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The Cynic & The Undead Smile - PLEASED WITH DISEASE

About The Cynic & The Undead Smile

Previous Entry The Cynic & The Undead Smile Jun. 22nd, 2006 @ 09:53 pm Next Entry
1 - JUGBAND BLUES

"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm most obliged to you for making it clear
That I'm not here
And I never knew the moon could be so big
And I never knew the moon could be so blue
And I'm grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I'm wondering who could be writing this song..."

--old Gitmo spiritual

"Maxwell, are you ever going to take your death seriously?"

Rear Admiral Bradley Martin Maxwell was still getting acclimated to the change. He wasn't comfortable with his new rank at all. American uniforms lacked humility, he felt. All that green! If there was one thing he'd learned playing cards with the Mossad, it was never, never tell.

Then there was the matter of his past lives, which he was having trouble preventing himself from remembering: The feeling of the needle in his back, the vision of his precious maggot-ridden yacht, the Teddy Ghislane, drifting into the dark Atlantic... Past lives? Nightmares!

Six of one...

He felt a tugging at his waist and looked down. The prisoner with the simian nostrils was biting the butt of Maxwell's gun again. A nearby guard looked hopeful. Maxwell gestured for him to stand down.

"I'm sorry, Jarrod, you were saying?"

"I'm onto a different subject now." Jarrod was being petulant again-- his favorite pose, after insouciance --and looking positively radioactive in his crimson scrubs. It had been so long since Maxwell had felt arousal...

But his men needed him to be stay on-message. He thought, rather patriotically, of murdered children. The erection subsided.

Jarrod began to lean toward the holster again, but Maxwell shifted it away, pleased with how easily it slid. British leather, American import. Quality stuff. "You know I don't like to repeat myself." Jarrod shifted his knees on the hot tarmac and Maxwell signaled the hopeful, who began beating the fleshy parts of the prisoner's arms with a flashlight. "Execution is tantamount to judgement, Jarrod, and you are far too valuable in your presently nebulous state to stand trial."

Maxwell hinted at the guard to stop. Jarrod's hands spasmed and clenched in their cuffs. Blood ran from his wrists. His eyes searched the chain link horizon.

"Which state's that, then?"

Maxwell was unfamiliar with the expression on Jarrod's face. On another human being, it might have been hate.

"Credible. Deniable."

"You're a great American, Maxwell."

Jarrod knew the way to his rival's ego. Maxwell signaled the guard to return the prisoner to his six-by-four coop. He felt a desire to mark the spot where Jarrod had bled. The sacrifice was already baking in. His hands moved toward his fly, then stopped. Halliburton would be laying new foundations in a month or two. If he could wait, the whole piece could be his to do with as he wished. Privately.

Maxwell grinned, gave the tab of his zipper a tease, then turned to march back toward his offices.

So much to do, so many to do it to.

* * * * *

2 - MELODY MAKER

Q - There were stories you had left the band because
you had been freaked out by acid trips.

A - Well, I dunno, it don't seem to have much to do with
the job. I only know the thing of playing, of being a
musician, was very exciting. Obviously, one was better
off with a silver guitar with mirrors and things all
over it than people who ended up on the floor or anywhere
else in London. The general concept, I didn't feel so
conscious of it as perhaps I should. I mean, one's
position as a member of London's young people's-- I
dunno what you'd call it, underground wasn't it --wasn't
necessarily realized and felt, I don't think, especially
from the point of view of groups...

--a 1971 chat

Carelessly thrown sideways into his coop, Jarrod landed facefirst against the chicken wire, creating a weltered molecular impression on his cheek. The door scraped shut behind him.

"Easier ways to shave, Mister C."

Jarrod looked fondly at his caged neighbor, Moses Collier, happily puttering away with his improvised noose. Moses squinted at Jarrod in something like consternation. He stepped over to the wire.

"You mind putting that closer so I can see it, Mister C.?"

Moses traced the pattern with a finger. "CH3O, CH3CH2, NH2, OCH3..."

Jarrod felt something oily and dry slither over the welt and he backed away, rubbing his face. Moses smacked his lips approvingly. "2CE. 'Good for exploring and purging the shadow regions of the psyche' and all that tommyrot." Moses knew MDMA analogues like the back of his Koran. He returned his attentions to the noose. "Get you a nice price on that, if you're interested. Hard to come by."

"I seem to have stumbled onto it easily enough." Jarrod laid himself out on his sleeping pallet, a crumbling sheet of cardboard. "Any news?"

