three chapters to go. If you need to catch up, find your chapter in the archive list. Chapter One is the third one, dated January 8.
Thanks for reading!
10 March, 2009
copyright 2009 by Jim Nail
By the time their passion is spent, the pale glow of dawn has crept almost imperceptibly into the eastern sky above the wooded hills. Naked and exhausted, they lie entwined. The oil in the lamp is almost gone. The wick sputters. A cluster of stars, neither the full moon nor the crescent planet Venus, peers in on them through the chimney opening. The waves boom. Sea lions occasionally bark in the distance.
Neither Claudia nor Wilbo has spoken since their lovemaking ended, some time ago, at some undocumented hour of the night when the limits of their bodies took control and the lamp began to sputter. Now Wilbo is beginning to sense words forming, or at least concepts that will eventually ripen into words.
One must choose one’s words carefully at a time like this, he tells himself. These are the first actual words that come. He attends to the concepts awhile longer, and to the search for words. The concepts have to do with the concept of concepts, and their relation to words. It’s a slippery slope for sure, but finally he thinks he has a handle on it.
“The moment we… try to describe our experiences… we are no longer experiencing them.” he says, out of the blue.
Claudia props herself up on one elbow and looks at him quizzically.
“Would you like me to disagree with that?” she asks.
Her voice surprises him. It’s not that it’s any different than before; it’s just that he hasn’t heard it in awhile, and he’s surprised by its lilt and its timbre. He doesn’t really hear her words, or at least register their meaning.
“Civilizations are built on the concepts we come up with to describe our experiences,” he continues. “But the concepts are not the experiences. The experiences are always private. When I try to describe my experience all I can give you are my words. I can never give you my experience. There’s no proof that anything that goes on out there has anything to do with what goes on in here.” He thumps himself soundly on the chest.
She flops onto her back and folds her arms across her chest. “Oh, shit!” she sighs.
Wilbo feels a little stung. “You don’t want to talk about this, do you?”
“No, no, it’s not that. You can talk about anything you want. I just remembered. I got a class in the morning. I mean, it is morning. I mean it’s almost morning. I got a class. That’s my experience, right now. Sorry, Wilbo. It’s interesting, what you’re saying.” She sits up in the bed. “Tai Chi. I’m going to fall asleep right in the middle of Repulse-the-Monkey. I’m so sorry, Wilbo. I’ve got to go home. That’s my experience. Whether you get it or not.”
Wilbo stares at her naked back, at the curve of her waist, at the velvet of her skin, and the way her crimson hair cascades onto her naked shoulders. He almost feels as if he could become aroused again.
“Well, I’ll walk you home, then. Of course you’ll want me to walk you home.”
“No, Wilbo, please don’t. Don’t treat me like a child. I know how to get home. It’s safe. All the bad guys are either dead or unconscious by this hour.”
She stands up, finds her dress on the floor, raises her arms and lets it fall onto her body.
“Do you know what happened to my shoes?”
“They’re by the door. Where you put them, I thought.”
Claudia frowns and wrinkles her eyes. “I didn’t put them anywhere,” she says. “I haven’t seen them since the other night when I was… so upset. I thought maybe you’d picked them up.”
In the short confused moment that follows her remark, Wilbo feels something that he can’t quite grasp, a sort of tremor of dread, a foretaste of danger. It’s a private experience. He knows he can’t explain it.
“Please let me walk you home. I’m worried about you. It’s so late and dark and you’re so… so naked.”
She seems to be stumbling about in her mind for a response. She turns to the door, awkwardly. She turns back.
“Wilbo, please don’t turn into an old man on me now, Ok?” Her voice is pleading. “What we did tonight… was beautiful. Take your own advice. Don’t start thinking about it. Don’t start thinking about the future, or the past. And for God’s sake, don’t start worrying about me. I’m Ok. I’m safe. I can find my way home.”
She turns again. This time she makes it to the door, a little clumsy, but she makes it. She steps out. Wilbo stands up. She turns back.
“Don’t follow me, Wilbo,” she begs. Her voice has a ragged edge. “It would be a bad mistake!”
