by John Shirley


Story Copyright (C) 2006, John Shirley.
Images Copyright (C) 2006, Rudy Rucker.
5,900 Words.




I started to see things other people couldn’t see when I was at the hospital. I mean real things, not hallucinations. It probably started happening because of my skateboard accident. With me, skateboarding is pretty much all accident. I come back from skating with my friends all covered with bruises and scrapes, with chipped bones and stuff. It’s not that I’m not good at it—it’s just that I push out the envelope a lot. My right front incisor is shaped like a guillotine now because of a skateboard fall.

This time, my worst accident, was at the skatepark in Berkeley, one of those chilly days in late November—chilly but never really cold. The sky’s the same color as the skatepark concrete, days like that. That day, me and DickWad were skating—

I should tell you that DickWad (Richard Wadley, okay?) is a tall skinny white guy (I’m a short skinny one) who dropped out of school and became a skateboard pro but barely makes any kind of living at it and sleeps on his girlfriend’s couch and drinks beer pretty much 24/7.

We were doing kick flips when we saw the turfies were coming into the park, at the other side, doing pocket checks. Pocket checks are a way of life in the East Bay. These were NBP turfies—their tats say N.B.P., means No Body’s Prisoner though a lot of them are in jail—and they’re all young, skinny black dudes with big floppy shirts and big floppy pants and they do these “pocket checks” which somehow sounds better to people than “strong-arm robbery”. They don’t get that much from any one guy, it’s like five bucks here and ten there and two there, but after doing it all across town for a couple hours they’ve harvested a few hundred bucks, enough to get some grapes to smoke—

What? Oh. Grapes is weed that has some purple on it. Pot. Tree.

No. No I wasn’t smoking it. I already told the cops that what I saw wasn’t drug stuff. I wasn’t smoking pot or drinking angel’s trumpet tea or doing shrooms or none of that stuff.

Anyway, last time these turfies were here, I had ten dollars in my pocket my dad gave me, so that time I skated away when they tried to do the pocket check on me, said, “Fuck off, no fucking way dude,” and managed to get out of there before the gang caught me.

This time, I didn’t want them to see me and remember that other occasion, so now I said, “Hey whoa, DickWad, we gotta cut right fucking now!” And I turned and skated up the bowl onto the rim of the skatepark real quick. Or tried to—I was never any good at that halfpipe, vert skating stuff, not much hesh, I do mostly curb tricks, street skating, tech shit like that—

And the board went out from under me.

I fell back against the concrete rim of the bowl and went CRACK! on the back of my head. Went dark. Just like that, like somebody flicking off a computer monitor.

Next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital room. Curtains on both sides. Monitors on me. Mom and Dad, saying they told me to use a helmet, spending time, patting my arm, going home because my aunt was looking after my little sister and they had to relieve her because you don’t want to leave anyone unsuspecting with my sister Wilmy for long.

DickWad came to see me, and said, “Yeah dude it was sick, you were, all, lying in this puddle of blood and all the turfies left so they wouldn’t be blamed. They’re all, ‘They gone say we did that shit.’”

We laughed at that, in the hospital, but the cops did have a tendency to blame the turfies for everything. They were so poor, anyway, we don’t really blame the turfies for the pocket checks. We resent it, it’s fucked up, but we’d probably do the same, in their place.

I remember laughing about the turfies running off—though it hurt my bandaged head to laugh—and then I stopped in mid-laugh, because that’s when I saw the…I think you call it a silhouette. It was, like, a living shadow, standing behind DickWad. At first I thought it was his shadow. But it moved around on its own, when he didn’t move. It was all restless, prowling around the room. It was literally the silhouette of a man that just walked around on its own. It didn’t have a face. It did have some kind of three-dimensional shape happening. It had depth and it had body-ness. But it was like its body was made out of space—the space between stars. So far between stars you can’t see any.

It was shaped like a man—but it wasn’t a man. And it scared me.

I asked DickWad if he saw it but he didn’t hear me because he was listening on my iPod Video to a Flaming Lips song, and watching the video on the tiny screen, and then he walked out with my iPod, saying he wanted to show it to his girlfriend, who was smoking a cigarette outside, and he’d be right back. But I haven’t got it back yet. I don’t think he was trying to steal it though; he smokes tree and forgets what he’s doing a lot.

He walked out and left me there with that living shadow. Not even knowing he was leaving me with this thing. And it was looking right at me—I could feel its curiosity.

