Shades of Trout (or In Which the Curtain Meets the Yak)

Some time ago, I hopped on a tangent and riffed on a new alter-ego for myself. His name is A.K. Thorne.

At the time, I was reblogging a lot of old material from past blogs and was using fictional conversations between myself and him to introduce those stories. Some of the introductions are among the small number of things I’ve written that I’ve laughed out loud at.

Here is the best of A.K. Thorne.

Obviously, these excerpts are introducing stories that I’m not posting. If you want to check out the old blog and those stories, it’s still up at

… and there’s Doctor Who Fan Fiction! But that will soon be here anyway.



Born in 1930 in Liberal, Kansas, A.K. Thorne is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and westerns.

From 1939 to 1951, A.K. Thorne wrote over 73,000 short stories, poems, screenplays, and novels, none of which Mr. Thorne has received any credit for. At only ten years old, Thorne proved to be one of the most gifted writers in history and quickly gained the notice of several other authors, agents, and publishers who offered to get his works published. Without consulting his parents, Thorne gave all his material to these various agents and never saw a cent of profit for his efforts.

Since that time, nearly all the 73,000 works of fiction and poetry he has written have been rewritten and published under other authors’ names. You may recognize some of these authors if you were told who they were. You would definitely recognize his stories as some of the most memorable and successful ideas in mainstream literature.

At the age of twenty-one, A.K. Thorne was hitchhiking across the Midwest when he stopped for lunch at a roadside diner somewhere between Chicago and Salt Lake City. Always a writer, and never a reader, Thorne was unusually drawn that day to purchase a popular sci-fi magazine to read during his travels. As it turned out, every story in the magazine was one of his works, reworked and published under the name of someone else.

Determined to receive compensation for his stolen pieces, Thorne attempted to travel to New York to employ his cousin, a successful lawyer in Albany, to sue the people that had cheated him.

A.K. Thorne never made it to Albany.

Not far from the very diner where he learned of the crimes committed against his brilliant mind, A.K. Thorne was hit by a car.

For the past fifty-eight years, A.K. Thorne has lived in a near-catatonic state at a nursing home in central Texas. Last year, while working on a story for a local newspaper in the area, as part of my internship in journalism, I happened upon this great man and have learned his amazing story. Six months ago, Thorne finally spoke to me for the first time and has asked not only that I tell his story, but chronicle the infinite number of stories he has written in his head since then.

This blog, written by me, comes straight from the mouth of the master. Everything in it is spoken and approved by A.K. Thorne himself.

He no longer wishes for justice, only for release.

This blog is that release.

Do you play chess, I ask him.

“Don’t talk to me about chess.”

You seem like the type.

“Let me tell you about chess.”

Tell me about chess, Mr. Thorne.

“Did you ever read Dear Mr. Henshaw?”

Are you Mr. Henshaw?

“I’m a Kilgore Trout.”

I’m surprised you haven’t already claimed that Vonnegut stole him from you … it would fit with your story.

“Do you want my story about chess or not?”

Oh look, they’ve brought you your macaroni and cheese.

Good afternoon, Mr Thorne. How is your back today?

“Like you kicked it, retard.”

Seriously, you shouldn’t use that term as a derogatory–

“If you were smart, you wouldn’t be here.”

I am here.

“Then get that bitch in there to get me some flapjacks.”

In a minute. And going back to my previous admonishments–


You shouldn’t use the word ‘retard’, its very insensitive. The intellectually challenged and those who assist and defend them feel them term ‘retard’ is as inappropriate and rude as any racial slur.

“You wanna hear some racial slurs, boy?”

Tell me, Mr. Thorne, you mentioned the other day that you have some pieces that you felt weren’t stolen from you because of their graphic nature.

“Well, graphic then isn’t exactly graphic now. Hell, there’s tits and snatch and bloody violence and fornicating all over television these days … and that’s just the news.”

Will you share one of those with me?

“I don’t have tits or a snatch.”

I meant a graphic story you’ve written. What genre did you write these in?

“They had just dropped the big one, and I started thinking post-apocalypse as a genre for the first time.”

I’m pretty sure the first post-apocalyptic stories came well before World War II.

“You want this or not?”

I should probably shit first – I had a long drive to get here and a cheeseburger before I left.

It’s not always just Mr. Thorne and I in his tight sterile room at the nursing home. Sometimes I roll him outside in his wheelchair to get some fresh air. There’s a huge oak tree he likes to sit under.

“I can’t shit inside,” he says to me, grunting.

