Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bug Man (sleeplessnesss scene continued)

Just a further outtake from my now unlikely to be completed novel Bug Man (although I'm trying to save key scenes from oblivion).

This one follows directly from the first part of the scene that I put up earlier on my blog.


“Goddamnit, no,” he shouted, threw the covers off and sat up. “Anything’s better than this. Maybe I’ll try to read.” He got out of bed, went into the living room and sat on the couch. He felt unable to turn on the light.

From the easy chair that sat to his left, a voice said, “Cowardice of this kind is really unattractive. I could have expected it, but still.”

Richard stood up, stared. “Oh sit down again,” the voice said. For no reason that he could explain, Richard did. “There’s no reason to get worked up. I’m just here for a chat.”

“Shit,” Richard said. “I’m talking to myself like I’m someone else. A psychotic breakdown. Fantastic.”

“Wouldn’t you be lucky if it was that easy? I’m here all right.”

“And you would be?”

“That depends to a great extent on you,” the voice said.

“Do I go to the hospital, is that what I do? Tel them I’ve finally cracked?”

“I doubt that in any simple sense I’m a product of your mind. You’re not a product of your mind either, right?”

“What?” Richard’s heart was pounding. “I’m talking to myself and I don’t understand me.”

“Didn’t you just say a little while ago that your mind was a product of the world you’re living in?”

“Yeah, sure, fine, I did. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Some of these answers,” the voice said, “I think you can follow for yourself. I’ll help you just this once though. You’re a product of the world you’re living, so am I. Can we dispense with the introductions?”

Richard stood up, turned on the lamp beside the couch.

Sitting upright in his usual reading chair was a creature with about fifty eyes, all round and red. A bug of some kind, as large as a man. It had many little legs, most motionless, a few moving in a kind of frenetic spiral. The rest of it seemed a furry blackness dotted by circles of a muted, purplish color. Did they form the outline of wings? It was probably taller than Richard, and he guessed that the bug outweighed him by maybe fifty, seventy-five pounds. Richard nodded to it, sat back down. “Okay,” he said, breathing deeply. “This isn’t going to help my career much, is it?”

“What career?” the bug said. “Going down slow at first then picking up steam?”

“So you’re here to give me advice? Not only is there a gigantic bug in my living room, but it’s also going to tell me how to live? And in a snide tone.”

“The tone, my friend, is all yours,” the bug said. “It’s the only one you respect. Part of the problem, you know, if hardly the heart of it.”

“I suppose you’re going to tell me what the heart of it is?”

“If you’d like. Fear. And weakness in the face of fear. Combine those with the genuine lack of options available to a person with precisely your social and psychological limitations, and voila. These aren’t original themes Rich, not for you, not for anybody. They’re dull. You have no idea how much of a burden it is, having to do this for one anti-social accidental dropout after another.”

“What are you, some kind of traveling good Samaritan insect? I don’t even get my own personal demon thing?”

“First of all, sure you do. I’m specifically for you, but I’m part of an interlocking species. We hear each other. It’s a kind of hum. I could explain in more detail, but the whole communal thing gets difficult for humans. Things might be different if you could hear each other’s brains. As it is, you’re stuck with empathy and sympathy, with trying to imagine what people feel like. That has positive results at times, but being stuck in your own brains leads most often to negative ones. Historically, those other forces have been much more powerful, although there’s nothing inevitable about it. But we’re drifting...”

“Why tell me? I don’t have any power. Why not go infest the President’s head? I mean, I even go to protest rallies. I vote green party when it’s practical. I don’t need lectures about human failure in our concern for others. I need a whole new reality.”

“I would suggest,” the bug said, fluttering its legs, “that a whole new reality is what you’ve got.”

Richard stared. “Okay,” he said, after a pause. “Good for me. You’re going to suggest I start a revolution or something? Tell people I met with a bug who represents some superior kind of hive mind and who’s going to lead us to a better future? Maybe see if I can find a few patrons? Some old rich folks nostalgic for the 60s and terrified by their own spiritual emptiness?”

“Not a bad idea,” the bug said, “if you’d take out the corrosive cynicism. It would be more interesting than what you’re doing now. But you know as well as I that you’re not cut out for it. I’m not sure I’ve ever run into anybody who has less potential as a prophet. Debunking is more your speed. You’ve practically debunked yourself right out of existence. The question is, what are you going to do now?”

“Go to the hospital?”

“Good old Rich,” the bug said. “That would be convenient. It is, I have to say, the essential middle class solution. Hospitals and jails. People like you spend your lives trying to stay out of them while secretly wishing you could go there. You’ve always been a bourgeois guy, that’s one of your problems. You’re all about consolidating your gains in order to avoid fear of loss. Regular meals and enforced intellectual inactivity form the core of your being. It’s no wonder you fantasize about a trip to the psych ward.”

“I’ve never claimed to be free of middle class drives,” Richard said, annoyed. “But I think, given that, that I’ve been pretty intellectually active on the whole. I haven’t just been sitting around.”

“Good,” the bug said. “That’s the kind of aggression I like. You should practice it, deploy it in more situations. Right now all you do is use it on your friends and repress it in front of your enemies.”

“Thanks for the insight. How much are you charging me per hour?”

“I’m here to help you, Rich. The sooner you decide to move forward with that rather than resist, the better.”

Richard shut his eyes, rubbed them, opened them again. The bug was still there. “I guess I’m not going to be able to will you out of here. Fine. What’s next?”

“That’s up to you.” The bug settled back comfortably into the chair. “There are a lot of options. The first point is simply to admit that you’re right about what you know: that the way you’re living can’t go on much longer. The second is to admit the other thing you know: that the world is going to keep going on more or less like it is, so there’s not all that much you can do about it. It’s you that has to change. You need to consider making a radical break with your life as you’ve known it up to this time. As you can see, the fact that I’m here proves the break has already started. But the point is, it’s time to take decisive action. Frankly it doesn’t matter whether it destroys you. You’re already destroyed, Rich. You can see that, yes?”

Richard gripped his own forehead and squeezed. “Yes. But I’m paralyzed too.”

“A destroyed man is a freed man. It’s a matter of courage.”

“I can’t believe there’s a bug in my living room,” Richard said, “handing me a bunch of self-help crap. All that Nietzsche will to power shit is for 22-year olds. I need a bug to talk to me about inner self-transformation and the freedom offered by existential despair? No. I need a better health insurance plan. I need a steady job and a union. I need alternatives to corporate control. I need less base level human corruption.”

“You need,” the bug said, “to take action.”

“Such as?” Richard said.

“You could kill somebody.”

Richard groaned like he’d been punched in the stomach. “Oh God. I really am dangerous, and not just to myself.”

(final part of this scene coming later)

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