Another one came in, another space demon—that’s what I think I’ll call them, space demons. That sounds so much tighter than silhouette and they look like they’re made out of space.

This one can see us, said the first one to the second one.

It wasn’t exactly in words but that’s what it was saying. When these space demons speak you hear something that your brain turns into words. I don’t know how, exactly, but then I don’t know why I can see them and you can’t.

No, there’s not one in here with us. Something happened so that—I’ll come to that in a minute, dude.

So these things were talking about me.

If he can see us, we can’t hurt him, that’s the rule, said the second one.

It’s a stupid rule, said the first one.

It’s not our rule. It is the rule of those who will destroy us if we break it. We must submit. Perhaps we can persuade himWe could whisper to him…

Now it is you who does not know the rules. If he can see us he cannot be persuaded by us. That is the rule.

We could destroy those around him and create an existential mousetrap, the first one pointed out. An existential mouse-trap will neutralize him.

(Sure I know what existential means—I’m almost nineteen, a freshman in community college already. I had to read The Stranger for a class and the teacher explained.)

“Who the fuck are you and what the fuck you want?” I asked them. They glanced at me but they didn’t answer.

They turned and walked into the corner, then: it was like the lines near the corner where the floor met the walls were the perspective of a street, in the distance—where the two sides of a street come together and you watched someone walk down the street till they’re gone. That’s what it looked like, but really fast, in a few seconds, blip, they vanished into the point where the lines of the corner came together.

“Nurrrrrrrse!” I yelled.

They gave me some Xanax for anxiety and some more tests, and tried to get me to take some Haldol, because I was “hallucinating”—I didn’t take it—and kept me another couple of days. I saw the space demons again when the nurse was wheeling me out to meet my mom for checkout, in my wheelchair. I didn’t really need the wheelchair, it was something about insurance. The Filipino nurse forgot some papers and we had to stop next to one of the other patients in the room, while she went to get them. The beds in most of the rooms are just separated with curtains, in this hospital, and there I was, in my chair, sitting and waiting for her next to this old man’s hospital bed—his final bed, from the look of him—and I saw one of the space demons whispering to him. I could hear its voice in my head. It was telling him to change his will, to cut out his children and give the money to “Lisa”. I had the feeling the old guy didn’t know someone was whispering to him but he was hearing it anyway. I tried to tell him not to listen but he seemed to hear the space demon better than me.

What? Oh—no, I didn’t tell anyone about the space demon talking to the old man. I wanted out of the hospital. I was afraid they’d put me in the “mental hygiene” ward like that guy I used to know in school, Squiddy, who got all tweaked on crystal. Started seeing stuff too—people get paranoid on crystal.

No, I told you, I don’t do that shit. I didn’t do any crystal. No, not even X. Christ.

My dad picked me up and we drove in the minivan back to the cul-de-sac where I live with my parents—just while I go to community college, you understand. We live in El Sobrante, in the East Bay, across from San Francisco. My dad says it’s a typical “satellite community”—he works in some kind of urban planning department for the East Bay so he talks that way.

My dad likes to lecture me in the car because I’m stuck with hearing it there, and all the way home he was talking about how he respected my interest in “extreme sports” and “alternative sports” and all—I didn’t bother to tell him yet again that skateboarding wasn’t alternative or extreme. “All that’s cool, but,” he said, I had to do something else now because I’d been injured and the doctor said I could give myself a blood clot and die if I got a knock like that on the head again. I just shrugged.

When I was, like, 16, I’d have said, No way I’m going to give it up, even if I die! Because—this part I’d have kept back—it’s the only thing I was ever good at. That was before I decided I might learn to be a writer. But now I don’t know if I’ll be anything because of what happened at the cul-de-sac.

When we got there my mom was rushing out the door with Wilmy (it’s short for Willamina), they were on their way to some Middle School soccer game. Wilmy gave me the finger and grinned behind mom’s back. She’s a 12 year old girl but she’s a total jock, and she can do all that stuff I couldn’t do. She’s good at remembering school facts, too. I never was.

“Oooh, there’s my poor honey-honna-bug,” my mom said, as we met them on the front porch. She’s almost as short as Wilmy. That’s where I got what she calls my compactness. She was squinting through her thick glasses at me and wrinkling her nose in that nerdy way she has when she’s looking at you close. “How’s your head? You okay?”

“Better, mom.”

I didn’t say, Better except for the space demons. I was trying to convince myself they’d been hallucinations and they’d go away when my head got better. Even though, as I said, “Better, mom,” I saw a space demon sitting on the eaves of our split level house, with the clouds churning way too fast behind it. Just sitting there, looking down at me: dark space in the shape of a sitting man. Its looking at me felt like once when I walked through a big spiderweb that had been trimmed in cold dew-drops. I felt the dew drops and the web together.

I’m glad my mom and sister were gone when it started happening…

I should tell you that the cul-de-sac, Shady Top Circle, is at the top of a hill, and ringed in by eucalyptus. There are nine houses in the circle, five of them four-bedroom split-levels like ours, the rest ranch style. I’ve seen the street on one of those websites where you can see your neighborhood from way up in the air, and the development looks like bicycle chains all looped next to each other, each house and yard another link in the chain. Our house is right in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Behind the houses there’s a back yard, and then a fence, and a steep drop-off. Not exactly a cliff, just a really high, steep hill.

I still had a bandage on my head, and still felt the throb, but I decided I had to try to see this space demon closer. No, man, I didn’t try and get someone else to look. No one could see him but me. And I know why you’re asking me that, trying to get me to wonder if I’m hallucinating. Reality check, right? Uh uh. Not going to work. I know what happened. It was probably something to do with the head injury. It was like whatever normally blocked off a psychic perception had gotten damaged; the filter was broken, and more was coming through than usual.

My dad told me to go lay down in my bedroom, “as per doctors orders” and I said I would, just as soon as I got a soda in the kitchen. He went into his den to call into work—and I knew that work would suck his attention up and he wouldn’t really notice what I was doing so long as I didn’t make a lot of noise.

I went out back, circled the house, and looked up at the roof—the space demon was gone. Then I saw it’d just moved—it was on the lawn of the house next door, talking to Mrs. Hasslet. One of those old ladies that make their hair blue.

It was telling her that it could open a window into Heaven. It was going to show her paradise.

Mrs. Hasslet, see, was, like, late seventies, and her husband had died six months before—he was in his eighties, a world war two veteran—and she told my mom that since he was gone, life for her was “just a dry husk”. My mom tried to take her to church and get her into volunteering, to cheer her up, but Mrs. Hasslet said that she’d lived to take care of Harvey and now that he was gone she had no meaning. Her kids just acted like she was a pain in the neck when she called, and here was this spinning window into another world opening up, in the center of the circle and it was like it was offering a way out…That’s how it looked, like it was itself some kind of invitation…

All the shapes that should be back of the window, the shapes of houses and posts and mailboxes and trees, were warping, twisting around in a circle, knotting, like there was a navel in space, only the knot kept twisting and twisting, faster and faster, and then things were losing definition in it, pinwheeling and blurring and turning into a circle of light and then inside the circle of light was, just, another place completely. So it was like a window onto this other world. Only it was sort of our world—it was a beautiful ideal version of our cul-de-sac. I could see it the way Mrs. Hasslet saw it. How it looked for her. It was our street but it wasn’t. I mean, like, there were tropical birds in it—Mrs. Hasslet kept a cockatoo, so that’s not surprising. And somebody was walking in from the side, showing themselves in that window. Walking into view through a garden of giant roses. At first I didn’t recognize him because he looked so much younger than when he died—then I realized it was Mr. Hasslet, Harvey Hasslet, standing there waving at his wife. Beckoning to her. She started toward the window—and it receded. When she stopped going toward it, it stopped receding.

No, the space demon said. You must go there the way he did. Through death. He doesn’t want to wait for you any longer. You must go now or lose him!

She stopped for a moment in the street, looking all glazed and puzzled—maybe still trying to figure out who was talking to her and why she was seeing this. Then a Fed Ex truck drove through the window into paradise…

It had really driven into that illusion-window from behind it. As if it had driven through a movie screen from backstage. The truck driver wasn’t seeing this thing, just me and Mrs. Hasslet. The space demons didn’t show themselves to normal people but they could affect what you see with your mind. Only, pretty much one at a time, I guess. So the Fed Ex delivery guy was swinging around Shady Draw Circle, kind of fast, really, faster than he was supposed to, and he came right through that thing looking like he was going to pull up in a moment in front of the house next door…And as he drove through the window into paradise Mrs. Hasslet ran forward and just kind of tipped herself over in front of his wheels. And no, no, I didn’t push her in front of it—I told the cops that and I’m telling you that. She just threw herself under the big white Fed Ex truck. I could hear the CRUNCH when it went over her neck

And the window into paradise vanished. And I yelled…I yelled for awhile…

Then I ran around the house, still yelling, I don’t know what I was yelling, I was really upset. I banged on the window of the den, and yelled for him to call 911. He looked up at me through the window with his mouth open. Then he got the phone. I went back to the street and the truck driver was standing there, crying, this chunky Hispanic dude, sobbing, “But she just came from her yard and she…she…I didn’t…” Ask him if you still think I pushed her. He said it himself: she jumped in front of the truck.

