Robin Wyatt Dunn

The Transcriptionist

Robin Wyatt Dunn

James sits and thinks about obedience.

“I mean, they were there, what do you want?  Like I slapped him silly or something!  You get it?”

He sits and thinks about obedience and the people near him are waving their hands about in the metallic room, lights on the ceiling, their arms waving, their teeth shining in the light.

“Ha ha ha ha!”

One of them careens over to his table.

“Have you seen anything like this?  Have you?”

“No, no I haven’t,” says James.

“Funnier than anything!  Them moving about, them dancing, it was in the street, did you see it?  Their smells huge!  Stuffing through the street!” says the man.

And this one does smell.  What does he smell of, James thinks.

“You’ve been here a while, haven’t you?  Sitting here?” the man says.

“Yes, for a bit.  Just a bit,” says James.

“I thought so.  I’ve seen you here before.  Wespizjak, come over here!”

And another careens over.

“What, what, what is it?” says Wespizjak.

“This guy, you seen this guy?” says the first man.

James sits and thinks about obedience.  To obey, to obey here.  He must obey.

“This guy?  Have I seen him?  Who is this guy?” says Wespizjak, shrugging his shoulders rapidly.

“I don’t know.  I don’t know.  Who are you, guy?  Sitting here, who are you?” the first man says.

“Oh, I’m nobody.  Nobody, really, just sitting here having a drink,” says James.

“Exactly!  Sitting here having a drink!  Let me tell you something, we know drinks here, have another one!” shouts the first man.

Another one.  Ye gods, another one.  Don’t drink too much, sailor, it’s a long way down when you’re lost at sea.

The bar downstairs unfolds like a marionette show, its huge metal shape shoving itself out of the wall in terrifying spectacle, glasses and liquids of various colors shining in the half-light of the metal room.

“We know drinks here, guy!” says the first man, and he moves his arms about, flailing them, flailing them about.

The bar is bright and alive with its horrifying energy.

Wespizjak leaps over the banister and lands on the metal floor below, his legs splayed wildly beneath him, and then he pivots and leaps to the bar.

“Bring that guy down here!” he says.

“Come on down here, guy,” says the first man, his huge eyes black and simian and full of some shared consciousness James will never be able to understand, does not want to understand, must understand or die.

“I’m coming, I’ll be right down,” says James.

“The time is now, guy!  We’ve got a real drink for you!  Right at that bar!”

Oh, not the bar.  Please not the bar again.  James walks down the metal stairs to the main floor, and the other patrons at their tables turn slowly, some of them doing something like smiling with their teeth.  The lights at the bar burn slow, like candle-wax, waving, some of them in colors James cannot see.  A female at the bar opens her huge mouth and something crawls out of it and scampers backwards along the bar, emitting a high pitched squeal.  A huge sound comes out of the female’s mouth, deafening to James.  He is shivering, sweating, he grits his teeth, his hands red and clenched.

The man from upstairs physically lifts James up and puts him on the bar stool.

“You’re sitting down now, guy!  I thought I’d seen you before!  You’re the transcriptionist!”

Transcribing, transcribing, listening, listening, you see, folks, that’s what James does, when he can, when he can stand it, ever since he crossed over to here.  But they didn’t tell him this part.  Didn’t tell him nearly enough.

The female’s eye coverings are fluttering, wiggling at a pace faster than James’ eyes can adjust to, so it appears as though there is a Nickelodeon movie fluttering about in the middle of the female’s face, with black and white shuddering colors spilling out of them.

“She likes you!” says the man.  “Open the bar!”

And there is a shift in the room, the patrons, in unison, though not uniformly, making a small movement left, some with their arms and some with their legs and some with their shoulders, some with their wings and some with their mechanical body-attachments, shifting left, and the bar dips in, it dips in and a smell comes out.  And it is like gravity has been centered in the middle of this bar, and it dips in and light bends, and at the center that James does not want to look at, cannot look at, must look at, his own eyes stare back at him, alien, horrifying.

The smell moves over James and over the metal room.

“I need you, nothing man!  Transcribe something for us, come on!” says the first man.

And he drives some metal thing into James’ side, and it numbs half of his body and he grits his teeth and he wants to scream and his brain will not let him, instead his brain makes him smile at the man, and he can feel his mouth open and words come out of it:

“Thank you, kind Hail!” says James in a voice that is similar to his own.

“Hile to Hail!  Hile to Hail!” the room speaks, various patrons muttering or shouting the phrase.

“You hail real nice.  Now transcribe,” says the first man.

James looks at the surface of the bar, long and metal and shimmering, and puts his arm that he can still move, his right one, onto the bar, and he looks at his arm and at his right hand, and he then reaches into his pocket and takes out a coin and spins it on the bar.

Folks, have you ever been half-asleep, looking into people’s eyes, maybe strangers’ eyes you do not know?  Have you ever gone far away, and come back, a different you?  One you remember, one you cannot quite understand, and you watch yourself keep going forward, wondering, wondering, what happened to me?

The coin spins on the bar for a third of a minute and James touches a transmitter on his jacket and then sings in the language of his country, not sounds these beings know.

“Earth, Earth far away!  I sing to you, my people!  So close and so far away!  They are here with us, though  you will not know that for a generation!  But know it anyway, my people!  They are here already!  I love you, I love you!”

Tears roll down his cheeks and he keeps singing, the numbness spreading further from his left side and down to his left leg.

“Put the drink in him!” shouts Wespizjak, and dances over to James, whacking him in the head with his huge hand as he jumps onto the bar and shoves one of his arms into a metal cylinder that extends outward from the edge of the gravity well slippery-ing at the center of the metalness of the bar, until James can hear a snick, and globules flout out of the cylinder as though in zero gravity, towards James’ head.

The man from upstairs leans his mouth in close to James’ ear and whispers:  “Open your mouth, nothing man.”

Go on, go on down that road!  Open your eyes and see!  Oh, what you’ll see past the Chesire Cat’s Teeth!  Through the smoking mushrooms!  James knows.  Don’t you want to?  Open your mouth wide.

And James does.  He watches with wide, lost eyes as the shimmering globules slip into his mouth and he feels his throat swallow the liquid, the lukewarm liquid, full of horrible smell, almost tasteless, stinging.  If only it were alcohol.

And back on Earth, in some bar, someone receives the transcriptionist’s transmission across dimensions, and they open their eyes and see, somewhere, somewhere in Los Angeles.


And James feels the drink go to work on him, twisting his insides, the numbness fading, and he gets up and dances, and the rest of the patrons get up and dance, and James’ mind fades away for a time as he thrashes against bodies and howls and the female puts her mouth on James and he screams and farts and can barely stand but keeps dancing, throwing his body around and smiling with wide teeth, wide grinning teeth that he cannot un-bare.

And the people dance.  And he is one with them for a time, if only a minute, or half a minute.

“You’re ours now, nothing man!” says the first man, slapping James’ back with one of his hands, leaving a mark on James’ jacket.

And their dark eyes surround him.  He can never come back.

Robin Wyatt Dunn, born in the least populous state in the union, lives in Los Angeles on food stamps.