Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song
by Ernest Hogan
[Continued from Part 2]
"You're crazy, Pablo! You got talent, but you're more a criminal than an artist!" echoed back from an argument I had with the rest of the Guerrilla Muralists at our trial.
Rainbow-filled skies over effervescent seas—me shedding my own blood so I could have something to paint with at age eight—the joy I felt the first time I was weightless, and decided that gravity was the enemy of true freedom, and decided to splash my paint, and created splatterpainting—a war of radioactive cloud-beings that goes on for millennia across billions of light-years—cartoons I'd draw on my clothes when I got bored—invisible beasts that flex gravity at will and eat black holes!
She smiled. Then moaned with delight.
And I received input from her mind—she was strange, like the humanoids who rode see-through ships to the end of time to observe the aesthetic qualities of the heat death of the universe—other people's experiences and thoughts were what she lived for. She rarely ate, or moved—was more interested in reading more and more minds than the university's experiments—she wasted away. They thought she would die.
Then she found out about the Sirens, and said some of her few words:
"Take me to them!"
Soon I could see her clearly through my own eyes, and see me through her eyes, and watch the song of the Sirens with no eyes at all.
She said a few more words. "Beautiful. I love it!"
Crack! Something snapped. The deadly intensity in those big, brown eyes clicked off. She dropped on top of me.
The orderlies grabbed her and after a few skilled, strategic feels, one said, "She's dead."
I laughed. A lovely demonic laugh that took my entire aching body and all my strength. It hurt like hell and was worth it. They all, even Calvino, looked into my crazed eyes.
"Idiots! Fools! Assholes! She's..." I screamed.
"Are you all right?"
"How do you feel?" some of them asked. The rest just looked scared and perplexed.
"Shut up!" I said. "There's so much... I can't... Let me out of this!"
"No!" Calvino said. You have several broken bones and internal injuries!"
It hurt like a bitch, but I didn't care, gritted my teeth, and slid myself off the bunk. They tried to stop me, but a few throat-rupturing banshee-screams kept them at bay. The floor hit me like a macrocosm of pain. Damn gravity—even the centrifugal force, fake kind!
After a while they watched me with awe and dread as if I was a rotting corpse that suddenly sprang back to life. Luckily, my right arm was working in a cast, but I could move it at the shoulder, where it counts. I reached under my gown and tore off the hospital diaper.
I needed something to paint with. Something that would smear and leave a mark. It had been years since I'd painted with my own shit. It'd have to do.
And it did nicely.
Before they shot a sedative into my veins, I managed to smear one vision onto the floor.
When I woke up, I was strapped down, re-tubed and wired, watching that vision in caca come to focus before my face.
Calvino was holding it. He'd had that section of floor torn out and sealed in acrylic. My work mummified for posterity.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Shit on laminated metal," I smartassed.
"No," he said, being unusually patient. "The subject matter. What is it?"
"It looks like some kind of soft, lovely tree that is rooted to the ground while it grows, but breaks free and flies around when it's full-grown."
"Where did it come from?"
"The Sirens. They made me see it. Made me be it."
"Was that all?"
"Hell no! It was a constant flow of images, all at once and all jumbled together. I could see, hear, feel, and taste it all. I wanted to paint it. I could spend my entire life on it!"
"Notice anything strange about it?"
"Doc, it was all strange!"
"Surely your artist's eyes can see it. Mr. Cortez, you always have been a mystery to me, almost as if you were from another planet, but I did learn to recognize your style."
I was stunned. "Yeah. The style! It's different! Not my usual high-power scribble, it looks..."
"More detailed, and more alien."
"But I couldn't help it, it just happened..."
"Like Willa's death," a nurse said, cool as a sip of liquid nitrogen.
"She's not dead," I said.
"All vital functions stopped. No brain activity," Calvino said, bringing those fuzzy gray eyebrows together. "She's dead."
"She's alive," I insisted. "Maybe not in that cute body, but I can still feel the presence of that insatiable suction-pump of a mind."
Calvino smiled, with some effort. "I didn't suspect you of having any religious beliefs, Mr. Cortez."
