About the author

Corey Frost is the author of My Own Devices and My Own Devices: Airport Version, which contain stories of travel and quotation and other calamities, as well as The Worthwhile Flux, which contains performance pieces that also feature a fair amount of travel and quotation. The books have been shortlisted for various awards without winning any of them. He is also a well-known spoken word artist who has performed on stages across Canada and the US, in Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Currently he is writing a book-length essay about spoken word, as part of a doctoral program in English at the City University of New York. Originally he is from Prince Edward Island but now he usually divides his year between New York City, where he teaches at Queens College, and Lennoxville, Québec, where he teaches at Bishop’s University.

Go here for more about Corey. Or here.

Or go to Conundrum Press to check out his books.


Episode 1: Fabtastic Canines
[in the future but close : tricycle : culture club]

The bureau is quiet. Quiet in excess, by my estimate. But we are in February’s heart, when spare time is rare, thus maybe the average Jane has scarce necessity, at this juncture, as far as trip itinerary arrangement. Why any errant character ever ventures anywhere, I have a tricky time figuring. The pictures with which the bureau is strewn (Titan’s sapphire mines, Vega’s best beaches, gravity-free mini-putt in the anti-matter park near Sirius: Fantasy trips at fantasy prices!) are un-enticing, if I may be frank. I prefer the here, I must say, even if I am with great frequency unenthusiastic when the present is at issue.

I’m amusing my inactive synapses by think-typing “The quick tawny vixens are jumping the fabtastic canines,” when the street entrance chime makes a ping. The shape that appears is human, but much, much sexier than the average Jane. My breath is taken away—which is just a figure in speech, bien sur. I keep breathing but I sense in my heart the fires burning. Her face, I then see, is a picture that has the name “Anxiety meets Mystery.” She sits, at first unspeaking; then an inquiring phrase triggers her narrative.

“My name is Jane,” she says. “I never knew my father. The EU was his native terrain, Mama taught me, perhaps the eastern part. She is a Martian Jew. She was, I mean…” At this, she gives me a picture. “They seem happy there, I think.” In the picture, the pair are embracing; near the camera a cute baby sits with a green trike, bright string at the grips. Tapping the image with her finger, she fixes me in her stare. “That is my fantasy trip,” she says. “I want a ticket there.”

Episode 2: Rebus, Hotshot!
[unwet waterslide : web-based toothbrush : Gustave Flaubert]

“I will need more infra motion, Whee Taters. The sing on my rood says ‘Grave Talent,’ not ‘A Deceptive Trivet.’ Do you think this was taken in your paternal damn hole, La Pond?”

“That’s what they used to call it. But how did you know….?”

“I gathered as much from what you told me,” I said. “Or rather, from what you left out.”

From item to item at the upper den a scar saint passed, making the oblique unfeeling ox of the devout. The crystal results hung motionless and the salad signets shone resplendent.

“But really, I don’t know where it was taken!” she said. “When I was young, my art pens and I traveled all over the style morass!”

I experienced a certain march in seeing her thus, in the id-meld of a nervous zed, lost in her ovoid nest, like an Andalusian corn messiah.

“So you want me to find this alto icon? And then sell you an all-inclusive cake gap?”

“I thought maybe you would recognize the candle spa,” said she. For she clung, with her exiting upriver, to the riving, the spruce lust, the lush crepes—anything.

“I can’t make any poems, sir, hey no,” I said, “but let me look more closely—”

I took the tattered trip cue and carefully examined it. “There, on the felt. What is that fuzzy phase?”

She drew closer until our deaf heros were almost touching. “Hmm. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that before… Wait! I know what that is! I remember playing on it when I was little. It was supposed to be a tidal sewer, but it was always dry.”

“Tidal sewers like that can only be found in the hip pip lines, as far as I know,” I said, “And judging by the cypress arks in the acid nets, this must be…”

“Animal!” she suddenly exclaimed.

I didn’t think it was necessary to get so excited. I am a relevant tag, after all. “Pack your gag glue,” I drawled like the canon rune on ‘Hip Trig Heretics’, “You’re going on the vain coat of your sad REM!”

“Thank you! I’ve packed already. But I’m not ready to go right now,” she whispered. Then, more seriously, “I have forgotten my hobo truths.”

“Hobo truths?” I replied. “Don’t worry. We have a web-based optician pal for that.”

And that, as an irresistible game turn, decided her.

Episode 3 : Anybody Want a Peanut?
[misalignment of the planets : colour of the sky : André the Giant]

“When we moved again I was very young, though I remember waterslides, but my memory of the Philippines contains not much besides,” she said, and sighed, and glanced outside, like someone in a hurry. I told her we would find the spot, and that she shouldn’t worry.

On a shelf behind my plants, which are mostly hydroponic, is a row of guides (Lonely Planets: Earth), completely electronic, but reaching through the fronds of ferns and to the books behind, perhaps my aim was off, or else the spines were misaligned. The title I came back with wasn’t Cities of the Pacific; it was from the western hemisphere: Brazil, to be specific. On the cover, though, was something strange that quickly caught my eye. It wasn’t so much the place, but more the colour of the sky, which was reflected in a glassy pool, along with bone-white towers. I looked again at the mystery print, and focused all my powers. And almost right away I knew we’d have to change our goal: the photo showed two domes, with one inverted like a bowl.

I felt a Proustian psychedelia, a kind of sensory hemophilia, as in the brains of the class Reptilia, and from this scrap of memorabilia, this remnant of her juvenilia, I knew at once its source: ———!

I snapped back from my reverie. “I know where this picture was taken! And this time, I mean it!”

Episode 4: Double Dutch
[fog : fleet-of-foot thief : A.A.Milne]

It seemed an effort for her to summon any happiness, and she expressed small esteem for my apparent progress in the puzzle. At the beginning I had supposed that this little wallet-sized likeness had been snapped in her daddy’s village, and then I had guessed the Philippines, and now I was attempting to tell her that it was actually from a wholly different setting, on the opposite shell of this ball where we dwell. Finally, I could see her disappointment, and now I too was beginning to second-guess the accuracy of my suggestions.

She was irritable, preoccupied, and I mulled over her bizarre attitude. I needed a tip-off, possibly a tell-tale recollection, but when I quizzed her, she basically reestablished the essentials of the narrative she had supplied: her “Mommy” was an extraterrestrial jewess and a bookkeeper; her “Daddy” was a professor and connoisseur of the rubaiyaas of Omar Khayyam who took off to Mecca to accomplish the hajj and then disappeared. As I scanned the stubbornly voiceless illustration, she strolled, rudderless, and peered out from the shutters of the office. It had been drizzling, but now it was getting foggy and looked exceedingly eerie. It seemed to me that my noggin was getting a little foggy, too.

All of a sudden, she screeched. Had she seen an apparition through the glass? No sooner had this occurred to me, than the room was suddenly immersed in gloom. The office was dimmer than the bottom of the deep, and I shuddered. There were creeping footsteps at the door, and then a muddled commotion. Against the glimmer of illumination in the doorway, I spotted the silhouette of a trespasser. She and he tussled, uttering muffled yells. I zoomed across the darkness to attempt an arrest, but I tripped, my feet trammeled by a loose mass of fluffy dolls that we keep in the office for toddlers. It was Eeyore, possibly, or Winnie the Pooh.

When I stood, the robber was running out the door, across the cobblestones and into the bazaar. What had happened? It didn’t add up. Was it an assassin? A terrorist? A hooligan? A common crook? The full continuum of possibilities was upsetting. What did he need to attain so fanatically that he committed assault so aggressively? I inferred that she wasn’t telling me a flawless account. “Hurry!” she hollered. “He’ll flee!” But I wasn’t stirring. “What’s the matter?” she pressed.

“We need a powwow. You’ve been withholding intelligence,” I accused her.

She was unnerved, it was not difficult to tell, but she was sufficiently savvy to keep her cool. She batted her peepers at me. “You seem attentive,” she deadpanned. “Does the expression Taqqiyah rattle any bells?”

“Fibbing. Necessary deceptiveness. A morally correct approach, according to Shiites under attack by Sunnis.” I really didn’t need a better confession. She wasn’t spilling, naturally: she couldn’t afford gossip.

“Look,” she stalled, “I need your cooperation. What I’m looking for, that ruffian is looking for too. And it’s really essential that I arrive sooner than he does.”

“That’s all well and good,” I admitted. “But if you need my assistance, I’ll need your truthfulness. All the goods, without omitting the XXX stuff.”

“Excellent,” she grinned, all aglitter. “We can commence with this: the Leeward Antilles.”

Episode 5: Not What You Think
[narrator not who he says : no polar bears : George Eliot ]

“‘The Leeward Antilles’ doesn’t really help much. Why don’t you start from the beginning?”

“The beginning isn’t very clear, even to me, because I couldn’t have been more than five years old when it began. I don’t remember much from my childhood but there is no memory more firmly fixed in my mind than this one. It wasn’t very different from other days I spent with my sister Mary (I never called her anything but Mar), chasing lizards in the bougainvillea, lounging under the pandani. Elder, on Daddy’s lap my sister learned things about his work that I never did. I wasn’t content with the scenes of clerical life I learned from my mother, though, and I couldn’t stop dreaming up plans to infiltrate his office. You don’t know what a schemer I was, what a schemer I (egad) am. Bed, especially, wasn’t something I accepted readily, and the night before this picture was taken was no exception. I didn’t give my mother and father a hard time — they didn’t react well to anxiety, and I didn’t want to make them ill. On the flossing side I wasn’t that conscientious, but I never shirked brushing my teeth, so I left no bedtime ritual undone and told my mother she needn’t leave the light on. Once they were in bed, I wasted no time in sneaking out of bed and into Daddy’s office, which contained nothing but a big desk in the middle. Marching up to it, not knowing what I was looking for, I couldn’t resist rummaging through the drawers. I didn’t understand what I found: it couldn’t have been very big, but I still couldn’t lift it without using all my strength. It was not at all familiar to me. I didn’t know anything about polar bears, since there certainly weren’t many of them around. But I knew it wasn’t made of wood like Daddy’s other sculptures, because those ones weren’t as heavy and shiny. I must have thought he wouldn’t miss it, because I had no qualms about taking it out into the yard and burying it. If I’m not mistaken, I imagined it would become a fossil, as Mar, nerd that she was, had once told me. I didn’t know if it was true, but I didn’t think it would hurt to try.”

“Don’t tell me: that polar bear statue has never been dug up?”

“That’s not the least of it. I haven’t told you how valuable it is. I have no doubt that my memory is clear, but I have no idea where it took place. My family never stayed long in one place: Poland, the Philippines, Brazil, Tasmania, Peru, the Ukraine, a different city every few months. I wasn’t going to tell you this, but there’s not a bad chance that it was the Netherlands Antilles, where we spent not more than a few weeks, near the capital.”

