stories

Ensoulment 2015

 

 

There won’t be any difference between when I’m dead and now, because

I won’t know it.

                    MARCEL DUCHAMP

 

 

It seems so obvious now in retrospect, hard to believe that for so many years there was such ignorance of this matter. The foolishness and absurdity of most of the theories, the ghost stories and Ouija boards, how embarrassing. Now we understand! And all because of a simple piece of electronics and a thirteen-year-old girl. That little discovery seven years ago changed everything, the whole economy of the world, our idea of history, of society and death. The Search for the soul is now over and we will never be the same.

 

The seat-of-the-soul debate had been ongoing some four thousand years. It started out not as a heart-versus-brain debate, but as heart-versus liver. The ancient Egyptians believed that the “ka” or soul resided in the heart. Ka was the essence of the person: spirit, intelligence, feelings and passions, humor. The heart was the only organ left inside a mummified corpse, for a person needed the “ka” in the afterlife. The brain on the other hand was not important: cadaver brains were scrambled and pulled out in globs, through the nostrils, by way of a hooked bronze needle. Then they were thrown away. The liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs were taken out of the body and stored in earthen jars inside the tomb in the off chance they might be of some use later down the road. The Babylonians were the original liver supporters, believing that organ to be the source of human emotion and spirit. The liver is a beautiful organ, it gleams, and it looks engineered and carefully wrought. The organs around it are amorphous and unappealing. The liver's flanks have a subtle curve, like the horizon seen from space. No wonder the Babylonians thought it was the seat of the divine. The Mesopotamians played both sides of the argument, assigning emotion to the liver and intellect to the heart. With the rise of classical Greece, the soul debate evolved into the more familiar heart-versus-brain, the liver having been demoted to an accessory role. Pythagoras and Aristotle viewed the heart as the seat of the soul but the source of "vital force” necessary to live and grow, they believed, resided in the brain. Plato agreed that both the heart and the brain were soul terrain, but assigned primacy to the brain.

 

It was not until the Renaissance that the search for the soul made any real headway.  William Harvey's discovery of the circulatory system dealt the liver-heart as-seat-of-the-soul theory a final fatal blow; Harvey, you will not be surprised to hear, believed that the soul was carried in the blood. A couple of centuries later came New Jersey's own Thomas Edison with another variation on the all-through-the-body concept of the soul. Edison believed that living beings were animated and controlled by "life units," smaller-than-microscopic entities

that inhabited each and every cell and, upon death, evacuated the premises, floated around awhile, and eventually reassembled to animate a new personality, possibly another man, possibly an ocelot or a sea cucumber. Like other scientifically trained but mildly insane soul speculators, Edison strove to prove his theory through experimentation. In his Diary and Sundry Observations, Edison makes references to a set of plans for a scientific apparatus designed to communicate with these soul like agglomerations of life units. "Why should personalities in another existence or sphere waste their time working a little triangular piece of wood over a board with certain lettering on it?" he wrote, referring to the Ouija boards then in fashion among spirit mediums. Edison figured that the life-unit entities would put forth some sort of "etheric energy," and one need only amplify that energy to facilitate communication. Edison died before his apparatus could be built, but rumors of a set of blueprints persisted for years. With the help of a medium and a seance several engineers at General Electric, foremost among them a man named J. Gilbert contacted Edison in the afterlife and asked him who had the plans. “Ralph Fascht of 165 Pinehurst Avenue, New York, or perhaps, better, Edith Ellis, 152 W 58th St.", came the reply from the beyond. Wright tracked down Edith Ellis, who sent him to a Commander Wynne, in Brooklyn, said to have a tracing of the blue-prints. It resembled an aluminum trumpet with antennae and a crude circuit designed to store sound waves. Wright and an associate, Harry Gardner, went on to invent their own device, an ”ectoplasmic larynx" consisting of a microphone, a loudspeaker, and a "sound box". Wright used the "larynx" to contact Edison, who offered helpful tips on how to improve the machine. But alas these tips did not perfect the design and they finally gave up. So near but yet so far. This was the closest anyone had come to discovering the real nature of the soul and perhaps if Edison, the great genius, had not died prematurely the world would not have had to wait nearly one hundred more years for the great revolution of mortality that transpired in march of 2015.

