“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” Neena hears this machine mantra repeated, close to her ear, as someone shakes her, jostles her, but without any real urgency at all; it’s a hushed voice that speaks, more like a subliminal suggestion than an actual alarm. “Wake up darling,” the electronic voice coaxes, repeats, a voice half-familiar, which is to say at the same time half-unfamiliar, repeating with the aforementioned lack of any urgency its message “wake up wake up,” a sing-song drone, sounding almost bored with its own lie, telling us what we most of all would like to hear, “wake up, wake up my darling, it was all just a bad dream.”
And Neena wakes, in spite of herself, wakes from one lie to another lie via a lie, her body returning from the exploration of some distant planet, a heavenly body sending messages via satellite in a semaphore that she doesn’t understand.
It is, of course, her husband, the chief interrogator who wakes her, who peeps over the railing of her crib, did I say “crib,” oops! I meant coffin, double-oops! I didn’t say “coffin,” did I, you must think I’m crazy, her bed, I meant her bed, of course, that is what I meant to say, her bed, it goes without saying, (bed, bed, BED, duh-uh) the protective railing of her…hospital bed, yes, that’s what it is, and his face wears the special kindness, the maternal masculinity of a saint, not the locust-munching, fire-spewing doomsday desert kind of saint who stinks and rages, his inflamed and filthy flesh alive with lice and shuddering with revulsion, but the gentle, mild sort that birds hop up to fearlessly, the garden variety of saint upon whose sackcloth shoulders the most timid of birds trust to perch, hopping into sexless laps to peck the crumbs of kindness from a smooth and holy hand.
“What happened?” Neena asks, sensibly enough, who wouldn’t, under the same circumstances, ask the exact same or similar question? There’s no fault there. But who does she think is going to give her an honest answer; who does she think will know if she doesn’t herself?
“Where am I?”
“What have they done to me?”
Imagine it were you in attendance upon her awakening. What could you possibly say by way of an explanation?
The Chief Interrogator, (did we mention his name is Thoth? Of course, we must have. Is it the truth? Well, that is the name he gave us and we’re just passing it on) waves these questions away like allergenic phlox floating in the warm breeze of a summer day; after all, as Chief Interrogator, answering questions isn’t exactly in his job description; it’s none of his affair, quite frankly. You might just say it’s really not his thing; no, it’s not his half of the equation; others do it so much better, and he knows it. He’s a man of certain modesty, Mr. Thoth. He knows well enough to stick to what he’s good at, to keep working to his strength. The knowing smile, the bland reassurance, the false promise: these are his strong points, his stock in trade, his specialized skillset. The growled threats, the ominous innuendo, the thrown chair and the rubber truncheon: these are his tools, the implements of his office. The cinderblock room, the chilled air, the too-bright light; this is his milieu and his natural habitat. The broken innocent, babbling stooge, and the forced confession are the highlights on his resume.
A man who loves the truth, loves it so much no word of it ever leaves his mouth; a black hole of veracity, a voracious consumer of confession, the truth is sucked deep inside him and where it goes from there no one knows, no one ever sees hide nor hair of it again, not a whisper of it, not a rumor. One day, or so it is postulated, once and for all, all the truth in the universe will vanish to that place we presume exists on the other side of Mr. Thoth, if it hasn’t already. In the meantime he’ll keep asking the questions, thank you very much, and you’ll keep answering them, questions to which there are no right answers anymore, because he already has them all. From now on, only lies, outright lies, exist.
“No, don’t look,” he admonishes lightly, but firmly, as Neena makes to lift the covers off her supine body in order to see what the damages may be.
“Don’t look,” he repeats, “there’s no need to look, there never is, there’s nothing ever under there to see,” he says, “and if there is, I assure you, it won’t be to your liking.”
But Neena isn’t listening to his sage advice; she’s paying no heed to his words of warning. Who can blame her? Who would listen, under the circumstances? She has a right to peek. It is, after all, her body. Well, at least in theory, at least for the time being.
