Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Editor

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Fiction

Watchman, What of the Night?
by Eric Del Carlo

Enemy From Nowhere
by Jeffery Scott Sims

Dance by the Light of the Moon
by Milo James Fowler

Continue Program?
by Seth Chambers

Perfect Blue, Scorched Black
by Rachael Acks

Catastrophic Failure
by David Steffen

Twice Upon a Midnight Dreary
by Richard Zwicker

Screwed by Frankie Frog
by Tim McDaniel

Infinite (∞) LDK
by Ryu Ando

Reparation
by Sara Backer

Articles

Time in a Bottle
by Eric M. Jones

A Real Death Star
by John McCormick


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Editorial

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Infinite (∞) LDK

By Ryu Ando

THE SUPREME PERSONALITY OF Godhead, Krishna: “I am become Time, the destroyer of worlds.”

Theoretical Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” (Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 32)

Perhaps there are no objects. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I. Shut the fuck up, dog

Ryu walked back into his bedroom and slammed the sliding shōji door shut behind him. He was not pleased. The dog woke him up again with a howl that sounded like it was being beaten with a hammer. He looked out from his veranda toward the patio roof of the house below. In the floodlight illuminating the roof, Ryu could see the dog, a Siberian husky, sitting upright in its own shit. A shriveled monkey-paw of feces clung to its white fur. Blue eyes looked up past Ryu toward the moon. It howled again, a sound mixed with anger and maybe despair.

It pissed him off.

When the shōji’s frame hit the side of the wall there was a loud crack. Ryu thought it sounded like a maple baseball bat splintering. Something in the shikii groove or the top beam holding the door panel might have broken, he thought. When he looked closer, though, they seemed no different. There was the same large hole in the washi from when he punched through it six months ago. His girlfriend had said something to piss him off again, although now he could hardly remember what it was.

That was when he noticed the new door—another shōji identical to the one he just slammed shut—where the concrete wall used to be. It even had the same pattern of falling silver sakura petals printed down the right side. The only difference was that it looked newer—brighter, even—and the sakura fell like a shower of polished silver coins.

He slid it open and stepped through.

***

II. 3LDK

“So, Ando-kun. I’ve got a place if you’re interested,” Shinju had told him at an izakaya after they’d shared several bottles of sake. “It’s quite large. Three rooms plus a Living-Dining-Kitchen area. 75,000 yen a month. Not bad.”

3LDK? 75K a month? Ryu was definitely interested.

He paid 50K a month for a single 4.5 tatami mat sized apartment 15 kilometers outside the city. This was inside Saitama city and large enough for a small family. Because it was in Amanuma-cho it was only a 13 minute walk to JR Omiya station. No way he wasn’t interested.

He could even set up a photo lab in the third room. Just cover over the tatami mats with a tarp, and plaster the walls with heavy vinyl to block the light and he’d have a great place for making photo prints.

He tried to sound casual. “Sure,” he said, drowning out the want in his voice with a long sip of sake. “I wouldn’t mind taking a look, but I don’t have a guarantor.”

“I think something can be arranged,” Shinju said. “When’s a good time?”

Ryu drained his cup. “When isn’t?”

***

III. Four LDK

Inside the room he was struck by the smell. He knew this scent, but he couldn’t quite place it. He stood there for a few moments. Then it came to him.

It was the incense his mother burned at home when he was a child. The slender wire of smoke cut the air until she or his father moved through it, causing it to dissipate into nothing. Ashes collected on the smooth wooden surface of the butsudan, and sometimes Ryu wiped them up with his hands just to keep the smell with him. That smell would linger throughout the day. Ashes or souls, he didn’t know or care which.

The smell was definitely the same. It was dark in the room and sparsely furnished. On the tatami floor Ryu saw a large zabuton and along the far wall was a large cherry-stained piece of furniture. Coming closer he realized it was a butsudan. There was a piece of incense burning. He saw the slender knife blade of its smoke rising to the ceiling. Next to the incense was a photo.

He got within a meter of it. He saw the picture of his mother. It was when she was young. For a second he almost mistook it for his sister, who looked exactly like her when she was sixteen, but for something about the cherry blossom patterns in the kimono she wore. He realized that he’d never even seen his sister wear one.

It was as if his mother were frozen in time here before his eyes. He recalled something that Shinju once said to him when they were talking over sake and sashimi. There’s something eerie about a photograph—sinister, even—when a camera takes a photo, he said. The resulting image is static because it has stopped time.

