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2 0 4 8 : a D I A R Y
Sample of a new novel by James Cherry

1 January, 2048

Dear Diary,

As I stood atop a thirty-foot speaker stack in thigh-high gumboots and Buckingham guard's cut-away coat, the audience was blissfully unaware of a rabid cybot stalking the hall, threatening death to everyone. With a hundred thousand fans roaring approval of my blistering keytar solo, I held up a hand to stop the band, pointed my instrument at the oily monster, struck an atomic power chord, and shot a pin-thin death ray down its glowing green electric eye. The dying creature's banshee wail harmonized with feedback from my Marshall stack.

Berrrrrp chirped the phone, waking me from a beautiful dream. I'd nodded with the shade open and Teen Impala on repeat all night. I turned it off, flipped phone to speaker and propped myself up on a pillow.

"It's me." Jelly purred.

"Me who?" I knew.

"Me who has an extra Black Mantas ticket for tonight."

"Sold."

"Sorry for the late notice--was going with boyo, but we knocked down again. Had my fill."

"Heard that before."

"Mean it this time."

"Cuppa, pre-show?"

"Jammed, can't. Meet you at the station, eight sharp?"

Link Wray's dirty guitar rumbled as I brushed my bent grille on the fortieth floor of H-Bloc Subsidized in Brixton, where I live as a proud Englishman, undaunted.

New Year's resolution: I will collect wise quotes and arrange them for maximum impact on modern maniacs--things like Emerson said:

Do the thing and you shall have the power.
They who do not the thing have not the power.

But I can't do the thing tonight--not when I'm seeing Black Mantas.

The ShowBubble's silver skin shimmered like billowy silver pillows outside the soaring arched windows of Marble Cross station. Jelly strutted across that ancient terrazzo like she's never done one wrong thing in a brand new leopard-skin pillbox hat and fitted jacket over a watermelon-suede cat suit that hugged every inch down to black patent winkle pickers. But even glittering ear buds wriggling on pearly white lobes couldn't distract me from a sadness blurring Jelly's green eyes as they played peek-a-boo through a copper fringe.

"A-lo Fumbo. Getting it when you can?"

"I'm sorted. You look minky."

"Not feeling it. Cried over boyo all day. Told him, 'Fuck you, ape."

A fine red rim round her eyes said Jelly was telling it true. She needed a stimi and I did too. We walked into the open-air plaza where Manta fans in satin and tat sauntered under lead-coloured clouds scudding through a dead purple sky. Black shirts loitered in tough guy poses as we paused at a gorgeous, golden vendi-girl in a bippety-boppety hat. She looked so good I wished she were real. Jelly waved her embed to pay and threw off a whiff of jungle night perfume.

"Think she's pretty?"

"She's a robo. What's in it for me?"

Scowling, Jelly pushed me away, then grabbed my arm and held fast as we strolled through a glittering arc into the pleasure dome, like dreamers do. She vibrated with excitement as we entered the hall under the watchful eyes of guards in armored exoskeletons. Side-hugging me, she said, "So good to see you, Fumbo. You're more fun than that crepe-head any day." Every geezer there wanted what I had; I saw it in their eyes. Surrounded by peacocked peers flashing conspiratorial smiles, we shuffled in to seats centered on the second mezzanine. Sipping stimis through bendy straws brought on a welcome buzz. The Black Mantas album Two If By Sea played hot as we sat in the dark:

A plastic Icarus flew to the sun
On wings that melted one by one

Stimi buzz came on strong as trumpets ballyhooed Black Mantas running on stage in glowing colour-changing suits, bowing and stroking translucent, illuminated instruments. An instrumental Free Electrons flowed straight into Tsunami Mommy, a whammy-bar wankathon off their album Jagged Little Krill. I watched Jelly watch Black Mantas segue into Sea Hoarse, a heavy water chantey that Cathode Ray sang to a syrupy slow Bo Diddley beat. As eerie-sounding cellos sawed their way to a harpsichord bridge, I wrapped an arm 'round Jelly's bony white shoulder. She leaned in and shivered. Cathode Ray crooned a moody baritone.

Swimming beside you
In deep green and blue

Guitarist Shardz pointed at the ceiling, pulled a rude face, and wind-milled a power chord that split the ShowBubble roof in two, scattering a million stars overhead as luminescent space gas swung to the beat.

