4 – The Island

The turquoise waves closed over their heads.  The jet’s hull nosed into  rolling swells a few yards aft; its wings and tail swiveling into a whirlpool.  Alex and Dora surfaced first, swimming hard for the rocky island,  a treeless, black alcove dwarfed by volcanic cathedrals of purple cliff.  A supply cabinet bobbed up, disgorged into an angry draft of steam and burning gas.  Yards away, Aloysius latched onto Diogenes’ cabinet that he had followed up closer to him, kicking his wiry legs to nudge it from the sinking jet.  As the grease-smeared wings twisted into the shoals he guided the crate toward the same black patch of rock.  The two women were already closing in on the beach, thrashing at a distance, heads propped by life-preservers, shedding their parachutes.

Submerged closer to the jet, Rupert damned his heavy boots, squirming to unstrap his chute.  Coughing up brine, he swam for a supply crate.  Since the cabin pressure first blew, followed by the chaos of flying debris, a dizzying somersault, the sea crashing in — he felt smothered by the objects of their pre-Crash lives.  Now, still canopied by his chute — cards, magazines, tangles of underwear, bursting beer cans, a plastic refrigerator, a fire extinguisher — all plunged passed his shoulders.  He snagged a map, stuffed it quickly in his pants, narrowly avoided a smear of oil, surfaced again for breath and a grab at the crate.  As the jet began its last heavy turn among the swells he snatched at a nylon rope tied to the crate and tethered it to his wrist.  Drawn feet first, revolving, water rushing up his nose and down his mouth, he could still drown tied to the floating crate.  He struggled, tiring of his fight to survive, tired of lies, sabotage and intrigue, and wished to slip into a turquoise sleep, below the oil and wreckage.

He envisioned the open blowfish mouths of homeless New York. Beggars gaped at him as he dizzily pawed at the nylon binding him only to let it unravel.   He let the jet spin him like a windswept gull in sea burial. Let the water swallow him like a flinty captain casting away his charts as his ship wrecked.  Let sleep lull him like a sailor home from port who embraces his bed, his pillow.

As he blacked out, he dreamt he stepped off the jet, greeted by Undine, at home, her auburn tresses whirling against a tunnel vision sky.   Dangling under the crate, below the surface, he saw an image of Diogenes pulling on the nylon rope binding his wrist.  He dragged Rupert through an underwater door.  They emerged at a stony cliff overlooking the same volcanic island ahead.  Diogenes pointed to a whirling black flock of sparrows over a dark bay.  To seagulls cawing offshore.  To spiraling heron.  Sheerwaters floating in ever wider arcs. Sea, wind-faring birds spun from an epicenter — terns, cormorants, pelicans — all circling the island’s peak against a red sunrise.  On the island, a city proliferated in phantom: a metropolis of concentric irrigation canals with a walled citadel built on its inner hub, with bridges, and covered barges, flanked by teeming markets, temple spires, smoking chimneys, even a horse track.  Inside he saw oxen-tugged carts scattering through narrow streets and alleys, mothers tugging children, fathers begging them to hurry, thousands scrambling like mice, carrying blankets, rugs, jewelry, totemic gods, guiding the injured or old by hand out through a dizzying maze of bridges and domes.  He watched them all panic as market tents began to crumble, as an earthquake shook the city’s stones down.

Tremors rippled streets, canal walls crumbled, buildings toppled.  A volcanic cone bulged, spewing lava, spitting fire, rocketing steam.  As the earth swayed, he saw Diogenes drift by a broken sundial over a footbridge cloaked in black smoke.  As Rupert’s lungs burst, the whole city exploded into the sky,  as it was swamped by tidalwave.   Diogenes’ voice cut through the cataclysm, just as he vanished: “They were buried in the sky! … “

The tide scraped Rupert, strapped and unconscious to the crate, over black rocks with seawrack from the wreck.  Aloysius sprinted through the surf, propped him up, and struggling, hauled him out. Alex and Dora staggered down the polluted beach amongst driftwood, plastic bags, shells and crab skeletons awash in foaming silicon.  Rupert reeled in the surf, vomiting.  Freeing his wrist, Aloysius shouldered him at the stomach, and carried him,  coughing brine down his ankles.  Aloysius laid him on his back, on a bed of sand and pumped his chest, until Rupert hacked up the seawater he swallowed, and recalled the cause of their crash.

“Get them!” He coughed, pointing deliriously at Dora and Alex, shivering like wet seabirds, shrinking from the breakers, and from his feeble yelp.  Aloysius held him back, arm clasping his waist, while Rupert sputtered and spit at them: “Atavists! Assassins!”

“You beat us to it!” Alex shouted, downbeach.

“You killed Grabmaler!”  Dora screamed.  Rupert could not hear them.  He was scrambling dizzily their way over the rocks.

He, we meant nothing to you!  Assassins!”  Rupert coughed.

“You beat us to it!”  Alex repeated, confused.

“What?” Their accents sounded phony to him now. Their wet uniforms were plastered to lying bodies, life-preservers lay concealing lying feet.

“How did you plan to return to New York?”  Aloysius asked, controlling himself.

“We were to fly to Athens, by helicopter.  Two days from now.”  Dora tossed off.

“Why not poison us and not waste the jet?”  Aloysius pressed them.

“One jet doesn’t matter to smugglers who lost their base of operation.”  Alex explained, coldly.

“What?  Would these unnamed smugglers know if you didn’t kill us?  Safely landed us on this island?  If you flew without killing us to Paris?”  Rupert panted with glazed eyes.

“They would know.” Dora shivered, visibly more frightened by the smugglers than Rupert.

“You killed an important man, Rupert.”  Alex countered.

“His business supported thousands of people.”  Dora added quickly.

“Who put you up to it?”  Rupert grabbed Dora hard by the arm.

“Let go of her!”    Alex protested.

Aloysius, deaf to cross-examination, hurried to drag Diogenes’ cabinet across the rocks safely from the breakers to a clump of dried seaweed.  Rupert stumbled after him to help, ashamed that Aloysius kept his head, and worked first to rescue Diogenes.

“Is he still alive?”

“He may be.”  Aloysius answered.

“Pry it open damnit!”

“I will, if you get outta my way!” Aloysius shouted.

Ripping seaweed from the hinge, and the rope by which they secured it prior to the crash, they yanked open the door and watched gallons of saltwater drain from the floor.  Inside, Diogenes was upside down, his head jerked aside, supporting his stool wedged against his shoulder.

“Say something!” Rupert begged, struggling hysterically to prop Diogenes’ limp body back onto his stool.

Aloysius tapped his sodden chest.  With waves slapping the rocky beach, however,  and crash litter flopping in the breeze, they would never hear a heartbeat nor a breath.

“Speak!  At least signal us!”

“Wiggle your toes.”  Aloysius suggested.

“C’mon!” Rupert screamed at his stony face, pumping Diogenes’ chest, “You gotta live — you crusty, old bastard!”

Aloysius picked a smooth silicon flake from the sand and slipped it beneath Diogenes’ nose to see if his breath might cloud it.  Aloysius gave up. If Diogenes was breathing, he wasn’t now.  Rupert pounded his fist on the crate.

“No.”  Diogenes then grumbled low, as if thunder had parked behind his lips.

“What?”  Rupert turned, falling to his knees, steadying Diogenes’ head:  “You said ‘no’?”  Rupert laughed anxiously, gleaming up to Aloysius:  He said ‘NO!’”  Rupert kissed Diogenes’ stubbly cheek, and mimicked, “‘No!’”

Diogenes remained impassive.  Though alive, he clearly did not intend to chat.

“That’s it?  For shit’s sake, you can talk … to me!” Rupert pleaded, glaring venomously at Dora and Alex.

Aloysius waded out to drag the last unsmashed crate from the crash.  Dora and Alex stumbled along, obliged to appear helpful.  Rupert gave up on Diogenes, and followed, as they painfully heaved one salvageable supply crate to shore.

Wading in the surf, they surveyed the strange island onto which betrayal had vomited them.  Volcanic, once made of molten magma, lava, it had cooled into purple, putty and cobalt — twisted crazy shapes, into extravagant sculptings sprinkled with pumice and white ash.  A ghost town littered the hill above: boarded up beige hotels, deserted cafés, a crumbling Greek church — along a steep, washed-out, winding road.  Above that, wind spilled over limestone cliffs spewing white ash by truckloads into the bay.  Updrafts spun lighter grains of pumice into tiny tornadoes.  Yet the squall created by the blowing ash, or the surf, could not account for a low, metallic drone from behind those colorful cliffs plagued by moving shadows.  Behind the veiled peaks, inseparable, even in daylight, came an ominous, wavering buzz.  Finally, when the ocean breezes lulled, a rotten organic stench wafted from where the buzz seemed to originate, smelling more like shit than methane or sulfur, or more like rancid meat: a miasmic, nauseating, sewer draft, like a squatted New York subway in August.

The boys re-appraised the girls warily as they pulled a crate to the beach.  Dora and Alex were still stunning, but now, after plunging from the air into the sea, swimming and scraping themselves from the surf, they looked pathetic.  Alex’s bronze skin irrupted with goosebumps and paled since the cold shock of the plunge.  Dora stumbled, weak, deflated, emitting skittish breaths, her slender back steaming from fever or fear.

“Are you in with Vera?”  Rupert asked, as he re-examined their dilemma.

“What?” Alex mumbled beneath her breath, picking seaweed strings from her legs  as they dragged the crate beyond a waves’ crest.

Since they saved the only crate they could, Rupert zero’d in: “When, where is the copter going to land?”

Alex sighed, interrupted from her own misgivings:  “Dawn after next.  On the other side of this island.  An ‘X’ marks the spot.”

“What island are we on?”

“Santorini.”

“You still intend to meet that copter … and leave us behind?”

“They will shoot you, and us, if you show.”  Dora explained.

“That’s blackmail.  Then Aloysius and I are beached?”

“Yes.  There’s no way they’ll let you on.  Nor let you live.  Sorry.”  Dora apologized.

“Being sorry doesn’t change a thing!”  Aloysius interrupted.

“Who is they? Who put you up to it?”  Rupert insisted.

Neither  responded.   Rupert glanced angrily at Aloysius.

“Do you know anything more about this island?”  Aloysius asked.

“It’s a drug refueling strip.”

“That’s all you know of it, hey?  On the way to Athens, then Northern Europe.  A drugstop!”  Rupert shouted.

“We guess.”  Dora answered.

“You guess?” Rupert finally lost control, shoving Alex against a wall of rock.  He ordered Aloysius to do the same, with Dora,  Aloysius reluctantly complied.  “Goddamnit, Nobody tries to kill me!” Rupert bellowed.

Alex, back against the rock, peered straight into Rupert’s livid but frightened blue eyes and saw there ambivalence, a wavering, yet she was confronting someone who had killed, and who might be crazy.

“Nebuchadnezzar ordered you hit.  He wants to absorb Grabmaler’s business.  He doesn’t trust anyone.  Anyone! He’ll send a military transport plane here soon to check the wreckage and search for bodies.  If we don’t report to Prague, report to him in person, make a case that we killed you, and he doesn’t find your bodies, he’ll keep looking for you. Even for your sake we must make that flight.  We have to report to Prague.”

“For my sake?  Sounds like bullshit.  Dora?”  Rupert wheeled around, beckoning Aloysius to pressure Dora.

“This place is also … also … a kind of zoo.”  Dora shrunk back. “He keeps things here … It’s not just a refueling strip and a beach.  He keeps freaks here and ships them up to his court for entertainment, slaughters freaks in public!”

“What?  Now, that’s bullshit!”  Rupert scoffed.

“Why should we care?”  Aloysius shook his head.

“Santorini is a crucial island.”  Alex went on, while struggling to free herself.  “It’s routine for them to land here.  Remember, Rupert … if we don’t report to Neb in Prague, or, if his men come here and only find wreckage  — Neb won’t blame his search party for not finding your bodies.  He’ll rightly assume you’re alive, torture everyone here for information, hunt you down, and inevitably, kill you.”

“Neb?”  Aloysius asked Dora.

“Yes, it’s shorter.”  Dora murmured.

“We’re not done here!”  Rupert shouted, “Let me get this straight.  It wasn’t  Last Social Revolutionaries who wanted me dead.  But this drug-lord?  Have you heard of him Aloysius?”

“Nope.”

“You must have Rupert,” Dora challenged him,  “He has set up a kind of court in Prague.”

“So what!  Why waste the jet?”

“To make it look accidental.  So no one else, Grabmaler’s, Neb’s enemies, would know he’s moving in.”

“Almost makes sense.”  Rupert sighed, scratching his head,  “You … claim you must report to him or he’ll come looking for me?  Why is that my problem?  Let him look!  I’ll just make it to another island!”

“You’re going to have to drag Diogenes with you. That’s a consideration.”  Dora reasoned.

“I’ll drag him!”  Rupert shouted.

“Why would you want Neb to know you’re alive?”  Alex argued,  “You can still meet Undine in Paris.  It will take longer.  That’s true.  But if Neb knows you’re alive you have to worry about being marked.  Better Neb think you dead.”

“It’ll take me months to meet Undine in Paris now!”  Rupert lamented.  He freed Alex and stalked away, circling them angrily: “Vera is really working for this Neb-guy, isn’t she?  That was all a load of monkeygoo, those twelve points, right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”  Dora confessed.

“So we have to trust that if you report to this Nebu-whoever in Prague you will say  you killed us.”  Rupert fussed.

“He will kill us if we don’t say so.”  Alex smiled.

“Go ahead, open it Aloysius!”  Dora interrupted.

“Yes mam, I’ll do just that!”  Aloysius bowed, with a peevish smile.  Aloysius lifted a large rock to smash the lock, swinging it heavily against the bolt.  The door burst, and seawater spilled out.  Dora rummaged, and tossed, eventually crouched inside, yet it held nothing but a mess of sweaters, evening gowns, underwear, cotton blouses, two leather raincoats and jogging sweats, all soaked, running with algae and plastered against the casing.

“It’s your fucking underwear!”  Rupert howled, kicking the crate.

“I was afraid it wasn’t food.”  Dora peeped.

“They couldn’t have known which crate it was.”  Aloysius grumbled.

“Our great-grandpas committed suicide!”  Rupert mocked them,  “Sex is like drinking, no, drowning in a glass of water!” He tore out a long satin gown dripping wet algae and waved it like a profane flag, prancing, “We’re K.G.B. Girlfriends!  La, La, La — Bullshit!”

Tiring of his own exhibition, Rupert stumbled away, dragging  Aloysius with him down the beach.   Selecting a sweater to dry out, Dora was yanked along by Alex, who gaged it shrewder to follow.

“We have no food.”  Rupert fretted.

“Coconuts!”  Alex teased him, catching him up from behind.

“Back off!  You leave in two days!”

“Stop it Rupert!”  Aloysius reproached, “Think, don’t blame … ”

“O Christ!  What the fuck is that?”  Dora squealed, jumped up, then madly flapped her fingers in horror.

“Oh, I weally am scared afta thurviving da fucking cwash!” Rupert mocked her accent and high pitched surprise.

