Stigmata

Stigmata

A Story by Mike Lamb
"

Hell, Fifth Circle, from the world of Jack's Inferno. Based (more or less) on a true story. I still have the scars and unpaid medical bills as proof.

"

Sometimes we stray from the land of comfort and sunshine and find ourselves in strange places, surrounded by death and disease. Aimless wandering has that effect. Two paths, and I always manage to find the dark one, filled with black clouds and gloom.

I'm in the back-alley labyrinthe of an infected city. Sick people are slumped over moaning in the shadows. Lepers beg for change. Welcome to the plague district. Cover your mouth when you breathe.

Screaming sirens wail through the bleak night as a traffic-jamming fleet of ambulances spirals aimlessly around the city, weaving through the crumbling streets one after the other like the segmented mechanical body of a dragon chasing its own tail. A blood red fire truck--spewing flames--forms the dragon's head. A pyromaniac stares out through the dragon's eye. If it weren't for the endless rain, the city would be ashes by now. Even now the cold drizzle swells into a torrential downpour. The flood levels rise in the streets. Gutters and drains seem to be purely decorative here, and there's a conspicuous lack of overhangs along the outside walls. No shelter from the storm. I would do unspeakable things for an umbrella right now.

The wind is howling like it's got something to prove. I refuse to dignify it with a metaphor. It's f*****g wind and it's beneath my contempt.

I'm soaking wet, it's freezing cold, and I have nowhere to go. This is not the tone I'd like to set for the evening. At least the leather jacket helps against the elements, but only to an extent. The little things don't mean nearly as much as the optimists would have you believe.

There's a sudden sharp sting in my right wrist, followed by throbbing pain. There's a small red bump, maybe a blister or an insect bite. Probably nothing. I ignore it.

I look back to the street. The red dragon coughs up another fireball in spite of the deluge. Rain slick pavement shines a bright orange reflection, wet and blurry. The ambulances follow the fire engine, always screaming, red lights pulsing. Cop cars cover the flanks forming talons. They cast a blue spectral glow, the midnight mood light of the city.

There's a sudden sharp sting in my left wrist, followed by throbbing pain. There's a small red bump, maybe a blister or an insect bite. Probably nothing. Hang on, this looks familiar. I look back at my right wrist. It's gotten worse. The bump is twice as large and deep purple surrounded by a wide patch of red skin. It burns. Why does it burn?!

I look back at my left wrist with an amplified sense of urgency. It's getting worse. Oh f**k. I need a hospital. Right now.

"You! Plague rat!" I snap at one of the lepers curled up under a soaking wet blanket. "Where's the hospital?!" He points north (or it might have been one of the other three, I forget) towards a white tower in the distance. His finger actually falls off in the process. Under less frantic circumstances I would have laughed at that.

I'm still soaking wet and freezing cold, but at least now I've got a destination. Too far to walk, gotta find a taxi. There. Side of the road. I approach the cab. I tell the cabbie to take me to the hospital. He says nothing. I poke him in the shoulder and repeat my destination. He doesn't move, and I just realized why. He's dead. S**t. Okay, not a big deal, we'll go with Plan B. I dump the corpse in the street and steal his car.

The meat wagon caravan coils off down a side street and it's gone from sight. The sound of the sirens begins to fade. The road is deserted. I crank the ignition and hit the headlights. The windshield wipers are on for what it's worth. Rain hits the glass in solid sheets. The view is translucent, almost opaque. Zero visibility. Dodge the lights and stay inside the lines. I can't even see the f*****g lines.

Straight shot through the flooded road and f**k every red light along the way. The white tower glows ghostlike in the night. All other scenery becomes trivial. There's only the molten iron in my blood dragging me to the magnet of the neon red cross. I'm drawn towards it, almost against my will. I hate hospitals. I've always hated them. But there are times, brother. There are times.

I try to diagnose myself. Painful swollen welts have appeared mysteriously on both wrists, crucifixion style. This is what I've come up with so far: matching spider bites, possibly from an invisible brown recluse with a wrist fetish; physical contact with toxic and/or radioactive chemicals, now burning through my skin and possibly giving me super powers; act of God in a bad mood; or gypsy curse. None of these theories work for the inner skeptic in me.

