Chapter 4 – Communication Barrier

May 20, 2009

Back at work. Mal, stock still, looking, scanning, her eyes once again, more than seeing, extracting, pupils pulsating, vibrating, adjusting to the flashing ribbons of light cutting through the darkness, their beams falling, reflecting. Mal looking down. Mal, high on the hill, positioned perfectly, her instincts taking her to that point, without thought or intent, that spot where everything was visible, everything visible, but not, not that she knew she would see it again this time, but knowing that if it were to become visible, this is where she would see it.

Mal listening this time too, listening to the man, far below, robes flowing, hands raised, voice completely out of context, body out of context, robes out of context; the man not caring, impelled by an internal madness to deliver a sermon to the wind, scream at the sky and the hills and the lights.

The ship on which the man stood, balanced, legs spread, ready for waves that had long since passed, past centuries ago, the ship, mammoth, a tanker, lay on its port side, the bottom half of the hull, buried deep in the blowing sand. Circling the ship were three helicopter, blades cutting through the air, drowning, or, it occurred to Mal, not drowning, not here, not in the middle of the desert, more like enveloping the man’s words, hugging them, intimately, at intervals carrying them gently lovingly closer while, at what seemed to be intentionally disruptive intervals, dragging the words, kicking, reluctant, away from her, as if the words had transgressed, broken some ancient code and needed to be banished away, not heard, suppressed.

It was not immediately clear to Mal, certain information was, for reasons having more to do with her analytic process than any matter of trust or security, whether she was there to observe the man, the ship, the helicopter, ribbons of light shooting out, three from each bird, beaming from their bellies, piercing the darkness, multicolored, or whether she was there to observe nothing or everything. Indeed, while Mal was used, in the main, for her eyes; it was her eyes that could without instrument see things that most would miss, understand things not readily understandable, perceive the inperceptable, this time she was not sure whether she was there to visually observe at all. Without knowing why, certainly not having been told, Mal suspected that the man’s incantations, his prayer, machine broken, wind broken, that this was what Mal needed to … she lacked the words, even though she did this as a matter of reflex, she lacked the words to define her role; but this time she wondered whether it was not her eyes but her ears that she needed; or both.

Mal also knew that specific concentration was not what was needed here, she would never be able to collect everything he was saying, to “decode” – and yes, that was close, that was to a degree how she would explain what she did, had explained what she did, when, helpless to avoid conversation, either with people who she genuinely cared about, or others, ones that she would need, when these people would ask what she did, where she was, how she paid for … well, there was not much these days that she did pay for or want, but, yes, that kind of question – she would not, even concentrating, be able to decode the cacophony of his urgings. It was only then, in fact, that she realized that she did not even recognize the language; and she knew many, and knew that he was not speaking a language native to where they were, where, as incongruous as it seemed, a ship lay on its side without a sea or any body of water for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

That did it. Her mind, or that part of her mind that performed under these circumstances, that part, began to collect, collate, process. It took only seconds and she knew she had what she needed, had what she was sent to see or hear or comprehend. And, again, as she had done before, so many times before, she felt … she felt that while she would take this information with her, she would be stealing something, removing something, and while it would not be missed, it would … a layer of what was would be gone, leaving something a little less, hardly noticeable, but diminished.

Behind her, he had finished his task at the precise moment she completed hers. She wondered about that. Wondered if his task was duplicative or supplementary. Wondered whether he too was without explanation or words; wondered why she could not talk to him, nor him to her, the two of them, two parts to a process, never alone, never without the other, but blocked nonetheless.

This time there was no reason to turn. This time they faced the direction they needed to go. They both started walking down the dune, down towards the ship, the man, the helicopters. “Malcolm.” “I know,” she said. “something is wrong,” he said. “I know,” said Mal, knowing that he knew that the words were not necessary, and were, in fact, superfluous, that regardless, they had to go, wordless and unspeaking.

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Chapter 3 – Pattern Shift

May 18, 2009

Mal’s fingers — long since taken from the pockets of her salt stained jacket now casually tossed on the king bed placed, as an afterthought, in the distant corner of a room and whose intent, far from facilitating sleep,  rather suggested a disconcerting combination of war-time command center and feng shui — formed an “o,” the tips of her two middle fingers lightly touching the tips of her two thumbs.  Her hands rested on her crossed legs, her back straight, her hair, still slightly tangled from the winds of Salar de Unuyi, falling well down her back.

Mal consciously controlled her breathing, eyes closed against any light, her eyes having already seen quite enough light recently, thank you very much, and wanting nothing, no detail, not even the quasi-balanced mock harmony of this suite, to disturb the images she had seen there, out there, almost missing it when she had turned to walk away with him, but catching it, accidentally; not that anything having to do with this could be accidental.  Once seen, Mal knew she was done with Bolivia, done with all of South America, at least for now, at least temporarily, and that she could move, as if she wasn’t already moving, constantly moving even in her stillness, even while poised silently observing, still.  Once seen, Mal, placed a hand on his sleeve to let him see it too, her hand, of course, completely unnecessary, he had seen it precisely the moment she had, she knowing that of course, but still, certain habits, certain actions, seemed appropriate, and she didn’t stop herself, reaching out her hand, knowing also that there was a dual reason for this touch as well, cursing that as well.

Two continents away now, wondering to herself what that measurement even meant, but hearing that description last night from someone, she couldn’t quite remember who, this person not talking to her, but whispering on his phone, not in any kind of way that could or would be interpreted as secretive, no more like quietly so as not to disturb anyone in his proximitiy, or so she hoped, wondering momentarily whether, even now, she was niave to others’ thoughts and actions.  Two continents away, worlds away, and Mal, she was used to this kind of congnitive dissonance, expert in adapting to the random changes that were routine in her specific line of work.  Still, two continents, another world.  Almost reluctantly, Mal realized that she would have to be done for now, any further attempt to mentally catalog the images in any meaningful manner would be wasted time.  Mal was not the kind of person, under any circumstances to push this process.  She knew too well that inherent danger, and while nothing, these days, worried Mal, she prided herself on knowing exactly how much … thought, effort, work, tough to characterize this process … was needed and under what circumstances.

Mal opened her eyes.  Strectched her arms, lay backwards on the mat, staring at the ceiling, waiting.  She heard nothing.  Mal didn’t actually expect that she would hear anything, but still, she listened, and waited.  Nothing.  Sighing Mal sat up again, looking all around and again taking in the room and its absurdity.  Well, one had to do something to justify the cost; but still, Mal would have preferred something a little less … contrived.

Well, nothing could be done now.  Not until this little piece of business could be resolved.  But still.  Mal wondered when she could get back to her own room, sit on her own mat, look at her own walls.  And then Mal paused, understanding that whether such things ever existed was now almost moot and, since any possible return would be contingent on this possible past, well, Mal figured that level of mathematics was well to far advanced for her.  “Pattern-shift.”  Mal paused at this too.  So much to be read into that.  Quietly, Mal stood.  Mal walked over to the table, hand carved, a table without angles, all the more disconcering in its height, neither low enough for a coffee table nor high enough for eating, a table whose purpose seemed almost solely to be a bother to the occupant, Mal reached down and picked up the message delivered to the room by the concierge several hours earlier.  On the paper, in block letters, but handwritten, was one word.  Well, two, but they were connected by a hyphen.  Knowing, but not knowing.  Mal considered Pattern-Shift.  Mal dialed his number, and he picked up before it even rang.  Mal read the message to him.  “Pattern shift,” he asked.  Yes, she said.  “Pattern shift.”

Chapter 2 – Driving at the Speed of Light

May 18, 2009

Those few people who knew Bobby Flack didn’t like him.  Some excused his criminally insane behavior understanding, at some core level, that, possessed as he was by demons, he really had no choice in the matter.  But the rest, those that gave it a moment’s consideration, simply wanted the man as far away from them as possible, and several had even changed jobs, heck one had moved to another state, to leave him, and all possible memory of him, behind.

