Volume One, Episode Two, Part One: All the Shores Between the Seas
Numbered Transcript by Rikki Simons
1. *** Act One ***
2. I woke up the other day and discovered I was lost at sea.
3. I live on a boat — a lightship — and it’s called The Elephant’s Friend (or Der Freund des Elefanten as it’s inscribed on the hull). It’s red and white and about seventy feet long. It’s a bit like a tugboat with a massively bright lantern fixed to the top of the mast behind the pilot house, right between two radio towers. Lightships act as mobile lighthouses for use in parts of the sea with lots of traffic but no place to build a lighthouse on. But The Elephant’s Friend doesn’t go anywhere or light up anything. It’s always up on jacks, on dry land, surrounded on all four sides by the high walls of a completely enclosed garden courtyard.
4. But that day the courtyard vanished and was replaced by a sea.
5. There shouldn’t have been a sea. There should have been a city — my city, Absinthium Kingdom.
6. Absinthium Kingdom is hidden in the Antarctic, and at first I thought that maybe there had been a terrible flood. Maybe the ice walls that surround the city had finally melted from all the global warming happening in the Modern World. But that didn’t seem right. I’m not a climatologist but I don’t think it works that fast. Besides, the city was protected by a barrier from another universe and everything there was just a protrusion into Earth’s reality from that universe.
7. Many Surrealists go on expeditions to that other universe — called Orphic Arctica — and I’ve heard there’s an ocean there, but I didn’t think this was it either. For one, I was breathing just fine. You have to wear a spacesuit in Orphic Arctica on account of all the alien non-Euclidean structures and the nonlinear events that interfere with your internal organs.
8. I was having no problem breathing as I stood at the bow of The Elephant’s Friend. There were no alien non-Euclidean structures here. Also my organs were still on the inside of my body, which was a relief. (Phew!)
9. Everywhere Dalí and I looked there as only water. The sky was rich azure blue that deepened into purple the higher you went. The water was calm. There were few waves in sight. No clouds.
10. It was just me and my cat, Dalí, alone on some other ocean.
11. And some kind of irritating, repetitive music.
12. Dalí was pricking up his ears, scanning over the bow of the ship, looking disturbed. What was this music? It was melodic and repetitious, like something that used to be played in the elevators they had in the Modern World when I was a child.
13. But it was coming from everywhere over the ocean, from every direction. Oh no. Was I on an elevator planet?
14. I cupped my hands to my mouth and called out over the sea, “Hello? Is someone out there playing music?”
16. I moved back from the bow, feeling tired and hot. I took off my duffle coat and my hat and tossed them into my cabin. The air was a little heavy. It was humid, I realized. Humidity wasn’t something we have in Absinthium Kingdom. I frowned. How did people ride their bicycles in weather like this?
17. That was my first thought.
18. My second thought was: “Oh no.” I actually said this out loud because when I looked straight up I saw what I thought was a rainbow, but was in fact a ring system bisecting the sky, like the kind the planet Saturn has. But this wasn’t Saturn because there were two suns beyond the rings. One was small and yellow but the other was very large and very red, spreading out across the horizon like a heavy-lidded eye.
19. My third thought was that my landlady, Frau Pfeiferbaum was going to be very upset. I lease the The Elephant’s Friend from her at a hundred Sterling a month and it would be February first in about two days.
20. (As usual I was down to my last hundred and fifty Sterling. I’d really like to avoid a late fee if possible.)
21. I suddenly remembered that I had never sailed in all my life, and I had no idea how to navigate a ship or even turn on the engine. Did the engine work? Where was the engine?
22. I really started to worry about the late fee then.
23. I took the spiral stairwell up into the ship’s pilothouse and looked around the baffling array of instruments. There were several glass panel gauges, many circuit switches, a set of dials and a microphone that I was fairly certain was attracted to a radio, and two throttles on pedestals on either side of the wooden steering wheel. There was another set of controls for the main lantern, which also looked inexplicably uninviting.
24. “Why did I live on a boat for nearly ten years if I didn’t know how to work any of it?” I asked myself. “Because it wasn’t supposed to need working,” I reminded myself. I agreed with me.
25. Though the curious, creative person in me found the unknown array of instruments interesting, the herd animal in me thought it best to keep my head down and avoid exploring. Stay with the pack, least you get eaten, I warned myself. I told myself that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that this was an unworkable metaphor.
26. The only time I ever spent in the pilothouse was to read my imported copies of National Geographic. I had a very comfortable hammock behind the wheel, set up right next to a toll painted bookshelf. I looked over the glass covered gages and metal throttle things with bafflement. I stood there shaking my head and said to Dalí, “Well, how do you think this thing works?”
27. Dalí said nothing because he’s a cat.
28. It’s not that I mind clutter and claustrophobic spaces. My own cabin is an organized mess of clay maquettes, easels, paint tubes and reference books, but it’s a clutter I understand, a chaos I’m familiar with. But this pilothouse was too much. It was someone else’s organized chaos.
29. I searched for an operating manual. And after a fruitless hour I began to wonder if I’d ever find anything. My landlady, Frau Pfeiferbaum is a Dreamer or Objects — the kind of Surrealist who wakes up to find the things they dreamt about sitting by their bedside, and The Elephant’s Friend is one of those dreams. Would an old woman with the power to will a seventy foot lightship into existence, complete with engine and ballast and anchor and all the accoutrements of a hand built vessel also dream the operators manual into reality? The answer turned out to be yes, and I found it in a dusty cupboard over the front window. The only problem was that it was in German, Frau Pfeiferbaum’s native tongue.
30. Baby steps.
31. I understood conversational German, of course. You couldn’t live in Absinthium Kingdom and not know at least a little German and French. But this wasn’t conversational. This was the most German German I had ever seen. Technical German.
32. “Dalí,” I said to my cat, “I think I can understand some of this manual, but unfortunately it also looks like Frau Pfeiferbaum knew very little about boats when she dreamt this one into existence.”
33. Dalí twitched his tail and looked irritated. I think the music was starting to get to him.
34. I continued and said, “I mean, listen to this translation: ‘Make a sandwich and feed the engine. You can only depress the starter after the engine has eaten. Any sandwich will do. Except egg. The Elephant’s Friend doesn’t like egg.’”
35. I looked at Dalí and said, “Why does it need a sandwich? Have we ever been in the engine room?”
36. Again, no help from Dalí. I should have made him a parrot.
37. The instructions went on to explain that power must be established first, and that I should be sure that the ship’s Banquet Box was fully charged. That was a good point, since I couldn’t remember when was the last time I fed a poem to the Banquet Box.
38. Dalí was perturbed with everything and went off into the main cabin to pout or lick himself (or both) while I walked over to the center of the deck with my navy blue writing set and a fresh sheet of yellow paper. I knelt before the lacquered Banquet Box, which resembled a Mexican lacquerware storage trunk. It was black and decorated in images of marigolds and quail and was adorned with bell-shaped fittings that connected it to the deck of the ship via a tangle of cables and hoses.
39. Sitting on the deck under the weird blue and purple sky, I fiddled with the brass nibs and dark brown ink bottles of my writing set while I tried to find inspiration. Banquet Boxes are probably the greatest devices ever dreamed into existence. They’re the somniferous fruit of the famous Surrealist, Hugo Bauvist-Zola’s greatest fever dream ever. Everyone in the Kingdom uses one to make electricity and water for their homes. It even disposes of sewage. All it asks for in exchange is a poem. I don’t know how it works, and I especially don’t want to know how it gets rid of waste, but the genius Surrealists at the Institute figured out how to duplicate them seventy years ago and everyone’s lives were immediately improved.
40. Except if your poetry was.... (anomalous…?) ...like mine.
41. The Banquet Box begin making little chirping sounds as if a bird were trapped inside. It did that sometimes when it anticipated a poetic meal on the way.
42. “Give me a minute, please,” I said, holding up a finger.
43. I concentrated, thought a while, then wrote my lines.
45. I cleared my throat and held up the paper to the light and read aloud:
46. “How can we sleep
47. If the sun is always up
48. Shining down
49. And trying to kill us?”
50. There as a long pause and after a time the box made a sort of questioning utterance, as if it were saying, “Come again?”
51. Then nothing.
52. This was what I didn’t understand about poetry. People who claim to be experts on the subject tell me I need to be honest with my feelings, and that whatever was my rawest emotion was the crux of the subject. Well, at that moment, the big red alien sun and the little yellow one were making me miserable.
