|[Editors Note: You have landed amidst the wreckage of the American Dream. It's a novel called Big American. |
How did this start?The squid is on the road, people. Keep up. Want to catch up with past chapters? Check out the Archive.
Want to know what happens next? Read on!]
To this end, and also in the interest of pursuing the Squid's research request on the engineering history of Louisianans, I have secured the services of several independent urban design consulting firms. All agreed upon several key points, which I have quoted below, excerpted from a letter sent by Mathew Carmichal, a civil engineer of McKenna Assocaites, Ltd:
The structures, vaults, tunnels, caverns and "catacombs" described by your friend and associate are, no doubt, entirely fanciful. Not only is there no evidence, current or historical, supporting the existence of any such features, but it is in no way physically possible for there to be any subterranean structures in or around the New Orleans Metropolitan area, owing to the very high water table of maritime Louisiana. In point of fact, New Orleans is the only major American city that lies almost entirely below sea level; on average, any given point within the city limits is somewhere between 4 and 6 feet below sea level.
Of course, such an inhospitable environment invites— almost goads— human ingenuity. The obvious health and aesthetic ramifications of such terrain were first effectively addressed by A. Baldwin Wood in the late 1800s. Wood, a young assistant city engineer, designed and implemented an extensive system of axial flow machines (large screw pumps, to the layman) that syphoned off water and significantly accelerated drainage. Wood continued to perfect his pump— a fairly quixotic battle against a sea which more-or-less insists on swallowing the Big Easy— and subsequently, by around 1920 the Wood screw pump was the most advanced drainage pump in the world, ultimately deployed throughout the Netherlands, Egypt, China, and India.
Wood's significant accomplishment aside, I can say quite assuredly that no man has, nor could, ever build and sustain any structure beneath the streets of New Orleans. It is simply impossible.
That matter put safely to bed, I regret to inform the readership that Thomas has neglected to send me any media this week. Fortunately, the onboard telemetry installed in the Escalade not only permits me to check tank pressure, salinity, gas milleage, oil pressure and etc., but also alows for the remote activation of the microphones in the car's interior and the camera hidden in Thomas' glasses.
Does it work well? No.
But does it work? Yes. I echo our benefactor of many arms when I say it is not Thomas alone who might place a work order with Devo the Mechanic.
Unfortunately, it appears that Thomas had taken to carrying his own microphone, for audio-capture away from the Escalade. As this microphone is outside our network, I am most aggrieved to find I cannot activate it. This, unfortunately, renders our latest dispatch cryptic, even to me.
LISA: " . . . so I said, "what the hell was so mysterious about that place!" and Tom turned to me, and said . . . he said . . . Christ, where the hell has he gone?"Video from Thomas' Glasses: The sky is silent and deep for a while. We see trees close overhead, stars occassionally, and the long arm of the creature dragging Thomas down the street. The cuff of the thing's tuxedo is frayed and dirty. The edge is blotted with rusty splotches. The button has been pulled away leaving two yellowed tendrils of string.
LISA: (the sound of skin scrambling over seat-leather) Tom!? Yeah, Justin, are you still there... hello? Justin? Shit, don't hang up on me. I just lost Tom... (there is a click sound, and then the woosh of windows automatically sliding down) Dammit, don't you dare laugh, Justin. I... Yes, he was just right here on that... That Bench. Right over there. I just saw him. I'm tired of your... I'm hanging up. Justin? Yeah? I'm hanging— Yes, they are both— well, screw you too. I'm going to call— I'm hanging—
(The sound of a small, heavy object hitting the dashboard)
LISA: (quietly) Prick.
SQUID: Thomas, take a memo: The Caverns of New Orleans are to be researched thoroughly upon our return to the lab. Many of these tunnels are full of fluid... perhaps water... and they seem to spoke out from this larger chamber in all directions, like... they are travelling away in all directions. At all angles. They do not radiate upon a single plain, but rather as if from a hemisphere. They all head out or down at some angle. The Dome seems... very interesting.
