It is Snowing Thinly in the Yard

it is snowing thinly in the yard.

Go in the door, and the place is large and cavernous, haunted, and only the television in the back room seems to be working. I hear a bitchy voice, outside, which is “Emily”; and I know she has come to scrounge or scavenge, just as I. Out front, it is muddy, and Granpa sits in a little scoot-chair, pointing to an airplane up in the sky. It is suddenly 1917, and he has regressed to the point of infancy. In the yard, over a puddle, a gaggle of women surround a dispatch runner trying to fix a motorbike. He has on a flight cap, goggles, is extremely thin, and possesses three amazing tusk-like front teeth–could almost be false. Actually, most likely they are.

Then, on the set of Ken Russell’s Gothic. Sitting with the cast in a castle room, and someone somewhere in a room beyond, a ruined room, is weeping. I say “that one annoys me” to the assembled, but move forward through space and who knows time with my drawing pad.

And begin to draw, and even the mountains look good and natural as I move into a new technique.

And it is a weeping woman ULALUME, “La Llorona,” I suppose. But next, we have the Monster laid out on his surgery table, and a whorish slut walks like slippery dung from a duck’s ass down the length of the table; and I think, “Russell’s camera captures everything organically, making no value judgments as it pulls back and lets her slow-motion saunter sexily slide (she is wearing white hose, panties and garter, and what seems a sweater, with flowing curls and not much else) down the length and breadth of the viewers subconscious.” Russell.

Lastly, at a counter in a dimly-lit area of the villa that is, apparently, a sort of modern clinic. Shelley tosses a burning fireball at me, who am Renfield, and I slap it back as Byron, a hulking, cloth-masked character who is playing at being the Monster chases me into a waiting lavatory and I awake thinking of the “Ode to Joy” and Carl Panzram. The End.

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The Value of Work

Once upon a time there was a very lazy fool. He loafed all day, and he loafed all night, and he begged in the alleys, and he picked through the gutters in the street for a few scraps. Anyone who tried to employ him was soon disppointed, as he was too stupid to do much of anything right, and even the simplest tasks wore him out and made him fall fast asleep.

Those that hired him regretted it later, and so the lazy fool was sent packing in quick succession, job after job. He soon found himself cast from the village, the other villagers throwing rotten eggs and tomatos at him if he stayed, or chasing him around and beating him with sticks.

So out to the forest he went, although he was too foolish to even bewail his sorry lot.

“Oh, I like it out here alone,” he thought instead. “It is so peaceful, so tranquil, and no one throws stones at me, or chases me away!”

And the sorry fool sat down and began to pick up scrub brush and old sticks with which to build a fire. (He had brains enough for this. Otherwise, when unoccupied, he was usually content to sit and pick wild flowers, staring like the fool that he was into empty space. When asked his thoughts by passersby, he couldn’t reply; for you see, he hadn’t any.)

Soon it began to get very cold, and it was very damp. In time, the fool leaned over on his elbow, and began to feel very sleepy. But he was too hungry to sleep; so, his stomach rumbling around disconsolately, he got up and began to forage for seeds and nuts.

After awhile, with the sun dipping low in the horizon, he realized he wasn’t going to have any luck. He began to feel very sorry for himself, and, as tears began to well up in his eyes, he bemoaned his sorry fate, exclaiming, “Oh, woe is me! Woe is me! For I am hungry, and there is nothing to eat! I am thirsty, and there is nothing to drink! I am cold and tired, too, and there is no soft place to lay my head, and no blanket to keep me warm! oh, whatever should I do? If only I had a little money! If only I had learned the value of work, I wouldn’t be in this predicament!”

And with that, he fell to weeping. It was a moment later, though, that he heard a voice say, “Thou fool! why weepest thou?”

And he looked up, and saw the most spectacular thing that he had ever seen in his rather unspectacular life.

It was an angel, breathing fire and waving a sword that shone like a tongue of flame. The fool covered his eyes with his arms, and exclaimed, “No! No! Please, don’t show yourself in that form. It is too wonderful and terrible for me to stand!”

And the angel, realizing that this was indeed the case, suddenly changed form again, so that he wore a relatively normal skin of human flesh, complete with tattered clothes and worn-out hobnailed boots (as if he had been traveling long and hard. Which, to be honest, he rather had).

“Fool!” he said, pointing one thorny old finger in the Fool’s face, “I have heard your complaint, and smelled your despair, and listened to your belly rumble like stones in a sluice. So I have been sent by Him to alleviate your suffering and show you the way. For, it is well known in all of heaven and earth that a man who does not know the value of work shall go hungry and be sore beset. But a man who KNOWS the value of work will never, ever go far wrong.”

Well. at this the fool found himself perplexed, and not a little frightedned. What, pray tell, did the Angel mean? he wanted to ask. That he should be put to work doing the same awful things he hated, over and over again? It seemed as if that was what he was saying.

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but, I’m a little confused as to what you could possibly mean. How, by the by, am I to be taught such a thing?”

At this, the Angel replied: “Why, the thing is simplicty itself! Here…”

And he produced, seemingly from thin air, a great coat, which was green and gold, and only had one tremendous pocket on the side.

“Whenever you reach into the pocket of this coat, you will produce exactly two klopins. You can do this only once a day, and you must not keep whatever money remains after you have purchased food and drink. You may not sleep in an Inn, you may not sleep in a warm bed; you must not tarry in house or shop, and you must, under no circumstances, give any of your extra money away. You simply thrust your hand into your pocket each day, to retrieve your paltry earnings, and you spend what you have; ALL of what you have, wherever you are. Then, you move on.”

And, upon hearing this, the Fool scquealed with delight, and taking up the coat, put it on himself and said, “Oh! Fortune has surely smiled upon me! For, I thrust my hand into my pocket, and out comes money enough for bread and meat! And it shall really be so, day after day? Forever?”

“Aye,” nodded the angel. “It shall be so. Until you have learned the value of work from the penury of idleness.”

And the Fool, who must have thought fortune had finally smiled upon him, bent, and bowing to the angel, exclaimed again and again his comlplete and utter gratitude. The angel said, in turn, “Take heed! Thou mayest not thank me for such a gift, once thou has learned the value of work.”

And with that, he disappeared.

The merry fool, now adorned in his great coat, took off happily down the dirt trail through the trees. Shortly he came to a village inn, a place he remembered he must not sleep or tarry long. He was, however, hungry, so he went inside and addressed the fat, huffing and puffing innkeeper thusly:

“Oh sir, I have traveled this way and that way, and up and down and all around, and hither and thither and yon. Might I not have a good hot meal and a mug of ale, to fill my belly and parch my thirst?”

And the innkeeper, about to turn away the mouldy, strange tramp, instead thought better of it and asked: “Well, do you have any money?”

To which the fool replied, “Oh, certainly. Here, here are two klopins. Will that be sufficient for a good meal and a mug of ale?”

And the innkeeper, seeing the tramp’s arm thrust out, and two shiny klopins upturned in his palm, said slowly, a grin cracking across his face, “Why, certainly, sir! One klopin will be sufficient. That’s the price I charge.”

At first, upon hearing this, the fool was overjoyed. Then he began to be dismayed. He said, “Oh, but I really must insist upon paying TWO klopins for the meal. As, you see, I must spend my two klopins every day exactly, as I am wearing a magic coat that was given to me by an angel. And the angel saith,’Spend thus thy two klopins daily, and take none of the difference with thee, lest thou lose thy bread and meat, and then thou shalt NEVER know the value of work.'”

But, upon hearing this, the innkeeper began to feel troubled, for he did not want to earn a reputation in the neighborhood as a man who would cheat a poor, foolish, mad beggar. So he said, “Sorry, sir! But I cannot possibly charge a man TWO klopins when one , most certainly, would suffice! Perhaps you had better spend the other klopin on a bed for the night!”