He grabbed the picture.

There was a sudden whoosh like a television cathode-ray tube being smashed apart. He could feel its endless test-pattern emitting fearful images of perpetually burning towers and efficient machines of war and economy. Then he was sucked out through the door and back into his apartment.

Curled up on the tatami-mat floor he remembered the rest of what Shinju told him:

... but a poem or a drawing or a mathematical formula—like Schrödinger’s equation—encompasses time.

***

IV. Futsukayoi, (a.k.a. hung over & on thin ice)

“What happened to you?” Shinju looked concerned—he raised his eyebrows way above his wire-rimmed glasses and shifted his weight on the bench’s thin cushion—as he took a sip of his Royal Milk tea. He’d taken some more cream and added it to his cup. It looked more like dirty water than tea. As always he was writing something in his notebook, usually a haiku or a haibun.

“You look rather pale. Too much last night?”

Ryu shrugged. “Don’t know. I just had a few cans of happoshu,” he said, shaking his head a little. He felt ill watching Shinju loudly slurp up his soba noodles and chew on a dashi-soaked piece of kakiage tempura.

“Don’t know how you can drink that,” Shinju laughed. “My hard-earned allowance will go to a good bottle of scotch, you know? Jack Daniels.”

Ryu wasn’t in the mood for light banter. “Your wife gives you how much a week?” Ryu knew that would irritate Shinju.

Shinju slurped up more noodles. “I find ways to make it last.” He wasn’t biting.

“So,” Ryu said slowly, drawing the cup of black coffee up to his lips. Ryu didn’t know how he’d bring up the room. He’d felt terrible all day and it was already 5:30 p.m. He called in sick and sent an email to Shinju asking him to meet him at the Hakushakutei tea-house. He spent the whole morning on his couch watching television and looking out the window to the garden below. His mind was dull and opaque as if he’d been inhaling black and white photo-processing solution all night and then slept in a restless chemical nightmare, turning corner after corner only to return to himself. He heard the dog howling at the day or the sun or the wind or whatever every now and then, punctuating the afternoon silence with its eerie howls.

“Something weird happened to me last night,” he finally confessed.

“Weird?” Shinju held his chopsticks still. The noodles dangled mid-air until he sucked them into his mouth.

Ryu then explained how he was awakened by the dog. While he talked, he noticed Shinju pinching the tea bag with his fingers. The last drops of well-steeped tea plopped into his cup.

When he finished, Shinju was silent for a few minutes. Ryu was beginning to think he wasn’t going to say anything.

“You should find a new apartment,” he said finally. The tea bag was squeezed and shriveled like a prune on his saucer.

Move? I don’t think so.”

“Ryu-kun ...”

Shinju looked pained and sucked up his breath through his teeth. “It’s hard to say for sure, but it sounds like what you’ve found is a kami-sama no tobira.”

“Never heard of it.”

“It would be best, I think, not to play with fire,” Shinju nodded as if to himself. “You’re no poet, you know. Or scientist.”

***

By about 11:00 that night Ryu finally started to feel back to normal. He got things ready for work the next day. He laid out his clothes, ironed a shirt, checked his ties, and polished his shoes. He darned a sock and checked his trousers for wear and tear. He even washed his dishes and scrubbed the sink.

He was finally rid of the terrible headache and the feeling that he was somehow smaller, diminished. His cell phone rang. He looked at the number.

Yumiko. He’d forgotten to call her. Shit.

Moshi m—

“You’re still alive then,” she said cutting him off right away. Her voice sounded flatter than usual. Flat like an iced-over pond.

Ryu tried to play it cool. “Looks like it.”

“So I don’t have to call the police and tell them your head got chopped off by a psycho killer or something.”

Ryu laughed. “No. Please don’t.”

There was silence at the other end. Echoes of something further, something unknowable, tugged at Ryu, as if he were listening to a dark well. He noticed she didn’t laugh. The conversation carried on like this for another ten minutes, but it felt like eternity. He would try to get her to talk, but she would only answer with short barbs. Ryu was getting tired.

He yawned.

“Look. I’m sorry I didn’t call,” he said, tapping at the surface of the ice.

“Don’t apologize. It’s just sex to you, right? I’m not that important.”

“What do you mean?” Ryu tried to calm her. He hated when she did this. He wanted to tell her that maybe she really wasn’t that important, just to anger her more, but he instead tried to placate her.

