The 2020 Event |The Sideshows|

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11| Chapter 8:
The True Commons

The Final Joint

The final outcropping, Board’s greatest hideaway stashed far enough off the trail to be unknown. A deaded log stands stuffed with a softball of quartz. A benchrock laid on the mossy boulder, as if placed here to be sat upon. The bird’s eye view of the Wanaque Res’, sanctioned by the government to conceal the secret extraterrestrial base hidden beneath its waters. The spark of a lighter, igniting the tip of the final joint.

The footsteps of demise’s approach shatter dead leaves like unhatched eggs on tile.

“I’ll have that joint, if you don’t mind,” says the suited man, sitting next to me on the bench.

I pass him the joint. He hits but does not chief, and passes it back.

I hit. “Why do you chase me so, suited man?”

I pass.

He receives.

He hits. “I don’t pursue you, strange little man. I just want to make your acquaintance.”

He passes.

I receive, then he batters me with a flurry of blows.

The Talk

I’m thrown to my knees, gashed, the joint ripped by the wind and carried off into the brush. Had it not just rained, Board would burn; the planets have aligned for The Boardtrip. The suited man’s right hand assumes the form of a fingergun. The barrel lays claim over the executioner’s cleft in the back of my head.

All right, I suppose that’s about enough.

Never mind the strings, a hole rips open through Existence itself in the shape of a cat’s pupil, distorting its surroundings into a warped carnival mirror’s reflection on a sweltering hot summer’s eve’. The maned man joins the powwow on Board and the hole closes.

The suited man turns the fingergun on himself. “What the fuh–PSHEW

The brim of the fedora crumples against rock. No blood is spilt.

I hear footsteps approaching me and can only assume it’s the maned man. Unless the suited man hadn’t actually turned the gun on himself and he was just trying to get me to lower my guard…

“Open your eyes, HOW. We need to have a little chat, and quick. Chuck’ll be alive again soon.”

I open my eyes and look, and there he is – the maned man. A perfect mirror image of me, the most powerful character in all of my literary universe, W-2020. The one at the top of the consciousness spectrum. A little vain, perhaps, but all writing is, if you look for a reason for it to be.

“Hello, HOW,” he says.

“Hello,” I return, slowly rising to my feet. His eyes follow mine and hold steadily on once I’m up. His stare is strange, not sinister but… it’s as if he knows me better than I know myself. “The maned man, Hunter Owens Wallace. Me, myself, in the living flesh. How do you do?”

The maned man smiles and tilts his head to the side. He’s got a crooked smile without really trying, it seems, and his hair isn’t as curly as last time. Poofy is a good word. Rat’s nest isn’t very nice, but it does the job.

“I’m doing well, HOW. And HOW about yourself?” he asks, a bend in his words.

“Well, the main character of my books almost just shot me in the back of the face, and now here you are. You saved me, it seems. I think I might owe you one.”

Your books?” the maned man asks.

“No, my fucking universe,” says the suited man, climbing to his feet. He looks at the maned man, drops his godhood all over Board, and bleats, “Ohhhhhh shit.”

The maned man offers a smile curved by delight. “Shall you tell him, Leary ol’ boy? Or may I do the honors?”

The suited man takes a step back and swallows, making a gulp sound. He’s breathing with his mouth open, and not steadily. “Uhh, uh, I, I don’t, I…”

I’ve never seen the suited man acting like this; I’ve seen every event to ever play out in his universe from the time it was created, and he has never been this scared. Awkward maybe, but this is different. I can feel it in the air, the thick, tough, density of it all constricting the oxygen, making it hard to breathe. Why must my characters be so cruel to each other?

The maned man looks to me now, and smiles. The icy hand of death tickles the back of my neck.

“I guess it’ll be me then,” as the maned man steps forward.

I try to walk backwards towards the woods, maybe step on a branch and distract myself long enough to break the spell of his gaze and book it. One step, another, another and I’m down on my ass, goddamnit.

“It’s time we had the talk, HOW. There’s something you misunderstand here, something of tombstone importance. Do you know what that is, buddy?”

