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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

"Can I suck you off?" she said to me, very professionally.

Serialization Sunday – The Flick: Chapter 32

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first novel, the taut thriller City of Human Remainscan be found in full here

Our second novel, Hoodoo, tells a story of visionaries, heretics and lunatics in Utah, centered on a 12-year-old girl who believes that God wants her to have an affair with her guidance counselor, can be found in full here.

Our current novel, The Flick, is the correspondence between a legendary porn star of the 90′s and the girl who got away – and kept going.  Read previous chapters here.

Letter XXXII

February 10, 1991

Dear Phoenix,

I waited for an answer.  Day after day.  The last day came.  The box, empty.  The end.  So the need for secrecy is gone.  Swan, as you may know by now, is Alice Haviland, born Alice Swanson.  I still call her Swan.  The name stuck.

The last day, when I knew for certain you weren’t going to answer me, when I knew there would be no word, no nothing from you, Swan and me went walking through Central Park.

We passed an old couple huddled on the porch together, wrapped in a blanket.  They both had tumors on their necks.  The man hugged the woman tightly, and said to her, “Look, there it goes again.”

“Such beautiful colors,” she said.

“Just like clockwork.”

“There it goes again.”

Swan leaned over.  “What do you see?” she asked.

“The wonders of science.”  They didn’t seem to care who they were talking to.

“It is happening again.”  The old woman seemed happy.

“Now there is a couple that works for what they have,” said Swan.

“Doesn’t look like work to me.”

“Just like clockwork.”

“The colors.”

Swan said, “You think it is easy to share the same hallucination?  Or maybe she is the only one hallucinating and he’s playing her along so she won’t feel alone.  Or maybe there is nothing going on, and neither one of them remembers how the stuff about the colors started but they keep at it, each one, for the other’s sake.”

“You’re upset.”

“I get scared sometimes when I think of all the bad things that happen from love.  I thought it was fun for awhile to be Phoenix in your life, but I don’t want a repeat of what happened between you two.  It pissed me off that she would write to you the way she did.  Drop everything and come back.  All is forgiven, maybe.  She thinks you belong to her, Die.  Love takes effort.  You have to burn calories to keep it going.”

I thought about the empty mail box.  The slot unpenetrated.

“You’re right. Phoenix and I are totally burnt out.”

“The way you’ve been finished so many times before?”

“Finisheder.  Burnt to a crisp.  Carbonized.  Ashes.”

“So I shouldn’t worry just because her name is Phoenix?”

I laughed.  Nervously.

“Die, in the past I’ve tried to coast with my men.  You know what it is like.  You think there’s enough energy from what people call chemistry, and it lets you coast for awhile.  But then you crash into something and you get totaled and it surprises you things could get so bad and you can’t figure out why you crashed, or what went wrong.  All you know is you got a mess, and pain.”

“That’s what happened to Phoenix and I.  The chemistry kept churning.  We kept coasting.  We kept crashing.”

“There are times when I feel I am following the track of her fingertips down your spine.  I can almost taste her kisses in your mouth.  It doesn’t make me jealous.  I find it exciting in its own way.”

“I don’t understand this thing between you and Phoenix.  Do you think it turns me on?  It doesn’t.  I just think it’s weird.”

“I like the way that woman devastates men.  Leaves them staring bug-eyed and wondering.  You know, I got where I am by copying success.  I steal any successful strategy I can find.”

“The wonders of science…” said the old woman.

Swan continued, “I used to be a loser, a complete loser, before I became a copycat.  I would rather be a winner than me.  I don’t let a silly thing like ego get in my way.  I don’t mind being Phoenix.  I have many other people inside me, too.”

“Just so long as I’m the only male.”

You can’t argue with Swan once she gets fixed on an idea.  She sticks to it, and lets it mutate beyond comprehension.  The words just flow.  They sound authoritative, the way she says them.  It was obvious from her tone of voice and lack of cigarettes, she wasn’t trying to be you, just then.  She was drawing from some other soul in her repertoire of winners.  And it worked on me.  For some reason, I like her best when I can’t figure her out.

I said, “Are you willing to take me as just me?”

“Such beautiful colors,” said the old man.

Swan said, “I don’t want us to end up like you and Phoenix.  This time I want to do the work, burn the calories, keep it together.  Why the hell else do you think I am going to make a fuck movie for you?  Why else would I trash every possible future I might have except the one with you?”

Across the street, the traffic light changed from red to green.

“All those pretty colors.”

We were free to cross, and it was time to get out of there.

“Just like clockwork.”

“The wonders of science.”

February 21, 1991

We drove to Miami.  Swan’s Rubicon.  The Bram Stroker Award Ceremony takes place on a cruise ship chartered by a coalition of the larger studios.  The ship was running behind.  Swan and I were running behinder.  I might be entitled to certain prerogatives.  Having been nominated in three categories: best director, best actor, and best screenplay.  But they wouldn’t hold up the ship for me.

We made it.  It cost me five speeding tickets in three different states.  The damn radar detector wasn’t much help.  It gave me a two minute warning every time I was caught.  I put too much faith in the product because I liked the name.  Fuzz Nailer.

At the port, we parked the car in a garage built for the Minotaur.  The distance to the docks and the shortness in the time would have challenged even the marathoners who flunked their piss tests at the Olympics.  Still the decision was made (not by me) to abandon no luggage.  We ran–raced– under handicap, weighted down by immense trolleys of connected suitcases.  Chariots of fashion.  By the time we reached the gangplank, our clothes were soaked with sweat.  Our faces were flushed with exhaustion.  We looked like we had rolled to our destination while fucking.

An explosion of flashbulbs greeted us.  My vision cleared.  I saw the crowd gawking.  Unusual for this crowd.  The presence of cameras worked a transformation on Swan.  The ruddiness vanished from her cheeks.  Except for a modest blush.  Her heart was that much under control.

She crossed the gangplank.  And it was all over.  No turning back.  For either us.  Even if it turned out to be a totally bonehead idea.  Swan put on her best modeling sashay.  She was hot.  Every well heeled step ignited the bridge behind her.

The stars had come.  Old timers like Bull Prod, Slow Poke and August Scepter; young punks like Art Taboo and Lucky Stiff.  Fledgling chicks, like Pavlova Drool, Rose Hips, Innocence End, and Tuft Stuft.  They were coming on the promenade.  And promenading on the come.  Companions clogged the companionways.  Priapos Matador paraded around in animal skins, teeth and claws, and a loin cloth stitched together from severed bull’s ears.  Vynal (her full name) had on a bikini made of candy.  Or at least what was left of it.  Starting to melt and run down her abdomen in thick purple syrupy streams.  Her nipples poked out of bite shaped crescents.

Redtail Swallow’s costume dazzled.  A chain mail mesh made of zircons and peek holes.

The crowd got over the shock of finding royalty slumming in their midst.  There was a mad rush to embrace Swan.  A lot of kisses flew in her direction.  Like a hail of suction-cup arrows.  Crude hugs followed.  Unwelcomed hip thrusts.  Butt bumps.  Her face was quickly smeared with a rainbow assortment of lip prints.  A wedding reception gauntlet formed to kiss her crotch.  She had the bushwhacked smile of disappointment.  The queen of the flying trapeze being welcomed to the society of side show freaks.  Goomba-gamba, Goomba-gamba, we will make her one of us.

Swan seemed determined to maintain her composure.  What a champion.  But it was like she had stumbled into a society ball (an apt description of this group) only to find a turd floating in the punchbowl.  What to do now?  Complain to the hostess?  Ignore it?  Leave the chore of telling to someone else?  Or say:  Ah what a lovely turd! And take a drink.  Swan manufactured one of her finest accessory smiles, smile number 476.  The turd in the punchbowl smile.

“Back off,” I yelled.  I started shoving people aside to clear a path.  Hurt expressions greeted me, as if I had betrayed my own kind.

Sea gulls wheeled over our heads.  Dropped little surprises into the crowd.

Swan was looking at me in a different light.  Frightened of the world she was now part of.

I said, “When I was a kid, me and Jay Fortunata used to take a fishing pole and catch gulls with it.  We’d put a bit of fish on the end of a hook, then toss it into the sky.  The gulls would scream, and we would fly them like kites.”

“I hated boys who did that.  I used to have a blouse with gulls on it.  They were my friends.  They covered my breasts.”  She stared at the sea gulls following us out to sea.

Eerie Canal joined us on deck.  She looked Swan up and down.  Then, like she had a sudden flash of psychic insight, Eerie offered, “The lady needs a drink.”

We pushed through the crowd, trying to locate the bar.  The Florida air smelled like fruit: sweet and bitter oranges, lemons, and pomegranates.  Maybe it was all the cheap perfume and suntan oil.

Not far from the casino, we found a fortune telling scale decorated in a tarot card motif.  It raised questions about dreams.  On the Star card in gaudy letters: “What is your Weight?  What is your Fortune?  No Springs.”

I stood on it.  Turned the knob.  Looked for the right question.  They didn’t have “I still dream of sky colored kisses I will never taste again.”  They didn’t have “I dream of lost love.”  So I settled for the closest thing I could find, then I deposited a quarter.

The answer was “good for farmers, bad for city dwellers.”

I dreamed of manure.

I had another quarter so I let Swan spin the knob this time.  She picked “I dreamed of a mad dog and got a proposal.”  This time the quarter stuck.

Eventually, we reached a place below decks called “de Basement Bar.”  We took our seats before someone else grabbed them.

“I will return with drinks,” said Eerie.

Off in one dark corner, a pin-ball machine was being pressed and poked.  Even though it was out of order.  Major Exploration, Slit Vicious, and Grace Underfire were doing a threesome on top of embossed reproductions of 1950’s romance comic books.  Flesh tones done in pink dots.  A Woman who wore horn rimmed glasses, a tear trickling down her cheek.  Smiling studs in swim trunks.  Thought balloons bursting with words about lost love and blown opportunity.  The eternal regret of being stuck with the wrong partner.  Betrayals of friendship.  Swaps.  The same old stories.  Part of the glass topping had broken off, making it possible to insert a rod that would block the silver balls from going into the hole.  Major worked the rod like an extra flipper.  Slit jumped up and down as she scored.  The numbers just kept rolling.

“Are you sorry you did this?” I asked Swan.

“Why should I be?  There is no undoing it.”  She had the hard look of a woman determined not to cry.  I began to worry.  Only recently, and for big bucks, had she picked up her veneer of self-control.  How long before it melted like make-up under the lights?

Once we got out past the three mile limit, the genitals came out on display.

Swan drifted off into a private reverie.  Radiating depression.  I made some feeble attempts to engage her in conversation.  I got nowhere.  I got smile number 476.

More attempts at conversation.  I hit a dead channel.

I decided to let it all hang out.

Swan kept her dress on, the only dress in the room.  Like modesty made any difference to The Press.  Where ever she goes, camera shutters quiver.

After awhile Eerie Canal reappeared with three Screwdrivers.

“I’m allergic to oranges,” said Swan.

“I will get a replacement,” I said.

“Screwdrivers are what’s being passed out.”

So I wandered over to the bar on my own.  When confronted with situations awful, seek anesthesia.  Over the bar, ceiling fans turned languidly.  Loose scraps of paper blew around, phone numbers written on half of them.  A woman smiled at me.  Another stranger.  She had a deep all over tan.  Hair bleached as old bones.  Her pubic hair looked sun fried and brittle.  She sipped a perspiring drink.  Made hushed comments to a guy wearing a cobra hood ornament over his erection.  Everyone had a gimmick.

A lithe brunette named Slipperi Slope was wearing nothing but a pair of glittering ruby high heels.  The shoes looked like she plucked them off a dead hooker a house landed on.  Her precisely shaped lips were smeared with a red pigment pounded from a sea clam.

“Buy me a drink,” she said to me.

“You start out on the left foot.”

“They’re free,” she said.  She flagged down one of the bartenders.  It wasn’t like she was ordering a drink, it was more like she was doing him a favor.

“Can I suck you off?” she said to me, very professionally.

“They’re both left feet.”

“The mouth says no.  But something else is saying yes.”

She started to bend down as I was rising up.

“No.” I said.

“There’s a couple of films being shot right now.  I thought you would want to be in them.  One is a documentary about the awards ceremony.  The other is a horror film based on something by Edgar Allen Poe.  We’re calling it Masque of the Dread Breath.  It’s like, an AIDS commentary, or something.”  Wolfgang Bang was hanging out not far from where we stood.  A camera cranking in his hand.  A whole fucking film crew behind him.

“Aw, for shit’s sake…” I said.

“I think it would really boost my career if I could suck your cock.”

I turned to the bartender.  “Two vodka martinis, please.”

“We’re only serving Screwdrivers.”

“What the fuck kind of bar is this?”


“All right.  A Screwdriver.”

Slipperi started going down on me while I was waiting for the drink.  She caught me off guard, while I wasn’t looking.  I immediately dumped my drink in a long stripe that ran from her ass to the top of her head.  She looked up laughing, licking her lips.  Screwdriver dribbled out of her dark hair and rained in orange drops on her surgically perfect breasts.