Did you just–?

“They’ll clean it up later. Plus it’ll get me a free bath,” he chuckles evilly.

You’re disgusting.

“I bet George Burns was allowed to shit himself as he pleased without fear of admonishment.”

It’s a Texas Summer and the specter of West Nile virus hangs in tight swarms of mosquitoes. The grass is green only under the shade of the oak tree, and beyond it the world is burnt and yellow. A light breeze whips around the faded white brick of the home as the sound of rusty chains announces another of the home’s residents is rocking on the porch swing.

“How did my android piece do?”

You mean the one where the robot murders the little children in the pond? I ask, not looking forward to sharing the news with him.

“That’s the one.”

It’s been rejected again, I say, short and sweet. You know, some people might see it as an attack on Christianity.

He visibly fumes for a minute. I catch a whiff of his feces. For a moment, I regret embarking on this project – the man is not worth this.

“What kind of amateur dumb shit magazines are you pitching me to? Did they say why they didn’t take it or are you just speculating?”

I have a list. It’s a short list. I submit your stories, one by one, to each mag. And no, you get a form letter: Thanks, but no thanks.

“Well, what did you think of it?

It’s just a story, I lie. It’s way better than anything I’ve written.

“I never said those children died. And I portrayed the Christian element in the very same light they wish to be seen in. The whole piece is to prove that people are inherently possessed of the propensity for evil thoughts.”

What is that supposed to mean? Honest. I don’t know where he’s going. His story was straightforward.

“You didn’t think when you read it. You didn’t mine it for details. And it’s just as well, no one really reads anymore.” Grabbing a wheel, he starts to roll himself away.

My darting hand stops him.

“The robot dies,” he says. “That’s the fucking tragedy. And he didn’t kill himself.”

So who killed him? I query, now interested beyond my first perusal of his story.

“Only the reader can answer that question, and the answer reveals the evil in men – the evil in the reader.”

Jerking free of my grasp, Thorne rolls down the rough sidewalk back to the Nursing Home entrance.

Nobody wants a piece like that, I say, and I believe it. You don’t give people recipes and leave out important ingredients.

“People who follow recipes have no imagination of their own. They’re not cooking, they’re copying,” he barks. At the ramp, he waits for me. “People like that deserve a bad taste in their mouth.”

Pushing him with agitated force, I roll him back into the formaldehyde stench of his home.

“You make the decision,” he says hiking up his gown as we pass the nurse’s station. “Had an accident, ladies. See you in a few, eh?

“You decide whether you write  to hold people’s hands and guide them down the path of your story and turn their heads when you want them to look at something important, or whether you set them down the path at midnight under a moonless sky without a flashlight,” he finishes.

With effort, and some assistance from me, Thorne collapses into his sitting chair with a quiet squish.

I guess I’ll have to read it again, I admit. I feel guilty for not remembering that much of it beyond the dead children who aren’t really there.

“Stay with me while they bathe me, I’ve got another story for you.”

I’d rather not, I reply.

“It’s a straight story – no hidden meanings,” he said, letting his gown flutter to the floor as he stood. “Everything bare.”

“I sneaked a peek at your blog,” he says to me.

Yeah, about that, I’m sorry I haven’t put as much on there as you’ve shared with me.

“I’m not talking about that one. I mean your personal one. You’re quite the whiny bitch.”

“Roll over onto your stomach, Mr. Thorne,” a nurse says.

“Cysts on my back,” he says, rolling over. “Want to pop a few? Great fun.”

I feel ill.

That site’s not really me, I just write what comes into my head. It’s not how I really feel.

“Bullshit,” he scoffs. “Everything about your presentation is about how you really feel and your frustration with the fact that either no one cares or no one understands or a combination of both.”

What do you know about how I feel?

“All matter is transparent when you’re infinitely small.”

So now you’re riffing on my choice of blog title.

“It’s clever, I’ll give you that. Did you just come out with that, or did you have to grunt for it?”

It just poofed into existence. Why don’t you ever give your stories titles?

“Titles are like fishhooks – they’re what you retreat to when you can’t catch fish by hand – when your own literary prowess can’t draw the reader in.”

I guess I could just start numbering your posts.

“People might confuse me with a girl who writes haikus and stories about tortured lovers.”

It looks like Thorne’s sprouting marshmallows from lava on his back as the nurse works open another cyst.

“There was one title I was proud of – The Undead of Wynter. I wrote hitchhiking in Indiana while taking a shortcut through the woods in December.”