 

Not the Nano or the Ipad mini but the special edition black U2 Iphone 5 was constructed with an unfortunate flaw. The super thin isolating film around the microprocessor would melt from the heat caused by overcharging the batteries (which is unavoidable) causing several circuits to distend. The result is history. On March 3rd 2015 Seji Adachi then just turned thirteen years was listening to music on her U2 Iphone 5 when all of a sudden instead of Miley Cyrus she started to hear the voice of her dead grandmother. Luckily in Japan there is great respect for the dead so instead of turning off the Iphone in disgust like any normal kid, Seji immediately ran home to show her mother. The news swept across Japan like a wildfire.

 

The first few months were awkward of course with all the lawsuits from people claiming their rightful inheritances now that the wills could be checked directly with the deceased. A bit of panic when certain people discovered that they were sharing their apartments with sometimes scores of discorporate souls. There was the sad case of Giovanni Pasquantonio who discovered no less then 405 other souls inhabited his one bedroom apartment on the Campo Dei Fiori in Rome, 32 of them Etruscans. This problem occurred all over the world and had a damaging affect on the Real Estate markets, but ultimately caused a boom in the building sector as many people moved out of their older houses into new freshly built constructions. Certain discorporate individuals demanded their pre-death rights and property but the United nations were able to keep this problem from getting out of hand by passing the World Discorporate laws of 2018. These laws made very clear that “discorporates” (now a derogative term unfortunately) had rights; they could work, earn money, own property and even marry but they had no claims to the objects and Capital they possessed before their discorporation. All in all it was a positive transition as the great majority of people were reunited with loved ones from many generations.

 

One of the sad casualties of the new era was the end of any real interest in History. At first there was a frenzy of activity as scholars traveled the world interviewing famous discorporate figures like Cleopatra and Abraham Lincoln, and of course hundreds of unfortunate interviews with the likes of Hitler and Ghengis Khan. Every Country had its special historical figure to search out and expose. But after a while a great malaise settled on the historical community and people started to lose interest. After-all why bother writing history when all you need to do is ask the participants directly what happened. Universities closed their history departments and opened “Schools for Discorporate Studies”, with discorporate professors and students. “Equal opportunities for discorporates” was the slogan of the day. It was discovered that discorporates had a knack for navigation and before long every airplane, cargo ship, and train was captained by at least two discorporate souls. The Internet became the discorporate communication link and very soon three quarters of the Internet sites were owned and run by “bodyfree” citizens. The ‘Bodyfree’ as they came to be known grew rich and in some cases were able to build there own houses with “living” servants and security guards. This angered certain intolerant factions in the community and in 2023 the great Discorporate free Zones were established, large areas of the countryside were designated “spookfree” and a special world wide police force was instituted to track down and dispose of unruly discorporates who did not respect these boundaries.

 

Things have settled down a bit since those traumatic days, the living and the discorporate coexist happily now and share in the benefits of the new post-mortal era. Picasso will have an exhibition of new work at the MOMA this year and Mozart has written a new opera. Younger “living” artists have discovered that their talents are better served by becoming the assistants (the hands and eyes so to speak) of their more famous predecessors. Some of the discorporate visual Artists whose work dealt with more conceptual problems are able to manage their new projects directly from the beyond without the help of ‘living’ intervention. One of the most famous of his generation, Donald Judd, was quoted recently as saying “It was frustrating being dead, I was angry for a while, but now without that annoying need for food and sleep that I had when I was alive, I have so much more time to work on my projects”. It is rare these days to see an exhibition of a living artist when the shows of the great discorporate geniuses are usually so much more rewarding.

 

People don’t fear death as they once did, imagine how frightening it must have been in those dark days before the discovery. Some people have arranged everything so that almost nothing changes after they ‘pass-on’. One day they have a body the next they don’t, no big funerals or wreaths, no weeping. It’s all changed for the best, I should know, I have been ‘bodyless’ now for almost a year.

 

 

copyright 2007, Glen Rubsamen, first published as “Ensoulment 2015” In Prop. Düsseldorf: Nüans, 2007.

