Null beat a retreat to the central classroom. There, a number of mysterious faces had already gathered under the harsh florescent lights. They all looked like young kids to him. The face, however, looked eerily familiar.
He realized quickly that they all bore striking resemblances to those he knew, whether from television or from waking life, had passed on. As if they were reanimated zombies. But. He thought, that wasn’t quite right, for, all of these people looked as if they were young and vibrant, full of energy and life. They weren’t shuffling extras from an old black and white movie, in other words.
He also noted that they were dressed twenty years out of date. Flannel shirts, alternative rock T-shirt from groups that were long left in the dust of fickle passions. It was like journeying into an alternate world of young ghosts, ghosts adorned, not in the spectral garb and rattling chains of Victorian phantasms, but in the cast-off fashions and accessorie of his misspent childhood, which was decades done, but seemed, still mysteriously, as if it were just back of him and around the corner.
“So this is the first day of school, huh?”
A portly fellow with a knit cap and beard approached him. Null faintly thought of his as a guitarist in some old grunge group. Hadn’t he overdosed?
“I overdosed. Back in 2002. It was a bad scene, man. I struggled with drug for years.”
Null found himself frozen in concentration, eyeing this character with a stern appraisal that was one part fascination and one part shock. Okay, so he was admitting he was dead? Or was this some sort of a game? Playing the part of a dead celebrity as a sort of masquerade. He supposed Marilyn, Natalie, Amy Winehouse, and (given the 90’s motif) probably Layne Staley would drop in for a short cameo.
“No, it’s true. I’m…”
But he trailed off, smiling, exposing bad teeth.
“I must be having a dream.”
“If you are so am I. So are we all. But here, we can all be young again, right? Why fight it? Go with it. It’ great to be young again. Young and free.”
Null pulled back a little, his eyes casting about warily. Nothing here seemed threatening, yet, he felt threatened. And he wa sure he didn’t want or require any explanations.
Let’s rock, the dead boy said, his mouth opening wide in a frozen grin. His eyes were twin pits of empty, blissful madness.
“You’ll be moving on,” said the boy. “You don’t belong here, right? Am I right?”
“No, most likely I don’t.”
The boy suddenly backed up a little, seemingly becoming more normal, more average; shrinking from the brief flicker of revelation which had unmasked his hideous, hidden essence. Now he was all American Boy.
He patted Null on the arm.
“Well, if I don’t see you again, I want you to take care, huh Null. We’ve known each other a long time, man. A long time.”
In fact, Null had no idea who he was, or had been, and no recollection of ever having met him before.
He said: “For some reason, I find myself thinking about the one man I knew whoe head was literally crushed by a locomotive. This man was an alcoholic. He use to stumble around town, drunk, wearing a ling black overcoat and carrying a plastic cup full of vodka and water. I once stole some heavy metal tapes from him. Anyway, I knew him for a few years. He once beat up a female I knew. A relative. He was a real dirt bag.
“Anyway, when I was sixteen I was working at this McDonalds. The manager I worked with was a friend of mine. We played in a rock band together. He later got cancer, and they had to remove his voice box. Anyway, he knew this guy, who we can call Dee, for short, although that wasn’t his name. And he comes into work one day, waving a paper, and says, ‘Hey, didn’t you know so-and-so? I once went over to his apartment, and looked up on the fridge , and there was a fucking pound of pot in a bowl on top of the fridge.
“‘Anyway,’ he says, ‘guess what: dude’s dead, man. You’ll never guess how it happened. Dude was out drunk, down by that liquor store in the ghetto, Triangle’s Liquor. Dude must have started out walking the train tracks to avoid being picked up by the cops for PI. Dude passed out, Here comes a train.’ He thrust the paper at me, a if in explanation, but I already had the mental image of a raspberry pie filling smear of brains and gore strewn across the dirty, rusted ties of an ancient stretch of train tracks. And the headless body lying there, in everlasting repose. Another piece of meat for the worms.”
Null stopped. The boy looked nonplussed. Null thought perhaps he had offended him.
The boy leaned forward, put his hand on Null’s shoulder, said, “Well, I don’t guess you belong here. Better be shoving off, huh Null. It was good to see you again, though.”
Null felt like saying, “I’ve never met you before in my life,” but said nothing. Instead, he turned and made his way out the door from the milling throng. The hallway outside looked deserted.
What time was it? He wasn’t sure. He wondered if classes were till in session, could hear, faintly, the sound of a film being shown in a room down the hall. The volume was loud. Were those elementary school students in there? He had a strange feeling someone was misinforming the young.
He could hear the narration from the film. It was, apparently, a documentary about the history of the Devil, or evil…or something. The word, “There’s always the dark god, the fallen god, there’s always Satan,” seemed to leap out at him and become frozen in his consciousness.
He trudged forward, his legs suddenly feeling heavy and his general uneasiness increasing. As he rounded a corner, he realized he was in the vicinity of the elevators.
He went up, pushed the button marked down. He didn’t know why, exactly, but he flet that, maybe, what he wanted was somehow below. In the basement? He wasn’t sure.
He was surprised when the door swung open slowly, revealing a tall man in a white shirt, grey pants, and a tie. He hesitated a moment before getting in.
Maybe I shouldn’t have done this? He thought to himself. The man smiled quietly down at him. It was several moments before he spoke.
“Hi. How are you today. My, you’re looking well.”
He paused. Null had no idea how to respond. He said, “Kind of hot in here.”
It was a lame attempt at small talk. The man seemed cheerily nonplussed. He said, after seeming to consider it for a brief pause,
“Yes. And it doesn’t smell real good, either, does it? Smells like someone dropped a dirty diaper off in here. Whew!”
The man scrunched up his nose. Null thought that, in fact, it smelled like rotten eggs.
“You know,” said the man, suddenly, “I’ve been around here a long time. A person get use to it. The smell, I mean.”
Null had no idea as to what the man might be referring. He did note that, strangely, the elevator seemed to be increasingly unstable. The floor felt like it were suddenly buffeting, or vibrating erattically. Null felt his heart jump into hi throat.
“This elevator I headed to the bottom floor. This elevator is going down.”
After a pause, the elevator seemed to lurch, sending them bith reeling on their feet.
“This elevator is headed to hell,” the man laughed.
His eyes grew empty with a curious joy. He was still laughing when the lights went out.
So I’m tasked with cleaning up the floor,
but there is a pesky dog keeps wandering around,
messing everything up. If I liked dogs, I’d say she were beautiful.
–So maybe I’ll share my chicken lunch with you, I think. I sit down on the ratty old carpet, and the dog it down next to me. She’s pretty eager. I start feeding her the fried chicken in large portion. I worry she’s going to bite my finger in her eagerness.
I realize there are little bits of fried chicken I’ve dropped all over the ratty, light brown carpet. I try to get the dog to wander around and eat these, like maybe I’ve trained her to do so, or something.
She doesn’t quite get the point, methinks.
Later, I’m standing there like a dim bulb with a broom in my hand, and all the other students have gathered to sit on the filthy rug–but aren’t they just BAD KIDS anyway? Or “mentally challenged”? Or “disadvantaged”?
The Teacher is lolling on the couch. I thought he was dead, but this strange reanimation seems to be occurring–faces from the past I KNOW are long gone, but they seem to keep reappearing on various bodies, in young and strong and healthy forms.
–Trying to shirk your responsibilities, he says. He’s smiling, like he thinks what I’ve done is some sort of joke. Bad kids murmur amongst themselves. Smiling. Sort of laughing.
–No, I protest.
–Anyway, I don’t see how getting the dog to eat the scraps on the floor qualifies as shirking my responsibilities.
His face scrunches up into a half-amused, half-confused look of bewilderment.