You just told me about this one. I accused you of stealing draugr from a video game.

“Apparently I’m not the only person in the world steeped in the mythologies of civilizations other than Greece and Rome.”

I think your draugr are probably more accurate.

“Of course they are – it’s a true story.”

Don’t be ridiculous. It’s obvious fantasy.

“It’s better than sparkly vampires.”

Well, let’s hope they don’t hire a piece of cardboard to play the lead female part if they make a movie out of it.

“There aren’t any females in it.”

I was continuing a theme of mine from earlier today: bashing on Kristen Stewart.

“If you think there’s females in it, I guess I need to tell it to you again.”

No, I was just making a cross-blog joke, there’s no need to–

“Pay attention this time!”

No, really, I–

Well, I think its ridiculously irresponsible of you to even make such a claim.

“Did they say when she’d be here?”

I mean, I’ve accepted that it is possible that some of your ideas and stories might have been stolen, but you’re taking aim at one of the greatest space operas ever. I just can’t accept it.

“If she’s a ginger, I’ll gut you. I told you no gingers.”

You’re not even going to respond? You don’t just say ‘George Lucas stole Star Wars from me’ and then change the subject.

“I figure you’ll go in for seventy-five percent since you’ll get the most out of it, I just need a tickle.”

I have no intention of having sex with a prostitute in a nursing home with you watching.

“Fine, fine, I won’t watch. You can go in the bathroom.”

You just threw up in there. Hey! You’re avoiding the question.

“Fine! I didn’t say he took all of it. I said he took most of it. And then ruined it.”

George Lucas ruined Star Wars.

“No, goddammit, he ruined my story and called it Star Wars.”

This is insane.

“It was brilliant. Humans have abandoned sex for robo-harvesting and artificial fertilization, all except for one old witch out in the desert who taught this other woman everything she knew about using sex as a weapon. The other woman betrays the older woman and takes the weapon and enslaves the galaxy with it.”

I’m not listening to this.

“But the apprentice has a daughter, who the old woman teaches to love, the missing ingredient to complete the light side of physical union. So the daughter goes to save her lover, who has been captured by the apprentice–”

And then there’s a big orgy. Yeah, don’t remember that part in Star Wars.

“I told you, its just the idea. But then, who wants to see a film about a bunch of women running around having sex with male slaves?”

There’s a market for it, believe me. So Han Solo, he was a woman?

“Mistress. Smuggled young girls for a breeding program. Got tangled with a gangster named Mama Thut who she owed a lot of money and Mama sent bounty hunters after her. She agrees to help the old woman and the apprentice’s daughter off the planet to save the missing lover just to get away from the bounty hunters, but not before she kills one.”

Greedo, right?

“What kind of a name is that for a bounty hunter?”

So, just curious, did the smuggler shoot first?

“Of course she did.”

That’s believable.

“Where is this damned girl? This viagra’s going to give me the shits in a minute.”

There’s a knock at the door, and I cross Thorne’s room to open it. The red-headed prostitute is dressed like a jedi.

Oh my god.

“A goddam ginger, I knew it.”

So back to the vampires.

Thorne is soaking his feet in a foul-smelling concoction of cabbage water, cheap vodka, and orange fizzies.

“What do you want to know about vampires?” he asks.

You left that story open-ended. Did you ever write anymore?

“Maybe. What does it matter to you?”

Look, I’m still trying to help you out here. I need more material if I’m going to have success getting your remaining works published. You haven’t been exactly drowning me with your written word here.

“Maybe I have a damned good reason not to,” he barks. “Writers get bit and they get shy. Some grease-slick bastard with an MBA turns up his nose to your masterpiece and you pull back into your shell like a snail who has run too close to salt before.”

He’s agitated and the tub spits water over its rim as his feet twitch.

“You’ve not proven your character to me yet. You come in here and waste my time, trying to pull profit out of my work, promising me that I’ll get the recognition I deserve, and what have I to show for it?”

The satisfaction of intelligent conversation?

“Screw your conversation. If I want conversation, I’ll roll my happy ass down to the cafeteria and talk torture and freemasonry with a Korean War vet.”

You can’t expect to just suddenly be a successful author. You’ve got to work at it. There’s a certain amount of sacrifice required. You have to walk the gauntlet just like everyone else.

“That’s bullshit! You know it!” he accuses. A slowly expanding pool of fizzy stench encroaches upon my Skechers. “That secret club mentality is a bunch of crap. Why do you think nothing good gets published anymore? There are no original voices out there. And worse yet, there are no original readers. People these days read what they’re told to read. They pull hardbacks off of ‘recommended reading’ shelves and ‘Best Seller’ tables, and how do you get there? You run the gauntlet – the right of passage that is deemed necessary by those that have run it. It’s just like with anything else, college degrees, the film industry, art, music – if you didn’t follow the same initiation process of bending over to have your creativity raped out of you by a cadre of greedy, self-important despots who skated by just by following the formula, then you live your life in a pool of your own rejected filth. It’s turtles all the way down.”

Whoa. You’re getting all riled up. I just wanted to know if the story continued or not.

“Of course it does, I’m a god damned writer, you dumb shit. I don’t write chapters, I create universes. Ad infinitum.”

There are still some readers out there that crave continuity. They want the serial epic. You can keep a reader attached as long as you keep the string going.

“Turtles all the way down!”

Thorne dumps another handful of Fizzies in the cloudy water.

Does that really help?

Thorne shrugs. “I don’t know. I thought I’d give you something to write about.”

Trust me, you’ve given me plenty to write about.

He nods knowingly. “Right, the vomit and feces and urine pooled in my bed. The prostitutes and abuse of nurses and my theft of other residents medication. You think that’s all just my sick and twisted mind, caught in some tragic loop of obliviousness, where I’m so far gone I don’t realize that I’m running counter-clockwise to the rest of my environment.”

I’d like to post the rest of your Wynter piece, if you’ll  share it with me.

“You are being written by me,” he says, pointing a bony finger at me. “You play around with your little blog and your magazine submissions, but what you don’t realize is that I brought you here. You’ve been guided to me from the beginning. Two minutes out of the vagina and you were already headed right here.”

Thorne flicks a wrinkled foot at me, showering me with cabbage-smelling foulness.

“A real writer is not just putting his story to paper – he’s weaving the tapestry of the universe outside the printed word. A writer is a catalyst and a chaotic attractor. He doesn’t just write. He creates gravity at the end of bars. He is the blackhole in the corner of a coffee shop. His clever scarf siphons off the will to resist him from those that surround him on the train.”

Wiping the liquid from my face, I realize something. I don’t remember exactly how I met this man.

“I wrote you,” he says.

Did you take your meds this morning?

“Turtles all the way down.”

Mr. Thorne’s bed is pushed up against the corner of his small room. The room has become even smaller recently after the addition of a new tenant – an elderly man from El Salvador named Fidel.

The area underneath Thorne’s bed is dark and thick with shadows. It’s in these shadows that I now lurk, seeking desperately to find his dentures.

“I’d do it myself, but you know how bad my back is.”

Did you know there are syringes under here?

Ignoring my question, he hops on the bed, more spryly than his phantom back pain might have allowed had it not been, indeed, phantom. The springs bash into my back and knock the breath out of me.

Why do you have a sword under here?

“I won it in a raffle.”

Well, there’s no dentures under here, Mr. Thorne.

Pulling myself out from the bed I notice my hands and shirt are black with filth.

“Well, no shit, dummy. They’re in my mouth.”

Then why was I digging around down there?

“Hell if I know.”

You deliberately did that to me.

Thorne shrugs.

Can we get on with it now?

“Oh, right,” he says, nodding. “The doctor is in.”

I just want to know if you’ve got any serials. I may have a market for them.

“No serials.”

Well, how about something you could split up in a serial format.

“I can do that with just about anything,”

Not necessarily. For this opportunity, you would need to present something that could be perpetual. A continuing story that leaves every episode’s ending with loose threads that never get resolved. Something that would keep a reader waiting and longing for each new episode.

“Give me an example.”

Like Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who.

“I don’t know who they are, but I’m sure I can figure it out.”

Well, if you can, we might have found a gig for you.


“I thought you’d like it.”

I said it was interesting, I didn’t say I liked it. I think you got the tone right, though. But who is going to want Sherlock Holmes fan fiction?

“They just made a Sherlock Holmes movie, didn’t they?”

And a couple of television shows, but they’re typically updates on the formula – you’re approaching this as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would.

“Of course, how could you approach it any differently?”

Fidel, the old El Salvadoran in the corner speaks up, “I saw him fight Azucar Ray.”


“Well, wait until it gets going a bit. I think only a true Sherlock Holmes fan could have appreciated the first part anyway.”

“You write boxing stories?” Fidel asks.

What is he talking about?

“You don’t speak Spanish?”

He’s speaking English.

“Sure, sure.” Fidel rattles on. “Azucar Ray and Sherlock Holmes. Easton assassin.”

Azucar Ray?

“Sugar Ray,” Thorne says, translating.

He thinks we mean Larry Holmes.

“Larry Holmes never fought Sugar Ray, you dumb shit,” Thorne snaps. For good measure, he throws a National Geographic at him. The magazine falls open to the floor with the giant breasts of an African woman staring up at us.

“Sure, sure. John Watson ran the marathon,” Fidel continues, rocking back and forth in his bed.

He’s obviously more confused than you. When can I have the next part?

“How about you rustle me up some Hashish?”

How about you forget it.

“How about I give you the next part then.”

What does A.K. stand for anyway?

“Ass Kisser,” he says. Today we’re spending time in the recreation room. In this nursing home, there is no recreation but Jeopardy.

You don’t seem the type.

“I’m not, now shut up,” he says, waving me away.

“The answer is,” Alex says, “Based on a book by Terry Southern, this movie stars Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.”

“What is The Magic Christian?” Thorne bellows.

I went ahead and posted the first two parts of your Sherlock Holmes story.

“It’s not a Sherlock Holmes story.”

You could have fooled me.

“Don’t judge a story by the obvious presentation of the characters involved,” he says, waving me to be quiet again.

“Proceeding the jejunum and ileum,” Alex states, “it is the shortest part of the small intestine.”

“What is the duodenum?” Thorne barks.

You’re good at this.

“There’s a nursing home pot. Winner takes all.”

Well, it seems your knowledge might pay off.

“Knowledge? Hell, I recorded this a week ago. I tipped the orderly to play it through the VCR like it was live.”

You’re a sick man. So if its not about Sherlock Holmes, who is it about?

“I’ve been watching a lot of PBS lately. Old British shows.”


“You’ll see.”

“Leave me alone,” Thorne says to me. His face is buried in his pillow and his blinds are still closed. It’s ten o’clock in the morning and unusual for him not to be up and about at this hour.

How long has he been like this? I ask Fidel.

“You can’t change,” the old El Salvadoran croaks.

I sigh.

Alright, what’s wrong, Mr. Thorne.

“Stayed up late and got shitfaced,” Thorne moans from his pillow. “Damned presidential debates.”

I didn’t know you followed politics.

“I don’t. Fidel and I used the debate as a drinking game.” Thorne rolled over and belched. The miasma of stench rolled quickly through the air and was distinctly rummy.

So what were the rules.

“Every time one of them said something that proved that they were not acting as a representative of the human species, we had to drink.”

Look, I’m not going to get into politics with you, but aren’t they just representatives of the America people?

Thorne looks up at me like I just tried to tell him the world is a turtle. “Are they humans?”

Yes, but –

“Yes, but nothing. Neither right nor left is forward. The species has to evolve, but we don’t want to equate ourselves with the rest of the universe. We want to be gods. There’s a path we refuse to take, the Promethean path.”

I didn’t realize you knew the Halo universe.

“I mean that man wants to be god, and gods want man to stagnate. Every question has a correct answer if you ask of it first, ‘does this impede progress?’” Carefully, Thorne rolls himself out of bed. “Government is essential as long as it does not impede forward progress. A two party system impedes progress, people equate the stagnation with one party or the other, and no one can see that only futurism is the forward path.”

Interesting, but I think its more complicated than that.

“Is it? What do you think science fiction is all about? Aliens? Spaceships? Laser swords?” Thorne preaches, slipping into his trousers.

“I had some lightsabers once. The pineapple ones are my favorite,” Fidel chimes in.

“Science fiction writers, on principle, tell society that they are ignorant, stupid, stagnant, and useless, and then they offer a lesson in progress.”

I don’t think that’s true. I think writers like Asimov were expanding on our success and intelligence. They were saying that the only reason we can get to the stars is because we are brilliant and our ingenuity and adaptability are what makes our species superior..

“The Spacers went into space, and then came back and kicked Earth’s ass. I wrote that. It was my treatise on a third political party of futurists that would far exceed the near stagnant progress of the Earth humans.”

That is such bullshit. There is no way Asimov stole from you.

“Asimov was a very hairy man. You can’t trust hairy men.”

This is ridiculous. I’m leaving. I can’t believe you’d sit here and pan one of my favorite authors by lying so blatantly.

“I’ve got another chapter of the Holmes story,” Thorne says wiggling his eyebrows. He knows I’m interested. He’s been fucking with me this whole time.

Is it any good?

