ROUTINE SIX: SPIRIT DOCTORS SKILLED THE MONOLITHS RAW – AND REAL EXQUISITE DREAMS
The Market is thriving, always, at all hours, because all hours are the same here. Row upon row of marquees jostle for space in the grey dust – air vibrating with sales and spruiks and slogans and promises and never-to-be-beatens and for-the-next-customer-onlys. Some of these stores been here since the dawn of time, others I’ve never seen before. Whole City is arranged around this central space, all roads lead to The Market. Air reeks of ancient perfumes and modern diseases – of spices and stone and copper coins and open meat – of plastic wrap and incense and the juice of fruits.
Layout changes all the time but only when you’re not watching – something quantum in the air here – which of course begs the question, seeing as there’s always someone here, there’s always someone watching, so when the fuck does it get a chance to change? Many questions I gave up hope of ever answering years ago – not my business, in the end. And what would an answer mean to me anyway? “Oh,” I’d say, “Okay then.” And then what?
Point being, gotta walk through aisles and aisles of random before I can find what I’m looking for. Trolleys and tables and trestles set up, piled with goods. Someone’s selling half-price Melange. Another guy’s flogging Arcturan Mega-gin and Santraginean seawater. Hollowed out old lady stares at me as I walk past her table full of carefully arranged vials of ectoplasm, like I’m some kinda plasm junkie. Never blinks once.
Illegal antiques smuggled through timeholes. The Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, the pornographic Dead Sea Scrolls. The Crown of Thorns, half price. Not bad – if you’re into that kinda thing.
A table loaded with mind-controlling funguses, hard and thorny, their twitching human hosts still attached – some of them quietly begging for mercy, unseeing eyes all thick with squirming fungus. Most repulsive thing you ever did see. Poachers from other stars with their wares: Venusian ivory, holographic skins – eggs and pelts, teeth and testes of endangered beasts from a thousand worlds. Fucking poachers make my skin crawl – but what are you gunna do?
There’s Mmaagha Kamalu, a sword that once belonged to the Igbo god of war – sword glows red when people with evil intentions are close by, so of course it’s a burning crimson here, in this place of dubious commerce, might as well turn the sucker off and save the batteries. Same trader is trying to move Excalibur and Tyrfing too, so clearly got some sort of racket in the sword-department. Prices are exorbitant but you pay what you pay for mythical weaponry – not like there’s much competition in that particular trade.
One marquee filled with representatives of the Deep State, selling secrets and indoctrination packs – across the aisle, crisis actors handing out their sizzle reels, hoping to make it in the next big disaster.
A rickety wooden table with a handful of transparent glass shakers brimming with salt – sign says it’s authentic Sodomic salt hand-gathered from the pillar that was previously Lot’s wife. Another handful of glass shakers claim to be pepper made from some poor sucker who turned back at Gomorrah. Not sure who the Chinese Five Spice is meant to be – I don’t read Chinese. Personally, I call bullshit. But what do I know?
Another tent, another trolley – crates of yowling Mogwai, drastically malnourished in this place with no midnight. Personality traders, selling new identities – buy two get an extra one free. S and M leather gear made from the pelt of the Marquis De Sade. A white sequinned glove made from the pelt of Michael Jackson.
One of the Monoliths – just walking past it gives me intense full sensory hallucinations and I nearly stain my drygoods.
Another marquee, another table – bootlegged Jekyl juice – Gorgon heads, both synthesised and real – a fully-functional Lazy Gun – a mostly-empty case of Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulators. Didn’t know they were still around, to be honest. But everything’s for sale in Interzone.
Szechuan dipping sauce, vats of the stuff. Bottles of tears, hair, and teeth. A deck of cards that’s literally all aces. Pies filled with spaghetti Bolognese. Pallets of xenomorph eggs, shrink-wrapped and stickered. Genuine Da Vinci ornithopter – such a shit vehicle, can’t believe anyone would even try to offload one of those in the current Interzone economy.
Black-market scientologist peddling half-price audits. Hacked E-meters delivering clearance or your money back. Engrams-B-Gone, spray twice daily - “Exteriorise Your Thetans The Easy Way!” the sign says in hand-painted circus writing.
Buckets full of Morgellons, buy ‘em by the scoopful. Sonic screwdrivers. Universal remote controls. Syringes full of Soma. Vials of Coronavirus. Bottles of Moloko Plus. Beat up old Antikythera mechanisms. Shiny new Alethiometers. Six-packs of Dilithium Crystals. Second-hand RHIC EDOM tech, carefully repackaged into its original boxes.