Cathode Ray continued.

A sea within a sea
Me in you, you in me
You lay your eggs
Between my legs

"Wot!" Shardz yelped, wind-milling another power chord while ballistic drummer Kat Man Do thundered through a squall of electron goo.

An aqua sea
Swallows me
When I drone
I'm not alone

Mezzing on Cathode Ray, Jelly missed a holographic ocean drowning us in seawater. She came 'round when we morphed into fish with fins sprouting from our backs and cheek-mounted gills flapping to Manta beats. Six more songs, then lights up for intermission. Jelly and I strolled to the lobby under a ceiling showing a 3-D Milky Way like ancient people saw. My sponge-soled creepers stuck to the floor where wobbly geezers had spilled their drinks. I lined up for a pair of bliterades. "Two Lingering Questions, please." Jelly lit up like Christmas at the sight of those stimis. We filed in holding our cups close in a jostling crowd, sat, and sipped while staring at a darkened stage.

Onstage, a souvenir snow globe blown up ten feet high where Cathode Ray bobbed astride a giant sea horse lit up aqua that changed to purple that changed to ultramarine as he sang Download Ed's swampy title track in a neoprene suit and stylized diver's helmet.

Download Ed
Lived alone in a shed
Deep beneath the sea
Sorting someone's price
That someone was he
Download Ed
Didn't know he was dead

Glimmering creatures of the deep swam amongst the audience as a hypnotic riff looped for several minutes. Cathode Ray rose to the top of his bubble, stuck his head out of a hatch and quoted e.e. cummings in an electronically altered voice, "For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find in the sea." He fell limp as a rag doll when a harness pulled him up dripping wet and swung him 'round 'til he disappeared backstage. The remaining Mantas walked off stage looking like they were suppressing laughs. House lights came on and stripped off our fish parts. I stood up on rubber legs. Jelly unfolded her angular frame, stretched her arms up to me and smiled. I grabbed her slender, white, blue-veined hands and pulled her up.

Fifty thousand dreamers shuffled out as one.

"Feel like a cuppa?" I broke the spell.

"Yea, yeah," Jelly smiled.

Ambling deep into the darkened city we fell silent, huddling together with our arms about each other's waist. The crowd thinned until we walked alone in a darkened quarter where hash heads gather to chase resin dreams.

"Where should we go?" Jelly asked.

"There's a bar I like, the Bang a Gong."

"Yeah. Heard of it. Let's." she nodded.

"What's on with boyo?" I'd waited long enough to sound casual.

"Don't choose so well, it seems. Same mistake, man after man."

"Isn't everybody locked in patterns?"

"Maybe. But how do you crack a pattern? Sick of dum-dum boys, I am. Sick. Sick. Sick."

"Some say love is just neuroses matching up like keys and locks."

"Why not match up good things instead?" Jelly.

"I heard Johnny sells illegals." Always the concerned friend, I am.

"So? I like illegals." She looked at me like I was daft.

"Careful he doesn't rope you in."

"Glad we're friends, Fumbo."

We entered the Bang a Gong where a Mystery Girl vid lit the room in pastel candy colours. With her orange hair whipping wildly about in a stiff breeze, she clung to a tiny ledge upside a tall black skyscraper.

"The mask drives our desire," I said.

"No shite, Sherlock. Think she'll ever take it off?"

My favorite girls were together at last.

"Dunno if I'd like that."

"I want to see her." Jelly.

Zoom to a close-up of Mystery Girl's face in a skin-tight black satin mask--an anime character come to life, complete with big eyes, petite body, and bobble-head. Mystery Girl wailed.

I walked across a glacier in high heels
Just to feel how the majority feels
But that soon lost its appeal
When I said pull out, he said maybe
Nine months later, we had us a baby
Bad boy and me moved to Portsmouth town
Good town for a kid, but it got us down
Bad Boy sagged like the ungrateful dead
'Til one night I turned and said
Cheer up Bad Boy don't be shady
'Cause Bad Boy, I want your baby

"Wants a bad baby?" I snarked.

"Huh?"

I wanted to tell Jelly about my book, but I should write some first. It's lonely at the top.

"The best art erupts when torpor is followed by a mental dam busting through to the other side," I blurted.