“It can’t be!  What? No!” Alex screamed.  They all recoiled after inching forward to peer at a corpse submerged in water.

“What is it?”  Aloysius leaned nearer.

“A freak!” Dora warned.

A huge mammal, with a brown, striped back was bobbing up and down slowly in a green pool.  A tail, a mane and matted fur floated, entangling and disentangling, with long strands of algae, moss and barnacles hanging down like furry tentacles.  Yet none of them could lift their gaze from its head: a whitened, bloated visage, suggesting by decay, and open, gelatinous green eyes, a nearly human face.  The abdomen bulked like a horse torso, it had huge hind legs and hooves, and yet for those prodigious jowls, the eyes, nostrils and brow, looked human. Ominously, its rather large hind-molars were dominated by a gaping jaw, with one eel wagging behind brown front teeth.

“That’s just dandy!”  Aloysius observed.

“You see what she meant by zoo!” Dora lamented.

“Let’s drag the crates away from here!”  Rupert shouted, Aloysius still staring, fascinated.

Skirting the grotesque in the mossy pool, they teamed up and dragged their two crates, Diogenes, and the wardrobe, downbeach, distancing themselves a full quarter mile, all of them mute.  Only after gaging that they could not even see around the curve of the beach where the dead mammal rotted, did they rest, still wary of each other’s company, and now the island.  They sank together from fatigue beneath the sun, to lick their wounds, and to enjoy clean light so long veiled by smog in New York.

Gradually, the sun rose.  Neither Aloysius nor Rupert had ever seen a full sunrise before, nor ever sunbathed.  Clean light broke rarely over cities now, just as stars could rarely be seen even in mid-ocean, or from mountaintops.  Clear days followed the extinction of animals — like the birds in Rupert’s drowning dream — so it was natural to spend one restful morning, after surviving a crash, risking cancer.  They could, if they had doubts, pretend that clean light meant prevention.

As the sun crawled across the waves, the sky warmed, drying their clothes, and their skin.  Rupert tried to ponder each angle of what he and Aloysius should do, but his mind scattered over the sparkling waves.  Instead, he imagined life decades ago when beaches like this bristled with tourists, with kids collecting seashells, or pounding away at sand castles; when wind-surfers plied swift breezes, and Greek locals sipped ouzo, discussing politics.  None of the vacationers, nor the locals, probably dreamt that the Collapse would reach, let alone destroy Greece, nor their Cycladic paradise.

Nesting into the backwash of waves foaming between the rocks, Aloysius let the salt water and pebbles cleanse his bloody toes.  Pulling their elbows from the sand, Alex and Dora, rose to dry clothes on a horizontal block of pumice. All mutely envied the past when one could sunbathe without breaking out in cancerous red blotches — when one could lounge in skimpy swimwear rather than cower inside body-length sun-sleeves with cloth periscopes, or under plastic sunshields.  They envied their ancestors who could bronze like lizards in hazy sexual innuendo, goof in water fights, on rubber rafts, or laze in fantasies, or pursue oblivious love in ocean sand, and wade after nightfall, under a sky bristling with stars.

Rupert lay back.  He reviewed the crash, the girl’s motive and their thin explanation.  As he daydreamed they dissolved into a mirage, a pantomime, a slick advertisement for the past.  Their very beauty and the island’s made his soul sick.  Could they have been threatened — just as they claimed?  He flung a few soft rocks into a mound of foam.  He watched them, coy after failure, eager to atone — dipping, waving, splashing — and  shuddered with self-contempt.  He recalled their wild surmises on the jet.  Dora’s desperate eyes.  He tried to shoo off fantasies but the warm stone of desire began to creep up to his bellybutton.  He fretted that he had not already built a rock or driftwood prison, or exiled them forever from his island with threats.

The saboteurs were poking and fussing now at their wardrobe crate.  Aloysius and Rupert squirmed inside greasy pants and ragged, salty shirts, kicking rocks.  They watched the girls peel off their soaked uniforms to stretch naked beneath the lily-yellow sun.  Rupert reflected on how physical beauty could disguise evil.  Aloysius stared at two lovely girls in bright light, because their bodies were healthy, and charming.  Rupert reminded himself of how Undine loved him, as a free, independent, woman, as an honest, a courageous friend even after he had betrayed her.  Dora and Alex were hedonist-assassins paid by a drug-lord dictator who posed as fanatics — fascinating because they could kill without remorse, and possibly be more attractive for it.

Aloysius stared at the black triangle of hair between Alex’s athletic, springy legs, her hard rouge nipples erect within seemingly thirsty bronze aureoles.   Dora’s vagina looked like a shock of wheat.  Her limbs were soft, pliant, as she danced and drew a little crescent moon with her toes in the sand, oozing delicacy and secret warmth.  They were playing up to the young men.  And the young men knew it.  Yet the boys were handsome, and proud, in their own right.   Aloysius’ unfed skinniness granted him a washboard abdomen.  His deeply-set brown eyes, blunt but regular nose and full stubble beard gave him a crusty, workingclass magnetism.  Rupert was just old enough to be naturally muscled, and trim.  He did need toughening: his peach-fuzz chin and blemishless skin, his nose, eyes and brow seemed almost too handsome, too classic;  but with fine wavy hair, and promisingly tall, he was certainly a manly creation.

Rupert rationalized to himself that if Undine had not exiled him he would not be ousted from her confidence, and her bed, and stranded on the beach with hired temptresses.

Diogenes knew desire invited hypocrisy, Rupert fretted.  Where was Diogenes now?  Paralyzed.  And did Diogenes require any real expiation?  He killed Benedict, head of Grabmaler’s Morality Squad, in clear self-defense.   Yet, if death was his mentor’s last exit on the road to honesty, what was left but to endure just as Dora and Alex did, surviving through hypocrisy, lies, and sabotage?

“Well?”  Rupert turned to Aloysius, now chewing a blade of grass, arms propping his head, baking off his years crouching inside a box with a wry smile.

“What?”

“Diogenes would say this was a set-up.”  Rupert stated.

“Only if we fry.”  Aloysius grunted, loathe to interrupt his daydream.

“Diogenes directed our way … in a world filled with doomsday prophets and … idiot saints.”  Rupert forced out.

“Yea …  good guy.”  Aloysius muttered, “Rupert, what’s on your mind?”

“Evil thoughts.  And you?”

“What’s evil?  I’ve never slept with a woman.”  Aloysius flushed with a shame presaging sunburn,  “Perhaps it’s because we’re stuck here.  So, I’m thinking about it, why not?”

“They’re clichés!”  Rupert added, “We can’t touch them,”  He too felt ashamed, revealing his desire.

“Right.   So I’m waiting.  We’ll try to beat it to Paris tomorrow.  I want to make that Revolution Trotsky was talk’n about.”

“Ha.  Are we just going to let them fly to Athens?”

“We have no right to stop them.”

“We have the right.”

“Sure, we can tie them to rocks and wait for the tide to drown them!   Or bury them up to their necks in sand?  Watch crabs scramble into their mouths?  What would change if we did … stop them?”

“Nothing.  I’m just trying to adjust to being thousands of miles away.  Just moments ago … I left Undine.”

“Well, those sleeping pills would have knocked out a horse.  I barely remember a very strange dream I had before waking.”

“You saved my life showing me how to stuff that second pill under my tongue.”

“And my own.”

“I had a strange dream too … passing out in the water,” Rupert mused,  “An ancient city blown up by earthquake.”

“The ideal , dream city?  I think we missed it.  I mean when the human race was happy.  Just imagine living here fifty years ago!”

“Maybe that’s the nature of the human race?  We pursue what will destroy us because we don’t think we’re worth it.”

