Manchine
 

 By
 Randy Chandler




I don't remember dying.
     The last thing I remember I was walking the hallowed halls of higher learning, making my way to the crowded classroom where I daily endeavored to teach World Lit to muzzy-headed students who cared more for their cell phones than for sonnets. Then gunfire erupted in front of me and a young man in sun glasses and a hooded parka sauntered toward me, shooting anyone who happened to cross his path. A most pleasant smile he had on his face as he raised his pistol and shot Judy Deakins, professor of Economics and mother of  three. The back of Judy's head came off and flew at me with a comet's tail of  blood. A piece of her skull struck me in the chest, bloodied my shirt and power tie. The young man with the gun turned his head toward me and I saw my two faces in the twin mirrors of his shades. His gun came up and my eyes were sucked down to the dark hole of his pistol's muzzle. Looking into that universe of spiraled darkness was my last act as a living being, and it's the last thing I remember of my nasty, brutish and short life.
     For the moment -- as moments "exist" for the dead -- I remember a great many details of my life on Earth, but I won't burden you with those. What I'm setting down here is my necrography -- not my life story but my death story, thus far. But for the recent advances in microchipery and the advent of the GreatNet, I wouldn't be able to tell it at all, short of ouji boards and table rapping. Thanks to the demigods of cyberrealm, I'm able for a time to be the ghost in this machine, making dead lines by sheer want and will of the soul.
     My lovely killer took me down with a headshot; how else to explain my sudden end? I never even heard the bang. I was standing there staring into the darkhole deathspiral, then I was nowhere, lost in blackness deeper than any in sleep, untethered in the space between inhale and ex--
    Mean Old Transmigration Blues, talking blues, bluefunk dues out on the highway to hell and gone, lowway to Elysium and all points in between, blue highways, black death, veins pumping their last back in the harrowed halls, Valhalla-bound for Glory or ground for the bowery of heaven's subcellar, bowery bums bowdlerized by guardians of taste and on-high style, laid low by archangel's fiery rapier, sliced, diced and deloused, the singed soul at least cleaned up if not sanctified. Cosmic madness in the method. Methodist Mugged By Heavenly Host. God's Dog Dogged By Dogma In Life, Doomed To Doggerel In Death's Dolorous Dominion. Talking Dharma Bum Blues, eh, Jack? lowdown and nasty...
     Mystery my mistress now. I digress:
     The great mystery of life, to me, was why the male member must sponge up to uncomfortable size for the nightmind to set sail on the dream mare. Try explaining to a woman that your erection had nothing to do with the content of your dream.
    --Having sex dreams again, eh? she would say.
    --No, dear, it was a sexless nightmare.
    --Then why were you hard up?
     --Dunno. Just was.
    The way it works. Stiff ticket to dreamland. No admittance without a stiff; ticket. Inflate the old inner tube and float on the sea of dreams. Turgid, tumescent, tumid, swollen-near-to-bursting with blood, riding the tumultuous waves, surfboard bone, boneless meat tender-tough, roughcut and rowdy but hardly randy. They say hanged men sprout boners, and you know they aren't thinking of the beast with two backs. Perhaps they're dreaming their last at death's doorway, plumbing the depths of the soul's dark demesne as they near the nightmare/deathmare nexus. Erecting dreams out of soft tissue, ethereally rising up to prick the ether and pierce heaven's heart. Mystery of mysteries:  myth-muscled monster moored to the moon, mossbacks and mountebanks alike, mirroring the masqueraders' matrix and tempting the immortal muse.
    Perhaps the ancient ithyphallic statue of everhard Priapus and the pagan worship of the phallus itself might be explained by the myth-dream-erection connection. Christ Himself came late to the pagan party as a phallic god with the Holy Prepuces guaranteed to make women conceive; those foreskins enshrined at the Abbey Church in Chartres generated thousands of miraculous births, they say, and one saint went so far as to claim that Jesus bound her as His bride by using His foreskin as wedding ring. Add to that the fact that early Christians hid stone phalli in their church altars, and you have a fairly accurate picture of religion's fascination with the phallus (fascinum being Latin for erect penis) and it doesn't take too great a leap of logic to land in the Phallic Land of Fascination and Fantasy, the male's dream-hard legacy of spiritual physiology. Unless of course I've come down in fallacy, in which case I beg your patience. Forgive if you will any ensuing phallacies. My musings along these hard-by lines may be little more than a dead man's penis envy...
