Description: Coming from one of my favorite authors, Anthony Wright, who I’ve worked with for more than a decade, this book looks surreal and fascinating! -Mary Woodbury, Eco-fiction.com:
This surreal and mordantly humorous narrative unfolds via the experiences of the Markers, an Australian-Mexican family who move to modern-day Mexico City from Melbourne, and those of their pets—dogs, cats, turtles—in a setting punctuated by surreal visitations and supernatural encounters. The action shifts to a late 21st century world where modern transportation has been rendered largely obsolete following a series of terrorist and environmental-related disasters. Extraterrestrials have infiltrated society and mutated animal species sporadically threaten it. This strange future, in turn, holds a greater role for one Marker descendant than the prosaic urban milieu in which he grew up could have ever implied. Pimp the Cosmos explores dreams and dementia, the symbiotic relationship between animal and human behaviour, and the aliens that walk among us. A curious blending of genres and narrative distortion serve to underpin De Quincey’s observation that “the least things in the universe must be secret mirrors to the greatest.” So take a trip through one family’s 100 years of pets, monsters, and the end of the world as we know it…
Morning broke brightly over downtown Los Angeles. It was identical to the preceding day, the next to follow, and all those to come thereafter. Pure azure skies, it was positively pre-Columbian: there weren’t words enough to describe that clarity. Yet it was dangerous up there, a breezy firmament of soundless death—and back on ground level where the huddled majority stayed put rigorous sunscreen application was the order by government decree. This edict was adhered to with methodical solemnity, and using lotions less than 50+ SPF was considered living dangerously. Crimson skin on any palette of racial pigment was a recipe for cancer. No one saw any reason to doubt it, and did what they were told. As everyone knows, society runs smoother under the yoke of shared conditioning.
Soon rush hour was in full swing. The freeways teemed with horses. The clip-clopping of countless nags rose in a hypnotic cacophony. The asphalt and concrete surfaces of each lane, inbound, outbound, and every ramp and loop of every cloverleaf, diamond and stack interchange of the vast urban grid soon lay beneath a squelching layer of horse feces. Riders on the daily work commute wore respirators to ward off the stench, but the inconvenience was an acceptable trade-off (after all). The fetor always tapered off by midday; by then the cleaning crews had done their job. The cyclists, as in days of yore, had their own lane—they were as choked up in their chains as ever and rode cautiously, the old arrogance gone: if one rider took a spill, 50 more went piling up in the process. Other lanes accommodated the many riders of monowheels: RIOTs and dicycles; the popular Dutch-built Wheelsurfs; McLean V8 Drag Wheels; and divers electric-powered solo transportation devices. The sky over the distant business district was dotted with jetpackers. They flew low, though, maneuvering between buildings. This was the executive class: high flyers, so to speak (but not too high).
Now in the late golden afternoon two young men, their Stetson cavalry hats jauntily tilted, rambled upon sauntering steeds through the quiet metropolis along the freeway that led east out of the great city. Only the solar-powered billboards yammered away, exhorting the smattering of passersby to indulge their senses in the latest VR history travel destinations: “Mount Pelée: The Day It Erupted!”; “Passchendaele: Mustard Gas Attack!” A lot had changed but advertising would never end, nor the thirst for tragedy and death—viewed as a spectator.
Kahil Marker and Jameson Travers played their part in that marketing blight, but one had to earn a living. They did very well, in fact. Life now was a far cry from their UCLA days, where the two determinedly offbeat industrial engineering students had met and hit it off while taking a summer course in Western Philosophy. They could have been brothers and people often commented on it. Both were tall, broad-shouldered and deeply tanned from years spent surfing the beaches of southern California. They didn’t do it anymore. The men were rough riders these days, better off in the saddle than on fun boards—less chance of contracting melanoma.