 

“AFRAM”

 

“Phnglui mglw nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah Judd nagl fhtagn”

                                                                      H.P. Lovecraft

 

Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end. I saw it in Kaatje’s face before she disappeared and I felt the horror deep in my bones. It was the feeling one might have in the jungle being hunted by a leopard but different because a leopard is not evil and this feeling had an overwhelming hysterical, loathsome, perverse and sickening effect that made it impossible for me to breath. To describe this sensation of evil is both simple and impossible, you will think I have gone mad but I remember laughing. There is no language for such abysms of shrieking, slobbering lunacy.

 

We were working in the sculpture studio at school when the phone rang. It was 5pm on a Friday and there was only Kaatje and myself. I was fooling around with the wiring on my new piece. It’s just a plain black metal box which hangs on the wall about the size of a toaster but out of the front protrudes a black rubber hose about ½ inch thick which snakes down and lies in front of the piece on the floor. If you step on the hose a loud bell rings inside the box on the wall. Simple. Maybe you remember back when gas stations still cleaned your windshield? When you drove your car up to the pump a bell would go off and someone would run out to fill the tank? Same principle. It’s part of my new “wake up” series.

 

Kaatje was sanding her new sculpture, a sort of homage to John McCracken, which looked like a cross between a surfboard from the old days of Hawaii before Captain Cook arrived, and the monolith from 2001. I answered the phone; it was Prof. Kraag our sculpture teacher at the Institute, but he sounded funny, scratchy and wheezy and he spoke very softly. He asked how many of us were still around and when I explained it was just the two of us left, he begged me to help him, that he didn’t have much time, and that we should hurry over to his gallery in Soho and to bring the big crowbar from the tool locker. He started to cough and then I heard what I thought was a whine or a sob. I told him we would be right over or at least I would, I didn’t know about Kaatje.

 

Kaatje was a bit of a mystery. She was always working, day and night. The security guards had to throw her out of the classroom at the 9Pm bell. She was so obsessed. She had straight black hair that dove down to her shoulder blades and then at the last moment changed its’ mind and flipped back up. She had very delicate features, brown eyes that seemed to flash when she looked at you and an almost perfect nose; her mouth was small but very pretty. She had a fantastic body, which I only noticed because our class staged a mud-wrestling event to make money for our class trip to Basel and she arrived in a small bikini. Before the mud covered her I could see that she had everything in all the right places. She took no interest in boys and every once and a while even made a remark about how worthless they are so we all decided that she must be gay. But I am not so sure, she has never come on to me and I am the type of girl that girls seem to find attractive. Well, at least I’ve had to say no a few times already in my 23years.

 

When I hung up the phone Kaatje was already standing beside me, crowbar in hand. “Let’s go”, she said and slightly baffled I followed her out of the room down the steps and out onto 57th street where we caught a cab for Soho.

 

The O.J. Harris Gallery is one of those ancient NY institutions that started life before “Pop art” and never moved to Chelsea with the last migration. I don’t really know anyone that has even been inside but I have certainly passed it walking from the C train to the Apple store on Spring St. We knew that Professor Kraag showed there once upon a time but we didn’t realize he still had any connection with it. When the taxi finally arrived in front of the gallery on Mercer, we paid and jumped out, Kaatje trying her best to look nonchalant with the huge crowbar under her jacket.

 

 

The gallery looked as if it was closed. I mean really closed, like no one had been there in years and when we tried the door it opened but with difficulty because of the huge pile of take -out menus jammed underneath and an equally huge pile on the floor inside. The door just opened enough so that we could squeeze in and we were almost knocked out from the smell of mold and decay that wafted about. It was freezing cold and a strange wind gushed through the rooms. It was a classic Soho gallery, with walls that tilted at slightly different angles and cast iron columns supporting up a beaten-up tin ceiling. Everything including the floor was painted white; a dirty white that showed it’s age.

 

 

“Professor Kraag are you there? ” I shouted, Kaatje standing next to me holding the crowbar like a baseball bat. “Professor Kraag, it’s us, Gina and Kaatje, are you there”?

