Surprise number one was having three !@#$ Mongolian Shamans show up to share my fire, steal my !@#$ing hooch, and bring the dead with them. And surprise number two was being greeted by The Dragon, himself, as he was, so far as I knew, very much among the living, and !@#$ing working for GORGON.
Of course, being all drunk and maudlin, I started to blub a little bit, as soon as I realized what that !@#$ing meant. But, thankfully, he smacked me back into sense with a loving hand across the face.
And when you've had a cold, misty, and strong breeze slam across your face, it wakes you right the !@#$ up.
You were saying, lover? he says, looking into my eyes as the Shamans watch him in something approaching religious awe. For all their work with the dead, I don't think any of them have actually seen a !@#$ing ghost, before.
(They tend to raise them up internally, as they're easier to control, that way. More dangerous, also, but that's why it's a !@#$ scary job.)
"I didn't think... I mean..." I stammer, shaking off the effects of the kumis and the etheric slap: "Something was off. You weren't quite yourself."
You were right to be suspicious, he says: I wasn't myself for quite some time.
A few years ago, they came for me, he explains, looking at the fire: You must understand things. I was not doing well at the time, and there was no exit left for me. So when they offered me a way out...
"I would have..." I try to say, but he quickly puts a cold finger to my lips.
I lied to you, lover: he says, looking back at me and smiling in his own way: I was not under house arrest. I was dying. We stole the formula for what they gave you in Camp Rogers, before the World War, but key elements were missing. We had fewer successes, and of those successes only a few did not develop problems, later.
I was one of the luckier ones. My problems did not manifest until much later. But when your entire body decides that you have lived long enough, and need to shut down...
He stops smiling, puts his ghostly hand down on top of mine, and looks to the fire.
The last time I actually answered one of your letters I was little more than a sack of papery skin barely holding meat and bone together, my love. I was on life support. I could not move, I could not eat. But no matter how much of my body dissolved from the inside, every day, my brain was unaffected.
And they wanted my brain, my love. They promised me a new body, a new life. All they asked was that I trust them, and they would bring me back to life.
"So you went with GORGON."
I went with them, and they told me a part of their plan, and... and I agreed to it, he admits: They did not tell me that when they remade me, I would not survive.
"What do you mean?"
I mean, my beloved enemy, he says, leaning close to me: That the thing you had in your bed, and your confidence, and then hot on your tail for all the wrong reasons, was not me. It was their copy of me. Everyone who is Embraced dies during the procedure. Only a copy remains, and a bad one at that.
"Which is why I realized something was off," I say: "I just thought you were hiding a little more than usual."
Well, you were right, he smiles, running a finger down my chest: It was hiding a lot. Plans and plots, and a blueprint for this terrible time that you've returned to.
"So what happened then?" I ask, trying to put an arm around him and failing: "Heaven didn't want you and Hell was afraid you'd take over?"
Why do you think there's only two options? You should know better than that, lover. There are worlds of choice, out there. Heaven and Hell don't own the whole of the spirit world. They just have better advertising.
"Isn't that the !@#$ing truth?" I say, opening another bottle of kumis and taking a swig: "I'd been having some problems with their telemarketers, recently."
Yes, I saw. A very elegant solution, lover. It will soon bear good fruit.
"Or just produce another !@#$ing cluster!@#$ with my name on it. Hard to tell, right now."
There is that possibility as well.
"And I bet you can't tell me which it is, can you?"
He just smiles, and I take that as a 'yes.'
"So what did you do?"
I was confused and scared, after it had happened, he says, looking at the shamans: The Embrace was something new, you see. Something much more radical. The body they built around and within me was filled with very... intriguing structures. Strange things I'd never seen or encountered, before. Things that not even the Chandra Eye could see.
So I wandered their installation in West Papua, slowly regaining my memories and my self as I haunted them. I was there when you sent poor Goldenfist in to infiltrate them, but I didn't know why this was so significant. And I watched as you and your Agents tried to follow after, and witnessed the battle that happened, but I didn't know why I was so attracted to your soul.