“There’s marijuana in it.”

I don’t seem to recall any of the original stories ever mentioning marijuana.

“Holmes was an addict. He had his seven-per-cent solution. Just because Doyle didn’t mention them doesn’t mean the other drugs didn’t exist.”

I hope you’re tying up loose ends. You can’t string us along for too much longer. The reader has to have a sense that progress is being made.

“Touché,” Thorne says. He smiles and a circle of darkness grows from the crotch of his trousers.

Are you … okay?

“I’ve just relieved tremendous pressure in my bladder. Of course I’m okay.”

We’re out in the real world, Thorne and I. It took some bribery, but I’ve been given leave to take Mr. Thorne outside the Nursing Home on occasion. When I asked him where he wanted to go, he said:

“I’d like to see some animals.”

Well, we can ride up into Dallas and go to the zoo.

“Those animals are caged. I want to get in the middle – risk my life.”

If we drive about an hour or two more, there’s a wildlife –

“Is there still that mall off 75 and 12?”


“That’s the one. I’ve never been there, but one of my old war buddies told me it the best place to observe the human animal in the wild.”

That’s a new one.

“What is?” he asks. The rolling Texas countryside is blurring past us outside the car.

You never mentioned the war before.

“Life is a war between two options, and only the third option is correct.”

Did you take your pills this morning?

He turns and bores into me with accusing eyes, “What are you suggesting?”

I’m suggesting that stop making sense when you’re off your meds.

“If what I said doesn’t make sense to you, then you’re the one with the problem.”

I reach over to turn on the radio, but Thorne slaps my hand away. “I’ve been out of society for decades, the last thing I want to hear is how we’ve taken a good foundation of musical genius and destroyed it with subcultural garbage.”

Really? I could turn on the classical station.

“That’s exactly what I was talking about – garbage.”

Fine, we’ll sit here in silence.

Thorne pulls out a stack of napkins bound by a rubber band.

“Actually, I thought I read the next two parts of the Holmes story to you.”


At NorthPark, an upscale mall in Dallas, I’ve wheeled us over to a nice bench in the middle of traffic.

“Look at that,” Thorne says, pointing to a pair of young women. They are talking to each other, but both have their phones up and are texting. Their bags stick out from their bent arms like wings, and because of this, they take up nearly half of the area as they walk.

That’s their life. Oblivious to everything else. It’s sickening.

“It’s gorgeous.”

Yeah, they’re alright. They’ll make great trophy wives. Rockin’ bods for another twenty years, but dumb as a box of rocks.

“Not them, you idiot. What they represent is marvelous.”

I don’t follow you.

“It’s the perpetuity of the human machine. They’ve become automatons for the larger unit. They are vessels of information,” Thorne says in awe. “That’s how you change things.”

I’m fairly sure that anything they are saying through text or to each other means very little to the rest of the universe.

“That’s the point. It’s perpetual flow in miniature. It’s the sand in the jar of golf balls. Think about how fast they could spread an idea, if you could just get them to latch on it. You could topple empires. They attract and are attracted to others like them. They are conduits – neurons in the body of the human species as a whole.”

Uh …

Thorne elbows me violently. “Your problem is you try too hard to see stupidity in everything outside you. You’re no prodigy. You’re no superhero. You’re worse than them because you have no place. They’ve found their place and they live in it. You’re a floater.”

Wouldn’t a society run by the artists and dreamers be better than the circus people like them would create?

“They don’t want power. You do. The problem with you artistic intellectual types is that you want to be the whole brain. No man is a brain unto himself. You choose that path and you’re a brain cell at most.”

Collective intelligence is where you’re going with this. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because of people like that.

“It doesn’t work because of people like you.”

There is silence. I try, with difficulty, to stop thinking. I realize I’m running from the room I’m trapped in.

I’ll admit, I can see where you–

“Shut up. I was just joking. These people are filth, all of them. Why are they here?”

You really are an asshole.

“I’m just proving to you that no matter what the right answer is, you can make it wrong if you try hard enough.”

I’m watching those two girls who haven’t stopped texting. I wish my life were that easy, but I see, for a brief moment, that my life is chaos because I refuse to accept that it can be as easy as that.

“Allons-y!” Thorne says and stands up.

You watch one Doctor Who marathon and now you’re the number one fan.

“Best thing on television.”

There are plenty that would disagree.

“I agree. No one understands science fiction anymore.”

So, they won’t understand your Holmes story then.

“I don’t understand my Holmes story, but I’m going to finish it. All it needed was a Timelord.”