I'm losing large chunks of time, which makes it a quick drive. I start seeing bold light-up signs with directional arrows. Staff, no, visitors, no, outpatient, no, physical therapy, no, school of neurology, no, EMERGENCY, YES. Turn here. Stay in left lane. Left lane closed, merge right. Ambulance parking only, towing enforced. Staff parking only, permit A, towing enforced. Leased parking only, permit B, towing enforced. Handicapped parking, $250 fine. Metered parking, I have no quarters. Expectant mothers only, towing enforced. There! Parking spot, unrestricted, no signs, no fines, no permits required. I take it without a second thought. I get out of the car and look around frantically. Which way is the goddamn hospital? I don't even see it anymore. Okay, there it is. Straight ahead and very, very far away.

I'm still slipping in and out of time, which makes it a short walk. There are three entrances along the wall, all spread far apart. Which one? The words on the signs blur at a distance. First choice--wrong. Second choice--wrong. Door number three it is. Inside the antechamber are two half-sleeping cops seated at a large grey table. Take all metal objects out of your pockets and go through the metal detector. Fine, whatever. Through another door across the white floor reflecting the way-too-bright florescent lights. The sudden shift from the gloom outside almost burns out my retinas.

My feet drag my body to the check-in window by raw instinct. The lady says something that I don't even pretend to listen to. I just show her my wrists and say, "Something's wrong with me." She hands me a pen and some paperwork. Writing is suddenly much harder than I remembered. My handwriting is atrocious and my signature contains no decipherable letters. It'll have to do. She asks me if I have any health insurance and much to my amazement I suddenly remember, yes, I do actually have health insurance. She takes my card and makes a copy of it on the scanner. She hands me some sort of light up vibrator designed to go into a flashing seizure when the doctors are ready to see me. I distantly wonder how much it costs, and why they couldn't have just handed me a scrap of paper with a number on it.

Time relaxes its hold on my perception once again, which makes it a short wait. I'm greeted by an unsmiling brick wall of a nurse, humorless and pitiless. Step on the scale. 150lbs. How tall are you? I don't know, 5'9" I think. Blood pressure. High. Temperature. High. Allergic to any medications? No. Any diseases? No. What's wrong with you today? My wrists. How'd that happen? I don't know. Does it itch? No. Does it hurt? Yes. On a scale of one to ten? Seven and a half. And you say something bit you? Maybe. Insect? Maybe. Spider? Maybe, I don't know. What did it look like? I don't know, I didn't see it. Did it happen when you were asleep? I don't know, maybe. Follow the nurse, she'll take you to the next available bed. Fine, whatever.

The other nurse takes me to a small sterile room with one chair, one table, and one cot. She hands me a cup. Pee in this. Why? We need it for tests. What tests? Medical tests. Do I have to? Yes. Will this cost extra? Yes. Fine, whatever. She leaves. I pee in a cup. Time passes. She comes back to steal my urine. She leaves. Time passes.

She returns with a hypodermic needle rigged with plastic tubing. She has seven empty vials. What are those for? Your blood. Why do you need seven vials of my blood? Is it for the apocalypse? No, silly. It's for tests. What tests? Medical tests. Do I have to? Yes. Will this cost extra? Yes. Fine, whatever. She stabs my vein and drains me. She leaves the room with the seven vials of my blood that I'm convinced she's just going to drink in the lounge with six other nurses. I expect she'll want a lock of my hair next.

Time passes. Two young med students enter the room, a boy and a girl. Nervous and giddy with stupid grins on their faces.

"Hi! We're medical students!" Oh s**t. I'm dead. "We'll be observing you today. So what seems to be the trouble?"

I hold up my wrists and tell them in perfect deadpan that I have stigmata. They laugh at the joke. Then they look closer and wince as their expressions turn to empathetic disgust. "Ohhh...well, the doctor's gonna take a look at that and we'll see about getting you all fixed up."

Oh thank Christ, a real doctor just walked in. "Hi. I'm Doctor Hack." Oh s**t. I'm dead. "So what seems to be the trouble?"

"I got stigmata."

He laughs. Then he takes a closer look and says, "Ohhh..." He examines my wrists, mostly the right one. The right one is the worst of the two. Abscessed boil with staph infection, he tells me. Sure, why not. We have to drain the pus so it can heal. Fine, whatever. This will involve puncturing the pus filled boil with a needle. This may hurt a little. But hey, you've got tattoos! So we can just assume your threshold for pain is extraordinarily high. Right? Wrong. The needle stabs inside the festering wound and probes around for a minute, lost. It's exactly as painful as it sounds.

"Huh," the doctor says, "That didn't work quite as well as I expected." The sheepish med students hover over me looking concerned. "We're gonna need to do a little minor surgery here, so I'm just gonna go ahead and give you a shot of Novocain to numb you."

