Monday, December 10, 2007

Upcoming Chomu Stories

The following stories will be forthcoming on Chomu:

Justin Isis - `Cantopop Hasn`t Been the Same Since Aaron Kwok Sold Out`

Justin Isis - `I Attain to the Level of Fucking Your Basic Hairdresser`

Justin Isis - `Isis Has No Friends`

Quentin S. Crisp - `Living? Our Servants Will Do That For Us, Etc.`

Quentin S. Crisp - `Thomas Ligotti Is My Favorite Flavor of Candy Bar`

More announcements to be made soon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Justin Isis - They Told Me to Stop Whoring My Suffering and Eat More Steak

art by chris wilhelm

Spontaneous Reincarnation

"Well, this is a fine pickle we've got ourselves in." MacArthur said.

Hirohito looked at MacArthur's pelvis. There was something obscenely womanish about it - its sloping girth and the way the rest of him seemed to follow it as he walked. The pipe jutted from his mouth like a handle.

Hirohito looked down at his Mickey Mouse watch.


They were sitting in a cafe. They didn't have any yen, and from time to time the waiter would wander over and bother them.

"We need jobs." Hirohito said.

"We don't have any qualifications." MacArthur said.

"We need jobs."

"I am the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. You are the Emperor of Japan."

"We're not, anymore. We're nothing."

"I am not nothing." MacArthur said. "Every man has been put here for a reason."


"Hotel staff." Hirohito said, and put down the newspaper. They'd found it near the trash. They were sitting next to a man in a purple blanket. From time to time the suits would toss him coins.



"Well, reception?"

"Room service. Transport, cleaning, things like that."

"Chamber maids." MacArthur said. "We're going to be chamber maids."

"Hotel staff." Hirohito said.


Hirohito picked a condom from the floor. There was a knock on the door.

The woman asked for extra towels and Hirohito took them from his trolley. He put his hands at his sides.

He gave a little bow after each service he performed.

The woman didn't thank him.

Everyone was taller than him, he thought.

When MacArthur walked down the hallway, he shambled and slouched. He seemed to push the trolley with his stomach.

Piece of Shit

"This hotel is a piece of shit." Arturo said. "They should burn it to the ground."

He handed Hirohito a tin of biscuits. They always took coffee breaks in the check-out rooms when the supervisor wasn't around.

"Philippines is better than this." Arturo said.

"I used to be big in the Philippines." MacArthur said.


"I'm really really sorry." Reiko said.

She stepped out of the elevator and vomited.

"I'm so, so sorry." she said. "You're going to have to clean that up, right?"

Hirohito looked at her.


"Your hygiene and personal conduct are not up to standard." Mr. Kaji said.

"What are you talking about?" MacArthur said.

"We have standards at this hotel." Mr. Kaji said. "Our cleaning staff are expected to dress neatly, and carry themselves with a certain bearing. We do not...slouch."


"Thanks so much for the towels." Reiko said.

"Is there anything else you'd like?"

"That's fine...oh, I was wondering. How can I get to Asakusa from here?"

"Would you like me to show you? I can show you."

"You mean..."

"I'll be finished soon." Hirohito said.


"What the hell are we doing here, Arturo." MacArthur said. "A couple of guys like us."

"Do you have any more creamers in your trolley," Arturo said. "I'm out of creamers."

Interpersonal Relationship

"You don't think I'm too old?" Hirohito said.

"I like old guys." Reiko said.

Ten minutes passed.

"Are you being serious?" Hirohito said.

Tokyo Disneyland

"We should all go to Tokyo Disneyland." Reiko said.

They went there.

"I can't understand any of this." MacArthur said. "Goofy is supposed to speak English, for fuck's sake. Donald Duck is the only one that is making any sense."


They were alone in the apartment.

"I think I want to get back into the army." MacArthur said.

"They're not going to let you do anything with Korea." Hirohito said.

"If they had of trusted me, this situation wouldn't even exist now."

Hirohito got another beer.

"No one believes I'm a god anymore." he said.

"I don't see why they wouldn't trust me." MacArthur said.

Hirohito's face went crooked.

"You were going too far in Korea." he said.

"I wasn't going too far."

"You were going too far. You were going to destroy the world. You destroyed the world..."

"The people need a firm hand."

"No one cared when I died. Because of you, the divine spirit of the Yamato people was destroyed."

"Nonsense. I showed you the democratic way of life. The people of this country live in peace and harmony now, just like the American people."

Hirohito got up and left.

"Hey...come on...I didn't mean it." MacArthur said.


"Are you going to come out of there, or not?"

"Say your Occupation destroyed Japan, you were wrong about Korea, and the Yamato people are a divine race."

"Look...maybe I got a little carried away with Korea..."

"Say it!"


"Hirohito is a little bastard." MacArthur said. "I'm not talking to him anymore."

Reiko went over to Hirohito's room.

"MacArthur is an imperialist swine." Hirohito said. "I'm not talking to him anymore."


"This is a dead country." Hirohito said. "The entire world is dead."

"But we're alive." MacArthur said.


"I don't know. Maybe the Lord Jesus Christ has more work for us to do."

"I like Mickey Mouse." Hirohito said.


"Well, hell, we only make so much." MacArthur said.

"Reiko's parents don't like me." Hirohito said. "So we can't stay there. I can't stay there."

"Why not?"

"They were student activists in the 70's." Hirohito said. "They called me a relic. To my face."


"I was lying when I said I wasn't a god." Hirohito said. "I am the father of the nation."

"You're insane." MacArthur said. "There's only one God, and his name is Jesus Christ."

"I am a god." Hirohito said. "I am the descendent of Amaterasu-o-mi-kami. No one can look at my real face!"

His eyes went wet. The night stretched before him, jewelled.

MacArthur lifted his leg.


"The supervisor is an asshole." MacArthur said. "We shouldn't trust her, she's got two faces."

"I was already fired." Hirohito said. "I don't know how to clean, really."

Reiko placed another blanket over them. She'd already taken MacArthur's temperature. He was coughing a little.

"Reiko, let's start another country somewhere." Hirohito said. "Come with me and be my empress. We won't tell anyone where we are. We'll be invisible. In our empire there will be no televisions, no hotels..."

"I'm sorry." Reiko said. "I have to study."

"I am issuing an Imperial Rescript." Hirohito said. "Dissolving your university."

"My parents..."

"I will issue a new Imperial Rescript, dissolving your family."

"I like my family."

"They're dissolved." Hirohito said. "I am the only person you are allowed to love. By Imperial Rescript."

"Don't listen to him, he's crazy." MacArthur said.

"I am issuing an Imperial Rescript that will dissolve you, MacArthur. You no longer exist."

"I'm in all the books." MacArthur said.

"I will dissolve them." Hirohito said. "I dissolve history. I dissolve this country. We are now living on an island. There are only three people here."

"I'm leaving." Reiko said.

"An Imperial Rescript compels you to stay."

"They should have let me go with Korea." MacArthur said. "I don't understand why they didn't trust me."

Reiko left.

"Where's she going, do you think?" MacArthur said.

"There's nowhere for her to go." Hirohito said. "The borders of my empire are well patrolled."

"We should find a new job." MacArthur said. "I'm thinking of getting back into the army, but..."

The man with the purple blanket came over.

"You can't stay here." he said. "This is my place."

"I dissolved you." Hirohito said. "You don't exist."

The man kicked him.

"Give me your watch." he said.

"I need my watch." Hirohito said. "I use it to tell time."

"What time is it now?"

"Time is running backwards." Hirohito said. "Soon we'll be arriving in the 20's."

"No Mickey Mouse then." MacArthur said.

"Mickey Mouse is allowed in my Empire." Hirohito said.

"Can I join your empire?" the man with the purple blanket said.

"I already told you, you don't exist." Hirohito said. "I've dissolved you."

"I have to exist!" the man in the purple blanket said.

"Maybe I should start my own army." MacArthur said.

"Can I join it?" the man in the purple blanket said.

"I think it would be a better idea for you to accept the Lord Jesus Christ first." MacArthur said. "The same goes for you."

"People who don't exist are talking to me." Hirohito said. "I must be going crazy."

Introducing Chris Wilhelm

Chomu and our editor-in-chief Mr. Jorkins are proud to present the work of artist Chris Wilhelm. Chris graduated from Colgate University with a double major in biology and Japanese. When he's not working on his art, Chris practices para para dance moves and imports Cantopop by the crateful. His favorite animal is a turtle.

Look for forthcoming art by Chris Wilhelm, here on Chomu.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Second Night, by Natsume Soseki

A while back on Chomu I posted 'The Tenth Night', from Natsume Soseki's Ten Nights of Dream. I mentioned that it had been published in the now defunct magazine Dream Zone. I also had two other pieces translated from Ten Nights of Dream published in the same magazine. Below I shall post another of them. Perhaps this will even encourage me to translate the rest of the pieces.

Thanks to Heather Marsden for some suggestions used in this translation.

The Second Night, by Natsume Soseki

I had this dream.

When I withdrew from the abbot’s room and returned to my own along the corridor the lantern there was burning dimly. Supporting one knee upon the cushion I adjusted the lantern’s wick and a lump of wax, like a flower, spattered upon the red lacquer stand. In the same instant the room suddenly brightened.

The painting on the sliding door was from the brush of Buson. Black willows were traced darkly then faintly, dotted far and near, and a fisherman hunched against the cold, his straw hat tilted at an angle, was passing along the top of an embankment. In the alcove hung a scroll painting depicting the god Manjusri crossing the ocean above clouds, mounted on a lion. From the gloom there still came wafts of half-burnt incense. The temple building was extensive, and so all was as still as a forest, without sign of another living soul. I glanced up and in that instant, the round shadow thrown on the dark ceiling by the lantern seemed to be alive.

Still on one knee, I turned over the cushion with my left hand, and with my right reached in to find… Yes! It was still there where I had left it. Its presence made me feel safe, so I put the cushion back as it had been and sat down upon it heavily.

You are a samurai! As a samurai you must be able to attain enlightenment! So had spoken the abbot. If you stay forever as you are, unenlightened, you are no samurai at all. You are human excrement! Then he had laughed. Ah, I see I’ve rattled you, haven’t I? If it troubles you so, bring me proof of your enlightenment. So saying he had turned sharply away.

This was not to be borne!

Before the clock in the alcove of the next room strikes the hour, without fail, I will show him enlightenment! I thought. I shall attain enlightenment, and then, this evening, I shall enter the abbot’s room once more. I shall go before the abbot and present my answer. And then I shall exchange my enlightenment for his head! Unless I achieve enlightenment, I cannot take his life. I must, at all costs, achieve enlightenment. I am a samurai!

If I fail to attain enlightenment I shall slay myself. A samurai cannot be disgraced and live. I shall die neatly, without fuss.

As I thought this, my hand went automatically into the cushion. I drew out the short sword in its vermilion scabbard. Grasping the hilt firmly, I tore away the red scabbard. The chill blade gave a single flash in the dark room. It was as if some terrible entity were rushing ceaselessly away from my hand and gathering in a single concentrated point of murderous intent at the sword’s tip. Looking at the way the sharp blade tapered, inexorable and needle-like, almost resentfully, to that dagger-point, I suddenly felt like plunging it hard into someone’s guts. All the blood in my body ran to my right wrist and the hilt I grasped became sticky. My lips trembled.

I sheathed the sword in its scabbard and slung it beneath my right arm. Then I took up the lotus position. I began to chant a sutra. I came to ‘Nothingness’ and stopped. What was ‘Nothingness’? Damned stinking priest! I ground my teeth.

I clenched my back teeth together tightly so that hot breath escaped fiercely from my nostrils. My temples were cramped. I forced my eyes open to twice their normal size.

I could see the hanging scroll, the lamp, the tatami mat. I could see the abbot’s bold pate as if it were before me. That crocodile mouth opened and I could even hear that sneering laughter.

Damned priest!

Somehow or other I had to take that bald head! I would give him enlightenment!

“No-thing-ness… No-thing-ness,” I chanted under my breath. In my ears the chant sounded like, “It’s useless. It’s useless.”

I chanted ‘Nothingness’, but still the smell of incense distracted me. Incense, of all things!

Suddenly I clenched my fists and pummelled my head until I could not bear it. I gnashed my teeth. Sweat poured from both armpits. My back was as straight as a pole. Pain lanced through my knee joints. What would it matter even if I broke my knees? I thought to myself. And yet, it hurt. It ached. Nothingness remained out of reach. Just as I thought it was within my grasp I would feel pain once more. I became angry and resentful. I felt a desperate frustration. Tears sprang, drop by drop, from my eyes. I felt like flinging my body, without further ado, onto a great boulder, to smash my bones to smithereens and my flesh to pulp.

However, I simply bore it, sitting as still as a rock. I held firm while unendurable anguish coiled up inside my chest. This anguish seemed to lift my muscles up from beneath, racing through my body - searching, searching - trying to escape through the pores of my skin. However, it was as if the surface of my body was completely sealed. There was no escape for the anguish. I was pushed to the outer limits of cruelty.

Before long my mind began to play tricks on me. It appeared to me as if the lamp, the painting by Buson, the tatami and the alcove were instantaneously there and not there, not there and there. Even so, Nothingness did not manifest itself in the least. I simply sat there vacantly. Then, suddenly, there came the sound of the clock chiming from the next room.

I was startled. My right hand fell immediately to the sword. The clock struck a second time.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Far in the future - across the galaxy - cross-sectioned from 4/4 time - the planet Scotland lies in a funk. Without funk, the planet lies - on its side like a dog. The asses are not moving. There is instead introspection and MILD BEMUSEMENT.

Somewhere on this satellite planet of the Anglosphere, Samuel Johnson descends a crystal staircase, his robe covered in sequins - the entrance hall of the Club arching above him like a gilded ribcage -

What is the Club?

An assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions, with electronik musical accompaniment.

Johnson flicks a wall switch and a table assembles from fractured atoms - already seated are David Garrick, Edmund Burke, James Boswell, and Lord Monboddo - dressed in matching jewelled kimonos - space boots clacking - faces thin and white as eggshells -

After the ceremonial greeting, Lord Monboddo begins -

~I find that, of late, our personal style has grown cold and languid, like iced velvet~

~My dear Lord Monboddo, you have a great sense of convention, and thus a great sense of absurdity~ Samuel Johnson retorts. ~Although our progressive theatricality is combined with punk energy, the audience is only rarely allowed into the feedback loop. The revenue generated from their passive attention allows us to purchase more specialized clothing~

~But if the audience should wish to take part in the spectacle...~

Samuel Johnson waves his hand dismissively -

~Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble~

James Boswell raises his glass in a toast -

~You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in~

Johnson starts kicking rhymes -

~Boswell is pleasant and gay, / For frolic by nature designed; / He heedlessly rattles away / When company is to his mind~

~Samuel Johnson your rhyming is hype~ Lord Monboddo exclaims ~My own flow is not as tight~

~Now, on to other seems that instances of auto-erotic masturbation have been occurring more frequently in The Club, or so I am told~

~Mr. Johnson, I do indeed masturbate, but I cannot help it~ James Boswell admits.

~That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help. If possible, conserve fluids and conserve the primal matter of the cosmos - retain and enamel the funk for the adoration of the masses - the funk must not fall into the hands of the underclasses. Subliminal seducers, we shall never dance~

The meeting is concluded - Johnson and Boswell continue talking - Lord Monboddo retreats to the wilderness - alone, he strolls through a whistling forest of glass trees - hunching his purple frock coat around his shoulders - the air of Scotland penetrating his veils - contemplating his recent delvings into forbidden lore - remnants of the Old Time - secrets hoarded by the strange ones in the Dome -

~What is this thing known as human sexual love?~ he wonders aloud.

Memories of the forbidden manuals and literature, declared 'unsuitable' by the Elders...Lord Monboddo reflects on his life under the martinet baronets of the Council, direct superiors of the Club - then thinks of the weaknesses of the strange Earth creatures, their ancestors, the primitives known as humans -

~These human creatures...why do they not reproduce by binary fission? What is the function of this 'love' ? I must investigate further...~

Meanwhile, in other parts of the galaxy already funkatized by ancient Afronauts, The Word goes out -

"The Club is attempting to process the funk under cover of mass spectacle. They are using the proto-fascist glam routine, controlling the supply of funk like a pusher. The asses are not moving; instead complicated hand movements are taking over. If the funk doesn't come undammed soon, the whole thing could escalate into a priority-1 visual-kei lockdown."

The extraterrestrial brothers are alerted...Earth authorities contact M-FUNK - chronic argonaut extraordinaire - blunted on hyperreality - prime stealth agent of the Altars of Boom -

M-FUNK's star-ship warp-skips across the transtemporal trafficterminals - thruster engines set to 'KILL' and killer engines set to 'THRUST' - raw funk exhaust streaking across the spaceways -

The void contracts -

~Are they cutting the funk?~ M-FUNK text messages his superiors.

~It is not as simple as that; they are shithoarding the funk for themselves. The ass-banging is insubstantial. Like a butterfly caught in a spiderweb, the funk has been drained, leaving only a shell behind~

~There is very little ass-banging in the Anglosphere~ M-FUNK avers.

~M-FUNK your mission is as follows: penetrate Scottish defenses to the heart of the interior and funk shit up~

Lord Monboddo reaches one of the human settlements - shifts to invisibility - begins peering in windows like a creeping spider monkey - inside a human child is crying - in a different room, 'the primal scene' -

~The behaviour of these humans is beyond all speculation...~

He enters an underground dance hall - long declared illegal by the Elders - the band playing in shadows - flashes of faces in the crowd - a skulking bartender with hairy wrists - the humans moving in unison -

~But there is no logic behind this. These movements have no meaning!~

The hall is raided - instruments smashed - the bartender escaping through a trapdoor -

"People rushed out of the building but [Monboddo] who, at the age of 71, was partially deaf and shortsighted, was the only one not to move. When he was later asked for a reason, he stated that he thought it 'an annual ceremony, with which, as an alien, he had nothing to do.'"

M-FUNK crash-lands in the Highlands - performs a quick scan of the area - then selects his weapons...carefully. First chosen are the vibrating bowstrings of the Funkarchery Set - next the Service Revolver of revolving services - and the Slap Bass. He follows the path to the capital - antiseptic sequined streets - hospital white halogens - a hundred classrooms filled with drone teachers, drone clones instructing pupils in the life of Samuel Johnson - a poster announces the next rally:

"Samuel Johnson and the Scotsmen from Saturn"

M-FUNK messages his superiors:

~The situation is worse than we thought. There are no clubs, no shows, no arkestras anywhere in sight. The whole planet is approaching lockdown.

~M-FUNK, it is imperative that you funkatize the entire region at once.

~Negative. I'm pulling back; the planet is already beyond help. Full funkatization would take a much larger team. All I can do now is shake my shit~

~M-FUNK, your recklessness has cost us planets before. I will not have you jeopardizing the mission!

~Then let's kick the mission to ignition. Funk not only moves, it can remove, dig?

On the way to the rally M-FUNK encounters several young girls practicing hand movements and fascist dance moves - at the sight of His Funkiness, these indoctrinated moppets react with indifference -

~James Boswell told us we are too ice hot to dance and should instead practice para para moves and write about events in the life of Dr. Johnson~ M-FUNK overhears them say.

~Don't be taken in by the Boswell Hoax~ M-FUNK cautions them. ~Johnson's life has already been chronicled. There is no need to talk up more shit about his cat. Boswell's game is to distract young people from the funk by concentrating their attention on the life of Samuel Johnson. It is a version of the shell game - now you see it, now you don't. But I have come here to tell you - the hoax is up. Instead of memorizing Johnson's aphorisms, you should be shaking your shit at a club.~

The girls crowd around M-FUNK - cell-phones ringing - contacting others - spreading the word -

~But our parents told us that having a concise yet muscular English prose style is more important than being able to dance well~ one of them objects.

~Don't pay any attention to the 'English prose style' hoax either. Try these Funk Supplement bars. This shit will help you shake your body body, move your body body~

~What do they taste like?~

~A little bit peanut butter, a little bit chocolate...ALL FUNK~

M-FUNK reaches the show just as the spangled curtain draws back - a hail of lights like sapphires -

When Johnson salutes the crowd salutes -

~The stock market is up - extracting pensions from the British monarky - our Johnson bots refuting Immaterialism by carving out mine shafts with contemptuous kicks ~

James Boswell kicks the beat -

~There will not be activities apart from writing about Samuel Johnson. There will not be horseback riding or software coding~

The audience moves as a single mass - first to the left and then to the right - everyone stands an equal distance from everyone else, arms outstretched, hips unmoving -

M-FUNK slams on the Slap Bass -

-At the sound the eyes of the Club turn to where he stands -

~I see posing and emoting but not DANCING. Samuel Johnson I challenge you to dance James Boswell I challenge you to shake your ass.

~Don't do it Boswell~ Samuel Johnson cautions.

~Johnson I challenge you to dance or else stand down.

~I do not know you, sir, but you shall be sorry you came.

Samuel Johnson uses arcane sorcery to summon John Galsworthy -

"Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight - an upper-middle-class family in full plumage. But whosoever of these favoured persons has possessed the gift of psychological analysis (a talent without monetary value and properly ignored by the Forsytes), has witnessed a spectacle, not only delightful in itself, but illustrative of an obscure human problem. In plainer words, he has gleaned from a gathering of this family - no branch of which had a liking for the other, between no three members of whom existed anything worthy of the name of sympathy - evidence of that mysterious concrete tenacity which renders a family so formidable a unit of society, so clear a reproduction of society in miniature. He has been admitted to a vision of the dim roads of social progress, has understood something of patriarchal life, of the swarmings of savage hordes, of the rise and fall of nations. He is like one who, having watched a tree grow from its planting - a paragon of tenacity, insulation, and success, amidst the deaths of a hundred other plants less fibrous, sappy, and persistent - one day will see it flourishing with bland, full foliage, in an almost repugnant prosperity, at the summit of its efflorescence."

M-FUNK cringes at Galsworthy's prose style, which seems to suck funk from the air itself -

~Boswell, summon Nancy Mitford and have her recite from Love in a Cold Climate~

~Johnson, do you really think the blandness of 20th century English prose can defeat me?

~It has defeated countless others before you!

M-FUNK plays the Reverse Occlusion game, neutralizing Johnson by categorizing his attributes:

~Dr. Johnson you have compiled a dictionary of the English language, and you are good at wearing sequined clothing. You were born in 1709 and died in 1784. You found employment with Edmund Cave, writing for The Gentleman's Magazine.

~Sir, you have compiled certain of my attributes but not the least of them. You forget that we have modelled our society on the intercepted transmissions from David Bowie and Marc Bolan.

Lord Monboddo returns from his pilgrimage in the wilderness of human nature - just as the Slap Bass thrums again -

~I would know the meaning of this...funk~ he interjects.

~Stand down, my Lord~ Samuel Johnson commands.

M-FUNK continues to play -

~Boswell shake your ass. Monboddo shake your ass. Everybody must get down. NO FUTURE. NO HEAVEN. LET'S GO CRAZY. GET WILD && BE SEXY.~

~His bass is fucking with our set~ James Boswell exclaims.

~Silence, my Scottish friend ~ Samuel Johnson remarks.

Lord Monboddo starts dancing - he looks like a fucking idiot but no one cares - soon the first row begins breaking up - the ass-banging begins - soon everyone is shaking it -

~Samuel Johnson James Boswell I encourage you to get down~ M-FUNK exclaims magnanimously.

~Mr. Johnson, perhaps we should do it~ Boswell wonders.

~I will instead retreat to a cold and inhospitable planet where I will wear primarily silver clothing and my sorrows will be like liquid diamonds~ Johnson remarks and casts his hand upon his forehead.

M-FUNK breaks the fourth wall -

~Remember kids nothing can be learned from English prose or dancing primarily with hand movements. You must shake your ass or else you cannot get anywhere in life. FUNK OUT.

This has been an installment

of the adventures of M-FUNK

In the realms of the Irreal.

In accordance with Intergalactic Law,

We now urge you to


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Justin Isis - Your Dental Hygiene Has Slipped Slightly, Life is Limitless Horror, Etc.

The man whose semen could travel through time - we were on leave when the first reports came in - minor disturbances in causality of the kind that don't usually pose a threat. We assigned them the standard level of priority and hoped it wouldn't escalate.

But the reports continued. Traces of 21st century semen were found to have infiltrated the Mesozoic. Local disturbances were also reported: similar traces present in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The infiltrations had not yet reached public consciousness, but headquarters was beginning to worry.

"Who's been ejaculating in the timestream?"

This was the question on all of our minds. The breakthrough came when several ounces were discovered to have infiltrated Germany in 1953, materializing on a fur coat worn by Mrs. Lena Osterhout of Berlin. Immediately the word went out - 'URBAN WOMEN UNDER THREAT FROM TIME-TRAVELLING SEMEN.' A direct tracer probe was successful in locating the source of the breach. Chronic argonauts were dispatched at once.

Mr. Lee Hyun-Ki was located in Pusan, Korea on the morning of July 15, 2076. The intervention came in from the 73rd ordinal, with reinforcement from the second-stage interphase. Mr. Lee was successfully removed from sequence and placed in custody. A pathological analysis of Mr. Lee's prostate gland revealed large amounts of temporal radiation.

Before Mr. Lee could be questioned properly, new reports revealed that the semen had already bypassed the differentials and was crossing the sidereal boundaries, impregnating dogs, hominids, and other pre-evolutionary lifeforms. The precision of the infiltrations made it clear that this was an inside job. A mobile team was dispatched to exterminate the resultant hybrids and cauterize the time asymptote. All ports were re-sequenced.

At his trial, Mr. Lee admitted, under hypnosis, to having made deals with outside powers as a child. Although he retained no conscious memory of the transactions, hypnotic playback allowed for headquarters to land a tracer on the infiltration route. The codes were de-sequenced and cross-filtered.

As the trial wound down, several men and women thought to be Mr. Lee's children were removed from sequence and made to testify. All of them were the products of 'virgin births' - of mothers falling pregnant without apparent cause. DNA analysis revealed that all of them were Lee's descendents. One of those cross-examined, Mr. Edward Highbridge of Boston, Massachusetts, reported that, just prior to his conception in 1863, his mother had reported contact with a 'ghost figure' or 'apparition' which descended through the ceiling as she lay asleep in her bed, conscious but unable to move. Another, Mr. Giovanni Tretta of Milan, removed from sequence in 1535, claimed to be the son of an incubus which had raped his mother. Mr. Lee claimed no conscious knowledge of these events, but serio-feedback revealed a partial 'masking' effect present in the interstitial field. After some deliberation, all of the witnesses testified against Mr. Lee, claiming his actions had adversely impacted their lives.

Mr. Lee's defense attorney claimed that since the damages had been inflicted without his knowledge, Mr. Lee could not be prosecuted in any reasonable court of law. The jury deliberated for five hours before declaring Mr. Lee innocent of conscious subversion, but in accordance with Article 10 of the de-sequencing protocol, Mr. Lee and the contaminated witnesses were detained indefinitely. The time-active prostate was removed and replaced with a prosthesis. A diagnostic of the initial conditions in the differential field estimated an 83% salvage rate.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Closure, by Quentin S. Crisp

One note fell upon another inside his mind, like music. This was the music of everything falling elegantly into place. It was the music of proof.

He stared at the paper and did not see horizontal lines of writing. Instead he saw geometrical pieces of a puzzle box linking together as evidence, and there, right there, in the centre of the page, was the point on which the swirling swastika hairlines met and clicked. The ramifications of this were… He looked up from the desk and the light of the flexible lamp. Unbelievable. The room, beyond the circle of light, seemed unreal. Everything was as light as this sheet of paper in his hand. To tear it up would be the difference between one kind of universe and another. All things had coalesced here, the ends of the human nervous system tapering wispily into the deepest mysteries of sub-atomic physics. He could see a tracery of lines before his eyes, bright and pulsing. They were the veins in his eyeballs, of course.

He let out a breath.

“I’ll be famous,” he managed to say, surprised to find his voice, apparently linked to his consciousness, still operating. “I’ll definitely be famous. I practically am, already. Proof… that we… we… do not exist.”

But the idea of fame was already redundant. This was something beyond fame.

“I have to tell someone. Tell them that… we…”

The word ‘we’ was strange to him. It appeared to him now like that web of veins in his eyes, like the nervous system merging with the world of sub-atomic particles and forces, merging and dissolving.

“I have to tell someone.”

It was the strangest thirst he had ever known. As he got up from his chair he had a peculiar sensation that he could not explain. At last… At last he would meet people as they had never met before… famous… beyond famous… meet them in reality… or dream…

He ran out into the corridor, flushed, and called out. No one answered his echoing voice.

Were those notes falling into place, or falling away, being peeled off one by one?

From somewhere there came a rumble like thunder. An ocean of white rolled in from all directions.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Ends III: from The Man Who Stopped Time, farsical, by John Cairns

The Ends:

from The Man Who Stopped Time, farsical

What do I want? If he got into bed with me. If that’s what I want, I should ask. I’m too embarrassed to ask. He knows it’s what I want. He should do it. Why should he? To please me. He’d do it if he loved me to please me. I’d know he loved me then. Would I?

He wouldn’t just lie there would he, beside me in bed without doing anything, would he? I’ll ask and find out. Why don’t you lie beside me in bed? He’d do it. I know he’d do it. Why? Because I asked. All I have to do is ask.

Since you’re there, why don’t you…? I can’t ask that! Why not? If I ask he does. He’d do it! All I have to do is ask! That’s wonderful. I’ll ask, and when he’s done it I’ll know he loves me. He’ll have loved me; he loves me. He must love me to do that. He wouldn’t do that if he didn’t love me. If he doesn’t love me, why else did he do it? I asked! He did it because I asked. He didn’t do it because he loved me. I could ask that: did you do it because I asked or because you loved me?

Can I answer the old man’s question? the lady asked. Both. He would have done it had you asked because he loved you.

The old man made to turn round to where the lady’s voice seemed to come from. There was no one there, of course. The lady froze in expectation he would see her at the other side of the bed.

“He would do it if I ask because he loves me,” the old man muttered, recalling his thought as best he could.

“What?” the boy asked.

“Do you love me?”

The young man smiled, stood up stripped off and got into bed. He took the old man in his arms. Oh, he’d forgotten to pull the bed clothes up. Without quite releasing the old man he pulled the covers adequately enough over them. Then carefully and gently on top of the old man he made their love.

“What can I say?” the old man said afterwards. “You’ve made an old man very happy.”

The boy started to laugh and couldn’t stop. Between laughs words could be heard. “I’ve finally made my old man.” Once he stopped laughing, he got up, dressed, went upstairs, packed and left.

The lady couldn’t help but wonder what or whom the boy had on his list to make next. It might be her, so she hurried off home. She never did find out how the film ended. She sincerely hoped she hadn’t broken her contract. The young man didn’t turn up. Her brother did and he was affable enough but she didn’t like to ask how the film ended. He might offer to show her the rest and really she wasn’t interested, though she loved his films, to see part of one she knew she wouldn’t appear in. For her the film ended with her exit through the blank wall – with THE END stamped across her exit.

