Episode #18: “Eureka!” by Nick Mamatas

October 13, 2015

Eureka!

By Nick Mamatas

Adam hadn't worn the crushed velvet blouse in his hands for a long time. It was from his goth phase, twenty pounds and twenty years prior. He shuddered at the thought of it distending around his spare tire these days, but he couldn't bring himself to put it in the box he'd set aside for Out of the Closet either. And not only because it would be embarrassing if anyone saw it.

There were memories in the wrinkles of the velvet—well, not memories exactly. Half-memories, images and glimpses and smells. Two decades of gimlets and bad decisions and a few teeth and a trio of cross-country moves. What was the place? It was Huggy Bear's on Thursdays, when they played disco for a majority black clientele, but on most nights it was just The Bank. A real bank, in the sepia-toned days when great-grandma worked in an Orchard Street sweatshop, a goth/darkwave club now.

Full transcript appears under the cut.

[Intro music plays.]

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 18 for October 13, 2015. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you.

Our story today is Eureka! by Nick Mamatas.

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Love is the LawThe Last Weekend, and the forthcoming Lovecraftian murder-mystery I Am Providence. His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Best American Mystery Stories and Poe's Lighthouse, magazines including Tor.com and Asimov's Science Fiction, and in the recent collection The Nickronomicon. Nick has written about Edgar Allan Poe for Weird Tales, The Smart Set, and Wide Angle.

Eureka!

By Nick Mamatas

Adam hadn't worn the crushed velvet blouse in his hands for a long time. It was from his goth phase, twenty pounds and twenty years prior. He shuddered at the thought of it distending around his spare tire these days, but he couldn't bring himself to put it in the box he'd set aside for Out of the Closet either. And not only because it would be embarrassing if anyone saw it.

There were memories in the wrinkles of the velvet—well, not memories exactly. Half-memories, images and glimpses and smells. Two decades of gimlets and bad decisions and a few teeth and a trio of cross-country moves. What was the place? It was Huggy Bear's on Thursdays, when they played disco for a majority black clientele, but on most nights it was just The Bank. A real bank, in the sepia-toned days when great-grandma worked in an Orchard Street sweatshop, a goth/darkwave club now.

No, not now. Then. Then Adam was just another baby bat, because eyeliner and bad music is what nerds thought cool was. And everyone in New York's goth scene was at least bi, or at least self-identified as bi despite never sucking a cock or doing more than kissing another girl on the dancefloor. So it was something to do.

Was it New Year's Eve? Couldn't have been…no, it must have been. What was his name? Adam remembered everything about the man from Poe's house, how he kissed with his eyes wide open and searching, his snickering during the long subway trip up to the Bronx, how his breath somehow didn't steam out of his mouth on the walk through the park, but what the hell was his name? Something old. Maybe, Josef with an f but it's not like Adam asked for an ID or saw a pile of junk mail for the park ranger on the old cottage's stoop.

"I need your assistance," Josef—that was good enough a guess for now—had said. He was tall and dark and thin and shined somehow under the lights of the nightclub, like a crane that had pulled itself out of an oil spill.

"Hmm," Adam said, his lip still on the rim of his glass.

Josef leaned in and shouted into Adam's ear to be heard over the music. "I've seen you here before. I want you come home with me. I've met many people in my time in this city. To put it delicately, I've seen the inside of many tastefully decorated apartments." His breath smelled of cloves, which Adam liked then, and still liked now. Now, in the present, he brought the shirt to his face and hunted for a whiff. Nothing but dust and the scent of cardboard.

That night, Adam felt sweaty, very suddenly, and itchy. But he stood on his toes and, for a moment concerned about his own breath, shouted back, "You sound like a serial killer. It's not as enticing as you think!"

Josef laughed, and Adam was relieved that it was a human laugh, complete with a smile you might see on television. So many goths were so affected that you never got to meet the fleshy little man pulling the levers in the brain of the giant bombazine-enrobed homunculus.

Josef shouted back, "It gets better. I'm a park ranger!" He held up a long finger and dug into his pocket for his wallet, then flashed his work ID. Adam snatched the whole wallet from Josef's hand and waited for one of the stage lights to spiral around to the edge of the bar where he and Josef stood. The light flashed and in those two seconds, the NYC identification card sure looked authentic.

Of course, the ID! Adam thought as he struggled with a packing-tape gun. But he was only sure for a moment.  I didn't ask, he offered it! Was that the name on the ID, or did I put it on the ID now, myself, through the act of trying to remember…? He sealed the box of cast-off clothes shut.

