Aleister Lately had come to count on these roughly biweekly itinerant sojourns to the yawning crevasse in the Deep South. The sigil of Tiamat, primordial chaos incarnate, suitably byzantine and baroque, called him crowing over to the Whore of Babylon, taking his flexible days off when needed, hoping beyond any reasonable measure that his proverbial parole officer wouldn’t come lurking, skulking behind beady eyes and avuncular brows to lift him from degeneracy. At odds with the zeitgeist, flailing. Slain by Marduk, her acolyte. Wretched. They were his reprieve from the Stranger in a Strangeland blues that accompanied his decampment in the cookie cutter desolation of Southwest Miami, where he couldn’t afford Ubers let alone yellow cab fare to circumvent the litigant red tape of his flight risk contingent recognizance, or rather, illegal extradition under the auspices of his dear friend, the lawyer. He earned his meek keep. Caregiver syndrome and quotidian blue chip fatigue had begun to set in like a climate-controlled atmosphere to lean into. His ozzie accent had a preternatural way of blending with the hospitable southerly lilts and mannered shibboleths in service of higher ends, however quixotic; the humaneness the Deep South is known for. Forthright as aussies generally were pursuant to some gregarious bent, it wasn’t long before the missive arrived, scribbled in impeccable script on the back of a fortune cookie with a typo, “the devil will bring the saints to the table,” and the insignia of a dove, not unfamiliar, like so many others used for commercial ends, but this dove seemed ablaze, stamped with a bluish flame. The dogs ran rampant here, picking off cats that had grown too comfortable. And it wasn’t long after that before whispers began emanating from strange places in his hotel suite, at the hotel bar, and at the diner he found himself haunting every other weekend or so, the moniker of Peking Doves. It was unclear yet uncanny what possessed him to follow through on these morbid curiosities one day. Perhaps it was his madeleine, and scarcely was she eliding on a rapacious note before the sun set over her high-minded dysrobia, painterly, beholden to the bodily young, the tender, callow, polemic on the hair trigger, stilted wooden jokes. Stultified by the handicaps and impediments of playing wet nurse to a strung out junkie with a prescription bottle, ministering unto the androgyne, nursing his pain, a subcontractor in fugue from vice and avenging angels closing in and strangling their supposed domestic respite. Candida Dawne diligently fills their prescriptions while Aleister spies from a distance, indulging his own tender fantasy in strokes that had grown a muscle memory. He painted the forest to hide her in the trees, concupiscent and feral her scent waiting in ambush.

        And one morning, there was an unexpected phone call placed to his hotel room, just as he’d relieved himself of carnal urges. The timbre caught him in a metaphysical  bubble of elation, and the concierge, an olive-toned woman with a deep set of blood bagged eyes, evenly intoned.

        – Monsieur Lait-e-ly?

        The woman had a habit of practicing her French without any segue or formal considerations.

        – There’s a young man here by the name of Johnny Denver. Says he knows you.

        – Tell him to wait.

        He hangs up the phone and limps over to the wash closet with an abruptly deflated erection to spit in the wash basin and appeal to the mirror. He looked grizzled and unseemly. His reflection didn’t agree with meeting new people. Somewhere sublimated, he expected the phone call. He was preparing to check out that morning but managed to reserve an extra night on isolation row. He would have to miss work, a perfectly serviceable arrangement. He wouldn’t leave busy work, and let the sub keep their hormones in check and do his or her thing. He briefly considered and abandoned a phoned-in lesson plan. He tucked in his shirt and untucked it. His long mangy hair was lost on the living and alert. He didn’t know if he was walking into a brawl or friendly reunion. He had enemies everywhere in the country. He dons his sunglasses and makes his way downstairs. There was no one in the lobby but the would-be francophile engaged in a dispute over a bounced check with one of the hotel guests. He tactlessly dodges a hello in favor of ducking outside. The bright light does an immediate number on his photosensitive faculties. Another sigil, that of the local predominant gang, the Somerville Slumlords, was etched in chalk on the old, unoccupied factory building opposite and incongruous the luxury hotel that was like a second home, or neurotic outpost, from his life of dynamic stasis that brooked no evolution. This was the temporal gradient of human life, he thought, naturalistic and inexorable. Everything a stand-in for something else. But things were about to get more exciting than he bargained for.