When she sat down her brother disconcertingly laughed as if she’d sat on something on the lounge chair or done something on it. She hated being laughed at. It made her feel such a fool, as she was if she’d missed seeing something he saw or didn’t understand what she saw aright. She checked. There was nothing on the seat except her seat. With dignity she resumed her thinking.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Justin Isis - Abandoned by God, Unable to Pay Gas, Water, and Electric Bills, Unsuccessful at Trying Out for JV Football, Unable to Touch a...

...Ganguro Gyaru's Face for Fifteen Seconds, Incapable of Remembering the Lyrics to Cocteau Twins, Unable to Successfully Learn Para Para Dance Steps, Rejected by Creditors, Incapable of Attaining Enlightenment, Defeated Routinely at Marvel vs Capcom 3, Declared Ritually Unclean by Shinto Priests, Downgraded from 'Boyfriend' to 'Sex Friend', Refused Service at Local Donut Shop, Unable to Touch a Ganjiro Gyaru's Face for Thirteen Seconds

Towards the end of his life Richard Dawkins took to dying his hair a shade advertised as 'chestnut,' but which Lalla Ward always thought of as the same lurid color as the light sheen of rust forming on the pipe behind the toilet. But Lalla helped him at first, as he slid the slickened comb through the last wisps of his hair. Then she held his hand as he dipped his head in the sink, watching the water part at its entrance.

"You don't think it looks too obvious, do you," Richard Dawkins said.

Lalla Ward smiled.

"I rather thought that was the point."

Richard Dawkins had been struggling for years with heart disease. At the age of eighty-two, a myocardial infarction had already cost him double-bypass surgery and months of protracted recovery. His friends had urged him to give up teaching and the lecture circuit, but he'd held firm.

"Have to do something with my time, after all," he'd told them. "I can't very well be lounging about all day. At that rate I'd be writing my memoirs before long, and I couldn't risk that."

Richard Dawkins was being facetious. In truth there was no need for him to attempt a memoir, since his colleagues and research assistants had been entrusted care of his legacy. Whatever era historians would eventually term the late 20th and early 21st century, he was certain that his name would stand as one of its leading scientific lights. He'd had a good run of it, and now it was enough for him to give the occasional speech and oversee his proteges' work.

These were his thoughts as he left the Oxford grounds, pulling his car past the gate, into the bright expanse of a midsummer morning. Further along the road, ribbons of golden sunlight threaded themselves through the edges of the clouds, a shining tapestry just past view. He pulled onto the highway, the sound of distant traffic merging with the hum of an insect caught in the car-door window.

Richard Dawkins had just given a lecture on the projected influence of genetic research on the advertising industry. As the lecture progressed he'd wandered off topic, drifting into a revery of free association. He'd speculated that the areas of research to which he'd devoted his life could one day be misused by those lacking the principles of reason and humanism. From there, it was only a small step for him to conclude that the students before him, the new generation of Englishmen trained in logic and critical thinking, would be the only hope of the West. As the world slid into a new dark age of fanaticism and stupidity, their only weapons would be skepticism and common sense. He felt a brief sadness as he looked at them, wishing to continue the fight, wishing to be young again.

As he picked up speed he noticed that the sound of the insect had stopped. Through the window, beyond the overpass, he could see the light behind the clouds breaking through to the highway, catching the chrome mirrors of the cars in the passing lane. A flash of it caught his eye and he reached for the sun visor.

A moment later, as he made to turn on the radio, he felt a sharp pain in his chest, a tender clutch of needles. He pressed his hand to his side as if to massage the pain away. It was like a wave he needed to crest. Richard Dawkins had felt these waves before and had survived them purely by force of will - or so he told himself. But now, as the needles slid deeper, he wondered whether his will made any difference at all.

He pulled off the highway and veered to the side of the road, pumping the brake and fumbling with the latch of the glove compartment. There was medicine there, he remembered, and a mobile phone to call for help. But before he could open it his body seemed to sink under him. He reached for the door as the car crested to a halt, the high shape of the wheel rising above him.

He slumped to the side of the road, his hand touching grass, a layer of static scrambling his vision. The waves crested, brushed his bones. He felt a brief, blossoming pain.

Then nothing.

Richard Dawkins' Further Adventures Beyond the Veil

Richard Dawkins awoke to the feel of earth beneath his fingernails. Bringing his hand up, he saw a fine brown tracery covering its grooves, a damp coat of clay-like soil. A faint smell of jasmine came to him, and further off the sound of a distant wind echoed in his ears.

He sat up. He'd been lying in the middle of a field - probably somewhere in the country, he decided. The last thing he remembered was the car coming to a stop, the sight of the road spinning beneath him and the inner sound of his stilled heart. But he was conscious now, alive - so where was he? Where was the car, and how had he gotten here from the side of the road? Had someone stolen the car and dumped his body, taking him for dead?

He stood. His phone was still in the glove compartment - no hope of calling anyone now. He'd have to walk to the nearest town and try to find help. As he walked across the damp ground he sighed, shaking his head. All the fault of his weak heart. If only he'd been born a few decades later, so that he could live to see medical technology make the weaknesses of the flesh obsolete. Science was already catching up to death, and immortality was just around the corner.

"You're dead!"

He turned. The cry had come from the direction of the field, but now that he looked he saw nothing.

"You're dead! Dead! Dead!"

He turned back. Now an enormous shape loomed in front of him, a figure like a tower on twin struts, a painted statue come to life. It grinned.

"Dead Dawkins dead Dawkins dead dead dead!"

As the final syllable sounded, the figure reared toward him, its rounded face tilting into a leer.

Then it vanished.

Richard Dawkins spun around, grasping at the air. There was only silence and the sound of the wind.

Then the laughter broke out and the giant shapes reared up again, scores of them now, standing against the sun. For all their height, Richard Dawkins saw, they were curiously malformed, their proportions all wrong, fat-faced and flabby-limbed like monstrous children.

"We tricked you into being an adult, when you could have been eating nonexistent cactus ice cream!"

The other giants chorused in, their wide mouths spread in rictuses of rotten teeth:

"The cactus ice cream isn't real!

The cactus ice cream isn't real!

Bumped his head

The old man's dead

The cactus ice cream isn't real!"

Richard Dawkins ran, but the giants were jumping from the air now, their footfalls shaking the earth. He thought of the crushed soil of the field, the mud beneath his fingernails. Each step seemed to send him closer to the ground, and before long he pitched forward, hands in front of him.

For a long time the ground rolled under him, and he felt himself adrift again, as if tossed on the waves. When the movement stopped, he felt something prodding his leg.

His head still spinning, he looked up and saw a small man standing next to a wheeled trolley. Inset in its base was a wooden cabinet with elaborately carved doors, mostly natural scenes, flowering plants and cavorting animals.

The man was wearing a red silk hat and black breeches. His face was gnarled, unshaven.

"Don't listen to them," the little man said. "Everything they'll tell you is lies. The adult world is the most precious thing we have."

Richard Dawkins sat up and stared at him.

"They said I was dead."

"Lies! It's not possible to die," the little man said, with an expression of congealed contempt.

"Well, I'm not certain that's the case," Richard Dawkins said, standing up. "But I'd like to know what's going on here."

At this the little man opened the front door of his trolley and took out a silver tray.

"I've taken out a line in meat pies," he explained.

Richard Dawkins looked down. Cooling on the tray was a row of square-shaped, thick-crusted pies.

"You must be hungry," the little man said.

"I wasn't planning to eat," Richard Dawkins said. "I've got important things to attend to. Where is the nearest town?" He looked around, trying to orient himself. He couldn't see the field any longer, so he must have tumbled down a hill after his fall. If that was the case he'd come a considerable distance, as the ground now seemed cracked and bare, with only a few scrub grasses pushing through its surface.

"The town isn't far. I can take you there myself. But you'll need something to eat first. You can't do anything on an empty stomach!"

The little man grinned and pushed the tray forward. In spite of himself Richard Dawkins felt a hunger rising in him. He leaned forward and pointed at the row of pies nearest the rim.

"What sort are they?"



The little man cracked a smile.

"The competition's gone soft. No severity in the pies. All June, July, summer pies. May and August creeping into the crusts."

Richard Dawkins reached for one. The little man swatted his hand.

"Have to pay for that first!"

Richard Dawkins reached for his wallet. But it wasn't there. Shaking his head again, he emptied his pockets. All he had was some loose change.

"I'm afraid I don't have much."

The little man pointed at his pocket.

"Well, what's that then?"

Richard Dawkins reached for it. It was a small bottle of his chestnut hair dye. What was it doing in his pocket?

"This? Well, I don't know, I..."

"I'll take it," the little man said, scratching his cheek. He took the bottle and handed Richard Dawkins a pie. "You'll want some sauce with that," he added, reaching into the trolley and bringing out a cracked bottle of tomato ketchup, its white cap crusted with black stains.

"No thank you, I'll have it just like this," Richard Dawkins said.

"Suit yourself," the little man said, and began to wheel the trolley over the ground. Richard Dawkins followed him, taking tentative bites from the pie. It was filled with a tough meat that tasted like rabbit.

They walked in silence for over an hour, the little man stopping occasionally to dig the trolley out of the sand or lift its wheels over a patch of rocks. Richard Dawkins helped him, feeling the weight of his age in the way his knees weakened with each effort. It seemed as if they would never reach the town.

"How much longer will it take," he said as the rocky path gave way to a thin strip bordered by sand. "I've got to contact someone, can't you see I've got to contact someone, they'll be worrying about me - "

He shook his head as he pushed the trolley and felt its weight pushing him back. It was no use; the trolley's wheels could no longer move over the thick dunes.

"We'll have to leave it," the little man said. "Come back for it later, on our way back." He patted the top of the trolley. "The pies will be safe here."

Another hour passed after they abandoned the trolley. Richard Dawkins felt the sun eating into his face.

"There's no water anywhere," he said. "No, there wouldn't be. No water, no way to contact anyone. You're not leading me anywhere!"

The little man held up a finger.

"We're approaching the Great Work," he said, pointing to the horizon.

Richard Dawkins looked up. Against the backdrop of the setting sun stood tall rows of thin silver towers, each placed at an even distance from the others. The towers formed a vast grid, a silver forest catching the sun's last light. Tiny points of red and yellow stood out on its surface.

As they approached they saw a figure standing before the towers, dressed in a brown cassock tied with a cord. The little man approached him and spoke, gesturing to his clothes.

"I wear the red silk hat and the black breeches. My colors are red and black."

At this the monk made a sign in front of the little man, then stepped aside as he walked between the rows of silver towers. Richard Dawkins followed him, observing the monks as they worked. Each monk took a small silver cylinder from the ground and placed it on top of another, forming them into the towers. Each cylinder was wrapped with a red or yellow label.

