American Inferno, A Serial (Work In Progress (Completed and Unfinished)) Novella (Novelette) (Complete) (Part 2)

26 Aug

CHAPTER VIII

We were still in the land of the angry bastards and cowardly no-doers. Walt Whitman assured me I knew more of the temper throwers and would never have heard of any of the eternally socially anxious.     

We continued to sink down as we walked until we were stopped by a black cat.     

“We’re close,” he said, “to the king of the American underworld.”     

“The devil?”     

“No, the devil comes later.”   

 I tried to remember what I had learned in Humanities class back to high school and then in college.    

 “Hades, I asked, Dis. He’s the head of the underworld.”     

“No, not this one. We’re in America.”     

Then the cat approached me, rubbed against me. I shooed it away because I’m allergic, which only made it want to be closer to me. I thought of kicking it, until I saw that it’s eye had already been plucked out. Then I saw, in the foggy distance, a similar profile that I’d seen on bags and phone cases, the unforgettable profile of the head of the American underworld, prince of spirits, ghosts, and all things creepy, the one, the only, Edgar Allan Poe.    

“Shouldn’t he be with the others?” I said, “The alcoholic writers and the like, because he was.”     

“If he hadn’t been so pivotal in the literary and occult movement as he had been, yes, he would be there, or somewhere worse because of the whole sex with his cousin thing, but because Edgar Allan Poe is Edgar Allan Poe he finds himself with the quite honorable role that he finds here. Finally clean and sober and with purpose. I’ve never seen him happier.”   

 “Me neither,” I said, and when we got closer I noticed that despite his face with the same trademark mustache, his body had changed. He was a hulking specimen. He was wearing black robes so I couldn’t see everything, but he had vigor and his eyes lit up with actual fire as he seemed to conduct the whole underworld like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia    

Let’s keep going, Walt Whitman said, and instead of snapping his fingers or waving his arms or having us materialize somewhere else he took out a phone and said, “3 minutes away.”     

We waited around for five minutes, not saying anything. He looked around every few seconds until a black SUV pulled up next to us. He opened the door and let me in and just like that we were in the next sector of the American Inferno, which was not very nice because I was standing up again after I’d hoped to sit down and enjoy the semi-cushioned seats of the mid-priced SUV while trying to ignore the over done deodorant of our driver.    

As far as I could tell we were in the wide open-space of a factory because it was loud and hot and I could hear the sound of metal clanking. Then I saw a stereotypical bald man hitting a hot piece of metal with a hammer.     

“He’s making a sword?”     

“Yes,” Walt Whitman said.    

I couldn’t figure it out. Was he forced to make swords for the rest of his life? Was he a demon who was going to put the sword through someone else after he was finished making it?    

 “Do you see?”     

“No,” I said, but then I did see something else behind the man and then it was above the man, flying up, its brilliant wings lifting it about twenty feet until it came to a swift jerking halt in the air, and the sound of clanking on the anvil. I noticed there was a chain on one side of the anvil pulled taut, which then slacked as the creature came back down to the ground. The creature wore no shirt and had a human face. Then I saw that there were many other of these creatures, these fallen angels trying to fly up and then being pulled back down by the weight of the anvil.    

 “Fallen angels,” I said.   

  “Yes.”   

  “I don’t recognize any of them.”  

   “I don’t expect you to, but you know them by name I’m sure. Most of these creatures had good intentions. They wanted to get closer to God and they followed his works as best as they could. They thought, because they were told, that The Bible could give them all the answers they needed and sometimes they skewed these answers into their own interpretation because they were only human, and they believed, truly believed, which is why some may condone their sins, and why you don’t find some, like this specimen, buried even lower.”    

 “Who is it?” I asked.     

“The one you see is David Koresh, head of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.”     

“Jesus,” I said, “I just watched a TV show about him, back, well, in the real world.”     

“It’s no coincidence that I’ve shown him to you. What happened to David Koresh and everyone else should be evidence enough how rampant belief can do incredible harm, but he’s here to be reminded, that no matter how enlightened he felt, or how divine and even embraced by God, that it was never enough to justify such sacrifices of innocent women and children. They are here with him.”    

“Once again, that’s not fair–”    

 “This is America, Andrew. It’s not about what’s fair. They believed and became angels, in their minds at very least, and then they died only to fall. That’s how the system works.”          

“Shouldn’t he be punished worse?”    

“Oh, he is, just like then, he knew he was responsible for keeping them there and now he knows he’s responsible for bringing them here. He’s not even trying to go to heaven, not really. He’s just trying to escape those he forsook.”     

And sure enough I saw that it was true. The other Branch Davidians hurled insults at him, on the ground and off. Those tied to anvils closest to him tried to fly in his direction, barking at him on their chains like rabid dobermans.     

“Okay,” I said. “They fell with him, so without them and seeing how he failed them, it’s not much of a punishment.”    

“Yes,” Walt Whitman said, “if you want to be completely fucking didactic about it.”    

 I looked at Walt Whitman in his ghostly face. He did not smile.

 “Hey, man. Just because I don’t read your stupid poetry doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole.”    

 “I’m sorry,” he said. “Let’s just get this over with.”

CHAPTER IX

We walked through the garden of anvils and blacksmiths and flying and falling trapped angels to in one moment end up dressed in white and black shirts behind a bar. Walt Whitman was already shaking something inside a shaker and then pouring it into a glass.

     “You’re not supposed to shake it,” I said. “The ice melts faster that way. You’re supposed to stir it.”

     “Don’t you think I know that?” Walt Whitman said as he slid the martini to a portly man in glasses, “It’s all about the show. I need my tips.”

     I stood there as he started to take someone else’s order. He nodded his head and grabbed a bottle of white wine from a cooler of ice under the bar and poured it into a glass right in front of him. After handing it to a young woman. He shook his head vigorously, as if he were trying to exorcise a tiny demon, and looked at me.

     “Sorry, this place has that effect, but we don’t need to worry about them.” There was an infinite line of guests stretching to the end of the dance hall which never seemed to end. “As the bartenders, we are protected by the bar here, unlike the poor souls out there.”

     Thousands of caterers walked around in the same uniforms we did, except they had trays full of different types of hors d’oeuvres, drinks in rock glasses, wine glasses, martini glasses, champagne glasses, champagne flutes, beer glasses, plates of half eaten food and used silverware, small fragments of food still on the waiters’ fingers, crumpled napkins, wine bottles, liquor bottles, half drunk wine and water and any sort of drink, toothpicks empty and with fragments of hors d’oeuvres, candles on fire, candles blown up accompanied by a verbal disciplinary by a Demon Captain telling them not to blow out the candles because the smoke may ruin the delicate experience of the clients’ delicate nasal passages; then plates full of food being set down at the table in circles and then taken away immediately, each table tackled like an athlete with the ball, and then abandoned to give the injured athlete some air, all the waiters running and screaming and walking and nodding their heads and listening to the faceless clients and then coming back to give the client what he wanted and then going to the kitchen to be yelled at by the Kitchen Demons and forced to hear and then repeat such words as “BEHIND,” “HOT FOOD,” “WATCH YOUR BACK,” each one piercing the eardrums of the poor souls and not accomplishing anything but startling the waiter to move in whichever direction possible, shrinking against the wall and trying to become a fly, and only ramping up the anxiety higher and higher, the glasses breaking, the silverware falling, the hands and bodies getting dirtier and dirtier, all for the sake of the faceless strangers that sat at the tables and talked too loud and blocked the way when the waiters tried to deliver food and did any horrible thing they could do to prove that they were the worst lot of people the waiters had ever seen in their lives who did not deserve the treatment and food and what shreds of patience the waiters had left.

     “What the hell did they do to deserve this?” I asked.

     “Well, once upon a time this sector of hell was reserved for heretics and atheists, but since this is the 21st century and we realize that that’s a whole lot of bullshit, this is where people who stopped believing in themselves and their dreams go. They are here serving and serving and serving but they do not remember why they started serving in the first place. Catering for them was only supposed to be a survival job so they could continue to paint, write, and act, but then the money was addictive and art became less important as they discovered this new disease taking them over.”

     “So these are all a bunch of actors who never stopped catering?”

     “Many? Yes. But they are also people who decided to become lawyers instead of teaching, or became doctors instead of trying to get their small business idea off the ground. These are the people who stopped believing in themselves, which is worse than not believing God.”

     “Walt, get me out of here, unless you’re trying to punish me.”

     “Hey,” said a voice from in front of us, which belonged to another bespectacled, balding, middle aged man in a suit, “Can I get an Old Fashioned here?”

     “If you want a drink, you’re going to have to wait your turn,” Walt Whitman said. “Unless you don’t want a drink.”

     “No, I want a drink all right, and I can wait, sir, that’s no problem at all,” said the middle aged man, “but maybe you could speed it up for me, sir,” he out took a 50 dollar bill and placed it on the bar.

     “I’ll see what I can do,” Walt Whitman said then made the man an Old Fashioned.

CHAPTER X

I finally got Walt Whitman to surrender his place at the bar and we made our way across the ballroom. The waiters moved around us and I could tell that they were angry we were blocking their way. Walt Whitman took up as much space as he wanted to.

     “Walt, give them a break, man. Come on.”

     At this point one of the waiters stopped and confronted me, an empty tray in his hand. He looked at me, his one window out of this horrible nightmare.

     “You’re from Washington, DC, aren’t you?” he said.

     “Yes, I am, how did you know?”

     “Your accent, that’s where I’m from as well.”

     “Oh, is that so, what’s your name?”

     “I can’t remember,” he said.

     At a certain point as we walked, the ballroom and the waiters disappeared behind a translucent barrier, and an avenue of clothing stores stared at us from the other side of the street. I went back through the barrier to make sure the ballroom was still there. It was. I went back to the avenue and Walt Whitman pointed at the stores.

     “Look,” he said.

     At each store was a man dressed in a black jacket, coat and skinny black tie. Their uniforms were the same as the waiters’ except for the jacket. Walt Whitman put his hand on my shoulder and we were across the street. A young man opened the door and let us in the store. There was nothing in it but faceless manikins and soft piano music. The young man reached into his pocket and took out his cellphone.

     “Get your hands off that!” a voice which came from above said. There was a rectangular box on the ceiling with a bright red circular light which glowed as it spoke. The doorman put the phone in his pocket as quickly as he could. Walt Whitman didn’t need to tell me who this man was. He was like the others and he had worked this job to follow his dream of acting or writing, but he did not forget the dream. He just wasn’t allowed to act on it.

     “My name is Amos King,” he said. “I know that if I open that phone I can find an opportunity to get out of here. A great audition or maybe I even won a writing contest. Who are you? How are you here? Is that Walt Whitman with you? Wow.”

     Walt Whitman blushed and smiled. I answered.

     “We’re here on a sort of writing project, actually.”

     “Are you dead?” Amos said.

     “No, I don’t think so,” but I realized I could be, on the inside, if I let the fate of Amos become mine.

     “I know I look young,” Amos said, “but I have a son out there. Is he dead? Why isn’t he with you?”

     “I have no idea.”

     “I hope he’s still writing. What year is it?”

     “2018.”

     “He must be around 30 then.”

      I hesitated then said, “just like me.”

     “You know, you remind me of him. If you see him tell him I love him.”

     “I will,” I said. “Is there anything else I should know.”

     “Yes, that man right through that invisible shade there, that’s my brother, tell him his name is Francis King, and that I love him as well.”

     “Of course, Amos.”

     “I’d go myself, but they won’t let me leave the store,” he looked up at the ceiling and then back at us. “Thanks for coming to visit me.”

     I went through the border into the ballroom and found Francis King standing right where we left him.

     “Your name is Francis King,” I said, “and your brother loves you.”

     “Oh,” he said, and smiled and a tear escaped his bloodshot eye sockets, then the expression on his face dissolved, and his arms robotically moved to put his tray into a level position, his legs pivoting and sending his body into an about face as he walked to an empty table filled with the trash and filth of the faceless rich and hedonist sycophants.

CHAPTER XI

And trash and filth is where we found ourselves right outside the back door of the ballroom where the dumpster awaited us and then there were more dumpsters which led down a spiral staircase of a street as we sunk deeper and deeper into the American Inferno. Until I stopped.
“Walt,” I said. “I think I’ve had enough, at least for now.”
“But we’re not finished yet.”
“I know, but maybe I am.”
“Andrew, I know this is tough, yet we must press on. You can’t imagine what you’ll see below.”
“Yes, I can. We’ll see murderers I’m sure: Ted Bundy being perpetually suffocated and/or decapitated by a group of Catholic school girls, Charles Manson dipped upside down in a vat of electric kool aid sulfuric acid with the song Helter Skelter playing at full blast bubbling through to reach his already but forever disintegrating eardrums, Jeffrey Dahmer made to eat himself or something more creative maybe, but who cares? I’m sure we’ll see more. People who cheated and lied and stole and destroyed America. Presidents even, Nixon probably, but others, too, I’m sure. But moreover I know we won’t see what we saw in Dante’s Inferno because God doesn’t exist in America the way he did back then in Dante’s Europe and moreover sin doesn’t exist the way it did then. In fact, this place proves that those too obsessed with sinning end up here anyway. David Koresh and all those he led here through his false prophets. No, there’s nothing more to see here but horror and I’ve seen enough horrors for now.”
“But what about your promise? What will you write about week after week?”
“I’m sure I’ll find other things I’d like to write about, and if I really want to, I can come back here.”
“But you need 33 chapters and from what I’ve seen we’re only at 11.”
“But there are 11.”
“What?”
“Of course you don’t get that reference because you’re not of my time, and Dante wasn’t of my time, either. 11 is perfect for me and if I promised to write 33 chapters just like Dante’s 33 cantos then I can just say that just as in Goethe’s Faust a promise only really matters in the moment when I am that person, but when I have changed, truly changed, my promise back then doesn’t count because I am no longer that person.”
“That seems like a cop out to me.”
“Well, so be it.”
“And what about your friend Jim?”
“I love my friend Jim and he knows my journey is over.”
And Jim appeared flying overhead, and unlike the Branch Davidians he was not weighted down by a chain and anvil and instead chose to lightly and lithely land close to the dumpster right in front of us.
“Aw, man,” Jim said, “let’s dip,” and suddenly we were in Jim’s old car driving up the spiral staircase. Walt Whitman was in the back.
“Jim!” I said, “It’s so good to see you, man.”
“It’s good to see you too, Andrew. You know, I think you’re right about the rest of this place. Some places can be pretty cool, but I mean you can always just watch something scary on Netflix.”
“That’s right.”
“There’s no reason to be morbid either. Only a sick fuck would really get a joy out of seeing more down there.”
Walt Whitman cleared his throat.
“Like I said,” Jim smiled, “only a real sick bastard,” and he laughed his great laugh. “I’m just kidding Walt. Want a cigarette?”
“No thanks,” Walt Whitman said.
“You want one?” he asked me
“I quit, but, I mean, does it count here?”
“Hell, no, man. This is the American Inferno.”
“Well, all right then.”
Jim handed me a pack of cigarettes. They were the same stale pack of cigarettes he’d offered to me years ago. The same ones he’d taught me to smoke with, by actually breathing oxygen in after taking in the smoke and then feeling the blood run to the head and the euphoria subsequently. It was the best cigarette I’d ever had.
Jim managed to get me to where I’d started, back in the tunnel with the rats, except the rats were gone and the tunnel was no longer a tunnel but the standing outdoor tracks of the Queens 7 train.
“No rats here,” Jim said, and I suddenly remembered that I’d just moved to Queens.
Walt Whitman slept in the back of the car.
“I’d stay and catch up, man, but I’m not allowed to stay here too long. Also, the trains coming so you better get out of here.”
I heard the 7 train coming.
“Don’t worry, man, just climb out the window and jump off the roof.”
“Okay!” I yelled and then shook his hand really quickly and put my hand on his shoulder then jumped out of the window and onto the roof, bouncing as high as I could to get up onto the platform and when I looked down he was still there smiling at me and then the train came and the car disappeared.
I walked back to my new apartment in a daze and promised myself I’d never make the same mistakes, that I’d never be like those I saw in the American Inferno. I made the promise and continued to make the same mistakes, but they weren’t the same mistakes, because I was no longer the same 29 year old who had entered the American Inferno. I was 30 now, which meant I was an adult, which was even more dangerous than knowing I wasn’t.

The End

 

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American Inferno, A Serial (Work In Progress (Completed and Unfinished)) Novella (Novelette) (Complete) (Part I)

26 Aug

CHAPTER I

Nearing the age of 30, I got lost in a subway tunnel, standing on the tracks themselves, unable to figure out how I got there.

It scares the hell out of me to remember because it was dirtier and darker than any subway station in New York. It had been abandoned and I was the only living creature there, besides the giant screeching rats. I’d rather be dead than go back there, but the saying must be true that there are blessings in disguise, for eventually I learned from everything terrible I saw and found myself a better man for it.