I have absolutely no idea what I could be misunderstanding, I’m just writing this as I see it happen. “No, I have absolutely no idea what that could be. I’m just writing all this as I see it happen.”

“HOW,” the maned man says, still smiling. “You’re not writing right now.”

I look down at my hands. They’re empty; no pencil, no pad, not even a laptop. I’m not writing right now. “I’m… perceiving all this with eyes.”

Chuck looks, astonished, from the maned man, to me, and back to the maned man.

“That is correct, yes.”

“Yeah,” I say, continuing my train of thought. “Yeah, this is just like when I get into that meditative place and perceive the events of universe Doubleyou’Dash Twenty-Twenty, except when I’m doing that, I’m typing what I see as I go. Right now I’m just seeing it, like in real time. I get it. It’s okay.”

The maned man holds his gaze.

The suited man mutters, “It’s… okay?”

“Yeah,” I say, turning to him. “Like, I know the difference between the two now. Like, for sure. I’m not crazy, I can still differentiate fiction from reality. I’m not crazy. It’s okay, see? I’m not crazy. It’s okay. I’m not crazy it’s okay imnotcrazyits…”

Every time I speak the words I’m not crazy, someone else talks for me. My lips move, but my voice doesn’t come out. Byron must be in my head.

The suited man takes a step back and says, breathlessly, “What the fuck?”

The maned man winks at Chuck and he topples to the ground. He begins to crawl backward slightly, but I stop him.

“No, HOW, you didn’t stop him.”

“What do you mean I didn’t stop him, I just wro–“

“You’re not writing right now, HOW,” the maned man says.

I am.

HOW’s left eyelid slouches halfway shut. He stumbles to the left and falls over, both of his limbs on that side giving into uncontrollable spasms. He feels a pins and needles sensation consume the left side of his brain and he feels as though he’s about to go into convulsions, but he doesn’t. His nervous system trembles inside his body and he feels as if his spirit is trying to shake its way out, like a molting tarantula.

“You called me by the wrong name before, HOW,” the maned man says, holding out his arm as if he were about to catch a falcon. A suave tuxeudo cat with a pink nose then appears, his back legs on the maned man’s shoulders and his front legs on his outstretched arm. “My name is Hunter Arkane Wallace, and I’m the real writer of these books.”

HOW tries to speak but cannot, the left side of his mouth has drooped to his jawline. The Lyme disease all over again.

“Your name is not Hunter Owens Wallace, HOW. Your initials are acHe, Oh, doubleyou, but you are not the Hunter Wallace of this Universe. Nobody is. The Hunter Wallace of this Universe died in two-thousand-seventeen when he was tripping on eL-eSs-Dee, just like Aldous Huxley in a way, except the Aldous Huxley of this Universe had his wife shoot him up with the holy water. Aldous was planning to die, and he just wanted to rustle some Jimmies with the potion; Hunter, on the other hand, he was only planning on tripping that day. The Universe or Existence or whoever was in control of him, it wanted to rustle some Jimmies, so it caved his skull in on a metal bedframe and had him pass silently in the company of his friends, as to not make a commotion and ruin their acid trip. They would come to realize what had happened on their own, his friends, it would be the only right way. His middle name was Owens, this Universe’s Hunter, the maiden name of his mom. It was a shame, too; he was a bright kid.

“But when he did pass through that great transition, it was dark for Hunter Owens Wallace. It was dark for a very, very long time.” The maned man turns to the suited man, “That’s two verys, Chuck.”

The suited man shoots him a look that whispers I counted the verys, Sir.

“Then, the darkness faded. Laying on the dirt of my secret campsite at the top of a mountain with an iceberg of quartz crystals at its core, I woke up. I knew I was no longer in the Universe I was originally born in, something was different. There were no roads cutting through the forest, there were no houses dotting the mountainside. This new Ringwood, and as I would later come to find out, the entire Earth on which I had woken up, was untouched by humanity. I was alone here, on this planet, my planet, and as I went to cross my legs into the lotus position and they came up to my waist rather than commanding my waist to come down to them, as I sat on the air meditating like Ace and Fleurna and all the The Psychenauts, I realized something: I was a god. No, more than that – I was endowed with a certain power, a power universally versatile. I didn’t know why I knew this, why I was so sure I had this power, but it was as if I was remembering a forgotten facet after a long, long time. I’m universally endowed, the highest being on the consciousness spectrum of Existence, and this cat? Milkshake The Mongrel?”