I looked around for Swan.  She had gone, and I hoped she hadn’t gone in a huff.  I headed for the stateroom, ready to explain.

As the sun went down, the sky turned a somber purple.  The breeze turned cold.  Out in the passageway, I jangled my keys, in the moonlight.  Chose the one that glinted blue.  Shoved it into the lock.  I twisted.  The key jammed.  Out of a habit I could never break, I had reached for the key to the apartment you and I used to share in Hightstown.

I worked the old key loose.  Pitched it like a sacrifice into a golden ashtray screwed on the wall.  It clunked around in the kissed butts and dying embers.  Made noises like a heart ripped out and slowly coming to the end of its beating.

I found Swan inside, doing Tai-chi exercises in the nude.  She moved stiffer than usual.  Seemed distracted.  She kept staring through the porthole, out to sea.  I wondered if she was thinking about taking a swim.  More method acting?  Just what I needed.  Swan playing Phoenix trying to kill herself again.  A cigarette dangled from her lips, dancing in the grip of the antigravity phenomena that controls her breasts.  I watched the smoke rise to about six inches from the ceiling, where it made a 90 degree turn and eased toward me.

I tried another feeble attempt at conversation.  I couldn’t tell whether or not she had seen me and Slipperi.  Then I finally decided she hadn’t.  I hope that footage is never used.  Or that Swan never sees any of the six or seven films it could end up in.

Having flunked conversation, we tried shaking the sheets.  We flunked that too.  I wondered if they were still serving free drinks in de Basement Bar.  And if they weren’t, whether I could lick my last one off Slipperi Slope.

But I didn’t go anywhere until the time for the ceremony had rolled around.  I pulled out my costume, a fifteen hundred dollar tux.  With the crotch cut away.  I put it on for the third time in my life.  Felt like an asshole.  Thoroughly depressed.  I wasn’t sure whether it would be worse to win, or to fail to win, any of the 3 Bram Strokers I was up for.

“I’m not going,” said Swan.

“Why not?”

“Nothing to wear.”

“Wear nothing.”

She got up, went over to the sink and turned the water on.  Then, with slow, deliberate, 1st year intern like movements, began washing her hands.  She ran the tip of long, straight, fingers back and forth.  She rinsed, wiped the water off with a paper towel.  Changed her mind.  Turned the water back on and washed again.

“Cut it out, they’re clean.”

She left the water running.  “I once turned down a cool million to do nudes for one of the high quality glossies.  I’m not about to give it away to the rag sleazies.”

“I need to go.”

“Go alone.”

I left her.  Outside the stateroom, a parade of lovers beckoned for me to follow them.  They chased a distant light.  You could tell they were lovers because the men all had their dicks up the women’s asses.  Somehow they had learned to walk while butt-fucking.  Mastering a kind of coordination usually reserved for Siamese twins.  They trundled down the corridor like a stampede of crabs.  I felt an ache.  Like a thumbprint of pain in the middle of my chest.  It was an old feeling.  Left over from a different time.

On the third deck, a series of twisted, interconnecting suites led to the grand Ballroom, where the ceremony was about to begin.

The first suite was blue with blue windows.

The second, purple.

A show was in progress.  You couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t.  Pisa Behind, Sunset Stripp and Decent Maelstrom pitched the usual lines to the boys from the skin mags.  They put on this jive: “I love cock… I have to have at least ten orgasms a day… My problem is I love to swallow sperm but I’m on a diet…”  But the truth of the matter is, when these three hit the set, they’re all so dry and clamped down, I always wonder if I’m knocking on the right hole.

By the time I hit the third chamber, the green chamber, I had the sense that something was not right.

The next chamber was bright, very bright.  The hue was garish enough to give Swan hives.  The passages, with their progressions of colors, seemed very familiar to me.  Like something I’d seen in a dream.  A sense of Deja Vu tingled up my spine.  I knew this place.  I had been here many times before.  I couldn’t figure out when.

The fifth chamber was white.

Fountana Velour had greased up with some venomous smelling suntan oil.  She had draped herself in spider web netting.  It would leave one hell of a tan mark for her next movie.  Vlad “The Impaler” Dracula had a make-up man cover him with artificial wounds.  Nasty looking.  But edible.  He is also known as the bat-man for reasons having nothing to do with flying nocturnal mammals.  Faithful Not was contemplating a dildo the size of a bathysphere.  The babe known only as Medusa wore nothing but her trademark ass-length mane.  A snake-pit of braids.  Each braid dyed a different day-glow color.

The sixth chamber was violet.  Here, I ran into Eerie Canal.  She had spent a fortune on her costume.  A diaphanous, ruffled affair.  Hung with jeweled totems and icons.  She had been nominated for the best actress award for her performance in a film called Asstral Projection.

“You’re dressed like a winner,” I said.  Gave her the up thumb.

“I don’t expect to win,” she said, her voice a little cracked.  And that’s when I saw the change that had come over her in the last hour.  Like putting on the dress had broken something inside her.  The whites of her eyes were pink as a centerfold spread.

“What happened to the usual positive attitude?”

She started to weep.  “I am positive.”

I put my arms around her.  Gave her the warmest hug I could manage.  It was meant to tell her that she is not a pariah.  That she is still loved.  These hugs have become a ritual following news of infection.  The porno equivalent of the mafia kiss.

“Don’t worry about me, Die.  It is still in the dormant phase.  The median dormant phase is 15 years for normal people.  I figure, what with my mind control and perfect fitness, I am strong enough to keep it dormant forever.  This isn’t a death sentence for me.  No way.  I wouldn’t even have gotten infected if not for the new force in my life, this enemy from beyond, this ghost you asked me to fight for you.”

“Eerie, sweetheart, you have had more lovers than anyone I’ve ever known, and I have known many people with many lovers.  And you got this attitude, like nothing can hurt you but green kryptonite.  It is just plain silly to blame my dead ex-friend.”

“You should have warned me about the kind of person he was.”

“You don’t know anything about what kind of person he was.”

“But I do.  Now.  I was supposed to have won the award tonight, but I have been ambushed on the psychic plane.  I made the mistake of ignoring messages from beyond.  Messages came and I ignored them.  But I learned my lesson.  I used to think I could make things happen any way I wanted to, just through the power of belief.  But that was wrong.  I am not ignoring the messages anymore.  There is no bright line between what is real and what is not real… The two are always blurring.  They define each other.  If you put too much faith in your senses, you get weighted down by them.  But if you think you can overcome everything just through the power of belief, you fall into the hole of your self.”

She broke off at that moment.  Blackness all around us.  Deep onyx.  We had crossed into the grand Ballroom.  Its windows were trimmed with blood red.  There was no light coming from any lamp or candle.

“I give you a warning.  For free.  You are turning your life into a pornography.  A copy to take the place of the thing itself.  A lot of pictures strung out in time.  It never grows old.  But it is not alive.  Stiff.  You trade away the thing itself.”

Lightning flashed through the blood red windows.  The seas turned rough.

The boat began to pitch.  Gravity threw naked streams of people between me and Eerie.

In this suite a heavy tripod held a brazier of fire.  Light streamed upon the blood tinted panes and their dark hangings.  The effect was weird.  Disconcerting.  The crowd halted for a moment at the perimeters.  Afraid to enter.  I knew where I had seen the chambers before.  The gigantic black clock up on the podium jogged my memory.

The black room and the black clock and the blood red windows.  The great symbol of a mind trying to shut out the world and play with itself.  The sealed castle lifted from Masque of the Red Death.  I guess, for Wolfgang Bang’s movie.

The ceremony started.

The rocking of the boat produced a weird pendulum effect on all the silicon in the room.  By the time the tenth person puked, they stopped bothering with clean up.

Standing under the black clock, Treble Cleft kicked off the evening with a rousing speech.  Not quite as rousing as her usual three guys at a time routine.  Addressing herself to the first amendment, she made it sound like we all had a civic duty to fuck each other on videotape.  She followed with a very earnest pledge of allegiance.  Mario Kundalini jerked off instead, saying, “I pledge allegiance to the cock of Mario here in America, and for all the slick patooties for which it stands… etc, etc, etc.

Rosemary Potatoes (ugh!) won best actress in a reactionary move by the Academy.  I can’t tell if the judges were motivated by the way she promotes mental deficit as a form of reverse snobbery, or by sheer mammary poundage.

Rosemary started to get nauseous while accepting the award. Reached for a vase full of orchids that decorated the podium.  She dumped the flowers.  Positioned the vase for use as an emesis basin.  Then Rosemary heaved-to.  The vase immediately filled. Overflowed.  A confetti volcano eruption.  Barf rolled out over Rosemary’s clutching fingers.  This continued for a while.  Maybe she is pregnant again.  Despite her boast that she never learned how to multiply.  She left the stage with puke flecked on her here to there eyelashes.

Rosemary’s acceptance speech was made less embarrassing by the fact that a great portion of the audience was likewise doing the Technicolor yawn.  The stuff turned into a liquid carpet.  It sloshed back and forth as the boat rocked.  It smelled just fine.

Floyd Pink aced me out for best actor.  The women hate him because he’s a slammer. The men like him.  For that reason.

Cheetah Heart got best director.

At least I got best screenplay for Mildred Pierced.  Personally I thought Period Piece was more interesting.  And funnier.  Everyone knew it was too gross to win.

I gave an acceptance speech that owed a lot to your recent letters.  I got up and faced the puking crowd.  “Did you know what makes us outlaws instead of artists?  It is

our lack of ideas.  Now, for most of this crowd, your idea of an idea is an act that leads to conception.  It doesn’t matter whether your films look like it’s something your neighbor did with his wife when they should have been filming the kid’s birthday party, or whether it looks like an advertisement for a high cost call girl done by people who normally do MTV slots or sell perfume, champagne, cars and cigarettes.  The same standards apply.  You can go to jail because you have caught someone’s attention and failed to give a massage.  You have been altering the angle of the wrong anatomical part.  You should have been bending his ear.

“I’m not suggesting that you stop the action every now and then and have someone stand up and make a speech.  No one listens to speeches anymore.”

Applause from those who were listening.  Not many.

I continued, “It worked for Melville, but that was back in the days before the pulp magazines set a new standard for the public by promising all action and no philosophy.  For those who do not know who Melville was, he wrote a famous big dick book.”

Someone pitched a beer bottle at an ongoing video display.  A shower of glass and moondust, which had been a great pair of boobs a moment before, fell into the puke.

I continued, “I can’t recall ever saying something important while I was making a porno film.  If something of some significance ever came to mind, I wouldn’t say it because I knew no one would be listening.  I’ve always just told a story the only way I know how.  I do it for money and I try to figure out what will sell.  Maybe they’re right– all those lawmakers who say there is no marketplace of ideas anymore, only a real market where the first amendment is just a commercial advantage when you’re peddling outlaw wares.

“But contrary to our best efforts, there are ideas lurking in our art.  What kind of ideas?  What is being said?  Shit, I don’t know.  Ideas in a work of art are like the half-cent toy surprises that come in cereal boxes.  Whenever they’re right there, on top, I end up not eating the cereal.  And whenever I have to dig for the toy surprises, I end up just throwing the toy surprises away, because it was really the cereal I wanted, after all.

“There is a tribe of Indians or natives called the Chagas.  Don’t ask me where they hail from, for I am worthless with details.  Probably someplace like South America or Africa.  A place of jungles.

“The Chaga men are so manly they don’t even shit.

“No shit.

“Shitlessness is the Chaga badge of masculinity.  I shit you not.

“When the Chaga men hit puberty, they undergo a mystic ritual known as the ‘Secret of the Men.’  The ritual corks their assholes until old age.

“The Chaga men carry huge phallic sticks.  The secret purpose of the sticks is to bury any evidence of unmanliness– for the true Secret of the Men is that men shit.  Of course the men shit. But women aren’t supposed to know.

“If a Chaga man gets the Hershey squirts, his lodge brothers take him deep into the jungle until the runs have run their course.  If a woman catches a man down in the dumps, he is in deep shit.  He could lose all his cattle.  He most certainly will not be the one to take the homecoming queen to the prom.

“The Chaga women have a secret too.  They receive their secret while the men are getting their mystic corks sewn into place.  Here is the secret of the women:  They are told that men really shit– but the badge of Chaga femininity is to let the men maintain their illusions of illusion.

“We are the violators of a similar taboo.  We show Male Shit.  We can’t figure out why it fascinates us.  We don’t know what we are saying.  We don’t understand why we’re reviled far, far worse than the artists who show women and other human beings humiliated, stabbed, beaten and tortured– you know, the sort of stuff that comes on prime time television all the time.  Don’t you think it’s weird?  You can show a picture of someone thrusting a knife into woman.  But not a penis.

“We can’t figure it out.  All we know is we found Shit and we’re showing it off.  The reality of this Shit has surprised us.

