his flesh. She stands and picks him up by the shoulders and shakes him and shouts for him to wake up as blood gushes from his eyes and ears and nose and the broken cone of his mouth. The pigeons scatter. The Israelite reminds her not to move the body; there is a risk of further damage . . . Enraged, the mother throws down the son and, emitting a numerical scream, kicks him in the head. The blow produces a furious pustule. The Israelite lurches forward and inspects the body. He is reminded of a rainy day in the Gaza Strip, years ago, when he attempted to kiss Miriam Ben-Ezra on her young, sumptuous neck and her father attacked him with a semi-automatic weapon. It is the smell of the body that incites the reminder. Suddenly he realizes the age of the body. The mother’s son is much older than this. Here is a former version, possibly a forged version. He assures her not to worry and, like Lazarus, the son emerges from the tomb of his discontent, rises off of the sewage grate and shuffles up the fire escape, shaking the spikes from his limbs.
END DREAM #4: In the wake of a hate-fueled misadventure, Rafael Ben-Ezra strides downstage, strikes a pose on his mark, and awaits the sturm und drang of the orchestra. The maestro insists the musicians remain silent until the arrival of a tardy violinist; everybody must be present in order to proceed. Impatient, Rafael Ben-Ezra breaks into an a cappella song. There is only one lyric. It consists of six syllables: “Helvetica 14.” He sings quietly at first, in a melodic whisper, recycling the lyric, punctuating it with swollen finesse, but the timbre of his voice steadily grows louder and coarser, and soon he is pacing back and forth across the stage, gesticulating and shouting the lyric in a death metal basso, neck corded, face purple, eyes like electric dahlias . . . Whereas the maestro never recovers, the silent, irrelevant musicians hold fast to their identities.
END DREAM #5: In this holy clearing, a giant performs an exorcism on the man that kills him. First he tests the man’s aura, wiping his great hands across the ionic surface. An electric charge stipples the whiskers of his beard and he sprouts gooseflesh. Dark entities employ the man as their mouthpiece. The giant listens patiently, allowing the entities to exfoliate themselves, but their callouses have no bottom, and the giant is forced to seek out a priest, and then a scientist, and then a politician, all of whom are good-intentioned yet unable to assist him. A stone wall becomes a circus mirror that reflects the contorted image of a different giant—this means nothing. The man gazes lovingly at his arm and eventually takes a bite out of it. He chews the flesh with relish and asks for a sip of wine. “Blood of Christ,” intones the giant, pouring the substance into his wound. The man brags about the lack of a sting; he feels nothing. Satisfied, the giant prays for sonic camouflage. The gods are slow to answer. In the meantime, he is mistaken for a divine cannibal by a passing troupe of Icelandic rappers. As they leap onto his legs and climb up the stairway of his spine, the giant dips his body just low enough for the man to stand, stretch, and tear the exposed cords from his neck.
END DREAM #6: Medical samples. Found objects. Discarded bric-à-brac. Television static. The lighting and the shadows in the Blue Motel room aren’t mathematically possible and at least half of the skulls in the bathtub are made of porcelain. A spiritual war erupts in the mattress and garbles the bedspread’s localized pattern. Residual turbulence retreats to the shoreline. And the abject can’t swim.
END DREAM #7: Every night at approximately 1:30 a.m., a voice awakens Adam Damascus and challenges his aura. The aura has a voice of its own, but unconsciousness functions as a muzzle; Adam Damascus must be conscious in order for his aura to speak. Then it is like watching a tennis match. The best Adam Damascus can do is collect the balls when they bounce off-court and put them back into play.
END DREAM #8: No vacancy. The sign flickers above the Blue Motel, beneath the monochrome sky. Everything will end in the Blue Motel.
END DREAM #9: A volley of flashbulbs blinded me as I stepped out of the shower. I put on sunglasses, acknowledging god’s divine rays and the ceiling’s nervous system. Thereafter I observed the fuck scene with mild disinterest. The orgasm did not deliver the agency I had been promised by the executors of the estate.
END DREAM #10: The aged motel clerk hissed like a goose protecting his young as the prophet entered the office and stepped to the counter. “Hello,” said the prophet. “Have you seen anything strange going on this evening?” The clerk continued to hiss, pressing a mottled gray tongue through the grizzled wound of his lips, then quieted and said, “Strange?” He paused. “Strange?” A swell of tics expanded across his face. “This is motel, boy. Ain’t nothing going on here that ain’t strange. All I see are strange things going on.” The prophet considered an appropriate response, possibly an invocation to the dusk, but he had difficulty conjuring the requisite syntax, let alone syntax that exhibited the requisite cadence. He decided not to respond at all. “You standing here not saying nothing and looking at me funny,” the clerk barked, “that’s a good example of something strange going on. Fuck you want, dummy?” Haunted by the query, the prophet explained his problem. The clerk eyeballed him, touching the thin, whiskered skin of his cheek as if to remind himself that his flesh was intact. When the prophet ran out of words, the clerk thanked him. Several days later, administrative officials quarantined the Blue Motel and, room by room, liquidated the occupants and buried the dismantled corpse of the motel clerk in the desert.