No answer, just the strange whistling sound of the wind that seemed to come out of nowhere. The walls of the gallery were bare except for one large piece of paper that seemed to have a faint pencil drawing covering most of its’ surface. We recognized the drawing immediately as the work of Professor Kraag . The drawing depicted a structure, a construction made up of huge boxes spaced equidistant from one another. The boxes stood upright in space and Professor Kraag had given them the affect of cold metal with his charcoal and gauche highlights. The boxes reached a great height and inscribed under them was the word “AFRAM” next to the structure was another sketch but this time of what seemed to be a sea creature or cuttlefish with humanoid legs and wings and underneath this sketch the faint inscription “ctuthlu al afram ebu zusht”

 

I started to feel a chill and realized the temperature in the gallery had dropped just in the short time we had been standing in front of Professor Kraags’ drawing. The wind in the gallery had picked up and an audible howl or shriek was made by the wind passing under a nearby doorway. The door appeared to lead to the gallery offices and when we tried to turn the knob it was frozen shut. The whistling continued as the wind found it’ s way through the cracks around the door jam. Kaatje placed the big crowbar deftly between the door itself and the old Victorian cornice, which surrounded it, and we both pushed with all our strength. The wood around the lock shattered and the door flew open. An artic breeze hit us full in the face and I felt my tongue freeze against my teeth. A feeling of death and desertion washed over us and the smell of fish was almost insufferable.

 

 

We poked our heads into the office; a howling gale was blowing through the doorway as if someone had punched a hole in the universe. The room was in complete chaos; bookshelves overturned and papers strewn everywhere, sheets of bubble wrap and chunks of cardboard doing cartwheels through the air. Then I noticed it! On the opposite side of the room where there should have been a wall there was only a giant hole. A hole with lights on the other side of it that cast sharp shadows across the damaged furniture. Stars, harsh and bright against the darkness of a flat alien landscape shrouded in the twilight. The hole seemed to pull me towards it sucking me in and I could not move until Kaatjes’ grip of steel grabbed my arms pulling me out of the room and jamming the door closed behind us. I had one last glimpse of the hole as I was pulled to safety. The opening was the size of a large pair of double doors and ragged bits of plaster and lathe showed on the edges. Beyond it, rolling ground, deep cold, a valley with a small western town in the distance seemingly covered in ice, beneath unwinking stars that formed constellations that I could not recognize. A dim landscape not of this world.

 

 

Safely outside the room with the door closed Kaatje has removed some device from her pocket and is consulting the numbers and symbols on its’ tiny screen. She tells me to stay-put while she goes around the block to the army navy surplus store on Broadway to pick up some supplies. She disappeared out the front door of the gallery at a speed that seemed super human and in what seemed like only a few minutes reappeared carrying a great bundle of clothes and several bags overflowing with old-fashioned military gear.

 

 

“We have to go in after him,” she said.

“After who?” I replied in my stupor.

“Professor Kraag” she said “and snap out of it!! He obviously has been taken captive by something really evil from another universe which has opened this portal into our world, and put these clothes on!” she orders as I try to digest what she has just said about really evil something and portals into our world.  All I wanted was to run far away from this freezing wind and putrid fish smell but Kaatje was already dressing so I put on the khaki parka with the fur hood that she had given me and the quilted snow pants and boots. She had snowshoes and a giant old bayonet knife, which I felt, was a bit silly. But she also had a set of small metallic gadgets with armbands that definitely did not look like anything you could buy at the “Supply Sergeant”. Kaatje placed the devise over my right arm and patted me on the wrist saying “this will warm you up a bit”. As soon as I had the thing on my arm I started to feel almost cozy as if a thin film had covered my whole body like some extremely sheer space suit. She also had a pair of goggles and a mask, which she pulled over my face and mouth.

