please note for the best effect, this story should be read while listening to `Spahn Dirge

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

please note: for the best effect, this story should be read while listening to `Spahn Dirge', by Skinny Puppy, from their `Rabies' compact disc. also please keep in mind that it was written from a male perspective. reading this story after we'd finished it, we found that it doesn't make a lot of sense unless you are familiar with the films of clive barker... oh well. - kelanie C Okay, so this is hell, right? Yeah... well, it looks like i'll be here for a while... so, if the guy in the next cell can leave off screaming for a while, I'll tell you how I got here. Should help pass the time. Well. When I was walking around in the world, I suppose you could say I never had a lot of, well, real direction. Yeah, my life was pretty aimless... that's not to say I never accomplished anything. Oh no! It's just that I had trouble settling down on any one thing. Started out, I was going to be an artist. You know, took art classes at school, read that worthless book by Hockney, spent what little money I had on charcoal and cartridge paper, hung out with the other art-assholes, the whole bit. I briefly experimented with graffiti-art (you may have seen my tag - a hand with a nail through it), gave that up when one of the guys in our group got beaten to death by the police. I even drew cartoons for the local newspaper for a while... at least I never pretended to have a french accent. Well, hell, you aren't interested in that crap, are you? You want to know about LeMarchand's puzzle box. I'll get to that eventually. I found out pretty damn quick that there wasn't a lot of money in art. Unless you had some gimmick, like Warhol or Ken Done (or some talent like Giraud or Howarth). I always had an interest in tinkering... I got into electronics after messing around with a Dick Smith kit, trying to make one of those LED display things. I was never good enough to make a lot of money out of it, but I made enough to get by on. And then the `maintenance' boom hit, and there was plenty of cash for anyone who could keep the gear going. So, I was, well, `comfortably well off', as Daffy Duck once said. But the eighteen-hour days stared to bug me, so I took an extended holiday (sent my boss a full-colour photo of my old graffiti-tag, giving him the finger), drove around the coast until my ass ached and my hands were locked in the position of holding the steering wheel. It was coming into Adelaide from Perth that I met Kely. She was hanging out with a variegated bunch of scruffs, punks and down-and-out underground cartoonists in a northern suburbs squat. One of the first things I noticed about this building was the incredible spraypaint mural that covered two of its walls. I mean, this was better than some of the shit you see hanging in the Art Centre, as abstract as those things tend to be, flowing blue waves, crystalline letters spelling out unreadable four-letter words, the obligatory Vaughn Bode lizards and nude girls... and there was a pattern, repeated in gold on black, in at least a dozen places: three diamond-shapes, laid edge-to-edge, each with an intricate, distinctive pattern in its middle. It only occurred to me later (when I saw the inspiration) that the pattern was a chinese puzzle box, seen from one corner. I was looking for a place to stop for a while, and the starving punks were quite happy to have someone with money in their midst. I gained their confidence by asking who had put the Vaughn Bode cartoon characters in the mural, and by naming them... any fan of the Cheech Wizard is always relieved to meet another. Kely turned up about half an hour after I arrived, with a bag full of food she had lifted from the sunday market. And I know, that `love at first sight' stuff is crap, so I suppose it was `lust at first sight'. She was about twenty-two, black hair done in a lunatic, sticking-out-all-over, `Robert Smith' style, rather thin, with striking, brilliant green eyes. She reminded me of a demented witch's cat. They called themselves `the AnarchArtists', and they were dedicated to some vague idea of `art for the masses'. Kely told me that they were responsible for that rash of `Cave Clan' stickers that you saw stuck to lamp-posts around the centre of Melbourne in the early 90's, they were the people who faxed x-rated cartoons to the pope... that sort of thing. They let me stay with them for a while, and I helped them keep their desktop publishing gear going (yes, they lived in a squat, but they had almost twenty thousand bucks worth of DTP gear, mostly stolen from offices in Adelaide and Melbourne), got to know them all. Particularly Kely. They often referred to the guy who had formed the group, name of Stathis. He died late 1991, and they seemed a bit reluctant to talk about how he bought it, so I didn't press them. One evening, I was wandering the city streets with Kely, when I mentioned the logo of diamond-shapes on their mural. She gave me a calculating look, and then said, `come on, i'll show you. ' We went back to the squat. The place was practically empty, as most of the punks were visiting parents for the despised weekly `home-visit feed-and-lecture'. There was only Rafael, who had nodded out over their macintosh (yeah, I know, but beggars can't be choosers), his superglue-stiffened bright-green spiked hair splayed out against the screen. Kely took me by the hand and led me upstairs. This place was bigger than I had first thought... three storeys at least. We were on the roof, and right in the middle was a small concrete bunker-like thing that used to house an air-conditioning plant. There were two padlocks on the door, which Kely unlocked with keys she kept on a leather thong around her neck. She reached around behind the door, and flicked a switch. There was a crackle, a whiff of ozone, and then she pushed to door open. There were some loose copper cables dangling down in the open doorway. `I get the impression that nobody gets in here unless you let them.', I said. She smiled, and replied, `You'd be right.' We paused, as I waited for her to lead the way. She was looking at me in that calculating way again. `Something wrong?' I asked. She turned her head to one side slightly, fingering the keys. `I don't know if I should, now... how do you feel about pain?' `Oh, I'm all for it. Seriously.' At this stage, I was ready to say anything to find out what was going on here. She led me inside, deftly held my hand in the doorway, and slammed the heavy steel-reinforced door on it. There was a crunch, and when the door rebounded, I held up my hand, with blackening fingers pointing in all directions, and (I was quite proud of this) smiled. Her eyes widened, and she gave me a sort of twisted smile... if you saw Sting in `Dune', playing the part of Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, you will know what sort of smile it was. She led me over to a broken safe which had been dragged across the floor, leaving four bright scars in concrete otherwise dark with accumulated dirt. Sitting inside the safe was a satchel. She picked it up, opened it, and took out the LeMarchand Lament Configuration. The puzzle box. She handed it to me. I turned it over in my good hand, marvelling at the detail. Kely told me about the box, and what happened to Stathis when he figured out how to open it. He had made a video of the proceedings, which Kely showed me in the library at the local TAFE college. I watched it while she sat there, knitting (a hobby of hers). I thought it was a pretty good splatter movie, before i realised that it was real. This actually happened. `Stathis isn't dead, is he?' I muttered. `No.' she replied, shoving the knitting needles through a ball of black mohair wool. We left. LeMarchand... that name began to obsess me. I looked up every reference I knew of, made dozens of enquiries and found that there was practically nothing about the guy anywhere. I found a few fragments of information, one night, logged in to a Melbourne library system which had Grolier's encyclopedia on CD-ROM. He had founded a place called the Pension Veneur (which, apparently, means `Huntsman's Lodgings') in Paris, a `hideout for artists of a dubious nature'. He was known as a maker of puzzle-boxes, and had apparently designed a lunatic asylum in Louisiana. And that was all I found. Then, one day, one of my oblique enquiries bore fruit. I received a letter from an architect I used to know called Andrey. He sent six pages of diagrams that he had found in a nineteenth-century collection of designs for, you guessed it, puzzle boxes. These boxes were chinese in origin, but the pages were annotated in French, which, surprisingly, Rafael the punk spoke quite well. He translated for me. (you know, funny thing, I sent another letter to Andrey, but it was returned, `Addressee deceased'. I wonder...) I'm sure now that Andrey, and later, Rafael and even Kely didn't know what I had acquired. The theoretical basis for LeMarchand's box claimed that the mechanics of the puzzle box weren't absolutely necessary; but in the early twentieth century, they were all that the demented Frenchman had to express the twisted concepts he had uncovered. LeMarchand had shown later that you could get the same effect by designing a building in that fashion; find your way through the labyrinth, and... `bye bye, Babs'. The puzzle could be practically anything, a crossword, maybe, a torturously-written novel (well, I thought, that almost explains Pynchon's `Gravity's Rainbow'), a computer game... even a pictoral design. A graffiti tag, for example. I was very careful with the next bit. I had no desire to end up like Stathis. Not just yet, anyway. Over a period of three weeks, I reduced the six pages of designs, photostats of the side of the original LeMarchand puzzle and some of what I had seen in Stathis' video to three pages, each with a seperate pattern. Even drawing this complete design, much less tracing it out and solving it, would be the same as opening the puzzle box. Once I had done this, I showed the results to Kely. She immediately grasped the potential of the idea. A few days later, she showed me an article in a newspaper, about an advertising agency building that had burned down. Rafael said, `Practically exploded, man. I was just up the road from them that day. The whole fuckin' fourth floor blew out.' Kely took me aside. `The LeMarchand designs. I sent them to the agency artists, on three seperate disks. Last disk had instructions to merge the three patterns in `PageMaker', so I suppose they did it...' She grinned. It was around that time that things began to go wrong. One day we returned to find Rafael's body sitting in front of the Macintosh, his glue-spiked scalp sitting on top of the Eizo monochrome monitor and his bare head pushed through the screen. He would have been staring out at us if he had any eyes. `He was going to put the LeMarchand design on a t-shirt.' Kely said as we dragged Raf's body out the back and hid it in the industrial waste bin. I had begun to wonder what we thought we were doing with this image. A few days later, Kely had vanished. When she hadn't put in an appearance for three days, I went upstairs to the air-conditioning plant, with a sledgehammer, and bashed the door down. When the door fell inwards, it took the copper cables with it. In the quiet that followed the crash of the falling door, I thought I could hear circuit breakers snapping somewhere below. The safe was still there. However, the satchel was empty. For some reason, I felt furious. I had the idea that Stathis was having a lot of fun at my expense, playing some sort of elaborate practical joke on me. The idea that then followed, came slowly, but it came. Stathis was into video, wasn't he? Well... The equipment I needed wasn't all that expensive. I sold the processor of the Macintosh, and what I had left in my bank account covered the rest. I had all the gear I needed; I dragged it all upstairs and got to work. Against one wall of the air-conditioning plant, I stuck up one of the three pages of the LeMarchand designs. It was in black-and-white, but I had a couple of filters over the videocamera's lens to make it appear black-and-bronze. When I put the 500-watt lamps on, it was black-and-gold. I focused the camera on the design so that it filled the screen. I had a baby Amiga controlling