Fresh out of material, Moses turned his attention to the spiderweb farm in the upper right-hand corner of his coop. "The usual. Things are running backward and the world's turning into a John Martin engraving. Depleted uranium's claiming the firstborn, oil's petered out, genetically modified crops are turning kudzu, rockets fell on Alabama last night, anthrax is experiencing another fifteen minutes of fashion, Thanksgiving's been cancelled (ruffled feathers, I expect), the botfly is still laying eggs in arms and legs, tetracycline-resistant typhus is rumored to've booked passage to the Isle of Youth, biker gangs of bufotenin addicts are raping Australia, and rivers everywhere are turning to mercury."

Jarrod smiled with closed eyes. "The usual." The words were a sigh. He knew options were narrowing if the apocalypse was all Moses could think of. The funny little man was a warning beacon that way.

"What about you, Mister C.? I heard you gave the camp commander quite a time."

Jarrod honored the insinuation honestly. "He didn't want to roger me. Not that I didn't offer. He simply wasn't interested."

"What? Our Maxwell?"

Jarrod concentrated on slowing the pounding in his upper arms. "Not 'our' Maxwell." He examined his injuries. Professional. Pain, but no purple. Even the nicks on his wrists were negligible. The guard might as well have used a rolled-up Rizla. "Our Maxwell was mercenary enough to know his rôle. This Maxwell doesn't know he's hollow. I suspect someone couldn't find the template and settled for using carbons instead. Your actual cypher." Exhausted, Jarrod stared at the plain pressboard ceiling and listened to Moses gather silk.

"We're up against it, then? Nothing in him worth bribing?"

The Eternal Insurgent shook his head, leaving trails in the dust with his dirty hair. "Sorry, pod'ner. He'd spit our offers right back at us." Watching his friend tinker with their last honorable chance for escape, he couldn't resist cracking wise. "He's gone so native it's American."

* * * * *

3 - LOST SESSION

Around this period, Barrett allegedly beat up
his girlfriend and locked her in a room for a week,
pushing crackers under the door to fend off starvation.

--1967

The camp commander put his hands on the desk, knuckles down, thumbs out, and growled as civilly as possible. "Trixie. This is not a debate. You were doing a hometowner. A hometowner takes a day. You have been here three."

Joe Beesley suckled thoughtfully on the end of a Twix, his eyes downcast. Trixie Brunner clenched the leatherbound notepad on her knees, her umber face rigid with suppressed rage. A pair of MPs stood silently behind them.

"We have extended you every courtesy. Now you have to leave."

Joe had a thought and pointed the drooling choccy. "You said you were closing the base to media access indefinitely?"

Maxwell shrugged. "You said you were going to be fair and balanced."

"What," said Trixie, "the fuck," brutally, "is a 'hometowner'?" She threw out her arms, knocking the nub of precious chocolate from Joe's hand. It went skittering under Maxwell's desk. The MP grabbed Trixie by the elbows and held her in her chair. "This is a prison." Joe wiped sweat from the corner of his eye with a sticky finger, leaving a brown mark like a bruise.

Maxwell displayed his teeth. They were the color of cement. "A hometowner was what you were supposed to write, Trixie. But you wanted to discuss 'fatalities'. 'Torture'. The 'legality' of our 'presence' on this island." He accented his disdain with fatuous gestures. "Nothing very familiar or homey about 'illegal detention facilities'. I imagine your readers feel very betrayed."

As he rounded his desk, he signaled the MPs to lift the journalists to their feet and hold them there. Maxwell's MPs were well-conditioned specimens. Joe was a khaki-colored bag of sand in the policeman's hands. Trixie's toes brushed the floor.

"The Pentagon has decided to detourn your investigations onto a more worthy topic: namely, yourselves. You will return home, your press passes up your asses, and the national dialogue will proceed quite naturally from 'violations of the Geneva convention' and 'human rights abuses' to undignified flag-burning debates about freedom of the press."

He glowered, happily. He held his face close to Joe's, his breath ruffling the older man's hair, but his eyes were on her. His voice took on a tone of conspiratorial glee. "Come on, Trixie, we've both been in the same mud. We've stumbled through the same smoke! We're veterans."

She purred. "Mine's veteran yours."

His gaze trained on Trixie, Maxwell clapped Beesley across the chops with a closed hand. The journalist's false teeth fell to the floor, following the lost chocolate.

Maxwell turned his back to them. "Put them on the plane."

The door closed. Maxwell returned to his chair and tried to control his breathing, which had become rapid. The corners of the room crept upward in his peripheral vision. He rubbed the bars above his left breast. Why did he feel stranded at the bottom of a shaft? There were no more obstacles...

Something carefully closed around the toe of his shoe.

Strapped onboard the Antonov An-26, Trixie handed a packet of chocolate mini-donuts across the aisle. Joe read the ingredients list to himself with a split, sunken smile, mouthing the names of the preservatives with damp satisfaction.

Maxwell's howls of outrage were almost audible over the engines.

