An Excerpt from "Nin and Nan" - by Eckhard Gerdes
The following is Chapter One from Eckhard Gerdes' new novella, Nin and Nan.
Eckhard Gerdes is editor of The Journal of Experimental Fiction, and the author of six novels, including Cistern Tawdry (from which the graphic text above is excerpted), Przewalski's Horse, and the forthcoming The Million-Year Centipede. More of his work will appear in a future print issue of BLATT.
Nin and Nan sat at the top of the hill together and observed the goings-on below. Nin's mind was sufficiently empty. Nan's was insufficiently so. The future was never not far enough away. Enough that neither of them would never know.
Nin liked straw. Nan liked Styrofoam. The hill obviously disliked the straw because the hill did all it could to free itself of the itchy stuff: it begged the winds to come and blow it away, it enraged the fireflies and it shook itself fiercely. It didn’t mind Styrofoam, which was just fluff, but everyone else did, especially the bugs who came to rest on the hill, and because the bugs were such terrible whiners, the hill decided not to tolerate Styrofoam either.
Nin said to Nan that one fateful morning, "Look - beans are encroaching upon our hill."
Nan looked around. True - the beanfields seemed much closer than they had just a few months earlier.
"No, not those beans," said Nin, pointing to the beanfields. "Those beans." Nin pointed at a newly constructed billboard alongside the not-too-distant highway.
Nan at first did not see it and imagined a different billboard: "Coca Beans--put some toot in your toot!" But Nan quickly dismissed the idea as too silly to even mention to Nin, and by then Nan saw the offending blot on the landscape, a billboard so enormous and gaudy that why Nan hadn't previously noticed it was worthy of some psychological investigation perhaps. But that would have to wait for another time, for at the time the only item being investigated was the billboard: a fifty-foot wide by twenty-foot tall luminescent green-and-pink lettered atrocity featuring a photo of a smiling, dancing string bean in top hat, tails, can and spats. The bean was ascending a spiral staircase. The advertisement text read, "Dance up a stair to good health with Rogers' brand beans."
"Oh, that has to come down, Nin," said Nan.
"Exactly, Nan," replied Nin.
Nan rolled down the hill, across the highway and along the shoulder up to the billboard. Fortunately, it was cheaply constructed of soft pine. That gave Nan an idea for the moral justification for the destruction of the sign.
Back up the hill, Nan said, "Nin, they've killed the trees that went into the manufacture of that sign."
"And they've drained the trees of their life energy."
"True again, Nan."
"Would it be wrong . . .wouldn't it indeed be a holy thing for us to restore to the trees their energy?"
"And what are the spirits of pine called?"
"Why, turpentine, Nan. We have some at home."
"Yes, we should get it."
"Yes, and then we'll soak the sign in the spirits of pine and restore the life energy."
"That may not be enough. For this to be a holy transformation we need more. Do you remember the holy transformation of Christ's disciples?"
"Of course, Nin. The Pentecost."
"Wasn't the spiritual transformation described as taking place in tongues of fire? Hasn't it been depicted so by artists for centuries?"
"Ah, yes! So after we douse the sign, we must ignite it with the spirit of the Lord."
"Yes, Nan. You get the turpentine. I'll get the matches."
When Nin lit the fire, Nan was reminded of Abednego's surviving the flames of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace in Babylon. From the German abend, or "evening"; the English "a-bed," meaning "to take oneself to bed"; the Hebrew neg--¬, meaning "south" [to the Hebrews, of course, the black races lived south]; and the Latin nec, meaning "not," a statement of contrast. Abednego's surviving the flames contrasted the darkness of night yet also upheld it. That it was both things contradictory simultaneously was inherent. All things confirm their opposites. The atheist is as dependent upon the concept of God for hir (i.e. "his or her") self-definition as the theist is. By standing in opposition to theism, the atheist acknowledges the existence of theism. Indeed, the atheist needs the existence of theism in order to exist hirself.
Of course, unlike Abednego, the billboard did not emerge from the fire unscathed. Coca the dancing string bean shriveled and writhed as the bill separated from the board. The wood was freed to dance according to its grain, and as Nin and Nan watched, it danced itself away completely. The billboard turned dark as it was consumed by fire, and then, in turn, fire gave way to the darkness of night. The spiritual transformation of the wood was complete. Nin and Nan watched the last embers give way before returning to the home inside the hill.