     ...and a momentary distraction from the mistress who takes me unto her dark waters and into the churning backwash of remembered moments strung together like bones wired each to the other so the skeleton may dance and rattleclackclack all the lovelong night or day as bones are wont to do if they are of a mind and a will apart from the world's willingness to move forward in illusory time, dancing to the beat of the exalted one who calls the tune, imprinted melodies that stick in the craw, remembered by bizarre association, coddled like babes given suck, but down there in the muck and mire is where I no longer am, being dead and privy to secret senses unknown to the living. Snatches of careworn words from the funeral-goers lips find their way to my occult antennae:
     --Odd sort.
     --Oh, he had big plans, they just never panned out.  Them as can't do, teaches, don't ya know.
    --Dabbled with powers of darkness, I heard.
    --Nonsense....
    No sense really in knocking about here when here is so very there and very much down; the living have little choice in the matter. They move from place to place with solemn purpose and a sense of self-importance, never arriving, always pushing off, careening madly from one drama to the next, looking back and losing the way they thought they had at last found, sad foundlings taken in, nourished, fortified with a semblance of love, then cast out again, adrift, at sea, sailing round the horn, round and round they go, hither and yon, till they're bald as billiard balls and swaddled in diapers in the Old Folks' Home, waiting to die, awaiting deliverance to the Promised Land or at the least an end to their suffering. They say that when you die your dead relatives are there to greet you and take you once again to the dead bosom of familial bliss, that shriveled pap from whence the bloodmilk of human compassion must flow. Thank the gods that was not my fate, for what family isn't cursed with a thousand little cruelties and wicked digs in the flesh dispensed in the name of love, or with self-fulfilling prophesies of doom, legacies of despair, failure hidden in every proud success. I'll have none of it, thank you very much. Don't bother to write; where I am the post office doesn't deliver, come Hell or high water or whatever. No check in the mail, no official notification, no You're already a winner, because there are no winners here in this ethereal locus between line and shadow, off and on, pain and pleasure, knowing and unknowing. The soul doesn't move in linear fashion. You don't go from place to place or moment to moment because there are no moments, no places, and if you should see God you probably wouldn't recognize Him/It/Her anyway because you will be blinded by the immensity of everything happening all at once, history and future folding and unfolding before and after your soul's secret eyes, eyes multifaceted with sensory organs evolution never dreamt of, never leapt to, your old body down there in the box, little more than a quaint relic now, if now even exists. They're moving it, see? Loading the box into the hearse, mourners dabbing eyes, blowing noses, clasping hands. Talking in whispers as though they're afraid of waking the dead. Don't worry. No sleep for the dead. I'm awake! And caught in my wake they march to the cemetery, cake-walkers moving mournfully amid stones and markers, watched over by guardians of sculpted stone and marble, fierce angels and fat cherubs, Mother of God in need of a good scrubbing, weathered to a sad fair-thee-well, no longer immaculate but pretty just the same. Hail, Mary! Hail and farewell. Another hale fellow well met, then kissed off the planet, and more's the pity. No, not really. Pity doesn't append (useless appendage if it did). Planets are just rounded places, blobs of space debris trapped in random orbit, some infested with life, some life invested with abstract thought and self-awareness, cursed you might say, and fearing death, but take it from me, death is nothing to fear. Death is nothing. No thing. Life is some thing. The things we are. Things that cry. Bleeding objects.
Caution: Objects may appear more solid than they really are. When you're dead you can go to your own funeral and see the circus. The prayers, the tears, the pain, the spectacle of the last rites--it makes you want to scream: Stop your blubbering! (cold and heartless of me, but I am dead). I'm right here and here is fine while it's here. But soon enough I'll be elsewhere in that place that isn't a place, in a time out of time, where there is no where, no now, no then, no thing. I don't think I'll remember much then (no-then) and I may get a chance to start over again (begin?) in an embryonic shell, once more into the breech, brave lad, and then be squirted out in a new time and place, one more forlorn human toss-pot overwhelmed with possibilities and cursed with budding spiritual yearnings and a biological imperative to return to the womb and spawn offspring of my own, but for now I'm beyond all that, cast adrift once more, buoyed by divine magic and borne up by forces unseen, hovering above my hole in the ground, riding irresistible currents of a Stygian river without beginning...
