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Stepping into Jockey shorts – the Wedding garment – not the Gun – this time, Maybe this time –

Stepping into grey jockey shorts with thick white seams he pulls them up and snaps them into place below his hard round belly, furred white like his thighs, his forearms, dashed with black. Sheer black nylon socks with garters snapped about his calves. A shirt of fine white broadcloth, and he fastens the lowest three buttons up to its pleated bib already smudged with ash. The trousers black, simply cut, the outer seams masked by plain black satin ribbon, and he climbs into them, tucks in his shirttails, wrestles the braces up over his shoulders, does up the fly. He fishes silver and black enameled studs from a little bowl on the dressing table and closes up his shirt, leaving the cuffs undone. And then from the table, careful of the ash that dusts the top of it, he lifts a black silk tie, slender but for the butterfly bulges at either end.

“Shit,” says Mr. Charlock, Mr. Leir, weighing the tie in his hands.

“You think she let you skate with a clip-on?”

“You ain’t here,” says Mr. Charlock, lifting his collar, draping the tie about his neck.

“Here as you. How here is that? Doctor Charley fucking Leir.”

“You’re dead,” says Mr. Leir, intent on crossing the one end over the other. “I shot you.”

“Whole damn time it was you. Whole damn time, and you, sitting in the car, next to me.”

“It was so obvious,” says Leir, lifting his chin to tuck one end under and through, “I couldn’t even let myself know. Shit.”

“Turn the fuck around.”

The man behind him wears a grey suit and a white shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat, and three neat black-edged holes punched through the front of it. He grabs the ends of Leir’s tie and saws it back and forth, deftly passing over and under, tucking it through, pulling it tight. “Never could take care of yourself,” he says.

“How’s Phil?” says Leir. “Okay?”

“Phil?” says Bottle John, adjusting, neatening. “The fuck is Phil?”

“Mr. Kay,” says Leir. “Dr. Kilo.”

Evening out the ends of the bow he checks the width of it with his finger. “Now why you think,” he says, “I know anything about your Dr. Kilo.”

“You’re a figment of my imagination,” says Leir. “I can’t keep track of everything myself. Figured you maybe saw something, in the confusion.”

“A figment,” says Bottle John. “You know what I been asking myself, ever since, what I been trying to untangle?” He steps back. “How it is a wisp a smoke buried in ice since the dawn of time gets such a hard-on for Charley Wentworth Leir, outta Fugate Fork Kentucky.”

“I get around?” says Leir, sitting on the stool, taking up a silvery shoehorn and working it into a black patent leather pump.

“What you gotten yourself into this time,” says Bottle John.

“What, this?” Leir slips his foot into the shoe. “Nothing I can’t get out of.” He picks up a pair of sunglasses from the dressing table as a flaring, dying spark drifts down. “The rules are always less stringent than you think.” Blows ash from the lenses, the feather tied to the arm of it fluttering. “Fucking phantasmata.” Puts them on.

Reflections in the gold-mirrored panels of the elevator walls, a hundred hundred Leirs one behind another all about. They lift hands to brush back grey tufts of hair almost precisely midway between brows and tops of skulls, and wind those strands about their fingers twisting, helping the curls along. “Now although many apparent byways shewed themselves, yet would I still proceed with my compass, and not budge one step from the line it set before me. Motherfuckers.” Each Leir takes off his black sunglasses and all of them squeeze their eyes shut, rubbing at them with fingertips and thumbs. “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farms, another to his books, and the rest closed up about the messengers, and slew them.” Heads dip, look up again. “And he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city,” he says. “The wedding is ready, but them which was bidden weren’t worthy. Friend,” he says, “how camest thou, in here, without a wedding garment?” Those sunglasses lifted in a hundred hundred hands, and hands take hold of all those feathers, rip them free. “I am as without speech,” he says. A rumble, a shudder, the sound of the elevator changing pitch, speeding up, thinning out. “Woman, what have I to do with thee? – mine hour is not yet come.” Those hands open, those sunglasses drop, fall below the mirrored panel, a single pair there on the carpet at his feet. “Piker,” says Leir, and he stomps them, shattering the lenses, snapping the frame in two. Another shudder, the grinding slows, clunks, stops. “For Art is but the Priestess of Nature,” he says, “and Nature the Daughter of Time, and Time?” The Leirs before him split down the middle and withdraw, as the doors open. “Fuck time,” he says, light pouring over him, “there is no time, but now, and now, and now,” and lifting one of those patent leather pumps over the threshold he steps out.