 

 

“We’re going in,” she said “follow me and don’t do anything unless I say so”. She forced open the door to the office and we crept on our hands and knees into the icy chamber. Already a frost had covered the floor and as we entered the hole in the wall the ground changed to a crumbly, crunchy hard pack of snow and icy gravel. My skin prickled and I felt the warmth of my breath inside my mask.  Around us is a landscape of dead trees and frozen grass, mummified beneath a layer of frost, above us the stars are bright red, unblinking in an almost black sky. I recognize the dead shapes of creosote bushes, prickly pear trees, white thorned acacia and the frozen remains of an ocotillo cactus- the typical vegetation of the Chihuahian desert. We find ourselves in a long valley, which slopes down ahead of us. At the end of the valley there seems to be a small town in Texas or maybe New Mexico but something is very strange, very different we realize. In the middle of the town there is a large tower made of huge steel boxes, which seem to float in the air. “It’s the thing from Professor Kraags drawing’, I whisper and Kaatje replies, “That’s were we will find him, I hope he is still alive”.

 

Route 90 West

AFRAM

Population 207

 

I read from an iced-over sign as we entered the town. It felt like an endless march through the permafrost. Ever since we started a powerful feeling of foreboding and dread has been rising inside me, and when we came upon the frozen mummified bodies of some kind of animal my heart leaped from my chest into my throat. Nearby on the ground are three equally spaced concentric circles of stones.

 

“Must be some kind of ritual marker to keep away the evil forces” I said half in jest.

“No it is a force field used to summon demons” Kaatje answered matter-of–factly, as if she was talking about a tuna sandwich or something equally banal.

 

 

We had arrived at two large steel sheds with vaulted roofs and glass walls. The glass was mostly broken and lay in piles of shards around the edges. The smell of rotting fish was at its most powerful here and I had to concentrate on not gagging in my mask. Inside the building we found 100 aluminum boxes identical to each other. Kaatje measured one with the khaki tape measure she had bought at the surplus store. “Always thinking ahead that Kaatje!”

 

“41x 51 x 72 inches” she mumbled ‘the perfect dimension to create a Mandelbrot set, it’s a giant summoning device, all you have to do is create an attraction mode at one end of these boxes and a responding antinode at the other end, energize the circuit and you could summon the biggest demon anyone has ever seen.”

“Wouldn’t you need a lot of power for that?’ I asked, trying to sound informed.

“Your right,” she responded giving me a look of new respect.

“Let’s keep moving”! She ordered.

 

Next to the sheds we discovered 11 “U” shaped buildings in a shallow arc. Strange light was emanating from the first six of them. Pink-green light from the first two, yellow-blue light from the third and fourth buildings and the whole spectrum from the last two. Kaatje was consulting that super high-tech gadget she had and after a moment or two she said “ bingo”! “That’s where the power is coming from, it must be extracted from the atmosphere by that huge tower we saw and then channeled into those buildings to be refined into pure ectoplasm”. She headed off towards the fifth “U” shaped building in the row.

 

When we entered the building we discovered that the walls and floor were covered in a thick slime. It was difficult to move and much warmer than outside in the open air. Neon fixtures about eight feet long covered the walls with alternating bulbs of pink-yellow-green-and blue. There were green footprints, or claw prints in the slime. As we rounded the first corner of the “U” we discovered more of the strange animal corpses lying about. I felt like screaming, the horror of this place was making my whole body shake uncontrollably. The corpses were of some animal resembling nothing I had ever seen in books. They were pinkish things about 5 feet long with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membrane wings and several sets of articulated limbs, their heads were a sort of convoluted ellipsoid covered with a multitude of very short antennae. The bodies of the monstrous things were scattered around in a haphazard way all bathed in the intense colored light from the ‘bulbs” on the walls. We heard moaning. Around the next bend in the “U” we found him; Professor Kraag is spread eagled on his back, naked, tied to the uprights of a wooden framework like a four-poster bed. The structure is quite handsome really made of very thick multi-layered plywood. Then I noticed what is suspended above him by way of pulleys and steel cables that also loop down to form the manacles on Professor Kraag’s wrists. On top of each post is a large tesla-coil. The whole rig is hooked up by a giant cable to one of the big neon fixtures near-by.

 

 Professor Kraag is unconscious but still breathing. I can smell the faint breath that comes from his mouth and nose. On the floor, in front of this infernal machine are the letters DDUJ. They are inscribed with dribbled solder. What madness!

 

 

“It’s an Alter” Kaatje whispers, “we have to get him off of it fast before it energizes”

She was speaking and simultaneously extracting from her parka the components of a very thin looking gun. The kind that James Bond used but this model was flattened by a steamroller. It was as if a child in art class had cut the shape of a gun out of cardboard and painted it silver.