But when the Black Star was trying to devour you, I finally realized who I was, and who you were, and that I had spent years hating you, and plotting against you, and trying to kill you, only to eventually learn that I loved you more than anything. And wasn't that just the strangest discovery?
In that moment I would have obliterated myself ten times over to save your life, my lover. So I stepped between the two of you and...
He pauses, maybe not really sure how to explain what happened next.
"You overloaded her?" I finally ask.
I do not think I could adequately explain what took place, next, he says, looking back at me: Or how it may have affected things. But I do know that, instead of your energy flowing directly into her, some of it flowed into me before it flowed into her.
And I know that I was able to maintain some kind of a hold on what went through, into her, as though I were holding onto a long rope made of your soul. So when the blast from that plowshare struck, and she let go of you, I was able to pull it back just before her hideous mouth snapped shut on it, and you.
And that is why you were still yourself, lover. And that is how I can be here, now, to haunt you.
"Why didn't you find me earlier?"
Oh, that, he sighs: Well, unfortunately, being a little more together than most ghosts did not enable me to simply appear by your side. I still have to take the bus, as it were. And thanks to your Indian friends, you were gone rather quickly.
And while I could generally know where you were, I did not know exactly where. And by the time I'd gotten close enough, well, off you went again. Another adventure. Another disaster.
So it has taken me just over a year to finally be where you are, here and now. And even then I had to hitch a ride with these other shades in order to finally be here, just in time.
"I'm sorry," I say: "I guess I didn't make this easy for you."
You never have. It's in your nature. Just as this sorry display of self pity and self destruction is in your nature. You really don't learn anything, do you?
"It's been said," I reply, and have another swig: "So are you going to haunt me for the rest of my life, then? Ride my monster !@#$ when I'm asleep like some kinky Chinese vampire ghost? Whisper sweet nothings and state secrets in my ear while I'm trying to save the !@#$ing world?"
Oh, you should be so lucky, you sorry gweilo dog, he says, standing up and looking down on me: No, lover. This is agony for me. To have you so close and yet so far away is worse than lying in that safe house, knowing that you'd come and rescue me even if I was nothing more than a brain in a tank, and still tell me you loved me.
It's pathetic, and sad, and so far beneath my sense of dignity...
He stops talking, then, hitches a breath, turns around and shakes his shoulders. It takes me a minute to realize that he's doing something I never thought he was even humanly capable of.
The Dragon is !@#$ing crying in front of me.
I have come to tell you these things, lover, because you need to know them, he says, not turning around: And I have come to tell you, to your face, that I loved you. And I still do. But this is not something we can have, anymore. This is a cruel and cosmic joke, worthy of the most sadistic of torturers.
I couldn't be more agonized in Feng Tu, lover. This is Hell in every sense of the word-
"Will you just shut the !@#$ up for a minute?" I ask him.
"What, did you forget how to speak English while you were talking pure Pity Me? Shut the !@#$ up for a minute, (REDACTED). I can't hear myself think over all that whining."
He turns around like he was going to try and kill me, his eyes literally blazing red with anger. You dare?
"Yeah, well, it's !@#$ing going around, Dragon. Everyone I've talked to tonight has been telling me to quit moping and crying and get my !@#$ together. Everyone's told me that there's an army for me to command and a world to save and shoes to shine and blah blah !@#$ing blah. I can't even have a minute to weep, apparently.
"So if I don't get to drink myself sober, cry myself back to usefulness, and walk out of this desert with all my doubt and self-pity properly exorcized, the way this whole thing is !@#$ing supposed to work, then you don't get to burden me with all your regrets and can't-haves.
"So no, Dragon, I don't want to hear about how you're so close and yet so far away. And I sure as !@#$ don't to hear about how you can't !@#$ing quit me, either. This isn't some stupid doomed gay romance. This is me putting myself back together so I can go save the !@#$ing world, again. By my !@#$ing self if I have to.
