11:3: “The Bohemians”, by Alexei Collier

11:3: “The Bohemians”, by Alexei Collier

I see it, I want it, I see it, I want it. She is it. She is insight, she is fear-love-fear, she is wonder-desire-beauty. She is Modelynn. From the first I see her, I want her. My last disorder wore off an hour ago, so I know what I see is real, it’s authentic. She walks naked through the crowd, and every step hums in my deep-brain. It’s not the sound and video pumping through the floor and the walls, it’s just her — everything else fogs away, like nothing at all.

Her skin changes in patterns like the room, but she stands out from them, the anti-chameleon. I look her in the eyes — she can’t avoid the look. Her eyes are wild, feral, like a tiger’s. They pierce into mine. She stops.

“You’re Hale Orson?” she asks.

My gaze takes in her bare form, sculpted to perfection and shifting with colors that betray her interest. I grin. I see it, I want it, I see, I want it.

“I’m a butterfly who dreamed he was a patch of your skin.”

Her slit irises dilate and she mottles a chuckle of turquoise and gold. “You dissed, maestro?”

I grin wider.

“He’s smooth, for truth,” Threek breaks in. He’s squatting on the floor beside me, back against the buzzing wall. Thorton Three-Fingers. Just for bumps one time, or maybe when he was out of his mind on a rough dose, he cut off two fingers on his left hand and never got new ones. I call him Threek, because he hates it.

“I’m never smooth,” I say even though I am. “Smooth is fucking boring.”

“He’s smooth,” Threek says again. “And he’s Hale Orson.” He takes a pull from his hookah. “Maestro never answers a question straight. That‘s just how he slides. It’s an image thing, if you creed what I‘m phoning. Damn annoying, for truth.”

A giant vaginal vortex suddenly swallows the wall behind Threek and gets penetrated by a penile comet, and I recognize that new trash-hit “Cosmic Lust” tingling at the edge of my nerves, playing off the residue of some earlier high. Now I’m glad I’m smooth. I don’t need a buzz-kill like “Cosmic Lust” hitching a ride on my dose and fucking things up with its trash hallucivibes. I remind myself to make my nano-babies block that signal for next time I get proper-dissed.

Everyone else there is out of their heads, I can tell. A girl curled up crying in the corner starts rocking to the rhythm of “Cosmic Lust.” Two men are standing nearby having a conversation, but they’re only talking to themselves, rolling on schizo; their limbs start jerking in response to the brain-jingle. One of them starts yelling at himself, the other one goes quiet and glassy-eyed.

The center of my attention’s not swaying or bobbing like all the proles in the room, so I can tell she‘s not dissed — not major-dissed anyway. She looks me up and down. “I’m Modelynn,” she says. “I’ve heard of you.”

“I’ve heard of you,” I reply. I admire her body again. “I like your work.”

I think she smiles a little. “I like your work. I’ve done your stuff.” She looks down at Threek. He doesn’t see us. His eyes are somewhere else, fogged like everything in my view that isn’t Modelynn.

“Who’s he?” she asks.

I look down at Threek, squatting with the hookah-pipe clutched in his spidery three fingers, tapping it compulsively on his knee. “A caterpillar,” I say. “He doesn’t get to dream yet.”

*

I know about natural beauty. I’m a damn savant of natural beauty. Kids try to hit me up for schizo or mania, I send them away. I don‘t peddle that trash. I make art. The kind that takes you back to a world before we all got therapied and smoothed out, that cracks you wide and pours in the universe, lets you experience it in all its unfiltered, mind-bending glory. My work opens up your skull and puts the wrinkles back on your brain. You come to me to get seriously fucked-up; to get un-therapied. So I’m not pissing when I say I know about natural beauty.

Modelynn is natural beauty distilled. Every part of her is shaped to her aims. Every inch of skin, every sleek curve of muscle, from her finely-crafted cheekbones to the perfect arch of her foot. She is her life’s ambition, her artifice of art. I see it, I want it, I see it, I want it — and now she’s my ambition too.

She’s gone to a lot of trouble to actualize herself, refine and shape herself with an artist’s touch. She says she can’t even count how many times she’s gone under the knife. Just an expression, for truth, maestro; nobody uses knives to do body art anymore, unless they‘re whacked out of their brain like Threek.

Modelynn even takes shake-ups for going around like she does. “I won’t compromise my art,” she tells me. “Clothes defeat my purpose, my message.”

When she’s out on the street, conservatively blue- or green-haired moms on autopilot break their wireless-schmooze-group induced hypnosis to give her the evil-eye. She’s authentic. Real as a damn cardiac attack.

