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 Robin Wyatt Dunn
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 Robin Wyatt Dunn
The Halfway House
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Robin Wyatt Dunn writes and teaches in Los Angeles. He's online at robindunn.com
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The Halfway House
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The Halfway House

part 1 of 2

ZERO

Morning

I have arrived only recently. My name is Carl; in life I was a shoe salesman. I would kneel and take a look at your feet, to see which shoe might fit. I was run over by a train. Someone pushed me.

It’s long but it’s important, this part of our “day”, the waiting at the door. I’m a patient man, in death as in life. I wait real good.

This room is white and so are my clothes. Every “day” the “man” comes to my “bed” . . . but I am being disingenuous. I have begun as though this were an ordinary story.

I fear that I am in hell. Tell me: do you know how to get out?

They have told me I must continue. Perhaps this narrative is part of my punishment, my torture.

This is the door I stand in front of. It is white. A sort of milky white. There are patterns in the white, little imperfections. They whorl about, in front of my face.

This girl is Lucy, and she stands beside me. I love her, for she is human like me, I know she is, though she has been known to say some awful things, like:

“I’ll grease your horn so fast you’ll think it’s jumping into your mouth!” is what she says now, in her pinafore, and I smile to show that I have heard her witticism and appreciated it. I no longer reply to these improprieties; I find it encourages her.

We wait, workers for their shift. Minions for our lord.

“Is the door OPEN yet?” Lucy asks, baring her teeth.

“Not yet sweetheart.”

We work in an office without windows. Our lords observe us. Our minds, if we still have them, and I believe we do, though sometimes I am not sure, are bent to the will of our lords, so as to improve the efficiency of hell, or wherever this place is.

To serve is to collaborate. I know I contribute to the pain of my fellow sufferers. That is my function. Lucy, at least, has a better sense of humor about it.

“I’m gonna kill some motherfuckers dead today,” she says.

“We’re already dead, Lucy,” I remind her, and she cackles like a little blonde witch, and the door opens.

Mr. Graisely stands there like Frankenstein, face without emotion, an automaton with some humming machine inside his head that listens for the subtler pains he must inflict, and does inflict, a thousand petty humiliations.

He lays his cold hand upon my shoulder.

“Morning, Carl,” he says, squeezing my shoulder with his cold fingers.

“Morning, Lord.”

“Coffee is ready,” he says.

Lucy aims a kick at Graisely’s nonexistent nuts but he dodges; he’s a quick little bugger.

Margaret is already by the coffee machine. She isn’t human but she pretends better than the other lords; I almost like her. Except for her eyes; they’re as cold and hard as wax.

Lucy sips her coffee black, and greedily, watching my face and Margaret’s.

“Morning Margaret,” I say. “Thank you for the coffee.”

“Morning!” She stands very still, one hand atop the pot. I watch her nervously as I pour.

“How are you today?” I ask her.

“New reports are in!” she says.

“Oh, exciting,” I say.

Lucy slurps her coffee. She mutters something under her breath.

“What was that, Lucy?” asks Margaret.

“I said, fuck yourself, you dead fucking cunt.”

Margaret’s lips make a funny motion, like she’s trying to shoo away an insect from her sacred lips, but the thing is, Margaret’s the insect. Finally she quivers her lips like a fish and says, “Paperwork is very important, isn’t it, Carl?”

I nod sagely, not looking at her, looking at the little oil droplets floating atop my coffee. Like little continents afloat upon the mantle, slowly easing towards a joyful Pangaea . . .

Then Graisely’s fingers are on my shoulder and I want to scream, and in fact I do, only I do not make a sound; they’ve turned me off. Screams aren’t permitted on this floor.

I turn to the office wall and it flickers for a moment, I know as a punishment for me and my emotional transgression: below I see the hags stomping over the workers, moving the ink into the vat. The ink is their blood.

I turn my head, tears running down my face, back to the coffee room. Lucy has already left for her cubicle, smart little survivor that she is.

Graisely and Margaret may look human but they are not; sometimes I forget. It does not matter then, what I say to them, as long as I perform my function. As long as I keep FIFO running: First In, First Out. (Except it does not quite work like that for Carls . . . )

ONE

The Intervention

“Lucy, you’ve got to stop, I’m telling you,” I whisper, kneeling beside her chair at her cubicle; it’s my five minute stretch break. Even the dead need to keep their flesh limber, you know. For the examinations.

