“At least you got a chance,”a voice broke in, loud in my head.
It’s a horrible feeling, like having your brain sucked out through your belly button. Last thing I remembered I was laying beside a tree next to the river, in a farmer’s field, trying to stay awake. I ran for like five six hours, until I stopped seeing cars all together. Only thing I saw were cows and horses, things that didn’t say much.
I had to take it slower at times creeping through these back acres. You never quite knew who might be kicking about, checking on everything.
It got cold, real cold. Sky was so big, so dark. My breathe came out in smoky streams. I began to shiver, and panic. I saw what looked like an empty church sitting far off the road. There were no cars, grass was over grown. I found broken windows and a busted in door around back, so I snuck in there.
Everything was gone from the place. No pews, no crosses, just empty. I was going to go to sleep there, seemed like a safe place. I laid down and started to freak out. What in the hell was I doing? I started to berate the Muse, demanding an answer, to why she was doing all this to me. When she ignored me, I turned to the big guy, the sky daddy. Why was he allowing all this? Couldn’t he help me? Didn’t he care?
The church was so dark. The shadows seemed to hide an eternity. I felt like something was watching me, from the hallway. Super creepy sensation. Instinctively, I jump up felt like I was drunk, sick. I stumbled out and caught myself on a nail. My arm was warm and wet, so I know I was bleeding. I rushed out, falling twice in the hurry, not wanting to discover what was looking at me.
I ran for another hour, until I came upon a large oak tree and decided to sit down for a rest. I was freezing, holding my legs, making myself into a little ball. I realized I was going to freeze to death like this. Best thing I could think to do was pile a punch of leaves and stuff against me. This must have worked, but the damp, dirty leaves added an air of desperation to the whole thing. I suffered under the enormity of my mistake. Why had I run from the hospital like that?
My best bet was to turn around and head back. Get some professional help. Clearly, I had lost it. Of course, the fact that my face was pressed against a cold, concrete prison cell slab confirmed this in spades.
“At least you got a fucking chance,” the voice taunted again. “My timeline went nuclear on 9-11. Everyone one of them are dead over there. You understand that. I left them all that day. Not even a goddamn phone call. You remember your sister’s shitty red neon you were driving then? I crashed it somewhere outside St. Paul. Just looked like a big storm. All I had was a fucking pack of camels lights and a lighter, hidden under the front seat, so no one would find them. You remember doing that type of shit?”
I had no clue what the fuck was going on. I still really don’t. At first I thought it was just some figment of my own mind. As I woke up, I discerned it was coming from under the steel door, but it was still my voice, and sort of my memories. It was harder too, something sick and twisted in there, grumbling, gravely.
“Just kept walking you know? You remember when we took the trip to the boundaries water? Fourteen or fifteen. Best buddies, right? Mike and Sully, right? Boundary waters, funny shit. You remember all the fun we had? Camping all night, roasting brats on the fire, going out on the fishing boat at night, smoking joints Sully smuggled in his backpack, being sort of ashamed and exhilarated that he had done that. All those stars? And how good it felt to be alone out there. Edge of the world. Well, I thought of that as I watched the nuclear winter approach from the East. I didn’t know until later, once the fucking spooks swooped me up, but the cyclical weather pattern kept this thing at a tortoise crawl to the West, you understand?”
I was sitting up now. There was a small concrete bench there, which suggested the exact opposite of relaxation. “Survived for years out there like that. Can you imagine it? Nah you can’t. I won’t bore you.” He burst out in a hysterical laugh and screamed.
When he calmed down, he started again. “They found me on a rock, somewhere around North Dakota, who knows. It’s funny how all those titles and shit, end up meaning nothing. Everywhere was Shitsville, that’s how I thought of it anyway. Found me under some rock in Shitsville. Came up on me all crazy, one stormy night. I thought they were aliens or demons at first. Giant fucking triangle floating in the sky–wasn’t the first time I had seen some crazy shit out there, but this was especially crazy cause it was totally real. The landed at the open base of the mountain. A tiny helicopter popped out of the top and flew right towards me. I was too scared to run, too scared to do anything. A man, first one I had seen in over a year, came repelling from the helicopter, as it hovered above. Without a word, he snapped this harness on me and we were both floating through the air, up to the waiting triangle. Gave me all shorts of shots and shit. World went blank. Then I was over here. Fucked up, ain’t it? How they get you? Somewhere in Shitsville?”
Total panic overwhelmed me. I would lay there and imagine none of this was happening. The words just popped out though. “Out of bed.”
“Out of bed? Squatting somewhere? Holed up? What city? DC? Seattle? Heard that was bullshit? Know I shouldn’t have trusted that wino bitch? She said it was all gone. For real though, where were you holed up, in case they send me back to Shitsville?”
“Des Moines.” It just popped out. The miserable truth. I could feel myself walking right into this man’s anger.
“Des Moines?” He said, full of hurt and disbelief. “Fuck that. It’s gone. Long gone. Unless,fuck that. Don’t tell me that. Oh no, no, no, no. No. Fuck that.”
At this the man began to scream and cry. I could hear his heavy body as he slammed it against the floor, against the door. It was a wet sound like a drenched blanket being slapped against the concrete.