Sometimes she runs into types who get rough about it, mostly men who think her exhibit is hands on, or maybe they just don’t like that she doesn’t cover herself up like she’s ashamed.

Threek says she has a way of dealing with people who disrespect her art like that. He tells me when we’re hiking down the alley after we leave the club. “She‘s wild, like natural-dissed, like some Neolithic.”

“Don’t piss on my leg,” I say. “No one’s natural-dissed anymore. Everyone‘s smooth as a baby‘s back-brain. Else nobody’d want to get fucked-up, and then how’d I have a medium to work in?”

“Piss yourself,” he throws back.

We pass a poster slapped up on the alley wall, and it flares to life with the Harmony Campaign logo and the usual holier-than-thou, please-think-of-the-children voiceover. It flashes that “Inducing A Mental Disorder Could Kill You” slogan, but somebody’s hacked it to so that instead of “Kill” it reads “Thrill.” Not very creative, for truth. I‘m all for fucking with propaganda from art-haters like Harm, but I’ve seen toddlers hack their own diapers better than that. We ignore the poster and keep walking.

“Splicer told me,” Threek says. Splicer’s some local back-alley gene-hacker. Threek’s always trying to score new fingers from him. “He heard she’s got some kind of gland put in the back of her mouth, or maybe under her tongue.”

“And what’s she do with that?” I ask him. “Bite the bastards? Lick them? Lick them onto cold slab? Ha.”

I wish she’d lick me onto a cold slab.

Threek doesn’t know; he just shakes his head. “It’s rough, maestro. Major rough.”

*

I find out for truth soon enough. I’m out at night with Modelynn, and some lug with big bicep implants comes up at us, out of nowhere, out of the crowded street, pushes right up into her face. I can’t scan if he’s growling or laughing, but he’s making nice like a rabid dog in heat.

He sloshes something like, “How much for this then?”

“My art’s not for sale,” Modelynn says.

“So you t’row it away for free?”

The man’s quad-barreled bicep comes up round her shoulders. I grab his arm, but it’s a goddamn carbofibe pillar driven to the center of the earth for all I can move it.

I’m smooth, though. No fear. I know Modelynn can handle herself.

And that’s when I see it. She opens her mouth. Something shoots out; a graceful liquid stream — dark, glistening, beautiful. It arcs into the offender’s face, into his open eyes. He screams and drops to the ground, clawing at it, screaming, clawing, screaming.

I watch this, and I want her more. I think of closing with that danger, and I’m cold all over. Desire-fear-desire. I see it, I want it, I see it, I want it.

Modelynn watches as the man’s eyeballs burn out of his sockets. She looks at me. “Where were we. You were talking about Thorton.”

“Threek, yeah,” I say, shivering under her gaze. “All he does is write stuff. Pretty fucking boring, for truth. No flair.”

She flashes me a grin, and her sharp canines reflect the millions of animated lights dancing around us on the open street and her skin echoes back their luminous tune. “Not like us.”

I grin back, my heart jumping all around. No, not like us. We’re all new original flavor.

*

I take her back to my place. I step in and say the word. The lights come up a dim glow, and the walls, the furniture, everything forms into soft edges and alluring curves. She flashes a smile at me as she moves past me, as if to phone she knows I‘ve set this scene for her.

She flows like water to the sofa, and eyes the little table with a hint of amusement. The twin lines of baby-blue powder hum with faint tinkling music and give off a tiny glow I know she can easily scan in the dim room. She notes the nearby straw, and by the quirk at the corner of her mouth I can tell she gets the historical ref I‘m making with the format of the doses.

“Cute,” she says.

I sit down across from her. “It’s a little something I made special. Just for you.”

She traces her finger along the edge of the line without touching it, the bluish glow reflecting off the pearly surface of her fingernail. Head bent, she throws a gaze up at me through her eyelashes that are sparkling and twinkling iridescence in the low light. “Just for me…?”

“For a moth and his flame.”

She makes a low sound in her throat, like a purring cat. “A moth… or a butterfly?” She runs her finger back along the line curiously, but she knows not to ask the real question.

I smile. “It’s not just any disorder.” I place my finger down opposite hers, at the edge of the second powdery line. “We’ll stay smooth to each other through the delusions. You’ll see me, and I’ll see you. And the doses will talk back and forth and we’ll feel and see each other from the inside too. See into each other‘s minds.”

“Oh, but there’s more,” she coos in soft, slow, urgency, her finger still brushing along the length of the line.

“Yes,” I agree. But we both know that.

