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They brush against but do not quite touch

from 8. The Historian by Disparition



Manifestation of the Will as deliberate Change in reality. Expression of the Self beyond the limits of Body, Mind, and Soul. Foundation of emotional resonance in the Other. Intersection of divided worlds.

What are these practices? What kind of box do I put them in? How do I take them apart so that you can piece them together into realness?

The thousands upon thousands of texts in my castillo with their millions of words, they offer so many possibilities. Anthropologies and fantasies, they brush against but do not quite touch. I draw this line with chalk of ancient shell, unbroken circle on smooth raw stone, covered over with carpet and warm room.

* * *

The day of my arrival from the east, the place was not yet fortified, the lot was still paved, the valley was covered in its wrapping of quiet fear. Early days in the Age of Paper, old nets newly fallen, even in those days of suspicion – I just walked right in. It’s hard to describe the chaos of this place in those times, the last days of Ant’s Library. The low wings of half boarded and forbidding. In faded tall blue block letters the words “BIBLIOTECA ANTOÑIN” were just barely visible above darkened windows of the hulking building at the center of the stripmall. Ancient glass doors swung open without a sound. Inside, a maze of boxes and tables and stacks of books and pieces of kitchen equipment and taxidermied birds and racks of clothes and cabinets and tubes and pipes and hoses. Every surface held books and magazines as well as parts of cars and weapons and musical instruments, stacks of paper, coiled wires, plastic toys. In the middle of the room, on the edge of windowlight, an old man was bent over an ancient espresso machine when I came in, alone and unwatchful, back to the door. It was August and the whole valley was pressed under a vast palm of dry heat and inside the building it was even hotter, but the man wore a long heavy trenchcoat of black leather, its many pockets bulging into strange shapes.

I said nothing, I made my way through the dim maze until I found an object resembling a chair, and began going through the nearest stack of text – a history of late 19th century land disputes in Texas. The man said nothing, continued his work on the machine and then, still in silence, moved to a half-cleared table. The uncleared half was covered in dark shapes that he began picking up and pulling apart. I stood up to see better. Shallots, cloves of garlic, green onions. Huge and almost glowing. In all my wanderings I had not seen their like. He pulled a blade from between the pages of an old encyclopedia and chopped. He disappeared into the dark maze of junk and returned with four eggs in one hand in the other, something that looked amazingly similar to the blocks of cheddar that once line the machinechilled shelves of groceries in the old cities.

In that day, this was a stunning act of vulnerability. A dog rolling over and showing its belly. I had not seen a cow in thousands of miles. True milk of the cow was an impossibility almost everywhere. A cow is thirty gallons of water per day. This man, who I assumed was Ant himself, lone and unwary, and me – unknown even to myself. I could have been anyone. I could have been armed – and I was. He put the eggs and cheese down on the table and disappeared back into the work. Some kind of test? No he was back with more eggs. Then he propped the front door open with a chunk of concrete. In this new light I saw that what I had taken for an odd low shelf was in fact a stove free of its original moorings and, behind it, a palette of kerosene tanks. Figures appeared in the doorway, two very old women clad in finest fishnets and leather, heavy eyeshadow and black lipstick, ankh and the eye of Horus. One of them was holding a small glass jar full of what looked like real butter. With slow graceful movements Ant took the jar, retrieved the butter with wooden tongs and set it down on the heated skillet where it immediately sizzled and filled the air with painful memories of the gone away world of warmth and domesticity. One of the old women dug around in a pile until she produced a shining metal bowl, into which she began cracking the eggs. Ant threw the garlic and shallots into the browning, frothing butter – tears streamed down my face and my vision filled with a bright and clear sky, rolling hills of high blond grasses and oakshadowed paths, fields of garlic – perfect and machine planted, row after row, the bulbs nestled in the soft and rich earth, dark and moist soil, my hands sinking into it. I opened my eyes and they were all staring at me. “Medanos” said one of the old women. “Gilroy” said the other. And said nothing, gently took the mixing bowl and poured the eggs out onto the stove, a wide and churning sea that quickly stilled and puffed up as it cooked. The chopped vegetables he picked up and set down in the center of the eggs, then found again his blade and block of cheese and deftly shaved thin stripes that fell and melted upon the vegetables, then used the blade to puck up the edges of now cooked egg and wrap them around the center. Then he chopped through this whole creation into three sections. One of the women had found a stack of paper plates wrapped in plastic. He served up a portion onto one and passed it to me, then did the same for the others, and then disappeared again into the piles of junk. He did not return.

I found my way back to my chair and ate in silence. The plate said “¡Feliz Cumpleaños!” I had thought of finding some useful task to repay the meal and shelter, but instead I fell asleep. When I it was dark outside, the door still propped open, and the glow of a fire was reflected in the floor. I got up and went out. The two women were sitting an old folding chairs around a fire built in a hole in the asphalt. One of them had a bag of marshmallows. There were a bunch of other chairs lying around and I pulled one up.
“Ant would apologize” said the lady with the marshmallows “for the lack of salt”
“It was delicious,” I said, “I’ve not had such a meal in years. Maybe he saved my life.”
She laughed. “Maybe so.”
In silence she speared a marshmallow with what looked like a sliver of bamboo, then concentrated as she thrust it into the fire. It did not burn or bubble but retained its shape and paleness. The flames around it began to turn blue.
“This is a very special day”, she said, “Do you know that? Is that why you came here?”
“Tell me” I said – but she did not. It would be another week before I learned the true meaning of that day. Instead she went back to the beginning.