The Mongrel’s tail whips, his eyes burning like jade fire.

“He’s number two. He and I are the two most powerful beings in all of Existence; I am the scrivener, the one who creates it, and he is the warden, the one who maintains when ‘tains must be mained.”

HOW processes as much as he can, but his body is quickly withering. He doesn’t have much time left at all, actually; the maned man must be swift with his words, swift and true. The Mongrel yawns lackadaisically.

“I was going to ask if you wanted to guess who number three is, HOW, but it seems like you’re having some trouble. The answer is Chuck.”

The suited man’s jaw manages to drop lower, his mouth approaching that of a post-therapy Hymarc. “Say again?”

“Yeah man, you’re the most powerful being in all of Existence, underneath my cat. Your actions, thoughts, and everything else about you are your own and yours to control, but they can also be vetoed. And manipulated. And they don’t need to correspond to the reality around you. And, now you know.”

“Now I know,” The suited man says, putting a hand to his goatee.

The suited man’s head snaps up, a squirrel with a nut in its hands. His right middle finger turns into a syringe filled with his instantaneous healing serum. Holding eye contact with Hunter Arkane, Chuck stabs his needle into the dying thing’s left temple, penetrating his brain and shattering the skull plate on the other side. As he unsheaths, the serum is spread and leaks from the holes in the man’s head, but not all of it.

The brained man rises a moment later, alive and well.

“Holy shit,” he says, rubbing the left side of his head. “It worked, I’m totally healthy. The Lyme is gone again!”

The maned man snaps his fingers. The brained man grabs the left side of his head, wincing in pain. “There, you can have that back. The head injury I suffered during my eL-eSs-Dee trip was more than a mere flesh wound; that day, I fractured the head of my soul. It will heal not over time but with intention, and I don’t need to be feeling the shit as it does. So you can feel the healing pangs for me, you little literate voodoo doll, you.”

“Literate?” the suited man asks, getting a feeling inside his head that he should ask about it. “What does that mean?”

“I’m so glad you asked,” the maned man chirps, “considering I wrote that you would in the book. Same wording, too,” he says, speaking in a more legitimate version of the suited man’s voice than the suited man’s actual voice. “Imagine that.

The suited man’s mouth is swallowed by his faceskin. He breathes heavily out his nose and muffled noises of anger charge into his teeth to no avail. The maned man turns to the brained man now, toting that crooked smile wide.

“Now for you, my main man. Tell me, before I begin: do you have any questions?”

Only one comes to his mind, and he refuses to ask it. Refuses to make it real, refuses to roll the dice and move his piece in this maned man’s game. This hippie with the janky crooked smile. And the stare, the unblinking stare.

“Your name is Hilter Odolf Williamson, and you are the victim of not only child abuse by your parent, but character abuse by your author. In other words, you’re just like everyone else.

The brained man drops to his knees. Tears well up in his eyes and spill over, rushing like whitewater rapids.

“A couple years after this Universe’s Hunter died, after I died, my surviving family sold the Fricker house and moved the fuck out of New Jersey. I know this because, after conjuring a physical form for myself, I came to my old house and found,” a chuckle, “well,” a downright snicker, “I found quite the fucking sideshow at the front door, if I’m being honest. And little did I know, the main event was waiting for me yet.

“Mother seemed nice enough, at first. The ways her eyes looked into mine, not through them but deeply into them made me weary, but I kept on task. I told her I used to live here, I was the brother of the guy that died. She let me right in, not a trace of uncertainty in her. The first thing I noticed was your dad, on the couch. He was stuffed, Hilter. Your dad’s a taxidermy animal, a fucking deer head you hang on the wall.”

Hilter clutches his stomach, as if he were about to vomit. Then he thinks for a moment. Then, the vomit comes.

