The War of Long Sleep – Launceston, Tasmania

Brad doesn’t notice the thin line of drool that rolls slowly from his slack mouth, down his chin, dangles, and plip! – lands with a small splat on the back of his busy right hand. The hand doesn’t slow down – it even flips a tiny bubble of saliva onto one of the dried mushrooms.

His bedroom door is locked to prevent anybody barging into his room. Unlikely, but if his dad came in he would be dropped in it. Deep shit. He flinches, but his well-practiced fingers don’t even slow. We gotta get our own place. The pestle thuds dully against the mortar and he twists it, grinding a nearly whole mushroom into a dull golden dust. The dust covers the bottom of the mortar now, finely ground into uniformity despite the differences in the size and shape of the mushrooms he had started with.

Satisfied, he reaches underneath his bed and pulls out a small cardboard box with ‘Thrifty Cash and Carry’ stamped on the side. Bulk soup. How the hell would I explain this? It’s not the first time it’s occurred to him, but as usual he doesn’t think about it too much. Everyone likes mushroom soup in winter. And in Autumn, Summer and Spring, according to Anne, who always scoffed at his more paranoid moments.

Removing a white packet from one of the smaller boxes inside the carton, he wonders if Anne is doing the same thing at the house she shares with her parents, ten minutes walk away. A safe bet. A very safe bet. It would be a tin of soup though, Campbells Classic Funghi. Brad smiles to himself. His girlfriend has expensive tastes.

He takes his dull scalpel and cuts across the top of the white envelope, slitting it open, getting a whiff of dehydrated mushroom. Holding the envelope open, he pours his own mushroom dust into the packet with the grey soup powder, then shakes it to mix them up. Holding the envelope closed, confident that its contents are trapped inside, Brad unlocks his bedroom door and quietly walks down the hallway to the kitchen. The house is quiet. Once his father went to bed for the night, nothing short of an earthquake would wake him. Brad popped the kettle on and settled in to watch it boil.

Less than five minutes later he is dumping the powder out of the envelope into a coffee mug, covering it with boiling water and stirring the soup it makes. The soft smell of button mushrooms is accentuated, made sharp, by the earthy, powerfully hallucinogenic Goldtops he has ground into the mixture. When he smells the brew, his stomach starts to flip-flop in anticipation, so he returns to his bedroom, trailing mushroom soup vapor over his shoulder. He locks the door with a snap of his fingers and sits at his computer desk.

The soup takes a minute or so to cool down, so shakes the mouse to wake up his computer. Anne is offline. He smiles to himself. She isn’t online around the clock like him. He sends her a quick offline message that she’ll see if she logs on, then leaves it. The steam is starting to thin out, so he picks up the mug, tests the temperature his upper lip, then drains the lot in one gulp. The soup is thick and hot in his throat and he burps a mushroom burp.

Powdered, liquefied, ingested – it only takes a few deep breaths before the drug is easing into his system.

It begins as a low buzzing against his pupils, a lovers breath tickling his lashes. Then, all at once, a vibrating coldness shakes its way up his spine. Ice water. A presence enters his head, an other. It tweaks here, blocks there, stunts, activates and cultivates.

Brad’s face slackens, sweat beading along his brow.

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History

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Animated classical paintings

The War of Long Sleep – Sydney, New South Wales

The John is twenty minutes late.

Adriette watches another cab drive by, splashing its way through the red and pink lights puddled on the wet street. Another empty cab.

It would be the street again tonight then. Sighing, she unhooks the uppermost button of an already revealing blouse. Goddamn Pluto. He needs to get his shit together. She would never complain to him of course. Not without a weapon in hand. A howitzer, perhaps. Adriette’s pimp has the body of a bull and the brains of a cockroach. Pluto wouldn’t care that her customer was a no-show. Pluto would just ask for his take, his hand out, his beady eyes dead.

So she grinds her teeth and moves closer to the kerb. Her breath makes minted steam. The only warmth to look forward to is the hot sour stink of the backseats of cars, or the smoking, stale embrace of a pub. Once, another lady had told Adriette that working women carry the warmth around with them – that’s what the Johns came looking for.

I’m not warm at all.

It has just started to drizzle again when a car finally pulls up. If it’s the John, he’s almost forty-five minutes late. Nevertheless, she dons her best smile and leans into the unrolling passenger window.

The John is a slight, colourless man with a mousy face. His forehead is beading with sweat despite the chill and his upper lip shaking into a weak smile.

Battering down a wave of distaste, Adriette puts on her best husky-voice. “Hey gorgeous, lookin for some company?”

