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''Silent Reflection: 9:00 p.m.''
It only occurred to Charlie in the [[sensory deprivation tank->astral body (1)]]-- hands tied up, ball gag jammed against the heels of his teeth-- that this may in fact have been what his mission supervisors would choose to describe as a crisis of faith.
Eyes shut, he recalled with hysterical accuracy page 94, section 3, third and fourth lines from the top of the Unitarian Mission Handbook (“uncontrollable sweating, pupil dilation, knock knees”). But even this had failed to alert him to the latent enemy in the soft tissue between cerebellum and occipital lobe: doubt, in all its fragile wonder, springclear from callous shell to the soft pink-flesh-- chapped, even now, from sweat and piss along the rims of his inner thighs.
[[NEXT->Silent Reflection: 9:00 p.m. (2)]]
He’d been bound for this, he supposed, since the mirror.
Early Thursday morning (Lights Out: 10:00 p.m. - 6:30 a.m.) he’d eased himself down from his bunk and padded to the bathroom, where today in urgent lowercase someone had written the words ‘gradual advance’ on the mirror in [[red lipstick->HELL (1)]], and beneath it stuck a piece of gum, flesh-colored, oozing tepidly through a crack in the glass.
[[NEXT->Silent Reflection: 9:00 p.m. (3)]]
[[BACK->Silent Reflection: 9:00 p.m. (1)]]The world seemed in that moment so orderly, a series of labeled boxes dusty with disuse-- and him abstracted from it, suspended at a distance, a catalogue of limbs.
Feeling so distraught that he barely remembered to check under the inner lip of the toilet for bugs (“their lives being as sacred as our own” [p. 47]), he ascended his bunk feeling queasy. He put one of mom’s old meditation tapes into his Walkman and attempted his exercises, but the big ballooning stomach breaths did nothing but worsen the upheaval of abjection, the yawning pit at the fringe of awareness.
[[NEXT->Silent Reflection: 9:00 p.m. (4)]]
[[BACK->Silent Reflection: 9:00 p.m. (2)]]He was on the third bunk. The two beneath his seemed to loom up at him, empty.
He dreamed of chewing gum, sticks and sticks until the wad protruded from his mouth, gathering force, pulling his teeth out as he chewed, swallowing his head, and he woke up to the morning bell ([[6:30 a.m.->BLOOD (1)]]) coated in a thin and sticky layer of slime which quivered against his skin, like a slug’s might.
[[BACK->Silent Reflection: 9:00 p.m. (3)]]
[[CONTINUE->Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m. (1)]]“Practical effects,” explains Charlie, and you know, matter pulls space through it like the eye of a needle. Your hands, punctuated by a knife and a fork, carve tofu, while a voice deep in your right ear free-associates syllables, disjointed, in a fervor. The voice (paternal) sounds like what you imagine a baby might hear on a birthing table.
And you, yourself, could cry, if you had anything but [[bones->Chopin]] in your body.
[[BACK->HELL (1)]]You haven’t told anyone here that you have these. They’re getting worse.
[[BACK->HELL (2)]]There are thirty people in the room, and you are in hell, and you are burning. The thing about a temporal lobe seizure-- your father told you this-- is that it’s the only time memory and experience occur simultaneously. Like the superposition of two mirrors, it is infinite, but empty.
[[All surface->Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m. (1)]].
[[NEXT->HELL (2)]]You dream, of course, of the angel with a thousand eyes on each wing.
In the morning you wake up and your boxers are mottled with blood. And although there are of course no tampons available in Mission Headquarters, you have smuggled toilet paper by the roll from the supply closet on the first floor. You do what you can, but your hands have never shaken more than they are shaking right now.
[[NEXT->BLOOD (2)]]Reality seems, in times like this one, to be radiating outward from your genitals. You nod anyways. Practical effects. Charlie has stopped talking and is doing something-- a stretching or a bulging-- with his face while he thinks nobody’s watching. It is absolutely mesmerizing.
Terrence, chewing with his mouth open, knows that you are hiding something, but by this point the feeling is receding, or has receded. You excuse yourself.
[[BACK->HELL (3)]]In the bathroom, you make quick work-- in spite of your shaking hands and inexperience with a straight razor-- of your hair, which has grown in chestnut and too long. You go over it several times. You try not to shower with the other boys, so you rarely have time to contemplate your body. It is damp and reflective in the heat, and [[shirtless under the bare bulb->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (1)]] you can see faintly your breasts jut out just slightly away from you.
You take what’s left of the lipstick in your pocket and write on your forehead in the mirror a capital N, a capital O.
[[CONTINUE->SCUM (1)]]''Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m.''
“You look like death,” said Terrence, hair strewn with garbage. Across the table, Charlie watched him mop eggy residue off his plate with a scrap of toast. Clenching his teeth to keep the bile down, he stirred his porridge with a plastic fork and watched the steam recede. His bevy of [[vitamin supplements and nootropics->vitamin supplements and nootropics (1)]]-- standard issue for missionaries-- sat untouched next to his plate.
“Couldn’t sleep,” said Charlie. “Think I’m getting the flu, or something. Where’s Mikey?”
[[NEXT->Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m. (2)]]Terrence spat into his cup of orange juice, empty now except for the pulp and a glob of green phlegm. “He’s up at the Citadel today. Heard he came up as being potentially unfit for service. [[Mentally or emotionally unwell]].”
[[NEXT->Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m. (3)]]
[[BACK->Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m. (1)]] “Do you know why?”
