Chapter 8d

Being trapped. Said by itself, it really sounds like a bitch. It's not. It's simple and painless. It numbs you even to the nothingness. How long have I been trapped like this? Minutes? Hours? Millennia? I ask that as a joke because everybody knows it doesn't matter. I've been here for exactly as long as I've been here and not a moment more.

I can't make sense of time because there is none. How long has it been since I had a birthday? How many years has she failed to wrinkle? The trap was thorough, sure, but too thorough. I am on to this trickery. I have always been trapped.

The trap looks different all the time, it changes to confuse me and enrage me, but it's always the same trap. Whether it's blowing me or delivering mail, selling me beer or condemning me to hell, it's always the same trap.

"Really, man," he said, I need you to tell me what year it is."

Numbers spun as if the year were decided by a slot machine.

"How many credits does this one take?" I asked.

Nobody answered so I looked at the screen. "CREDITS: ALL OF THEM." I wondered if that meant that I had "ALL OF THEM" or if that would be the price I paid. I considered my usual run of luck.

"Do you have any other machines?"

Paul hadn't moved. He was frozen as if somebody had found his pause button. Darren wiped the bar and smiled his stupid smile.

So I pulled the lever.




I looked back to the bar. Darren had just set a tall frosty brew down on a cardboard coaster. He was still just smiling his stupid smile. He said, "You win," and slid the beer to me.

I drank the beer and considered. I looked at Paul's frozen form from a dozen different angels. Examined the nose hairs that were peeking out around the edges of his flared nostrils. I counted thirteen white ones hiding in one ear. I checked his wallet and saw pictures of a family that must have been mine because he couldn't have kids. Or a wife. He just couldn't.

I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette while I thought. The world was being stretched and distorted and torn away around me, like a TV somebody had careless set a magnet on. Where did I park my car? When was it registered?

I walked home to check. It wasn't a car, it was a pickup truck, but that didn't make much difference. I walked to the back and looked at the license plate. There were a bunch of numbers and letters on it.

I went inside. "Honey," I yelled. She was in the kitchen cooking bacon nude, save a red apron reading, "Kiss the chef." I said, "Did you see where I set the bookshelf?"

She said, "I think it's in the living room behind the T.V." I thanked her and kissed the chef.

I could see it there, peering out uneasily from behind the television set. The rabbit ear antennas were on top of the shelf as if it had intended to blend in and remain unseen.

I nudged past the television, saying, "Excuse me," and took a book from the shelf. The Homing Pigeons by Robert Anton Wilson. I remembered this book. I took the book back outside to my car. I had left the hatch open and decided I didn't care. Behind it again, I read the letters and numbers on the plate. I knew them all but I couldn't focus on them. I opened the book. Each page was covered with hundreds of tiny words that leaped aside each time my eyes keyed in on one. I put the book in my back pocket and removed the license plate before I headed back to the bar.

I slapped Paul in the face, spit on his shoe, then set down and accepted my beer. I held the plate out to him. "It's this year," I said.

He took it, looked it over, and told me, "Damnatio memoriae."

"So what," I said, "I should just start digging?"

"You can dig to china from here," he said, "and it still won't do you any good. This year," he held out the plate from my motorcycle, "is the wrong year, all you can do is wait."

"Until when?" I asked him.

He laughed, "What good would it do to tell you when you don't know what year it is?"

I laughed too. We each had a beer and then another beer and then a shot or twenty and we drank until we were nothing but drink and when I fell asleep I never had to bother waking up again.