"Yeah, anytime you wanna break out the anesthesia is fine by me." The prick of another needle, and my hand goes to sleep. I'm still awake. The doctor picks up a scalpel. You may feel some pressure.

I stare up at the ceiling. I'm peripherally aware of the fact that the doctor's rubber gloves are now more red than white.

Time passes. I'm released back into the wild.

Back across the endless miles of parking lot to the stolen cab. The rain's gotten lazy again, but it hasn't quite stopped. I don't expect it will.

My wrists are bandaged and crusted with dark dried blood. My hands are useless, my legs are weak, and my head is spinning. This should be an interesting drive. I can move my arms and I can move my fingers, but I can't move my wrists. It's physically possible, but it's a world of pain that accomplishes nothing. This becomes problematic when I arrive at the car. It takes a full minute and three muffled screams to fish the car keys out of my pocket. I place the key in the lock and let it sit a moment as I try to think of the best strategy for rotating it a quarter of a turn clockwise. It never used to be this difficult. I twist my wrist slightly on the first attempt. It explodes with pain and goes limp, prompting me to explore other ideas. I use both hands and lean into it. The door reluctantly opens and I crawl in the driver's seat. I still have the ignition to deal with.

There's a twenty-four hour drug store down the street a few blocks. In my pocket I have two pieces of paper which can be redeemed for medicine. One bottle to kill the pain, one bottle to kill the infection. And I'm gonna need gauze. Lots of gauze.

I arrive at the drugstore. The parking lot does not merit description. F**k off, I'm in pain right now. Visualize parking lots on your own time. Everything between me and medication is uninteresting and unimportant. I hit the counter at the back and cash in my prescriptions. Time passes. I wait impatiently.

The pharmacist sets the bag on the counter. Two bottles inside. Childproof bottles. That also makes them cripple-proof. I look down at my immobile hands--five fingered pain receptors. I tell the pharmacist to take out the pain meds and open the bottle for me. I need one now. Just drop it in my palm. He does what I ask. I stare at the pill. It's a foot and a half away from my mouth at a 45 degree angle, and I don't know if I can make it in one try. It's amazing how the simplest tasks become brain-wracking geometry problems once you've lost the luxury of wrist articulation. It's a slow and awkward process requiring more balance than I expected. Ultimately I'm forced to hunch down and meet the pill halfway with my face. With the tablet clenched in my teeth, I point to a bottle of water. The pharmacist unscrews the top. I down the pill and declare a small victory.

I grip the handles of the plastic bag as best as I can and shuffle towards the exit and back to the car. There's a motel nearby. I'm not picky right now. Just need a room with a sink. Maybe it'll even have a bed and a shower. Wouldn't that be luxurious?

 

*The Ratshack Inn*

There's a withered old man working the check-in desk. I tell him I'm gonna need a room for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. Don't rape me on the price.

"Oh, of course!" he tells me. "Always happy to have new tenants! How does the presidential suite sound?"

"Deceptive. What's so special about it?"

"Guy got shot in there. Name just kinda stuck."

"Huh."

"Yeah, it's a bad joke, I know. Hey, it's still better than the honeymoon suite. You don't even wanna know what happened in that room."

"No, I suppose not. Got any regular rooms?"

"We got ten vacancies but they're all presidential suites. And at least one of them is rumored to be haunted. We're not sure which one."

"Huh."

"Hey, we got clean rooms, though. The forensic guys make sure of that. They leave those rooms spotless. I don't even keep a maid anymore."

"Hell of a sales pitch, old man. Tell you what, just give me a room and stop talking before you convince me to leave."

"Sure thing, boss. Here's your key, enjoy your stay."

"Yeah thanks, I won't."

He was right, the room is spotless. I assume that means someone died here very recently.

First order of business--drugs. Right now I'm not high and I'm in pain. I'd like to reverse that. Then there's the matter of antibiotics. Two pills every twelve hours. It was midnight when I drove to the hospital. Now it's almost noon. The sky is dark grey. Or is it gray?

Time passes. The opiate train is going full speed and everything is just fine. I drift off to sleep and dream of nothing.

*

When I wake up my blood is on fire. Now I suddenly remember how much this hurts. I eat a pill and try to forget again. I stagger over to the toilet to piss. I can't hold my dick to aim, but I still manage to keep most of it off the floor. That's what separates me from the animals.

I go back to sleep.

I wake up at midnight. My blood is on fire. I eat two pain pills and two antibiotics. I stagger over to the toilet to piss. Most of it splashes on my feet this time. I wipe my feet on the carpet before returning to bed.

Time passes.

*

Monday morning. I have an appointment with some people claiming to be doctors at a day clinic in the medical district.

