Linc Madison

Journey of Leon Tempusfugit

Fifteen years past the midway point of his life, a vast and murky panorama awaits the clean shaven, gray-haired Leon Tempusfugit (Temp-us-fug-it), a once well-known actor of stage, screen, and television, now fallen on hard times. Garbed in a black tuxedo, shirtless, Leon Tempusfugit sets off barefoot on his journey. Along the way, he will be guided by his inborn sense for misdirection. Ahead or behind schedule is of no importance to him because Leon Tempusfugit has not slept a wink in 74 hours and counting. He may therefore arrive at his destination when he makes a wrong turn. Meanwhile, shambling down a random street on a foggy day, he discerns things which may or not be illusions / delusions. Whatever the case may be, the unemployed thespian finds himself alongside a fog-shrouded archaic bridge in a nebulous vector where he stumbles over a pair of shiny pink plastic sandals. He puts the sandals on his feet and they fit perfectly. He hopes the pink sandals are an omen placed there by a divine source in order to divert him from the road to perdition and onto the proper path towards salvation.
                At a leisurely pace, Tempusfugit, who garnered critical praise when he starred in a biopic of silent film era horror actor Lon Chaney, traverses the aforementioned archaic bridge in a vector nebulous. When he arrives on the other side of the archaic bridge, the fog has lifted but the sky remains overcast. Tempusfugit, with the aid of his shiny pink plastic sandals, continues to walk at a leisurely pace until he arrives at a decrepit castle built circa 1254 CE in what today is referred to as Subdivision 7. He ambles into that gloomy castle and further into a mist-filled room lit by corroded chandeliers. In this dim chamber he sits on a wobbly wicker chair alongside a cracked marble table covered in a film of white dust. There he drinks black tea with his host, one who today calls himself Sebastian Melmoth, a changeling with various aliases, multiple visages and mutable genders. On that dusty cracked marble table covered in white dust, William Shakespeare’s skull, accompanied by Sebastian’s mandolin strings, voices blasphemies in a nonexistent language. To amuse himself, Tempusfugit picks up a sugar cube and licks it like it’s a sex act and… Whoosh! Tempusfugit is transported in the blink of an eye to the city-kingdom of Dementia, a wasteland similar to a haunted metropolis. Tempusfugit lies down on a crushed sidewalk and falls asleep for five consecutive days with his eyes fully open, like a sleepwalker falls asleep for that same length of time, which is not, strictly speaking, sleeping.
                Six days later an eclipse of the midnight sun occurs, briefly blinding all avians in sight. Tempusfugit reappears at daybreak in a garden of whimsical blossoms singing like disturbed children. However, bolts of lightning in tandem with loud crashes of thunder whisk him off again, this time to a deserted island somewhere on Earth’s surface. There he picks up a piece of clear quartz and views his reflection. He espies a dandy with eyes aquamarine stranded amongst the ruins of Saqqara, the ancient Egyptian city of the dead, where pyramids abound. At this point, Tempusfugit considers the notion that he is trapped in a time-warp. But he has no time to think it through because…Whoosh! He is now a latter-day Rip van Winkle with long white tangled hair and a long bushy white beard, wearing a cobalt-blue tuxedo jacket, no shirt, torn gray burlap trousers and shiny red plastic sandals on his feet. A neon green metal valise lies on the seashore at his current dislocation: the Anatolian coastline of the Sea of Marmara.
                With his scowl exposed in the yellowish-green vapor wafting off the Marmarian seawater, Tempusfugit kneels before a limestone statue of Aphrodite with missing arms. Mistaking the statue of Aphrodite as the Delphic oracle, Tempusfugit asks her telepathically, “Should I open the neon green metal valise?” Aphrodite, without speaking, answers his question, “Yes, you should.” Tempusfugit places his good ear, the left one, on the neon green metal valise. A snake hisses in the shrill key of Z sharp, a sound that humans cannot hear but dogs can. Uncannily, a pack of six gaunt dogs, of various types, appears. Tempusfugit observes the six gaunt dogs creep up to the neon green metal valise and sniff it. And when they sniff it, all the six dogs retch, convulse, and drop dead on the spot, there on the Anatolian shoreline of the Sea of Marmara.
                Tempusfugit, repulsed by the sight of the six dead dogs, backs away from the ominous neon green metal valise. He decides to try his luck elsewhere, veering right at the next corner, leading him towards his next displacement. A short while later, he notices a crude road sign: a wooden post planted in the dirt. Affixed to the upper part of the post, in the shape of a black arrow, is a vertical wooden board that has Holstenwall 5 KM written on it with white paint in large block script. The arrow points easterly and Tempusfugit heads in that direction.