Turning back she trips on something that turns out to be her shoes. Wilbo hears them clunk several times on the deck before she manages to get them on her feet. Then there’s the sound of her trying to maneuver her way through the various items of party debris outside the house. She stubs her toe on some beer cans. She bumps into the sitting bench. She mutters, “Oh, shit!” under her breath. Then there’s silence. Wilbo realizes she has successfully made her escape.
Sitting on the edge of the bed in the flickering lamplight, he suddenly feels incredibly alone. Alone! How many nights has he spent by himself in the house with the wind and the seagulls and the seals, and never once has he thought to himself, I’m alone. Years of nights. Nights in the winter when the rain beat so hard that the windows bled, and the wind blew so hard that pieces of the house were ripped off and carried away. Summer nights so warm that he slept naked with the quilt pulled off and the moonlight streaming in. Nights like this one, in the springtime when the scent of laurel mingled with the seaweed and the sea lions freshly arrived from the south sang their exuberant songs of welcome, even into the light-turning pre-dawn hours. Never once in all these nights has he stopped to think to himself, I’m alone.
You spend too much time alone, Wilbo. Alone with your thoughts, I mean.
So how is one to respond then, to this being alone? He asks the question of the darkness; then he sits for awhile in silence, stilling his thoughts, listening for an answer.
You’re naked. Put your clothes back on.
Not quite the answer he expected, but there it is. Like something a skunk would say. He finds his clothes on the floor where he dropped them, still partially folded. He climbs into his pants, throws his shirt over his head, locates his socks and pulls them over his feet, then sits on the bed and steps into his shoes, tying them securely.
Fully dressed, his next move is obvious. He stands, throws open the door, and steps outside.
It’s not long before dawn. The sky over the sea is pale blue. There are other sounds besides just the ocean sounds, flitterings in the sage on the cliffs- little birds perhaps, stirring in their sleep, and the sound of a single, tired cricket, his chirp slowing after a long night of chirping.
Wilbo walks to the sitting bench but he can’t bring himself to sit down. The pondering he has to do is too kinetic. He has to pace. He paces, back and forth in front of the sitting bench, pondering.
But aren’t we always alone? Isn’t that what I was just trying to tell her, before she decided she had to get up and leave? Every experience is private, even when bodies are together. This is just yet another private experience I’m having now, this experience of being alone.
Alone. What does that mean? What do people mean when they say they’re feeling alone? Does it have any connection with what I’m feeling now? When people say they feel alone, it means they’re feeling lonesome. They’re feeling sad because they’re by themselves. I’ve never felt lonesome. I’ve never felt sad because I’m by myself. I don’t feel sad right now. I like being by myself. Besides, I can always have companionship if I want it. I can go down to the Dogfish. I can go see Mac. I can go down to the boardwalk and annoy the tourists. It’s not like I’m a curmudgeon. It’s not like I’m a hermit. I enjoy the company of people. I just don’t have any problem with those times when I’m by myself. I need those times. I need to ponder.
He sits down for a moment on the bench but his body won’t let him stay there. It’s like his legs have little legs inside them, and the little legs keep moving, kicking at the big legs from the inside, forcing the big legs to keep moving. He gets back on his feet and resumes his pacing.
It’s because of the party, that must be what it is. Such a big dose of companionship all at once. Every friend I have was there I think, and a lot of friends I don’t have. And it was all about me! All the presents and all the music and all the dancing. It must be the contrast, that’s what it is, all that companionship- such a big, strong dose of it, and then suddenly here I am, like this, all alone. Like how silent it seems when you first unplug the amplifiers, or how dark it seems when you first switch off the light.
And then of course there was Claudia.
She was so beautiful! She was so incredible! She was everything I’d hoped she would be. The way she touched me- perfect! The places she touched me- every move was perfect! Her thrust and her release; the way she rode me like a bobbing buoy; the way she carried me like a diving dolphin. The way she came on strong, like a gypsy dancer, then pulled back shy like a frightened child. They way she moaned and whimpered and howled like a she-wolf in the night. She was everything I could hope for. She was every fantasy come true. Oh, Claudia!