I hadn’t had a drink in years, but I must have started again somehow and then blacked out to get there. Or maybe it was a punishment for drinking again, and falling off the path of sobriety, even doing drugs. Someone must have slipped a tab of LSD in my sixth coffee of the day.

I walked down the tracks, jumping with fear whenever a rat crossed my path and eventually found that the tunnel expanded into a great space with a hill at the end. A hill illuminated with a green glow-in-the-dark radiation. I knew it was where I wanted to be even though I couldn’t make it there, not yet, but it gave me hope that if I kept on my path, I would find a way out of the darkness, both physical and spiritual. Though afraid, I was no longer terrified.

Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by the immensity of a long drop, looking down from the Empire State building, or the World Trade Center before it was taken down. I was afraid and exhilarated knowing that one wrong move would send me hurtling down, how fragile life was, and how beautiful and powerful the world which led us to death, just like this place of the dead which was starting to become more clear as I walked forward.

After the adrenaline ceased and my heart slowed, aided by breathing I’d learned in a yoga class, I kept walking, as fast as I could up the hill, but a wildcat got in my way. Suddenly I found myself wondering if it had escaped from the New York City Zoo and I reached in my pocket for my cellphone which wasn’t there. And even if it had been, there would have been no bars, no wifi, no Long Term Evolution. I couldn’t tell if it was a jaguar or a leopard. I tried to continue on the path, but the wildcat jumped and blocked me, keeping me away from the radiant hill. What seemed to be artificial lights started to illuminate the passage as if I were in a simulation of dawn. Since I was afraid of the dark, I took this to be a good sign and rejoiced at this otherwise harmless creature, but when a Lion jumped in front of me, growling and slobbering at the mouth, this feeling of warmth and safety left me. And then suddenly there was a wolf, which looked even hungrier as I could see its bones swelling out from its tattered coat, a giant canine rat with rabies. I was reminded of the wolves in fairy tales, hiding themselves, and eating whatever they could with their insatiable appetites. I was reminded of myself and every other greedy man and woman in the city. It made me feel worthless, that I’d never become a good man with such a tarnished soul. The wolf continued to lead me away from the lighted hill and chased after me until I was able to open and close a door in the wall. An old janitor’s closet, perchance, but I found myself back in darkness.

     Then I felt I was no longer alone in this closet which had now expanded into an immense room, but it was not a room anymore. I knew I was no longer in the New York subway, not even on a long abandoned track.  I made out a figure which I knew was human or who at very least used to be human.

     “Whoever you are, please help me,” I said.

     “I’m nobody,” the voice said. “Not anymore. I used to be someone though. Someone named Walt Whitman.”

     “Walt Whitman?” I said. “I’ve read you. My name is Andrew Adams. It’s strange, we have the same birthday.”

     “I know, that’s partly why I was chosen to lead you through here.”

     “Lead you through where?”

     “Why, The American Inferno, of course.”

     “What?”

     “Yes, The American Inferno, one poet leading another through hell.”

     “I’m not a poet.” I said.

     “You aren’t?” Walt Whitman asked.

     “No, I’m mostly a writer of prose, novels and short stories mostly, but also screenplays and plays.”

     “Oh, that’s strange. I thought that I was your greatest influence and that you think of me often, that I am your muse even.”

     “Sorry, Walt,” I said. “I guess it’s just the birthday. I read a few of your poems in high school though, and you’re not bad,” and then added, “you’re really good, even!”

     “Thanks, Andrew,” he said, “Well, we are both Geminis and I guess that has to mean something.”

     “Yeah, of course,” I said, but don’t think I was very convincing.

     Walt Whitman sighed.

     “So, how do I get out of here?”

     “You have to come with me, your –, a poet to lead the writer, you have to go to hell to come back to heaven.”

     “Am I dead?”

     “Not quite,” he said. And I knew he would have had more to say, excited just as Geminis are excitable, if he had thought I was his greatest fan and posthumous protege. He settled for, “We have to get away from those beasts because they signify all the bad things in the human heart and the more you feed them the stronger they get. The only way out of here is through The American Inferno.” He sighed again. “I’ll guide you through.”

     “You mean, just as the long way out?”

     “No,” he said, “I’ve been instructed to show you everyone here in the American Inferno, so that you can learn from their mistakes, see the way they suffer, and then become a better artist and person.”

     “Okay, thanks Walt.”

     “Don’t mention it. It’s my job to do this sort of thing. I could never really get into heaven because of some things you have probably read about.”

     “I haven’t. What did you do?”

     “Forget it.” he said, “Follow me.”

CHAPTER II

It was night, Friday night. My friends back in the real world would be out drinking, or more likely working or watching television as they went to bed too late for their survival jobs the next morning, but whatever they were doing it was better than my plans for the night. Which was to prepare myself for the tour of the worst place in America. I’ll do my best to be accurate, to tell you exactly what happened, but I was always more of a fiction writer than a journalist. It’s been so long though since I was there and even if it hadn’t been long–it’s been a month–my state of mind there was different than it can ever be here, the same way that a drug trip can never be translated back to you when you’re sober.

     “Walt,” I said. “There must be some sort of mistake. There are a hundred other people better suited for this story. Can’t you just grab someone with proven experience in non-fiction. I’m sure Erik Larsson or Tom Wolfe would kill for an opportunity like this one. Even you, yourself, I now remember, were an expert reporter on The Civil War. You can see that I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. I mean, seriously, man. I’m just not good enough. As soon as I write it down and send it out, it’ll just be another slop on the slop pile. No one cares about me. No one cares about a 29 year old.”

     Walt Whitman didn’t say anything for a while, which made me feel uncomfortable. I continued pondering the whole situation and wondered whether a replacement would come shortly. Then they’d send me off and wipe my memory if they didn’t kill me and send me to the circle of hell for cowardice and self-doubt, and so Walt must have known my thoughts.

     “Oh, don’t be a pussy, Andrew. You’re too afraid for the opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity that no other writer will have. You’re afraid of success is what it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unknown 29 year old writer with no qualifications. All the best were once young with nothing to their name and they made their names themselves: some, like Samuel Clemens, literally made their own new names.

     “It’s true, through some error on my part I did believe you to be a huge fan of mine, but I still chose you, you see. I saw a lot of spirit in you, a lot of fear, and a lot of doubt, but a lot of passion. I was hanging out in Limbo for doing a few things which you never read about when a handsome and good-natured Man called my name.

     “It was the friendliest and most pleasant voice I had heard in a while, and it said:

‘Hey, man. My friend Andrew back on Earth is a really great guy and a really great writer. We used to talk about great music and philosophies on life and the year up until my death I had him read two of Dostoyevsky’s greatest books. He was a loyal friend to me to the end, even when he got sober, and even when I wasn’t. He doubts a lot, though, and can be a much better man than he’s letting himself be. I know he’s really into philosophy and old books and poetry so he’d love a sort of trip like this. Later, man.’”

     “For the sake of copyright and libel, I won’t say his real name, but this must have been my good friend Jim Clouseau.”

     “Yes, it was Jim,” said Walt.

     “Okay, I’ll do this for Jim then. If he’s the reason I’m here, then let’s do it.”

     “Yes, for the soul of a wonderful man who was taken away from us too early, we will make our journey.”

     “Yes, for Jim,” I said.

     “I didn’t expect it to be that easy,” Walt Whitman said. “I was going to tell you of two other spirits who signed off on you.”

     “Why?” I asked. “The rule of threes?”

     “Well,” Whitman began.

     “I don’t need any rule of threes. I’m not Dante and I’m not writing my own version of his hell. My friend convinced you and he convinced me. I’m still afraid, but I trust Jim.”

     “Okay,” Walt said, “then let’s go.”

     “Great,” I said, and we kept walking for a minute before I asked him, “Who were the other two spirits anyway?”

     “It doesn’t matter,” Walt said. “You are coming, right?”

     “Yes,” I said, “for Jim,” and then spent the next hour trying to figure out who it had been. I went through grandparents, pets, family friends. I nearly stopped Walt to ask him again, but soon I forgot all about the other two spirits. We were walking down a hill and a then lot of fucked up shit started to happen.

CHAPTER III

I’M THE DEVIL AND THAT HAS BECOME COOL NOW

LIKE IN THOSE MOVIES WHERE THEY TRY TO TAKE THE DEMON OUT

EXORCISMS THEY ARE CALLED

COME WITH ME AND WE’LL HANG OUT AND DRINK AND WHATNOT

BUT ACTUALLY I’LL PROBABLY JUST TORTURE YOU

IF YOU’RE HERE YOU’RE PRETTY MUCH FUCKED

MAKE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY WEBSITE AND ALL MY SOCIAL MEDIA

I AM THE TRUE INVENTOR OF WEBSITES AND SOCIAL MEDIA

JOKE’S ON YOU, BITCHES

     The words were graffiti’d in glow and the dark green paint on the wall. Next to it was another giant opening, which an arrow, which resembled a penis, at the end of the message, pointed to.