The John licks his lips, and his voice is hoarse as he replies.

“I…yeah. You….” he swallows and his throat makes a clicking sound, “…you wanna come for a ride?”

“Sure.” She bounces into the passenger seat, happy to be out of the rain.

They drive into the Sydney suburbs, making small-talk, until the John pulls into an undistinguished brick house on a quiet neighbourhood street.

Without a word, he takes her inside, leading her through the carpeted hallways to a neatly masculine bedroom. As he motions her past, Adriette notices his pale face still beading sweat, but it doesn’t bother her too much. Johns are like that – nervous. Unless they’re regulars. They usually managed to perform though, in their own fashions. This guy has obviously prepared for her, or whoever. The bed is freshly made, crisp and clean, perfectly tucked. The window is wedged open, the floor uncluttered. It almost has the air of a hotel. A three star.

“Can I get you anything? A drink? A…” he doesn’t seem to know what to offer her. She declines a vodka soda but accepts a can of beer. She never accepts a drink she didn’t pour. She has been slipped things before – the ecstasy was okay – the GHB wasn’t. Those bastards.

“What do you do?” she asks, wondering if he will lie.

“Research. I work at the University.”

She nods. “Is it exciting?”

He smiles, and she can sense him relaxing.

“Exactly the opposite,” he answers, “in fact it constantly puts people to sleep.”

“Oh.” She notices the enormous TV at the foot of his bed. “Do you have any porn? I like movies. You should put some on.” Porn always sped things up, and it was a good indication of how weird things could potentially get. He flushed a little.

“Yeah.” He flicks it on and a hidden drive whirs. He puts something on, clearly embarrassed, while she sits on the bed and takes her jacket off. When she looks up, his eyes are fixed on her chest. She  doesn’t flinch.

Yes, it’s a fucking tattoo and yes, I fucking hate it. Reaching for the top of her stockings, she smiles at him invitingly then sneaks a lingering glance at the screen. Vanilla.

A sudden shrill shriek – the John’s phone rings in his pocket. He whips it out in an instant, like a magician. She expects him to ignore it – and is surprised when he doesn’t .

“It’s my…boss.” He leaves the room to take it in the hallway.

She listens closely, making sure he doesn’t go too far, but he comes back into the room again almost immediately, ashen white, his ardor clearly doused.

“Is everything okay?”

“There’s been a… I need to go. We need to go.”

“What happened?”

He shakes his head, not looking at her. “We should probably just go, I think. I can drop you back to…or wherever you need to go.”

“Sure.” She nods. He doesn’t have to tell you anything, she reminds herself. You’re just a temp.

“Come wait in the hallway, I need to get a few things.”

While he disappears into the back of the house, Adriette pulls her jacket back on. He’s out of earshot when she takes the few steps into a living-room and pokes around a little. The only thing in reach worth investigating is a large veneered dresser against the wall.

Listening out and moving quietly, she pulls the top drawer of the dresser open – and gasps.

Tucked in the corner of the drawer is a carelessly bundled roll of fifty-dollar notes held tight with a thick red rubber band. A roll of fifties thicker than her wrist.

Enough to keep Pluto happy for…well, we’ll see

She snakes her hand into the drawer and plucks out the bundle. Working quickly, listening with her whole body, she takes the roll and stuffs it into her small purse. It has an odd weight, a liquid center. A bottle? There is a scraping sound from somewhere in the house. Her blood thumps.

By the time he comes back she is leaning against the front door with a small smile. He doesn’t even glance towards the living-room. As they enter the cold night air, the adrenaline flooding her body begins to subside.

I hope there’s enough to cover the customers I’ll lose by changing spots. Pluto wouldn’t be happy about that either. Maybe she could take the train, disappear awhile. I have to count it first.. She glances at the pale John. Either way, I won’t see you again, vanilla.

The John’s hand shakes as he unlocks the passenger door for her. She straps the seat belt tightly around her waist, but to his credit he drives calmly, never taking his eyes off the road. His face is ashen, distant. Streets glide by. He isn’t blinking much.

“Are you okay?” She asks softly.

The john seems to wake from a doze. “Huh?”

“AIs everything okay?”

He frowns, watching the road. She bites her lip. After a moment he looks at her and nods. “Yeah… yeah. I just need to be somewhere.”

“Do you want me to come with you? I could wait, and maybe…” What the hell? Shit, please say no

He smiles at her gently. “No. But thanks. Another time, maybe.” They’re close to where he picked her up.

“Go past. I’m going home.”