They were riding out to Interstate 10, and from there onto the San Bernardino Freeway: Cherry Valley, Thousand Palms, Indio, Mecca…three days travelling, 170 miles. Their final destination: the Salton Sea, and a very special treat.
“You’ve got dozens of these operations in the Australian outback,” Kahil said. “They’re regular road warriors Down Under. ‘Petrol heads’ they call themselves. They go tearing it up in the deserts like there was no tomorrow. You know I have a few pints of Aussie blood in me.”
“Yeah, and you’re part Mexican,” Jameson said. “Kangaroos and tequila.”
“I’m a man of the world.”
“Indeed you are, although like most of us, you’ve never strayed too far from the land of your birth, have you?”
“Only south of the border.”
“Me, never out of U.S. territory, any way you slice it.”
“Right, Hawaii. I remember you telling me.”
“It was during my Tiki phase. If I can’t have Easter Island or the Marquesas, I’ll take Waikiki Beach. At least, that’s what I settled for.”
“You went with your parents, right?”
“Yeah, I was 15.”
“You’re a modern primitive; it shows.”
“Anyway, Mexico is part of North America, I can’t brag. A lot of the southern U.S.A. used to belong to them.”
“No one remembers that.”
Kahil’s mind passed briefly over the grandparents he’d never known; the old aunt and uncle he’d barely encountered; their two children, now grown like him: first cousins who were practically non-existent, as he no doubt was for them. Mere entities nodded at during funerals—such were what remained of blood relatives on his father’s side; hardly different on his mother’s, either. They were both gone, too.
“There’s a huge one in the Gobi Desert now,” Kahil returned to his subject. “But it’s obviously an odyssey getting to a locale as remote as that and it’s strictly for high rollers. Russian knackers, Chinese horse meat manufacturers: we’re talking the big boys. Top end deal in every way—it’s a luxury resort. They say it’s got every model still in existence.”
“So what’s that? Like six?”
“Salton Sea costs a fortune as it is,” Jameson said. “What are you suggesting as an alternative—that we hop on a boat and sail somewhere for three months? Then hire horses—then what?”
“Well, yes, you’re right,” Kahil nodded, staring ahead. “We’d sail across the Pacific to China. Rail it to the border. The trains get pretty crowded, though. Then we get the ball rolling across the Gobi.”
“What an absurd saga.”
“I’m not saying it’s a realistic option. There’s a waiting list all the way to Hell. Just like the Salton Sea, only 10 times as bad. We could never afford it, plus we’re not crazy. Just shooting the breeze is all. I’m saying it’s a popular past-time all over the world, not just us Yanks.”
“The Salton Sea costs plenty,” Jameson said.
“Ah, come on,” Kahil laughed. “What else are you going to spend your credits on—more VR games? Jim, this is the real thing.”
“I know. That’s why we’re doing it.”
“We’ve waited long enough, haven’t we?”
“You can say that again. What about motorcycles?”
“Not where we’re going, but there are plenty of outfits that have them: Indians, Harleys, the works. Of course, they’re a totally different animal: a lot harder to operate, plenty dangerous, plus they’re horrendously loud. Revolting din—like cougars being strangled. I don’t know how anyone can stand them.”
“Give me a car any day.”
“You’ve got those ‘freedom or death’ biker communities up in Canada and they’re dropping like flies for the thrill of it all. Electric doesn’t cut it so they’re waging their little wars like madmen for the black gold wherever they can get hold of it. Arctic reserves—they’re out there; doesn’t make a difference. Supply’s not the problem. It’s just a diversion, something to do. Fighting’s a quick way to die, along with exposure to emissions. They’re completely nuts.”
“They’re your modern primitives, Kahil.”
The two men sat astride their four-legged conveyances: living, breathing, crapping transportation. They passed abandoned filling stations and other remnants of ancient car culture. Mechanic’s tools lay scattered like the implements of an extinct society, discarded and forgotten. Of course, none of it was so ancient, but once anything was left to decay in modern civilization it did so with astonishing rapidity. A derelict service yard only a few decades old might resemble the ruins of Baalbek. Kahil and Jameson looked upon these things and became absorbed in thought. There was in the adventure that awaited them something remote and alien. Yet they also felt they knew exactly what to expect.
They were successful businessmen—partners in an architectural sail firm (eco-friendly, high-tech), with some solar paneling and VR billboard installation on the side. Those were the types of occupations going for anyone with a brain, along with human-computer engineering technology, multi-threaded architecture, programming language design, computer graphics, engineering management, prototype product development—and applying such skills to electronic consumer entertainment. Kahil and Jameson were in their early 30s; both still unmarried, childless, bereft of the responsibilities that come with those familial demographics and loaded to the gills with disposable credits as a result. They could afford this trip. They had been on the waiting list for more than a year. Finally, they’d received the good news. It was their turn to do it.
They stayed at hospices or camped under the stars along the way. No need to rush, they had a week, and they weren’t about to wear out their rides—Vaquero, Kahil’s colt, hadn’t gone a journey of this length since Kahil rode him out to his father’s place in Cayucos a couple of years back. Risa, a young filly, was a new addition to Jameson’s stable; he was breaking her in on this trip. Not in the old sense. They were good, well-mannered horses, trained to please. Vaquero and Risa plodded along in the funereal stillness of untrammeled, unfrequented nature. It was lost highway riding: only a few monowheelers about (acknowledging the horsemen as they went by and vice versa) and the very occasional electric police car. Jet trails raked the sky above, the immensity of lucid cobalt vividly delineating the cirrus-like signatures of invisible aircraft.
The special ones still flew.
The men presently stopped by the roadside, unsaddled the horses for a spell and sat by the faded asphalt to have a bite to eat. They contemplated the distant horizon line domed by tenantless peaks. Despite the excitement they felt over what was to come, the conversation invariably drifted back to the comfort zone of equine-related themes common to late 21st century men—as familiar and soothing as jawing about sports.
“How many wild ass breeds can you name?” Jameson asked.
“Well, let’s see,” Kahil pondered. “Speaking of the proverbial devil, you got the Mongolian wild ass. Then there’s the Syrian wild ass; the Indian wild ass…”
“You heard of the kiang?”
“That’s the Tibetan wild ass.”
“Right you are,” Jameson smiled. “What’s the rarest wild horse?”
“You mean the only wild horse? Przewalski’s horse.”
“Origin of the name?”
“Damned if I know,” Kahil laughed. “It obviously belongs to some prominent so-and-so from the illustrious past.”
“The horse was named after a Russian military man and naturalist who first catalogued it in the 19th century,” Jameson said. “It’s also called the Dzangarian horse, but I’m not sure about the source there. Anyway, these atypical equines also roamed the same geographical locale as your aforementioned wild asses, as well as your vehicular circuit for the stars. Namely: Mongolia.”
“The place of the moment.”
“I’ll take the Salton Sea.”
“Now, as far as our wild thing goes, the Przewalskis were on their way out. There weren’t too many of them left by the first decades of the 20th century, and then the Nazis shot a whole bunch of them corralled in a Ukrainian zoo during the War. The SS didn’t limit their genocidal predilections to humans. The last authentically free herd died out on the Gobi plains in the 1960s, but some clever guys with test tubes managed to breed the horse back from extinction.”
“Where would we be without science?”
“We owe everything to it.”
“It damned our souls.”
“God is dead.”
“Owe everything to it.”
“Did you know that the international standard railway gauge is based on the width of a Roman chariot’s wheel base?” Jameson went on enthusiastically. “So the Roman chariot’s width was based on the standard width of a horse’s ass, right?”
“It makes sense when you think about it. So check this out: the same gauge is used by NASA at their launch sites to transport the space shuttles to the launch pads, and all the rest of the rockets, the whole Space Program. So there’s a direct correlation between a horse’s butt and landing a man on the moon back in the day, and now, of course, Mars. Meanwhile, we’re back on our horses.”
“It’s a Zen apocalypse—butt to butt, from here to eternity.”
“Ha. That’s right. I suppose.”
“Amazing stuff. You never cease to amaze me, Jameson…”
The days rode themselves. Souls on the highway thinned out to nothing. The two friends, bedecked in showy silver spars, broad-rimmed black Stetsons and Rayban Aviators set firmly in place, sat erect on their cantering steeds and felt their Wild West hipster beards gently tugged by the dry winds. They moved as figures in a landscape that was familiar as it was vaguely unsettling, for they were replicating the pioneering ghosts that had wandered through here two centuries before. Kahil and Jameson vaguely recalled a virtual construct. The scene evoked an artifice. Reality bled away to expose the stratifications of a computer-generated fantasy. It was as if the men had come into existence as characters within the realm of a VR program. Given their background, they might have helped design it themselves: demarcated its territory, defined its temperate space, outlined the climes and contours of day and night, and cast two actors called Kahil and Jameson to voice a pair of familiar, unsettling computer animations that mimicked their mild, wandering permutations and supplanted their souls’ dreaming. The uncanny suggestion of hapless doppelgangers simultaneously awoke in both of them. They looked at each other in puzzlement. Kahil felt himself becoming trapped in a process of being erased. The surrounding vista oozed a gaudy kaleidoscope of time accumulations. But to whom did these scattered spiritual residues belong? He blinked, and saw his friend still staring at him.
“Makes you—” Jameson’s voice trailed off, an indistinct echo.
“There’s nothing new under the sun, Jim,” Kahil said.
“Spooksville,” Jameson replied.
Clip-clop, clip-clop…The third day shone upon Coachella Valley, the Sonoran Desert Wilderness and, to the northeast, Joshua Tree National Park. The Mojave Desert lay beyond. Pink pastels of distant mountains merged with the arid landscape’s lemon notes. The wind rose in enigmatic song as tumbleweeds buffeted along in disconsolate clusters across the road. The environment was exotic to the city dwellers.
“It’s like an old Western,” Kahil said.
“Yeah, and here we are starring in it.”
A strange, unpleasant smell began to permeate the fresh desert air. The horses whinnied as their noses caught a whiff of the vaguely sulphuric stench. The men could not identify the exact tone of the rank bouquet, either. Their olfactory senses had never registered the odor, at least not to their memories. It was as if some recess of Hell had been opened to release the daemonic fetor.
“Ew, what a funk!” Jameson grimaced, and screwed up his nose.
The pungent fumes assailed them as they drew nearer to the fabled objective. The wind blew it straight into their mouths. They breathed it in. Their eyes stung from the sharp assault of the mephitic blast. The color of the sky also changed. A pall of dust swirled about and a soupy cloud bottled the atmosphere over the wide expanse before them. It was the Salton Sea—its sparse saline waters long since silted over and drained away, the area having reverted to its former manifestation as a dried desert basin. The dust mantled the landscape, blotting out the sun, choking the narrow horizon.
Then there came the noise—an infernal din that trumpeted through the air. At last the pair saw them in the distance: a dozen metallic beetles making tight cloud rings of dust, long smoky arcs, s-shaped trails, or simply moving in a straight line. They were doing impossible speeds that nonetheless ascribed the sluggish aspect of a dream, or the altered temporal state one experiences in the split second before an accident. The two friends had read about them, seen them in movies, even ‘operated’ them using their VR consoles, but nothing quite prepared them for the actual sight of the phenomena.
They were still some distance away, spread out across the vast expanse, racing like frenetic little toys, tracing the movements of a surreal sonata. The men reigned in their horses, both now fidgety and spooked by the incessant noise. It wasn’t as if they Risa and Vaquero didn’t encounter enough engine-generated hullaballoo from the highway transports. It must have been the incongruous setting that unnerved them. Nature was supposed to be silent, especially arid nature—but here it was louder than bombs. Horses are logical. It’s called “horse sense.”
