Tom is dead. There can be no doubt of that, for I killed him. And while the particulars of his manifest death are not at issue, permit it to suffice to say there is little doubt in my great, all encompassing cephalic sack that his body was marred beyond the scope of re-constitution. With mine own tentacles was the death warrant signed, the death made material, and the corpse made immaterial. And nothing that the denticled suckers of my manipulator-tips touch can be but exact. Very much dead, I might guarantee:
Tom is dead.
Dead as a door-nail.
"Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of [your] ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed [manipulators] shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that [Tom] was as dead as a door-nail."
Disregarding last weeks column, I shall endeavor to continue under that conviction. But I must say, dear Betty, I . . .
It was this very past week that Sang came to me in a private meeting, while the new Chimp scurried on with his cleaning, and his lazing, and his occasional sleeping whilst standing upright which so intrigues me.
"Sir. Glorious, be-tentacled sir," Sang started, "As you were most unfortunately ill last Yuletide, I am dubious that you've observed the fine American tradition of offering a paid vacation during the day directly preceding the Nativity Celebration itself. As such, I'm honored to inform you of this fine, generous habit, and thus serve to issue notice that both myself and my fine assistant Rob shall be absent that day of Christmas Eve, as well as the Christmas Day itself."
"Sang," I spoke, shaking my great and terribly capital, "why is it that I have mastered the grunt-speak brief, and you must wander both fore and aft with even the most basic of requests. What is your demand?"
"Simply put, great and venerable squid, I shall be absent this 24th and 25th of December. As shall Rob."
"And you are worshipers Christian, of the Enfant Terrible?"
"Ah . . . not precisely. I myself am Buddhist, and believe that my distinguished assistant is . . . Rob?"
"Wha . . .? Naw, I'm Jewish, dude."
"Jewish?" Sang asked, agog.
"Naw, I'm fucking with ya. Psyche!" He displayed his hands upright to Sang, the fingers splayed in an unusual configuration even for the basic meat-paws of a man.
"My understanding, then," I replied, "is that the two of you require two days of paid non-work in order to observe a holiday sacred to a religion you do not follow, commemorating the birth of a Messiah you do not honor?"
"Well, you see, here on earth, everyone gets off Christmas. It's, like, a fucking law, basically. It's just the way it goes. Even Suveer's got it off, and his manager didn't even let him off early all Ramadan. That guy's a fucking prick."
"Is this some type of joke?"
"No," said monkey one.
"No," said monkey two.
"Agreed. No. There shall be no pay in exchange for non-work. Please be timely on Decembers 24th and 25th."
"But . . ." Sang began.
"But the discussion is at cessation. No further shall this matter be discoursed."
"Man, I don't know what shit is like on Mars—"
"Tremulon Four, Rob."
"—but here on earth, you're a fucking asshole!"
"Do not anger me Rob, or I shall irradiate your genitals with the shrink-o-ray."
And at that I presumed the matter was upon its rest. Until that evening.
Stave 1: Tom's Ghost
As I have explained in previous columns, I do not, as a rule, slumber. Subsequently, although I was indeed in solitude within the darkened laboratory that evening, I was not a-slumber when Tom's Discorporated Energy Print arrived. And, although that arrival was accompanied with but little fan-of-the-fare, it was indeed startling, to look up from a World Wide Webbed archive of human anatomical images and see, standing before my tank's southerly window, a monochromatic, semi-transparent Tom, wrapped head to foot in heavy-seeming, though ominously clankless, chains.
"It is true, then" I found myself to mutter, "that your quixotic monkey god does both exist and indeed takes greatest offense at the abuse of masturbation!"
"What? Christ, no. Don't tell people that. Don't tell people I'm in Jerk-Off Hell. "
"Indeed, indeed. There is no cause,a priori, to presume that your preternatural appearance here indicates the actual existence of any greater deity, as you understand it. Is there, Tom, is there a God-type who sends you here and now?"
"I . . . it's weird, 'cause I don't . . . Just . . . SHIT!, Fuck! Shut Up! I've come to help you, numbnutts. Don't antagonize me."
"Noted, Tom. But before we begin, I would like to confirm that I do not precisely know that I regret having killed you, nor consuming much of your corpse."