She snorts her line of cocaine from off the formica.

“Fuck me,” she says, the little trollop. Her eyes are so beautiful. Sometimes I dream about them at “night.”

“It’s not good for you, Lucy. Really.”

“I’m already dead, what bad can it do?” she says, looking at me like I’m a monster, come to take away her home and hearth and joy.

“Cocaine isn’t good for little girls, Lucy!” I hiss. “I’m your intervention! I love you!”

“SHUT UP!” she shouts, and thus summons Mr. Graisely. Graisely encourages all forms of addiction as being suited to our work and so nods approvingly as little Lucy does another line. I stand and face Graisely, daring to reach towards the corpse and flick some blackened skin flakes from his lapel.

“Getting sloppy there, Graisely. Don’t you wash in the ‘morning’ ?”

Graisely’s face contorts, like the tightening of a bolt.

“Excellent work this morning Carl. What was it? The band-aid wasn’t deemed medically necessary until 10% blood loss had been achieved? I loved that. Your mind is truly something, Carl. You are a Godsend.”

I smile at Graisely, into the face of hell, and I want to scream. Instead I return to my desk, and stare at the screen.

Mrs. Ossuary stares back at me, from her Level of the Bones. She is a computer program but she looks remarkably human. Except for the eyes.

She has many charming wrinkles along her cheeks which quiver when she speaks.

“Carl! How was your break?”

“Show me Sedgewick’s records again, please.”

“Sedgewick? But you’ve already processed Sedgewick’s for today, Carl.”

“I just need to check something please, Mrs. Ossuary.”

“Hmm.”

She blinked into the documents, her face becoming black letters over white. Behind our office wall, I heard a groan from the ink-makers. I clenched my teeth.

I re-scanned the introductory letter, which specified that Mr. Sedgewick was to be Fed to The Birds. But for that to happen, he needed to have his blood sampled, in The Green Room.

“Mrs. Ossuary, where is The Green Room located?”

“Oh, that’s in Temple Five. Behind the Ox Pit.”

“Is that very far, Mrs. Ossuary?”

“Oh, Carl, you’re such a joker! You know that distance doesn’t exist!”

I smiled, like I meant it.

When I first met Lucy she gave me a kiss on the cheek and told me she loved me, and I told her I loved her back. It was the first nice thing she did for me, and the last one for a long time, but it was enough. Without her I know I would die, again. That is, my soul would die, and only this body would be left behind, a slave. With different eyes.

“Have you ever heard of The Green Room, Lucy?” She wasn’t looking good. I’d tried to bribe her supplier the previous ‘week,’ but he was a robot. Our lords gave her as much cocaine as she could ingest. Claimed it made it her more efficient.

“The Green Room. Blood Samples. Cytoplasmic transfers. Alluviation systems.”

“What are those, Lucy? Tell me.” I sipped my coffee and dabbed a bit of the blood dripping from her nose with my handkerchief.

“You’re gonna find out, real soon.”

“What do you mean, Lucy?”

Suddenly her face was worn and very old, a terrible portrait. She said, “They’re gonna take you away, Carl. Remember me, huh?”

There were arms around my arms. Some of the Caliph’s sons. The wall blinked out and they tightened their grip and fired their shoe-jets, and hoisted me over the Ink Floor, where the witches drove their charges to bleed more and more ink, and I wondered: why didn’t they sell jet-shoes when I was alive? I could have made a fortune . . .

TWO

Death, Itself

Some people call it Death, Itself. It’s a ridiculous name, I think. I know that the name is a joke. But it’s not a funny joke, and it has the feeling of a deeper truth, one I know I shouldn’t even try to parse . . .

Death, Itself, or those parts visible from the air, float below us, me and the Caliph’s sons. The word caliph means “successor.” Successor is related to the verb “succeed,” which originally meant simply “to follow after.” Here, we are all successes.

Office buildings are fired into the sky, bright blinking storms of metal in our clear night, red lights burning hot and alive.

“You will be interrogated,” said Brother One.

“You will be a demonstration,” said Brother Two.

“I can’t wait,” I said.