But the fool realized he could not do this. he began to feel sorely troubled, and said to himself, “Oh! This free money business is not all it’s cracked up to be! perhaps I would have been better off if someone would have taught me the value of work, instead of giving me this magic cloak wherein I must spend two klopins, and exactly two klopins, every single day!”

And, with that, he fell to foolish weeping. Overhearing him, a man that had been drinking at a nearby table sauntered over and said, “Sir, if you’ll allow me to introduce myself, my name is Gunnar, and I couldn’t but help overhearing your poor lament to the innkeep. If it is money you are looking to divest yourself of, then I, most certainly, am your man!”

And with that, he held out one long, dirty hand as if to implore the fool for his single klopin. At hearing this, the fool recoiled in horror, remembering the angel’s warning that he couldn’t, under any circumstances, give his money away.

“Oh no, sir!” excalimed the fool. “I certainly couldn’t do that! But, I suppose, if thou art agreeable, I could buy thee something, and that wouldn’t violate the terms of my ownership of this magnificent, magical coat. Look, I’ll buy you a bed for the night; for, I, myself, am not allowed to lie in a bed, or sleep in an inn, or tarry long in hamlet, village or town.”

And the man, looking at him askance, nonetheless agreed to what he said, and went upstairs to his slumber.

Well the fool, noting that it was raining, and, not liking to get soaked from head to foot, but, likewise, having no good place to sleep, spent the dark, thunderous night walking around and around the inn, seeking the scant shelter of the awning against the storm, cursing his luckless and sorry lot in life, and wondering at the irony of having a coat that gave him two klopins daily, yet, could provide for so few of his many, many needs.

“I tell you, it is simply not fair!” he wailed, soaking wet and shivering.

“I have a coat that gives forth money from its pocket; yet, to use it, I must never do this, and always do that, and never take this much, and always take that! Oh, how in the world is this supposed ot teach me the VALUE OF WORK?”

Unbeknownst to the fool, the man whose room he had paid for was a notorious bandit captain, a highwayman of ill-repute. Upon conferring with his gang, he had informed them, “There is a man about the grounds of this inn with a coat full of klopins. Come, let us murder him, and sieze his coat, and the money will be ours!”

And these ruffians and scoundrels, none of them EVER having learned the value of work, hid amidst the trees and shrubs, and swiftly moved, as the fool was stomping in the mudd and cursing his luck, to waylay him.

They cornered him in the dark, and began to beat him savagely, all the time exclaiming, “Give us that coat, you scoundrel! Give us that coat!”until finally, they managed to rip it off of him.

They went through the pockets in search of the klopins they thought to be hidden there. But, sure enough, as the fool was the only one that could reach into those pockets for money, and thus make the magic work, they came up huffing and puffing and angry as hornets…but empty-handed for all that.

The biggest of them, who had mangled the coat in his heavy, dirty fingers, spat in disgust before throwing the thing in the bushes. The three men then beat a hasty retreat into the darkness, leaving the fool a poor, beaten husk to bleed all over the wet, muddy ground.

“Oh!”, he said to himself, madly, “Woe is me! Woe is me! Here I grovel in the mud! here I welter in my blood! And my belly is rumbling, and my nerves are jangling, and my head feels like a crushed egg! And I still have yet to learn the VALUE OF WORK!”

And, weeping bitterly, he went into the bushes to fetch his magic coat.

He wandered through the forest the whole of that long, wet, miserable night, until he came to the gates of a city. At the gates, a little watchman in a booth guarding the entrance, came forward.

Looking at the poor, bedraggled wretch before him, the gatekeeper, twirling his moustache with one absent-minded hand, said, “And, who, might I ask would you be? And from where, my good man, comest thee?”

The fool said, “Oh, sir! I have been most terribly, terribly used. Three ruffians, such as in the story of Hiram Abiff, came forward and beat me savagely! They left me to lie in the mud, bleeding, and then ran away!”

The gatekeeper, upon heraing this bit of intriguing news, then replied, “And why, pray tell, did they do this?”

To which the fool, being hungry and tired, and also, still quite the fool, answered truthfully, “Because of my magic coat, you see! This coat was given to me by an angel, so that I might some day, he said, learn the value of work.

Well, every morning, at sunup, when I reach into this pocket, I can retrieve two klopins–no more, no less. And I must spend both of them each day, and keep nothing in return, and I cannot give them away to a friend or foe, nor can I sleep in a bed, nor can I tarry long in town or village. Those are the terms of my peculiar service.”

The gatekeeper, still twirling his moustache, said, “Rough terms indeed. Tell me: What do you plan to do while you are visiting our quaint little town of Bergsberbagenbeeck?”

To which the fool replied, “Oh, sir! I am wounded and hurt, hungry and tired to my bones. If I could just curl up on a mat of straw, outside of some kitchen, in an alley, and be fed a little, and perhaps have my wounds dressed by the beggars and street orphans, I shall be a happier man indeed.”

And the gatekeeper considered all of this, and after twirling his moustache a bit more, said, “Well, we have very special laws here, my unfortunate friend.

No one enters or leaves who doesn’t either have business with us, relatives that live here and own bakeries and shops, or is not a citizen himself.

However, for a small fee, ALL of these conditions can be overlooked…”

And the fool, not a bit surprised at hearing this, and delighted that he might buy his way through the city gates and thus find himself something to eat, asked, “How much, then, is the price of admittance?”

The gatekeeper, laughing, said, “THREE klopins.”

The fool felt his heart sink dismally into his stomache. His bruised, battered face became even more downcast. He stated flatly: “I-I only have two.
Until sunup. I’ll die of hunger before then.”

And laughing, the gatekeeper produced, from the hidden corner of the little booth, something long and terrifying he had hidden there.

“Ah, well, then, since you have only two-thirds of the fee, I suppose only two-thirds of you should thus be able to enter!”

And the mad gatekeeper swung a brilliant silver axe brutally down on the fool’s left shoulder.

The Fool, foolish as he was, was yet quick enough to dodge the blow. He jumped out of the way of the madman’s swing; but not so soon enough that he didn’t lose his left ear, like the Roman soldier come in the Gospels to arrest Christ, who was set upon by St. Peter.

There was no one, alas, to attach the poor fool’s ear back to the side of his head, and so, holding the bleeding wound where his ear had formally been, he took off into the trees, howling in agony, cursing his fate and declaring, “Woe is me! Woe is me! For, I have been starved, beaten and had my ear chopped off, all because of this magic coat and my two free daily klopins! Oh, if only I had been a better man, and studied my arithmatic, and learned my letters, and read my grammar! If only I had applied myself! If only someone, at some point, had taught me the VALUE OF WORK!”

And, not having any other way to staunch the blood, he ripped up the right leg of his trousers, and making a sort of bandage about his head, trudged through the murk in misery and despair.

Finally, he began to smell a delicious aroma, and following the lure of his grumbling stomache, finally came to the door of a weird, squat, mushroom-like dwelling that seemed to be half-sinking into the earth. It was round and the roof seemed to be of thatch; which must, he knew, be frightfully bad at keeping the rain out. At any rate, peering in through one of the windows, he saw a great fat woman, with a crooked, beak-like nose, and warts all over her greasy, sweating chins–not to mention a cocked, gleaming yellow eye–working feverishly at a stove. She was baking what he took to be meat pies, and there were a mound of pie fillings in front of her on the sideboard.

His stomache grumbling miserably for food, he finally decided to swallow his fear and, knocking a little pitter-patter on the wooden door, stood back, looking afright, to wait for the old woman to answer.

