Ted Morrissey

[Fragment 0438]

I stand on the street, perfectly still. Berto doesn’t say anything, he knows what I’m doing—he would probably do it too. I try to sense the riot, feel it through my feet. The rhythmic vibration, the thump, the pump, the bump, the hump of the breeching soundwaves battering the steel and concrete, the city skeleton rattled by the riot so many levels, so many layers below.

For a moment I think maybe I can but I can’t. Berto and I aren’t far from the transit tracks, so any rumblings I feel are likely the remnants of a departing car, a train already vanished in the night like racing twilight. They circle the city and dissect its disintegrating districts. The citizens rich in crypt reside, some say hide, in guarded high-rises and gated enclaves, obscured off the grid, seen by the satellites but blinded by Antie.

It’s still a couple of hours before illumine curfew. Nonetheless the alley I enter is all shadows and silhouettes. The gloom of Berto’s image at my shoulder provides some light, though it’s white, weak and mostly worthless. The dark amplifies the stench of piss and fuck juice. The dispossessed have no choice but organic sex, and they choose it a lot. They sneak away from the crowded parts of the venn for the relative privacy of back alleys and abandoned basements with broken-out windows. Sometimes you can hear them in the dark. Their feral fucking almost makes org sex sound preferable to syn sex with Wandas. At least it makes one wonder. Wander.

All very fascinating, says Berto, his volume cooled by my mindplant. I must’ve been thinking out loud, unaware of narrating my own story. Just find the door, he says. I know where I’m going, I say—whisper really—toggling my mind lone-way. I have little faith in streaming garble and letting the filter find the sense. Antie says the filters are betabetter all the time. No matter. I prefer to keep my thoughts to myself. Antie’s likely listening whether you’re two-way or not.

I walk along the piss-soaked alley trying to demonstrate a confidence I don’t really feel. I only half know where I’m going. Quarter. The invite was crypted of course and only slightly more clear when decoded by societypage Antie. The rioters don’t want me at the riot. Not per se. They want the review I’ll detail to the deck: pix, vidz, words, the works. Berto, my tagalong introe, is my plusone. He’s growing impatient. The last riot he connected with someone’s flirty tagalong and they remoted each other’s rocks off the rest of the night. They were still dirty discoursing when I got back at dawn. Berto has a chick in Ibiza but they’ve clicked their relationship open.

Sure, I’ve talked my rocks off a time or two. Who hasn’t. But I prefer Wanda. Berto says it’s a failure of imagination. Besides, he’ll say, you have a hot crush on Wanda. Very funny, I’ll say. And I’ll say, Fuck you, you agoraphobic fuck. Berto’s burrowing under my hide, into my pride, tends to torch my eloquence.

A dark turn in the dark alley reveals a weak light above a strong door, metal, heavy, reinforced. The light that hangs above it on a twisted metal tentacle pulses erratically. Nearly to black before brightening to its sickly wan apex. This is the place. Finally, says Berto in my mind.

The door’s dull pull looks like any old industrial handle from any old industrial century. But it’s not. I grip it firmly making sure there’s good palm press, and my thumb is flush and flat—if my Id is dropped on the first try because of sloppy contact I’ll hear about it from Berto. Introes can be impatient. Being outdoors, even remotely, can make them anxious. They crave a claustrophobic interior space. Another reason why the riot appeals.

No worries. The door knows me and its locks and cocks slide out of the feminine nooks and crooks. Berto and I are in. Then down a semi-lit hall to the elevator. There’s no more security beyond the outside door. There’s no one.

There have been others though. Very recently—a veritable fog of scents says so: perspiration, colognes, one especially musky, girly perfume, too, potent, expensive, like geraniums jacked on steroids. And I may be imagining: a light misting of vagina juice too, fruity and fierce with pheromones. Wanda emits a touch, even in fellatio mode, as if she’s into it. Antie thinks of everything. Maybe a molecule of Wanda’s syn scent—pussy piss, slit slick, fuck fen—is loitering in my sinuses. All I say to Berto is, This place is ripe. You’re better off off-site. Subtle as it is, the mist has worked its magic and Rick is semi-stone by the time we reach the elevator door. There’s no sensepad nor old-school button. After a second’s hesitation the door opens. Then I notice the redeye in the dim corner of the hall.

The door opens. Like parting lips—you decide which sort—about to scream—still, you decide.

Maybe the room is an olfactory factory too but my sense of smell is stunned into paralysis by the assault of sights and sounds. No matter how many riots you’ve attended, at first they overwhelm you, nearly knocking you down with strobe and beat and bodies bodies bodies … are they dancing fighting fucking? Look long enough, last long enough and you can answer yes yes yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Even remote Berto vapes the vibe, says, Jesús María—which he normally reserves for just before he comes (our walls are thin, I’ve said). Only then it’s ¡Jesús María!