Bobby could care less what these people thought, could care less what demons they thought drove him.  What Bobby understood was that he liked driving fast, really more than liked, had to drive fast, and god forgive the citizen – and Bobby barely acknowledged that word, as if anyone other than he had rights of any kind – god forgive the citizen that got in his way.  Right this moment, Bobby was driving at the speed of light.Bobby carried three guns at all times.  Well, thinking about it ratonally, tough for Bobby at any time, but even more so now, but thinking about it rationally, it was really only as of about two hours ago that Bobby carried three guns.  One was a standard issue Glock carried by all DEA personnel.  One, a sig suaer P226, was the gun he had taken from the first idiot who thought he could pop Bobby, Bobby breaking the man’s wrist and shattering his knee, spitting on him, before putting the man’s own gun first in one eye socket and then the other, pulling the trigger and watching the grey matter (and Bobby never understood why it was called grey – cause he’d be damned if it wasn’t the same color as all the other guts and muscle and sinew he had personally blown from all the other fucktards that tried to get in his way) splatter onto the pavement; Bobby recalling at least five other agents watching, all somewhat relieved that they hadn’t been the ones to offer insult to Bobby.  Fact was that since then, this was Bobby’s go to gun; he had specially altered it and its bullets to be far more powerful that his federally mandated piece and was absolutely guaranteed to stop even the most pumped up meth head.  Bobby’s third gun; well, Bobby laughed when he thought about this, Bobby’s third gun belonged to his lying sack of shit partner – the same partner that was currently shoved, both arms cut off, in Bobby’s trunk.

Yeah, Bobby was driving at the speed of light.Bobby was not driving at the speed of light because he was scared, or because he was high – Bobby did not do drugs, Bobby was drugs, even Bobby knew that his natural psychosis, the speed in which is mind raced, unhinged and unfettered, from one microthought to another, caused in his nerves and muscles a reaction far more powerful than any street or legal narcotic – or, even, because he needed to get anywhere.  No Bobby always drove at the speed of light.But Bobby was on his way.  Bobby had heard rumors.  Not that he needed these rumors.  Bobby could feel that it was happening, a psychic connection to these events so immediately apparent that even Bobby, driving at the speed of light, gunned the engine harder, anxious to get there.  And, if Bobby did not know exactly, or even, to be fair, remotely, where “there” was or what exactly was happening, he did not care.  Bobby felt sure that he would be there when he needed to be, he did not care that that it might be happening two miles or two continents (and he guessed the latter was far more likely) away.  No.  In this moment, Bobby could care less.  Bobby was driving at the speed of light, armed with three guns, lunatic, and possessed by demons.

Chapter 1 – Salar de Unuyi

May 18, 2009

sunblasted, white, arid, empty, as though the bones, the bleached bones, devoid of all color, of all identity, as though the bones from the beginning of time, crushed by means too horrible to speak, laid out, devoid of form, a carpet, the dirt, endless.  The sun refracted off this and pierced Mal’s unprotected unsquinting eye, an eye as unforgiving as the surrounding landscape.  Mal’s eye absorbed the light, taking it in, sifting through the light, extracting every possible detail, taking all secrets of this place, gathering from the pure white bone-crushed simplicity arcs and coronas and depth, depth where there was no depth.  At the same time, Mal’s eye refused the light, pushed it back into the void, forced it to retreat the billions of traveled miles, hurt and unwanted, sulking, back out past the sky past the moon past the sun even, not stopping where it started but going further, whelping into the distance, taking all color from this place, all color everywhere, with it.

Malcolm.  For a number of reasons that would never be shared in casual conversation, it was not a name that was easy to accept; and Mal quickly adopted the shortened version, not at all oblivious to what it now intended when spoken, particularly in a whisper, but even when written, its letters, the three of them on the page, hoping, longing for more to be added so that the implicit evil that these letters, standing alone, imbued could be purged.  But, still, Malcolm.  No completely escaping that.  Malcolm, for better or worse, was the name that leapt, unbidden and unwanted, into her thoughts when she temporarily allowed herself the luxury of reflection.  For fuck’s sake Malcolm, just that, just then, the same thought, for fuck’s sake, do you really think the answer is here?

She did.  Mal knew.  Mal scanned the salt flats. Some 40,000 years ago, the area was part of Lake Minchin, a giant prehistoric lake. When the lake dried, it left behind two modern lakes, Poopó Lake and Uru Uru Lake, and two major salt deserts, Salar de Coipasa and the larger Uyuni. Uyuni is roughly 25 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States.  Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain ten billion tons of salt and half the world’s reserve of lithium.