     “Is this for real?” I asked.

     “The devil has a sense of humor,” Whitman said. “Where do you think that drawing of penises graffiti originated?”

     “Yeah, I always hated it when people did that in school,” I said.

     Walt Whitman did not respond.

     “Follow me,” he said after an uncomfortable while.

     As we walked through the opening in the wall I started to hear the sounds of people screaming. It wasn’t the screaming of bloody murder, but more so the so the screaming of someone who couldn’t get what he wanted to. Soon, Walt Whitman and I stopped to watch a man in the mirror shaving. As he shaved, he cut himself and yelled, “Shit,” then grabbed a small piece of toilet paper to put on the cut. Then he looked at his watch and yelled, “Shit,” again and continued shaving, only to cut himself again. When he finally finished, he looked at his watch again and yelled, “shit,” and started to get ready to leave the bathroom when suddenly his face was full with beard again, yet not a good looking beard that was charming and rugged, but an ugly beard which made him look like a homeless meth addict. “Fuck!” he said, then looked at his watch, then his razor. Then we were looking at another man on the inside of a subway car. The doors opened and he was blocked by a bunch of people. “Move!” he yelled. “Move!” Some people moved and as soon as he got to the door the doors closed and he started yelling. “Fuck!” he said, and looked at his watch. Everyone else in the car stared at him like he was an alien. Then we were looking at another man at a computer. He looked at his watch, profaned just as the others, then pressed a button. After he pressed the button a page started printing. When he looked at the page he yelled, “Fuck, I’m out of ink!” His first name showed on the piece of paper and then everything else was muted and dimmed with black and white in the wrong places to create a collage which served no meaning except for that of a fragmentary post modern poem.

     “These people are selfish,” Whitman said. “All they care about are themselves. They just want the job, the opportunity, the money to keep on living. And they do whatever they can do to get there, besides murder and all the horrible things. Because of their only slight infraction, they are here instead of deeper down in hell. The Devil and God didn’t really know what to do with them because of their dual bad and good nature, so here they are, to be tortured in the fairest way possible.”

     And all of them at once looked up at giant posters of beautiful men and women, smiling impossible pearly white teeth, baring impossible muscles, stuck in a perfect impossible moment, men and women with money, happiness, power, then they looked down at themselves and yelled “Shit!” and “Fuck!” and looked at themselves in the mirror constantly unsatisfied, pushed those around them in the subway car, destroyed the printer with their hands only to break their fingers and further blemish their imperfect bones and skin. I looked at them and realized I was in danger of becoming them, that I was guilty of being them at least on some days in this hellish city I had moved to.

     To be further reminded of the crowded city there was a line ahead of us and many people were waiting to get into a club, it seemed.

     “What are they waiting for?” I asked.

     “Shut up,” Walt Whitman said in a curt way which made me feel stupid.

     “It’s the vestibule of Acheron,” he said, almost repentant of how rude he had been. “It’s the small space between the inside and the outside of The American Inferno.

    We kept walking to the front of the line. Some people watched us and wondered who I was. Some thought I was an actor or athlete or old friend of theirs, but they were mistaken. No one recognized Walt Whitman.

     “Hey, why do you get to go to the front of the line?” one of them said.

     “Sh,” a second one said, “don’t you know who that is?”

     Walt Whitman looked at the second one with pride.

     “I don’t know who that old dude with the beard is, though,” the second one said, “probably some pedophile.”

     “Don’t pay attention to them,” Walt Whitman said, and we kept walking to the front of the line.

     We were stopped by a bouncer who was about eight feet tall. He had gigantic muscles and was wearing a black suit with a black shirt. He took out an encyclopedic list which would have crushed me like a Coke can if he had dropped it by accident.

     “Who are you?” he asked me.

     “Orders from above, and below,” Walt Whitman said.

     “Oh, it’s you,” Charon the Bouncer said. “Go on in.”

    And so I stepped in with Walt Whitman, and as soon as I did the music of hell overwhelmed me and I blacked out.

CHAPTER IV

The sound of the music transported me back to consciousness like the loudest alarm clock in hell. Constant electronic music with a steady bass with the arrhythmic cardiac quality of a giant having a panic attack pervaded the lighted room. Barely clothed sirens danced in raised cages above the crowd. When I got closer I saw their aged and ageless quality, beautiful at a distance but dead close up. I followed Walt Whitman to what must have been a VIP table except there was an empty bottle of vodka in a black plastic bucket on top of it.

     We sat down at the table and it took six or seven times before I could hear what he said. He ended up getting close to my ear and yelling into it.

     “This is limbo.”

     His timing was off and it was clear he had more to say, but then I saw Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and Jack Kerouac who joined us at the table. Jack Kerouac kept close to Thomas Wolfe while Faulkner and Fitzgerald kept close. Hemingway sat down right next to me. He didn’t need to get close to me for me to hear everything he was saying. His voice creating a booming portal which canceled out the noise of the room.

     “What’s your story, sonny? Can I get you a drink?”

     “No thanks,” I said.

     “Come on,” he said.

     I had never been so tempted in my life, for I was in direct contact with the source of my fear of missing out. Hemingway had been a great writer. All of these men had, and they had also been terrible alcoholics.

     “Limbo is home to those good men ravaged by drinking,” Walt Whitman screamed into my ear. I almost jumped as suddenly he was speaking louder than before but still getting as close to my eardrum without his lips touching me. “You see, even in hell no one can agree if alcoholism is a choice or a genetic problem that afflicts those who do not ask for it, so they put all of them here.”

     “But what about suicide?” I asked, and smiled at Hemingway who couldn’t hear what I was saying. “I mean, if Hemingway is here and,” then I got a look at Hunter S. Thompson who was dancing on a table across from us, “he and Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide, then shouldn’t they be in another place in hell?”

     “Suicide is no sin,” Walt Whitman said. “Some people seem to think it is back in the real world, but there is no sin in self termination.”

     “What about the other things these men did?” I asked.

     “What? Multiple marriages, infidelity and the like? Mean spiritedness? Well, we can count that towards alcoholism as well. Besides, there are worse things than infidelity. It’s the twenty first century.”

     “Are we going straight to murder then? After this?”

     “Oh, you’ll see, Andrew, you’ll see. No spoilers. For now, though, I’d like you to look at these idols of yours. Despite the terrible things they did they were tremendous writers that you respect and their lives were taken from them pretty early and alcohol was at blame for a lot of what happened to them. Now here they are for the rest of eternity stuck in a Buenos Aires style dance club. It is loud, dirty, and never ending. This is the life they asked for, or that they were dealt if you want to go back to that genetic thing, and here they are to party, forever. I know you don’t drink anymore, but if you do, this is where you might be headed. How does it sound?”

     “I think it would be fun for a day or so,” I said, “and then I think I would lose my mind.”

     “That’s right, think about that, losing your mind every day for the rest of eternity.”

     “It beats that mirror bit earlier, at least the company is nice.” I looked around at some of the greatest minds of all generations.

     “They’re all a bunch of assholes, Andrew, trust me. Genius gets old. Ever had a drunk genius talk to you all night? Well, this is a long night.”

     I let the reality of it sink in.

     “Maybe I’ll just visit every once in a while.”

     “It’s true, higher ups do have that privilege. Higher ups make this sort of journey happen.”

     “It still doesn’t make sense to me. Can I just go home for fuck sake? Am I going crazy?”

     “What?”

     “Am I going crazy?”

     “What?”

     “Am I going crazy? Why is this happening? Can I just go home already?”

     “No, we have to go all the way.”

     “Fine, let’s hurry up then.”

     “Okay,” Walt Whitman made to get up, then sat back down. “You understand, then. Clubs are unpleasant?”

     “I’ve known that for a long time, Walt.”

     “Good,” he said. “Onto the next one.”

     I shook all of the writer’s hands, but realized a lot of them were so drunk and dirty that I found myself looking around for a place to wash my hands. Walt Whitman took out a plastic bottle and handed it to me. I squeezed some of the hand sanitizer on my hands and then rubbed them together.

     “You’re a lifesaver, Walt.”

     “Thanks,” he said, and then we walked through the crowd and into the next room.

 CHAPTER V

     “Don’t worry,” Walt Whitman said, “we won’t have to wait that long,” and as if his words still held power after he was dead, the buzzer went off and we found ourselves in a cheap motel room that smelled of mildew.