Below me birds approached, curious at our unscheduled arc across this dark continent, looking up at me with their hungry white eyes. I have always considered crows my friends but here they scare me; they know much more than I do. Perhaps this is the reason for my fear.

I am afraid that Lucy is going to die, again. That she is going to fall deeper into this madhouse. I must save her; but how?

Like a spiderweb made out of fire, arms blazing red and orange close around me and the Caliph’s Sons as we alight upon the windowsill of a thousand-storey skyscraper (though there is no sky). The window opens and a secretary jerks her thumb, summoning us in.

The brothers toss me unceremoniously through the window and then shut it, and the spidery arms of fire join over the window, melting the bolt, locking me in, as the Caliph’s Sons jump down into the city below.

I crouch on the carpet, admiring the secretary’s ankles, not especially eager to stand and greet my fate.

The room begins to shake and the secretary pulls me to my feet.

“Batten the hatches! Batten the hatches!” She velcros typewriters and computer screens to the desks, which themselves are already bolted into the floor. Then she straps herself to the wall in a kind of harness, and motions for me to do the same.

“Blastoff!” she cries, as I tighten the last strap.

Gravity throws me back against the wall. Outside the office windows I see reality change, storms of color, all different shades of blood. We are moving, as through some artery of a great beast, a corpuscle in it hellish plasma. We are its, and it is us, and I want to die, again.

“Isn’t life wonderful?” says the secretary, who I see now has eyes that are silver orbs, reflecting back my own face. “I so love a ride.”

The jet engines thrust our building into its new location and the plaster trembles. Below I can see something like mid-town Manhattan, a dense array of buildings glowing bright, like little nested coals.

From the floor a face appears, skeletal and vast, as large as an oak tree, pressing through the carpet, setting some of it aflame. The secretary does not seem to notice and returns to her work, filing her nails against a humerus bone.

“I AM A QUESTION,” the voice speaks to me, its tone somehow fatherly. Like Cronus. Or Uranus. The Ur-Father.

“Hello Father,” I find myself saying, kneeling on the carpet, in a position that is actually the face’s left eyeball.

“THE QUESTION I AM IS: WHO ARE YOU?”

“I am yours, Father,” I find myself saying. “And yours alone.”

“YOU ARE A LIAR!”

“Answer the man,” says the secretary, looking up from her humerus. “We want to know who are you!”

“My name is Carl. I was a shoe salesman when I was alive. I worked for Maxwich, Dellanos and Sons. Seventeen years. Until I was pushed in front of a train.”

“A MURDER VICTIM.”

“Yes, father.”

“DON’T CALL ME THAT.”

“Sorry father. Er, sorry.”

“CALL ME MISTER NICE GUY.”

The face laughed, shattering one of the windows, and smoke began to pour into the office. The alarm went off, a horrible ringing screech, but still audible over its howling Uranus said:

“MY QUESTION IS THIS, CARL.”

I took the secretary’s hand, as she slipped the humerus into her purse. We moved towards the exit stairwell. Lit in green letters over a door down the hall read: “Down To The Green Room.”

The whole building vibrated with Father’s voice.

“HOW DID YOU ARRIVE HERE IF YOU ARE AN INNOCENT VICTIM? DID YOU KILL SO MANY LITTLE GIRLS IN LIFE THAT YOUR PREMATURE DEATH WAS ARRANGED AS MERELY THE DOOR TO FUTURE TORTURES?”

I opened the door and bowed to the secretary, indicating that she should precede me down the stairs. She smiled, revealing very white teeth; I was afraid they would be silver. She had a rather pleasant lavender perfume on, old-fashioned.

“IF YOU’RE REALLY JUST A MURDERER YOU COULD CONFESS NOW AND WE COULD CLEAR THAT MATTER UP IN YOUR RECORDS. HOW MANY HAVE YOU KILLED CARL?”

I said nothing. The stairwell was lit a bright green. The handrail, soft and warm to the touch, was almost comforting. The greenness intensified as we descended.

“I KILLED A LITTLE GIRL ONCE.”

“Shut up, Dad,” I muttered.

“DON’T CALL ME THAT!”

The klaxons of the fire alarms were starting to recede as we descended; curiously, there were no other landings, no other floors. The stairs seemed to go down for infinity.