Terrence shook his head such that the strips of aluminum foil running down the back of his head scraped and scrabbled together. “I don’t know.”
“Do you think it’s because he kills dogs?”
“I don’t know anything about that,” said Terrence, spitting into the cup again, leaving a tiny fleck of spring-green glistening on his lower lip. “And neither should you.”
A mosquito landed on his forearm and broke skin, but the supervisors were watching intently, taking notes, and Charlie could not swat it.
[[BACK->Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m. (2)]]
[[CONTINUE->Free Time (Stretch, Shower, Get Ready for the Day): 8:00 a.m. (1)]]''Free Time (Stretch, Shower, Get Ready for the Day): 8:00 a.m.''
After breakfast Charlie went up to the roof to watch them (the dogs). Mission headquarters was, at three stories, the tallest building in Melbourne, Ohio, presiding over the crooked remains of 70s ranch houses which stood propped up by bundles of golf clubs and curtain rods along the riverbank. Livestock were out even at this sparse hour, and farmers-- but presiding over the hollowed-out squalor of the morning were the dogs: pouring from shrubberies and holes in kennel fences, drooling, shoulders down to the ground.
Pustulated, mangy, collarless dogs of the winter, pissing like wild.
Charlie by this point had named them all, and his new pair of binoculars glinted in the cold sun just over the horizon, scanning the dirt road colonies for a familiar tail, the tip of an ear in a dry ditch.
[[NEXT->Free Time (Stretch, Shower, Get Ready for the Day): 8:00 a.m. (2)]] They (the dogs) operated in messy packages of space whose boundaries did not conform to human geographies. Buckling and folding, their domains overlapped in small tense rings where dogs paced around each other with their ears flat back, big dogs, dickless dogs, long hairy dogs barking from everywhere at once, dancing across the landscape like savage mercury.
[[Spike]] and [[Dirtbag]] snapping at each other in jest; [[Butterball]] eating the sticky offal that shuffed and moaned from Cashmir’s open belly; [[Chopin]] and Nightingale kicking up dust in pursuit of an enormous rat; No-Ear Nigel impaled on the tall spike of a fence post; Ginger strung up by his hind feet from a tree branch, whimpering; [[Gnarl]] fucking the dry husk of what was once Airbo; Skull tearing the aluminum siding off of a trailer; [[Grendel]] carrying a toddler away on his back. Sliced ribbons of dog meat lay strewn across the dry expanse, speckled with all kinds of rot, tangled webs of tissue and viscera and unholy slimes dripping from holes in the different parts of their bodies.
To the East, the river swept away the pieces of houses left over from last month’s flood.
[[BACK->Free Time (Stretch, Shower, Get Ready for the Day): 8:00 a.m. (1)]]
[[CONTINUE->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (1)]]''Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m.''
They met on the front lawn between the main entrance of Mission Headquarters and its electric front fence, lined their bodies up in tight little rows behind the portico. Charlie stood with Terrence to his left and a great empty space to his right, feeling vulnerable as the straps of the gauze surgical mask bit into his too-large head.
And these were the hours where pedestrians went by, tripping over their feet, looking left and right and all around them, fixing silent gazes on the rows of boys.
[[NEXT->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (2)]] Terrence pulled his mask down and spat quietly towards his feet without lowering his head, flecks of spit settling in wild places, the backs of heads and shoulders and the tips of grass shoots. He said quietly, staring straight forward:
“Risk assessment on whipping it out taking a leak right here, while no one’s looking.”
“You could,” Charlie said. “But it wouldn’t mean anything unless [[they saw you->Butterball]].”
[[NEXT->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (3)]]
[[BACK->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (1)]]Terrence spat again. “What do you mean?”
He made to reply, but there were long holes where the words should have been, thoughts skimming as though over great empty [[pockets of air->SCUM (1)]].
“You need to stop spitting,” he said.
Terrence paused for a long time. “I don’t know how.”
[[NEXT->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (4)]]
[[BACK->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (2)]]The head of the local Freemason chapter, a devout Unitarian, stood at the front of the assembly with his head bowed silently, standing on a podium made of cardboard boxes with books in them. He spoke to the patient crowd.
“There is no evil or violence done on this earth to which witness is not born,” he said, smiling. “All on this earth are the objects of scrutiny, and Existence, as we know it, is the state of being watched.”
Progress, continual forward motion of the universe, towards God, heat death, the eternal Dao. Outflows and reckonings, the great infernal furnace.
[[NEXT->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (5)]]
[[BACK->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (3)]]“Terrence,” said Charlie, still looking straight ahead, not even moving his eyes from the podium “have you ever really been [[alone->astral body (1)]]?”
“Praise Allah,” said the Mason, “Praise Yaweh, Praise Siddhārtha Gautama, Praise The Lords of the Five Stars and the Seven Radiances, Praise Ishvara, Praise the Scientific Method, Praise Nietzsche, Praise the Prophet Mohammed, Praise Ahura Mazda, Praise the Dogs Who Come By Night With Their Tails And Ears Pricked High, Walking in Circles, [[Sniffing, Sniffing,]]”
[[BACK->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (4)]]
[[CONTINUE->Service: 10:30 a.m. (Please Wear Clean Pants and Shirt in the Chapel-- Look Your Best!)]]''Service: 10:30 a.m. (Please Wear Clean Pants and Shirt to Assembly-- Look Your Best!)''
Charlie was nodding off in the pews, which he knew was unacceptable but here he was, nodding off in the pews even as the Freemasons stood up at the fore of the chapel and drank from their gold cups brimming in the shadow of the Horned God with divine ambrosia, the thought of which sickly down his throat made him gag on his own thick spittle and [[heave dryly->vitamin supplements and nootropics (1)]] all at once onto the carpet, forehead on the back of the pew in front of him, trying to pass it off as a coughing fit but only managing little half-assed gurgles, the thought of himself gurgling gently against the back of the pew striking him as funny in a way, if not one which made him feel any better.
Glancing up a moment later he found that nobody had noticed or at least seemed tremendously interested, as by then the goat had been brought out, and the Freemasons’ knives glinted with the cold light of innocence.
[[CONTINUE->Lunch (No Matter How Nauseated You Are, it is Unacceptable to Skip Meals!): 12:00 p.m.]]''Free Time: 5:45 p.m.''
At roughly 6:04 p.m., as they were preparing to depart, it became known to the assembled boys and the SWAT team that their caravan had come under psychic attack.
This attack manifested itself most immediately as an abrupt return of old and forgotten traumas. Many of the boys handcuffed in the vans, sensing a disturbance, began to regulate their breathing and fall into a meditative trance. For his part, Terrence took a Tarot deck from his pocket and, removing his shoes, slipped [[two Kings in the insole of each->HELL (1)]].
[[NEXT->Sniffing, Sniffing, (2)]] ''Lunch (No Matter How Nauseated You Are, it is Unacceptable to Skip Meals!): 12:00 p.m.''
Charlie found the [[slime->SCUM (1)]] against the inside of his bicep when he went into the bathroom. It felt clammy and dead, left fibers on his fingers that sagged down into the bowl of the sink while the water ran. He looked at the mirror and the gum and lipstick were gone, having been replaced by a long slow streak of drying [[blood->BLOOD (1)]].
[[CONTINUE->After-Lunch Break: 12:45 p.m. (1)]]To the residents of the Melbourne Historic District, standing at their windows shrouded in curtains so only their eyes emerged, Spike's path through the world would have appeared completely incoherent. To even the dog itself, trotting jaggedly in 90 degree angles through the terraformed dead-grass lawns, motion proceeded according to to laws which were not its own.
Spike knew the collar's shock too well-- it had come to define no less than the center of the dog's experience. These circuits contained within them pathways and barriers, the precise geometry of which intersected with the sensory only as pain. In this way, wordlessly, they murmured the coordinates of an unseen labyrinth, imposing from above [[an entire version of the world->HELL (1)]].
Although Spike, having long since internalized both the shock and the space inscribed within it, had not strayed across those unseen bounds in months, they had nonetheless become a fact as natural to it as [[piss->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m.]], or shit.
Halfway across the street, the dog doubled back a couple times as though ascending a very steep slope.
A light on the collar blinked orange, indicating a low or dead battery.
The District's residents, drafting speeches in their heads to support zoning measures which would preserve the history of their homes, itched at the triggers of their Magnums.In a shantytown on the banks of the Great Miami River, Dirtbag crunched a flea between its hind teeth and blinked.
It was moon-time, the time when the town's inhabitants observed their ceremony.
The ceremony was signaled by the ring of a [[small glass dinner bell->Mentally or emotionally unwell]], and the bearded man at the fore of the town square cleared his throat.
"From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into the minds of men.
Let Light descend on Earth.
From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into the hearts of men.
May Christ return to Earth.
From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide the little wills of men --
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.
From the centre which we call the race of men
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.
Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth."
"I surrender my body to Shambhala," said one of the onlookers.
"I surrender my body to the United Nations," said another.
"I surrender my body to the race of supermen who reside inside our hollow Earth," said the bearded man.
There followed a discussion circle about the inherent pitfalls of the Scientific Method, followed by an optional confession of long-held secrets.The dog Charlie called Butterball, drooling concertedly, hugged the curve of the road, low through the brambles which dripped with algae scum. Meat-smell wafted from the bubbling mud pots, which reminds a dog always that it grows hungry. Every now and then along the side of the road an armored SWAT officer lay with limbs splintered, askew, carapace imprisoning the rotting meat inside. The cameras on their visors, sensing motion, whirred to life and-- [[unbound->astral body (1)]] from the bodies which once mobilized them-- watched paralyzed as the dead-eyed, blood-mouthed god of the wilderness blurred by, skull unhinged, tongue lolling out.
Cameras were mounted also by satellite dishes on the sides of houses, here and there a tree trunk. A man sat laughing on a stump in the middle of the stagnant water. Butterball slowed to a trot, ears pricked up. From behind the man came the low moan of a speedboat on the river. The dog’s coat, slick with gasoline, shimmered a hundred colors in the fading light. The sound of [[gunshots->Transcendence (1)]] rang out, and the dog whimpered and swung wide away from it as though around a physical barrier.
After a time, Butterball split from the road, plunging bloody through the brambles and onto the remnants of a boardwalk. The path here was dotted on either side with bloated bodies and the jagged foundations of buildings. As the walkway-- lashed together at points with seat belts and propped up with bumpers and fenders-- spiralled into darkness, the blare of LED floodlights consummated the stair-step pattern of stadium seating etched into the hillside.
The dog ran angular through the mud flows to the dew-soaked fake turf, where twenty others stood barking wildly at the [[two wrestlers->Return from Community Service: sometime between 3:00 and 4:30 p.m.]], locked in combat, skin bulging at odd angles from the loose curves of their bodies. They wore the skins of dogs zip-tied to their bodies at the limbs, the skin of the dogs’ faces stretched over their own like masks. The WBNS-10TV truck, broadcasting live to headquarters in Columbus, kept its side and front-mounted guns trained at all times on the dogs as they snapped and jostled for a position at the front of the spectacle. A cheerful blond news anchor, wearing a necklace of dog teeth around her neck, announced the coming of the half-time extravaganza.Emerging in a blur from the shrapnel nose of a wrecked bullet train, Chopin trailed the scent of the rat through the Underground.
Chopin, who had been down here for miles, followed only its nose. Path grew from path in these tunnels, but the dog, in a frenzy, was not thinking of how it could return to the surface.
Here and there gaped passages of open sky, darkening, where diverging possibilities had grown too close together and the ground above had collapsed into them. Between the jagged teeth of these holes flowed mangled trees, rubble of structures, and all manner of fluids, rendered together in a single [[all-consuming sludge->astral body (1)]].
From these, the occasional fragment of bone, sucked of marrow and picked glossy clean in the moonlight, pointed [[the way forward->Tunnel (1)]].The farmers came first at Gnarl from all directions with cattle prods, brandishing them with wicked gleams in their eyes. Gnarl, distressed, could smell somewhere nearby the sharp tang of pheromones. The farmers, however, precluded all motion, delivering keen stings with the tips of their prods when the dog stayed still, tried to walk, wagged its tail. Gnarl did not perceive injustice in this, nor did it evoke in him alarm or confusion. To a dog, there is pain, or there is not. That is all.
One by one the farmers, tiring of their sport, took leave to return to the tending of their fruits and vegetables, which they grew in the shadow of [[the Citadel->Mentally or emotionally unwell]]. Gnarl, charred and bloodied, limped towards the stench of coitus, which resolved itself slowly into a mottled blob of furry bodies, six or seven dogs mounting and thrusting, silhouetted in the background by a trash fire.Cretinous, Grendel-- galavanting through the wheat fields with child astride-- snapped unfettered at insects. The child laughed and clapped, spurring the dog forward with its heels. Grendel, in the wheat, could not obvserve his own motion, but navigated instead by tangled scent-webs of death and decay.
Here and there stood the bombed-out hulls of tractors, in which the lonely and disposessed built fires by [[moonlight->Dirtbag]].''After-Lunch Break: 12:45 p.m.''
After lunch, Charlie went up onto the roof again to watch the dogs.
He saw Mikey too, which he had not expected. Mikey was there with the dogs, and he had a long machete in a leather scabbard. He walked low to the ground, seeking cover [[behind bushes->outer citadel (1)]], dumpsters, low-built sheds and piles of debris. At one point he got up behind [[Gnarl]] and managed to lop his ear clean off before the dog got away with his tail down there between his knees.
He wondered how Mikey had gotten out of the Citadel.
[[NEXT->After-Lunch Break: 12:45 p.m. (2)]]Sometime around 1:00 p.m., Charlie saw Mikey stop and look up at him, up on the roof there with his binoculars, watching. Charlie chanced a wave which was not returned. A boy who had tried to escape by climbing the fence around Mission Headquarters hung suspended from the barbed wire by the back of his shirt, arms held up at his sides.
Running strangely close to the cracked edge of the riverbank, the dogs moved in beelines through the wreckage.
[[CONTINUE->Community Service: 1:30 p.m.(1)]]
[[BACK->After-Lunch Break: 12:45 p.m. (1)]]''Community Service: 1:30 p.m.''
On the bus out of Melbourne, they chanted six pages of the Diamond Sutra while the mission supervisors passed out water and granola bars. Then they were told that today they'd be standing in the central plaza of [[this upcoming town->Dirtbag]], reciting the Good News.
[[NEXT->Community Service: 1:30 p.m.(2)]] Terrence dug for belly button lint in Charlie's aisle seat and read a pamphlet he'd found by the road for a sightseeing tour of the [[enormous sink hole->Chopin]] where Akron used to be. Charlie looked out the window and tried not to get carsick. After a time, Terrence tore the pamphlet up into strips and fashioned them into a long braid, which he tied into his hair so it hung down below his shoulder.
[[NEXT->Community Service: 1:30 p.m.(3)]]
[[BACK->Community Service: 1:30 p.m.(1)]]Charlie was going to tell Terrence about seeing Mikey from the roof, but then he remembered that Terrence didn’t know he watched dogs. He wondered if this would seem like acceptable behaviour to Terrence, or if possibly he could be reported, like Mikey had been. He did not personally consider himself to be mentally or emotionally unwell, but could see how somebody might think that, if they heard that he watched dogs.
The bus driver played field recordings of Iriquois ceremonial music on the speakers, much louder than necessary, and when asked refused to turn them down.
[[BACK->Community Service: 1:30 p.m.(2)]]
[[CONTINUE->Return from Community Service: sometime between 3:00 and 4:30 p.m.]]''Return from Community Service: sometime between 3:00 and 4:30 p.m.''
On the bus home, violence asserted itself. It was two boys, and Charlie, from the middle of the bus, couldn’t hear what they said, but he saw their blurry limbs extend towards each other, drawing their bodies into the fray, screams melting to sobs amid the din of the Gamelan bells, while at the front the driver nodded his head, at a respectful pace, in time.
