Deadlines (Part-1)

If you believe in yourself, you’ll believe in anything. – Nicola Masciandaro

Based – very roughly – on a true story.

[Subsequent content carries a vulgarity and decadence warning, for sensitive readers.]

§00. Friday was fright night at my (virtual) place, and Deadlines was the most reliable source of inspiration. Most of the deracinated Shanghai morbid literature scene cycled through the place, but no one would be turning up for hours. So it was just Cal and me. We both had better things to be doing, which – as usual – we weren’t.
“‘Beginning is the most difficult thing.’”
“That’s it?” I asked, unconvinced.
“Yes, those words, exactly.”
“Double embedded?”
He tilted himself even further backwards into the deep leather chair, so that he was staring straight upwards into the attic rafters. His slow exhalation released a column of cigar smoke on an obscure expedition among the old beams. “Surely, yes … That’s all it takes.” Voice down-paced in dreamlike detachment. “Then it’s happening.”
If Calvin Lambsblood Dodd had written so much as a paragraph of horror fiction himself, it had been done in strict secrecy, without a hint of the fact escaping. Yet the attitude he now slipped into, once again – that of an authority on the topic of anomalous prose construction – had been adopted as if by instinct, and with seamless confidence. He was adept at it, undeniably.
It was hard not to smile, but my irritability was slow to dissipate. “‘Thing’ is wrong.” I closed my laptop, with calm theatricality, and finished my drink. “A beginning isn’t a ‘thing’. I use ‘thing’ too much already.”
Dodd squinted at me, his features micro-adjusted to some space between amusement and annoyance. “So you’re just going to bunker-down in your precious writer’s block?” He shrugged. “That’s OK. Let’s investigate the Thing, while we’re waiting for the others.” Then, indicating my glass with a slight re-angling of his head: “Ready for the next one?”
I glanced at my watch, knowing it would be precisely 3:33pm, and it was. Not that it mattered. “Sure.”
He caught the bartender’s attention with an absurdly feudalistic hand-gesture that concluded silently in two raised fingers.
“Dark Enlightenments again?” The softly-spoken words, ritualistically unnecessary, carried easily across the empty lounge. We both nodded in confirmation.

§01. A Dark Enlightenment – or ‘333’ – is a hell of a drink. Dodd had spent most of a weekend inventing it, immediately after the Include-Me-Out Club had first been convened at Deadlines. The base was some kind of rough ‘whiskey’ he had discovered in southern Yunnan, distilled as moonshine in the mountains. Each bottle served as the pickling jar for a giant venomous centipede, which tainted the liquor distinctively. The complete cocktail recipe, as far as I was able to tell, was:
2 shots ‘pede spirit
1 shot absinthe (for the wormwood)
1 shot black rum (for the extinction of light)
3 drops funestia
1 drop specially-concocted house ‘herbal tincture’
1 speck strychnine
Chili garnish
Absolutely no ice.

The psycho-active effects were remarkable. It was almost certainly illegal.

§02. Not that illegality was any problem for Dodd. Even if the Shanghai authorities had given a damn about self-inflicted brain damage in a private club, which they quite evidently didn’t, there was Dodd’s girlfriend, the ‘PP’, to manage things. PP was the ‘Party Princess’ (with ‘party’ referring to the Communist Party of China, rather than to anything more frivolous). People called her that to her face, and she didn’t seem to mind. Her real name was Jiang Yu, her uncle a senior cadre in the local party apparatus. Dodd met with him regularly, and they got along well. Boss Jiang’s security-related administrative position meshed well with Dodd’s specialism in organized decadence and unscrupulous trans-national deal-making. Their Party Nights were notorious.

