An excerpt from Mock-Up, an abandoned novel, by Marc Laidlaw(Reprinted with permission of the author)
When Morris was seventeen, he didn't see much of his parents. His stepfather was a hot tub salesman who spent most of his time either installing tubs or partying with his customers in those same tubs. Morris's mother had accompanied her husband to some of these parties at first, but clearly her husband's behavior--though she tried to endorse it in the spirit of the times--had uncovered some rigid puritanical scaffolding inside her, and she had taken to spending her own evenings at home, alone with her bottles of wine and a variety of value-neutral pharmaceutical companions.
Morris could relate neither to his mother, his stepfather, his much more distant biological father, nor the small-minded suburban idiots whom the society around him considered his peers. Because he had no interest in wandering the burbs at night in search of mildly vandalistic activities such as spray-painting his name on the soundwalls going up alongside the new freeways, nor in pursuing the few girls who might be even remotely interested in him, he found himself wandering farther and farther afield from the tracts of Torrance. In a battered fake-wood- panel station-wagon with a clumsily grafted bubble-roof, he cruised the city canyons of downtown Los Angeles. He glided from Watts to the San Fernando Valley in search of something he would know when he saw it--in search of some magic that might give his life meaning. He idled in the smog-drenched traffic jams as if he were a commuter. The freeway lamps dodged overhead, strobing him with light while the radio spewed Barry Manilow ("At the Copa--Copacabana...") and Eddie Money ("I got...two tickets to paradise...won't you...pack your bags and we'll leave tonight,") and he realized with vague nausea that this was the music left to his generation; realized with greater anguish that the music actually struck him full of pitiful sentiment, that Eddie Money actually touched him--as if the dream of packing his bags for paradise were something his spirit yearned for. He nearly drove into the freeway divider at that realization; nearly rammed himself into oblivion.
Instead he pulled himself down an offramp, cruised down the usual strip of Dennys and Copper Pennys and 7/11's, until he saw a glaring sign outside an otherwise unremarkable Holiday Inn: "Welcome Sci-Fi Fans!"
He had borrowed enough money from his mother (or at any rate, she had not complained when he dug into her purse, under her very nose) to pay his admission to the event; but once inside, he wondered what he had expected to find. Rooms where wretched B-movies were unreeling, the very same you could watch any weekend afternoon on television. Rooms where dispirited souls lethargically debated the long-term impact of Star-Wars at long tables. Small, hot, crowded suites where people packed into even more crowded bathrooms in search of beer, and no one objected or asked for i.d. when Morris filled a plastic cup with Johnnie Walker Red (his stepfather's drink of choice) and drained it, and filled it again, and then a third time before braving the party again.
He was a half-hearted reader of science fiction, and there were faces around him he vaguely recognized from the jackets of novels he had glanced at, if not actually finished. The faces seemed to swim and bob around the room, so he was less than eager to approach any of them, until two came rather close to him. A woman and a man, both like enough to have been brother and sister, with similar hair long and curled, although the woman was tall and very thin, while the man was quite short and plump. Hers was the deeper voice; his was very faint and distant, almost indistinct, as if lost in his thick moustach and bush of beard just shot through with a few strands of grey. Her hair had much more iron in it, threads that stood out like white wire, unruly hair that was held in place with a unicorn pin, which made him think of virgins, which Morris still was. Their eyes were the same shade of green, but that didn't necessarily mean they were related; it might have been only the reason they had been drawn together. Morris's own eyes were green, after all, and now they had been drawn to him.
The couple eventually took him aside, although not without filling his cup again, and introduced themselves as Janet Kutz and Sherwood Spierman, authors, editors, partners in a vast enterprise of fictional empire building. Under the name of Jan Kutzwood they had penned more than a dozen volumes of fantasy, a triology of trilogies and sequelae. They had edited, they told him, nearly twenty anthologies under various other names. Not to mention solo novels each had produced and published in the last several decades. He had been vaguely aware of their presence on the edge of the book racks, though he could not bring himself to tell them that theirs were the last sorts of books he would ever turn to. He read science fiction for its stranger aspects, for the truly wild talents harbored and hiding there, not for the tame generic stuff. He would rather re-read Gravity's Rainbow for the third time than open volume one of the Dragonstaff Chronicles.
The couple, whom he came to think of as the Kutzwoods, since that was the shared identity that had brought them to the convention, continually implied that there were depths to themselves that no one suspected...that they dared not reveal in their books, although they would bare the secrets for a small, select circle of friends.
What this baring eventually amounted to was the somewhat anticlimactic culmination of an event Morris had been looking forward to with mixed anticipation and dread for the entirety of his adolescent life. It required all of his considerable sense of humor to get through it without laughing; but afterward he felt anything but joyful or amused.
He had drunk enough that night to render his memories of the event patchwork and hazy and warped. In the least pleasant of them, he was vomiting while Janet rubbed his shoulders and whispered that yes, he must cast out the poisons of guilt and insecurity that mundane life had instilled in him. He vomitted Johnny Walker Red and something else besides, a gluey white foam that rode on the surface of the burning scotch, which he couldn't remember ingesting (quite), although he feared that if he thought about it hard enough he would remember, and that might be even worse. Sherwood hovered above him, near the toilet bowl, throughout his wife's minisrations, with a distraught look; and Sherwood was quite naked, his penis looking raw and red, ropy and wrung-out between his fat thighs. The sight made Morris gag again and commence the further emptying of his guts.
He was not sure where exactly in the evening this memory occurred, but it was unrelated (except thematically) to the others that surrounded it. The best of them, he supposed, was in the darkened Holiday Inn room, on the creaking bed, with Janet bouncing on his crotch, then leaning forward to rub her almost perfectly flat chest against his own, a sensation that thrilled him even though it felt like someone pressing pencil erasers over his nipples. He realized that he was in her, inside a woman, although he couldn't quite feel himself down there; as if from the waist down he was numb. But even the qualified pleasures of this memory were further qualified when he turned his head and saw Sherwood kneeling on the floor beside the bed, right up against the mattress, clutching at the bedspread as he bucked and banged against the bedframe, as if humping the tight crease between mattress and boxspring while his wife humped Morris.
And another memory, of his face between Janet's legs, the musky, leathery, horse-like scent of her, as if she had been riding in the saddle all day and her thighs were lathered with horse-lather. Her thighs gripping tight around his head as she shook and tremored, and he gripped at her nonexistent breasts, and at the same time felt something sucking hesitantly at his own limp penis, and the brushy sensation of a beard between his legs.
He could not remember, further, how the evening ended; but he did recall clearly waking in the darkened room and slipping out and into the parking lot and finding his car, and finishing his night's sleep there, until a cop woke him and sent him on his way. And he supposed that would have been all for the Kutzwoods, except that for some reason during the night he had given them his address, and they began to send him letters and copies of their books.
The letters evoked indistinct memories of conversations they'd had at the convention, a generalized plumbing of his bored and anguished adolescent soul. They meant to minister to him long-distance, he realized; and it was some kind of reflection on the state of his day-to-day life that after a few months of receiving their correspondence, and responding with a few halfhearted postcards, he began to think about that night at the hotel with a quickening, and he masturbated to images of Janet squirming against him, and the taste of her came into his mouth; and even the thought of Sherwood did not completely put him off anymore. So when they extended an offer for him to come visit them in Berkeley, to spend "a weekend among the mysteries," as they put it--he listened to his mother and his stepfather arguing in the living room, and immediately picked up the phone and called them and agreed to come if they paid for his ticket.
The Kutzwoods had always been coy about "the mysteries" until the night they collected him at the Oakland Airport. They were different tonight, in their own element, looking supernal and aristocratic in black robes, moving gracefully among the airport's ranks of Krishna beggars. Even when he saw their broken-down wreck of a truck, he thought there was something transcendent about them.