                Time, of course, continues to elapse. And the universe, of course, continues to expand. But for Leon Tempusfugit, time and space, at this juncture, are of no concern, and neither are food nor drink. A lapse in judgment, therefore, becomes a distinct possibility. So, therefore, it’s no coincidence that a few seconds after he traverses a bifurcated pathway, and forgetting all about Holstenwall, Tempusfugit finds himself floating inside a space capsule perched high above the Himalayas. He asks himself, "What's today's date?" A gentleman by the name of Charles Baudelaire has heard him loud and clear. Charles Baudelaire, a notorious and accursed 19th century French poet and one of Tempusfugit’s teenage idols, materializes in mid-air in front of Tempusfugit, who instantly recognizes Baudelaire as he appeared in Eugene Carjat’s 1863 photograph: a grim faced forty-two-year-old, with brooding eyes and a receding hairline. Baudelaire is attired in his de regiuer dandy mode: spiffy black frock coat with black velvet collar, white shirt, a black cravat fashioned into a bow tie, dark gray pleated trousers, pointy maroon shoes, and his customary lavender-hued suede gloves scented with, of course, lavender.
                “Is that really you, Charles Baudelaire? You’re my favorite poet. This can’t be happening. You died a long time ago. Are you a hallucination,” asks Tempusfugit with a stupefied voice.
                Speaking English with a distinctly French accent, Baudelaire responds, “Yes, it’s really me. I’m not dead. I’m the über-dandy that transcended.” Baudelaire’s eyes narrow. He sizes up Tempusfugit. “So, you say I’m your favorite poet. Did you read Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen in the original French?”
                Tempusfugit reacts nervously to Baudelaire’s question. He stammers, “Well, not exactly…I …I must confess that my…my French was never great to begin with, and it hasn’t, uh, improved much over the years…But the translations I read were well done, so the critics said.”
                “The critics, ha! What do they know? Most of them have no imaginations of their own, but what they do have is plenty of malice, unless you grease their palms. But getting back to those translations you spoke of. They were pedestrian bastardizations at best, draining all the potency from my exquisitely wrought evocations of decadence in a decaying world. However, by comparison, my translations of Edgar Poe’s work were truly brilliant. They sold exceptionally well, so much so that I was credited with making Poe a literary star in France.”
                “Yes. I know. I read your life story. You led an extraordinary life.”
                “Yes, I certainly did. I voyaged to the East Indies at 20, and caught the French disease by the time I was 23, for which there was no cure. From then on, I lived a life of physical and emotional agony. Luckily, Jeanne, my black Venus, introduced me to laudanum, which became a habitual tonic to ease my misery. By the way, do you have any laudanum on you?”
                “No, I’m sorry, Mr. Baudelaire. I gave up opium five months ago. You see, I’m trying to get my act together. I’m an actor and I haven’t worked in almost four years or so.”
                “Well, I hope you saved for a rainy day. I wish that I had.”
                “Yes, I squirreled some away. Well, at my brother’s insistence.”
                “A full-blooded brother. You’re lucky. I only had a half-brother. What’s your name?”
                “Leon Tempusfugit,” replies Tempusfugit, his voice growing hoarser by the second.
                “Never heard of you. Is that your real name?”
                “No. My real name is Caligari. Doctor Caligari, to be exact.”
                “You don’t say. And where, dare I ask, is Cesare?”
                Tempusfugit emits a short harsh cough in an attempt to clear his voice, and then he says, “He’s asleep in his coffin. Fast asleep. Dead to the world.”
                “Or maybe he’s caressing a flower. I’m getting a bit bored. Since you don’t have any laudanum, I will just have to go to the old standbys.”
                Reaching with his scented lavender suede glove into the inner pocket of his black frock coat with black velvet collar, Baudelaire pulls out a rolled up pink silk handkerchief. He floats nearer to Tempusfugit. Unfolding the pink silk handkerchief, Baudelaire unveils two round dark brown nuggets the size of marbles. He offers one to Tempusfugit.
                “Care to join me,” Baudelaire asks.
                “What are they?”
                Tempusfugit takes one of the bon-bons. He looks at it, smells and licks it. His eyes widen with surprise mixed with anxiety. With his rasping voice, he tells Baudelaire “This isn’t a bon-bon. This is hashish.”