53. I read it aloud again.
54. The Box made a raspberry sound.
55. Well, as far as critiques go, I suppose that was as detailed analysis as any.
56. I retreated to my cabin. Maybe if I got out of the sunlight I could find my muse.
57. But I had made a terrible mistake. I walked too close to a window where Dalí was attempting to take a nap.
58. I love Dalí, obviously. I mean, I made him from clay and brought him to life. He’s like my child, I suppose. Or maybe a do-it-yourself roommate. But he has an abundance of emotional problems. For instance, I can only safely brush him if he’s watching himself in the mirror. It might be that he’s just a narcissist but it feels like a kind of weird cat masturbation. If I stop brushing him too soon, he bites me. If I go to long, he also bites me. So, he knows who he is if he sees himself in a mirror, but I don’t know if he knows who I am. He seems to lose any connection with me if my imagine is filtered through glass. This includes windows.
59. When Dalí saw me through the window he snapped into a fury, hissing and swatting at the glass trying to get at me.
60. “Dalí!” I shouted from outside, “It’s me! Fubsí! I’m coming in! Don’t attack me!”
61. But it was no use. There was no way I was getting back in. He left the window but I could hear him in there hissing and yowling and breaking things. I’d have to wait until he calmed down before entering. I hoped he didn’t break any chairs this time.
62. *** Act Two ***
63. An hour went by. I found shelter from the alien suns under the roof of the pilot house, which luckily had an exterior ladder as well as interior stairwell. Dalí was still yowling below. I thought he would have tired himself out by now.
64. It was times like this that I thought about my pen friend, Ollie. We’ve never met, but Ollie and I have been writing to each other for about fifteen years. It started about five years after I first fell into Absinthium Kingdom. My parents had perished in the explosion in the sky and I was left with no one really. So I wrote a letter and addressed it to any other Potvaliant in the world — and somehow, she got it.
65. Of course, I made Dalí from clay and became a Surrealist about four years before I wrote to Ollie, and things got a little less lonely when I did that. But I still needed some kind of normal human contact. The people in Absinthium Kingdom can be very generous and kind when they want to be, but they aren’t exactly human anymore, and even the human-looking ones certainly aren’t normal.
66. The professors at my boarding school — Mimsy’s Musery of Swirling Nostalgics — tried their best to acclimate me to Surrealist society when I arrived here in 1980. And they were mostly very gregarious, but a bit... difficult for a child from the Modern World to get used to. For example, Smithe LePham, my dorm parent was very good to me, but he kept his tiny head in a bird cage on his shoulders and it moved about freely from perch-to-perch. I never liked to watch him eat or drink because he would squat into his open neck-hole and make a potty face with every swallow.
67. I think I had a couple of school friends at Missy’s Musery, but their names are mostly lost to me now — except for Thiago Muscovy. But he’s my nemesis and the less I talk about him the better. Mean old Thiago. What an asshole. Sorry.
68. Since I still had my writing supplies out, I decided to write to Ollie.
69. I watched the sky for a time and then I wrote my letter. As I finished, I heard Dalí start up again with his yowling. I put my face close to the floor of the pilothouse and yelled down to him, “Dalí! Calm down and listen to this! I wrote a very poignant letter to Ollie! It goes like this: ‘Dear Ollie, It’s amazing how much time human beings and their pets spend inside little boxes in order to save themselves from weather! Sincerely, Fubsí!”
70. Dalí stopped screaming but only because he was startled by the sound of the radio transceiver coming on. The Banquet Box had heard my letter and thought it was a poem! I felt I should correct it but I kept my mouth shut. It’s hard to stick with something that seems wrong even if it gives you good results.
71. Apparently I had tuned the radio to an active channel when I was fiddling with it earlier, because now a man’s voice suddenly came over it. “Hei, bonjour, hallo, ni hao, barev, kaixo, hela, hello, shlubbacihbbi, Hoffa-nut blooo—“
72. I picked up the mic and pressed the button without thinking and interrupted, “Yes? Hello? Is someone there, over?”
73. The voice said, “Oh! English! An easy one! And yes, my friend, someone is always ‘there,’ this is the universe after all. That’s right! That’s what I’m sayin’!” He had what I would call an equestrian voice, like he was going to ride off into the sunset with the conversation at any moment.
74. The line went quiet. After a time I replied, “Are you... the universe, over?”
75. There was that terrible pause again and then he said, “We’re all a tiny chunk of the universe, my friend. Just chunks with names. That’s how we tell each other apart, by naming our chunks. What’s your name, little universe chunk?”
76. “Fubsí, over,” I said.
77. Silence, then, “Well, hello then, Fubsí-over,” he replied, jovial.
78. “No, Fubsí, not “Fubsí-over... over.”
79. Another pause.
80. “Why do you keep saying ‘over,’ Fubsí?” replied the man.