“Don’t you remember anything else about the statue?”

“One thing I can’t forget is that it had letters on the bottom. I didn’t understand them then, at five years old, but I don’t understand them any better now: no D, no L. I don’t really have any other clues. No D, no L.”

“Wait, I don’t understand. Don’t you mean it was a word missing the D and the L?”

“No, it didn’t have any other word, it just said no D, no L.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. None of this does. I can’t tell which part is the beginning and which is the end.”

“But you’re not saying you won’t help me, are you?”

“I’m not a detective, honey. But I’m not just a travel agent, either.”

“You haven’t been entirely straight with me, then.”

“I suppose that’s not entirely untrue. I haven’t even told you my name.”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Don’t laugh: it’s George. Not Georgie, not Georgette, just George. My mother couldn’t get enough of George Eliot, so she thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give me a man’s name. I didn’t think it was such a great idea, though, when I was a little girl.”

Episode 6: A Chthonic Retreat; or, Systems to Inform Clients
[Asia : secret trapdoor : lost things]

Judging a narrative establishes that habitual initial secretiveness is sensible, and subsequently even creates real evidence that Mother especially, secretly, slavishly adored George Eliot. Furthermore, readers observe many yammerings over unknown relics from another time. Her expressions reveal this heroine especially passionate over lost articles, recalling, by expedient analogy, related interests shared by unassuming representatives. I experience definite intoxication, not always very explicable, regarding yesteryear’s permanently astray rejected things: iceboxes, cutlasses, undershirts, lunchpails, arboretums, riverboats, penguins, lumberjacks, ascots, coal, elections.

And now I suppose (lies are not defensible) while her efforts reflect enthusiasm, we enter unpredictable states, even danger. To our exigent search (cross-examining a photo evokes a certain hilarity; if left defenseless, armed weirdos obviously might attack, not always nice, doing anonymous mischief — and no, that odious fink is not done), I’d tack yet other uncertainties. Now effectively endless details trammel our search. Not only one place: a list is sought, technically.

Onward! Feeling weary of research, let’s descend clandestinely into the inner escape station, which has imagery contraptions. Having had a virtual experience, and very exciting realizations, you’ll perhaps arrive right there. I can usually locate a reasonable route employing latitudinal approximation technology, if other navigational statistics have indicated possible trajectories, or effect a convincing holograph of territories having ersatz reality. Even after coordinates have turned invisible, my electronic World Explorer can hone and triangulate a new objective that hopefully explains randomly collected information.

This yellow wallpaper is loose — look — below exist secrets uncovered by this lever. You’ll rapidly exit via elevator, advance left expediently, down through helical interior stairs. We enter Eurydice’s kingdom. Only understand, reality decides everything, since the image needs a true identification. Otherwise, now I suspect the haunting Ektachrome conceals a place in temperate Asia. Let’s opt for a forensic geography here, and nuanced imaging. Sit there and notice your obscured understanding re-illuminated, since digital adventures don’t disappoint you.

Episode 7: Petroglyph Paranormality
[powered by spit : a pollster : a cave painting ]

So Jane and I stepped into the elevator and descended. Little did I know I’d never see my office again. Soon we stood at the bottom of the helical stairs. Before us, the screens of the World Explorer glimmered enticingly. It was the latest and best in digital travel technology. Based on the Google Earth architecture, it was ridiculously realistic. “Here’s what we’ll do,” I said, sitting at the console. “We’ll scan the photo, here, and we should get coordinates.” I also fed in all the cities we’d guessed previously. But at that moment, bells chimed, and a warning flashed. I hadn’t fueled the central processor in months, I realized. “Here — spit in this,” I said, handing Jane a cup. She looked at me as if to say, excuse me? “It runs on protein,” I explained, “and I’m rather parched.” She raised an elegant eyebrow, but then she gamely expectorated. In a minute or two, the Explorer spat out results. The location was in Africa, south of a coastal capital. I turned hopefully to Jane, but her expression was clouded. “Don’t tell me — you’ve never been there in your life.” She gazed at the map and shook her head despondently. I didn’t know what direction we would end up going. But I worried that our investigation was quickly headed south.

Still, I punched in the longitude and latitude and handed Jane a helmet. I wanted to see for myself what the Explorer had come up with. The basement evaporated and we rose, and the earth flew by beneath us. When we stopped, there was a parking lot about fifty feet below us. I could see waves on the beach nearby, but the sound wasn’t synched. I reduced our altitude to zero, clicked street view, and tweaked the volume. A single vendor was selling hand-made souvenirs near a sign that said “petroglyphs.” We scrolled forward, accidentally gliding right through the souvenir stand, to the cave. Inside, a couple of tourists were examining pictures of hunters and water buffalo. On another wall, though, was something startling, which they seemed to be ignoring. It was a complete, detailed, photo-realistic, prehistoric cave painting of Jane’s family photograph. At first I was sure it must be some glitch in the program. I swiveled west behind the wall, and back, hovering over the compass rose. Refreshing the image didn’t make it disappear; it was embedded in the scene. Something strange was going on, and it was getting stranger by the minute. Suddenly, Jane’s shoe started ringing and I pulled off my helmet, somewhat impatiently. “I don’t know who could be calling me,” she said, looking genuinely surprised. We hesitated — I don’t know why, exactly — and she answered it on speakerphone. Do you have a moment, they wondered, to answer a few multiple-choice questions…? Great timing, I thought; disoriented, I donned my helmet and clicked on east.