“Sure you are.”

“Who’s the bitch?”

Ryu was surprised at her bluntness. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ll kill her,” she said in a low voice. “Then I’ll cut off your penis and make you eat it. Your balls, too.”

She hung up.

He pressed his palms against his eyelids. The headache had returned. Ryu picked up a bottle of aspirin—left out for workday morning hangovers—from the kitchen counter. But his hands were shaking too much to open the child-proof lid. He threw it at the sink and let out a growl of frustration. The bottle rattled in the sink, somehow took air and flew up and over onto the floor where it rolled into the adjacent bathroom.

He tensed up his chest and arms as if posing like a body-builder. “Kuso!” He screamed out. She always knew how to get to him, especially with her empty threats. He stomped back to his bedroom.

Once he calmed down he could see that the door had reappeared again. The dog howled.

***

V. Swimming ’round and ’round (like the deadly hands of a radium clock)

He entered the room. It had that same smell as before. The razor-thin line of smoke still hung suspended in the air.

Despite the incident on the phone with Yumiko, he quickly calmed down. The butsudan was in the same place on the far opposite wall, but he didn’t feel like looking at a portrait of his mother—he knew exactly what she’d say about Yumiko. She’d tell him she was right about her. Find a good one, she’d say. One that knew enough to quit her job and start raising children. One like her.

But Yumiko wasn’t a bad person. She just had certain outbursts from time to time, usually when he forgot to do something he promised. In the end, tonight’s episode was really his fault. He’d forgotten to call her when he said he would. It would need a few days, he knew, before things cooled down, but he’d probably be able to see her by the weekend. Still, he wondered why it couldn’t at least be a little less stressful.

Looking around the rest of the room he now noticed that each of the walls in the room also had similar shōji built into them. He opened the one to his right.

Once inside he saw a room full of clocks—all kinds of clocks: grandfather clocks, wall clocks, clocks in the shape of golden stag beetles, clocks with moon phases in their faces, clocks made with gold and turquoise-tarnished copper and lapis lazuli and diamonds, tiny pocket watches fashioned in golden phi-spirals or silver skulls, plastic Swiss Watches in an array of neon and pastel colors, and large wall-sized plastic Coca-Cola timepieces spouting fountains of prosperity. There were tiny cases of clock parts: gears and hands and faces stripped and lying bare on satin pillows. There were clocks with eyes painted on them and imprinted with Latin expressions like tempus edax rerum, tempus fugit, memento mori. One was shellacked in heavy yellow-brown varnish in the shape of the Mona Lisa with the hands of the clock mounted right on her forehead like a third eye. And the hands of all the clocks had stopped at 10:10:30 like every advertisement he’d ever seen that had a clock in it.

Except for one.

It was situated in a far corner behind an extremely beaten-up cuckoo clock. It was a small pocket-watch sitting on a satin pillow. It looked deformed. Its glass was clouded and scuffed and the metal seemed simultaneously tarnished and burnished. The clock was stuck at 11:02.

A vision of airplanes and light and crumbling torii belching smoke came to him as he reached out to touch it. Then he was sucked back out through tunneling darkness.

He woke up lying face down on the veranda’s concrete floor.

***

He lay deep in thought for at least an hour tracing the sunlight across the walls as the sun arced downward to the west.

Obviously, he thought to himself, there were more of these rooms. What if they all had doors? He did basic calculations in his mind and figured that if each door had more doors leading out and branching out to new rooms it would be like a bush, pushing out fractal branches toward more and more rooms. He wondered where they might lead.

He felt like shit. Even worse than the first time. He went to his refrigerator and pulled out some cold green tea in a PET bottle. He drank half of it in the first gulp. It went down easy and settled his stomach. He didn’t think he’d been in the room very long, but it was already nearing sunset. He’d missed the whole day. He hadn’t even called in to work to let them know.

He checked his phone. He had 15 voice mail messages. Two were from work, one was from Shinju, and the rest were from Yumiko.

He listened to all the ones except those from Yumiko.

***

VI. I am a camera

The next day he went to the office in Shinjuku but only half-heartedly pretended to do even the most rote of tasks. He spent the day weeding through his inbox. He cut it down message by message from 450 to 98. It took him nearly all day with long breaks in between to do this. He made a few calls, but people weren’t in. He left brief messages asking them to call back.