Peeping under the covers she sees the thick wadded pad, the rusty-crusty bloom of that awful flower planted on the spot of unspeakable violation, it’s even worse than she feared, it’s even more radical than anything they prepared her for, and who would have thought that possible? There is no point in even answering the question, what question would that be, well, any question, actually; no wonder he told her not to look, not to ask, no answer would suffice, no explanation sufficient to explain anything. Instead, the old lady with the wheelchair arrives and says things like “tut-tut now,” and “there there,” and “pull yourself together dear, it’s not so very bad as all that after all; it can always be worse, believe me, you should see me below the waist, and besides, you’re going to be discharged. Have you any idea how many people would die to be in your shoes right now, heh-heh?”
But they are not shoes that Neena wears; they are the burning carbuncles of stigmata that grace her insteps. In each hand she palms a dragon-guarded magic ruby of a wound. She feels as light as air, as if she might defy gravity itself and float spontaneously up to heaven. Her mortifications have rewarded her (is “rewarded” the right word, for crissakes?) with the necessary coins of passage: but is it passage into or out of Hell?
Speaking of which, (and were we, were we really?), the sealed envelope containing the next day’s top-secret shooting script arrives by undercover courier and Neena, who finds all this on-pain-of-death-hush-hush-for-your eyes-only confidential rigmarole rather ridiculous—it is only a movie after all, isn’t it?—takes it to the chaise. There, curling up on the imitation (real) white rhinoceros leather, a chilled glass of pallid wine in her hand, dressed in a hotel bathrobe with its indecipherable gold crest and a matching white towel wrapped in a tall turban atop her head, she opens what now appears to be a diplomatic pouch.
This pouch is sealed with the vaguely ominous and official-looking seal of some government agency or other (she doesn’t recognize either the agency or the government, recognizes nothing about it at all except that the supposedly identifying insignia embossed on the envelope’s expensive vellum is identical to the crest on her bathrobe) .
Is she in Dubai? Lately, so many of these kinds of things seem to be happening there.
Inside is a sheaf of papers which she now pulls out to find that they are covered, from top to bottom, from first to last, in what appears to be a kind of sigil code which, to make things even more complicated, has been written over another code, the two (or even three together) somehow forming a symbiotic whole, a paralytic palimpsest, an autistic hieroglyphic.
What is she to make of it, this acephalous alphabet? How is she to speak these lines, or is she? Is it all some kind of joke, a prank pulled on her by her co-star, the campy old B-movie actor who plays the paramilitary inquisitor, this unpleasant fellow with the cold eyes and tight dry, flaking skin a.k.a. The Interrogator, and lately, also known as Mr. Thoth, with whom Neena, unfortunately, seems to share most of her speaking scenes? The director, too, is a suspect in these shenanigans. She hasn’t seen any evidence of him since shooting began, which begs the question, has it begun?
He’s a recluse with a sociopathic God-complex, a real “wack-job,” if the rumors and scandal sheets contain even the thinnest shred of truth, who stages and films for his own titillation his bizarre sexual hang-ups to the widespread acclaim of cowed critics who fear they might be missing something. He’s legendary for the innovative, unnatural, immoral, even technically criminal methods he devises to motivate his actors. Yes, the more she considers the possibility, he could just as easily be lurking behind the vague but ever-growing unease that Neena has felt since her first night in this luxury hotel room which may or may not be part of the film. From the start she’s suspected that these overly opulent accommodations, fit for a prime minister or secretary of state, are bugged with hidden microphones and under the constant surveillance of many-chambered kaleidoscopic camera eyes that pivot, noiselessly, chameleon-like, to catch even the slightest movement of everything from every angle.
To be so closely observed, simply to believe you’re being so closely observed even if you’re not, is exhausting. Eventually, the lifting a pen becomes an ordeal, a crisis of self-consciousness. Neena finds herself having to relearn everything, even the simplest actions, like a stroke victim. How does one cough, for instance, brush one’s hair, use a spoon? Orgasm? Forget it; rather ask her to build a rocket to the moon!
“That’s why they call it acting, darling,” says the director, Oz-like, from somewhere or other, paraphrasing, without attribution, the great demon, Sir Laurence Olivier.
