I pull out a worn paperback. It’s got a green cover. I show it to you.
“So this is my third novel,” I say. “Well … fourth. The second one wasn’t related to the Secret of Secrets and only lives on as an Easter egg. I didn’t finish it, anyway. Or, you know, haven’t yet.”
I hand you the book, pull out a pack of smokes, pop one, light up. If you want one, I give you one, too.
If you don’t care for smoking, I try to stay downwind as we traverse the rails on foot.
I glance around in the chilly winter Somatic breeze and say, “This is about where we were, I guess. When this conversation took place.”
“Which one?” you ask, meaning which conversation am I referring to.
I tell you the page number, then quickly catch my hair, narrowly averting singing it with the cigarette’s cherry.
You flip through the yellowing pages and find the one I said.
“It looks like it’s in the middle of a chapter,” you say.
“It is,” I say. “It’s called ‘Wasteland.’”
You ask if you should start the chapter from the beginning.
I glance around, take a drag, then say, “I mean, you can if you want.”
If you don’t want or if you’re unsure, I’ll say, “Just read, bae. From the place I told you.”
You do, and it goes:
“Do you want me to come?” Karin asked, her mouth open just a little.
“If it’s all right,” I said, “I think it might be better if I handle this on my own.”
“All right,” she said, then nodded.
“Yeah,” she said. “Totally cool.”
She smiled at me.
“All right, cool,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
Karin nodded, both hands on the wheel of her mom’s enormous van.
I climbed out and went around back. Horace’s house—rather his mom’s place—was dark all over. They didn’t keep the yard lit to permanoon the way my folks did. I ghosted all the same cos I knew Nina Dee would open me up like a fucking fish if she saw me skulking around her house at two in the goddam morning.
You pause and ask, “What is permanoon?”
I exhale a big cloud of smoke that looks effing huge cos it’s cold. “It’s a portmanteau of permanently noon, meaning, you know, it’s really bright, like noon, because of all the lights. It never gets dark.”
“Did you coin that?” you might ask.
“Certainly not,” I say. “It’s some kind of 20th Century word. I think I first heard it to describe the interiors of casinos.”
“And who is Nina Dee?” you ask.
That one makes me look at you. “Really?” I say. “You can’t derive that from the text?”
You read it again, and maybe you get it that time.
But if you don’t, it’s okay, babe. I gotchu.
“It’s Horace’s mom, Nina Délasser. Nina Dee. Dee for Délasser. I said it like that cos my mom’s name is also Nina. Nina Ay. Ay for Anderson. So Nina Dee, and Nina Ay. Horace’s mom, and my mom.”
“Why didn’t you just change their names for book?” you ask. “You know, so it would be easier on the reader?”
I blink at you, then say, “Their names are Nina, tho,” then I take another drag and look kind of pretty with the wind blowing my hair to my right.
You sigh and resume reading:
There’s a hole in the fence that’d been there since we were little. I gently climbed through, but my dress snagged on it and ripped a little.
“Motherfucker,” I said softly, so as not wake any of the dogs. They had, like, forty of ‘em, all loud as fuck.
My heels continued to sink and stick as I made my way through the muddy yard to Horace’s window.
It was open, the drapes billowing out like a handkerchief from a blown nose. Yes, in the future, there’re still drapes and double hung windows. Don’t ask me why.
“And handkerchiefs,” I interject.
You nod, but keep going:
I hoisted myself up and into his room, putting my clicky ass heels down easy on his woven rug.
But, of course, he wasn’t there.
“Shit,” I said. “Why the fuck did I even come here?”
I slid back through the window and hurried across more mud, past the wash shed to the back chain-link fence. I hopped that and darted for the rail tracks.
Adele was right. Horace was wandering around in circles on the rails.
You pause, stop walking, and look around. “Here. That’s where we are now?”
I nod and smoke. Then I add, “Well, the Somatic equivalent of them, yes.”
“Huh?” you ask.
I put my palm to my forehead, you know, gently. Not like a literal facepalm, not a traditional one, anyhow. Then I take another drag, and explain: “We are in Soma right now, you and I, in this moment, wherein you’re reading from my novel. The Lost City of Soma, which exists within my cells.”
“Your cells?” you ask.
I nod. “Yes.”
“Like the cells of your body?” you ask, looking me over.
“Yeah, bae, like the cells of my body.”
“So,” you ask, one hand holding the open book, the other pointing at the ground, both bouncing in time with you speech, “we’re inside of you right now?”
I grin from behind the short cigarette, and say, “You make it sound so dirty, babe.” Which turns me on a little, but let’s not get distracted here. We can fuck later.
“But this,” you say, raising the open book, “is not here?”
“I mean, it is,” I say. “It’s the part that got reproduced inside of me.”
“Like a memory?” you ask.
“No,” I say, thinking and smoking. Then I explain a bit more: “A memory you can experience without being inside of your cells. This is an entire world that exists within my body.”
“And we’re inside of that world?” you ask.
“Yes,” I say.
“But the characters are not?” you ask. “In this?” And again, you raise the open book.
“Of course not, silly,” I say. “That would be impossible.”
“But then how are we …” you ask, but I interrupt you, put a tobacco stained finger to you lips and shush you quietly, as sexily as I can.
“Just keep reading, baby,” I say softly.
You take a deep breath, set aside any questions, confusion, or irritation you might be experiencing, and continue reading from the book:
“What the hell, man?” I called out, feeling safely out of earshot from the house and Horace’s mother’s wrath.
“Oh, hey,” he said. “You came after me.”
“Uh, yeah.” I said without hiding my annoyance. “Of course I fucking did.”
“I wasn’t sure you would,” he said.
“I mean you seemed to be having a pretty good time, and you don’t get out much, you know. You don’t get out much these days.”
“Well, yeah, but …”
“And Artemis seemed pretty into you.”
“Who is Artemis?” you ask.
“This chick I wanted to date for about thirty minutes. Don’t worry about it.”
“Then why is she in here?”
I shrug and take one last drag from the cigarette, then say, “Cos that’s what happened.”
You sigh as I flick away the cigarette; then, you carry on:
“She does, doesn’t she?”
“Totally,” he said, balancing on a rail.
“So I’m not imagining that shit?”
“No,” he said. “I think you’re in.”
I smiled and nodded to myself, feeling some satisfaction that I’d read things correctly.
We wandered around the tracks for about an hour, just talking, just drinking from a bottle of … something. Well, he was doing most of the drinking. I didn’t drink much then. One of my periods of attempted sobriety.
“Oh fuck,” I said.
“What?” he asked.
“Yeah, she’s waiting for me in her mom’s van.”
“Her mom has a van?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, how the fuck should I know,” I said. “She said it’s her mom’s van, so I guess it is.”
“Who is Karin?” you ask. “Wait!” you say. “I know Karin! She’s from the first book, right? Everything Fails. She’s the other secretist that you almost had an affair with.”
“Uh, yeah,” I say. “That person you’re talking about is named Karin, yes. But this is not her. Not that Karin.”
Your face falls. “Jesus christ, Tee,” you say.
“Look, if people want reading to be easier, maybe they should give their kids more unique names, youknowwhatimsayin’ …”
“So who is this Karin?” you ask.
“She’s Artemis’ bestie. Like, in high school and early college. I have no idea if they’re still friends now or, you know, even still alive.”
“So she isn’t important, either?” you ask.
“Not really,” I say. “I mean, she is to herself. And to the people who know and love her. And she’s important in the chapter because, one, she’s my ride at this point, and, two, because there is this scene where I wake up with her dancing in the sunlight and Horace was super jealous of that memory.”
“Why?” you ask.
I shrug. “No idea. Horace gets jealous a lot. And I don’t really get jealousy as, like, a concept.” [See below, “play procedures.”]
There’s an awkward pause, then I say, “Just keep reading. This is taking, like, for fucking ever.”
“I was just asking,” Horace said. “Why’d she come?”
I squared my face to his and said, “Because you were my ride, dude.”
“Oh,” he said and smiled. He laughed a bit. “Right, right. Sorry about that.”
“Also, you dug two fucking trenches in Artemis’ yard.”
“Oh shit!” he said. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Yeah, well, her parents are gonna be pissed.”
We were quiet for a second, then I said, “Gimme a fucking cigarette,” and snapped my fingers impatiently, jangling my bracelets.
Horace popped two smokes, gave me one, then lit us up.
“All right,” I said. “Are you good?”
“She fucked ‘em, didn’t she?” Horace asked.
I sighed, two plumes billowing down my new, torn dress. “Just … try not to think about that right now.”
“Oh God,” he said. “That’s a yes.”
I sighed and said, “That’s a yes.”
“I knew it.”
“Who fucked who?” you ask.
“This chick Adele that Horace was obsessed with. She fucked this douchechill named Ford. They’re this whole other side plot that has largely been edited out.”
You nod and resume:
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, she didn’t seem all that impressed,” I said.
“Really?” Horace asked.
“Yeah. She talked about it like she’d just taken shit or something.”
“That does make me feel better,” he said. “I hate fucking Ford.”
“Yeah, Ford sucks,” I said. “Speaking of Ford, I’ve got this whole situation brewing with them, so I need to get back to that.”
“You’re going back?” he asked.
“Well, yeah … I mean, I was planning on it …”
Horace nodded, head hanging.
“Unless you need me to stay.”
“No,” he said. “Go back and have some fun. I’ve fucked things up enough for you tonight.”
“Jesus, man, don’t put it like that.”
“You know what I mean,” he said. “You were having a good time, and I made things crazy. I always make things crazy.”
“Hey,” I said and walked around next to him, “I was only there because you asked me to go. Okay?”
He nodded, said, “I know.”
“And I’m here now,” I said. “I can stay if you need me to.”
“No,” he said. “Seriously, I’m okay. Seriously.”
I wasn’t sure he was and was less sure if he were trying to guilt me into staying, but I had Karin waiting in her mom’s van and Artemis watching Ford and a slumbering Gunvor to deal with. I had shit to do.
“Wait, who is Gunvor?” you ask.
“Gunny is this girl I was obsessing over back then. I was sorta-kina over her by this point, but then I saw her at the party, and it was kind of complicated.”
You nod, and look back at the book, but then say, “Wait, there’s like ten lines of text blacked out here.”
I do not say anything. I look at you, but do not say anything.
“Okay …” you say, then start back after the blacked out lines:
I did, by turning back to Horace. I pat his back, said, “Hang in there.”
He hugged me. He’s strong as fuck, so often times when he hugged me, I’d come off my feet a little and feel some pain in my chest or arms.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you,” I said.
He let me go, and I touched his arm.
“You smell good,” he said.
“Go get ‘em.”
I smiled, then turned on sore ass feet and hustled back to Karin’s mom’s van.
You turn the page and shake you head. “There’s a few more lines blacked out here.”
“That’s okay,” I say and put my hand gently on yours, urging you to lower the book. “You can stop there.”
You do, and hand the book back to me.
I slip it into my right coat pocket, then take your arm in mine, and we continue walking down the train tracks.
I raise one foot a bit higher with the next step and say, “I wore the right shoes this time.”
“What did we just do here?” you ask.
I do not say. I just snuggle your arm in the cold.
If you have some sort of perceptive trait, you can make a roll when I say this. Call it moderate difficulty. Success will reveal that I’m not being entirely truthful. If we have that kind of relationship, you can get me to talk about it easily. If we don’t, then you may have trouble, and I’ll just insist it doesn’t matter.
Take a guess at what’s missing from the blacked out text. Obviously this is no fun if you read the full text and already know.
Think of a time that you remember telling someone about something. Could be an event or a memory. Anything. Now, imagine retelling that story—of the original telling—to someone else inside of a fictional world of your creation.
If you do not have a trait related to literary magick, you may count this chapter toward it. If you already do, you may copy it down as a castable spell.
Oh, and I said we could fuck later. So if that’s a thing we do, then we do.
Permanoon, cell stories, and cigarettes, love it. So meta in the original meaning of the word.
The writing is in your DNA, I get that. Nina Dee made me think of Kiki Dee, but I'm probably the only person you know who would make that association.
The blacked out portion is a long and very personal conversation with Karin about grief. Though we have never met physically (at least in this incarnation) it is a bond I feel with you, and treasure.