He had visited San Francisco once with his mother, but never Berkeley. He had no idea where he was when they pulled up on a quiet street among quiet houses and took him down an overgrown path to a small house that looked weirdly slumped upon its tiny plot of ground. Somehow, as prolific authors, he had figured they would be living in some grand estate; but it became obvious to him that the place was a decrepit old farmhouse lacking (his biological father was a contractor) even a foundation. The walls were covered with mold; green fur had climbed the curtains; there was seepage and brine stains in the squelching carpets. He drank wine from a milk glass until he had swallowed enough to reveal rings of hardened matter like the remains of a petrified parfait. Scraggly marijuana plants grew under fluorescents in the bathroom, and a softshell turtle lazed in an algal green scum in the bathtub, eyeing him aggressively when he leaned to look inside, in disbelief. There was seepage and brine stains in the squelching carpets, and the toilet was so calcified that there was hardly an opening left for drainage, and so it was full of paper and cigarette butts and tampons, and he went instead into the backyard under a pretense of touring the house and pissed near a rabbit hutch, hoping he could survive the weekend without taking a shit.
The Kutzwoods were not alone in the house. They had roommates, somewhat younger than themselves, but no more wholesome. They looked like refugees, junkies, and he distinctly saw scabby tracks on the arms of one or two, which they scratched distractedly. It did little to reassure Morris when these other roommates vanished into their fetid little rooms and reappeared wearing black robes like those Janet and Sherwood wore. He sat in a corner of the front room, trying to avoid contact with any and all surfaces, and let his eyes roam the titles of paperbacks crammed on the shelves that ran from floor to ceiling along every wall. There were pots of half-eaten food on the floor, looking like charred soybeans, solidified and clouded with mold. Dishes where food crumbs mingled with cigarette butts. He distracted himself finding titles he hadn't read, or had the slightest interest in reading, and at least unearthed a huge cache of Philip K. Dick, all stacked more or less in one teetering pile. Most were so yellow they looked pissed upon, rescued from garbage bins or incinerators. Old Ace-doubles, Dr. Futurity, Solar Lottery, The World Jones Made, the Man Who Japed. He hadn't read most of these. But others, more recent, were on the top of his own stacks of favorite and frequently re-read titles: Martian Time-Slip, The Crack in Space, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubik, The Man in the High Castle. When Janet came through beaded doorway, he raised a copy of Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said, as if in a toast.
"Oh, the good stuff," she said. "I'll take that as a sign you're ready."
"Ready," he said.
"For the kiss of Valis."
"Valis," he repeated.
She knelt before him, and now the others came through the curtains behind her. They had been making some preparations in there, talking in hushed voices. He smelled incense burning.
"This was his house," she said. "That's only the first of the secrets to be revealed to you tonight."
"Whose house?" he asked.
"Philip K. Dick? He lived here?"
"When he was starting out...it's a focal point for Valis now. A shrine. Why do you think you've been drawn here?"
"I--I didn't know--"
"You haven't read Valis, of course. It's only in manuscript. Secret copies have been passed around. Later we'll show it to you, and you can read and understand. Soon it will be revealed to the world, but for the moment our society is still very secret. Even when the light has dawned, we shall be the small dark heart of it, at the center of the mystery, and you, Morris, perhaps you will be at the center of that heart, if you can clear your mind of all else tonight and make room for the movement of the spirit."
"Philip K. Dick lived here," he said, shifting and feeling the floorboards splintering softly beneath him. He felt that he could easily kick a hole through with his heel, and dig right into the earth beneath the house. If he pushed hard enough on the wall behind him, it would give way. His skull felt equally soft, equally invaded by something stranger than mold; as if the slightest bit of pressure would cause it to burst, letting his thoughts out.
"Was...was there something in that wine?"
Janet crouched before him, and put out her hand, palm up. In the center sat a small purple pill.
"Chew-Z," she said. "The sacrament."
"What is it really? Is it LSD?" Because in this respect, also, he was a virgin.
"Don't be afraid, Morris. Valis will come through tonight. Maybe you will be chosen."
"Chosen for...for what?"
She put the pill on her tongue and closed her mouth. Then took his hands and drew him to his feet, leading him back toward the veiled room. Through clacking plastic beads, into a room dark except for a small pink globe like a nightlight in the center of the room.
"The pink light touches us deep within," Janet intoned, urging him to sink to a sitting position. "Beyond all rational thought. It shows us the truth. Gaze into the light, Morris."
Morris gazed. He could see the wire filament inside the round globe. It was intricately coiled; it was difficult to believe that anything could be so small and fine. What hand could have shaped it so precisely? What immortal hand of fire did shape thy nightlight's burning wire? He was thinking insanely, but it was no less than was expected of him. The others now had shed their clothes, and in the pink dimness began to move around him, forming a human freize of interwoven forms-- only, when he jerked to look at them they weren't moving. Except that Janet came forward now, bearing two bright pink human figures in her hands, naked plastic dolls. She bathed them in the pink light, and he almost laughed to see Barbie and Ken stripped of their garments, sexless, except that the ceremony with which she handled them made them seem portentous, more menacing than voodoo dolls, if you believed in that sort of thing. Belief was not exactly what filled Morris at the moment; there was little room left in him for anything but fear.
"For behold," she said, "in the days of Perky Pat, Valis did move among them, and bring life even to the frozen forms. And Valis did descend among the discarded objects, the shattered toys of childhood, past the amphetamine capsules and empty prescription vials, into the very tomb of the world, into the keys of his typewriter, and through those keys into Phil's fingers, so that the light first blossomed there and came to us that we might see the workings of Valis in the world. And the demiurge sensed that Valis had arrived, and was working to undo his evil works, and in that moment the battle proper was joined."
Janet Kutz pressed Barbie to her lips, and held out her hand so that Ken might lay his cold sealed mouth against Morris's mouth, a tiny frigid peck that filled him with terror, since he could feel his life sucking out of him, into the doll. His teeth began to chatter.
Now he felt hands kneading his shoulders, and twisted around to see Sherwood Spierman behind him, unclothed again. He tried to rise, but the hands pushed him down gently, and he was so weak and wobbly that he couldn't resist even the fat little science fiction writer. And then something very warm and firm enclosed him, like an enormous snake, and the pink light drew far away below him, like a star burning in an abyss, the only star in existence. But it wasn't Valis. Its light could not heal him. It was only a pink nightlight, too far away to do any good, and Janet Kutz had hold of him, nor could he move, for his socketed limbs obeyed only hers, and his eyes were sightless and his lips were sealed and he had no sex.
Through the abyss came Perky Pat, his ideal mate. The sexless two of them were fated for some unimaginable union. Her stiff blonde tresses, her nipple-less breasts, her belly devoid of umbilical scars.... Whatever had given birth to her, whatever machine had stamped her out, he also was the child of that soulless monster, and between them they would give rise to the next race of men, the demiurge's true spawn, the plastic people, the unsexed race, the machinists and manufacturers, immortals, beyond the reach of decay or growth alike.
"Let go of fear, let go of self, let go of will," the air intoned. "Let Valis in, let Valis in, let Valis is."
But it was not Valis, whatever that was, who came in.
There was a commotion in the room, and Morris was dropped, dumped on the carpet. He sprawled by the pink light, staring at the stained ceiling, as the half-robed others stared at the beaded doorway where now a hairy, bearded, beer-bellied, grey- haired man stood in a grubby white t-shirt. Morris was lost between bodies, half in the form of Ken, half in his own flesh. His vision was doubled, with one of the two turned sideways and superimposed at an angle upon the other, so that the world looked as though it had been mirrored and fractured and badly reset.