–You don’t see…he begins, and then trails off. He pulls the thin blanket up around his neck. He looks like a pitiful lump of writhing puppies under that blanket, with the pale sliver of a human face sticking out.
Later we’re on the bus. Now the bus could be a prison bus: one row of seats, and bars, and I’m amazed we’re not all actually chained together. It’s where I first catch site of the Priest.
We make some small talk. Outside, the sun is shining pretty hard. I’m sitting next to a little girl in Goodwill issue stained cords and a greasy little chili bowl haircut. For all I know, she’s someone I knew in class, years ago.
I dig they’re taking us out to drop us off at the corner somewhere, so we can go trick or treating. Why we need a priest for this is anyone’s guess.
I turn to the girl.
–Reminds me of a dream I had recently, I tell her, almost as if I’m talking to myself.
She look over, smiles a chimp smile. The sun cuts like glowing blades through the dusty bus windows. She looks uncomprehending.
–I was walking with a bunch of kids, across some parking lot. And I couldn’t keep up. I kept running after them, but I just couldn’t keep up. And the song I woke up with in my head was –To Walk the Night, by the band Samhain.
–Like it means I’m never going to walk in step with the crowd. I’m always going to be alone. You dig?
She obviously had no idea what the hell I was talking about.
–So this is Halloween walking, huh?
We’re assembled in the cold at twilight, on a deserted corner, and we all shove off. No one is wearing a Halloween costume, except maybe if you count the priest. But I think he really is a priest.
He’s a big, square-shouldered older man, with bulldog jowls. He sidles up to me, and, right away, I am suspicious.
He grabs me in one of his powerful ham hock hands. His fingers are really digging into my neck. I keep walking, feeling bile and wrath hit the back of my throat like the flavor of half-digested food.
–Get off me! Faggot.
He continues to hold on, his finger digging into my flesh.
I know I’m really going to have to make a scene if I want him to leave me alone. I begin to holler and thrash my arms, batting him, calling him every filthy thing I can think of: pedophile, pervert, sicko creep…
He goes a little green, but his face stiffens as he tries to mask his outrage and embarrassment. He finally relinquishes his grip, move away from me. A few heads bob here and there, kids slow to gawk, but no one stops walking entirely. If anything, the group moves forward at a quicker pace.
I look ahead. The night I cold and the world has grown dark. I don’t have any place in it.
This is Halloween.
–I wonder who the hell thought this shit up?
–Movie is straight stupid.
He turns, flips the dial. It is one of those old-fashioned TV sets, back when dinosaurs walked the streets.
Man is standing there in an old detective outfit. Could be Philip Marlowe. The scene is, apparently, some sort of top floor bedroom in an old house. Could be the Bates Motel. Possibly.
Ed Gein is standing there with the shriveled cadaver of an old woman. Maybe it is Augusta Gein. Maybe it is someone he dug up from Plainfield Cemetery.
Maybe it is just someone who kind of REMINDED him of his mother. Ed was peculiar that a way.
–Maybe this is his cadaver paramour.
(He once saw an old movie with Roberts Blossoms called “Deranged.” It was the Ed Gein story for sure. Several grotesque scenes included Blossoms feeding gruel to his dying mother, and opening a grave with a hideously rendered actress playing a cadaver come to life. But the movie was, ultimately, forgettable.)
He dances with his dead lover, caressing and kissing the rotten flesh, trailing the white, moth-eaten funeral dress behind them as they go, in the heated confines of his psychotic brain, to place beyond hope and pain and fear.
–You’re so beautiful my darling, so…beautiful. You’ve been gone a long time, but now, you’ve come back to me. I want to kiss you. Will you let me kiss you?
His withered lips quiver a he places them upon the grinning, rotten teeth. Empty, black pits stare into his own; unseeing, unfeeling, except in his tortured imaginings, where this scene is something from a romantic feature, a love story born in the bone yard. Right now he is a man a hundred feet tall; now, he has mastered the two gret mysteries of creation: LOVE and DEATH.
The detective is unsure of what to do. Every instinct in his body tells him to shoot, to end it all quickly. Such an individual does not deserve to live. Nothing good could be bourn of this outrage to nature. His finger freezes, though, upon the trigger. The little ghoul is lost in his fantasy, overcome with his sad, mystifying emotion; a prisoner of a necrophilia’s heartache.
From somewhere, the old, warped record warbles a forgotten tune, cutting through the ticking tillness of the house; the ghost of a forgotten song.
–I know that you love me, damn you. Say it! Tell me! I want to hear it from your own lips. Please, I’ll be sweet. I’ll be good. Mother always said I was an angel at heart.
Bare minutes tick by, but, to the detective, they seem like hours. He suddenly hears a pounding at the door below, feels a great weight lifted off his shoulders. He can hear the police call out below; soon the decision will be taken from his hands.
He knew he might forever regret not shooting this deviant. For the sake of his own soul. He would have been doing the world a favor.
–Police! Open up!
It seemed like only a click later that the door was busted in. He could hear footsteps upon the stairs. He knew it was all over. The Ghoul was still cradling his sepulchral sweetheart in his mad, hopeless embrace. Drool was sliding down his chin, hanging in a glimmering streamer from his liver lips to the wide, psychotic grin of the rotted husk he imagined he had, somehow, reanimated.
He whispered to himself. He put his gun back in the waistcoat of his pants. What sounded like a herd of shod elephants was pounding up the stairs.
The bedroom door blew in with a simple kick. Wood splintered and cracked. Candles tipped over. Baumgartner bent forward to stamp them out. The old place would go up pretty quick, like a tinderbox.
The electricity went on.
An army of cops swarmed in.
Loverman responded in slow motion, suddenly coming to the realization that there was even anyone else in the room. He had long ago forgotten about Baumgartner, who he had only viewed as an anoyance. But the legion of policemen wound NOT let him be.
There was almost a brief pause before he was wrestled to the floor, with a solid thump on the creaking old boards, and his corpse bride flew out of his arms and crawled into a darkened corner. But no one saw this but himself.
–Darling! Don’t leave me.
He put out a thrusting arm. It was quickly grabbed and pulled behind him, locked and subdued.
He could see her cower in terror, ee the warm flesh melt away in the darkness, until she sucked up and shriveled and lost all semblance of life. Now, what lay sprawled in hideous mockery in the darkened corner was nothing more than the death shell of some departed beauty, withered and worm eaten and decayed.
–Like they’d bring that many cops, he thought. He twisted in his seat. It was getting late. But he didn’t want to miss the ending.
Two cops, one a plainclothesman, so tough, the other a rookie uniform cop. Both are bent over at one of those miniature refrigerators. He knew what must be inside. Jeffrey Dahmer stuff.
The plainclothesman opens the refrigerator with a sort of knowing smirk. Maybe he’s been through this routine before?
Whatever was inside, maybe it maybe it was human heads. Maybe it was a jar full of human vulvas. A heart in a sauce pan. He didn’t know. But the uniform cop recoiled in horror. He put his hand over his convulsing mouth.
Streamer of vomit rushed out from between his fingers. We imagine the color was deep red; bloody.
Close-up: something on the floor that could be vomit, could be a clot of gore.
I went back in the back room,
To get a look at my bedroom
After being gone for all these years.
–Somebody in there painting, she said.
–Trying to fix that place up.
Indeed, I went down the hall, entered, saw a man in coveralls with a paint roller on a stick.
He was going over the walls carefully. But then I noticed something:
The walls were still pitted, covered in little plastic thumbtacks. The tumbtacks must have been used to hold up the posters and other detritus that still clung in nasty array
Like the bygone trophies of some
Obsessive snippet collector.
–He would have been better off with a scrapbook, I thought. Then I realized that the clippings were all yellowed newsprint from MY TIME.
My childhood collections.
There was a clipping from an old friend of mine, something he had written for the high school newspaper.
I wondered at this, why whoever had occupied this space had just left those old pieces of newsprint tacked up on the wall…and had I really collected all of this?
I suddenly glanced up at a poster high on the wall. It was a teenage pop princess from a bygone era. Had she been on a popular situation comedy at one point?
She was wearing a brown bomber jacket, had long brain hair, delicate features, a pale complexion…
I don’t know why, but, for some reason, I found myself mentally referring to her as
Even though that certainly wasn’t her name.
Null rolls over in bed. It is stifling hot dark, and the room is a disaster. Next to him, his x-wife is lolling naked and unashamed.
Outside, there are a number of fat women. Obscure family members. How are they all related? They look like lumbering dinosaurs, mutants after the Apocalypse. What the hell are they doing here? Everything is darkness and confusion.
“I have something I need to tell you.”
“I don’t think you’d even believe me if I broached the subject.”
Cracker crumbs stick to his back. There is a window to his left. Null remembers a time when he was lost in a similar building, finding himself rolling around in bed with a fat man. This might have well as been in Paris, because the place was haunted by the ghost of Genet.
Now though, it was the Family House. He knew it well.
“I don’t want to hear any of your bullshit, okay? I had more than enough of that in the past.” He notices her breasts; one is larger than the other. She turns over, farts, and her huge white ass looms under the blanket like an emerging dolphin. He imagines himself holding an alien face between his fingers.
What are you?
“I suppose I could introduce you by way of a dream I had. Or was it?”
“Was it what?”
“Just a dream. I’ve heard about similar things happening.”
She turns back around,. Her face is not beautiful. In fact, it is pretty bltchy and red, wand freckled. Her hair is a tussled, dirty mess. Too much crusty eyeliner.
“Like what? Spill it.”
“I was in this clinic. I’m not sure where or when it was. I walk into this room. The walls are a hideous white. Bone white. Antiseptic white.”
“Too much exposition, darlin’.”
“Okay. Anyway, I know there is a girl in there I love. And she is a girl I’ve never seen before in real life, so I know this had to be a dream.”
“Wait…you’re not fucking sure?”
Anyway, I go up to this girl has been laid out in a hospital bed. And she is maybe twenty years old, and she has an IV in her arm, and she is bandaged, but her hair falls around her pillow in a way that is real pretty. And she seems to be pretty perky, although I can’t remember just what the hell she is on about. Anyway, the whole thing takes on the weird aspects of a ceremony as the doctor comes in…”
“But the doctor, he just stands there. And right behind him, coming in with a little box, is…is one of them.”
“One of what?”
“One of the…aliens.”
“Yeah. And he is short, with a big head. And there is this smell clings to him. And he has this little box. He shoves the box up under the nose of the girl lying in the bed. The doctor and the nurse stand aside silently, as if this is some sort of honor. He says, ‘I’m sorry, but your baby has died,’ and I make that is what the smell is. Then he comes over to me. I don’t feel any fear.
He shoves the box under my nose. But it isn’t a dead human baby. I’m not exactly sure what the hell kind of baby it is…looks like a little homunculi…”
“Homonculi…a miniature, artificial man.”
“Then I wake up. Anyway, I read in a book by Dr. David Jacobs that people who have had contact with UFO entities use to be shown a box, but that they could never remember what it was they saw in the box. Only later, under hypnosis, could they remember what it was they saw. And what they saw was a hybrid, an alien/human fetus…”
“I have to go take a piss. Hold on.”
She gets out of bed and Null follows her flabby, cellulite-riddled ass out the door with his eyes, peering in th egathering gloom. Has she left him out of anger? He slowly gets up. He doesn’t want to be in here alone.
Before he can move, the door bursts open. His grandmother comes in the room, points at a pile of rusted junk (that looks like atoy horsey for a child held on dirty, rusty springs) and exclaims silently. At the door, several of the monstrously fat women who have gathered for the apparent ceremony of the reuniting of Null with his ex-wife, wait at the door as if to claim the grandmother again after she has performed her senseless, illogical function.
(Illogical because, as far as Null knew, his grandmother was long dead.)
“This can’t actually be happening, can it?”
He lay back down, shut his eyes, and then decided that he needed to go to the door for an explanation. Perhaps this was a relative that simply resembled his dead grandmother. Perhaps it was an insane person. Anyway you sliced it, he wanted some answers.
He got up, circumnavigating the sea of junk (mostly broken toys and piles of plastic refuse and tin cans), and mad ehis way to the bedroom door in the dark. The door was cracked. He could see some commotion going on outside.
He went up to the door, feeling as if he were doing something forbidden. He put his fingers to the warped, dusty wood, pushed, saw a surprised head turn, a head attached to a huge back wrapped in a cheap flannel shirt. One of the fat women.
His ex-wife suddenly appeared in the doorway, pushing past the fat women. She was completely naked.
She put out her hand. He grasped it, suddenly remembering every time she had ever hurt him. Suddenly, he flabby white body disgusted him> he sank his fingers into the soft skin of her hand, causing her to cry out. She recoiled from him, heading back out the door, causing a commotion. Apparently, no one was sleeping tonight. Where they all waiting for them to fuck, or something.
Null was hustled into a waiting car.
An obscure uncle was driving. He was a great fat man. Beside him, a daughter or something was riding shotgun. She was dressed in a schoolgirl outfit, was a nasty-looking piece of work. Braces. Thick glasses. Froggy features. Pimples. Dimples.
The drive was downtown, and Null was feeling pretty damn good. Elated really. He couldn’t stop the laughing from the backseat. His clothes were all ill-fitting, as if he dressed himself from a pile of thrift store castoffs while he was drunk. The car speeds down into several streets of dilapidated houses, separated by dusty, gravel-strewn old lots and broken ruins of buildings collecting time and dirt and the droppings of insects and dogs.
One building stands out.
“I think we’ll stop here for a minute.”
Null isn’t sure if this is a joke.
He gets out of the car, slams the door, looks at the place. Old, tattered plastic garbage bags blow in the breeze, framing the entrance, which could be a converted garage with beer advertisements drooping off of it at odd angles. He realizes it’s been awhile and the uncle is still gone. He gets out of the car slowly. Where in the world is he? He’s never been in this part of town before. The sun shines overhead brightly, baking the dusty, windblown bricks of downtown buildings that have been tottering on the edge of space and time for the better part of the century. Null is flat-out curious.
He steps into the darkened entryway. Place is huge, but he sees a glimmer of light past what appears to be mounds of boxes and old room partitions, and somewhere buried deep in the guts of the place is what appears to be a makeshift bar. Small dive. Crowded.
Null bellies up to the bar in wonder. The lighting is not good, only the glare from a few televisions placed strategically here and there.
The man behind the bar ignores him, but occasionally glances up with a moue of disgust before turning his head back down to the counter. Tables are full of card players. People mill about. Most of them are wearing jean vests with wild patches of skulls and gothic lettering on the back. Some of them are wearing old fedora hats; all of them have long chain wallets and chino pants.
A few people start to notice him. His whiteness sticks out here, in this place, like a sore thumb. He begins to get nervous. He gets up from the bar stool, starts to make his way back out into the darkened entryway. Behind him, he can hear low murmurs, the rattle of chains, profanity whispered at his back.
He gets outside, his heart hammering in his chest. Suddenly, behind him, he hears what he takes to be growls. He feels his blood freeze in his veins. He knows what that sound portends. He can hear the clatter of nails on the concrete.
The dogs are at his back.