My dad came out of the house and was putting his coat under Mrs. Hasslet’s head, but she was pretty much gone already. I was feeling sick. I told the driver I saw her throw herself under there, it wasn’t his fault, and I thought about telling them about the space demon. My dad was checking her pulse and I was trying to comfort this hysterical driver, and pretty soon the ambulance came—and just as the ambulance was loading the dying old lady, Mrs. Hasslet’s daughter Milly drove up. She had just spontaneously decided to visit her mother. Milly said she had been feeling like she was neglecting her mom and she came over right then and said, “Oh my God, this is all my fault… I didn’t know she was going to commit suicide oh my God, Oh my God, if I’d been more…” Like that, on and on, crying.

My dad went to high school with Milly, he knew her pretty well and he told her it wasn’t her fault. He told me to go to bed, and then he drove Milly to the hospital where they were taking her mom—she was all hysterical, she couldn’t drive—and they followed the ambulance out…The truck driver went with the police, to make his statement and all that…

And I was alone there with the space demons.

Then the space demons went through the walls of Doug Bench’s house—he’s this guy who makes his living selling mostly bullshit on eBay, stuff that looks like it’s valuable but it’s not, and he spends the rest of the time playing World of Warcraft online. He’s this big sloppy guy with bad teeth and matted hair. I looked through the window into his little living room where he’s set up his laptops, he’s got three of them. Two for eBay one for World of Warcraft. He inherited this little ranch-style house from his parents and they’d be pretty upset to see how it’s never ever been clean in there since he moved in—most of it’s taken up by those plastic see-through tubes that his pet white rats run through, like sixty of them, running around in there, stinking the place up. Once he asked my sister to come in and look at his rats and she did and then he put his hand on her butt so she went home. I told her to tell dad but she just said, “For that?!”

Now I could see the rats running through the plastic pipes and around on treadmills and through a plastic cage filled with rat poop and torn newspapers… and I saw the two space demons talking to Bench. They turned and looked at me, through the window. I could feel the look on my skin, again.

Then they pointed at his computer. And his computer monitors all started showing that window into Heaven. Another heaven, though. I couldn’t see what it looked like exactly except I made out pink girl shapes, so I guessed.

He looked sort of glazed and then he went into the garage and he came back with a gas can and started splashing it around—making sure he got the rats, like he couldn’t stand for them to live longer than him—and I was yelling, “Don’t do that, Bench!” And I had my cell out, was calling 911, then I remembered that 911 didn’t work for cells around here, I was trying to remember the emergency number for cell phones—and then WHOOSH and BOOM and I got a face full of glass and smoke and I was sitting on my ass, watching the house burn…

I heard him screaming, in there. And the rats screaming, too. So much more high pitched, like lots of little piccolos played backwards by a crazy piccolo soloist.

I picked bits of glass from my face—no serious damage, just little cuts—and walked over to my house, feeling kind of zombie-like from all I’d seen, just glad my mom and sister weren’t there. There were neighbors outside, and someone was saying they’d called 9 11 and someone else was asking was I okay, and offering to put antiseptic on my cuts and saying I should go to the hospital and then, blip blip, blip, the space demons were among them—five people: three housewives, two retired men—and they all looked over at the interdimensional window into the other place, opening, again, in the middle of the street.

I looked into it too and since there were so many of them looking at it there was no one point of view for me to share on it, so then it was all snowy…and then after a moment I saw it my way. My own paradise. I saw something that looked kind of like the land where Donkey Kong goes—a videogame I played with my dad a lot when I was little, haven’t played it in years—and I saw me and my friends and my family there dancing around and, like, cavorting and shit, in a videogame paradise with Donkey Kong. How were we cavorting? Well—skateboarding down waterfalls, in this kinda perfected digital Hawaii. Dancing and skateboarding and swimming. And I did long to go there, but I knew better, and since I’d seen the space demons they didn’t have any strong power over me. But for the others it was different, the space demons had dipped into their brains, in some way; they’d really gotten into their wiring. That’s what I’m trying to explain. It was persuasion, yeah, but it was a kind of deep-in-your-brain persuasion. It was like jacking an Ethernet cable into them. But right into their souls.

There were three space demons now. And then a fourth one, climbing down the smoke from Bench’s burning house like someone climbing down a ladder. Then sliding down a plume of flame to drop to the street…

This is a marvelous experiment, this new space demon said to the other two. I’ve always wanted to do this. To use their theological illusions in a sociobiological setting…The irony is delightful, the data indubitable…

I’m not sure it follows the rules, said the fourth.

But we are not in violation with certitude. If we concentrate our influence…The protocols of this methodology…

They sounded like scientists, to me. I started wondering, then, about this experiment I heard about where these really old scientists were trying to be immortal through some kind of downloading of their minds, copying themselves onto some computer program, and I remember someone asking them, “But what happens to their souls if you put their identities on that machine, won’t their souls get lost when they die?”

And the scientists said, “Ha! There are no souls!”

And the other guy said, “But what if there are souls? What happens if you’re copying yourself in some way—but not the souls?”

But I heard, on the internet, that a bunch of them had done the experiment and…something had gone wrong but no one could find out what, it was all hushed up. So maybe this was what. These guys talked like lost scientists. Like sick, lost scientists. But they acted like you think demons are going to act, too. Setting people up that way. Because what else are demons, but lost souls? And what happens to them, they get sucked into some bigger thing’s agenda, when they’re lost. Doing work for some other, like, entity…

I didn’t hear what was said after that, because I was trying to tell the neighbors not to listen to the space demons, I was really upset and crying and they were saying I was crazy or else plain not listening to me and then they were staring at that little Puerto Rican lady, Mrs. DeSanto—she was climbing the tree. A really high eucalyptus tree behind Bench’s—and it had caught on fire from the explosion in his house. She climbed almost to the top of this tree, around the burning parts, but it was catching her dress on fire anyway. I had heard from her daughter she was on some kind of antidepressants and then she had gone off them and gotten kind of weird so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when she was the next one. She was ignoring the flames going up her housedress, and everyone yelling at her—and then she just jumped, from near the top, coming down like a roaring lady comet, WHUMP onto the street. Thinking she was getting a short cut into paradise that way, see. Someone started listening to me, finally, with that one: Danny Brewster, the Reverend Brewster’s bucktoothed son. Senior at El Sobrante high. “Three suicides, something is happening, for sure, dude,” he said.

“It’s the paradise window,” I said. “The space demons make ‘em see that and they kill themselves to get there.”

“Okay, you’re all fucked up too,” he said. Took a step back from me like I had a disease he didn’t want to catch. “You dose these people? You on something, dude?”

I told him, Oh never mind. I tried to talk to the adults there—but they weren’t listening. Especially the older ones—they were staring at the paradise window, in the middle of the cul-de-sac, each seeing something different. Hearing how they had to get there…how a quick death would be the sure way…

Mr. Baolaban—this gangly black guy immigrated from somewhere around Australia—he was chanting something in some native language and climbing a power pole. He clipped into a wire there. I yelled at him to stop—but he broke the wire and grabbed it and fell off the pole, hit the ground hard, clutching the live broken end, spasming as the electricity went through him, his body rippling on the sidewalk.

The cops and fire trucks and ambulances were just getting there when that Chinese lady whose name I don’t know, and a heavy set blond woman I don’t know either, both of them grabbed onto Mr. Baolaban and started to go all spastic too, with their hair standing up and sparks jumping out of their mouths and their shoes flying off, all three electrocuted, and the fire trucks were rumbling in there pretty fucking fast, man, and two more people came out of their houses, Mr. Gimbelowski the alcoholic and that young guy from Pakistan who always seems so homesick, and they threw themselves under the fire truck’s tires before the trucks had quite come to a stop and then Reverend Brewster drove up, looking for his son, but the space demons crowded around him and said in paradise he would be forgiven for being a homosexual if he went now and took his son, and he tried to drag Danny over to the power lines but the cops pulled him away and then Reverend Brewster grabbed a cop’s gun and shot Danny and himself in the head and one of the cops pulled his own gun and started waving it around hysterically and Mrs. Galworthy rushed at the cop waving the gun, jabbing at his eyes with a nail file, forcing him to shoot and he blew her brains out, and he screamed, himself, as if he’d been the one shot, and then an old lady from the corner house, at the opening of the cul-de-sac, was trying to get away from two firemen, and she bit one on the wrist and he lost his grip on her and I saw why they’d been holding her: she bolted into Bench’s house, which was all flames, and threw herself into it, saying something about going through Hell to Heaven—she didn’t scream for long, only about ten seconds—and then someone fell face down WHOOSH SPLAT right next to me on the pavement, jumped from the top of the highest house in the street and to my left that pale guy with the beard who talks to himself and throws his mail down, I never did know his name, he knocked down an ambulance driver and then he was driving the ambulance real fast through a fence, knocking down the slats, WHAP-CRUNCH, WHAP-CRUNCH WHAP-CRUNCH, following the fence back, knocking the boards down one after another, with splinters flying, all the way into the back yard and right off that near-cliff, down the steep hill, the ambulance turning over and over—we could hear it crunching and bouncing—and that Mrs. Klepsky whose husband had left her, who used to come to Mom’s book club coffee klatch and then started avoiding her, the one whose face was so tight from all those operations—she was sticking a burning rag in her SUV’s gas tank and then climbing into it and the cops were yelling at her but then BOOM! it went off and she was in a fireball and then WHOOSH SPLAT someone jumped out of a tree and hit the ground next to that previous WHOOSH SPLAT and…

And the cops were dragging me away, asking me what I knew about this, hadn’t this started with me somehow, what was going on, was I on drugs, had I dosed those people? Comparing it to Columbine, in some shady-ass way. And then I saw the space demons were talking to those cops and the cops were glaring at me, and the space demons were talking and talking to them, and two of the space demons seemed to be rolling joyously around on the ground and quivering in a kind of ecstasy, as the sirens screamed and the burning houses crackled—because the fire was spreading around the cul-de-sac now—and people screamed in pain and somebody else went WHOOSH SPLAT onto the street from above…

Man it was fucked up.

I was really glad when the cops shoved me in the back of a cruiser. Officer Blume, whom I know—he’s actually the older brother of a friend of mine—was telling the others not to hit me, he didn’t see how I could be responsible, it was like he was fighting that space demon influence, and he was the one who drove me to the police station…

Well. That’s most of what happened. Nobody believes me. I shouldn’t have told anyone about the space demons because they think that if I’m making up something like that—they just assume I’m making it up—well then, I must be covering up something. And why, they want to know, was I the only one not affected back there?

I’ve tried to explain that—and that the only reason they don’t believe me is because the space demons did all that suggestion, all that brain washing. On them.

They just shake their heads.

So, now I’m telling you, Mr. Court Appointed Psychiatrist, and you can believe what you want.

I’ve stopped seeing the space demons. Because at the police station, the space demons started talking about rules again, and said they were going to have to report somewhere, and then they just went. Blip, and blip, blip, blip right into the corners.

I can still see things you can’t, though. If I want, if I sort of squint, I can see a window into another place. Only, I see what it really is, in the next world. What that other place really is. It has a kind of screen over it, and on that screen we project what we think we want to see. But I can see past that, into the real afterlife. Into bardos, they call them. My Aunt Gilliam gave me that TibetanBook of the Dead about bardos. And I can see right into them…

I see Reverend Brewster and Mrs. DeSanto and Danny and Mrs. Klepsky and Bench and Mrs. Hasslet and the others over there. They’re going around and around, bumping into one another, weeping, in a thing that is an endless drain that never finishes draining, a spiritual cul-de-sac without an exit; they’re stuck there from looking, from looking, from looking-looking-looking for what they were told would be there, and looking for it is keeping them there, in something that’s not Heaven, or Hell. Not really hell exactly. Those people are stuck, just endlessly hungry and wandering in circles inside circles, right Outside Time; they’re caught up in a place where certain kinds of lost souls go. And where they stay, for thousands of years, and sometimes longer…and maybe forever.

And the scientists, the space demons are there too, doing experiments on them. Experimenting and testing and conjecturing. Around and around.

It’s all they know how to do.




About the Author


John Shirley is the author of numerous novels (including City Come A-Walkin, Eclipse, A Splendid Chaos, Crawlers, and his new one The Other End), books of short stories (including Black Butterflies, for which he won the Bram Stoker Award, and the forthcoming Living Shadows), scripts (eg, The Crow), song lyrics (for the Blue Oyster Cult and his own bands), and the nonfiction work from Tarcher/Penguin, Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas. About "Cul-de-Sac," Shirley mentions that some of his short stories are structured like rock songs and this is one of them. You can work out which passage is the guitar solo. His blog is at


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