As eggs simmered on the Stanley Stove, she whispered a psalm over the trio of pale ovals that gently boiled in the aluminium pan.
White words on a black page (A Reverse Telegram) read as follows: Spain repaired his legs and headed back to Phonetown in The C-Car. His presence was expected. In a backroom at The Cafe Tuesday, fifteen others (mainly disembodied skinless assassins hired by The Twilight League of Uncertainty) would eventually kill him and dismantle his new body. Moths slowly circled the dying lights in his photoelectric eyes. His last thoughts were of You.
In the cool ballon of evening, motorised bathing-huts rolled unsteadily down their narrow-gauge tracks towards the beach. Candy-stripe pink and garnet-colored canvases were unfurled. Fires burned in old oil-drums and the palmistry booths opened for business.
In distant Arm Park, where the swallows always nest in June, duty (with a capital D) came calling in a different way for Favourite Jess.
A knock on the door. A single tap on the old knocker that sat on his door. And the past came flooding back like an unwanted river. He remembered. He finally remembered the painting his mother had purchased from a Jesuit art-dealer who sold water-colours from the back of his jeep. Jess thought he knew his face. The man who had sold the painting had kissed his mother and smiled. Ten years ago. The face seemed familiar, he thought.
Lately, he'd dreamt of rocks: A barren Colorado-shaped landscape of weather-softened strata that conveniently disappeared into the shimmering mirage of a trick-mirror horizon. A warm easterly wind had softly piled flakes of rose quartz and mica against the sides of the boulders until they resembled crimson-tinted snow-drifts. In the distance, vast buttresses of copper-bearing rock formed an unlikely backdrop and the sky was stained with the hot light-blue ink of an endless cloud-free afternoon.
The air swam sweet with the perfume of cactus flowers and tiny grains of warm pink sand were wafted upwards by the microscopic desert thermals. They coated his lips with an antique silicon fragrance and left his tongue dry with the taste of zinc. He sighed. Something, someone was coming to meet him. A delegation of aboriginals had been sent by Los Oncarceras and were following an ancient and unseen ley-line of desert magnetics down from Nightsummer Mesa to intersect his own random trajectory.
Still in a dream, he would stop and drink from a stainless steel canteen given to him by his father. He'd feel its dry leather straps against the skin of his thumbs and turn in his sleep. The thin sheets of cotton above him provided a ghostly and unwelcome echo of the real world. Irritated, he'd retreat back into the dream, spit the taste of metal from his mouth and squint blindly into the distance. The aboriginals, members of an Ohk-K-Snake Sub-Clan who had blindly served Los Oncarceras for at least a dozen generations and given their first-born daughters gladly unto this race of ill-mannered reptillian insects, were now only two or three miles away and he could see the coral-coloured clouds of dust kicked up by their steam-driven gurney as it spluttered out of the wilderness towards him. He suddenly felt nostalgic for horses.
As the vehicle lurched closer, spraying a dense pink stream of carnelian and erythrite, he doubted the logic of his own Sleep System and wondered where they had found the spare-parts to maintain their vehicle: who had provided the rubber to repair the huge pneumatic-balloons that served as wheels on this shifting after-thought of a landscape? And what about the water they needed to power their over-sized iron boiler? Perhaps they had made it themselves, he thought. Maybe they had burned flakes of solid hydrogen with a purloined oxygen-torch. Content with this temporary solution, he re-buried his face in the pillow.
He watched as they came into focus beneath the treacherous, sunless sky. His pepper-gun had been set to Unconscious Mode: any sign of betrayal detected by the mechanism's neural-trigger would cause it to spray random death at any hostile life-form in a quarter-mile radius. He checked its tripod for the upteenth time. The Ohk-K-Snake, he knew, had a Thought Shadow on-board, a shamanistic bone-device whose ossaric emanations cast a Sly Web over the tribe's own bad-vibes. He hoped for the best: they were basically a well-meaning folk that stuck rigidly to Tradition, even though they were under the dismal thumb of a bunch of Third Generation Ant Dieties. The misplaced metaphor made him shudder and he studied the splintered geometry of the rocks beneath his boots.
Sullen Cloud was the eldest, The Root-Father of his Clan. He jumped down from the gurney's running-board and kept pace with its huge vulcanised wheels for a full fifty metres before stopping to take a drink. He sipped distilled-water through a reed straw, his high dark forehead matching the jagged contours of a collapsing mesa behind him. His lipstick caught the quiet glare of the sunlight. Oval circles of dyed cactus-wax disguised the wrinkled old map that passed for a face.
'Have you brought The Book of Pete,' asked Sullen Cloud in the slow sombre vowel-based argot of his tribe. The breeze caught his Family Feathers and made them vibrate like a set of antennae. 'I know this is just a dream, but its imagery is important. Remember this place. Its shape will affect the future of both our tribes.' The Dreamer (Jess) nodded and tried to speak. His jaw wouldn't work. He struggled briefly against the glue that seemed to have set his jaw into a rigid grimace. In his sleep, he dribbled into his pillow and coughed.
The indian smiled, aware of the nocturnal struggles suffered by the other. 'We who live in the eternal glare of Platonic Afternoon are able to send messages back to the right-hand side of your brain. But there are rules. Certain levels of meaning are closed to us. We have to choose our imagery carefully or our masters will detect the carrier-wave and turn on us, their beloved children...'
Jess nodded again. This time, solemnly. He was ashamed he'd brought the pepper-gun. He switched it off as a gesture of good will, then carefully unpacked the book from its dusty leather satchel and handed it to the aboriginal.
The Book of Pete was made of Metal. Old, oiled steel with hinges in place of a spine and an iron padlock that kept its secrets locked flat. A rusting copper key hung from Sullen Cloud's wrinkled, red river-bed of a throat. The indian smiled and his face cracked like a slow earthquake. He passed the book up to one of his sons, a grinning yellow-toothed youth who sat in the forward engine-gun pod.
Meanwhile, on the Disjunktiv Suicide Farm:
Kerry Mojac's eyes crinkled and shone brightly with eroto-motive forces: an unfortunate side-effect of the troll-patches that peppered her arms. She'd bought them from a Clunker on Bismuth Ave. A...