I step into the riot.

There’s alcohol at the bar, a long bastard throbbing neon running most of one wall—the walls of unpainted concrete seem to absorb the flashing pink and hold it a moment or two, like the room itself was trying to get high on the light. Almost no one is drinking, I’d guess—not when dealers can flaunt their wares. Down here, in the riot, not even Antie cares. It’s like another world, and that’s part of its appeal. It must feel something like the in-between, the satellite desert. Cut off, cut out. Cut away and discarded like a blood-covered carcass.

The xan dealers are dark and subdued, flowing through the riot like waste-water in a beforetime packing plant. Bile black blood. Xan takes the deadly edge off the riot, cools the volume, gauzes the light, buffers the thrust. The mexheads, on the other (spasming) hand, are vibrant, frenetic, frenzied points of energy, radioactive rods, sparking among the rioting bodies. Crimson oozing cankers. Mex amplifies, intensifies, accelerates. Loud is louder, bright brighter, hot hotter, hard harder.

Mex is more than I want. I need staying power, longevity, to write my report for societypage. I see my usual xanman, Rocki, and spot a dot. Rocki’s black trench reaches his knees, almost to the top of his boots. His face, thin, clean, pale is a halfmask of pealing pulsating pink light. I set up the transfer, which Antie won’t see until we’re streetside. Antie’s dimensions this far underground are diminished. The riot requires an element of trust. Besides, it’s a big city but nobody is going anywhere. We’re all easy enough to find, Antie willing.

I slip the xandot under my tongue, and it dissolves in a cherry-bomb cloudburst, like a cherry lava lozenge.

The beat is so strong I feel it in my guts. The sound is like liquid, and I have the sensation of drowning—although the xan will help with that. Soon it will be more like floating on the strobing notes than choking on them. Lights and images backdrop the riotmaster’s perch, a chaotic parade of disconnected pix, stills, and vidclips. She is little more than a shimmering silhouette against the racing pacing pandemonium.

Let’s see the pit, says Berto, slurring slightly. He’s been drinking or doing something at the apartment. Or the xan is affecting my mind’s ear.

From just beyond the gyrating bodies their gyrations appear random, as well-choreographed as a rainstorm. As I move into and through the outermost rim of rioters—succumbing to the beat and the heat myself—I can start to parse the pattern. The whole floor is maneuvering to a nucleus, the chaos’ kernel whose movements, whose riot has captured the room, directing bodies in complement and counterpoint as if psychically connected—and perhaps the dance operates a click or two below the subconscious. Cellular, granular, nuclear. Not even Antie can say (or won’t). An evolutionary step forward, or a recapturing of the primitive primal past. A lost-and-found instinct. Or the development is cyclical, and the merry-go-round is going around. Merrily. Manically. The manic-go-round.

Berto can’t get the full effect, just watching and listening, the kinesthetic element absent. But it’s entertaining, especially in its prurience. Women’s bodies move in waves of ecstasy approaching orgasm. Some do climax, caught up in the churning and burning crowd. The beat and the heat hitting them just so, pounding pulsating their pleasure place, especially once it’s become their whole body, their whole being, outside and in. Inside and out.

Most can’t quite climax without the passé assistance of a partner or two. So they’ll peel off from the riot to a backroom, or hall if the rooms are taken, or a corner if the halls are rife with writhing. Some women don’t bother with the triteness of privacy and indulge the passé while in the throes of the moving grooving grinding groaning sliding slithering withering winding sweating throng. On the floor, here and there, a sweaty thong. Holy saintly fuck, slurs Berto.

Tonight’s riot is extra raucous, extra riotous. Mexheads everywhere.

Maybe Berto continues his monologue to my mind. If so, it’s only mumbling muttering in my graying matter. The xan has fully bloomed, and the riot has set its hooks: I’ve arrived in Riotville, and nowhere else matters. Hardly. In fact. Exists. Bloomed blossomed blownup. Boom.

Even the effects of time are tempered by xan and you don’t feel it passing, at least not normally. It’s fast then slow then fast again, fleeting then fast in the other sense. I’d been rioting solo in the moving mass. Now I find myself synced with a girl butt to front, that is, ass to lap. We move as one bonded to the beat. She must feel Rick against the back of her sequined skirt, as taut as a second skin. Judging from the swelling swivel of her hips she must be close. I smell the Eden-inspired scent of her shampoo, a kicky contrast to the fruit of her flowing juice. If the xandot is dulling that, she must really be burning yearning bucking. I put a hand on her stomach, which is bare beneath the metallic top, its shiny material reflecting the riotmaster’s running show. We riot in that pose for a while, a few seconds, a few minutes, a few hours . . . no xanhead could judge. She and Rick and her desires and I wait. She puts her hand on the back of my hand flat on her flat stomach. I wait. We riot, welded like protons, like heavenly bodies, like beforetime parents on a genealogy tree. Her head falls back against my shoulder. I wonder what she looks like, if I’d seen her on the floor, spinning moving moaning, before the riot’s rhythm brought us together. My mind decides she looks like Wanda, that she is Wanda, and I’m glad my mindplant is lone-way; otherwise I’d never know the end of it from Berto.