 

“What’s that”, I asked.

 “It’s a thin gun” Kaatje replied.” Stand Back”!

She pointed the gun at the cables that held Professor Kraag and fired. Nothing happened, no flash, no load explosion, absolutely nothing! But when I looked back at the necromantic construct that held the Professor, it was partially disintegrated, as if it had been made of wax. It was like a candelabra with four candles melted down to their bases. The whole apparatus that held Kraag was gone.

 

We pulled some of the army surplus clothing over Kraags’ rotund body and by strapping some of the neon fixtures together we made a sort of sledge. With the remaining khaki rope that Kaatje had brought at the ‘Supply Sergeant”, we created a harness and both of us together were quite easily able to pull Professor Kraag through the snow.

 

The climb out of the town and up the valley was tortuous. We kept slipping on the ice and I kept looking back to see what creatures might be following us. It all felt to easy; we were almost home, just another mile or so and we would be back to the hole. I hoped that it had not closed in the meantime.

 

 When we reached the level of the petrified Ocotillo forest, Kaatje put down her side of the harness and said, “We rest here for a few minutes”. She handed me one of those Pre fab packs of cheese and crackers from Kraft. The ones we always had at school when we were kids. I tore off the plastic top and started devouring the cheddar part. Funny how fear makes you hungry, I thought.

 

“So what happened here”? I asked, after we both finished our crackers.

“Didn’t you recognize it”? She asked. This was the work of the minimalists, they must have built a gateway to this alternate universe to hide when the world started to change and post modernism crept into every part of our lives. They came here to hide but they must have underestimated the boredom and loneliness so they started to experiment with the occult. They tried to summon a great demon; perhaps they wanted to send it back to our world to purge it of the new post-human deconstructionists and to set the stage for their own return. But it all went very wrong. Whatever demon they managed to conjure must have destroyed them and somehow taken over Professor K forcing him to make a new gateway into our world”.

 

“It wants our world”? I ask.

 

‘That’s why we must destroy it’! Kaatje responded with a strange combination of horror and determination in her eyes.

 

Kaatje pulled a small silver football from the last zippered pocket in her parka. It had lights on it and what seemed to be a touchpad. She was keying some kind of code into the thing. Arming it! I deduced. Then it dawned on me, she was not coming back with me after all.

“You go on now” she said. Take Kraag back through the hole and into the gallery where it is safe. “I will be along in a little while. I must kill the thing that did this”.

“ No”, I said, “You can’t go back it’s to dangerous!”

That’s when it appeared. I never really saw it directly, just the shadow it made on the snow. It was a huge version of the dead animals that we found lying about back in town. Must have been several hundred feet in height and thirty feet wide. I saw the unspeakable horror in Kaatjes face. The thing spoke.

 

“Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”

 

A powerful blast emanated from its’ direction and cut into the ground in front and behind us. I felt a hot brand of steel force its way into my leg and when I looked over at Kaatje the whole left side of her torso had been burned away. But to my amazement she was still standing and under her scorched flesh I could see the dull glint of a polished titanium skeleton. She pulled me to my feet and attached the harness to my back. I started to run, it was only a few hundred yards back to the gaping rift in the universe. Just as I reached the hole and after I pushed Professor Kraag to safety, I looked back to see a great battle waged. Kaatje, her robotic body moving at great speed, her tiny gun in hand-blasting away. Then everything went dark and light all at once. I was thrown through the hole and fell unconscious.

 

When I awoke, I was back in the gallery in Soho, Professor Kraag at my side. The hole in the wall had disappeared leaving no trace.  Kaatje was gone and all I could think about was that look on her face at the end. What had she seen?

 

In the months that followed, I quit the art academy; I sold all my belongings and concentrated on writing this account of my experiences. I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever be poison to me. I do not think my life will be long. I know too much.

 

Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

copyright 2007, Rita McBride and Glen Rubsamen, first published as "AFRAM" In Magnetic Promenade and Other Sculpture Parks. Chris Evans, ed. London: Studio Voltaire, 2007.