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For All Nails #174: When the Going Gets Weird

(Dedicated to Brad Harmon.)

From the personal journals of Dr. Thomas S. Hunter
16 January 1975

We are just short of Estibabarra [1], doing one-eighty
kilometers on the supercalzada, when the drugs begin
to take effect.  The first thing I notice is the
green bats...

"As your attorney, I advise you to pull over until
the bats go away."

"Fuck off," I explain.  Some people think that my
attorney does not exist.  How, they ask, could a 150-kilo
Hawaiian be accompanying me on this one-seater vintage
1952 Hurley-Pugh motowheel?  But my attorney is as real
as the wind on my goggles, as the green bats flitting
between those goggles and my eyeballs, because subjectivity
is objective.  As a physician and a scientist, my duty
is to explore _all_ realms of human experience, not merely
those narrow aspects that conventional opinion dignifies
with the name of "reality".

"We need vulcazine anyway," my attorney continues.  
"I advise you at least to stop at this next town."
Estibabarra, the sign says, ten more kilometers.  I
hold one-eighty, and the bats seem to approve, some of
the smaller ones melting from green to blue and back 
again, the large ones relaxing into the sort of 
straight-winged sweeping turns more characteristic of
seagulls.  "Fine," I say, "Estibabarra it is".

Estibabarra, when we reach it, does not appear to be much 
of a town, only one street with a few businesses and a few
dozen hovels.  Nevertheless the street meets the supercalzada
in a full-fledged trebolero fit for the Puerto Hancock suburbs.
Vaulting ambitions of future growth?  Simple corruption, a
contractor with the right ties to Mercator, back when that
was a good thing?  No matter.  I bank around the tight inner
loop of the trebolero at a hundred, the outside edge of my
boot nearly scraping the MacAdam.  The first business on the
right boasts a crudely lettered sign: "BEER VULK EATS".  Not
"CERVEZA VULCO COMIDAS", even with the Spanish name of the 
town -- they might be trying to save letters.

As I scoop up an eight-pack of Liberty Cap and a large bag of
tortilla chips, the attendant returns from pumping the vulk.
My attorney is suddenly alarmed.

"I advise you to keep one hand near the Solingen." 

"Avaunt," I reply silently.  "I am a physician and a scientist,
sworn to the protection of human life and the study of human 
experience.  Violence is alien to me."  That was not always true,
of course.  In my youth, armed with a blade far inferior to the
German one I now bear, I robbed many not dissimilar establishments
in and around New Cambridge, Virginia [2].  My life might have taken
a very different path had it not been 1941, with the Royal Navy eager
to welcome any petty criminal into its ranks.  And it was the Navy 
that gave me my medical training, and introduced me to the mysteries
of Asia...  But my attorney is not amused by this interior monologue.

"The human life you protect may be your own -- observe this man's face
carefully, _if he is a man at all_!"  Hair on the tops of the cheekbones,
unusually long bicuspids, chipped left upper incisor, thick saliva --
could it be -- a lycanthrope?  This area was rife with plasmatic
disturbances, of course -- radiative metals in the soil and water,
the legacy of Smithers' gang of rapists, inbreeding.  We could be in
deadly danger!

"If we attack him first, with surprise--"

"Quiet, my oversized friend.  If you're right, we'd need a full   
clip of silver bullets.  The moon is not out, we may yet leave
peacefully.  This country has corrupted you from the gentle ways
of your ancestors."

"Bullshit," he replies.  "What do you think we did for protein
when we couldn't catch any pigs?  Fuck, we _ate_ the first _limon_
that landed in Hawaii.  We fit right in with the Rainbow."

My attorney is not to be relied on in historical matters, but he may
have a point.  This whole nation is a polyglot mixture of depraved
savages -- I can hear the hydrophobic babbling of one of their talk
programs on the radio.  I proffer a few dolares, trying to remain
calm.  The attendant speaks.

"Hey, mano, you know what has eight legs and flies through the air?"

I indicate ignorance with my face.  "El Pulpo!"  The glee in his
voice, the slobber at the corner of his mouth.  Has he seen, as I have,
the vita pictures from Bali?  The cancerous growths, the skin seared
away on the side facing the awesome blast, the shadows on walls that
are all that remain of what were once living men.

