Dispatches from Interzone
by Rudy Rucker
[These unpublished William Burroughs letters were written to Allen Ginsberg and to Jack Kerouac. The letters date from December 25, 1954 to January 3, 1955. The first three are typed, and the fourth is hand-written. These letters follow upon the Burroughs letters printed under the title "Tangier Routines" in issue #5 of this journal.]
To Allen Ginsberg, Letter B
Tanger, December 25, 1954
No sooner have I seal up my Startling Holiday Letter when a fresh wig fall off Santa’s sleigh. And never mind any pawky spoon-counting official take on what is reality. Fuck that sound. My beat is Interzone, where any dream is subject to shlup into fact.
So, awright, Turing’s out the door, I close my first epistle, and five minutes later I hear a lurker on my threshold. I assume it’s absentminded Prof T, who’s doubtless forgot an electromagnetic enema bag. I fling my door wide.
Of course it’s a cop, his soul-sucking venality like a map of London on his waxy young phiz. Jonathan Hopper, pleased to meet, no time to natter just yet, he sniff around my trap, help himself to cognac, flop into my rocker. His demeanor a mix of Teddy boy and degenerate hipster. Flat affect, dull eyes. His every sentence like a parody of itself.
“Our man’s flown, what? Brilliant. My teep’s a bit out of synch, I’ll warrant. You know the score, Bill. There’s a latency in orgone telepathy. By the way, our agents just nabbed Turing’s boy Driss. The Embassy is dead set on rounding up all the skuggers.” He flash me an arch look.
I stand over him, in a quandary whether to pull my shiv or bare my crank. Hopper roll back his eyes, looking into himself. His face grows soft, his head pulsates. He’s a skugger too, one understands.
“Chief Soames will be savage with me for letting Turing slip,” he says, laying a soft hand on mine. “What can I give the old man? Trust me, Bill. We two want Turing on the loose.” I feel a telepathic rush of sympathy.
“Turing’s headed for the ferry now,” I say. “He’ll ship out for the States tomorrow.”
“Avaunt!” say Hopper in a low, ironic tone. He stride to the open window and snaps his arm like a whip. His hand—ah, Interzone—his hand flies off the end of his forearm like a pound of meat. Hand land in street, and scurries downhill towards harbor, very mincing and twinkly on its fingertips, a cunning little thing.
I am agog. I flash on a half-remembered film about a bum pianist who buy a dead goon’s huge mitts to graft on. The night before the big operation, the hands crawl into his bed and strangle him. Close-up of his icon face, ecstatic in asphyxiation.
“I’ve instructed my hand to enlist a companion for Alan along the way,” says Hopper, bringing me back into his narrative. “My little Twinklefingers will find just the right sort. Soames will be mollified if he hears I’ve put a tail on our man.” Hopper’s grin is several inches too wide and very wet. A tiny baby-sized hand wriggles pink on his stump. “Do make a happy face, Bill. I’ve half a mind to invite you to consult for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cushy work indeed. But, I say, you look all in.”
And then Hopper make with an oversized box of British bonbons—licorice drops, raspberry creams, ginger fondant, tamarind nougat, clove tapioca and more. In my new state, sugar is a stim I highly crave. We jabber head to head, mixing words and teep, pastel sheets of saliva on our chins.
Backstory. A couple of days ago, Hopper is patrol the piss-fume alleys in search of missing agent Pratt, the first subject whom Turing have turn into a skugger. Pratt is on a zombie stomp, making skuggers in the Casbah.
Hopper manage to eye-witness some conversions and his boss Chief Soames being rounding up all the skuggers he can. And then Hopper himself get slimed by one of the captives.
“Imagine the violence my inner dialectic,” Hopper tells me, very intense as he use a puddled finger to mop up the last crumbs of our indescribably toothsome English candy. “As a government agent, I want to exploit Turing like a slave. But as a skugger, I want him to spread his condition to your homeland. So how do I resolve my conflict? I make a bid for fuller communication.”
Aboard the surging ferry to Gibraltar, Hopper’s disembodied hand lurks beneath Turing’s seat. Twinklefingers. Barely still in range of our teep.
Our conversation trails off, and I type this dispatch. He watch me, blank, into his insect-like sugar rush, reflexively grinding his teeth. Sexy muscles in he tough-customer jaws. But something blank and brutal in his face.
We’re due to conjugate, I ween. He need my skugger enzymes special to tone him up.