A few moments later she came, huffing and puffing, to the door. He saw then that she was even uglier and more frightening than what he at first supposed; but, as he was starving nearly to skin and bones, and bleeding to boot, he said, “Oh, Missus, I have been most dreadfully used! I have been starved, beaten, and nearly had my head chopped off by a man that took my ear, instead! I am here bleeding and starving, and, smelling the wonderful pies you are baking, the aroma wafting all through the dense, thick forest trees. I could not help but smell the delicious, oh so delicious aroma, of your baking meat pies.”
And turning his face upward at the wooden sign hanging from the entrance way, which had inscribed upon it a rather curious dragon’s head, and the words, “Mamie’s Magnificient Meat Treats,” he said, “Missus, you must be Mamie. I’m…”
But before he could say another word, the great, fat, ogreish woman put her balled-up little fists on her massive hips, puffed air loudly through her nose, sighed, and said, “Well, aren’t you a fright, luv? My, my, someone’s really gone and done a number on you! I suppose you’ll be wanting a few scraps with which to fill your belly, huh? Well, get in here and start mopping up, then! This isn’t a charity, after all! If you want something to eat, you’re going to have to toil for it, day and night. Maybe after that a beggar such as yourself will FINALLY know the value of work!”

And so he went quickly inside, saying “Thank you , missus! Oh, thank you!”; and he was really sincere, and wept tears of joy as she thrust a mop into his hand, and set him to work.

He toiled day and night, night and day; but his reward was to be bathed and fed cold porridge and leftover pie, so it was rather happily he toiled, and, thanking his lucky stars, he got on his knees that night and, folding his hands and raising his head to Heaven, exclaimed, “Oh thank you, Lord! Thank you! For, have I not been a profligate wanderer, sore beset, and hast not thou seen fit to bting me to this humble abode, all the better to reprove and chastise me, and to, finally, teach me the VALUE OF WORK?”

And so the days turned into a week. Once a day, the old woman Mamie would trundle her cart of pies out the door and down the hill, huffing and puffing through the glade, and past the brook, and to the city gates, to sell her meat pies to the passersby in the streets of dusty, dirty, down-at-the-heels Bergsberbagenbeeck.

The fool would sometimes accompany her; but, on those busy days when there was too much to clean up, he would stay behind and tidy the place, clean the oven, sweep the floors, and suchlike.

Well, the fool could enter and leave any room in the place as he saw fit, but Mamie cautioned him against going into one room, a room with a strange little round, yellow door.

“You aren’t to ever go into that room, under any circumstances,” she said, wagging her finger in his face and cocking her great, rheumy eye at him. “If I ever catch you going into that room, why, you’ll be out the door and on your own in no time!”

And, because the fool most certainly didn’t want that, he obeyed her wish.

This day, however, his curiousity about that room was running very high. He stopped at the door, considered the little yellow brass nob, rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“Hm. I wonder what could be in there that’s so important she doesn’t want me to see. Could it be treasure?”

And then he thought out loud:

“Well, she’s gone. If I take just one little peek inside, how will she ever know?”

And then the fool, because he was a very great fool, had the little brass knob in hand, and was turning it before he could stop himself. He threw open the door, and walked inside, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. What he saw astounded him.

It was a heaping help of mangled DEAD, bodies that had been chopped to pieces! And some of them seemed to be pretty recently killed!

“My word! This woman is killing people and turning them into …her magnificent mincemeat pies!”

And, the horror of the whole thing overwhelming him, he flew from the room and closed the door.

His brain raced madly when he saw that Mamie was standing in the front door, her fists balled at her hips, with a vexatious look on her face.

“Well, well, well…” she began to coo. “I leave for just a few moments, and, sure enough, you’ve gone and done the one thing I told you NEVER to do! You’ve been in the room, haven’t you? Seen the bodies, didn’t you? Know the secret, don’t you? Sure, I kidnap travelers, waylay them on the road at night. Then, I bring them back here, and then I butcher them like hogs! I steal everything they have with them, then I ties them down, I do, and cut off strips of their flesh I do, piece by piece. Then, I take those strips of flesh and fat to bake into my delicious pies! And, do you know what? Folks around these parts love ’em. Think they’re venison, they do! Why, one big fat man comes and buys one every day, and stuffs it into his big, fat piehole, and lets the juice dribble down his fat chins! No one suspects that what they are really eating ain’t venison at all, but their fellow friends and neighbors, what were unlucky enough to run into me as they traveled the lonely forest roads!”

And as she started to speak a funny thing began to occur. Her eyes grew red and bulging, and her face seemed to swell like a balloon, as if it would suddenly pop. Her teeth grew long and jagged, and hung out of her mouth, and her tongue, which the fool saw to his horror was forked, like a snake’s, began to slither and whip about in the air.

Terrified, the fool grabbed the first object he could lay his hands on: a heavy rolling pin.

The ghoulish woman, now swelled to the size of a terrible, growling hog, suddenly leapt toward the fool, her curling, claw-like fingers twisted into talons, as if to tear his throat.

The fool brought the heavy rolling pin down on the bloated old monster. He must have hit exactly the right spot, too, as she exploded like a massive baloon, making quite an unappetizing mess all over the walls and ceiling.

The fool had no idea what to do now. In a panic, thinking he could hear the approach of local forest rangers, he began to stuff the remains of the monstrous old woman into a huge pie tin he found lying about–one that was really quite oversized. He grabbed a cleaver and began to cut the big parts into littler parts. Then, an idea struck him:

“Well, I shall just bake her up into a huge pie, just as she has done to all the others. and then I will trundle the cart out to the city gates, announce myself, be invited in…and sell portions of the huge pie to all her usual patrons. And then I will, truly, understand the value of work!”

And the fool, being such a damnable, daft fool, he actually thought this to be a good idea, started tossing celery and carrots, potatoes and onions and other suchlike into the pot, and then went and began to spread the dough for crust.

Soon, he had made a thorough mess, but he managed to put into the huge, black iron oven the massive pie tin. His only foolish misdeed wa, that the legs of the ghoulish old woman were still plainly visible poking out of the top of the pie.

He baked until he felt it was sufficiently done, then, huffing and heaving and sweating, pulled the scorching hot meat pie from the oven. Even he was astounded at just how big it was.

“The biggest meat pie in all of the land!” he exclaimed to himself, with some sense of wonder. “Why, perhaps it is the biggest meat pie that ever was since the world began.” He then added, with some sens of pride, “Truly, today, I have finally begun to learn the value of work.”

He huffed and puffed and sweated, and finally got the enormous pie onto the pie cart. He then trundled the cart to the city gates, where the gatekeeper, who had previously cut off his ear, looked at him with some sense of wonder. But, since the pie cart was allowed in every day, come rain or shine, he opened the gate and gave the fool entrance, without question.

The fool walked through the city streets until he came to the market place. People ogled and goggled, and little children laughed and pointed, thinking the enormous pie with the two fat legs sticking out (still wearing their striped stockings and pointy-toed leather shoes) was some sort of prank. The fool assured them that it was not. Soon, wary customers began to saunter up, and the fool was only too happy to cut sections of the pie off for his customers, charging them each a single klopin.

“Oh,” said the fat man, who was a regular customer. “It’s so good!”
“Yes,” said another. “It’s always a real treat to come eat here!”
“My, I think I’ll have another!” said a third. But, then, someone in the crowd began to choke.

People began to slap him on the back. Finally, the person spat up what it was that had been lodged in their throat. it fell to the cobbles with a rattle-clatter.

Curiously, the crowd bent low to examine the strange object the eater had been choking on. Then the choking man exclaimed, “Why, it’s a bloomin’ ring! A wedding ring! How did a wedding ring get into my pie?”