Malcolm thrust her hands in the pockets of her coat while she peered, still and silent, out into the vast unremittent void.  This was not to protect her fingers.  Her hands had been far colder, her fingers, even if they could on their own, disembodied from her mind, sentient, even under such circumstances, Mal’s hands and fingers still would not care about weather hot or cold.  But Mal knew that if she left her hands out, she would, almost without thought, without intent, gash her wrists, and silently let the arterial blood, red, bright red and liquid, spill, not to end what she did not wish to end, no.  More to end that which she did – the absolute vivid whiteness of the plain that would not surrender the detail that she so ardently needed to see.  She would sacrifice her blood, her life blood, to give this place some kind of tactile meaning.  Yes, Mal put her hands away, fists balled, silently screaming; but not at all so that it would show.

Behind her.  Always behind her.  Making her feel both … always behind her.  “Mal.”  His breath brushed her neck, gently pushing aside her hair, baring her skin for an instant and in that instant …, even with the wind whipping, laughing as it flew unhindered and unfettered through the prehistoric landscape, even with the wind, she knew his breath on her neck, its own unique vibration.  “Mal.  We need to go.”  He was as still as she was.  His hands in his pockets as well, she did not even need to turn around to know that.  That he too was in some unspoken manner protecting himself from spilling out, from defining here that which would not be made concrete.  “Malcolm.”

For fuck’s sake, she thought.  Oh, for fuck’s sake.  They both turned. Choreographed long ago, as long ago as, perhaps, when these lakes were liquid, teaming with protozoan intelligence, cells hoping for an evolutionary miracle that, while it finally came, arrived also with its own cruel joke, salt, choreographed so that each hardly needed a cue.  They both turned and started walking.

Prologue – Sunglass Man

May 18, 2009

If I were to ask you to identify the difference between my street and any other street anywhere, anywhere in this country, anywhere in this world, the third world, or any world; if I were to ask you to take a close look, to observe the rampant commonalities, the samenesses, even between a street in the middle of chicago, or an alley in paris, or a dusty path in some undeveloped desert town, and my street, if I were to make you look and think, would your eyes go to the difference, would you sense what creates the exquisite distinct quality that separates my street from that anywhere, anywhere, anytime, at all?

It’s a question that plagues me as I stand in my yard; silent, still, cloaked.  I have flowers, and trees; grass grows beneath my feet, dirt … dirt, underneath it all dirt; no difference there.  It’s a question that distracts me, the wind, like the wind anywhere, blowing the bottom of my coat, hitting it against my calves.  There are neighbors, others, standing in their yards, wind blowing against them as well, couples and children and an old man, all standing on dirt; yes there are others, although I could not give you their names and they, if you asked them, could not help with this question.

I understand there is no self-evident answer, I know that when the rain comes, when the snow falls, when the leaves fall to the ground on my street, the same rain, snow, and leaves, are … this is not the difference; you’d know that, the minute you came into my yard and stood with me, you’d know that nothing in the external, not the structures, nor the personalities, not the weather, nothing external … you’d know that.  You’d pick up on it instantaneously.

Still, even so.  Even standing next to me in my yard, in my street, understanding that there is no difference, that the sameness of all streets and yards are extant here, knowing all that; could you point your finger and tell me this, this is what is unique.

I am the sunglass man.  I am the difference.  And.  I am toxic.

No matter.  As anyone knows, or, should anyone care to spend a minute thinking about it, although in my experience, you rarely do, you with your samenesses, with your, with your pasts, as anyone knows, toxicity is contagious.  It spreads.  I spread.  You might not be able to point your finger.  Even standing right next to me, close enough to take my hand, not that you would, close enough to feel my breath as I whisper the answer in your ear, even that close, the answer would elude you.  But driving home, or walking in the woods later, with a loved one, or standing in your kitchen, wiping the counters after an accidental spill, perhaps after you dropped your favorite coffee cup onto your favorite plate which then crashed into your favorite vase, which for reasons relating only to fate, happened to be in the sink at that precise moment, at this moment, my aspect would become manifest.

I am the sunglass man.  I am the difference.  And.  I am toxic.  I turn, leave my yard, leave the wind and the neighbors and the dirt, I carry myself to where you will not go.  I’d like to say that at that precise moment, the birds started chirping again, that children laughed, that the couple across the way in the middle of an awkward silence, that they suddenly found their voice; but all of this was happening anyway.  No one notices that I am toxic.  Well, not until it is really too late.