“I don’t know what we’re worth now.  I mean, we believed these traitors were Commies, K.G.B.-whatever; because everybody is rummaging in the past to find something to cling to.  No matter how mad.”

“The madder the better.  I guess no one knew when they were happy, Happiness never had a tag.  All we have left now are … tags.”

“I wish Dora and Alex would wear a tag, at least.  It’s getting to me.”

“Me too.  Well, let them play their parts.  We’ll play ours.”

“Look, they’re coming over.  They must know we’re discussing them.”

“Let ‘em.”

“What was that corpse in the water?”  Dora shivered.

“A decayed horse.”  Alex reassured herself.

“You’ve read about freaks in comic books?”  Rupert joked, refusing to look at her.

“No, I told you this place is a zoo!”  Dora insisted.

“Welcome to the world.”  Aloysius sniffed.

“What were you guys discussing?”  Alex asked, wrapping herself in a towel.  Dora pulled a sweater extracted from the crate around her shoulders.

“Whether we should kill you.”

“Look, we’re both sorry for what we’ve done.  We’ve been talking it over.  Haven’t we Dora?”

“Yes we have.”

“We thought we could relax for another hour then search for fresh water and pineapples.  Maybe we can use string from our clothes and fashion a hook from our safety pins, and fish at dusk?  We’re sorry, but we all did survive.”

“And if we fall asleep will you bash our heads with rocks?”

“Hush!  Rupert!  We were threatened!”  Dora cried.

“We had to do it or they’d kill us.”

“And what will they do when they find out we’re alive?”

“They won’t.  We have to tell them we killed you.”

“Just one more lie?”

“That’s right.”

“Are you lying to us now?”

“No.”

“How do we know?”  Rupert asked.

“Because.  You won’t be able to get on the copter.  They’ll be expecting us. But, we’re not killers.  We’re victims.”  Alex complained.

“Besides we like you now.  And we’re sorry.”  Dora echoed.

“And tell me, why are you going around … bare when you have a whole crate full of clothes?”

“We’re on the beach!”  Dora protested.

“Are you so obsessed with women’s bodies?  Or by your own?  That we should straight-jacket ourselves  in clean light, and on the beach?  Now, tell me just who’s crazy?”  Alex laughed, arms akimbo.

“Do you have go naked?”  Rupert sniffed.

“Who cares?  Your clothes are in shreds anyway!  Look at Aloysius sunbathing in greasy wool trousers!”  Alex exclaimed.

“Rupert, are you a prude?”  Dora teased him.

A warm silence like the space they could see through the smogless air gaped for a moment as they watched the sun glimmer on the waves.

“Then here, I’ll help you!”  Dora volunteered, needling him with her toe to his ribs.

“I will not undress.”

“I’ll put on my bathrobe and rub your back!”

Rupert looked sheepishly over for permission to Aloysius who shrugged his shoulders.  Rupert vacillated for a moment, then acquiesced.

Dora turned Rupert over on his stomach and Alex eventually did the same with Aloysius, with their robes dangling over the boy’s backs.  They chatted for awhile, re-apologizing. The women kneaded along their spines providing assistance to the circulation in their necks, and beneath their tri- and biceps, positioning Rupert and Aloysius on their sides, cracking their backs, relieving tension. Dora massaged down to explore Rupert’s thighs, inspiring screaming pleasure to knotted, shocked muscles, and though not yet touching him between his legs, he slowly began to loosen up, and stiffen.  Soon, Aloysius and Alex slipped behind a pile of rocks on the beach for privacy.  Rupert craved to explore Dora’s exotic tenderness, as she rotated her hands down to his calves and even to his toes with care, reviving tight fibers which mutely nodded delight for all the stress they had endured, progressing up his legs, rubbing vigorously, until he too damned his reservations, gave in to her caresses, and to his desire.

She probed upwards, massaging his waist, flipped him over, closing his eyelids, and trailed the lines of his face and neck with her tongue, his nipples, his navel, returning to deeply kiss his mouth.  However, as Rupert felt Dora’s hand widen the tear in his pantleg, toying, netting him with hot breaths, he glanced down the beach through his toes at a shadow creeping over the black rocks.  It crept from a riot of bright aqua and crimson, making a snail’s progress.  Dora picked up her pace, stripping Rupert’s jeans to his knees.  Yet as she whispered her accented instructions and pulled his cock free, he heard the creature down the beach wheeze.  It seemed to loll its head up to allow each wheeze, to scrape from a torn esophagus, to escape from lungs full of gravel and smoke.  And now, to Rupert’s horror, he could see an emaciated scrap of charred flesh with one tar paper hand poking the black rocks with a twisted cane, centering the cane behind it, as if to prop a crushed spine.  Rupert speculated that if it were a man it would not have shrunken tits drooping beneath a ragged leather belt, nor a ruined nose which might have once been delicate.  Yet it stroked with thin, skeletal fingers the gutted cartilage of a thinly bearded chin.  Dora mounted Rupert cursing his softening erection, mindless that his mouth hung open as she kissed it, sitting on his lap only to crush him beneath the flower of her sex.   As the creature inched forward, Rupert could see he, or she, was blind, for indeed its dried eye sockets were shriveled to wormholes.  And yet he sensed an enigmatic resolve, as it pressed forward beyond pain, seeming more human, for some mystic reason — than Dora –  who just gave up coaxing his now flaccid desire — or Rupert — as he cursed aloud, and shook his head, wondering how a corpse could walk or breathe, inwardly protesting that an abomination should be mindless, and buried.

Aloysius peeped over the rocks, and saw, behind the creeping figure, and further from the waves, a group of apparent islanders.  Resisting Alex, who tugged him back with some force, even malice, until she too surfaced, they both spotted the charred creature, and behind it, a pack of mangy, unshaven men, some with hands dangling to their shins, bent and self-effacing, and several women with matted hair and a few infants cradled in their arms all doddering behind their corpselike leader.  They stopped short at Diogenes’ cabinet, stared and gurgled, until with but one back-wheeze from their apparent boss, they kneeled abjectly, transfixed, mumbling in apparent obsequies, and pointing to their tongues.  The aged one, taking note, crept on, cane just behind its back, directly for Rupert.

“Could we have a minute?”  It death-rattled, finally nearing them, painfully bowing.  Dora looked around, and shrank into herself, horrified.

“Who are you?”  Rupert exhaled, fumbling to pull his pants up.

“A Santorinian.”  The corpse smiled toothlessly.

“You speak English.  But, you, you look … dead and they, they look like cavemen!”

“I am neither dead and there are women amongst them.  They are not cavemen.”

“What?”

“Don’t bother to address them.  They cannot speak English! Nor any other language properly.”  The Santorinian modestly grinned.

“Why did you come upon us now?”

“We were going to ask the same thing,”  The Santorinian scraped, pointing to the curving shore slowly, “They walk the island daily, foraging for herbs.  I collect the herbs and keep flies from their eyes.”

Aloysius, by now came hopping up, threaded his way between the islanders, pulling up his pants.  Alex kept her distance from the aged hermaphrodite until fully clothed.

“What is this?”  Aloysius asked, remarking the mumbling worshippers before Diogenes’ cabinet, “Should we let them near Diogenes?”

“They call me Tiresius.”  The creature clapped his or her hands and his or her fellow islanders backed off from the cabinet, “We rarely get visitors now.  Are you hungry?  We have olives.”

“Sure.  If they’re safe.”  Rupert replied.

“I saw a whole barrel of food in those thing’s furry hands.”  Dora whispered, only now popping up.

“Good.”  Tiresius clapped hands and baskets of olives, dried seaweed and goat cheese were laid at their feet.