To Jack Kerouac
Tangiers, December 26, 1954
Biggest news is I’ve turned shapeshifter. I can mold my flesh like a cuttlefish do. And I’m a telepath, in my own small way. The teep signals are vibrations in the aether, sounds you feel but don’t hear. They’ve always been around, but I didn’t notice them before.
As a boy, I thought I saw with my mouth. I remember distinctly my brother telling me no, with the eyes, and I closed my eyes and found out it was true and my theory was wrong—or perhaps a bit previous. Teeping is like seeing with my mouth. I tongue my nabor’s thoughts so toothsome. My range isn’t much more than ten feet, so not to worry, I can’t see you humping your pack. Hump it towards Interzone, baby. This scene is like, snap, wow.
And, oh yeah, I’ve kicked junk for sweets. Candied fruit fixes me special. Insect kicks.
I am become this weird mutant on account of my contact with Turing, who turned into a giant slug along the lines of the Venusian Happy Cloak so perspicaciously described in that transcendent ur-text for our modern times—I speak of Henry Kuttner’s 1947 science-fiction novel Fury, which I am by way of finding in the hospital commons room the last time I kick.
“More than one technician had been wrecked by pleasure-addiction; such men were usually capable—when they were sober. But it was a woman Blaze found, finally, and she was capable only when alive. She lived when she was wearing the Happy Cloak. She wouldn´t live long; Happy Cloak addicts lasted about two years, on the average. The thing was a biological adaptation of an organism found in the Venusian seas. It had been illegally developed after its potentialities were first realized. In its native state it got its prey by touching it. After the initial neuro-contact had been established, the prey was quite satisfied to be ingested. A Happy Cloak was a beautiful garment, a living white like the nacre of a pearl, shivering softly with rippling lights, stirring with a terrible, ecstatic movement of its own as the lethal symbiosis was established. It was beautiful as the woman technician wore it, as she moved about the bright, quiet room in a tranced concentration upon the task that would pay her enough to insure her death within two years. She was very capable. She knew endocrinology. When she had finished…the woman, swimming in anticipated ecstasy, managed to touch a summoning signal-button. Then she lay down quietly on the floor, the shining pearly Happy Cloak caressing her. Her tranced eyes looked up, flat and empty as mirrors.”
So Turing have create what he call a skug, very like a Venusian Happy Cloak, and it crawl on him and make him a skugger. Then Turing crawl on me and I’m a skugger too, half Bill Burroughs, half alien jellyfish, satisfied to be ingested.
Wild new career opportunities opening up. I am visited by a British secret agent man, Jonathan Hopper, and he a skugger too. We conjugated last night—but I don’t wanna drag this in the gutter. Today, with our inner skugs urging us on, Hopper offers me a British passport and a bale of kale if I help him marshal a cadre of sixty-four street-skuggers into a living teep antenna to be housed in the basement of the British Embassy.
The skugs want to get our teep signals functioning for distances far in excess of ten feet. The the official reason for our projected skugger hive-mind antenna will be to track the doings of Professor Turing four thousand miles away. One supposes that an ahem non-linear amplification is called for.
Last night Turing went to Gibraltar to catch a ship bound for the Land of the Free. Turing and I have this creepy plan that the Prof visit my parents in Palm Beach, having shapeshifted to look exactly like yours truly, and also he carrying my passport. So, Jack, if you meet me, it not me you meet.
A tangled tale, getting loopier by the hour. I am intrigued by the new plan. Hopper shares—or feigns to share—my feelings about the primacy of orgone energy. The orgasm is, I maintain, a flashbulb split-second reveal of the hieroglyphs on our shithouse wall. I do in fact have certain ideas about how to achieve the exponential orgone amplification requisite for the intercontinental detection of teep. It’s gratifying to think that this Hopper’s outfit actually wants my help. It’s like my diffuse but wide-ranging researches are not in vain.
I just hope no local Holy Man get hold of our skugger antenna to blanket the Earth with non-stop Malignant Telepathic Broadcast. If that come down, tell the voices in your head you’re a friend of Bill’s.
Off for a festive high tea at the British Embassy now to meet Hopper’s boss. We’ll feast on clotted cream and gooseberry fool. I’m all a-quiver. Wish me luck.
To Allen Ginsberg
Tangier, January 1 - 2, 1955
I’m sitting up late, writing you and metabolizing myself some endogenous opioids. Scoop bumpers from the wassail bowl and settle by my hearth. Honeyed figs, my poppet?
Tangier is alive with skuggers, that is, with biocomputationally enhanced shapeshifters possessing mild short-range telepathic powers. My merge-partner Turing have skip town as planned, and is almost to Miami now. But his less than punctilious protocols have create hundreds of fellahin skuggers in the Casbah, with the hit-count rolling up like Chicago election-night results. You ever read The Plague by Camus—where the jaded Algerian croaker is alla time palpating buboes?