And then, as if they suddenly realized that the two fat, stockinged legs hanging from the top of the pie crust were not simply some prank, it dawned on them that they had been eating whoever had owned those legs previously. People threw down their pie tins in the street, and began to wretch and be really sick. After a few moments of this though, they decided they were going to lynch the fool.

Running in terror for his life, the fool turned into an alley, realizing when it was too late that it lead to a dead end. He was finally backed up against a wall when–

“Hey, what’s all this then?”

Two Peelers came around the corner, swinging their nightsticks, dispersing the crowd. The angry, sickened people all began to shout at once, something the two lawmen were not prepared for. Not being able to make heads nor tails of the crowd’s complaint, they arrested the fool, and tossed him into jail.

The fool sat in his cell miserably. “Oh, woe is me! Woe is me! For, despite me having a magic coat that will give me two klopins every day, I have been beaten and starved, had my ear chopped off, slaved for a ghoul who nearly killed me, and have been chased by an angry mob! Now, I have been cast into prison, and I don’t know if I shall ever, ever get out! And I still have not learned the value of work!”

And he began to sob miserably into his arm. Soon, though, he remembered his magic coat, which he still wore, tattered and ripped and threadbare though it now was. He reached into the pocket and retrieved the two farthings. Then, going to the bars of his cell, he called forth the jailer, and said, “Oh, I have here a coat, a magic coat! Why, you see, every day at sunup, I reach into it and I get two klopins to spend any way I see fit. And the two klopins are always there, every day, so that I might have the money I need, and never, ever have to learn the value of work. Would it be worth your while to have such a coat, my friend? If so, just let me loose from this dungeon cell, and it is all yours!”

The guard looked troubled at hearing all of this, but he took the klopins, and went out to find his superior. In time, a tall man in a pointed hat with a wide brim came in the door of the jail. He trailed behind him a large cloak, and the fool, foolish though he was, recognized him in an instant as the Grand Inquisitor–a man of terrible and stern aspect.

Upon looking at the prisoner, the Inquisitor spat, “Thou fool! If thou woudst have simply remained quiet, thou wouldst surely have gotten away with thy mischief; for, no one could PROVE that thou did anything more than bake a pie. Not a single witness could prove murder against thee. Now, however–”

And the Grand Inquisitor grew very grave and stern, and his eyes flashed with righteous fire.

“Now, thou hast confessed to owning a magic cloak, meaning that thou practiceth witchcraft, a devilish art. Dost thou know the penalty for practicing witchcraft in this fair city of ours, my friend? It is DEATH. And thou hast confessed!”

So it was less than a fortnight later that the fool was lead out to the gallows, to the cheers and jeers of the toothless, stinking peasant crowd, who threw rotten eggs and vegetables and spat at him and waved their fists; and he was no closer to knowing the “value of work” than when he began his fool’s journey to rack and ruin.

After he was good and dead, his body was cut down, and his magic cloak was cast upon a heap of rubbish taken from other prisoners, all of whom had been hung.

And after that, no one knows.

The Dog and the Cook – Aesop

A RICH MAN gave a great feast, to which he invited many friends and acquaintances. His Dog availed himself of the occasion to invite a stranger Dog, a friend of his, saying, “My master gives a feast, and there is always much food remaining; come and sup with me tonight.” The Dog thus invited went at the hour appointed, and seeing the preparations for so grand an entertainment, said in the joy of his heart, “How glad I am that I came! I do not often get such a chance as this. I will take care and eat enough to last me both today and tomorrow.” While he was congratulating himself and wagging his tail to convey his pleasure to his friend, the Cook saw him moving about among his dishes and, seizing him by his fore and hind paws, bundled him without ceremony out of the window. He fell with force upon the ground and limped away, howling dreadfully. His yelling soon attracted other street dogs, who came up to him and inquired how he had enjoyed his supper. He replied, “Why, to tell you the truth, I drank so much wine that I remember nothing. I do not know how I got out of the house.”

Kim’s OxyContin

The dreams of the last few nights.

All I remember was moving into a dorm room at some Xtian college
with three rapacious girls.

They took down my Black Sun banner and image of Kali, which I had to hide.

Maybe they weren’t keen on sharing their dorm room with with a fashy Hindu fetishista

…. Anyway, we are all lying in bed (not the same one), and the room is getting progressively more crazily quilted with Xtian and girlie wall hangings spreading like undifferentiated tissue across the face of the sober, sundappled walls… Next, we are all in a bookstore at the mall together, and maybe this is 1997, and A and J are there. The Xtian girl has an ugly McGangbanger boyfriend, poisoned cornrows and a tattoo deftly and ugly sitting atop his brow, and I sit, we are all sitting in a line facing each other, and I try to palm read him. A, (with a disapproving face), gets up and walks away.

Next, riding in a van with J

And probably A too, and J is a brewer of microbeers. We are headed to a south Marion bar that is actually a dream college bar I have dreamed before.

We pass a business that says “Kim’s Oxycontin” on a billboard out front

and I laugh that they are allowed to advertise they sell Oxycontin. Once we get to the bar, the Xtian girls are there, walking around naked; no longer so Xtian.

They have enormous, tube-like cunts

as if someone has stuffed a vaccum cleaner attachment up there.

J is in another room, and I go ask him if he has a certain brew he can deliver.
He shakes his great hairy head

–No.

(The bar itself is a sort of weird, ramp-like affair, the bar wrapping around in a sort of square as it goes up to meet an upper level.)

The naked sluts are sitting next to some long-haired barbarian boy metalhead like a guy I use to work a shit job with as a fry cook, and I ask him if his tee shirt has a barbarian on it. He’s going to get the (huge, gaping) pussies, and me none of course, but I say

–You don’t want me, you want this guy.
Im a bookworm.

I remember

at the dorm putting posters or whatnot on the walls
and some hillbilly maintenance guy got blonde curly hair and a moustache is kneeling beside me examining the wall and he try to crack wise but I make fun of his stupid cracker accent and he get up all offended.

The end…

IF…

There was once a used bookstore just off of the Marion bypass. It was located in a little cul-de-sac, beyond a gravel parking lot, catty-corner with another shop I can’t quite remember. The bookstore was called Redbeard’s books. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would, thirty years later, use a digital publishing platform on something called the “Internet” to sell books by an author named Redbeard. But, I couldn’t have foreseen that at the time.

It was the typical, cramped little place, and very dim inside. Back then, my mother use to wait patiently while I combed video shops (those carried videocassette tapes, which are now essentially museum relics. Back in those days, there were specialty shops on every corner, catering to your particular taste in VHS.) and little junky bookshops. Often, she just sat in the car. Thank God for the patience of mothers.

All I remember of it, from thirty years on, is that the screen door opened up on to two rooms, one where a sort of fat hippie sat behind a desk or counter, surrounded by books…this room leading to two additional rooms, one with heaving shelves of books, and a smaller room with a sort of bin in the center, with books and comics stacked flat. At least, this is how I remember it.

My single purchase at this establishment was a graphic novel adaptation of the movie Bladerunner. A sequel has just been released the month I am writing this; which is a nice coincidence, but has nothing to do with this story.

The other book, Deviant by Harold Scechter, was a true crime biography of Ed Gein. I didn’t know it then, but I would go on to write about Ed Gein myself in three separate books. The Deviant book had grainy, black-and-white crime scene photos that made me feel rather sick. I put the book down as if the vibes from it could poison the soul. Maybe it could, and did. I turned to the comics because they cheered me. It was very dim in that store.