“Do you think the Green Room is very far?” I asked the secretary. She looked up at me with her glittering eyes and smiled her beautiful smile.

“No. Not too far.”

“I LOVE YOU CARL,” said the horrible voice that filled the building.

“I love you too Dad.”

“I’M WORRIED ABOUT YOU.”

“I’m worried about you too, Dad,” I said.

“It’s cute how you are with your Dad,” the secretary said.

“He’s not my Dad,” I whispered.

“I’M WORRIED ABOUT YOU BECAUSE YOU’RE DEAD, CARL. HA HA HA HA HA!”

We walked down for what seemed a very long time. Into a green that slowly became black. I told myself that, as long as I didn’t answer the voice, it would go away.

“Do you miss your father?” asked the secretary, after a long silence of walking down, down, down.

“Do you want to take a break, miss? We’ve been walking for some time,” I said.

“Oh, sure.”

She stopped then.

“Will you make love to me, Carl?” she asked. “I’m so terribly bored.” She began to unbutton her blouse.

“FUCK HER CARL. GIVE HER THE HIGH HARD ONE.”

“I just love a ride,” she said, her silver eyes reflecting my own lost face.

THREE

The Green Room

Sometimes it’s not easy to remember. Sometimes it’s not easy to forget. Do you think it would be a good thing, to be able to remember when you want to remember, and forget when you want to forget? I’ve been trying so hard to make it work that way. But it never does.

I came back. I guess you know that now. And it makes you wonder: if that’s death, what is life?

Wondering things never does you much good. Eventually you have to just take out another pair of shoes and hope that it’s this pair, that this will be good enough, because you’ve got a lot of customers to see before it gets dark. And a lot to see after dark, too.

She held my hand tighter, the secretary with the silver orbs for eyes. The door in front of us was covered in a beautiful calligraphy, written with glowing paint just starting to fade. The Green Room, it read.

She opened the door.

Inside, Lucy was standing on top of a receptionist’s desk, commanding a large brass band all dressed in green. The band was composed of monkeys.

The silver-eyed secretary looked pleased and sat down on a waiting couch and lit a red cigarette, puffing blood-colored smoke into the air.

The marching monkey band chittered over the drums and moved forward eagerly, pressing their music into my face and Lucy was saying something to me, moving her lips carefully, shouting to me as she slammed shut the laptop she’d been typing on and stepped out from behind the receptionist’s desk moving towards the back of the greeting area, going through the swinging doors . . . revealing an operating table . . .

But the monkeys and their drums and horns were piercing my skull, and because I’d learned it was always useful here to appear to be a grateful guest, I hopped about for some moments from one foot to another, a mad specter of a dead man, grinning and clapping my hands to the cacophonous noise.

I jigged and jagged to the monkeys’ tune, smiling into their crazed faces, pattering out a rhythm on their hats as I twirled about them. Lucy returned, smiling and waving her baton, a dwarf conductor.

Over the back door, the red illuminated letters ALLUVIATION glowed to life. Lucy marched us through, into a gallery not unlike the cool dimness of an aquarium observation deck. Broad windows looked out on blue darkness and there were chairs for weary souls. In the middle of the room stood the operating table.

“You or me?” asked Lucy, looking at the table.

“I’ll do it, Lucy,” I said, and lay down on the cold metal.

The monkeys all sat obediently on their chairs, chattering away, laying their instruments at their feet and attaching the electrical leads from the chair heads to their skulls.

Alluviation means literally “to wash against.” The silts and coils of a river’s delta are ground to powder in the water as they spread out into an alluvial fan. Life and death are like that. Two particles of clay in the river of reality, swirling about one another, bound for the ocean―

The doctor with no face attached the umbilicus to my arm and attached the hypodermic to the umbilicus.

“It won’t hurt a bit,” he whispered, smiling with pointed teeth.

The monkeys were tuned up, linked on their wires and eyes shining with preternatural intelligence and calm, gazing at me on the gurney, and Lucy turned from her observations through the dark blue window, mouthing: “I’m sorry . . .”

The doctor pushed down the plunger, and I awoke.

FOUR

Resurrection

I have been selected for the pilot program. I know that I am not really alive. Nor am I undead. I’m only a visitor now. A fleshy ghost.

