Powered almost entirely by whiskey and attitude, Captain Mojo’s ship “Chastity’s Bottom” sailed its way across the sky in search of trouble and rock ‘n roll—but more importantly, in search of her.
The crew had sold all the cannon for hammocks and guitars. The First Lieutenant gave herself the nickname “Ten-Shot Hammond,” the Second Lieutenant called himself “Six-string Butler,” and everybody called the Third Lieutenant names that could not be printed in the presence of gentlemen—or ladies, for that matter.
They swept through the air, and the other travelers of the skies feared them, especially when they started to play.
“Tell us where she is,” they would shout across the range of clouds, “or we will start a fifty-minute guitar solo!”
So folk in their air boats would lie rather than listen.
“She’s in the City of Rain!”
“She’s joined a band and they’re on tour in the Twelve Currents!”
“She never wants to talk to you again, she hates you, and she wants all her sheet music back!”
“Who the heck are you looking for? Who is she?!”
Only fools asked this question: Captain Mojo would answer them in song, before he burst into tears and hurled empty whiskey bottles across the abyss between ships; he would tell them of her red, red hair, and her glow-in-the-dark tattoo, and her smile like a thunderhead looking for a fight.
The last whiskey bottle flung, he would always end by leaning his elbows on the gunwale and sobbing, “If you see her, tell her I meant it as a compliment!”
It was the day without a story. At least, if we were reading the dials and blinking lights correctly.
The fictiometer sat in the middle of Professor Woodfern’s desk, whirring and clanking.
“According to this,” he said, nose grazing the pages of the operation’s manual as he read, “we’re in a state of storylessness. It has no beginning and no end.” He looked up, and got that voice he had when he dictated articles on critical theory, “An atemporal state of irremediable middleness. A paramodern and yet curiously prelapsarian condition attended by the utter suspension of causality.”
“Meaning?” I said. The machine was beginning to overheat, so I hoisted the nearest window a open couple inches.
“Events happen, and other events follow, but nothing causes anything else. It’s all isolated, as if the laws of profluence had been suspended.” There was a quiver in his voice as he looked out the window, where the shadow of the clock tower didn’t fall on the roses.
An airplane droned overhead.
My scalp tingled.
In the next office, someone sang a tune without words, only to be interrupted by their own laughter.
I picked up the operation’s manual, and clonked the side of the fictiometer with it the way you’d bang the side of a malfunctioning TV.
The readings didn’t change.
“It’s true,” I said.
And then, other things happened.
When I woke for the first time I had a little trouble focusing, since my eyes seemed to be made of burned-out light bulbs. Soon enough, things began to come clear, and I found I was slumped in the corner of a weedy dirt lot between two shabby row houses. Crouched in front of me was a grubby little Rabbi.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said the Rabbi. “You’re thinking, ‘Where am I? Who am I? Who is this disreputable person in front of me? Why do I have light bulbs for eyes?’ Don’t worry. It’ll all make sense soon when I turn you loose on my enemies.”
“Something smells bad,” I said.
“Smells bad? Smells bad? Never mind that, you have a job to do. You know what you are? You’re a trash golem. I didn’t have the clay and things they usually use, so I asked myself what we have a lot of here in this city, and I said ‘Trash!’ Of trash, we have plenty. Now, you’ll need instructions.”
I heaved myself to my feet, one of which was a dishwasher and the other of which was part of a rusted-out old street sweeper, with the brushes still on. I shuffled in the dirt, trying out the brushes. It kicked up a lot of dust on the Rabbi, who coughed.
“For crying out loud, never do that,” said the Rabbi. “Are you ready for your instructions?”
“I’m ready,” I said, although I didn’t know if I was or not.
“All right. So, you’re a trash golem. Why trash? It’s ironic! Listen, all these people around you, in all these houses, with their rich families, they make more trash than you could imagine. They’ll bury the world in that trash, so I want you to go and destroy them.”
“The children too?”
“Well, not the children, but everyone else.”
“The parents, but not the children?”
“What are you, a conversation golem? OK, you’re right, not the parents with the children.”
“You’re giving me a pain, you know. Right here in my neck. OK, they’re sweet, they’re happy, they’re in love, I get it. So no, not the young couples.”
“So just the people on their own?”
The Rabbi sighed heavily, and I went over and put my lawnmower gently on his shoulder.
“All right, I admit it: the whole thing about the enemies with the trash, I made that up. It wasn’t even a very good lie.”
“You’re just lonely?”
The Rabbi kicked an old tin can across the lot. “Well,” he finally said, “do you play chess? We could go to the park and play chess.”
I followed the Rabbi out of the lot and along the river toward the park. The sun glinted on my metal parts and warmed my rusty parts, and I thought longingly of destroying someone.