He drives another few blocks until she tells him to pull up – in the middle of parallel apartment buildings, housing commission flats stacked like endless hives. Her flat is almost six blocks from here, but the bus would come soon enough. If he comes looking for me here, he’ll give up soon enough.

He pulls up slowly, then fishes around in his top pocket for a moment. To her chagrin, he pulls out a small fold of twenties. She doesn’t reach for it. Guilt washes through her in hot waves.

“Are you sure… we didn’t even talk about a price.”.

“I’m sure. We…uh…Pluto and I…discussed… you’re Adriette, right?” Surprised, she nods before she can think better of it. He looks away. “Maybe you can…I don’t know. Owe me one.” He pushes the cash at her. “Go on, take it. It can’t be easy out there.”

Adriette looks at the cash. It sure ain’t buddy. I hope you never find out. Hating herself, she takes it. Not trusting herself to speak, she opens the door, climbs out, and watches him pull away.

For all mine uncles

Key West Angel - MICHAEL CHEVAL

Key West Angel – MICHAEL CHEVAL

The War of Long Sleep – Devonport, Tasmania

The delivery guy must be new. It’s the only explanation.

They should have told him. It wasn’t as if nobody at the pizza shop would have recognized the address. They delivered here almost every day, so somebody should have noticed it, somebody should have told him.

The knocking is louder this time, impatient. Shit.

Darlin has pushed himself as far as the kitchen, and he pauses there to rest a minute, leaning heavily on the plastic counter while he recuperates. The bench bends alarmingly under his weight, but he pays it no mind, concentrating instead on catching his breath.

A third knocking and this time Darlin hears a voice calling out in the sort of disinterested tone that mixed boredom with impatience in a way that only a teenager could.

“I’m coming!” Darlin bellows at the front door. He thought he heard a faint reply of ‘so is Christmas but couldn’t have said for sure. He didn’t bother calling for the owner of the voice to come in. They never would at first – probably some company rule – until they saw it was let yourself in or freeze your arse off on the step. Somebody should have told this kid.

The hallway that leads to the front door is short, but Darlin is wheezing by the time he reaches the end of it. He pauses to catch his breath again, but when the knocking starts once more, he lunges the last few feet and yanks the door open. Sunshine and pizza fumes flood his senses.

“Oh sorry sir I… Jesus Christ!”

The pizza boy takes an involuntary step backwards, his eyes wide. He closes his open mouth and it simply drops open again, gopping like a fish. He doesn’t  drop the pizzas though.

The boy’s reaction isn’t a surprise to Darlin – but it still hurts a little. They didn’t forget to tell him anything. The new kid was obviously a bundle of nerves. They were probably hoping he’d piss himself. He wouldn’t have been the first delivery guy to freeze or bolt when Darlin appeared at the door, beet-red and wheezing, all 300-odd kilos of him jiggling and rolling like a slow-motion tidal wave.

And the kid probably wasn’t far off bolting, Darlin saw; there’s high colour in his cheek and sweat beading his brow. Darlin raises an arm thicker than both the boy’s legs, motioning him in.

“Just…bring them in…to the kitchen…bench.” Darlin heaves. “All…deliveries…come straight in.”

The kid doesn’t look too sure about this. Darlin tries again, but it was difficult  while he’s still struggling for breath.

“It’s…all right. I’m not…gonna…eat you.”

The kid doesn’t quite look as though he believes this either, but he nods, so Darlin begins to turn around.

Turning around in the small hallway involves a series of pivoting steps. The curves of his gut and arse brushed both walls on the third step. Then he’s lumbering back into the heart of his flat, back towards his chair.

The pizza boy follows silently up the hallway, but as soon as he can get around Darlin’s huge form into the kitchen he does. He carefully sets the delivery onto the bench, minding a pile of filthy plates. Three pizzas, two pastas, four bottles of coke. The smell of oily meat and cheese almost overpowers the stinking bodily mustiness of the flat.

“Well…uh…the…uh…” the boys eyes went from the pile of steaming food to Darlin’s massive presence, back again.

“It’s paid for.” Darlin breathes, his voice a whistling gasp. “Next time…just come in.” The kid flees.

Darlin waits until he hears the door slam before he opens the first pizza. Seafood supreme, piled high with oily ocean colours.

The first piece is gone in three quick bites, the second following not too far behind. After catching his breath, Darlin puts most of the food into the fridge. Taking the seafood pizza in one hand and a bottle of coke in the other, he waddles back to his armchair. He lands in it much as a whale lands in a fishing boat, rocking himself from side to side until he’s comfortable. A sigh of satisfaction escapes his big, rubbery lips as he lays the open pizza box across his bulging stomach and uses his other hand to crack the cola bottle.

Fifteen minutes later both box and bottle are empty, discarded onto a growing pile of shifting cheese-streaked boxes and plastic containers, thin blue bags, white forks tipped with dried curry. His cleaner, Marjory, with her green garbage bags and arsenal of brushes and her comparatively pert bum, was due at the end of the week. He wishes it was Marj who gave him his fortnightly bath instead of John or Michael, the agency nurses.

Darlin’s computer makes a blatting sound. His game has been paused for over twenty minutes while he answered the door and ate, but now he reaches for the swivel shelf with the mouse and keyboard and pulls it over to rest in its usual spot against his waist.

Tulan, great lord of magic and archery, waits on the screen. He is standing on a great sea of waving grass. Darlin can see each blade of grass as clearly as he can see the pale hairs on the back of his hand; the graphics are incredibly immersive. Sunlight runs beads along his gauntlets of strength (+6, 50% damage reduction, fireshield +1) and makes the silver clasps of his boots of striding (+4, AC+2) shine. The weather is fair, and a slight breeze pushes the pixeled boughs of the Maple on the crown of the next hill.

Tulan strides along the pebbled pathway. This game, Heaven, is based on it’s online environment and he can see other players in the distance, their characters in various shapes and guises. Darlin avoids other players here, much as he avoids people in reality – but unlike in reallity, here people sometimes approached him. Most of the other players are in America, but some are in Australia, and he knows that some of these players must be right here in Devonport.

Most of the Australian players have learned to avoid Tulan, with his gleaming gold armour and his silver sword that flashes lightning when it strikes. There are a variety of races and species that players could use to inhabit Heaven, but none are more powerful than the Paladin. Tulan is malicious, merciless in his attacks, and any players with the letters “AUS” after their names are quickly cut down.  Darlin, who shames his family, who is a joke to anybody who ever met him, is a force to be reckoned with here in Heaven.

He runs along a stone path now, his armoured boots solid on the ground. Two small green hills pull apart like clouds as he approaches and a small town appears behind them. The wind had stopped and the sun shines brightly, reflecting the harsh stone walls on the town’s outskirts. He doesn’t have a particular destination in mind, but he moves quickly even so. Heaven is an incredibly large place, and every step makes the dark ‘unknown’ area of his map recede a little.

Darlin releases a long breath of flatulence, a steamy burp which relaxes his entire body and toxifies the air in his tiny apartment. Man that’s good. His eyelids are drooping sleepily and his mass eases further and further into the massive chair. The rolling landscape on the monitor is hazy, blurring comfortably, filling his field of vision.

INVISIBLE WOMEN – Free for a limited time!

Tree King

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Your Sexy Ghost

First Published in SODA Magazine Issue 6

Right now there are two versions of you in the world.

One is the physical version – the version that holds up your clothes and carries your brain and bits around – your body. It‘s pretty good, well done, it appears to be a keeper… but actually it’s not. Because one day you won’t have it any more – maybe a shark will eat it, or your girlfriend will nudge it in to the path of a bus. Either way that physical version of yourself, the version you touch when you think nobody’s watching, will one day crap out on you like a share house washing machine. Dust to dust, eye maggot, that sort of stuff. You’ll die. It’s a severe limitation, mortality, and one that our bodies would do better without.

Another limitation of your body is that it’s generally stuck in a single time and place – depending, of course, on how many mushrooms you just had. Your body can generally only be in one location during any given moment. To interact directly with this version of you, other people need to bring their own bodies in to some proximity to yours. Generally speaking, higher quality interaction calls for closer proximity. While this can be pretty nice, it is also illustrates another severe limitation of the body: you’re stuck in it. And it can only be in one place, at one time.

Your body is vulnerable to time, heat, and absinthe amongst many, many other things. As far as packaging for your consciousness, that sentient weaving of chronotopical narratives that makes you who you are, it could be improved. Let’s not forget that before this particular point in history, we probably would have been satisfied with having a body and living a life. But not anymore. Now we all know that Walt Disney is frozen somewhere, waiting to come back to life, and we all want some of that shit.

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Which brings us to the other version of you, the digital version – your profile. Right now, there is already an enormous amount of digital information that is uniquely related to you as an individual. Think of all the documents, accounts, photos, transactions, opinions, ruminations, all of the information about you that has been captured – not least whatever you choose to post about yourself on Facebook. As cloud storage becomes the norm it’s pretty safe to assume that all of this information will one day make its way onto the infinite information matrix called the interwebs, if it hasn’t already. The culmination of all of this information, of every piece of data that relates to you, is your profile.