Rising and stepping around, I sit next to her, thigh to thigh. She lifts the straw, and takes her dose. I take the straw from her, and draw it along the line, breathing it in through my nose easily as the powder fairly flies in, my little nano-babies climbing right up the tube like their supposed to.

The more she knew would be in there hits me almost immediately; the aphrodisiac, right on time like an atomic clock. The sofa sprawls and spreads at our gentle pressure, as Modelynn tears my cloths away like cobwebs that settle around us. I taste a tingling spiciness in her mouth, but that’s real, some faint aftertaste of her retaliation against the brute on the street.

My vision swims and I hear voices arguing, but I can’t creed what they’re about. Then they’re drowned out by a white-noise-silence of pure elation as Modelynn and I sink into each other, and roll with the red cushions gathering like thunderheads around us, rumbling ominously and fading to a dark gray.

Lightning crackles through us in the rain-tossed sky for what seems like hours or days or weeks, till a break in the clouds opens up and we gaze all the way down into the abyss in rapturous wonder.

Far below us the sun reflects off the endless sea, and around us the slow forms of huge, iridescent fish, all changing colors in ripples like the pleasure rolling across her skin in scarlet, gold, sapphire, and emerald. The sky around us is changing colors too, because the fish are swimming in it. They are rainbow trout.

We’re falling into the sea in a wonderful rush, the taste of deep blue pungent in my nostrils. Suddenly, her head splits in two, then multiplies on thousands, and I’m seeing all the faces of natural beauty at once.

This isn’t supposed to happen. The chattering jaws and faceted eyes of an insect meld smoothly on one side into a face as featureless as an egg, butting up against the rocks as waves batter the sheer cliff face. The head of a dog worms its way out of the crumbling limestone, snapping at me.

I realize the cliff face is a pillar of salt that spans all of space and time, inscribed with the infinite terrible names of beauty. I can’t stop the urgent rhythm of my body. The salt scrapes at my skin all over my body till I bleed, and bleed, and bleed. The blood gushes out, washing away the salt to bathe across Modelynn’s form as she arches her back in ecstatic climax and we’re torn from the dream.

*

I know it can’t be me. It can’t be her — she loved it, said it was my best work yet. But it had to be my art. It should have only shown me her and her alone, in the throws of beauty and desire. I blame a mistake in the preparation of the disorder, my own fault. I don’t know what else to think. It can’t be her. It can’t be me.

I want to try again. I want to get dissed with Modelynn again and see if things go differently. I don’t tell her something was wrong the first time.

Again in my flat, we sit gazing at each other across the little table. The table is higher this time, and the atmosphere more formal, but intimate. Two long stemmed glasses half filled with a pale transparent green liquid stand on the table between us. She lifts hers, and looks at me, her animalistic eyes full of human thought.

“Hale,” she says. “Do you want me?”

I don’t answer. She knows I don‘t do answers. And what’s a question like that, for truth? Didn’t I show her I want her? I see what I want, I want what I see. I see beauty in her every move. I see the world’s wonders reflected in her eyes, in every square centimeter of her skin.

“Because if you do want me, you have to take the all of me.” She levels a gaze I can’t quite scan. “Can you handle that?”

A shiver takes the express lift down my vertebrae. “Can a man handle perfection?” I ask back. Can a man handle what he wants?

Her gaze doesn‘t shake. “Well, do you want me or not, Hale Orson?”

I can’t creed why she’s pressing the question. She knows I can‘t answer. It‘s not the way I run.

“I was a butterfly who dreamed he was a caterpillar,” I say.

“Maybe the caterpillar dreamed he was a butterfly?” she suggests.

“Maybe I was afraid to wake up.”

“Maybe…” she says, “you should just open your eyes.”

My gaze is locked as she lifts the glass up to perfect lips quickly fading from violet to burgundy — dark, glistening, beautiful — and her pearlescent teeth peek out at me from behind. Then, with a little sigh of satisfaction, she opens her mouth to swallow the dream.


Alexei Collier was born and raised near Los Angeles and now resides across the street from Chicago. He studied creative writing at Beloit College and is currently working through the second draft of a novel. Bitten by a radioactive paperback at an early age, he began concocting stories as soon as he could talk. There is no known cure for this affliction. He says:

This story grew out of several things. Firstly, musing on the similarity between the effects of certain drugs on the brain and the symptoms of some mental disorders. Secondly, wondering what someone from just beyond the horizon of tomorrow might sound like to modern ears. “The Bohemians” is also about the interplay of the authentic and the artificial, and the fact that something that is natural or beautiful can also be terrible or even monstrous.


Illustration by Malene Thyssen depicts a Polyommatus butterfly and is made available by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic License.



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