The Kutzwoods rushed toward the intruder, but the faintly seedy figure in dirty white raised one hand and they recoiled as if burned with a flamethrower. Janet said, "Phil!"
"Get out of my house!" he intoned. "Get out, all of you. You bunch of quacks and crackpots! Charlatans!"
"Valis moves among us!" Sherwood cried. "He comes in human form!"
"I said clear out, you fucking windbag!" Phil stepped in, his beer gut hanging out between his flapping t-shirt and his bleach-stained whitish flares.
"Valis isn't in here," he said sourly, "but I can call it. This is the work of the demiurge--this is evil, illusion. Sucking this boy's life out of him. Fucking him full of death. It's my house and I want you all out of it right now, before I summon Valis through that snapping turtle and sic him on you. Catch a few snaps of that beak and I'll bet you won't be so eager to feel Valis."
When even after all this, no one moved to obey him, Phil stepped fully into the room and aimed a kick that Morris irrationally feared was meant for his head. He flinched, but Phil's toe merely shattered the pink bulb, and as it popped Morris jerked upright, and staggered for the exit, the plastic beads dragging over his face. The others were behind him, fleeing in a rush, and looking back into the room he saw a huge, an inconceivable shape seemed to mushroom into existence in the center of the room, beyond the beaded curtain, striking the Kutzwoods full of a revealing pink irradiation, their skeletons standing side by side, one short and squat, the other tall and angular. And as the light died they came staggering out as if blind, clutching at each other's hands, and followed the rest of their followers out the front door, sandals and bare feet slapping away on the weedy path.
Morris sat in a corner of the room, where he had fallen, his hand on the stack of Philip K. Dick novels. And then Philip K. Dick himself came out of the room and gave him a concerned look.
"Assholes," Phil said. "I would like to have messed with their heads a little bit longer, though."
"You--you're really here?"
"Sure," Phil said. "Aren't you?" "I'm---" He was about to answer affirmatively, but a wave of something negative swept through him. All his fear came flooding out of him, then. It dawned on him suddenly where he was, and what was happening to him, and his surroundings sprang into awful clarity--so bright that he could barely look around himself.
"Take these," Phil said. He took a pillbottle out of his pants pocket and emptied it into his palm. There were pills of all sizes and shapes, all colors. He sorted through until he had picked out a yellow capsule, a golden gelatinous globes, a red ones and a green one. Some of the pills had the names of pharmaceutical companies on them, number codes, but these were all blank.
"Relax, they're vitamins. I've been experimenting with megadoses, and I think this combination will do you good. I'm not exactly sure what they dosed you with, but this can't hurt."
Morris swallowed them dry, and soon the surfaces of things began to cling more firmly to the objects which they normally covered; the edges of reality were all tacked back in place. Phil ghosted around the house, muttering to himself at the state of the place, waiting for Morris to settle. He brewed coffee and washed cups and finally came down and handed Morris a mug, and sat opposite him and gave him a wink.
"How did you know to come?" Morris asked.
Phil opened his hand. In it was a pink pill. "This," he said, "is Can-D." He popped it in his mouth.
Morris spilled out his story, as much of it made sense to him. Phil listened, and when he was finished, he began to speak, just weaving stories about the demiurge who had created this world, and how humanity was trapped in a false creation far below the notice of the demiurge's own creator--except that Valis moved among them, with messages of hope, with practical methods of transcendence, ways of unknotting the hopelessly tangled strands of reality and following them to...to what? Morris could not follow a fraction of it; he only lay there, letting the voice speak on, while he dodged in and out of consciousness. Toward morning, Phil rose and gestured him to his feet, and they set out under the paling skies, past quiet houses and trim green lawns marked inexplicably with Clorox bottles like squat little sentries beneath the camellia hedges. Phil brought him to the BART station and showed him how to buy his ticket, which train to take to the Oakland Airport. He turned from the turnstile after feeding his ticket through, turned to thank Phil, but he was already gone.