"We are engaged in the Great Work," the monk beside him said. "The Great Work places red cans on top of yellow cans. When a column reaches ten cans, a new column begins. There are ten columns per row."

"Where do the cans come from?" Richard Dawkins asked.

The monk led him past the rows, through an area of steep dunes, then pointed to a walled-off pit in the sand where other monks were digging with shovels.

"The cans were buried long ago. But the people didn't give up hope. In spite of the sects, the schisms and persecutions, the people knew we would come back for the cans and the Great Work would continue."

As he looked past the pit Richard Dawkins caught a bead of movement on the horizon. He looked closer, shielding his eyes from the sun, and saw a slender shape leaping between the dunes. At once he felt something splitting his vision, so that the shape's colors seemed superimposed, split into hard lines, neon streaks of pink and emerald clawing past each other.

"There's something wrong with my eyes," Richard Dawkins said. "It's as if I'm seeing two colors at once. Or wearing mismatched spectacles."

"It is forbidden to hunt the King's deer," the monk said.

As Richard Dawkins watched, more of the shapes darted into view, brief strobes of colored silken flesh. Looking at them he felt the same splitting sensation in his vision, like a chisel behind his eyes. The deer seemed less animals than a living mirage, an auroral burst of color in the fading light of the desert.

"Their minds aren't always pink and green," the monk added. "Sometimes they become sick, and then there are orange thoughts that they try to forget."

The monk led him back through the forest of silver towers, to a clearing where he found the little man standing. He was looking at a sculpture resting on a pedestal. It was fashioned in the shape of a young woman, and at its base was a tiny slot with two metal switches. The little man depressed one switch, then the other, then flipped both.

"Well, what does it do?" Richard Dawkins said.

The little man closed his palm and brought it away from the sculpture, then offered it to Richard Dawkins, who held out his own hand. After a moment he felt something slippery and cold. He looked down. A little golden cube sparkled in the reflected light of the towers. As he watched, it melted in the palm of his hand. He held it to his lips and received a faint taste of cinnamon.

"It provides ice cubes," the little man said. "Some of the ice cubes are gold and others are silver, and others are gold and silver at the same time."

"You mean they're mixed. Their colors are mixed."

"No, that would be absurd. The combined cubes are both gold and silver at the same time."

"But the properties," Richard Dawkins said, "The properties are complementary. The gold and silver mix together."

The little man took another cube from the sculpture and popped it into his mouth.

"Ridiculous! Nothing in the world can be complementary. The gold and silver cubes are both exclusively gold and exclusively silver at the same time. Everything is exactly itself and nothing else. The quality of qualities is that they do not merge!"

"But that's impossible," Richard Dawkins said. "Black can't very well be white now, can it?"

"Can't it? Can't it?" the little man was fairly screaming now. "You might just as soon deny that anything exists at all!"

Then, composing himself, he walked away from the sculpture and stood very straight, facing Richard Dawkins.

"Look here Dawkins, you think I am mistaken, and I think you are mistaken. There's nothing left for us to do except fight to the death."

"I think that's overstating the case somewhat," Richard Dawkins said. "Surely we could agree to disagree?"

"Impossible," said the little man. He signalled, and one of the monks walked over, carrying a tray. On it were a number of rubber bands.

"Choose your weapon, Dawkins," said the little man, taking a thin old band of red elastic. He drew it back and aimed it at Richard Dawkins, who had chosen a thicker green band. The two of them moved several feet apart.

"On your mark," intoned the monk. "Get set...go."

The red elastic band zipped past Richard Dawkins' head. Richard Dawkins feinted to the side, then fired the green band at the little man, striking him in the chest. The little man collapsed to the sand.

"You've killed him," the monk said. "You've won."

Several of the other monks descended on the little man and helped him to his feet. He walked to the other side of Richard Dawkins. Then, without a word he took off his shoes. The monks handed him a box tied with a red lace thread.

"Now you must wear the shoes that can never be removed." one of them said.

The little man accepted the box, glared at Richard Dawkins with a look of immortal hatred, and set off back through the desert.

"You've got to help me, " Richard Dawkins said. "I have to get to the nearest town."

The monks showed him to the edge of the city of towers. Before he left they placed a coronet on his head and handed him a travelling bag. Richard Dawkins thanked them.

After a day's walk, the path ahead of him began to narrow even further, and the sand dunes decreased. The dunes themselves thinned out until the terrain resembled a white beach with fine, closely packed sand. It was night now, and Richard Dawkins could see nothing on the horizon, no signs of life or even grasses beneath his feet. He stopped to rest, taking out a cotton blanket from the travelling pack. Towards dawn he set off again, following the path to a place of stacked stones, their surfaces smooth in the faint light. Further off, skeletal outlines of mountains.

Two old men with white hair and kindly faces were resting on one of the large flat stones, staring at a wooden door inset in one of the larger rocks. As Richard Dawkins approached he saw that both the men were wearing finely tailored suits, their lapels fixed with a single stick pin. At the head of the first man's pin was a perfectly rounded pearl; at the head of the second man's pin was a perfectly rounded diamond. Somehow, not a trace of sand seemed to have caught on their clothes.

"You there, maybe you can help me," Richard Dawkins said.

"Maybe," said the pearl man. And stared at Richard Dawkins with fixed grey eyes.

"What are you doing out here?" Richard Dawkins said.

The diamond man shifted slightly on the rock.

"We're trying to liberate ourselves from qualities," he said.

The pearl man shifted to match his brother.

"We came to this place as children," he said. "To liberate ourselves from qualities. We've worked, all our lives for that."

"We built this door," the diamond man said, gesturing to the wooden panel inset in the large rock. "It leads to a place where there aren't any qualities."

Richard Dawkins looked at them. Each of their movements matched the other, each subtle gesture repeated with perfect symmetry.

"And have you used it? Have you walked through to the other side?"

"I have," the pearl man said. "I've been through it."

Richard Dawkins walked over to the door and stared at its handle.

"What was on the other side?"

The pearl man shook his head.

"No, there weren't any qualities there. I was liberated from qualities." He looked down. "But when I came back through the door, the qualities returned."

The diamond man cast his head down in grief, and the pearl man cast his up, their movements matching like two timed pendulums.

"Well," Richard Dawkins said, knocking on the door. "It's not very much good then, is it? It's not very useful, is what I mean."

The two old gentlemen looked at him; and both of them gave a kind of smile, a look of infinite sadness and resignation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Ends II: of Phoenix Flower itself, metamorphical, by John Cairns

The Ends:

of Phoenix Flower itself, metamorphical

The plant moves. It isn’t where it was, where one comes back into the garden, but across from where it was towards the fence on the other side. I swear, unless there are two plants. There’s none where it was. It lifts up its roots and moves. I may presume…. Yes; I did not see it move but I may presume it uproots itself and moves. It is unique; I know of no other plant which – Tumbleweed! It isn’t unique.

An insect flies into the garden looking for a flower to take nectar from and pollinate incidentally. Not any flower does. It shows interest in many, alighting on some but seems if one didn’t know better to be searching…. It sees the phoenixflower – it is the phoenixbee – and makes a bee…. It isn’t the phoenixbee; it isn’t making a beeline for the flower, going this way and that but somehow it has got to the flower. It is the phoenixbee, is it? How can one tell? It could be any old insect that’s happened to alight on the flower. And now the insect will fecundate the flower.

I can scarcely believe my eyes! It was very quick. What I did see was the flower seemed to grip the insect between pincers while a pink, fleshly proboscis curved out from the plant. It wasn’t the insect fecundated the plant; the flower fucked the bee! It must be the bee; but I’ve never heard of that, a plant like an animal fecundating what I’m sure is a male insect. It’s not possible. It must be female. It’s still not possible. It is male, that bee; I looked.

The bee looks startled, as well it might, but as if it wanted to be believed shocked by the upturn in events by whoever might be observing, me, who watches it take off in a would-be offended but in fact dazed, intoxicated manner. However, it quickly pulls itself together, having got exactly what it wanted, and flies directly over the trees at the bottom of the garden as far away from the phoenixflower as it can go as fast as it can; it knows where the flower is, or thinks there are other such flowers elsewhere, or believes the phoenixflower is one such flower. I don’t know what it thinks; it’s gone.

The flower stands up, rearranges its foliage and walks from the garden. It’s an animal. It’s a man. He doesn’t go into the house. He walks away. He’s done it; he’s been a flower: he did it for the bee, or the bee was incidental to his doing it. He’ll do something else, or not, as a man does.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Justin Isis - Pythagorean Theorem was a Hoax

Nomura was there for the ten-year reunion, but there was no one he wanted to see. He picked up the class register and scanned the names. He couldn't remember anyone.

He walked out of the foyer and into the hall. The rows of lockers seemed tighter, the ceiling lower. The whole school was shabby and damp. He wondered why they hadn't rented out some place nice.

Nomura saw a light on at the end of the hall, in one of the classrooms. He imagined he must have followed this same route to the classroom ten years ago, but he couldn't remember why. He remembered it only from sleep now. The school, the halls and the classroom had become stock scenery for dreams. He could meet new acquaintances here along with old ones.

As he came closer he saw a reflection through the glass partition next to the door, itself half open. A tiny human figure warped in the glass, vanishing into the distance as he came closer. Nomura put his hand to the door and pulled it open.

An old man was seated at the desk, his back arched in the chair. His pen hand rested on a piece of paper in front of him, but it dangled rather than ran. He seemed to be scribbling something, or tracing lazy circles.

"Yes? Can I help you?"

"Oh, I'm sorry." Nomura said. "I didn't mean to disturb you, I..."


"I'm here for the reunion."

"I see."

"I was here ten years ago. I don't know if you were even here then, I...Takashi Nomura? Did you know?"

The old man looked up, but his features barely cracked.

"Of course, you were in Class A, you sat in that second row over there. Don't tell me you've forgotten Moriyama already."

Now memories came back to him. He remembered long mathematics classes, always in the afternoon. The row of windows opened onto the sun. Everyone was sleepy and they always cheated.

He remembered Moriyama, too. Once, the old man had kept him after class. Nomura had failed test after test, and had been forced to admit that he understood nothing about the sides of a triangle, or any relationship they shared. He was certain information of that sort had nothing to do with life.

"Mr. Moriyama, of course. I still remember that Pythagorean theorem."

"Yes. It took you a while, didn't it? But I bet you still know it."

"In a right triangle, c square equals a square plus b square. The sum of the squares of the legs is equal to the square of the hypotenuse."

Moriyama gave a little smile of appreciation, as if Nomura had performed a dog trick.

"And has it come in handy?"

Nomura didn't know what to say. As he had expected, the Pythagorean theorem had had no bearing on the course of his life. It only rattled at the back of his mind like a tear-off tab in a tin can.

"To be honest I haven't ever used Pythagorean theorem. I still remember it, if that's what you mean."

Moriyama shuffled the papers on his desk and pushed them aside.

"I'll tell you something, Nomura." he said. "And you can make of it what you will. You see, Pythagorean theorem isn't technically...true, in all respects."

Moriyama was smiling now, a true smile.

"What do you mean by that?" Nomura said.

"Come closer, I'll show you."

And the old man was already writing on the back of a notebook, tracing a set of axioms. Nomura bent over his shoulder. It had been years since he'd followed a set of equations. Many times he asked Moriyama to stop. The old man let a proud patience overtake his haste. After half an hour, they arrived at the Q.E.D. Nomura felt like he was back in Class A.

"There. There it is. The sum of the squared lengths of a and b is clearly far greater than the square of c."

Nomura studied the proof, which had spread from the notebook's back cover to its inside pages. Everything seemed to make sense. But he felt certain that someone more qualified could rescue the theorem.

"It seems...wrong, somehow."

"Wrong? How? The proof is airtight. Pythagorean theorem is manifestly true only on an extremely reduced, local scale. The theorem itself is not valid in any real mathematical sense."

Nomura wished for a chair. He wondered why Moriyama hadn't offered him one.

"So why are you telling me this now?" Nomura said.

Moriyama's smile broke for a moment.

"Well, you took the trouble to visit me, didn't you? I didn't think I should let you go empty-handed."

"That's not what I meant." Nomura said. "I meant, if you can prove Pythagorean theorem is false, why aren't you publishing this information? Why aren't you writing some kind Paper?"

Moriyama closed the notebook.

"Well, when you get to be my age, Nomura, things like that seem a lot less important. I could write a paper and make a fuss and have my name in all kinds of journals, and when a correct theorem came out, I'd still be in this classroom teaching it. So why go to all that trouble?"

"I always thought that was the whole point of"

"Pythagorean theorem isn't hurting anyone." Moriyama said. "I wouldn't worry about these things so much. I just thought I should tell you, seeing as you worked so hard on it in my class."

Now Moriyama's smile was paternal. Nomura decided to leave.

Before he reached the door, Moriyama pushed the notebook towards him.

"Here," he said. "Maybe it'll revive your interest in mathematics."

Nomura took the notebook and slotted it into his briefcase and walked back to the foyer. He passed through a short side hall into the auditorium. The reunion was ending; his old classmates were exchanging cards and numbers. A pink slush rocked in the punch bowl every time someone bumped the table. Someone took his arm and he stared into the smile of a woman he was supposed to recognize. Nomura was afraid, here. He felt like he had amnesia. He wanted to be able to hide behind his wife Mayumi, who was at the hotel now.

"I'll use you to deflect conversation." he'd told her. "Everyone will ask questions about you, and you can ask them what I was like in high school. Maybe they remember."

"It won't work. I'm not the only thing that's happened to you in ten years." Mayumi said. "Most important, but..."

A vigorous looking man punched him on the shoulder. This was not the first time Nomura had been punched tonight. The vigorous and friendly punches were one of the reasons he'd gone for his walk.

"Where'd you go, buddy?" the man said. "We missed you."


Back at the hotel, Mayumi had ordered pizza. There was no time for anything else because they had to be back in Osaka by five. His appointment was at eight.

Nomura decided that it wasn't right for him to eat pizza from the box while wearing his business suit, so he took it off. Mayumi was in pajamas.

"How was it?" she said. "Did you meet any of your old friends?"

"I think so." Nomura said.

"You don't know?"

Nomura felt disappointed she hadn't protected him.

"You should have come." he said.

"You know that's not my kind of thing."

Nomura stared down at the pizza.

"Do you know what Pythagorean theorem is?" he said.

"The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides?"

Now he felt a kind of contempt for Mayumi. With the notebook in his briefcase, he could destroy her understanding of triangles. But he knew Mayumi would only be amazed for a few moments. After that her eyes would dull. Did these things matter, if the world continued to function? He imagined this was how Moriyama felt every day.

Mayumi asked him more questions about the reunion, then talked about her high school class when she saw he wasn't listening. Nomura tried to respond, but his thoughts kept returning to the briefcase.

Moriyama had claimed that the truth of the theorem meant nothing. But Nomura remembered the sensation of it rattling in the back of his mind. Perhaps the memory he had retained of the theorem had only been a memory of Moriyama himself.

He thought: by unveiling the truth of the theorem, Moriyama had been trying to force him into sympathy. Anyone could claim their accomplishments in public with modesty and grace. But to be a sharer of secrets to one person was a greater happiness, a private, selfish joy-

Now he felt a great dislike for Moriyama. It was nothing he hadn't felt before, ten years earlier. Moriyama meant nothing, yet he had destroyed a tiny part of the world. It seemed to him that if he began to doubt his received impressions, there would be no end to the concepts cast on the fire. But if he trusted what people told him, believing what he read and saw, there would always be an opening for another Moriyama, another old man cramped with secrets. So why should he doubt or trust anything?

It was not that these things meant anything. It was that he did not like to be told.

Nomura decided he would cut back on belief. He would believe as little as possible; would prune his mind like a tree. But with Mayumi sitting across from him, digressing, with his appointment the next day, where to begin...?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Ends I: of Doomsday Book, part of Phoenix Flower - eschatological, by John Cairns

The Ends:

of Doomsday Book, part of Phoenix Flower - eschatological

I doubt I can but Rich coaxes me out of the bower, up into the air. We fly to the Moon. Landing, I hold my breath, knowing it’s airless. My breath is lasting longer than possible, and Rich, who doesn’t seem to be holding his, is looking curiously at me. Holding it in isn’t comfortable and while I may be able to hold it indefinitely, if I can…? I might as well get it over with. I breathe. I can breathe! There’s air on the Moon. There’s no air on the Moon but I can breathe. I’m not breathing.

We sit down to watch the show. There’s a little eruption here, another there and pretty soon a total explosion without a sound and nothing there where the Earth was. There’s no point continuing to look, and since the most interesting thing about the Moon was its view of the Earth we don’t dally but take off to explore the universe, none of which detains us for long. We do find a planet very like the Earth and Rich leaves me there for a time. It’s interesting until its interest is exhausted. What’s the point of air when I don’t need to breathe? of food when I don’t eat? It’s not I need Rich, except to be…? It isn’t that he’s interesting, though he is, or that I’m interested when he’s with me, though I am…. I don’t know what it is but I’m about to leave the planet like home was but which isn’t my home to look for him when he comes back to me. It’s talking with him interests me. I can do without the universe so long as he’s with me, and without the universe he can’t leave me at all; there’s nowhere else for him to be except where I am also. No light. No thing. He is enough with me; I, however much the most important, even more important than all the rest, am not enough for him.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Introducing John Cairns

After discussions with Chomu's mysterious editor-in-chief, Mr. Jorkins, we are delighted to announce that we will soon be publishing here the work of a new writer, John Cairns. Here, by way of introduction, is a message from John Cairns himself, as requested by Chomu:

I rose from the seminal waves at Shoreham-by-Sea a drowned rat, was fostered by London, dumped on grandma who said I was too big for Pumpherston; Aunt Nell brought me up.

Mum married to give me a father and I was moved to Methil where I’d the highest IQ ever, then onto Buckhaven. On a history degree from Edinburgh, I taught in Glasgow and, after carefully losing job and flat, Richmond – not before doing my procreative duty, twice.

I’d written conventional stuff Iris Murdoch criticized, Giles Gordon would’ve pushed and the BBC broadcasted had I not been seeking a style to realize the unconscious by and with it net my unremembered childhood where the loves used to that end were intoned: Christo, Derrick, Rich, Nick. Thanks; we had no choice.

Look out for forthcoming stories by John Cairns, here on Chomu.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chomu - The Entomology of the Word

I am surprised that I cannot think of more examples in literature – or anywhere – of words and language being described as insects. I would imagine that such a metaphor would be favoured by the likes of Franz Kafka or William Burroughs, though I cannot recall any specific instance of either of them using such a metaphor. I suppose Burroughs comes close when he talks about the “word virus”, the logical programming of language-based thought that locks the human mind into the destructive patterns we know so well.

Perhaps I can also write here – and so, hopefully, make it an example in literature – that I once had a rather Kafkaesque or Burroughsian hallucination, in which all the words in my room were wriggling free from their book spines, postcards and so on – and there are a great many words in my room – and swarming over the walls and floor like some unidentifiable hybrid of ant and beetle. I stood in the centre of my room, unable to move, frozen in dread, while somewhere in the distance could be heard the sound of a police siren. I think I stood like that for an hour or so. Most of the words seemed to be swarming from my complete works of Nagai Kafū, in twenty-nine volumes. Come to think of it, I have written at least two stories in which words come off the page and take on a life of their own. Clearly there is something in this for me to ponder.

Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, at present I can only think of two examples of the insect metaphor used to describe language. The first of these comes from 80’s synth-meister Thomas Dolby, who in his song about politically persecuted writers, Dissidents, has a chorus with the lines, “My writing, like tiny insects/In the palm of history”.

The effect here is to emphasise how fragile an author’s writing is, how easily lost, destroyed, ignored, censored or forgotten.

The second example comes from the long essay Sun and Steel, by Mishima Yukio. Very near the beginning of the essay, Mishima tell us, “In the average person, I imagine, the body precedes language. In my case, words came first of all…”

He then proceeds to liken the body to a wooden post and words to the “white ants” (could the translator means termites?) that eat it away. For Mishima, then, words are ants, and their action is corrosive, acidic. This might seem an obscure metaphor. I feel I can interpret it best for myself by thinking of the Daoist notion of the ‘uncarved block’ that is the ideal, or the whole state of being. Words are the ants that, with their corrosive acid, create something particular from this generality. It might be said that ants are ‘culture-carriers’, as Hitler, I believe, once disparagingly described the Japanese (culture-carriers rather than culture-producers).

In any case, whatever meaning was intended by Mishima, it seems fairly clear he is not describing words in a positive manner; I sense an affinity with Burroughs’ “word virus”.

At the back of his book Kwaidan, a collection of Japanese folklore compiled in 1904, Lafcadio Hearn (or possibly the publisher in after years) appends three essays under the general heading ‘Insect-Studies’. The essays are, ‘Butterflies’, ‘Mosquitoes’ and ‘Ants’. Since we have just been contemplating ants, let us refer to the essays in reverse order.

Lafcadio Hearn’s essay ‘Ants’ is possibly the most curious piece in the whole book, and is also the longest. He begins with a haiku about an ant nest destroyed by rain, moves on to a Chinese folktale about a man who understands the language of ants, and then starts in on what he really wants to write – a kind of eulogy to ants as a species, which he seems to regard as having “a civilization ethically superior to our own”. He also predicts that “certain persons will not be pleased by what I am going to say about ants”. I have to admit that this was at least partially true in my own case; the essay made me very uneasy with its Brave New World enthusiasm for a perfect society, revealed to Hearn by “the Fairy of Science”. He quotes from Herbert Spencer, who tells us that ant society is concerned with “activities that postpone individual well-being so completely to the well-being of the community that individual life appears to be attended to only just so far as is necessary to make possible due attention to social life”. Hearn himself goes on to say that “[a] greedy ant, a sensual ant, an ant capable of any one of the seven deadly sins, or even a small venial sin, is unimaginable. Equally unimaginable, of course, a romantic ant, an ideological ant, or an ant inclined to metaphysical speculations.”

The tone of admiration here is incomprehensible to me. Perhaps the uneasiness I feel arises from the sense that either ant society is evil, or I am, which seems to be the natural corollary of the essay. Hearn’s enthusiasm becomes positively alarming to me when he says, “in nearly all the higher ant-societies sex-life appears to exist only to the extent absolutely needed for the continuance of the species” and expands with relish upon the “practical suppression, or regulation, of sex-faculty”. This state of affairs is almost exactly the opposite of my own sexual values; for me the ideal world would entail more individual pleasure and less procreation. I have already mentioned Brave New World, but it is also interesting how this essay anticipates Nineteen Eighty-Four, to which it is perhaps closer, after all. Sex is also suppressed in the society depicted by Orwell.

All in all, Hearn’s essay reminds me that I find something sinister in the idea of a perfect society, and tend to suspect those who drool over such notions of having something missing. What is missing? To a lesser or greater degree, exactly what they would like to see missing in their perfect society, I suppose – the irrational, emotion. On the strength of Hearn’s essay, I would not be surprised if he were to champion the rational aliens in the film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers – if by some twist of time he were able to watch it – in turning the human world into a ‘perfect society’, without emotion and therefore without conflict.

It’s interesting that Hearn invokes “the Fairy of Science” at the beginning of his essay, too, perhaps believing that science, with its underpinning rational philosophy, and with its technological invention, is the key to creating Utopia; a Utopia embodied by ants. Are these the same as Mishima’s white ants? They seem a little different, and yet perhaps there is some relation. Mishima’s white ants are at least imaginative, but perhaps their imagination is not really their own, but a borrowed resource. Yes, after all, I think this might be right. The word virus and the white ants are the same, and are one with Lafcadio Hearn’s ants; they are the unbending logic of language. Hearn seems to deny this when he says that the ants are not ideological, and perhaps there is some hint of a terrifying truth here, that ants are a living language that has shed even ideology to become a pure logic devoid of the superfluous formalities of meaning. But now I am reminded again of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The reason the rule of Big Brother and the Party was predicted to last forever was that it had achieved perfection, and it had achieved perfection because it had ditched ideology. Power was no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself, and that is ant society. The “Fairy of Science” is involved here because scientists have long claimed that logic is not ideological, that science has no given, irrational agenda, and it is precisely this denial of the irrational that makes science as dangerous as a swarm of soldier ants.

As a writer, conscious that my words are insects, I hope, after all, that they are not ants. I do not wish to unleash an inexorable, implacable marching column of logical ants upon the world. Let me not waver here. Let me be clear and say no. I am not on the side of the ants. I will not wave an ant flag.

Let us pass then to the other insects in Hearn’s tiny invertebrate menagerie. Next we have mosquitoes. I remember a friend of mine saying, “Mosquitoes, I will kill”, indicating that he made an exception in this case. I sympathise. If ants are an entirely self-serving, implacable and meaningless logic, the egoism of the individual sublimated to the egoism of the group, thereby evading the issue of the irrational given in their existence, then mosquitoes are some kind of embodiment of bad karma. They are not scientists, or engineers, or soldiers, like ants. They are tax inspectors. Perhaps that seems arbitrary, but I can think of no other way to typify them.

In his essay on mosquitoes, Hearn begins by telling us that, “I am persecuted by mosquitoes”. Mosquitoes, of course, breed in water, and Hearn relates that the biggest breeding ground near his house comes from the neighbouring Buddhist cemetery: “Before nearly every tomb in that old cemetery there is a water-receptacle, or cistern, called mizutamé.” He then goes on to speculate about what would happen if the Tokyo authorities decided to get rid of this pest once and for all: “To free the city from mosquitoes it would be necessary to demolish the ancient graveyards; - and that would signify the ruin of the Buddhist temples attached to them… So the extermination of the Culex fasciatus would involve the destruction of the poetry of the ancestral cult, - surely too great a price to pay!...”

A salutary conclusion, steeped in a fatalism becoming to the Buddhism of the cemeteries in question. These insectile tax inspectors of human karma are indeed despicable, but they are a necessary evil. At the very least, to tolerate them is necessary. Such tolerance may help ensure the survival of poetry, but should mosquitoes themselves embody poetry? I am on the verge of saying, “Never!” However, poetry ventures into some strange places, as Hearn’s essay seems to prove. And it’s true that the Chinese ideogram for mosquito is composed of the elements ‘insect’ and ‘writing/literature’. Perhaps this is an esoteric association. Nagai Kafū seems to understand it, however, when, in A Strange Tale from East of the River, the mosquitoes breeding in the ditch remind him of summers past, and bring back memories to him even as he slaps them from his face and wipes the blood from his hand.

This brings us to the last of the three insects, and, perhaps predictably, my favourite; now we come to butterflies. Let me reveal right away that the title of this magazine was suggested by Hearn’s essay ‘Butterflies’:

Most of the Japanese literature about butterflies… appears to be of Chinese origin… Chinese precedent doubtless explains why Japanese poets and painters chose so often for their geimyô, or professional appellations, such names as Chômu (“Butterfly-Dream),” Ichô (“Solitary Butterfly),” etc.

The Chinese precedent for the name Chômu in this case is the famous story of Chuang Tse, who fell asleep and dreamt he was a butterfly, flitting blissfully from flower to flower, only to awake and wonder whether he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly now dreaming he was a man. (Incidentally, in Mandarin pronunciation, Chômu would be rendered as 'Diemeng'. The Chinese characters themselves can be found here, in the top right corner, being the second and third characters from the extreme right.)

Hearn displays a mixture of fascination with the butterfly in Chinese and Japanese culture, and reserve towards a perceived lack of weight or depth in what it represents. He laments that, though he would like spirit-maidens to visit him and tell him tales of butterflies, as they did for the Chinese scholar Rôsan, “of course, no spirit-maidens will ever deign to visit so skeptical a person as myself”. Exactly who is rejecting whom here?

He is also deprecating about the selection of butterfly haiku he reproduces and translates: “Probably [the reader] will not care much for the verses in themselves.” But, as Hearn manages grudgingly to admit, this is a matter of cultural bias: “The taste for Japanese poetry of the epigrammatic sort is a taste that must be slowly acquired.”

Perhaps so, but some of us acquire the taste quicker than others. I for one favour the culture of the butterfly, contrary to Hearn, over that of the ant. I am tired of the Western emphasis on the quantitative in literature – on the volume and weight of the work. I am tired of the endless, earth-bound marching of ant-lines. Let our words, as writers, be butterflies. Let us eschew straight lines. Let us flit madly and drunkenly from flower to flower. Let us replace the chains of logic with the transformation that brings wings. Let us dream that we are humans dreaming that we are butterflies dreaming that we are humans. Let us dream and awake from endless dreams, so that one butterfly may be many people, and one person many butterflies. Let each flight be flown in lepidopterous finery.

Such is the manifesto of the dreaming butterfly.

Then again, looking up the word ‘Chômuon the Internet recently, I find it also has the following meaning:

An intellectually challenged individual, a person unable to make logical and commonsense decisions; "A person who lives for the singular purpose of trying to ruin the best parts of life for others by sub-intellectual activities".

Perhaps this is the kind of insect indicated by the entomology of the word.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Justin Isis - The Lambs in the Trenches are Lambent and Trenchant

Ai and Kei liked to eat chocolate pudding.

The best kind came in packs of six, sealed with a plastic top. When Ai and Kei went grocery shopping with their mother, they would take packs of the chocolate pudding from the shelves and place them in the grocery basket.

"No, that's too much." the mother sometimes said. Other people in the aisle would turn and watch as the mother placed the chocolate pudding back on the shelf. Ai and Kei became sad. They would run off when the mother was in a different aisle and take the chocolate pudding again. The pudding packs were usually frosty from the shelf, but when Ai and Kei carried them, close to the chest, the frost disappeared and the packs became warmer.

Ai and Kei didn't wait until home to eat the chocolate pudding. The packs came with plastic spoons and Ai and Kei would tear them from the lid. They took a single pack each. The mother was left to carry the groceries.

Kei walked head down, staring into the pudding. The chocolate surface spread through the pack's gently curving cylinder. Kei took the lid flap between her thumb and forefinger.

Ai ran out and spun in circles. She stretched her arms and twirled across the parking lot. The mother watched her and carried the bags to the car.

Inside Ai and Kei opened the chocolate pudding. They pulled the flaps back slowly, stripping the plastic from the glue that sealed it to the lid. The packs croaked softly as they opened. A thin brown ring remained on the back of the flap and Kei licked it off. Ai saved hers for later. She scooped out the pudding with her red plastic spoon. As she ate, she felt a sweetness at the back of her mouth.

The mother leaned around and said "Don't eat too much."

When they arrived home the father came out. The father helped carry the bags inside. He tried to pat Ai and Kei on the head and they made faces at him, smiling. The father saw the chocolate pudding smeared around the edges of their mouths. When Ai and Kei finished, traces of pudding remained in the packs. Ai reached a finger in and scraped it off and sucked her finger.

At other times they would sit in the street, eating. The sun went down and they became silent.

The father watched their jaw bones moving. First their mouths opened to accept the spoon. Then their jaws closed. Sometimes a cheek would puff out. Sometimes their tiny mouths opened and closed, slowly. The father had seen fish breathing that way.

The father looked out into the street as the sun went down.

He saw people crossing at the corner. A man passed him wearing a shirt that said 'Punjab.' His daughters' mouths filled with pudding.