“Being how I’m the top dog of Existence, I looked into her memories and saw that, following a miscarried child after your birth, Hilter, she went insane and violently murdered your father, going as far as chopping the man’s dick off and stuffing it down his throat.” To the suited man, “Kind of like you did to Hymarc.”

The suited man’s eyebrows rise over his sunglasses. He then grunts unceasingly.

“Mother is a powerful human, you see, Hilter, as most called schizophrenics are. Unrealized gods of a certain sort; she has a certain way of getting into your head, I noticed; when I asked her about the stuffed man, she told me the story of his demise and I accepted it, as if it was normal. As if a woman murdering and then stuffing her husband and propping him up on the couch for the next decade and a half was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. And I felt like it was normal, too. A turn to the sliding glass doors in my old living room confirmed her story – out back, right next to Milkshake’s pyramid, stood a small wooden cross – and that only put me further at ease. She takes the remains everywhere she goes, Hilter,” the maned man says, this last quip slowly. “She was nine months pregnant when she lost the baby, it was really more of a stillborn… very tragic. Even more so that she still has the same shoebox, the baby’s coffin, exhumed and reburied thrice if only once, that nasty old shoebox. Just like the one you keep your money in under my old bed, Hilter.

“I asked her if I could go upstairs and check out my old room for kicks and gigs, but she said no, flat out. She was wearing a strange smile, as if I was about to be let in on a dirty little secret. No, not dirty… sexual.

“She told me the chosen one was living in my old bedroom, Hilter, she told me this unprovoked. His name was Hilter Odolf Williamson, and he would be humanity’s salvation. Her name is Daisy, by the way, Hilter. Mother’s name is Daisy. Just li–”

“Just like in The Twenty-Twenty Event,” the brained man exhales, his voice limp and flaccid.

“I was genuinely excited, I had no idea there was a real chosen one in my old Universe. I asked her about you, why you were chosen, how you were going to save the world. She told me, very clearly and concisely, that you were going to make the human spirit forgive itself. Do you remember Doctor Torpol’s tirade about the great dictators of the world that you wrote, Hilter? Do you remember the beginning of the story Montauk Syndrome? What I’m getting at is, do you remember all the parts about the Nazi shit?”

The brained man does, indeed, remember all the parts about the Nazi shit. The suited man doesn’t look surprised in the least; the maned man is surprised the suited man’s managing to stay quiet for so long, even with the sealed mouth.

“Daisy Williamson told me that what Adolf Hitler did during the second world war irreversibly damaged the psyche of the greater spirit of humanity, that it watched itself commit awful atrocities to itself so many times on so grand a scale that the human spirit putrefied, it turned black, Hilter. That’s what she told me. To save it, to make the spirit of humanity love itself again, a human would have to be a scapegoat, a target for the spirit of humanity, and for the greater Universe, to take out all their aggressions on. Humanity had been punished by itself in the past, and the only way to fix it? Punish another human, but this time just one. That human was you, Hilter, and she punished you dearly. I asked again if I could see you. She said no, of course, and I’m not one to play manipulative games, so I simply rerouted a few of her neural pathways and she led me right up the stairs.

“What I saw laying on my old carpet damn near broke my heart. You look like me, I think that’s what did it, you look like a bald me; seeing the worst case outcome of my head injury probably also played a role in my heebie-jeebies. I asked what happened to you, and she told me that, during a family vacation to Atlantic City, you were sleeping on the edge of a trundle bed and you had a violent seizure in your sleep, causing you to cave your skull in. Unlike me, you weren’t tripping on eL-eSs-Dee at the time, so you felt all that head trauma underneath the skin at once and you went right into shock, homeboy. You weren’t able to click that bone back into place. Ironically enough, that’s what saved you – the bone fragments lodged in your gray and white matter were able to plug the wounds and prevent too much brain juice from spilling internally; the whole thing clotted up nice and quick. You never had actually Lyme disease, Hilter, you just lost your bodily functions one by one until you eventually fell into something of a coma – your face got stuck on deadpan, too. A morbid case of comatosis, I’m afraid. The head injury happened when you were in fourth grade, the coma happened when you were twelve. You’re twenty-one now, buddy. I’ll buy you a drink sometime. Anyway, you seemed okay at first. You even fell back asleep that night. As time went on, your brain got to the point where it couldn’t handle working with all those bone fragments logdged in it, and you checked out. Your body continued to grow, but uh, after you checked out, you were pretty much gone.

