Berkeley, 1965. I knew a guy who knew a guy. This is how things went back then. He showed up at my apartment on Powell Street with some other friends who sat in the van as he persuaded me. We took off north, dropping acid as we went. Wildly dangerous. The tabs came wrapped in newsprint, and you could read all about the Watts riots as your brain was blown. We got off the road somewhere and drove into the deep woods. In a forest glade we sprawled in the late summer sun, wrapped in our private fantasies, some of us retching, others meditating. Nearby, someone was playing a guitar. This I remember. As the hours passed, only two of us were still lucid. My trip wasn’t happening, I sat thinking.
Then Louis pointed at the edge of the glade, and the most amazing sight convinced me (then) that I was definitely high. A massive stag, with at least twelve points, walking slowly across the grass, stepping delicately around the bushes. And the colors! Oh man, the colors. His body shimmered prismatic, with fire playing around the edges of his horns and tail, his hooves shimmering with white light. Colors passed over his skin as in a puddle with leaked oil. He passed from our senses. Louis, slack-jawed, looked at me and grinned. He made whirling gestures at his head. Yes, far out. It was.
Northern California, 2005. It’s forty years later when I finally drive back there. It took me a lot of time to find exactly the path we took that day, and some shortcuts, the crazy meanderings, are lost to me. Perhaps, I don’t remember and this isn’t the place. And yet, as I park my jeep at the edge of the trail and walk into the forest, I can see the glade appearing in front. It’s overgrown now, and there is less open sky. It’s still summer, and there are wildflowers in the grass, which I didn’t remember being there. I sit in the sun, quite in the middle of the space, and slowly weep, the weight of memories, the sky, the air, heavy on me. My years. I fall asleep in the warmth, curled in a ball, hugging myself, my sagging flesh.
Some movement wakes me, or perhaps an insect landed on my head. I couldn’t tell. The stag is there, looking at me in that wary yet curious way deer have, even when you are pointing the rifle at them. I extend my tongue to see if the acid tab is on it. Nothing. Just a dry mouth.
His colors are beyond the senses. Bands of pinks and oranges variegate his sides and travel in undulating waves across him; his horns are striped with reds and blues that alternate their order. The hooves are like liquid metal, congealing light. A shaft of sunlight strikes him as he moves across the trees. A last look at me, crumpled in the grass, and he vanishes into the trees.
I bury my face in the grass, smelling the earth. The forest, which had held its breath, resumes. Far away, I hear the short sharp blast of a car horn, calling me back to reality.
Arin D. Monsters of Kindness - The Californian Years. Minamata Folio 26. NY 2041
The man who would become king came with his grey horse over the western hills. He walked his horse down through the slopes with the straggling pines, past the high moors, and into the valley of smallholders with their emerald green fields and brightly colored huts. This was twenty years ago, and they still claim to remember it in the hill country - how the king came to his land.
Quickly he became a noble, buying his way into landowning in the hills, defeating his rivals in quick, bewildering moves of dealing and killing. Some were murdered, others merely impoverished. It was not long before the tall man with the prematurely grey, long hair and hard-boned face was a power in the hills. It was not long till his name reached ears at court. It was still a lesser name then, because he had no a formal title, though everyone acknowledged that he could be earl if he wanted.
In the year of the Black Harvest, he first appeared in flesh at court, where those with established names challenged him. Yet his eyes were only for the young queen, her with the dark hair and green eyes, and the hereditary torc of white gold that signified her authority. Like a force of nature, he withstood the whims of mere men. He survived assassination attempts. He had some men killed in return. While his source of wealth was unknown, there were whispers of the black arts. Eventually, the queen noticed him and succumbed to his will.
In a move that made him far more enemies than wedding guests, he married the young queen. He was pronounced royal consort. In his first year of marriage, he led the weak royal army to crush the upstart dukes who had mounted a rebellion. His tactics were unorthodox, his mercy was slight. By his second year of royal life, his rule was unquestioned. He was king.
The queen fared less well. She had a son, and he was born within the shadow of his father’s absence. The king roved the country, and even neighboring realms. He had little presence at court, where the queen, now diminished and alone, her courtiers shattered and sent away, declined in vitality. Ten years passed in which the king was seen at court seldom, preferring to prosecute wars and suppress mounting dissent. It was rumored the king often left his army to the generals - all experienced, fiercely loyal men handpicked to the man - and disappeared for months on private missions. Where he went, no one knew. Quietly, the whispers of dark arts continued.
When the prince was fourteen, his mother died in the night. His father sent word that he was too far away to attend the funeral. In the years to come, it seemed to the prince that he wandered the silent halls of the palace alone, watched over by his father’s appointed guardians. He had little time to mourn. Orders had been given that he be relentlessly drilled in the martial way, by the best trainers royal gold could buy. His father visited occasionally, and observed him from close, though his manner remained distant and cold. To the son, his father had changed little, and remained a formidable, though inscrutable figure. A mask was the paternal face, beyond which nothing could be seen.
In the winter when the prince was twenty years old, now a bitter and silent young man given to fits of rage that terrified the royal court, he was asked to come to his father’s war camp. This took two days’ travel to the north, where there were battles against nomadic bands. He appeared at his father’s tent, adorned at the front with the skulls of stags and northern bears. Inside, his father sat in a wooden chair on a seat formed from hides, flanked by grim-faced men, cloaked and hooded. Their spears set in the ground were angled so that they framed his father’s face, lit in torchlight. The prince could not tell if his father’s eyes were open or closed. His mother’s torc glinted in the flickering flames at the throat of the man before him.
With the words “I have a task for you”, the king sent his son from the country. The prince was assigned no servitors, and no retinue followed him. A fresh black horse was found for him, and a map. He would cross the country, back to the hills in the west. He would go over the border, and traverse the moors on a chamois track till he reached a pass that would be marked by a tall cairn. He would descend from the pass, and go through a land of broken towns and desolate villages. This dry country would eventually yield to a fast-flowing river. “Follow the river, till you reach a fort on a small hill,” his father had said. “There you will meet a man who will tell you what you must do next”. Nothing more was said, and no tokens of affection were given. The prince left his father’s army behind in a dark mood, which stayed with him for the two weeks it took to get to the western border high in the hills.
The swift river tumbling from the mountains was not hard to find. Though he had been tracked by a pack of wolves since descending from the pass, they did not attack. In the cold morning light, on a shingled beach at the river’s edge, the prince stripped to the waist and trained with his heavy sword. The opposite bank of the river rose steeply to a wooded ridge. From the top of the ridge, he thought he heard the sound of a horse, the clink of metal on metal. No one appeared to spy on him, and he heard nothing more for the rest of the day as he traveled down the river.
The next day, overcast and sleeting, he glimpsed the fort - a much bigger structure than imagined from his father’s spare description. As he passed its outer walls, he saw a crest carved in stone, now chipped and faded. With the shock of recognition, he saw the same emblems as in the royal arms of his own home. He remembered his tutor, who had told him that the royal arms were changed by the new king. The king had merged the queen’s own heraldic symbols with those of his own design, as befit a man starting an entirely new royal line.
The implications nagged at him as he walked on foot into the structure. The fort had been abandoned for some time, its inner courtyard overgrown with weeds. The stables had collapsed and jackdaws poured from the tower, disturbed and made curious by this intrusion into their realm. As he stood in the main hall of the tower building, looking up through the holes in the ceiling at the gunmetal sky, he heard the footsteps of another man in the courtyard. The steps sounded even, quick - not of someone who had slunk in. These were steps of a man come here with purpose.
The prince positioned himself in the middle of the room, with its crepuscular light and sudden shadows cast by the wheeling birds in the air above the broken ceiling. Eventually, the man appeared from the opposite end of the hall, walking into the light as if he too had been commanded to be there. The two men faced each other across the broken parquetry of the floor, their hands resting guardedly on the hilts of their swords. The other man was young, and his clothes marked him as a tradesman, or a merchant’s son. Though the attire spoke little to the attitude of the man, who had the look of a fighter, a man assured of his skill as well as his weapons.
The two young men looked at each other for a while. The prince felt sure of himself, his position at birth. The other man looked at ease and not at all overawed by the prince’s coat, his fine leather boots and trappings.
"Why are you here", the prince asked.
"I was asked to be here. I was told to follow another man who journeyed to this fort. I am to make myself known to you." This man’s accent was not of his own country, the prince concluded. Although his words were well-formed, his voice confident.
"What are your plans then, now that you are here?", the prince asked.
The stranger shifted his stance, and adjusted his sword belt, apparently positioning it for ease of use. “I was told you would be here. That you are the enemy. I am told I must kill you.” The prince had expected something such as this from the beginning of the dialogue. Even so, the ambivalence in the other man’s rendering of his mission was intriguing.
"Then you must try, should you not?"
Neither man moved. The prince studied his presumed opponent. Above, breaks in the cloud appeared. A shaft of sunlight now broke through the roof, dramatically lighting the center of the room. As if drunk on the serendipity, the merchant’s son stepped into the light, even though this may blind him to his opponent’s advantage. The prince saw the other fully then, his height, his broad shoulders, and his long, thick, dark hair, with glints of premature grey at the edges.
The prince stepped closer to the light, his hand no longer on his sword. The two men looked at each other, expressionlessly. “I was told you will tell me what to do next,” the prince said.
The man in the merchant’s garb said nothing for a while. His eyes went over the prince. “I think you know what you must do,” said the merchant’s son.
"Yes, I think I do".
The prince turned from the other, and walked back out of the light, towards the opening in the wall.
He turned, looking at the man who still stood there. “Will you come with me?”, the prince asked.
For a moment, both of them stood, thinking. “Yes”, the other man said, tapping his sword lightly with his forefinger. “Let’s go meet father”.
Screencap from Alien (1979)
Always found this interesting: both Alien and Unknown Pleasures were released in 1979, within one month of each other. (Unknown in April, Alien in May).
Alien, landmark science fiction film
Unknown Pleasures, landmark post-punk album
Moebius/O’Bannon - The Long Tomorrow
Intuition (series) by Carsten Witte
Christian van Minnen
— Marcel Duchamp