|ears later, during a rare time when none of the three principal members were in jail or rehab, the Unknown held a small reunion in an undisclosed location.
It was the best of times and it was the worst of times, though the best seemed reserved for everyone not associated with the Unknown. Scott had never quite recovered from a nasty electrical fire that started when he spilled a cup of coffee (or beer, as some of his detractors claimed) on the ELO Cray Supercomputer. William, after finally finagling membership in the Oulipo, had suffered the ignominy of being the only Oulipoean to be declared persona non grata and banned from all past, present, and future Oulipo activities; that, and the failure of all his various publishing schemes, had left him a bitter man. And Dirk, having lost all the money he’d appropriated from his cult, was down to his last pair of socks and underwear: No Shirt No Shoes No Service signs constantly mocked him.
Scott bravely hoisted a can of Busch beer (the best they could afford in those troubled days) and offered a toast:
—To the Unknown! We’re right back where we started: completely and totally underappreciated, underfunded, and under the influence!
Scott took a healthy swig. William stared at Scott then pointedly poured his beer on the floor.
—Hey, William, what the fuck? We only got a six-pack…
—Well, give me another and I’ll pour that out, too…
—Shit, no, I’ll drink it myself before I let you do that.
—What about you, Dirk, you haven’t even opened your beer.
—Yeah, well, I gave up drinking years ago, and recently I couldn’t afford it anyway. You can have mine, too, if you want.
—Geez, what happened to partying Unknown of years gone by, man? If I’d known this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have arranged this little get-together.
Scott was clearly disappointed and wished he had a large fattie to take the edge off, but all the marijuana plants on earth had perished during the Viral Wars of the late ‘20s.
—Well, Scott, William said, acid dripping from every word, the “partying Unknown” went the way of all things Unknown: straight down the fucking toilet! I wish I’d never even heard the goddamned word ‘unknown’ much less have it attached to my soul like a pus-sucking leech darkening my every aspiration, fouling the delicate engine of my writing: the Unknown got me thrown out of the Oulipo, you prick, and I won’t ever forget that…
—Hey, hey, hey. That’s not my fault. Why is everything my fault?
—I don’t know, coincidence maybe? Or maybe because it was your idea to sell bootleg Oulipo t-shirts on the website without consulting me first?
—A simple misunderstanding. How could I know the Oulipo would be so anti-commercial? I thought they could use the publicity, you know?
—Oh, I know, believe me, I know, you son of a bitch.
—C’mon guys, Dirk pleaded, let’s not start this shit again. The past is the past. We all made mistakes. Just let it go. What does it matter, anyway? The Web is dead, hypertext is a footnote in literary history, and we’re footnotes to that footnote, o.k.? There’s nothing to be gained by reopening old wounds. Let’s remember the good times or not at all.
—Yeah, Scott mused as the Busch took effect, the good times, like the first trip to Brown, remember that? The hypertext was fresh and barreling along toward some yet-to-be-determined conclusion like a freight train with failing brakes and no engineer… Coover bought us beers… audiences laughed until they puked… those were the days…
—You know, Scott, I don’t care what anyone says, your real vice is nostalgia.
—Better than wallowing in regret.
—I’ve worked hard on my regret. It’s mine and I’ve earned it, so piss off.
—Guys, Dirk said, please.
—Sorry, Scott said. I have regrets, too, you know. For instance, I really wish we could have tied up all the loose ends of The Unknown, really made it cohere, you know what I mean, finish wrapping the package, pitch a complete game, fill in all the blanks, ring the final bell, reach the summit, sew up all the holes, throw the last handful of dirt on the grave, go out in a blaze of glory, that kind of thing. Like, whatever happened to Frank after the Halloween disaster? Dirk cobbled together some wacky sci-fi explanation that took care of William and me, but what about Frank?
—I can answer that, Dirk said.
—Great, William spat, just what we need, another Unknown scene. Thank God there’s no servers left to store it. Shit.
—If you don’t want to know, fine by me…
—No, Dirk, really, I’d like to know, Scott said. William can go outside for a walk if he’s so opposed to all things Unknown.
—Thanks, Scott, very kind of you to suggest a walk during curfew. Even in this godforsaken place you know I’d be looking at 90 days. Fuck, I don’t care: tell your stupid Unknown story, Dirk.
—All right, for what it’s worth. Like I told you, the transdimensional hypertext aliens that intervened after you created the vampire weren’t omnipotent, by any means. Though very powerful, they could only do so much. They were able to save you two, but Frank’s DNA had been permanently damaged. All they could salvage was his “essence,” his soul, if you will. And even that was so fragile they didn’t have time to find a proper host. So, believing that it was better to do something rather than let Frank die completely, they decided to transplant Frank’s essence into another living creature, temporarily, until something else could be worked out.
—Another living creature? What the fuck does that mean? William asked.
—I know this is going to be hard to believe, but they put Frank, or what was left of him in… Maestro.
—What? Scott shrieked. Maestro? My Maestro?
—I don’t believe it. No way.
—Think about it, Scott. Maestro was always an unusual cat. If not exactly conscious, I always thought he was on the verge of consciousness. Well, in his latter years, Maestro was conscious because he shared his brain, or whatever, with Frank. That haunted look Maestro had? That was Frank, man, trapped in an inarticulate netherworld of cat-ness.
—No way. No fuckin’ way!
—I’m sorry, Scott, I should have told you a long time ago.
—Damn straight! If you’re right, oh man, all those times Maestro wandered into the bathroom… and the bedroom!… Christ! Goddamn that Frank, fuckin’ voyeur!
—Hey, speak kindly of the dead, William said.
—Wait a minute, Dirk, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Frank was at my fucking wedding and… !
—Scott, calm down. You never were very good at separating real life from The Unknown.
—None of us were, murmured William, none of us were…
And so they sat there in silence until the fire died, and then sat some more in the dark.