What have I done?
I have broken all my vows! I have abandoned all my resolutions! I have forsaken my moral code! I have released all my inhibitions and poured myself without restraint into the essence of another person! And the worst of it is, I feel no regret. At the merest suggestion I would do it all again. There is no restraint against what I might do. What have I done?
“What have I done!”
These last four words he cries out loud, with full voice into the silence of the pre-dawn sky. Part of him, the spectator-bird, wakes up when it hears these words, and stiffly flaps the fleas and dust out of its molting feathers. What is that man hollering about now? I swear, he’s been doing entirely too much of that lately. I think he’s seen too many movies.
Wilbo pulls himself together. He stops pacing and sits down on the bench- on the very edge of the bench, so he can hop right back to his feet if necessary. But no. It looks like his legs are going to behave himself. Perhaps that outburst was what he needed. Perhaps that was where it all was leading, all this pacing and shuffling about. Perhaps it just needed some form of release.
Perhaps I exaggerate, he ponders. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Besides, there are mysterious forces at play here. Mysterious forces. Things are happening to me that seem to be out of my control. I don’t know what it means, but it’s not like something I can just resist. There’s some stuff I’m gonna do, and that’s all there is to it. I’m doing things that don’t even have a name yet. Kinko Syncho Quinto. Last night, with Claudia, that was just part of it. I don’t think that’s the end of it. Maybe that wasn’t the most moral thing to do, maybe not by conventional standards. But I had to do something. Maybe there was a better way I could have responded, but I had to respond. And it isn’t all just about sex, either. That’s not it. It’s not just sex. Even if it seems like it.
However true the thought may be, it comes heavily weighted with a string of powerful images, and the moment he thinks it he stops thinking, and slips into a reverie, entertaining these images. He remembers the moment she first pulled her dress up over her head and his immediate certainty that this nakedness would be different from her other nakedness, that this time there would be nothing standing in the way of what their bodies were compelling them to do. He remembers the artlessness of their first coupling, the uncontrolled rush toward penetration, without foreplay or technique, and he remembers the grace and precision of their subsequent couplings, movements like dance, or like watercolor, with big, bold brush strokes, or like waves rolling over each other at high spring tide. He remembers the textures of skin and hair and the smell of perfume and perspiration and garlic and cilantro. He remembers the hot wind of her breath on his chest and his belly and he remembers the liquid velvet of the inside of her mouth. He remembers the unmistakable clench of her orgasm, and the cry of surprise that flew from her throat. Slowly the memories have their way with his body until he finds himself sitting there on the bench, fully and foolishly erect.
Oh,this will never do! He jumps to his feet and resumes his pacing. Where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?
But thoughts don’t immediately gather in the wake of the retreating erotic images. A heavy mental fog cloaks his mind. Although he paces, his tread is slow and wandering. Perhaps he’s beginning to feel the effects of nearly twenty-four hours of uninterrupted consciousness. The approach of dawn is accelerating. Shapes in the sand begin to take form. That’s a bucket, a shovel, a cereal bowl. Some of the brighter items begin to fill in with their true colors. He identifies some items of clothing laid out flat on the underside of the overturned boat- a couple of sweaters, a pair of socks, perhaps they were left by the party-goers.
Wilbo wanders about as if he were investigating the relics of some antediluvian culture. He picks something up- a glass, a shoe, an exhausted party-popper. He examines each item briefly and tosses it back down. He’s not really looking for anything. He’s looking for thoughts to appear on the horizon of his mind, and then come rolling in on him like breakers. But instead, the breakers seem to be moving out into the open ocean where his conscious mind will not go. There are limits to the conscious mind, even while the hidden thoughts roll on forever.
His eyes are just beginning to droop when he notices something that shocks him awake, although at first he’s not sure what it is, or why it shocks him. He first sees it in silhouette, as something hanging in the air, or hovering like a humming bird just outside the cabin door. In an agitated stupor, he stares at it for a while, not registering anything except for a vague uneasiness in the pit of his stomach. No, it’s not floating or hovering. It’s hanging there by something, hanging by a string or something like a string, from one of the driftwood limbs that jut out from the side of the house.