“Steady, boy,” Kahil patted Vaquero. “Steady now.”
The men, for their part, continued to stare at the cars in disbelief and wonder. They were getting used to the stench of the exhaust plumes that rose and drowsily settled in stagnant brown columns over the Salton Sea’s pitted flats. The cars were everywhere. Even from this distance, the genius that had gone into their engineering could not be disputed. The things soared along with breathtaking harmony and grace, a searing opus of wheels and lines—the noise was a type of music, the men recognized that. It was classical and jazz and rock ‘n’ roll all rolled into one; and the cars were stampedes of electric horses, the frenzied flights of bumblebees.
Be that as it may, and following their initial awe, Kahil and Jameson attempted to mentally coat themselves in a veneer of disinterested rationality. It was preferable to feign a casual attitude that which at first inspired dumbfounded shock. They’d been through enough years of green indoctrination during their schooling to recognize the intoxication such an encounter might likely spark (as unlikely as it ever would be for the vast majority of people), and so they contemplated the opportunity that awaited them to drive a car in the sober light of all that had gone before—what had happened to the planet: the extinctions, the illnesses, deaths, and the rapacious destruction of natural resources. So they had been taught, and the learning kicked in. Yet cars still lived on as a fantasy of the masses; something one’s parents used to enjoy that was actually cool. The destructive qualities of the vehicle augmented the power of its mystique: cool and deadly. The moment obviously required the mouthing of some platitudes to assuage their guilty pleasure.
“To think everyone used to operate these things,” Kahil said. “Drive them to work, to the malls, the movies, the supermarket. They’d get behind the wheel to drive a mile from their house just to go to the gym. Lazy pricks. Stupid, too—fill their lungs with toxins. A world saturated by cars, trucks, motorcycles, vans, buses. Imagine it, Jim. People couldn’t do a thing without them! A billion of these piston-pumping bastards all over the earth. Two of them in one household were common. Moderation, Jim. Where was the moderation? Well, that spoiled the fun for us, eh?”
“Not today,” Jameson grinned.
“No, not today,” Kahil nodded in agreement. “Today it’s our turn.”
Vaquero whinnied and pulled at her bridle.
“I can just make out some models,” Jameson said. “I see a Porsche, a Corvette, and a, a Dodge Challenger Hellcat, I think. Muscle car. Man, I can’t wait to do this.”
“Just like in the movies,” Kahil said.
“Just like in the history books,” Jameson added.
“Well, they had to go.”
”Like a lot of things. Planes…”
“They had to go.”
“Man, flying,” Jameson looked longingly to the sky.
“You’ve done it,” Kahil gently chided. “Cheaper screening technologies are just around the corner. We’ll be back in the skies before the decade is out.”
“Yeah, but what’s the use if you can’t look out a window? Bottled up like oysters in a tin can.”
“That’s the system if you don’t want to get radiated.”
“That’s what’s getting fixed.”
“One day, Kahil, as you say,” Jameson shook his head doubtfully. “But it’ll still cost a fortune, at least in the short term.”
“You have your doubts, then.”
“Yeah, I have my doubts.”
Kahil grinned at his friend and Jameson started to chuckle.
Anthony Wright is originally from Melbourne, Australia, and has lived with my family in Mexico City for many years. He has two other books under his belt: Infernal Drums (Moon Willow Press, 2011), an occult thriller set in Mexico; and Smoke Ghosts & Other Outré Tales (Moon Willow Press, 2014), a collection of offbeat travel stories. Both were published by an independent publisher based in Vancouver, Canada, and both are now out of print. He has additionally published numerous culture and travel articles as a former journalist and freelancer in The Hollywood Reporter, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sunday Age, and Executive Travel Magazine (among others).