They bound forward, teeth bared, hair bristling on their back, and he screams as he feels them sinck their jaws deep into his legs. He struggles with livewires of writhing canine fury, rolling in the dirt as his blood begins to fly about in ribbons and spurts.
I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead
Is the only thought he can muster in the confines of his terrorized brain. His heart is pounding like a drum. He feels the world go black.
He expects to wake up in Hell. He has always expected, one day, to wake up in Hell.
Before the world goes black, the approach of a running man. A comic figure in an old hat and faded clothing, But big. Approaching. Stick in hand. He bends over, raises the stick. It’s the last thing that Null can remember.
When he wakes up he sees a guy looks like Norton from The Honeymooners if Norton had been ten years younger and a body builder. A real mensch. A working class guy from the Fifties, maybe. But beneath the blue collar muscle, the face of a put-upon little geek.
“Almost had you there, buddy,” he says. He picks Null up by the arm, which he has dirty bandaged.But everything seems okay.
“Yeah. Thanks. You saved my life.” Null isn’t quite sure what to say. The pain has subsided, the dogs are nowhere to be seen.
“Yeah, that was a pretty nasty duo. But I took care of ‘em. Ran ‘em off with their tails between their legs. I’m the new sheriff around these parts, so to speak.”
Null has no idea what he’s talking about. The day drones on around him,. Somewhere, a truck rumblyfarts in the distance. A large horsefly alights on his bandaged arm.
Suddenly, Null realizes they are surrounded by a small gaggle of reporters snapping photos.
“Mr. Jim! Mr. Jim! Denny Albrecht from The Morning Tattler. Tell me: Why is it you decided to start down here in Brompton in your effort to clean up the city?”
Jim says nothing, just points his thumb over his shoulder, while more reporters shoot rapid-fire questions at him. Null doesn’t want to go back inside, but soon Mr. Jim is leading the way, and, for some reason, he feels obligated to follow.
The barroom is deserted. Null notices for the first time that the bottles of booze are stacked on a row of old washing machines. The light from the television sets is very blue.
Mr. Jim begins to climb the walls like a spider.
Null feels hi mouth drop open.
Reporters snap photos, point, holler questions. Mr. Jim stops me monetarily, perched on a doorframe, and poses like he is in a Mr. Universe competition. He throws the television sets down to the floor, where they explode in showers of sparks.
Null realizes he is in the presence of a living, breathing superhero, a “strange visitor from another planet.”
He goes outside.
Across the yard, an old man dressed like a farmer is nustling the biggest damn cats Null has ever seen in his life. They look like miniature ponies.
“Sure grow ‘em big out here, huh son?”
Null had already seen more than he could process. One of the cats jumped from the old man’s grasp, leapt over the fence, began to slither up to Null, stalking him as if he was an overgrown mouse. Null recoiled in terror, dove to the ground, put his hands over his face.
And this was only one day.
Back at the house, a boy relative perhaps watched eagerly out the window. In the distance, funny lights danced in the night sky.
“It’s a jet,” Ie said,
“It’s no jet. It’s a spaceship.” he said, his grin widening out until it looked positively shark-like.
There was something out there in the distance. I felt the first few tingles of fear grip my spine. I pointed.
“look, you can see the landing lights.”
But he remained unconvinced, and I wasn’t sure who I was trying harder to convince, him or me.
Suddenly, a few girls popped into the room. More obscure relatives. They were milling about in the night. These were cousins and friends, pretty brown hair grown long; wild girls in the prime of their life.
They wanted to go walking in search of spacemen.
“We know this guy. He’s a little weird. Really good looking. Long hair guy. He does all this strange shit, man. Guy is strange. I think you and him might get a long.”
This cousin grabbed my hand in hers. I wondered what it would be like to fuck a cousin. Jerry Lee Louis did it. Hell, I think Elvis did it, too. I suppose I could be wrong about that
She had chipmunk cheeks. Dimples. Blue doggie eyes. Young. Love love love. Her friends were skinny, tanned, and they seem to float around me like a gaggle of supernatural witches, so I can’t ever really fix my vision or concentration on one of them.
It doesn’t matter much, because we start losing them before dawn. You know the way you might start off with a group of people, driving around or just walking around the way you did when you were kids, all gathered together in the silent temple of the night, holy and presnt in a new way under the moon, accompanied by the high cloying reek of flowers and the weirdness of night bugs no one knows, and the dust that gets in the creases of your toes…
So finally it is only my cousin and another girl, and I say, “So who is this guy we’re going to meet?” And I look over and realize we are in some strange neighborhood I’ve never been in before, because thehouses have to be two hundred years old, but look like somebody covered them in pink and orange and black submarine paint, and some of them have little stream running in front of the porch, which I realized must make it hard to go in and out without getting your feet wet.
“Oh, we know where he lives. It’s this place down the street. Real low rent. Dogs, I think.”
They know I hate dogs. The sun is coming up in orange and golden splotches, making my eyes hurt. I am tired and dusty and thirsty, but the girls seem to have all the energy in the world.
Never did find out what the other one was named. Everytime she asked, they would just bust out giggling, and give me something obviously phony.
Clouds darken the street. It could almost be night again, or maybe that is just the mood I’ve been thrown into. The place looks like a series of storage sheds. White cube-like structures separated by a strip of blacktop. We go up to a door marked 213. The girls look at me, giggle. They are standing beside me.
“We’ll he’s your friend.”
“Well, he’s not exactly a friend, you know. Just a guy we know.”
“Yeah, and we, like, don’t really know him that well, dig? Just sort of know him from around school.”
Coquettish. The skinny one with long black hair holds her skinny arms out in front of her, lacing her long-nailed fingers together stiffly,a s if she is bursting with joy. I notice she is Asian.
Okay. I step forward. I put my fist out to knock. I notice little black spots crawling across the door. A heavy infestation of roaches. I recoil. Amazingly the door opens without me even touching it.
I know the girl who comes to the door.
I know I know this girl.
Short, curly brown hair. Conservative sweater, looks like a college valedictorian. I realize her clothes are twenty years out of date.
Suddenly I remember her as the victim of a particularly notorious serial killer. I’ve seen her face in an old tabloid, or a television special. If it’s not the same girl, I’ll eat a hot bowel of shit. But how could she still be alive? My brain tries to wrap itself around the obscure puzzle.
Poor thing to live in such a hovel.
I stand aside while the girls take control.
“Is Jack still living here?”
“Yeah. Long hair, really skinny, long black coat. Always really quiet. Wanders.”
The dead girl’s face suddenly lights up with “stupid pink affect.”
“Oh, him. Yeah, I guess so. Strange guy. So sweet, but he leaves and just…walks, you know. Told me he’s traveled all around. I believe him, too, even though he doesn’t seem to have any pictures or souvenirs or anything. Yeah, he lives two doors down I think. Not sure if he’s home, though.”
Suddenly, as if in answer to our calling, a tall, dark figure steps out of the night. He puts his hands behind his back. He looks like the cat that has just devoured the canary. Or maybe that isn’t quite right. He seems still, ominous; pregnant with meaning and purpose.
“Did someone call?”
He seems pleased. The murder victim smiles, shuts the door, goes back to darkness and roaches and God knows what else. The girls giggle, I am unsure where I fit in to this dynamic, but Jack seems to be perfectly at ease with himself and everything else. He smiles a crooked half-grin. He has a scrubby red beard, short, and features that hint at a history of superior genetics. His gloves have the fingers cut out of them.
“Well, what do you girls want to do this morning?”
I’m completely forgotten about. I don’t really care.
It’s getting warmer out as the day progresses, and I feel weariness grip my skull. But the walking of dusty pavement and the pain in my feet conspire to keep me alert. The girls flank jack on either side; I trail behind.
“Yeah, I suppose I should feel guilty for it. I don’t, though. I needed the money.”
Jack is pacing back and forth. I notice for the first time how really young he is. Maybe twenty-five?
“But somewhere, inside yourself, you DO feel guilty about it. It violates the norms you were raised with. It seems like another scar on your spiritual flesh, am I right? You smoulder inside just thinking about it.”
She is sitting on the grass in, her legs curled up beneath her. The Chinese girl. The other girl disappeared a few hours ago. I was too tired to keep track of where she was going, but I assume home. I think I’ve been up for days; I feel like it.
“What if I told you you can be free of all this pain? What if I told you there was a way to let the demons go? You can, you know. Just have to trust me. Is that such a hard thing to do?”
It must be ninety degrees, but he’s not sweating at all, despite his heavy coat. I think he’s got ice water flowing through his veins. The girl rocks back and forth a little, hugs her knees, looks down at the grass. She seems doubtful and disturbed.
“ I don’t know. I mean, you’ve done it before?”
“Many times. Whatever you might think, there’s a demon inside of you. A sort of tumor in your body. That tumor grows when we trespass our personal boundaries, allowing the demon to take root. Therein he dwells and begins to reign in our lives. One little operation, a few deft movements of these hands,” and he held up his hands and looked at them as if they were objects of wonder, “and I can cast that demon to the wind. You’ll never know it. You’ll be in a deep trance. I’ll see to it.”
I am only barely cognizant of what I am hearing, but I felt my awareness grow increasingly as the details of what he wanted to do began to slip out of him. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just kept my mouth shut. But I could feel myself get more and more nervous.
A pesky fly started to buzz around my nose.
They picked up and walked. I notice for the first time that Jack has produced a pack. Looks like a student backpack, army green. Where in the hell had he been hiding that all morning?
It isn’t long before we walk through an abandoned parking lot, into the bowels of what appears ot be a rundown amusement park. In the distance, the skeletal remains of Ferris wheel and roller coaster rear upward into the sun like the fly-specked remains of prehistoric monsters. Trash and litter blow casually down the dusty, echoing streets, and old booths are boarded up on either side, their walls still reverberating the distant chuckle and high, piercing laughter of empty children. Ghosts haunt this place, ghosts of families trudging through empty spaces of hollow, bored hours, laughing a little too forcibly, smiling a little too readily at strained music and phony sentiment.
A large white building loomed under the sun, with two cement ramps leading up and in, and a staircase leasing out. The doorways were open. Jack and the girl started up. I wondered just what the hell this place had been.
Inside, the white walls were streaked with dried blood. I make this must have been a butcher store or something. It was some place they cut meat. Suddenly, jack reachess into his pack and pulls out a long white coat.
“I’ll need to concentrate for a short while, then we can begin,” Jack said. He seemed to close his eyes for a few moments as I watched in amazement, scrunching his face up at intervals as if he were going through some sort of internal struggle.
There were a number of large freezers lying dead along the wall. The girl sauntered up to one slowly, looking as if she, too, were now in the fever grip of some dream. She lay down, mouthing a prayer that might have been a plea for expiation of past wrongdoings.
“And I want you to forgive me, for every man I’ve seduced, for all the times I whored myself, for every dollar I ever took for whoring myself, for all the sins of my past life…”
She spoke these words softly, her eyes shining like glass. Jack strode up to her purposefully, waving the knife above her naked midriff. I suddenly stepped forward, grabbed his arm, which was held above his head in a grand gesture.
“You can’t do this! This is insane. What if you kill her? Have you thought about that?”
He stopped. It seemed as if someone else was speaking through him. It was another, deeper voice. His eyes were glazed over, the eyes of an obvious madman. I knew him to be under the control, then, of possessing spirits.
“Yes,” he said, as if to confirm for me this reality, “and there is something riding you. You need me, Null, just as assuredly as she needs me. Look,” and he thrust something in front of my face. It was a pornographic magazine, printed lie a cheap tabloid. Inside were a center spread of photos of the girl getting gang fucked by several scrawny, ugly older men. I recoil.
“So you can see, quite plainly, WHY she needs me. She’s been driven by this demon of whoredom for years. It’s pushed her to drugs, prostitution…It’s inside of her, eating up her mind. It grows like a cancer, but like a cancer, it can be eliminated. It can be cut out.”
He raised his knife, waved it in the air. He suddenly came forward, putting his hands on my arms, and his face became set with an intent and deeply somber look.
“I know about the one lurking inside of you. The parasitic twin that you absorbed in your flesh, and how his unborn spirit manipulates and fouls your body. I know about the fingernails and teeth they removed from your stomach lining. I know how he drives you with mad thoughts of blood and decay. And I can cure all of these things, and you can be well.”
I can see the depths of madness in his eyes, see the hollow pit of his soul, going down, down, like a hole. His mind disappeared down this space ages ago, I think. And whatever has him, controls him alone.
I back away from him, shaking my head. He wants me to lie down on one of the flat freezer tops. I’m to be next. To have my inborn twin monster cut from me in bloody wonder. And perhaps die as a result.
“If something happens, if the cops find me and question me about this, I’ll tell them it was all you. I had no part in this. I can’t have a part in this.”
I know full well what is going to happen next. I walk quickly ou tof the gaping doorway, down the concrete ramp, into the sunlight. As my eyes adjust to the brightness, I walk down into the midway, consider that all of life is one vast carnival of tragedy and sickness, where we all ride the ride, play the game, but fundamentally, the odds are always rigged in favor of the house.
And then the screaming starts. He’s cutting her. He’s really cutting her. Psychic surgery. Woman writhe in pain. Go, and sin no more.
I walk away into the distance. Time and the city beckon.
So we were all sitting just outside the window, on the little cement porch, and Mikey is there. Mikey is there I know not why, but he is there. Slumped over. Stupid, glazed-over look of perpetual grief in his eyes. That is Mikey.
It must have been just a gathering of neighborhood kids, but I remember it well; I remember the faces, but don’t ask me the names. It was a cloudy day, I remember that much, and maybe that is what made it so perfect.
So we are just milling around smoking cigarettes, and everyone is ignoring Mikey, and it is pretty apparent no one cares about him. Maybe he has tagged along to vie for attention, or maybe someone just felt sorry for him. Right away I make no one really wants him there.
The neighb orhood is old, with little dump houses lining the street, and old run-to-riot yards fenced in rusted chainlink, with prowling, starving black Dobermans scowling out their bored, miserable lives on overgrown lawns teeming with their own pungent shit. Cars on cinderblocks tilting upward to the washed-out, placid Midwestern sky, televisions and radios droning on, breaking the silence, and the smell of grease and diesel everywhere, blown around in the gentle, murmuring wind.
Up and down the street, and across alleys, and up and down hills, little tykes with scabbed knees and dirty shoes pedaled old bikes, and ran rings around each other, and organized adventures in their heads, while single mothers brooded over child support and dads busted heavies, and knocked back beers.
But here we were, and here was Mikey, and down the street, like two walking bruises, Sean and Sean came sauntering up, looking hostile and bored and full of hell.
Sean and Sean were a duo, a sort of self-congratulatory partnership based around hooliganism and mutual masturbation. Sean 1 was shaved bald, was gangly and rail-thin, had an unbelievably shark-like grin, and eyes that seemed to burn continually with a desire to cause pain. Sean 2 was shorter, nondescript, a little roly-poly, with a Shemp Howard haircut and masculine breasts. They were both known to punk each other, and at least one of them was rumored to have raped a substitute teacher during study hall.
“Hey, look, it’s Mikey the Retard.”
It was not the most creative insult, but a feeling of freezing terror descended, like the unholy spirit, upon our little clique, with the sudden appearance of Sean and Sean. They walked up to where we were gathered by the front window, by the porch.
“Hey, I bet I could punt little Mikey here through that window.”
We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. I thrut my hands in my pockets, leaned over on the railing, looked at both of them in disgust. Sean 1 had really nasty, uneven teeth.
“Oh, you bet your sweet ass I could, mother. I could send that little retarded shit flying through that window just as sure as you use to stick it to your old Aunt Fanny.”
I make out that the’re really serious about this, and I uncross my arms (which are usually folded just below my chest in an attitude of perpetual bored disinterest) and I say, “C’mon guys, stop it.”
Sean One just smiles his big, crooked, black toothed grin, and Sean Two acts as if the rest of us want to place bets. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Or, maybe I can.
Sean One runs backward a few paces, gearing up, and then runs forward as if he is star quarterback for the NFL. He launches one of his lank, rubber band legs out in front of him, his filthy grey shoelaces trailing in the air, and makes contact with the oversized cranium of the luckless Mikey, who, miraculously, is launched backward through the air as if shot by a cannon, and smacks against the huge picture window just behind the rose bushes.
A terrific, terrifying crack resonates as Mikey’s melon collides with the thick, resilient glass. He bounces off as if made of rubber, landing in a heap before sitting back up again, with very little in the way of human expression. But everyone can see he is hurt bad.
There is a scarlet crack running along the side of his head, spilling thin streamers of blood, and ribbons of mucus are hanging from his nose and mouth. What’s worse, the wound seems to be seeping thin, grueling brain matter, stuff that looks like chopped celery and piss. I turn around and throw up, but Mikey seems nonplussed.
I grab one of the Seans by the lapels of his leather jacket, scream, “You had better call an ambulance, quick! That kid is going to die if we don’t get him to a hospital!”
But I knew that Mikey was already dead.
Sean and Sean laughed maniacally. The clouds obscured the sun. Somewhere, we could hear an ice cream truck chug and jingle down the street. It was.
She stooped low over the table. On the table was a large baby doll. Inside the rubber chest cavity were phony organs.
The swimming pool was large and echoing with wet plops. A row of young kids in bathing suits stood behind her, slouching miserably in their grief. Null stood beside the instructor, dripping chlorine from every pore, but feeling mellow for all that.
“I can’t stand the smell,” she said. “I don’t know how others do it.”
Her hands were wrapped in heavy rubber gloves. Null shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another.
“We have examples from real life,” he said. “Jeffrey Dahmer, for instance, told his neighbors the unpleasant smell wafting out from his apartment was simply rotten beef from one of his freezers malfunctioning. Henry Lee Lucas drove cross-country with the remains of Frieda Powell wrapped in pillow cases in his car. The smell must have been unbelievable. Yet, when he was stopped, he claimed to the policeman it was just garbage. The cop said it smelled like hell, and hurried him on to get the hell away from him…”
“Serial killers have an ability to withstand strong, unpleasant odors. I read that somewhere. Oh yes, I read it in Colin Wilson.”
She put her hands in the plastic chest cavity, pulled out what seemed like a continuous string of chicken gizzards, tripe, rubber hearts, and old slops of grey liver.
“It still doesn’t make it any easier. What about you?”
The instructor looked at him with eager eyes. She had short, brown hair with frazzled, split ends, and large plastic-framed glasses. He noticed she was wearing a bathing suit under her white lab coat. He said, “Oh, I don’t really do this work. It’s just not me.”
She looked puzzled. She jiggled sloppy wetness between her hands, weighing the respective coils of intestine like Lady Justice.
“Then why are you here?”
He didn’t have an answer. But he didn’t let it bother him.
Note, this is a very beautiful and dream-like piece an old friend wrote for me for my birthday.
After the explosion, we spent weeks sifting through the rubble. No one, not one of the many people who showed up to help, wanted to go near the single untouched house at the epicenter of the destruction.
So I did it.
The house was in perfect order, nothing out of place. The refrigerator was full, the kitchen table held a bowl of oranges. Everything was arranged as if the owner had merely stepped out for an evening walk, and intended to return. The only thing out of place, the only incongruous thing in the entire house, was the writing on the kitchen wall. In clear, black marker pen, it read:
I know a word you can live on for a year.
I know a word that stops time, and another that speeds it up.I know the language of birds, and the tongues of the insect peoples.
I know a word that can kill, and another that brings animals back to life.
I know why your temples pound, and why you wake in the night gasping for breath. I know why you feel a slow mounting tension, a roaring in the ears, a fire in the blood.
I do not know how to make it stop.
There is a bomb in the universe next door, an explosion of energy.Energy is only matter speeded up.
Matter is only energy slowed down.
Energy can become matter.
Prepare to be invaded.
—Later, late at night, I went back. I don’t know why.
It was 3am. The world was dark and silent. Overhead, the cold stars looked down on the world through an unclouded sky. I thought about how I was looking out, and not up, at the stars. I went inside.
The house was just as before. I had no flashlight. I used the pale light of the stars, and the waning moon, to see my way around.
There was the writing, clear and stark on the wall, even in the dim light. I approached it. Reached out to touch it.
There was a sound, something distant and faint, impossibly far away.
I came closer.
I put my ear against the wall.
Distant, far and faint, I heard it. The sound of titanic machinery. Of gears and mechanisms so vast, so powerful, that they can create worlds.
Or destroy them.
I left. I walked away into the night. I don’t know what happened to the house. For all I know, it is still there.
Sitting in a crowded room at a party. On the wall I’ve posted some pictures. Told the story a thousand times. UFOs flying over so I draw. The faces are all smooth and beautiful. Alone I am trying to explain my music.
“It’s an abstract mass. Random nothingness shitted out into the audio void. A real statement.”
They think that it is bullshit. And you know what? They are probably right.
The house right now is filthy. It’s a basement. Crawlspaces leading off into corridors, floors sinking into the shit of the earth, brutal fingers reclaiming what once was a spot humans could inhabit. No more dreams, say I, and turn back to my workstation. It’s an audio workstation of worrisome cables and little boxes. No one knows what’s going on. Someone mills about with a beer. I think it is the tall blonde boy that sings in the rock band.
I get up to walk up the stairs, out of the basement, but there are boxes and shit on the stairs, and people sleeping there like it is fucking Soylent Green, so I have to make my way carefully. Up, and up I go. Outside, into the hall. Wonder why everything is so subterranean.
Guy rolls over in bed. I am suddenly in a room. He is an old friend. Lousy lump under the quilt. The room is a wash in flying dust motes of sunlight, little eddying pools of darkness, but he is a painted frenzy of bright, psychopathic intent. I am stunned to speechlessness.
Gun. In his hand.
“I want to take that away from you. Please.”
I feel like this is a huge imposition on our former friendship. He sits up. He has grown immense breasts since the last time I saw him. His head is covered in a white kerchief do rag, makes him look like Jean-Paul Marat.
I take the gun. He smiles. I pass out of the room in silence. The hallway is dark. The gun disappears down the front of my pants. But this is no mystery to me.
Last night I had a dream, I remember, as I try to circumnavigate the weird contours of this occult building. (How in the hell did I get here?)
In the dream, I was living in a dormitory-style room with a bunch of sexy girls. Or, at least, that’s what I took them to be. We were all watching hockey or soccer, I can’t remember which. I am reclining on a bed against the wall. It’s a small bed.
Suddenly, a female professor comes in. She lies down beside me. She begins to rub her hands on my legs, and I feel myself getting turned on. Hockey goes on and on and is a dull game; the British call soccer “football,” but it is still only soccer.
Which reminds me.
Luke got out of the cab. He looked at the address on his slip of paper. Yes, he thought, I’ve come to the right place. Around him, traffic continued to hum and thrull, and daylight slanted down in eddying arcs of brightness mixed with dust, exhaust, and the peculiar flying grit that penetrates your lungs when you breathe cotton like a fish in the summertime. Someone rumbled a dull fart of a horn blast, and a trucker thought to himself, “Yes, she looks like she would do nicely. Tie her up, make her suck it. She would like to suck it.” Below him, stashed under the seat, are half-a-dozen crusty fuck mags.
Girls walk by in auras of innocence. Kids pedal bikes into the flaccid breeze. I was never here, but Luke told me about it.
The walk is cracked leading up to the door. On each side, roses and crab grass shoot like little withered dwarfs of vegetation that God somehow misplaced when he was making the rounds. So nasty. Yard is strictly run-to-riot, a nonsense tableaux of weeds and broken toys, plastic Nerf balls and bits of this and that; beer bottles glint in sunshine sparkle, sending out white hit points of fire. Bees buzz around Luke’s head.
He walks up the steps, walks down the cracked cement. Some idiot bastard child has sketched a fractured hopscotch sketch, like a puzzled Chinese ideogram upon the walk. Little feet pounced here clutching pebbles in the boiling breeze, long ago.
Jump ropes scattered on the porch. He walks up creaking wood to the front door. Jesus peers at him from beyond the rusted screen.
He pulls open the door.
It has been long months since last he saw Clem. It was at the institution, where Clem was a fellow inmate. Both of them got along well enough. Then they became fast friends, Clem leading Luke in little mind games, and dragging him around the maze of his own speculations and philosophical meanderings. Clem would sit back, lace his hands behind his head and say, “Well, Luke old bean, what do you think of that? What do you think of that, eh? Does that sort of speculation tickle your fancy?”
And Luke, who was obsessed with philosophical meandering and Derrida, and post-structuralism, and deconstructionism, and probably some other stifling, muddy thinking pushed out by Frankfurt School Marxists, would lean over the cracked plastic table, what had scratches and scrawls and doodles of mad little faces on it, and just stare at Clem, like he had never seen anything quite so strange and wonderful in all of his life. And maybe he hadn’t.
And so the two of them created a sort of meeting of the minds. And conversations around the card table went on long after the other patients had gone to bed. Out during Rec Time, when Clem would stand there with his curly, sandy hair blowing in the hot breeze and a cigarette hanging out of his weird, fish-like lips, he would expound upon his philosophies. Luke was always an attentive listener.
“Now I don’t believe for a moment anyone actually ever believes they are going to die,” he would say as beyond the wall, trucks and busses rumblyfarted by in the distance. The Head Nurse would scratch cryptic pyramids in the sand with her white shoepoint.
“Won’t happen. Suppose I am a solipsist, Luke. Are you real? Only in the confines of my imaginings. The mind is simply a sender-receiver, nothing more. We just aren’t sure yet who is doing the broadcasting.”
Clem looked up, his face shaded partly by the shaking branches of an old tree overlooking the patio. Patients milled around in drugged and bored apathy. Minutes fell like a sledgehammer thump upon the skull of the world.
“God, I suppose Clem. God is the sender. We simply decode the signals.”
Clem looked off into the distance. In the distance, two men in orange vests were laying down a number of traffic cones. The smell of hot tarmac competed with burning cigarette in the stifling air.
“Yes. But he’s a cruel bastard, isn’t he?”
Luke realized he loved Clem, a little.
They corresponded by mail a few times, but it seemed a rather dull alternative to the conversations. Clem expounded upon God, death, the nature of time, dreams…Luke took it all in silently, responding as best as his limited knowledge would permit. Days turned into months.
Luke’s mother was ill. Died. He moved into the halfway house. He learned to cook meals. There was no one to speak with, no one to pry open the vistas of his mind. There were a number of mentally-impaired who slopped dinner down their chests.
A girl crawled on the floor. Chester, a very lazy, large boy stuffed full of psychiatric medication, often fell asleep outside on the lawn. His huge bulk was usually shaded by a pathetic tree.
Luke was detached. Disconnected. His mind was empty. What had ever convinced him to seek out anything beyond himself? The world was what it was; it smelled of disinfectant, dirty ass, and the musty funk of crooked hallways. Darkness impeded and perverted his sense of self. He was withering on the vine, tuning out.
So he no longer felt, no longer thought. Vague impressions and hints of possibility disappeared, just as questions of meaning and time became irrelevant. There was no time; there was a steady stream of dishes to do.
But he often thought of noble Clem, with his sandy, curly long hair, and his tall, gangly figure, who knew so much and talked so plainly and yet whose mere questions resonated like music, infuriated and bothered Luke, who had never had his mind picked apart by anyone save his psychiatrist. So.
He knew Clem was supposed tro be living here. He had gotten the address by hook and by crook, but he had finally tracked him down. He wanted to resume his short-lived friendship.
He started to knock on the screen. His hand froze mid-way in the air. Suppose Clem answered? After so much time had passed, what could he possibly have to say to him? Would Clem even remember him? Luke had always been the silent one, the cold, aloof one, unsure of how to process Clem, or even how to respond to his exhortations to “break free” from the weak, pathetic ennui that gripped Luke’s life like a vice. A horsefly landed on his fist; the cabbie was snoozing in the road. Someone somewhere was playing godawful rap bass.
He knocked at the rickety screen. Little wonder the thing didn’t just come off its hinges. As it was, it was hanging by crooked, rusted threads across the face of the battered wooden door. Inside, a heavy funk of mildew. Darkness. Nobody home, then?
He waited dull seconds, ticking into a full minute. The cabbie, a withered man in a ball cap, would eventually become impatient. Luke wondered what would transpire in the next few minutes.
He could hear creeping in the gloom. The creak of footfalls pounding on old, loose floor boards. The whining cringe of the door being drawn back, seconds after the clink of a falling chain; the rattle of a loose handle, the click of a dead bolt…
An old woman, a toothless crone in a rumpled polyester dress. Bored eyes like dull pinpoints of black boiled hate and apathy; loose shitty curls of grey hair ringed a dusty, creased face, with dust caught in the withered folds. One arm up on the doorjamb she leaned, her large, droopy visage eyeing Luke warily.
Long minutes. Clock ticking. Horse fly buzzing. Stranded in a macabre moment of dream-like resonance, Luke could barely spit out the words he wanted to say. They were caught in his throat like a bone, choking the sensibilities out of him until he felt quite dizzy with fear and apprehension.
Finally he managed.
“Clem? Is he here?”
The woman turned, cast her head back off into the stifling darkness, seemed to work her toothless maw for a moment, and spoke to someone who might as well have been invisible.
“No. No Clem here.” Pause. “You must have the wrong house.”
Luke paused, unsure of how to proceed, lifted the paper up to his face, and said, “No, no I’m certain of it. This is the right house…right address. I was told that Clem Johansen lived here as a tenant.”
The woman smiled, moved her crochety old head back and forth like a slow, mesmerized cobra, and said, “No. No Clem here. Not for a long time. He left two weeks arrears in rent. Left all of his stuff, too. What I couldn’t sell is in a closet downstairs here. Want to come in and take a look?” As an afterthought she added, “Friend of yours?”
Luke said more confidently, “Yes. An old friend. Haven’t seen him in awhile. Do you know where he went?”
The old woman smiled again, exposing black gums in a blackened mouth. Licorice-colored orifice. She seemed bothered but amused in equal measure.
“No idea and don’t care. Lazy alcoholic bum. Come on in, he left a few things. I’d of thrown ‘em out, but I must have known you’d be coming. Or someone like you.”
She turned and Luke followed into the large foyer, which smelled of mildew, and creaked and groaned under the feet, and was choked with dust. The floor was a litter of broken children’s toys and discarded rubbish.
Furniture was badly out of place. Elvis peered in black velvet relief from the wall overlooking the sagging couch. A single television was churing out a combination of fuzzy static and game shows. All was.
The closet. Luke opened up the rickety door, his hand squeezing the rusty handle lightly, not liking the boney wobble of it, pulling back the heavy wood, which seemed to catch against the floor and scrape long and hideous. Inside a pack and a pink blanket. Luke went inside and grabbed eagerly. The old woman disappeared.
The pack was full of a few old books, Heidegger and Nietzsche and an almanac and a few thriller paperbacks. Nothing special. He dug deeper and found filthy shirts and under things, old candy wrappers, a deck of pornographic playing cards, a bandanna, a buck knife, a headband with feathers and beads on it, and a pair of work gloves. He discarded all of this on the floor. He found a necklace, a cheap little twisted thing that had a sort of rusted pig-shaped piece of metal hanging by a beaded thong, and stuffed it in his pocket. He had no idea what it meant.
Then he found the photographs.
People posed in various erotic shots; mother, sister, fellatio, cunnilingus, people fucking on roller skates, people doing it perched precariously on the edge of toilets and leaning into urinals, and sitting on sinks and down on all fours with strings of beads shoved up their asses. He flipped through them, feeling his breath suck in a little. There were phony bondage shots, bored women tied with handkerchiefs and leather belts, standing in black lace panties in empty rooms, while men whose faces were cleverly hidden from the camera prodded at them with riding crops and whips. Some of the women had clearly been crying; a few of them looked bored, their flabby bodies painted in stark relief by the gritty black and white images.
Intermixed were quite banal scenes of a family at picnic. Mom and dad and sis and, perhaps, Little Clem, from decades ago. A few grainy images, perhaps thirty years old. He pocketed all the photographs.
The old woman shuffled out of the darkness, pointed her fingers, snapped a few times, and said, in an accusing voice, “Here now, you’ve made a mess. Pick it up. Come on, pick it up. Here, I’ll get you a bag.”
In truth, the whole place looked as if a cyclone had just ripped through it, but Luke knew better than to protest. He got up, felt his knees popping, and bent over, taking the garbage sack from the old woman and stuffing the heaped contents on the floor into the plastic opening.
He had quite a Santa Claus sack once he was done. He slung it over his shoulder. The old woman stopped to look at him in the gloom of the living room, as if to consider for a moment what he was doing here and who he was, and then turned, cast her eyes to the floor, and lead him out, saying, “Well, sorry I couldn’t be of more help to you, but I’m an old woman, and I just can’t keep up on the coming and going of tenants. I’m eighty years old this year.”
Luke apologized for any inconvenience, and stepped back out into the heat. The cabbie was still waiting at the curb. Somewhere, a car alarm had started wailing out terror to the bored, apathetic streets.
He got in the cab with his sack, looked at the address, crumpled and folded in his hand, and slowly began to tear it into pieces. Suddenly, he realized he would never see Clem again, that Clem might well be dead, that, for all intents and purposes, he WAS dead.
No connection. No more conversation. No more mental touch.
Tears began to roll down his cheeks, The cabbie looked back in his rearview mirror, never once changed expression, continued his board driving with a face that might as well have been molded from plastic. Luke began to sob violently.
When he got back to his flat he turned on a Whitehouse album, possibly cranking the volume far too loud. He felt cold, alien, lizard-like. He was in a place where emotion couldn’t reach him; he had exhausted that avenue. He sat in his chair and lit up the end of a joint. After a few hours, he disappeared in folds of electronic noise, his alien self covered by a harsh wall of icy sound, allowing no light to pierce through. He sat down in his rocker, the room spinning a little. He closed his eyes. Behind the closed lids, images danced, erotic and playful and hideous and murderous and full of cold, sadistic glee. Killing the center of himself that needed anything but freeze.
He slumped over in the chair, put his head between his legs, and, were it not for the marijuana buzz, might have vomited. He could hear the clock tick, loudly.
And so he sat until the room grew very dark.
It is dark where I am at. There is a fenced-in run, a gravel and dirt path running between two chain-links topped by barbed wire. On either side, a house leans crazily over, spilling out into the yard. The wall on either side has been ripped out, so you can see directly into the living room. Someone, a mysterious stranger, hands me a microphone.
“Tell them Null, tell them all about the money scam and the Federal Reserve.”
I proceed to do this, and realize I am talking to a bored group of twenty-something college dropouts, all adorned in baggy clothing and flannel shirts. One of them is the tall, blonde boy in the rock band. Apparently, no one wants to hear what I have to say, as they all run through the opening in the fence and hide out in a living room. I told you, one side of one house is open, wall torn down, facing the opposite house in the same condition.
So I follow. Microphone in hand. Bored eyes stare at me blearily across haze of marijuana smoke.
“They print up the money, but there is nothing backing it. They want to create economic boom times, they simply flood the economy with phony greenbacks. They want to create economic busts, they take all that money out of circulation. Big deal, Like it grows on trees, right? No more real than anything else in this phony world.”
My voice is scratchy, and it sounds like I am broadcasting across time and space through the oldest Mexican radio in the world. I realize my captive audience is asleep. They struggle against each other in bored derision, a jumbled knot of twenty-something men and women lying across couches and sofas and sprawled out drunkenly across wooden floors. Party house, and everyone is passed out. I realize my lecture on the Fed will have to wait.
I go back out, step across the opening in the fence, walk out onto the dirt run, and am met by the Sheriff. Tough guy. Hamhock fists and swollen belly, brown uniform and porn star moustache over bitter little teeth. Chews tobacco, obviously.
He says nothing intelligible. Or, at least, nothing I can remember later. His big imposing bulk fills the night with flying bits of gravel, as he jumps up and down, like a moon man, his arms held stiffly out at his sides, his face a comic mask of anger; he looks like a hopping mad little boiler about to discharge a heavy jet of steam from his ears.
One of his shadowy cohorts, who hides in the background drinking beer, asks him what he is doing. He replies, “I’m demonstrating my interrogation techniques.” I swear to God, that’s all I remember.
I leave him to jumping in the dirt, realizing he is a rowdy character. I go back through the opening in the fence, into the living room, past the lotus-eaters, and down the hall, getting lost in the maze-like shadows and interplay of old doorways and little nooks and crannies that end in nothing.
In a room a man and a woman make love. Dirty room, little bed with rumpled, filthy sheets. The woman has a wonderful body, which I at first think is painted white. She looks up at me, rolls off of him, and her eyes are pinpoints of solid black. I do not understand. Her head is bald, smooth, and she has no nipples. She is chalk white. And smooth between the legs.
She has long fingernails. She starts to rip her pearly white skin off in massive hanging chunks. I can see the dry flaps of it hanging from her, as if she was simply some sort of bizarre snake shedding for the first time. Bloody scars criss-cross her arms, and she becomes a mass of oozing red and white.
“Do you like me? Do you see what they’ve done to me? Do you like me better this way, or the other?”
She was covered in white latex, some sort of skin suit. I shake my head, thinking this isn’t possible, that I must be back with the lotus-eaters dreaming. The bed becomes a sodden mass of blood and white skin, as she continues to shred her outer layer, revealing a blood-streaked torso even more lovely than what I first imagined.
Slowly, I drift out of the room, back down the stairs, tearing my crummy pictures off the wall. So I end up where I started, sitting in a chair, losing consciousness, becoming a fly on the wall.