About that. I’m not sure it was a good idea to just suddenly switch gears like that. It doesn’t really make sense at the moment.

“A speck of rock floating in a sea of nothing circling a massive ball of energy doesn’t make sense – so what does that mean for the egos of the self-important lifeforms that have evolved from sludge on the speck’s surface?”

It means that–

“Perspective!” Thorne says. He heads in the direction the girls are going, then stops and raises his hands to his mouth and shouts, “Stupid bitches!”

Quickly, he turns the other way and walks away from me in the opposite direction. No one else has looked around but the two girls, and they’re staring straight at me.

Mr. Thorne, I really need to ask you something.

Thorne is in his small bathroom, in his small room, in the B wing of the ancient nursing home where he resides. He’s combing his hair and ignoring me. I can tell something’s bothering him.

Is it true?

“Is what true?” he asks gruffly, tugging at a cowlick that won’t sit.

Is it true that you are who you say you are?

“What do you think?”

It seems a bit far-fetched. It doesn’t seem possible that you could have written so much fiction in so little time at such a young age.

“Perhaps I had a lot of free time. I dropped out of school, you know.”

On top of that, you’ve given me no proof that your works have been stolen, no shred of evidence that the greats of science fiction in the last fifty years have all been in on a plan to steal all your work and use it as their own.

Thorne sighs and sets his comb down on the vanity, another relic among the nail clippers, old razors, and globs of toothpaste.

“Isn’t that what you want to believe? That one man can create all that?”

I’m not sure I can believe it.

“You need to believe it, Richard.” He’s never used my name before. “You need it to be possible, because you, like me, have too much time on your hands.”

I don’t follow.

“Our relationship here isn’t about me. It’s about you.”

Stop. I know where you’re going with this. Destiny. It’s garbage.

“If you knew I was a fraud, why are you still here?”

I hesitate before I say it.

It makes a good story.

“And you needed a good story, to prove that they still exist. Richard, you carry too much expectation on your shoulders. No one expects you to do any of the things you dream up in your head. You’ve got good people that surround you, support you, love you. Isn’t that enough? You should live your life like that, cover yourself up with their love and just be happy to be alive and to have people close to you.”

I can’t.

“Why not?” he asks, his eyes peering at me through the reflection of the mirror.

Because its not what I’m supposed to do.

“What are you supposed to do, Richard?”

I’m supposed to write.

“Then why don’t you tell me what happens next,” he says to me.

I’m not really here.

“Neither am I.”

“What do you think of death?” Thorne asks me. We’re standing over his coffin, barefoot on the astroturf surrounding the site. How much more plastic can you get? So much artificial drowning the very real specter of death, grief, and loss.

Death is real.

“So you’re going with the safe answer.”

The astroturf is dark with overuse, like those semi circles of fake green you see in front of certain houses built in the mid-1900s. There is grass suffering underneath it. There are worms emerging against a strangely solid sky wondering ‘what-the-fuck?’

You want me to ask how you’re still here.

“I’m not there.”

So who is in the box?

“Schrödinger’s cat?”

I never understood thought experiments.

“Imagine coming into existence all at once in mid-air with no sensory experience at all. At the exact moment you achieve self-awareness, Maxwell’s demon opens a door that may or may not allow a radioactive substance to trigger a device that will break a vial of poison in a spaceship in which a cat is trapped. The spaceship is connected to another identical spaceship by some string that must be painted with paint that is infinitely divisible. If the cat dies, the second spaceship doesn’t stop accelerating and catches up with the first ship, causing the string to break in a way other than was supposed. The first ship is filled with animals that have apparent rolling locomotion which are to be shipped to a planet and used as messengers between two generals attempting to attack a third army in a joint attack. If the generals are successful, a reconstruction company, Glazier Reconstruction and Renewal, which is considered an indicator of economic welfare, will reap the profits, but if they are not, the economy will tank as the reconstruction company’s assets beyond their job orders are tied to the imperialism of the two generals. Assume that someone has restrained a cat with no feet on one side of that planet, and a lightly buttered piece of toast on the other. The question is, if the economy tanks and the shadows on the wall instruct you to set that planet on a collision course with another larger planet, would the restrained cat die before the toast is vaporized?”

The answer is: Experimenting with hypothetical cats just gets you scratched and hissed at.

“You’re learning, young padawan.”

It’s sunny outside, but the wind is biting. My eyes feel dry and my nose is clogged. Thorne is threading his rocket onto the launching pad in the middle of the abandoned field I’ve taken him to.