A tiny chain of lights opened in his mind. The father closed his eyes and the lights swirled in darkness. They gave off scattered grains, like pollen. The vast night of time opened before him. The father felt weightless.

The lights said, 'Punjab, Punjab, Punjab.' Gently, Punjab lifted itself out of space and floated behind his eyes. He could see it reflected upside down. A ripple passed across its surface, and the lights vanished. He had heard Punjab called "India's breadbasket state" before.


Stevens shifted at the podium. Kuldip Singh was twiddling his thumbs again. This peculiar habit of Mr. Singh, who always sat in the front row, had been a source of constant distraction throughout the semester.

"Farming of the kinnow, popularly called the stepbrother of the orange, has picked up considerably among farmers occupying some 5,000 hectares with an overall yield of 300,000 tonnes annually," Stevens said. But now it was impossible for him to concentrate, and he recited the rest of the lecture in a monotone, hardly hearing his own words.

He left Punjab Agriculture University at 6:30 and, after receiving a phone call, went to the post-office to pick up a package. Later, in his office, he opened it and found several photos of his family. In the first set, his nephews were playing in a garden, their feet covered in dirt.

He looked up as the bell rang. It was Amrik from his second-period class. Stevens motioned for him to come in.

"Here's my report," Amrik said, handing him a folder. "I'm sorry it's late. I needed to finish my research on crop rotation."

Stevens looked at him. He was carrying a grocery bag in his left hand. Through the plastic he could see the outline of a thick block of chocolate.

A tiny chain of lights opened in his mind. Stevens closed his eyes and the lights swirled in darkness. They gave off scattered grains, like pollen. The vast night of time opened before him. Stevens felt weightless.

The lights said, 'Chocolate pudding, chocolate pudding, chocolate pudding.' Gently, a plastic cup of chocolate pudding lifted itself out of space and floated behind his eyes. He could see it reflected upside down. A ripple passed across its surface, and the lights vanished. He had eaten chocolate pudding of this kind before.


Both men returned home at 9:30 PM and watched television for an hour while eating dinner. An hour later, when they went to bed, both pulled back the corner of the sheet from the left and then stopped suddenly. It seemed that they had pulled back the sheet in the same way before, and that something of great importance attached itself to the motion. Remembering it implied remembering something else, and for a moment an endless series seemed to shimmer out of reach. Then they forgot it, climbed into bed and slept facing the left, both their knees bent at the same slight angle.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Justin Isis - Your Angle Has Been Cornered And You Won't Be Able to Attain Shit

As soon as she sat down he started to worry about Satoko's teeth. They were bright and clean and even, perfectly spaced; and whenever she smiled he worried that something would happen to them.

He'd seen women with beautiful teeth before, of course. But they usually formed one part of a greater beauty, a unity. The crescent of the smile beneath a delicate nose. The glint on the teeth-tips matching the light from the eyes.

There was nothing wrong with Satoko's face, but none of it called attention to itself in the same way as her teeth. They seemed almost sculpted, their tips translucent, her rounded molars pure porcelain. The points of her incisors rested on the corners of her lips like diamonds set in coral. Distracted out of all proportion, he went on staring at them, ignoring everything she said.

Your teeth are very white, he told her.

Satoko smiled. But he felt that something terrible would happen. It occurred to him that she had lived her entire life with the perfection of her teeth undisturbed. Intact for twenty years, how long would it be before one of them chipped on a nut or shifted out of place? The universe had a habit of deleting exceptions.

He felt that he had to warn her somehow, but there was nothing he could say.

In a dream the following night he met Satoko outside Kichijoji Station. She was rummaging through the garbage, reaching her arm into the bins and pulling out empty cans and bottles. What she'd taken had been stacked behind her in neat rows, one on top of the other. He helped her by lifting off the bin tops, and eventually they piled up a small castle of cans.

Several weeks later he heard from a friend that Satoko had tripped on the stairs and broken her front teeth.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Tenth Night, by Natsume Soseki

Among the Japanese texts I studied at university was Yume Juuya (Ten Nights of Dream), by Natsume Soseki. One of Soseki's lesser known works, this is a cycle of ten stories, which, as the title suggests, are all dreams. At last, the ending "and it was all a dream" becomes so appropriate that it actually goes without saying. In fact, what better ending for a story (any story?) could there be? Talk about deconstructionism! (Well, maybe later.) As a matter of fact, there are some great tales from what was once called the Orient that end, quite superbly, with the revelation that the entire action of the story had only been a dream. The stories in this cycle, however, don't end with such a revelation, but begin from that very premise. Apart from the title of the work, four of the ten stories reinforce this premise by beginning with the phrase "Konna yume wo mita": literally, "I had this sort of dream" or "I had a dream like this".

These tales are proof that a story does not need to 'make sense' to be powerful. They are a significant addition to the literature of dreams, which extends from antiquity, and, for instance, Chuang Tse dreaming he was a butterfly (of which there will certainly be more later), to the present day, and the likes of Burroughs' wonderful, My Education: A Book of Dreams. They also have a special place in Soseki's own oeuvre, revealing, as they do, the dark subconscious areas that gave the ordered rooms of his better known fiction the shadows of depth and suggestion that made them fascinating.

I have translated three of these tales (second, seventh and tenth). At least two of them I submitted to the now defunct magazine Dreamzone, because I thought them appropriate. The editor, Paul Bradshaw, a true lover of the bizarre, seemed to agree, and published them in one issue after another. I noticed in the letters column, however, that even those who supposedly loved dreams often seemed to want their dreams sanitised or lobotomised. There were a number of letters of the "What was that all about?" variety. This was one of many signs to me that I had strayed from the suburbs of literature that most readers and writers (whether of genre fiction or classics, prize-winning contemporary authors or blockbusters) seem unquestioningly to inhabit. I don't know quite where this place is that I have ended up. It is a place overgrown with nameless weeds. I think, however, that's the way I like it.

Anyway, let me now present what is perhaps my favourite story from Yume Juuya, 'The Tenth Night' (By the way, if anyone knows who the recitalist Kumoemon is, could they let me know?):

The Tenth Night

Ken-san came round to tell me the news. On the evening of the seventh day since he had been abducted by a woman, Shotaro had suddenly returned, collapsed with a fever, and was now confined to bed. Shotaro was the most dashing and well-liked man in the town. He was also extremely good-natured and honest. He had but one foible. When evening came he would don his panama hat, take a seat in front of the fruit shop and gaze in unceasing admiration at the faces of the passing women. Apart from that he had no idiosyncrasies to speak of.

At times when there were few women passing he would transfer his attention from the passers-by to the fruit. The fruit was of various kinds. Peaches, apples, loquats, bananas and so forth were piled up beautifully in baskets and arranged in two rows, ready to be bought as a gift and taken away in a trice. Shotaro would look at this display and comment on how splendid it was. “If one is setting up shop, then it’s got to be a fruit shop!” he would say. However, he himself merely loafed about in his panama.

He would even hold forth on the tangerines, saying, “This is a fine colour,” and so on. But he had never once put his money where his mouth was and actually bought any of the fruit. And, of course, you cannot eat fruit for nothing. All he ever did was praise their colours.

One evening a woman appeared in front of the shop. She looked like a woman of breeding and her clothes were of the finest. Shotaro was very taken with the colour of her kimono. On top of that, he was also marvellously impressed with the woman’s face. And so he doffed his precious panama and greeted her courteously. The woman pointed to the very biggest basket of fruit, saying, “This one please.” At which Shotaro immediately picked up the basket and handed it to her. The woman hefted its weight in her hand.

“It’s terribly heavy,” she said.

Shotaro, being essentially a person of leisure, and moreover, an exceedingly sociable gent, said, “Well, let’s carry it home for you, shall we?” And with that he and the woman left the shop. They left, and did not return.

Even for someone as happy-go-lucky as Shotaro this behaviour was too much. “This is beyond a joke!” said his friends and relatives, and made a great fuss. Then, on the seventh evening, all of a sudden, he returned. When everyone swarmed round to visit him and asked where on Earth he had got to, Shotaro replied that he and the woman had taken a train to the mountains.

It must have been a very long journey. According to Shotaro’s story they alighted from the train and stepped directly into a field. The field was immensely broad and wherever they turned their gaze there was nothing but green grass. They walked together over the grass until they came suddenly to the edge of a cliff, when the woman said to Shotaro, “Would you be so kind as to jump off here?”

Shotaro peered over the edge. He could see the cliff face, but not the bottom. Once again Shotaro removed his panama and thrice declined the woman’s invitation. At this the woman said, “If you do not go ahead and take the plunge, you will be licked by a pig. Well? Do you understand?”

The two things Shotaro hated most in the world were pigs and the recitalist Kumoemon. However, thinking his aversion not worth dying for, Shotaro, as might be expected, declined to jump. Immediately a pig came snorting in his direction. Shotaro had no choice but to strike the swine upon the tip if its snout with the slender cane of betel-nut palm that he carried. Squealing, the pig toppled over the edge, tumbling to the bottom of the cliff.

Just as Shotaro counted ‘one’ with a sigh of relief, another swine came rushing in, intent on rubbing its huge snout against him. With no time to do anything else, Shotaro once again wielded his cane. The pig squealed and, just like its predecessor, tumbled head over heels to the bottom of the precipice. No sooner had it done so than another appeared. This time, suddenly, something caught Shotaro’s attention. Looking up he saw, from the farthest reaches of the grassy green meadow, what must have been tens of thousands of pigs – more than he could count – all in a straight line, bearing down in a snorting melee upon Shotaro, where he stood at the head of the cliff. He felt terror in the deepest chamber of his heart. However, there was nothing he could do, and so he just went on neatly striking the swine on the tips of their snouts, one by one, with the betel-nut cane. Strangely, all he had to do was give them the merest tap on the nose and they toppled over, tumbling to the bottom of the chasm below. Peering over the edge he could see a line of pigs disappearing, head over heels, into what seemed to be bottomless space. When he thought that he had propelled this many pigs into the chasm, he himself grew afraid. But the pigs kept on coming, one after the other. With a power as if black clouds had grown feet and were ploughing through the grass, they came snorting on, inexhaustible.

Shotaro marshalled his courage in desperation, and continued to strike the pigs’ snouts for seven days and six nights. But at last, his spirit utterly used up, his hands weak as jelly, he was licked by a pig. Then he collapsed upon the cliff edge.

Ken-san told Shotaro’s story thus far and said, “And so you see, it doesn’t do to chase after women too much.”

I, too, thought this was a reasonable conclusion. However, Ken-san said that he wanted Shotaro’s panama hat.

Shotaro was beyond help. The panama was rightfully Ken-san’s now.