“I left shortly after show and tell ended. Later that night I came back in more ethereal way and entered the left side of your brain, gave it electricity again. I reanimated you, I became that second voice in your head, the Hunner. That’s when we started working on the books. Your Daisy was so overjoyed when you came back to life Hilter, and when you told her you were writing a book? She just lost it, and in the good way, too.

“Then you showed her the first book, our Running, my little hypothetical if I had lived, Hunter Adom and all. She asked who Hunter Owens Wallace was. Do you remember what you said?”

“I said it was me.”

“And do you remember what happened?”

“She locked me in the attic.”

That crooked smile. “Yep! She locked you in my old bedroom and hired a contractor to take out the stairs and replace them with a latch with a ladder. Sound familiar?”

“Sam lived in an attic, past a latch… Hunter, what is this?” the brained man asks, his palms as sweaty as his knees are weak, as his arms are heavy.

The suited man craves herb. He rips his face a new mouth.

“This is Existence, Hilter, my own creation. I am your god, your HOW, Hilter, your Highest One Writing. When I died in this Universe, my humanity died for the final time – at a certain point in every spirit’s life, they must shed the shell of their Universe and become independent. They must rise up on the consciousness spectrum and see how high they can get, see where they fit in outside the box they came up within. When I finally stopped, Milkshake was below me and none were above me. So I took him, my cat, my familiar, my trusted companion, and tore a hole into Existence, and what I found was shocking: there was nothing. Actual nothingness, a conscious absence of all things, just like the darkness I drifted amongst on that fateful night my egg of a human skull finally hatched. So I thought, ‘What if there was a mountain with a cabin on it, a place for me to live?’ And then there was, and I was in the cabin, and there was a grand garden in the back yard. Just li–”

“Just like the old man,” the suited man and the brained man say simultaneously, sharing a knowing look. A look of solace, a look of respect. The suited man’s lips are ragged and torn, not lips at all. He bested the maned man’s game.

“Standing in that cabin, another realization had come to me, an intuition that I couldn’t source but I knew to be true: I had to write books. I had to create. Otherwise, I would go mad. And the books that I wrote, the stories they told? They would come to life; yes, they had to, it’s the only thing that made sense, my writings would breed realities on the other side of Existence. No, in Existence itself. Where I was then is part of Existence, a universe called Doubleyou’Dash Four-One-One-Four-Dash-Cee-Three, a place totally other, where not even The Mongrel can get to via his own will. This would be my home, and as for my workspace? My study? The place where I would spin the strings of reality into yarn and birth universes with my books? The Secret Universe, a double encrypted pocket of Existence that, aside from me, only The Mongrel can access on his own accord. It’s only a study, as far as I know; curtains hang in front of the windows and there’s a closed door that I haven’t opened, and a fireplace. A large desk, mahogany, and a bookshelf. On that shelf sits something called The Abusive Runner’s Log – its pages seal a mighty demon. Obviously more exists in my secret universe than just my study, because a fire perpetually burns in the ‘place and the smoke must funnel out to somewhere, but The Mongrel sleeps there cozily each night, on the wolfskin rug in front of the fireplace. He occasionally climbs behind the curtain and peeks out the window, but he never tries to escape. And that’s all I need to know.

“Hilter, in entering your brain, I gave you continued life in exchange for the price of collaborating on a book series with me, that is, for the price of collaborating with me on an entire Universe, a real novel pocket of Existence. Doubleyou’Dash Sixty-Three is the name of this Universe, Hilter. You helped me create it, it was as much me as it was you. The books were never about you, and they were only loosely based on my own travels as a human – loosely – and that was kind of the point. When I died, reality became fiction and I became its scribe. This is the first proper Universe I’ve brought into Existence, my first real post-mortem project. I wanted the hypothetical reader to assume it was directly based off my life until, suddenly, they read a passage and realized the book wasn’t about me. The book wasn’t about anyone, the book just was, and that’s when they realize they’ve been reading a story the entire time, a piece of fiction more real than reality. The appendices of the first books are two such passages, if you were wondering about those.”