"Torpor?" Jelly looked confused.

"A state between sleep and hibernation."

"You think too much."

"What else would you have me do?"

Jelly offered no suggestion.

"Amazing gains in productivity could result from not doing, like a tourniquet effect. Brain yoga. You cut off the blood and pressure builds until you release it and powerful currents flush the sludge, bringing fresh blood circulation to rejuvenate the mind."

"Aren't things different for everybody?"

"Maybe so, but you don't want to be a squirrel looking for nuts. Finding nuts. Hiding nuts. Looking for more nuts. It just goes on."

"You just go on. Weren't you going to write a book? Why not write about your theory?"

"Who wants to know that disappointment grows to match effort?"

"That's mumbo jumbo, Senor Obscuro. You just need to finish it and put it out there instead of stewing in your juices. Sorry if that's harsh."

A lonesome accordion echoed down a mysterious De Chirico street where no one knew my name.

"Anyone can learn to draw and paint or master three chords to bang out a song. I bottle it up until it reaches atomic threshold."

"Rave on, rebel." Jelly looked mildly frightened. "Sounds paralyzing to me."

"By avoiding artistic effort, I'm sacrificing for the greatest good."

"Or are you just copping out?"

Across the room Mystery Girl belted,

I thought I was smart
I housebroke my heart

She sprouted wings, jumped from the ledge, and flew into an orange sunset as a heartbreak beat faded away. So sadly beautiful, it was enough to make you yawn. Happiness isn't a destination, Mystery Girl shouted into a roiling burnt orange void as she shrank with distance, It's an attitude I cop for the trip, thoughtfully adding, There are no coincidences, before disappearing entirely. Jelly looked at me, "I think she's hiding something that's wrong with her face. Fancy her?" I didn't answer--no percentage in it. We ordered chocolate croissants and sat at a small table sipping creamy cappuccinos served by a self-possessed Asian in platinum pageboy and white leatherette. "Which do you prefer? Bliss Dogs' a cappella operettas or Death Row Jethro's hillbilly heavy metal symphonies?" I thought she'd have an opinion. She didn't. I tried again, "Which sustains interest over an entire album?"

"I dunno. What's it matter?" I tried a direct approach. "You have to credit the Dogs for reviving the two-minute single, but Jethro's epics can't be contained in a simple verse/chorus/verse structure." A cone of silence fell. I changed subjects.

"I've been reading on ancient Egypt. Know anything about it?"

"A little, I guess." She sighed.

"They saw the sun as a god named Ra, bringer of all life. We see it as a continuous atomic bomb." Her eyes darted away.

"Getting late. Work in the morning," Jelly blunted.

As we rose to leave, a Smoking Bones vid booted up. Jelly dropped her purse and went into a sexy sway with her willowy silhouette backlit by blue light from the vid. People stared. The song ended. Jelly grabbed her purse and grabbed my arm. Walking to the tube stop, I felt her driving, but she was only the wheel. Soft drops of rain hung briefly suspended before falling to earth and disappearing forever. Jelly turned to say, "I read those lyrics you emailed this morning. Brilliant stuff, but that bit about artistic activity being counter-productive is bollocks." I started to respond, but she said, "Ciao, mister," smiled a juicy-lipped smile, blew a kiss and dropped into a darkened void. She's just suggested I write a book on my theory and now it's bunk? I stared too long and attracted the focus of a bored black shirt. Pretending not to notice him, I turned, and headed home. It was a long walk and I was glad. Plugging in ear buds and cueing a Johnny Zhivago orchestral, I walked a darkened street where my footsteps were the loudest sound. A grey-haired Pakistani pulling a spicy-smelling food cart passed by, looking puzzled by my smile.

Once home I was buzzing and unable to sleep. There was nothing to eat so I checked PeepPals on MemBrain, looking for people who might know people I might know. Nothing on there, so I pedaled up sufficient charge for a jam, grabbed my trusty keytar and struck koo-koo chords inspired by a night of suppression, Manta beats, and bliterades. Tapping effects pedals, I jammed mountainous topographic riffs around wooded valleys that rolled on to grassy sonic plains 'til I landed on a sandy beach picking a surfside arpeggio that slowly faded to silence. Knackered as a fucked-up pup, I fell asleep instantly.



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