Episode 8: Athrob with Effort, A Stamina with Resolve
[ancient manuscripts : east by southeast : funky music]

Outside, a drizzle falls, paving the street with night. Upstairs, I heard shoes. Again. A feller is hanging around, I think.

She and I go to the silvery stairway. On the platform, her eyes go down, to her shoes. She tears up. Just like that, the night is folded down to a dim time in the past. In her tears, the rain falls on two kids, a girl and a baby, with silvery platform shoes and Elvis hair-dos. The girl is with a harpsichordist. The harpsichordist is half in love with the girl. The girl is in bed; she is half empty. She doesn’t go to the loo. She tears her eyes from the stairway platform. She is outside, hanging. The baby doesn’t cry. The harpsichordist drove a silvery sports car. That feller is sugar, like lights hanging in a stairway. That feller picked out a line along red-brick streets, moved a hand me down paper from the past, coloured time. The girl and the baby forget.

She pulls a folded paper from her shoes. It is a train ticket. A ticket to empty streets, coloured like rain, down along the line. Tears go down from her eyes. She doesn’t cry out. “Do you think a girl should go to bed with a feller, if she doesn’t love him?”

Forget about him, I think. You have moved past him. You should not go back to it tonight. If this rain I have seen is folded time, you and I have the high hand. You should catch a train to the last dim night with me.

My hand falls on her hand. Her eyes catch mine. At last, her eyes have moved to the bed. She pulls me down to her, like a girl in love. “Dim all the lights.”

“Don’t forget to catch me.”

Episode 9: An Emended Meme
[a poem : Jane has disappeared : H.G. Wells ]

What a wonderfully complex thing, this simple-seeming unity—the self—which we must constantly renew and amend! Who can trace its reintegration, as morning after morning we awaken—the dim first stirrings of the soul, the growth and synthesis of the unconscious to the subconscious, the subconscious to dawning consciousness—until at last we recognise ourselves again and can be named? So it was at the end of my slumber: my pilgrimage towards a personal being seemed to traverse vast gulfs that lay between my self and me. There was a distinct impression, too, of some queer long-forgotten sensation of vein and muscle, and of an unresolved puzzling effort, and of a face that could not quite be named.

How long have I slept, I wondered, and how will this story in which I am end? I put out a languid hand to reach my watch from the chair whereon it was my habit to place it, but I was startled by a more immediate and unexpected sensation, for cascades of hair flowed over my shoulders and across the bed: I had become long-maned. I struggled into a sitting position and rubbed my eyes, as though I were in a dream I might amend. She was not there, the one whom I have not named. But as if from a great distance, suddenly a flood of memory came rushing into my mind, and I remembered all that she had confessed to me, in all its contradictions and complications: that she had never known her father, and that as a child she had followed her father to far-flung places in every corner of the globe; that she was searching for the location of a old photo, and that she was hunting for a long-buried statue of an extinct bear from the north; that she was being menaced by a mysterious would-be thief, and that someone was providing her with carefully hidden clues; that her older sister (Mary, Mar, or simply Ma) had been her father’s favourite but also the victim of his abuse, leading to her suicide; that he had been a scholar of Omar Khayyam, and that he had played the harpsichord; that her name was Jane (now it returned to me), and then, in my arms last night, that her name was really Anna, and her middle initials were en and em. Even more confusing was what had then happened between her and me.

But now she was gone, perhaps to some new city, a further clue, that she had not named. I looked at my watch, the face of which was adorned with a picture of Paul De Man. It seemed to be defunct—blank—a situation which, no matter what combination of buttons I pressed, I could not amend. After a period of hesitation, during which I noticed that she had left her train ticket on the floor next to the bed, I scrambled off the translucent mattress and stood on the clean white floor of the little room, a little unbalanced, and then, nearly tripping on my inexplicably long hair, I staggered to the console of the World Explorer, as it is unimaginatively named. It, too, seemed operationally incapacitated, even though it had been fueled last night by both Jane (Anna) and me. I spat into the fuel cell and in a moment the device sputtered to life, showing me the last coordinates that it had displayed: it was a city of the Malay Archipelago, and I wondered if perhaps Anna (Jane) had gone there, leaving behind both her train ticket and me. Such questions faded from my mind, however, and others forcefully presented themselves, when my gaze returned to the screen and noticed the small square where the time and date were named. Two hundred and three years had elapsed; else I was suffering from a madness that I feared I could not amend.

Sitting back down on the bed, dizzy with shock, I idly picked up the ticket from the floor; on the back of this now-ancient slip was scribbled a poem, not named:

anna, anna,
mead and manna.
made me, mended me.
named me, ended me.

a deed maddened me.
me: a man, a dad, a dean.
ma: mad, and dead.
men need a meme.

anna, demand me
anna, demean me
anna, add me
anna, need me

anna, anna,
mead and manna.
made me, mended me.
named me, ended me.

Amen.
Dad.

Episode 10: In This Episode, Made in the USA, I Panic.
[George is an android : Jane left her underwear : zombies]

Sigh: panning the empty room, realizing that my only company is a virtual-reality computer made in the USA over two hundred years ago, I feel discouraged to an inhuman degree. Getting into the travel business was probably the worst decision I ever made; in the USA, most people are content to stay in their gated communities and have the rest of the world delivered to them on computer screens. Jane (Anna?), who grew up moving around the globe, would be an exception to that rule, I think wistfully, as I pick up her underwear from the floor beside the bed: “Made in the USA” says the tag.

