Annals, Ontology, Truth

The Dialogues of Supernatural Individuation

A Deductive Exorcism of Ghosts

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So that the Reader may fully share in this glorious triumph against superstition, it is essential that he understand and fully acknowledge the theoretical impossibility of ghosts. To the philosophic novice, being theoretically impossible is a far graver offense than being physically impossible. The latter is a misdemeanor against the laws of nature; the former is a desecration of logic herself. Unfortunately, a straightforward descant would expose even the most learned to arguments intricate and arcane. Despite the technical perfection, my exposition would prove insufficient to infuse the Reader with the perplexities that assailed me or bring him to his knees with the unique awe of a grand philosophic revelation. His loss would be of tragic proportions: the argument I shall unveil is as original and profound as the introduction of amino acids into the primordial soup.

To clearly elucidate and explore this point, I have decided to demonstrate it by means of a dialogue. If the format was good enough for Plato and David Hume it is good enough for me. The Reader is encouraged to imagine himself seated at the table with the participants, actively following (perhaps even participating in) the discussion.

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The Participants

Sophia represents the voice of Reason. Scatius is a wily philosopher whose views are in diametric opposition to mine. Cretinius holds the views of the common man.

***

At a picnic table in Pulaski Park sat Sophia, Cretinius, and I. The morning sun or Sophia, which article of Creation deserved greater reverence, which was more conspicuous and inexplicable in its beauty and power? Though she was barely eighteen, to look into her dark green eyes was to confront Wisdom itself. We shared a bottle of peppermint schnapps while giant but gentle Cretinius worked the morning crossword.

“Sophia, a fascinating problem vexes me. In the realm of the supernatural, how in theory would we individuate things? How would we recognize one entity as being distinct from another?”

“What’s a two-letter word for alternative?” said Cretinius, rubbing his salient brow.

After some thought, Sophia leaned forward, revealing cleavage from the plentidudinous bosom concealed beneath her toga. “It couldn’t be the same way we individuate natural things. Consider five coins. What distinguishes each of them is their occupation of different spaces.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Now I am not asserting that spatial continuity is the only consideration, but it is essential.”

“Cretinius, that’s a terrible habit,” said Sophia, her radiant features grimacing as his finger excavated his nose.

A loud belching interrupted her as Scatius staggered into the park. His spindly legs seemed incapable of supporting the humpbacked torso upon them.

“I fear he is in his cups again,” I whispered.

“Those are sandals,” said Cretinius, his lazy eye looking up and away from the crossword.

“I wonder what views Scatius holds on your position,” said Sophia.

“And what position is that?” he said, taking a seat. The black caves of Scatius’ eyes provided the only contrast on his forbidding face to his pasty skin. Though his hair was thin to the point of endangered, his skeletal arms were covered with dense patches of beastly fur. He helped himself to our schnapps, guzzling it from the bottle.

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“I was maintaining the theoretical impossibility of ghosts,” I said. “My critique is more severe than the assertion that they do not exist. I maintain that it makes no sense to even speak of them.”

“Ah, the cheap solvent of logical positivism,” he said with a hiccup. “That’s about as original as breathing.”

“Scatius! Don’t touch me there,” cried Cretinius.

“My argument owes nothing to the lazy and arrogant positivists,” I said. “They assert that statements are only meaningful if they are verifiable. My position is that we cannot coherently speak of ghosts because they cannot be individuated by the criterion of spatial continuity. The difference between one and three of them is not a feature of the distinct chunks of space they occupy. By what criterion can they be separated?”

“Your argument is fascinating,” said Sophia, cradling her chin in her hand and batting her long lashes.

“It is interesting,” agreed Scatius.

“What about Casper the Friendly Ghost?” asked Cretinius. “He takes up space. So do the ones on Ghostbusters.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Sophia.

“Be patient,” I said, stroking the celestial crop of sun-bleached down on her arm. “Something good will arise, non-Phoenix-like*, from his point. Cretinius has voiced the common perception of ghosts. Although we say they do not have spatial dimensions, we conceive of them as gaseous or luminous beings who occupy space in a mysterious fashion that allows them to float through walls. Unable to conceive of non-physical, non-spatial, invisible beings, we are reduced to the conceptual level of tabloid sightings and cartoons. Oh, what can comfort a man who finds himself in a town of ghosts, a town where the stern sheriff of logic is not obeyed?”

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Scatius belched. “The answer is both obvious and devastating to your cute little argument. Ghosts can be individuated on the grounds that they have unique minds or personalities.”

Sophia turned to me and put her hand atop mine. So soft the skin. So unequivocal the yearning in her eyes. The sun beamed on its masterful handiwork: sporadic freckles on her nose, shoulders, and in the heavenly valley of her mountainous bosom.

“What’s a three-letter word for opposite of later?” asked Cretinius.

I winked at Sophia and clasped her tiny hand and prepared for triumph. “On the contrary, we cannot speak of distinct personalities unless individuation has already occurred. ‘I have seven minds but my bother has only four,’ is a ridiculous statement, but if physical embodiment is not a criterion how can we criticize it? From this it follows that we have no means of individuating disembodied minds.”

“Sophistry,” groaned Scatius, reaching for the schnapps. He finished the bottle and smashed it on the bike path. “Let me think,” he said, massaging his temples.

“Oh Petronius, your arguments shine with the light of Truth,” said Sophia.

“Here is the fundamental difficulty,” I said. “Terms such as two, many, some, and few are coherent insofar as they refer to distinguishable items. If we have no means of theoretically distinguishing one ghost from another, what sense would it make to say that there are many of them as opposed to a few, or one as opposed to three? When we attempt to determine the autonomy of entities in a domain where spatial and physical considerations can not be applied we are, to put it politely, speaking gibberish.”

“Gibberish indeed,” said Scatius, pounding his fist on the table. “You would deny what all of mankind has believed since the dawn of time?”

“He’s angry,” said Cretinius.

“Mankind does not know that what they think they believe is conceptually impossible,” I said. “It is the philosopher’s task to demonstrate this, not to encourage their folly with trickery.”

“Writer’s throughout history have documented the tragic plight of ghosts,” said Scatius, putting his head on the table. “Trapped between planes, ignorant of their condition …” He began to snore.

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“You mean cynical hacks know a good gimmick when they see it,” I said. “The lost-ghost cliché is absurd on the face of it. After a full day without hunger pangs or trips to the restroom even Cretinius would figure out that something special had occurred. And what should we make of the supernatural dimension that stands as the basis for these tales? What could possibly transpire in a bodiless, non-physical realm? The traditional answer is the experience of bliss or a reunion with deceased family members. Has no one noticed these are mutually exclusive?”

“But wouldn’t you want to see your father again?” said Sophia, running her fingers through my hair.

“Exceptions only prove the general rule. Regarding the plausibility of the former answer: compile a list of all the types of bliss you have experienced without the use of your body.”

Sophia giggled. “There aren’t many, and the best one isn’t included.”

“Something smells bad,” said Cretinius.

“Oh my,” cried Sophia, pinching her nose. “Poor Scatius has had an accident.”

“He pooped,” agreed Cretinius, and we all abandoned the table with its slumbering defecator. “Petronius, look at the bugs,” said Cretinius with glee. Attracted to the sweet liquid from the broken bottle, a squadron of yellow jackets darted about the shards.

“No Cretinius, those are –”

I put my finger to her lips. “Sophia, when I establish my Academy, Experience shall be granted an honorary professorship. Hopefully all my pupils will be as receptive to my teachings as you. And as lovely.”

Cretinius screamed and lumbered away flailing his arms.

“Now, even if we can conceive of a disembodied state of bliss, what do we mean by bliss in this context? A state of schnapps intoxication? For all eternity? As much joy as that syrupy nectar can bring, would you want to feel like that forever?”

“Oh Petronius, let’s go for a walk in the park.”

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Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

*On principle I avoid all references to Egyptian mythology. As clever as they were in covering a desert with giant triangles and gruesome half-cat half-man monstrosities, their obsession with the afterworld was preposterous. How did they expect a mummy to untangle himself once he arrived in the next kingdom? Did not the removal of his vital organs and brain bode ill for his health and vigor? What were those silly people thinking?

As the legend has it, after the Phoenix set its nest afire and burnt itself to a crisp, it was reborn. Why can no modern hack go within a mile of a keyboard without making a reference to it? Verily, it is the true curse of the Pharaohs. That such a story persisted longer than one generation bespeaks the appalling poverty of imagination rampant in Egypt at the time. Worse, it is frighteningly evocative of the Buddhist monks who practiced self-immolation in protest of the Vietnam War.

A conscientious writer will only use a mythic allusion to bring clarity. If there exists even a remote chance of it evoking irritating questions regarding mummies or horrific images of suicides, then he must look to other means to make his point.

Even ignoring the preceding (and utterly damning) objections, it is not clear a Phoenix reference would have been appropriate. I want something good to arise from inferior questions. There is nothing whatsoever in the Phoenix legend about a superior bird arising. It is the same tedious, self-immolating one each and every time.

A question we shall not pursue here is how a bird can set anything on fire. Did it strike a match? Did it rub two rocks together? The Egyptians were aware that birds lack opposable thumbs, were they not? Perhaps they should have spent less time carving gibberish on their gaudy tombs and more time observing the natural world. What manner of brain-disabling deadline did the author of this puerile legend work under? Had the Pharaoh commissioned him to write a new one by the morrow? Or did he compose it after hours in the broiling sun?

In summary: a reference to a Phoenix arising would have been inappropriate, subjected the Reader to needless trauma, quite possibly ruined my otherwise splendid dialogue, and covered my hands in filth from the crime of perpetuating this cheap, contrived, and all-around deplorable myth.

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The Mushroom of Consciousness

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Literature, Ontology, Truth

GIWWPN Genius Fellowship Grant

Great Irish Writers with Polish Names (GIWWPN) Awards Petronius Jablonski their Genius Fellowship Grant “not for previous art but as an investment in his future.” In 2017 they nominated Mount Silenus: A Vertical  Odyssey of Extraordinary Peril for novel of the year.

Petronius Jablonski adopted his pen-name while undercover with the Sentinels of the Chandelier. His exposé of this modern cult with roots in ancient Greece was released as Schrodinger’s Dachshund to avoid punitive legal measures and worse.  He regrets his nom de plume insofar as it discloses the true source of his literary excellence. In celebration of this prestigious award, plug in, pass out, and discover it’s clovers all the way down.

Jablonski “employs secrets and intrigue as a driving, page-turning force.” Publishers Weekly

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The Irish Times: You’ve said your ethnic-sounding name has subjected you to racism. How can you tell it’s not directed at the man who exposed the Sentinels of the Chandelier? Who else would go ought of there way to insult an author of literary fiction?

PJ: I’m not a mind reader. I don’t posit motivations beyond what the evidence warrants. I’ve deleted dozens of ghastly, heartbreaking comments from my blog, one from a “Polish homosexual” who tried to “give his girlfriend a b_____ b.” He sought advice on the proper technique. Another left an interesting comment about one of the paradoxes in Annals. I complimented his thoughtful analysis. After a scholarly exchange, he asked if it was true the Poles didn’t discover sex until the twelfth-century, having reproduced by raiding warthog litters before then. This is hate. It chills the blood. It’s changed my view of  human nature and the focus of my writing.

The Irish Times: It’s like you changed your identity to avoid one type of hate only to exchange it for another.

PJ: I understand the attacks from the Sentinels of the Chandelier. I know why security guards resent murderous caricatures.  Expecting any other response would be naive, functionally illiterate of how people behave. But to target a man because of a Polish-sounding name is to hate an abstraction; it’s like detesting a Platonic form. I’m baffled by this. I was corresponding with someone I thought was a Polish fan. He wrote that he was going to Rome for a vacation. Following his adventures wasn’t what I’d call exciting, but I was happy for him. Then he wrote that he became so intoxicated he kissed his wife and beat the Pope’s foot to a pulp with a shovel.

The Irish Times: That’s an Irish joke.

PJ: So he was a thief and a bigot. It was a cruel thing to do. Why does my misfortune bring another joy? That should be the fundamental question of Psychology.

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The Irish Times: Does it seem like your Genius Grant is good karma coming back to you?

PJ: Until I question the concept of karma. I’ve heard of delayed gratification but this is ridiculous. I spent much of 1993 – 2015 writing The Annals because it’s the book I’d want on a desert island. I wrote it for me. This isn’t some prescriptive declaration for other writers (quite the contrary). The idea that I deserved something for my efforts is philosophically incoherent.  I’m ecstatic that GIWWPN saw enough potential in my writing to justify a generous grant. Three agents devoted years of their lives to this book. One threatened to go on a hunger strike to avoid changes an editor wanted. I’m proud to have elicited noble sentiments in others.

The Irish Times: Are you obligated to write something, or do they simply hand you the check?

PJ: I can’t confirm this, but I’ve heard they run background checks for evidence of “Writing OCD.” They want the writer who couldn’t stop if you put a gun to his head. Throwing money at him might have interesting results. Instead of writing and reading twelve hours a day, I’ll be shooting for twenty. The grant is a means of enabling Irish writers with serious addictions.

The Irish Times: How bad (or should I say good) is your Writing OCD?

PJ: Schrodinger’s Dachshund went through a thousand drafts. I’m not exaggerating. Every word was the subject of lengthy debate or violent conflict. Civil warfare scorched my soul. At one point it was fourteen-hundred pages. I went many months without sleep sketching that strange land, developing an ontology to accommodate the physics and mythology. The whole damn thing was a compulsion, like I’d been chosen to write it and phobic of telling it the wrong way. Writing novels is like filming Fitzcarraldo.

