So last week I was in the hospital for hip surgery for three nights.
I was really sad and anxious about going in there. Infection in my hip joint and they took out all the hardware, and I’ll be on intravenous antibiotics for six weeks, and then they put a new hip back in. A traumatic two operation under deep full anesthesia
Opiate painkillers. Each night my room seemed like a completely different space. The second day I noticed the effects of the opiates on my dreams.
Watching the dreams like movies, semi-awake. Rooting through mounds of rusty metal scrap. Faces. Never getting into proper dreams, but enjoyable, in the sense that being high is enjoyable, and unpleasant, in that I no longer like to be high. Most of all it was exhausting, and in the morning I didn’t want to go back there.
My wrist looked so pathetic. At times I’d almost be looking at all this crap on it and wondering if it was my wristwatch.
Our daughter Isabel made me a lucky amulet, she’d stamped one of my favorite slogans onto it, “Eadem Mutata Resurgo,” which is Latin for, “The same, yet changed, I arise again.” One of the mathematician Bernoulli brothers chose this as his epitaph, in connection with his work on the logarithmic spiral that nautilus shells trace.
The third night the pain ramped way up, we loaded on the opiates. I fell deeply asleep at 6:30 pm, and woke, soaked in sweat, in a state of delirium at half-past midnight.
My bed seemed like the edge of an alleyway, and I was like a wet rag of clothing lying there, a wadded nightgown or a bra or some scraps of paper. A nothing. Pathetic. Lost. Undone. I was awake, but unable to remember who I was, or where, or what my significance was, or what ordeal I was undergoing, or what I was supposed to do. A wet crooked rag in an alleyway.
Overhead was the “trapeze” lifter-bar of my hospital bed. It meant something, some task, but I didn’t know what. Sounds from beyond a curved wall which was the curtain across my door. I hoped someone would come in. They didn’t. Eventually I found the ringer-button to call a nurse. I told her I couldn’t remember who I was, and that the body trauma and the meds had gotten to me. She was sympathetic.
On the table by my bed, I found the paper scrap with my marked up draft of the “Stratocast” chapter for Million Mile Roadtrip, which is the novel I’ve been working on for over a year now. I told the nurse the scrap was from a science fiction novel I’m working on, and that I was a writer, and that I’d try to recover myself by thinking about it. She approved. I had all the time in the world here, anonymous in the middle of a hospital night. After a few minutes I got the courage to call for a nurse again—a different one came, both of them were Indian, this one got me my laptop from my knapsack cross the room, and I got to work, writing on till 3 am. Had to call the nurse yet one more time for my reading glasses. They didn’t question what I was doing.
I was happy to be writing in such an extreme situation, and I think the material came out pretty well. And I decided to run the last twenty or thirty basins as a single block. A surreal mural.
Out of the hospital now, I’ve revised the chapter a couple more times. It’s not really that my medical delirium led me to these visions. It’s more like other way around. These comfortable (to me) visions helped draw me out of med-trauma delirium. For me, these visions, are ordinary, base-line reality. Check ‘em out.
Copyright © Rudy Rucker, 2016, draft of a chapter to appear in Million Mile Roadtrip.
Villy quickly realizes that his half-sized Flying-V guitar is alive. Basically she’s an alien. A type of Harmon. She stretches her neck so she can nuzzle Zoe’s black guitar, who is male. The instruments chime softly to each other. Villy thinks of them as a pair of race horses that he and Zoe are about to ride.
“Or magic broomsticks,” says Zoe inside Jorge’s head. The crew has teep powers again.
Crazy Pinchley’s at the wheel, his head cocked at an odd, coquettish angle. He’s already rigged a flappy rudder to the back of the car—for steering them once they’re airborne. Pinchley is more than ready to set sail for Szep City. He’s got Yampa’s memorial gig to plan.
Scud’s in front, next to Pinchley, holding the saucer pearl. Unfortunately he’s still not quite able to levitate the car.
“Think of a fin all around the pearl,” Villy tells his brother. “And the fin is part of you. Don’t hold back, You have to merge into the whatever.”
“Not my usual thing.” mutters Scud. A full minute of silence. And then: “Hey, I’ve got it! And you do this all the time, Villy?”
“It’s how I surf.”
