He could not remember much about arriving in Starship City. Somehow, a bedsit had been arranged above a secondhand bookshop. A secretary had also been provided, a straightlaced, middle-aged woman who mixed duties between the bookshop and his requirements. The flat was mediocre, most modem conveniences and, very important, his own front door. But how could he explain the subtle hatred he felt for the bookshop below? He even used the bookshop’s headed notepaper (discovered in an otherwise empty drawer in the bedsit) to write a letter of complaint to the bookshop. However, when he tried to recall the contents of the letter after he had posted it, all he could remember was one vague portmanteau expression involving “gladiola” — something about flowers, he thought, if it was spelled correctly.


The secretary was calling up the stairs to him. “Mr. Williams! Mr. Williams!!” Could she have a key to his front door? The sense of security seemed to dissolve as grounds melt to murky hot water. He opened the internal door and discerned the upturned gaze of the secretary.

“Miss Lakeminster, could you please knock on the front door in future? I didn’t know you had a master key.”

“I didn’t use a key. Mr. Williams. I really didn’t! I thought I spotted a dark shape — like a man — and it fiddled about in your porch. Mr. Williams, I was suspicious and when I got here, the door was open!”

“I haven’t seen anybody.”

“Well, it’s very peculiar.”

“The wind must have blown it open — I might have accidentally left it off the catch…” He suddenly remembered the letter. “Did you get my letter?” He had forgotten she had typed it. He could hardly see Miss Lakeminster in the semidarkness of the stairs, but he shuddered as he imagined her parboiled face and damning eyes. Miss Lakeminster equally could hardly see Mr. Williams’ face staring bodilessly around the quarter-opened door. The dark shape of a figure, whose outline Miss Lakeminster had thought she had seen in the porch, was now hidden, between them on the stairs, by the converging half-darkness of each observer. It crouched and watched their dialogue.

“What letter?”

“You know, the letter you …”

“Oh, do you mean this one?” She held up an unopened Window envelope which had been in her pocket. Mr. Williams thought he saw her offer him a white oblong through the dimness, so he descended toward her. The figure squashed itself against the wall at the side of the stairs, thus allowing Mr. Williams to pass with only the merest brush of cloth on cloth. The dusk was now so deep that even at such close proximity, he did not notice the figure squatting against the pressure of the wall. As strangely as he had arrived in the city, the letter had become one addressed to him and, grabbing it from Miss Lakeminster, he tore it open at the foot of the stairs and read it greedily. The figure left the dark well of the stairs and gracefully glided to Mr. Williams’ shoulder. The letter informed any potential reader of the job for the purpose of which Mr. Williams had been sent to Starship City. He — Dan Williams — was to be the sole astronaut chosen for the heralded mission to outer space. He staggered under the shock of the message, gradually recalling the intensive training and habilitation he had undergone for many years. The figure smiled knowingly from the back of Dan’s shadow, unseen by Miss Lakeminster who was busy scrabbling on the threadbare carpet for something she thought she had lost.

The figure slipped through the open door. Whether she — Miss Lakeminster — did indeed see it, she failed even to show one flicker of recognition in her damning eyes. It scuttled through the dark gas-lit streets, away from the shop of old books — but, before it left the vicinity, it cupped hands to its lips and horned a message to the city’s twilit inhabitants. It riffled fingers across the stack of lasthand books which were kept outside for late night bargain hunters. It chuckled, thinking of the technology humming within underground domes. The streets were left almost medieval in some insane yearning for the past. Lobbing one of the dogeared books at a nearby gaslight, it scattered off to the launch pad — and, after scampering through back-doubles and rat-runs, across ill-lit squares with spluttering fountains at their centers, under badly repaired fences and beyond the rears of old-fashioned terraced two-up-two-downs, it reached the bleak fields at the city’s edge. There, silhouetted against a blotted moon, it surveyed the spire of civilization’s pervading religion. The tall tapering rocket was fused against the night sky in agonizing splendour — on one side could be seen the panorama of the mazy city’s lights and, on the other, the far stretching plains of nothingness. The figure cowered at the root of the rocket.

Dan Williams strode through the city streets with Miss Lakeminster in his wake. In a rather clumsy and unthinking way, they had just shared sex in his bedsit. Yet their limbs retained some tingling at the memory. The dawn was about to break as they headed toward the launch pad and he led her by the hand, almost like a father guiding his daughter through a fun-fair ghost house. The rocket was limned against a near-screaming margin of dawn-orange, while large birds wheeled with gullish screeches over its rearing point. Dan thought it seemed a rare orchid with black bees dipping for the pollen. Abruptly, there again loomed the figure, garbed as a gladiator, lurching from behind the base of the rocket. Holding its sword akimbo, it trumpeted at the mindless couple. Almost instantaneously, the scene became the day of the launch. Dan Williams, astronaut supreme, was established in the module at the rocket’s point. A burst of fire bloomed at the foot of the wick and, with outlandish noise of a lunatic’s scream of blue murder, it plummeted into the sky. The citizens shaded their eyes with salutes to see it grow no bigger than a bird — now alone in the withering welkin. Then, it appeared to shudder momentarily … and explode. Merely that. A silver flash of sword blade, then a lightning shaft against an echoing sky … and, beyond, nothing.

Turning back toward the second-hand bookshop, Miss Lakeminster shed a tear from her no longer damning eyes. Now knowing she wanted to give up being the secretary in a bookshop in Starship City, she was heartbroken by the loss of her loved one and decided to kill herself by lying on a bed and arranging for the book-shop’s owner to immerse her head in a pile of damp secondhand books. Before she lay down, she went to the small aperture in the wall and strained her eyes to survey the gaslit city. Yet another distant rocket ship, at the city’s edge, pointed spaceward from the launch pad and it seemed to her to be a finger of some prone giant raised in reprimand over the disheveled mazes of the city slums. She heard a faraway drunken cry emerge from a steamy cafe and, as suddenly, cease, beneath the heavy approach of night. She laid a hand on the sill and, almost without impulse, she toppled back upon the bed.

Mr. Weggs entered Miss Lakeminster’s room and, before him, in the half-light of Starship City’s dusk, lay the cadaverous shape of the stricken lady. Just the rim of the uppermost skin reflected the twilight’s weakly golden glow as it struggled through the grimy panes of the tiny lotto-hatch in the wall. She was quite naked. Mr. Wegg’s, knowing how prim she had been during his acquaintance with her, shook his head in disbelief.

The sockets, where his eyes must have rested, pulsed darker than the shadow of his skull. The huddle of books in his aching arms were just another shapeless stranger of black and he wondered which of these books would hold the final suffocating victory over her breath. He strode toward the recumbent figure and carefully placed the books in a makeshift pyramid over her mouth, nose and eyes. She had loved that astronaut Williams and, now, her boss, meticulously patting the damp books into place over her features, involuntarily admired her unutterable loyalty to the deceased spaceman: he sprinkled over the pyramid of books some black blooms which had been crimson in daylight hours but now night-stained with death juice. They fell haphazardly over and through the damp pages. But she stirred slightly at this rustle of petals and her face gradually rose, spilling the books to the floor like lumpy porridge. She realized with some unexpected force that the remains of her astronaut had not been found. The explosion of the rocket far up in the wide sky had surely shattered him beyond corporeal existence. Perhaps a shred of flesh or splinter of bone fell to earth. Perhaps he had fluttered down like a slow scattering of broken petals:

Perhaps he was alive, beckoning to her with a split finger. Mr. Weggs prudently withdrew from the room as a tear swelled at the tip of her nose. The books around her were nothing but memories, too — mere pages of live thoughts that were all but dead. How could the bone of one finger split into a “V”? For a book to live, though, must it not in fact become such a “V”? As she finally died, the tear fell from her nose to the open book that had fallen in front of her and the page read: “Elizabeth Lakeminster was the secretary in a bookshop May she rest in peace.


Starship City was alive with another launch carnival. Colors galore bobbed in balloon- and umbrella-shapes above the crazy harlequinade. The pygmy figure, tufted with a red-tinseled goatee beard and garbed in mock-gladiatorial fashion, threaded his way between the drugged bodies and over-brimming cafes, heading for the launch-pad at the city’s edge. Suddenly, he was halted by a somber procession of hooded figures carrying a human coffin upon their shoulders. He guessed this was a jokey ritual, some sick fancy-dress rag-stunt. But, no — a genuine priest swung a steaming censer in the same rhythm as his stride, at the head of the chanting group. The pygmy knew that the priest was pukka since he wore an insignia of faith, a golden ‘V’ tattooed on his brow. But suddenly the pygmy was struck from behind by the careless butterfly-switch of Captain Bintiff. The recipient looked down at his knurled feet, as if penitent. Beneath his soles, he felt the insidious throb of the underground machine domes which fed the launchpad with energy and he remembered the times that he had been enslaved in the oil room, funneling great tubes of black sludge into the moving parts of the metal maze hidden away beneath the scurrilous lanes of the gaslit city, whence he had escaped a terrible doom by becoming a spy for Bintiff.

“Salustrade!” boomed Bintiff, giving his subject a further stinging slap. “That, my dear overgrown black turd, is the funeral ceremony of the late Elizabeth Lakeminster — but I wish it were you that were bloody dead!” Bintiff bent at the bones in time with the alternate pitch of his voice. As he continued, the distant rocket which was Starship City’s second attempt to send a man to outer space, roared into the blue sky. “And that, my dear overnourished toad’s afterbirth, is one reason why I am sending you back to the oil rooms — you were supposed to sabotage the bleeding rocketship, as you did before — look, this one is whooshing up like a dream! Whoosh, bloody, whoosh!”

Salustrade horned a long note with his curled hands and pursed lips, like a living conch shell, in resonance with the rocket’s bone-rattling roar and the answering sky. And, on board this second rocket, the nameless astronaut lay dead, snuffed from life by a proxy hijack poison in his tea. Beside his fresh corpse, gradually leaning away from each other like a fresh “V” were the astral projections of two souls. These thin balloon-shapes which were filled as if with soft delicate putty pulled back together at the top until all was eventually whole, all was eventually Peace and sexual nirvana. The rocketship took them forever, farever. Meanwhile, scullion Salustrade worked his buttocks off in the oil rooms.

Starship City sat at the foot of the New Hills which rose like steps eastward from the Argumentative Oceans. On the other side of the vast gaslit metropolis, lay the mighty land fissure which still creaked and groaned on certain days of the year. As one approached from the south along the carriageways, one could hear the mam-moth rasping of Nature (“Surely, it will crack the world in two, one day!”) and see the looming rocketship monument to all those who had died cosmic deaths. The monument was indeed the first sign of the city that the stranger saw: a tall tapering cone-pinnacle or narrow pyramid, curiously like a church spire ready for launch.. Soon, it was obvious that this marked the outer limits of the city suburbs — countless ranks of decrepit terraced two-up-two-downs in faded black and white checker-board, items of washing hanging across the narrow byways and shadowing the queues of gossipers and scandalmongers.

“You don’t want to stay long in these parts, for the oilmen’s wives live here,” said one do-gooding ne’erdowell.

“What oilmen?” asked the stranger. “I thought the city’s industry was spaceflight.”

“Well, the city is really lost in time — that’s the only way to explain it to outsiders. The buildings, as you near the one-way system at the center, were made piecemeal from the Victorian ruins but, like all transplants, the old and new sit ill together. And, to cap it all, elfkin cattle roam at all hours between the gaslights and office blocks. Under the ground, there are the murky machine-rooms which feed melted energy to the launchpads on the city outskirts. All moving parts, moving against each other, like lovers…”

“But what oilmen?”

“Didn’t I say? Well, they’re the men who live most their lives underground feeding black sludge to the metal joints — miscegenates mostly and convicts and bents and cripples and others…”

“There is one in particular I’m after…”

“Eeeny meeny myny mo, catch a bugger by his toe — it’s Salustrade you’re after, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s his name — if he’s what you call an oilman, so much the better — he’ll be pleased to quit the city’s entrails and work for me.”

“He used to sabotage the rocketships before liftoff — some crazy conspiracies to undermine the system — or to rescue political prisoners in the Memorial Halls — that’s why he lives and works down there — a fitting punishment — never comes up for air, dear sir.” The city slicker gave a strange shrug and left the stranger. In fact, the stranger was two strangers, one inside the other, but both with the same head.

A solitary jogger appeared at the end of the street, its body bouncing along like a shiny black balloon — almost obscene. The stranger who was Siamese twins, Tristan and Clovis, still walked toward the center of the gaslit city in an area of mainly secondhand bookshops. As they were nearly knocked over by the careless jogger, they stumbled away from each other but, now being joined at the base of the two spines by the mutant gum of misbirth, they kept upright and continued their skewed way.

“Watch where you’re going!” they shouted at the vanishing shadow.

A rocket burst into flame from some other quarter of the city — another abortive launch creating a temporary firework display, outshining the feeble flickering of the night’s natural costume jewlery. As the jogger ran toward the outskirts, a mighty sword materialized in its grasp which was, in truth, a broken railing from the Lakeminster Memorial Hall.

Tristan and Clovis sat on their hips, scornful of ever finding the main entrance to the underground oilroom. They were at the foot of a spluttering fountain in one of those city squares where, during daylight, office workers munched their ill-spread sandwiches and listened obliviously to the mumbling machinery beneath their itchy feet.

Salustrade, the jogger in disguise, lately escaped from the damning darkness of the interconnecting subcity hells, careered through the last-ditch lanes of Starship City, wheeling the sword above his head. He had oiled his body over with pure black grease, kneading it into every pore of his skin and underskin. He had become a silky dark balloon and, letting out the breath from his lungs in one vigorous gasp, had spirited through a lock-and-key system from a flaw in the drainage valves (where the grill had been shattered by rogue rocket-shrapnel). He had sped through the city — at the time when the streets were empty — except for that damn two-voiced rhinocerosman who had stumbled in his way. The night had kept from Salustrade the secret of this obstacle’s identity, although he suspected it of being the matured afterbirth of a certain Ma and Pa Bintiff.


“You never found Salustrade, then?” asked another ne’erdowell.

“I never even found the oilrooms!” Clovis and Tristan answered with one voice, but two tongues.

“But you’re in the oilrooms now! Can’t you see the eccentric wheels churning fast up there on the lowest ceiling? A rocket’s about to launch from the out-city fields, beyond the back of the terraced houses, and you’ve work to do. They keep the do-gooders, ne’erdowells, and cripPles down here, like the likes of you. Got a use for them all. Keep the moving parts moving — take up the vats of flowing grease and pour. The flywheels will mesh and clog, clockwork ill-marrying clockwork, otherwise. And the rocket’s just got to go. Whoosh, bloody, whoosh! Space is our only destiny and hope.”

A listener from the days of Dan Williams and the first Captain Bintiff would have been bewildered at how times had changed and how undercover conspiracies were now the Golden Mean.


Salustrade stood beside the mighty fissure in the Earth, Long-Spike raised against the whining yellows of the dawn. A mere croak — then grinding screech — girder eroding girder — cracking, groaning double-backbones of Earth heaving against each other — sick unto the core. And from the fissure, the greatest rocket that ever left land raised its ugly hammer-head toward the breaking heavens. All the good and healthy people were on board, now gone for good, quitting the dark abandonable Earth. Salustrade shrugged and jogged back the way he had come, to release the oilers and the benders and his other stricken pals.

The gigantic rocket, of course, exploded soon after, launch, creating a blinding Queen-Catherine-Wheel over Starship City, while Tristan and Clovis lay on their side and awaited inevitable rescue from a pygmy Savior who, they now prayed, would come and to whom they had given the provisional name of Salustrade. They themselves had fates to forge, destines to unspring, like grey-hounds after the hare.


“If time goes backward, to poison someone you must first poison his shit.” The voice echoed in the darkness, interrupting a second voice with which it held converse of sorts.

“You know, in Heaven where God is supposed to sit on His throne, there are apprentice angels, one or two of whom are trained to slop out the public conveniences up there.”

The room was clammily, oilily dark, if room it were, and the voices tried to wriggle away from each other — but being joined now at all points on their surfaces, this was more than impossible. Clovis and Tristan had only been tenuously connected in their mutual mother’s womb. From that point onward, their jointure had grown gradually thicker, sturdier, integrally tentacled, until they felt (and, some said, looked) like an alien creature. They had originally come to Starship City, seeking Salustrade. Commissioned by one of the Bintiffs who thought that the pygmy had information worth its salt-mine, they had since discovered that he was a scullion who used to work down here in the subterranean workings of the spaceport (a spaceport which stood above at the edge of the metropolis like a township of finger-stalls). The Bintiff had not told them everything, evidently testing their communal intelligence for future, perhaps more important, missions. In any event, Salustrade had escaped from the oil rooms which were instrumental in cranking and churning the machines which in turn drove the spaceship rockets to the Upper levels of both the tenable and untenable universes. But, Salustrade, in his instinctive knowledge of all possibilities and probabilities and certainties and their opposites, had seen fit not to spring those trapped in the lowest layers of the machine rooms who were thus mouldering away in the rusted metal corridors of darkness. Such were Tristan and Clovis, who kept up a desultory overlapping conversation to while away as much of the future as they could.

“If God knew we’re here, He’d surely spare a few of his apprentice angels to come and kiss us better.”

“And to clear away the excrement.”

Each time one of the voices moved, the other had to struggle to keep clear of the squelching rats that ran from his mouth to his bottom, and vice versa, and vice versa again, in a self-supplementing, if depleting, food chain. But, thankfully, the darkness hid the rats’ damning eyes.

“They say the last rocket that went up exploded above the city — and all the good and healthy and rich people on Earth-out were destroyed and rained down like living sparks upon the whole city in which they had once drunk and danced.”

“And others say it was one of those ruffians who used to work down here who tripped the switch which turned the rocketship inside out, so that all its complicated workings hung free like shameful parts — it could have done nothing else but explode in the circumstances.”

“Why did we come here, Tristan?”

“Why indeed, Clovis?”

“Because we were told to …”

“… capture Salustrade before…”

“… he tripped the switch which only he knew about …”

“… and which would put paid to all civilization’s possiblities …”

“… and the destruction of all those with Victorian values who were supposed to seed the stars …”

“…which we used to gaze at in the night skies of our childhood …”

“… and what will there be now…”

“… nothing but faggots, cripples, half-castes and aidsters, colonizing their own world …”

“… most of whom work down here in these (god) forsaken machine rooms …”

“… before Big Bang lets them out …”

“Ptcha! Ptchoo! You’re nought but the bottomings of my loo!” Suddenly the last voice was not Tristan or Clovis at all. It was a whisper, another’s voice, which was the first they had heard for several years. They could not quite appreciate its meaning, but the words themselves continued to be quite clear. “I’ve crawled on all fours through pipes of congealed oil, unlocked my bones to ravel a passage through the twisted machine parts, shrunk my skull to the size of a rat’s head to nose forward across the blade ends of boosters, transfixers and turdbines — and I’ve double-talked unsprung clockworks to let me through, entered among the triggers of unmarried cogs on feather-hair trellises, forged relationships with unfulfilled piston-shafts — and all this just to rescue those whom I was told must be rescued …”

“The angel has arrived, Tristan!”

“To take us back to Heaven, Clovis!”

“Don’t give me that donkey’s doings!” returned the whisper. “I’m Salustrade, and I did not squeeze through this awful sewer just for you to give me this God-shit!”

“Salustrade?” The voices spoke together, recalling a time when the name had actually meant something to them.

“I’m that black balloon which tripped you up when you first came to Starship City, all those years and years ago. I had covered myself in the glory of black oil that used to make the machine parts down here love each other, and I had slipped through the slightest grill, to tip the wink to all the others in the know. I’ve since met up with bookish Padgett Weggs, who knows more than those actually in the know. He knows more than is good for anybody, I can tell you. He says we’re to make room for Great Old Ones who (although he feared them himself once) have more complex metal parts than the inventors of all this little lot of a machine maze I’ve come through just now had hot dinners …”

Tristan and Clovis stared at the darkness whence the whisper came. They were still convinced that this was a Visitation from an apprentice angel. But Salustrade continued: “Even now, monstrous Irreducibles and living Dirigibles crank in from the stars, Black Gods, Old Gods, even Older Gods, Great Gods, heaving, churning, clucking Ancient Ones, Old Heads on even Older Shoulders, With Big Wings far too Big for their own Bodies, their Bones, their Old Old Elder Bones tougher than Earth’s toughest metal, and all conjoined like a trillion Siamese MonsterTwins!”

Tristan felt the light kiss of a metabolic rat and its almost human snarl “Ptcha! Ptchoo!” which it uttered when passing his ears on the return journey. But Salustrade’s whisper droned on, if whisper it still was: “I’m come in for cover, I admit — all my crippled and mindless pals must want me to seek the advice of the Machine-Oracle that they thought must still lurk down here — the question is, what can be done about it? All the clever ones (with clean knickers and ambitions to match) parted company with their bodies sky-side, when I flicked that springy hair across the wrong terminals on the wrong day … O Machine-Oracle, tell me!”

Tristan and Clovis shrugged together and raised themselves on all four legs, scuttled like a dying spider, bouncing off the corroded walls like a squash-fly. It was as if possessed. “Go back to your Padgett Weggs!” it shrieked like a banshee in heat. “Bring him and teach him how to shovel shit! See how he likes being apprenticed to the Devil!”

“He’ll be dead by now,” came the voice of the one who called itself Salustrade. “He was a simple bookish man. In fact, they’ll all be dead, except me.”

“Then, go back and tell them the Oracle can do nothing but hope, against all the sensible possibilites, yes, hope — that Time has character enough to have second thoughts.”

“I know not the way back — I left my memory upon a powerful magnet near an oil-belly below the piston rooms — it sumped me good and proper.”

With that, the rust-clogged parts shuddered, as if about to move in some semblance of togetherness. The churning from distant regions of the submachines was faint at first, much like Earth-start must have been in the earliest days. Then, with increasing uproars and slow, but powerFul, outbursts, the lights flashed on and off, on and off, and vice versa, revealing great shiny moving parts of new-forged steel shafts, hot pistons and eccentric wheels flying together like long-lost lovers. And so, Tristan and Clovis were sprung like rats from a trap by irresistible exifugal forces into the interface of the serrating top edges of Starship City and the down-burgeoning metal-god systems of the Great Old Ones. There, with much un-confessed relief, they saw the rejigged hob-madonna rocket hover back down to Earth — since the fireworkman had originally forgotten to light its fuse. These good and healthy people once in an infinity of little bits were returning, blending back together again, as they would always maintain, to save the world from things even worse than themselves. Tristan and Clovis bounded off, embarrassed but determined to rejoin the guerilla armies who were even now feeling their own bodies to see if there were any signs of the dislocations, mortal wounds, decapitations, and downright smithereens which they once thought the good and healthy people had suffered. And now they had Old Gods to fight, too.


“Cancher blinking move?”

The night had drawn in early across the roofs of Starship City, bringing creatures with it that could fly more easily through darkness than daylight — because, as Padgett Weggs, the dosser, told his sleeping partner, night’s density and the creatures’ specific gravity were complementary — though he did not use those very words nor fully comprehend the implications of metal being lighter than air. He pointed into the impenetrable sky and screeched: “You can see their shape of wings! Hovering up there, if you only knew how to use your eyes, my dear.”

“Cancher blinking move?”

“I’m already pushed right up to the wall of the Lakeminster Memorial, my dear.”

“And I’ve got the bleeding curb in my back!”

The woman, unlike Mr. Weggs, had her standards, since she wore fashionable suede gloves to her elbows. Upon one finger she sported a sparkling nugget of glass, which often made other dossers blind with envy and mumbling with fury. And there were plenty of such dossers since the oil rooms exploded.

“You only want to sleep with me for my money.”

“No, Elizabeth, I love you more than any down-and-out can say. I want to protect you from the things that flap up, even now, to roost upon our dying bodies and probe our skulls with their drill-beaks.”

“I’ve seen you leer at my trinkets, when you’re not spouting nonsense.”

“Your eyes are jewels enough, my dear — your words the only books.”

“You never cuddle me right. Cancher see women need loving properly?”

Padgett Weggs ringed her with his arms. “There, there, Elizabeth, I can love you as good as any man. My mother taught me how to hold a lady like she wants to be held.”

“Kiss me, then, Padgett.”

He planted his damp mildewy lips upon the uprising flower of flesh and circled it with his musty tongue. He eased his hands under the many layers of sacking and lifted them above her head. The air was chill and he felt the woman shiver. The gaslight shuddered, too.

“Lawks-a-mercy, it is too frigging cold to be in the nude.”

“Wait on, my dear.” He eased off his own sackings and dressed her in them. Then he struggled into her sackings. He felt he would wear them like a princess.

“Ooh, Padgett, you’re a devil!”

He unpeeled the long gloves from her arms and rolled them up his own like prophylactics. “Don’t you enjoy it, though, Elizabeth, when we make love in each other’s clothes?”

She did not answer as they renewed their embrace. The stench of their rags mingled as the Great Old Ones flapped in from those ink-well cores in the sky. The leader on bony oars spotted that titbit it had yearned for, since eternities of flight. Within the human skull, it would crack out the softest, juiciest shellfish of a brain ever conceived. Even now, the pulpy innards twitched and seethed upward like frothy meat-shake, winding and whining within the bony conch: ready to rocket up and escape …

And, so, one Great Old One plummeted and, faster than a blink of its artery-mapped eyelid, plucked what it thought was the man’s brain being passed from mouth to mouth, during a French kiss. Despite the confused clothes, with green-spunk lips, it sucked upon this bewildered blob and ingested it through a funnel of twisting flesh-metal and perpetual metabolic darkness. Meanwhile, the real Elizabeth Lakeminster and the real Dan Williams regained the Platonic Form of every pair of creatures who decided to come together as one. They loved to watch each mote and microbe of each other wriggle free and become characters in the flickering play of the universe. Such skittering offspring from their metaphysical loins were the half-breeds and double-breeds who were ready to soak the light in black oil to make it night, or vice versa, vice versa, vice versa, V V V V V…

Salustrade sat in the sewer, his hands locked in prayer like two fleshy moth-wings having sex. He desperately wanted to be the Child who was Father to us all.