* * * * *

4 - MADCAP LAUGHS

The standard practice for multitrack recording is to
first tape bass and drum tracks-- to lay a foundation
--before overdubbing vocals and lead instruments.
Barrett's producers reversed this process. They first
captured Syd's vocals and guitar parts, then added the
rhythm section. They probably feared that the Madcap
would waste valuable studio time trying to synchronize
with a live band. Barrett had difficulty staying in
beat, resulting in all manner of odd, haphazard meters.
"If [the song] 'Love You' was a little irregular-- Syd
went into the next verse, occasionally, after six-and-a
-half or seven bars instead of eight," observed Jones
"--then 'It's No Good Trying' was positively impossible!
...[It's] very hard for a musician other than the
composer to follow."

--on Syd's solo work

"Patria y Libertad my arse. Only way to live on this island and not eat pork is to be a p.o.w. We've got the McDonald's."

Moses was shaking. Jarrod recognized the symptoms. Prison fever. The half of his friend's face that wasn't bearded was iridescent with rash. Lice danced at the edges of his lips. Part of the little man's doomsaying had turned out to be true, after all.

Jarrod paced the room. The repetitive rhythms of Celia Cruz dropped from a hidden loudspeaker somewhere in the ceiling. Jarrod couldn't find it. The noise was abusive. Moses held his head and curled up tighter on the cold floor, trying to control the spasms.

"And this fuckin' music! It's so miserable it's manic! Stop and start and jump and bark! Pressure cooker music! Cocaine music. What happened to sitars? Mantras? Cooling out?"

Moses slapped the floor with his palm hard enough to hurt his hand. Jarrod saw that he was crying. Everything was concrete and centrally air-conditioned in the new facility. All the worse for prisoners who had typhus, which was virtually the entire population.

"Flux, Mo. We'll be back there soon enough."

Measures originally intended to prevent suicide were being used to narrow the vectors of infection. No beddings, blankets, or clothes, no comfort items of any kind. Even their spiders had been taken away. The prisoners slept and ate naked in empty concrete cubicles sealed with transparent lexan. The only luxury afforded the cells were Turkish toilets, of which there were three, embedded along the back wall of the cell. Jarrod's room was the only one that wasn't loaded to capacity. Maxwell was coddling him.

Celia Cruz was exchanged for Perez Prado. Another joke. Maxwell's black mass was gaining momentum. Moses moaned, venting. He pulled at his beard. Handfuls of hair came out.

Jarrod had sympathy for his friend, but only as much as he alotted himself. He turned to look out the front of the cell. The cruciform shape of the prison reminded Jarrod of Spandau, except that he didn't think it would ever be put to proper use, much less be ground to powder and dispersed into the sea.

Tranq'd, shivering ghosts shuffled past, herded by bald officers with plucked eyebrows. Jarrod read the prisoners like punch cards. Camp Cropper. Attained through extraordinary rendition. Transferred from the VoA relay in Udon Thani. Diego Garcia. Fresh off the Bataan. One by one they descended the stairs.

The clockwise procession had begun; another compulsory hajj.

From the second floor Jarrod had a perfect view of the quadrilateral shrine. A statue of legendary partisan Henryk Dobranzański stood on top facing west, where the kiswah of white burlap with crimson embroidery parted, exposing the cornerstone of black tarmac. From Jarrod's vantage it looked like the statue was preparing to piss on the pilgrimage.

"Pseudo-speciation," murmured Jarrod.

He heard Moses rouse himself from the floor. "Refuse to peace and run?"

"You could say that."

Moses shambled over and Jarrod put an arm around him. His friend needed the heat. "That fucker still dragging his manky cast around?"

Maxwell was. Guards along the uppermost rails trained searchlights on one side of the shrine, and he emerged, hobbling, the filthy fiberglass trademark jutting from beneath the hem of his sparkling, sequined djellaba. He held a megaphone.

"JOIN THE ARMY, THEY SAID, SEE THE WORLD! PIGSHIT! IT SHOULD BE 'SEE THE ARMY JOIN THE WORLD!'"

The Rear Admiral paused to survey the pilgrimage. Detainees shuffled in from the left, stopped to kiss the piece of tarmac, then departed right. Too neat.

"D'YOU KNOW WHY? BECAUSE WE HAVE! WE HAVE! WE HAVE, AND YOU BASTARDS CAN'T TELL US ANY DIFFERENT!"

Moses sniffed. He'd stopped shaking. His hand slipped down onto the narrow shelf of Jarrod's ass.

"Bold testament, Mister C."

Jarrod shook his head. "It'll never play in Peoria."

* * * * *

5 - LAST ALBUM

The songs are inconsistant, as befits a fractal
personality.