“We fuck.  It really happens.  Really.  This is the Secret of the Men and the Secret of the Women.  With each act of congress, you see the most private uses of power.  The politics of intercourse.  We love it.  Hate it.  Have orgasms. Fake orgasms.  Get dry.  Get wet.  Get hard.  Stay limp.  Have taboos, and break them.  We seek kindness.  We seek revenge.  We seek satisfaction.  We seek pain.  We seek control and lose it.

“We fuck.  It really happens.  Our secret.  Our art.  It transforms us.  It is beautiful.  It is ugly.

“We fuck.  It can kill us.  It can immortalize us.”

Maybe there was applause.  There was mostly puking.  As I left the podium.  My dick statuette was just cold, dead weight in my hand.  A very personal souvenir of a lost friend.  I felt like I had been given a testimonial and told it is as good as a heart.  Many would accept the substitute.  In the Land of Oz, the Tin Woodsman did.  But he was following the example of the scarecrow, who accepted a diploma in place of a brain.

I left the ceremony early.  Headed straight for the stateroom.  Swan turned up missing.  I wandered the decks looking for her.  I kept running into mob musclemen with their heaters bulging in their pockets.  Their peepers bulging in their sockets.  Representatives of the major distributors imported to maintain order.  True life professional killers to scare the shit out of you.  Pig-eyed.  Wearing brimstone cologne.  Often they forced themselves on women who strayed from the fold.  Sometimes it was out and out rape.  Other times the chicks were just too scared to say no.  From their primitive perspectives, these were whores anyway.  Free cunt was just another job perk.  Like free dope and free screwdrivers and smashing kneecaps.  Scarlett Fever found herself trapped by one of these guys on the crow’s nest last year.  His arms were thicker than her legs.  He had jumbo balls that would not be out of place on a rhino.  She said it was the best fuck of her life.

I was starting to get seriously worried about Swan.

I figured the most likely place for her to hang out was the casino, so I went there.  Breathing second hand smoke reminded me of you, Phoenix.  And that was the problem.  Everything reminds me of you.  Smoke and fire.  Booze and cigarettes.  Sex.  And Swan.

I got myself a drink which wasn’t free, but it wasn’t a Screwdriver either.  The place was so crowded and fog bound with smoke, I couldn’t tell if Swan was there or not.  I kept doing circuits, hoping.  All the money on display seemed to being making the ladies wet.  The men kept reaching in their pockets.  The deuces weren’t the only things wild.  Many games of poker were in progress.

By one a.m., I had successfully revitalized the alcohol content in my blood.  A sad grey light came through the windows and bounced off the potted ferns hanging there.  It lit the dust motes and smoke spirals and cast crawling shadows on the bare gamblers who had detached from the award ceremony because they didn’t expect to win anything.  They weren’t winning here either.

I had traveled fifteen hundred miles to escape nights like this, when grey light filters through unwashed windows.  I think I will die on a night like this.

When I finished my drink, I played with a one armed bandit.  I didn’t put in any tokens.  I just played with it.  And pretended.  It was a pornography of gambling.  No risk.  No gain.  No satisfaction.

Swan wasn’t in the casino, so I took to wandering the deck again.

For the longest time, I leaned over the railing.  Watched the wind ripping open the waters.  Where had my woman gone?  Had she vanished into some great wet gash out there?

I looked around.

Eerie Canal stood next to me.  It was eerie the way she appeared.  Out of nowhere.

“You’re troubled, Die,” she said.

“I lost my woman.  I’m afraid something terrible has happened to her.”

“You have chosen to challenge terrible forces, Die Smiling.  And you have done it with no protection.  But now that I know what I am dealing with, we will have to take some precautions.  I am going to have to do an exorcism.  There will be great danger.  The only way that I can succeed is if you do exactly what I tell you.”

“Even if it destroys me?  I heard this one before.”

“You have to acquire faith.  You will have to trust in God, for once in your life.”

“I’m not up for this.  Not tonight.”

“You are the one haunted by a ghost.  Spiritual problems call for spiritual solutions.  That is my specialty, Darling.”

“Look, Eerie.  I only was in church once in my whole life.  I point up to the guy on the platform, the one with the funny collar.  I ask my mom, is that guy God?  She gives me this look, and she shakes her head.  So I say, ‘If God’s not here, can we go?’”

“I have a way to show you God’s face.  I can make a believer out of you.  Guaranteed.  But the cost will be high, Darling.”

“I know it isn’t real.”