First it was Borders, then it was Barnes & Noble, and then it was empty. All of that time in the old empire. Her name was Isobel and she had worked there a long time ago, in her thirties. I wasn’t even born yet. To me, these names were almost meaningless, the kind of nonsense words that appeared in signs over all kinds of ruined structures out in the plains. It turned out they were bookstores. Ant had worked there as well, in fact had been a sort of manager. But the store was really run by a distant office in the eastern cities, and one day without warning they closed it. Ant and Isobel and the others who worked there at the time, they didn’t know until the trucks turned up in the morning and loaded up all the stock, bound for a distant warehouse. By the end of that day, the store was a dark maze of empty shelves and everyone was out of a job. Only a month later, the days of chaos began.

Isobel herself had found work at a hardware store here in the same strip mall. She pointed to a darkened, half-boarded storefront with her bamboo spear, and the glowing blue fire came with it – the edges now flecked with violet. But Ant could not move on so easily. He had run the daily life of that store for ten years, and had even worked at the Borders before that. He took a few shifts at a cafe in downtown Modesto, started looking into studying to become a librarian. But then everything began to fall apart. During the worst of the violence, after Sacramento burned the first time, there were soldiers here, they used the Barnes & Noble building as a sort of temporary hospital and barracks, taking over a few of the other spaces as well. The hardware store stayed, and so did Isobel. In fact she had married one of the soldiers. She patted the arm of her silent companion, who nodded. The cafe where Ant worked was destroyed by shelling, thankfully he was not there at the time, and he began hanging around the hardware store and helping with small tasks at the field hospital.

Then the battalion moved on, down to the south, leaving only Elena here and a few others for protection. Except for a few cots and bits of personal gear, the big building was empty again. And then the blue helmets came. They came from Italy, Senegal, Norway, Germany, Thailand, Mali and France, all under the command of a Dane named Lorr.

Lorr was one of those people who change everything. With piercing dark eyes, bright and wild redblond hair, and constant animation and excitement Lorr mesmerized nearly everyone they met. In those times, still in the first days of chaos, most people were reserved, miserly with personal detail. Lorr was open about everything and soon everyone knew their entire life story from their birth to a Serbian soccer star and Lebanese politician who’d fled to Denmark disguised as cooks on a cruise ship, to the most recent duties of the unit rebuilding a burned out mining town in the Sierra, to the multivolume semiautobiographical fantasy series they were writing, based on their travels around the world. Everyone listened to these stories over and over again, enraptured.

Lorr was an adventurer in the oldest sense, drawn to the continent by its chaos and opportunity. Perhaps, like all people, they had some kind of inner turmoil or darkness, but none of use ever saw it. They maintained an easy confidence even in the face of literal fire.

The blue helmets did not move into the main building, instead they dug this open pit in the parking lot, and preferred to sleep on the roofs of the single story arms of the strip mall. It was they who built the chicken coop and planted the first rows of corn behind the Footlocker.

Ant had kept hanging around and become a nearly permanent fixture, a cook and gardener and sort of organizer, though Isobel was not sure where he was living exactly in those days. By this time, the middle of the briefly lived Second California, things seemed quiet, and slowly a community began to form here around this camp in the lot.

No one was surprised really that Ant and Lorr took so strongly to each other, in spite of the differences in personality and age. A long time ago, Ant had been a soldier as well, had served in the armies of the old empire in their colonial wars in central Asia. But he never talked about those days, few people even knew that about him. And he was far from being an adventurer. In the past he’d had little patience for tellers of tales who took up arms for glory – but there was something about Lorr that earned his respect and love.

What did surprise us was the scheme they cooked up together. It turned out Ant knew and remembered where the warehouses were – the ones that all the books had been taken too years earlier. For some reason he had convinced himself they’d been untouched by the chaos, and then he convinced Lorr who was eager to be convinced. So Ant and Lorr and two Senegalese and a German set off for the outskirts of Lodi with two box trucks and a motorcycle. The warehouse had long been converted into the home of a road gang – the party was unable to close enough to see if the books were still there. Spotted in the attempt, they barely got out alive and the motorcycle was lost. Rather than return emptyhanded they roamed the San Joaquin valley, raided an ungaurded community college bookstore on an abandoned campus in Bakersfield and swung back up on the Ninetynine, filling the trucks with some antique furniture and random kitchen equipment that they stole in Fresno, having new dreamed the library into something more. They returned with bulging, overloaded trucks, and a minivan they’d picked up somewhere, and unloaded everything into the main building. For a couple of months they built and organized, and it started to shape up. Books on shelves, comfy seating, a rudimentary system of wind and solar powered lighting and refridgeration. It was Lorr who painted “Bibliotecha Antonin” across the front of the building. Ant organized the books and cooked, a blue helmet named Pirra started beehives on the roof, Isobel built planting beds and negotiated the capture of an empty lot adjoining the mall for conversion into new gardens, Elena oversaw security and maintenance of the structures, and a soldier named Xavier started a band. There were weekly parties and people began showing up from across the valley. Some of them stayed. The place was beginning to grow into a proper village.

But Lorr could not sit still. And so they began putting together more expeditions, sometimes into the Sierra, sometimes up to the northern edge of the valley and the edges of Cascadia, sometimes west among the burbenclaves that lingered on the outside of the Bubble. At first, Ant accompanied bands of adventurers, navigating them towards private collections and shuttered libraries. But he was never comfortable with the dangers of the road and was afraid his presence increased their risk. So he stopped going, and began focusing on organization and curation and development of village life.

It was in this time that word began to spread. Amid the boxes and stacks of texts near and ancient, Lorr and Ant had collected a growing sacred stash of notebooks, lined and unlined blankpagery awaiting flow of ink or graphite. They glowed with promise and bore the holy ancient names of Rhodia, Leuchturm, and Moleskine. And so with the power of these relics, Ant began the Readings.

Every fortnight crowds would circle around the growing lotfire, Ant and others sat in turns on campchair and ottoman filling these notebooks while Readers stood in the doorway of the main building, entire worlds tumbling out of their mouths and into the fire and flying away in a twisting pillar of smoke. The Readers could be anyone, the stories could be their own or something they had heard from another, the electric tales of latter age woven by mercians from the inside of the mirror, half remembered songs of media days, reenactments of long dead ads, ancient plays, and fragments of religious hymn and lecture. All of these words taken down by Ant and Elena and whoever else took turns at the pen, verbatim and unattributed. Line after line of private and public memory woven together and unpersoned with precise script into hundreds of these notebooks.

In between these nights, the main building was nearly always open. The filled notebooks sat in stacks upon the cleanest clearest table in the house, always just on the edge of the windowlight. Visitors known and pored through them, copied portions of them into notebooks of their own, sometimes ripped out pages or pasted in new ones

The roads were growing more dangerous those days. Ant felt that he was finally on the verge of regaining the home he had lost and now, with Lorr, had found even more. But at the same time he knew Lorr’s heart, knew it was the danger itself that drew them out onto the road, the books were just an excuse. And in fact Lorr had a hard time focusing on just books and began returning with all manner of objects from fake roman statues to a stone cistern to a rocket launcher to a massive wooden wardrobe containing fourteen Napoleanic military uniforms from some ancient theatrical production. With increasing reluctance, Ant reorganized these objects into the building’s now cluttered corners.

An uneasy rhythm developed, when Lorr was gone the life of the village centered around Xavier and his band. They had appropriate the uniforms and marched around the lot in a circle, they sang to the chickens and to the vegetables, they sang for the sun and rain though the rain rarely responded. Ant kept to the main building more and more, and the organizing slowed. Then Lorr would return, the trucks would be unloaded with great ceremony, each object serenaded by Xavier and the band, More often than not Lorr’s trucks now brought wine from the coastal valleys and the celebrations of arrival turned into parties that lasted three or four days.

Those days were the beginning of the end of Second California. There was a lot of tension and people needed to let loose. At the same time, we did a bad job of looking at who was coming and going from the place. There was an unfortunate carelessness, especially during those celebrations of return.

Then Lorr would settle back into village life, or try to, while Xavier took his band on the road, along with a handful of soldiers for protection, and the place would be quiet again. Quiet but tense. Lorr restlessly toured the perimeter, making small talk with everyone, joining in with random tasks of planting or lifting or cleaning or taking turns on the roof watching the horizon. Ant was rarely seen. They still lived together in the main library building, but when people asked how Ant was doing, Lorr would change the subject. Then Xavier would return full of tales and glory, and Lorr would soon leave again on another expedition, and things went on like that until Sacramento.

The fire was so bright you could see it from here, on the horizon, for three weeks. By day the sky was a dull ochre, the air choked with burning fiberglass and plastics.

And then there appeared a lone rider, emissary of the General of the People of the Valley of San Joaquin, Mia Marisol herself. This feared and legendary general was mustering a great army, with which to end both the fascist and corporate threats in the valley for good, and push Fremont on his remnants into the sea. She called upon her loyal vassel, the renowned warrior Lorr Nikolic of Aalborg, to take up their oathbound duty, and bring now their arms and followers and meet with her upon the ashes of Sacramento.

Lorr had told us a lot of stories about their expedition into the chaotic corners of the valley, but they’d never mentioned meeting Marisol, let alone any kind of oath.


from 8. The Historian, released February 11, 2022
Written by Jon Bernstein
Narrated by Valerie Monique Evering
Music composed and performed by Jon Bernstein


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Disparition Los Angeles, California

Electronic, ambient, industrial, found sounds, beats, piano.

Inspired by history, geography, travel, occult, fiction.

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