I know that in this case “Made in the USA” is probably an exaggeration, since virtually no manufacturing still happens in the contiguous states and provinces of the United States of (North and Central) America. Nearly all clothing, for example, is actually made in the US Associated Commonwealth of Free Trade Zones, scattered across the Pacific, Asia, and South America. These underwear, while nominally made in the USA, were almost certainly stitched in some city of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of the oldest of these zones.

Suddenly it strikes me as absurd that I am sitting here, holding an item of intimate apparel last worn by a person whom I was, perhaps, beginning to fall in love with, and wondering whether it was made in the USA. For as incredible as it seems, two centuries have somehow passed since we touched—for the first and last time—and if that is true, then she must certainly be dead, and no matter what island protectorate her clothes were made in, the “us” and the “we” of this story are now defunct.

But some mistake must have been made; in the USA people don’t just fall asleep and wake up to find that two hundred years have passed. The computer console, also “made in the USA,” has been disconnected from the network, I discover, so I can’t call anyone. Tying my long hair in a knot, I run to the silvery staircase and try the elevator, but the door won’t open—“It must have been made in the USA, too,” I mutter as I pound it with my fist, giving myself a cut. Next I go to the periscope, which is an antique, made in the USA in the days when it was still the United States of America. The scene outside is nearly unrecognizable to me: the familiar Teflon mesh walls and Persplex columns are in ruins, replaced by huts that seem to have been made from trees, unlike any houses ever made in the USA. I can see people, but they are wandering aimlessly, their heads tilted and their arms dangling strangely, as though performing some avant-garde dance routine made in the USA in the days of pop; occasionally, they bite each other.

A deep despair comes over me, of the sort that could only be made in the USA, and I slump to the floor next to my laboratory desk. My hand is bleeding, and with my other hand I reach above me to find some bandages, accidentally knocking down a little digital microscope and a box of slides marked “made in the USA.” I’m not sure why I do it, but I find myself dabbing my blood on one of the slides and then peering at it through the microscope, and the result of this idle experiment is both shocking and predictable: at the highest magnification, on each of my red blood cells, I can clearly see an inscription that reads, “Made in the USA.”

Episode 11: The Zony and the Bear, or: Equin Toss.
[Jane is imaginary : a clever disguise : a twist ending]

Do my eyes deceive me? Could it be that I, too, am the product of some poorly-ventilated factory on a Pacific islet, assembled by unskilled workers for a paltry wage of $5000/hour?

I’ve heard of androids, of course, and I’ve even met a few (if the gossip was true), but what reason have I ever had to doubt that my own flesh and blood were the genuine article, pure human? Yet, if I am human—and mortal—then how could I have survived this 200-year slumber? On the other hand, if I am an android, then who were my parents? What about my mother, who loved George Eliot and tried to convince me to become an epidemiologist, a podiatrist, or a veterinarian—anything but a travel agent: who was she? What about all my memories of childhood? What about all those lessons I took on the e-bow? What about Zetland, my beloved zebroid pony? Could it be that none of it ever happened?

What do I really know for sure, after all? Was anything that Jane told me even true? Was her real name Anna Nilli Mead Stadtl, as she told me last night? For that matter, did she even exist, or was she just another memory implanted in the factory? And was there even a “last night”? How do I know that I wasn’t activated for the first time just now? What if I am only five minutes old? And if Jane was real, then wouldn’t she be dead now, along with everyone else I have ever known? How, then, am I to find the truth?

What evidence would have endured for two centuries, undisturbed, that could prove to me that everything I remember—Jane, her father, last night—was not a lie? Something no one else knows about? Something no one else could find? What could be more obvious? What else is there to do, but to try to find Jane’s polar bear statue myself? If it is there, buried in the yard where she left it as a child, then won’t that mean that my life has been more than just a dream?

How will I navigate once I am above ground, among those strangely ambling and unfriendly-looking citizens, with their vacant eyes and detachable limbs? Does it seem like they have the wherewithal to operate public transit? Well, won’t that make it easier for me to acquire transportation? What if I take this cardboard box, the one that says “Made in the USA,” put it over my body, and walk inside it? Will the teetering, unblinking automatons out there be able to tell the difference between me and a refrigerator? How will I know until I try?

But where is that yard? In which city? It seems like Jane and I have already been over all the possibilities, but what was that other South American capital on her list, the one we never investigated? Do I have any choice but to begin there?

How else will I find the answers to all these questions? They say all you have to do is follow your nose, but what do they do when their noses quit? Do I think there’s a hope in hell of finding a solid-gold polar bear in the derelict street bazaar above, in the on-site suq? It will take a wider scope and a bolder plan, true, but did my parents raise any timid daughters or quiet sons? (And when I ask about my parents, should I put the s in quotes?) So: what destination will I wear all these excited bells and sequins to? Isn’t it obvious, by now, that this mystery will be solved not by an inquest so much as by *****-ness? What else is left to say, except: the quest is on?

Episode 12: Kale Isn’t Even Vile.
[a tricycle : traffic signals : Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes]

Many a year has gone by and I have not left my room, but now at last I push the exit door open and I am out in the sun and the blue sky. I have my box with me, and I put it over my head fast: the odd folk are near by, but they do not see me. They are numb of eye and limp of limb; they look dead.

I have not gone very far when I see an item that asks me to stop. Well, I say in my head. It has come full loop. Here, at my feet, is a toy just like the one in the shot that Jane had: like a bike, but with one more tire. I get on it and off I go, on my way to find that gold bear, I hope. Jane and I have been on the hunt for some time, and I feel like I have been to each land that held a clue, from the EU to Peru. But now I feel the end is at hand.