Moved by the dream, which had been an overt act of providence, the clergyman crouched at the ready just beyond the perimeter of the fallen landscape. He had stockpiled every method of aggression and defense in his mental and actual arsenal. The deed was already done, in his view, and fatality had run its course. All that remained was the surety of seaspray as the wind hurled the surf against the rocks. He wouldn’t have to lift an arm; the Great Puppeteer would pull the strings and the resultant kill would belong to him alone. Standard procedure.
Adam Damascus struck the clergyman on the bristled crown of his skull with a hammer. The clergyman made a quacking noise and fell over. He convulsed, spewing foam and bile. Adam Damascus straddled him, kneeled down and methodically, disinterestedly smashed in his papier-mâché face. He watched the blood empty from the broken remnants, expanding from the small pile of gore in an epiphany made flesh.
Finally he retreated to the Maldives.
This was expected. All of it. The clergyman’s oneiric steppes had been a crude ruse for the ascension of Hansel Doomward, who would enact the real kill. He awaited Adam Damascus on the Kaafu Atoll in the capital city of Malé. Adam Damascus had vacationed there every summer as a boy, and after a brief hiatus during the tenuous “post-adult” years, he resumed the holiday, setting up shop at the Traders Hotel in the same suite—and during the same week—every year, like clockwork. He did little beyond drink spring water, eat curry, urinate in the sink and lay in his bed, sleeping several hours each night, but mostly blinking dumbly at the shadows and warding off the voices in his head, which usually lied, even when they clearly belonged to angels. The voices of demons and limbo-goers, in contrast, usually talked about trivial issues and had little interest in whether or not Adam Damascus believed them. Holy divers never said a word.
As a particularly bored and anxious demon underscored the importance of removing lint from the trap in drying machines after every cycle—“No exceptions!” the voice bayed over and over—Hansel Doomward picked the lock of the door to Adam Damascus’ suite and slipped inside, minding the overworked décor and the hybrid stench of cumin and piss.
Adam Damascus lay supine on the bed in an apparent state of REM, eyes bee- lining behind the curtain of the lids. He didn’t reply to the demon, but he made a note never to clean out the lint trap in his dryer again, no matter what happened.
Without fear or hesitation, Hansel Doomward closed on Adam Damascus like a brown fox, but as he jumped onto the lazy dog, Adam Damascus, privy to the attack thanks to an angelic falsehood that he turned inside-out, spun on the bed and scissored Hansel Doomward at the neck with his legs, drew one leg in and drove a brass shoehorn through his head. Hansel Doomward screamed and convulsed. He didn’t die. Adam Damascus yanked out the shoehorn and drove it in again, and again and again and again, baptizing himself in the assassin’s knowledge, but ensuring that the assassin was, by degrees, gone.
Releasing the corpse of Hansel Doomward and rolling onto his back, Adam Damascus closed his eyes and taunted the angels, pretending to be a demon who cared.
Mad Onus called in the bad news. The chief inspector was hardly surprised; after all, he told everybody dimestore oblivion was a virtual certainty. If only just one holy diver had made an effort to tap into the Beginning, maybe things would have turned out differently. The exodus of prophets who had not already been hung or quartered in the streets nearly overwhelmed the Administration, its minions and its people. The ensuing rapture and collective revelation mended hurt feelings and bound the community together like a good batch of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Soon all of the detectives were dancing across their living rooms with imaginary wives in tow and champagne music piping from the cracked fleur-de-lis of ancient victrolas.
Palsied desires, latent destinies and dead theories littered the outskirts of the Blue Motel. It was Wednesday. It might have been Friday.
The difference meant nothing.
“Your brain is showing again.”
Putting aside the wine, the prophet tilted his head, found the flap of skin and delicately shifted it back into place.
“Insects deserve equal rights too.”
The prophet made a chitinous noise, flicking a dry tongue against the hard palate. This prompted several lodgers to buckle under the weight of the sky.
“See how nicely that slides in? I only drink the knowledge of holy vesicles. All other forms of knowledge are superfluous at best. My own underbelly is hardly proscribed. If anything, it’s preternatural. It’s all right. You’re exactly where you need and are supposed to be. Don’t worry about the frogs. Worry even less about the pigs. Turn around and touch my breast again. There. Where did my
orthopedic pillow go?”
There was a commotion outside—the sound of heavy footsteps on hollow stairs.
The prophet stood, stepped to the window and peered through the blinds. The parking lot was empty and the asphalt had been repossessed; only dirt and worms remained.
Closing the blinds, he stepped to the edge of the bed, sat down and opened the drawer in the nightstand.
Dirt and worms.
He studied the contents, minding the diversity of clitellums. Then he carefully reached into the drawer and allowed his fingers to disappear . . .