--oblique autobiography

"You'll excuse the pong," said Hythloday. "Cleaning the coffeemaker. The vinegar'll be over with soon as I run this pot." He sloshed water on Maxwell's shoes. "Oh damn. I'll get a rag."

The aging physician took a butterfly path around the room, the carafe still in his hand. He peered in cabinets, in bedpans, in wastebaskets, even inside the sterilizer, knocking the glass pot into every obstacle. Suddenly he seemed to remember something. He smiled senescently, hoisted the carafe in a barroom salute, and doddered out of the infirmary.

The odor pervading the air was familiar to Maxwell, almost nostalgic. It reminded him of green apples ripening in a dark barn. He closed his eyes and turned in place, imagining unvarnished boards, glittering sunbeams lasing across gray dirt. Another life; another lie. The memories had stopped coming. Not enough room at the inn. He had seen too much.

Maxwell opened his eyes on Jarrod, dead and exsanguinated in a vast catch pan. The iconoclast's skin was the color of corroded copper, streaked and stained with irregular patches of black, and he had been shaved-- though whether before or after autopsy, the camp commander could not say.

Pulling up a dentist's stool, Maxwell seated himself by the body.

"I've fucked myself into a corner, Jerry. Jarrod." Maxwell weighed the mistake. "What's winning when you don't understand the game? Why keep these people? Why these people? Where do my orders come from? My mortal orders. I'm confounded, Jerry."

He studied the chemical hexagon on the corpse's cheek. It retained a little of Jarrod's original skin tone, sienna against the patina of disease. The welt described three bonds and the top of another hex, terminating in nothing visible.

"I might as well ask why you came. You followed me, I know that, but your motives were always... oblique. Inscrutable? Perverse." The rhetorical twist mirrored the tension in Maxwell's face. "Some of your people showed up. I may not remember everything, but I still get flashes of insight. I thought maybe they were planning an extradition, but they let you..."

Maxwell pushed himself back on the stool, hissing out air, bellowing his jowls out. He looked away, fixing his eyes on the handwash station. "The way you're going to let me."

He stood. He tested his fists, considering whether or not to damage the body beside him, then relented, resigned. Fondness flooded his features. Bending, he gave Jarrod a kiss on the cheek.

"Ah, hell, Jerry. You never meant me any harm, I know that. It's every man for himself, in the end..."

The blood froze in Maxwell's brain. Visceral light destroyed all detail. The room was thrown into stark relief. All he could see were corpses, emaciated bodies, one thrown carelessly atop the other. A dark child dressed like a street urchin picked his way through them, stopping occasionally to dabble his fingers in human paint. The boy's beauty inflamed Maxwell's mind. Thoughts began to flow again.

The boy wiggled his kris knife at Maxwell and winked.

"Never know who's going to need a toe tag, 'ey commander?"

- - - - -

Hythloday nudged the commander with a shoe. Maxwell, for his part, remained white-eyed and catatonic, fixed in a fetal position on the floor. His breaths were quick and shallow. Hythloday stepped past, his diagnosis confirmed. He tapped Jarrod on the knee with the coffee pot.

"Malingerer! Stop playing oppossum."

The body remained immobile. Hythloday held the carafe of cold water aloft and upended it on Jarrod's genitals. The corpse screamed, tumbling off the table and onto the unresponsive Maxwell.

"Arouse and walk!" Hythloday hooted.

"Unfunny, Hy, and unbloodycalled-for!" The Eternal Insurgent rubbed his receding member, scowling. The pillow that was Maxwell made a mewling noise. Jarrod moved his elbow and the mewling stopped. "Here, can he hear me?"

The elderly physician pushed himself up onto the autopsy table. "I imagine all he'll be hearing for the next eight to twelve hours are Pink Floyd lyrics." Hythloday shivered in revulsion and his hip popped. He couldn't quite arrange his legs in a full lotus. "Don't expect him to reform just because he had a bad trip."

"I don't." Jarrod set to separating Maxwell from his uniform. He had his escape routes laid out. A couple of stop-overs, a quick, tender visit with his sister, then he was gone. As far as Jarrod was concerned, mankind would have to orchestrate its own escape from Alcatraz.

If these were the myths of the twenty-first century, he wasn't interested. He'd seen it before.

* * * * *

Materials:

Syd Barrett: Guitars & Dust - Irwin Chusid

Piper at the Gates of Dawn & Saucerful of Secrets - The Pink Floyd
The Madcap Laughs & Barrett - Syd Barrett

Une Saison en Enfer - Arthur Rimbaud
The Psychedelics Encyclopedia - ed. by Peter Stafford
Salome & Judas in the Cave of Sex - Ewa Kuryluk

* * * * *

Jerry Cornelius created by Michael Moorcock and used with permission; Shaky Mo Collier created by M. John Harrison.
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