He spent most of his day thinking about the rooms he’d found. How deep could he get, he wondered. Where would it lead? What did it all mean?

Shinju was just as cryptic that afternoon. I’ve found a new apartment for you, he’d said over the phone. It’ll be better if you leave that place altogether.

“I think you’re overreacting,” Ryu remembered saying. But Shinju was insistent and asked to meet him that Friday to look at a new place. Ryu agreed, but only to get him off the phone.

He didn’t wait for his boss to leave, even though Saito-bucho always left within the first half-hour after five o’clock. After he left, there was always a subtle but very determined exodus to the door. However, today at exactly 5:02 Ryu was out the door saying otsukaresama-desu to the extremely cute but extremely surprised secretary serving honorable section boss Saito.

***

He stared for a while at the door. Despite it being three days since it appeared, he still couldn’t believe it. He wondered if he were somehow anointed by the kami-sama for this privilege. It was almost a dream come true, almost the perfect escape.

Kami-sama no tobira—gateway to the spirits

He made his way through the first two rooms but decided to press on further. He made his way past more and more rooms: past rooms full of rare books, and past a whole library-sized room full of Blue Note label LP jazz records. One whole quadrant was comprised entirely of Miles Davis bootleg recordings of the Lost Quintet. He passed through a room full of cats that seemed to disappear and then reappear, which then led into another room full of empty cardboard boxes with ionizing radiation symbols printed on their sides. Finally, he reached a room that contained all manner of pendulums swinging back and forth in long looping curves.

He wound his way through room after room piled up with the detritus of civilization. It was exhilarating, as if walking through a cosmic library of Alexandria. He even found a room with the entire catalog—including those he thought were lost—of Platonic dialogues translated into thousands of languages.

Then he reached a room full of cameras.

And he marveled as cameras of all types were arranged on the floor, on shelves, and on tables. There were Leicas, Canons and Nikons, Voightlanders and Alpas, Hasselblads and Holgas, all assortment of SLRs, and small-, medium-, and large-format cameras. Bellows cameras on wooden tripods stood next to the latest model of a digital focusless camera. There were set ups for daguerreotypes and calotypes and cyanotypes and tintypes and ferrotypes and ambrotypes. And the array of lenses was astounding, ranging from the tiniest fisheye to the largest zoom lenses.

He spent what seemed like hours inside this room examining all these devices until he noticed—tucked away in the far corner of the room behind a large-format camera fixed on a metal tripod—a small CRT monitor. There was something playing on it. He approached it to look more carefully and was shocked to see it was a close-circuit feed of his apartment. It was split showing two camera angles. The views changed every ten seconds or so. Cameras seemed to have been set up in the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom, and even on the veranda. It was strange looking at his things through a black and white camera. It was as if they belonged to an identical twin he hadn’t seen in twenty years.

Then it cut to two people in bed superimposed on an image of a mushroom cloud. It was he and Yumiko. He was screwing her on the futon. She was moaning in ecstasy and clawing his back with her short, sharp, red fingernails, while the curves of the mushroom cloud—the dust and the debris—moiled around her open mouth as if she were the consummation of destruction itself. Her legs were wrapped around his, and she was undulating underneath him. Her face could be seen in the camera. Her eyes were closed. Then she came and opened her eyes wide as she screamed in pleasure. Her eyes seemed to be looking into his through the television screen.

Ryu got a hard-on watching it. He shuddered and quickly turned off the video. Upon touching it he was sucked back into the room and fell asleep instantly out of exhaustion.

***

VII. All roads lead to ginzakura

Ryu skipped the meeting with Shinju and the real-estate agent. He called to tell him he was feeling sick. Then he thought about it more and called him again ten minutes later. He left a message saying he’d prefer to just stay in the apartment. Shinju didn’t phone back after that. He was probably pretty angry with him. Yumiko, however, kept calling, but he deleted her messages.

It wasn’t a total lie that he was feeling sick. In fact he woke up unable to roll himself over. He felt weak and almost seemed paralyzed. Eventually some strength came back to him, and he was able to push himself out of bed. He made coffee and toast. The butter had gone rancid, so he ate the bread plain. It tasted stale. The expiration date had passed by four weeks earlier. He remembered then that he had intended to go shopping but never did.