"Jesus, terrific. Listen—"
"And a question: I note your chains, apart from being chains, also include lock-boxes and safes and money-holding bags with large, almost comical, dollar signs inscribed upon their surfaces. This is somewhat cryptic. My understanding of the symbolism of these as that the chains in question likely represent those mundane things which bind you back to the earth, and yet I do not recall you being particularly avaricious nor pecunious nor impecunious. Your thoughts upon this are . . . ?" I swirled a tentacle in the water, drawing him out in the manner I have many times witnessed of Sang when he speaks to the Rob-Beast.
"Yeah, I know. It doesn't make much sense," he took up in his hands long lengths of his bonds, examining them, "I was a lab tech, so maybe, like, ethernet cables and ISDN ribbons would make more sense. Of course, I wasn't really any good at that—"
"The place I worked before I worked for you, I did data entry there, and was promoted three times. So, like, a bunch of keyboards might make sense. But, you know, I never really gave a shit about that job, either."
"Additionally, although your irons are heavy in appearance, they make little sound. Details?"
"Hunh?", he grunted, dropping the chains, "Oh, yeah. They're plastic. And look at this," he easily lifted the largest of his safes, spun the dial and swung open the light, injected-molding door. Vast numbers of golden coins spilled forth. "See these?" he lifted one, held it close unto my tank's glass, then broke it twixt fingers and thumb, and peeled back its glittering exo-skeleton, revealing . . . "Chocolate." Tom supplied, slipping it into his mouth. "There those gold coins, that gelt, that Jewish people give each other on, like, Chanukah. All that glitters ain't gold," Tom aphorized, noshing upon his second, third and fourth pieces of Judengild.
"All that glitters is possessed of a high index of refraction."
"Yeah. This whole thing smacks of a really low-rent Christmas Carol. I swear to God, there was a Diff'rent Strokes episode just like this that I saw when I was a kid. At any rate, listen: I'm supposed to tell you that three ghosts are gonna come and tell you the score, OK? The first one will be here in—," Tom looked at his wrist, "I don't have a watch. What time is it?"
"Two-thousand, eight-hundred and thirty-three seconds past eleven of the clock."
"You are such a prick. The first ghost—"
"But, ordinally speaking, would you not be the first ghost?"
"Jesus! OK, the first ghost that isn't me will be here in, like, fifteen minutes."
And at that he spun, sweeping his plastichains up and throwing them over his shoulder, and swept out the main laboratory doors, looking much like a male, semi-transparent Scarlett O'Hara.
Stave 2: The First Ghost Which is Not Tom
I must confess that after thirty minutes I began to doubt that I had seen anything at all. First I examined the internal laboratory video archives which, as I suspected, revealed no thing which stood out from the ordinary actions of the day. There were the security beasts in the basement playing with their card boarded image signifiers, the late night escapades of a certain Chrysler executive and his subordinated female, and, of course, the kennel and its incessant howling. Convinced of the solitude afforded me by this magnificent Mid-Western pinnacle, I began to search, in vain, for intruders electronique who might have in some way infiltrated my own private subnet. Lacking evidence there, finally, I felt deep into my digestive track so that I might be certain that no undigested hunk of flesh yet remained, either of the long ago consumed Tom, or of some more recent meal: a doberman, in my experience, is occasionally known to "repeat" if it is not sufficiently cowed before devouring. The doberman, if still full of certain poly-peptides that are a base for its courage, has the effect of several mild hallucinogens.
Just as I was confirming the pristine perfection of my own bowels, I felt the flickering tingle of flesh against my own.
I rarely return to the all embracing great deep of the open ocean. And when I do, my return to the safe confines of the lab is pre-ambled by a thorough and complete investigation of my traveling water. Since I invented the laser for that purpose, nothing larger than an amoebae has passed from the outersphere to this, my most sancta of sanctora. So when I say that I felt, flickering between my tentacles and across the great expanse of my cephalic sack, a certain carnadine sensation, I cannot overexaggerate the concern this engendered in me.
For a micro-second I was at a loss. It had been many months, years even, since I had addressed another cohabitant of the pressured deep. My first instinct, and I am pained to admit it, was to "speak." The squelch let loose through the speaker system caused two of the more sensitive Scotch Russell Terriers to bleed out through their pert and expressive little ears.