"Damn right I don't," I snapped. "Even the Aztec gods I'm always babbling about are basically a joke to me—I like the way it bothers the hell out of the believers... I guess the only thing I really believe in is myself."
"And that Willa Shembe is alive," he shot at me.
"I can feel her. She's the source of the images that still parade through the back of my mind. She went through me to get them. Her mindtracks are permanently etched into my nervous system. I'm always going to receive her signals.
"...She had this fantasy that she never told anybody. She probably didn't even want me to know about it, but to get to the Sirens she gave me a grand tour of her mind. She wanted to be invisible and fly through the entire universe, faster than the speed of light, and see and be it all. And that's what she's doing.
"...I couldn't have done it... I'm an egomaniac. I'm too much in love with being the great Pablo Cortez to ever let go the way she did. I could never give myself totally. I'm hanging on too tight."
They all just looked confused.
"In the name of Tlazolteotl, give me something to paint—or at least draw—with! These images are driving me crazy! If you don't let me paint, my skull will swell up, pop, and leave you covered with a sticky-slimy masterpiece! These images will open up the cosmos! Transform our way of life!"
"You're too weak," Calvino said, real sincere.
"Bullshit!" I screamed. "I could paint with the bloody stumps right after my arms and legs were hacked off! The pain is nothing compared to my need! If I were decapitated, I could roll my head around and leave a blood-trail that the world will cherish!"
They brought me a pad and a marker. Nothing like a little hyperbole to get your point across.
The scientists were fascinated. They'd see things I didn't notice. Soon they were anxiously waiting for my next piece. As soon as I could move around, they let me paint, sloshing colors on whatever I could for a canvas. Some high-decibel hyperbole got me my zero-G studio at the center of Ithaca Base.
Grumblings of prosecuting me for the murder of Willa Shembe eventually petered out.
And the work came effortlessly, rapidly, ecstatically—I'd revel in it for hours, and hate myself for not being able to keep up with it, for getting tired, and needing sleep. I'd beg Calvino for drugs so I could work for weeks at a time (he refused, of course—hyperbole won't get you everything).
I'm now the most important artist of the Solar System. Scientists analyze my work for clues about the nature of other worlds. The art world hails me as the new master. Calvino hung that first shit-smear painting in his office. The Space Culture Project began making policy changes—the murals on future space colonies and starships will show my influence.
And Willa—a Siren in her own right, perhaps my most important Siren—keeps showing up through it all. Her face. Her body. Dancing through the universe. Dancing with the universe. Dancing the universe. Showing everybody that I'm not the only one responsible for all this great art. It embarrasses me—but I must acknowledge that Willa and the Sirens are my collaborators. I'd like to ignore it all and hog all the glory for myself, but she keeps showing up in the patterns of the flying paint.
In a way I enjoy painting her, as much as the rest. She's so beautiful. Her classic Zulu features. Her bold, quiet, unending curiosity. The way she sacrificed herself, willingly and without hesitation, when others simply were torn apart and I hung onto my ego with a death-grip. She alone had the courage to truly hear the song of the Sirens, and join them in their cosmic dance.
Maybe she was the only human being I could love more than I love myself. Maybe...
I'll never know. I'll never be able to touch her. I can only paint her.
And the cosmos she's rapturously exploring.
[Continue to Story #12]
"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.
"Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song" is one of 26 stories included in anthology Alien Contact, edited by Marty Halpern and forthcoming from Night Shade Books in November. For more information on this anthology, start here.
Ernest Hogan (@NestoHogan) is a recombocultural Chicano mutant, known for committing outrageous acts of science fiction, cartooning, and other questionable pursuits. He can't help but be controversial. However, any resemblance between Ernest and protagonist Pablo Cortez is purely coincidental. "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song" formed the basis of Ernest's novel Cortez on Jupiter, one of the Ben Bova's Discoveries series from Tor Books. Though currently out of print, Cortez on Jupiter will soon be released by the author as an ebook. Ernest's other novels are High Aztech and Smoking Mirror Blues.