Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Heart of a Dog

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The small, mixed-breed dogs lay on the rough wooden table, spread out evenly as though prepared for enshrouding and burial.

The night had the bluish-black cast of the hand-carved and hand-buffed ebony I had seen in a marketplace on the outskirts of Nairobi. The wood had been carved into the shape of a black rhinoceros, then buffed with natural oils and a soft cloth.

“What are you doing with them? Do you really have to experiment on dogs?” I asked the Medic.

The laboratory smelled vaguely of roses, with overtones of pungent chrysanthemum. The weather outside was violent. Lightning illuminated the skies in unpredictable flashes, and the glow cast along the walls and on the Medic’s face was an unhealthy greenish gray.

The crash of thunder, the blank, unadorned walls made me shiver. I avoided looking into the mirror.

“I’m surprised that it is raining like this in the middle of the desert,” I remarked.

“What makes you think you’re still in the desert?” asked the Medic. “You were asleep for a long time. It often happens like that. You sleep for three days straight. Something deep in your psyche tells you you’re safe. You’re out of the kill zone.”

The Medic laughed and placed electrodes on the dogs' skulls. I half-expected giant black thread and stitched-together limbs, a shaved underbelly. High-pitched giggles accompanied sparks. The electrodes were rubbed with conducting gel.

Lightning flashed. As the equipment sputtered and surged with the electricity, I trembled. The dogs twitched and whimpered despite their deep sedation.

“What do you have them sedated with?” I asked.

“Something that should feel very familiar to you,” he replied.

The Medic peeled off the electrodes, then placed them on my temples. Then, he held the back of the chair and waited. The growl of thunder presaged more lightning strikes. The storm was not retreating. Another cell was approaching.

A flash in the corner of my eye, the sizzle of conducting gel, the smell of singed hair, flesh: I could see it was bringing us both a half a click closer to where we needed to be. When the flash finally came, though, I realized the Medic had no faith in what he was doing. He was doing it anyway, even though he knew it was profoundly immoral because the sacrifice and pain were for something that probably would not work.

The dogs slowly shook themselves awake.

The dogs seemed strangely relaxed. I, in contrast, battled the tongue that threatened to plunge itself down my throat. I was unable to do anything about the waves of paralyzing pain except to remind myself that it could not last forever. I would either die or the electrically-stimulated convulsions would end. I fought to inhale and to take in sufficient oxygen to keep my chest rising and falling.

The scars from the electrode burns would probably never completely fade. Neither would the shock that occurred upon opening my eyes, and seeing the Medic’s greenish-gray skin turn a bit more olive. A mirror, strategically placed, gave me the ability to see if the rubbery, olive-gray cheeks and neck still had enough elasticity to keep from splitting open with each new surge of electricity. With effort, I forced one eye open and gazed deeply into the mirror which seemed to tremble and sway.

The trembling intensified, resulting in something akin to a convulsion, while a warm, clotted liquid -- vomit or blood - surged from my throat onto the floor. The mirror swayed above the Medic. The Medic was alone in the laboratory. I was not there any more, or was I? A greenish-gray face appeared in the mirror.

I was looking at myself.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Premise

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The Premise: A woman is sick of the stench of rotting flesh. She lost the love of her life to a roadside explosive. Enough is enough. She can't stand any more. So, she teams up with an insane medic who has found a way to animate the dead by pumping stem cells into them. The only problem - how do you produce enough stem cells to fabricate an army of the walking, but not talking UNDEAD? It's not easy, and could be expensive.

Hoggicarton, Inc. is willing to pay, though. They are providing security and it's costing them a lot to pay the ransoms, life insurance, body armor, not to mention crazy per diems. Buying zombies would require a one-time expenditure. It is even better than drones and satellites -- after all, the spare parts are readily available (lots of dead people), and it's easy to repair them. All you do is hook them up to an IV and pump them full of pink gel. That's what the stem cells look like when in solution.

So, it's easy enough to see where her deranged passion takes her. She ends up with a trunk of money and an obligation to bring back the goods. Not only is she motivated by her desire to stop the carnage, she is also motivated by the fact that the people who are paying will kill her if she does not perform.