Alex thanked one gruesome islander who balanced two crates of lettuce on a bent shoulder, trying not to be touched or touch him. Her speaking, however, incited him to begin imitating her.  He made a grumbling dumbshow mimicking her movements, though not in any order.  Others, seemingly infected, imitated him until the group lost all communicative context, and they went into a series of random gestures and guttural snorts, sneezes, finger-pointing, sprinkled by snatches of words ripped from any language but often mispronounced or swallowed until they worked themselves into a pathetic tizzy of frustrated nonsense.

Tiresius tapped his cane heavily and a deadly silence caught up with the mumblers, some covering their mouths in obedience.  They knelt down as children might, silence followed by frowns of contrition: several rolled on the ground, others shamefully wagged their heads from side to side, then up and down, or tucked their chins to their chests.  It sent a chill through the survivors when they realized the grotesque power Tiresius held over these islanders, as they were invalids, having lost their power of speech, their civilization, now opting for any sliver of slavish recognition, at Tiresius’ pleasure.

“Are you sure you treat them justly?”  Aloysius spoke up.

“Yes, I do.  We have foraged together a long time as friends, and I knew their parents before the Collapse.”

“That’s not what he asked.”  Rupert argued.

“They would not be alive now without me.  This island’s recent history has devastated more than its tourist trade.”

“We aren’t tourists.  Our plane crashed off your coast.”

“Yes, I heard, they saw!   You crashed a half-mile down.  Very bad, yes, very bad.  Hardly sounded like an accident, though.  It sounded like a very nice jet being sunk.  So …  you are not tourists, nor travelers, but survivors.  So are we all!  And some of us have been surviving a very long time, yes, indeed.”  Tiresius wheeled toward the crate full of clothes, then to the women, and this sent a shiver of inexplicable shame up Rupert’s spine.

“Are you alone?”  Dora asked sweetly.

“You must understand, only drug dealers now land on this island, and we don’t want them.”  Tiresius said, balancing his cane.

“We are not drug runners.”

“Mmmm.”  They could see now that Tiresius put on a brave face, meeting them.  He seemed painfully aware of his charred, seemingly cancerous flesh, and his island, and lonely with his mumbling friends.

“I keep my mumblers away from landing strip because they are hunted from helicopters which land twice a week.  They swoop down and shoot them!  Like rabid dogs!”  He oddly tucked his broken chin.

“But you see, standing here is tiresome.  You escaped death.  Now it’s time to celebrate, relax and eat.”  Tiresius, had for the last few breaths between sentences panted, and gestured mysteriously with his hands in the air toward the paralyzed man in the cabinet, without bringing him up.  He ordered, instead, stones to be quietly piled in a circle around driftwood, and a fire imported.  As the sun slowly climbed past noon over the shimmering Aegean and paled the sky, they ate stunted pineapples and burnt tuna fish, then grapes, and sipped hard islander liquor under a canopy of lotus leaves.  The mumblers seemed to be the perfect if clumsy servants, kneeling, carrying, ever attentive.  Pathetic.  But when they left and lollygagged while importing oil drums Tiresius grew angry, haranguing them in Greek, making ominous signs, swinging his cane.  The mumblers inevitably seemed to wander away.   He was at them for a full hour to set up a wide circle of oil drums around them all, including Diogenes in his cabinet, an inclusive ring.   Feeling his way, he poured herbs, then some oil and lit all the drums which began smoking orange until their camp was surrounded by a funnel of smoke which had a nice, lavender scent — driving out the chronically shit-smelling drafts from beyond the cliffs.  It was not until the work was completed, that Tiresius creaked down beside them, haggard, rubbing his eyeless sockets, bitterly feeling the sun stinging his skin.

He could not yet grasp his cane nor even painfully drink until he caught his breath.  Rupert and Aloysius waited for a full hour out of politeness as he was covered with leaves and breathed, or scraped, heavily.  Finally, he began fumbling with a silver case and a long wooden pipe.  And when he brought it out, the mumblers performed a ritualistic two-step and beat on plastic kettles with huge wood spoons, until Tiresius filled and lit his pipe with a sliver of burning driftwood.

“Why did you put all those vats around us?”  Rupert inquired.

“To keep off flies.”  Tiresius exhaled, breathing hard just thinking about it.

“Are they that bad?”  Aloysius asked.

“My son!  They are bad.” Tiresius put his palms to his face, evidently ashamed.

“You live on this island?”  Rupert ventured.

“O yes. This was a beautiful island before it was ruined.”  Gradually Tiresius began to catch his wind:  “You know, boys, there is a legend about his island … before the Collapse, … before Jesus …. two millennia ago … This was Atlantis.  Minoan capital, before a volcano blew off its head in the Bronze Age.  The explosion blasted, steam everywhere, half a city-state into the ionosphere. Four times the size of Krakatoa! Another great volcanic explosion.  They say that it created a tidalwave which swamped Crete, thus destroying Minoan civilization.”

“I had a dream …. almost drowning.” Rupert meditated, briefly,  “Yet, I don’t know how to say this, Tiresius.  Even if all this true about your island, and however interesting, we crashed here.  We want to know how we can …  leave.”

“All young people are the same.  But I’ll tell you, if you have the stomach.  I will tell you.”  Tiresius wheezed.

“We here, have been singled out by ill fate to be a landing strip for the drug trade.  Helicopters come here, drop things off and pick them up.  And these are very bad people.  Next, we have a horrible problem with flies. This is why we burn this smoke from oil drums or vats around us especially as it grows late.  The flies have occupied half this island and have blasted the wits, of these, my fellow Greeks.  Made them stammerers.”

Tiresius raised his tarpaper hands to indicate their fate and his voice lowered:  “I am a wreck.  I am ugly. But if one considers what manmade disasters we endure, and not squint, like you do now, after the fact, but into the cycle of events — you’ll understand not only my shriveled tits or charred bones, but as the crow flies, so the visitation of things in dream.”

Rupert and Aloysius nodded to each other, agreeing they were in for a tall story, and a long evening.

“What about these flies?”  Rupert asked, consciously avoiding letting a stranger interpret a dream for him.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t smell them?”

“That stench is from flies?  How did they get here?”  Aloysius asked.

“You mean you are on this island with a swarm of flies occupying it?”   Rupert seconded.

“Yes.   We learned about the vats by trial and error.  They react badly to the herbs and medicine we burn.”

“That’s good.”

“It’s a nightmare to battle them!”  Tiresius wheezed heavily again then rambled on for the whole afternoon, disclosing between long exhalations, and sighs, the best he could, as to how the flies were developed — his greatest worry after the drug traders.  He claimed that the flies were bio-engineered to clear battlefields of corpses, and that they could operate in both active or polluted zones.  When the Collapse came, and drained all the money away,  organized “theaters” of operation disappeared; but war did not.  Though the flies were bred in Western laboratories, before the Third World peaked in population, strains were sold and they became a poor man’s, and poor world’s weapon.   After missile attacks or biological shell exploded, populous cities under siege benefited.  The flies were released and devoured the bodies before they rotted, or spread disease.  But the flies, as they picked up from Tiresius, had a dark psychological impact when seen, or heard.  And this became part of a different equation.  The flies, he claimed, could unnerve anyone, at anytime, even behind glass.  They were programmed as one hoard, yet their presence evoked terrible fear as each bio-engineered insect was really a fragment of a single unit designed with one function: to clear battlefields or, later, drive an enemy populace into madness.  This quickly caught on with governments fallen into chaos.  They could now hatch their enemies a hoard, disrupt communications, and wage psychological war at very low cost.  Tiresius digressed on how flies have outraged the dead throughout history, from victims of civil to world war, then explained how the first genetic strains escaped from civilian control:  They were first released as a final solution by an arms merchant-meglomaniac who changed his name to the Biblical Nebuchadnezzar, taking over his first outpost in what once was Afghanistan.  The victims never had a chance to bury their own dead, as they tore out their eyes, or mortally flailed themselves.

