Dante's El Cabino

Milo lingered after the humble vegetable-greens-and-broth supper, playing with a half-used book of paper matches at the communal table. He sensed instinctively that he was at the center of the uncommon silence. People here were usually more outgoing, even with new arrivals.

He crouched over his empty bowl and the matchbook. He'd kept his eyes down enough to memorize the jostle of print jamming the tiny cover: First and Last CHANCE...Jack London's Rendezvous... THE HISTORICAL SHOWPLACE OF OAKLAND... George Heinold, PROP.... 65 Years At 50 Webster Street... OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA.

Often, as he'd furtively lifted his eyes from this literary birdshot to scan the room, he'd caught others on the long benches staring at him in an unpleasant, conspiratorial way. He had eaten only a little, and sat in silence after supper, striking matches to relight the candle down its smoke trail as a desultory personal challenge. He had balanced the spent ones on the bowl's lip, and the last one he'd placed there still smoked. When it fell onto the toilet paper he had used as a napkin, it smoldered unnoticed until the paper suddenly burst into a bright orange flame.

A quick, small hand reached past Milo and smacked it out. The pungent reek of paper smoke cut through the sharp aroma of Chinese five spice wafting from the kitchen.

“You are some kind of little pyro speed freak, aren't you?” said Azalia Dawn nastily. Fellow seekers of enlightenment who had swiveled toward her sudden movement, chortled.    

Milo jerked guiltily to his feet.

“Sorry. I guess I'll go and see what Bill has for me.”

Someone pointed, as if ordering him out. Milo followed the direction of the outstretched finger up the hill to Bill's studio. From the loosely collected shed where he had shared his uncomfortable supper, it was more of a climb than it looked like, but he didn't begrudge it at all. The air was crisp, almost calm. Toward what he thought was the east, the sky was inky purple, to what must be the west, still cerulean. Touches of orange and yellow and a narrow band of green emerged above the russets as the remains of the day darkened into hues of evening in a vast circular dome above him.

Milo reached Bill Wheeler's studio. Although still only a shack by any measure, it seemed far more beckoning than many other whimsically furnished but squalid hovels he had cataloged in a leisurely two hours before the dinnerbell had sounded, after his arrival. It was a real bell, rung frantically and at length, to call the scattered commune members to bread.

He knocked meekly on the recycled wooden door. He could still make out scarred, peeling paint on the inset panels. Not hearing an answer, he tried the knob, pushed, and sidled into Bill's studio. The north wall was all windows, and there was still just enough light to just see the broadest shapes in the deepening view across the valley.  

Milo was feeling increasingly antsy, as his carefully-crafted afternoon wineshine began to cook off into the gritty dregs of an early hangover. He took a few careful steps and banged a shin into a low table. Stopping in the darkness, he took out his matches and struck one.  In its small yellow globe of light, he saw that the top of the table that had kneecapped him was strewn with a heap of random articles that looked to have been tossed  haphazardly between a clutch of tall, fat candles. He lit one, and picked it up to explore.

Like every other hut on the property, Bill's place was really a semi-derelict, airily mended with serendipitous bits of  flotsam and jetsam fitted into cracks and holes to create a rather charming construct. Ramshackle and lived in, for sure, but not nearly as disorderly or grungy as most other reclaimed dwellings on the property seemed.

An army-surplus silk parachute fell down from the rafters and drifted to the floor in places, like the roof of a nomad's tent in the Arabian Nights. A couple of dozen musical instruments were strewn everywhere -- bongos, guitars, ukuleles, accordions, even a homemade wooden marimba. Some rested  in battered open cases, or hung by loops of string from randomly spaced spikes in the walls. Others just leaned against pieces of hand-me-down furniture. 

Bill also seemed to be an aspiring oil painter, and to Milo's eye, rather a good one. He shuffled along a wall opposite a bed, studying photos and framed pictures that looked to have been bulletin-boarded there in a growing accretion.  The candle threw jerky, shadowbox grotesques across the room in the air currents of his movements.

