As you might recall, things had taken a dire turn: In an only quasi-witting attempt to betray me, Rob had played us into the hands of a sinister man with a megaphone and a phalanx of Detroit Police Officers in full tactical battle gear. Rob had fallen into a seething kettle lake infested with enraged killer whales, at the center of which lay the last undisturbed burial mound of the pre-Indian Cahokia peoples. Although I did not mention it at the time, we had visited a combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bell for to have our noon repast, and this had left me guts somewhat distressed.
Indigestion notwithstanding, selflessly, foolishly, I slipped into the black, deep waters of the lake, searching for Rob as he sank, sank, sank. The forms of the whales circled, dimly perceived, in the horror of the water.
It was disconcerting to be in pressurized water, within a steel and chrome velocitating suit, which was then again submerged in light, freshwater. It was both exhilarating and deadening—like wearing a condom while showering within a submarine being used as an ersatz phallus by a cyclopean female of unthinkable girth—but I dared not risk losing the suit even for the pleasures of swimming in this frothy half-water of the deep, glacial lake.
Instead I simply appointed each of my two optically perfect eyes to the task of search out Rob's decidedly un-seaworthy form.
No sooner had I affixed him one gaze than I saw him rising vertiginously through the gloomy black water. And it was only seconds later that I realized he was not flying upward on a plume of rocket power, but instead was bent backward, ragdollesque, over the bulbous nose of one of the angry Orcae. The whale was breaking him up like some delinquent porpoise being abused by vagabond dolphins.
The rictus of pain which seized Rob's frail chimp visage was one of the few sights captured by optically perfect eye which had ever evinced in me a shudder of sympathetic pain.
I too have felt the breaking force of a whale pummeling me from below, I said to myself. And in that instant, perhaps for the first time in my entire life, I felt empathy for a human, even for one even so dear to me as this, my pet fool (let us be frank in our final moments, shall we).
And that empathy whipped in me such a fury as has not been seen in the oceans since I fought briefly with that dread pirate Jack the Logician, who—no matter. In any event, there was some small amount of fury on my part, and it was evinced by a human, and this should show to you that at this moment I felt some manner of real and meaningful affection for Rob. I have learned that this is an efficacious way to wind up a tale.
And wind up I did, drawing back a steel-shelled hunting arm, shooting it forward, piercing the whale clean through the belly, and in the wild sweep of the blow, bringing the tip of arm across the face of the whale's brother, thus excising his eye quite cleanly.
And so, after shaking off the corpse of one whale, staring down the one-eyed survivor, and cradling Rob's weak body, I drew he and I up to the shore of the mound-cum-island.
We lay for a moment in the sun, Rob coughing and hacking, ejecting long stringers of mucus and lake water. He gasped raggedly afore rolling over to look up into the clear, blue sky.
"MY, MY, MY," I faux mused, my triphammer triple hearts just barely starting to slow from their thunderous tachycardia of blood lust and panic, "OF ALL THE NEWLY DISCOVERED MOUNDS IN ALL THE TINY LAKES IN ALL THE WORLD, TO THINK THAT A TACTICAL ASSAULT TEAM WOULD BE WAITING TO AMBUSH US AT THIS ONE—TRULY, THE MIND BOGGLES."
Rob had sat up, and now wrapped his arms about his knees and gazed out across the waters, to the far shore from which we had come, where the men were just now inserting their Zodiac raft into the dark waters. "You remember that email you got a couple weeks back from Ralf Nissan about buying your entrails?"
"YES," I answered flatly; it was difficult not to prognosticate the general arc of descent that this line of dialogue would follow.
"Well, I'm pretty sure that I basically sorta accidentally on purpose helped Molly help the former emergency financial manager of Detroit Public Schools sell you to him."
The rubber raft pushed off, and began puttering across the lake.
"THAT . . . IS UNPLEASANT TO LEARN."
"On the up-side," Rob offered, sagging his head and digging his heel into the dirt, "they won't have to cut band now, or drama. Or art. Or librarians."
"THAT IS, IN FACT, COLD COMFORT, ROB."
Rob did not look up when I spoke. "Like, you've got pretty good street value, I guess. Like, sentient advice-writing American alien squidmonster is sort of a delicacy with the crazy Elvis-hair Yakuza crime-bosses and shit." It was clear Rob was on the verge of tears, and helpless to slow, let alone stop, the pitiful outpouring of words from his jabbering, weak-toothed monkey mouth, "I think maybe you'll ultimately get served off of, like, a naked virgin's belly, so that's almost kind of like a, you know, a viking funeral. Right?"
He sniffled heartily, wiping his nose with his palm. The Kevlar-vested and helmeted Detroit policemen were just nearing halfway across the lake when one of the killer whales rose in an arcing, magnificent breaching, and smashed down upon them, scattering the men like dandy-lion's fluff. The rubber raft, unmanned, shot up in a long, flipping arc, and landed a dozen feet away, blissfully unable to witness the waters boil bloody as the screaming, heavily armed men were dragged down and torn asunder. Rob cheered at this, cupping his hands to his mouth:
"FUCK YOU, ROB BOBB! LOOKS LIKE WE HAVE A FUCKING STAND OFF!"
I looked upon Rob like he had the madness, and Mr. Bobb seemed likewise perplexed. The tiny figure on the shore brought his megaphone to his lips.
"I CAN'T REALLY HEAR YOU THAT WELL," he said.
"I SAID," Rob began, but I bid him pause.
"ROB, YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BELIEVE WE ARE IN A STAND-OFF; HE IS ON THE SHORE WITH BACKUP EN ROUTE"—as if upon the stage manager's cue, sirens wailed in the distance, "WHILE WE ARE UPON A TINY ISLAND WITH NO FOOD OR SHELTER."
"I'm buying us time!" Rob hissed.
"ROB, YOU HARDLY NEED WHISPER; HE CLEARLY STRUGGLES TO HEAR EVEN A SHOUTED—"
"What about Plan B?"
"Plan B! Like, you've got enemies on your enemies; Klansmen and Black Panthers would join forces to throw a birthday party for a bunch of Israeli Commandos if it would mean messing with you—you piss off, like, everyone! You've gotta have a supervillain escape plan for shit like this. Shit like this going down had to have fucking occurred to you! What's your Plan B? What's the Exit Strategy?!?"
Rob was growing shrill, and I was shamed to admit that I had always fancied myself quite popular with humanity at large; my escape plan had gotten little consideration over the course of my ample years. And, even more shameful, over the course of the past decade my Escape Strategy had quietly become: I shall call Rob upon his cellular telephone and have him intercede with a truck and guns.
"YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MY ESCAPE PLAN, ROB." I said meekly, dipping my head down slightly so as to indicate my truest sensibilities.
Rob considered this. He looked out over the array of forces set against us. "Man . . ." he began pulling up tufts of grass absently. "Motherfucking . . ." He twisted his head back and forth, pulling up more grass frantically. "Why you gotta say a thing, Lord A.?"
Suddenly Rob sprang to his feet, placing his arms on either side of the glass dome of my velocitator.
"IS THERE A LEAK?" I asked frantically, imagining him pressing his whole body to prevent catastrophic decompression.
sBut all I could hear was Rob blubbering. "You've always been my escape plan, too, man. That's, like, the sweetest shit ever been said to me. Like a motherfucking final line in a goddamn bromantic comedy and shit."
I could hear, above the blubbering, boat motors churning across the lake, sub-machine gun fire slicing into the waters, and then the sounds of the different men as they were broken amidst the teeth of the strange Orcae. But all of this was secondary, as Rob embraced me, and as he wept.
While one of my optically perfect eyes was covered by simpering man-flesh, I could see the area on the turf where Rob had sat with my other eye. He had pulled at the grass again and again in his frustration, and in his final yanks I saw that he had pulled up chunks of sod, and that the sod had come away easily, and the earth beneath was moist and soft.
I shifted my weight and slung him up upon the posterior section of the velocitator, and while Detroit policemen thrashed in what I knew must be a deliciously bloody freshwater slurry, I began to fiercely dig into the mound. Dig I Say! DIG!
And so, we descended into the mound, past layers of stone, past pottery and carved artifacts, past the embracing skeletons of dead Cahokia nobility and their Phoenician concubines of Egyptian extraction, down and down, into the core of the mound, where, as I frantically clawed through the earth, I noticed the quickly crumbling skeletal remains of a creature part feline, part reptilian. This at the center of the mound, surrounded by the most celebrated and sacred of artifacts, the severed fingers of master flutists strung on garlands about the most ornate pottery and baskets.
All of this, though, was sadly destroyed in our escape.
And then there was a crack, and we fell graceless into an open, black, cavity of space.
We hung in the air for what felt like an eternity, so rich the experience that I felt, once again, as though I were locked in the glorious embrace of the water column. And then, we crumpled onto a stone mosaic covering a beautiful, dimly lit platform.