Well, it’s true. It’s all faked. Simply answering the door for the bellhop (“it’s room service, ma’am”), or, should we say the enemy agent (rapist, Satanic priest, etc.) disguised as the bellhop who arrives at her door on cue, is a journey of a thousand steps, literally. The relatively insignificant scene is shot over and over so many times it becomes transparent. Walking from the couch to the door is like crossing the Sahara, a journey of numberless illusory oases. Even after a thousand steps, Neena never quite gets to her destination. She exists, if she exists, like a character in an allegorical paradox of Zeno’s. So it must be only in her imagination when she finds herself at the door, opens it, and sees the old woman with the wheelchair waiting and thereby knows it’s time.
Time for what?
There’s only one way to find out.
She sits down in the wheelchair, not bound (it’s not necessary), but not unbound either (also unnecessary), if that can possibly be clear to anyone (it can’t be, so let’s not bother to elaborate).
So then, back to the point (which would be what, exactly?).
Wheeled, then, in such an impossibly unclear and inexplicable manner, Neena is witness to the sights you aren’t ever meant to see: the furry sexed, the two-tongued girl, the digitally-enhanced young bodies whose sockets provide the infinite pleasure only promised by pornography and advertising. These pleasures, delivered via coaxial umbilical, are generated by a new generation of artificially intelligent bio-machine, a high-tech hybrid of computer science and advanced sex-toys technology. It’s the sort of product you might expect to be dreamed up by a brilliant, erotomanic surgeon with a psychopathic sexual imagination, unlimited financial backing, and absolutely no ethics or legal accountability whatsoever.
“What, then, might the possibilities be, the mathematical combinations of pleasure, if the body had a dozen, two dozen, three or more dozen entrances?”
“Interesting, doctor. What exactly do you mean?”
He had his own ideas—his own fantasies—of course. But what did the doctor mean: what was medically feasible or— even more titillating—unfeasible?
“A cunt, a rectum, a mouth. Why need we stop there? Nature lacks an essential element in our quest for pleasure: a dirty mind. We needn’t be so limited! One might provide ports of departure for points of destination across the oceanic virtually anywhere, virtually everywhere! A New World of Pleasure! Straight through the nipple, for instance, thereby effectively melding both the oral and the genital stage. Turn the nipple into a functioning anus and you’ve captured the Holy Fucking Freudian Grail, the Holy Trinity of Pleasure! For those beyond all that, perfectly adjusted and bored by the usual sexual pathologies and dysfunctions, we can core out glory holes in the crook of the elbow or behind a knee. Straight into the lower vertebrae of the spine, for instance, conjoining the most primitive and brutish preference for rear entry with the neural electro-buzz of futuristic deep-galaxy intercourse.
“Less philosophical; let’s say feet are your thing. Why be forced to crook your head around to see your darling’s adorable pedicure while having intercourse? Or be forced to picture her succulent little piggies in your mind’s eye to trigger your orgasm? Fuck them directly! A nicely puckered aperture on a delicately arched instep or implanted on the vulnerable Achilles heel will do very nicely. You could slip your cock directly into a size five—not the shoe, but the foot itself!—as neatly as if putting on a sock. When you’re ready to pop your wad, instruct your paramour to flex her toes, and there you are, cumming in her tootsie like gangbusters!
“For the intellectual, it might be a puckered multi-petaled rose in the middle of the forehead. The mystic third-eye, the myth of the unicorn: suddenly all that nonsense makes perfect scientific sense. These myths may well have had their origin in such yearnings. Why not? Now we have the technology to make such myths a reality. A new sort of anus drilled straight into the base of the skull of even the most witless bimbo allows us to penetrate straight into the cerebellum and thus the medulla oblongata where the most autonomous functions reside. Who says you don’t appreciate her for her mind? Now you can assure her that you do in perfect sincerity and with a straight face. Pure jungle sex! Right and left hemispheres. Mammalian and reptile brains experienced at once. You bathe your pecker in both her thoughts and feelings, her dreams and fears. It’s up to you. Think braingasm!
“I’m just theorizing out loud here, unofficially, you understand. Haven’t we enough skyscrapers, strip malls, and Taj Mahals? Enough electric salad mixers and snow-blowers and non-stick frying pans? We have now the rare opportunity to turn the attention and imagination of our generation’s most talented and inventive minds to the science and art of sexual engineering, allowing them to turn loose upon the world their heretofore suppressed erotic fancies.