The purple whale rises into the air, revealing a vista of Harmon cubes amid streaks of smeel foam. Spidery green critters scamper about. They have T-shaped bodies, with big eyes on the sides of their hammer heads. They pluck and and thump the cubes, livening up the choruses.
“Gear we go-go!” says Pinchley, still talking like Yampa. He guns the engine—and nothing whatsoever happens. The gigundo tires spin in empty air.
“You do stratocast now?” says Scud. “Is that the word?”
“Gear we go-go,” says Villy, kind of mocking Scud and Pinchley.
Zoe stares into Villy’s eyes. She looks zonky and vamp. Like a goth rocker. The lovers have their fingers on their frets, and they’re holding triangles of seashell for picks. Zoe nods her head once and—
Zam deedle squee. She’s off, sailing the sonic sea, and Villy’s close behind. The two of them are dancing in music-space, orbiting each other like strands of DNA, growing a tree of sound. Sweet. But, uh, the car’s still not moving.
Zoe breaks off, embarrassed, and she begins tuning her guitar, or trying to, except that it doesn’t actually have tuning pegs. The car hangs in the air like a ripe fruit, gently swaying. Pinchley and Scud turn halfway around to stare at the would-be stratocasters.
“So we’ll do the damn drive dumb,” says Pinchley. “Lower us, Scuddy.”
“Wait,” says Scud. “I’ll give them caraway seeds.” He produces the jar. “Everyone here loves caraways. Maybe its a Goob-goob thing. Maybe they’ll help with your stratocasting.” He pauses, takes out a couple of seeds from the jar, and nibbles them with his front teeth like a rat. “Curved,” he says. “Rye bread aroma. I feel maybe even smarter now. Try them, Vill and Zee.”
So Villy and Zoe eat some caraway seeds, pretty much a whole teaspoon of them apiece, crunching the seeds with their back molars. Villy definitely feels a lift. He sees colored shapes from the corners of his eyes. And when he turns his head, the quick bright crescents are gone.
“I see the colored things too,” says Zoe. “Smeel boomerangs. Flying out of our ears like bats from their caves, huh? We’ll play with them. Stratocast a goblin march.”
“That’s a plan?” says Scud.
“Shut your crack,” says Villy.
Zoe strikes a fresh chord. She goes for a bluesy beat, a cycling rhythm beneath the jai-lai scribbles of the smeely grace notes. Villy gets into it as well, gazing out at the horizon. The smeel crescents creep forward, they’re like frail, lace-winged bugs in the cones of the lovers’ eyebeam headlights. Villy checks them off with pecks of his pick—without exactly staring at them. They’re hella shy.
So, yaaar, Villy and Zoe are playing at a new level, fully into the flow, elaborating riffs like syllogisms in symbolic logic, and where the hell is Villy getting words like that—oh, he’s siphoning them from Scud and Pinchley and Zoe. All four of them part of the pudding, with the ghost of Yampa present as well.
The purple whale is a stratocasting pod of sound, yeah, it’s rushing across the Jello-salad expanses of the Harmony basin, swifter than a strafing jet. Pinchley does a solemn steamboat-pilot routine, guiding them along a graceful curve that, much sooner than seems at all possible, has covered five thousand miles. Scud levitates a little extra, just enough so they scrape it across the ridge between Harmony and the next basin over. Oh wow, are they ever going fast.
“Hundred thousand miles per,” gloats Pinchley. “Rock the roll, Zoe-Villy. This here new basin is called Wristwatch by the way.”
Villy peers down, putting his guitar fingers into reptile-brain auto mode. The Wristwatch basin is cogs and gears, a vast array of them, slowly turning, with levers and springy coils and, weirdly, big patches of honey here and there, clogging up the works. Ants in the soft honey, timekeeper ants. But how can Villy be seeing such tiny details, with them careening past so fast?
“Frog tongue eyebeam,” goes Zoe, very cryp and glam, with glowons highlighting the outlines of her far-gone face. She’s playing Egyptian crescendos, accompanied by teep images of, like, jackal-headed gods marching into a pharaoh’s tomb, and semi-unwrapped mummy-girls shaking their booties beside the curly purling of the river Nile.
Villy backs her with the argle-bargle grunts of man-eating crocodiles. As for Zoe said just now—she means that, even though they’re topping a thousand miles a minute, it’s possible, what with their caraway-seed-enhanced mental powers, to shoot out an eyebeam quick as a frog’s bug-catching tongue, and to leave your eyebeam in place for a few secs, and thereby to vacuum up a mini-video of what is/was happening there/now.