“Stop,” a female voice said, “it’s too big.”

My eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness which was only semi-illuminated by the last legged tungsten in the solitary lightbulb above. A man had gotten up from a bed and then gone on to another bed, then started having sex. I looked away, but Walt Whitman put his hand on my shoulder and forced me to watch.

After twenty minutes and after that man had clearly finished this other female voice said, “Keep going. Don’t stop.”

“But I’m finished,” he said.

“Keep going.”

After what seemed an hour in which I did everything I could to look away, only to be led by Walt Whitman again to keep watching, the man stopped and said, “I’m done, okay! I’m not going to go again, and I’m in love with someone else.”

Then he moved to the first bed and started talking tenderly to the first woman. They smiled at each other and kissed. I felt even more uncomfortable watching this and wondered if they could see us. I felt like Scrooge hanging with the ghost of Christmas past. The man and woman moved to a sexual position and then the girl screamed and said, “Stop, it’s too big.” Then the man was forced to jump to the second bed again.

“I can’t watch anymore,” I said, no longer caring if the others in the room could hear us.

“You don’t have to,” Walt Whitman said.

“Who is that, man?” I asked.

“I thought you would’ve known. I guess the lighting in this room isn’t so good. Let’s turn up the dimmer.”

Suddenly the whole room was brighter than daytime and a man with a giant camera filmed from the opposite side of the bed. Then I saw the famous mustache and the even more famous member.

“Is that John Holmes?” I asked.

“Yes,” Walt Whitman said. “This circle of hell belongs to those who let lust control their lives. We could argue that he was God-given something like alcoholism which encouraged this lust, but God has many tests for us, after all. A man can similarly be well-endowed with money, luck, power, and if he uses it the wrong way, then he finds himself in the American Inferno.”

“He’s here because he had sex on camera then, for money?”

“Yes, and he encouraged it. He took his gift and he abused it, then he suffered and died because of it, and here he is to suffer more. He isn’t the only one here of course, but I thought he was a good example, a well-known example.”

I remembered how long Whitman had made us watch and doubted his true reason for showing John Holmes of all people.

“What about sex addicts? Those who didn’t ask for it?”

“They are not here, and you’ll find them in heaven or back with the alcoholics, depending on the rest of their lives, but John Holmes is much of the reason why their addictions became as bad as theirs. If it weren’t for porn those people might have just found someone to love.”

“Or ruined the lives of others while trying to satisfy their lust,” I said.

“That very well may be,” Whitman said, “but you have to remember that the American Inferno like any other place in America is an imperfect system.”

“Who else is here?” I asked.

“James Dean.”

“Shit, Whitman. I would have rather seen James Dean.”

“My mistake,” he said. “Most of the people here worked in porn or were heavily involved with sex in some other way. Marilyn Monroe is here as is JFK.”

“That’s fucked up,” I said.

“It is what it is. This is the American Inferno.”

“What can I do to stay out of here?” I asked.

“Just don’t let sex take over your life and if you somehow do, don’t let it affect the rest of society.”

“You know how stupid that sounds, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. Think of this place as a standardized test, if you can’t figure out the question, just move on to the next one.”

“Fine by me,” I said.

“We’ll circle this circle for later.”

CHAPTER VI

Suddenly there was a door in the wall of the motel room and Walt Whitman opened it. We walked through one door only to find ourselves in another room. The room was nicer, had been nicer is more accurate, because it stunk of rotten food and whatever else I don’t know. The room was gigantic, but all sorts of plates, empty food receptacles, bags of chips, pretzels, cookies, boxes of cookies, pints and gallons of ice cream, paper bags from Chinese delivery, pizza boxes, banana peels covered the floor and walls of the room. In the middle at the top of a pile of trash, a throne of garbage lay the fattest man I had ever seen.

“Okay,” I said, trying not to breathe in through my nose. “I get it. He’s a glutton. Let’s get out of here.”

“Oh, but Andrew, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you. How often do you get to meet one of your idols?”

“Not very often, but it seems like at least six times so far.”

“Oh, yes, but this is no writer. In fact, he uses us, consumes us the same way he uses this food, except when he uses our words he spins them into beauty, for the most part.”

“I don’t care.”

“Get closer. Take a look.”

“Fuck,” I said, and found myself wading through the trash. I felt not dissimilar to the way I had felt when catering an event the week before, the knife and fork smeared with meat and gravy, in my hands because the captain had told us to separate the silverware before we took the dirty plates back to the kitchen–except this time the meat and gravy and possible vomit and feces and urine covered me up to my belly button.

“Fuck this,” I said, and them jumped out of it all. “This isn’t my punishment, Walt.”

“Fair enough,” Walt said and laughed, then my clothes were clean and we were floating right next to the glutton.

“You bastard,” I said to Walt, then turned and saw the bald head, eyes, and lips, which under so much fat that he now resembles a manatee and whale creature I still recognized as the greatest film actor of all time.

“Marlon Brando?” I asked.

“That’s right,” Walt Whitman said.

I could only quietly examine him for a moment before Marlon Brando reached into his throne and pulled out a round metal trashcan filled with all types of food, as if he had gone down a buffet and just stacked everything on top of each other: mashed potatoes, rice, shredded beef, fried chicken, steak, chicken cordon bleu, bacon, ranch, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, cubes of cheese, spaghetti, linguini, angel hair, glazed donuts, jelly donuts, chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, Girl Scout cookies, potato chips, tortilla chips and salsa, guacamole, quesadillas, lobsters, crabs, raw oysters, fried oysters, sushi, London Broil, steak tartare, shrimp scampi, filet mignon mingled with chocolate sauce and chocolate cake, layer cake, red velvet, brownies, vanilla ice cream, a chocolate milkshake, the biggest hamburger in the world with at least ten patties and ten types of cheese, and five types of mayo, ketchup, mustard, bleu cheese, and more ranch the only vegetables being the lettuce, tomato, and onion on this monstrous hamburger which was all but decayed by all the sauces including that of the milkshake and regardless he just grabbed everything in the trashcan and shoved it in his mouth, chewing so much that he bit off his fingers which grew back every time he took them out of his mouth only to be eaten again every time he put them back in. When the contents of the trashcan got low enough, which wasn’t that low, Marlon Brando picked up the trashcan and put his lip on the bottom and opened his mouth which revealed itself to have more teeth and space than that of a Great White Shark.

I shook with fear, for when he finished, Marlon looked at us and reached out, his stubby little arms nothing more than hands which poked out of a plush skin blanket.

“Don’t worry,” Walt said.

“Come here,” Marlon said. “Come here.”

We floated a few feet closer.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Marlon said. “Tell them that I can’t do this anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and for a moment, underneath all the fat, I saw the recognition in his face, the human, the genius, but then he forgot, and reached under for another trashcan.

“Let’s go,” I said to Walt Whitman.

Walt touched my face, removed a tear.

“Okay, Andrew. I’m sorry.”

CHAPTER VII

The whole hotel room lifted up and we found ourselves in the middle of a vast field where two massive groups of souls ran from our left and our right, threatening to crush us like trash in a trash compactor.

“Walt!” I yelled.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, and like that we were above them, floating, they attacked each other with whatever punches and kicks they could land, but mostly just yelled and bickered.

“You worthless bastards! You wasted everything!”

“You dumb shits! Why couldn’t you just use things and spend your damn money!”

“Don’t you know you could have saved that delivery food container to store your own food in?”

“You’re dead now! Just like all of us, couldn’t you have lived a little?”

“Oh, you shouldn’t have just thrown that old coat away. You could have turned it into a rug.”

“You lived in a garbage dump and you didn’t share anything with anyone. You kept it all to yourself so who are you to lecture me on saving anything?”

Walt Whitman looked at me and began, “This is the high point of their day, when the hoarders can defend saving every little penny and the wasters can defend carpe diem. When they’re not here, they are, as you could guess, tortured.”

Walt Whitman snapped his fingers and we watched a man order food at a lavish restaurant. The waiter’s face was obscured, but I’m sure it was a demon.

“I’ll have everything,” the man said, and sure enough, they brought him everything. The nicest bottles of wine, champagne and top shelf Scotches, filet mignon, mashed potatoes, caviar, foie gras, creme brûlée, bananas foster, and enough food to last Marlon Brando a full minute. I expected the man to turn into a sort of Charybdis himself, but instead he just looked at the food and silently cried.

“Thanks,” he said to the waiter. “You can take it away now.”

But the waiter did not take it away. Instead he put it in a hundred boxes and gave it to the man. Then the man was on the street.

“I want a place to live,” he said, and then there was a beautiful home in front of him. He tried to open the door, but it was locked. It started to snow.

