He woke from black sleep, his eyes open and searching, as if starved for images. Images of strength. Of power.
Where he found himself was the vast space of a large tinclad building filled with dustmotes and pinbeams of sunlight and heaps of cogwheeled machinery. Heavy timber pilings rising.
Indentations from rough planking dotted the back of his skull. He rolled up, first on his left side, then slowly higher until he sat upright in the world.
The machines were huge, intricate, potential. Idle, but potential. Belts of processor lines superseded by structures of a greater order. Hundreds of linear yards of once-chromium and tarred black piping. Frozen gears lay meshed in the guise of uncompleted thoughts. An aching in the air, as if one switch lay dormant somewhere that would throw everything in motion at once.
It was a place he might have worked once.
There was a tucked-away memory of doing a job and getting paid and being surprised because it felt good to work and that would have been enough,that would have been plenty. But then things changed and he began to need the money, and more of it.
Physical labor always exploded his body. Like fucking makes a baby that grows, his muscles swelled with each lift of the pallet, each turn of the twenty-ton valve switch. Men stood back and watched him grow. They looked at the shine of sweat on his muscles.
He was an individual people made a point to look at. Even men.
Something in the building sounded, with the faint ping of metal alloy. Shadows held furtive small creatures, tentative and noisy.
The idea of thrust came to him from somewhere in all the machinery, a feeling like thousands of small tiny beings rushing in his arteries--soldiers in tunnels that were forever closing behind them. The exalted state of a feeling remembered. He felt clean, and hungry. Very Hungry.
He had once been terrified that they would come through the end of his sleeves and people would know what he had been doing.
He saw his own body from the outside, naked from the waist up and muscle-rippled, like a magazine photograph. The insinuation of indecency in its own rounded perfection, hints of pleasurable odors.
The open space in the warehouse beckoned him. Slowly standing up, a faint silver field surrounded his body like a blanket of radio frequencies. The field guided him forth, through the pulsing dimness of the warehouse. Along the far wall he tried door handles. The seventh one worked--a number of magic.
Outside, the alternate world, the world under the sun.
Around him were rusting metal warehouses, weedy lots, the occasional Victorian two-story in serious decay. Lopsided steamboat gothics with burned out windows for eyes. Some ten blocks away downtown buildings pierced the sky. When he watched closely he could see them growing, an inch at a time.
Everything that was there, he needed to see. He drank what he saw as if it would satisfy him.
The air was something rounded, like pillows--fresh. Mid-morning, heat rising. Summer clouds forming. Cars whizzed by on the forlorn streets. There were no bodies around, and vast spaces filled the time between cars.
He had to move. His body easing forth, parts working like a machine made of liquid, displacing the vacuum of where he had not previously been. The motion toward somewhere, the somewhere slowly presenting itself as a place of nourishment, of food.
His body, glowing, moist, iridescent. The cars went past with the sound of winds. They were all going in the same direction he was and the name of the street was Grand Street.
Ahead: the diner with the portrait of a pig in a chef's hat. There were people who ate here who knew him. They knew who he was.
The street and sidewalk in a summer blaze, and the opening of the glass door of the diner like a blast from an icehouse.
He thrust his body into the diner, into the province of lunch and sustenance and satiation of his immense hunger. The smells of chili dogs, beef barbeque, and frying potatoes flowed into him, through him, lighting up the avaricious cells of his body. He nodded to the scattered patrons of the establishment.
Each surface, each line had a clarity revealed only by unknown wavelengths of light. He saw it all. He sat at the counter and waited.
Straight ahead, he viewed the same room in reverse. Left was right. Right was left. The other patrons were there, watching him with the opposite eye.
But he wasn't there. He wasn't anywhere in the mirror. Someone sat in his place.
A face with graying streaks of curly forehead hair. Dry flaky skin, blotchy. Someone old. The missing right nostril looked recent, but it wasn't. The hole was a slice, really, of perpetually red inflamed tissue. The surprise of the absence of the expected.
Some other self looked back. The face from some other time.
That look from children, who seek above all else honesty--where are the parts that cover the unseen parts?
He left the diner. The eyes were off him. Outside the heat was miserable, but he wasn't hungry.
On Louisville the traffic whipped by in all four lanes, the afterbreezes hotter than the air when it was still. The sun bore straight down, while just a moment ago it had a fresh morning angle. Nobody saw him there.
Worse than the certainty that nothing would ever be true, that nothing will have ever been true.