Crunch of glass underfoot, cubical nodules of powdering amber, silvery white, sheets of it sagging from frames there and there, pink crazed mirror-white and orange with heat, webbed by tremendous blows, past them a ruddy black emptiness and a buffeting wind, and light, all about light, a confusion of brilliance, shadows leap and climb and skitter over jagged drywall, bare steel struts, sprung cables, wrenched pipes. The ceiling’s gone. The floor above is gone. The walls upreaching distended, twisted, broken, gone. He holds up a hand, the feather pinched in his fingers, against the punishing light. A crater before him, above him in the wreckage of the building, a seething caldera, light slopping over the edges of it, sloshing, starspume tossed by the wind, the howling, the roaring, sobbing wind.

“I ascend!” he cries, and sets his hand and foot to a gap in the wall, prying himself up, higher into the wreckage. “The form of a man,” he says, careful of a sharp prong of broken rebar, “armed in a coat of male.” Testing his footing on a sloping bit of concrete floor scraped clean. “I hold in my hand,” he’s pulling something from the pocket of his jacket, “a naked sword.” Working his way about the crumbling wall at the edge of the floor there, braced clumsily, feather in one hand, cloth wadded in the other, squinting down at all that light below, thrusting both hands up, the feather, the scrap of underwear striped blue and white. “My operation!” he bellows. “Is for boldness! Malice! Liberty!”

Within that shapeless light a shape, a curl, a curve. A back. An arm, about a folded leg. A shadow there, hair, black hair.

“My lady,” says Leir, lowering his hands. "You are mine.”

Behind him a rustle, a thump, crackle and drag, “Fuck,” says someone, someone else, “oh fuck,” and he looks back, careful of his perch. Movement there in the ruined elevator bank, a glimmer in the shadows cast by all that light, nodules of glass clinking as she claws herself on her belly out of the hole in the floor, dripping light, smearing it into the carpet. Her boot finds solid purchase and she stops a moment, breathing deep and slow. Gathers herself, pushes over on her back blinking, looking up into a night sky cloudless blazing full of stars everywhere except the black slash looming, the blocky silhouette, him leaning over her, holding out a hand to her, pointing his hand at her, two fingers curled back against his palm, two fingers extended, thumb cocked. “Don’t move, chickie,” he growls. “Don’t even breathe.”

“Okay,” says Jo.

“This is serious,” says Leir.


“This will fuck you up.”

“I believe you.”

“Okay,” says Leir. “Okay.” Squatting, those two fingers pointed still at her face, her throat. Not too close. His face, his shoulders and arms, his smudged white shirt lit in harsh slashes shifting as he looks her over, her clothing soaked in light. “God damn,” he says, looking away, off toward the edge of the floor. Those fingers unwavering. “You’re covered in the stuff.” Looking her over again. “How’d you get up here?”

“I don’t know,” says Jo. “I fell.”



“Okay.” His hand lifts, those two fingers still pointed at her. Clutched by the fingers curled back against his palm a single feather, dark in the uncertain light. “Here’s what’s gonna happen. You pick a hand. You reach up nice and slow with that hand, you unzip your coat. You open it up for me. I see the slightest twitch I do not like, I’m just gonna have to learn to live with the agony of never knowing what it was you thought you might’ve done. We understand each other?”

“I think so,” says Jo.

“Pick your hand,” says Leir.

Jo slowly, carefully slides the zipper of her jacket down, the click of each tooth clear, distinct until at the end she disengages it with a tug. She’s reaching up to pull it open when he bats her hand away, jabbing her cheek with those extended fingers, cocked thumb straining, feather trembling as he pushes. His other hand wrapped in something, a scrap of fabric, striped, flipping open her jacket, careful of what he touches. “What is that, somebody’s,” she says, and he leans on her, pressing the side of her face to the carpet. “Asking questions,” he says, “that’s moving, that’s breathing. What is this. This isn’t the gun.” In the hand wrapped about in stuff striped white and blue he’s holding the small silvery coil of horn, the finish scratched, the bell dented. “Talk to me. You got a special dispensation to answer this one.”

