It started with An American in Paris, that Gene Kelly movie. My dead mother, who had never left Des Moines in her life, was in the café scenes watching Gene and singing along to “S’Wonderful”. She loved that film.
Good for her, I say. And good for Kellie Manx, my high school sweetheart, for appearing in the books of Mark and John in the Bible. She’s the one walking on the water with Jesus, instead of Peter. Somehow I always thought she’d be the sort to do that.
Constantin Dinescu, a fellow clerk at the law firm where I work, got run over last week and wound up in an old Woody Guthrie song. I don’t really know if it’s appropriate or not; we didn’t talk that much.
Hold on a minute. I guess that means Kellie’s probably dead. Bummer.
I’ve asked around, and nobody else is noticing their dead relatives and friends showing up in books or movies or songs or whatever. They look at me kind of weird when I ask, too, like maybe I’ve been smoking the wrong stuff.
I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a way to make a buck at this. My first plan was to bet a guy in a bar that my mom was a film star, then show her the movie. But she’s only in that one movie, so far as I can tell, and it isn’t that big a part, and I probably wouldn’t win much that way anyway.
My second plan was to sell the rights, kind of like insurance, I guess. I went to Trevor, my best bud, and said that for a c-note I’d stick him into Spider-Man comics. At first he thought I’d got a writing gig, but when I explained it to him he just laughed.
I don’t have a third plan yet. I’m still working on it. Don’t invite me to any horror movies, though. My dog died recently and I really don’t want to see him in one.
Fang Chin put down his palette and brush, rose slowly from his stool, knees cracking, and peeked around his canvas at the UFO that had just landed nine meters from where he stood, in the center of the Dafen Art Village on the outskirts of Shenzhen. The saucer was a blackish color, carbon possibly, or charcoal, but Chin could not tell for sure, as he felt slightly nauseated upon looking at it and had to turn away. It was roughly the size of his artist’s shed, vaguely disc-shaped, and it pulsed with a frequency so low that his bones vibrated.
The Village itself was in chaos, artist workers and framers and pigment mixers running in all directions, clambering over each other to escape the presence of this thing that could not be, paintings forgotten, oil reproductions of Van Gogh and Vermeer and Modigliani and Toulouse-Lautrec and hundreds of others, scattered, slashed, ruined in haste and fear.
But Fang Chin did not run. One of the few artists in the Village to paint “originals,” his imitations of the masters stylized, skewed beyond mere mimicry, featuring in the top right corner of each piece a small representation of the UFO that pulsed before him right now, his trademark, his “signature,” impossibly come to life.
Without transition, two amorphous blobs of the same nauseating color as the saucer stood before him, roughly his height, undulating hypnotically, and said, in perfect Mandarin, “Artist-Prescient Fang Chin?”
Chin cleared his throat, licked his lips, and said, “Yes. That’s me.”
“At last!” The blobs undulated faster, more cheerfully. Chin could not tell if the synchronized voices were spoken or just in his head. “Long have we searched the Multiverse for you, such a rare prescence, located only here and in our home univ, so highly improbable your existence.”
“Ah, okay. Thank you.”
“Today we bestow upon you a mighty honor! You and your work are to be immortalized by our collective, absorbed into our cultural consciousness and forever revered as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Will you accept?”
Immortality was of course any artist’s dream. To be placed amongst the highest echelons of creative visual endeavor, to join with those who had inspired him and given his life meaning, to be known beyond the small galleries in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, his name on the lips of everyone in China, Asia, the world. His fingers and toes tingled.
“Yes, I accept.”
And without a word, the two amorphous blobs flowed over Fang Chin, covering him from head to toe, rippling with rhythmic consummation, and devoured him utterly. His DNA mingled with theirs, transmitting experience and epiphany, and the two blobs uttered a cry of delight. Then they re-merged with their saucer, lifted up into the sky, and were never heard from again.
This piece is just one in a 23-part linked narrative called Fragile, which will take a liberal interpretation of the song titles (but not the lyrics) of the masterful Nine Inch Nails double-album The Fragile. To read the other chapters in this series, click on the category “Fragile” below.
