Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Strange Case of Captain Pie and Nine

I have always wanted to score this short story by the Surrealist painter Andrew Torch, sort of as a radio play with multiples voices and improvised music behind it. Put the right people in the same room and cut it live type deal.

This story was published in a collection of Surrealist tales, The Somnambulist Footprints. The drawing is by Andy and was intended to accompany this wonderful story. Note the fingers on the woman in the drawing ...


The Strange Case of Captain Pie and Nine
(A Surrealist short story)
By Andrew Torch

The stench from the roasting festival still lingered in the thick humid air, while angry mobs on every other corner talked of the imminent rally. Finally, a plan of action with citizens united. You could hear the low hum of the people that had started to gather in Sector 8 Park from miles away. Before the tall sector walls were erected it was once an open refuge for stalkers, nightwalkers, saxophone players and priests doing lewd acts behind bushes; now it was no more than a unkempt wasteland between sectors seven, eight and nine. When the moon was high, young resistance fighters plotted and schemed in one of the many caves with only the bats to witness their treachery.

Behind a large dying sycamore tree, a middle-aged man by the name of Captain Harold Pie readied himself for a battle as he reached into his overcoat for a cigarette and a snort of coke. Pie was never harassed leaving sector eight, the only benefit of his previous status. He felt he owed a debit to the people for some of his past actions, which he performed in the name of law enforcement. Although many times he had been in similar situations, he had an aching frenzy of anticipation and fear by the time he reached the second tree-lined hill. Shrill voices still echoed in his head from too many days in the sector and no drugs were strong enough to overcome them anymore. Slowly he gathered himself, re-checked his revolver for about the ninth time in ten minutes and noticed the gaunt poet Veronique had stumbled to the front of the large assembly. The hillside of brown dying grass and weeds mirrored the souls of the people on it that day. Veronique dropped the microphone in the middle of reciting a poem by Brecht but slowly regained her composure as the masses listened intently, waving their fists in the air. Her voice carried throughout the whole park and beyond, maybe even to the sea, on the crisp winter day with few withered leaves to offer as a buffer. In hindsight, the hobbled PA system was an idiotic idea by a well-intentioned malcontent who would probably never forgive himself for bringing so much attention to the poet that day. The volume, feedback and sheer number of people that transferred out of various sectors in such a short period, on a Monday afternoon nonetheless, had certainly alerted all of the sector wardens within earshot.

As expected, within minutes troopers darted into the crowd and piercing shots rang out. Veronique slumped over the podium in an ever-increasing pool of blood. Pie drew his revolver and determined where the first sniper was perched; two quick shots by Pie produced a black-clad trooper falling in a bunch from the tree as thousands scattered in pandemonium. A quick turn to the left and Pie sprinted back to the park entrance and eventually towards the security gate where the guard didn’t even ask for his pass. About four or five panicked women rushed past Pie, quickly flashed their passes while multiple rounds of gunfire were heard from the park. The bemused but unmotivated and under-paid gate guard drifted back to his newspaper and beer. The last girl who darted through the gate was a nine-finger, who probably used a stolen pass to get into sector eight. She had distinctive short-bobbed black hair, black go-go boots and a very small frame with plenty of scars, which made one ponder her lurid history. Pie watched her linger around the old stone church steps, the only official sanctuary in the sector, in case the troopers decided to question her un-familiar face. She exchanged a brief smile and a wink at Pie but before she disappeared behind the gothic church she shouted, “Roses have long since faced death!”

Pie bounded up the wooden stairs in his apartment three at a time and locked the door behind him while he tossed the revolver under a loose floorboard. Sadly, the day went exactly as he envisioned; a squashed protest like all the others, a militant poet killed and dozens of innocent folks maimed or slaughtered in the name of containment. It had become an annual event after the roasting festival. The most crucial and unexpected blow for Pie was that the poet killed was a close friend and former lover who used words like others used weapons. The killing of the trooper bothered him little but it brought a great furor and a new crackdown against the walled city; maybe it was an acceptable trade-off for the life of a friend, he thought. The next morning’s official sector news rag condemned the killing of the trooper in a bold masthead and declared that a street would be named in his honor, the reward one got these days for killing un-armed civilians. Page two of the pulp decreed a seven o’clock curfew for everyone and coldly printed the names of the dozen or so residents killed for being ‘hostile towards the government’, with the location of burial assigned to ‘Sector 8 Potter’s Field’. It went on to warn: “no visitation, mourners shot on sight”.