The medic's eyes had the reflectionless depth of one who has seen too much death and suffering, and at some point he drew a line in the blood-soaked sand and refused to cross over, ever, any more, under any circumstances.

I was glad it was hot here in the desert near Doha. My tears ran in the in the same rivulets as my sweat.

I didn't want to go back inside. The prefabricated structure looked like a trailer that would be swept away in a tornado in a southern Plains state in the U.S. Here, it looked faded by the sun. The large red crescent moon on the side had been scoured by the sand, its message as well as its medical mission torn away by the environment.

It was cold as ice inside. The soles of my feet were burning even though I wore thick-soled boots against the rough surface and possible sand scorpions. Still, I did not want to go back inside. It was cold in there.

It was as cold as one would expect a morgue to be.

"What happened? How did you make your discovery?" I asked.

His eyes came back into focus. It was not as reassuring as it should have been. I knew something had crossed over, and it would be necessary to listen to him quietly, without making sudden gestures and without showing the reactions of grief and revulsion that I most certainly would have.

"If one looks at the real purpose of war, it's pretty evident that it's just a way to accelerate the consumption of manufactured goods," said the medic.

He had a name. I refused to use it. As in Kafka's "In a Penal Colony," it was easier to simply refer to him as his role. So, from that point on, I decided to simply refer to him as the Medic.

Ironically, he could have served as a surrogate for the love of my life, whom I had lost to this nauseating carnage where waves of heat radiated up in giant hallucinatory metallic flashes.

It was easier to maintain a sense of thick numbness if I did not feel. The absence of names, the absence of attachment helped me in that regard.

"If you evaluate the American Civil War, you can see it was probably one of the best of its ilk," continued the Medic. Yes. It was brilliant. The North, by pretending to want unity, actually did not care. They were able to sell all the goods they could possibly make, as well as keep the trade routes between New York and Europe busy with war-driven commerce.

"War is good for keeping the unmanageable elements of society out of the picture, or at least cooperating in the hopes of 'victory,'" he continued.

"Hey, don't you think you're being cynical?" I asked. "War is about valor, honor, and defending the honor of the Queen. It is a privilege to participate in the sacred gift, the honorable sacrifice."

The Medic looked at me. His eyes were watery and distant. At that moment, I knew that both of us used words as subterfuge and our appearance as a decoy. What we felt transcended words and superficial appearance.

"If you break it down, you can accelerate the consumption of goods by accelerating life cycles," he continued.

"Does it work where there is disease?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. Absolutely," he said. "It makes it easier to bully, coerce, or simply dupe people out of their money and their property."

"The best approach is to accelerate the consumption of manufactured items. War works."

"Unfortunately, human beings have to get involved," I said.

"Why not robot wars?" he asked.

"Like Terminator or a 50s sci-fi film?" I asked.
"It would work, except it would miss a huge piece of the equation, which is perfectly illustrated by suicide bombers," he said.

"And what might that be?" I asked. The wind rattled something and it buzzed like a rattlesnake.

"The goal is to create the largest gap possible with modernity. One needs to find a way to symbolize the heart (that bleeds when it is blown up) in conflict against the Machine."

I thought about what he was saying. To me, it was a ghastly theater that simply did not need to be enacted.

"The anti-modernity thing is a completely pointless charade. It's propaganda of the deed. I am not interested in their antiquated philosophies. I simply want to get the humans out. Let it be a war of the inanimate."

The Medic continued to explain that he had a plan to help replace the living with something else - something inanimate. He wanted to fill the battlefields with robots and decoys, but it was important not to let anyone know. Otherwise, some evil scientist somewhere would come up with a way to wage war that was even more sickening.

The Medic took off his cover and wiped sweat from his forehead with what appeared to be a babywipe he kept in a square plastic packet in his blouse pocket.

The sun was sinking in the west. The buzz of machinery reminded me again of rattlesnakes. My heart sank. I knew that something terrible was going on, but I was not able to protect myself from it. Instead, I was drawn toward it, even though I knew, in my heart of hearts, that it was fundamentally evil, even as the thing it was designed to counter was evil.

Fight evil with evil.

