Jokertown Shuffle


The Temptation of Hieronymus Bloat

by Stephen Leigh


I don't know why I'm starting this or what I'm going to do with it or just who it is I'm talking to. I guess ... I guess the reason is that I want someone to remember what happened here when it's over. Lately I've been thinking that the Rox won't last long.

It can't; THEY won't let it.

Do I need to explain who "THEY" is? I didn't think so. I can tell you this, man-whoever you are-if you need to ask, then you ain't a joker, are you?

There's one question to answer, I suppose. No one ever really asks me directly, but I always hear it, like a little tinkling chime in the clamor of thoughts. I hear it whenever someone looks at me or even thinks about me: What's it like to be so fucking gross? What's it like to be a head and shoulders sitting like a wart on a body that takes up an acre of ground and feeds on sewage?

What's it like? God ... Okay. Let me try.

Find a room. A huge, empty space. Don't make it to( goddamn comfortable-be certain that the floor's cracked and damp, the air's too cold or too hot, the overall -atmosphere., tottering on the edge of gloom.

Then find a chair. A hard and unyielding and splintery one that makes you want to get up and walk around after sitting in it for even a few minutes. Bolt it to the floor in the middle of your room.

Get five hundred television sets. Bank them all around the chair, a Great Wall of blank screens. Now wire each of the sets to a different channel, turn up the sound, and switch on every one of the mothers.

Sit buck naked in your splintery chair in the middle of that ugly room before all the televisions. Have someone chain you to that nasty chair, and then stack a couple hundred lead ingots in your lap. Make sure the binding's tight so you can't move, can't scratch yourself, can't hold your hands up to your ears to blot out that terrible din, so you're utterly dependent on others to feed you or clean you or talk to you.

Hey, now you're beginning to feel like Bloat. Now you have some idea of what it's like.

I hear you. (I always hear you.) C'mon, you're saying. You have the ability to read minds. Ain't that a gift, a little kiss from the wild card deck?

Okay, I can read your mind. I have Bloat's Wall, which keeps the nats and aces away from the Rox unless they really want to be here. I have my own army of jokers who protect me and care for me.

I make the Rox possible. I'm the governor. I have power. There's no Rox without me. Bliss, right?

Yeah? Well, that's bullshit. Crap. A load of bloatblack. You think I really rule this place? You gotta be kidding. Look, I used to play D&D. Most of the time, I ran a character who controlled a little kingdom in the scenario our Dungeon Master had dreamed up. Y'know what? That fantasy's about as real as the "kingdom" I have here.

You can't hear what they're thinking when they talk to me: Prime, Blaise, Molly, K. C., the other jumpers. Even the jokers, even the ones the wild card cursed. "God, I'm glad I'm not like him" or " I don't care how much he knows or what kind of powers he has, he's just a fuckin' kid.. . ."

I know. I know what they think of me. I know what they think of the Rox too. My Rox is a convenient refuge, but if Ellis Island sank into New York Bay tomorrow, they'd find another place. The jumpers would melt into the city's back alleys; the jokers ... the jokers would do what jokers have always done: Shrug their shoulders-if they got 'em-and head for Jokertown.

So just what am I going to do? Threaten to take my basketball and go home, huh? You think I'm likely to go anywhere at all? Man, I was lucky I managed to get here three years ago when I was only the size of a school bus. Now... hell, the blue whale's no longer the world's biggest mammal. I'm bigger than a whole pod of fucking whales. What's it like?

You can't visualize Bloat. You can't empathize with me. It's not possible.

Every goddamn joker's hell is individual and private. So just leave it that way.

I hate