The light looks different in my hometown of Chicago. The El sounds the same, comforting, but the sun is different, the colors not the ones I remember.

Inside my head I hear Uranus’ voice, whispering: get on the train, and head south.

I never married. Never had children. I know I am a cold fish, but I am human, or was. If I had an oppressor, I could kill him, or try. But if what oppresses you is a level of reality, what then?

I board the train, clutching my overcoat, which is missing buttons, together in the cold.

An old homeless woman looks at me with kindly eyes.

“Rough night?” she asks.

“You could say that,” I say.

“Here, have some of this,” she says, and hands me a little liquor store dollar bottle and I bring it to my lips to swallow the cheap fire.

The train car fills with color; I have always been sensitive to alcohol.

“Thanks,” I say.

“Don’t mention it,” she says, and cackles, sucking down the last drops and throwing the bottle against the window where it bounces harmlessly. She stands to leave at the next stop, and I see that a small dog has been nestled between her legs, which now she curls about her neck like a scarf. It watches me with wide brown eyes.

You will meet a man in Chinatown, a Mister Hu. He will give you what you need.

“And what’s that?” I ask aloud. The train hurtles under the grey sky and greyer buildings. I clutch the metal post and try to remember the tune to Cookaberra. He sits in the old gum tree, laughing . . .

I need a good laugh.

The liquor has gone straight to my head; I sway as we approach Chinatown and exit through the sliding doors. It feels like a Sunday, empty and cold. November weather.

Beneath a garish circular neon sign that reads “WON KOW” stands a middle-aged Chinese man with a bowler on his head, smoking a cigarette.

That is Mister Hu, says Uranus inside my skull.

“Mr. Hu?” I ask, stopping by the man. His face darkens at once, and he drops the cigarette, mostly unsmoked, into a puddle at his feet.

“Are you the zombie?” he asks.

“My name is Carl. I’m a shoe salesman. I think we have some mutual acquaintances.”

“Don’t speak so much,” says Mr. Hu, curling his lip. “You follow me.”

We head inside the restaurant.

“Death is a transition,” says Mr. Hu, smiling a strange smile as he guides me through the hungry diners, who are sucking down dumplings and won tons and shrimp rolls. I want to join them.

“Could I have a bite to eat?”

“In here,” says Mr. Hu. We duck into the din of the kitchen. Hu shouts something at one of the cooks, who sprays oil into a wok and tosses in some chunks of food.

Hu nods at me. I try to smile back my gratitude. The heat of the kitchen is welcome and I loosen my iron grip on my coat.

You must kill a man at this restaurant. Hu will give you the gun.

The words strike me like electricity and I jump, a little, lurching back against the greasy wall. Hu watches me with interest, and comes closer.

“You must pray,” he says. “Or you will never escape.”

I nod, willing the electrical noise to leave my skull, taking deep, ragged breaths. Hu pulls out a chair and sits me down in it, and the cook puts down my food. I find that I am ravenous and begin to shovel it into my mouth, hardly tasting it, enjoying the heat and the grease and the salt.

“You remind me of my son,” says Hu. “He’s no good.”

“How old is your son?” I ask between bites.

“Dead.”

“I’m sorry,” I manage.

“How long you know Great Father?”

The mention of Uranus clenches my stomach and I immediately put down my fork. Mr. Hu watches my face.

“How long?” I ask.

Hu sniffs and looks away, touching his forehead briefly with his left hand.

“I’m like you,” he says.

“You died?”

“Almost died.”

“What happened?”

“Not important. What’s important now, you do what he tells you. Later we talk.”

He puts the gun on the table and the cooks leave the kitchen at once, and Hu leaves too, turning off the flames and turning off the lights and suddenly I’m in a dark kitchen. The diners outside are the only sound. I reach into my overcoat and find my old cigarettes, beautiful Camels, and I light one up.

I pick up the revolver and open it and see the bright shells lodged within.

I suck on my cigarette.

“Who am I supposed to kill?” I say aloud.

Me, son.

“Where are you, Dad?”

At table seven.

I finish the cigarette and snap the overcoat’s lapel around my neck, real gangster style, and, holding the gun in my right hand, I push open the double doors with my left.