[[CONTINUE->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (1)]]''Dinner: 5:00 p.m.''
Standing in the square had been long and hot and unpleasant, and all Charlie wanted was a shower, so he requested permission to go to the bathroom, stripped and stood in cold water and the bare light, a sweaty inevitability, scratching dead skin off of his chest and back with the long fingernails on his right hand and the stubby nails on the left, which he bit, frequently in his sleep.
[[NEXT->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (2)]] When he came out, shiny new and covered in red streaks where the nails had gone in too deep, Mikey was standing by the sink, looking at him, holding a [[taser->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m.]].
Charlie shuddered up and down with the cold thrill of release.
“You shouldn’t be skipping meals,” said Mikey.
[[NEXT->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (3)]]
[[BACK->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (1)]] “I don’t want to kill dogs,” said Charlie, wrinkled and dripping from the various tips of him.
“You’ve got the wrong idea,” said Mikey, gesturing with the taser to Charlie's clothes. “Get dressed. We’re going to the Citadel.”
[[NEXT->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (4)]]
[[BACK->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (2)]] “[[I don’t want to kill dogs->Mentally or emotionally unwell]],” Charlie said again-- but now here he was in the trunk ([[End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m.]]), and he still didn’t want to kill dogs (even less so as he thought of [[Gnarl]], [[Chopin]], Nightingale).
But he was beginning to think, in the tight dark space of the trunk which obscured him from any and all prying eyes, about how many boys before him had also had to kill dogs, and although tragic he took comfort in it, the number of boys who’d been here before him in this trunk. He tried to picture himself holding a machete, hacking through vines and branches, but he could not. The car went over a pothole, and he swore wetly through sobs and tongue blood to the Supreme Being, hoping-- beyond hope, beyond hope, beyond hope-- that, in all its omniscience, it could not hear him.
[[BACK->Dinner: 5:00 p.m. (3)]]''End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m.''
The SWAT officers were leading the boys to their armored vans when the drones arrived from the Citadel. They were only surveillance drones, and the officers took idle potshots at them from the roofs of their vans.
Terrence stood [[pissing on the lawn->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (1)]] and made finger guns at them in imitation of the officers. He thought about his father.
[[NEXT->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m. (2)]] ''Dinner: 5:00 p.m.''
Terrence, holding two water glasses up to his eyes as though they were a pair of goggles, watched as the first of the mission supervisors-- who were always allowed to start their meals five minutes ahead of the boys, so as to aid in bussing dishes afterwards-- began to vomit profusely onto the white tablecloths at the head of the dining hall. Holding the glasses airtight around his eyes such that the skin underneath turned darker and darker red, he swiveled his head to look at the crowd of boys, who were staring with a clear sense of dawning premonition at the grotesque tableau of vomiting adult bodies (the vomit spouting up through their mouths and noses as though all were affixed by some unseen pipe), wondering if he should himself appear worried or if, in the chaos of the moment, his calmness would be swallowed up or misread as shock.
[[NEXT->vitamin supplements and nootropics (2)]] This had been Terrence's stroke of genius, implemented via the distribution of a dummy capsule containing a potent dose of capsaicin alongside the boys' normal regimen of white-powder supplements and nootropics.
Certain boys, cluing in faster, stood from their chairs and bolted to claim stalls in the bathrooms, but the legs of these same boys began immediately to give way, and their stomachs to contract with uncontrollable force. Continuing machine-like forward by their elbows, they spewed vomit into their own paths, veered away, spewed more, until they were boxed into enclosures of their own vomit in which they lay, helpless, while the rest (having observed the futility both of staying and fleeing) hovered slightly above their seats, trembling, paralyzed halfway between motion and stillness as the armed SWAT officers burst through the doors and the windows and through the skylight, guns blazing, so that when the boys’ hands went above their heads in surrender their bodies-- fixed in Terrence’s water glasses like bugs in amber-- [[assumed a perfect Utkatasana position->After-Lunch Break: 12:45 p.m. (1)]].
[[BACK->vitamin supplements and nootropics (1)]]
[[CONTINUE->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m.]]Last week, when he had been setting off [[smoke signals to the SWAT team from the roof of Mission Headquarters after hours->DOGS (1)]], he had seen something he could not quite explain. Down under the flickering glow of a lone street light, he saw the silhouettes of two children chasing a third, tasers drawn, shrieking with laughter. They receded from view, but moments later he saw the flash, heard the crackle of static and a shriek of pain, and amidst the din was struck at once by twin notions, first that this could be validly construed as a divine visage of the Transfiguration, and second that the family heirloom taser which was passed to each boy in the family upon his father’s retirement from the force would soon be bestowed upon Terrence, its rightful heir.
[[NEXT->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m. (3)]]
[[BACK->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m.]] He spat on the ground and imagined its heft in his hand as the second wave of drones-- much larger than the first-- poured over the bulk of Headquarters. Shifting nervously in the gaze of the unseen enemy, the SWAT team gaped up into the ghastly visage of the million shining bodies which fell upon them, gears grinding like teeth in heads.
Upon urinating, he collected the last three drops in a small vial, which he stopped up and returned to his pocket.
[[BACK->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m. (2)]]
[[CONTINUE->Sniffing, Sniffing,]]The officers, not so lucky or prepared, remembered. Some dropped to their haunches, hands over eyes. Others removed their helmets and began to polish them, absent-minded, staring into the sky. Some few, whose childhoods had been particularly unsupportive or emasculating, fell to all fours and began eagerly to pant and sniff the air.