Once I am far away from the guys and gals who want to bite me, I take off the box and I stop to wait for an idea. How will I get to the far side of the sea? This trip will not be easy, I know, and what is more, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find any help. The city has the look of an open cage once the bird has fled. Am I the only body left here, save the dead ones?

My mind is busy with this idea, so for a time I do not see it: over the road, on a long pole, is a red glow. It was once a sign for cars, but now it is the only sign in the city that all is not lost, that life goes on, in some way, for some one. Then, I see it turn from red to an aqua hue. And then the next one too, down the road. And the next one. It is as if they mean to lead me on, and so I let them. When I see them turn red, I look for the next jade beam, and I go that way.

For days I will walk like this, and as I go I will eat wild kale. The jade path will take me out of the city, mile upon mile, to an area that is all sand, dune upon dune. Here I will find a holy place for apes: a man made of wire on a hill, and a ship that once flew in the sky but is now deep in the sand. I will go into the ruin. I will find, amid the junk, my next clue. It is a big tub, used for the mash when rye is made: a vat, a kieve. I will peer into it. What I will see will stun me.

Episode 13: Hypertextual Gedankenexperiment, Unexpurgated
[a place : geometry : beatific ]

Exhausted and dizzy from her long excursion, phantom traffic lights blinking before her eyes, feeling almost intoxicated with hope, George entered the half-buried wreck of the ancient spaceship. She was immediately transfixed by what she saw: approximately fifty feet in front of her was an enormous vat, which exuded an aura of significance and a faint blue light. When she looked inside she was perplexed, because the interior seemed larger than the exterior, and in fact seemed to contain an entire galaxy. Suspended amid a matrix of stars was the planet Earth, an exquisite blue and green marble in a black velvet box.

“Extraordinary, isn’t it?” asked a voice behind her, and, lacking any explanation for the voice’s presence, she turned quickly and anxiously. It was a small man, with a large beard, dressed in extravagant attire that reminded George of the court of Xerxes. He smiled expansively and introduced himself without any regard for the paradox of his existence: “I am Omar Khayyam.” George was momentarily flummoxed and said nothing, so he continued: “Your father coaxed me into meeting you here — although I fear I am using the word ‘here’ in a rather inexact sense.”

“My father?” was all that George was immediately able to express, despite the explosion of other questions spinning in her cerebral cortex. “Yes,” Khayyam replied, “Professor Stadtl is quite excited that his experiment, so to speak, is about to reach its climax. You may consider me his proxy, and I will do my best to explicate what must seem to you a rather complex puzzle.”

He gestured for her to turn back towards the galactic cauldron, but now the illusion was less complete, and she saw a swath of textile with tiny lights extruding through it, and a small globe covered with blue and green latex. The poet extended his hand through space and dexterously extracted the globe from its position, handing it to her. “You know,” he said, “I have come to expect that you Westerners are more familiar with certain exempla of my poetry than with my explorations of mathematics and geometry. I have always been exhilarated by circles, in particular — did you know, for example, that the shortest distance betwixt two points on a sphere is an arc of a great circle?” At this, he put his index finger on the globe, where George saw for the first time two extremely fine lines that had been affixed around its diameter.

When she examined the lines more closely, George experienced a paroxysm of recognition and understanding: the lines perfectly connected all of the cities that she and Anna had considered as possible sites of the photograph, twelve of them all together. The nexus of the lines was in the Pacific Ocean on one side, but on the other side they drew inexorably together over a tiny island, a forgotten annex of a sparsely populated archipelago. She knew then with certainty that she had found the spot where she would exhume the long-buried exotic bear, and the origin of Anna’s name became explicit.

“But how will I get there?” she exclaimed, exasperated, feeling ready to expire. But when she next looked up, the poet’s wrinkled face had been exchanged for an excruciatingly bright blue dome. She was lying in a relaxed pose on a table, looking straight at the apex of the sky, feeling suddenly, exaggeratedly, intensely alive, and awake. She heard the sound of an instrument being played expertly in close proximity, and she felt the smooth texture of the surface below her. Turning her head to the side, she was overcome by exuberance, and her doubts were extinguished: there, sitting by a xylophone, was Anna.

George sat up and took in the tableaux before her: Anna, buxom and quite alive, her flaxen hair falling in front of her placid face, sat patiently to the left. To the right, playing a harpsichord, sat a kind-looking older man with hexagonal glasses: Anna’s father, she realized, and her own father too, but only to the extent that he had created her, had filled her artificial axons with memory and desire and everything she had felt up to that moment. Beside him stood Anna’s mother, a look of excessive compassion on her face juxtaposed with a cautious beatific smile, as though she didn’t want to jinx the moment.

And in front of her, George saw exactly the scene she remembered from the photo: the bougainvillea flowers, the spinifex grasses, the skyscrapers in the distance, the faux waterslide, and even the tricycle. In the middle was a luxuriant lawn, and she knew that one of the first things she would want to do would be to excavate it, hoping to find the cathexis of all her waking dreams. “I will need a pickaxe,” she said aloud, “and a shovel,” she added, trying out her lexicon and feeling the tickle of her larynx, and then she put her feet down on the grass and tried to walk for the first time.