“A sexual city of the future awaits us. It’s on the horizon ready to be erected. And, already in anticipation, our erections point the way. Up, up, up! The sky is the limit! Our next orgasm knows no boundaries! To the old notion of body as temple we propose a new and complementary concept: the body as whorehouse!”
It occurred to Neena there and thenabouts that she was traversing the neural byways of a diseased mind. If not her own mind, then the mind of someone she’d somehow stumbled into. Someone whose brooding fantasies formed a kind of Sadean paradise of horrors, a metropolis malignant whose avenues multiplied at a rate beyond the craft of any cartographer to manipulate, novelist to organize, or law enforcement agency to control: a fabulated, unbalanced city of a sick and, perhaps, even hallucinating brain. Here ultra-violent sexual nightmares proliferated in a Medusan tangle of blind alleys and at the end of each twisted thoroughfare awaited a sacrificial slaying.
Perhaps she was trapped inside the mind of a serial killer, cast in the role of idealized victim, the “star” of two dozen or so compulsively elaborated fantasies whose orgasmic climax was always the mathematical equivalent of murder.
There were times, it seemed, as if a certain half-familiar scenario would abruptly dead-end, as if construction in that direction had suddenly encountered some unsatisfactory and unforeseen condition, some impossible obstacle to completion that not even dream-logic could overcome, and this deflating failure of the imagination, this mental coital interruptus had dictated that another, more promising detour be chosen instead.
Or, perhaps, he’d simply cum and she’d be free, vanish into the proverbial white light at the end of the tunnel, his orgasm.
To be rise again the next time, along with his erection…
She began to seriously consider that there was, in fact, no minotaur at the center of this festering maze, no ultimate bristling horror to confront or escape, but, perhaps, something even worse, an endless series of penultimate horrors, as if the aggregate, the entire wormy-squirmy and multiplying mass, taken whole, without conclusion or destination, yes, as if the non-act, the very limbo of being hopelessly lost minus map or clue were in itself the minotaur to which barefoot and bedecked with flowers like a bride she’d been bequeathed to be devoured by uncertainty from within forever.
At this point, let us note, Neena felt a paralyzing dread of turning her anointed head, of looking back at the old woman who, up to now, was pushing her wheelchair through this infernal hospice of the damned, for it seemed to her that something even worse were propelling her through these ice-cold corridors than a cackling, mad, undead and cancer-ridden crone and the fact that she couldn’t imagine what that might be not only functioned “as if it were” a paralyzing agent but, literally, in actual fact, was the cause of a catastrophic trauma of the relevant vertebrae that made turning her head impossible, that rendered such paralysis a reality. You might say it was an injury such as one might suffer by hurtling through the windscreen that normally separated us from the surrounding landscape, serving as a necessary barrier between the so-called imaginary and the so-called real.
Perhaps, and indeed we might as well consider all the possibilities inasmuch as we still have the time (and, ironically, while awaiting the execution of a death sentence, one seems to have all the time in the world, close to an eternity, the mind moves so fast; certainly, one has all the time necessary, which is much the same thing as eternity, relatively speaking, when all is said and done; but is it ever? Done, we mean), that there is no one pushing the wheelchair at all; perhaps it is self-propelled or remote-controlled; perhaps it is fueled by Neena’s own fear and apprehension, her panic and hysteria, which properly harnessed, provide an alternate source of energy, inexhaustible as the fear of death. Entire nations running on the terror of its citizenry…think about it, is it really so far-fetched, after what we’ve seen, considering what we know already?
But we digress, and yet, if truth be told (the truth? We chuckle, shake our heads, and wash our hands. Send in the next prisoner, please…), we will continue to digress, for what else is there but digressions and, all the moreso, when there’s nothing properly to digress from?
Meeah Williams’s work has appeared in Otoliths, Phantom Drift, Uut, The Conium Review, Per Contra, Petrichor Review, Stone Highway Review, Dirty Chai, Shuf, *82 Review, Skin to Skin, Wilde, The Milo Review, Meat for Tea, Angry Old Man, The Ginger Collect, Former Cactus, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. She lives in Seattle and tweets here.