                “Hashish. Bon-bons. Same difference. They dull the pain.”
                “I can’t take this stuff. I have to stay clean and sober.”
                “What? What’s wrong with you? You’re refusing to party with your favorite poet. This is an opportunity that happens to people only once in a lifetime. C’mon, don’t be such a wuss. Just pop it into your mouth and wash it down with this.”
                With his lavender-scented and lavender-hued suede glove, Baudelaire reaches into the right pocket of his black frock coat and pulls out a silver flask about the size of his hand. He pops the “bon-bon” into his mouth and washes it down with a gulp from the silver flask.
                “Ahh, that’s better,” says Baudelaire with satisfaction. “Now it’s your turn.” He offers the flask to Tempusfugit.
                “What’s in there,” inquires Tempusfugit with a raspy voice.
                “Absinthe, of course. Everything goes down better with absinthe, and it will also cure your impeding laryngitis.”
                Tempusfugit hesitates, irritating Baudelaire.
                “C’mon, don’t disappoint me, Leon.”
                “I can’t believe this. I must be having a weird dream. Yes, that’s what it is. I’m in the midst of a weird dream. When will I wake up?”
                “You’re not in the midst of a weird dream, Leon. Heaven is closer than you think. Now, c’mon, pop the bon-bon in your mouth and wash it down with the green liquor. Open the gateway to magnificence, Leon. You won’t regret it. Take my word.”
                “Heaven? Magnificence? Don’t mislead me, Mr. Baudelaire. You’re the one who wrote Artificial Paradise, that anti-substance abuse book.”
                “Please, please, call me Chuck. I wrote that book strictly for the money. I was in hock up to my ears. I was building my legend, so I had to live up to the image that I was creating. I had to be seen wearing the finest clothes, having the best paintings and antiques. My creditors were hounding me day and night. Then I had a brainstorm. Having been around the publishing industry for a number of years, I knew that the naive mass market reading public loves those gushy I was damned-now-I’m-redeemed human interest stories. Those are the books that rake in the dough. All a writer has to do is fabricate and exaggerate a little and advertise the book as non-fiction. So, trust me, Leon. I’m not misleading you at all. Heaven forbid. You see, Leon, there are absolutely no side effects from the use of narcotics and alcohol in the ethereal plane that we are inhabiting right now. Believe you me, the ethereal plane has its rewards.”
                Tempusfugit eyes the round dark nugget in his hand and then looks at Baudelaire. “Are you absolutely certain, Chuck, that I won’t relapse and descend into the lowest pit in hell?”
                A smile, which is more of a smirk, marks Baudelaire’s face. “Yes, you can trust me. You’ll be in fine form when you reenter your earthly plane. Go ahead. Drink up. Enjoy.”
                Tempusfugit briefly ponders Baudelaire’s entreaty. “Well, all right. But only because you’re the one and only Charles Baudelaire, my all-time favorite poet. Here goes.” He pops the “bon-bon” into his mouth. Baudelaire offers him the silver flask. Tempusfugit drinks some absinthe. Baudelaire looks pleased. He pats Tempusfugit on the shoulder and says, ‘Well done, old boy.”
                Tempusfugit hands the silver flask back to Baudelaire, who takes another swig and then puts it back in the pocket of his black frock coat with black velvet collar. He and Tempusfugit gaze blankly at each other. But shortly their blank faces turn into smiles as they glide around the space capsule like swimmers in mid-air. Baudelaire says, “You know, Leon, on my way here, I felt it could be possible for human beings to exist outside the concepts of time and space.”
                “You mean, the same as vegetables or minerals,” inquires Tempusfugit with his newly restored clear-as-a-bell voice.
                “No, more like sexual chemicals. No, I say that in jest. What I mean is conscious human beings with an ever present awareness, except for one thing – they have no concept of death. Yes, that’s right. A world inhabited by humans who have no idea that they will die someday. It would turn the human race into a completely different kind of animal. Don’t you think so?”
                “That’s a revolutionary idea, I must say. But how could that be accomplished? What would we do with all the history books and all the cemeteries, burn them all into oblivion?”
                “That’s a splendid idea. Raze everything to the ground and start anew. Our top technologists will be given the task of finding ways to brainwash - no, I meant to say reengineer - all currently living humans into believing they’re immortal, without them, of course, knowing the difference between immortality and mortality. Instead of dying, people will simply just disappear one day. Of course, not all will disappear in one day, but you get my drift. And voilà, Earth will become the paradise it was meant to be before Adam and Eve came along and screwed it up for all the rest of us with that original sin idiocy that damned the human race for ever and ever. Amen.”