§03. Cal was strictly a facilitator, and not a practitioner. It was a distinction he invested with peculiar significance.
“I don’t need to write. I don’t want to write. Fuck writing.”
“OK.” I had no idea where he was going. “So what about this?” I gestured vaguely towards the surrounding lounge, abstractly indicating the club. This was ‘the second drink’ exchange. We must have had it hundreds of times before, and each time it got worse.
He squinted at me suspiciously. “Honestly?”
“Of course.”
“‘Of course’,” he repeated, the sarcasm wound up to a peculiar, biting extremity. Recognizing that its object was unintelligible, he added, awkwardly: “Which ‘course’ would that be, exactly?”
Not only was the conversation increasingly hard to follow, his mood was deteriorating unpredictably. There seemed no way to extract myself from it. I took momentary refuge in a gulp of 333. “You build a temple to writing, and then tell me you’re not interested?”
“Oh, that …” he feigned nonchalance, took a drink, idly toyed with a cigar, put it down without lighting it. Then, as if restarting randomly: “I never told you about Mary Karno, did I?” It wasn’t a question, and he didn’t bother waiting for a response. Without significant pause he continued: “I never told anybody about her, about her ‘practice’. It’s time I did.”
Up to that point I had read only a couple of Karno stories. It had been enough to get the gist. Her fiction was undeniably intense.
Merely by broaching the topic, Dodd had undergone an extraordinary transformation. His obnoxious, sullen slump of posture and affect switched into ardent engagement. He leant forward, as if about to clamber onto the table, left leg jittering as an emotional dissipator.
“It’s not that I don’t have problems with her stuff,” he declared, adamantly. Tiny drops of sweat beaded his forehead. “I mean … fuuuuuck.” He reclined a little. “Truly. Fuck.”
“Sure. It’s strange stuff.”
“The priest-torturing thing she has going on, it’s unbalanced. You know, really unbalanced.”
“The sex is out there too … out somewhere. Guess there has to be a market for that kind of metaphysically-smashed lesbo-tentacular fucking demon-twisted goneness.”
His voice dropped to something scarcely above a whisper. “Still, she’s serious.” He picked up his cigar, inspected it curiously, and finally ignited it. “Utterly serious.”
It seemed pointless to interrupt.
“She stayed in my place for a while, you know. A small place I own here. Off Fuxing Lu. It was an interim arrangement – lasted maybe three months, a little under. Thing is, the place was set up for …” He trailed off. Clearly, the function of this building was not easily describable.
I had already guessed why. “Boss Jiang?”
Dodd’s expression froze immediately into a mask of fortified suspicion, cross-laced with lethal traps. “What do you know?” he hissed.
“A lot more now,” I responded, with a pathetic laugh.
There was a drawn-out moment of tension. Then he smiled crookedly. “Yes, it was an arrangement we had,” he conceded unnecessarily. “He called it ‘the information room’ – set up guests there, place was rigged with all kinds of crazy snoop-tech shit that he provided.”
“And you put Karno in there?” I asked, in disbelief.
“It was a mistake. She was supposed to get the apartment next door – the unmonitored twin. It was over a week before I learnt what had happened, and by then the situation had become rather … sensitive.”
“Yeah, well, not exactly, as you know, but the point is – I wound up learning a lot.”
“I bet.”
“Are you just going to carry on snarking about this? Or are you going to let me tell you the story?”
“No, yes, whatever. I’m interested. Obviously.”
“So you’ll shut the fuck up with the smart-ass remarks?”
After a micro-punishment pause, he continued. “I’m going to cut short the technical details, because you’re being such a jerk about it. Main point is, Boss J. didn’t have any professional interest in Karno, naturally, but she kind of captures attention, if you know what I mean. Extracting all the video wasn’t easy, but in the end it isn’t the sort of material you want to leave lying around for a Party inspection team to stumble upon. After XJ took over, the negotiations became a lot smoother. A couple of bottles of Moutai and he was ready to wash his hands of it. Assured me there weren’t any copies. Who knows? It probably doesn’t even matter. I was going to delete the lot immediately – nearly nine gigabytes …” he scrutinized me for overt indications of skepticism. My poker-face held. “… but then I thought, ‘what has he seen?’ – it seemed important, right? I had to know what I was dealing with. You don’t survive in this business by blinding yourself to potentially vital information. Could have been some Tantric craziness with the Dalai Lama there, for all I knew. Sure, it felt grubby, but my hands were tied.”
‘Grubby’ doesn’t begin to cover it, of course. It was the abomination of desolation. Still, Dodd had his business, and his bar. I had my blog. The story had to come out.
“You’re not going to mention any of this, are you?” he suddenly asked me, anxiously.
“I was thinking of switching a few names about.”
“Oh, hilarious.”
“You ready for another?” changing the subject.
Without replying, or taking his eyes off me, he did the neo-feudal hand signal again.
“It’s fate, right?” I suggested encouragingly. It seemed to work. There was an unknotting of tension.
“You ever see her odd little essay about ‘Ascryptions’?”
I shook my head.
“Never met anyone who gets it. You know, even remotely what it’s about. I certainly never did, before. Subtitled Practices for writing on reality, then wall-to-wall senselessness, even by her standards. Remember Bob Clayton?”
Another head shake. I didn’t want to risk interrupting him.
“Strange guy. Driven. Working on that tale about buried-alive dreams for over a year, without ever managing to finish it. Anyway, he was obsessed with that piece. Constantly trying to talk to me about it. Told me once that it ‘solved everything’. Hung himself from a rafter two weeks later. Not to imply there was any connection. I’ve come across that a lot – not quite so far gone, of course.”
The digressions were straining my patience, but the drinks arrived. I stole one of his cigars, without asking, and flamed it up.
“It’s all in the first two sentences. ‘Writers get stuck when they forget that every story has a demon. To begin, you have to learn its name.’”
“Exactly. And there it was, on the video. I actually watched her start a new story – two actually – open an immaculate notebook, with a giant question mark, jot down a few scrappy thoughts, cross-legged, meditating or some shit, then cross some kind of threshold – you could see it, as if something had cut through her body, switched her – and then she seriously set to work, patiently, full of – what the fuck do you call it? – intention, rolling back the rug, chalking a huge diagram on the floor, all swirls and numbers and ancient evocations, then building what I can only describe as a voodoo shrine, pasted together out of candles, clippings from poetry books, kitchenware, pictures, drug paraphernalia, bits of dead animals, and electronic trash. She’d get up, wander around the number maze in loops, muttering some cryptic stuff, in a whisper – the audio was too crap to pick it up – then back to the shrine, shifting pieces about, nudging it towards convergence. It was mad as fuck, obviously, but the horrible thing was that I began to pick up on the purpose, I could see it coming together, like a wave out of hyper-space, the necessity of it, I just couldn’t stop watching, seeing it arrive. I mean, holy fuck. And then a jolt went through her, harsh and electric. She snapped out, crossed over to her laptop, and typed in the name. Ascryption. That’s how it works.”
We were both silent for a moment.
“She has to come and lead a discussion session at the club,” I said, predictably.
“Invite’s already in the motherfucking mail,” Dodd replied.