Between densely gnarled groves, the ruins of Castle Noland rose on Spindle Mountain against the late sun like a needle one cannot spot in the carpet unless the light catches it or he treads on it. The mountain, though short, was steep and crumbled in Yul’s hands–a miracle it had lasted. It could not bar him from his lost father.
Castle Noland lacked drawbridges and doors, so Yul made one, knocking down bricks, some of which decomposed to powder. Sunlight streamed through the roof and holes in the mortar, illuminating dust motes. One beam shone on a white-bearded, white-robed old man stooped atop his throne: like God after the sixth day. The beam moved, and the old man regressed into shadow.
Was this the same man who sent the child Yul on quests: Track the Amethyst of Memory to the caves of Kaldan, wrestle the Ruby of No Regrets from the King of Cobramen, hunt down the Cape of No Tomorrows through the thorny jungles of Afterwine?
Yul had never put his mind to quests. He’d set out but–heavy-hearted–stopped to rest on a stump. Days passed like a clock’s pendulum. Soon hunger roused his head, and he’d slink home.
Yet Yul fetched the Ruby of No Regrets by trading plastic beads he’d dubbed the Necklace of Deathless Hours: “Hours slipped without a death if you gripped the necklace righteously.” True, it’d fail, but had they held it right?
The Ruby had never given Yul the confidence he needed to start his own life. Instead, Yul had worried over quests his father shipped him on. Late in his third decade, he, questing, paused at a village, where a gangly girl drew water. When he asked for a drink, she gave without reservation.
Twelve decades later, he’s returned, to bring Father to a new home among sheep and grapevines. Yul stood beside the old man: his white contrasting with the gleaming ruby ring lolling on the right, wrinkled hand.
“Hello?” The old man leaned forward, milky white eyes scanning the room. “That you, Spot? I’ve a doggy biscuit.”
Yul grit his teeth.
“I shouldn’t have let you go.” The last word was a sob.
Yul wanted to shake the man, ask if a lost dog was all he regretted.
The old man’s body shook violently. His ribs rippled beneath the robes, coming and going. “I loved you like a son.”
Yul wrapped his arms around his father, shushing and humming a lullaby.
“Boy!” the copy editor cried.
Adolphius Equis, AKA Boy, had been chatting up one of the reporters to verify mutual interest when he heard the summons. He ran to the watercooler, poured himself a paper cup full, and tossed it back. He noticed the reporter was still watching him, so Adolphius grinned, lifted his black tie and mock-hung himself–tongue protruding, head lolling to the side. It got the laugh he’d wanted. He shot back a sly grin.
Adolphius flicked drops of cool water on his face and dashed the last few meters into the copy editor’s office. He panted as realistically as he could manage. “Almost didn’t hear you, boss–what, with the noise of the metal fans.”
The copyeditor didn’t glare long at the absent-minded secretary. He stood and handed Adolphius a typed page with various corrections in red ink. “Take this to the editor. Don’t dawdle.”
In the reflection of the window, Adolphius adjusted his tie and pushed back his hair while he watched the copyeditor bend over a filing cabinet. Adolphius let a half-animal noise escape his throat, which he turned into a throat-clearing.
With a manila folder in hand, the copyeditor spun on his heel and snapped his heels together. “What part of ‘Don’t dawdle’ didn’t you get?”
“Just want to make a good impression, sir.” Adolphius marched out of the office, down the hall, and–out of eyesight–ducked into the bathroom to seat himself on the porcelain throne. He had reading material:
Hitler Wins Again!
(UPI) After conquering the world and ridding it of the filth of Africans, Americans, Asians, Eurasians, Hitler successfully purified the European blood down to the superior Aryan line. Of course, not all Germans measured up to the Aryan standard, and these genetic reprobates were swiftly dispatched. Superior Nazi scientists have since developed human cloning techniques, which lead to the ultimate purity. However, it has come to Hitler’s attention that some Adolfs of genetic variability are not wearing their mustaches between four and six centimeters. Effective immediately, all such outliers will be dispatched with due haste. Heil, Hitler!
Adolphius finished his business, washed his hands, pulled out ruler and scissors from his back pocket, and trimmed the impurities.