I yelled at him to stop, but he didn’t listen. With a final horrible sound of a watermelon being split in two, all went quiet, and that was it.
I laid there on the ground for a while, trying to make sense of what the man had said. And what did it mean that he talked about we? And us? As if “we” were the same person? That was impossible. Didn’t it make more sense, my paranoid mind began to push, that they had some actor in there, playing the part of myself from some other dimension, which had meets its unfortunate apocalyptic fate? As a writer and a fan of Science Fiction I am well aware of the concept of other dimensions and alternative time lines, my own experiences in the La La Land have been proof enough, but still to hear yourself so clearly, and yet so differently, was a real challenge for my mind.
Honestly, I felt very tired, and sad, and helpless, so I resolved to just fall asleep there on the floor. A loud banging of a door snapped me right out of it, and I scurried to a corner of the cell. The sound of a number of boots slamming down the corridor alarmed me. I heard the cell down the way from me open up and the slimy streak of a leaking body being dragged across the floor. The was some muffled words, more stomping, until it was right outside my room.
I jumped up. Within instinct taking over, I realized it was time to fight. A slit in the door opened up. A pair of intense blue eyes stared at me, disseminating all my courage with one glare. “Mr. McMulin,” a soft masculine voice said. “I’m coming in. I want a word. Behave yourself or receive a sedative.” He raised a syringe to the viewing slot. “Understand? No more games.”
I didn’t say a word. The slot was closed and the door was slid open. The man was tall, skinny, sinewy. His face was set in lines of intensity. His dark brown hair, was greased and plastered to his head. He wore an Orange and Yellow Hawaiian shit, with short shorts. His legs were thin and pale, wobbly perfect al dente spaghetti noodles. “Hello Mr. McMulin. You may call me Mr Black. I will be something like you’re contact person from now on, understand what I mean by that? Contact person? Over here. In what you so childishly call La La Land. Aaru. Elysium. Caelum. Nirvana. Asgard. Those are what people of the past called it. In more beautiful and civil times. La La land has its own beauty, doesn’t it? Simple. Pleasurable to say. Somehow it manages to convey the true nature of this place. Mr. McMulin, I am going to give it to you straight, okay?
I nodded. “I don’t need this, do I?” He asked, gesturing towards his hand holding the syringe.
“Good, good,” he said, handing it to a guard who stepped forward. They crowded the door way and hall. There was nothing I could do but listen.
He sat down on the concrete bench. “You have children, Mr McMulin?”
“Yes, I do, and I love them very much.”
“Of course, Mr McMulin, of course. Now these children I am sure there have been times, when you have been frustrated by their messiness? The thousandth time you scrubbed the table of breakfast syrup, or when you found that patch of permanent marker art on the wall, or the thousandth shitty diaper, some moment like that, you must have felt precisely how I feel right now. I feel hopeless Mr McMulin. Would you like to know why?”
“Yes, you Mr McMulin,” he said, pointing at me. “I am disappointed with you. You have everything over there, don’t you? A wife that still lets you hump, occasionally, three kids, three meals a day, and what do you do with it all? Piss it right down the drain! And for what? This shit? Me? Doesn’t make any sense!”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“No, you don’t, you’re right. I don’t know what sort of alliances you have made in all this, though I have my suspicions. That bitch is no good. I hope it’s not her. That would be bad for you Mr McMulin. You don’t look like an Artist though. Not enough courage. Are you an Artist?”
What sort of question is that? My mind struggled to see what answer this crazy man wanted? I always thought in a real shake down situation like this that I would have the heart not to roll on anyone, especially myself, but now I couldn’t even begin to think how to front to Mr. Black.
“Yes,” I said. “I think so. But I didn’t make an “alliance” or whatever with that woman. She just showed up one day, I don’t know. It was weird.”
He looked at me like I just pissed my pants. I have never seen anger, hate and malice roll of someone like Mr Black. That’s when I knew I had made a bad mistake. “So it is the Woman of Many Names and Faces. I suspected as much. Well, easy in, easy out, they say. This is regrettable Mr McMulin. Truly regrettable.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I really am. I don’t really understand all this. I didn’t make any pacts with her. She just showed up and started torturing me.”
“Did you play music for her?”
“But not very well,”
“She judged you harshly?”
“Goddammit!” He broke his composure, with a blistering rogue.
“I’m sorry,” I pleaded. “I had no clue what was going on. I’m so sorry. I just want this all to end.”
“Indeed Mr McMulin, indeed.” He said, through clenched teeth. “That is what I am here for, to clean up all your little messes. Now I have one more question. You have joined this woman in a walk through the Holy Forest of Remissions?”
“Yes,” I said, ashamed, knowing he was talking about the Pine Dust Forgetting Forrest.
There was a skin piercing tsk from Mr. Black, as he turned for the door. “This is all very bad Mr. McMulin. And exactly what I suspected. Termination will be my recommendation.”
“Termination will be your recommendation?” I yelled after him. “What does that mean?”
“Deletion. Ending. Abortion. Conclusion. Discontinuance. Stopping. Elimination. Termination.” He yelled all that over his shoulder as he walked out of the cell.