the video recorder, so that the image would be recorded on every third frame. I shot three hours of video this way, the first page of the LeMarchand design on every third frame. Then I rewound the tape and did it again, with the second page, one frame on. And again, with the third. I knew I was onto something, because the video recorder died at the end of the tape, taking the camera and the Amiga with it. I had to open the VCR with the same sledgehammer that I used to get into the air-conditioning plant. `Okay, you've got a nice video,' I said to myself, walking through the centre of the city, `who're you gonna show it to?' I had stopped outside Myer's department store. In the window was a display of televisions, showing the news. I knew. It was ridiculously easy to get into the studios of channel nine. I simply walked up to the guard's booth, and when he got out to speak to me, I hit him with a crowbar. Killed him instantly. He was a bit older than me, but our hair was the same colour and about the same length, so I took his pass, his radio and his gun, dragged his body into the booth and hid it under his desk. Nobody bothered me after that. The hardest part was finding the right room. There were dozens of studios to choose from, but by hanging back and listening to the techs, I eventually found the control-room that the news was going to be run from. There was a machine about the size of three refrigerators, that had videocasettes stacked in it, carousel-fashion. Every so often, one of them would clunk into a video-player, the techs would cue it up, and the thirty-second advertisement would play. It would then pop out, and another commercial would come on (I suppose they had two of these machines, and ran them one against the other). I spent about half an hour, evaluating the speed at which they went through the stacked videocasettes, and when I judged the moment to be right, I slipped my tape into the carousel. Then, I waited. Whenever one of the control-room techs looked at me, I shifted so that he could see the gun, and pretended to speak into the radio. Six-thirty. The news came on, the lead stories were mentioned, and they broke for the first commercials, first up being an ad for the new Holden (of course). I watched my tape slot into place... as it began to play, an alarm-beep began to sound. `What's wrong?' said the producer, who had been chain-smoking since he had entered the control-booth earlier. `Transmitter failure,' someone said. `Shit, shit, SHIT.' snarled the producer. People started scurrying around frantically as they tend to do in emergencies. No-one was watching my video. Then, the lights went out. The only thing still running was one monitor in the control room, and the commercials carousel. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the flickering golden designs. I thought that nothing was going to happen, when suddenly the room was filled with searing blue light, there was an earthquake-like shudder, and the room seemed to drop about fifty feet. When we hit bottom, most of the people in the room were lying on the floor, groaning with pain from various broken limbs. In the vague dimness, I saw black figures enter the room, dragging the studio techs off. Someone clamped their hand over my mouth, picked me up, turned me around. It was Kely. She was dressed in a full-length black leather gown, with rusty chains thrown over her left shoulder. She had two knitting-needles thrust through her head, from under her jaw, to emerge from her temples. She opened her mouth and I could see where the needles crossed over. `Who saw the tape?' I gasped. She closed her eyes, sighed, and spoke (barely moving her lips), `Only those in this room.' She held the videocasette in one hand, and grabbed me by the front of my jacket with the other with a strength unusual in a twenty-two-year-old girl. `Come on. There's someone I want you to meet.' There was this square column, made of dark red wood, edged in bronze. It reminded me of the puzzle box. It was suspended from the ceiling by a chain. It hung slightly on an angle, because I was pinned to one side of it by a series of spikes that penetrated my arms from wrist to shoulder, and my legs from mid-thigh to just below my knees. Every movement I made caused jolts of agony to run through me. As I slowly rotated, I could see Kely standing a few feet away, watching. The rest of the room was hidden by darkness, although I could hear chains clinking over the creaking of the column I was stuck to. It seemed like hours before someone else arrived. He was dressed much as Kely was, and when he stepped forward into the light, I recognised him. It was Stathis. I thought he might have some difficulty in speaking, seeing as how his lower jaw had been removed, leaving his tongue to dangle down like a yuppie's tie, but he managed to gurgle intelligibly from somewhere down in his throat. `I admired your work with the Configurations. But we couldn't have that sort of thing on television. We are eager for company, but not that eager, Leviathan's Will be done.' Kely stepped forward from her deferential position behind Stathis. `And besides, we have you, now.' She unwound the chains from her shoulder. I could see rust flakes falling as she unwound them. It wasn't rust. It was dried blood. As I found out. When they finished with me, they slowly yanked the spikes and let me fall to the floor, which was gritty with flecks of dried blood and flesh. They turned to leave, and as she passed me, Kely stepped on my hand (the one she had crushed in the door, so long ago), and said, `You are free now, to explore the Labyrinth. We will be watching you, though.' She twisted her heel, grinding my fingers into the stone floor, added, smiling, `Don't do anything I wouldn't do!', and followed Stathis out of the room. When I got up the strength to pick myself up, I began to look for a way out. I'm still looking. I've seen some interesting stuff down here, but nothing that looks like an exit. I keep looking, though. nikolai kingsley kelanie camden novembre 1990 thanks to: lou stathis, matt Howarth, Nicholas Vince (for his story, `Look, see...' and Stickman.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank