As we established in my previous post, I’ve kind of been telling my story backwards. I started with a novel, tried to repurpose it into a comic, then an audiodrama, then a podcast and finally just recognized the plot- the most important thing in a story- was getting lost along the way.
I’m actually quite happy to have failed so spectacularly though. If I had enjoyed even a modicum of success on any of my little offshoot projects, I’d still be trudging away, wandering deeper and deeper into obscurity.
I think one of my first inklings I was on the wrong path was when I did my William S. Burroughs episode of my audiodrama Creeping Wave Radio. I didn’t write a script, as per usual, but a full narrative story about how I’d met Josie- my nefarious yet adorable ex.
While it was a stand alone piece, I realized that if you hadn’t picked up my comic “Lost Bread”- which I’d let stagnate for about 4 years- you wouldn’t know who the character was. Even if you’d read the comic, I’d barely touched on her actual significance in the plotline.
I intended to! I had outlines and notes with stories about her that had all been more or less abandoned to start up yet another new project. I owed it to Josie not to let myself get distracted again.
Meet Josie Doom, my ex, in her current incarnation. She’s honestly one of my favourite characters in the series. While she’d make a worthy arch nemesis, the plotline of “The Lucid Nap” series, much like real life, doesn’t have any hard line antagonists. It’s become kind of a staple of my stories, from “Lost Bread” to “Creeping Wave Radio”. There’s characters who cause trouble, beings whose objectives conflict with Napoleon’s, but no one is so one faceted as to be a villain.
Since the story is told through Napoleon’s dreams and journals, when we first encounter Josie, she’s a point of contention. She’s beautiful, but snide, and demeaning to Napoleon, who’s still very much in love with her. They were together for 10 years, and Napoleon has yet to reconcile who they themselves are outside of being her partner.
I started hinting at this in “Lost Bread”, having her show up in dreams and antagonize Napoleon.
The reality is that she’s just moved on with her life, and as of 2016, when the story begins, Napoleon hasn’t.
“Just a black coffee!?!” The woman who'd been behind me in line tutted, “you could have made that at home without wasting everyone’s time!” I whipped around to meet her eye, spilling hot coffee all over myself as I did so. I recoiled at the searing pain of hot liquid, clinging to my chest by way of my newly soaked shirt. In my writhing, I simultaneously managed to fling the mug, shatter it against the wall and spill the entire contents of my messenger bag across the floor. I’d forgotten to fasten it. “Here, let me help you.” Mr. Garage Rock announced valiantly, kneeling to pick up my sketch book. To my horror, I realized it had fallen open to an old life study I’d made of Josie in the buff. Great, now everyone’s going to know I’m an idiot and a pervert! Garage Rock lifted the book, stared at it with more horror than I felt was warranted, before waving over a friend. “Please don’t!” I choked, grabbing at the sketchbook, “That’s private!” “Yeah, it should be.” He admonished, pulling the book away from me and looking back towards the woman he’d summoned. She wore an oversized leather jacket, which I presumed to be his, over a bright yellow “Keep on Trucking” shirt which I recognized as having been mine. It was Josie. “I thought you hated yellow.” I stammered, dumbfounded. She looked nearly identical to the way she had that day I’d drawn her, except clothed. Her flamboyant red hair was shaved into a chin length mohawk, swept to one side, revealing an eye of Ra tattoo. I’d gone with her the day she’d had it done. She’d called me a pussy for not getting ink of my own. “Just not my style.” I’d told her. “What style? You wear the same clothes every day. You’re like a cartoon character or something!” She’d jeered at me from the tattooers chair. I couldn’t help but think back to that scene as I stared at her in my stolen shirt. She wore it like a dress, over fishnet stockings and emerald green, velvet creepers. I’d bought those shoes for her birthday, a few years back. She’d wanted them so badly, but the smallest they’d come in was a women’s size 5. She was a 4, but I’d found a place online that made inserts for that kind of situation. We made it work, well, that time anyway. Those shoes made her ankles look so tiny and delicate. I remembered the way she used to plunk her feet down in my lap while I was sketching, signaling to me that I was done with drawing for the evening. I had to look away to suppress the feelings that inadvertently rose within me. “You know this freak?” Garage Rock asked. Josie just giggled, and shook her head. All the while, she was leering at me with those ice blue eyes, staring out over freckle dusted cheeks.
As the plot unfolds, Napoleon begins to decipher their bizarre, lucid dreams from their journals. Josie reveals herself as one of the few people who can help them unravel the preternatural entanglements they find themselves ensnared in.
I realize that its very unlikely my art will actually appear in my book when published, but I don’t really care. I make these pictures more as a tool for my own self, to sustain my focus and prevent burn out.
Worst comes to worst, I can always just post them online or do a solo show to celebrate the release.
The digital painting of of Josie is part of a larger illustration I’m working on, which I’ll probably debut here. I’m revisiting and revising older work as well. It’s going to be a long process, so I may as well have fun with it. I’m trying to anyway.
I’ve posted some of these pictures in previous blogs, but now you get to hear the story behind them.
Excerpt for The William S. Burroughs Birthday Spectacular Josie was a writhing mass of vehemence, pirouetting beneath the flesh of a woman so handsome, that in this world of ugliness, she was practically a leper. I met her at an old dive bar one night, the Kraken they called it, because it had been built from the hulled out husk of a giant squid , which washed up on the shores of Encinitas one morning. The townsfolk, desperate for yet another place to intoxicate communally, thus extricating themselves from the shame of their feral, almost primordial fornications, had gutted the decaying corpse and established it as a bar and within hours of its discovery. I had visited that evening, fully intending to partake in the quaint local perversions that had become custom. Finding the array of bodies and corporeal delights offered that evening to be too bourgeois for my pallet, I had gone out to the patio, and quietly stood, smoking a cigarette. I leaned on my elbows over the rough, wooden railings and watched as the tide ebbed and flowed around the tentacles of the creature, whose corpse we were reveling within. The draw of every wave created the illusion that the monstrous Kraken had experienced some form of miraculous resurrection, and was ready to take its revenge on the parasites within its skin. I turned my head just long enough to see Josie approach, a sinuous shadow, just visible through the haze of smoke that had accumulated in a halo around my head. Slowly, she danced into focus, her feet keeping time to the beat of bodies in orgy, percussively thrusting inside the establishment. She had just come from her job at the service station, and was still wearing her attendants uniform. The thick, cloying smell of petrol had seemingly burrowed its way into her every pore, only to reemerge in the glistening jewels of sweat that strewn her skin. She announced herself as the most virulent sort of sexual cancer by the way in which she had hitched up the bottom of her shirt in a knot, revealing a pale, freckled abdomen, like a mottled eggshell. The sway of her hips as she strode closer compelled these freckles, to orbit, like black stars around the void that was her navel, lulling me into a cataplexy from whence I only emerged from once she grabbed my cigarette from my hand and took a drag. As if drawing me into a violent dance, she grabbed my shirt collar, wrenching me towards her until our lips collided in a glorious crash of spongy labarum, noses and teeth. She exhaled an exquisite fog into my mouth, fragrant with tobacco and the dulcet residue of her own lungs. Before I could catch my breath, her teeth clamped down on my lower lip. I pulled away in surprise, but she bore down, unrelenting, driving her white teeth into the tender flesh till I tasted the metallic trickle of my own blood. I stood like a dumb animal, completely beholden to her whims while imprisoned in the pristine, white trap of her jaws. She relented, more out of boredom with my refusal to struggle than mercy, and said through lips made glistening, claret red by the gash she’d inflicted. "Your breath smells like shit." "Yeah," I laughed, delighting by the stannic taste of my injury, flooding my mouth, "I eat a lot of it." "Hope that’s not the only thing you eat." She said through a smirk, which caused a droplet of my own blood to tremble on the bow of her lip as if in a taunting mimicry of the lunatic paroxysms in my chest. In that moment, our communication became telepathic, and I followed her, wading through the tangled briar of bodies in coitus that had grow across the floor of the bar and to the waiting beach. I followed her over sand covered dunes, made silver in the moonlight. Perhaps by merit of my inebriation, or the my own bodies uncontrollable quivers of trepidation, the vast sea of sandy corpuscles seemed to inhale and exhale in reply to the draw of my own breath. The susurration of waves and the throbbing of my own pulse in my ears merged together into a strange sort of syncopated bossa nova melody. I became aware of the fact that Josie could hear this music, as well, as her every motion fell into time. The waves ushered forth offerings of long abandoned refuse, glass bottles and plastic bric-a-brac, worn smooth by the tumbling sea. A department store mannequin, bridled with kelp and captured fish skeletons, clattered against the pebble strewn shore, creating a near flawless imitation of a tinkling jazz piano. This seemingly had been the cue Josie was waiting for, and she made a great sweeping motion with her hand, revealing a patch of sand that had been swept clear of the filth and fish carcasses that ornamented the rest of the beach. There, among the glittering heaps of decay, sand crabs crawling curiously over our naked bodies, I relented to her will. One especially bold crustacean crawled up my neck and latched on to my earlobe. As I reached up to brush it away, the thing tangled itself defiantly in my hair, refusing to leave its post till it had delivered its message. "She can read your thoughts you know," The Sand Crab said "...enter your dreams." "Coooool," I said, the words came long and drawn out, as if weighted by my disinterest in conversation at that moment. "Do you think you’re the first?" He laughed derisively. "No, no. Not by a long shot I’m afraid. Not even the first tonight! This is where she takes them, the poor saps like you. Takes them out here, where no one can hear your screams over the garbage rattling through the waves." I was unable to reply, as Josie had thrust her long red tongue down my throat, and twined it about my vocal chords. "She won’t kill you," The crab went on, "but you’ll wish you were dead, boy! And once you do this, your body will hold no secrets from her. You’ll be as one mind, in separate skins." "What I intended as a coo of feigned interest came out as more of a gurgling sound, like rainwater, glugging through an old gutter clogged with decaying leaves and the eroding bodies of dead animals, who’d become trapped within and died a long, torturous death from starvation and boredom. Instead, I nodded my head as if to assure the crab that such a thing was entirely agreeable to me. Josie, now aware of the sand crabs intrusion, promptly drew her tongue from my oesophagus, trails of golden mucus dangling from it like a delicate latticework of gelatinous vines. She sat bolt upright, her hand, taking on the ferocious alacrity of a snake in strike, as she reached out, plucked the Sand Crab from my hair, and crammed it greedily into her mouth. There was an unbearable shriek, just audible through the crunch of the crabs exoskeleton, as she demolished it between her jaws. Pincers and segmented legs flailed helplessly through the gaps between her teeth. The creature's blood rushed over her lips in a deep cerulean torrent, that trailed down her chin, painting thin blue ribbons down her neck and bare breasts, tying themselves in liquid knots around her erect nipples. With some effort, she swallowed, the muscles of her throat waging battle against the crab even still, and looked me in the eye, matter of factly. "I can you know, do all the things that he says… but not with you." "Why?!? I asked dismayed. I had always harboured a certain appetite for debasement, and figured this would be mutually beneficial to us, seeing as Josie was a succubus, in the most literal sense of the word. "Because someone else already has." "We can still mess around can’t we?" I pleaded. "I mean, it seems a waste not to." Josie shrugged and relented. I would prove enough of a curiosity to her that she lingered in the periphery of my life for another decade or so. I claiming her as my girlfriend, she never really settling on exactly what I was to her. It really wasn’t till the end of our awkward relationship where I would think to inquire as to who the entity had been that she referred to that night. The one who had already taken up residence in my head.
Though I’d been warned, I wrote it all off as some kind of liquor induced episode. I’ve always had strange dreams, but they’d never really come to much of anything.
We used to travel a lot in those early days. I’m happiest when I’m on the road, where each new city and skyline retains that glorious patina of novelty. My job as an on site producer for home and garden shows meant I rarely slept in the same bed twice. So long as Josie was beside me, it really didn’t matter.
We were never really married, not legally anyways, but she started telling people we were. She even started calling herself Josie Doom.
I don’t know if she started to change, or if the shiny patina of our relationship just slowly eroded over time. I started having to stay on the road a lot longer, and in much less glamorous locales. Josie’s interest in the vagabond life dulled. I couldn’t blame her. Dinner Stuckey’s and nights at Motolodge were a far cry from what she’d become accustomed to. I told her things would pick up soon, that this was just a dry spell. Eventually she just opted to stay at home, in our apartment and wait for me to return.
I tried to focus on my work but I was injured by her choice. I started doing little things to punish myself, foregoing meals and working extra hours as a sort of self induced penance. At one point I was living entirely off of pudding cups, the strawberry cheesecake kind to be exact, that I stored in the glove compartment of my rental car.
I guess the pudding cup life caught up to me eventually. It happene one afternoon, in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, during the Fall of 2007. I was surveying the location we’d be filming the next day. You had to hike a ways through the woods to get there, but I knew it wasn’t far.
I started feeling weak, and shaky, till all at once, I couldn’t support the weight of my body. My knees buckled under me and I fell down into the leaf litter, unable to move.
I lay there for a while in a daze, watching the sunset through the trees, enjoying this quiet reprieve from the duties of life. Then the realization hit me, that the forest was no place to be at night, especially not while incapacitated. In the distance, I heard gunshots and the sound of voices well lubricated with alcohol. I realized a group of locals had an evening of night hunting planned. I was more afraid of what they’d do to me than I was any of the nocturnal denizen of this woods.
I heard footsteps approach, three, maybe four people. One of them knelt and lifted my head on to their lap.
I couldn’t make out their face in the failing light of the evening, but as I turned my cheek, I felt the bristle of coarse fur. It was like that of a dog or a goat’s hide, not like a human’s legs at all. At first, I though this person might be wearing furry pants. That is until I caught the scent of an unmistakably female musk. I realized that whoever held me, they were a woman, luxuriously pelted but naked.
Three smaller figures turned cartwheels and danced in the distance around me. I supposed they must be her children. At some point, I must have drifted off to sleep. I’d have strange dreams, like memories, of a life I’d never lived.
“Flashing images, bombs dropping, men with bayonets, then everything went dark, and I was in a hospital, talking to a mummy with a mustache. Suddenly, people were screaming in Russian, shouting Tara-Pitsa, Tara-Pitsa, and I was being dragged down a hall.” ... “I woke up a couple of times during the night.” I went on, detailing how the first time, one of the smaller beings was trying to feed me something. I think they were mushrooms. I just know they were squishy and covered with dirt. He kept shoving them into my mouth and pulling open my jaws to make sure I swallowed them. The second time I woke up to a dog with yellow eyes licking my face. It tried to push something into my mouth too, but it was furry, and wet. I refused. When I woke up the next day,” I continued, “I was all alone, and I had a head full of memories that weren’t mine. I made my way back to my car, and found the doors had been pulled open in the night.” ... “I had a bunch of expensive camera and lighting equipment in the back seat, but it was completely untouched.” I relayed how my glove compartment was hanging open, but everything was there save for the pudding cups. Those had been scattered around my car and stomped. Little bare footprints, covered in cheesecake and strawberry jam trailed off back into the forest. It was as if they were trying to leave me a message. ... I explained how I just waited there for the crew to show up so we could start filming for the day. One of the teamsters, Sergei, was a Russian guy. He was training his son to follow in his footsteps I suppose, but the kid was pretty obviously tired or high, or something like that. I kept hearing his dad shout Tara-Pitsa, Tara-Pitsa at him, like the Russians in my dream. I asked Sergei what that meant, and he said “Hurry, it means hurry!”
When I told Josie, she said I’d probably heard it in an old war movie or something, and just integrated it into my dream.
“The human subconscious is a whole mess of half memories and unfulfilled sexual desires,” She’d informed me.
“How do you know?” I asked her.
She then proceeded to show me just how many unfulfilled sexual desires I had stored in my unconscious mind at that moment, to the tune of Slayer’s “South of Heaven. I’m wasn’t particularly partial to Slayer, but I couldn’t find fault in the way she moved her body in time to the driving rhythms.
Things fell apart slowly. Her harsh words, disguised as a joke gave way public debasements. Admittedly, I enjoyed the thrill of humiliation at first, being made into a public spectacle, my shame on display for all to see. In the past, these affronts always lead to frantic, clumsy love making in whatever space would accommodate our bodies. Now, these humblings gave way to arguments, which seemingly bubbled up from nowhere, and Josie storming off in a rage.
To make matters worse, my dreams became more insistent. They’d call me into unconsciousness at a moments notice, even in the most intimate of situations and hold me under for hours. It was as if my brain was desperate to resurrect some long buried story, and demanded I sacrifice my waking life to serve as scribe. I diligently committed myself to writing and drawing everything I could recall from these episodes, if only to chase them away.
My own memories started to dither off. I’d forget names of people I’d known for years, and play it off as though I was just tired. Frequently, I’d forget where I was going while I was in commute, and have to call Josie and ask her. It was as if my brain could only store so much, and was making room to house new memories it had suddenly become apprised of.
I had an MRI, which much to my chagrin, turned out normal. I’d desperately hoped for some sort of explanation.
My therapist offered his theory.
“Napoleon, you took a high stress job, which kept you away from your loved ones.”
“Well Josie.” I’d corrected him.
“Yes, the woman you’ve made the focus of your entire life.” He went on, “and yet you abandoned her.”
“No I didn’t!” I contested.
“That’s not how Josie sees it.” He coolly extolled, “In her eyes, you chose work over her.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you two were chatting it up on the regular.” I snorted back.
He ignored me and delved further, “It’s obvious that Josie is unleashing her pent up hostility on you for that abandonment. You come from the stress of work to the stress of home, leaving you with no sanctum.”
“You got that right.” I agreed.
“As a result,” He was brimming with eagerness to deliver his conclusion, “you’ve retreated into your mind. Your subconscious has invented lives for you to lose yourself in as an escape.”
“Like Walter Mitty?” I asked.
“Who?” He shot back, “I’m not familiar with that case.”
“No, it’s a short story…and a movie, two movies, they did a remake in 2013… you know what, don’t worry about it.” I’d sloughed off sheepishly.
He suggested I take time off from work, and reconnect with Josie. It was during my time off that I discovered that she too had been in search of an escape. Instead of retreating into fictitious lives she’d been inviting very real people into our bed. That destroyed me.
I figured the dreams would subside now that my job and my relationship had come their conclusion. If anything, the dreams became more ruthless with my time, and more intense.
I’m desperate to find someone who can help me make sense of the endless notebooks I’ve accumulated, with memories pilfered from other times, other minds, other versions of myself. I just want to find a way to make these dreams end, so I can get my life back.