                “Well, that’s all easier said than done, Chuck. But how will the offspring and other family members, plus friends and co-workers react when they discover that the vanished ones have disappeared without a trace?”
                “There’s a simple solution to that, Leon. The offspring, and etcetera, etcetera, will be given a cup of lethe to drink and they will all spontaneously forget that the departed ever existed. Any wrinkles in my plan will get ironed out over time.”
                “Those are all brilliant ideas, Chuck. But what about the concept of space? How will humanity exist outside the concept of space? That seems impossible.”
                “There’s a simple solution to that as well. By combining artificial intelligence, plus virtual and augmented reality, our top technologists will reengineer the world’s population with the ability to be anywhere, real or imagined, along with the option of being anyone, dead or alive, travelling back and forth between the past, present, and pending future. For instance, a person may choose to be a current president or dictator of a nation, while virtually visiting Singapore, one moment, Buenos Aires the next, and so on. Just imagine all the infinite choices. But, Leon, I didn’t come here to get philosophical. I have better things to do. I must be going.”
                “No! No! You - you can’t just leave me like this. Please stay for a while.”
                “No, I wish that I could, but I can’t. You’ll be fine. I promised Jeanne I would meet her in Pig Alley. We’re going out dancing. You know, I’m the best male can-can dancer in all of Paris. All the queens and trollops love me. And Jeanne always has laudanum on her. We’ll dance the night away. I will feel like I’m twenty-one again, and my whole life is ahead of me. Well, thanks for the memories, Leon. I had a good time. Goodbye and give my best regards to Cesare.”
                Baudelaire magically sprouts white angel wings. He drifts, with a blissful smile on his face, to a side wall of the space capsule.
                “Please, Chuck, please, don’t go. Don’t leave me like this,” begs Tempusfugit.
                “So sorry, old chap. Time flies and so must I.”
                Flapping his white angel wings, Baudelaire disappears seamlessly through the space capsule.
                A short while later, a disconsolate Tempusfugit, hearing police sirens in the distance, flies off in his space capsule, which someone other than himself had the foresight to set on auto-pilot.
                At 1200 hours on August 21st, without advance warning, Leon Tempusfugit’s space capsule whirrs and spins madly, distorting into a 500 foot-long silver-gray limousine that is being rocked by a whirlwind infused with, give or take, a million larvae voicing darkwave hymns. Unfazed by whirlwind and chanting larvae, Tempusfugit, settled in the backseat of the limo, ponders the mysterious nature of life, a mystery that is as old as water.
                And when that water finally dries out, Max Schwenk (Leon Tempusfugit’s birth name), finds himself on a cloudy day standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, waiting for a traffic light to change. Wearing a long, vintage, unbuttoned black overcoat, a white shirt accented with black waistcoat but no tie, sporting gray trousers and black shoes, and on his head a black top hat, he is what he really is, just another out-of-work actor heading to an audition with the dire hope that he will be cast in a role. In Max Schwenk’s case, the role is that of Doctor Caligari, a carnival hypnotist cum director of a mental asylum (or vice-versa), in the remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a role that Schwenk, deep down in his wayward heart, knows he was born to play.
                Bizarre things can happen in someone’s mind while standing on a street corner waiting for a traffic light to change. All that waiting could induce anybody to drift off into a weird daydream, as the case has been with Max Schwenk. When that traffic light on Hollywood and Vine finally changes from red to green, Schwenk comes to his senses. He cautiously steps off the sidewalk and starts crossing the street, repeating to himself in a low tone, “I must become Caligari… I must become Caligari...” Halfway across the intersection, Schwenk alters his affirmation. In a foreboding, louder voice, he declares, “I am Caligari...I am Caligari…Cesare, listen to me. It is I, your master, Doctor Caligari. Cesare, when I tell you to awaken, you will open your eyes. And when I order you to do something, you will feel utterly compelled to do exactly what I tell you to do, including murder. After all, Cesare, I am your master, Doctor Caligari. I can make you do anything.” Schwenk laughs like a loon as he moves on.

A Linc Madison story, his first ever published work of fiction (or any other genre), appeared in Otoliths #49. In his everyday life, he is currently experimenting with the idea of "not being earnest" in order to decide whether or not there is any validity in the idea of artifice as a general principle by which to conduct one's life exclusive of ethics/moralities (e.g. fake news, fake realities, fake people, etc.).
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