        The stray dogs of the south were only so conspicuous as to overshadow the giant cats who had somehow evolved to be easy prey. It was remarkable to him the ongoing feral war between canine and feline, and attendant overgrown susurrus pervasive. He had an acute phobia of dogs. An unreliable narrator doing his diligent expository research on Aleister would trace this back to a sublimated incident which still practiced psychic stress on Lately. He was just a boy, about eight, when the family lost their pet dog Ruffian. Aleister was tossing a frisbee in his direction when it caromed off an oak tree and pitched over a fence. Ruffian leapt over the fence and vanished. His pickled drunk fuck of a dad, bothered by the subtle erotica of the warped Australian soap operas flickering on the telly, waddled out in his underwear with a declining hard-on to shout Ruffian’s name over the fence before retiring to his stupor defeated and resigned. Ruffian was not seen again until one fine drooling lazy day, when while little Aleister was submersed in seditious cartoons, his drunk pickled fuck of a father uttered some twaddle Aleister dismissed as a canard, a facade, smokescreen, subterfuge, ruse, sleight of hand, sidestep, about face; the synonyms were the whirring sound his brain made when locked in reminiscence and nostalgia. Hypergraphie, the doc called it. Achy and langorous, he answered the call.

        – Ally! The arsehole neighbor sez the fookin’ dug’s outside!

        He went outside, exiting a wound, excited to check. As he approached the road, a busy causeway about three meters from his porch that smote dust, chipped gravel and soot a kilometer in every direction, he saw the trucks and SUVs speeding past, heedless of limits and traffic laws, some swerving before correcting their trajectory, cupholders shuddering in tandem with engines, moonshine bottles sealed precariously with oil-stained towels rattling through wide-lowered windows. Disappointed, he found nothing but the same smelly blacktop tarmac with some kind of flattened black sheet cracking on pavement each time a motorist sped by. A biker gang was cruising leisurely by when Aleister returned inside to holler back at his dad,

        – Ruffian’s not out there. You’re a liar.

        his dad now plastered recumbent on the couch with another soap on.

        – Don’t you dare flip the telly. I’m watchin’ this bleeder poised to shtup this batty ole’ cunt.

        – Wanker.

        Aleister sulked and seethed. It wasn’t until weeks and months passed as they lethargically did in the remote Australian township he demurred to still reference as home, did the thought settle in his brain. The shapeless black sheet, the patches of black bloody fur, the outcome of a docile creature trammeled under wheels, and then run over again, and again, until unrecognizable from his dear Ruffian. The trauma snaked past the modus ponens of callow logic, and the trauma of the epiphany wormed into his brain as an intense, primal disdain for dogs, as the formative years of a childhood strained under the stark disbelief of his a priori presumptions shook, the internalized bifurcation between anima and husk, of the blood brain barrier, appetite for future pet doggos whisked away by the id bomb detonated, of his beloved Ruffian flattened to carbon and of the willful misdirection of his intuition. That’s not my dog, he thought.

        This suddenly came flying into his cognitive transom just abreast of awareness, as he looked on glassy eyed at the sloping ravine into the Mississippi Delta and navy stockyard. Beyond one would find a dense conurbation of tract and row houses that smudged together into a monocultural heap, a preponderance of etherized life that was Exurbia, where Candy, or Candida, resided. The grackles pealed shrill and metallic in the distance. A black unmarked car with queer ammoniac tinted windows, in that moment of reverie, churned its engine to a complete skid and stop before him. It purred expectantly/ seductively waiting for him to get inside. Ruminative, he underhandedly pops an amp, jolting his senses into acuity. They’d caught a live one, he thought…kitchen sink, monkey wrench. His maiden foray into the Doves’ nest would not catch him at daft level midnight, not this hale bloke.

        It was yet unclear whether the Doves were a syndicate, a cartel, a paramilitary cabal, or a merry band of insurgents and international pranksters. Who were the saints, and where was the devil? Did the latter loose an angel? Whether they were Pekingese seemed too facile a question to dwell on. Is that why they were so preoccupied with mythmaking, the shattering and piecing together of the obsidian obscure? The incunabular scripture of Judeo-Christian variants of the devil? They were all documented in the Indo-European languages which he pouted over being foreigner to, like his aussie background afforded no educative benefits, the backyard of the first world indeed, the inferno of the periphery breathing down the civilized part’s neck and ears. All extant data available on the deep web had pointed him toward more mystery, and the lines between apocrypha and reality stirred like waves, but what he gathered was a piquant whiff of Weird Future America; radicalized tulpas, suspicious deaths and disappearances, the Great Grey Nineteen and the Romance of Ello all were footnotes in the manuscript of a larger tragedy in a cyber landscape unvanquished, the breadth of which he could only just make out the contours and fragile lineaments of before they bore west and diffuse into sullen cloisters heaving pearls. 

        Alone in the backseat of the car, only the silhouette of a driver’s ear, speeding off down urban corridors into an alley. By the cracked graffito of a peace sign, he recognizes this as the backdoor of the hoary BBQ joint he’d been recommended by his madeleine. Let the narrator’s record reflect, that the dashing, debonair Asian gentleman, an agent, met him that monday for coffee at an undisclosed location. No matter, Crunky came correct and running. A legal script-type document or philosophical text with a strange pagan symmetry, a dialectic or syllogism, deceptively a box plot, but in actuality a map, was handed to Aleister ‘Crunk’ Lately over the driver’s shoulder. Poised to inquire, a lapidary process of molding it together, of melting down a speedball to mainline, he waited with laser focus, scrutinizing the document. It looked something like this to Aleister:

        § Supporting Deposition ————–: [signature] obtained ∑1589432 [stations †] •

              [words]          £ π ≈ 3.14159….. ƒ{ [integers] ∆ • ∆ • ∆ ¥ [fraction] √659.12…

———————————————–[rabbinic precepts; shondeh, pachad, pachad; yirah]———————————————–endgame latitude/longitude zero sum 0…….

        So essentially, jibberish. This wasn’t quite America, dirt-dumb and proud, liquid crack. Echopollution had rendered the landscape meaningless. We envied the sleeping as we crawled, and waited. I am the voice of God.

        As attaché to the foreign minister, or rather secretary to one of his foreign service officers, the Peking Dove crawled that morning into the space opposite Crunk with a briefcase and notebook.

        – Aleister Lately.

        – And you are?

        Smiling out the corner of his mouth, a look this side of death,

        – We shall conduct the litmus test now. I will make certain statements, and posit certain questions. Not pertinent to you whether I’m making statements or asking questions. You simply answer. You understand.

        Holding the document aloft with a look of bemusement, fanning himself

        – What is this?

        – My father taught me how to be a good man.

        – Mine didn’t.

        – What’s the difference between sadness and melancholy?

        – Sadness is atemporal, it thrives on inertia. Melancholy is a tenuous, transitory state of near repose.

        – Do you believe in love?

        – Yes. Particularly when children are involved.

        – Do you believe in the one?

        – Sort of. Ones become one.

        – Do you believe in God?

        – God doesn’t exist.

        – This is a test.

        – Yes I know. Very grave and serious, it would seem.

        – There is a God.

        – Is there now? Well, perhaps he could let his hair down and relax his crosshairs for a minute. It’s been a rough year.

        – These are nodal years – highly immoderate times. A time for pining.

        – Yeah? And what’s that got to do with me?

        – My attenuated patience thins by the minute, Mr. Lately. Please follow instructions. Time is sensitive.

        – You can call me Crunk. Everyone does.

        – A cognomen.

        – Sobriquet.

        – Do you love me?

        – Is that even possible?

        – Do you love me?

        – Mm. More than just about anything.

        The oriental Dove narrowed his focus now and spoke slowly, less calculated. The facade of the Asian Peking Dove laid bare, and the accent melting away to an affected Anglican. Crunk would maintain his ludic composure that came so natural to him until about the predicate of his companion’s following sentence, during which it began to fade into a startled melancholy.

        – You ever wake up feeling the weight of the absence of something, what could only be described as the cognitive residue of a soul? Kind of like you’re not forgetting something. You’re forgetting everything. Sure. Really? Yeah, I contain multitudes. That’s neat. Do you feel like that today? No, I just thought of it. Mm.