Tiresius paused, catching a breath, stirring the fire, arranging leaves to cover his cancerous, burnt flesh, smoked more, then added: “We are closer to the ancient world … to Africa where Man was born and first walked upright, irrigated, worshipped and wrote, to their religion and prophetic scribes.  Closer to Egypt when eyes first opened on the stars, where astronomers and architects built the vanities of Pharaoh to heaven, drinking the blood of slaves.  And we are in Greece, where science, poetry and philosophy were first uttered. But now, you will encounter tribes only between here and the Alps, with mere pockets of speaking men. These mumblers are not speaking a fallen Greek, although, from what I see they are all Greeks, ‘cept one born Danish.  They are not merely grunting either.  They wish to speak.  That’s the shame of it.  Their tongues and stymied minds cannot sustain speech-power.  They jumble syllables or mimic speech in dumbshow, and worship the God of the Flies, the tiny devourers of their ancestors who sweep from the inner island avoiding only Thira, their god of Suicide and Death.  The flies blasted their wits!

“Yes.  We survive on the rim of catastrophe like a volcano about to blow.  We survive, wedged in by flies, and bury each other in the ruins of Thira. We must disturb antiquity to find stones to use as headrests for the dying generations of islanders.  And I fear there will be more wars, more ecological disaster, more red skies and black suns, more locusts, more warlordship and drugs, more famine — and with an inevitable reversal.  We are sliding back in time but we’re going down a different path! It is very different, going back. We regress but plummet into new historic sinkholes which we ourselves blew!

“Yes, that’s what they do … mumble … only that.”  Tiresius swiveled around, trying to shelter his loneliness: “You know, if I may say so, it is no coincidence  the mumblers like seeing dogs migrated for the paralyzed man.  I mean the one over in the cabinet.  Yes I know he’s there.  Kinships between their unconscious and his mind are as old as this flame or the smoke of my medicine. They are akin as the Flies are akin to this island and the greed which burned the vegetation entirely from North Africa, Cyprus and Crete, and punctured the atmosphere above the poles!  They are both of a root, those who were passed by, and those who exceed history.”

Rupert and Aloysius, trying to absorb it all, gave in to smoking the paste which they had been offered all afternoon from his pipe. “His name is Diogenes.”  Rupert stated, passing the pipe.

“They ran for a man capable of profound self-hypnosis.” Tiresius continued,  “States of mind they cannot fathom — they, we, hear like a high pitched whistle in a dog’s ear –  no matter how deep these mumblers swim in their regressive sleep.  You know … my dreams seem extraordinarily vivid since I’ve withdrawn from sight, and endured the exile of my rotten island companions.

“I dreamt that I was to bury a sacred Dog … in the sky, which burst from another vision I have had of ridding the island of its flies.  Those devils who eat dead flesh!  The chemical which was to trigger an explosion in their cells has been lost.  Thank god they are one of the last surviving hoards!  But, there is yet another dream, or even fantasy, I have had, stuck here with mumblers, which has to do with the Flies, and the beatification of an Immortal Dog.”

“You mean Diogenes?   He’s kind of a … Dog!”  Rupert reflected, again accepting a drag from Tiresius’ wooden pipe.

“Yes.  He provided sight for you.  Just as my paste has done for me.”

Rupert noticed he spoke of Diogenes in the past tense and objected: “But — we didn’t take him here to die!”

“Don’t be suspicious.  What must happen tomorrow night will make you a man and Diogenes, more.  That’s my third, or second full dream.”

“We’re not going to leave him here!”  Rupert second-guessed Tiresius, worried.

“Do not fear.  My sympathy goes not for him, but for you, Rupert, who must let him go.”

“I will never let him go.  What is this about tomorrow night?”

“I wanted to ask you to help me in a project, if you can.”

“What does it involve?”

“Some heavy work, which I, with my mumblers here, could never accomplish alone.”

“Well, you’ve certainly been generous with us here tonight.”

“It might also involve facing the flies to destroy them once and for all.”

“Tiresius,”  Rupert reflected on all he had said, discarding the tall stories and homespun prophecy, meditating on his fly-problem, Tiresius’ frailty, and the mumbler’s mental chaos, and offered:  “Tiresius, since you have turned a disastrous day into an evening of good food and conversation, if it’s merely because we are younger, and can complete a task,”  Rupert averted his melancholy from the mumblers, “Then we will do it.”

“I’ll explain it to you tomorrow, at dawn.  You might not still wish to help.”

“Oh, we will.  Won’t we Aloysius?”

“Yea, I’ve had run-ins with plenty of flies.”  Aloysius shrugged.

“I bet you have!” Tiresius clapped his bony hands.

“Tell me, what happened to you?  You look very … well, weak!  How old are you?”  Rupert asked.

“I suppose I do have to explain.”

“If you want, we don’t mean to pry.”

“No, I guess it is part of my story.”

“Well, then!  What happened to you?”

“I was exposed too long to the sun.  The sun also blinded me.  If I told you my mind is older than humanity you would think me mad, a century or two, a liar, and if I claim to be thirty-eight years old — a cancerous, burnt-up creep.”

“Are you sensitive about your looks?”

“No, not about my age either.”

“Then why do you look so mixed up in your decrepitude?

“I have had the occasion to be both man and woman.”

“Oh, god.”  Everyone sat through a heavy, and potentially impolite silence, “ I’m sorry, it’s just a little shocking.”

“It frightens you?”

“No, not me.”  Rupert lied, realizing his vision was blurred.

“I had my first sex change operation when I was in my early twenties, from a man to a woman.  I switched back … there were complications.”

“What was it like to be … a woman?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?  Ho. Ha!  But, if you are so full of private questions, let me ask you one.  How did you crash? What were you doing with these girls when I arrived?”

By now, the thick smoke from the burning paste began to whirl in Rupert and Aloysius’ minds.  Dora and Alex had been taking mini-whiffs as it tasted strong, but Tiresius’ hypnotic non sequiturs and his oxygen-depriving smoke began to disorient them as well, and the two women withdrew cautiously behind Diogenes’ crate.

“What about Aloysius?  What do you think of him?”  Rupert mused, changing the subject.

“Beware of the darkness which plunges beneath the storm made of  …. crowds.  One may blindly run through tombs seeing; yet close one’s eyes before the city’s rise.”  Tiresius puffed, it sounded more like a poem than an answer.  And smoke was leaking from his neck.

“What does that mean?”  Rupert asked.

“I think he’s crazy.”  Aloysius mused.

“What are you saying?”  Rupert pressed further.

“Events will explain everything.”

“How are you so sure of all this?”

“Events never reveal coincidence.”

“Now what does that mean?”

“Only infidels believe in coincidence.”

“You telling me what is not, not what is.”

“Nothing is, all, now, is becoming.”

“Cock-a-doodle do!”  Aloysius laughed.

“Exactly my sentiments!”  Tiresius smiled, hideously. “But it rattles me when people don’t tell me the truth when I talk all day long to them.  But I can guess.  You should learn more about who you should pleasure and whom you should not.  That’s my advice from being a woman, and a man — twice. But it was from being a woman I learned it better.  Men hear no council when they are young and eager to copulate.”

“They were massaging us.”

“Petting, you know,”  Aloysius blurted out with a mouth of smoke.

“I know! Now let me ask you how you crashed.  Be honest, no lie –  I’ve heard everything.“  Tiresius grinned.

“You tell him!”  Aloysius suggested to Rupert.