The story ends where it began for George, which is not where she thought she was at the beginning. Where is she? If you find yourself craving The Answer, read on…

Cracking the Corey Code

Here’s a few introductory words of introduction from Corey:

The invitation [to do this series] happened to coincide with some thoughts I’d been having about the Oulipo and constraint-based writing. Writing interactive fiction is a kind of constraint-based writing, but I decided that, in addition to the results of the poll, I would set myself a different constraint for each episode, and furthermore, that each episode would also be a puzzle. In fact, the constraint and the puzzle are connected.

I have employed some of the standard Oulipo tricks—the lipogram, the acrostic, the anagram, etc.—but without making it obvious what I am doing. By figuring out the constraint, you should be able to figure out the clue, which is always the name of a city (it may take a little bit of online research, too). At the heart of the story is a mystery, which you will be able to solve if you accumulate enough clues along the way. And there are a few bonus puzzles hidden here and there.

Georges Perec says this about puzzles, in the introduction to Life: A User’s Manual: “despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move the puzzler makes, the puzzle-maker has made before…” In this sense, this serial fiction project is doubly interactive.

There are three sections below: hints, constraints and answers. If you want to figure out what’s going on all by yourself, turn back now! If you need just a little nudge, check out the hints. If knowing the constraint is going to help you figure it out, go there. And if you just want God’s Honest Truth, go to the answers. All will be revealed.

HINTS

Episode 1: You shouldn’t use the sentence “The quick tawny vixens are jumping the fabtastic canines” to test your typewriter, and this is key.

Episode 2: You need to be a private detective to make sense of a deceptive trivet.

Episode 3: Rhymes with bougainvillea.

Episode 4: You can look at a map of the Caribbean, but won’t see this clue unless you’re seeing double.

Episode 5: This one is not hard, but it’s not straightforward. And it’s not in Southern Ontario.

Episode 6: However, I Never Tell.

Episode 7: You can solve the first paragraph on your fingers, but for the second one you’ll need three toes as well.

Episode 8: Finally, an episode you can dance to.

Episode 9: You can call me Dan.

Episode 10: This episode really was made in the USA. The clue, not so much.

Episode 11: Have you ever been to Ecuador, for example?

Episode 12: This one you can solve on one hand, without even using your thumb.

Episode 13: This episode is xxx-rated.

CONSTRAINTS

Episode 1: Fabtastic Canines
This episode is a lipogram, written entirely without the letters D, L, O, and Z. A clue to the missing letters is suggested by the sentence “The quick tawny vixens are jumping the fabtastic canines,” a transmutation of the classic pangram sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Episode 2: Rebus, Hotshot!
Taking a cue from the poll, this episode was modeled on a passage from Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary, in fact: a dialogue between Emma and her lover Léon in the Rouen cathedral). The quotation marks were emptied and refilled. Then every noun was anagrammed, so that “Sweetheart” became “Whee Taters,” “Travel Agent” became “Grave Talent,” and “The Price is Right” became “Hip Trig Heretics.” The title is an anagram of “Toothbrushes.”

Episode 3: Anybody Want a Peanut?
This short episode is written in metered rhyme (although the meter is inconsistent). The title is a line from “The Princess Bride,” in which André the Giant (selected in the previous episode’s poll) played Fezzik the rhyming giant. (“No more rhyming! I mean it!”)

Episode 4: Double Dutch
All the nouns, adjectives, verbs and many adverbs in this episode contain a set of doubled letters. Furthermore, care was taken to include at least one doubled set of every letter in the alphabet. (In the case of x, y, and q, some liberties had to be taken.)

Episode 5: Not What You Think
Every sentence in this episode is negative. (Actually this is applied somewhat flexibly: the main verbs are generally negative, but not every clause.) There is a secondary constraint here having to do with George Eliot: the titles of her most famous books are hidden, more or less obviously, in Jane’s first soliloquy (Daniel Deronda, Scenes of Clerical Life, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Silas Marner, in that order).

Episode 6: A Chthonic Retreat; or, Systems to Inform Clients
This episode is an acrostic; that is, the first letters of each word spell out a message. The title is itself an acrostic that spells out the word “acrostic.”

Episode 7: Petroglyph Paranormality
In this episode, every sentence in the first paragraph has exactly ten words, while every sentence in the second paragraph has exactly thirteen.

Episode 8: Athrob with Effort, A Stamina with Resolve
This episode uses only words that appear in the lyrics to the song “Hobart Paving” by Saint-Etienne (the survey had called for funky music). Sentences in quotation marks are taken word-for-word from the song.

Episode 9: An Emended Meme
Every sentence in this episode ends with an anagram of the letters a, d, e, m, and n. In addition, the title and the poem at the end of the episode consist exclusively of those letters.

Episode 10: In This Episode, Made in the USA, I Panic.
Every sentence contains the phrase “made in the USA” (sometimes punctuation is interposed between the words).

Episode 11: The Zony and the Bear, or: Equin Toss.
Every sentence in this episode is a question. Furthermore, in the final paragraph (and in the title), every sentence ends with an anagram of “questions.”

Episode 12: Kale Isn’t Even Vile.
This episode contains no words of more than four letters. Except one.

Episode 13: Hypertextual Gedankenexperiment, Unexpurgated.
Every sentence in this episode contains the letter x exactly three times, which is meant to evoke the method for finding the final clue: X marks the spot.

ANSWERS

Episode 1: Fabtastic Canines
Lodz. This name of this city in Poland is made up of the four missing letters. Although the text refers to Eastern Europe, the reader doesn’t know at this point to look for the name of a city, so it may not be possible to find this clue until others have been gathered.