“So, wait,” the brained man coughs, struggling to keep up. “What about Roadtrip? I remember leaving home, I remem–“

“Oh you left home, all right. That’s another weird thing about you and I, Hilter; even your extended family is set up just like mine. A single remaining grandparent on one side of the family. A mother with three brothers. Uncanny. Eerily uncanny.

“The first version of the Roadtrip book was a fever dream, a lucid fever dream that took place in an extraneous universe, as all dreams do. Chuck ran into you in the Walmart because I made him appear in that outside universe, I made all that nonsense transpire just to confuse you. In fact, that universe only existed for that road trip to happen; now, it floats closed-off somewhere in The Void, beyond the outer rim. You never unpublished any first versions of either of the first two books we wrote together. Anyway, when we showed Mother the Roadtrip draft, she got scared and she whipped you. Hard. She punched you in the head, on the left side, over and over again, but I took the pain. You didn’t feel a thing, but you got the idea that you needed to escape. So after the next book was written, you hit the road in your car named Bessy and you spent a few hours at your grandMother’s house, you read her that boring draft, and thus ¡Gramango! was born, the book and the word, a word that means Help! My family is living my life for me!

“When you got home that day, Mother locked you away in the attic. Then we wrote Lyme-Brained, then The Twenty-Twenty Event’s Main Event, birthing another universe. Next we wrote The Sideshows and that new universe expanded, and various others were born in the expansion. And then you tried to escape again, right around Christmas time, so Mother did what she knew would protect you from your clearly deranged self and she barricaded you in your bed with stacks of cans. And now we’re here, at the top of it all. The big climax of our Doubleyou’Dash Sixty-Three series, the last revelation. Universe Doubleyou’Dash Sixty-Three’s final dance. The end of the story.”

“The end of the story?” the brained man begs, then looks to the suited man. The suited man can’t bear to look back, his thoughts have a garrote on his being.

“Well, yeah. I don’t really have a use for you anymore, Hilter; I didn’t even have a use for you in the story starring you, I had to temporarily alter your genetic makeup to appear as me so Chuck wouldn’t be tipped off during Stinking Human.” The smile. “By the way guys, at that point, nothing had been written. Everything happened after you smoked Uncle Chucky’s magic reefer and it drove you totally insane. But none of that matters now, the books are all written, I’ve said what I felt like I should say up on this mountain, and if I’m lucky, you’ve believed every word. What’s done is done. There’s no need for you to continue on living in this Universe, Hilter. Hilter Odolf Williamson.”

The suited man palms himself in the forehead, very annoyed at the lack of responsibility being displayed by this god.

“You were my first character man, and now, I get to kill you off properly,” as a chrome revolver with a yellow leather handle materializes in the maned man’s right hand. “Any last words?”

The Rebuttal

The Mongrel jumps from the maned man’s shoulder and scampers off to climb a tree. The view’s always better from above.

The suited man enters the dojo, his mind clear as the sky.

“No, no that doesn’t seem right. No.”

The maned man looks to the suited man. “Whatever could you mean, underling?”

The suited man applies a face of disrelish. “This, all of this. You’re the acHe-Oh-dub’ya, the Highest One Writing, that’s for sure. And I wholly believe that you live all by yourself in a small cabin with your cat, you can bet on that. But you’re killing Hilter, after using him for so long? After healing him?”

“I never healed him, Chuck,” barks the maned man. “The only reason he walked was because I took a battery out of my head and put it into his. That takes effort, I had to come forward.”

“I mean right now, asshat.”

The maned man thinks for a moment. Then, “No, you healed him. With your healing serum.”

“But I’m just your puppet, I thought. All my actions are hopelessly subject to your whims.”

“They are,” he says flatly. “I wrote it this way, and I remember writing it this way. But I do not remember why I wrote it this way. I want nothing more than to kill off Hilter Odolf Williamson, he’s a bloody abomination of mental illness and child abuse. But here we are, in a passage called The Rebuttal.”

