Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song
by Ernest Hogan
[Continued from Part 1]
But I did need her to bring me out of it. Willa Shembe, the pride of the scientific community of Zululand. A girl used to experiencing the universe through other peoples' minds.
She keeps showing up in the images, in the paint. Unexpectedly. Automatically.
Just like the first time she showed up in my life. When I was still lost in the influence of the Sirens. After they locked me into the exoskeleton, into the dirgiscaphe, and lowered me by remote control down into evil, heavy gravity and big, beautiful stormclouds out of Turner's wetdreams, or Chalchiuhtlicue's most passionate rituals of whirlpools, violence, growth, and young love.
"Do you feel anything yet?" Dr. Calvino buzzed into my earphone on that day.
"If only those bastards could go through this," I said into the throatmike. "They should all come here and see this planet up close before they call me undisciplined!"
"What are you talking about?" The doc never understood me.
"This sight! Jupiter up close! Wagstaff and the rest of those tight-assed idiots at the Space Culture Project should see this. That is what space art should be about. This energy! This power! This freedom! This is what I had in mind when I created splatterpainting."
"What about the Sirens? Are you feeling any effects?"
"In my mind? No. This gravity is a bitch, though. If only I could see these clouds while weightless! If only I could come here and paint! Can't they build one of these exoskeletons with more freedom of movement?"
"The one you have on is the state of the art. The instruments show a high concentration of Sirens in the clouds around you. Do you feel anything yet?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it. The gravity. It's getting hard to move, breathe..."
"Should we abort?"
"No! I'm feeling better now. Lighter. The gravity seems to be going away. I almost feel weightless. It's really great! Feels like I could peel this exoskeleton right off..."
"I'm not stupid, Calvino! This is probably an illusion, like what happened to the others. I do plan on surviving this!"
"Any change in sensations?"
"It's like one long rush. Ecstasy—like I'm weightless, painting away like crazy, making a big, juicy mess. I'm getting an erection. The exoskeleton seems to be holding me down."
Then I got a strong rotten-eggs whiff of methane. Could the dirgiscaphe be leaking? I was about to say something, but couldn't move—first I was paralyzed, every muscle locked tight, then it all turned to mush—flesh, bones, exoskeleton, dirgiscaphe, Jupiter, space...
"Cortez, are you all right?" said Calvino.
I was getting softer—like a Salvador Dalí watch. Everything was getting softer. Putty. Liquid. Gas. Like those colorful, flowing clouds that were all around.
"Cortez, are you there?"
I was a twisting, bubbling cloud—dancing among the gorgeous clouds of Jupiter. Among microscopic creatures I couldn't see, but could feel—like spirits, like ghosts.
I felt that I was dissolving. Being absorbed. I panicked.
Then they had me. Me. Who has never given in to anybody!
I passed from the realm of Xiuhtecuhtli—the supreme being within space and time, the power of life and fire, the center of all things and spindle of the universe—to Omeyocan, realm of Ometecuhtli, the male/female supreme being, the dual lord, source of all existence, the essential unity in difference. Spacetime was flushed down the toilet—a cute cartoon Einstein offered himself as a blood sacrifice.
Somewhere I was aware of the dirgiscaphe's engines burning and the Gs building up so that even the exoskeleton couldn't save me from harm. Also: I was being born—I was alive and well millions of years ago on Mars—I was back in Hightown having an argument with Wagstaff of the Space Culture Project.
"You should really be more cooperative, Mr. Cortez," he said from inside his tight, crisp facade, more acrylic than flesh.
"Where have I heard that before?" I said, going into a rant. "What you want isn't art. It's municipal garbage, state-sponsored bullshit, committee-conceived caca!"
I heard the big beat of whales and dolphins in perfect sync with songs of sentient stars and the Sirens, that toy robots and nude bettyboopoids joyously danced to in endless halls that were covered with animated hieroglyphs that joined in the Futuro-Afro-PreColumbian-TransSpacetime-Zen-Quantum Musical Comedy!
"The space hieroglyphics you started out with were interesting, but everything you've done since has become more and more unacceptable. Too messy. Dripping all over the place..."
"All I did was what you asked me to do—come into this new environment and create a new art for it. It developed into splatterpainting, not the middle-class kitsch you lust after!"
I was thirteen years old and enticing an eleven-year-old girl into letting me pop her cherry in sacrifice to Tlazolteotl—Aztec goddess of filth and depravity—past midnight in an empty high school campus on a hot, Southern California night! I saw the programmed dreams of hibernating seeds traveling near the speed of light through gulfs of interstellar space! I shot bold, colorful graffiti on the walls of gravity-less artificial worlds, asteroids, moons, planets to the timeless tune of a symphony of countless Big Bangs!
"I'm afraid we can't waste money on you any longer. We'll have to send you back to Earth!"
"No! You don't understand me, and I'm human—from your world! How do you expect to face the rest of the universe if you can't deal with me?"
But I showed them. I volunteered for the Odysseus Project. They didn't care what kind of pictures I painted, just that I realized that everybody who contacted the Sirens so far had died.
But I didn't die. I survived, because I'm mad enough to see it all without going mad. Because my imagination is powerful enough to face what most people find unthinkable.
I wallowed in it, dreamed of painting eye-frying pictures of it that would prove my genius to everyone—later, when it was over—but it didn't end. Just went on and on. Image after goddam image. I was totally delighted. Flow an endless stream of bizarre imagery before my eyes and I'm in paradise. It was like—no, better than that weightless fuck with a sculptress who was disgusted when I got cum all over her work—like when I first discovered the Aztecs as a wee tot, delighted that these bloodthirsty, cannibalistic, colorful monsters were mine, not the property of the light-skinned aliens from "back East"—they were my heritage, it was my blood that stained those pyramids, my art that survived the campaign of another Cortez centuries ago, so powerful that it took Western art until the Twentieth Century to catch up—like all this was something I dreamed up and was damn proud to have such a fantastic imagination!
Sure, I was vaguely aware that just outside Jupiter's magnetosphere, in the hospital section of Ithaca Base, my body was lying there with tubes and wires stuck into it, with a concussion, a ruptured spleen, and assorted broken bones. But somehow it didn't seem important. Sure, it was Pablo Cortez, but I was so many other places. My body and its suffering were just part of the Sirens' show: Like pentasexual orgies in sparkling caverns, or sonic wars in oceans that flowed through endless, gigantic tubes, or electronic epic chants of a silicon-crystal disc-jockey!
"He may not have survived after all," Calvino said.
I heard that, in the distance—beyond the parade of idols hewn out of the hearts of neutron stars, hungrily marching through the cosmos to galaxies where entire civilizations were offered as sacrifices, and herds of armored, winged worms devoured planets and shit art and technology!
Then, like the soft sound of a swishing skirt, the trademark of the umkhovu, the living dead—she trickled into my mind that the Sirens had scattered all over the universe. Willa Shembe, shy and curious, bored with all the human minds she had plugged into, eager to wrap her telepathic tendrils around something different, something alien—the Sirens.
I was jolted. It was being outside of space and time with Ometecuhtli—then suddenly feeling the presence of Nkulunkulu, the Zulus' maker of all things. I was being manipulated by an unseen sangoma, a Zulu diviner with cattle gall bladder crown and necklace of herbs—no, rather an abathakathi, an evil wizard whose most important product is misery, killing, illness, and drought—making a diabolical potion out of pieces of a human body—me! I felt a phantom kiss where she bit off the tip of my tongue, and left me animal-eyed, and forever spooked—her umkhovu, a slave to her magic, locked in her spell.
What was even more shocking was that I didn't know shit about the Zulus, their mythology, or superstitions—like all the rest of the Sirens' song, it just flooded my skull, only more intense—the taste of roast chicken and uputhu drowned out that of hot, greasy tacos and the bitter blood of long crunchy caterpillars in my mouth! It was a presence closer to my body than my mind. None of the Sirens' spacetime short-circuitry. This was here, now. There, then. Before I came out of the Sirens' spell, lying there with a broken body stuck with tubes and wires with a beautiful Zulu telepath sucking my blown-out mind.
She relished it. Devoured greedily.
My memories. The Sirens' maelstrom of imagery. My fantasies. Alien realities.
[Continue to Part 3]
"Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song" is © 1989 by Ernest Hogan and is reprinted here by permission of the author. The story was originally published in Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, Issue 4, Summer 1989, and will be included in anthology Alien Contact, edited by Marty Halpern and forthcoming from Night Shade Books in November.