81. I said, “Aren’t you supposed to do that when you finish a sentence on the radio? Um... over?”
82. The man, laughed, “Oh, I forgot about that old acorn! Alright then, we’ll do it over, over... Over, over, over, over, over-over... Over!”
83. “We’ll do it over? Over?”
84. “Hello, over!”
85. “Um, hi, over.”
86. “Who is this, over?”
87. “Uh... Fubsí, over?”
88. “Hello, Fubsí! I am known as the Bicycle Thief! Oh — over.”
89. “You steal... bicycles? Over?”
90. “Judge not least you be... uhhh, something something biblical probably,” said the Bicycle Thief. “Now, now, now! How in the multiverse did you get placed on hold, Fubsí, over?”
91. This confused me greatly, but I pressed the mic button and replied, “I don’t understand that question, but I woke up this morning and found myself, my cat, and my boat in the middle of an ocean... somewhere... over.”
92. “Yes, I can see that... doot... doot... I’m picking up your coordinates... doot... doot... doot...” Then he said, matter-of-factory, “Here’s the thing: when someone gets sent to one of the holding planets, I get an alert, over.”
93. “What does that mean, over?”
94. “You’re on planet Drowning, in the White Corn Kernels Galaxy, over.”
95. “The White Corn Kernels Galaxy? That’s a silly name for a galaxy, isn’t it, over?
96. “Your galaxy is named after a goddess who sprayed the heavens with her breast milk, over.”
97. “Fair enough, over.”
98. “Listen up,” said the Bicycle Thief, “yeah, yeah, yeah, so anytime someone gets put on hold they end up in the White Corn Kernels Galaxy, obviously, over.”
99. “I’m still horribly confused, over.”
100. “It’s like this — where specifically are you from, Fubsí, over?” He sounded a little frustrated with me but he remained patient.
101. I said, “Well, you seem to know I came from the Milky Way galaxy, but specifically I live on Rue Publique, Grünewald Hill, Upper Doggerel, Absinthium Kingdom. In the Antarctic. OnEarth. Over.”
102. “Okay. I know that one,” he chirped. “The home of the Surrealists with bamboo bicycles and funny eyebrows. The people of your country don’t believe in personal or portable telephones (though, I can tell you they do exist) but you do use phone booths. So! You know how when you use the phone booth you have to wear black if you want to talk to a friend but you have to wear green if you need to contact an operator — and not just any green, but a fancy green with a flower in your button hole, over?”
103. “Yes, over,” I said.
104. He continued, saying, “Well, when you’re put on Universal Hold it’s like you’re wearing the nicest green suit with the fanciest flower, you’ve waited all day in the queue for the phone, and you’ve dialed the operator only to be put on hold. That’s why you can hear music on Drowning. It’s a holding planet. Someone has put you on Universal Hold. Only physically. Over. Over, over, over, dead dog rover, over… Yeah!”
105. “Why is the planet called Drowning?” I asked, then added, “Over.”
106. “Well, most people don’t arrive in boats, over.”
107. “I dislike this revelation, over.”
108. The Bicycle Thief said, “I suppose death isn’t an option for you, over?”
109. “Eh... I’d like it not to be, please… over,” I stressed.
110. He said, “Hmmm... You seem like a nice, emasculated fellow, Fubsí, so let me check my inventory and see if I have anything to help you out. Let me put you on hold just... on a minute. Doot, doot, doot, over.”
111. “Oh, no! Over!” I cried.
112. The air went dead and my heart went thump. He came back on and quickly said, “Don’t worry. It’s regular hold, not planetary exile hold. I hope. Over.”
113. The line went quiet.
114. During this time the music of planet Drowning seemed to increase in volume and density. Before this moment — and whether it was due to the rush of my anxiety, which was now absent in this pause — I hadn’t noticed how hopeless it sounded. It was like a waltz into oblivion up a stairway made of minor chords. I became very sad while the lullaby burrowed itself further into my mind and I was reminded of the maggot of a blowfly eating its way through dead flesh, not because it‘s malicious, but because it has no choice. All any of us can be in life is a collection of our discomforts and the complimentary ways in which we adjust ourselves to suit those discomforts. Unless we’re born with some physical challenges, we all arrive on Earth on equal mental footing, but as we push off from childhood and run towards adulthood, we sometimes become comfortable with bad habits. My worst habit is that I seek loneliness, I think. It must be something like that. And this music wasn’t helping. It felt like an anvil around my neck, pulling me to the floor, enveloping me in the blackness of depression. I was on my back. I didn’t want to get up. I just wanted to let go and not feel any of this anymore. I didn’t want to die necessarily, I just wanted this feeling to stop, and if death was the way forward and away from pain then so be it.