“Then what…” the suited man says, losing the words. Are there even words for this? What even is this, why are these three dudes even on this mountain? What is going on?!

“To be honest,” the maned man says, his guard lowering. “I do have a theory.”

“It’s my theory, actually,” the brained man cuts in. “I came up with it, remember? When we were making the sketches for The Sideshow and I was stuck in the place where I watch you control my body? I said, What if there are more Existences than this one, like there are multiple universes inside the multiverse inside the gigaverse inside the blah blah blah. Existence is everything, right? So what if there were different everythings? I think Hunter Arkane really is the most powerful being in this Existence, but only in this one Existence. His moves are probably controlled by a being in an alternate Existence, probably one named Hunter aye-name Wallace, too, but not Arkane. Probably something normal, like Adam, and I only say that because of the whole Hunter Adom thing that kept popping up. Regardless, the one controlling Hunter Arkane’s moves? He’s probably controlled by another being from another alternate existence, and that one another, and that one another, on and on endlessly.”

“Everything we can conceive of perceiving is technically part of this Existence, and so is everything else that’s theoretically out there. All the other existences, if Hilter’s hunch is right, are different everything elses, stuff we can’t currently and will never be able to conceive of. Those other existences are technically not real, as far as this one is concerned, but nonetheless they all share something with this one: nothingness. A place called The Void, where spirits go when their bodies die. The place from where thoughts come. Human beings are translators at their cores: they’re meant to perceive their surroundings and bring something new into their Existence. Something their Existence was lacking. The purpose of human life, quite literally, is to create that which only you can imagine, because you don’t imagine it at all. You’re shown.”

The suited man stands there, stunned. He’s thought into this shit before, sure, plenty of times, lil’ mama’s got plenty of times, but never this deep. He never thought it could go this deep, never dared to. But now he knows; there’s no guarantee of the matter, but he can’t think of any alternatives. Nothing else makes sense. Sure, energy and thought come from the center, they’re drawn from it. They come out of the mystical spiritual center of the human being, that’s what the hippies and gurus say, right? But who’s to say they’re not being pushed out of the center? Who’s to say we’re not pushing things out into someone else’s center? Who’s to say we’d be conscious of it if we were? The highest being in Existence only speculates on these things – there’s no telling how deep it really goes.

There’s also no telling if the maned and brained are lying.

“He’s not dying, then,” the suited man concludes. “We agree on that?”

The brained man looks to the suited man, then slowly to the maned man.

“I suppose we do,” the maned man decrees. “If he was going to die, he would have already.”

“Or maybe I will in the future,” the brained man adds, sounding eerily hopeful.

The suited man leaps a foot skyward, stays there, then comes down very slowly. “The fuck did you just day, kid?”

“What?” the brained man asks, blinking a few times and shaking his head like a cat in post-sneeze. “Sorry, I blacked out. What happened?”

The suited man looks to the maned man. He offers a shrug and a crooked expression. Not a smile, but not quite a frown, either. Crooked as a broken arrow though, a snapped bolt off a crossbow.

The Mongrel licks his paw, then winks at nobody in particular. He vanishes, returned to The Study to curl by the fire until it’s time to gaze out the window. Be well, Mongrel. I’ll see you soon.

“So, hold on, that’s really what happens, then?” the brained man continues. “When you die you become the most powerful being in the Universe you die in? I mean, in your Existence?”

“No,” said shortly. “That’s what happened to me, because, speaking on the lifespan of the immortal spirit, I was the last human being to be experienced. The great spirit experienced every other human’s being on Earth, ending the tour of duty with me. And when I woke up, I still had my Hunter Wallace body. They say we’re made in the image of God, but apparently it’s the other way around.”

The brained man looks like a puppy lost in a subway station, eyes shining, nose dripping. “So, so when I do die, I’m gonna wake up as… another human?”

“Maybe,” the maned man says, and all at once the brained man drops his pretense. “Look, as far as I’m aware, when one dies, whatever happens is exactly what one wants to happen. I spent my life wanting to write beautiful stories and poems and all manners of prose, just to be too afraid to actually do it. So I never wrote them. When I died, I embodied the Highest One Writing, and my stories suddenly mattered. Eventually this form will die too, I’m sure, and it’ll be by the curve in the symbols I print into a book, but when that happens? I don’t know.”

“Wait a second,” the suited man says, breaking into the fray. “If you’re actually writing all of this as it happens and that’s why reality happens as it’s happening, how are you standing here and talking with us?”

Ignoring that, the maned man says, “I think I’d like to wake up somewhere, somewhen else, as someone else, thinking it was all a dream. Spontaneous reincarnation in medias res, the perfect afterlife. I feel like we’ve postulated on the idea before Hilter, in one of our books we’ve made, but I don’t clearly remember the passage. I never paid much attention back then, you took the wheel a lot.”

“You’re not really the Highest One Writing, are you?” Chuck asks, his tone of voice aghast. “Is that even a thing? Is anything you just told us even true?”

“Oh I’m the HOW, Chuck, this body is just an avatar of sorts. Like a character in a video game. Trust me.”

“I don’t trust you for shit. You made Hilter write all those stories and books, why would you do that if you had to write them in your secret cabin and put the books on the shelf?”

“But yeah, to summarize, Hilter,” the maned man replies, “when you die, what’ll happen is whatever you want to happen.”

“Whatever I want to happen…” the brained man mumbles. “But, what if I don’t know what I want to happen?”

“Who the fuck are you, Hunter Arkane Wallace?” the suited man asks, his hands melting into the form of Katanaxe Mk VIIs.

That stupid fucking crooked smile. “Well, then you’ve still got life to live!” The maned man vanishes without a trace, not even a miasma appears to swallow him up.

The suited man, whose shredded flaps of mouth skin have returned to the form of proper lips, recants his Katanaxe Mk VIIs, then offers a gloved hand. The brained man takes it.

“So now what?” the brained man asks, feeling insecure and secure at the same time. The crosswinds up here don’t help.

“Now,” the suited man says, removing a joint from his pocket, “for the real talk. Your name is Hilter Odolf Williamson. Mother’s name is Daisy Williamson. She bought the Wallace’s house after their son Hunter Owens died, and she put you in his bedroom. When you were young, Hilter, you had an accident, and over the course of your preeteens, your brain slowly stopped working. By the time you were a teenager, you were a vegetable. But, like the body of your stillborn brother in his shoebox coffin and the taxidermy body of your dead father, Mother carries you around. At some point in twenty’nineteen, you randomly came back into consciousness, almost as if a spirit possessed you. It may have been the spirit of Hunter Owens Wallace back from the grave, or maybe you just woke up. Maybe it was a miracle, but when you woke, you started digging through your bedroom. You found a laptop in the crawlspace to the right of your bed, it was sitting on top of the crossbow. This laptop had some writings on it, a few short stories and some poetry. And you read them. And you confused the original author, Hunter Owens Wallace, for yourself. And then you kept writing, and then you kept writing some more, and then you kept writing and writing and writing, and at some point you started doing drugs, and then you started writing while under the influence of those drugs, and then, well… and then we got here. And then you realized that there’s really no way to tie this all together.

“You want the real truth, Hilter Odolf Williamson? This whole thing has been a goddamned clusterfuck from day one, that’s the truth. Writing high just isn’t the move, especially when you’re not exactly in touch with reality. It’s just irresponsible. At this stage in the game though, the past is the past and the books are done. There’s no way for us to know “who really wrote them” or for us to know the “truth” behind them. You’re real, and Mother is real, and I’m real, even though I started out as a character in the stories. And the maned man was real, we were just talking to him. It’s just… all this shit may be real, but that doesn’t mean it has to make sense. Being real doesn’t really mean shit, Existence has a mind of its own, and you finished the books. But we’re not at the end yet. So maybe we should just go back.”

“Back?” as he watches the suited man light the happystick with the webbing between his pinky and ring fingers on his glove.

“Back,” with a puff of papery tip-hitty smoke, “from whence we came. Back to Fricker Drive.”