Goofing on Wristwatch basin, Villy notices independent little batches of cogs and worm-gears bustling around on their own, rooting at the planetary timepiece and prying off toothed wheels to take unto themselves. For its part, the big watch is of course eating as many of the ticking freebooter assemblages as it can—sometimes trapping them in the ants’ honey-ponds.
Lots of time. Until time’s up. They squeak over another ridge.
“Cuttle Scuttle Swamp,” says Pinchley.
A flying cuttlefish thuds against the grill of the car, sending them into a wrenching 3D tumble. They’re in danger of blacking out. Zoe bears down on her guitar and gets into feedback mode. The internal amp is driving the strings which drive the amp which drives the strings—generating a chaotic jitter of skronks and wheenks. The dark energy of the way-sick bleat is enough to right their yawing vessel. Thank you, holy stratocast.
Scud in the front seat becomes watchful, looking far ahead, and he zaps the next incoming cuttlefish into sparkly dust. Not that the cuttlefish are attacking them, per se. They’re into some intramural scene of their own. A civil war?
Two populations inhabit Cuttle Scuttle Swamp: red cuttlefish and green ones. The red ones fly, beating their skirt-fins, and the green ones disport themselves in the shallow, smeely waters. The air-cuttles dive down at the water cuttles, and the water cuttles power themselves into the air like breaching manatees. When two cuttles collide, they tangle their tentacles and—are they biting each other?
“Making love,” says Zoe, and she segues her solo into a steamy, insinuating beat. “Sharing. Like you and me, Villy boy.”
Villy crafts a squalid bass line to match Zoe’s mood. He’s never played this well before. Basins flit past. For half an hour, he and Zoe are fully zoned into the stratocast. And then they happen to notice the landscape again.
“Gold Bug basin,” Pinchley is saying. He has this whole sector mapped in his head.
Shiny black beetles are excavating galleries and making lacy mounds. Beetles like the living cars of the Van Cott streets, but less citified. More tribal. Miners. Their antennae bear rows of sideways branches. They emit explosive clouds of gas to help with their excavations. One of them will crouch down, raise her tail, and another will strike a spark with his jaws. Ftoom. They’re digging for lumps of gold, A midnight-blue beetle displays a large nugget in her triumphant mandibles. Villy’s focus-point twitches from the prize nugget to a crater filled with dome-backed beetles waving fringed June-bug antennae. The beetles are worshipping an idol, a golden beetle-god the size of a blimp. Glowons add to the graven idol’s luster.
The appreciative Villy and Zoe segue into a shimmering musical fantasia of lush flourishes. And then Scud torques them over the beetle basin’s onrushing ridge. Pinchley trims their course, ever aiming towards distant Szep City. The four of them take a feral pleasure in their phantasmagoric speed. More basins and more.
“Funky Broadway,” announces Pinchley. Zoe chimes a downward arpeggio, with Villy in teepful synch.
Funky Broadway is a world of living cities, blocky hives trundling across a great plain. The cities are inhabited by parasitic or symbiotic races of monkeys. Here and there pairs of cities batten onto each other. Their primate passengers hop from one metropolis to the other. Some of the ape-men brandish exquisite works of art to trade, others take prisoners whom they feed into gigantic meat-grinder gear-trains embedded in the lowest foundations of the towns.
Zoe’s music is like stabbing cries. Villy circles them with mournful evocations of fallen worlds. Once again the lovers lose themselves in their stratocast harmonies, threading through basins by the score.
“Paramecium Pond,” intones Pinchley.
A simple world. It’s a five-thousand-mile pond, glowing a pleasant shade of yellow-green, vibrant with algae, shiny with microorgasmic tides. Paramecia, amoeba, volvoxes, and rotifers—teeming, breeding, and engulfing each other when they can.
“An octillion in all,” says science-boy Scud. He shares Villy’s and Zoe’s ability to lock onto a passing sight and do a mental zoom. There’s quite the teepy vibe inside the car by now, what with the living Harmon guitars, the saucer pearl, the kids’ mental acrobatics, and Pinchley’s crackbrained imitations of Yampa.