        Crunk suddenly stunned into silence, gravid with emotion.

        – How did you…?

        – I’m sorry, Crunk. Standard Operating Procedure. If only you knew how long it took to find you, then perhaps you would understand the need to identify you precisely. What one sees with their naked eyes can be deceiving.

        With that, the debonair Asian lowers his MIB standard-issue shades to reveal smoldering corneas, shades of brown and blood, a soothing coo in his pupil, stuttering lids, and in the time it takes Crunky to process the sea change, his eyes fall away from the hypnotic snare, reality foreshortened, a black suit and tie, and just below the belt, a military-issue Walther PPK, out of time and place, derealisation setting in, and the difference between a personal belief infrastructure and this reality, this melts away too. Shades drawn. Gun gone.

        – Perhaps now we may speak plainly, as friends.

        – Who are you? How did you know that?

        – I am called Sid. I had to allow you to let your guard down, a process of seduction almost, in order to extract something salient from our collective memory, to pinpoint you, Aleister Lately, in this particular spatial-temporal enclave. I had to be sure, so I couldn’t rely on mere honesty. I needed your body to show me. The cipher you were handed by our driver was the perceptual catalyst, but I’d like you to trust me more than our time together and our circumstances would seem to merit, so the mechanics of the process I’ll ask you to allow me to omit, and I’ll ask you to let me speak plainly, for a humble request establishes a precedent of mutual trust, and we don’t have time for technical elaboration. Rather, our time would be better spent understanding what I traveled so far to explain to you, and what, unbeknownst to you, you yourself traveled through the cosmos to acquire in knowledge.

        – How did you…

        – I’m wearing a scramble suit.

        – Peking Doves…

        – We’re time cowboys, psychedelic captains.

        – Why…

        – Because you’re in trouble. You’re causing natural disasters, you yourself have felt the borders give way; the nexus pivots from you and something as trivial as bad sex disturbs the beast. Your madeleine…

        It came on with shallow, labored breathing, like blood slowly being drawn, a rapid succession of quick breaths, then black. Her breathy, slightly cracked voice resonated like a crystal migraine, her periodic snorts no longer sound but song. She would never be as happy as she made him, and the victory rang hollow and Pyrrhic. Her sodden armpits, collapsing time and space, foreheads pressed, warping weaving limbs, slightly crooked lips dopamine-kissed, gustatory orgasm, an abattoir of screaming indicators, downward spiral of diminishing, asymmetric returns, cataclysms and calamities untold, irrepressible joy and blood boiling contempt, crumpled in his backpocket, groping for her heat signature in a vacuum. A fury here. Despair. Time tore through him like a turbine.

        When he awoke, he was in another car cruising the rural south. Beside him was another, much younger oriental. He seemed much more jittery than Sid, possessed by effervescence and good natured humor. He was directing a driver.

        – Turn right here. I would urge you to remain calm. You get too worked up and you pass out, ergo not a lot we can talk about. You’re scared?

        Aleister stared passively ahead, nearly catatonic.

        – That’s alright. I would be. You’re a special person. People wanna be special ’til they are, then…it’s a long book. The human condition.

        – Where are we?

        – Just west of the flagship of American surrogate suffering, where I just was. Kermit fuckin’ West Virginia. Do you know how many people there are in Kermit, ace? You couldn’t tell just by lookin’. It’s a fuckin’ ghost town, town of fuckin’ vegetables, man. Big Pharma got us good. The agents of control are multiplicitous.

        – Us?

        – Well, I mean, I’m not from there. The whole North American South might as well be another planet. Pretty bleak, I mean it’s all relative. I’m not immune to its charms. Some would say I’m captive to its allures. Call me Sid, by the way.

        – You wearing a scramble suit too?

        – Pssh….Ha-Ha! Damn boy, he got you good, didn’t he?

        – Peking…Doves?