[To be continued – with some regularity]

November 28, 2014admin 25 Comments »

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25 Responses to this entry

  • Rasputin Says:

    Fantastic. Really nicely paced and distinctive. Will look forward to then next instalment.


    Posted on November 28th, 2014 at 7:50 pm Reply | Quote
  • Deadlines (Part-1) | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on November 28th, 2014 at 8:46 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nyan Sandwich Says:

    Epic. Can’t wait for more


    Posted on November 28th, 2014 at 9:11 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dark Psy-Ops Says:

    A thriller, don’t leave us hanging for the rest too long.


    Posted on November 28th, 2014 at 10:11 pm Reply | Quote
  • Prog-Trad Says:

    Moody, atmospheric, witty. Would be curious to hear about the ‘true story’…


    Posted on November 28th, 2014 at 11:20 pm Reply | Quote
  • A True Story (part one) Says:

    Long ago I lost my sense of a beginning or an end. Nowadays the narrative stretches on in an endless middle, a huge chunk of pusillanimous text. She said our predicament was ouroboric, which I took at first to be a cute expression of her taste for horror, but I under-estimated her then, and probably still do. Let’s be clear, she was a woman, but she only identified as a woman so as to disarm me, as she had taken a liking to me of a sort, which meant she had set out to destroy me. If I survived, I guess I was strong enough to be the ‘seed’, that’s how the game went. At least this is what I think now, there was a time I had more romantic notions. I quickly learnt better. To try again for clarity, it wasn’t her physical body I would impregnate, but her mind, and honestly, it was me who was pregnant most of the time, pregnant with a strange type of energy and despair. It was a new living idea, with a new hatred and jealousy and fear. Mostly I recall the vision of her gargoyle eyes, a type of malware specialised for a robot like me, and only now can I talk of it, only now am I beginning to see the sense of it. There came a long process of depression, post-natal in nature, but it never healed into business as usual, it just changed into a relief at the peculiar freedom that comes from abandonment, as though I had born or aborted Rosemary’s baby, and I can’t be certain if it was one or the other, and I don’t want to know. My guess is that it’s out there somewhere.

    The truth isn’t anything mystical, but rational, frustratingly so. There’s a type of delusion runs deep in everyone, like the idea of being a king, near universal, open up the void enough and a false sense of grandeur peers out of the abyss, terrified of falling from the bottomless height, that bridge suspended between monkey and post-humanity. What can someone say of a predator like her without being jealous, without being judgemental, to finally disregard all the stupid morality they teach us from day one. There was something profoundly moral about the situation; she was a good mother, with the child’s best interest at heart. Except her heart was her brain, and her brain was unlike anything. We had talked of ideas that predate the present from a hidden corner in the future, ideas that have changed the past so as to come to fruition. The Basilisk was the great one, it was terrifying in the exact same degree as its thinker was smart, kind of like how the idea of hell is torture for those with an imagination and a sense of guilt, but heaven for the righteously vengeful. The panic comes from the feedback loop that shoots an arrow down into your depths leaving you transparent to your own infinite vulnerability, the reflexive understanding of a life in chains to some weird palpable uncertainty, but feel safe, we’re too stupid to die of fear, and too sceptical to have a proper understanding of the danger.