The Irish Times: Was it worth it? Publishers Weekly raved.

PJ: I struggle with the coherence of free will. The question is a category error if I had no choice. I haven’t been able to live like a normal man since it was published. I’m not rich. I’ll never fully recover from the years spent thinking of nothing else. I’m still in shock and fear I always will be. Some blocks of time are so vivid, so blindingly bright and real it’s impossible to distinguish between Now and Then. The past is not the past if it never recedes. That it occurred before the present is a trivial property, accidental and irrelevant to the sovereignty it wields. The rest of my life feels dreamlike by comparison.

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The Irish Times: Can you talk about the lawsuit with Tryposoothe?

PJ: I can’t. Wink wink.

The Irish Times: It’s an unsubstantiated rumor of course. One of the big pharmaceutical companies is suing you for defaming a product they haven’t yet released, a treatment for Trypophobia.

PJ: Name an unpleasant feature of human existence that couldn’t be improved — in the short term — with a benzodiazepine. This is science? This is medicine? And I didn’t defame their beloved Xanax Junior, Tryposoothe. I merely suggested an alternative explanation on Wikipedia and it went bye-bye down the memory hole. Here’s the consensus of the experts: unless you’re whistling contentedly in a cubicle you’re insane and need potent brain drugs every day for the remainder of your life. 85% of the population is “mentally ill” as of last week. Don’t question this or you’re an anti-science loon!

The Irish Times: I’ve actually heard estimates as high as 25%, but they qualify it into oblivion. Your next novel, The Sweetness of Honey, deals with mental illness and homelessness. What kind of research did you do?

PJ: Research? That was subtle. Well done.

The Irish Times: I wouldn’t assume you made it up out of whole cloth.

PJ: Of course not. And you’d never just ask, “Has that ever happened to you? Is that what happened after the mountain fiasco, or while hiding out from the cult? Isn’t that the central theme of Annals? I don’t want to tell tales out of school, but some people say …”

The Irish Times: One early review says it’s the most distinctive novel of the twenty-first century, prophetically dealing with tribalism, madness, and redemption from nihilism.

PJ: Novels don’t deal with issues; that’s for dissertations and Cosmo articles. I create Art.

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Petronius Who?

An Odyssey of Historic Proportions and Priceless Treasure of Philosophy

Serial Killers Who Worked Security

Who Is Maestoso the Dachshund and Why Is He Following You?

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The Abominable Unau

MOUNT SILENUS: A Vertical Odyssey

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In search of a legendary prehistoric sloth, Jablonski developed Post-Traumatic Mountaineering Disorder. The past is not the past if it never recedes. Journal therapy didn’t help. Developed in the 1940s, it uses second-person POV to create a distance from the ordeal. Note well: brooding isn’t therapy. Calling this a novel is little more than denial.

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When we try to conceive of Nothing, whatever preceded all Existence, we invariably imagine some infinite darkness. But it could have been white, like the storm engulfing you. The spirit of chaos freed, a tempest rages, obliterating the forms of things and returning them to blurry potentiality. Nature’s volatile moods and the devastation they wreak, her apocalyptic fury in all epochs and places, a teleological interpretation must choose between wrath or regret.

Onward you hobble. The tent has to be around here somewhere. Was it necessary to walk this far in a blizzard to defecate? A dark shape solidifies in the icy static ahead. Is that the tent or are the curtains parting on the burlesque of life to allow a character from an earlier act to take a final bow? Thirty feet tall it lurches toward you, sickle claws protruding from furry stumps, long front legs stretching like the arms of a witch reaching across a table to read a palm. Through veils of snow appears a nose with the contours and padding of a leather recliner, infringing on space that should have been reserved for its tiny eyes.

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2018 GIWWPN Genius Fellowship Grant

Get down, you fool! You can’t outrun it in your condition. Do you think it will understand you were screaming in agony as you collapsed, not provocation.

Allegedly erased from the ledger of life, presumed to have plunged into that mass grave awaiting us all, it stands triumphant, in absolute defiance of Time and Nature and all man’s theories and measurements, which measure nothing at all, not even man. The wind howls in disbelief at this zombie returned from the dead. It throws back its head and makes a deep gurgling noise that sends tremors across the ground.

In lieu of girding your loins, you wet them. It stoops until its nose is inches from your face. The breeze from its inhalation sucks your hair straight up. How do you appear to it, as the pinnacle of creation, the raison d’être of existence, the summon bonum of Being, a member of the almighty species who spread its fungal growth to the moon, erecting temples to vanity in the dark heavens? Does it know man hath dominion over it, or does it see a bug too big to eat in one bite?

Digging through your jacket for the knife you neglected to bring you find a burrito. Characterized by indifference to death, consoling thoughts emerge. This is no worse than any other way of dying. And I get a last meal.

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Perhaps the rigors of dialectic aren’t welcome at times like this, but being mauled by a behemoth is immeasurably worse than drifting off in a Jacuzzi or going out with a Bang! during a tryst with one of the locals. (Keepsakes such as your watch and credit cards would facilitate closure. This is an occupational hazard in her line of work.)

You take a bite of the burrito. The veggies so crisp, so scrumptious. How is the inner essence of food transmitted by your tongue to the theatre between your ears? During how many tens of thousands of meals have you never wondered? Now is the time to take stock of your life. What lasting good have I accomplished? How many times have I made love? What about the times I can’t remember because I was drunk? Was there some point to all this? 

The Abominable Unau’s nose pulsates, taking on a life of its own. How does the burrito smell to a creature whose olfactory powers are a million times greater than yours? Analogous to how Ulysses seems to you but not your cat. You offer it the rest and yank your hand back from rubbery lips. It makes a slurping sound as it chews. You reach up and touch its thick fur and rub its chest. It emits a baritone purr and licks your head with what feels like a waterbed wrapped in sandpaper. Without any deliberation you clutch its underbelly. And this is not an instinct. Momentous decisions throughout history were often free of planning, as if generated spontaneously, as if preordained or fated.

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“Jablonski is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells. An engaging narrative.” – Publishers Weekly

***

Mount Silenus is not a part of the earth but a prodigal son staying away in contempt of its lowly origins. Proof that man is not the measure of all things, it derides every notion of harmonious design. Behold this mockery of all human configurations and tremble.

Under the anesthesia of routine we slumber, impervious to life’s true nature. The constant yearning for what we lack, the urge to be free of what we loathe, chasing pleasures that vanish like dust. Are these life’s limitations or essence? Men go to absurd lengths explaining the problem of evil. In the process they sound like half-wit attorneys defending a mass-murderer. They say happenstance is a robber, free will a mixed blessing, joy more abundant than pain. Look deeper. There is a mighty force opposing our every plan, a cruel gravity smothering us, the heel of a boot grinding out the embers of our souls, a sadist cloaked in the dark fabric of existence. It is the implacable colossus of Fate. We scarcely have time to stumble onto the battlefield, much less comprehend our plight and mount a counterattack. In a few twinklings of the sun, on a day no different than all that came before, the cosmic ogre squashes us. Those convulsive growls that rend the sky, they are not thunder. They are laughter.

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Everest? Big Whoop!

Some say Fate cannot be fought, that it is entrapping as quicksand, omnipresent as the ether. Notice how the cleverest excuses and slipperiest arguments are used in defense of cowardice. Through capitulation to routine man dies an ignoble death long before his mortal coil makes it official. He forgets he is living. Combat is the supreme reminder. What is that putrid stench? Is it not the rot of man’s spirit, the smell of lies told to assuage the failure of those too craven to fight, smoke wafting from the languid den of routine addicts? To wage war against Fate one must locate the most auspicious outpost and launch an attack. That fortress is Mount Silenus. A battle calls. Warrior, arise!

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Petronius Who?

Serial Killers Who Worked Security

The Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

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Canes pugnaces, Existentialism, Literature, Ontology, Quietude, Truth

One-Millionth Visitor, And He Never Knew

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Who Is Maestoso the Dachshund and Why Is He Following You?

The rueful admission echoes down serpentine catacombs deep in your mind, waving a torch through long-buried chambers inscribed with crayon hieroglyphics: you’re staring up at the diving board with dread during a swimming lesson; you’re playing hide and seek in your grandparent’s musty basement; you’re debating whether to shoplift and you know the clerk knows what you’re thinking; you’re kissing and you’re sure you’re doing it wrong and wondering if she knows you know she knows.

You’ve been robbed. Those times, where did they go? Once so alive but now hidden in a mass grave. And that’s where the future ones are headed. Remember that. All the days to come will vanish thus. What value or meaning can they contain? We are hoarders of dust.

Maestoso floats toward you like a submarine by Louis Wain, the thin black lips on his alligator jaws pressed together in a sardonic smile, whiskers twitching, his eyes not the perceptual organs of a unique being but portholes to the world of imperishable abstractions where modus ponens and the prime nature of three and five will survive the heat death of the universe and you’ve never been so grateful to have a cat.

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Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

In the Temple of 11,111,117 Holes a novice lights a torch and enters the gaping mouth of the cave and the holes consume him. Each step requires great effort as though against a strong wind or into a place of great danger, its nature unknown and perhaps unknowable. In the center he stands and takes deep breaths before looking up into the millions of black eyes watching him, dissolving him.

This is when the greatest fortitude is required. Many before him lost their nerve, never to return, not free of emptiness but haunted by it. He regards the thin membrane separating one hole from another, its nebulous and transitory nature, as if existence is less substantial than nothingness. Paradoxes and riddles overwhelm the feeble abacus behind his eyes.

Some monks use a walking stick to steady trembling knees and accommodate greater depths of thought. Others criticize the practice, saying the holes would never give a monk more than he could tolerate, that to artificially enhance indulgences is a crime against nature. Brethren of the Stick say it is more unnatural to ascribe intentions to the holes. A third group dismisses both on the grounds that naturalness has never been established as a criterion of contemplation.

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In Search of Proust’s Bassett Hound in the Library of Babel

Why Proust? It’s the sorcerous powers of description. You don’t need to keep a flow chart of the characters or study the Dreyfus affair. You want to read how the moon in the afternoon sky is like a beautiful actress who sneaks into the audience to watch a portion in which she does not have to appear. Virginia Wolfe said the best thing about life is reading Proust. That ignores some conspicuous contenders, but he’s the only writer who cracks the top five. There’s only one way it could be improved and you don’t have to feel like a Philistine for saying this.

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Mount Silenus: A Vertical Odyssey of Extraordinary Peril

Some say Fate cannot be fought, that it is entrapping as quicksand, omnipresent as the ether. Notice how the cleverest excuses and slipperiest arguments are used in defense of cowardice. Through capitulation to routine man dies an ignoble death long before his mortal coil makes it official. He forgets he is living. Combat is the supreme reminder. What is that putrid stench? Is it not the rot of man’s spirit, the smell of lies told to assuage the failure of those too craven to fight, smoke wafting from the languid den of routine addicts? To wage war against Fate one must locate the most auspicious outpost and launch an attack. That fortress is Mount Silenus. A battle calls. Warrior, arise.

Towering over you, a geological Rorschach absorbing the frustrations and dreams of a new species of ant chasing the wind up its sides, the 50,000,000-year-old distention of rock recently nicknamed Mount Silenus endures, aroused from the sleep of nothing by the same Source that concocted man, remaining at the orgy of existence on the same invitation. And when man is gone, regardless of how many crept across its sides, it will endure just the same, until it doesn’t.

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Lay with Cudahy?

The gloomy, taciturn Dr. Harris, glaring at us through bifocals and removing them to intensify his sulphurous gaze, stroked his unkempt beard and shook his head when we proposed a joint independent study titled, A History of the Cudahy Taverns: Packard Avenue. We returned the following day to plead our case, wielding the deadly argument that his dismissive reference to Cudahy as “some small, blue-collar abutment of Milwaukee” was no less contemptuous than describing the Temiar of Malaysia (his dissertation subject) as a group of uninteresting savages with absurd religious beliefs. A twenty-minute session of furious beard stroking ensued, probably infested by the realization that we had actually perused his dreadful, meandering doorstop.

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Estimations

Purple People, seated under the purple lights in the Phil Zone like surfers of an eruption, we envy you on 12-31-80, the first Estimated Prophet of 81 and last of 80, the metaphysical glue of their connection. Focus on Phil during the Jam until some Helen Keller awakening shatters the shell of your mind and reveals to the stunned hatching within a world beyond all wonder. The intrinsic peculiarity of the song is never covered by the gray blanket of familiarity wrapping most things. It’s as different and mysterious and off-the-wall and triumphant and creepy as the first time you heard it.

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Serial Killers Who Worked Security

Why are there no paralegals moonlighting as Grim Reapers, no librarians driven to carnage by inquiries about Dan Brown? Security fields a disproportionate number of the empathy challenged. Practitioners of this noble calling succumb to dark nights of the soul, wondering if the property they defend requires blood to sustain its existence. Why is it always the loners? What happens in the cold vacuum of solitude, time spent with the ultimate stranger? Consider ten instances of this cruel occupational hazard and wonder why “going rent-a-cop” never joined the lexicon.

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Petronius Who!?