The diners scream when they see the gun. Some run for the door, tripping over each other. I feel the cheap gangster’s thrill of power, the drama of impending death. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the dark where God created man, it was Colt who made them equal, and I raise the gun to the fat man with the bright blue eyes sitting at the huge round table all on his own, and I see that he is laughing, watching me. I squeeze the trigger, once, and twice, and move in, tears in my eyes for some reason, perhaps of joy.

I empty six rounds into the fat man and he falls back onto the table, which collapses, spilling the fried rice and chow mein onto the floor. Blood oozes out of his starched shirt.

“Thanks,” he says, looking at me, with his horridly intelligent blue eyes, and dies.

I toss the gun onto his corpse.

“You’ve got a hell of a taste in bodies, Dad,” I say, but there is no answer. I’m alone in the garish lights of the Chinese restaurant. A murderer.

FIVE

Dead, Again

Back on a gurney I’m saying what I fancy as a mantra to myself, cookaberra sits in the old gum tree, as the medical technicians strap me in and others haul the fat corpse away, my father’s corpse.

“What now, Father?” I ask.

But they’re injecting me already . . .

“Lucy?” She has a bruise on her face. I reach out to touch her but she flinches away.

“NO TOUCHING IN THE WAITING ROOM,” says Uranus, shaking the office walls.

I look down at my hand and flex the fingers. I’ve inherited my Chicago greatcoat in this incarnation. In this trip through hell.

“Did you have fun?” asks Lucy.

“Who did it, Lucy?”

She doesn’t say a thing. The door opens and she rushes through, to her cubicle. Doesn’t even get her coffee. Lucy loves coffee.

“I TOLD YOU YOU WERE A MURDERER CARL.”

Margaret is still by the coffee pot, clutching it as though for death itself.

“Where’s Graisely?”

“He retired,” she says. I almost missed her plastic smile. Her dead wax eyes.

“Retired?” I pour some of the black coffee. It tastes delicious, and strong. “Where did he retire to?”

“The circus, he said. He always wanted to join the circus.”

“What about you, Margaret? When will you leave these Elysian Shores?”

“Not before you, Carl. I’m assigned to you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. See you, Margaret.” I return to my desk.

It feels like I never left. Offices have a way of doing that to you, cutting out the intervening time as though to insist there is no time but office time, the office is the only true reality, all other realms are fragments and bad dreams.

I hit the power button but my AI’s face does not emerge from the aether. Like a good office worker I take advantage of this opportunity and lean back in my chair to enjoy my coffee for another minute. I can call tech support after I’ve finished my cup.

I call over the cubicle wall: “Lucy!”

She pops her head over my desk. Her sad face.

“You look terrible Lucy!”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“I was alive. In Chicago. I killed a man.”

“That’s nice.”

“Are we really dead, Lucy?”

“Don’t you fucking ask me that!”

Lucy climbs over the wall and sits down next to my monitor, dangling her legs off the desk.

“Who hit you, Lucy?”

“It was Margaret.”

“It wasn’t Margaret!”

“Don’t ask me if you don’t want to believe me.” Her blue eyes are like the daughter’s I never had.

“Do you love me, Lucy?”

She nods.

“I’m gonna get us out of here, okay?”

“There’s no escape,” she whispers. I stand up from my desk and march towards Margaret and throw my hot coffee in her face and I can see I was right, her eyes are wax, because they’re melting dark and viscous mascara eye juice down her face out of her eye sockets. She shrieks, a banshee, and the alarms come back. Lucy picks up the letter opener from her desk and rushes at Margaret. Her little body drives the metal into the old woman-thing’s guts and the banshee shriek from her lips stops, as she looks down at the handle sticking out of her chest. The klaxons get louder.

I wrench the letter opener out of Margaret’s dead guts and then thrust it in again, and again, meeting surprisingly little resistance, and it’s like it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, because if you can’t kill the big oppressor, the whole goddamned system of reality that has become a system of torture, if you can’t kill God, you can at least execute one of His dark angels. I stab her again and again in the chest.

Black juice bubbles from her mouth and Lucy holds her against the wall as I stab her, and stab her, and stab her, breathing heavily, listening to the klaxons shriek, and listening to the dead bitch die.

“We’ve got to burn her, Lucy,” I say, between stabs. “Burn her up.”

Lucy tears open the printer and stars piling crumpled balls around Margaret’s twitching feet.

“We’ve got to stay alive, Carl,” she says, lighting the first ball of paper with her cigarette matches. Margaret is still making little moaning noises so I slit her throat and watch in amazement as the black ichor pouring out of her proves flammable, curling with flames, and Lucy and I laugh together, holding hands, watching the bitch burn.

“She’ll never hit you again, Lucy,” I say.

“Will you?” she asks.

“Never.”

SIX

Burning

Death and life are only eddies in the current, but where is the river flowing?

“TO ME,” intones Uranus, as Lucy and I skip down the access tunnel, her face beautiful midst the flickering fluorescents.

“I want to kill him,” shouts Lucy, and she speeds up and I with her, running faster than I ever have, like jackals scenting prey.

“I’M ALREADY DEAD,” says Uranus.

“Where are we going Lucy?”

“Deep into this fucking nightmare, George.”

“It’s Carl, Lucy, I’m Carl.”

“Whatever.”

We run faster.

Suddenly the tunnel takes a sharp turn, and we run into the largest office room I’ve ever seen, or hope to ever see again. Thousands upon thousands of desks, wood and metal, wicker and stone, desks made of hay bales and desks made from human bones. Typewriters clack and paper cutters snap and computers hum a profound and unearthly meditation, ommmm of ethernet, cathode tubes and liquid crystals.

People, or seeming-people, bend at their work and lumber their working shoulders beneath the glow of the burning white-orange ceiling, slaves to the bureaucracy.

“I want to burn it down,” Lucy says. The beautiful little pyromaniac.

I jump onto the nearest desk, knocking the frail thin office worker onto his butt and off his rotating chair. Lucy leaps up after me, and clutches my hand, grinning her murderous grin into the crowd of bodies, looking up at us with doomed eyes.

I start to speak but Lucy beats me to it:

“As of now, all work will stop! Step away from the desks!”

The seeming-people take a few uncertain steps back from their work, but to step away from one desk is merely to step towards another; they’re packed in like sardines. They hover between desks, uncertainly.

“My name is Lucy!” she shouts. “I was born a girl! In Pennsylvania. I was born and then I was killed! And now if you don’t help me burn this shit down I’ll kill you too!”

From out of her dress she whipped a Derringer and fired into the air. The molten ceiling swallowed the round with a puff of fire. The crowd let out a few screams.

“Take everything that will burn and put it in a pile! Burn the offices! Burn the offices of Hell!”

“You’re wonderful, Lucy,” I said, and she smiled, her first real smile I’d seen.

The slaves tore cheap wood chairs efficiently to pieces, handing them hand to hand over to the growing bonfire pile. The paper cutter turned machete was handed to the largest of them, who began to axe the desks.

Soon the pile stretched over three stories tall.

Tears in her eyes, Lucy took the torch and shoved it in the bonfire. “I’m gonna live,” she said.

“Yes!”

“I AM URANUS. THIS WILL STOP. RETURN TO YOUR WORK AT ONCE. I AM URANUS. THIS WILL STOP. RETURN TO YOUR WORK AT ONCE. RETURN TO YOUR WORK. RETURN TO YOUR WORK. I AM URANUS . . .”

Flames began to burn a hole in Hell.

“Hell’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I said. But Lucy was already dancing, taking the zombies’ arms and swinging them around, a Lughnasa or Beltane older than words, cut into the heart of human memory: flames and dancing. I joined in and whooped into the fiery air.

The burning desks and papers had ignited a hole in the red molten ceiling, which dripped and began to burn through the floor. We widened the chanting circle as chunks of the ceiling fell, shooting sparks around us.

I turned to look, and saw from the far rock wall Uranus’s face, our dark father, appear again, shoving into our space with gleaming eyes. Its black mouth shouted:

“YOU’LL PAY FOR THIS! ALL OF YOU! LIVING AND DEAD WILL PAY!”

Excited terrorists, Lucy and I ran deeper into the tunnels, seeking whatever dark heart this place had, so we could poison it, then turn it all to ash.

I have never felt so alive as I did after I was dead.

CONTINUED In Our OCTOBER ISSUE #94

Also by Robin Wyatt Dunn

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