Your profile is increasingly becoming its own entity. People can see it and interact with it at their leisure, as can the automated systems that look after our banking and communications. Service providers and governments don’t know your physical version, the version that dances and eats watermelon – they know you as a set of data, an arrangement of numerical figures that define their relationship with you.

Similarly, most of us will now have relationships (however tenuous) with people that we have never met in real life – people that we have only ‘met’ online. You consider these people entirely in light of the interactions between their profile and your own. All you know of them is what you see of their profile – their thoughts and photos, the bands they like, the e-cards they post to fucking inspire you. You don’t have a relationship with the person – you have a relationship with the information that person chooses to share about themselves.

This in itself is nothing new. Epistemologically speaking, the information that we both ingest and express makes us what we are. Existence, and our apprehension of it, is experienced via the perception of information through our physical senses and the dissemination of it by our brains. You are a certain collection of thoughts, experiences, dreams and memories, combined in and influenced by the physical matter that stores it (which in turn is subject to its own historical and external information). Our memories and experiences tell us about our lives, inform our opinion of ourselves and give us reference points against which to make decisions about how our lives should be lived.

With the digital self it is much the same. A collection of images, quotes, opinions, thoughts, tastes in music, art and everything else is most likely attributable to you online. Your life is being captured and digitised into disparate packages of information that are tied together by the concept of you as an individual, as a sentient being. These packages of information can be copied or deleted, transported instantly across the world, disseminated and reconfigured. Even people who don’t use Facebook are still on the internet (if they can work out how to turn the thing on). They have email accounts, bank accounts, they appear in the background of photos. Facial recognition technology is becoming commonplace and you only need to be mapped once to be identified by our Lord and Saviour, Google.

Within a generation, entire lives will be played out in the realm of pure information – the internet – as well as in the physical realm. It’s feasible that in our lifetime we will record so much information about ourselves that it would one day be possible for us to be reproduced in some way – much like summoning a ghost. There are a few different ways this could happen.

Most obviously, perhaps, would be the introduction of some kind of consciousness algorithm that ties together all of the available information that relates to you in the digital realm and recreates you in a virtual environment like Second Life or WOW, a kind of semi-sentient code that can make decisions based on all of the information it can reference. Maybe all your selfies will be analysed and used to create a 3D model of your body which is then printed onto a generic ream of flesh. Maybe you’ll be chemically encoded into a pill that somebody can take in order to dream about you.

You might even be represented as a physical presence. Michael Hutchence is about to start touring. Michael Jackson won’t be far behind. Personal hologram players and recorders are only a few years away. You will be downloadable, playable and distributable. The more information that’s available about you, the more accurate the reproduction will be.

And there’s the rub – having all of our the information digested and digitised is a very new stage of human development, and one that will no doubt be made more efficient and more widespread as time goes on. Our current coexistence with our digital representation will one day be viewed in the same way that Instagrammers might look at camera obscura prints; nostalgic, technically remarkable, historically important perhaps… but ultimately naive and inefficient. The ghosts of the future will be much more comprehensive, much more life-like.

Since you’re probably not Tupac, unfortunately people will need some other reason to reproduce you. Your great-grandkids won’t do it. They won’t be born for another fifty-four years and they already hate you. Admit it, your only chance to live again as a digital reproduction would be as a space filler in some short-lived government-funded performance installation where dozens of hologram profiles are conjured into one morbid bit of art – ‘Ghosts of Geevestone’ or some equally inane crap.

The parcel of information that we leave behind is at risk of another kind of death – being relegated to some dying Telstra backwater server, never to be interacted with again. There is an inestimable amount of data in the world already and it’s only going to get worse. The internet is only a few decades old and content fatigue is already a thing. Why would somebody download you rather than one of the other millions of people? Why would your information be resurrected from the infinite vacuum of meaningless data?

In the future, people will obsessively tailor their ghosts, so if you don’t want to die twice, there is really only one thing you can do: leave behind a sexy ghost. Let porn save your soul. If anyone is going to go trawling through the endless archives of human fodder, it will be the slavering masturbatory hordes looking for the next thrill – so you better be thrilling. Instagram that butt. Duckface in as many photos as possible, even if you need to photo-bomb tourists to do it.

Accept the idea that your ghost is going to do some pretty degrading stuff and get on with it. Alternatively, just keep posting photos of cats or snappy quotes you stole from two thousand other people because under those circumstances, dying twice is more than justified and in all honesty, most of us have forgotten you already.

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Image by Marie Ayme

Make yourself real

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