Milo heard a small thump behind him.  He turned, expecting to see Bill's big fuzzy grin beaming at him from the doorway.  Instead, still sporting the strange butler outfit, replete with moldy green top hat, that he had worn in San Francisco, stood Furlonger.

Milo's whole body convulsed in a giant spit-take.

“I knew it! I knew this would happen!”

“Ja,” agreed Furlonger. “I guess you did.

"This place is built right on top of a Ley line," he continued conversationally. "Did you already know dot, as well?

He pointed past Milo, out the giant window.  "Und did you knew dot vas coming, too?”

Milo's fish-mouthed gape twisted of its own accord toward the window. Uncomprehending, he watched a small yellow-orange dot describe a slow, beautiful arc across the sky, gathering speed, until it blasted straight at the shack with astonishing velocity. In an instant the room was as brilliant as if the rising sun was about to swallow them. Suddenly, Milo knew.   

The blinding flash - physical, mental, possibly spiritual - was the most painful thing he'd ever felt. He closed his eyes against it, but the light burnt through his eyelids, scorched his retinas and ripped along his optic nerves into his skull.  Blinding, indescribable hurt surged through him and lodged in his Cave of Brahma. It was less a single blast of light than unending millions of minute staccato bursts spaced barely apart, in a giant rolling wave that seemed unending.

Milo's head snapped back and he tried to scream.  He couldn't.  He froze in mid-movement,  in a hot stasis of shrieking silence for long seconds. Then the light faded and he could move again and he finished the recoil he'd started. He reeled into a set of congas, lost his balance, dropped his candle and crashed elbows first onto a guitar, smashing it to matchwood with a loud dissonant twang. His face smacked flat into the varnished body of another guitar that slammed onto the rough pineboard floor the briefest second ahead of him.  

Stunned, Milo wondered if he had a head wound.  He could see a lot of red at one edge of his eye. Then he realized it was the candle flame,  widening where it had caught the gossamer parachute fabric. The whole ceiling exploded into hot flame shockingly fast, and all the charming, airy flotsam strewn across the walls and floors and furniture began to flash over. Panicking and coughing violently, Milo struggled outside in a frantic head-down crawl, and rolled gasping onto his back.

Now look vot you done!” cackled Furlonger, looming over him, his rotting hands on his insubstantial hips.

Milo closed his eyes to block him out.  Down the hill, he could hear the dinnerbell begin to ring with the hysterical urgency that fire brings when water is scarce.  Shouts began as the nearest hovels emptied, and heavy running footsteps started nearing.


Callie watched Furlonger's trail as he returned, then peered far past the edge of their table. It was still set up to play cards.  She and it floated gently, still, in in the black void, as if suspended by hidden wires, backdropped by galaxies and star systems in their hundreds of millions.

“Did it work?” she asked as he came near.

Furlonger enjoyed milking the moment. He paused to adjust his verdigris trousers and pinkie-check his fly buttons. Then, seating himself amid a veritable flurry of dander, he finally nodded. 

“Yup! Like a verdammten. Whose turn to deal?”  

“Yours. So, all the Milos, from all the universes that he split off...?” she probed inquiringly.

“All the bosons is auf der thermos,"  he said, ticking off one transparent fingertip, then another, as he enumerated. "Und all the Milos is squashed now inside der same tiny skull.”  

He tapped the side of his own head for emphasis. A tiny rockfall of dust sifted down in a straight line from behind his ear.

Callie smiled, her red tongue tantalizing her azure lips. “Which means all the other Milos...”


Milo blinked back into consciousness.  Somewhere nearby, there was a wide flickering light, and a lot of shouting. For some reason, he was more intent making out what a much quieter, closer voice was saying.

“... which means all the infinite other Milos that split off into all the infinite other of universes after the big hoo-hah in Kannenberg's lab are dead,” he heard himself mumble, as if from an infinite height.