She moves my hand past the metal ring of her pierced belly, over the smooth fiber of her sequined skirt, and beneath its mini-length hem. The girl purrs for the passé, or at least that’s how my xan-flooded ears hear her words. I let the riot beat direct the rhythm of my fingers, and the girl’s pleasure pushes back against my fingertips. Meanwhile Rick dreams of Wanda. I think for a second that I hear her but it’s only Berto and his own vicarious musings, his own manufactured visions.

I am distracted by considering the layers of consciousness and miss most of the girl’s coming. She squeezes my hand once to express her completion and her appreciation. Then we uncouple and she is absorbed assimilated acquired by the crowd. So fast and so fully it was as if she’d suddenly deconstructed down to the molecular level and disbursed subatomically.

Pink light plays upon the walls and the ceiling, and we all wear it in sickening patches, pulsing, and disappearing, and even forming in fleeting puddles of pink on the filth-ridden floor. Seconds stretch in an almost corporeal way. I realize Berto has checked out, probably to commune with someone, some other introe whose image has captured his fancy. My mind is quiet, save for the beat, each stroke of which stretches like the seconds—the effect of the xan, and the xan’s mixing with my own coursing cruising chemistry.

My feet are leaden on the riotfloor but in this state I can lift lead as easily as avian fluff. The seconds are ribbons of rubbery foam being pulled further and further, without snapping, across the room, across the night pulling pulling my perception. I must remember . . . for my report.

                                                                                                                                      i         v         i         e

                                                                                                                                      v                   v

                                                                                                                                      i                    i

                                                                                                                                      e                   e

She’s in front of me. Not moving. Not yet Ivie. As stationary as a statue, as still as a hologram or a hallucination. I think for a moment, a long xan-lengthened moment, she is imagination, a mirage, a figure in a mural painted by my chemical-soaked riot-stoked mind . . .

[Fragment 0266]

It begins with a girl, a young woman, twentyish. How often has it begun with a girl? Bathsheba, Delilah, Helen of Troy, Juliet Capulet, Daisy Buchanan, Beth Winterberry. This time it’s Ivie. She’s slight and white with shoulder-length hair, pink, kind of a bob (a style from the Roaring Twenties, says the deck, the first Roaring Twenties). Ivie’s eyes are stormy blue (similar to Wanda’s setting number four). Attitude too. Leather jacket, beforetime biker kind and too big, like it belonged to someone else. Maybe she stole it, maybe she inherited it, maybe she murdered for it. Maybe it’s none of your fucking business, that’s what Ivie’s attitude says.

I see her in the venn by accident. She doesn’t want to be seen, by me, not then. I’m cutting through alleyways occupied by the dispossessed. Encampments of makeshift tents, plastic, canvas, cardboard, old bedsheets whose mosaic history tells a story no one cares to hear. I expect no trouble from the dispossessed. There are two dudes—bearded, plaided, hopeless—growling threats over something. Neither has any interest in me. They probably don’t even see me, a member of the possessed, I guess, speaking semantically. We are mainly trouble and the smart thing is to let trouble pass on through. So they do.

But I look back (not even Antie knows why) and there she is, Ivie. It’s a name I don’t know yet but I know she’s been hiding, from me. How do I feel about that? I mean, I’m harmless, physically. A hundred and sixty pounds soaked in Ukrainian rain, and I don’t have an aggressive bone in my body. Again, you know, physically. Electric ink is another matter. On Antie’s scale I’m third-order pacifist, breathe and let breathe. Somebody really has to corrupt my cloud for me to turn wicked enough to torch them on the deck. Antie keeps an eye on my psyche, screening me every few months—532 questions, no more no less—for anger issues, excessive bias, and revenge scenarios. All manner of -pathies, socio, psycho, em . . .

[Fragment 0439c]

Ivie steps away without saying a word. I watch, quiet too. It’s only when she stops and looks back that I understand she expects me to follow. I do. I follow her flashing pink form. The black of her jacket absorbs the neon light while her skin, her face her neck her hands, is a canvas stretched for abstract expression. Not surreal. Suprareal. Vibrant. Vital. She looks back even though she knows I’m following, as certainly as water flowing downgrade, as dependable as gravity, as wedded to the laws of physics, as welded, as melded. As magnetic as a beckoning maiden.