Rob, caked in dirt and decorated with human remains, slid carefully off my back as I cautiously drew up into a crouch. Above us we heard a final team of Detroit Policeman cheer as they finally made landfall, then shout in terror as a remaining whale likely walloped onto the tiny island in a final vain attempt at crushing a deliciously salty public servant.
Rob brushed himself off and walked to the far end of the platform. The stonework was intricate, without mortar, the joinery so perfectly fit that a razor blade could not pry one stone away from another. He ran his hand across the mosaic wall. There were intricate pictograms arranged in spirals of language unseen, unspoken, in thousands of years.
At that same moment we both detected a high pitched screeching, as of metal against metal, and a rumbling, and I saw the dust and Rob's hair get tousled, as though by a rush of wind. We were on a platform, and I saw the platform sat in an alcove that adjoined a tunnel. The wind and the sounds came from the leftern recess of the tunnel, and the dim light carried on a few hundred feet down the curving contour of the rightern end of the tunnel.
Far above, at the apex of our tunnel, tiny heads speckled the perimeter of the bright disk of the sky. "Don't fucking move!" a haggard voice shouted, "We are finding a rope and coming down there and beating the shit out of both of you! We're arresting the stupid fucking pot head, and we're shipping you to fucking Japan, and we're taking a goddamn ten-percent pay cut so poor kids don't have to fucking pay to play varsity basketball!" There were many shouts of ascent, and I silently wished them well in re-crossing the killer whale's lake in an attempt to fetch ropes to aid their descent.
Rob took in a deep, careful breath, leaned out from the platform and looked down the tunnel.
"Smells like . . ."
And then he paused and got on his knees. Down on the floor of the tunnel coming in out of the gloom, passing the platform, and running along into the gloom again, there ran three long rods, perhaps even rails, of a brassy metal. The rails were equidistant, the one in the middle slightly narrower than the two out rails on either side.
Each rail was handbeaten, and over ten feet there were clearly seams were the metal had been fused by some incredible but irregular heat.
"You wanna know my call?" Rob asked, a further gust of wind blowing his hair back, the whining sound approaching even more insistently.
Rob took a finger bone from out of his hair.
"Motherfucking subway. That's my call. A subway in the Midwest."
"BUILT BY WHOM?" I asked.
But Rob had already walked back over to the pictograms, and I could see him tracing different paths demarcated by slightly varying colors of shells affixed to the wall.
"This ain't no People Mover, either," Rob said without looking back over his shoulder at me. "This system looks intense." His finger moved in stranger, erratic patterns, quickly and with some degree of fear. "OK, yeah; this is definitely, like, Sault St. Marie, and this might be in fucking West Virginia here." He stopped, then gasped "Fuck; I think this is Hawaii here," he shifted his finger what seemed scant inches, "That's not possible, is it?"
The whining grew closer, and Rob muttered . . . "Man, Chelsea, Dad . . . I'm even gonna miss those little black kids, you know. Molly . . ." he shook his head, "That shit was just never meant to be." He turned and smiled. "Big changes, Bro!"
And at that moment a great train came screaming to a halt in front of the platform. The cabin in the engine seemed to be filled with an ethereal miasma, but the passenger car was more manageably filled with Aztec braves, Incans in togas carrying briefcases, and large men with the heads of Condors. At the back of the car there slouched Scotsman all in leather with a tri-corn hat. He seemed perpetually slick with seawater, and from his waistcoat I could hear an incessant syncopated rhythm, like the gearing of some transdimensional clock winding neither up nor down, but sideways. Directly across from the open door sat a disarranged African-American man, wild-eyed, mumbling into a somewhat awkward cellular phone.
"IS THAT NOT JARWAUN'S AND TRAEL'S PRODIGAL AND WANDERING UNCLE TERRY?"
"Don't make eye-contact," Rob muttered. Then, without pause, he and I stepped aboard the passenger car and the car lurched forward again, careening down into the mysterious darkness of the perpetual night beneath the rolling fields of Ohio.
Rob placed a hand against my glass down, the whorls of his fingerprints exposed, once again, to the inspection of my optically perfect eye.
"Escape complete," he said with an appropriate amount of subdued relief.
And it seemed, in his voice, that I heard a certain finality, as though we had not just evaded one more in a long list of small and petty inconveniences, but that instead some larger and more final escape had been accomplished, that we had done it together, and that from this moment forward we would be living in a place of perpetual, unfolding, self-creating escape.
Nothing had ever felt more perfect to me.
I Shall Long Remain,
Your Giant Squid
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson