Screaming into the Well
As jones steered his way through the palm fronds of a few ideas that wanted to surface but kept diving back down again into the undertow of his brain, appearing just for a flicker of a moment like seal heads poking their eyes through the surface of the water and looking directly at you, really seeing you in that way that makes you think they are in fact thinking about you and considering your position there and your proximity and possible threat or ineptitude at swimming the smooth deep waters with your little spider legs, he came upon an opening. It was that time of day that could be any time of day. Why, what have we here? he said. A carved aperture in the ground had opened up before him, cut like an incision in a cadaver, bloodless and clean, and while he had the feeling he had seen this before, had he seen this before? He had seen it before, there below him like something worker men were at laying subway track or sewer lines, there was nothing of the sort going on here, now, however. No, this was something of an entirely different nature, something out of the science fiction books, a gateway, yes, that’s just what it was, just that, down into…he leaned out over the hole, weight balancing precarious and cantilevered, rocking back and forth with a delicious thrill of catching the fall, because down below there were hints of acetylene and smoke and hook lights and miner’s caps, but not the kind of apparatus that was up to regular street work, or maybe he saw a glorious obsidian river, a sip of which brought the perfect blend of light and oblivion, the blissful hippocrene once again if only he could reach it and take that luscious sip, and yet again it was changing, a thing of change both peristaltic and reptilian, ouroboros with scales of mythic wonder, upon which panel scale are you, dear shadow? More indeed riverlike and flowing and bobbing to the surface with emergent horses heads, whole horse carcasses it appeared in fact flowed by lamppost and pick axe and bricks and tents and timber crunched and splintered and poking up like cactus spines, why yes in fact he had stumbled onto the very portal that stands between the unfettered spirit and the pineal entrance to the skull’s cathedral, the foyer of limbo full of the discarded thought and memory and life detritus jettisoned when the soul makes its perennial leap from one narrative branch to another and comes up shaking mitred locks and gawping with primordial bewilderment from traveling through the arctic mind-bath of death’s cotilion. Ah what a marvel! What a blessing! What a beast to behold! The kind of thing that inspires the shakers and the riders and the babbling seers of the tribes and the scribes in caves scribbling their visions for the holy cantors to sing out to hungry congregations. And why shouldn’t he be given this? Gift that it was, the revealing, the Sator Square, the palm at the end of the mind? Come at last! Hadn’t he made his sacrifice? Been making it daily in the construction of sandwiches and the lave routine of hand and face, the examination of metric tables, the bustle and beehive tremble, the spin and clatter of the laundromat in apocalyptic white blear afternoon spin cycles, the barroom susitations and prescriptions and confidentials of yes yes, and oh, yes, listening like a priest, singing like a goat, holding court, holding secret, holding infirmary’s head like an apple to the mouth of sad Adam stuck at the threshold of dull Eden and wanting to cricket-leap out of the thicket of monotone….? A flesh. Ah, hidden desire. The cauldron of the human mind. Yes? And here before him now it was all opened up. And not in desert but in city center he stood, yet, verily at the navel itself. The very oracle, the well of conclusions and visions down which one was cast to scream the mollusk mutton of the clutterbrain, dragged like a sponge through the human day and decay and the mind at large with its static groaning of all the minds’ prayerful and baleful complaining and begging and here so too Jones knew he was called upon to add his barbaric howl into the rich earth ear and add to all the bilious conversation chatter and empty rattling on and so he opened his mouth and unleashed….Hallafactiouslatoranimockery I’ve been for you and you you see and me inside your blind bedroom feeling for a light feeling for a day feeling for a way back to the child in all body cast and casket tree high above among the wisteria limbs and mystery winds and swaying haven’t I? The game afoot with rules cooked up by a zookeeper or a circus clown, the ground of acid bath to touch, each grass blade sharp as glass and cured with curare…oh, no…swinging down so close those blades brush like tongues against my hair, like an acrobat, like a hero….yes, a hero, that’s the very thing, pursued by the animus antihero so loveless in his game and quest but oh so ingenious! Outguessing and outflanking at every turn. How does he do it? It’s maddening. It’s unfair! He must have a map wwe van’t see, after all, a mirror behind my head so he can see every card I hold, every diagram. Why did you do that? Rig the game like that? Give that creature access to every thread of thought and jurisprudence over every impulse. Dangling oh why yes like a marionet like a toy like a doll strung up over a campfire with sad plastic features melting into hideous globular and oh so gloriously beautiful and revealing truth to behold! Why make him in my image like that so I have to shatter the mirror to get out of the mess, the scene already changing as I fly right through the snapping jaws and the closing doors, your mad laughter following everywhere I go, nibbling at the nerves, biting at the toes, headlock in my dreams so I must gnaw through my own arms to get away! Madness! Who conceived this sort of thing? Why? Why that kind of charade? Pain like a payment, like a passport into a country of dream makers who can only repeat the sorrows and sufferings they’ve been through life after life so that we spiral and fly on the tornado’s wings with farm house clap clattering and shutters flying off like burnt skin, good mother brisket knitting her charm into a pair of guillotine eyes and sending