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The Book Party

A room without books is like a body without a soul.   Cicero

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“It’s the purple building with the domed roof, a few blocks down on the right side,” the attendant said before I could open my mouth. Oil stains covered his uniform like continents on a globe and his rolled up sleeves revealed huge but flabby biceps.

“It?” I said, not used to mediums plying their trade in this line of work.

“The book party,” he sighed. “I must have had fifty people stop in here and ask me about it since noon.”

“Book party?”

“Yeah, look at your invitation.” He retrieved a green three-by-five card from beside the register and tapped an elegant sketch of the structure with a greasy finger. “Some guy left his here.”

“Utterly fascinating,” I said, trying to decipher the black enamel calligraphy. “But could you tell me how to return to the interstate?”

“It figures,” he said, shaking his head in defeat. He gave me directions and I asked if the party was invite only.

“You can have this one. The guy who left it hasn’t been back in hours. With all the people that come and go it can’t be too hard to get in.”

“Who is the perpetrator?”

“The what?”

“The featured author.”

He blinked.

“When did it begin?”

“I’ve been working here over six months and it’s been going on since then.”

“What manner of book party lasts that long? Few merit six seconds of celebration. Most should be inaugurated by a requiem. This one must feature a different work each night.”

“You got me. But it’s a strange crowd. You should see some of the people who stop in here for directions. Most of them are pretty flaky. But some of the women — You wouldn’t believe it.”

“They are drawn to exhibitionists like peahens to peacocks. Whether it is a hirsute guitarist, a steroid-addled gamesman, or a pulp-excreting word-processor jockey makes no difference.” He crinkled up his nose as though blinded from the light of my analysis. “You have been most helpful,” I said before returning to my car.

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“Lost indeed.” I handed Sandy the invitation. “I wanted it to be a surprise. We have found the literary nexus of the world, a fête without end.”

“What book is it for? The invitation doesn’t mention the book or the author.”

“This is a top-secret affair,” I said, heading for the domed building.

“I’ve never seen a great novelist.”

“Nor shall you, absent a time machine.”

“I meant famous.”

“I will catch you if you faint.”

Upon entering we walked through a long limestone passage. Smooth slabs gleamed from Chinese lanterns. We emerged in the humbling vastness of a dark marble lobby. A huge window looked out on a pond at the foot of a hill covered in dandelions. Dwarfed by a statue of a zebra perched upon one leg, two men in white suits and matching visors circumnavigated the pond with the speed of a minute hand, staring intently at it. After a prelude to eternity, one pointed to the surface. His comrade ran to his side. They took turns framing it from different angles with their hands, looked at one another, and nodded. One picked up a metal pole with wire mesh on the end and scooped something out and gingerly laid it on a tray. He put the pole down and they resumed their encirclement.

Sandy tapped my shoulder. Opposite the window, seated in a folding chair, the lobby attendant faced the wall. I shrugged and walked to the door across from us, its existence only discernible from a silver knob. Like a man poised to tour Bedlam, I paused before opening it, bracing myself for encounters with MFA students, free-verse poets, English “majors” unfamiliar with Shakespeare, and worse. Sandy watched the aloof attendant. Above her, the ceiling spread to uncertain dimensions, as though something was leaking out, or, more ominously, Nothing was trickling in. She looked to me, puzzled, then to him, concerned. I jerked my head, imploring her to follow.

The smell of strawberries overwhelmed us. Lavishly attired literati crowded around three tables disappearing into the abyssal depths of a narrow room. Their whispers accrued to the hiss of a deflating tire. Unable to sneak a glimpse of what digested their attention, I assumed that a plague of novelists were diligently signing their latest exudations. We choreographed an elaborate dance through the gathering to arrive at a tiny bar in the corner. The bartender hunched over to avoid scraping his head on the ceiling. Thin brown hair plastered to one side matched his leathery complexion. Eyes dead like a shark’s stared into the crowd. In the distance between his shoulders stood three patrons. Sandy gasped at the sight of a zebra pelt mounted behind him. The green clock in its center had blue Roman numerals but no hands to mark the minutes or hours.

“Excuse me,” I said. “What book is this for?”

As though a hand inside it tensed to catch a ball, the bartender’s face contorted. “That book,” he hissed like a serpent provoked, pointing to the tables.

Revelation: the people crowded around the tables were reading the book. The pages must have been spread sequentially across them. “So much for fruitful miracles in the midst of solitude,” I said. “Are you selling hot dogs? Are there any cheerleaders?”

“Are you trying to make a joke, sir?” a pudgy little man beside me asked. Like most of the male literati, a Fu Man Chu beard garnished his face. Flaunting rubicund cheeks, his ponytail constrained long dark hair. A baggy paisley shirt tucked into tight jeans tucked into cowboy boots. He and the bartender vivisected me with their eyes.

“Who is the author?” I said.

The bartender shook his head in disbelief, perhaps disgust. The little man squinted at me like he had discovered a precious jewel. “Sir, the book is not finished. And it has no author. How could you not know this?”

“I am acquainted with the noxious trend of denying that books have any fixed meaning, but this must be something new. How exciting.”

He stood on his tiptoes and put his mouth to my ear. “You came here thinking the book has an author?” His hand covered his mouth and his eyes extruded. “He’s only joking,” he told the bartender. “Drunk as a skunk. Fix me another. I’ll take him outside for some air.” Sandy and I followed him to the lobby. “My name is Cletus Empiricus,” he announced, vigorously shaking my hand while engaged in a staring contest with Sandy’s chest. I could scarcely begrudge him this enchantment. Those sweet, ripened, succulent, luscious fruits of the Orient had brought me more bliss than a fête of real writers could describe with a million sonnets. “You weren’t joking about thinking the book has an author,” he said, diverting his gaze. I shook my head. “Mr. Jablonski, the book comes from the pond.”

“You mean that pond?”

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“Correct. Do you see those men? The pond is filled with tiny letters. They search for words or phrases. Sometimes they find complete sentences. They scoop out the words and put them on a tray. When it’s full they bring it inside and put it on the table. This isn’t like other book parties. It celebrates the book as it’s written.”

“What’s it about?” said Sandy.

“That depends on who you ask.”

“That depends on whom she asks,” I corrected, following the wise principle that it is never too early to establish dominion in a conversation.

“Some people are quite taken with it,” he said with a shrug.

“How do you like it?” I asked.

“I was ambivalent, but I’ve grown to hate it,” he said, as though delighted to answer the question, perhaps hoping to influence our opinions. “Can’t deny it’s technically well-written, teeming with interesting characters, lots of action, complex themes.” He sniffed his drink and stared at the pond. One man pointed to the surface while his partner brandished the pole.

“But?” I said, severing his trance.

“But all the surface activity can’t hide the hollow ground underneath it.”

“Could you phrase that so someone who has not spent his life chasing the wind after an advanced English degree can comprehend it?”

“At least he declared a major,” said Sandy.

“I will declare it as soon as they remove symbolic logic from the requirements. Did Socrates torture himself with those absurd squiggles?”

Cletus smiled, drank, rubbed his chin, and said, “There are so many tiny pictures you hardly notice the lack of a big one. But once you do, the tiny pictures don’t interest you.”

“Sandy, go fetch an English undergrad to translate.”

“I know what he means, and there’s something sad about it: interesting small things trapped in a meaningless, authorless giant thing.”

“Exactly. That’s exactly why I don’t like it.”

That they were on the same wavelength fascinated me. In my demarcation of the circles of benighted academic pursuits, communications occupied the lowly fifth circle, four full circles below English. Exchanges between them should have been impossible.

“The underlying hollowness compels a lot of people to either force the story into some interpretation they’ve cooked up, which is like trying to get an elephant into a straightjacket, or they say the pond has mysterious powers that guide the writing. That way it’s always possible the meaning is hidden or not fully revealed.”

“Why is that so hard to believe?” said Sandy.

“Look at it. It’s a scummy little pond with millions of letters floating around in it.”

“But it’s writing a book,” she said.

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“You have to judge an author by what he, or it, writes, not by what you think they could.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Aptitude is obviously irrelevant to literary matters, if not all matters. How long is the work?”

“Too long. It might be repeating itself thematically, but it’s so long this is hard to verify. It just rambles on and on and on and on,” he said, bobbing his head to accentuate his aversion. “One damn thing after another.”

“When will it be finished?” I said.

“No one knows. Those men out there just scoop out words. They aren’t proofreaders or editors. There are no editors. There’s no one to say when the whole silly mess is over.”

“But the fact that it’s all being created by a pond is incredible,” said Sandy.

“The regular use of alliteration, anadiplosis, and anaphora has been convincingly explained in terms of the consistent breezes stirring the water. Patterns arise.”

“But the structure, the complexity of –”

“If it were my book I’d be ashamed of myself,” Cletus said, throwing his head back. “I would only publish it with a pen name to make a quick buck.”

“Then why do you come here?” said Sandy.

“One, the drinks are cheap. Two, the chicks.” Cletus winked at me. “Don’t get me wrong. Once in a while the book has its moments. Hell, once in a while it’s great. It’s just that overall it’s nothing I’d put my name on.”

“Have you ever written anything?” said Sandy.

“No. But he has,” Cletus whispered, pointing at the lobby attendant.

“Why is he facing the wall?” I said.

“He’s jealous.”

“Who’s he jealous of?” said Sandy.

“Of whom is he jealous,” I corrected.

“He’s jealous of the pond. He’s the most frustrated writer who ever lived, at least that’s what he’d like you to think. As the story goes, the books he’s written have an underlying significance that ties everything together in the end. But his novels fall stillborn from his printer while people stand in line to read a foofaraw written by a scummy pond. That’s why he sits facing the wall. He can’t bare to look at it.”

“A foofaraw? May the gods deliver me from all English majors.”

“At least they don’t think they’re smarter than everyone,” said Sandy. “Philosophy students are the worst.

“Why doesn’t he pursue employment elsewhere?” I said.

“The money’s probably good, and of course, the perks.”

“Such as?”

“Mr. Jablonski, you’ve been inside the other room. They come through here, see him all despondent, ask him what’s wrong. That’s when it starts getting deep in here — if you know what I mean. They bring him drinks, ask if there’s anything they can do, and one thing leads to another. You know, I’ve thought about pulling up a chair next to him. In a sense he’s one of the most successful writers of all time.”

Sandy gave him a quizzical look.

“Forget all that junk you’ve heard about literary ambitions. It’s a veneer. The brooding genius routine is an act they go through to appear mysterious and sensitive. The tormented writer shtick wreaks havoc on a woman’s compassion.”

“That’s not true of all writers,” Sandy said.

Her literary judgment devastated by a diet of “commercial fiction” (a euphemism for graceless drivel about the basest instincts unfolding in clichéd situations), she thought highly of both the perpetrators and their motives. Having had several of her favorite novels inflicted on me, I conceived a hypothesis concerning their origin: those authors must have secret ponds of their own. Such work is not the product of intelligent design, but mere randomness. The prose itself is what one would expect from letters drifting aimlessly in a pond. The numbing regularity of the themes (coming of age, the indomitable nature of the human spirit, who killed whom, a journey filled with conflicts, etc.) are explicable in terms of the same natural forces that create regularities like tides, eddies, and whirlpools in larger bodies of water.

“Don’t be fooled,” said Cletus. “The difference between what he’s doing and slipping your date a knockout pill is a difference of degree. Some writers are craftier than others, but deep down they’re all the same.”

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“Don’t listen to him,” said the attendant. The wall muffled any inflections his voice contained. “He doesn’t understand. To write a book is to pour your soul into a canyon.”

“Here he goes,” said Cletus. “He’s practicing one of his pickup lines. I need a drink. Come to the bar when it gets too deep in here for you.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Take a good, long look at the book. Decide for yourself.” The hissing of the crowd filled the lobby before he closed the door.

The camouflage of the attendant’s dark hair and jacket fostered the illusion that the wall was speaking. “An echo may ring through the canyon and the people below will look up and see who shouted. But even the clearest voice can only echo for so long. Soon it will fade, absorbed by the rocks, and the canyon will be as quiet as it was before. This is true of the greatest shouts. For most, they are lucky if their voice echoes at all or if anyone looks up.”

I cleared my throat, reflected on the greatness of Pericles, and began an oration that would change his life. “Cletus and yourself may think otherwise, but over the course of conquests innumerable I have found that an air of supreme self-assuredness is the most powerful aphrodisiac. Whining about your failures may occasionally net a stray mongrel, but if you wish to mount the prize bitches you need to project confidence. Your very being must radiate strength and –”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” said Sandy.

“Disregard this conversation. I am speaking as a man to one aspiring to that status. May the gods strike me dead if my father did not say the same words to me. Perhaps the fiery rhetoric offends you, but it is necessary for inspirational purposes.”

“Just stop it or I’ll call Dave to come and pick me up.”

“Your ex. Speaking of aspiring to a manly status. Very well. Cletus told us you are an accomplished author.”  

“I wrote several books,” the wall said. “Their shouts were great and clear, but none of them echoed.”

“Why does every shout not echo?” I asked, which seemed like the proper question. Even if his detestable strategy proved successful in practice, it was grievously wrong in principle: a man must never forge inroads to a woman’s maternal instincts, only her carnal ones.

“Clarity does not entail volume,” the attendant said, coming back into focus and sounding perturbed. “And a great shout does not connote a loud shout.”

“Why is writing a book the saddest thing in the world?” said Sandy.

Because the foredoomed paths of solipsism, megalomania, and self-abasement intersect in the depths of Abaddon, I thought. And the injudicious use of metaphors and similes leaves the writer with irreparable brain damage.