“It doesn’t matter what is real.  Only what works.”

“You got a gift for marketing.  Good line for the intellectual motto of the next century.  Also a good pitch for selling snake oil.”  I let out a deep, exhausted sigh.  “Tell me what you want me to do.”  Maybe I was starting to feel sorry for Eerie.  Maybe I liked the way she always kept an upbeat attitude, even though I figured she’d be dead within a year or two.  I didn’t even know her all that well, apart from having fucked her professionally two or three times.  Or maybe I was getting a dose of fear.

“The cost will be high, Darling.”

“A high cost in terms of what?”

“Ten, maybe twenty thousand dollars.”

I broke into a grin.  “You’re not being completely honest with me, Eerie.”

“I have the same feeling, Darling.”

“At least it is mutual.”

“Do you want to turn it into a contest to see if we can top each other’s lies?  Like dueling tall tales.  I have got such contests with my Guru.  We build on each other’s imaginings, but take care enough, just enough care, pay just enough attention, to keep the story consistent.  After awhile we reach the point where you can not tell what is real anymore.  And, as my Guru says, when you reach that point, where no one know what is true anymore, you will come to love the contest…”

“… or you will have matched each other’s madness.”

“Sounds like my idea of true love, Darling.” said Eerie.

“Dueling tails.  I think your Guru was just trying to fuck you.”

She got this weird look in her eyes.  I thought she was going to say that I had to let her destroy me.  Instead she said, “My Guru would not have to use a line on me.  He can become anyone he wants to be.  He has that power.  Maybe I have even made love to him many times, many times, perhaps, and not known it.”

“What, like in your sleep?”

“My guru.  He’s Mr. XXX.”

I looked over my shoulder.

“I will tell you how to find your woman,” said Eerie, putting on airs.  Like a magic show.  “She went to the award ceremony after all.”

So I headed back toward the grand ballroom, alone.  On through the blue room.  The purple room.  The green room.  The orange room.  Many of the players on the floor or up against the walls.  Fucking in the shadows, away from the cameras.  Not without an audience.  Others were puking or pissing.  Through the white room, through the violet room.  Some had passed out.  Drunk and exhausted.  Waiting for the ship’s crew or the mob musclemen to get them moving.  It was a game they played.  Something like musical chairs.

On into the black room, now empty, except for Swan and I.  Swan had changed her mind at the last minute and showed up to see me win something.  She arrived too late.  She wore a black satin dress.  Spike heels and a black opera cape.  Her hair was dyed red.  Her lips were sky-blue.  The green Dulcet Lyre bottle in her silver tipped hand was only a quarter full, and it was obvious where the missing part had gone.  She showed up disguised as everything I had lost.

The brazier still burned.

“I’m not doing this again,” Swan said.  “From now on, your friends are your friends, and you are free to hang out with them all you want– but I will not tag along.  I’ll make your fuck film.  One lousy fuck film, and then I am retired.”

“Hopefully not a lousy one.”

“What difference if it is a hit or shit.”

“I don’t know.  One letter.”

“Porno is shit, Die.”

“Yeah.  It is male shit.  I said something to that effect in my acceptance speech.”

“How many did you win?”

“Just this.  Just the one.”

“There is something I have been wondering.  It has been nagging at me all night.  If not for me, would you go back to Phoenix?  Would you keep at her to try to turn her ‘maybe’ into a yes?”

“I loved her.  Very much.”

“You would have ended up married to her, if not for me.”

“Probably.  If I hadn’t fallen in love with you, I would have been weak enough to do what ever she asked.  I would have bent to any conditions she chose to lay down.  I would have let her destroy me.  And yes, I would have married her.  If not for you.”

“The next time you write to her… when you send the wedding invitation… you tell Phoenix McCullah– she owes me!”

The great black clock chimed 4 a.m., its lungs as brazen as Eddie Poe said they were… clear and loud and deep… exceedingly musical… but so strange, you had to stop and think about why it terrifies you.  And you swear you will never let it frighten you again, but every time you hear it, until the end of your days, you get hit the same way all over again; the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.




Stuart Hopen’s writing has been published by various comic book companies, including D.C., Marvel, Eclipse, Amazing, and Fantagraphics. His science fiction novel, Warp Angel, originally published by Tor Books, will soon be reissued by the Misenchanted Press in a newly revised edition.  Cannibals, a series of six interrelated novellas, will be available online in 2014.   His critical writing for Rain Taxi Review of Books can be found at:


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