Even at work, outside the house, in the company of others or alone, he couldn’t stop thinking about the rooms. He couldn’t shake them or their contents. They drew him inward. He felt compelled to quantify this mass, this exuberant bursting-at-the-seams of paraphernalia and knowledge. He tried to count the rooms but lost track until he learned to memorize whole segments of the labyrinthine connections.

He’d been in hundreds if not thousands of rooms by his counting at least, but he felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere. He couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to this than met the eye.

***

Every night after work for weeks he returned home and immediately headed to the other rooms. He would spend hours in them, walking around, finding new pathways, and seeking new directions.

Some places were mundane. There were rooms the size of warehouses full of cup ramen or sakura-flavored boxes of chocolate stacked on top of each other, or wedding gowns or hoards of Nippon Keizai Shimbun newspapers. There were rooms full of dolls, their glass eyes and porcelain faces gleaming under low-lit candelabras, and one of brains preserved in murky, yellowing glass jars. There was a tiny room no more than the size of his old 4.5 tatami room outfitted with a machine to make Styrofoam containers. Piles of the Styrofoam boxes were stacked up to the ceiling.

Some places were sublime. There were rooms with manuscripts by authors in languages and odd-looking chicken-scratch scripts he never knew existed. There was one with giant glass beads and within those beads all manner of ideas and concepts and thoughts floated around as if obeying the rules of some abstruse game. He came to another room full of mirrors that reflected into each other ad infinitum, reflecting and refracting until the images fractured into tinier and tinier branches. He found one with paper lanterns of all sizes and colors burning like a thousand suns. And one full of millions of origami cranes, tsuru, stacked together like chains, and suspended from the rafters like a hunter’s kill. There was even a room with machines that produced all ranges of sounds, including the sounds that destroyed them. Their mechanical innards—their springs and gears and gauges and needles and counters and all manner of wirings—spilled forth from their plastic casings and littered the floor.

He progressed from a few dozen rooms at a time to a few hundred. He learned not to touch things and how to get further and further into the branches and pathways and fractal patterns.

Then he reached one thousand rooms in a single journey, and the next day he was unable to get out of bed. He called the office and took some time off work. He needed a leave of absence, he’d told them, for medical reasons. They said they would await his doctor’s official notification but would accommodate his request in the meantime.

He returned to exploring even more rooms.

But a peculiar thing happened once he reached the thousandth room. He reached a barrier. He would end up at the same room as if it were a dead end. No matter which direction he took or which rooms he chose, the paths always led to this place. The patterns led him in branching directions, but somehow always returned to the same spot.

Yet what a room it was.

It was constructed of grey concrete block walls. There was a large dome-shaped skylight above him built of large wooden lintels and crossbeams. In the center of this room was a large cherry tree. Yet this tree was different. Its leaves and bark were typical of the sakura tree, but its flowers were pink glass and the fruit it bore was silver. The tiny fruit—perfectly rendered in silver—weighed down the slender gray stems. On the walls were drawings and carvings of lines and concentric circles representing the sakura. These concentric circles overlapped with each other and other renditions of the cherry tree. Little circles were punched into the walls too. They appeared to be floating in the wind, as if falling at five centimeters per second for eternity.

And he always reached out to grab the silver fruit, to feel its weight in his palm, and to contemplate the uncertainties of the atoms rendered certain by its mass.

And he was always sucked back into his apartment.

***

VIII. Power outage

He was sitting in a chair on the veranda. Spring had passed into the rainy season and so he was covered in mist and sweat. His clothes smelled like mildew. He gazed at the dog below, his eyes occasionally losing focus. The more time he spent inside the rooms, wandering through their things, concentrating on the contents, the more he felt dead in this life.

He felt fuzzy, diffuse, as if he were a tattoo bleeding its ink in the dermis. He could hardly function and yet his mind still raced onward and outward into a thousand points of light. It was exhausting. He told himself that he was done with those rooms. Forever.

He got up out of the chair with some struggle. His legs were shaking. He seemed to have lost weight. At least 30 pounds, he calculated. He felt frail, beaten, and his head pounded like the inside of a drum.

He pulled the string hanging down from the florescent lamp above his couch in the living room. He waited for it to blink on. When it didn’t he yanked it again and again. Frowning, he went over into the kitchen to make some coffee. But the digital clock was dark.

There were envelopes piled up on floor below the mail slot in the door. He picked these up and went through them. There were overdue notices for electricity. It must have been turned off, he realized.