Have you done this before?

“Certainly I have,” he says. Attaching the igniter, he walks away, spooling out a length of wire in his wake.

How high will it go?

“It’s not the height that matters, its how far it falls that determines whether its a success or not.”

I guess I follow you. The harder they fall.

“Yes, well. I’ve solved that problem. When I was younger, a friend of mine rigged up a model rocket to fire its engines in stages. He thought he could get his rocket into space. He had 37 engines on it, all timed to fire in succession so that momentum was never lost.”

Did it work?

“He blew himself up.”

Smiling, Thorne flipped the switched and the model rocket shot up into the air with a whoosh. It seemed like it would go on forever, but then it noticeably slowed and reached an apex. Then it promptly exploded.

“Always quit while you’re ahead. Then you won’t have to worry about the fall.”

So, are we going to finish this story, or what?

“Prepare for explosions.”

“What would you do if you could do anything?”

I can do anything.

Mr. Thorne is enjoying his pudding. There’s a film over it – the chocolate-ish substance looks like an oil slick with rainbow swirls.

How old is that pudding?

“What would you do if you found out you were meant to do something?”

You mean like destiny? I don’t believe in it.

Thorne smacks his pudding, swishing it in his mouth like he’s tasting wine.

That’s disgusting.

“What? Destiny?”

That old pudding you are eating.

“Perhaps I was meant to eat it,” he says, shoveling another shaky spoonful into his mouth. “New pudding sounds scary.”

Are you making a point?

“What would you do if you didn’t have to do anything?” he asks with a smile, pushing brown liquid through the gaps in his teeth.


“No man needs nothing.”

“There is nothing more evil than a rabbit,” Thorne says to me.

Okay, explain that one to me.

“Deep beneath the Earth, there is a secret empire of lepine fascists waiting to take over.”

I don’t think lepine is a word.

“I learned this one day under the influence of a powerful otherwordly force that had taken over my cognitive processes.”

So you were on drugs?

“I was on drugs.”

On one of our jaunts down to the gas station to get Thorne some smokes, he makes me pull the car over at a park.

Hopping out, the old man trudges over to a large piece of playground equipment and begins to climb the ladder to its top.

What are you doing?

“I need to use to restroom,” he yells back to me.

Reaching the top of the slide descending down from it, Thorne then urinates down the spiraling plastic slide.

Hey! Stop that! I say. Sprinting over to him, I realize there’s nothing I can do. The waterfall of urine trickles off the end of the slide.

That’s very childish and disgusting. Clean that up before some poor toddler comes along and gets some disease.

“As you wish, master,” Thorne says and slides down the slide. At the bottom, his white warmup pants are slick with piss and stained yellow.

What the hell are you doing? Are you insane?

“Now you’ve got something to write about, Mr. Writer’s Block,” he says with a smirk.

“It’s rat poison,” Thorne says to me.

I spit out the mouthful of foul tasting oatmeal – a meal I had accepted only to play nice and shut him up.

“I was being facetious,” he says, regarding the pile of oatmeal on his linoleum floor.

Well, it tasted awful. I don’t understand how you can eat that stuff.

“I don’t. I just wanted to see how bad it was without tasting it.”

Lovely – you’re a real pal.

“How’s it going, selling my stories and all,” Thorne asks. He turns his attention to Jeopardy on the television.

“One of the longest in the world, it stretches from Qinghai to Shanghai,” Alex prompts on the set.

“What is my penis,” Thorne answers.

Frankly, no one’s going for them. And I’ve had only one personal response. The lady said it was very good, but it bogged down at page two.

“What piece is that?”

The android piece. Page two is where you began to describe the orphanage and how the instructor came to be there.

“Well, goddammit. They either want too much detail or not enough.”

“Belize for 500,” a contestant says.

I’ve got a long list of places to submit, but if you like I can edit your stories some for each market.

“This hole is over 300 meters across and 124 meters deep,” Alex says.

“What is my anus,” Thorne answers. “I should go on this show.”

Do you want me to edit your stories, Mr. Thorne. We may have more luck responding to their suggestions.

“Fine, I don’t care,” he says, waving me away. Reaching for his reading glasses on the night stand next to his bed, Thorne bumps a rectangular cardboard box. Turning it around, he reveals that it is a box of rat poison.

“Well, what do you know, it was rat poison after all!” he chuckles, his heavy smoker’s cough turning the laugh into the sound of a box full of rusty nails being shaken back and forth.

I vomit.

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