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    I found a spot on the other side of the fre from the tents, not too close to the trees. After what I'd seen that afternoon, I was a little sensitive about offending any trees. Since I hadn't asked about the pee protocol, and this seemed to be the least offensive place around, I went for it.
    The trees stayed asleep, and nobody jumped out and strangled me, so I smiled to myself and enjoyed the new sense of emptiness for a moment. I zipped my fy and looked up into the sky, now brilliant with stars despite the full moon. I knew most constellations by sight, but none of these belonged to any I was familiar with. Shooting stars crisscrossed the sky, and an ephemeral aurora hung at the top, draped like neon silk. I crossed back to the campfre and sat on a log, looked up to see more of the show.
    "Spider and the Fly," said a deep, dark, craggy voice. I jumped, looked up to see a hooded fgure on the log with me, about fve feet away. His huge, buckskin-clad arm was stuck in the air, his gloved hand pointing straight up at a group of stars.
    "See it? There's the spider, over to the left is the fy."
    "Oh yeah," I said. "There it is. Listen, is there any particular reason why you guys like to scare the shit out of me every time before you introduce yourselves?"
    I got a laugh for that one, but I still couldn't see who I was talking to. I could see his legs, though, poking out under the bottom of his robe or whatever it was. They looked like prosthetic limbs, metal and cable all down to the feet, no shoes or boots covering them. It seemed pretty amazing that a handicapped man could get around so stealthily.
    There was a serious lull in the conversation.
    Finally, I pointed up at random. "What's that one?"
    "The Cauldron," the raspy voice said. "See? Poomba is the bright green one on the end, then down further there's Elgi. The two legs."
    It went on this way for a while, Astronomy with Dr. Doom, until he said, "What is it that Ralph wants to tell me?"
    Talk about non-sequiturs. "I don't know," I said, "but, hey. I don't know a lot of things, like for instance your name. I am Gene, Gene of Los Angeles. And you are...?"
    "You may call me Nick."
    You may call me Nick. He said it so silkily, so calmly, so nonthreateningly, that it was suddenly the most menacing thing in the world. A man-eating tiger was purring and letting me pet it on the head. I regretted having been so fip a moment before.
    "Well, Nick," I said, my voice cracking a little, "I really can't guess on that one. I've seen a lot in last ten hours or so—Goomers, giant green bikers with human head trophies—"
    "Where?"
    I gave him the rundown on my trip through the gate and the neardeath experience. As I spoke, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a pipe. He puffed on it, and it lit itself.
    Smoke billowed around his head, and he pulled back his hood. I could see him now, see that half of his face was missing, part of his throat, and the fre-light refected off the metal that replaced the missing parts. He produced an ax that had lain next to him and toyed with the blade, spun it around.
    "So," he said. "Gutierrez is dead."
     Silence fell over us then. I could see his eyes, something in his eyes, one dark and deep, the other chromium-shiny, that made me think of that fne line people talk about, the one between genius and madness.
    Then Nick got up and, without another word, disappeared into the shadows. He moved so silently that I almost thought he'd just ducked behind a tree. I got up to check, once I got up the nerve. Sure enough, he was gone.
    I sat there for a few moments with my hands in my lap. I couldn't imagined sleeping, so I went into my pack and got the laptop out, and now I'm typing this, while the frelight crackles down to its end.
    The sun will be up soon, unless even that's different.
anywoo HOORAY!! ooo-loo runny LATE.
This enchanted computer thing is getting really old.
But I guess I'll get used to it.
Guess I'm going to have to get used to a lot of things.

FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF

AURORA JONES
The Emerald Burrito
Emerald City.
Gift-from-God Day.
Dear me,
    Today, I witnessed a miraculous happening, extraordinary even by the standards of Oz. I was there. I was in it. I even helped!
    Let me attempt to describe the unfolding.
    Okay. It's daybreak at the Emerald Burrito. Fonzie's still out of town, so I have to open up. I arrive just as Pinky, the new waitress, comes barreling around the corner. She is teensy, beachball-shaped, and wheezing as she runs. Her huge cheeks billow, her eyes are wide as she rounds the corner, sees me there, lets out a meep, skids to a halt on her stubby legs and then waggles there, a tubby little puppet on a spring.
    You gotta love munchkins. I know I do. They are, as a rule, incredibly punctual, insanely polite, and on top of that, sincere. Like Middle America, without the psychosis. Like a midwestern dream, shrunk to workable scale.
    Which doesn't mean that they're not neurotic. It's just that their lines are incredibly clear. She is terrifed that I'll think she's horrid if she's just one minute late: not because I'll dock her or anything, not because she's afraid of anything I might do. It's just that, well, it would be awful if I were to think that she was horrid!
    "Hi, Pinky!" I say, unlocking the door. She attempts to unswallow her tongue. "You look so cute today!"
     She nervously smiles, and wiggles a little. She's a tiny puppy person, and it's just too hilarious. "Am I late?" she peeps.
    "No, you're early!"
    "Oh, YAY!" She's all better at once. It's just that easy.
    And just as I wonder why I'm not so uncomplicated, Mikio Furi comes running up the street. He has, so help me God, a speaker cabinet in his hands. A big ol' speaker cabinet, just about as big as he.
    Now, Mikio Furi has been here, what, six weeks? And already he understands things better than anyone else I know. He is utterly obsessed with the physics of Oz. How it works. Why it's not like normal Earth. And what can we do to bridge the best of both worlds.
    (Most all the native Ozians are pretty much like me: they accept the magick at face value, are pretty much just consistantly thrilled that it works. And all the Joe Science Earth guys I've met—be they government or corporate—walk around cracking fgurative cinder blocks over their heads. They don't get it. It makes them crazy. It slams against the brick wall of their educated minds, admitting the inadmissable while belying all their rules.)
    Mikio, on the other hand, is fercely creative, thoroughly inquisitive, totally wide-open to the possibilities. Which makes me wonder why more guys like him aren't here. Probably that one-of-a-kind rule again, god damn it (although, push come to shove, one beats the hell out of nothing).
    He is also—as I've noted elsewhere in these pages—almost painfully delicious. He doesn't seem at all aware of it, which of course is even better. He just shows up whenever, big ol' smile on his face, long black hair streaming tendrils over bright almond eyes. He is scrawny, a-jitter with the natural speed that some hyper-smart guys seem to ooze from their pituitaries. And he always has some new strange device that he has just developed.
     I bet he was always like that. But here in Oz, I really see him coming into his own.
    Now, it's strange, how green is not always fattering. It can make you look sickly. It can make you look…bad. Even the soft, benign glow of these wending emerald streets at dawn can, sometimes, throw me back to old George Romero flms: packs of sallow, shambling zombie-folk, dressed up like the guys next door.
    But Mikio, in this moment, looks more like something from a Mati Klarwein painting: like an acid trip I took eleven years ago, fat on my back on a good friend's back lawn. It was night, and I was lying in the grass, helplessly smiling, unable to rise, pinned to the Earth by bliss, drugs, and gravity, absolutely slaughtered by the glory of existence; and I remember that every blade of grass was glowing, radiant, brilliantly lit from within, a tiny neon flament of lifeforce burning. And God was everywhere.
    I have always hungered for moments like those; and now Mikio is standing there. Verdant. Incandescent.
    Which is to say, he looks good in green.
    "Hi!" he says. "Look what I got!"
    I feel like Pinkie, then. Utterly transparent. I catch myself starting to wiggle, stop. "Wow," I say. "Are you starting a band?"
    "Even better," he says. "Like, a thousand bands." As I stare at him blankly, he adds, "You got your CD player?"
    And I begin to understand.
    Now, Quilla, you know how many times I've bemoaned the fact that I came to Oz with all this great music, only to fnd that I a) had the only CD player; and that b) my poor headphones were the only speakers here. Which meant that I could listen to Tom Waits, The Genritals, Patti Smith, Scriabin, Johnny Cash, Ween, Lester Loose, Mrs. Miller, Frank Zappa, or Frank Sinatra; I could pop in The Beatles, The Beastie Boys, ABBA, Smegma, The Sardonics, Grand Funk Railroad, Yma Sumac, Spike Jones, Patsy Cline, Porkchop Bones, Cab Calloway, Oingo Boingo, Kitty Krum or Nitzer Ebb; I could turn on Herman's Hermits, Mikki Bobbit, Lump, The Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Funkadelic, Booker T. & the M.G.s; I could groove to Miles Davis, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Tori Amos, Billie Holiday, Bjork, Beck, The Mean Puppets, Me'Shell Ndegochello, Pongo Domingo, or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; I could worship at the altar of Tchaikovsky, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Nirvana, and easily hundreds more.
    But only on my headphones. And only by myself.
    Yes, I could listen, any time I wanted, to the crowning glory that is human music: far and away the best thing that Earth people ever made. I could even turn on others, Ozlings who had never heard. Only one at a time.
    Those days are over now.
    Now picture, with me, what this moment is like. Behind Mikio— grinning and sweating and toting—comes a happy procession of Ozlandic goofballs. I recognize Ginko and Faffo Boff, the quadling brothers who both love cheese. They are restaurant regulars, hilarious guys, and they're huffng and puffng with a cabinet between them.
    Also grappling with the speaker-type units are a winkie, two gil
likins, and a clunkety robot, none of whom I know. Evidently, Mikio makes friends fast. I note that the winkie and one gillikin are girls, but I'm barely even jealous, so overwhelmed by the moment am I.
    Above us, the sky is orange, purple and pink, on its way to brightest blue. The bobblestone streets and emerald-encrusted storefronts that line them are, of course, glowing green. The quadlings wear yellow. The winkie wears blue. The gillikins both favor orange, and Pinky's all in red. The robot, a-glinting with unburnished brass, looks like Tic-Toc's bohemian cousin. And Mikio, pale-skinned, is dressed in black.
    As it happens, so am I.
    The keys are still in my hands. They, too, seem to glimmer with magick light. "Omigod," I say. "Umm…did you want to come in?"
     Mikio says, "That's the whole idea!"
    So I step inside and get out of the way as they struggle through the doorway. There's a pileup in the foyer as they set down the speakers, gasping for breath; and though the shock has only just begun to set in, I fnd myself strategizing.
    Looking around at the Emerald Burrito.
    As if for the very frst time.
    
The interior of the restaurant is large yet intimate, dark enough
to be cozy, with hacienda arches and squared-off pillars in glorious
symmetrical splay. There are twenty-three tables of dark burnished
wood, in a variety of sizes, to accomodate all guests. Each table has a
green stained-glass votive candleholder affxed to its center, awaiting
spark and fame
.
    
There are lanterns on the pillars as well. The walls are festooned
with faux-Mexican tapestries, woven for us by Fonzie's old girlfriend,
Tatale. (For a witchling who's never been out of the city, I think she
did an astonishing job.) Though we played down the gleaming gem
pocked look—you get enough of that in Emerald City—strategic
strings of ficker-stones are draped at the creases of walls and arches;
and mounted on the cracked tile ceiling are ffty-seven upside-dow
n fourescent sombreros: a multi-colored touch I stole from El Chavo
,
one of my favorite restaurants back in seamy L.A.
    It's a beautiful room. A great place to eat. Already, I can feel it transforming. I look at Mikio's cabinets, all four of them, start calculating how to mount them, in which corners of the room. The wood of the cabinets matches the tables. Once again, I am stunned by what
a genius he is.
"But," I hear myself saying, "will they work?"
"Who knows?" He grins. "But I think they might!"
    "Let's fnd out!" says Ginko, while the others let out a cheer. It's like a musical midget football team, psyching themselves as they take the feld.
     I guide them to their respective corners, clear tables out of their way. I'm the tallest person in the room, so I come in kinda handy. The gillikins have brought their tools, which makes mounting the speakers a snap. For the frst time, I really look at what the speakers are. I start laughing.
    "Popo shells?" I say.
    Mikio nods. I shake my head. Popo's a lot like cocoanut. I use it for certain dishes. But I've never seen popo shells chopped in half, scooped out, and mounted in speaker cabinets. He's got a big one on the bottom—his bass popo shell—then a smaller one for midrange, and a dinky popo tweeter.
BOOK: Untitled
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