There was a knock at the door. He looked through the fisheye lens in the door.

It was Shinju. He opened the door.

Shinju’s eyes widened.

Ando-kun,” he said, with much emotion. “You look very ill.”

“Really, I’m fine.” Ryu could hardly muster a voice.

“You have to stop what you’re doing. I hear you lost electricity. You’re not working, are you?”

“No. It’s fine.”

“You have to promise me ...”

Ryu started to close the door.

“Yes. I will. Thank you for checking up on me. Good bye.”

“Wait ...”

Ryu shut the door. Your rent is overdue, too, he heard Shinju say to him from the other side of the door. This will not end well, Ando-kun. Please let me help you before it’s too late. But Ryu ignored him and waited until he heard Shinju’s footsteps echoing off the stairwell.

Those doorways are dangerous, were the last words he heard as Shinju descended the staircase.

***

IX. Break on through to the other side

He was lying down on his futon, when there was a rapid knock at the door. He ignored it, assuming that whoever it was would eventually leave. A few moments passed before there was even more knocking. Furious this time.

Then he heard the handle turning. There was a creaking noise. He realized too late that the door was being opened. He’d stupidly forgotten to lock the door after he’d talked to Shinju two days earlier. He’d fallen asleep and didn’t get out of bed for 14 hours. He spent the rest of the time drinking tea and staring out at the dog and the roof next door. The garden below was getting overgrown from the rainy season. He promised himself then that he wouldn’t go back to the rooms until he at least regained a little strength, even as their splendors pulled at him like the moon upon private tides of grief.

He heard footsteps. He sat up. He was encouraged to find that he felt more rested than he had for weeks, and much stronger, too. Then he saw her. Yumiko. She slid open the door and stood in the doorframe, looking at Ryu. He could hear her shallow breathing.

“Yumiko,” he said.

Then he flinched as a large nabe bowl smashed against the wall. Its pieces broke around him.

“Where the hell is she?” she spat out. “Under the covers?”

“Yumiko,” Ryu said her name slowly. “I’ve been unwell.” A pair of chopsticks came at him. One hit the door behind him and ricocheted onto the floor. The other one hit him on the forehead before bouncing across the tatami mats.

Kusotare,” she said, hardly listening. “I’m gonna kill her and then cut it off, just like I said I would.”

He saw that she now had one of his paring knives in one hand and some rotten fruit in the other.

Ryu stood up. “Just put down the knife, and I’ll explain.”

A green, moldy Mandarin orange flew at him and landed square in his chest. The force almost knocked him over.

“Or maybe I’ll just cut it off first and kill her second,” Yumiko was shrieking at this point. She swung the knife, swiping it at him in short, clumsy jabs.

Ryu inched his way backward to the door. Just as she lunged at him, she fell. The knife stuck straight into the shōji door opening into Ryu’s darkroom. She fell into the room as the washi on the door collapsed under her weight. He heard the sound of glass breaking.

Ryu escaped through the door.

***

X. The radiance of a thousand suns

He didn’t know how long he’d stay in there, but he went through the rooms quickly, not sure of his direction. He took familiar doors and unfamiliar ones. He eventually arrived after what seemed like hours of meandering through fractal paths at the room of the silver sakura.

He sat down in exhaustion. He figured he could wait it out until Yumiko left. He’d seek out the room with the cameras later on to see if she was still there. He was sure she’d lose patience and take off once she’d broken a few things to her satisfaction.

He lost himself in reverie for some time. He noticed that no matter when he arrived, the skylight above showed the same blue sky.

He fell asleep. For all the time he’d spent inside the rooms, he’d never actually fallen asleep in them. He was usually too engrossed or worked up by what he found to rest or sleep.

When he awoke he found that someone, a man, was standing over him. And this man spoke to him.

He was Yamamoto, he said, a soldier in Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun. He told Ryu that he was there when the flash of light tore a hole in the sky and created hell on Earth. The whole city was lit up with a searing light brabombighter than the midday sun.

And he recited lines of a poem Ryu had never heard before:

If the radiance of a thousand suns
were to burst into the sky,
that would be like
the splendor of the Mighty One—

It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue, he said. It lit every peak, crevasse and ridge of the Miyajima hills with indescribable clarity and beauty.

He was there when the children playing in front of him disappeared into charcoal dust. He was there when the deformed charcoal statues bled beneath their cracks as they reached out to him for water, for comfort, for death. He was there when the shadows were etched permanently on the concrete bridge and the river boiled.

He said he tried to kill himself. He walked to the dome, the only building left standing among a flattened world, and found a beam. He hung himself, but as he did so he saw the ginzakura—the silver sakura—appear before him. His belt broke, and he lived.

“But you know, don’t you, that there is more beyond the ginzakura?”

“How do I get there?” Ryu asked.

“You have to see that shining city on the hill like I did,” he said.

Then Ryu slept.

When he awoke, Yamamoto was gone, but the petals, always continually falling and replenishing themselves, had frozen in mid-air. The glinting silver fruit being born and falling and dying was now tarnished. The sky in the dome above him had turned to twilight and a new portal was up there.

He ascended into the air and passed through it.

***

XI. The infinity ∞ room

He went through ten thousand rooms, then a hundred-thousand, concentrating on nothing. He became one with his surroundings, fitting into his containers like water or mercury. He became the creator and destroyer of these tiny worlds, bending through and over all things, until he was finished with them.

And then he went through a million more rooms. He passed a lifetime of images and a million lifetimes of images. He passed through objects he thought he’d forgotten. It was as if he’d penetrated his own neural memory networks, his own memory cells, and even deeper into the DNA that formed him. He became the eye that looks inward at itself, the strange loop that spirals ever upward into complexity and consciousness.

He learned that the walls did not exist. He learned that the rooms existed in parallel levels as well, stacked atop each other along a spectrum stretching upward and downward and forward and back in infinite permutations. He learned that all patterns followed the same algorithm. He passed through them all.

Until he arrived at a door.

But this one was different. It was marked with a symbol: . He opened it, expecting, perhaps, to find a dimly-lit stupa piled up with skulls, or even just a tiny hut scattered with i-ching trigrams, tea leaves or other such paraphernalia of the occult. Perhaps he’d find the kami-sama themselves, or at least a tiny lump of uranium emitting shocks and awe one half-life at a time. An explanation and a reason for it all.

Instead, he found nothing. There was only a pure white room with white walls and a clerestory above shining white light into his eyes. It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. He sat in there for what seemed like an eternity. A room of ancillary dreams, perhaps, he thought to himself. A place where fear goes to die.

He savored it for hours or for days or for years.

And he was happy.

Until one hour or day or year he looked over at the far wall and noticed a crack in it. The imperfection felt like a needle under his fingernail, a knife in his brain. It was another door.

As it gradually became more visible it took on a familiar outline and shape. It was the shōji from his apartment. There was even the hole from when he had punched it in anger. He couldn’t recall ever being angry. It seemed like a different person, a different lifetime. He understood that anger, but he knew he could never feel it again. He walked over to it and opened it and ...

***

XII. Again, shut the fuck up, dog

He was back.

There was the apartment and its veranda and the unruly garden below. There was the house and the porch and the floodlight.

Except instead of looking down at the roof of the house he was looking up beyond the glare of the floodlight towards the apartment building and into his room. There was an awful stench of urine and feces, stronger than he’d ever smelled in his life. And he saw himself up there, standing on the railing, skeletal, looking down and scowling.

Excited, he began to circle around the porch. He accidentally stepped in feces. Disgusting. He had to piss. He peed on the railing right away without bothering to take off his clothes. Then he realized he wasn’t wearing clothes, and the stench of shit was overbearing because it was plastered to him.

He tried to stand up but his legs felt stiff. His back would not curve.

He looked up again. Beyond was the moon, a fingernail scratching a hole in the sky. The man looked right at him into his eyes. It frightened him. He wanted to tell the man that he was no longer bound to him. He shouted up at the man, but it came out funneled and strained and channeled as if through a narrow concrete trough or well. He howled out his message trying to make him understand.

The man continued to scowl. Why didn’t he get it?

He howled and howled and howled until the rage subsided and turned in on itself, eating the long tail into sub-consciousness, and then it became his own private laugh—a howling laugh tunneling into the far mad corners of his small mind.

And he was laughing because the joke was on the gaunt man on the veranda cloaked in something that bent time or light and who smelled of death. END

Ryu Ando lives and works in Los Angeles. He is an academic librarian. His fiction has appeared in “Apocrypha and Abstractions” and “Churn Thy Butter.”  He has also written a monograph on digital libraries, which will be published later this year.

 

ralan

 

peter saga

 

TTVII