Then, in the gloom, suddenly there appeared another eye hovering opposite my own, whose size and perfection cannot be overestimated. Glowing pale and perfect was the most terrible deep sea eel I had ever beheld. Polychromatic fear flickered up and down my mantle, and that message was easily replied to by the gesticulating loops of the eel's own slender spine. He glared at me with a deep and unending agelessness, and then he quickly looped away, slithering to the bottom of my tank.
My eye followed his flickering, sleek and slender form as it passed on through the floor into nothing. After a few moments, the head of the creature re-appeared and beckoned for me to follow. I did, and the floor which had been constructed of the heaviest gauged steel yet forged on this earth, gave way to my jet forward motion as easily as the heavy waving kelp of the sea south of Honshu.
We passed through the floors of the building, passing Jenkins and his secretary mid-coitus, on through the kennel where I witnessed the death of a prize winning Pembrokee Welsh Corgi that I had ordered from Mrs. Nancy Buckland of Parma, Michigan. Its heart froze up as I passed through it, my form as ethereal in some sense as fog, but apparently as corporeal as death come soon. Down and down and down we went, through the mainframes, the garage, the poker table where plastic tokens were scattered and the guards shivered as we passed. Into the underbelly we went, through the bedrock and on down faster and faster and faster, until we were swimming in the upper mantle, the inner mantle, the hot iron core as large as the moon, and on and on like beams of light until high up in the Pacific afternoon we floated, wisps of clouds before the beating and magnificent sun.
It was a great expanse of marvelous blue ocean that we looked down upon. I clicked my beak in joy, my mantle a satisfied pink.
"Ha ha!" I hummed in my mind, extending my thoughts out still as words, and it was as though the spirit-eel heard me, for he turned and nodded at my mind-talk. "This be the sea-scape of my spawning, little water-worm!"
Like unto thin paper crisps, or the leaves of some autumnal tree, we drifted downward through the glowing air into the sea.
There, in a great and black trench upon the floor of the sea, I witnessed my own microscopic form pulling free of one of the millions of fertilized eggs of my massive and terrible matriarch as she jetted away so quickly and with little care. There I was, so small that even a monkeymanchild could crush me with the tinniest of the digits of its sickly little hand, and I had been cruelly and completely abandoned in the black and icy waters of the deep.
"Ah . . . dear spirit-eel, you do not know what nostalgic pleasure this causes me," I said, twirling my tentacles up into a sigh-full knot.
With his electric nose the eel pointed strongly to my youthful form as I and my dear brother swam together and escaped many dangers. We darted playfully through the nematocysts of certain floating jellies which ate so many of our siblings in one sweep that it was onto a complete genocide in human terms. On occasion, even, we would take in groups of our more idiotic siblings as though to play, and then push them one by one into the sticky maws of the individual nematocysts on the poisonous jelly-colony. My brother and flickered many gleeful colors at the slaughter, and as we grew older we grew also crueler and more joyous.
When but a pair of squidlings hiding amongst the muck of the bottom, we would fly out suddenly at the glowing anglerfish, our tentacles open and swirling, giving the appearance of a much larger creature, causing the anglerfish to get his long arching bait caught upon his tale so that he was forced to swim in terror for several minutes in an effort to untangle himself. Frequently, the poor anglerfish who suffered the butt of such a ruse was quickly devoured, and we laughed our colorful laughs as we slunk away into certain secret caverns.
In our adolescence we teamed efforts for the purpose of our first mating. It was an epic, heroic quest, as we sought the aging and fearful female as she lurked in her whale-proof shelter beneath a great outcropping of volcanic glass. My brother was the first to distract her, punching at her eyes with his tentacles and covering her in ink while I surreptitiously slunk between her pincing and deadly beak points to find the sub-cutaneous egg packets that I might fertilize. My dear brother lost the tip of one hunting tentacle in the endeavor, but he so softened her with his violent woo that, when it was turn to distract her, she was so sluggish and disoriented that he was able to spend twice as long between the swirls of her massive and muscled tentacles.
These and many other joys the eel-ghost showed me in the deep.
"Ah, youth is indeed worth considering," I sighed.
And it was at that moment that the eel-beast revealed my saddest memory. It was of me, drunk and sluggish in the embrace of deep sea worm-whores, unable to move, secretly unwilling, as two great and monstrous sperm whales drove down from the hated upspace. They crushed my brother's right eye, its perfect convexity distorted when the cornea burst under the pressure of one fast jab. There was a cloud of blood and ink for a brief moment, and then, as I lazed against the sulfurous rocks, I witnessed his limp corpse drifting upward, torn in two and held gloriously in the bloody maws of the two striking whales. They returned to their pod and I cursed them without, and I cursed myself even more within.
The spirit eel shook his head at me and faded away. All was dark and I felt a great purple pain of melancholy gripping my flesh.
Stave 3: The Second Ghost Which is Not Tom
I awoke in a sweat. It was terrible. I never sleep and I do not even know what sweat is. It was one ante-meridian, exactly one hour since the forewarned ghost was to have appeared.
As last weeks missive reminds us all, dreams are not common to one such as I, but I at that moment was forced to reexamine my own understanding of Architeuthic Psychology. Perchance the dreamtime comes suddenly and late in life, immediately before death, and that is why no one has talked of it before. By the time they realize they are dreaming and sleeping, they have died and become food for the cursed scavenger whales.
Or, perhaps, this was yet another trick of the Oxygen and Nitrogen mix in my tank. A cruel Sang initiated, Rob assisted prank to punish me for my denial of their infantile Holy Day! I raged, swearing to loose a thousand crabs terrible upon the City Dee Troyt!
Then, suddenly, before me in the tank, silhouetted by the glowing screens on the far side of the lab, was the corpulent corpse of a great monkey man in a sodden green cloak. There was plant detritus in his beard and his hair, and the jowls of his face hung loose like the slippery fatty fascia of an ill-fed bulldog.
The deceased flesh bag hung in the water, his puffy fingers popped like overcooked hotdogs, destroyed by the extreme pressure of the water, the blood itself pressed into a tight gel which dangled down in long loops. His eyes were imploded, his tongue crushed and deformed. The gold sash which held his robe together strained against the pressure of his belly.
I nudged the belly with one tentacle and out poured long looping coils of stuffed and twisted intestines.
The monkey man looked as though he had once been a jovial and free spirited fellow. There was the faintest remnant of a smile on his twisted, crushed face, but that could very easily have been caused by the sudden death by crushing that he experienced.
His hair and beard had been snowy white, though now covered in blood-pustules and slick fat that had squeezed from the cheeks.
The corpse and I floated for a full hour, until two ante-meridian, and he faded from the water, his taste even gone from the tank.
Stave 4: The Third Ghost Which is Not Tom
As the second hour of the morning drifted on, I ruminated on the nature of these events.
If the first ghost was to show me the past, then I suppose the second must have represented some sort of present. The past is memory and regret. The present, therefore, should be carnality and the immediate joys of the moment. I suppose it should have been a feast of dogs for me, but the messenger, who was himself of flesh and blood, was not able to direct me . . . human spiritual metaphors do not translate well to the life of a squid. But then, why send me a sea creature first, and a tired nineteenth century roustabout second?
"Tom!" I barked through the speakers.
Suddenly there appeared in the water holly, mistletoe, turkey which had been broasted, swirling clouds of mashed tubers, gravy like oil slicks, red berries, ivy, fried geese, game, poultry, prawns, meat, pigs split and battered up, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch and thin, swirling and translucent wine.
"God fucking dammit!" Tom cursed, floating in the air above Sang's workstation. He turned behind himself and yelled at the wall, "Can someone clean that fucking shit up!"
He turned back and crossed his arms, tapping a toe down on the insubstantial flooring that he seemed to be standing on, though it was invisible. He was like a great, monochromatic mime.
After a few moments, the floating foodstuff faded and flickered away like a television image drifting off when the power has been cut.
"You know, I spent all goddamn month writing and researching and writing some more on the stupid mother fucking Ghost of Christmas Past," Tom scowled and then put his head in his hands. I could still see his face through his hands, and he saw that I was watching him and he threw his faded and translucent hands down to his sides in disgust.
