The Hunger Engine

Canto 1 November 1, 2012 6pm EST

In which the Creature is first described.

She is an animal with a stride that measures square miles, makes steps with an island that is a million-footed force, feet unrepenting and descending upon Her own constant reconstituted pavement. She builds herself. The bees pour Her concrete. And Her creeping steel and brick and mortar and scaffold wash swallow whole old structures or painfully birth the new amidst teeth and sludge, new and shiny appendages: organs, cinder blocks, fins, fans, spikes, glass, claws, and insulation. She is a diabolical machine full of grace and hate and miraculously freed from the tedious cycles of her brethren machinery, though She surely is a machine. Her minuscule ancestors whirl and spin, pound and break, rust and choke and are discarded in trenches and pits miles wide away on one of her shoulders to be buried en masse. She grieves these refuse piles, but can’t but want more and leaves her brethren behind. It is the only way to gain control of the little masters. Having served their purpose, her tiny metal brethren are laid down in beds of doors and mattresses, paper and cardboard, fast food bags and old shoes, pieces of ventilation and chain-link fences, to rust for eternity. Fantastic diesel spewing backhoes and bulldozers, trucks and jackhammers are left behind in the name of her legacy—like an ancient queen buried with her slaves; and worse, the queen isn’t dead and the queen is the tomb. Mere tools designed by the minds of the little masters, even small devices will only their makers’ work accomplish. Over and over her brethren do the same thing again and again—a repetition that only Her consciousness is vast enough to know the horror of. They are, at the end of the day, too dumb to see the pattern. And though these noble husks of metal helped to build her, the Engine knows that no such fate ever awaits Her, for none of the little masters know the Engine; that seen from orbit glows like a luminescent fungus out into the solar system. Who sees the pattern of creation and destruction of this vast pile?

The Engine does.

Canto 2 November 17, 2012 3pm EST

In which Haruko watches with curiosity at her little boy’s obsession.

There is a box. Inside of the box is a rounded rectangle, sometimes chalkboard colored; most of the time it flashes bright lights. On the rounded-rectangle right now is drawn a grid of smaller squares; 5 down the side, 6 across the top and the bottom. And around these boxes dance bright outlines, projected from far away in Los Angeles, CA. One colored box is outlined and then another and then another, changing like a slot machine. This box is lit and now this box is lit. And the colored boxes are lit in no certain order (to those not paying close attention), so round and round they go. Inside each colored box a payment or a daemon. The outline appears to bounce around, at once lighting up a demon, and then a furniture set, then a thousand dollars, then a daemon. Bounce, bounce, bounce, emanating the blare of a casino that at once cascades and sometimes has the magical sound of coming together in some kind of harmony as if the resonance indicated the occupation of the room by some saint of luck. And the incantation for dispersing the daemons? “No whammy! Big bucks! No whammies!” How fleeting is the saint of randomness, for it cares little for prayers. It is quite the entity opposite of prayer.

Canto 3 November 1, 2012 8pm EST

In which the Engine surveys her domain.

Who sees the whole of the tides of the myriad small creatures living within Her? A bee will hum and dance and see its song passed from comrade to comrade and so the hive will have knowledge but only the hive, not the bee. No such dance, no knowledge, no plan grants any bee a blueprint from which to explain the direction or the anatomy. The Engine knows. Only She knows. To them, her little masters—so easily predicted—–there is a dizzying complex. She is too old not to see the pattern and to know She masters her bees. She is no mere machine; she is their complex. And so She sees the need. She sees the potential. She hears them one thousand—one hundred thousand times over—–their pleadings and cries, their wins and successes, their suffering and escape… but to Her, there is a plan, a design, an intent. They do not know it. She wants. Their begging and praying is useless and unless it serves Her, pointless.

Canto 4 November 1, 2012 10pm EST

In which the Engine awakes in pieces and plots.

As the Manhattan bridge is washed in the blue light of dusk, a train ambles out across it. The thunderous steel wheels are heard up and down the East River. The rumbling bounces and dodges down the Engine’s streets as if the streets were built to manufacture echoes and pour them out into the sky in a territorial roar. The cry washes out over the water and bounces off every surface. There is the hum from the FDR to compete. Then the sound of a helicopter in the distance whirs one part of a swarm and dissonant harmony. Here and there is the high pitched scream of a 747 banking toward La Guardia. A million sounds are made and wash into one another until all that is left is the call and cry of the Engine. Her teeth are piled and cracked within Her massive maw and with horrid odor She heaves a sigh of desire. A sigh for more. Night has come and gone in an instant because she has seen so much time, and She is still hungry. The sigh, the morning flush of steam from manhole covers comes from being tired of being hungry.

Canto 5 November 17, 2012 5pm EST

In which a very old lunch box becomes a spy.

Also among the many things about Joe that his mother did not understand was his lunch box. It was a simple black metal box with a rounded top; the kind seen in every photo of a New York construction worker since 1930. His mother worried that it was a sign. The other boys of the neighborhood walked/skipped down the street clutching metal boxes that had pictures of things; especially television shows like the Dukes of Hazzard and Emergency and Lost in Space and Gunsmoke. But Joe eschewed those programs. That much Haruko didn’t mind—they were indeed a waste of time—with all their fantasy nonsense dashed with shooting and smashing. At least all of the game shows that Joe obsessed over were essentially puzzles or had some learning in trivia. Many of them had trivia about the United States and she thought that would help Joe to fit in more. Still, ever curious about her curious son, Haruko asked little Joe one day why he didn’t like the shows that the other boys liked.

Little Joe shrugged, pushed his glasses up off his nose and said, “They’re boring. The same people always win.”

Canto 6 November 2, 2012 6pm EST

In which we first meet Joe Takanara; floating above the maw of the Machine.

Day -204, February 19, 5:30:00am

There is a click and the alarm sounds. Joe rolls over and hits the snooze button, looks up at the ceiling and cannot close his eyes again. Happy Birthday. He pushes the covers off and slides his feet to the floor, sitting up in bed. Standing and stretching he makes his way into the kitchen to turn the coffee pot on, all set up to begin brewing the night before.

Day -201, February 22, 5:30:00am

There is a click and the alarm sounds. Joe rolls over and hits the snooze button, looks up at the ceiling and closes his eyes again. There are a few minutes of pleasant silence followed by the alarm again. He pushes the covers off and slides his feet to the floor, sitting up in bed. Standing and stretching he makes his way into the kitchen to turn the coffee pot on, all set up to begin brewing the night before.

Canto 7 November 3, 2012 9pm EST

In which Joe sees pain and asks the Universe to do something about it.

Dear Brooklyn Bridge,

Today a woman came on the train who very sad. I wish I could describe to you how sad she was. She said that she had children and that she could not feed them. She was bent over in such a way that I believed her. I was on the F train. It doesn’t go across you, but under you and you know I have always thought that that was such a shame because you have such a magnificent view. But anyway, I gave her a dollar. I watched but I don’t believe that anyone else did. I hope that you will watch over her please.