Rarely did anyone follow or question Pie because of his once good standing in sector eight. His generous bribes to the guards always bought him that extra invisibility that usually only shadows at night enjoyed. A soft knock at his door prompted him to grab the gun from under the floorboard as he reached for two more hollow-point bullets to refill the chambers. The nine-fingered girl from the park was panting on the other side in a scared drug-induced manner. Pie cracked the door slightly and asked if she was followed. She retorted that she came up the fire escape in the back and was alone, hungry and looking for a safe place to spend the night; a common junkie line that Pie had heard several hundred times before and yet usually succumbed to when it was voiced by the beautiful ones. As she entered into his small and antiquated apartment, a still tender scab on the nub of her pinky-finger revealed her recent venture into profiteering. The black market of fingers had grown at an alarming rate, which the government statisticians had not even predicted. They underestimated the recklessness of desperate people. Certain microchips inserted into ones finger would allow you into various sectors within the walled-city, only a single sector, eight, had a ‘no chip’ designation as most of the residents were at one time friendly to the government; either former cops, front-linesmen, retired guards, brain-scrubbers and the like. The access to particular fingers was essential for survival in the post-chip era.

The nine-fingered’s drug of choice was a street version of Duvoxadriene, commonly called the Vox. When cut with a few other chemicals it became a cheap relaxing high for most junkies. It was the drug once used by the government in the drinking water to curb the anxiety of the masses during the building of the sector walls and eventual microchipping program, the program that led to Pie’s downfall. Her real name was Browny, but much to her dismay, Pie insisted on calling her Nine. She asked if she could call him Harry or Fur and with a twisted smile, he said only when he was inside of her. She seemed embarrassed about her finger situation and refused to talk about her past. She made only short poetic quips and let her body movement convey the rest. Pie told her he did not care about the lack of digits but asked if she would stay and dream with him awhile. They split a pint of scotch and the rest of her vile of Vox, which was too much for the little girl as she promptly passed out. He stumbled to the bed where Nine was strewn across half of it, and entered a light sleep filled with disturbing nightmares. Thousands of pigs running in the streets, old men casting spells, fingers on assembly lines, miners picking away at the earth, which turned into children’s heads, people morphing into animals and flowers melting from the moonlight. The last dream he remembered before waking was of Veronique being gunned down at the podium as he molested her from behind. Both of them were covered in blood when a ghostly Veronique reached for his gun and shot him in the head. He could not shake the image even after he realized it had been a dream. Convulsive passion that did not end with death was no passion at all, he mused.

A black and yellow mound of what looked like eggs was now setting next to the bed on the small makeshift kitchen table. Nine, standing stark naked at the stove was fidgeting with a pan that appeared to be on fire. For the first time he noticed the large scar that went down the back of her neck to the top of her shapely ass. A wonderful reminder of the first sector war and subsequent torture of some citizens after the chip program was announced. Not really wanting to deal with the memories of his former occupation, he opened another bottle of scotch and proceeded to down it while Nine tried to douse the growing fire in the pan that almost licked her short hair. Black eggs and scotch, breakfast of champions he muttered.

Nine had thrown the pan in the toilet to squelch the fire, and tried to compose herself again. She asked what his nightmare was about but he ignored her. He tried to chew the blackened eggs but found it impossible and wondered if a future life with Nine would be one tumultuous event after another. She teased him by saying she had a rather pleasant dream, the kind that made you believe in magic. Pie asked her for the details and she eagerly replied with a Cheshire like grin that during the rally yesterday Veronique had shot him between the eyes. The events still too fresh in his mind and unable to explain how they had the same dream, his thoughts turned to rage as he grabbed for the plate of eggs.

Before she even had a chance to respond, he had thrown the plate across the room, hitting her squarely in the temple and knocking her unconscious. A mound of burnt eggs and poor girl lay slightly jiggling on the floor. He squirted both of them with some ketchup just to put a fine point on the situation as he laughed his ass off. He downed another bottle, the last one in the apartment, turned the music up to a deafening level and drifted back to sleep. Several hours passed as Nine lay on the floor with eggs and ketchup slopped all over her beautiful but thin naked body. He was slightly aroused but mostly just amused with his living ready-made. Each hour, he added a new ingredient on top of her, first some pepper, than some salt on her closed eyelids, a fist full of peanut butter, which he plastered from her landing strip to her throat in the shape of an ancient triple spiral and eventually a large leafy sprig of parsley inside of her. No clocks had survived to reconcile the time that had passed during his stupor and the human-collage adventure so he lit a joint, sat back and remained mesmerized by Nine, now covered with what little food he had left in the apartment. He emptied the rest of the fridge on her, poured a half bottle of pancake syrup across her chest and then showered her body with various condiments. Maybe seven or eight hours passed, the sun started to slowly creep over the surrounding tenements when Nine suddenly shook and awoke with a thrashing of a junkie, spitting and coughing and complaining of salt in her eyes. Eggs, salt and ketchup flew like confetti off her body, which stained the few pieces of furniture in the room. She slowly looked at him, scooped some of the peanut butter and syrup mixture with her hand, and promptly devoured it. She removed the parsley from inside her, glared at him again, ate the parsley, and calmly stated. “All good things must come to an end.”