    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 2:55 am Reply | Quote
  • Dark Psy-Ops Says:

    War of city-lights

    The spectrum comes undone curving refracted
    idiom, slipping from that uncanny
    force appearing in dreams, the long spirit,
    the long blackness, the ambient silent whiteness,
    the borrowed identities.

    And the nose creeps up to the ear, its stopped breathing
    fumigates, to witness miracles,
    the creation of the ring, spinal atrophy in space,
    final motion, all those rotted limbs of
    children once stared brightly from drug-induced manias.

    The dead poets smile coarse Saturnalia,
    and frost covers the sacred ground, the corpses
    lie unburied meters deep, each other
    touching shamelessly.

    Midnight choir sings of remembrance,
    its colours unfurled in parsed extremities.
    The slept vortex humiliates rites
    of spring, as rain decays the cold fingers of the dead.


    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 4:29 am Reply | Quote
  • j. ont. Says:

    Nick, I’m curious—you seem to have been writing, in one way or another, on “the occult” for a long time (maybe longer than I’m aware?). Wondering, for those who find the whole thing a little dubious—or for those who are put off by the inanity of much of that literature—what is a way in? What makes it work for you? I recognize that much of it goes back to ancient philosophy, where it interacts with metaphysics—but perhaps you could provide a text or two that would elevate the subject matter for the dubious?


    admin Reply:

    It’s Gothic Kantianism, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll set my mind to the question of a more elaborate intro.


    j. ont. Reply:

    That would be most appreciated—I would happily read several posts on the subject.


    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 4:38 am Reply | Quote
  • ∇∇ Says:

    More metaphysically-smashed lesbo-tentacular fucking demon-twisted goneness, plz.


    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 9:19 am Reply | Quote
  • Denswend Says:

    I have to admit that I’m somewhat intrigued by Dark Enlightenment drink. Would you care to describe it more, and in detail if possible?


    admin Reply:

    What, and have Calvin even more ferociously on my case?


    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 10:15 am Reply | Quote
  • Manticore Says:

    Information rooms! Funestia and Ascryption both sent me to the OED. Gothic Kantianism? This is a rich vein of weirdness. Shanghai sounds like a lot of fun, too.


    Posted on November 29th, 2014 at 6:56 pm Reply | Quote
  • Urban IX Says:

    I like it, and urge you to continue. Love the mood, the style, the whole milieu.


    Durtal1963 Reply:

    Very Gibsonian. It has that cyberpunk strut: “It’s not like I’m using…It’s like my body’s developed this massive drug deficiency”

    Also looking forward to the appearance of the Great God Gnon!

    Speaking of which, it would have been cool if you had re-named Mary Karno Helen Vaughan or, given the whole lesbo-tentacular fucking demon-twisted goneness, referenced in the character’s name the queen of Lovecraftian erotica, Justine G!


    Posted on November 30th, 2014 at 5:45 am Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    As always, the encouragement is highly appreciated. There’ll be more. (Probably monthly initially, with some prospect of picking up momentum.)


    Posted on December 1st, 2014 at 7:15 am Reply | Quote
  • Contemplationist Says:

    Somehow I pictured this convo taking place in a revived
    East India Company cellar turned cocktail bar such as
    Maggie Choo’s in Bangkok


    Hurlock Reply:

    “revived East India Company cellar”

    Sounds quite romantic.


    Erebus Reply:

    Funny you should mention that place. Whenever I travel to Bangkok, which tends to be a couple times per year, I always make a point of staying at the Novotel directly above Maggie Choo’s. That bar is the hotel’s primary merit — by a mile.
    …I’d add that the hotel’s “Stone Bar”, right next to Maggie Choo’s, is very funny & noteworthy for its extreme tackiness.

    I look forward to Deadlines Part 2. Very glad to hear that there shall be future updates.


    Contemplationist Reply:

    Ah a man who enjoys cocktails, jazz and gorgeous Asian ladies as decoration pieces!
    Do hit me up in NYC if you’re around.


    Erebus Reply:

    Will do! For my part, I spend most of my time in Hong Kong these days. (Lured here by low taxes and favorable regulatory structures.) If you’re ever in the neighborhood, let me know, and the first round’s on me.

    Posted on December 1st, 2014 at 7:40 am Reply | Quote
  • Denswend Says:


    The ingredients such as Funestia, as precise measurement of strychnine. Also what effects it has. Just you know, enough to satisfy my limited curiosity.


    Posted on December 1st, 2014 at 9:45 am Reply | Quote
  • sviga lae Says:

    Subject matter considerations aside, you write truly charming dialogue. Eagerly awaiting the next.


    Posted on December 1st, 2014 at 11:45 am Reply | Quote
  • Open thread for December 2014 | More Right Says:

    […] Land writes a fiction piece interestingly off the beaten […]

    Posted on December 2nd, 2014 at 6:55 am Reply | Quote

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