There Will Be Pizza
“What the hell’s a storifice?” says Old Con. Everybody’s name has Con at the end of it. They call me Ugly Con. I don’t know what my real name is- was, I should say. Nobody remembers their actual name, as in, the one given to them at birth. It’s just as well. When you’re introduced to a group of people, it’s easier to remember Old Con, Gimp Con (the guy with one leg) and Fat Con than, say, Michael, Eric and Tim.
“It’s what it sounds like, doofus,” I say to Old Con as we walk in procession.
It’s hard to have a conversation with Old Con because he’s always asking you to define things, and he has a talent for making you feel stupid for using words he doesn’t know. That’s why when you talk to Old Con, it helps to speak in a vocabulary of made-up words — that way you don’t feel as stupid.
Old Con coughs and says, “Sounds like story and office. A story about an office?”
“What else does it sound like?”
“I don’t know,” Old Con mutters. You can tell he’s interested when he acts annoyed.
“I didn’t ask you to know. I said what does it sound like? Rhyme with anything?”
“Then I guess you flunked high school English.”
Old Con keeps walking and doesn’t look at me. I’m not positive, but I think I see the germ of a smile poke at his throat. “Oh. Okay. Yeah. Orifice. I get it. Like a hole in the body where the stories come out. Clever.”
For some reason, the old bastard is making me feel self-conscious. I look behind us to see to it that nobody else is listening to our conversation. “I would have said man’s temporal connection to the divine, but your description works too.”
“Nah. Sometimes I do other stuff, like go to the bathroom and sleep.” At that, I feel a cold glance or two graze my back.
Why are we walking, anyway? Like we’re all marching together — who the hell decided on that? There are no men of authority down here, nobody holding a whip or a gun. Is it just a natural instinct to choose a direction and start walking? I suppose; I don’t remember my past — none of us were granted that luxury — but I imagine it must have included at least a couple incidents of being lost in the wilderness, and I reckon I kept on moving. It just seems strange for us all to be walking forward as a group.
We’re in what can only be described as a cave. There are about forty of us, it seems like. Somebody in the front of the line has a source of light — I have no idea how they got a fire going and got it contained, but we can see each other, just barely. The cave is all twists and turns, and there’s only one light, so most of the time we’re walking in dark, until we hit a straight every few minutes. We just met a day ago. There’s really no such thing as a day or a night, so I’ll have to stop thinking in those terms very soon.
We’re all bad men. We’ve all committed crimes, and that’s why they sent us here. We used to live in society, but we don’t know much about that, because they zapped us with something — we all woke up down here with a bad headache (some of us puking) and a fading green speck of laser light etched in our eyelid.
“There ain’t no need to be a smart-ass here. You should get used to it.”
Old con is starting to irritate me. I say, “Get used to what specifically?”
“That there ain’t no fancy educated ladies to chat up at bars. There are no women, and if we ever get around to inventing bars, they won’t be serving your kind of drink. The chick convicts probably got their own colony a continent away. That’s the point of a prison colony: we might kill each other in a week, or we might prosper and get organized and actually invent stuff, and nobody cares, because once our generation’s in the ground, the world’s rid of us. We might figure a lot of stuff out, but no matter how clever we are, there ain’t no way for us to reproduce. We’ll probably all turn gay in a year, just like a normal prison, but you don’t have to impress nobody with witty conversation to get rammed from behind till you be walking funny. That’s how it’s gonna be down here, and that’s what I mean when I say you’d be wise to start getting used to it.”
All I can think to say is, “So you’re going to be that guy, huh?”
Now we’re pausing, probably because somebody up ahead had to stop and tie his shoes. Strange how the mind works; whatever they did to us back in the World Of Other men, whatever newfangled device wiped our memories clean, we can’t remember our names, where we grew up, who are parents were, if we have any kids or even what our crimes are. But we all remember how to tie our shoes, without even thinking about it. And I’m pretty sure I can still solve trigonometry and calculus equations.
“There ain’t no stories to tell; you can’t tell no stories if you don’t remember nothing.”
I tell him, “You’re wrong, my friend. You’re smart, but you are oh so wrong.”
“And I wouldn’t repeat the word storifice to anyone else if I were you,” Old Con says.
“But you are not me. Nobody is anybody else, and that is the point.”
“I’ll bet you were one of them philosophy professors who wigged out on the system, turned into a serial killer and got apprehended on a road trip through rural cornfields with a bunch of severed heads in the trunk of your station wagon. You strike me as that sort.”
“There, now you just told a damned good story. And it very well could be true.”
Old Con starts walking faster. “You ain’t making no sense, ya damned slughead.”
We come around a bend and flickering dust-colored light illuminates the walls. I see green, mossy, stringy formations dripping cold sizzling mucus onto the ground.
I see Old Con’s face clearly for the first time. His eyes are sunk in deep, like the way soft, squishy animals retract into their shells. His skin around them doesn’t exactly droop, but it collects in clumps of excess material, all withered and tan, the color of cheese that’s been left out just long enough to harden into sharp corners, right before it gets that funny smell. His jaw is wide and squat like a cash register draw that holds a wealth of information, and every time it opens you wish you could peek in and see just how much knowledge is in there. His hair is patchy and matted in gray islands.
I see another face peering in from behind is, but not before I smell the guy’s breath — I can’t imagine how his mouth came to smell like rotten tuna fish. This guy is about half the age of Old Con, and he has much simpler, softer, broader features. I think he’s the one they call Crazy Con, but I suspect the moniker Stupid Con would be more appropriate. He’s also the one who insists on calling himself Pious Con, because he thinks he’s the messiah. He doesn’t remember why he thinks this, of course — one can only imagine what events led to this delusion of his — but there are some things you remember so strongly that no machine can gut it out of you.
“It’s time we start praying, whatcha say, boys?” says Crazy Con, Stupid Con, whoever he is. His voice has a feminine quality. “There any food down here? Haven’t seen none yet. So unless we can get real creative, we’d better start seeing where we stand with the heavenly father, and he hears three voices better than he hear one.”
“There’s always food,” Old Con says, looking forward and downward.
Crazy Stupid Con puts his hands up. “You can’t eat rock and, and, that rotten green crap. What else do you see? We’re the only living things down here.”
I don’t know why I start talking, but I feel like I’ve got ideas. “We’ll make pizza.” I don’t even hear the rest of my rambling around that. It gets drowned out in my head somewhere between the arrhythmic dullness of all our footfalls. That’s what surviving is all about; taking small, gradual steps toward inventing that which strikes us as impossible and inane. Old Con must be right; I was a scholar on anthropology or some such thing before I did whatever I did that put me on this path.
There will be pizza. I also know that we will inevitably kill each other in the collective effort.
My storifice itches.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED