[Update November 2021: We’re back at Diary of Adamant Seducer. We’ll try to bundle it into a book someday. For now the chapters are linked to above. See Buy Our Books for the books we’ve already completed.]
Bartleby Willard, the great author of Pure Love and other undeniable adventures, and his editor Amble Whistletown have left New York City. Travelling on the high seas on their separate ships they went their separate ways. Who knows when we’ll hear from them next?
Back at the Skullvalley After Whistletown Buchhandler Office at Somewhere Manytimes Wall Street, Kempt Whistletown watches his tiny letter people group together to form communities of words and sentences. The occasional paragraph empire will arise, gobbling up loose letters, small bands of individual words, and scattered tribes of sentences. Inevitably the dynasties choke on the growing incoherence within their narratives; and/or shatter themselves on other dynasties, and/or on stupid internal misunderstandings — often caused by the lack of punctuation. Kempt — the kind of God who intervenes in the spaces-between — takes mercy on his children and blesses them with periods, commas, semicolons, colons, question marks, exclamation marks, parentheses, quotation marks — apostrophes even! Oh, the clarity, oh the clarity! Of course, from time to time simple grammatical and punctuation errors still precipitate outrageous tragedies in Letterland — but the Letterfolk learn.
Back at the SWAB Office at Somewhere Manytimes Wall Street, Andrew Cleary and Tom Watson dine on butterflies. Every few minutes, the tall French waiters — taller than average French waiters, disjointedly lank and with rather flat and stretched out musculatures (eunuchs, really) — slide each SAWB tyrant yet another large steel dish piled high with freshly killed monarchs.
Each gossamer orange and black beauty is murdered with a decisive needle-poke through its minuscule head.
The chef is a squadron of Lilliputians whose small brains have been mesmerized by a vampire squid (small red mollusk with a long oval body atop netted tentacles) that floats in saltwater in an old glass buttermilk jar resting on the kitchen counter (oak, worn, darkened and stained, with innumerable knife wounds).
Ever since the discovery of vampire squid — these small, slimy, membranous scavengers that (powered by a palpitating closing-umbrella locomotion) thrust themselves about the deep sea, many a young mind has felt this thought:
“How terrible! How absolutely terrible for God to create so many cadaverous consciousnesses! Floating, scarcely aware yet still horribly aware, they exist there in the pitch black and bitter cold, mindlessly feeding on falling detritus — the disassembling remains of creatures who lived and died above them, within a brighter sea. And the vampire squid is really just a particularly exotic example of a terrifyingly commonplace worldhistorical trend: voila the vaguely aware, icky and omnipresent cockroach! Why does God make so many clueless creatures chained to so many hopeless endeavors? Why is mankind smiled upon and set apart: granted contemplative strolls, poems, and math problems? Why are we condemned to share the putrid mortality and uncertain knowledge of such hopeless nobodies as these foot-long, gelatinous, weak but agile vampire squid?”
The vampire squid in the SAWB office kitchen is a special case. It can think and read and write and carry on conversations; however, it has never really escaped the drudgery of its origins and mostly cackles low to itself about the world, the world, turned to ash, to ashy ash, and falling, falling gently down down into my tank; the world as fodder, fodder falling as ash down to my tank where I sit pretty and wait easy — wait easy, yes and yes!, a goal, a task, a straight line, hoo hoo. Ha ha
Thundration and Archangelbert talk in loud and boisterous voices. About their various triumphs and the folly of the rest.
Tun: A man can be a player by employing only the most rudimentary maneuvers. Women (I declare with my shoulders back and my head cocked jauntily chin-up) need to hear certain phrases: there are certain gestures that, even when recognized as empty, the fairer sex does fairly feast upon. Likewise (and here’s where I rodeo-spin my pointer finger and really get going): tell the people that their hearts are gold, their skeletons and mandibles unconquerable, their enemies depraved, and voila! (see how now I’m cymboling my hands together like a suit-and-tie percussionist, signifying a haughty “easy as that!”): Rub their bellies and scold their rivals and they’ll sidle up to you and your (watch! watch! oh, this you simply must see: now I’m wiggling my fingers like a pianist warming up, his well-practiced, ingenious fingers hovering over the ready ivories) suggestions. Ah, the tame little pups!
Arch: Here here! A toast to that! A toast of pureed frog eyes with a splash of Tabasco — or whatever the peoples drinking!
My friends, my compatriots, my cronies: if Goodness was an option our jobs — they’d be complicated. I’m afraid we’d have to consider — egads! — the bounds!
But a person’s a drawn-out arachnid. Human minds and bodies nut’in’ but the playthings of animal grab and dodge; mark my runny, salty, oily over-easy words: instincts yank puppet-strings and human destinies unroll like clockwork — clockwork’s that randomly drifted together because of an infinite number of chimps with an infinite number of typewriters!
So (and please bear witness as I push out my chest thus and, raising wide-open arms, turn my unrepentant palms towards the empty heavens like so) So in conclusion, it’s all cheer beer an’ ne’er fear for all us maniacal sorts — ‘specially us terribly clever, terribly successful, possessed-of-terrible-power maniacal sorts.
Tun: Indeed. With souls severed from their hearts and minds, they scratch their ghostly paths through this dark-night world. Who can blame a media mogul who twists their chords, who weaves their flighty minds and jumpy passions into little ditties that just so happen — that I say: just so happen to mention that they really ought to be sure to: (mark me here: with blinking open-shut hands and a wrap-around-grinned, pop-eyed frog-face, I tut my bandy head from side to side while slyly sliding my I-beam shoulders the contrariwise) “buy it! buy it! buy and believe! buy it, buy it, buy and believe — !.”
After the two publishing Titans (original immortal, recklessly powerful sense of the word) guffaw and slap knees like wheezing fireplace bellows for a biblical 40 seconds, Tun straightens up his tidy, plank-shaped body and tucks his white tuxedo shirt back under the black cummerbund. He clears his long scrawny mulligatawny throat and holds his chin between his up-pressing thumb and his looped pointer finger, pretending to stare off into an imaginary dramatic distance. He mocks pensiveness. He lampoons serious contemplation! Then, throwing his arms down into a sickly drooping W, he continues:
“No, nope, can’t be done: There’s no reaching their souls — they keep them in storage, along with oyster shell ashtrays, miniature pewter statues of Egyptian gods, and other treasures from Great Aunt Millie’s coffee table. No reaching their souls, so who could ever blame us for what we do with their heart-brain slush? Who?”
Arch: “Blame us for exploiting windup dolls? Why the suggestion’s preposterous! Absolutely cracked!”
Tun: “Blame us? Never! People, we’s marvelous!”
And so they caper on, feeling safe because they — as timeless immortals — live beyond mortal laws; and quite forgetting that no one on the moribund earth nor in the exalted heavens: No one lives beyond the Law.
Kempt watches the letter people on the floor. Blind and mute, their only apparent senses are touch and a kind of radiating perception for other letter people. A paragraph about the magnificent powers of the gods rolls into a paragraph about the brightness of the sun and the darkness of the night and other obvious statements about the physical world. Where did these creatures get all these human ideas? Were they in former lives human beings or somehow privy to the stories of human beings which they now rediscover within the potentialities of human language? The cataclysm of the contesting empires creates new configurations: many stranded letters; a few stranded sentences (one about the impossibility of flight; another about the danger of the swift currents) and three paragraphs: a short ode to the opulent lifestyles of the gods; a big and somewhat confused discourse on the brightness of the sun, the darkness of the night, and the moods of the gods; and this short piece:
What is it that makes our sense? We share body, heart, head, knees and toes, knees and toes. What reason supports this reason? Should we keep push to prow? Hello and Where did you go? Hello? Tell me about us. Please. So lonely in the turning time.
Kempt sighs. A pretty little lament. Probably not destined to survive long in this brutal stage of civilization. He wants to stoop down and help it, to protect it from the marauding declarations about overblown and implausible gods and the boring details of the physical world. But he doesn’t know that that’s his place.
Tun and Arch are agreeing with one another that there’s nothing wrong with feasting on thousands of monarch butterflies: they never survive the summer anyway. Kempt thinks to himself: yes, but they still have a life purpose to fulfill: they need to go to the monarch trees in Mexico, to throng with others of their kind who understand the world in the way they do, to mate and die knowing that they’ve completed the journey.
Kempt goes into his room and gets a small flat square from under his bed. He brings it back to the SAWB common office, and unfolds it into a large very thin flat disc. I don’t know what material it is made of. It is light brown and so thin as to be transparent, but it seems to be very strong. Without — as far as I can see — disturbing the letter people, he slips the disc under them and then slides it through a small groove in the walls cut just below the bottoms of the door frames. After safely setting the letterworld down in his large, sparsely furnished, wood-floored bedroom, he locks the door and returns to the SAWB common office.
Kempt: “I’m going to go look for Amble and Bartleby.”
“How? In what magic ship or on what magic sea serpent? And using what magic map?” wonders Tun.
“See if you can get anything publishable out of them” suggests Archangelbert sagaciously, his mouth full of snapping butterfly wings.
Now think Kempt: do we know where they went? Does anyone? Who have they even spoken to recently? They did go for an interview with the Mountain King not too long ago. So perhaps a visit to the Hall of the Mountain King is in order.
Kempt alone, the poem:
Oh Kempt!, noble Kempt! It is a heavy weight —
the stone here shouldered by the oldest lucid son.
Your elders, your leaders, your heroes from before
have left themselves, lost themselves to schemes
that, sweet and dear like honey, trap them in the horror.
They’ve collapsed to the fragment floor; they boast to the sky:
I give up!
I was never playing anyway.”
Can you, can you alone, hold firm while all about
the tempest claims your fellows: lacerates minds,
empties hearts, breaks the brittle stuff
that keeps a soul in God — ?
Head up! Heart up! Poor Kempt, dear Kempt —
you didn’t choose this lot, nor did you this knowing,
red blazing in dry skull:
There’s a path I must take,
now stand I me within this me
and this blazing me
within the blaster’s boom.
The choice is mine:
to take the way that leads, easy gentle bob
— a leaf on murmured brook –,
or choose the other turn — against the rush,
blindfolded, alone, into the judgement room.
Author B Willard
Editor A Whistletown
Copyright AM Watson