We have abandoned the moving layers of locked bodies and she is leading me to a hall, a hall lined with rooms like buttonholes along a seam. I break the simile into images, into pieces, into butt and hole and the smooth curve of Ivie’s jeans. We have left the throbbing pink at the hall’s entrance, and my xan-pacted eyes are slow to adjust to the hallway’s dimness, its almost darkness. Rick can sense Ivie, could find her in a lightless cave, crave her in spite of her being only org.

The room isn’t empty. In a corner a threesome is threesoming, everyone nearing coming it would seem. The girl who would be Ivie faces me. Her eyes appear large in the semi-dark and almost illuminated from within. Bright. Rick wonders what we’re doing here. Impatient to know. Downside girls after all— 

Ivie still hasn’t spoken, and the pause is dramatically long—the doing no doubt of the xan. Ivie is checking the time, I just know. It is still early, the riot barely begun. Or it’s already late, long past illumine curfew. The dead of night-morning.

If Berto hadn’t already blinked I’d ask him.

Ivie takes a step toward me. I think she puts a hand on my waistband—something pulls me to her. She has our attention, Rick’s and mine.

She says, finally, I need your help, the words xan-spaced like this: 

I     n  e  e  d     y  o  u  r     h  e  l  p.

I think I say, Why would I do that?

I think she says, Cause I saved your life.

She urges me toward the doorway. Behind me I hear the threesome still threesoming, the trine still trining.

Ivie has let go and I’m following her black-leather back through the crowded riot. I thought the xan had fully bloomed but I was wrong. Now it has and the strobing stroke beats of neon pink are eerily long. The light flares like a pink sunspot before crackling back to a blackness so complete the girl disappears for a time. Then rematerializes in a slow-motion explosion of pink.

I conclude we are moving toward the elevator. We are exiting the riot. I want to protest, except the riotmaster’s beat is too booming. Besides, I can’t collect the words quickly enough to say them. I choose one or two then have to set them aside to find another. An impossible herding of uncooperative wording.

The elevator feels far away. At last we reach it. There’s already a twitching group of mexheads waiting. They’re moving bouncing pushing pulling poking each other (I see between bursts of blackness).

The doors slide open. The mexheads carom inside filling the car. I think we can wait. Again the girl is pulling me as she pushes her way into the crowded space. She ejects a mexhead by his throat to make room. Downsiders aren’t known for their manners, I think. I’m not sure I’ll want to fuck her now. Rick however is less concerned with etiquette.

The mexheads perspire a scent like moldy mushrooms, earthy, potent—one of the effects—and inside the packed car the sudden stench is near nauseating.

I look for Ivie and she’s squeezed into a corner. I see her clearly in the lighted elevator for the first time. I don’t think about the symmetry of her features. I don’t note the almond shape of her eyes nor their subtle angle. I don’t compare the blue of her eyes to Wanda’s. I don’t muse for a moment that her hair is still washed in the riot’s pink light as if light leaves a stain. I don’t record the arch of her eyebrows, nor the long length of her mascaraed lashes.

I only see one fact: Ivie is afraid. And maybe the pungent odor inside the rising elevator isn’t just mexhead sweat. Maybe the fragrance of Ivie’s fear frolics in the air too.

My xan-fed head methodically paces through these observations, one slow note at a time, and I’m only beginning to consider the source of her fear—could it be me?—when the car begins vibrating. Then shuddering shaking and we’re pitched back and forth together, the mexheads and Ivie and I. They’re shouting, or maybe they’ve been shouting all along and are just shouting differently now. Panicked more than antic. 

Before I can decide, the doors ding open fling open: we’re streetside, and we pile out into the hall, the eight or nine of us, maybe more.

I try to find Ivie. She already has me by the coat and is shoving me toward the outside door. I glance back and see Antie’s eye in the corner, clouded in the haze of smoke along the ceiling.

A bomb, my brain thinks. Explosion. Fire spire. Smoke. Hard shards. Far below, at the riot. Death. Devastation. At the riot.

We are outside. The sky above the alley is becoming gray with day. We are looking at each other, our backs against walls of brick and steel, when the girl becomes Ivie.

I’m Hem, I say.

I know, Ivie says. I need your help.

We listen for the sound of sirens. We imagine their uneasy lights breaking the gray of daybreak.

I remember: Cause I saved your life . . . 

About the Artist

Ted Morrissey’s novel excerpts, stories, poems, critical articles, reviews and translations have appeared in some 120 publications. A new novel, The Strophes of Job, will be released in 2024.

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