     Germans have a word for the space between things: zwischenraum. The realm of the dead is zwischenraum. We dead reside in the in-between, the null & Void, the great empty spaces in mind and matter. To us the living are hazy spirits, while we dead are starkly detailed in the rich hues of the soul, decked out in the colors between the colors of the spectrum. When you speak we hear a faint buzzing as from a fly trapped between the window glass and screen, and your footsteps fall as silently as the fly's. To the dead you are shades and shadows of that which we once were and may never be again. You are shallow, dimensionless creatures glimpsed from the corners of our soul's eyes, standing on the corner of Dead & Gone, waiting for the bus to the boneyard. Between the dead lines you may find us if you peel the blinders off your eyeballs. We roam the zwischenraum, rangers and rovers who don't, as a rule, say Boo! to you.
     I find I'm partial to churchyards, feeling right at home amid the markers and stones. These places are rich in souls, fertile ground for growing melancholy flowers or sipping the Zeitgeist like vintage wine, imbibing the Weltschmerz like world-weary Nazis overseeing death camps. Gott im Himmel, those jerrys were good at stamping labels on things! Jerry-rigging the world to suit their operatic view, but deaf as old Beethoven to the cries of the world. Still and awe, I'm all a twitter and rosymarble cozy passing through these tombstone rows and townhouse mausoleums, necropolitan nightscapes under the midday sun, sad son of lost souls and random coupling, my spirit shaped by each life lived or touched to the heart, a soul apart, yet leaking into others and sucking up intimate essences at great personal risk. Ghost-nook necropolis my dark port of call. These sad shadelings alive and carrying our coffins to the grave, backs bent in mourning, these grim-faced bearers of pall, somber sorters all, deep in contemplation of their own mortality and thirsty for stop in the local pub, hardly able to wait till the first shovelful is tossed.  Weltschmerz schmaltz is the fashion of the day. Maudlin mourners in monotone uniform, black as ravens' wings, their metaphorical feathers metaphysically ruffled by death's passing breeze. I'm quite at home here, nevertheless and less the never.
     When I first died I hovered beneath the flickering florescent and looked down at my dead body bleeding its last on the checkerboard tile of the harrowed halls, unmindful of the mad melodrama still playing itself out down by the biology lab door: the gunman still going gangbusters, busting caps, as they say, and freeing more souls from their mortal coils, slinky springs no longer doing tricks on stairs for the amusement of spoiled children or cruel gods. Deliciously detached from that course world, I saw that I wasn't alone; Judy Deakins hovered nearby, taking it all in like a kid in a front-row seat at a Saturday matinee, a horror doublefeature, starring herself and yours truly unruly, pass the pop porn please. But it wasn't really a horror show, no; it was altogether wonderful to be so detached from the world left behind and below and in awe of the fact of our departing. But dear Judy was having none of it. She seemed appalled by the bloody spectacle and genuinely aggrieved by her murder. I wanted to reach out to her and tell her that it didn't matter now, that where we were there was no need to be distressed. Why didn't she see that? Didn't the same rules apply for both of us? I did try to touch her, to comfort her, but somehow I couldn't connect. She didn't seem to see me at all. What to make of this? A spiritual anomaly? Some apocryphal aberration? An oversight of God's? Or was it true that we create our own heaven or hell and that it's all in the mind/soul? Who knew? Not me. So with a soulful shrug, I got on with my death, leaving Judy D. in her dithering tizzy.
     But our paths crossed again at the cemetery.
     Her funeral procession followed mine by several solar declinations, a paltry few time-measured degrees after my interment in point of fact and in lieu of fiction. And there she was, her soulbody striking in its brazen sexuality--and there was the rub! Praise be to God. Sexlife in the afterlife? Could this be so? And I saw right away I would have to revise and extend my musing suppositions and amusing extrapolations concerning the afterlife. There were more dramas to be played, more strutting and fretting across the phantom stage, more bumping and grinding in phantasmagorical footlights. Hallelujah! You hobgoblins of boredom be gone! Shades get laid!
     Judy came on like sinuous smoke, curling and twisting sensuously closer and I fairly crackled with something like electromagnetism, shooting off a jagged bolt like a Van de Graff generator discharging a stinging bolt of little lightning. The churchbell rang and changed our hue to rosypurpleindigo, hearing it as we did with our numinous molecules, resonating spheremusic ecstasy as our souls came together, intermingling coefficiently in numbers infinitely excited, united as only souls can be, sharing sums greater than the hole of old and soaring high above lowlife slug strata until we were sated among the stars, snuggled cozycomfort in a fiery bed of shared secrets, languidly longing to prolong our crackling bliss.
     We disengaged, she softsailing away and I, priapic soulson of Aphrodite, sliding limply, limping along the blazing whore rising.
    What I think I know: There are three species of soul:

        1. Walkers are the deformed or incomplete spirits, earthbound vagabonds doomed to go on foot or belly while awaiting another shot at an unbungled life. They are the ghosts of hearthstories, vengeful, self-absorbed, still all-too human and living in illusion.

        2. Floaters inhabit the middle distances of the in-between; they've glimpsed the light and touched the Void, but haven't learned to soar, either lacking faith in their soular powers or remaining tied to the living, or both.

        3. Soarers have learned to let themselves go and slip the bonds of the hierarchy, limited only by their imagination--for what can be imagined can be made real in the upper reaches of the vaulted realms. When you share your soul with another you soar together, two-gathered, cosmically orgasmic, showering divine light upon eternity for all the gods to see.

    What I know I think: I think those voyeur gods are themselves illusory, as delineated in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The planes of death are populated by demons spinning webs of illusion, eaters of dreams who imprison unwary souls. What is needed is a spirit guide to get one through the Bardo's storm of illusions and soul traps, triptrapping like trolls beneath the
bridge over bloodied waters.
     In search of a sign I ceased my soaring and drifted deep into the catacombs below the dark river, my rosypurple afterglow lamplighting my way. Here there be walkers reduced to stumpy knees, crawling in grottos, snuffling in the dirt for the spoor of boudoir grimoire and necromancing scribes who carve their cryptic script in living flesh. It's said that legends live in the catacombs. Mythical characters formed from dirt and clay and stone with river mud for blood come to life here in these demon-haunted grottos beneath the watercourse way. Hysterical histories tripdrip from poets of the black pen. Ozymandias in his pleasured doom bites heads off chicks, geekstreaked  carny barking at Bysshe's bitch's monster while the 'eadless 'orseman forgets where he parked his 'orse. Po' Poe dead in a gutter by undersea sewers sloshing...
    Odysseus never makes it home....
     Entropy taking its toll in this dark entropical garden of grotesque grottos. Get my bearings straight. Damned eerie 'ere.
     Black water from the riverrunning above drip plip plop plipping, building stellar stalagmites like dragon's teeth to keep the tanks from overrunning, heavy armor behemoths thunderrunning on bloodied tracks, blitz babies leaving brown skidmarks, pacing snails' slime trails. Catch the spoor. Foul wind. Shift of wit. Wiff of --
     I made my way to the surface, leaving a trail of crumby molecules for the black crow sisters to follow. Came upon a sacred grove of skeletal trees filled with hanged men, ravens picking their eyes and making foul feast. Consulted the bloat-neck oracles. Read the tea leaves on their protruding tongues. One of them spoke: Get thee the hell gone.
     Back to the black river banked by the boundaries of the in-between.
     Back in my old abode where flakes of my dead skin feed microscopic mites, the cyberchine hums, taking down these transposed-from-beyond dead lines. Net-connected, Netted-up, nattering ninnies lost in the Nineties narfing it up like wisecrack junkies.
     Eye dive into the tenebrous currents, shooting ebonyivory rapids, mooning the shoots, dumped humped and thumped by moonless waters. Eye for an I. I-balls swooshed out and bum sludged up with rivermuck, can this be the way it ends? On the river with no beginning/no end? Crooked watercourse way of the whimpering worlds in between... worlds apart again... begin without fins... web-footed floozie forwarded to the next worldless world... lines dead... busy signals... systems down... underground wellspring... stoppered up bum cork... eye core gored ... deathrealm doozy... glut of grotto guts spilling...brainmatter spattered back on the hallowedhalls tile... blood mixed with chick's pix in crimescene photoplasma framed, blowing cork and crack in 6-D glasses, scammed crammed shammed shamed mainbrainframed message:  Cyber dime dropped:  This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down....

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