Video from Thomas' Glasses: The antechamber of a large, magnificent Victorian home. The wood has grayed with age, the mirror on the far side has spiderwebbed with cracks, and the silver backing has tarnished around the edges where the air gets in causing the image to be speckled all about in gray. The Creature and Thomas stand before the mirror. The thing tilts top one side, holding Thomas up by his collar like a kitten. Thomas stares, eyes heavy lidded. His cheeks are pale and he carries the glazed expression of a thoroughly beaten individual. The Creature's face is scarred and green... a golem of a man. The tuxedo shirt of the Creature is torn and the tight knots of surgical sutures form a Y across his chest that dissappears down his sternum beneath the yellow stained fabric.
The Creature struggles to pull one corner of its lip up into a sneer. It nods.
The mirror melts away, Thomas' image pooling and pulling down. I did not think his look of crushed horror could in any way intensify.
I was wrong.
LISA: Mr. Brando? Please. I know that you can hear me. This intercom seems to be working fine. I can hear you. Please. Mr. Brando?
SQUID: Oh My. The human flesh cadavers are not just ambling through this sluiceway. They are being drawn clearly and directly down a set of three of the lower, down-angled tunnels. What country do you live in, my dear Monkey Man? That you seem to be robbing your own body-storage yard?
Video from Thomas' Glasses: It is a huge and multileveled room. There are four balconies the rise up from where Thomas stands. he must be standing on his own know, because he turns on his own. As he turns we can see that the ceiling is far up in a cloud of smoke and that the balconies surround the room. They are like the balconies of a saloon in an old Western, or the balcony seating of an Elizabethan theater. But the room goes higher than either a saloon or a theater. I count the four balconies, but there seem to be lights that stretch up even higher beyond into the smoky clouds of the vaulted ceiling.
In the middle of the room a stage rises up. It is in the round, and about it's footlights lurk a crowd of every imaginable character.
Some cluster at tables, others dance, or copulate naked on the floor. The women wear costumes from all sorts of time periods. And the flesh ranges from the most healthy looking pink or chocolate, to the most turgid and sickly gray or black. Not the supple black of a dark Carribean night, but the stiff and terrible black of a long dead and frostbitten toe.
Amongst the smokey shadows of the balconies there are men racing about and shaking their heads. Some wear the high throated shirts common amongst undertakers of the last century, others are stripped down to the simple t-shirt and jeans of a casual thug. More still roam partially clothed, having partially shed the appearance of accountants, and school teachers and auto salelsmen.
The silence is most eerie, for I can see that almost all of the figures yell out often, or at least seem to, their teeth bared, their lips pulled wide, their throats taut and cabled.
LISA: Marlon! Stop talking. I Don't know where you are. I don't believe where you are. I don't care where you are. Thomas is missing. This is an emergency and I need your cooperation.
SQUID: Glyphs of an unfamiliar script encircle the entrance to those tunnels where... What? Ms. Montgommery. Please, to repeat the last transmission.
LISA: THOMAS is GONE
SQUID: Where? Gone?
LISA: That's just it.
SQUID: I will make some inquiries.
LISA: You don't know anyone in— (Static) — Marlon?
Video from Thomas' Glasses: Descending from the ceiling on tendrils of smoke, a white man in his middle years waves away the rutting couples that drape the stage. Three young nymphs, each missing some section of their flesh, skip across the stage to push the more persistent or more obviously and completely dead lovers. They reach up into the air and help as the man comes to rest upon the stage. One of the women, her arm up, is missing a rib. It's only obvious because she is also missing the flesh which would normally cover that rib. A mouse pokes his nose out from under her breast. He considers the air, looks at the man as he comes to rest, and thinks better of the move, instead vanishing back into the chest cavity of the stage girl.
The older man has the severe, slicked back and gray hair of a banker. A banker or a lawyer who has been in business his entire life. He tolerates the cooing clustering of the three women as a prince amonst his servants.
LISA: (Clicking fingernails) This is the worst job ever.