Rupert retold the whole story starting years back when he was adopted as Grabmaler’s protégé, his introduction to Diogenes, falling in love with Undine, their escape and ill-fated return.  He confessed his betrayal of Undine with a prostitute which lead him to murder Grabmaler, founder of Tombstone Internationale.  He unfolded how he announced he had killed Grabmaler, the coup, which wrested the Inverted Skyscraper from his to the the Last Social Revolutionaries’ control, how he flew, or escaped on Undine’s advice, with Aloysius and the now comatose Diogenes.  He explained how their steward and pilot, who were connected with the drug runners, under the employ of Nebuchadnezzar, and how they attempted to kill them by ditching the jet.  And how this ended them up on Santorini, all four of them.  Finishing, swaying from smoking the paste, and his own apprehensions, he appended how they did not intend to waste their lives on Santorini but to make immediately for Paris.

Tiresius padded the bowl of his pipe reflectively, as evening matured to midnight, with a yet stickier substance — smelling funkier than the paste they tasted before.  He packed it heavily as he shook his obscenely aged head in disgust.

“Every young man blinded by sex is like a melancholic who laughs too loud.  Is there an original sin?  Unless you pull that thorn of fear out, which trades sex for courage, you’ll always be a fool, toward women, or men.  Always lamb and never  lion.  And it makes it damn harder to survive, too.”

“Thanks, it’s very strong!”  Rupert coughed, reeling from a puff of the stronger paste.  The stars were glittering in the violet East.  They had chatted all day, but returned to why they were there, with all their problems just as intact as when they began the palaver, only now they were high.  Dora and Alex, who refused to take part in the marathon dialogue, had grown restive, and demonstratively resentful of Tiresius’ presence.

“If you knew more about the feminine side of your own nature,”  Tiresius expanded, “you wouldn’t be enslaved by the shadow passing over your soul like a cloud of flies, like the flies out there hunting for human flesh.”

“You should talk, you ugly old pervert!”  Alex shouted, butting in, while Tiresius recoiled with a series of coughs. The mumblers grew suddenly restive.  Rupert and Aloysius didn’t know what to make of it.

“Away from me devil! “  Tiresius rejoined, “For those who have no soul are neither men nor women but an abyss for pain on which a dot of evil has spread and stained pretty colors!  Away, you have no soul!”

“You belong in a zoo!”  Dora cried.

“You talk like a kitten and sleep like a snake!”

“Eat shit!”

“Away!  You will end up on your back under a pony!”

“Bah!  You old scag!  Fuck you!” Alex jeered.

“You’ll never get the chance!”  Tiresius snapped back, but eerily, in Alex’s own voice.

“What?  Let’s not get uppity!” Rupert protested, sounding as if he had just whiffed helium, trying to forget the strange change in voices.

“Until you become a woman you’ll never be a man!”  Tiresius summed up, in his own voice.

“Is that part of your bi-personal experience?”  Aloysius inquired calmly, lingering with, and examining Tiresius’ pipe.  One side had a little man carved into it, penis-and-all, and the other, an anatomically endowed woman — features carved intricately in jade.  The “shotgun”, or hole for regulating smoke intake, came out of the man’s penis-hole, and, on the other side, billowed from a woman’s uterus.  Tiresius had switching forefingers, ambidextrously handling the pipe from the beginning.

“Yes, I fairly miss being a woman.” Tiresius nodded toward Aloysius, smiling mysteriously, “It was amazing to be both.”

“What was better having sex as a man, or as a woman?” Rupert questioned.

“As a woman.”  Tiresius divulged, slowly, shyly.

“What does this have to do with sex?  Are you high?” Rupert jumped up again, feeling dizzy, and paranoid, hallucinating dancing rocks from his peripheral vision.  He now admitted to himself that a voice had been thrown.

“What’s the word about this place being a zoo?”  Aloysius asked, reeling.

“Yea, tell him about the zoo. And just who is in it!”  Alex hissed.

A yet stranger interruption invaded their conversation.  Another voice asked:

“Will Revolution wait for men to become women, and vice-a-versa? Must all masks fall, or only from those who plot behind them? For those who see now without eyes, might later have to face the fat man. Not just get him off our back but see where he squats on his throne of shame. In masquerade — the skill in means — to make it to the barricades, and beneath them … where paralysis meets action  …”

“What? Who said that?”  Rupert did a full circle, trying to determine who said what.  It appeared that Tiresius had spoken — with Diogenes’ voice.

“I should have said …  we’ll have to split up, until paralysis ends in action.”

Aloysius’ lips moved, but he was merely trying to sound out the words he heard to understand them.   It was Diogenes’ voice.

The smoke had eked into their brains.  Rupert nearly passed out, shivering, cool comets of dread flurrying up his spine.  Wheeling around, he saw Tiresius as a woman — he seemed to be receding in age, seemed healthier, fuller, almost lovely and appeared, momentarily, to resemble Undine.  Aloysius, meanwhile, imagined Tiresius as a clown complete with orange wig, star-eyes, frowning red lips and jumbo shoes.  As they both refused another puff they both peered over at Diogenes.   Diogenes sat on his stool, moving, brushing his white hair back with his fingers, evidently bored, casting a sideglance at the mumblers who now surrounded his crate.  Rupert stared, his vision blurring, hoping to glimpse his friend again — distrusting his eyes.  Nauseated.  Undine had disappeared, and Tiresius reappeared smiling.  Aloysius bent to his knees, breathing deliberately, convinced that he was going to faint but he did not then stared up at the moving Diogenes as he appeared to wave back with a kind of salute, mocking being stared at.  Rupert first broke the silence, trying to address him:

“Has this guy destroyed my mind or are you moving, Diogenes?”

“What mind?” Diogenes asked.

“I thought you were paralyzed!  What’s going on here?  I mean, is this a fucking trick — that paste he packed in his pipe?”

“It’s easy to trick anyone, who can’t watch his ass, nor see a yard before him.”

“And this hermaphrodite, what, who is he?  Step outta that crate and act naturally.  I have been confused since you … left us.”

“Get used to it, Rupert.  I’ve had to.”

“But you made such sense out of the mess of this world.  You were right.”

“Sense?  Are we to forget we are miserable because we can make sense?  Or that we killed, because we took the lives of two monsters?  What does making sense or ‘being right’ have to do with living well, anyway?”

“Do you know we’re on an island in the middle of the Aegean sea, Undine without a clue to where we are?  That this creature with shriveled tits is poisoning us with drugs?   That these people can’t even speak?  These women tried to kill us?”

“Sure.  You fucked up again. It was always like this when you ran things.

“Do you plan to die?”

“Don’t you?  Is life a geriatric endurance run?  Do you want me to end up like him? ”

Diogenes nodded, but respectfully, toward Tiresius.

“But you’re jumping ship!”

“Mine’s come into port.”

“But come with us!”

“No.  Didn’t you hear me?  That’s the only thing I’ve said to you.”

“How could I know what you meant?”

“What more can I mean, than what I say?  Listen, Rupert. There are creatures now, monsters, follies of … pride … science meddled with mixing strains … human consciousness with mixed animal parts.  Fetal tissue.  A pharmacopoeia of genetic altering drugs were developed, one could simply drink little cups in labs and alter one’s genetic structure.  And so many lost forever their original structure.  We walk into parties with those who have the money and not even know who had been genetically altered, and who has not.  There are creatures built to fit machines designed to kill.  Machines which mimic human consciousness, soulless mind mimics, devise mimics, and lives led in torment, which makes the secret lie — quite explicit.  For what truth did we tread the planet into muck and chaos?  Was it a machine or a miracle we missed in nature which needed to be fabricated?  Having savaged earth, thus we are savaged, and savages.  And not noble ones. We’re bent low, Rupert, we receive old visitations of our fears.  We rehearse ours deaths, make regressive ritual a science, an art.  You see, because every new creation echoes its own origin, not in sin, but in self-torment, each exceeds the limit of its and our understanding, thus we each blast — our wits!

All men and woman are destined to become mere mumblers, without knowing their destinies, stumbling into ruts into which the mind muddles — as if being human were a mimicry of physical organs or dead social roles  That’s what this Tiresius is telling you.  If men and women are different — fate forces you to endure the other’s role.  Yet, it is dangerous — roles have a powerful allure in and of themselves.  They are magnets for clichés, and the same man who might only be man, think, eat, copulate, buy or sell, die a man only, could meet himself stepping from his own mirror.  To be either a man or woman is a mystery, to be human is a miracle.  To be either a man or a woman, is a matter of course, to be human, destiny.  Here, then, is the key — the chance to find the human behind the body and then live the body as human.

But who can blow old ages’ cover?  How can we stop turning time, or measure what we have lost?

O, yes.  One more thing: Be there in Paris. If you’re going for Prague I’ll know.  And watch your ass.  I mean, right now! The girlfriends … “

“Wait!  What? Where will I meet you?”

“The same zoo you’ll be in if you don’t step away from the fire!”  It was Alex’s voice.

Rupert stepped back, expecting to be fooled by another hallucination.  She had Tiresius’ throat and was twisting a nylon rope around it, tourniqueting the fragile crisp of cancerous flesh while Dora pressed a foot against his hump back forcing the old hermaphrodite’s face to the flames.  Aloysius saw it too but nothing seemed impossible since he smoked the paste, and he was wary of responding to a threat invented by a drug.  When he swung back to check Diogenes, he again appeared paralyzed in his cabinet, inscrutable. The mumblers began popping, whistling and moaning, biting their fingernails, slapping  knees, screaming, furrowing their indecisive brows, and pulling out, then snapping their lower lips.  Neither Aloysius nor Rupert could react decisively since they could not be sure anything had changed from when they were straight.

“That’s it … ease away from the fire!  Back away, toward the beach!   Shut the animals up.”  Dora demanded.

“We’ll break this old fuck’s neck!”  Alex yelled.

“It won’t take much.”  Dora added.

“Do what she says.”  Tiresius gurgled, his sand-paper thorax sounding as if it too was being stretched to snapping. “I told you not to trust them.”

“Shut up!”  Alex commanded, her reductive face now a fright mask of exulting cruelty.

Tiresius, then, stuck his shriveled worm of a tongue to the back of his palette, and made a buzzing noise like flies swarming: part buzz, part whistle.  Dora and Alex stood triumphant, determined to rid themselves of the blind codger Tiresius, the dumb mumblers, box-squatter Aloysius, and their mark, Rupert; shoot them each in the back of the head, then blow.  They would receive their first payoff in Athens, reach Prague, account personally for the crash, then retire to a guarded paradise, a flyless island sipping high-balls in opiated ice, snug inside a pocket resort for the isolated rich.

Tomorrow morning, they would walk unimpeded along the shore to the airstrip, step inside the ‘X’ and await the helicopter exactly as planned.  They would have Rupert and Aloysius wade out into the waves so they would not have to drag their bodies into the sea to simulate their death by drowning, so the inspection-team would corroborate their story.  They could tell Neb they had ditched the plane and thereby killed Grabmaler’s protegé.  Yet after Tiresius hissed they heard a rustling in the grass, which broke out into two startlingly swift moving forms.

Two horses suddenly clomped over the rocks and leapt within the ring of their oil drums, directly into their camp.  The beasts flanks and ears were twitching from having been spooked by flies, and they trembled with foaming jowls inside the orange smoke sanctuary, safe from pests, though the fires had not been stoked with dried herb or oil for an hour.  Yet the horses had nearly human eyes, flaxen, struggling near-human brows, as if the bone of a larger brain had only started to develop in the bulging cavity, but pain at being conscious enough to know that they are beasts finished blasting their nascent wits, and they went mad before they had a chance to be human.

Still spooked by the flies, and the campfire, they kicked and reared spasmodically, landing closer each time to Rupert and Aloysius.  The flames had fallen, yet the humans could see the panic in the beast’s flanks as well as a flicker of shame from encountering their gaze.  That shame introduced an extra dose of savagery to how their bodies took over being horses.  Escaping flies by running into a circle protected by burning pesticide — the beasts encountered a look which at once scorched and froze them.  They tried to kick it away, that Januslike half-this-half-that shame, running circles around the flames.  The horse-men could see the frightened human faces, the revulsion in the eyes particularly from the men and this further pumped blood to their  addled heads. The beasts, then, just as suddenly bounded to the women, and, violently repulsed by themselves, stormed immediately after them as the women stood just short but on a far side of the fire.  The beasts caught the napes of their dresses in their huge teeth, man-eyes rolling with revenge and arousal, nostrils flared, seeming to know their savagery was an angry thing to look at, and so revenge their beastliness by stealing, kidnapping, evidently with an intent to later rape the human women –  they clomped off with Alex and Dora.

“Save us, you assholes!” Alex screamed, one arm flopping across one beast’s rear shanks. near its swinging tail.

But there was no saving them.  The beasts dragged them rapidly to the surf, shook, worried them with unshod hoofs bleeding, with hurried half-human malice.  The gray waves burst and foamed over the black rocks and a steamy half-moon lit nothing but the tossing white of dresses and teeth, scrambling blackened forms, whinnyings, screams, thuds, splashes in surf,  scavenging chase in and out of water, until quietly, ominously, Neb’s hired girlfriends went silent and they all could hear the beasts secret away — eerily dangling forms under gigantic, nodding necks.

“Let’s save them, now!”  Rupert cried.

“Would they save you?” Tiresius coughed out, “You will never catch those horses now without fighting over the women!  And they will surely kill the women if you approach!  They could very well eat them.”

“How do you know that?”

“I know these creatures. They spend their shamed lives hiding both from men and flies.  I found that if I whistle a human imitation of the noise the flies make, then reward them with sugar — privately — away from the mumblers –  they come running.  But no one will ever train them.  Also, I have seen mangled bodies which are not polite to describe.  They would love to join the human race.  Yet obscurely intuit they are not allowed.  They resent it.  And the animal in them is just like any human — like men when aroused, really.  None of my mumblers have gotten it yet, because I forbid them to go near the alcoves where they graze. Fortunately, the men and women they mangled are all involved in the drug trade.”

“Your telling us that we are going to let those monsters have the women?”  Rupert appraised him, scandalized by his blithe and fatalistic calm.

“The crime is committed.  It is not the sexuality of those animals which is truly corrupted, it’s the men who made them, and who keep then slaughter them for entertainment.  And I’ll tell you, if those beasts have not destroyed those women they will probably let them go, within a fortnight, but that will be after the inspection.”

‘You mean they may be spotted, with the horses?  By the helicopters sent by this Nebu-A-hole?”

“There’s a chance.”

“It’s a chance we’re going to have to take, Rupert.”  Aloysius reassured him.  They looked around and the mumblers were calming down.  Diogenes again sat Sphinxlike in his cabinet, unmoving and unmoved.   Tiresius needed lifting to his feet, and some steadying, his face having broken out in blisters on what was left of his unpocked skin.  Eventually Rupert and Aloysius sighed that night had come to an end, and they could do no more swimming, or talking, or fighting, for now.  They fell fast asleep on the black rock beach lulled to dreamless oblivion by the waves, fatigued now beyond fear, cool wind rustling their dry trousers.