As they plane across Paramecium Pond, Zoe and Villy spin out a sludgy mat of sound—a multipart fugue. The microorganisms’ population count is dropping at a logarithmic rate. They’re eating each other and getting bigger—like rivals working their way up through the brackets of a tournament tree. A mere billion of them remain. A thousand. A hundred. One. A paramecium the size of a continent.
The titan lolls in the planetary pond. A fat man in a bathtub. Suddenly the glowing waters slosh. Something wrong? A dark spot has appeared upon the emperor’s ciliated pellicum. It’s a raging infection, a rogue colony of his lower companions. The lord of all paramecia springs a leak—*pop*—and they’re back to time zero. A planetary pond with an octillion rivals.
Inspired by the scene, Zoe and Villy craft a bombastic rock opera that spins into a mad whirl across all the remaining basins en route.
Red, white, and black starfish tessellate the surface of a basin, They peel up in twelves, forming dodecahedra. Trumpeting elephants bear smaller elephants to and fro, building mounds that stretch towards the heavens, calling out the thousand names of Goob-goob. Pinchley steers them past their writhing trunks and, where necessary, Scud zaps the trunks to stubs. A zone of spiderwebs and flies. The flies buzz with pleasure as they’re eaten. The spiders grow wings and take to the air. Milk-spurting udders flop in high green grass. Towering flowers chide our party, speaking in snobby British accents. Vines with floating cucumbers like zeppelins. Little uniformed airmen in the airships—they gather on a taut hull for a hornpipe dance. Recirculating flows of lava amid rubbery volcanoes. Gouts of magma flatten into fiery flying saucers who do their best to annihilate the purple whale. They escape to a basin of mermen and sirens who loll beside a glassy black sea. Krakens ply the inky waters, their heads like the prows of Viking ships. A sky full of barking dogs, with a grid of identical doghouses below. Evil saucer rabbits slink from house to house, enslaving puppies, and ignoring the fruitful carrot fields all around.
Tiny saucer gnomes juggle huge, bristly ogres in the air. Steaming cauldrons of porridge. The ogres dwindle to raisins in the mush. Flying jellyfish carrying tiny shrimp-people. The shrimps rise up in mutiny, and set the jellies to warring against each other. Lashing, stinging tentacles. Beneath the fray, striped sea snails cheer from wagging sponges, and offer floral bouquets to the mutinous shrimp. Hopeful pigs join snouts in pairs, disk to disk. They spin upwards like helicopters. Saucers zap them into showers of greasy bacon. The strips drift down into the traffic on greasy, overcrowded streets. Hippos in a basin of braided rivers. The waters cascade down the cliffs at the basin’s edge. The hippos roar in joy, showing stubby peg-like teeth. A population of sinister eyeballs rolls across a plain, swirling about a commanding central figure who revels in being seen. A planetary sea of whirlpools that split and fork, weaving elegant sheaves of knots. Above the sea, parasitic tornadoes fill the hazy air, draining energy from the maelstroms. Colored clouds float above them all, the clouds savoring each others’ rain. Lightning bolts dance from one cloud to another, as if to herd them into a grid. In another basin, crystals sprout like hoarfrost ferns, then snap loose and tumble, transforming themselves like images within a kaleidoscope. Arpeggios ring from the crystals, sounding a chorus that’s continually approaching a final realization—but not getting there.
Rubbery fungi grow upon the crystals, dampening their sounds. Zoe and Villy join forces with the crystals, pushing their swelling harmony over the edge—and the crystals shatter into swirling flakes that carve the mushrooms into bits. Another basin holds a planet-sized human corpse with homunculi feasting upon it—like fiddler crabs on a dead dolphin. Fish walk by on pairs of legs, and chickens stand on ladders wearing mortarboards—all of them discussing the planetary corpse. Crawling naked brains play cards and dance in festive patterns, like folk dancers seen from above. A book takes shape amid the ring of circling brains. Squealing bagpipe sacks covered with red mouths and beady eyes. They clack their chanter tubes in sword-fight duels. But their real enemies are pairs of scissors seeking to cut them open. And, at the end of the trip, a scary mystery basin, velvety black, with seen/unseen/unseeable forms within. Beings from unspace. To truly perceive them would be to go mad. Scud levitates, Pinchley steers, and the lovers push.
And the delirious outward stratocast is done.