Well, that’s not so strange, he tells himself. But then a second shock wave hits him, the shock of recognition. With one quick step he lunges onto the porch and grabs the object in both hands.
Yes, he was right. It’s the amulet. It’s the Arlequino. The mournful eyes. The joyful smile. The skunk said it might offer him some clues. The last time he saw it, it was…
The implications, although not specific, are overwhelming, and they all point to one thing.
"Claudia!" he cries out loud. He drops the amulet and staggers away from the house. Out in the open he scans the beach, following the trail up to the cliff where it disappears into the tunnel. But that’s foolish. She would be long gone by now. By any logic of time she would be in her apartment by now. She would probably already be undressed and in her bed, drifting off to sleep, repulsing monkeys in her dreams. But if that’s not where she is…
His feet compel him. He sets off at a brisk pace. He’s wide awake now, and his heart is pounding. He feels frightened, but he also feels excited, and animated with a strong sense of purpose. It’s almost as if he can hear exciting music playing in his ears, pacing his footsteps, trumpets and flugelhorns and snare drums, like in a movie when the hero is rushing into the adventure. Mostly he feel single-minded, at one with his body, a whole new level of Kinko Syncho Quinto.
Due to a trick of light, day seems to have dawned more fully over the public beaches on the other side of the tunnel. Pale feathers of reflected pink are drifting in the southwest sky over the sea, and the sea itself has a silvery gleam. Everything is still sleeping except for a couple of pelicans cutting a horizontal line over the waves. The beach is devoid of human life and no boats blink on the horizon. All the campfires of the night have smoldered out. There are no curling wisps of smoke. There are no sounds of traffic or industry from the town across the cement wall. Even the breakers are muted, like respectful janitors in a hospital of sleeping patients.
On the public beach Wilbo slows his pace and strains his eyes in the pale but rising light, looking for clues. In the wet sand he identifies a single pair of fresh footsteps, small feet, surely they’re hers. And at this point she is still alone. He follows them and they lead him where he expected, up to the trail, along the cement wall, and through the notch into town. There’s enough blown sand on the trail that he can follow the footsteps all the way to the notch.
So far, so good. He slips through the notch himself and faces the town, the darkened storefronts and restaurants, the public bath house, the warehouses with their high loading docks. There’s no more sand, no more footprints. There are several routes she could have taken to the Lighthouse and her apartment above it. Which one to follow? He stops and sniffs the air and scans the maze of streets. He stills all of his body sounds so he can listen hard for clues.
At first he’s not sure of the voices. They could be seagulls, drifted inland, fighting over a scrap of food in some back alley, or they could be the whine of a belt slipping on some piece of machinery somewhere in the caverns of the warehouses. The sound comes from the warehouses, though. That becomes increasingly clear. He starts in that direction, taking care that his clothes do not rustle in his ears and obscure the sound.
The clamor of a car engine, turning and firing, breaks into the morning quiet, obliterating all other sounds. Wilbo stops and waits. He’s reached the block of the warehouses and he stands in front of a bank of frosted green windows. From a side street a Sears delivery van appears and rolls up to the stop sign. The driver looks both ways, then looks both ways again, even though it’s obvious there isn’t a car in sight. Perhaps he’s no quite awake yet. Perhaps he too is recovering from a night of love. Finally he emerges cautiously into the invisible line of traffic and disappears into the vortex of the road that leads out of town.
In the wake of the engine sounds Wilbo hears the voices again. This time there’s no question about it. There are voices, and the voices are tense, even shrill, and one of them is disturbingly familiar. His heart jumps into his throat and he begins to run.
A thin fissure of an alley opens where the two warehouses almost meet. It’s no more than five feet across and at least three stories high. A chain link fence spans the opening but it’s broken down and the links have been cut. A strip of frayed orange tape hangs loosely from the ruins, bearing the words POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS.
Hushing his footsteps, Wilbo scampers to the wall and then creeps along it until he reaches the opening where he first crouches, then peers in.
The alley ends at a small metal door lit by a single bare light bulb. In the glow of this bulb a man is leaning into a woman. The woman has her back against the wall and her arms are flying, striking against the man who thrusts himself at her repeatedly, one hand clenched at the fabric of her dress, just below her throat.
“It’s what you deserve, bitch! You like it, don’t you? You’d pay for it if you had to. You can pay for it. You got money, bitch!”
He pulls her toward him by the hold he has on her dress, then he shoves her back against the wall.
“Please, don’t, Gary!” she wails. “You’ll regret this. You’re gonna be so sorry when you realize what you’ve done. Please, stop!”
“Oh, you think I’ll be sorry? I’m not gonna be sorry. I’ve had enough of you. You’re nothing but a fucking rich bitch! You deserve to be fucked!” He forces himself onto her, pressing her hard against the wall.
Reeling with shock, Wilbo staggers into the alley, nearly tripping on the broken chain link fence. Quickly he regains his composure and rises to his full stature.
“Let go of her!” he cries.
Claudia gasps and Gary throws himself off of her, stumbling backwards against the opposite wall. He spins around and then he appears to puff himself up, all fur and muscles, like a cornered tomcat. He’s covered in leather and spikes and the spikes seem to bulge out like bristles all over his body.
“Who’s that?” he snarls.
“It’s Wilbo Hoegarden. Come away from the girl.”
“Wilbo Hoegarden? You mean the artist? That Wilbo Hoegarden? Hey, I been looking for you everywhere, man. I went into that weird little bar you told me about. You weren’t there. I went to that place on the boardwalk where we met. You weren’t there. What gives, man? I told you I wanted some portraits.”
Gary starts advancing toward Wilbo. His posture is loose and casual but there’s something menacing in his gait.
“You’re not coming out of this alley, Gary.” Wilbo tells him. “You’re not getting past me.”
Gary keeps coming. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Wilbo.” he coos. “You seem upset. What have I done to upset you, Wilbo?” His arms move quickly and suddenly there’s a flash of reflected light. In his hand he holds a short, sharp, shiny switchblade knife. “What have I done to upset you, Wilbo?” he repeats, this time with a whole new inflection.
"Wilbo! Look out!” Claudia cries. She’s running up the alley. Gary spins around and waves the knife at her. “Stay out of this, Claudia! You don’t have any idea what’s going on here. Wilbo’s my friend. My old buddy. We just have a little score to settle, that’s all.” He turns back.
Wilbo doesn’t waste a second. Impelled by a rush of adrenaline, he lunges forward, thinking I’ll grab the wrist that holds the knife! But a weird thing happens. In a moment of perfect kinko syncho quinto, Claudia rushes forward as well, mirroring Wilbo’s every move. Their hands come together on Gary’s wrist- the hand that holds the knife- and with their combined strength they pull him to his knees.
But he doesn’t drop the knife, and he doesn’t lose much momentum. He jumps to his feet so quickly that Claudia is thrown back against the wall.
“You don’t understand me, Wilbo.” he growls, no longer concealing the threat in his voice. “We just have a little disagreement. We have a little score to settle.”
It happens quickly. Wilbo has his hands at his sides, ready to grapple, but he doesn’t see the knife until he feels the blade sink into his stomach. There’s no pain, just a strange sensation of numbness radiating out his arms and legs. Just before he falls he has one furious thought: don’t let him get the knife! He grabs the knife in both hands, pulls the blade up hard into himself, and crumples to the street.
“Wilbo!” Claudia cries. Suddenly there are lights, spinning red lights rolling on the alley walls, and a short whoop of a siren. Claudia stands up straight and waves her arms.
“Hey! In here! We’re in here!”
Gary takes a furtive glance around and begins to run, but Claudia is immediately onto him, leaping onto his back and pummeling him with blows. The last thing Wilbo sees before he loses consciousness is Gary falling to his hands and knees, with Claudia riding his back and pounding him furiously with both her fists.