115. Just then the Bicycle Thief crackled over the radio and I sprang to my feet as he said, “Did you say you have a cat, over?”
116. It was that word, “cat” that brought me back to life. Animals were the only people who could lift me up when I fall. “Yes. His name is Dalí, over,” I croaked.
117. “Is he currently irritated, over?” he asked.
118. I put my ear to the floor and heard a crash down below, then returned to the mic. “More or less, over,” I said.
119. “Interesting. Which direction his the little guy facing, over?”
120. “I’ll check, over.” And as I opened the outer door to the pilothouse and stepped onto the exterior ladder I saw that Dalí was somehow already out of the cabin. The deck door to the cabin was still closed. He was very good at doing that sort of thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he broke a window to get out. I monitored his movements and then went back inside and gave my report to the Bicycle Thief, saying, “He’s at the bow of the ship, facing away from the big red sun. The ring system is also behind us. Does that mean anything, over?”
121. “Yes, Yes, yes, that’s the stuff. He can probably see the doorway. You’ll have to sail in that direction. The doorway is only about four hundred meters away, but you’ll have to go now. It will only be there for another thirty minutes, over. Then it’s over, so, so over.”
122. “When is the next one, over?”
123. “In exactly thirty-seven years, twenty eight days, and three hours, and twenty-two seconds. Nineteen seconds. Eighteen seconds. Over.”
124. “Uh... then I have a problem, Monsieur Bicycle Thief. The engines don’t work. Or at least I don’t know how to work them yet. Also, I don’t know where the engine room is, over.”
125. “Ah. Okay... exactly why do you have a boat, Fubsí? Wait, never mind. I never understood Surrealists. Okay. I’m sending something to help you out. Grab your cat and get inside and hang on, over.”
126. “Sending? What are you sending? How are you sending anything?” I was cut off by a sonic boom that overcame the humidity and and replaced it with rolling thunder. I dropped the mic and ran outside.
127. The sky began to darken and shift from blues and purples to a hellish red. I slid down the exterior ladder and ran towards Dalí. He didn’t attack me when I scooped him up. As we stood at the bow of The Elephant’s Friend, I first thought his passivity came from sheer exhaustion, but wen I turned around to take him back into the cabin, I shouted out in terror. Even as a twenty year citizen of Absinthium Kingdom — a city where some people bring décollage monkeys to life, buildings could mug you, and every policeman is a pumpkin — I couldn’t believe what I was seeing now.
128. A great white eyeball the size of a mountain with a burning red pupil slowly lowered from the sky, blotting out the massive red sun at the horizon. It must have been at least two miles in diameter, radiating a wave of psychic anguish that hit the world tearfully, apologetically, begging you to look away from it because it could not blink away its searing pain. A foghorn sounded somewhere, all the foghorns of the universe blasting out from that burning pupil as warning to look away, look away, all is doomed! I snapped out of the trance it held me in as it splashed down. It seemed a gentle enough crash from this distance, but I soon realized that if the eye really was the size of a mountain, then those ripples of water moving away from the point of splashdown were massive tsunami waves and they were headed in our direction.
129. I ran into the main cabin and closed the door behind me, tossed bewildered and agitated Dalí into a pile of shredded bedclothes, and leaped up the interior stairwell to the pilothouse.
130. I grabbed the mic and shouted into it, “A giant sad monster eyeball just splashed down onto the sea!”
131. “You forgot to say over, over,” said the Bicycle Thief.
132. “Where did you get a giant sad monster eyeball? Over!”
133. “That’s Humphrey, over.”
134. “Where did you get a giant sad monster eyeball named Humphrey, over?”
135. “Found him,” is all he said as the first eighty foot wave crashed into us and spun the Elephant’s Friend around. We didn’t capsize, despite how top heavy we were, but we certainly did list a dangerous angle for too long a time.
136. We rode the wave at the very tippy top, with the bow pointed ahead like an arrow. I hung onto the wheel, which spun out of my control, and I could see before the bow of the ship a shape: a black rectangular doorway filled with stars fell open like a stage curtain dropped from its hangings to the floor.
137. The wave slingshot us through... and into outer space. I could hear the great eyeball cry out in joy, as if it were soothed by the cool waters of Drowning, and then the door closed behind us.
Copyright © Rikki Simons 2018