[[NEXT->Sniffing, Sniffing, (3)]]
[[BACK->Sniffing, Sniffing,]] The drones hovered overhead at all angles, swooping in for close ups, chattering with the sound of a thousand tiny shutters, while back at the Citadel the central server took them and stitched them together into detailed three-dimensional models, tiny [[panopticons of suffering->BLOOD (1)]].
[[BACK->Sniffing, Sniffing, (2)]]
''Free Time: 5:45 p.m.''
Cross-legged facing him on the cushion, it occurred to Charlie that Mikey was little more than a deep clear pool. His moods, discernable but without scale, granted every grimace or tip of his head such a density of potential meanings as to cloud him all but out of sight.
Mikey caressed Charlie’s temples.
“Tell me what you know.”
“Terrence is planning something. He has not bathed in nearly a week. I doubt he has slept in as long. He smuggles [[chili oil and certain brands of hot sauce->vitamin supplements and nootropics (1)]] out of the kitchen after hours. He keeps an extensive file on patterns of missionary activity under his mattress. I have seen it through the slats of the bed frame, certain mornings when the light is just right.”
The sound of a gong crackled out over the PA system, and they both took to one knee for the six o’clock observation.
[[NEXT->Mentally or emotionally unwell (2)]]In the darkness of the sensory deprivation tank, Charlie’s astral body left his earthly one ([[like a hair being parsed from sand->relaxing]]) and he began to wander the halls of the Masonic Lodge. It bemused him at first, the way eyes stared through him unseeing, but he quickly grew accustomed to the weightlessness, the anesthetized motion of his ethereal form.
The compound, which reached deep underground, seemed to stand empty except for the occasional robed and hooded [[Mason->Assembly (Call to Service): 9:00 a.m. (1)]], who would run past him in a great hurry.
[[NEXT->astral body (2)]]You feel hung over, which is strange. Since the abrupt departure of the Thompson twins nearly a year ago (one dishonorably discharged, the other promoted to drone work at the Citadel), the serruptitious manufacture of toilet wine in the defunct third-floor lavatory has been nothing more than the stuff of rumors.
You suppose this is a natural withdrawl effect of the previous night's experimentation. You grip one of the capsulse in your pocket between thumb and forefinger, contemplating a larger dose today to counteract your growing tolerance.
The capsules, according to Terrence, will continue to be smuggled into your meals in place of [[your normal Vitamin D supplement->Breakfast (Attendance is Mandatory!): 7:15 a.m. (1)]] until next week, when a new subscription fee is due.
You decide upon the double dose.
This seems to you a sensible decision. Potency of the drug has reduced to about 50% over the course of its usage (about two weeks), meaning a double dose will presumably restore to you the experience of its full effects ("euphoria, increased concentration, increased appreciation for colors and shapes, hot flashes, mood swings, sense of oceanic oneness with surroundings").
You empty the caps one at a time into the hollow between your right wrist and the base of its thumb, which, jutting rigid away from the rest of your hand, appears smug in the knowledge that thumb and thumb alone is what stands between [[men and dogs->After-Lunch Break: 12:45 p.m. (1)]].
You snort it all at once. The burning makes your eyes water, so as you walk out the door into the dormitory you pass it off as though you have been crying.
[[BACK->BLOOD (2)]]Your only witness is Charlie, lounging against your mutual bunk bed with his pajama pants still on, in accordance with Mission Headquarters's Saturday-before-noon dress code leniencies.
He eyes you with concern but after a few seconds deems it best not to ask.
You are about to ask him a question to the effect of whether any letters have arrived for you (none have), but before you know it you are [[falling out the back of your skull->astral body (1)]], careening away from consciousness.
"Holy shit," you hear Charlie say in the distance, and only then become aware that your knees have buckled and you have fallen to them, body swaying wildly.
[[BACK->BLOOD (3)]]Charlie was struck by the notion that movement, without his body, was no longer intruded upon by its subtle rhythms and as such lost all fluidity. Rather than proceeding in a forward or backward direction, he was now simply privy to a procession of minutely distinct images which could do no more than suggest direction by their ordering.
Borderless, Charlie discovered space taking on an entirely new and alien form.
[[NEXT->astral body (3)]]
[[BACK->astral body (1)]]Time soon follwed suit, and Charlie, overtaken by the delirium of his own absence, began to parse out the traces of other such absences in the hallways of the citadel as he wandered; negative trails where travelers preceding him had left [[gouges->Service: 10:30 a.m. (Please Wear Clean Pants and Shirt in the Chapel-- Look Your Best!)]] in the thin gloss of reality language stretched over the sensory.
& so it was language collapsed last of all, the blare of the Citadel's PA system imploding into a tarry sludge of morphemes. Unable to meet the flow of words with any gesture of his own, he found now only horror in its endless vicissitudes. He sought solace in the glow of Exit signs, but each led only to deeper and deeper hallways.
It dawned on him only slowly that escape from this (from here) might be impossible.
[[BACK->astral body (2)]]
[[CONTINUE->outer citadel (1)]]
Outside the Lodge, Charlie's astral body wandered the ornate gardens between the Citadel's inner and outer walls. Here great domed greenhouses bubbled up out of the grass, great irridescent expanses, empty of all but spectrums of light.
Dogs he did not recognize, dogs with collars, barked at him as he passed by them, eyes churning with violence.
In the distance, he sensed the slow drift of another astral body, much like his own. [[dejected->you (1)]].
[[NEXT->outer citadel (2)]]Observing the sky, he sensed that the Citadel was protected by more than just walls.
"There was a [[hostility in my body->Lunch (No Matter How Nauseated You Are, it is Unacceptable to Skip Meals!): 12:00 p.m.]] that is not there now," he said to himself.
With this in mind, he found himself able to enjoy to some extent the smell of the hyacinths, the gentle waver of the breeze. He visualized his awareness as a great white ball in the back of his mind, and traced it between the various constituents of his sensory experience.
At certain points in time, but not at others, a siren rent the air.
[[NEXT->outer citadel (3)]]
[[BACK->outer citadel (1)]]It was only then he began to notice men in camoflauge hiding amongst the tall hibiscus stalks, crouched down behind hedgerows.
A rotating turret on the inner wall rotated towards the gate, reflecting the sun for a second to where Charlie's body would have been.
Charlie felt, not fear, not betrayal, [[nothing->Gnarl]].
[[NEXT->outer citadel (4)]]
[[BACK->outer citadel (2)]]''Chores: 6:30 p.m.''
Tragically, reinforcements arrived at the same time as the boys in the SWAT vans initiated their daring escape effort. Having exploited the [[deteriorating psyches->outer citadel (1)]] of their guards, the boys had successfully subdued them and taken their weapons. Armed boys, circling around by cover of the setting sun to the fronts of the vans, commandeered them at gunpoint from the drivers and ushered them into the backs of the vans with the others.
Terrence, meanwhile, directed the strike team over the back fence and up to the roof of Headquarters, where they took their positions, eyes to the scopes of their rifles.
[[NEXT->Transcendence (2)]]The drones, their pilots having spotted the assembling strike team, fell on them in a cloud, the flashing lights on their tiny hulls illuminating the armored bodies on the roof.
The boys, looking up at the drones and seeing the steady barrels of rifles pointing at them, panicked and scrambled to the vans, the fastest of them making it to the drivers' seats and throttling forward as many as several feet before succumbing to a flurry of shots aimed at the vans' tires.
[[BACK->Transcendence (1)]]It was at this moment that Terrence, watching the [[fray->Return from Community Service: sometime between 3:00 and 4:30 p.m.]] from the roof, received word of the [[coup->Tunnel (1)]] over his walkie-talkie.
(and what of the Governor's steadily amassing army in Cleaveland, his sworn oath to unite Ohio once more under the great flag of
[[BACK->Transcendence (2)]]He was first blindfolded. Two Masons then took him by each arm and led him down one of the lodge's lush red carpets to a holding cell.
There was nothing more in the windowless cell than a cot and a bucket.
Charlie tried sitting on the cot for a time, finding it no less comfortable than his own bunk back at Headquarters.
Soon he grew tired of sitting, and lay down for a time. Then he tried standing. He did these things, in exact sequence, for some hours.
[[NEXT->Mentally or emotionally unwell (3)]]
[[BACK->Mentally or emotionally unwell]]Sometimes, an announcement would come to him over the PA system. Many seemed to be about Mission Headquarters, but few appeared to make sense.
"CAPSAICIN POISONING RAMPANT AT MHQ," one said. "MEDICAL EVAC UNDERWAY."
Charlie squeezed a pimple which had appeared in the last hour behind his left ear.
"REPORTS INDICATE THE COVERT EXECUTION OF CERTAIN TACTICAL OPERATIONS WITHIN MHQ. IT IS ENCOURAGED TO REMAIN CALM. ALL NOT CURRENTLY ON DUTY ARE ENCOURAGED TO TAKE 20-25 MINUTES GUIDED MEDITATION IN THE LOBBY. SESSION BEGINS IN 5 MINUTES."
[[NEXT->Mentally or emotionally unwell (4)]]
[[BACK->Mentally or emotionally unwell (2)]]After five minutes, a key clicked, the door opened a crack, and a small meditation cushion was shoved through into the cell by an unseen hand. He experimented with its potential for increased comfort, but found that it, like his cot, was filled with straw.
He unzipped the cover, removed a stalk, chewed on it, thought of [[Terrence->End-of-Meal Chanting: 5:30 p.m.]].
After an hour, another key clicked in the lock. The door swung open.
An urgent hand beckoned him through. When he hesitantly obeyed, they tied his hands behind his back and blindfolded him.
[[BACK->Mentally or emotionally unwell (3)]]
[[CONTINUE->Tunnel (1)]]You then notice-- although not through your own eyes-- a trail of blood, suspended in midair, zig-zagging through empty space from where your left nostril must then have been to where it is now, glimmering from all angles in the room's fluorescent lights.
You consider the films you have seen about astronauts, how globules of water drift about and are collected against the walls and the ceiling.
Charlie, transfixed, forgets you and reaches out to touch the crimson protrusion-- which appears, for a moment, to be beckoning him.
[[BACK->BLOOD (4)]]The chore you are assigned, this evening, is to scrub every polished surface in Mission Headquarters until it gleams.
You are content with the task, in part because your compatriate, a relentlessly cheerful Mikey, brings a certain levity to the task, and partly because you yourself, shortly after dinner, saw fit to dose yourself with a fairly small quantity of psychedelics you puchased a few weeks ago from Terrence.
"The point is to disrupt your day-to-day routine," he had explained. "To show yourself new ways of experiencing the mundane."
You scrub a bronze vase, watch the bubbles bulge and pop, the soap scab over.
[[CONTINUE->DOGS (1)]]Lying on your bunk after the chores have been completed, you find yourself overcome by a wild mess of comedown anxiety. Recognizing the encroaching threshold of an attack, you roll out of your bunk and make for the roof.
You are not entirely surprised-- in fact, you feel a tingle of self-satisfaction-- to find [[Charlie, cross-legged->Free Time (Stretch, Shower, Get Ready for the Day): 8:00 a.m. (1)]], sitting at the edge of the South wall, looking out over the dimming countryside. You walk over and sit as quietly as you can beside him. He is startled, turning his head abruptly and opening his mouth to speak, but upon recognizing you says nothing instead, turns back to the dogs.
For the dogs, you know immediately, are why he is here. You can hear them spitting their elegies even from this distance. Their forms, faint in the twilight, ebb in and out of perception.
Sitting next to Charlie in uneasy silence, you sense a quiet ritual being enacted, something being passed from you to them, a torch to guide their fur-strewn bodies through the night.
Unease departs, and after a time it is as though each of you has forgotten that the other is there.
When he stands to go, you stand too.
As you approach the hatch leading back into the building, a bundle of wood intended for the common room fireplace emerges through it, followed by Terrence.
He eyes you both for a second, and then, deciding he understands, smiles knowlingly.
"I won't tell anyone if you don't."
[[CONTINUE->BLOOD (1)]] The blindfold was removed and the ball gag inserted at the same time, such that instead of any sense of added injustice Charlie simply continued on in his stasis of self-pity.
He was standing in what could only have been a Metro stop, with several other boys-- one of whom he recognized as [[Eric Thompson->BLOOD (1)]] from Mission Headquarters, the others presumably from the northern missions-- all bound like him and lined up behind the yellow line, waiting for the subway train. They were supervised only by a few unarmed Masons, and, of course, Mikey.
"The Citadel has declared a state of emergency and the junta is threatening to open the gates for the Cincinnatti PD unless we comply with their demands," Mikey explained in a hushed voice to one of the masons behind them. "The hostages must be evacuated."
[[NEXT->Tunnel (2)]]Charlie would have to have been an idiot not to realize what that meant (killing dogs), so he was running before he even had time to think about it, past the startled Masons, through the unattended turnstiles and into a cramped basement passage which wound, upwards and inwards, towards darkness.
Breathing in his present state was nearly impossible, but fear carried him nonetheless further from Mikey's encroaching footsteps and along to a glowing green Exit sign.
Emerging in an empty but well-lit hallway of the lodge, he ran to the nearest open door and kicked it shut behind him.
[[BACK->Tunnel (1)]]The room was empty, save for the gaping maw of the deprivation tank.
With little more than a feeling of [[déjà vu->HELL (1)]] which grew as he moved into a sort of hollow, mindless <i>sinking-towards</i> the present, he climbed into the pod.
[[CONTINUE->astral body (1)]]It is mid-evening. You are standing on a raft, borne by the sawed-off bottoms of a hundred plastic bottles, watching the receding spire of the Citadel.
On the raft with you are the raftsman, who whistles a dirge as he paddles through the algae, and a [[small fox terrier with a bell around its neck->Dirtbag]], who the raft driver pulled to the shore to let on with you about a half hour ago, just outside of Melbourne.
The landscape seems to shift and sigh in the cool breeze coming from the West, and your mind begins idly to wander.
[[NEXT->you (2)]]You dart, you flit about, in and out of my consciousness, hanging for a second at the edges and then, like a flashbang, gone.
[[BACK->you (1)]]I have given you names over the years, many names, but you squirm out from under them, leaving them to fall, empty and deadened, limp on my tongue.
[[BACK->you (2)]]On some mornings I awake certain of you. Are the rest somehow incorrect? Have I done you some disservice, in that way?
[[BACK->you (3)]]Not without some consternation have I embarked, knapsack balanced over a bony shoulder-- in search of what. I only half remember.
[[BACK->you (4)]]This is an attempt to locate you.
[[BACK->you (5)]]... and days beget days and hours beget hours...
[[CONTINUE->end]]such that when Charlie returned to his body in the sensory deprivation chamber he found in its place the body of a dog, front legs contorted behind its head, back legs splayed, revealing between them a smooth, genitalless expanse.
ENDCharlie realized, watching them, that without his body, even his consciousness was beginning to dissolve.
This came calmly, with no fear for his life nor any graceful light of epiphany,
[[BACK->outer citadel (3)]]
[[CONTINUE->end]]You awaken in Headquarters' medical unit, faced down by a nurse (masked), a mission supervisor (scowling), and Charlie (dead-eyed).
It is by virtue of either this, or the fact of the gown you have been changed into, that you are certain beyond any doubt that your years of service with the Unitarian Mission have come to their sorry (if inevitable) conclusion.
[[CONTINUE->you (1)]]I lay down and I think I am relaxing. I mean, I must be relaxing.
My body is resting in a corpse pose. I watch my thoughts come and go, and start floating around touching the edges. It makes me feel safe, somehow.
I focus on my body again, and somehow I realize I am not really relaxed-- most of my muscles are still mildly contracted. It feels alien to be so ware of my muscles. My shoulder girdle and my rhomboids. Losing control by focusing on [[your body->you (1)]].