us off on a forced march through jungle and trench rows, through blow torch fields littered with the dead and small town swept with sickness and company debt and anonymous foundry lives, through screaming, atomizing, disintegration knowing…knowing it’s happening while it’s happening? Patient on the table without an anesthetic? And then the outer drifting observer disembodied and looking in all directions and especially down at versions of myself so that I am not myself and think why, I never was, never could have been after all, and after all it was all an illusion? Really? That’s the great awaking? Just to dive back in and do it all again in another warped personality because I have to stand on the deck of the sinking ship and throw life preservers overboard to all of the bluing drowners with their shock faces and hands of ice so frozen they can’t even take a hold of the rope, is that it? Sing your praises all the way, merrily merrily and say why yes man is born of woman’s womb and lo and so and here we go and knife blade to the neck, pistol to the forehead, it doesn’t matter who has a hold of it, the reign of terror is the reign of terror is resin bubbling is amber with a fly wide-eyed trapped and mouthing, Pleeeeease heeeeelp meeee, it almost makes you laugh, shrinking down to the head of a pin with all the rest of the bumbling angels, the house cat swiping at your head like the great reliever come to liberate you from all that dread you carried around like work papers, like homework, a kid in school sitting down to a test and looking around and knowing, knowing sure as judgment that the scrambled questions shifting on the page are moving targets, and I have no answers! I have no answers! It’s radicals! It’s reciprocals! It’s a beast in a cage! It’s the hypotenuse leg! When in doubt, sit and stare moodily across the room or out the window. Heh heh. He laughed a bit, expunged, expelled, outcast and free. And what did the oracle say? What answer returned from the whirlwind?
He looked up. A very small crowd had gathered around him. Tourists. Children. People with backpacks and shopping bags were looking at him. A few were smiling. A few looked like they were getting ready to call the police. A few were pointing and talking to each other. Did someone take a picture? What was he saying? Yes what was he saying? Had they heard all that? Ooh, he felt his face on fire, and looking up he saw the wolves and the rattle snakes and the vipers all bending down from the tops of the buildings. The sky was an open mouth. A storm was brewing. Had he started that? The thoughts in his head were turning in the same direction as the spiral of clouds above. Surely, this could be no coincidence. He must have stirred up the heavenly gamelans and tapped into the great Macroprosopus. There would be consequences, without a doubt. He had better prepare himself. What are you looking at? he said, and he spat and snarled at them. Animal noises came from his mouth, it seemed, not the words he thought he said. Grunts and squeaks. He had brought that up from the depths. He had not fully re-arrived, recombined, reconstituted, amalgamated back into his human form. The fur on his hands stood up and he swiped at the air. The people backed away. What do you want from me?
We’re here for the tour, someone said.
We were told to meet here for the tour.
The underground tour.
We’re supposed to meet in front of Doc’s and the guide would start the tour. This is Doc’s.
Jones looked up. The bulb lights were on, spelling out the name. Why, it’s broad daylight, he said. Someone laughed.
Are you here for the tour?
No! Jones said, then he took a deep breath. What tour is this?
The underground tour. The underground city.
Oh! Jones shot right through the fuzzy roof and shook his head and cleared the clouds. It all came back in bites. And it was all beginning to blur as it formed. But he knew, he remembered. The underground city! Yes! No, I’m not here for that.
We thought this was part of the tour.
Funny, what you were saying. It was funny.
This was not what Jones expected. With both hands, he pressed against the top of his chest and pushed downward, smoothing the material of his coat. Then he cupped his hands over his mouth and with his fingertips rubbed his closed yes, then pushed his hands back across the top of his head, smoothing out the hair and resting his hands at last at the back of his neck, turning his head from side to side. Well, he said. No, indeed, I’m not here for the tour, and I’m afraid the show is over for now. This was after all simply a preamble to your journey. Caron shall be here shortly, and your tour will be a most fantastical, historical lesson! Invigorating. Stimulating. Truly, an eye-opener. Chuckles and laugher rippled through the little crowd.
But I’m afraid, Jones said, that I must now take my leave of you, and he conjured up a smile. He looked down and tapped the ground a few times with his toe. This seems to be holding, he said. A few more people laughed, and he bowed slightly, took a deep breath and went about his day.
Douglas Cole has published six collections of poetry and The White Field, winner of the American Fiction Award. His work has appeared in several anthologies as well as journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Poetry International, The Galway Review, Bitter Oleander, Chiron, Louisiana Literature, Slipstream, as well Spanish translations of work (translated by Maria Del Castillo Sucerquia) in La Cabra Montes. He is a regular contributor to Mythaixs, an online journal, where in addition to his fiction and essays, his interviews with notable writers, artists and musicians such as Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), Darcy Steinke (Suicide Blond, Flash Count Diary) and Tim Reynolds (T3 and The Dave Matthews Band) have been popular contributions https://mythaxis.com/?s=douglas+Cole. He has been nominated twice for a Pushcart and Best of the Net, received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry and recently won the Editors’ Choice Award in Prose from RiverSedge literary journal. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington. His website is https://douglastcole.com/.