Pie’s food collage did not seem to bother her much until the salt started burning her eyes. In a delayed reaction, she screamed at the top of her lungs and picked up the iron skillet; with a smooth side-armed fling, she hurled it at Pie missing his head by about two inches but smashing the glass aquarium on the far wall, the only thing beautiful in the apartment. Water, fish, multi-colored gravel and funny fake trees poured forth and covered the bed, the floor and Nine. She screamed with delight and said, “Fish for me, fish for you, one in the mouth, one in the shoe.” As she laid on the floor the water from the enormous aquarium washed over her with a splendid scene of large black and blue striped fish, sea horses and red coral attaching themselves to her sticky peanut buttery-syrup covered body. A small starfish gently lodged on the top of one of her erect nipples and again she screamed with delight or maybe derangement now, Pie was no longer sure. He unnecessarily jabbed her one more time, reminding her she had burnt the eggs and needed to conjure something up for dinner. She said that she would be the buffet and was open for business. The hot sun streamed into the apartment and baked the food menagerie upon her body as he took her up on her offer.

Many days went by, and then weeks and months as the two lingered in the apartment. They heard random cries for help and echoes gunshots from sector eight and maybe the park, forcing them rarely to go out at night. Even though Pie could usually bypass a guard or two, outside of eight his power diminished greatly. Nine suggested that they cut through the park during the solar eclipse and enter sector seven where her uncle had been working on a haphazard plan to leave the walled-city. Sector seven had gained a new reputation as a “problematic sector”. It was also known as the mental ward sector; when the mental hospitals and clinics were closed almost all of the patients ended up there along with a few na├»ve doctors and nurses who could not bear to watch them suffer. A month before Veronique was killed, two young men in seven used a crude ultralight plane to circumvent the border guards. As they reached the edge of the sea, a small surface to air missile obliterated them. There weren’t even enough fragments found to fill a tiny cremation urn for a burial. The official sector rags called it “missing at sea, eaten by sharks”. Since most residents of seven only heard the explosion but did not witness the after-curfew event, some conjured up wild stories and rumors. The most disturbed residents committed “death by border guard” as they rushed the walls and gates. Yet others waited for the two young men to come back in a great airship and take them over the wall. The excessive show of force and over reaction on the behalf of the border guards stifled most other escape attempts by those that knew the truth and were of sound mind. It was almost a mute point, as Nine could not enter sector seven without a designated chip, she could not even get an hour pass to visit a family member. The lack of her finger would raise enough suspicion to get her imprisoned for about five to ten years. The underground finger market seemed like the only viable option that remained if they could actually find a sector seven finger and a competent underground doc to do a pseudo-reattachment; at least enough to fool the lowly gate guards. One of the tabloid-like sector papers relayed a planted story of some disturbed sector seven finger salesmen who raided the last remaining zoo and chopped off all the monkeys and apes’ fingers they could find to sell them on the black market, not realizing they were never microchipped. These fictional stories were widely reported by the government tabloids and newspapers to cheer up the folks in the other sectors. Seven was the whipping boy of all the sectors.

Although the black market was a dicey proposition before the recent crackdown, now it was Russian roulette. Several intermediaries and two customers were burned at the stake last year during the great marshmallow-roasting festival.

“You just can’t make s’mores out of that,” replied Nine when told of the depressing situation.

“No, I guess you can’t,” Pie replied and then chided her for missing the point.

The realization that they had little of value in which to buy a finger hit both of them rather hard. His gun, her scarred body and a few bucks of hush money that came in every month due to his former occupation, were all that remained. The meager amount of money they consistently drank away. He was sure Nine had been in similar positions before but to destroy her even more seemed cruel, even to Pie. Not that he hadn’t considered it more than once. As they continued to have almost the same dreams night after night, he believed she might have placed a curse on him. A junkie with a background in voodoo, how apt thought Pie. Only when the liquor ran low at the end of the month did she resort to begging on the corner for loose change, occasionally baring her breasts for an extra buck but always wearing gloves to hide her fingers. Dressed in the most ragged of clothes along with a misshapen straw hat, she blended in well with the other bums and beggars. Pie, now advanced in age was too paranoid to take the kind of chances that had once made him a hero and Nine had become uninterested and silent when he spoke of escaping the walled city. She later told him that one of the young men killed in the sector seven airplane escape was her brother. A decision to stay in sector eight might have permitted them a life of passion together but always amidst constant fear and poverty. The journey to find a finger and plan an escape likely meant capture and burnt during the next marshmallow festival.

Only the third option of suicide remained. Nine was well versed in this as she had tried seven times and failed miserably at all of them, one more comical then the next. Her track record remained in tact, while on a recent hot steamy night, well past sector curfew, she tried to throw herself off Pie’s balcony, only to soon realize there was a large cloth awning below, which gently rolled her down to about six feet from the ground. She had forgotten Pie’s apartment was on the second floor. This was great entertainment for Pie, his attitude changed dramatically after each one of her botched attempts, giving him a reason to live if only to enjoy prolonged bouts of laughter for the first time in his life. Even in a desperate struggle to die, only the lucky were allowed to do so.

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