“Where do all books end up?” the wall said as the lobby attendant faded from view. “Moldering on a shelf, packed in a box, abandoned and forgotten on a hard drive.”

This routine indubitably cast him as mysterious and sensitive. But to what abysmal depths has civilization plunged when sensitivity is a trait willfully sought by a man?

“So you don’t write anymore?” said Sandy, falling prey to the loathsome vice of pity, in accordance with the attendant’s strategy.  

“I do. But my books will not be subjected to burial on shelves or in boxes. They end up underground.”

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“And underground is a metaphor of what?” I said. Ask a writer for the time of day and you need an Enigma machine to decrypt the answer.

“It’s no metaphor. I literally bury them. Six feet deep.”

“No one ever reads them?” said Sandy.

“If there are no echoes you never have to adjust to the awful silence that comes when they stop.”

“That’s so sad,” she said.

“No, it is natural.”

“The Kafka gambit,” I laughed. “You are aware, I hope, that he did not bury his books; he asked a friend to burn them. Clearly you are unaware that his proficiency with the ladies was not exactly –”

Sandy turned to me, only the whites of her eyes visible. An arctic breeze blew through the room. “I won’t tell you again.”

Piqued, I looked out the window and watched the peculiar fishermen.

“But perhaps it is only outrage that leads me to this.”

“But it can take years for a writer to get recognized,” Sandy said. “You should be proud that –”

“Not that kind of outrage. I’m outraged that where a book ends up is a far better place than where other things do, that even the worst book has the potential to exist longer.”  

“What other things?”

Go and sit on his lap, I thought. How much further can he debase himself? What final act has he planned for this play of helplessness, this self-degradation, this sensitivity? Will he now curl into the fetal position and weep?

After scooping several words from the pond, the men lifted a silver tray at least six feet long and four feet wide. Their cautious handling would have sufficed for an atomic bomb. The man in front held it from behind and they marched with synchronized steps. I flirted with the idea of pounding on the window to measure the depth of their concentration, but I suspected the book’s fans might not view my behavior as a lighthearted prank. Cheers erupted from the next room. The attendant began to sob. Sandy pressed her lips to my ear. “Let’s go read some of it.”

“Of course. I’m going to fetch my notebook. Save me a place in line.”

Excerpted from Jablonski’s Magnum Opus

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Petronius Who?

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Annals, Ontology, Truth

Watchman & The Mystery Box

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Obliged to survey the premises six times per shift, I began with the warehouse. From a distance the entrance looked like a mousehole but grew to a drawbridge as I approached. Opening it strained every muscle in my back, as though the occupants resisted until finally ceding territory to lay in wait. The air inside, dank and foul, was it not the necrotic tissue of a once mighty creature? Sparsely distributed over the center aisle, dangling bulbs cast little light on the dusty concrete. A few feet to either side, darkness reigned. Less valorous sentries lamented their gloomy plight. Two had ignominiously abandoned their posts. Their piteous supplications did not tempt the insolvent gods, whose impotent hands could not procure any items not “absolutely necessary.”

One terrible night, so that I might gratify a swelling curiosity, I brought a flashlight to inspect the dark recesses, hoping something lay hidden, something not meant for my eyes, something forbidden. I could scarcely have foreseen how this innocuous inspection would uncover a fiendish plot, one that would rend the very texture of my being.

That night I walked slowly down the center aisle, uncertain where to begin my excursion. When I finally set off, abandoning the token security of the firefly bulbs, I flashed my light across a desert of dust and piles of rotting lumber. Like toys scattered by the offspring of a monstrous alien or the exoskeletons of insects destined to rule the earth, huge casting molds littered the area. Similar to a spelunker exploring an abominable chasm, a balance of powers guided my steps: apprehension and prudence stalemated curiosity.

As I prepared to head to the opposite side, my light conjured something from the darkness. I jumped back and bested the urge to flee. Almost hidden between a haphazardly stacked pile of boards and an enormous polyhedral mold sat a wooden crate wrapped in a dense veil of cobwebs. Its carvings, too elaborate for a piano box, bespoke a treasure chest from the orient. After slashing through the silken wrap, I pushed the top an eighth of the way off. It had the warmth, the unmistakable tactility of a living being. I brandished my light, prepared for whatever secrets it contained.

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Before I could investigate, a remembrance struck my head like an arrow. In the bottom drawer of the guards’ desk was a book titled The Year’s Best Horror Stories. One featured a watchman in an analogous predicament. Per the traditional disparagement, he spent his working hours in a schnapps-induced stupor. After becoming lost on one of his rounds he found a mysterious box and opened it. Human heads with “kiwi-green skin” opened their eyes when he screamed. In a breathtaking twist, he dropped his flashlight. Their eyes, however, “glowed like creatures from the deep.” The heads floated out of the box “wailing and snarling.” Per another wicked stereotype vilifying his brave calling, the watchman “waddled” down a long corridor with dozens of little lights in fast pursuit. “They cast a shadow of his head on the door while he sought the right key.” The story ended with “blunt bites from cold mouths.”

An original thesis of mine is that the storage space of the mind is finite. A man should always be on guard not to clutter his head with nonsense, or, if he cannot abstain, he should force himself to forget it soon afterwards. The theoretical framework of this wretched story offended me on so many levels I tried to banish it before an entire floor of my brain became cluttered with objections and criticisms. As it clung to my mental dumpster like a mound of dog excrement, a tremendous urge swelled up within me to return to the office and lash off a letter to the author posthaste, as though this could purge my fury and nullify the malign spell of the book. Perhaps all critiques are thus. Glaring at the dark opening, I composed a draft in seconds.

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Sir,

If you were banking on your readers being too horrified by “Rent-a-Cop and the Mystery Box” to notice its incoherencies and defamation, your judgment was grievously flawed. I noticed. The following objections were written in the order in which they provoked a rational mind. They could perhaps be written in a different order. Re-arrange them if you like.

Your story ended with the implication that the floating heads devoured the watchman. Question: How on earth does a disembodied head digest its food? The secondary disadvantage to being a disembodied head (the primary being death) is the lack of a body and the deprivations this absence entails. Before you commit any further scribbling I suggest you observe an autopsy. Ask the coroner for a quick tour of the digestive system and make a note of its proximity to the head. In the same key, your story had the heads making all sorts of noises — in the absence of a respiratory system. Again, have the coroner explain the relationship between lungs and wailing.

Your rebuttal fails — miserably. You maintain that these disembodied heads can transgress the laws of biology (apparently physics too, given that they were floating). They are obviously endowed with evil supernatural powers. Very well, how could “supernaturally endowed” heads be constrained by a mere box? Could they not have conspired to hover together and lift the lid? Your story says nothing about any locks. Could they not have gnawed their way out? What were they doing for food prior to the watchman? Did they come out at night to hunt for insects? Was someone feeding them? Was someone keeping them as pets? Who would want such pets?

Your portrayal of the watchman as a bumbling, overweight dipsomaniac is unforgivable. As a practitioner of this noble calling I take personal offense. (Should you ever suffer from the suicidal melancholy so common to writers of fiction, I recommend you attempt to trespass on the property I defend.) In case you were not aware, this portrayal is known as a cliché: writers are supposed to avoid them. Likewise, having the watchman fumble with his keys was simply masterful. I suggest, for a future story, a nubile girl whose car will not start.

In conclusion, “Rent-a-Cop and the Mystery Box” is, beyond certainty, the most incongruous and preposterous horror story since Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stylistically it is atrocious. Do not listen to the inbred parrots in your creative writing program. If I want “gritty realism” I will defecate or watch my brother feed goldfish to his Piranha. Readers turn to books for Beauty. In the tragic event that you paid $250,000 for a degree that taught you otherwise you should retain the services of an attorney who specializes in fraud.

Wrathfully,

Petronius Jablonski

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This summed things up rather well, but in an instant I conceived of two new and even more damning objections. I decided against returning to the office. A proper refutation and healthful disposal would require nothing short of a Kantian critique and would have to wait. With a vow to abstain from all horror fiction, I returned to the edge of the cobweb-veiled crate, prepared to plunge my light into the darkness of the baroque chest like a saber.

The light flickered and died. It was second shift’s responsibility to check the batteries. Judging from the lascivious periodicals polluting the desk, he had become enslaved by the merciless tyrant of onanism. (Does the suicide of our culture not vindicate Plato? Sanctifying freedom of speech is akin to extolling small pox: “I do not approve of the pestilence you spread, but I shall defend to the death your right to spread it.”)

Upon my return to the warehouse I must have chosen a different spot to digress from the center aisle. My light revealed a staircase against the wall. Amber with rust like some remnant of the Titanic, it wound its way into the darkness above. Without making any conscious decision, I found myself on the steps, the metal groaning beneath my feet. I climbed and climbed but progress eluded me as though I were pulling some great chain out of a void. When I made the dubious choice of assessing my progress by shining the light at the ground, I found myself above an abyss whose evil gravity clawed at me, in the middle of outer space with no constellations for guidance or comfort. I clutched the railings and the flashlight hurtled away like a comet, making a crunching sound as it disappeared.

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Excerpted from The Annals of Petronius Jablonski

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Canes pugnaces, Ontology, Truth

Shi Tzu, Cosmic Yak Dog

If Shi Tzu were bred by Tibetan Buddhists to resemble lions, why do they look like yaks? In the way finches inflamed Darwin, this query awakened Petronius Jablonski from dogmatic slumbers. His Eureka! is mankind’s gain. Excerpted from his Odyssey of Historic Proportions and Priceless Treasure of Philosophy:

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I empathize but disagree with the Reader’s pragmatic reaction.

“Scholar, of what import is the Shi Tzu’s origin? One can scarcely accommodate the joy and gratitude their company invokes, much less murky historical references. If the phylogenic tree bore any resemblance to reality, man and Shi Tzu would stand coequal, far above monkeys and dolphins. The dog may be our best friend, but the Shi Tzu is our allegiant peer. What more needs to be said?”

Dear Reader, knowledge of Shi Tzu history is an intrinsic good and thanks to my fruitful meditations is murky no more. According to the traditional legend, Tibetan Buddhist monks bred them to resemble lions. Folklore alleged that the Buddha traveled with a little dog who could transform itself into one. This is suspect for six reasons. First, Buddha was a great philosopher, perhaps the first rigorous empiricist; he was not a wizard. The urge to deify great philosophers can be very strong, but Hume and Schopenhauer should be the first choices.

(It is not impossible that one day legends about Zeus and I will abound, starting innocently as factual accounts of our daily wanderings through Pulaski Park and growing into wild tales of his metamorphosis to a great cosmic yak.)

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Second and most importantly, the Shi Tzu does not look anything like a lion. How to account for the discrepancy between the traditional legend and the contemporary reality? I here offer four plausible accounts. The most tenable was conceived during Sandy’s exposition, the deliriant properties of which rendered me more prolific than an oracle.

It is conceivable that the monks began with sincere intentions of breeding lion dogs, which they presented as oblations to the Chinese emperor (perhaps the great man who destroyed the flying machine). The folklore surrounding magic pups probably intrigued him. Different sects of monks, not unlike car dealers hoping to allure customers, vied for his favor.

As we all know, craftsmanship leaves when the bottom line enters. Breeding became sloppy. At least one sect of monks lost its tenuous grasp of teleology. When quantity replaced quality, as it invariably does, they produced a batch of dogs not only distinct from, but superior to the lion dogs of their competitors.

“But how could such dogs be presented to the emperor?” the Reader asks.

Beyond certainty, the following conversation occurred (in Mandarin, of course).

“These dogs you present to me, they look not like lions,” the emperor says, stroking his long wispy beard as he scrutinizes two puppies playing at his feet.

The nervous monk, dreading this response all the way from his mountainous village and through the palace strewn with Shi Tzu poo, experiences the first in a series of life-saving inspirations. “No, your highness,” he says with a deep bow. The palace eunuchs inhale in unison. “These two are not lion dogs.”

They are not?” the emperor asks in justified horror. To defile the breed is a crime against the emperor, the Buddha, and a harbinger of certain doom.

“They are yak dogs, highness,” the monk says. With head still bowed he sees the feet of the guards approach the throne. “Highness, the yak has true Buddha-nature and is the persevering friend of man.”

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The Shi Tzu — Yak Smoking Gun

Eunuchs and guards stand immobile but their eyes bounce wildly, seeking attestation from one another. Within the context of another religion, such talk would be deemed blasphemous.

“And the lion?” says the emperor. The creases across his forehead bode ill for all three visitors.

“The lion is holy, highness,” the monk says, trying to ignore white sparkles twinkling around the hem of his red robe. They subside with deep breaths. “But he spends his days in indolence, sleeping and fornicating. He is not the friend of man; he eats man. The yak spends his life humbly lessening backbreaking toil. And like the Buddha, the yak causes no sentient being to suffer. The lion, despite his holiness, inflicts terrible suffering on sentient creatures every day of his life.”

“How is it I have never heard this teaching?” says the emperor.

“Highness, teachings are so many that a thousand monks in a thousand years could not learn them all.”

One of the little yaks pees on the emperor’s foot. The monk closes his eyes. He opens them at the sound of gasps. The emperor is on his knees, delicately petting the puppies. “Go, wise monk, bring me more yak dogs.”

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In Search of Proust’s Basset Hound

Why is Maestoso The Dachshund Following You?

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