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CHILDREN OF NO ONE
by Nicole Cushing
Copyright (Edition) ©2017 Independent Legions Publishing
Copyright (Text) ©2013 Nicole Cushing
2° Edition - October, 2017
Cover Art by bymandesigns
Editing: Lucy A. Snyder
Digital Layout: Lukha B. Kremo
I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth
that wouldencompass the past and the future and in some way involve thestars.
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”
As for the quality or characteristic of unholiness—this is also misleading,
a nominal facade designed to make thingsinteresting for a world born out ofblackness,
where nothing holy or unholy has ever existed…
where nothing exists at all except dreams and fevers and names for nothing: the creation, so to speak, of that original blackness
which pulls itself over every world like a hangman’s hood
over a condemned man’s head.
TWOARGUING voices echo off the walls of Nowhere, Indiana: the voices of teenage boys, one a tenor who sometimes crosses the border to a baritone, the other a baritone who sometimes crosses the border to a bass. The topic of their current debate: the possible existence of light. There’s no evidence of it to be found, at present, but one of them raises the possibility it may have been there, once. A long, long time ago.
“Whoever changed everything oughta get shot,” the tenor-baritone says.
“I keep telling you, nothin’s been changed. Things have always been like this,” the baritone-bass replies.
“Bullcrap. Lots has been changed. There’s lots missing. For starters, I remember seein’ shit. All kinds of shit, all over the place.”
“If you’re fixin’ to convince me, I suggest you narrow that down a little.”
A sigh. “I remember somethin’. Somethin’ that used to be around but isn’t anymore: low to the ground, long curly hair all over it. Its nose was shaped funny and it had long, floppy ears. I remember it licking me.”
“I’m the oldest. If anything like that was ever here, I’d remember it— and I don’t.”
“Only the oldest by a little, I think.”
“So maybe you don’t remember the light because you don’t want to remember it. Or maybe you really do remember and just won’t say it, because you want to let on that you believe what everyone says, instead of what you know.”
“Now listen here, James. That’s crazy talk.”
“You wanna know what’s crazy? The idea that only three things ever existed.”
“The dark, the walls, the us. That’s it, until we make our way out of here and into Heaven. That’s where the light is. The only place the light is. You see any evidence to the contrary?”
“Sure. The food.”
“Food’s just part of us. We take it inside ourselves, dumbass.”
“But who brings it out to the Target Zone? Where does it come from?”
“No wonder you got kicked out of school. I reckon you failed your oral exam on the qualities and characteristics of angels. That’s, what, fifty percent of your senior year grade?”
“Lookit, it wasn’t even a real school. I mean, you have to remember what it was like before. We had a real school, before. In the light. There were big people there. Bigger than us, at least. Don’t you remember the bigger man who always used to say things like ‘bullcrap’? He lived with us.”
“I mean, you have to remember. We made it into first and second grade before all the changes. I remember holding something in my hands. There were flat, thin things that my fingers used to flip through. It was how we learned. There’s something wrong with all this. I’ve always known there’s something wrong with all this. The best thing the Tutors ever did is kick me out. Let me go my own way.”
“Nope, the best thing that ever happened to you was my decision to let you tag along with me. You’d be dead by now if I hadn’t agreed to that.”
Then a pause in the debate, as though both voices have come to realize that neither one is en route to convincing the other.
Then the bells ring. Maybe a half dozen of the kind the Angels carry with them. There’s a scuffle of feet against dirt, perhaps stirred by a newborn hope. A huff, then grunts. The sound of footsteps moving in the direction of the chimes. Then the sound of flesh-and-bone colliding with thick oak. A metallic reverberation mixed into the dull thud of wood—as though the boys are living chimes and the walls a maze-shaped bell.
A wail. “Fuckin’ walls,” the tenor-baritone voice says.
“Fuckin’…What’s that word even mean?”
“I dunno. I just remember the guy who lived with us used to say that, sometimes, too. It just sounds like it fits this situation.”
THEOFFICE wasn’t much more than a Quonset hut. Humble, but comfortable. Well-lit. MacPherson asked if he could have a cigarette. Kitterman shrugged and said, “Sure, no smoking bans out here in the country. At least, none that anyone would go through all the trouble to enforce.” He put an ashtray embossed with the logo of the Indiana University Hoosiers in between them. Both of them lit up. Kitterman, his Marlboros. Macpherson, his Camels.
Kitterman scratched his neck and scratched his belly (and for all MacPherson knew, scratched his balls under the table with the other hand). He looked twitchy. “So, your flight from, well…wherever it is you flew in from…it go okay?”
Macpherson shrugged and flashed a fake grin. “I’m here, so it could have been worse.”
Kitterman wore a pin just over his left shirt pocket. Gold-colored, but probably not gold. An angel. His callused left hand fiddled with it while his right tapped out ashes. “Where’d you fly into? Cincinnati? Indy?”
“Louisville. Weird. You’d figure an old fart like me would have had a firm grasp on geography, but I never noticed Kentucky shared a border with Indiana.”
“Yep. Well, here in southern Indiana, I reckon you could say we’re sort of close to a lot of cities, but not real close to any of ’em. Our little town of Nowhere’s just less than a two-hour drive from Cincinnati and Indianapolis. How long did it take you from Louisville?”
He looked at his phone. “About ninety minutes. Guess that’s why TripAdvisor had me fly into there. Saved time. At least, a little. Got a nice deal on the rental car thanks to AARP. At least I end up getting something out of those membership dues! Take it from me, kid, getting old isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not these days.” He glanced up to find Kitterman scratching his nose. “Anyway, I’ve heard you run a hell of a joint here. I look forward to seeing it.”
Kitterman ran a hand through his auburn buzz cut and took a deep drag off his cigarette. “Well, that’s just the thing. I mean, ordinarily, we don’t give tours.”
MacPherson snorted smoke through his nostrils. “I hope you’ll understand that my case is a little out of the ordinary.”
“Well, yes, that’s why my boss asked me to meet with you. That’s why you’re here. I have to be honest with you, though. I wouldn’t get your hopes up. This…well, this project, likes to keep a low profile.”
“You might be surprised by how much I already know about your project, Mr. Kitterman. There’s gossip afoot among us patrons of the arts. Whispers implying that you and Thomas Krieg have been at this for ten years now. Raising dozens of children in a pitch-black maze. Deciding how much food and water to give them, where to leave it, how to alert them to its presence. Calibrating the environment. Getting the details right. I hope you’ll understand that a man in my position doesn’t like to be kept waiting to see such a masterpiece.”
Kitterman cleared his throat, took another drag of his cigarette, and cleared his throat again. Listened.
“I’m aware Mr. Krieg is a perfectionist,” MacPherson said. “Don’t get me wrong, I like that in an artist. But he needs to be reasonable. He can’t keep his fans waiting like this. I think the last time I saw his work was in that Lebanese prison, back in ’85. His public has been patient long enough, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I admire his fastidiousness. But you should tell Krieg that, at some point, an artist has to stop obsessing over the perfection of his work and put it out there to be enjoyed by the audience.”
“Well, my job’s the security end of things. I can’t say I know a lot about art. But if you were in Lebanon in ’85, then you must know how careful we have to be about the authorities. They don’t know a lot about art either. I’m sure you’ve heard all the misunderstandings.”
“Ah yes…‘Krieg the Torturer’… ‘Krieg the Sadist.’ Honestly, I can’t say for certain that these are misunderstandings. I happen to think these characterizations are spot on.”
Kitterman let out a series of spastic coughs, then crumbled what was left of his cigarette into the ashtray. “I, I see.”
“I hope this doesn’t bore you. But maybe if I share with you my perspective on all of this, it’ll reassure you as to my sincerity. You see, I’ve always been an admirer of performance art— or as I like to think of it, behavioral art.
That’s why Krieg’s work is right up my alley. When I was just an undergrad at NYU, I took in a show Yoko Ono gave. ‘Cut Piece.’ Have you heard of it?”
“Like I said, sir, the art isn’t really my end of things…”
“Well, let me describe it to you.” Kitterman didn’t look enthusiastic about being on the receiving end of such an explanation, but didn’t interrupt.
“You see, in ‘Cut Piece,’ Ono sat on the stage wearing a black dress. A pair of scissors lay on stage next to her. She invited members of the audience to come up and cut pieces of her dress off. When there was no more dress, she invited audience members to cut off her slip…her bra, her panties, even. Until there was nothing left. Or until she decided the show was over. It was personal violation as art, you see. Yoko Ono and Thomas Krieg know the same thing: that sometimes art depends on humiliation. Or, hell, take Picasso’s Guernica. Sometimes art depends on death, mutilation. If the fascists hadn’t bombed some Basques in 1937, we wouldn’t have that magnificent work of art. I approach your black maze of Nowhere, Indiana, very much in the same spirit as I would either of these two works.”