“Give me shelter,” he said, and suddenly there was cash at his feet, like sand on the beach. He took all the money he could, burrowed underneath it.

“If you won’t give me shelter, give me clothes.”

Rolexes, rings, and expensive sunglasses fell from the sky.

“No, something warmer!”

A beautiful white silk dress fell down from the sky and the man wrapped himself up in it, ripped it, walked through the snow and got it wet and muddy and brown as the snow melted.

He sat on the street, wrapped in the tarnished dress, a million dollars by his side, and begged.

“Please, let me eat and drink. I don’t want the money. Take it. Just let me use the fucking bathroom!”

Walt waved his arm and the man was gone, replaced by another man writing at a computer.

“Now of course hoarding starts as merely saving things for yourself, greed in its earliest stage, but the mind becomes the greatest hoarder of them all.”

The man wrote furiously for five more minutes then stopped.

“Okay,” he said, “thank God. That’s it. That’s all I remember ever having happened. Okay, okay, I’ll write that down.” He wrote some more. “And then of course how that made me feel. Oh, this can go on forever,” he wrote some more. “But at least it’s only in these short bursts.” He wrote some more. “At least it’s not one of those memories buried deep below.” He wrote. “That will keep me occupied for a year.” He wrote. “But then there’s the imagination” he wrote. “And is that ever really empty.” He started to write faster. “Stop thinking about it! Stop opening it up!” He started to write furiously. “No! But damn I must write every little thing, every second of my life, every second of every imagined life!” He wrote and his fingers began to bleed and disintegrate then grow back like Marlon Brando’s fingers.

The man was gone and Walt Whitman and I walked in the darkness, and I felt we were sinking further into the American Inferno. When I saw light again, it was ofa giant, inflamed smiling face. The face and head had grown to three times the size of the body which I noticed was naked, and I further noticed that the testicles were tied to one rope and the penis to another.

“Walt, why in the hell do you keep showing me this shit?”

“Quiet! This man was wrathful in his old life. When anyone pissed him off, his brother for instance, he would hit him. He hit his brother, his classmates, his girlfriend. Whenever he was angry, he would first raise his voice, and then start throwing punches. But look at him now.”

I looked again. I saw that there was someone standing across from him, an older man, wearing glasses, taking off his belt.

“Now, son, I think you’re dumb. The dumbest I’ve ever known, which is pretty depressing because you’re my own son. It’s also embarrassing that you have the smallest dick in the history of America and that you’re uglier than the Mona Lisa.”

When the giant head started to make a sound, the rope tightened on his testicles, the sound changed.

“Now, you know I’m not your real father, just some demon here in hell, maybe even a demon hologram because they don’t feel like wasting real demons on your lousy ass, but you actually are a piece of shit and God has been spending every last hour since you were born in remorse, repenting the fact that he had ever let you come into existence. He even tried to blame you on the devil, but we all know he made the devil so his all powerful logic became a bit wonky there. Anyway, you’re too dumb to even understand what I’m saying, so I can just keep making fun of your small dick and small brain and that’ll be enough to tempt your temper.”

The giant head started to make a sound and the ropes tightened on his penis and balls, the sound changed and became a squeal.

“What’s that?” the demon said, “why don’t you tell me how you feel?”

The demon folded the belt and whacked the giant head several times.

The mouth of the giant head opened and started to scream, the ropes tightened again and the scream turned into a retreating squeal.

“What’s that?” the demon said and whacked the face again. The mouth of the face opened.

“Nothing,” the face said. “I think you’re right. I’m glad to have an influence like you in my life,” and the giant face smiled, and then the head became even redder and even bigger, threatening to burst the arteries which already popped out like stalactites on the fishbowled eyeballs.

“Good,” the demon said. “Because we have a lot to talk about for the rest of eternity.”

Like the drug trip it was, I was jump cut into a bright room. Walt Whitman handed me a pair of sunglasses and the light dimmed enough so I could see a figure lying in bed, then I saw that there were many more of the same type of soul lying in other beds. Their eyes were open, pried open with splinters, but they lay there and looked up at the sun.

“In the real world they were too afraid to go outside and see the sun, spent most of their time in doors and in bed. Now, they are still in bed, but the devil gave them the sun.”

“I think it’s pretty fucked up that someone would be in hell for not doing anything.”

“Once again, I didn’t make the rules.”

“What if they were afraid, what if they had social anxiety or some other type of psychological disorder?”

“Well, I guess they should have overcome it, because an eternity awake, in bed, eyes burned out by the sun seems a lot worse than a little rejection here and there.”

“I guess so, but it could happen to anyone. This place is terrible.”

“Don’t make the same mistakes.”

“I know, Dad,” I said, and waited for the next part of the trip to instantaneously throttle me into a completely different universe, which each part of the American Inferno was.

 

The Devil and Daniel Dorcas (Play Excerpt)

26 Aug

THE DEVIL

“‘I would tell you that despite my fame I’m just a person just like everybody else, but we know that’s not true'”

DANIEL

“Said The Devil.”

Daniel puts the computer away. The Devil gets up and sits across from him in the free chair.

THE DEVIL

Now everyone talks about talent and hard work. You read about it in these books for actors or these self-help books telling you you can be rich, the authors themselves making a killing in the sales, but keeping the big secret to themselves and thus keeping all the money they can get their doomed hands on. Because I tell ya, they’re going to hell, all of them, and the reason they’re all going to hell isn’t because they are bad or that they’re greedy or anything like that–although a good many of them are bad and murderous and lusty and sexually harrass whenever they get the chance with their new-found power–but the real reason they grow rich is because they’ve already made their sale and they’ve sold it to me. I don’t even buy their soul right then and there. I buy it for a future date, let’s say. I buy it from them and let them keep it for the rest of their lives. I buy it and say, “aw, shucks, no, don’t worry about it. You hang onto that soul for now. Why? Because you can’t use your body to make all this money, can you? If you ain’t got no soul, right? The soul keep the body moving. Sure, it’s mine, or will be mine, but for now, hold onto it for me, keep it warm for me, borrow what’s mine for a while and then when your body no longer needs it, I’ll take it off your cold and warty and mangled hands. That’s what friends are for.” Or something of the like. And most people think they’re getting a good deal. They think I’m the Native American Indian who sold them a thousand acres for two dozen eggs and three copper necklaces. They think that I’m an idiot, that I’ve let them scam me. They say, “Man, that Devil, he’s a right dumb son of a bitch,” they say,”Man, that Devil, shit, what a fucking moron,” they say, “Man, that Devil, aw heck, I don’t want to offend anyone, oh, boy, oh, boy, but that Devil, he, Jeez, well, I think he might be mentally retarded, I mean, wait, wait, I’m sorry, I think what I meant to say is, that poor man, that poor demon man, well, I think he must be mentally handicapped, I mean, mentally challenged, yes, I do, that poor red skinned, I mean, that poor Hellican American of Hellish persuasion, yes, we took advantage of that man, should we give back the money?” “Oh, no, no, no”, I say, “you keep that money,” and they do, they don’t need to be told twice, and then as soon as the years pass and their houses get bigger and bigger and their wives and husbands and boyfriends and girlfriends get younger and hotter and dumber, well, they start to get paranoid, they really start to sweat, as if the hot yoga classroom of The Inferno itself has rooted up through the ground and then through their legs and up their esophagus like a real bad case of heartburn. Oh, yes, they realize what they’ve done, and then they come and they try to give the money away to charities and they call on me and they pray to me, they even draw acres of pentagrams in their blood moneyed ground and try to summon me. They beg me. They give all their money away. They burn their money. They burn their house to the ground. They burn their thousand acres. They end up on the street with a cardboard sign that says “Repent! The End is Nigh!” They go to a church and work in homeless shelters. They donate blood and kidneys and partial livers. They do whatever they can. And I hear them, oh, I certainly hear them, I am The Devil, I hear and see everything, but I ignore their prayers and supplications. I ignore their acts and everything else. I don’t even give them a sign. All I do is let them die and as soon as they do, their soul shoots straight out of their body and sinks down to hell and then when they arrive they see that their soul looks just like their body and they think everything is okay, until I show up in many forms, as maybe a big titted beautiful woman at first and then a myriad of gigantic filthy rats with viscous frothy bloody saliva coming out of my mouths, my teeth sharp and putrid with the smell of decayed corpses, my fur contaminated with fleas and ticks and maggots, dead as the legion ourselves, but moving towards them, undead, to mangle their bodies, their souls to unrecognizable fathoms, the screams and the pain real and perpetual, only for them to come back the next day with their bodies immaculate to have it happen again and again for eternity. And though they show up unscarred again and again for more and more torture, they aren’t unscarred, the scars build up inside and get so bad that the souls go crazy and then once that happens I bring them back to sanity so that they can feel the pain and then push them into infinite pain again and whenever I feel them slipping into madness I bring them right back to the moment, mindfully and get them to focus on their breathing, I get them to focus on their suffocation, their throat being ruptured and mangled and ripped by an impossible dirty cock wrapped in barbed wire and broken glass, and get them to try to breathe only to drown in semen and piss and blood and feces only to wake up again, reborn, oh, praise the Lord! Reincarnated again! Praise Jesus! Only to be tortured and throatfucked and raped and pureed and bludgeoned and butchered and crushed and crunched and fucked truly fucked until the end of the universe and beyond.