“A horn,” says Jo, wincing as he presses again. “It’s supposed to, supposed to get us back home – ”

“Back?” He jerks upright with a laugh, taking those fingers with him. “Why on earth would you ever want to go back?” He hurls the horn into the air, “Wait,” she says, but he’s tracking its arc with those fingers, dropping the hammer of his thumb. A throaty exhalation, a tinny crump, the horn, smashed flat, falls away out of sight. “In case,” he says, smiling down, “you were thinking I was maybe crazy. With the fingers. And all.”

“No,” says Jo, and the merest shake of her head. She’s looking at the other hand, the striped hand, then away, blinking. “Where’s,” she says, “what have you done with,” and she swallows, “Ysabel.”

“Done with,” he says, and those two fingers stroke his chin. “Always important, chickie-babe, to get it straight who it is who’s gone and done zoomed who. It’s what she’s done to me.”

“You’re still here,” says Jo.

“For which I will ever eternally grateful be. Come on, get up.” Those fingers pointing at her again. “Get up! I figured out how you can help me.” She rolls onto her side, her hands and knees, pushes back and up a little, into a crouch. Light flaking and drifting from her. “Kinda bridesmaid type a deal. Maid of honor.” Shadows crawling over him as light erupts and falls about. “Wedding at the end of the world.” His grey tuft jerking, caught in the gusting wind. He closes those fingers into a fist, working it back and forth with a grimace, then waves the feather at her, pinched now between index finger and thumb uncocked. “Come on,” he says. “On your feet.”

Past the elevators, out to where the floor ends abruptly, cracked and jagged concrete, rebar yanked, walls and what once were walls angled around them, the floor below a lake of incandescence that banishes the stars, that surges in the wind, slops out broken windows, through doorways, that falls in showers of sparks, and there in the middle of it, Jo’s hand to her mouth, “Ysabel,” she says, the curve of a back, the arm about the folded leg, the shadowed curl of hair.

“Thus, my dilemma,” says Leir, and Jo looks from the light to him. “That,” he says, and a gesture of the hand wrapped in blue and white cloth. “I ain’t about to go wading out into that shit.”

“It’s owr,” she says. “It’s just owr.”

“Just.” He looks down, head shaking, shoulders shaking, a chuckle. “Just. That much, this close, to the source? It’ll drown a body out, shuffle it off to the choir ineffable. But.” Looking her over, her light-scummed boots, her spangled hair. “Maybe not. So go on.” Waving the feather out over the blaze. “Hop to it.”

She says, “Hop what?”

“Climb down there,” he says, “and go, and get her. Bring her back. Play the hero, girl. You don’t make it, I’ll just have to think of something else.”

She says, “And if I do?”

He sucks in an exasperated breath. “I kiss her, I wake her, and I join myself to her in wedded bliss.” The feather tilts back to her. “You’ve got to see this as a win, however limited. I was gonna eat her.” Looking back out over the simmering light. “Get all of that inside me. Can you imagine?”

She says, “What if, what if she doesn’t, want to get, married?”

“You think she has any idea what she wants? What she can do? What she’s for?”

“And,” she says, and she shivers, “and you do?”

He closes his eyes, tips back his head, “You smell this?” he says. “This is what gods breathe.” Lowering his head, looking over at her, eyes pale over his dimpled cheeks. “Wait till I open my seventeen eyes.” And then he laughs, loud, percussive barks, “Don’t,” he says, “don’t even, Joliet Kendal Maguire.” Another laugh. “I swear. You’d jump in front of a semi truck to save a damn ice cream cone, because this time, this time maybe Mommy or Daddy might notice. I know you!” She’s staring at him, hands in her gloves at her sides, out where they can be seen. “I followed your every waking move for three damn months, girl. I kicked the tires of your dreams. You’re going down there, and you’re fighting your way to her side because you will cling to the slenderest hope in hell you can find that maybe, just maybe you might see some way of turning this back on me, and saving the goddamn day. Because who knows. This time, maybe this time, it’ll bring your brother back.”

“I don’t,” says Jo, not lifting her hands, “I don’t,” and a swallow, “I don’t have a brother – ”

“Right!” he snaps, leaning close. “Your little never-baby boy. I know you!” Rearing back as she takes a step away, unsteady on the broken floor. “So I see you start to do the least little thing I didn’t know was gonna happen, I bite the top off this fucking building. Do you hear me.”