The store was the downstairs of a two-story house, bright white with a cracked pavement walkway around the side to the porch. Well-kept, which was what made the single, cryptic word of graffiti that had been spray painted on the side so perplexing. Around town, I, as many others, had seen such cryptic phrases as “eat shit,” and the even more utterly incomprehensible “1,2,3 CAT!” painted in dripping, horror movie letters on various alley walls and abandoned office buildings. But, “If”? If…what, pray tell? What the hell was the meaning behind this inscrutable expression? And, why was it allowed to drip there, day after day, on that clean white house wall, without anyone ever bothering to paint over it?

That it was the first thing you saw on the way to a bookstore, one brimming full of fantasy and science fiction books, comics, role playing games…maybe it was a challenge to wonder? To fantasize. To dream. It has always struck me that that might be what the mysterious “If” was meant to convey; a sense of plunging headlong into a world that challenged you to ask, “What…if?” What if dragons really slept on piles of gold, in lonely dungeons? What if spaceships flew through the galaxy, hopping from star to star, with alien minds aboard? What if? “Ask yourself,” it seemed to be saying.

“If” is the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It ends with the line, “You’ll be a man, my son.” When I first saw the ambiguous “If” as it had been put upon the clean white wall by some rascally, unknown intellect, (trying to communicate, SOMETHING to the unwary observer), I was not yet, legally, a man. I was probably nine years away from that particular malady.

Rudyard Kipling is considered “politically incorrect” in the year 2017,BTW.

“If” was the name of a science fiction magazine edited by Frederick Pohl. That, in this context, seems appropriate.

“If” is the title of a British art house film, rather obscure, starring Malcolm McDowell, who played H.G. Wells in the movie Time After Time. The film “If…” concerns a British schoolboy who perpetrates a shooting massacre. Today, we live in a world that is rotten with massacres, both shooting and otherwise. Especially at schools. But, in 1987, not so much.

There are other “Ifs”. Silent films. Bad Novels. Forgotten popular songs.
***
IF I had known, in 1987, how much pain was in store for me in life, I might have decided to freeze time in that bookstore, like something from a bad sci fi paperback.

IF I had known what the world of 2017 would be like, what MY world would be like, thirty years ago, I would have chose to stop the clock. I’d be in that damn bookstore forever, and Mom would be waiting patiently out in the car, for eternity.

If wishes were fishes, boys and girls.

If…

A-Haunting We Will Go

Note: First chapter from a new book for young adults.

One of the most frightening places to be is on an old, deserted country road, in the middle of the night. Stories of ghostly encounters abound in such circumstances, and, of course, the most famous account is of “The Vanishing Hitchhiker.”

It’s a story with a few different variations, but the most common one is a person driving home down a lonely, unfamiliar stretch of desolate road. The driver sees, most often, a young woman in the distance. She seems to be in trouble, but is dressed unusually for being out so late, and all alone. The driver of the car, most often a concerned male, a father-figure type, stops and asks the girl if she needs a lift. She gets in the car, saying NOTHING, sliding in beside the driver, who suddenly realizes how cold it seems. He offers to lend her his jacket, and she accepts. They drive on in silence.

The girl says little, but directs the driver to go to an old house out near the cemetery. He does so, but when he pulls up, he at first thinks that the place must be abandoned. He gets out of the car, and the girl gets out too. She then seems to mysteriously vanish! Maybe in a cloud of strange, smoky fog.

Startled, the man goes up on the porch, noticing that there is a light burning in the front window after all. He knocks. A lonely old woman slowly opens the door.

“Hello, I picked up your daughter a few miles back. She was wandering alone, out near the old cemetery. She didn’t say much, but was very cold, so I loaned her my jacket. She told me she lived here, but, now it seems as if she has run away again.”

The old woman has a sad, knowing look on her face. Nodding her head softly, she says, “This happens every year, I’m afraid. She tries to come home.”

The man blinks, not understanding what he is being told. “She tries to come home? From where? What do you mean?”

The old woman heaves a gusty sigh, and answers, “It happened ten years ago. My daughter was invited to the prom by a handsome boy. She had never been asked out on a date before, and now the most handsome boy in class was asking her out. You understand, of course. She was a wallflower her whole life, so this night was pretty important to her. She got the best dress she could find, and dressed up like a princess that night. Oh, she was so beautiful! My only child! She had taken it so hard when her father passed on. She was so introvert, such a loner.

“I waited and waited for her, so happy that she finally was getting the attention she deserved from the boys, and was going to go out and have fun, and, what do you know, I even found out later that she and her date had been crowned Prom King and Queen!

“But, I waited up past two in the morning, and she never came home. Finally, just before dawn, I became frantic, and was headed out the door to go look for her, when the Sheriff knocked, and I knew something horrible had happened.

“They had been to a party afterwards, and there was drinking. She had never been to such a place before, and had no experience of such things. There was a fight started between her boyfriend, and the other guy pulled a knife. She jumped in between them, and she was stabbed. She died from her wounds just a few hours later.

“That was all twenty years ago, but this happens when the anniversary rolls around. She hitches a ride with someone, who tries to bring her home. But, she can’t come home, because she’s already in her final resting place. You go to the cemetery and look for her grave. I’m sure you’ll find your jacket. As for me, I’m an old woman, and I need my sleep.”

And with that, she closes the door, leaving the astounded man standing there, in shock and amazement.

He goes to the cemetery of course, to search out the grave. When he finds it, sure enough, there is his jacket, resting on the headstone of the murdered young girl.
***
Variations of the above include one story of a couple who pick up a vanishing hitchhiker who tells them, ‘Before the night is over, you’ll have a dead man in your car!” He then vanished from the backseat. The couple drive on and, in a short time, come upon an accident. Since the ambulance is taking too long, the policeman at the scene asks them if they can transport the dying man tot he nearby hospital. They put him in the car, but he dies en route. Thus, fulfilling the prophecy.

Yet another variation has a driver picking up a man that looks and scounds like Jesus Christ. The Christ-like figure relates a prophecy of the end of the world, right before vanishing.

The Road Hog (2014?)

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(One from a few years ago.)

The surrounding countryside was scrubby arroyo. The highway cut through it, rendering it vast and empty and dead on one side, sparsely populated by a low skyline of dusty, lonely, intermitten buildings on the other. He found “Skyline Hotel” quite easily. The setting sun was burning up the landscape in a dry was of brilliant orange and pink and bold black shadow-fire.

He got out of the convertible. It wasn’t his. The owner was leaking what was left of her brains out of a hole in her skull, stuffed into a drainage culvert a hundred miles away. For right now, all was well.

He went inside, not liking the faux Western decor, but immensely satisfied with the faded black and whit portraits of dead gunslingers hanging, some of them crookedly, from the wall. Between those pictures was standard thrift-store fair such as clowns, ships, etc.

A fat man with curly red hair and a moustache sat behind a counter in the lobby, which smelled of mildew and unwashed laundry and bad food and stale smoke and something even more unpleasant he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The little man had a black-and-white old-fashioned tube television set in front of him, an item that looked, for all the world, more like a prop than anything. It was apparently playing old porno flicks, to judge by the sound.

“Excuse…excuse me?” he said, approaching the seated figure. Suddenly, a small jolt of recognition tickled his spine. Goose walked over his grave.

“Damn,” he said to himself, “this guy’s dead!”

He thought perhaps the man had had a heart attack while sitting there. perhaps overstimulated by his porn films. If so, he had died with a curious, wide-eyed expression on his face, a sort of Howdy Doodey grin frozen in time across his fat kisser. He put out a gloved hand, experimentally, to feel the figure.

A voice said, “Oh, he’s mine. I was just testing my replacement.”

A little man with a bald head (“A little crawfish of a man,” he would laugh to himself later) walked thoughtfully up to the counter, eyed him warily, and then went behind.

He grabbed his “replacement” by the neck, at which point the air began to hiss out of him

“Just a dummy…dummy.”

he made no reply.

He waited, said, “I need a room for the night. Maybe a couple nights.”

The little man looked down at his feet, but his lower lip (his face was splotchy, as if he had a perpetual case of bad nerves) quivered a little as he said, in an off-hand way, “Oh sure. That’ll be two hundred bucks.”

He goggled.

“Two hundred bucks? For a night in this dump?”

The little man looked as if he didn’t exactly know how to reply, but said anyway, “That comes with the entertainment. Take it or leave it.”

The little man shrugged his shoulders in boredom. The Road Hog took out a battered brown wallet, forked out a couple of bills, laid them on the counter.

“Where do I sign?”

A huge plastic ledger was picked up from beneath the counter.

He carefully scrawled in a fake name. If the little dope wanted some ID, he’d just leave.

“Okay. You need a wake-up call? Room service?”

The little man laughed bitterly.

“How about fuckin’ filet mignon?”

“How about a snifter of brandy and some caviar? Maybe we’ll just forget it, huh?”

The Road Hog exited stage left. Outside, burning on the hot tarmac, his car sent off waves of heat exhaust. He went around, opened the door enough to pop the trunk, and went aound to get his luggage. In a faded, tan overnight bag, he had a human head wrapped in plastic.

He went back inside, put on his best “don’t fuck with me if you want to keep your spleen” face, and looked over at the clerk or whatever. The little man said, “Here’s your room key. Two-oh-one. I’ll buzz you on in.”

He certainly did. With the sort of loud electronic buzzer that is more commonly used in fun house attractions. The Road Hog wasn’t sure, for a second, if he was in a hotel or at a rodeo, getting ready to ride a bucking bronc.

He took the door handle, walked down to the elevator, saw the “Out of oardur” sign, neatly and legibly scrawled across a cardboard boxtop affixed to the door, and then realized he would have ot take the steps.

The sound of drip-drip-dripping seemed to permeate the hollow, echoing stillness of the place. The walls were yellow, peeling, with a few scrawls of absent-minded graffiti here and there.

He made it, not even out of breath, to the second floor. It looked typical and rundown and dull as paste. It looked like roaches went there to die.

The room was sparsely furnished. The smell of the hallway (which had approximated insect spray, cigarette smoke, must and boiled cabbage) was less strong here. There was more a stagnant water smell of old pipes…the building, he realized, could probably get up and crawl away by itself.

“This bed,” he said, talking to himself, “I don’t really want to use this bed.”

He pulled the covers off. He took out some plastic garbage bags he had stuffed in his valise, spread those across the surface of the bed. Then he picked up the remote.

It was an old-fashioned tube TV mounted on the wall. All the channels were fuzzy, except for the one showing porn; probably showing it 24/7. It looked like some loop he had once paid twenty-five cents to see in some grimy little bookstore in Des Plains.

There was a brief commotion out in the hall. He went to the door, unlocked it, careful to keep the chain fastened. Outside, he could see a few guys milling, drunkenly, around a battered hotel room door. One of them seemed, unfortunately, faintly familiar. Shit. The last thing he needed was to be recognized, placed here.

One of them said, “We’re going out for more beer. Be right back. Anyone need smokes?”

Poetry.

Young guys. Party time. Bill and Ted. Excellent.

He shut the door again with a mui of disgust on his lips. On the television screen, a porn star calling herself “Aunt Peg” was being jack hammered at both ends. He would have turned it off, but it was all he had for company right at the moment.

He sat down on the bed, his throat so dry it seemed to be crawiing. He had given up the smoking habit years ago, but right now he wished for all the world for a butt. Something to take the edge off.

The walls felt as if they were crawling with bugs. In the light fixtures, the curling, browning little bodies fried in the sickly yellow glare of the exposed bulbs.

“They commit unintentional suicide. They can’t help it.

They’re attracted to the light, drawn to it magnetically. But then, they can’t get out of the light fixtures. Can’t climb out, even though, oddly enough, they can fly…I can’t see any logic in it. So they die, slowly, we must assume, agonizingly, transfixed next to the source of their great fascination. Dying next to the bright white flame of their light bulb god.”

He didn’t know who he was addressing, and wasn’t sure why he was speaking at all. His voice fell flat, echoless against the bare walls. Those walls looked like they might be a cheesecloth of roaches, infested down to the very rocky, fibrous surface.

He heard the buzzer downstairs.

He waited.

In a few moments, she would be at the door. The whole thing choreographed down to the grim specifics. He knew. He always knew.

A few seconds later there was a knock at the door.

He opened it, keeping the chain securely fastened. A slightly puffy, bruised face peeped in at the crack. It was a woman’s face.

Mascara smeared around the eyes. Face too pale; lips thin and colorless.

“Hey.”

She paused with pregnant . As if that had been a question, almost.

“Hey,” he returned. He wasn’t altogether sure of how to respond.

He undid the chain. She sauntered in. He saw she was wearing a cheap denim miniskirt, a pair of plastic slippers, and a bad strapless top. Yellow.

Her arms were covered in bruises and bad tattoos. She wore no hose; her legs were pale, skinny, the skin was splotchy. She kept scratching absentmindedly at bug bites.

“Yeah, so anyway, I’m Sabrina. You look like you’re new around here. I mean, I haven’t seen you before or anything. Lot of people just passing through I guess. Not so many now, though, since they changed the highway. So yeah…”

She trailed off, sat down in one of the cheap plastic chairs lining the wall.

“Hey, mind if I smoke? I know it bothers some people. Some guys really hate it, I mean, They hate of a girl smokes, smells like smoke. One guy I was with wouldn’t kiss me. said it was just like kissing an ashtray. He still elt me blow him, though.”

She finished this last with a great guffaw, as if it had been the height of hilarity. He sat down on the edge of the bed, eyed her warily.
“No,” he said, as if she had actually been asking his permission. “Go ahead and smoke if you like. It won’t change anything.”

Her eyes narrowed. She began to roll a skinny joint with shaking, dirty fingers. Her fingernails were corroded with pink polish and grime.

“Um yeah, okay. I don’t guess that it will. Anyway, I usually charge a hundred bucks for a hand job. One-fifty for a bj, and another hundred gets you the works. So–”

She toked in, held her breath for what seemed an interminable moment, and then tried to pass the reefer to him. He held up his hand, palm upward, as if to say, “no thanks,” and then smiled. A smile that was perhaps too wolfish, too predatory to make her feel comfortable.

After a moment she asked, “What’s a matter? Don’t you like to talk? Awful quiet.”

She tried to sound disarming, but he could hear the hint of suspicious unease creep into her voice. Her eyes darted to the door, and he thought, She’s judging how long it would take for her to bound over to it, undo the chain, and get out of here.

“No,” he said slowly. “I don’t guess I’m much of a talker.

People should work on being good listeners, don’t you think? It’s much more to their advantage.”

She said,

“Hey, if you want me to come back some other time, I, like, totally understand.”

He knew she was suddenly eager to be out the door, whether or not she made any money or not. He sighed, got up from the bed, went over to the window, pulled back the sash, Outside, the sun was a thin sliver of fiery peach behind a cresting hill. Miles beyond, the lights of the city gave mute testimony to the presence of a civilization they seemed perched just on the edge of. In between, concrete overpasses, railroad trestles, vacant industrial parks (opened like the cancerous maws of toothsome old crones), and miles and miles of dusty scrub alienated this desolate way station of hell from the rest of the world. Here, time froze like the semen in a dead man’s balls.

“Have you ever though about time?” he finally said, turning toward her. He interrupted himself, saying, “I’m talking now. You should be happy that I am.”

Silence.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’re not going to believe what I have to say. In fact, I’m not sure, given your obviously limited capabilities, that you could even understand it. But, you see, we’ve been through this before–”

Silence. Then–

“Yeah, well, okay man. I don’t really have time for this. I mean, I’m going to go ahead and go, okay? Maybe–”

“No, really, just hear me out. No, sit down. I won’t take very much of your…valuable time. I promise. Anyway–”

She seemed curious enough to listen to him. Or, maybe she just thought that this was his come-on. Either way, she remained in her chair.

“You see, everything moves…in circles. Like in cycles. DO you follow me? You do follow me, don’t you?”

He said this last with a thin veneer of hostility. His voice had an icy, cool edge to it he knew could slip out, like a whirling blade, and slice their good feelings as easily as slicing a jugular. She fidgeted in the cheap plastic chair, leaning forward, obviously needing a fix. Her eyes were wide, puffy; bloodshot. Mascara was caked in ugly circles around her swollen lids.

“Yeah, you’ve been bruised. You’ve been battered. Desiccated and dissected again and again. Tell me: who hurt you? Who was it?”

He leaned in close, the smell of her breath making a noxious counterpoint to his rapidly rising interest.

Why do you keep hurting me? he thought she whispered.

But, with tears streaming down her face from formerly dry eyes, he realized, suddenly, that she said nothing.

It was in a bright blue hotel, a wide, spacious place the likes of which had never been built before. A flight of short stairs lead up from a lobby that was cool and carpeted and, also, surprisingly, even shockingly blue.

Blue, blue–blue everywhere. The stumbled their way inside from the street, drunk and with another couple. Up the stairs then, through the glass doors, and into the darkness beyond. The Sanctum Sanctorum.

Up the stairs again (couldn’t they have taken the elevator? But, alas, that would have been too easy.) to the darkness of the upper floor. The four of them stumbled down the hall, into the spacious suite, into the darkness.

Then, stripping off eachothers’ close. Flesh against flesh, tongues entering mouths, fingers groping and plying and pressing.

The young couple fell to the floor laughing, the woman baring her naked breast, the flap of her blouse pulled open and the buttons popped. The man she was with gyrated on top of her, trying to get his pants off, too drunk to do much of anything but stumble across the floor on his hands and knees.

But the moaning and the movement in the shadow old him that the man had found his mark. He could hear the chippy moaning and gasping.

He turned to his own date. The Starlet. The Ingenue.

“You ought ta be in pictures!” he sang softly, sweetly, mockingly.

The dame had fiery red hair. Or maybe it was just some trick of deceptive lighting (how? It was as dark as the tomb in here.) He put out his quivering fingertips, stretching toward her as she reclined her back against a fusillade of pillows. She still had her hat and boa wrapped around her.

“Did…did you ever…did you ever?” he couldn’t get the words out.

She looked at him quizzically. Suddenly, the young couple grinding away on the floor disappeared entirely, and the spotlight seemed to be on the two of them.

“Did I ever what?” she trailed off suspiciously.

He paused, laughed suddenly, said “Did you ever…fuck Clark Gable?” He couldn’t stop laughing, snickering. But she had the queerest, most serious expression come across her.

“Gable? No. ‘Fraid not. Next question.”

She dragged reflectively on her cigarette, held it away from her face at an angle, turned upward. The air in the room suddenly felt twenty degrees cooler than it had previously. All external sound sources seemed to fade being in this damnable hotel to him felt like being digested, slowly, in the belly of the beast.

Cut off from the rest of reality, they were. The world outside ceased to be. Her face was suddenly a cool, placid surface, a sort of living painted surface or waxen effigy. It seemed timeless. No wonder audiences ate up her image up there on the screen. You couldn’t stop looking at those cool, grey eyes, those high, heavy cheekbones, flaming red hair pulled into quizzical and stylish buns. Skin was milk-white porcelain, but she exuded anything but weakness.

She opened her red, red lips (they almost shined black), said, “Why do you keep hurting me?”

He retracted, physically; he felt himself pull away, losing his sensual idolatry, retreat into a cool, husky little ball. He wasn’t certain about the question, but it had the pregnant weight of prophecy connected to it. He started to blubber a lame response, felt his voice catch in his throat.

It was when he came back later he was told he had been banned from the hotel. A little woman in what looked to be a red marching band outfit but was probably some uniform for bellhops told him that his starlet had expressly forbidden anyone without proper identification (whatever that might be) from entering beyond the glass doors, into the cool, otherworldly darkness…

“She’s rented the whole hotel for the next few weeks. She can decide who comes and goes,” yadda yadda yadda.

He considered for a moment how he might slip in anyway, but then thought better of it. House detectives and hotel psychics and snoops and hidden microphones all meant he would, most likely, get caught. And a place like this would certainly press charges.

The little woman in the bellhop uniform or whatever it was shifted from one foot to another. She looked tired, and her nose fidgeted.

“Oh, by the way Mister, she DID give us something to give to you, though. A package. You see how she is? She gave our manager here a whole mess of beautiful flowers for his birthday…”

He was so fascinated by the birthday bouquet, but he said, “I’ll jut take the package and go.”

She looked as if his rudeness irritated her marginally, but reached back behind the counter (curiously, several women with hot plates seemed to be preparing room service with wads of money bulging in one fist, and spatulas in the other), and produced a cardboard box.

He placed it under one arm, went out the sliding glass doors into the busy street.

Later, in the dark of his dingy room, with stink beetles dying slow, brilliant deaths trapped int the light fixtures, he opened the small cardboard box with trembling fingers.

He thrust a hand inside. It was filled with a large passel of photographs. Shocking stuff.

Crime scene. And pornography of an indescribable filth. There were other photos, stuff made on the spot, obviously: women in lingerie, garters, bound and gagged with nylon stockings, posing lasciviously with legs spread, tied down to iron bedsteads; posed with animals, blank stares and bored, hollow cheeks and bad teeth and puffy, swollen eyes.

And then there were the dead women, posed in faux erotic semblance; arms and legs amputated, entrails wrapped around icy ankles and flesh frozen in time.

Severed heads on bedspreads…

His fingers trembled as he dragged shakily on a cigarette. That phrase came back to him again–

Why do you keep hurting me?

And, on each of these photographed faces, these erotic atrocities, he could see the image of his ingenue, his starlet, reflected, like the shattered fragments of a mirrored reflection. And he wondered about time, and the cycle of things.
***

He brought the heavy suitcase out to the boot of car, wheeling it on a little board mounted on roller skates. The desk clerk barely acknowledged his going, seemingly catatonic with his fuzzy, filthy head resting on his skinny, nicotine-stained fingers. he wondered if the man were dead, asleep, or if it were another of the mysterious inflatable dummies the prankster had foisted on him last night.

Outside on the walk, he stopped at a newspaper dispenser and reached inside. He didn’t bother to pay; the door was broken.

He leafed through, reading by the dim orange glow of the crime lights. He finally found an article, buried back a few pages, about the infamous interstate killer the FBI were actively searching for, the fabled murderer the press had dubbed the “Road Hog.” He smiled. That was him.

He was happy that they were taking notice of his handiwork.

But it made things that much more dangerous for him. Obviously, he couldn’t continue like this forever. But there was no turning back, turning away from what he was.

“Big deal,” he said, mimicking the words of one man. “Death always came with the territory. See you in Disneyland.”

He pulled the little rope, wheeled the heavy luggage out to the trunk of his car. The asphalt seemed hot enough to cook eggs on, he fancied he could see thermal exhaust coming from it. A few dire insects pestered him, but they were easily dispatched with a slap. The air was so close you could barely breathe.

He hefted the thing into the trunk. He was lost, momentarily, in a fantasy of what he had heard happened in such hotels as these.

A young couple checks in. Maybe they’ve just had their honeymoon. Who knows? They begin to make love, thinking they are luxuriating in the lap of it. Their sex is really hot stuff, all over the heart-shaped waterbed, sweaty sodden sheets thrust to the floor.

Moaning, groaning, screaming and crying imprecations to God–that kind of shit.

So they go away and forget about it for a few years. And then, maybe ten years goes by, and the man says “Honey, let’s relive all those old memories of our honeymoon night. Remember that old hotel we stayed at? Heart-shaped waterbed and making love all night?”

And she says “Oh, yes! That’ll be just the sort of thing to put the spark back into our flagging romance.” Okay, so maybe she didn’t put it quite like that. Whatever.

So they find that place again, and they go in. And they realize that the place has really gone downhill since last they were there–which was probably ten years.

So they go into their room,and the husband says, “Man, this place looks like it’s turned into a real fleapit since we were here last. Sorry, honey.”

And the wifey forgives him of course, as he didn’t know. And she is unpacking her curling iron or whatever, and he lays back on the bed, and says, “Hey, they have a TV. I bet we can find some dirty movies!” And he flips on the TV, with a glass of wine in his hand.

A few minutes later he drops the wine.

“Oh, me Tarzan, you Jane–aaahhaaa, aaa!”

Oh my god, he thinks, that couple on the screen, in the porno movie–that’s us on our honeymoon night!

And so they both cringe in horror, realizing they’ve been secretly films. He reminds himself that eyes are everywhere, all the time. The walls see, even if they do not speak.

Why? Why do you keep hurting me?

Had he? Did time circle back in on itself, like a great loop or wheel, instead of a flat, angular plane? “Maybe time is a goddamn Moebius strip,” he laughed bitterly. He could see her face still, clueless and terrified, I-can-do-anything-you-want-me-to face. She could be whatever he needed, her and her pockmarked, ugly little visage.

Would he stuff her body under the bed. In the box springs? There was a legend about that, too.

No. He went back inside. The eyes had walls. The walls had eyes. He went back through the automatic door, the high, torturous rude electric buzz announcing his presence to no one, to the darkness. To the flies dying in the light fixtures, to the tics and nits dying on the mildewed sheets.

“Hey, hey bro!”

A darkened voice at the end of the hall. As if in a dream, or maybe a Fellini picture, a stumbling, skinny dweeb looked over at him from the shadow by a half-open doorway. He was talking to a smaller man, holding a beer. There was faint talking from inside. Radio music.

“Hey, hey bro! Damn, imagine seeing you here! Long time no see!”

Whoever this was, Hog needed to lose him. Quick. He wanted to be out of there and down the highway. But, like a bad dream, someone from the past steps in, unexpectedly, haunting you like a walk-in in a bad foreign art film.

“Wow man,” the skinny, taller man sidled up to him in the gloom, said, “it must be like, damn. Twenty years? since high school? When we use to run around together.”

The Hog didn’t know how to respond. He stalled, said nothing, looked blankly at this guy. He knew full well, suddenly, which it was. A high school drinking buddy, a guy he use to bird dog chicks with. He had dumped such garbage long ago, had purified himself. Now, it had returned to haunt him. It and the bad odor.

“Yeah, well, I’m not really. I mean, I don’t have time right now.”

His buddy held out one skinny, twitching hand. In it was a ten dollar bill, a shot glass of what was probably hundred proof alcohol, and each finger was crowned with nails that were skinny, black with dirt.

His friend looked at him blankly. His eyes watered a little. He looked as if he were in there with his boyfriend getting high. Getting stoned. Getting wasted.

The skull beneath the skin twitched It sensed rejection, the face scruntching up until pain could be read on the outlines of the head. The sudden flash of hatred, brought about no doubt by a sense of rejection could be read in every line.

There was a long pause, but like an unstable recording device, the voice jumped forward. Warbled, said–

“Oh, hey buddy, I completely understand. Sure. Right. We’ll have to get together sometime, relive old memories.

“Sure, we’ll do that Bob. Er, I mean George.”

“Jeff, old buddy. Just plain old Jeff.”

It was a terrible name, he thought. Like Todd, or Scott. It denoted a frat guy who might wander around the dorm in his boxers, with a stogie, flunking college English, fantasizing about porn
models, and planning his future as an accountant

But not THIS Jeff, of the dirty fingers and shot glass. He had lost himself in the fabled “Roman Wilderness of Pain” that Jim Morrison had sang about. He had been steam shoveled under his own sense of defeat, his passion for being purposeless. He was a victim of himself.

“See ya,” he said, the smile stretching across Hog’s plastic, too-perfect face as he hefted the heavy luggage out in both hands.

Thorough the plexiglass door, he buzzed to get out. Out into the sleeping hallway, where time was an illusion, hiding like the arched back of a cat in the dark.

On the television an inscrutable dialog proceeding thusly:

“So we go downstairs, to the crook of the stairs.”

“The crook? You mean the first floor landing?”

“Right, right. Some sort of landing where there is a window. And she’s sitting there in a Victorian dress, drinking an iced tea, or whatever. And the guy turns to me, say, ‘We haven’t figured out yet if she’s alive or a ghost. Nobody speaks to her; she’s always there, it seems.”

“Great. I’m betting she’s a former tenant, committed suicide by eating a combination of cough syrup and ant paste. Just like Florence Lawrence.”

“Florence Lawrence? Isn’t she like a cook on TV?”

“No. First movie star. Died in 1938. Today she’d be 129. Say, you want o know how stupid I am? I forgot to water my pussy.”

“Sounds like a personal problem.”

“No, ignoramus, my cat. I didn’t leave any water out for my cat. I come home, she’s on the point of literal death. From hunger, also.”

On and on it went. What was that sitcom? At the desk, the real clerk was sitting, with his deflated alter-ego in his lap, nodding off over a crusty back issue of Hustler. He went outside, carrying his luggage in front of him, not knowing if he was leaving little droplets of red in his wake.

Outside, heat lightning flashed over the hardscrabble earth, the dusty desert landscape disappearing into darkness beyond, with naught but pinpoints of city lights and man-made fires in the distance. In the distance, and up ahead by the never ending march of the boots of TIME, was an ugly strip of bleak fast-food chains, down-at-the-heels strip malls, movie theaters, gas stations, little mini-marts staffed by Pakis named Abdullah. Was this hell? He often wondered.

He opened the trunk, placed the leather carrying case inside, slammed shut the creaking boot. The asphalt was dark and hot, bugs buzzing past his ears. They would die by the thousands in the sleek electric polish of his headlights.

Hot, it was stifling hot. He fancied he could see thermals projecting p like the hideous, shapeless forms of forgotten phantasms–despite the fact that it was still too dark.

The moon overhead, watching him. The newspaper he had nicked on the way out had had a story.

Hog Strikes Again. Nationwide Manhunt. No Suspects. No Discernible Pattern. POLICE FRUSTRATED AND BAFFLED.

He liked that last bit. A foldout in the newspaper (What? Was this their equivalent of a Hustler gate fold?) showed a petty blonde victim. Her face was ice cream cold on the newsprint, her hair fanning out about her in a moment frozen in time, some happy instance that would be imprinted on the memory of whomever she had been with–but not her. Or, maybe?

Did he believe in ghosts?

Why do you keep hurting me?

He slid behind the wheel. Ahead, darkness and the road invited the hog to move onward. To the next great adventure.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot see the falconer…

What was that?

What rough beast is this? Its hour come ’round at last.

Slouches.

“Toward Bethlehem?”

Well, he was headed somewhere. But not there.