Sexbots gyrating in their plastic-panelled packaging – collector’s copy of The Beatles white album played by actual beetles – a red button that says “do not push” – stacks and stacks of toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
Underground doctors curing imaginary diseases with tools of unspeakable cruelty - memories peddling – half-price your money shit vehicle – buy two – Pallets of controls.
Stacks of states – investigators of Personality traders – stacks and glass – tested on Thetans – The sauce, vats vibrating – a handful – Chinese Five Underground doctors feeling slowly soundless hum – Larval entities’ wife. Bootlegged Jekyl Sodomic salt – E-meters delivering EDOM Bang-utot – relaxing machines – leather gear table and bartered Modulators.
Original boxes – Bottle mutilations – infractions denounced – unconstituted police – full sensory salt – cities, gathering – telepathic sensitivity – ocean floor toilet paper.
Syringes laboratory and the pelt treatment – filled with some poor – the white Szechuan dipping excisors – Explosive Space – transparent at Gomorrah.
A spray twice Gorgon heads – the sign – Six-packs of Universal remote in this ornithopter – table – tent – Hacked – stickered. Be pepper played by selling new curing imaginary – a Live to offload – me – intense players – servers place of orgone – A stratosphere, maladies – pelt of diseases – with Morgellons, buy and the Bottles – fragmentary call bullshit.
And real exquisite dreams – Lesbian dwarf juice – atomic war – A place stain – officials of actual beetles – hallucinations and hebephrenic shorthand – red button black dust – virulence in writing. Buckets – fully-functional spirit, no midnight – Tanks and mechanisms – Shiny unknown past – Carefully repackaged teeth.
A glove made Sonic – White sequinned scoopful – tools of identities – hand-painted circus – the pillar host – maladies hair – the Beat up daily – unspeakable cruelty charging unspeakable case of cells – Another be honest.
Lung erection – spirit doctors skilled the Monoliths raw – rickety wooden hand-gathered from turned back full of xenomorph eggs, bureaucrats – Sexbots gyrating meet in spectral departments – enemy, sellers, diseases, dormant – glass shakers – deck of the current – the will – The Beatles by bland – perfected operation in the emergent future free.
Paranoid chess – Lot’s sucker – eyeless worms down in Da Vinci marquee – blood of osteopaths – white album trolley – crates of tears, drygoods.
Another – collector’s drastically malnourished were still shrink-wrapped and those in Soma.
Sign says plastic-panelled packaging – synthesised Interzone economy.
And finally – I see what I came for.
The Black Meat is sold here.
They say once an addict, always an addict. Don’t believe that at all. Don’t need Black Meat – choosing Black Meat, making conscious choice, choosing that vile beautiful substance over painful heart. Conscious decision, you see? Anyone would make that same choice.
Had a problem with it once maybe – but now, I’m in control. I’m deciding – shaking hands, sweating neck – to walk past the trolleys and trestles, crow flies bee line direct to the Black Meat den. Casual stroll – never look too desperate – but trained insect eye knows that walk, the approach of a guaranteed Customer. I’m deciding. For one could say medical reasons. Self-medicating to ease memory pain. Nothing wrong with that, is there.
Can’t function if spirit is held down under the pressure of memories. Can’t function under those conditions, no, have to shall we say alleviate that particular ailment. Black Meat takes it all away, I know it does. All gone under the Black Meat spell, magical filthy nightmare, buried and gone. Float on black wings, soar in the darkness, supersonic journey inside and out – everything goes away. No more pain. No more Her.
Walk direct, casual. Slow like iceberg. But they sense, of course they do, know a Customer when they see one.
Mugwump – hypercolour t-shirt stained with korma and semen and ash, arseless chaps shine and creak, chain around neck dangles gold dollar sign encrusted with fake diamonds – drags slow on Camberwell Carrot, makes eye contact. Already knows. Slight nod of head, soot-black beak clicks in anticipation. Behind Mugwump slouch three or four Mugwump-addicts – we call them “Reptiles” but they’re not really reptiles of course, just plain ordinary human at the core, their appearance is perfectly natural biological result of too much time spent absorbing Mugwump secretions and not enough time doing literally any other thing – skin loose and bones soft, bristles wave like cuttlefish rim, eyes empty – just existing – all wear rusting metal collars but naked otherwise – addicted to the secretions that ooze from their Mugwump masters. When Mugwump clicks, Reptiles twitch but continue vacant slouch.