“I,” she says, “yes, I,” looking down, “I, could I,” hands opening, closing, a shudder, “do you smoke?”


“Just a quick,” she says, “cigarette. To steady, my nerves?” Her hands, carefully not moving. “You, ah, do you want one?”

The two of them, limned and cloaked by that tumult of light, his white shirtfront streaked with ash, her grey skirt dotted white and greyly pink, snapped and rumpled by the wind.

“Yeah,” he says. His hand curling about the feather, tucking it against his palm. “Yeah, sure.” Two fingers extending. His thumb, cocking. “Okay.”

“They’re in the,” she says, lifting a hand, slowly, “front right pocket, I’ll just,” crinkle of plastic and a twitch of his hand, “Cigarettes,” she says, “cigarettes,” in her hand, trembling, a slender orange pack. “I have to,” she says, “it’s a new pack, I have to open – ”

“I almost wish you had tried to what’s that,” he says. In the hand that’s holding the pack as she’s ripping at a corner of it something else, a piece of paper crumpled, folded, a page torn from a magazine. “That’s a,” he says. She’s taken the pack into her other hand, she’s holding up the folded page, just above her fingers a cartooned figure, a sketch of a woman, opera gloves and stockings. “That’s a femlin,” he says. “Why do you, what are you doing with a centerfold in your pocket?”

“I found it in a briefcase,” she says. “You want it?”

“Unfold it,” he’s saying, “you unfold it, open it up, now, now dammit, show me,” and she’s carefully peeling the corners away and shaking it out, turning it over to hold it up, the photograph filling the page, the woman lying back, the orange jacket, the dark stockings, the blue and white underwear, stretched taut. “What is this,” he says, his voice gone quiet, flat. “A joke, what is this. You think this is funny.”

“No,” says Jo. “No, I don’t.”

“You’re mocking me,” he says, as if two or three voices are fighting for the words in his mouth, and lifts his hands to sweep the feathers from his face, the great mane of feathers brown and white and black and dull brick red, and smoke is curling from the bottom of the page. She lets it go, lets it flaring fall, she turns as he opens his eyes, all of them, she lunges away a step full-tilt and another out past the jagged edge of concrete leaping as he opens his mouths, all of them, roaring, bellowing, and a throaty punch of a sound. Cartwheeling over herself she screams, falling, plowing a wake in all that light.

Rolling and tumbling coated in dripping with caked-over glitter, sodden with light, gasping shimmering spittle the waves of it sloshing about her elbows, her knees and behind another soaring splitting howl and all around the wind, and everything’s starting to shake. “Ysabel!” she screams, up on her feet in slurry, waves of it building breaking brilliant slush of it drifting the wreckage and ahead the figure still on its side, black curls strung with light. A howl rises to a screech and everything drops a foot or more to hang there one long frozen moment Jo pitching forward before it all of it falls again and under she goes the crashing surf of light that slops and rolls and settles as stone falls, as glass cracks, as flames rip and climb.

There by Ysabel she surfaces shoulders heaving clinging her arms about her, looking back at the rim of the floor above, the wings spreading there like thunder, the fire, and all those eyes. “Ysabel,” she says. “Wake up. Ysabel. We’ve got to.” Another shrieking chorus and she hunches herself up over Ysabel’s back as everything drops once more, and a sob as it’s all brought up short again, a boom.

“Ysabel,” she says. Ysabel’s head cradled in her arm. Wiping light from closed eyes, slack mouth. “I’m here,” she says. “The sky’s falling,” she says, and a laughing sob as another howl climbs up above them, “but I’m here,” she says. “I’m here.”

A flash of green, as Ysabel opens her eyes

That flash of green, as she sits up in Jo’s arms, and reaches out a hand. Reaches out a hand, and catches there a moth between thumb and forefinger, a moth, wings spread, and the spots on its wings like eyes. That moth, trembling when she crushes it.

The green, shining, as the flames close in and she pulls Jo close, and everything drops once more but all the light about them, rising

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The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, written by Anonymous, within the public domain. κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον, generally believed to have been composed between 70 and 110 by an author or authors unknown, within the public domain. The Gospel according to John, written by the disciple whom Jesus loved, within the public domain.

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