Not that we skuggers are in any sense diseased. It’s only that I’ve welcomed a new symbiote into my system. It’s like joining the Communist Party, or coming out queer, or buying dope, or writing a poem, isn’t it? We’re everywhere, baby. Skugs in the rugs.
Goaded by a limey secret agent name of Chief Soames, the Tangier cops have gone apeshit, busting every skugger they can find, and walling them up in the British Embassy basement. It’s not so easy to capture and keep a skugger as, at any given time, they may appear to be ordinary citizens, also the skuggers are subject to ooze out through any hole larger than a fingertip. But Soames is paying top rates to informers, and he have leak-proofed his gaol real good. As of today, we have sixty-four subjects in our tank.
I might add that Soames’s chief dick Jonathan Hopper is a skugger himself, just like me. Jonathan and I don’t share our secret with the others. We have a gentleman’s agreement. We want the skugs to succeed.
Hopper’s boss, Chief Soames, looks me over at a tea-party and then, after two days of paper-shuffle, he agree to ignore my extensive criminal record—and put me the payroll of the Queen of England’s Brain Police. It’s hard to fathom this sudden change in my circumstances.
My remit? It’s a plan that Hopper and I have cook up with our skugs. I’ll use my deep familiarity with the Reichian theory of the orgone to meld the captive skuggers into a hive-mind capable of long-range telepathy.
Soames has agreed it’s better to track Turing’s progress rather than trying to arrest and repatriate him. He rather likes my remote teep plan. As a heavy drinker, often disoriented, he has a natural affinity for the woo-woo. “We’ll get some use from these blighters in the basement,” he says, smacking his lips. “We’ll put the fear of God in that sod Turing.”
Every day when I report for work at the Embassy, I remove my clothing, don a regimental-stripe necktie and go downstairs. The captive skuggers are a rum lot: cute boys, a few women, kids and geezers, all of them nude. “Booo-rows,” they yell on my first day, several of them knowing me from the street. Turing’s boy Driss is among them.
“Where is al’An?” Driss asks me—he’s talking about Turing.
“Gone to America,” I tell him. “You can help me look for him.”
“You take me there, Boo-rows?”
“Perhaps. Have you seen Kiki?”
“He go to his mother in Fez. I your boy now?” Driss wraps a rubbery arm around my waist.
I introduce myself all around. My necktie, pale skin and enormous penis set me apart. Do remember I’m a shapeshifter. With sufficiently obsessive focus, I can be the biggest dick in the room. Naturally I push this too far, and by the end of the first day I am a bobble-head atop a pair of tiny frog legs holding up a Lincoln Log. Driss collapse laughing.
The second day, Driss and the fellahs tell me they’re edgy at being in police custody. Only a few of them speak English or Spanish, but our short-range teep is working. The skuggers don’t wanna play ball. So I get the Embassy stooges to haul down a fifty-pound bag of refined white sugar. Everyone in the pit start feeling friendly.
The third day I double the sugar ration, and slime out some tentacles from my fingertips, plugging every navel in the room. Puppetmaster Bill. “Let’s all get soft,” I propose, teeping sexy images of mollusk reproduction. I chant whatever gone strophes come to mind, also feeding the skuggers’ real-time reactions into the mix. Feebdack feedback. The Arabs are easy-going people, if you give them a chance.
On the fourth day, even more sugar, also a carboy of olive oil. Everyone feeling festive—we shining and sticky with the sweet slick. I push my face against Driss’s so our heads merge. Plup! Feel real wiggy. I use my squiddy arms to gather ye rosebuds. And then we’re a starfish with a shared yubbaflop head on the Embassy basement floor, like the center of a wagon wheel.
I grow out a feeler with a lobster-eye to admire what we done. Our group face look like a gangland hit on President Eisenhower, a bald baby with slit-mouth scars and eye-puckers like bullet holes. Hopper and his boss upstairs are abreast of our session, they very pleased.
On day five, I engage three footmen to haul in hods of wobbly British pastries, barrows of dates, heaped trays of kumquats. The skugger fellahs are increasingly glad to see me. Great cheers. “Booo-rows! Booo-rows! Booo-rows!”
Driss and I plup our heads together, the rest of the gang piles on. We make a parabolic monster face, a dish-shaped teep antenna pointing towards the floor. We vibe our mind-rays through the watery gut of Ma Earth. You wave, we wave. Hopper is run a droopy tentacle down the basement stairs into my spine.
And then—lo! We pick up on Turing in Florida.
For a minute there, I can see through T’s eyes, he saying good-bye to this beefcake Vassar he’s been romancing. He dither around and then he catch a cab. The scene is rainy, seedy, louche. The cab ram into some mooch—and just then one of the fellahin boys pull out his head and start ululating the Call to Prayer. That time of day. Our trans-Atlantic confab break up.
“It’s the process, not the result,” feller says, fingerpainting the wall with his own shit.
It’s a gas to shake my arms like wriggly dough, a rush to merge tissues with my new pals, wunnerful to host psychic vibrations in my head. I can even pick up a couple or three broadcasts. Radio Tanger with the Maghreb News. We’re riding history’s dragon.
The sun rises, the stucco city glows with inner light. I’ve been up all night. Now I’ll report to the Embassy and coax my skuggers into a teep star again. I’m on tenterhooks to see Turing at my parents’ home. My son Billy living there too, you may recall. I wish I could be a better father.
To Jack Kerouac
Tangiers, January 3, 1954
So fuck this sound. I’m coming home. Scribbling on the Tanger ferry dock right now.
I’ve been tied in with some Embassy officials here, and it turned sour. The upside is the Top Pig have write me a British passport as a parting gift. I’m quite mobile, being off junk.
My stoolie job was to telepathically spy on Professor Alan Turing, who’s made it back to Palm Beach. Yesterday he go to my parents house and show his ass to the extent that Mother have terminate my monthly stipend forever. And he raising a ghoulish notion of resurrecting Joan. My wrath knows no bounds.
I dropped a dime on Turing, that is, I go over the head of my low-level Embassy contact and tell Chief Soames, the head spy, that Turing is turn psycho killer and Soames need to sic the Palm Beach cops on the man right away. The call, of course, cost considerable time.
Meanwhile our teep fade out—our routine is very ramshackle. My skugger crew broke for their daily feast, and I hung there with them, mainlining the sweetmeats. And then we all writhing around together like a net of eels. We singing songs too, making our floppy, baggy body-parts into skirly flutes and flubby drums. Around sunset, Chief Soames chief come down and tell us that by the time the Palm Beach cops got to my parents’ house, Turing was gone.
I want to go right back to more spying then, but my skuggers are balky, also very jittery and disorganized from the sugar rush, also some of the boys are metabolizing themselves some endocannabinoids.
This same boy Driss starts petitioning me. He remind me he want to come to America with me. I temporize. He say if the skuggers help me one more time, I should at least open a path so they can ooze out and slime free on the streets once more. I agree to that. The skuggers and I celebrate our accord for like maybe hours. I’m getting into a North African sense of time.
Finally around 3 am we restart the teep—which involves physically merging my head with Driss’s head and the heads of these sixty-three other street-Arabs in the Embassy basement with us. Right away we hitting it good. It’s mid-evening in Florida, and I home in on Turing, happy in a jazz club with some jolly name of Ned. He a skugger tail that the Embassy put onto T. I’m oddly envious of him.
Turing can feel my gaze, and suddenly he learn to put up a telepathy block. A resourceful character indeed. I rush upstairs and ask the security guard to let me use the Embassy phone and ring Chief Soames, so he can notify the Florida cops again.
The guard balk a first, so, what the fuck, I break off my finger and jab it into this gut to make him a skugger too. He turn very cooperative. I sit in his lap while I use his phone to give Soames his orders.
Then I grow back my finger and go home. When I hit the Embassy again next day, my handler Jonathan Hopper want to talk with me.
“Bill, you’ve gone off the rails. The Chief’s beside himself. You woke him for a wild goose chase. I fear you’ll be dismissed.”
I explain that Turing have terminate my meal-ticket, and I don’t like him get so cozy with my son and talk about dig up my dead wife. “Shooting her once was enough, already,” I add.
“You’re not yourself, Bill,” says Hopper. “You’re only saying these things for effect.”
I bull my way down to the basement and plug in with my skuggers again. We wobble our orgone antenna towards the Sunshine State for one last time, and I find Turing and Ned have dig themselves into the sand of West Palm Beach like quahog clams. Turing is asleep, with his teep-block around his ankles like wet underwear.
In a dream, he notice me and start teeping, sleepy and warm.
“Hello Bill. I rather miss you. Why are you persecuting me, brother?”
“Leave my family alone.”
“You’ve caused them enough pain, eh? No matter. I’m leaving town.”
“But, wait. I need to find you.” And in that moment I realize that once again I’m in love.
“You don’t really want me,” he say shyly. “I’m odd.” And then he fade into blobby visions of higher-dimensional skugs.
I sprint to the top floor and hammer like a maniac on Chief Soames’s door.
“What is it, Burroughs? You’ve become excessively tedious.”
“Call the Palm Beach police! We’ve got another chance to nab Turing. The man’s a find, a sport, a valuable mutation! We’ll pin him down so I can debrief him!”
“Very well,” says Soames. “One more call.” He pause to study me. “And—Burroughs? Collect your pay and leave. You’re sacked.”
“Can you give me a British passport before I go?” I knife in. “Turing stole mine, you see.”
Soames make with a smelly yawn. “Snag one at Records downstairs. We stockpile the papers of our Brits who come a cropper here. And now I’ll phone your beastly Florida bobbies, worse luck. It’s like talking to jungle sloths.”
I got half a mind to recruit Soames as a skugger too, but he careful to keep me on the other side of his desk.
Downstairs I ask the brittle woman in Records to give me two passports. She slap two on the counter, ready made. “The Jackson twins,” she say. “Stanley and Daniel. Died here last year. A reckless pair—tried to hoodwink a sharif.”
“They don’t resemble me at all,” I remark, studying the identical faces, brutal and bland.
“You’re the India rubber man, innit?”
On the street, I engage the services of a farmer leading his donkey to market. We tie a rope from the donkey to the Embassy’s barred and boarded basement window. The donkey pulls, and the window pop out like a tooth. The captive skuggers come oozing out, loose and wriggly. I rather doubt anyone will ever get a skugger antenna working again. They’ll be docile no more.
Meanwhile Driss rush to my side. “Ouakha,” he say, batting his eyes. “Now we go to America, Boo-rows?”
I’m smiling. “Can you look like this?” I show him the mug-shot of Daniel Jackson. Driss wriggle right into form. I do the same dance. We’re mirror-twins, me in my suit and he in his djellaba. We stroll off down the street arm in arm, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Driss is quite a catch.
Hopper, my friend at the Embassy, come legging after us. “Burning our bridges, eh, Burroughs? I just now skugged Soames as well. Stick around, things are getting interesting.”
“I have to see Turing face to face,” I tell him. “And mend my fences with the parents. And check in on my son.”
“I wonder if you’ll have any trouble finding Turing.”
“I’ll find Turing in the West Palm Beach jail. That’s why I turned him in. Once I’ve talked sense to him, we can take up where we left off.”
“The police won’t be able to hold him, Bill. Have some pride in the skugger team, old top. Tangier is collapsing around us now. And Palm Beach will fall as well.”
I remain fixated on my pursuit. “If Turing breaks out, where does he go?”
“To an American weapons lab,” said Hopper. “Look within. The skugs are groping towards some some plan involving atomic bombs. In fact—I didn’t mention this to you before—but one of our agents reports that my hand chose to recruit a nuclear engineer to be Turing’s shadow. A Ned Strunk?”
“Strunk is nothing,” I rap out. I’d gotten some passing impressions of the man during our telepathic surveillance. “A hayseed. Not worthy to be Alan’s friend.”
“Beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock.” Hopper lays his tongue roguish in the corner of his mouth, then holds out his hand. We shake, letting our flesh merge for a second, with the bustle of the market all around, and a muezzin calling in the distance. Driss watch us, alert the the ebb and flow of control.
Back home I stuff my manuscripts and figurines into a suitcase. Driss put on my other suit and fill a bag with food. I tell him he going to learn better English from conjugating with me.
And now I’m writing you as we wait for our ferry. Everyone I see here is a skugger already—some with three eyes, some with lariat arms. It’s like we’re inside a cartoon. Where I’ve always wanted to be. Whooo!
About the Author
Rudy Rucker is a writer best-known for his novels Software and Wetware, which were recently reissued as part of a Ware Tetralogy ominbus.
Rucker is presently working on a novel called The Turing Chronicles, which details a love affair between computer pioneer Alan Turing and Beat author William Burroughs. Although “Dispatches from Interzone” stands alone, it follows on an earlier collection of "unpublished" Burroughs letters which appeared in Flurb #5, “Tangier Routines." See also the related story, "The Skug," in Flurb #10.
Rucker's fantastic novel of the afterlife, Jim and Flims, will appear from Night Shade Books in June, 2011, and his memoir Nested Scrolls: A Writer's Life will appear in a limited edition from PS Publishing and in a trade edition from Tor Books, December, 2011.
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