Daniel sits across from The Devil hypnotized and terrified.

THE DEVIL

But of course that doesn’t sound very good, does it? Which is why it’s a stupid idea. Which is why it’s unoriginal. I mean, sure, people make decisions that are good in the short run and then forget about the long run. They drink and fuck and sugar themselves up. They only shoot themselves up with heroin after they’ve started on a little harmless habit after saving up a bit of oxy from their wisdom tooth operation, and then they find themselves doing it more, they find themselves crushing the pills and drinking tequila they stole from their parents watching their favorite TV show in the darkness and then feel themselves floating up to some sort of heaven, a false heaven, a beautiful lie, but still beautiful, and then soon enough they’re doing it more, trying to chase that impossible year of the dragon in which they were born, truly born, truly destined to die, and then they can’t find the oxy anymore or it’s too expensive and they find themselves trying heroin, just this one time, just until they manage to get the pill again, to get the pill which they’ve already broken down every time and snorted and even smoked on top of a bowl of marijuana, their first love which has now only become a nuisance, a paranoiac green chemical from the ground with no real clout in the world of white powders man-made by the brilliant scientists and executioners of our day, men and technology powerful enough to take a harmless little flower and turn it into pure pleasure and pain, euphoric satiety and sadomasochism all rolled into one little bitter tasting candy which you bit into one night while drinking tequila and watching your favorite TV show and then finding yourself floating above the glowing but fading lights of the cathode ray tubes and the gradual muffling of sound and vibrations as all becomes meaningless when faced with the ultimate truth of beauty which can only become uglier than anything else in the long run, infinitely beautiful for the short run, but then bastardized into needles and blood and filth and malnourished and bruised, scarred and infected arms, decayed while alive, the true living dead, until one fateful day when the living dead becomes the dead, and the stink of decay comes on at full force, the stench of unshowered and diseased flesh being the mere preamble, the introductory paragraph for the real show, the real aroma and fetid odor of flesh and organs and bacteria all working together in perfect entropic harmony as the body of this kid who liked to drink tequila and float above the television set isn’t found for days by anyone truly alive, the undead addicts around him blind to the fact that he is even dead as they are stuck in their own infinite lie, floating as much as they can but never like the first time, and then only figuring out he is dead when they shake him and his bones crack, only shaking him, not for concern, but to see if he has any money or dope or will sell a fucking kidney so that they can all get high again, just so that the next few hours won’t be so bad as they will be, or won’t seem so bad when they are doomed to be bad high or unhigh, high and ignorant or unhigh and in severe pain and suicidal ideation until they can get the fix again to continue their slow suicidal descent until they too, like the rotten corpse they once called “Freddy” or “Jimmy” or “Lance” has too much of the poison which they think keeps their demons at bay, but only delays the inevitable.

MISSING, Man in the Mirror

7 Aug

This morning I woke up and went to go shave, but the guy at the mirror didn’t show up to work. I thought that maybe he had slept late. I shaved anyway and was careful not to cut myself, but I did end up getting too much shaving cream in my ears and up my nose. Before I left for work I checked to see if he had shown up yet, but I looked in the mirror and only saw the shower doors reflecting back at me from their backwards world. I’d decided that he’d taken the day off. I wasn’t afraid, just confused.

     “How odd,” I said to myself in a poorly executed English accent. The guy at the mirror had never taken a day off before. It had never occurred to me that he ever would or that he even could. It had happened to none of my friends or family and if it had, they had kept their mouths shut.

     The man at the mirror was usually an extension of myself, but just with his left side on my right side as well as the converse. He moved with me as I moved and whenever I looked away from the mirror, he would always be able to catch me when I looked back. I don’t know whether he even looked away from the mirror at all and it could very well be that he was simply waiting there to look me in my eyes again. We never talked. If we did it was usually me talking at him and he was always smart enough to speak or at very least mouth the exact things I was saying to him. I took him for granted really, for the longest time, and then suddenly this morning he didn’t show up.

     For the rest of the day I went on with my business as usual, but whenever I went to the bathroom I found the absence of the man at the mirror more and more alarming. I would’ve been relieved if people commented on it, even if they screamed and said, “Where is your man at the mirror? Are you a vampire?” But instead they smiled at me as they washed their hands, looking directly at me instead of looking at my man who would then send the image of their man looking at me, and then looked at their man and fixed their hair slightly which their man replicated on the other side of the mirror, then left the bathroom.

     By the end of the day I was a mess. I didn’t know who to turn to. I had thought of going to the police and missing persons, but knew they would just send me to the psych ward. They’d probably send me to the doctor, at least. Something medical had to explain this. There was only one thing left to do.

     I needed the help of my friends and family telling them all to look for the man that looked like me. I told them to tell this to their men and women in the mirror. The men and women in the mirror looked just as desperate as we did, but instead of pointing to me saying, “Have you seen this man. Please find him.” They pointed to nothing. Maybe they were saying something different. Maybe they were really saying, “This is where our son and brother and friend should be, but he is not here anymore.” Except I could tell by reading their lips that they were saying the exact same things we were.

     So now, I tell you all to look in the mirror and ask about the missing man. Ask if he has gone on vacation or if he is sick or if I did something to offend him. I miss my man in the mirror. It’s much easier to shave when he is there, and to see if the barber has cut the hair on the back of my head properly. Without him I can’t see my face. Find him, please. I feel like I’ve lost a part of myself. That many people are single and lonely, but that I am the only one who is truly alone. Man in the mirror, where are you? Come back and I promise I’ll clean your image with windex and paper towels.

American Inferno (Chapter XI)