"And while I do appreciate that you saved my life, back in West Papua, and that you came after to find me for a whole !@#$ year, this is not the time or the place to drop your !@#$ on me. I got enough drama of my own, right now."
For a second, I think he's going to try and kill me. But he doesn't. He stands there, swaying like a tree that's just been chopped down but hasn't fallen, yet, and then slowly nods.
I understand. Please forgive me. It's just been... so hard. So long.
"I know," I say: "But you know what? We're here, now. And we're together. And maybe we can do something about it that doesn't involve a bunch of bittersweet bull!@#$ that's going to make me want to listen to The !@#$ing Cure all night long."
What do you mean?
"I mean, you're connected to me, and I'm connected to you," I say, putting the bottle of nasty, radioactive !@#$ down: "And you followed me around the world for love. And I've got something in my skull that lets me do crazy-!@#$ things and get away with them. Don't you think we can make something happen, here?"
He just looks at me, and I smile and stand up without leaving my seat.
I never knew I could do it before, but I guess it should have been !@#$ing obvious. After all, how much of what I can hear and see is something I'm actually seeing, and just something that my brain's reaching out to take hold of?
And if I can do that, then why can't I reach out so far that I can walk outside myself?
We could say a million things about that, or anything else, but we don't bother. I take his head in my hands and kiss him. He wraps his arms around me and kisses me. Time goes sideways for a second there, and before I'm aware we're both naked as the day we were born, strong and hard and unashamed, and standing in the fire I made to light my way back to who I am, again.
And then I'm in him, and he's in me, and there is no him or me -- only us. We two ghosts, making love in a fire in the desert while my body sleeps and dreams and heals.
Breaking cracks in the spirit world as we !@#$ for the first time, ever, with all the power that two supermen can bring to bear on each other.
And love. Finally, at long last, love.
* * *
I'm pretty sure I sleep the whole day, after that. When I come to I'm back in my body, by the remnants of the fire. But something is wrong.
For one thing, the fire's been dead a lot longer than a day. For another, the three shamen are also dead, and have been there for so long they've mummified: parchment skin stretched across their skulls, red-stained teeth making surreal death-smiles in contrast to their moldering, yellow hats.
The kumis bottles are dry and broken glass that smell of dust and uranium. The moon is cracked like an egg. And the sky is filled with strange lights that promise love, happiness, and consumer products I've never !@#$ing heard of.
"Dragon?" I ask, but it's useless. He's not there, anymore. I can't feel him, and for a second I almost panic, wondering if I've been gone, again, and for how !@#$ long this time.
"Dragon?" a voice asks, strangely familiar: "No one's ever called me that, before. I kind of like it."
I turn and reach for a gun I don't have, but before I can draw what isn't there, and get caught up in that weird brain!@#$ moment between one big realization and another, I see who's talking to me, and then I remember what day it is.
Jim Morrison died, today, 41 years ago. Every year, when I eventually remember, I try to honor him, in my own way. And, as usual, I !@#$ing forgot all about it, this year.
Looks like he didn't, though.
"Well, I was wondering when you were going to show up," the Lizard King says to me, walking close to the fossilized remnants of my fire and offering me what looks like a yellow-tinted champagne flute full of bubbling, dark froth.
"Jim?" I ask, taking a glass and wondering what the !@#$'s happened to my clothes, and what the !@#$ he's wearing.
(And what the !@#$ he just handed me.)
"Sometimes, yes," he says, tinging his glass against mine: "Drink up, my friend. We have some things to do, today, and they're best done with your mind not quite on straight."
"The music's almost over, man," he winks: "Time to turn out the lights."
And that, son, was surprise number !@#$ing three.
And that, son, was surprise number !@#$ing three.
(SPYGOD is listening to Indian Summer (The Doors) and having hot love and strange dust)