Video from Thomas' Glasses: The aging man, draped in the finest suit I have ever seen, paces across the stage, back and forth, for many minutes. His arms gesticulate and it is clear from his expression that a certain glee has taken over. He is pleased with the grandeur of his own words. A pity that we can't hear them.
As he talks more and more, the dead-sex retreats farther and farther away into the shadows of the vaulted room. Women dressed as devils are doing a chorus line on the third balcony and Thomas' eyes drift up and away from the man. His head begins to bob along with the kicks and turns of the women, who are not dressed as devils at all. Their skin is red, and the horns lick with playful fire. Their breasts are monstrous and sheathed in blue light.
Suddenly the man towers over Thomas. He has jumped down and has Thomas gripped by the chin. Thomas struggles under the grip, but the man only leans in closer. His pupils dialate, then the black of the holes becomes fluid and the entire surface of each eye flattens to a beetle-black.
The man's lips move slowly and minutely. He is whispering? His mouth is only a black hole with no interior or depth. His skin begins to drain of color as he talks more quickly. His lips come closer and closer, the flesh deepening in color to a rich red as the cheeks become papery white.
LISA: (Clicking fingernails) Yeah. Hi. Justin? Yeah— I, listen, can you get a hold of some people you know at the— Yeah. Those guys. Right. FBI. Thanks. No, really... I—- what? Dinner? I— (quietly) alright. Fine. One dinner. Yeah. You'll call them right away. Not tomorrow, understand. Right now. Yeah. (beep sound). Prick.
Video from Thomas' Glasses: Thomas is no onw the street. The video doesn't cut out or go staticky. I have watched as many times as I care to. Everytime there is a... a moment when the lips of the man come very close to the camera lens... and then Thomas is on the street. I have gone through the video frame by frame. I can't pick out the moment where the transition happens. I'll have some people analyze the video with better tools than I have here, but the long and the short of it is that the sun is almost rising and Thomas is laying in the street on his back.
A black man helps Thomas up as the sun fills the air with an easy green glow.
It is the elderly black man that hit Thomas. His hair is thick and serpentine.
He has a chicken foot around his neck. He holds his hand up to his mouth so that the fingers all point out from the mouth. He flutters them around like... like... tentacles. He brings his hand back down and smiles broadly, calmly.
The camera shakes. Thomas must be shaking his head.
The two stumble through the city to find Lisa asleep in the Escalade.
THOMAS: "THOSE FUCKERS! THOSE FUCKING FUCKERS!!! THEY EXPLAINED EVERYTHING— EVERYTHING!!!— AND I COULDN'T HEAR WORD-FUCKING-ONE!!!!"
LISA: (voice quavering) "Tom, Tom, you're shouting. Please, please stop."
THOMAS: "IT WAS— SHIT, sorry. I must be screaming. Right? Nod if I'm right . . . Yeah, Ok. But it was just like a James Bond movie: they took me to the hideout, and the super-villain told me the whole plan but I COULDN'T HEAR SHIT! WHY WHY WHY IS THE WHOLE WORLD FUCKING WITH ME!!!"
LISA: "Tom, that makes no sense: In the Bond films, they always tell him the plan just before they kill him, and then he makes a daring, improbable escape. You didn't escape; they let you go. And who let you go? Where were you?"
THOMAS: "LISA, I CAN— sorry, I can't hear anything. Write it down, writeitdown writeitdown"
(sound of pencil scrabbling desperately across paper, followed by a fundamentally limp description of the wonders witnessed by eyes of Thomas.)
In closing, perhaps this bears no mentioning, but I cannot help but note that deep within the folds of yesterday's New Orleans Times-Picayune, the "Police Blotter" made mention of several highly agitated derelicts, apprehended within the famed super-terranian cemeteries of that meretricious burg, insisting that they had seen a giant, ambulatory steel crab melt into the corpse-rich soil and disappear without a trace. Held under New Orleans' strict public-drunkenness laws, they still await a hearing.
But, in all likelihood, this is but a meaningless tidbit, a morsel of America offered to your palette, picante, but much less than fortifying.
Good night, sweetest America.
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