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It's about a place that doesn't exist. I was going for a stream-of-consciousness thing mixed with alternate reality. No, it's really more like a slice-of-life vignette, but from a different dimension. Really, it's kind of a pre-empt to Primaland, in a way, sort of...

 

(Design: Ed Stachura)

            The Endofall Heights are at the bottom of everything. I was sent here to assess the situation and take a headcount of the oddities. The Heights are at the bottom of the hills, and the people are decidedly unexceptional, if only to the naked eye. We have a population in the low hundreds and, so far, I’ve recorded the presence of sixty-eight vampires, one hundred and twenty-four reincarnations, three cannibals, and eleven brilliant minds. That leaves many whose nature still eludes me.

            I conducted most of my earliest work in front of the grocery store. It truly is amazing what you can ingest of the cosmic meaning in places such as this. Here’s how it works: I spend several days disguised as a handicapped, homeless person selling pencils, and camp outside the automatic doors where people can’t avoid me. The vampires almost never give me the time of day, same with the cannibals. Meat eaters of these varieties are always in too great a hurry. They always have a desperate disposition and a harried countenance. The reincarnations know better; they clean me out every time. They’re the easiest to nail down because they’re never sporadic or spontaneous. They weigh everything carefully against the bearing it might have on their subsequent lives. The removed, however, the brilliant ones, they’re harder to peg. They’ll stand staring at ducks in the park for hours. They’re the ones you have to have the nose for—then you follow them home.

            One thing I can tell you: it has everything to do with the eyes. Not the color, but the angle of trajectory. Is the subject walking with their gaze downcast? If so, what are they wearing? This is crucial information. If their eyes point straight ahead, they are entering a grocery store, and are not distracted by the newest composition of juxtaposing elements in their minds. I found a prolific, twelve-year-old novelist in this fashion.

            It took some work. He didn’t notice me on his way past. His eyes were averted from all, but aware of everything. He was wearing clothes he hoped would make him invisible. This shows the eccentric paranoia that often exists in creative minds. He believes someone will realize that he is an alien, that they will see him as different than they are, and conspire to steal his thoughts. I waited until he came back out and let him get to the far end of the parking lot before I took off after. I trailed him for another block and then made like a crazy snatch-and-grab artist, whisking away the small bag of things he had bought, and vanishing.

The kid bought a forty-count box of caffeine pills and a generous-sized bottle of sleeping tablets. This is my first clue.

            The next day, he returns with a younger girl that I presume to be his sister. She calls him Rupert. My head is shaved that day and I’m handing out leaflets for a hall party that will never take place. Rupert is carrying the same things in a bag when they come back out; I can tell by the way the bag hangs. Already, I’ve formed theories, but on this day, I will validate them. He lives with his parents and sister in a cookie-cutter house, on a cookie-cutter street, with a cookie-cutter name that I’ve forgotten, but it’s somewhere in my records. From here, it’s only a matter of careful surveillance.

            The boy stays up late in his room, goes to school with barely a few hours sleep, comes home after, and passes out. This last is confirmed when I pose as a pollster from a children’s magazine and the mother tells me her son is sleeping, can I come back tomorrow? A peek in the window shows him in bright light, late the night before, scribbling away, serene, with Irish music in his ears via headphones. This musical taste is confirmed the next day when I return at his mother’s earlier suggestion. I ask him what music he is listening to. What are his hobbies? I deliberately ask about reading first, instead of sports, which might be expected. He tells me he creates new worlds.

            He is unpolished, but his ideas are broad, and they have potential. Criticism is beside the point. I’m only here to make a proper identification of his nature.

            He was from the same mold as Bellephrine. I could see that. Bellephrine had been a challenge to even the most skilled researcher. I watched her perform acts of prostitution four nights in a row before I was able to find an explorable angle. All she did was sleep, eat, vomit, and fuck—with only one thin string to keep me dangling from, to keep me believing she was different: she always insisted on playing old folk music. If her johns didn’t like it, they could take a refund, before services had been rendered. Some actually did, because the whores were plentiful, and Bellephrine was not a warm woman to begin with. I offered her twenty dollars if she could tell me the meaning of herself. She told me, “To inspire some men to simpler times. Some of us need to slow down. Everything is not old. I hope to extend the life of the world.” I gave her an extra twenty, and paid for her breakfast.

            Says the bag lady in the subway, “I want you to know that we had the best intentions. There was never any conspiracy to undermine the soul of a century. I want you to take this package for me to the next stop, and give it to a fat lady in pajamas.” Con artists are not a species in themselves; they are a side effect. She looks like a native, but I wouldn’t trust her even if she did try to verify that.

The man in the suit is losing his hair. He sits down on the train beside me. He has a briefcase made of fine leather, which he lays across his knees. I look to him and say, “The business of shrinking heads has turned you grim.”

            “They fall in love with me. They begin to see me as some kind of angel, and believe me, I’m no such thing.” He is the first victim to know his own disease. “We have a cure for everything but the gene of St. Matthew. Every patient possesses it, and there’s no way to extract it. The gene is a phantom, and doesn’t officially exist on paper, but we all know it in my profession. You learn to spot it early.”

            “What is St. Matthew’s gene?”

            He smiles thinly, with the layman’s answer ready at hand. “It is the question mark.”

            There is the end of things, and the head of things.

This long in Endofall and I find I am standing at the middle of the axis. It’s time to choose between Heaven and Hell, the latter of which is easy. To find the underworld, one must simply get himself arrested. In holding, you can usually find a good cross-reference of the blackened soul. The accepted, meanwhile, are a far more challenging breed to incise. Heaven is hard to see from all the clouds. There are those who truly earned it, and those who always had it, but probably never really deserved it. There is no blanket method of classification for these people, but in this class, I find one out of three to be vampiric. I collect my data at a party, in which I infiltrate as a pharmacist of “street initiatives.” The vampires instantly disregard me; they are scoping the host and those he or she hangs with. These are the ones with power, and vampires, of course, feed on power. They get off on taking what keeps you standing, and leave you a bloodless mass on the floor.

            My first reports made the morning courier, and should be well ingested by my superiors by now. When my results are corroborated, I will be sent a higher per-diem, and more acknowledgment. A greater reward would be re-assignment, but my status as “unbalanced” makes that a pipe dream. For now, I’m being tested, made to record the lives of animals, in this always-rainy Endofall Heights. I have long since resolved to wait patiently, and on the bus, I am stricken with an epiphany. An old woman sits down beside me and lays it all on the line. “I was sent here to record the occupants. You?”

            I look at her in her madness and reach for the cord that lets the driver know I want to stop. As the bus leaves me behind, I take comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one keeping track.

 

(end of story)

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