Nothing new in that, I reflected. It was the way of the world. The skill lay in trotting out the newest version of evil and convincing the "useful idiots," the consuming masses, that what they instinctively recoiled against was not evil at all, but constituted a test of their virtue.

I shuddered. I wondered if I was, in fact, part of that profound evil. I missed him too much. It hurt. It made me irrational. It made me willing to consider unspeakable acts. If only it had been me. If only …

The Medic's eyes glowed in the dark.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Percussion: The Skinless Hand Reached Up Toward My Neck

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The skinless hand reached up toward my neck. It started to squeeze. I felt my tongue swell. The contractions continued. They were hard. They were premature. Foreboding nothing by terror and misery, I dreaded the moment of actual childbirth.

When it happened, I was suffused by nausea; not the normal nausea that accompanies extreme pain, but the nausea that accompanies extreme grief.

With one flesh-ripping contraction, the bag of wet tissue forced its way out of me. I felt something's tongue on my ear. I heard the thick, foul promises, the torpid wad of dreams.

I looked down. Half-expecting a birth-cry, I was not at all expecting what I saw. The sac fell open. Dry dust, ash, and the char from burned hair whoofed up, making a miniature mushroom cloud of unspeakable stench.

And then I heard something I would never forget, for as long as I might live. It was the bone-clatter; the clatter of dry bones falling to the floor as my body expelled what it could in the childbirth process. Marimbas. Steel drums. Soft castanets.

The skeleton was terribly deformed, but one could still see what it was.

The most horrible thing, besides the deformity, was the fact that it was completely dry. The sac itself was wet, but inside was a landscape as dry as the inside of a mechanically inflated balloon.

And then, I hemorrhaged blood and a clear fluid that looked like glycerine, but smelled vaguely like mint.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

El Prostibulo

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It was definitely a down-market kind of place. Outside, the architecture had a frayed sort of Baja California mission-inspired elegance. Inside it was seedy. The felt was ripped on the pool table in the large entryway, and the beer they sold was cheap yet cold. I would not have realized it was a brothel as well, except for the look of alarm on the women's faces when I walked in. It was on a back street far from the tourist areas of Cabo San Lucas, far from "El Squid Roe," Cabo-Wabo, Carlos and Charlies, and all the places where newlyweds smoothed cocoa butter balm on their sunburns, and women soothed themselves with a cool papaya and shea butter masque while having their bodies abraded smooth with ginger and lime scented salt scrubs.

They were seeking life. I was not. I was seeking death - not my own, but the portable shreds and scraps that could infuse one's veins with life.

This was far from the upscale spas and clubs. It smelled vaguely of Clorox. I heard the scrape and swoosh of a broom on a tile floor, as I felt eyes bore through my heart. My knees felt rubbery, and my abdomen ached in sympathy with what I knew the majority of the women here would eventually have to endure, if they had not already.

"Can I help you?"

Give them faulty condoms. Make sure they become pregnant. Force them to terminate their pregnancies. Collect the stem cells. Collect the fetal tissue. Collect the placenta. Collect whatever you can of new life. Take that incipient life, that vital fluid. Bag it.

"I don't know. I am looking for my husband." I let my voice trail off, hoping it would be a technique that would be effective at disguising the fact that I was not altogether sure of myself. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go through with this.

Somewhere in Costa Rica, a tropical pit viper with a head the size of a small child's hand would coil itself tightly and buzz its "cascabeles;" the frantic shatter-buzz of its rattles a conditioned response to both danger and predatory urge.

She looked at me with a blend of compassion and ennui.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Yes," I responded. The smell of spearmint. Gray-green flesh. Char was better. A soldier vomiting in the corner. The smell of blood. The smell of burned blood. The scream of a man burning alive.

The sound of the love of my life.

I started weeping, tears violent and unrelenting. My chest constricted. My breath came in ugly gasps and wheezes. My heart melted and remelted, reconstituting itself every time the grief surged anew.

She, of course, misunderstood my reaction. She attributed it to spousal infidelity. When I thought of that, I almost laughed, despite the profound disconcertedness of my own consciousness.

You never know how it will shake out, do you? Yeah, you have to laugh. Then fight the nausea. It's all about the future, pre-destiny or the way human knowledge is spliced, diced, and pushed into a preset ideology.