1 Aug

And trash and filth is where we found ourselves right outside the back door of the ballroom where the dumpster awaited us and then there were more dumpsters which led down a spiral staircase of a street as we sunk deeper and deeper into the American Inferno. Until I stopped.
    “Walt,” I said. “I think I’ve had enough, at least for now.”
    “But we’re not finished yet.”
    “I know, but maybe I am.”
    “Andrew, I know this is tough, yet we must press on. You can’t imagine what you’ll see below.”
    “Yes, I can. We’ll see murderers I’m sure: Ted Bundy being perpetually suffocated and/or decapitated by a group of Catholic school girls, Charles Manson dipped upside down in a vat of electric kool aid sulfuric acid with the song Helter Skelter playing at full blast bubbling through to reach his already but forever disintegrating eardrums, Jeffrey Dahmer made to eat himself or something more creative maybe, but who cares? I’m sure we’ll see more. People who cheated and lied and stole and destroyed America. Presidents even, Nixon probably, but others, too, I’m sure. But moreover I know we won’t see what we saw in Dante’s Inferno because God doesn’t exist in America the way he did back then in Dante’s Europe and moreover sin doesn’t exist the way it did then. In fact, this place proves that those too obsessed with sinning end up here anyway. David Koresh and all those he led here through his false prophets. No, there’s nothing more to see here but horror and I’ve seen enough horrors for now.”
    “But what about your promise? What will you write about week after week?”
    “I’m sure I’ll find other things I’d like to write about, and if I really want to, I can come back here.”
    “But you need 33 chapters and from what I’ve seen we’re only at 11.”
    “But there are 11.”
    “What?”
    “Of course you don’t get that reference because you’re not of my time, and Dante wasn’t of my time, either. 11 is perfect for me and if I promised to write 33 chapters just like Dante’s 33 cantos then I can just say that just as in Goethe’s Faust a promise only really matters in the moment when I am that person, but when I have changed, truly changed, my promise back then doesn’t count because I am no longer that person.”
    “That seems like a cop out to me.”
    “Well, so be it.”
    “And what about your friend Jim?”
    “I love my friend Jim and he knows my journey is over.”
    And Jim appeared flying overhead, and unlike the Branch Davidians he was not weighted down by a chain and anvil and instead chose to lightly and lithely land close to the dumpster right in front of us.
    “Aw, man,” Jim said, “let’s dip,” and suddenly we were in Jim’s old car driving up the spiral staircase. Walt Whitman was in the back.
    “Jim!” I said, “It’s so good to see you, man.”
    “It’s good to see you too, Andrew. You know, I think you’re right about the rest of this place. Some places can be pretty cool, but I mean you can always just watch something scary on Netflix.”
    “That’s right.”
    “There’s no reason to be morbid either. Only a sick fuck would really get a joy out of seeing more down there.”
    Walt Whitman cleared his throat.
    “Like I said,” Jim smiled, “only a real sick bastard,” and he laughed his great laugh. “I’m just kidding Walt. Want a cigarette?”
    “No thanks,” Walt Whitman said.
    “You want one?” he asked me
    “I quit, but, I mean, does it count here?”
    “Hell, no, man. This is the American Inferno.”
    “Well, all right then.”
    Jim handed me a pack of cigarettes. They were the same stale pack of cigarettes he’d offered to me years ago. The same ones he’d taught me to smoke with, by actually breathing oxygen in after taking in the smoke and then feeling the blood run to the head and the euphoria subsequently. It was the best cigarette I’d ever had.
    Jim managed to get me to where I’d started, back in the tunnel with the rats, except the rats were gone and the tunnel was no longer a tunnel but the standing outdoor tracks of the Queens 7 train.
    “No rats here,” Jim said, and I suddenly remembered that I’d just moved to Queens.
    Walt Whitman slept in the back of the car.
    “I’d stay and catch up, man, but I’m not allowed to stay here too long. Also, the trains coming so you better get out of here.”
    I heard the 7 train coming.
    “Don’t worry, man, just climb out the window and jump off the roof.”
    “Okay!” I yelled and then shook his hand really quickly and put my hand on his shoulder then jumped out of the window and onto the roof, bouncing as high as I could to get up onto the platform and when I looked down he was still there smiling at me and then the train came and the car disappeared.
    I walked back to my new apartment in a daze and promised myself I’d never make the same mistakes, that I’d never be like those I saw in the American Inferno. I made the promise and continued to make the same mistakes, but they weren’t the same mistakes, because I was no longer the same 29 year old who had entered the American Inferno. I was 30 now, which meant I was an adult, which was even more dangerous than knowing I wasn’t.

The End
    

Magnum Opus

25 Jul
Have you heard about this new drug? It’s got many names: Mortal Masterpiece, Last Words, La gran muerte, Death by Genius, Sublime Suicide, but the most popular name seems to be Magnum Opus. It’s a powder, but most people shake it out of the vial and stir it into an alcoholic drink. And then as the user finishes the last drop, inspiration hits.
The effects have been known to last for a few days, but sometimes stretch for weeks, and even months. If the user is not near some sort of writing device, he better make sure he has a tape recorder handy.
     The user is transformed into a genius: literary, philosophical, historical, scientific, you name it. All he has to do is write or speak and when he finishes his last word, he will have passed great beauty and great knowledge along to the world, but of course when the drug wears off, when the user has written his last word, he will die. Only his body will die of course because the name of this once rowdy, half-brained, good-for-nothing, lazy, dirty, violent, lecherous, sociopathic, waste of blood and flesh will live on forever as a genius of his time through his words, his last and beautiful and precious words.
     Many addicts have been at the end of their rope, knowing that life is pointless for them, that they were just stealing and lying and screwing and sucking just to get one more hit, and have considered suicide; jumping off a building, slitting their wrists, borrowing a gun to blow their brains out, drowning themselves, or just fixing themselves up a batch of drugs to overdose on, but as senseless as the addicts are at this time they usually come to their senses and realize that if they are going to kill themselves, they might as well get something out of it, and even give something wonderful back to the world. Magnum Opus is available everywhere in these slums, but only the truly desperate buy it, forcing the drug dealer to unlock a little black box that holds the precious vials.
     Research on the drug is only in the preliminary stages and it is not known what the exact mechanism is in the brain, but a volunteer user has provided us with much of the information that we know. All of his brain was activated as he wrote the startling piece of literature which I consider to be my new favorite book. What happened of course through the weeks as he neared towards his conclusion was that his brain started to shrink, but became denser and denser, and the temperature started rising in his brain, but the user felt no discomfort. When he reached the end of his novel he fell over on the computer where he was typing and our data showed that there was no data to be shown. The brain was gone, fried, disappeared, dissolved, pulled into a black hole.
     We can only assume that the drug activates a part of the brain that many of us have called genius for ages. In essence the drug proves that everyone is a genius, just that not all people have the ability to tap into that genius which God has provided for us all. There are many labs around the world trying to engineer a drug that can activate this genius part of the brain and not kill us. But I think that the death involved at the end of the user’s experience is what may be the very key to their genius. These people are so close to death and only when they are that close to death are they able to reach into that divine sphere of the afterlife and pull it down for all of us humbly living to see. Although that is only a theory. Not all geniuses die whenever they write a great masterpiece and that is what we must figure out.
     Perhaps these people die as a punishment for the genius they were not meant to possess, but once again, only a theory. Maybe someone like myself should take a Magnum Opus and receive answers about the very essence of Magnum Opus and genius. But of course I’m not a desolate heroin addict, just a science writer. I do wonder, however, what would happen if people not so desperate took the drug. Would it even work? Maybe Hemingway and other great minds who ended their lives prematurely could have benefited from this drug, something that would give them a great last hurrah. But then who is the author in the end? Hemingway or Magnum Opus?
 
 

American Inferno (Chapter X)

18 Jul

I finally got Walt Whitman to surrender his place at the bar and we made our way across the ballroom. The waiters moved around us and I could tell that they were angry we were blocking their way. Walt Whitman took up as much space as he wanted to.

     “Walt, give them a break, man. Come on.”

     At this point one of the waiters stopped and confronted me, an empty tray in his hand. He looked at me, his one window out of this horrible nightmare.

     “You’re from Washington, DC, aren’t you?” he said.

     “Yes, I am, how did you know?”

     “Your accent, that’s where I’m from as well.”

     “Oh, is that so, what’s your name?”

     “I can’t remember,” he said.

     At a certain point as we walked, the ballroom and the waiters disappeared behind a translucent barrier, and an avenue of clothing stores stared at us from the other side of the street. I went back through the barrier to make sure the ballroom was still there. It was. I went back to the avenue and Walt Whitman pointed at the stores.

     “Look,” he said.

     At each store was a man dressed in a black jacket, coat and skinny black tie. Their uniforms were the same as the waiters’ except for the jacket. Walt Whitman put his hand on my shoulder and we were across the street. A young man opened the door and let us in the store. There was nothing in it but faceless manikins and soft piano music. The young man reached into his pocket and took out his cellphone.

     “Get your hands off that!” a voice which came from above said. There was a rectangular box on the ceiling with a bright red circular light which glowed as it spoke. The doorman put the phone in his pocket as quickly as he could. Walt Whitman didn’t need to tell me who this man was. He was like the others and he had worked this job to follow his dream of acting or writing, but he did not forget the dream. He just wasn’t allowed to act on it.

     “My name is Amos King,” he said. “I know that if I open that phone I can find an opportunity to get out of here. A great audition or maybe I even won a writing contest. Who are you? How are you here? Is that Walt Whitman with you? Wow.”

     Walt Whitman blushed and smiled. I answered.

     “We’re here on a sort of writing project, actually.”

     “Are you dead?” Amos said.

     “No, I don’t think so,” but I realized I could be, on the inside, if I let the fate of Amos become mine.

     “I know I look young,” Amos said, “but I have a son out there. Is he dead? Why isn’t he with you?”

     “I have no idea.”

     “I hope he’s still writing. What year is it?”

     “2018.”

     “He must be around 30 then.”

      I hesitated then said, “just like me.”

     “You know, you remind me of him. If you see him tell him I love him.”

     “I will,” I said. “Is there anything else I should know.”

     “Yes, that man right through that invisible shade there, that’s my brother, tell him his name is Francis King, and that I love him as well.”

     “Of course, Amos.”

     “I’d go myself, but they won’t let me leave the store,” he looked up at the ceiling and then back at us. “Thanks for coming to visit me.”

     I went through the border into the ballroom and found Francis King standing right where we left him.

     “Your name is Francis King,” I said, “and your brother loves you.”

     “Oh,” he said, and smiled and a tear escaped his bloodshot eye sockets, then the expression on his face dissolved, and his arms robotically moved to put his tray into a level position, his legs pivoting and sending his body into an about face as he walked to an empty table filled with the trash and filth of the faceless rich and hedonist sycophants.