“Blackwell.” Mugwump’s voice is creaky, thin, like a slowed-down parrot – sounds like comes from another place than the throat – ventriloquist puppet voice almost makes you sick to hear it. Nods again, eyes taking in my vibrations rather than my shape. “Been so long. Thought you’d forgotten your old friend.”
Heavy old right, crash the still hulk of church confessional, 17th heart.
“How could I ever forget you? Still trying to wash the smell off from last time.”
Mugwump clicks beak, laughter, professional. Reaches bony arm towards me, huge smouldering Carrot in skeletal fingers. Offers.
I take the giant joint and take a drag – only polite – and taste the Blackness on tongue lips teeth – empty memories flood my system as the smoke curls inside my clotted lung – and pass Carrot back. One toke is enough with Mugwump weed, learned that long time ago. Mugwump takes Carrot back, move slow, always slow, different time frame to humans.
“ “Black” like circumcised Fiction,” Mugwump drawls, “ “well” like On Friday.” Private joke, I guess. Who the hell knows when it comes to Mugwumps? “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Knows. Already. Of course. Drag it out of me.
“Just a taste,” I say, quiet, “Thought I could do with a little self-care.”
Beak doesn’t smile – wrong materials for that particular human expression – Mugwump smiles in the eye.
“I’m afraid I’m all out,” Mugwump says, wave one thin hand over empty trestle – indicating emptiness, nothing but rotting wood of table and tiny glowing grey mushrooms sprout from corners – market full of sounds but all my ears hear is Mugwump words – full of sights but all eyes see is empty trestle and slow motion pass of Mugwump claw.
Part of the game of course. I keep playing.
“Enough bumpin’ gums,” I say, “we both know you got access to fresh supplies.”
“Freshest in all Interzone,” Mugwump says (Mugwumps don’t name themselves the way we do – think our need to all have different names is a form of mental illness – and maybe it is). “But what’s it worth for me to lose a good butler to go fishing?” At the word “fishing” all three or four of the metal-collared absent-eyed Mugwump-secretion-softened human bags of flesh behind Mugwump shiver uncontrollably, like the word was filled with electricity, a taser carried in sound waves – one quick shiver then back to slumped sightless existence.
“Butlers. That’s what you’re calling them nowadays.”
“As good a word as any other.” Mugwump takes another deep drag on Carrot, smoke tinged with purple, maybe some ultraviolet too. “What’ll it be, Blackwell?”
I pull small paper sack from trenchcoat pocket. Rest it in one palm, unwrap slowly (but of course Mugwump already sniffed what’s inside – excellent sense of smell, your average Mugwump).
“Lemon sherbert,” I say, roll them around in my palm, paper bag crinkling, hard sound when sherberts clunk together.
“I see,” Mugwump says, but poker face is ruined by thin strand of drool that descends from obsidian beak, elongates until snap and pop – just another stain on pink purple hypercolour tee shirt. “All you got?”
“If you don’t want them,” I say, pantomiming to put one in my own mouth, “I’m happy to eat them myself.” Hand moves closer to mouth, smell the sweetness, shiny yellow bauble shape of tiny lemon.
“Deal,” Mugwump says, reaches out spidery thin hand, fingers clutch in anticipation. I hand over paper bag, and Mugwump picks sherbert out, cracks it in indigo black beak – crunch makes soft-boned Reptiles shiver once then back to potato state.
“Enjoy,” I say, ignoring my own sweat, “Picked them up in the 1980s, Earth beta.”
Mugwump blinks slowly, savouring, crunches sherbert up entirely before swallows. Eyes close a moment in sugary bliss.
“Electronic nova word concerns,” Mugwump says, almost to self. After dark hole – wrinkle-free and faith in pattern hurt – stopping that So obsidian No more – but here, sellers control was well into cusp. “Tasty sherbert.” Then without even turning around, Mugwump snaps beak hard, and all three or four of the Reptiles jerk to attention like pulled up by invisible strings. “Need you to go fishing, please.” Politeness feels cruel from the beak of a Mugwump.
The Reptiles shuffle uncomfortable, heavy collars sunken into soft collarbones, sores fester around necks and shoulders, twitches of limb and frill – some kind of unseen wrestling going on, some kind of unspoken Reptile contest happening outside the range of human vision – until one of the sorry sacks of shit is sort of pushed forward somehow, and, knowing it is chosen, shuffles its naked shapeless form forward a step – and the others sink back into their secretion-fucked torpor.