The blue mist came. There were images I preferred to push from my mind. It was best to never think of them. No one likes to think of one's memory as being damaged. Perhaps the damage was confined to the soul.

The pink gel held out a promise. Pink like the little cylindrical chunk of rubber on the end of a pencil. Erasing and healing errors, even the mortal ones.

"I'm not sure," I said to the woman wearing a tight cotton "wife-beater" t-shirt and a tight metallic gold skirt. Her high heels were reminiscent of the platform sandals of the 1970s. Her hoop earrings and gold chain had peace symbol charms. Overall, it was a vaguely retro hippie look, and it suited her. Incongruously, she wore a pink fake fur shoulder bag emblazoned with dice. It was cute in an oddly Japanese "harajuku" way.

"Si, senora," she said. Her eyes looked vaguely sad. Perhaps I was just projecting.

"Thank you," I said and walked slowly out the door.

Friday, May 12, 2006

El Matabuey

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“What am I supposed to do with $400,000 in cash, give or take a couple ten thousand or so?”

The blue mist, the smell of spearmint. The taste of wet metal in my mouth. It had the flavor of greed and fear.

The question disturbed me. I realized I was afraid to seek answers. I decided to call my father. But after I dialed the number, I realized that someone was probably monitoring or at least tracking my calls. I may have put my dad at risk. Someone might show up at his door and demand that he hand over the monies they had some how “lost” in Los Cabos, Mexico, and which were somehow delivered in a carbon copy of a suitcase owned by an innocuous tourist who happened to be staying at the Westin Regina, halfway between San Jose El Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, right on the ocean. I hung up before it finished the first ring.

I looked down from my balcony to the beach. Surf sprayed on the rocks.

The ultimate irony was that I knew the answer. I had known it for years. In fact, I had been actively seeking it. Now I was afraid.

The beaches were posted with “DO NOT SWIM – DANGEROUS RIP TIDES” and the hotel’s swimming pools were positioned so that when you lowered yourself into the glistening warmish waters, you heard the surf and you imagined yourself in the sea itself.

The skies were blue. My eyes were equally so.

But, this was not a good time for blue skies. Typhoons, though rare, could hit the southern part of the Baja Peninsula. The last time it happened, all the bridges were washed away, along with the homes built along the edges of dry washes. The dry washes, or “arroyos,” weren’t so dry after all. Now all the bridges had been rebuilt, resulting in lovely, spanking new, glistening white concrete structures across which one ferried oneself in the Stygian SUV that suited your mood, or your taste. My mind was suddenly drowned in almost-forgotten memories of songs I had heard long ago on a long-forgotten radio station. Blue Oyster Cult. Don’t fear the reaper. Was that it? The concept of a reaper was too vague for anyone to fear anyway.

The caves belched magnesium-infused waters. I imagined tangles of snakes – the way diamondback rattlesnakes weave themselves into a ball in their dens in the carbonate caves of southern Oklahoma.


“They call it a MATA BUEY,” he said. Inside the glass terrarium, an enormous black and tan snake lay motionless. Its triangular head was the size of a small child’s fist. The scales were dry. The eyes were classic pit viper.

“Bull-killer?” I asked. My voice was weak. His eyes were a celestial blue. I felt my knees tremble as his voice resonated somewhere in my chest. I suddenly understood how and why an old queen would do anything at all to keep the lovely, yet venomous young man in her clutches.

He was close to me. I could sense his heart pounding in his chest. His face, however, looked calm, even indifferent. I knew he was dissembling.

The snake about about 8 feet long. At its widest point, it had the thickness of a small child’s calf.


I knew what was expected of me. I was resisting. My life was in danger as long as anyone knew I had seen the cash. If I jettisoned the Burberry plaid carryon luggage, someone would find it. Someone would know it was once in my room and that I had touched it.

If I returned it, claiming an error, the people I returned it to would pocket it and claim I never gave it to them.

If I did what I knew was expected of me, I would be passing through a cold, dark toll booth to oblivion.


Bags of pink gel. The color of the matabuey’s smooth, pink throat. The venom dripping lightly from one delicate fang.