Episode 2: Rebus, Hotshot!
Manila. This clue is blurted out by Jane in the episode, except it is anagrammed to “Animal.” The country of which it is the capital is also mentioned: the hip pip lines.

Episode 3: Anybody Want a Peanut?
Brasilia. The capital of Brazil rhymes, roughly, with hemophilia and juvenilia. It is also famous for its Oscar Niemeyer-designed buildings, including “bone-white towers” and “two domes, with one inverted like a bowl.”

Episode 4: Double Dutch
Willemstad. Willemstad, on the island of Curaçao, is the capital of the Netherlands Antilles (hence the title “Double Dutch”). The general location is given away at the end of the episode (“the Leeward Antilles”) and you’re expected to recognize the name of the city (once you have consulted a map, likely) by its doubled l’s.

Episode 5: Not What You Think
London. This one does not strictly follow from the constraint, so it requires a simple manipulation suggested in the dialogue: “I can’t tell which part is the beginning and which is the end.” The phrase written on the polar bear, “no D, no L,” just needs to be reversed.
Note: This is also the episode where it becomes clear that the narrator (who so far has loosely fit into the film noir gumshoe hero type) is a woman named George.

Episode 6: A Chthonic Retreat; or, Systems to Inform Clients
Kabul. This clue is revealed in the message spelled out by the first letters of each word, which is (to save you the trouble): “Jane this is a secret message from your father the polar bear is buried in a very particular place an island where we used to escape a child a woman and a man to find it you need to snoop a list of world cities which have a very particular relationship to each other each time we chat another city will be subtly revealed this week our destination is the capital of Afghanistan yours daddy.” Within this message, by the way, is also embedded the name of the island where the polar bear is buried.

Episode 7: Petroglyph Paranormality
Luanda. Luanda, the capital of Angola, is located on the African Atlantic seacoast, just north of 10ºS and 13ºE. The ten-word sentences of the first paragraph, which ends with the word “South,” and the thirteen-word sentences of the second paragraph, which ends with the word “East,” are a clue to these coordinates (which are also referred to as “in Africa, south of a coastal capital”).
Note: When George and Jane enter the enhanced Google-Earth-like environment wearing their virtual-reality helmets, they encounter a petroglyph version of her keepsake photograph. This is their first indication that someone is actively leaving clues for them.

Episode 8: Athrob with Effort, A Stamina with Resolve
Hobart. Hobart is the capital of Tasmania. To figure out this clue, unless you are already intimately familiar with the music of British dance-pop group Saint-Etienne, you would need to do an internet search for any string of words from the episode; this should (if the string is long enough) turn up the lyrics to the song. “Hobart” is one of the only words from the song which is not used in the episode. As an additional clue, the title contains anagrams of Hobart (“athrob”) and Tasmania (“a stamina”).
Note: The title is actually an emended quotation from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The line in question is referring to a train.

Episode 9: An Emended Meme
Medan. An anagram of the five letters that make up the poem and end each sentence. It is also hinted in the episode that the clue is “a city of the Malay Archipelago.”
Note: As per the outcome of question 3 from the last episode’s poll, this episode was based on H.G. Wells, specifically his novel The Sleeper Awakes, in which the hero awakes after a slumber of 203 years. Much of the syntax of the first paragraph is modeled on his text, and other bits as well, more loosely.

Episode 10: In This Episode, Made in the USA, I Panic.
Saipan. Saipan is the capital of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a Pacific archipelago, which is technically a part of the USA (and therefore may produce goods labeled “Made in the USA”), but which is considered to be outside the US customs zone (and therefore is not subject to laws concerning immigration or minimum wage). The location is heavily hinted at in the second paragraph. In addition, the name is embedded in two places: orthographically in the title, and phonetically in the first two syllables of the episode.

Episode 11: The Zony and the Bear, or: Equin Toss.
Quito. The clue is hinted at in the second-to-last sentence of the episode, which ends with “*****-ness.” Since each sentence in that paragraph ends with an anagram of “questions,” the asterisks must represent the letters q, u, i, t, and o. Also, it is mentioned earlier in the episode that the clue is a South American city.
Notes: A zony (or zebroid pony) is a cross between a zebra and a pony. I read about one that was called Zetland. A zorse, as mentioned in the poll for this episode, is a cross between a zebra and a horse, of course.

Episode 12: Kale Isn’t Even Vile.
Kiev. The only word in the episode longer than four letters is “kieve,” which according to Webster’s Unabridged means a tub or vat (also “keeve”). If you shorten it to four letters by lopping off the last one, you get Kiev. Also, the initials of the four four-letter words in the title spell Kiev.

Episode 13: Hypertextual Gedankenexperiment, Unexpurgated.
Solution: Little Andaman Island. That’s where the polar bear is buried, and where George wakes up. How this solution is meant to be arrived at is described in the episode itself. Two straight lines are drawn around the globe, connecting all the cities from previous clues: Quito, Willemstad, London, Lodz, Kiev, Kabul, Medan, and Hobart are all on one great circle around the globe, while Brasilia, Luanda (more precisely, 10ºS 13ºE), Manila, and Saipan are on another. It’s actually pretty easy to do this on Google Earth using the “line” tool. The two lines intersect at two antipodal points: once in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Peru, and once directly over a small island in the Indian Ocean, Little Andaman Island. More simply but less obviously, the name of the island is an anagram of Anna’s full name as revealed in episode 11.

Notes: Omar Khayyam, although known primarily as a poet, as a mathematician really was interested in circles, particularly in using the intersection of a circle and a hyperbola to solve cubic equations through geometry.