        – Look, just shut up and listen. I’ma be dropping you off soon. Turn right here, and just take the scenic route all the way ’til I tell you where to stop. Next stop, Memphis Mighty, dirt-dumb and proud. Anyway, it’s a real sob story so lemme just get through it ‘cos it’s still fresh on my mind. Once they had us economically, with 1/3 in shambles, divided among racial lines, the simple charming cheap life, what will you do with your freedom, that kinda crap, became less a question, and we were fucked. Once they could manage pain, man? What will you do with your freedom? What more could they want now? Stay addicted to what you can get, cousin. Checked out, eyes like hanging spiders, narcotized, the great man-made plague. Heroin hot wires your brain C Note, it makes you crave the fix like nuttin’ else. You’ll do anything to get it. You’re a zombie, a vegetable, and the sad thing is what nobody realizes is there’s no coming back. There’s elective decency, sure, but once you change the wiring, the whole value of the system plummets, so it don’t matter if you turn to church or whatever, the mechanism is irrevocably changed, and it ain’t the what, it’s the how and the why, the reasons people function, the reasons they hide.

        – Are you talking opioids?

        – Oxycodone, Codeine, Suboxone, Methadone, Benzos, The devil’s chems, the whole set, the hands were dealt. Whole communities, white picket fences, ravaged, I mean devastated. You feel like you’re dreaming a little bit, don’t you? Good. I’m gonna warn you and you’re still gonna fall for it. Go ahead, she’s your problem now. I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to you. The post skill sets. Now its just crypto traders and dealers, code monkeys and designers. Do you get it? No? Good. Ah yes, the low hanging poison apple of liberal prosperity, a technical gilded age. That’s how you love?

        – What are you talking about, man?

        – Heh. We’ve seen this before. Something elemental about love…last one was Jane Mal Jordan, shorthand JMJ, their temporal excavations opened a ripple, fucked everything up for everybody. Now they’re lost to us, in a reality where Hillary Clinton is president, if you can believe it. But this is much worse. This is Kali Yuga, death drive on overdrive. Your fussy discontent with this broad is getting people killed, Crunky. It’s a feature of the time. Something that’s supposed to happen isn’t happening, and God isn’t happy. These earthquakes, these superstorms, mass killings, they’re only going to get worse unless we rectify it. Ridiculous, I know, but that’s what God is like. A spiteful, ruthless motherfucker who brooks no dissent. Keep going, pass this idiot on the left shoulder. You get it now? We don’t fuck around. The only reason you’re alive is because only God knows what’ll happen if we ice you. But that would certainly be simpler. See, what’s gonna happen, that’s wildly indeterminate. It could, for all we know, be beyond regret, beyond the measure of a hope, but we have to try. And there’s certain inviolable laws we obey, which if you ask me…you shouldn’t ask me. It’s a showdown with God now, pup. We could have a full blown neuron blight on our hands. But just remember, just because we can’t kill you doesn’t mean something else won’t, if deemed necessary. This is black glove shit. And you’re one of us now. Foxfire Deviant. That’s our new name, and you won’t forget it. Here.

        Sid passes Crunk a large manila envelope.

        – Open it.

        Inside is a plastic ziploc containing black leather gloves and a vial of transparent liquid.

        – So you don’t dirty your pretty hands. There’s something else…internal affairs has been suspicious of our motives, so I’ma be forthright. There’s more… reasons I made moral allowances I’d never consider. Fuck! Are you gonna tell me? Redeeming Candida…okay, we’re aborting. She’s sentient. That vial contains mayhem distillate, concocted specifically for you by a Japanese chemist and mixologist we’re close with from now on, you got it? It’s a hail mary, a last resort, should something truly bad happen, you don’t want to get stuck in another vacuum. Now, I’ma drop you off at this next intersection, and you’re gonna hitchhike back to Miami. You’ll wait five minutes and thirty two seconds roughly for someone to get you. I know it’s a lot to unpack, but you’ll get it. Here. Be seeing you, Crunk.

        – Wait, what if I can’t stop?

        At this remark Sid visibly shuddered, giving him pause and sufficient breath for a sigh.

        – We are prepared to deal with the consequences of a rupture. It’s in the manual. Floor it, Bob!

        Focus on your pain, for the pain of others is too vast and unwieldy, he enjoins preposterously. Tentatively, he dons the black gloves. They’re a perfect fit. Still the waters, stay your hand, and don’t blow it. Don’t fuck this up, okay? The squee of revolt sounds in his head.