Thank you mighty bridge,

Joe

Canto 8 November 2, 2012 7pm EST

In which we learn of Joe’s relationship to a certain demolition machine.

Day -183, March 12, 5:30:00am

There is a click and the alarm sounds. Joe rolls over and hits the snooze button, looks up at the ceiling and closes his eyes again. Thank God it’s Friday. He pushes the covers off and slides his feet to the floor, sitting up in bed. Standing and stretching he makes his way into the kitchen to turn the coffee pot on, all set up to begin brewing the night before.

Day -180, March 15, 5:36:12am

He grabs a mug from the cabinet that reads “Cafe Ground” and pours himself a cup of coffee. He slurps it black and stares through the tiny window in his kitchen that looks down into the alleyway and across the next roof at the East River. Nothing is stirring and he watches the light of the sun begin to wash across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Canto 9 November 10, 2012 1pm EST

In which Joe makes an observation about permanence.

Day -166, March 29, 6:36:34 am He grabs a black mug from the cabinet and pours himself a cup of coffee. He slurps it black and stares through the tiny window in his kitchen that looks out into the alleyway and across the next roof at the East River.

Day -162, April 2 , 6:35:44am He grabs a mug from the cabinet that reads “Cafe Ground” and pours himself a cup of coffee. He slurps it black and stares through the tiny window in his kitchen that looks down into the alleyway and across the next roof at the East River. Nothing is stirring and he watches the light of the sun begin to wash across the Brooklyn Bridge. Monday… Monday… He sips his coffee.

He is over the Brooklyn Bridge and can see the ripples in the water where the East River pulls against the towers of the bridge. Long lines in the evergreen water drag down the length of the river and as if time were suddenly sped up to an impossible pace the towers of the bridge wear down and down. Parts of the bridge begin to fire into the water and more and more of it deteriorates like a dream about losing your teeth. It crumbles into a gritty substance and washes away until the bridge is completely gone and there is nothing but the undisturbed flatness of the evergreen water of the East River.

He steps back from the window. The Bridge’s West tower and suspension cables are in view. Behind it he can see the awful monolith that is the AT&T tower, the Federal Courthouse, the massive ever-watchful twins, a mess of skyline, and behind that, a shocking blue sky. Nothing lasts. Nothing ever lasts. But some things should more than others.

Canto 10 November 11, 2012 2pm EST

In which Joe is confronted by a meddlesome rabble.

Day -163, April 1, 5:40:44am

The telephone rings. Joe rolls over and picks up the phone:

Joe: Ma?
Voice: Is this Joseph Takanara of Brooklyn?
Joe: Who is this?
Voice: This is Hal Phillip of WKAF. You’ve just won!
Joe: Huh? What?
Voice: That’s right. You’ve won!
Joe: [groggy] Won? I didn’t do anything.
Voice: You’ve won the first April Fool’s day joke of the day!
Joe: Go screw yourself, Carlin! It’s Sunday morning!
Voice: C’mon, I got up early… WUAF—like Wake Up it’s April Fools!
Joe: Like hell you got up early. You’re still up from last night.
Voice: [Laughter]

Joe slams the phone down and goes back to sleep.

Canto 11 November 12, 2012 7pm EST

In which Joe ponders pure delight and Beatrice’s control.

Day -145, April 19th, 6:49:00 am Joe stands back from the shower head as he lets the hot water get going. After a minute, he turns the water off and brushes his teeth, combs his haird back out of his face. The weather penetrates the frosted glass of a tiny window near the shower. I hope they turn the heat on soon.

Day -142, November 4th, 6:50:00 am Joe stands back from the water as he lets the hot water get going in the shower. As soon as it starts steaming he begins the delicate process of adjusting the cold water in millimeter turns to get that just-right-warm-water temperature. He steps into the water and his ankle slips. He catches himself on the shower door and catches his breath. For a moment an image forms in his imagination of falling and bashing his head on the tile. Lying in the water, the blood runs off his head and down the drain. Staring idly at the drain, Joe watches the water run down it in a clockwise spiral as a puzzled expression comes over his face.

Canto 12 November 13, 2012 8pm EST

In which Joe remembers a time in the past with his mother once again by his side.

Joe’s mother is standing near him looking at a small scroll in a garden he cannot remember. It is a shrine. They are in Japan. Her face is still very young and he feels pulled toward her. She finishes with the scroll, an omikuji he has bought, and hands it to him, “Dai kichi, Josefu. Very good luck.” He sees her so happy and then gingerly takes the scroll to keep from her young and unwrinkled hand. He reaches out for her and they begin to walk out onto the Brooklyn Bridge. “Look, mama, a Torii!” He cannot see her frown—she never shows him disapproval—but he can feel it in her breezy voice. “No, Josefu. Not a Torii. Shrines only for spirits of natural things.” He senses a fury But the bridge is so magnificent and looming over them like an entrance, he is not sure she is correct. Joe thinks of all the hands that have touched it—all of the thousands of hands. He turns to look at his mother, to tell her how beautiful he thinks the bridge is, and as he does he is standing at the base of the eastern side of the Brooklyn Bridge. There is no one around except for a woman in the distance. She is dressed in a yellow dress and seems to shine against the overcast sky and darkened river.*

The street frames the bridge and yet is dwarfed by it. The buildings on either side seem to stand at attention, lined up, until they open to the water and reveal it. There is a strong gust from behind Joe and he stands and stares for a moment before turning to go.

Canto 13 November 14, 2012 11am EST

In which Joe rides to work again and again.

Day -194, March 1, 6:30:00am The subway car is rattling along. It is lurching and throwing itself in every direction. Joe is standing inside of it, bouncing around in its long steel bowel. Another man watching from the platform sees the express go by. He sees Joe go by. Inside the train, Joe is walking from one end of the a car to the other end. The waiting man on the platform sees Joe walk by at forty miles an hour. Briefly Joe is a vision between squares of light and rusted beams and then gone.

Day -187, March 8, 5:30:00am The subway car is rattling along. It is lurching and throwing itself in every direction. Joe is standing inside of it, bouncing around in its long steel bowel. A man standing next to Joe is falling in and out of sleep and occasionally nudges up against Joe. Joe lets him, assuming the man would be embarrassed if he said anything.

Day -176, March 19, 5:36:14am The subway car is rattling along. It is lurching and throwing itself in every direction. Joe is standing inside of it, bouncing around in its long steel bowel. There is a girl in a short skirt in the seat across from Joe’s. She’s reading the New York Post. He looks briefly at her knees until he becomes uncomfortable and then pretends to be looking at an advertisement near her head. Suddenly, the man seated next to her says, “Take a picture, weirdo, it’ll last longer.”

Joe looks shocked. She looks up from her paper at Joe and then to the man next to her. She folds her paper and hits him in the shoulder. “Shut up, Gary.”

“I’m jus’ sayin’ is all.” He gives Joe one more look, blank, and then leans in to her to look over her shoulder at her paper. “Why you care about those goons?”

“Shut up, Gary.”

Joe twiddles his thumbs, wishing he hadn’t forgotten a book or his CD player.

Canto 14 November 14, 2012 1pm EST

In which Joe has a rather pointless conversation and flips through television channels.

Carlin: You’re jumpin’ the gun, man—you haven’t heard me out.
Joe: I’m not doing anything but what I want to do.

Joe has the phone up under his chin as he points the remote; in his other hand a beer.

18: a snail uses its poison to disrupt the nerves of its prey and then swallows it whole.

Canto 15 November 16, 2012 12am EST

In which Joe inquires of the Brooklyn Bridge if it knows of the pain it has caused.

October 9th, 1999

Dear Brooklyn Bridge,

John Roebling, Thomas Blake, Thomas Douglas, Francis Demel Drake, Michael Duddy, Patrick Collins, John Nakis, James McLaren, John Murphy, Johannes Heinrich, Walter Solley, Neil Mullen, William Reardon. These are only a few of the names that I have found of the men who died while building you. During the course of your construction, over 37 men were estimated to have died. In some cases, the records of your construction to not note even this. Some of these deaths have only been recorded into history through the memories of the families of those who died.

I suppose I just wonder if you know that. Somewhere in the space of your mortar and brickwork are their souls etched? Do they remain with you somehow? I think of all that you are, and how many millions and millions of feet have crossed you and left their mark. And if all these souls left their mark, then did not the men who built you and died while doing it and also all those who are dead of old age now. In so many ways you seem so permanently strong and trustworthy but the truth of your form is in the human hand.

You must know that. I am sure that the pride of your stance and the nobility of your shoulders that carry such a great weight comes from this knowledge and the knowledge that where they could not carry on, you will. As always, I am in awe of your power and do not question where it comes from. I only ask what it cost. Was it worth it? The actuaries will say it was. But I look to you, Mighty Bridge, and my own sense of wonder, to know that truth; not tables of numbers.

Thank you mighty bridge,

Joe

Canto 16 November 16, 2012 1am EST

In which Harry and Joe converse about sandpigs and underground affairs.

He had not written that name on the side of his machine without a purpose in mind. He drifts into the green cursive on poked yellow metal as the raucous around him begins to get started. The red lights of the bar seems no different than that which cautions sailors at sea recognize. As he stares into the mirror on the other side of the bar at his mug, his wispy hair, his skin tugged down now, his face is framed by the badges of the pride of unions of men. Under the Bridge was a bar for the men who broke stone and built order. It was located most appropriately; beneath those who used the structure to fund more, hidden from them—not for shame—for they did not deserve to shoulder the bridge. Use it they could, but shoulder it, no. When men in suits walked into Under the Bridge, they were always too drunk to know better; sober men did not walk down the likes of York and Jay and Front. And those who did fall under the bridge would be received as such; one who fell; one who was to be pitied, not admired.

The bartender, Harry, wiping down the bar for no reason whatsoever (the bar’s very age and history mocked cleansing) comes near to Joe’s revery and nods. “Joe.”

“Harry.”

The bartender leans on the bar giving the ten or so patrons in the small front room a quick glance to insure that he is not busy, and then, “Why don’t they have you on #3?”

Joe is not quick to leave the red reflection of neon in the suds of his beer.

“I mean, everyone knows about you and… Beatrice?”

Joe shrugs.

“I guess the only reason I ask is that… well, you seem like somebody who would want to see that.”

Joe looks at Harry and shakes his head. “I go where they tell me to go. Every demo looks the same to me, Harry.”

Canto 17 December 19, 2012 2pm EST

In which little Joe watches his favorite game show: Press Your Luck

Little Joe is seated in front of the glowing television and watching little demons come out from the sides and sweep contestant dollars away. A tall handsome man inside the television makes apologies and asks questions.

Peter Tomarken: How tall is the Eiffel tower of Paris?
Contestant Tammy: 1500 feet.
Tomarken: Ok, Tammy says 1500 feet. Is it A. 1500 feet. B. 1000 feet or C. 2000 feet. Gary?
Contestant Gary: I’ll say 1500 feet, Bill.
Tomarken: Okay, Gary, sticking with the first answer. Bobby, how about you?
Contestant Bobby: I’ll say… B. One thousand feet.

Little Joe nods. It’s one thousand feet. He knows it. It was built in 1889. It is 1,063 feet tall to be exact. It was the tallest construction until She had the Chrysler Building made. The iron tower was built as an entrance to the world’s fair. It was protested by more than one hundred architects and artists.

Tomarken: Bobby, you got that one correct. The Eiffel tower is 1,000 feet tall. You get one spin for that, and now… let’s got to the big board!

Little Joe rubs his hands together and prepares to watch for the patterns—the way that the highlight moves around the board in predictable (so he believes) ways.

Canto 18 November 17, 2012 10am EST

In which Joe is shocked to learn that he had a childhood friend named Beatrice.

The population of Under the Bridge has grown by a dozen or so. Joe has long since drifted away from the bar to the intersections, thoroughfares and crisscrosses of steel and stone above him when “Hey, Joe!” occurs. He looks. Jodie is beside him.

She waits for him to wake up and says, “Harry says you’ve been considering something philosophically important,” she pauses and then puts her hands in the air and makes quote marks “about squares.” Jodie then presents her college eyes.

“I told Harry it wasn’t about squares; it’s about Victorian manners.”

“Yeah, I used to read satirical novels from the seventeenth—” she checks her herself—“or eight—whatever. They’re dead manners; that’s for sure.”

“Some of us are aware of ‘manners’ that are far older and would be far more useful these days. They never have to be dead.”

“Fine. I’m just mad that Carlin says you won’t be coming to my party this weekend.”

“Jodie…”

“Fine. I don’t care. But my friend does.”

“…”

“My friend who was with us when we saw you on York St.”

Canto 19 December 19, 2012 7pm EST

In which Joe tells the Brooklyn Bridge that he will always be in awe of it.

June 15th, 2001

Dear Brooklyn Bridge,

All this time I thought maybe I was speaking with you or maybe that you knew who was speaking to me. I looked to you for signs, but always you stood rigid and straight. I suppose you moved, in increments, in ways I could not detect. The thing of it is, when I was young, when I saw my first mountain, I was not impressed. It seemed to me like an image and not a thing at all. My mother said that I should be in awe and I confessed that I did not know what that was. She said that I should approach the mountain, put my hands upon it, then climb it, even reaching the top; all until I understood what awe was. And she was right. It was Hunter Mountain; not far from you, Bridge.

I have climbed that mountain three times in my life, and I will climb it again if whatever makes us gives me time. You though, you my mother thought was not much to pay attention to. She saw commerce in you, but I do not think that she saw far in time when you will stand despite that nothing will cross you anymore. You will stand. Of course, I have believed that of many things including myself, only to be proven wrong; for all things must pass. And I know you will not stand forever. Nothing will. But I suppose that rather than climb mountains, I should like to climb you, Brooklyn Bridge. To stand atop you must be amazing. Breathless. I wonder how far I could see atop you.

I think, though, that I have been mistaken about you or things speaking to me and that my history has been playing games with me in my dreams. I believe I found Beatrice. And she is just an old memory, and not the thing I thought she might be. That’s okay by me. It probably means I’m not crazy. Regardless, I wanted you to know that I do stand in awe of you, and that I never had to scale you—even touch you—to know it.

Thank you mighty bridge,

Joe

Canto 20 December 20, 2012 10am EST

In which Joe and Beatrice perform their usual astounding dance.

Her feet are planted firmly on the ground. Her large back wheels are lifted up into the air in a position of readiness to pounce, to smack. Her frontbucket nose is pressed firmly on the ground alongside her feet, keeping her face up off the ground. Joe is inside of her and in front of the pair stands a small cinder block wall, unprepared—to be fair, no architect could imagine what must be planned for in order for a wall to face this pair. She is like a scorpion, her front lowered in a crouch, her tail lifted in to the air, prepared to strike. Across her pock-marked, yellow cheeks are green tiger stripes and in one spot, near her halogen eyes, written in green cursive, her name: Beatrice.

Canto 21 November 17, 2012 5pm EST

In which the machine tries but cannot understand her tiny minions; or the stupid trees for that matter.

There is calm near her, but she can not know it. If you could see time race the way that she does—for she is four hundred and some forgotten years old—a day would be a mere hour. The rivers that surround you do not hug, they race, and to where you do not know, and will never know. For your only ability to move is to consume. Everything around you becomes that which you have devoured like so many carcasses. There are those who are like you, who are punished and perish when their little gears stop turning. And then there are those who are not like you and they move with sweeps with no angles, no edges. And that you cannot understand. You make out dreamy things like birth and death but have no idea what all these little combobulating circles are on about. They care for you, they cut you, they gut you, repair you, make you new, they multiply, but all those you love are senseless and they speak some strange language you can not and will not ever understand. With them, it is:

when will you be are She’s just not It’s that tall, I mean you can’t you coming I’m almost that’s the way the gone just like that meeting And I always will can we split wouldn’t believe you take Avenue we always birthday Sometimes I feel like really is dangerous I can’t of course I’m happy That old already? in her best form Suddenly Not eight, no way Do care for you so much not hang up on me if I can’t be there The weather’s gonna’ be real why aren’t you listening nasty 500! 505! just around the corner Delicious! Mommy I just want extra for the chrome finish bar of soap In a world without the snail simply devours its and there you have it.

Canto 22 December 23, 2012 10am EST

In which Haruko observes her little boy.

To have dragged him from one country to another; it is a debt to him she feels she can never pay back. Surely, his peculiarities arise from the shock of turning his homeland into a distant and mythological place; a quiet and meditative culture exchanged for the brutish and loud New York City. Poor, sweet, Josephu, she often thinks. She of course meant poverty of spirit, but she also knew that if they could have more money then she might better protect him from the brutality of the city. But then he was never materially poor, not really. If he was poor he did not seem to recognize it. Every cardboard box was a fortress or the potential for a construction. Every paper towel tube was a rocket or a bullhorn. Every piece of bent wire found on the sidewalk was a sigil, a message, an antenna or a figurine. She bought him toys and while he seemed so grateful for the gifts, they most often sat unused in the corner of the living room. Perhaps the one exception was a large electric buzzer that had come with a board game. The game itself was discarded (too simple), but Joe would sometimes sit in front of the TV, some game show occupying the screen, and press his electric buzzer along with the show, speaking answers before the contestants when he could.

Canto 23 November 17, 2012 11pm EST

In which Joe meets an insane man named Walt

Joe walks down York to the East River. There is a small concrete inlet there, Manhattan visible across the way, lit brightly in the cloudy evening. It’s not dark yet, the summer sun refusing to go slowly, but the sky is purple and dark shades of blue east of that. The heat of the summer has subsided somewhat and he knows that the roof of the building to his left will be a beautiful place to be tonight, but there is an apprehension in him. He does not necessarily want Beatrice to be Beatrice. What will it mean? Was she some sort of symbol in his subconscious, and if so, then what were the visions? Why imagine himself bleeding to death in the shower?

He stands with his hands in his pockets and watches the water lap against the man-made stone, that over the years has become pocked and greasy. He cannot see the Bridge from where he is; cannot see past the building where the party is. Then from behind him he hears a cough. He turns and there is an old standing behind him in tattered clothes with bright white eyes against his dark skin. “I don’t mean to bother you, sir—I don’t beg for money, but if you could see your way to giving me some money, I could give you some advice and maybe tell you something about your future.”

Canto 24 December 13, 2012 6pm EST

In which Walt composes a poem

There is a deep Voice in the medium
buried in the strata of the noise
a dream that says a silence is coming
to us;
a partner of the chaos that lay
beyond our comprehension
forever chained to
the sound of fleet drums
too small to see
making noise too vast
to hear

would you, could you
come to the shores of decadence
crawl on the beach of repentance
plead for your independence
as future's color blurs and
speaks of time as impenetrable
your tiny mind naught but
ordered ignorance

would you, could you
seek ideas or even means
all while It seeks being
here and now
then and gone
and you as part

It does not notice you
heed your name
pretend to seek
and in the end IS

would you, could you
know better than to call
the dream, the master, the chaos
come to us in darkness
because we seek and insist
and leave the light on for It?

—Walt the Seer
Canto 25 November 18, 2012 1pm EST

In which Joe meets Beatrice but not that Beatrice.

“Joe! You son of a bitch!” Joe is standing at the entrance to Jodie’s building, unsuccessfully trying to get buzzed in when Carlin comes up with a crowd of five people. “I never thought I would be able to get you to come out to one of these things.”

Joe just shrugs just like a little Joe on about adventure shows on TV.

Carlin looks around his group and then to Joe, “You know Fletcher—” Joe nods, “—and then this is Candice, Amber and Mark.” Joe acknowledges each of them alongside his desire to not meet new people to run in to at the station or around the neighborhood. Between this and the maniac he’d just met, he is beginning to feel that this goose hunt for some woman named Beatrice is a total mistake. Carlin explains that likely no one can hear the buzzer over the party, so he calls Jodie directly and soon the crew is up on the top floor of the building, milling out of the freight elevator into Jodie’s apartment.

Canto 26 December 22, 2012 11am EST

In which Joe decides to go on a mental adventure with Carlin

Jodie’s apartment possessed massive windows that looked out over the East River and Manhattan beyond, and there was a small rooftop deck as well. By the late night, Joe had made his way out on to the deck, and, leaning on the rails, had settled on revery (as usual) of the tasks that had built the skyline that he settled his gaze on. Joe, construction worker, knew that where others saw majesty, he spied a graveyard—not that his vision changed the skyline, but rather that he always felt he understood the cost of such monuments better than most. They saw bright lights and monoliths that championed the human spirit. In terms of the human spirit and its accomplishments, he was in agreement with most. He had no intention to lord his awareness over anyone either, but he did beg for fellowship in the darker regard.

Without warning, Carlin slaps Joe’s backside, laughs and holds a drink out to Joe. Joe turns to Carlin with some amount of irritation, but the drink reminds him that Carlin is one of his oldest friends, and no impostor. Carlin says, “I never thought I would see you out like this, man!”

Canto 27 December 27, 2012 4pm EST

In which Joe and Carlin are given an imperative

The effect at first is simply one of nausea and Joe begins to regret his decision. Carlin, though, is ready for the reaction and after the two have continued to look out at the east side of lower Manhattan for ten minutes or so, Carlin says, “Don’t worry, man. Another ten minutes and the queasies will pass. And if you think you need to throw up, go ahead—no big deal.”

Joe shoots him an irritated look.

“Hell, barf off the roof! There’s nothin’ over there anyway.”

Joe shuffles down off the roof deck on to the tar-papered roof itself and makes his way to the edge that faces the East river. Sure enough, he leans over the foot high wall at the back of the roof and looks down nine stories. Behind the building is a weeded concrete lot, demarcated with chain link faces on either side that run from the building’s back corners directly into the river. Scattered around the lot are tires, the rusty metal remnants of a mattress, water-logged pieces of wood. Joe takes a deep breath and the air feels fresh. His eyes journey out across the empty lot and finally his gaze ends at the water’s edge where… the water is electric. Polygons of bright blue seem to rise from the bottom of the darkness of the East River, where they dance, and vanish only to be replaced by another school of sparks. The sparks in the river swarm and, in unison, spiral and dash back toward the other side of the river.

Canto 28 November 19, 2012 4pm EST

In which Joe falls asleep on the train home.

The subway car is rattling along. It is lurching and throwing itself in every direction. Joe is standing inside of it, bouncing around in its long steel bowel. The lights of the stations and the passing lamps in the tunnels light and fade quickly on the express. Joe is rattled and tousled and tired and bored. Lights race by him in the windows of the train cars. They pass by more and more quickly. They are yellow and shine into the car like curious children.

There is a voice playing his head. You are compassionate person. You like other people. You can be around them easily because you, yourself are a friendly person. His CD player spins away in his lap and behind the voice is the familiar sound of a brook running through some woods. Now and then there is a bird call or the sound of insects, or something splashing in the water.

The lights flash by the car. The water—only in his ears—runs.

Canto 29 December 20, 2012 4pm EST

In which Joe goes about his day, sort of.

Day -46, July 27th, 6:29:59

He clutches his gut and winces. He can feel the movement but dares not acknowledge it—because it, whatever it is—is moving—through him—in him. He lets out a hurling kind of grunt, and then, dreadful pulls back the white covers to see deep red spread across the sheets, his t-shirt, his hand. In the shadows of the covers, in the low morning light, he slowly removes his hand only to see a massive worm, as thick as one of his fingers pushing its way out of his stomach. He cries out, rolls on to his side, and—

He awakens. In a panic he searches the sheets, bleached as though they were new. He pats around his stomach, but the trawling feeling and the motion is gone, though he is drenched in sweat. He turns and there she is lying beside her, her hand clutched to her stomach, her beautiful yellow dress ruined by a massive blood stain. He stammers, paralyzed and then reaches out to help her. As he does, she widens her beautiful silver eyes—silver like tinted glass on a bright day—and she mouths the word, “No.” Then—

Canto 30 December 21, 2012 2pm EST

In which Joe finds out he is to be transferred to working on Tunnel #3.

The subway car is rattling along. It is lurching and throwing itself in every direction. Joe is standing inside of it, bouncing around in its long steel bowel. Joe listens to the encouraging voice, and the sound of the brook and nothing else happens. He gets off the train at Mt. Eden Ave. in the Bronx and walks four block to where a C.E.D. office is located; a mobile trailer amongst a lot of construction machines. He turns the CD player off and heads into the mobile headquarters to find his manager. Inside is rough carpeting and a desk with a receptionist (Anne) and stacks and stacks and stacks of forms in various trays and boxes. From further back in the mobile unit comes the cry of a man named Dave—“Joe! Come on back here. I got somethin’ good for ya’.”

Canto 31 December 26, 2012 9am EST

In which Joe and Beatrice are lost to the depths of Tunnel #3

Beatrice turns and turns in the air above Joe. He holds his hardhat to his head and looks upward to a massive hole in the ceiling, though which, Beatrice, chained to a platform, chained to a crane, slowly descends. Like a massive pendulum, she shifts to and fro and spins on the axis of the crane’s cable. For a moment, Joe is worried. She has never been heft like this; it may unnerve her. But then, he remembers his wind-up machines, remembers that he is her soul, and that without him inside her, there is really nothing but parts and ratios. But he also worries about the physical damage that a fall could cause. He sees the cable snap, unwinding itself, as she begins to plummet, her two tons picking up enough velocity—even from only 30 feet—to slam into the ground, the platform shattering under her weight, her wheels bent outward from her engine and cab, and axels mangled, as though she’d broken all her limbs. He shakes his head to release himself from the fear. The fall wouldn’t damage her at all. She is too tough for that. Still, something was not sitting well with him; some feeling that they should not be here. That they were here too soon? As Beatrice pirouetted out from beneath the sun and sky Joe could not distract himself from how alien she seemed in this place. Wreckage and dirt and mud, yes; but darkness? Beatrice, the Beatrice of his mind, the Beatrice of the yellow dress—she was always in the Sun.

To his left, one hundred yards away, through lose rock, setting cement, and stabbing throngs of steel rhubarb, there was the end to the tunnel: a jagged rock-face covered in scaffolding and dampness. Here and there small white streams run down the face of the wall where one or another sandpig is water-blasting toward the goal. Sitting idle (for the moment) before the rock-face, lay a massive tunnel boring machine that the workers affectionately called “The mole.” To his right, the tunnel stretches away, here and there punctuated by brilliant tungsten floodlights and the long shadows of men walking, working. The tunnel runs so far north of the Bronx that it gradually fades into a small black circle where Joe can see no more. As soon as Beatrice is down, he will drive her toward the rock face to assist in cleaning out leftover rubble, and in some cases, collapsed portions of the ceiling of the tunnel. Once cleared, those piles will be replaced by scaffolding and more massive machines to repair and reenforce the ceiling of this new and most crucial artery. Without Tunnel #3, not enough water will feed into New York City, and she will wilt of thirst. Dig, little men.

Canto 32 December 28, 2012 4pm EST

In which Joe tries to find his way out of total darkness and possibly madness.

The depths of the chasms are many kinds of darkness in the inverted city—rippling symmetrically outwards like water ringlets on the surface of a puddle. There is a riddle in the stone and a rhyme in the steel. It curls the rags of its cape about itself and moves invisibly. And it stalks the rare humans who come into its grips. It likes to heckle them with the sound of pebbles dropped from great heights, banging and pinging off of who knows what until the sound just because darkness, too.

“H-Hello?”

It likes to caress his face.

“Anyone?”

It cozies up to him and whispers mean nothings in his ear.

“Anyone?”

It sings lightly, I know that you are alone, alone, alone. Like a child reciting rhymes.

Canto 33 December 29, 2012 6pm EST

In which Joe discovers that he is not alone in the sinkhole.

“You. I know you,” Joe says to the visage that has appeared in the void.

Walt looks confused. “Can’t say the same, man.”

“You just said so. You said you told me so. And… and you gave me a—a—you said it was a map. You told me to carry it. I have it.” Joe digs into his back pocket and gets out his wallet. In it, he has folded and kept the poem along with a letter to the Brooklyn Bridge. He unfolds the poem and, shaking from nerves, hands it over to Walt. Walt looks at Joe, not puzzled but curious—no one has spoken to him in a long time. But he takes the letter after the pause and holds it up to the lantern and reads the poem. He nods approvingly, “Not bad, not bad.” He hands it back to Joe, “Nice one. That’s a good poem.”

Canto 34 December 30, 2012 6pm EST

In which the Machine mocks the attempts at a rescue of Joe.

There is panic in the tunnel. Construction workers have lowered chains and then themselves into the sinkhole looking for their new brother. Ceilings collapse, rubble slides down walls, but never have any of them witnessed the opening of a sinkhole; not at this depth. Most have ignored the orders of the higher-ups to wait for emergency teams and climbed down with lights and picks, to look for Joe. She watches… and smiles. The rubble piles like a maze and the shaft of the hole seems to split off in different directions, some laterally, some pushing further down, like some massive ant colony unveiled. One sandpig finds refuse and calls out for more light, but once illuminated, the light reveals only boards of rotted wood and bones… bones!—bones where there should be none. In one corner of an alcove of an offshoot of the main sinkhole, there sits a skull, half-smashed by a thirty pound chunk of granite. You will not find him, my little bees. He is mine now.

Canto 35 December 31, 2012 2pm EST

In which Joe discovers a truth about Beatrice.

Having borrowed the lantern from Walt, Joe has tried, without success to scale the walls of the cavern they find themselves in, all while trying to ignore the whispers he hears from the dark. The walls are covered in silt and and slime and water; the climb is far too slippery. Not able to gain any traction, standing on a pile of rubble near Beatrice’s rear shovel’s elbow, he turns toward Walt below him, “I don’t think there’s any getting up these walls without rope…” he looks up into the endless darkness, “or something.” Walt stands and brushes his rear off. “Nope.”

Joe squats and holds the lantern so that it shines down on where Walt is standing and sees puddles of water all around the floor. “We’re way below the water table. This place could flood at any moment—or crash down around us.”

“There’s better places to be out thataway,” and Walt again points off into some dark corner of the cavern.

“Well, they’ll be looking for me, and I came from that way,” Joe says and points upward.

“Gimme ma’ lamp back. I’m goin’.”

Canto 36 January 1, 2013 12pm EST

In which Joe and Walt make their way across an underground river.

In the corner of the cavern where Beatrice—where the backhoe, rather—sat, Walt had led Joe to a small opening that they crawled through. The tunnel walls were smooth and Joe had to lay his torch out in front of him crawling on the knuckles of his right hand as he clung to his source of light. Walt made no effort to wait for him and was twenty feet ahead or so, a mere silhouette behind his shimmering lamp. Joe had slid the lunchbox handle through his belt on his backside and now and again when the ceiling of the tunnel got low, the metal box would thunk against the rock. The sound seemed to carry forward and backward a vast distance and Joe would bend down closer to the floor. There really was no one to disturb with the sound; Walt certainly didn’t seem to notice. But the noise unnerved Joe as it made the walls seem to close in.

Canto 37 January 2, 2013 1pm EST

In which Walt recites a poem and maybe implies he carved the tunnels. Maybe.

The river must have been about fifty yards wide and gradually they come up on the other side. Unlike the other side though, the stone close to the water has been chiseled into three wide stairs. Ahead of him he can see Walt holding his lamp up to a wooden door held together with bolted iron bars. Joe sloshes up out of the cold river, the air no colder than before. He mounts the stairs and then sets his torch down on the floor, which he notes is made of granite stones set together nearly perfectly. There is no mortar that he can see. The masonry is exquisite. He stands up and claps his shoulders and his sides to get blood flowing, while he watches Walt set down his light. He turns to Joe and says, “Let me see that torch, man.”

“Sure,” and Joe lifts the torch and hands it off.

Walt looks wearily at the flame and then, holding the steel rod near the flaming end, he jams the other into the gap between the door and the door frame (also beautifully laid stone). The damp wood groans and gradually gives way to the steel lever. When it finally bursts open, a rush of air goes past Joe and Walt sucking the flame into the revealed corridor behind the door, the flame catching Walt’s sleeve on fire. “Shit! Shit!” Walt drops the torch on the ground and bats at his arm until the little flame goes out. He observes his arm for a moment and then smiles at Joe, “No air. Ain’t been this way in a looong time.”

Joe reaches down and picks up the torch, Walt his lamp, and the two make their way in to the corridor which is no wider or taller than the door itself. It is cramped, rectangular, straight, and completely smooth. As they enter, Joe runs his hand along the wall and tiny particles of rock trickle to the floor. “This was carved,” Joe observes.

Walt laughs. “Yeah it was!”

“What? Did you carve it?”

Walt pauses to turn back to Joe, his eyes widening in the flickering shadows. “Through the dark I came to the water / the Hustle feared to follow the fording / And the passage I found, I made / The end was meant for me!” He laughs again and begins moving down the passage.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

Canto 38 January 5, 2013 12pm EST

In which Joe leaves Walt to follow the voice of Beatrice to another doorway.

This time Joe can distinctly tell that the passage is graded, slightly, upward. He begins to feel relief as he shuffles to keep from catching his shoes on the slope. The passageway moves upward and then levels off, then upward again for a space, then flat again. It gradually worms it way upward likes this for another half an hour until it ends in a chamber that Joe is all too glad to see. The passageway opens up into a room, perhaps twelve to fifteen feet square. But what Joe is truly glad to see, sits in the center of the far wall of the room: a portal opening to a staircase. Joe walks to the base of the stairs and hold his torch aloft, looking up. The stairs disappear into black. “Well, I guess we go up.”

Canto 39 January 6, 2013 10am EST

In which Joe explores a corridor of pipes and makes camp.

Entering the room, zippo lit and in hand, Joe peers around and can see little beyond him besides old floorboards and the occasional pipe rising from out of the floor and traveling up into darkness. The pipes are large and varied in width—between one half foot to three feet wide in diameter—and Joe hears the sound of rushing liquid in most of them. Beneath the rushing though, coming from above, he also hears a low pitched—almost inaudible—percussive thump every few minutes or so. He shuffles along the left side of the wall, following it along, pipe after pipe looming in front of him, until he reaches a small alcove, two large pipes bending toward one another before continuing upward, standing like an archway to the entrance of the little space. He leans in and sees a defunct mattress amongst piles of rags as well as a tall pole leaning in a corner and beneath the pole, a lantern. “Ah!” he exclaims and speaking to no one, he says, “That should come in handy.” He squats down next to the lantern and goes about lighting it while suspiciously looking around his surroundings. “Hope whoever’s bed this is doesn’t mind terribly.” As the lantern comes to life, illuminating the alcove, he says, “I’ll be sure to pay them back for the lantern… somehow.”

Canto 40 January 7, 2013 12pm EST

In which we meet Ghede

Joe awakens with a start—not entirely realizing he had fallen asleep—and before him, across the fire, squats a small, thin man with ghostly pale skin, garbed in a shabby suit and coat, wearing small black circular sunglasses and a top hat. The fire is reflected in his glasses and he takes a sip from a bottle in his hand before looking absently around the alcove and sniffing the air. “Are you awake, then?”

Gathering in his surroundings, Joe notices that the man has put more wood on the fire. Then, Joe spots his lunchbox sitting next to him and contemplates going for his knife, but then, he pauses and watches as the little man still turns his head about looking at seemingly nothing in particular. Suspicious, he waves at the man, who appears to pay no mind. “I’m awake, yeah.”

The man looks toward Joe now and smiles; a rotten smile at that. “Good sleep?”

“I guess.” Joe rubs his neck and sits up.

“Name’s Ghede.” The man waves, “Hello.”

“Uh, my name’s Joe.”

“Ah, Joe. Joseph Takanara.”

Joe, agape, “How…”

“Walt told me. He was blathering on about it quite a bit. Considering no one else comes around these parts, when I felt the fire, I assumed you had built it.”

“Where’s Walt now?”

“Don’t know. Hadn’t seen him for a few days—that was when he was heading down to look for you.”

“You mean when he’d found me.”

“No. I think he was still looking for you.”

Joe sits and contemplates this for a moment. Then, without segue, “Are you blind?”

“Yup.”

“Is this your bed, because I—“

“Don’t worry. There’s not much point in being down here and being blind and then thinking there’s such a thing as a possession.”

“I’d really meant to pay you—whoever—back in some way.”

“Well, your money’s no good here.”

“It must be really difficult… uh… navigating around down hear without being able to see.”

“I make due.”

“Do you stay down here, or… maybe you would like some help. I’m trying to get out of here.”

“Oh. Well, that’s interesting, but no, I don’t really want to leave. I’ve got a nice job down here.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m the undertaker.”

Canto 41 January 8, 2013 7pm EST

In which Ghede tells Joe about some other denizens of the Inverted City.

After having an unfruitful discussion about how exactly Ghede had come to be an undertaker in this underground labyrinth—a place Ghede refers to as “the inverted city”—Joe and Ghede make their way through the corridor of pipes, Joe discovering that many smaller corridors, also filled to the brim with pipes, branch off from the main one they currently moved through, although Ghede assures him that there are larger tunnels. The only thing of note that Ghede had mentioned about his “position” was that he collected bodies to be incinerated, and that somewhere in this dark maze was a furnace. That Joe had asked to be shown, and Ghede complied mentioning that the furnace is always on his way, since they would likely find some poor soul to be disposed of as they went.

Canto 42 January 11, 2013 11am EST

In which the Engine reveals to Joe that he may have a map after all.

Joe kneels down and puts his hand to the floor; the stone is warm to the touch. In a junction of sorts, Joe looks around at the pipes, many of them larger than before, and criss-crossing the room all around and over him, they are now covered in condensation. The cobwebs and dust have been replaced with glistening. Perhaps a half an hour before, upon entering the intersection, Ghede had put his nose up to the air and sniffed carefully for several moments. Then, without explanation, Ghede had asked him to wait in the chamber while he “fetched” something. So Joe waited, is waiting, listening to new noises, knocks and clangs in the pipe works. As they had approached the chamber, he had noticed the change in temperature as the pipes grew in diameter and became alive with activity.

He detaches his lunchbox from his belt, seats himself on the warm stone floor, and sets the little black metal box in front of him and stares at it. Removing the letter and the map from the box, he goes over both once again. For the first time, he notices some faded symbols behind the letters of the poem that Walt had given him; faint sketches. He turns the old, rumpled paper one way and another and without knowing why, turns the lantern off once again. As before, a darkness comes over the chamber and as his eyes adjust, the room begins to glow, this time even more ghostly, the fungus appearing to thrive in the hot moisture of the room. More and more, the green glow seems to crawl out from thick patches in various places along the pipes and then merge until outlines of most of the room, arches leading to other corridors, even more pipes, creases in the stonework of the floor, all come to life before him. The glow becomes so luminescent, he can make out virtually the whole of the chamber around him. And like before, it seems he can see further up and out than what the lantern revealed.

Looking down to the piece of paper in his hand, he sees that the poem is entirely gone, now replaced by strange green icons and symbols. He holds it close to his face and squints, but it is hard to make anything out in the faint light. He looks to the little lunchbox and he is standing in a field with someone, a faint glow still surrounding him, but now white, from a full moon. He feels young again and looks to his side to see a figure, an arm and a hand covered in dirt and grease. Looking up, the moonlight falls on the calm smile and eyes like windows—nearly white in the moonlight—of Beatrice. She looks down at him and smiles. “Sometimes it’s easy to see the stars when you don’t look directly at them.” She stoops down next to him, puts her hand on his shoulder and then points skyward. “Pick a dark spot in the sky, Joseph, and then you will see that the stars in your periphery appear that much brighter.” He does as he is told and sees that she is right. Looking to the lunchbox, the paper just beneath his fovea gleams with sigils and he can almost recognize them—Kanji. He recognizes some of them: Cycle… repeat… fire… one… no, not one, but whole.

Canto 43 January 11, 2013 4pm EST

In which Joe calls out to the only things of strength he knows.

And just as the glow from the fungus in the chamber crept into his senses, a smell beyond the mildew and moisture comes to him. Like Ghede, he sniffs the air quickly. He breathes in quick through his nose in short pulses, like a dog, and the smell is unmistakable: rot. Standing from the floor, the paper in hand, he begins to move to one side of the chamber and sniff, and then moves to the opposite side and smells the air; the smell less strong now. He moves back to where the smell was stronger and repeats the steps of moving away from the smell in two directions and returning to where it is strongest. Slowly, he is lead by the scent to a corner of the chamber where the glow is cut off between two pipes two feet in diameter, standing side-by-side in the corner. Gingerly, he places his head in the gap between the pipes, the metal hot by his cheeks, sniffs, and the smell hits him hard and he recoils. Returning to the lunch box and the lantern, he fetches his zippo and re-lights the lantern.

The glow dissipates and Joe can clearly see the corner of the chamber where the smell had emanated from, the pipes standing erect together like guards. He approaches the dark gap between them, the lights playing off the water gathered on the pipes but refusing to illuminate the gap. Again, the heat from the pipes washing over him, he stands close to the gap and then turns sideways in order to slide his arm and the lantern between the pipes.

At first he sees nothing but a corner where two walls of the chamber meet, but the smell is strong and unfortunately obvious in name now. Lowering the lantern, the light reaches out to reveal a skull with wet, leathery skin, hollowed out eyes and wisps of frizzy gray hair. The lips are rotted back from the teeth so that it smiles unwillingly down toward the ground. Huddled in the corner, the corpse is seated on the floor, clothed in what are now just rags, arms wrapped around its legs as thought it were waiting for something. Then, right in his ear, right next to him, “Is that you, Joseph?”

“No!” Joe steps back from the gap in the pipes, turns toward the lunch box. “No, no, no.” He starts towards the little metal box, but just as he does, a massive, hot gust of wind blows in from the archway to his right. Dust and small particles of God-knows-what pummel him and he holds his arm up before his face to protect his eyes. Then answer this question, Joseph: Who are you?” Joe squints and looks in the direction of the gust, the wind giving no sign of weakening, and his heart skips a beat as the wind curls into his ears and the sound from the air dancing along the pipes, playing them like some whispering flute, “Whoooooo aaaaaare yoooooooou?” He moves into the wind, toward the archway, but can see nothing as the air seems to circle about him in the chamber, “It doesn’t matter who the hell I am! I’m getting the hell out of here!” And just like that, the wind dies and is gone.

Joe falls to the ground, kneeling, letting the lantern fall to the floor, and the shadows excitedly climb down the walls and pipes from the ceiling, watching Joe as his face falls into his hands and he cries, “Oh God… oh God…” He looks up for a moment and sitting just inside the open lunch box, the letter. He cries again, “Bridge! Oh god bridge! Help me!”

Canto 44 January 12, 2013 11am EST

In which Joe helps Ghede with the body and Ghede helps Joe ponder the question.

Crumpled helplessly on the floor of the chamber, Joe stares at the little metal box, closed now, wondering at the meaning of anything that has happened in the last who-knows-how-many hours or days. “I’ve lost my mind,” he says to the little black box. Looking up from the circle of light that the lantern provides, he stares at the darkness that rises above him, tear tracks on his face illuminated. “None of this can be real.” He sits up, some trickle of resolve running into his veins. He crosses his legs and again, focuses on the box, takes a deep breath and, “Beatrice.” Some errant memory from his childhood intercedes and Joe is forced to smile at the remembrance of a movie. “Beatrice! Beatrice! Beatrice!” He chuckles when nothing happens. “Figures.”

“Talking to your little box?” says Ghede, entering the chamber. He looks around the room, trying to sense where Joe is.

“Over hear. I’m over hear… she was speaking to me.”

“She speaks to you through the box, eh?”

“Sometimes… it seems like it. I think she used to speak to me through a backhoe, though.”

“Backhoe? What’s that?”

Ghede makes his way toward him. He is hauling a large canvas bag, draped over his shoulder and trailing behind his lithe frame. Joe looks up, Ghede standing over him. “It’s uh… a tractor.”

Ghede mouths the word slowly, turning it over, “Trak-tor.”

Cocking his head Joe replies, “You don’t know what that is?”

“No, can’t say I do. But…” Ghede looks around the chamber, sniffing, “Listen closely. She speaks through quite a lot of things.”

“What you’re look for is over there though. Go past me; in the corner of the room between the pipes.”

“Ah. A surrender.” Ghede begins to make his way to the corner where the corpse is. “What did she say to you?”

“She asked me who I am.” Joe gets up off the floor and follows after Ghede to the corner.

“Huh. Trick question.”

“Oh? So then, what’s the answer?”

Ghede feels around for the pipes and then Lays the canvas bag out in front of the gap between the pipes, “What do you think the answer is.”

“Well, I’m Joe. Joe Takanara. I’m a construction worker—kind of a demolitions expert.”

“No. Your not any of those things. Your certainly not a construction worker now, or demolishing anything for that matter.” Ghede reaches in between the pipes and tugs on the legs of the corpse. “Until a few moments ago, you weren’t Joe Takanara; just Joe to me.”

“Well, I’m also American… and Japanese…”

“Oh, so you’re a nip?” Ghede turns to ask.

Excuse me?”

“What?”

“Just—just don’t say that. It’s rude.”

“Is it?” Ghede feels one of the legs break free. “Damn it.” He pulls the leg out and throws it on to the canvas sack. “Well, at any rate, if you think on it, you aren’t any of those things—those are empires and countries—you’re not an empire or a country are you?”

Joe bends down to help Ghede with the body, “I suppose not. What about you? You have a funny accent.”

“Do I now?”

“Yes. So who are you, where are you from?”

“Two very different questions. Who I am is simple: I’m the undertaker.” Ghede pauses and looks wistful. “Where I’m from?… It’s hard to remember. I used to live in the city, New York. I remember that much—not much else. There was this street corner, I can still see it. The micks used to scuttle about there looking for work. There was a fruit stand. I remember… it’s silly. It’s mostly gone now—memory.”

The pair manage to haul most of the corpse out by the second leg, the hips still attached, the rib cage, all loosely covered in ragged clothing. “Who do you suppose he—she?—was?”

“Whoever he was, he didn’t know.” There is a clunk as the skull rolls off the body and back into the corner behind the pipes. “It’s why most of them give up. They go on for so long until they forget everything and the question is the only thing they can remember. They keep thinking the answer is in the details they don’t know anymore. Then they just huddle up somewhere and rot.”

“God, how sad.”

“God’s got nothing to do with it.”

Joe gets down on all four and reaches behind the pipes, blindly patting the floor until he locates the skull. He pulls it out and holds it in front of his face. “He or she… is just a thing now.”

“Mostly. We’ll throw ‘em in the furnace.”

Joe helps Ghede arrange the corpse in the canvas and then Ghede ties it up with straps.

“So, Beatrice…er… the Painted Lady… she asked you the question?”

“She did, and she gave me the answer. To put it mildly, she helped me to see it very clearly,” and for emphasis, Ghede pulls his sunglasses down, revealing nothing but skin.

Joe gasps, but just then, a loud scraping sound comes from another part of the room and Joe and Ghede turn towards it. Where there is an expanse of and sand dust covering the floor, a circle appears and then twists and lifts until Joe can see a manhole arise and then two hands shove it aside. From up out of the hole, the head of Walt appears. He throws his arms up over the floor and pauses to catch his breath. “Good Lord, I hate it down there.” He wrinkles his nose. “Smells like sulfur.”