"You know something? Dead or alive, collaborative projects always go fucking haywire. I say, let's teach the squid a fucking lesson. I say, he fucking killed me when I was at my happiest and that is just too fucking much. I was all like, come on dead people! Let's do something good for the screwed up living assholes we used to know! Let's warn them that life is, like, precious and shit."
Tom fell down onto the invisible floor and sat there in the air, his ghostly legs dangling low, almost touching the actual floor. He pulled a ghostly cigarette out of his transparent shirt pocket and lit it up with a blue flame that flashed up from his thumb.
He dragged and dragged on the cigarette, but avoided my eye the whole time. It was difficult for him to completely avoid my eye, however, because my eye massive, and his eye could look askance through the transparent side of his head even when he was turned away. He kept glancing at me while smoke pooled in his lungs.
I drifted into the far corner of the tank, trying to take in the large lab in its entirety, eyeing this way and that. I must confess a certain trepidation at the possibility that a third ghost, or the corpse of a third ghost, might at any moment appear.
"Tom," I hissed.
"I am not talking to a fucking soul!" He gestured around the room to creatures I could not see with the blue tip of his cigarette. Then he laughed a little to himself.
"Tom! There was the spirit creature of the past, the pustulent and fat carnal present-ghost, and you promised a third ghost which I must assume is the future. If past is regret and nostalgia, and present is flesh and food and living, then future most assuredly is death. Is it death that awaits me, Tom? Is that your warning? That someday I shall die?"
Tom looked down at his ghost shoes and flicked a bit of ghost dust off his ghost shirt.
"Yes," he sighed, flicking the cigarette across the lab. When it was halfway across the lab it faded and was gone.
"Tom," I said soothingly and with much care, "I already knew that."
Tom shed his chains and grew suddenly and with great force into the towering visage of death himself. His cloak was a as black as the deepest sea trench, and swirling in the air about his person where great and terrible skeletons of sperm whales and sharks and unnamable beasts of the mind. In a booming and powerful voice which shook the whole building he shouted: "BUT DO YOU KNOW THE FULL SCOPE AND TERROR OF DEATH WHICH AWAITS YOU? CAN YOU CONCEIVE OF THE UNTOLD ENDLESS MILLENNIA OF ANGUISH AND TORMENT WHICH RESTS JUST BEYOND THE VALE OF SLEEP? ARE COGNIZANT OF THE COMPLETE AND TOTAL NOTHINGNESS OF HORROR?"
I shook out my tentacles in the face of it.
"Yes," I said to Tom. "And it is not so bad as you make it out to be. I have been dead several times in my long and unending life. What is far worse is this cursed upspace that you call the human sphere."
Tom withered back to his old, familiar ghost-form and scowled at me. "You suck," he said, and whisked away through the wall and was gone.
Stave 5: The Unhappy Morning
Ah, dear Betty. Elizabetha! I felt that morning that I should have been free of concern. I had always felt quite spry after trouncing Tom and his simple schemes. It had been a joyous time, when he was with me. He would attempt some petty offense and I would crush his soul so that it was a wonder to me that he did not take his own life in despair. So, you can see, after doing so again, reaching beyond the grave as it were, and trouncing his undead soul, I imagined that the next morning I should feel full enough of energy that I could eat ten thousand puppies and not equal the satisfaction.
But, strangely, there was no joy at all in the act.
No, that morning last was devoid of any energy at all. I felt sluggish and tight about the eyes. Sleep, which comes so rarely, had not treated me in any way well.
It is very strange, but as I was stretching my tentacles and finally pulling free of the tendrilled grip of the somnambulic night, I felt for a moment odd as a vision crept up on my mind. I was Tom again, as in the dream of some nights passed, and I was locked in an embrace with dear Lisa . . . dear, dear Lisa. The river was rushing about us, and the air smelled heavily of lilacs and night coolness. Her face was as soft as tissue under my fingers, and her body emanated a perfect and all embracing warmth.
Have you made the right choice? Betty, I ask you truly, have I?
The Giant Squid
Post-Scriptorum To Sang and Rob who are reading this: I still expect you to work promptly and with a smile on Decembers 24th and 25th.
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