"Pretty good, no?  How do you find a lost Pulpo worker?"

I've heard this one.  "With a radiacontador?"

"No, you follow the trail of hair, but hurry before it _all falls out_!"
Another hideous grin displaying the deviant teeth.  "Thirteen dolares.  
You want some smokes, or some mota?"

He _is_ trying to kill me!  I have also seen cancerous growths and
blackened flesh inside the lungs of habitual tobacco smokers, lungs
as diseased as those of any coal miner back home.  And the marihuana
they grow on chemical-laden plantations, dose with chemicals in some
filthy factory, and sell as "Acapulco Gold"?  Nearly as dangerous as
the tobacco, and neurochemical effects that are as pointlessly
one-dimensional as those of cocaine.  The hemp plant is a beautiful,
natural, living thing when growing wild as it is meant to be, with the
variety of effects from the trace ingredients of the local soil, the
local plasmatic diversity... I still have part of the bag I got from
the _indigena_ mystic last night in Encino.  And this vaguely humaniform
brute wants to sell me _Acapulco Gold_?  I grit my teeth, mutter "No,
thank you", and return to my wheel.  He stares vacantly after me but
shows no signs of aggression.

Two Liberty Caps have a salutary effect on the bats, who have shrunk 
now to the size of bumblebees and seem content to hover at the outer
edge of my peripheral vision.  As we return to cruising speed, with an
hour or two to go to reach Mattress Springs [3], my mind returns to the
lycanthrope's glee at the vaporization and maiming of the people of Bali.
Twisted and savage, yes, the thoughts of at best a marginally human 
creature, but how different from the so-called cultural elite of this
twisted and savage country?  I heard the radiocontador joke, with its
halfway subtle play on the word for "accountant" and the common name of
a Hausknecht machine, at last night's literary soiree.  That had been far
>from the only reference to the Christmas Bombing.

"I think I'll take my next vacation in Indonesia, where I can tour
the 999 islands," the emaciated woman had drawled, fingering the
customized mirror-and-knife cocaine kit hanging on the chain around
her neck.  "I hear they're applying Eraso to all the tourist maps."

"Now, darling, they have so _many_ islands, what's one more or fewer?"

That was how _they_ saw the murder of tens of thousands, these writers
of fantascience and cuentos, stories that were incomprehensible as
written but that they now claim were protests against the Mercator
regime, literati who would be insulted at being lumped with my recent
furry-faced acquaintance or with Vincent Mercator himself.  _They_ see the
deletion of an island as an adjustment in the world, a subject for irony.
They do not see, as I do even without thinking of the pictures, of the
human suffering, the unimaginable tragedy of the snuffing out of so many
lives in an instant, the condemnation of so many more to an early, painful
termination.  Are they any less twisted and savage?

Such thoughts occupy me as we climb out of the desert into low hills
and finally descend toward our destination.  There is no missing the cluster
of decade-old identical buildings that is UCMS.  Apparently Chron's master 
plan foresaw twenty thousand students in the middle of this otherwise 
uninhabited wasteland, and I am told that even the current eight thousand 
dominate the economy of this tiny city.

I am to lecture to the Department of Alienistics on "Lysurgic Acid: 
Personal and Clinical Observations".  Alienistics.  The effects of 
neuroactive chemicals are classified as abnormal, something alien to 
normal human experience.  This is an absurdly narrow view.  "I am human,"
Terence said, "and nothing human is alien to me".  Humans have been 
altering their neural chemistry since before the dawn of history, since
before my attorney's ancestors paddled across the Pacific, since before
there were any alienists to pronounce the practice alien.  I am ready to
tell this to the students and faculty of the University of California at
Mattress Springs.  And my attorney, and my bats, are ready to accompany
me.

Notes:

[1] OTL Barstow, California

[2] OTL Covington, Kentucky

[3] Founded as "Mathers Springs", OTL Las Vegas, Nevada

Dave MB

(Thanks to Carlos, Mike, and Noel for specific contributions.)