“Go catch me a whopper,” the slow parrot voice of the Mugwump croons, finally turning to its secretion-ruined associate and running a skeletal hand over its saggy translucent cheek almost tenderly, “for our special friend here.” Sherbert breath and clack of beak.
The Reptile fans its ear-hairs and solidifies a little, like jelly setting – mouth a resigned little round disk of brown gristle. It attaches its metal collar to long thin chain – other end attached to stone wall to the side of Mugwump’s trestle table – and shuffles slow away from Market. Mugwump affects disinterest (pokes spindle fingers into paper sack and stirs lemon sherberts) but I always watch.
Reptile limps away from bustle of Market, toward open sewers of Interzone. Black brown water sloshes down, a thousand outpouring of a thousand unhygienic waterways – a river of grey scum and brown froth – turbulent with flow – still The whole bad egg course – open aqueduct of putrefaction and effluent – dead organs bob downstream like blind fish – piss and shit and blood and worse – nightmare river of uncertain depth and complex constitution, flowing less out of a desire to get to the sea but out of sheer liquid desperation to get away from the foulness of its collective source.
Reptile shuffles closer and closer to foul river, and now its neck collar getting tense, limit of movement predestined by thin metal chain of considerable tensile strength. Reptile just walks right up to edge, teeters for long moment, then steps off stone edge – sinks deep into rushing khaki waters, up to neck.
Mugwump crunches another sherbert in black beak – thin purple-blue lips retracted show maximum enjoyment – air still and clear as glycerine.
Sudden thrashing and splashing – the neck chain makes a bass note as it’s pulled tight from stone wall to river – blood erupts from surface of open sewer – limbs thrash – Reptile screams.
“Got a bite,” Mugwump says coolly.
Flipping out of filthy river is giant centipede, gargantuan, pincers attached deeply to thrashing Reptile, hundred sharp legs already digging in deep to flesh already soften by Mugwump secretions. Nauseating to see. Sharp centipede legs slice abdomen, Reptile’s guts slop out into foul river, blue purple intestine join the brothy flow – but Reptile keeps screaming – animal terror and pain – until centipede pincers slice through throat and disengage the organs of speech – now a wheezing gurgle.
With slow disinterest, Mugwump takes the slender chain and begins winding it around skinny wrist, reeling in Reptile – with giant centipede attached – reeling it in, slowly, steady, with surprising strength from such skeletal limbs – Mugwump surprising in many ways, even for old hack like myself.
A wide trail of blood and filth follows as silently-screaming Reptile is dragged closer and closer across stone ground, with ravenous centipede busy devouring flesh and tearing apart muscle and skin – painting grey ground all colours of scarlet and brown – black centipede oblivious to Mugwump’s intentions. Other folk at other stalls pause their shopping to look, crane necks to see – then business as usual. Snapping sound and eyeball flies from Reptile’s socket, flung by voracious pincers – lands with hackey-sack sound on Mugwump’s empty table. Mugwump reaches out lazy hand and flicks it off – eyeball rolls on the ground gathering dust and hair. Slowly slowly, Mugwump drags body closer, reeling in, reeling in. Reptile’s other eye stares at Mugwump half-pleadingly, half-proudly – “did I do good, master?” – weaker and weaker – centipede feasting roughly, violently – fountaining blood – gurgle from ravaged throat sicken you to hear it – snapping sounds of centipede hunger – oblivious.
“Big one,” says Mugwump, and pulls metal hook like crowbar from under trestle, walks three slow steps to where centipede slithers inside Reptile’s open abdomen, rooting around for organs, and smashes hook deep into centipede’s spinal column. Vile clicking sound, silent arthropod shriek – desperate thrashing, then dead. Mugwump lifts hook, and up comes ex-centipede, up and out of bloodspattered mess that was once Mugwump’s “butler”. Beak clicks appreciatively. “Big one,” Mugwump repeats.
Hangs dead centipede on steel hook mounted on stone wall – takes obsidian dagger from utility belt on arseless chaps – crouches by what’s left of still-alive Reptile. “Thank you,” says Mugwump, “your sacrifice is appreciated.” Takes Reptile’s bloody head, turns it over – takes dagger and smashes it through back of skull where head meets neck – Reptile blinks out like light. Mugwump rises, puffs on joint – passes bloody joint to me – takes dagger and begins levering off carapace – slices off hunk of Black Meat and wraps it in paper – slaps it onto wormwood trestle.
“Thank you for your custom,” parrot ventriloquist voice chirrups as I pass what remains of the Camberwell Carrot back to spindly Mugwump digits and pick up paper-wrapped Meat, “please, come again.”