Forced Perspectives – Snippet 25

With his teeth clenched and his eyes still closed, Ragotskie began mentally counting seconds; and he had counted off fifteen minutes’ worth before the elevator doors audibly slid open and the footsteps of several people advanced across the cement floor. The rap of Harlowe’s boot heels raised echoes.

Ragotskie winced to hear Agnes’s voice, but he couldn’t make out the words, and he hoped fervently that she would walk straight to the driver’s side door of her car and not notice the empty magnetic box on the cement floor on the other side.

But he heard her car door slam, loudly in the air and more muffled from the speaker of his Samsung phone. He hastily covered the speaker slot with his thumb. Both cars started up, and tires squeaked as the drivers backed and filled to turn toward the descending ramp.

When the sounds of the car engines had diminished away below, Ragotskie slid the phone into his shirt pocket and stood up. There was no one to be seen on this level now. He thought about crossing to the balcony and peeking over the rail to see the cars exit onto Broadway, but the idea of Harlowe glancing up and seeing him made him shudder and discard the idea.

He stretched, rotating his head on his stiff neck, then finally wheeled his bicycle out from behind the van — but before he could start toward the elevator a cheerful voice spoke from the phone in his shirt pocket.

“Are you going home?” it asked. Ragotskie recognized it as the automated voice of the Waze app, and he hastily fumbled the phone to his ear. “Turn right on Broadway,” the voice said. “In one hundred feet, turn right on 8th Street.”

Two seconds later he heard the chime of Agnes’ phone.

“Yo, Simon,” said her voice then. The burner TracFone in the map pocket of her passenger side door was picking her up clearly.

The calm voice of the Waze app interjected, “Turn right on Eighth Street.”

“That’s just Waze,” said Agnes’ voice. Ragotskie could clearly hear the ticking of her turn signal. “Listen, I could text him. Even if he did see Foster, he’ll still agree to meet me. I’ll make up some explanation, and he’ll believe it. He’s in love with me.” Her tone was only amused.

Ragotskie carefully laid his thumb over the tiny microphone slot. Then he let himself take a hitching breath.

“In one mile, turn left to the 110 freeway south,” advised the Waze voice.

“I know,” said Agnes’ voice now, “the sock. I’ll get it back from him.” After a few seconds she said, “The twins? Instead of Vickery and Castine? Uh — hah! — are you sure?” She was silent for several seconds, then went on, “I know, but — well, okay, you’re our Pygmalion here. How’s young Pratt? I hear Vickery knocked him out, at Canter’s.” For several seconds she didn’t speak; then she said, “Good God. Open his skull?” Again she was silent, while Waze droned on about the freeway. “Okay,” Agnes said at last, “bye for now.”

Ragotskie heard her phone thump on the passenger seat, and then the rasp of a cigarette lighter.

The twins? he thought in dismay. No, he can’t — if he uses them as his IMPs, I have no hope of having accomplished anything. I’ve only made it worse — Agnes will still lose her identity in the egregore, but now its IMPs will be the delusional and capricious Amber and Lexi. Imps for real.

He could see Harlowe’s reasoning. The twins did have the useful quality of diffraction — nobody, including the girls themselves, could tell which of them was which, or where one personality ended and the other began. Merged into the egregore, they should in theory find no difficulty in rapidly switching the group-mind’s theses and antitheses back and forth through their uniquely open-ended identity.

But they weren’t sane.

The Waze app spoke up, advising her to make a left turn onto the freeway. Ragotskie made a mental note of the route she was taking, though it would be the last couple of turns and street names that would be important. And when he had learned what street she lived on, he would again take the battery out of his Samsung.

After more than a minute her voice said, “Move it, shithead!”

Apparently she was addressing another driver. Waze continued to indicate directions, but it occurred to Ragotskie that Move it, shithead might be the last words he would ever hear Agnes Loria say.


More than a hundred miles to the northeast, out in the desert beyond the Cajon Pass, Ingrid Castine finally fell asleep in Vickery’s single bed.

For an hour she had lain awake in the darkness, listening to the faint buzz of the pinwheels on the trailer’s roof, and listening too, in her mind, to what she had said to Vickery this afternoon: Socrates said the unconsidered life is not worth living, but that’s what I want. Wanted.

She wondered where the old house in their visions might be, and she tried to remember what echo vision had been like, before the views of the house had pre-empted it. Even then, she had resented the intrusion of the past.

She didn’t like to consider the past at all. Nor the future, really.

Last year her deceased fiance had knowingly directed her into a trap, because he’d been threated with disbarment and possible tax-fraud charges if he did not. He had reacted as her pursuers had known he would — he had thought to save himself a lot of bad trouble by betraying her — though they had killed him in spite of his contemptible cooperation.

She fell asleep thinking of him, wondering if his ghost had been in the afterworld Labyrinth when she and Vickery had been there alive. The two of them had escaped in a makeshift hang-glider and closed the conduit between that insane world and the normal one — had they sealed his ghost in, on that side?

Would she have wanted instead to subsume his ghost in some unliving organic object on this side, like the bits bone or wood in the hubs of the pinwheels, or the book in which Vickery’s nonexistent daughter was fossilized?

In her dream she hovered over an enormous open book, and she could see that its pages were filled with columns of what she knew were names, though their letters were too blurred and overlapped to be readable. And she knew that she could relax and merge into the pages, and that her name, itself safely indecipherable there, would be all that remained of her. Not just the unexamined life, but the unconscious life; the unlife life, in fact.

The book’s pages fluttered as if in a randomizing wind, and it rose upright and was a pinwheel, spinning in bright moonlight. She drifted toward its hub, knowing that she could dance unaware in it forever, but she glanced sideways — other pinwheels stood nearby, and though they were spinning, she was able to recognize faces in the hubs — Jack Hipple, yes,…but also the girl who had stopped her bicycle and spoken a cryptical phrase at MacArthur Park this afternoon, and Supergirl…and the faces were all contorted in imbecilic grimaces.

She recoiled into wakefulness, and after a few panicky moments remembered where she was. She thought of getting up and going to the living room and waking Vickery, but the memory of the dream had faded to a few meaningless images. She fluffed the pillow and rolled over and went back to sleep.