Adam handed the wallet back. "You don't look like a park ranger," he said.

"I wear black leather knee-shorts in the summer, and a velvet kerchief," Josef said. That jack-o-lantern smile again.

In the now, Adam turned to his bureau and to the small hand mirror balanced between its top and the wall. He tried to mimic Josef's smile. Nope, still too fat. Christ, did he get old, just over the last few days it felt like.

Josef was a very special park ranger. He said he was the sort of park ranger he knew Adam would like. Josef was in charge of the Poe house, in Poe Park.

"And with what do you need my assistance?" Adam asked. He pressed his arm against Josef's arm. This was all so easy. A Christmas miracle, a week after the fact?

"Two things. The band that goes on at midnight—Creature Feature?" Josef began.

"Yes?"

"They're terrible!"

"I know," Adam said. "Everything is dark and terrible." He shifted away from Josef's gaze, took what he hoped was a sophisticated sip of his drink, and then added, "but those guys are truly awful. So what's the second thing?"

"I've been with many men," Josef said. "Many women. But never where I live. I've always been to their apartments, or just cruised around."

"You're back in serial killer mode!"

Josef pushed his lips against Adam's ear, so Adam could feel the words on his flesh. "I live in the Poe house."

There was packing to do. So much packing. And unpacking. Adam snorted—a flashback within a flashback? Why not? Why was he folding clothes to give away? Adam was nervous, he needed to keep his hands busy. He couldn't smoke anymore; nobody smoked anymore. So, even further back, into the era from which he had kept no clothes. High school Adam was just another suburban brat in Dockers and polo shirts. He didn't read, he left MTV choose his music—and this was before Nirvana, when 120 Minutes was on too late to watch regularly. But Poe, in tenth grade, changed everything. Weird little stories that barely seemed to be in English, and in them anything could happen. A slow and careful murder with no hero to save the day. A detective that solves a crime, but with no sense of justice. "You can't send an ape to prison, and even if you could it wouldn't mean much more to the ape than a zoo"—Adam actually wrote that on the essay exam for "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and enjoyed a rare 99+ from Mr. Goldstein.

And that was that. Adam would be a writer, though he knew better than to tell anyone, or to even engage in any writing. Even diaries could be discovered. Adam would keep it all in his head. He'd be an English teacher, and he'd study in the city, at Eugene Lang, to get away from his parents and experience a little bit of life during the week before taking the Metro North back up to Danbury with a load of laundry. Then he found the goth scene, and made a point of keeping his stranger garments back in the dorm, stuffed under the bunk.

It would have been too perfect for the old Poe paperback to be at the bottom of Adam's closet now, as he packed his little room on a sunny North Beach day. The complete works, which he never made it through, were on his smartphone anyway. Came bundled with the e-reader. The towel Adam had been using as a curtain was already packed, and it was hard to read off the phone screen with the sun's rays coming through the window unimpeded. Only a few more boxes left.

Adam was a naïf back then—he had heard of the Poe House that NYU owned, and figured that the subway ride from the Lower East Side to the border of the West Village would be short and convenient in the snowy night. Clearly, Josef was somehow responsible for Washington Square Park. Cleaning up the syringes, or polishing the cement chessboard tables or something. City work, union work. It's all supposed to be money for nothing. But at West 4th, Josef led him on to the D train.

"Now you'll discover my problem," Josef said, snickering. The train was packed with drunks. Mostly lots of Long Island girls with high hair and wobbly heels and their fat Italian boyfriends with rings the size of human eyes yelping and guffawing their way to Times Square, but there were a selection of quieter locals lolling about in the seats. Josef hugged one of the poles for straphangers and shouted in Adam's ear. "The Poe Cottage is in the Bronx." All the blood left Adam's face that moment and Josef smiled. "That's right," he said.

"I…don't mind," Adam shouted back. He tried to smile, but his lips felt blue and dead. He'd never been to the Bronx. Had never met anyone from the Bronx. It was a strange little island—no, it was the only part of New York City that wasn't an island, the Bronx really was part of mainland America—that so far as Adam knew was comprised of 100 percent raging crack addicts and black street gangs who breakdanced on flattened cardboard boxes all day and mugged old ladies at night.

Adam sucked on his teeth now, thinking of his old idiocy. College and moving to the West Coast had beaten most of the casual racism out of him, and that was a good thing. "But all I got in exchange was guilt," he said, aloud, to himself. Then he huffed and returned to sorting the socks with holes in them from the socks without holes in them.

"What's your favorite Poe?" Adam had asked Josef that night. He almost said, Mine's "The Masque of the Red Death", but didn't want to sound stupid and obvious, so he said nothing more.

"Eureka!" Josef yelled, but nobody turned. "I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical," he said, each adjective louder than the last. "Of the Material and Spiritual Universe:— of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny."

"Oh," Adam said.

Josef smiled and leaned down and brushed his lips against Adam's. Adam waited for someone to scream Fags! or just for a knife in the kidney, but neither was forthcoming.

"It's okay; it's not on the usual syllabi," Josef said, keeping his mouth close and voice down. The train had stopped at 42nd Street, and let out a bunch of confused bridge and tunnlers who didn’t know how far Times Square was from Bryant Park, so the car was a bit quieter now.
"Poe called it a prose poem, but it's not really poetic. It's essentially a lecture about the creation of the universe. He basically predicted the Big Bang theory."

"Okay," Adam said. He wanted to get off the train and go home. And do what? This was his first time staying in the city instead of watching the ball drop on TV with his grandmother.

"Let us conceive the Particle, then, to be only not totally exhausted by diffusion into Space. From the one Particle, as a centre, let us suppose to be irradiated spherically—in all directions—to immeasurable but still to definite distances in the previously vacant space—a certain inexpressibly great yet limited number of unimaginably yet not infinitely minute atoms," Josef recited, smiling and pleased. He drew himself up to his full height, leaving Adam to contemplate the nipples visible through his black mesh. Those would need to be warmed up later, Adam decided, with his very own tongue.

"Previously vacant space," Adam repeated. "That doesn't really sound like the Big Bang theory to me." Josef frowned, so Adam quickly added, "but not bad for a poet from the 1840s. Sheer literary insight, and he almost got it right."

"No," Josef said. "He got it all right. It's the modern world that's got it all wrong. You'll see."

Adam wasn't quite sure at what stop it happened, but at some point he and Josef became the only two white people in the train car. They'd passed through some sort of racist mesh, a geographical sieve. He hoped he would see everything Josef had to offer. It had better be worth it.

It was nearly 2 am when Josef led Adam up to Knightsbridge and the Grand Concourse. Adam heard the voice of his old grandmother saying how nice everything in the city used to be before those people started moving in. It was depressing now, but not dangerous. Just dead. Everyone had watched the ball drop on their shitty little televisions, then turned off the lights and went to bed. Josef walked quickly, with determination, a prize tropical bird again.

"Do you like Public Enemy?" Josef said, seemingly out of nowhere. Adam walked through a puff of his own steaming breath, to catch up.

"What?"

"You know. 'Fight the Power.' Chuck D and Flava Flav? I saw them a couple of years ago, with Sisters of Mercy."

"Oh, no," Adam said. He'd been in high school a couple of years ago, and only knew what little Sisters of Mercy MTV played. "I missed that show."

"It was great. Gang of Four opened—old school punk, that is. And nobody came; Radio City was practically empty, just like the streets up here are tonight. That's what reminded me," Josef said. He wrapped his arms around himself and shivered, finally playing human again for a moment. "I got a great t-shirt. It says, it's a black thing. you wouldn't understand. I should have worn it tonight. I'm freezing my tits off." Josef ran his palm over Adam's velvet top. "You're a smart lad," he said.

Adam was smart enough not to ask how Josef actually lived in a tourist attraction. Did he stow everything in a closet, or have to take all his meals out?  Poe Park was small, but bright thanks to the blanket of diamond show on the ground. A stone tablet on the walkway read eureka! and went without snow. There was probably something with the relative temperature of the tablet versus the modern concrete Adam thought, then he realized that everything he'd been thinking—the fear, the trivia, had all been to put aside his wonder and craving for the taste of Josef's cock.

The cottage itself was a small little two-story number with a porch. It wouldn't have been out of place in Danbury, with some old cat lady or poor family with seven kids stuffed into it. Josef trotted ahead again and waved Adam around the corner. "The digs are in the basement. You can see my problem, yes? I made a New Year's resolution to have sex in my own bed, in my own place, sometime this year."

"Well, it's already next year," Adam said. He flashed a crooked smile and pointed to his watch. "See?"

"Oh, in that case you'd better just get back on the train and go home." Josef stood straight as a rod and waited. Adam puffed out a breath and smiled. Then Josef smiled back. They tumbled joyfully down the concrete steps and into the cramped studio.

Josef's hair was long and chaotically spiked. One of the wayward points practically scraped against the low ceiling. There were milk crates stuffed with books and CDs along one wall, a futon on the other, and a laptop blinking away in the corner. No real kitchen, but there was a sink and a hot plate and a microwave and a coffee maker. Not much closet space either, if the puddles of black clothing on the floor were anything to go by. It smelled a little moldy, a little tangy, like old sex.

Even now, Adam can taste the next morning's coffee on his tongue. Part of why he had moved to North Beach was that one of the little Italian dives served coffee that almost tasted like Josef's.

Josef ran his hand along one of the walls. "The cottage was originally down the block," he explained, suddenly professional. "It was moved here when the subway came in. This basement is modern, and serves as the foundation for the cottage in its new location right over our heads. Had it been a nineteenth century basement, the walls likely would have been of hewn stone, plastered over…" He trailed off, seemingly unsure of what to do next.

Adam walked right up to him. "You're a park ranger, not a serial killer. I believe you. Kiss me, stupid," he said, and Josef did indeed kiss him stupid, sucking on Adam's tongue softly, like it was a half-hard cock.

The basement was cold, and the boys were cold too—their limbs were more like a quartet of icicles looking to melt than anything else. The winter had never left Adam's bones, not even after fifteen years in California. He shivered in the middle of his empty room, only now realizing how closely he had arranged its layout to match Josef's basement studio. Back in 1993, belts slid off, knees all pointy and white rose up, and Adam buried himself in Josef's lap, mouth open wide.

Josef leaned back and muttered something. First it was the usual—good boymy little facecuntmore more.

Then, something odd. "Especially attractive Adam…"

No. Especially attractive atom.

Then some more muttering Adam didn't catch, as he was busy trying not to use his hands on Josef's cock, but just his mouth and lips and tongue and jaw.  "I propose," Josef said turned on to his side, his fingers seeking out the crack of Adam's ass as he said the words.

Adam jerked upright. "Wait, what?" He smacked Josef's hand away. "What?"

If I propose to ascertain the influence of one mote in a sunbeam upon its neighboring mote, I cannot accomplish my purpose without first counting and weighing all the atoms in the Universe and defining the precise positions of all at one particular moment. If I venture to displace, by even the billionth part of an inch, the microscopical speck of dust which lies now upon the point of my finger, what is the character of that act upon which I have adventured?

Adam looked at the boxes on the floor of his bedsit. Seven to keep, three to donate, one just to fling out the window, but he didn't have the balls for that. San Francisco wasn't that kind of place anymore. The Imp of the Perverse had left the world, it seemed. It was a small life he had. That was the character of the act upon which he had adventured, Adam realized.

Josef was stronger than he looked. He had a wiry strength to him, arms like rebar. But his face was suddenly soft, so soft, like a child. Like Poe's little virgin wife, Adam thought, dying of consumption. "Please don't tell me to stop," Josef said, practically whimpering. "Please don't." He kissed Adam's shoulder, took his cock in one hand and pumped a finger into Adam's ass with another. "Please don't tell me to stop."

Adam didn't say anything. It was dark in the basement—everything was black on black, and when he turned his head he couldn't even see the little green light from Josef's computer. He couldn't see the white knuckles wrapped around his dick, or the edge of the wall, or anything. The world fell away from Adam, and the dark grew ever longer in every direction.

The futon was gone.

No. Adam's legs were gone, his thighs were. The world was gone. Adam was a point, floating in infinite black space.

No. Not space either. The previous vacancy. Adam was terrified—the little ripple in the velvet of the night that he was quivered, and the universe shook with him. Then he sensed them. The other men. The men that Josef had brought down here. The man that had brought Josef down here for the first time to suck and fuck, years prior. Decades of men, with thick hands and huge round shoulders. Little men, willowy like girls, their fingers tracing at what were once the borders of his body. Toothless grins and soft soft gums around his cock. Terrible bloodshot eyes, the pressure of blood pushing through the capillaries. Then the man himself, with his head huge like a white pumpkin's, scrounging for winter roots in the field across from his home, and finding only the previous vacancy in the dirt between his desperate fingers. Adam could eat that agony, feed off it for years. And before Poe, men in wigs, then breeches. Brown men with smooth chests and nipples like chestnuts. And before them, men of vintages of yet unknown, or types that could never be forced to fit into the taxonomies of the species.  Adam didn't see them, he wore them like a snake slithering back into a strange discarded skin.

Thus, according to the schools, I prove nothing.

Adam gulped something older than air. But he could feel his tongue again, his teeth, and Josef's as well.

There is no mathematical demonstration which Could bring the least additional True proof of the great Truth which I have advanced—the truth of Original Unity as the source—as the principle of the Universal Phaenomena.

Somewhere, miles and eons south of his brain, Adam felt his body experiencing an orgasm. It was distant and remote, like listening to a tinny radio through a closed door.

I am not so sure that my heart beats and that my soul lives:—of the rising of to-morrow's sun

And he was cold again. Bare feet on concrete and scraps of cloth.

I do not pretend to be one thousandth part as sure -- as I am of the irretrievably by-gone Fact that All Things and All Thoughts of Things, with all their ineffable Multiplicity of Relation, sprang at once into being from the primordial and irrelative One.

"Do you see?" Josef said. "Did you see it?" Only now was steam coming from his mouth as he spoke. He nestled closer to Adam and asked again, and again. "It's us. It's the whole world. Created from one, not two. Just one. We are all that we ever need, see? Did you see?"

Adam said the worst kind of truth—the literal sort of truth that burns hotter than the worst of lies. "I didn't see anything."

Josef pulled himself away, sticky crotch peeling from sticky crotch, and hugged himself on the far side of the futon. "I'm not sure I believe you, but I know what you mean," he said. "Well, think about it."

Adam did, all night, not sleeping, trying to listen for Josef's breathing, trying to hear the sunrise and the morning frost melt in the grasses over his head. When Josef finally woke up, he was reasonably chatty in the way a goth boy would be. He asked after Adam's dreams and if they had been twisted and nightmarish. Adam had none he remembered. Josef then made coffee, followed by apologies for having no cream for it.

He smoked a clove cigarette—the smell filled the little room instantly—and nudged at his clothing with a precise and subtle foot when trying to decide what to wear for the day. "New Year's Day. The cottage is closed, so I can wear black on the outside." Adam wanted those toes jammed down his mouth. "The way I feel on the inside!" Josef finished, then guffawed loudly at himself like a cartoon donkey. Adam drank his coffee and realized that he didn't have to make excuses for an early exit. The cup in his hands was a farewell.

One of the local homeless guys hooted as Adam shouldered the last of his boxes into the hatch of his Zip Car.

"Yo, they rent out your room yet?" he asked.

"Of course they did!" Adam said, louder and angrier than he wanted, but he didn't turn around. "It's the Bay Area."

"Where you going off too?"

"Storage warehouse in Oakland."

"And after that?"

Adam did turn around at that question. He didn't even recognize the guy, and he thought he knew all the homeless guys and all the SRO bottom-feeders on the block. North Beach was no Castro, not with the families grazing at the restaurants and the straight strip joints, but the neighborhood was still pretty cruisy. "The airport," he said. "One way trip, for the time being at least."

"Going to New York or somethin'? You sound like a New Yorker?" the guy said. He scratched at his balls absently through his ruined jeans. "Stawrije wear-haus" he said. "That's Noo Yawk."

No, that's not it. Never New York. Never ever. Adam walked around the car, got in, started the ignition, rolled down the window, pulled out of the parking lot, looked at the homeless guy—whose hand was still on his own crotch—and said, "Connecticut, sorry. My mother is getting old. I have to care for her."

"You are sorry," the homeless guy said. He smiled, planted his free hand on the car door, and showed off three teeth.

"I am sorry," Adam said. He thought about swinging the door open hard and getting rid of the guy that way. But he didn't do anything.

"I know you is," the guy said. "Just remember…" he stopped to chew on his furry bottom lip. "Uh…that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness."

"What!"

The homeless guy opened his mouth again, his voice loud and strange. "That Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah!"

Adam stared at the homeless guy, his eyes wide. The homeless man was as surprised as anyone else. Behind them, someone impatiently honked their car horn, so Adam revved the engine and when the homeless guy lifted his hand Adam slid the car easily into traffic. It didn't even occur to him until an hour later, when he was standing in the security line at Oakland International, that he could have said something to that homeless guy. Something like, I bet you say that to all the boys.

END

"Eureka!" was originally published in "Where Thy Dark Eye Glances" edited by Steve Berman, and published by Lethe Press in 2013.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll have another story for you on October 13th.

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