Something resembling a tongue or a plump boll of cotton yawned as the snake’s jaws opened. With its mouth fully open, I could imagine it swallowing a tennis ball, or, more likely, a rat, a rabbit, even a baby coyote. (photo on

Clear plastic containers of pink gel. Substances are glistening, clearer than flesh, and certainly more enlightening. Our light illuminated what it could. An IV pole. A smooth rush of gurney wheels.

Tears sizzled like venom on my cheeks.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

To Build the Perfect Creche


My sixth sense kicked in. I leaned toward the balcony, all the while, realizing I was not alone. A clammy, cold hand on my arm – and there I was: hot, lightly coated with sweat.

“I thought you were dead,” I gasped.

“I am,” he said. A blue mist rose up. It smelled of spearmint and marigolds.

The ocean crashed in its customary, troublesome way, a dozen surfers cutting the curls in formation, one after another. The sun setting, then re-setting itself. Shadows flitted across the moon. The face I saw reflected there was not reassuring. The lips I saw were upturning, mimicking a smile yet in reality exposing an existential truth in a frightening leer, and they were all too familiar - the lips, the smile, and the existential truth.

His hand was cold metal. Beads of perspiration skittered about like mercury dropped from above. Mad silver hematitic globules tumbled in the deep center of my mind until my inner eye shone like polished chrome under the brightest, most evil false promise, most tantalizing of full moons.

You are the hard edge of my consciousness. You are the soft lips of my heart. You are the love of my life who goes away the instant I break myself from my dream and open my eyes. I hate you for that. You always go away. When will you realize it hurts me?

The eyes were liquid mercury. The pupils were swimming, now drowning in pinpoints of darkness.

Scent of marigolds, mint shifting down to tones of lilac and burned geranium.

Blue haze. My eyes swimming in tears. Sharp crystals stabbing the place behind my eyes where tears forget to originate.

“I thought you were dead,” I repeated.

“Yes.” His voice was rough gravel. “Of course. You killed me.”

Thigh muscles responded by tensing, and the small of my back trembling, heart surging hard. My face, however, was another story.

I knew I had to defend myself.

Pivoting quickly on my thin spike heels, I grabbed the nearest loose thing within reach. It was a length of iron rebar used to reinforce concrete. It had been left behind by workers.

As hard as I could, I plunged it into the middle of the hideous liquid metal eye that refused to stop staring at me. The expanse of metal met no resistance. The horror. No bounds. I felt vomit surge into the back of my throat. In spite of the nausea, I pulled the metal out of his eye, held it over my head, flexed my biceps and cracked it down on his head with all the strength I could muster. His slimy green-gray skin split open. It had a sickening sheen, and ungodly luster.

“Go away,” I said. I did not recognize my own voice. “Stay away. Just stay far, far away.”

“I can’t,” he said. The large pores of his face opened up, while the skin took on the appearance of putty. He had not even flinched when I hit him as hard as I could with my piece of iron.

“You could at least have the decency to hit me with your body. You could at least respect me enough to touch me,” he said. “You bitch.”

Tears streamed down my face.

He laughed. The voice was somewhere between a rasp and a laugh; he held his hand to his head as though he suffered from the kind of paralyzing grief that takes one to the outer bounds of decency, not to mention life.

“You won’t touch me. You wouldn’t dare,” he said. “If you did, it would take us back to the beginning.”

Cold mercury, so heavy a liquid that it penetrates the pores, invades the skin, blood vessels, and leaves unfortunate ones utterly mad. The heart paralysis was almost instantaneous. My lungs and throat filled with cold, sticky, sour honey.

With difficulty, I inhaled. My voice was thick with mucous. The whispers were obscene.

“Go away.”


“You killed me.”

“You’ve got it backwards.”

His eyes receded. They were cold, silver marbles. I collapsed on the floor. The moon and its awkward, smirking leer swirled around the blue fog.

The last thing I remembered was the scent of carnations.


I awakened to the pink glow of dawn. I was in the bed next to the sheer curtains in front of the French doors that opened to a balcony overlooking the Sea of Cortes.

With a start, I sat bolt upright in my bed. I remembered.

I looked down. Next to my bed was another shoebox filled with $100 bills.