The waiting room's filled with all the usual crap: magazines from 1987, pamphlets for benevolent sounding medications with scores of crippling side effects, poorly illustrated children's books...oddly enough one of the children's books grabs my attention right away. The cover features a spiral-eyed cartoon dragon and a person who bears a frightening resemblance to me. My name is in the title, and the title is distressing. I pick it up and start reading.

 

SO YOU'RE GOING TO DIE, SAID THE DRAGON TO JACK

"SO YOU'RE GOING TO DIE," SAID THE DRAGON TO JACK,

"CHOPPED UP INTO BITS WITH A SLASH! AND A HACK!"

"WHO'D DO SUCH A THING?" SHOUTED JACK IN SURPRISE,

"I'M IN NO MOOD FOR JOKES AND I'M SICK OF YOUR LIES!"

"THE JOKE," SAID THE DRAGON, "I'M AFRAID IS QUITE TRUE,

"FOR I'VE SEEN THAT THE FUTURE DOES NOT INCLUDE YOU.

"THE DETAILS ARE VAGUE, AND THE METHOD'S UNCERTAIN,

"BUT NO MATTER WHAT, BE EXPECTING THE CURTAIN.

"IT COULD COME FROM A FIRE TO COOK YOU LIKE STEAK,

"AND WHEN YOU CRY HELP! YOU'LL BE THROWN IN THE LAKE.

"YOUR SKIN WILL TURN BLACK AND THE FLAMES WILL DIE DOWN,

"BUT SAVED YOU ARE NOT, FOR INSTEAD YOU WILL DROWN!"

SAID JACK TO THE DRAGON, "DON'T TELL ME THESE THINGS!

"WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF SOMEONE SET FIRE TO YOUR WINGS?"

"CALM DOWN," SAID THE DRAGON, "THERE'S MORE WAYS TO GO,

"YOU MIGHT QUIETLY DIE, OR MIGHT PUT ON A SHOW!

"IT MIGHT BE JUST CLUMSY, OR TERRIBLE LUCK,

"STRUCK DOWN BY LIGHTNING, OR HIT BY A TRUCK!

"TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES AND JUMP OUT OF A PLANE,

"THEY'LL SAY WHO WAS THAT GUY? WOW, HE WAS INSANE!"

"ALRIGHT LOOK, FLYING SERPENT," SAID JACK TO THE BEAST,

"I DON'T THINK THAT I CARE FOR THIS TALK IN THE LEAST.

"IT'S OFFENSIVE AND RUDE, AND YOU'VE CLEARLY NO TACT,

"SO SHUT THE [email protected]#? UP," TO THE DRAGON SAID JACK.

"IS THIS MAKING YOU MAD?" SAID THE SNAKE WITH A SMILE,

"FOR IT'S QUITE A LONG LIST, WE MAY BE HERE A WHILE.

"SO LISTEN YOUNG MAN, AND LISTEN UP GOOD."

"DO I HAVE TO?" SAID JACK. SAID THE DRAGON, "YOU SHOULD.

"YOU EAT TOO MUCH BACON, YOUR HEART MIGHT EXPLODE.

"YOU COULD POISON YOUR LIVER FROM LICKING A TOAD.

"EATEN BY WOLVES OR MOLESTED BY BEARS,

"GET AIDS FROM A MONKEY OR FALL DOWN THE STAIRS.

"YOU MIGHT EVEN GET HANGED IN THE CENTER OF TOWN,

"ABDUCTED BY MARTIANS OR SHOT BY A CLOWN.

"MAKE UP A SYNDROME AND GIVE IT YOUR NAME,

"OR DIE FROM A COLD, WOULDN'T THAT BE A SHAME?

"STILL UNDECIDED? THERE MUST BE AN ANSWER.

"HERE'S AN IDEA, TRY NEW SUPER-CANCER!

"BUT CANCER'S A TRAGEDY, NO WAY TO DIE.

"SO WHY NOT GIVE SOMETHING MORE SLAPSTICK A TRY?

"HEAD CRACKED ON A TOILET FROM SLIPPING IN POO,

"OR KILLED IN A DUEL WITH A MAD KANGEROO!"

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" SHOUTED JACK, "I'M SICK OF THIS TALK!

"I'M HEALTHY, YOU HEAR? NOT AN OUTLINE IN CHALK!

"THE WORLD'S FULL OF GRAVES, BUT THERE'S NOT ONE FOR ME!

"YOU DON'T KNOW OF MY LIFE, I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU SEE!

"YOU DON'T SCARE ME DRAGON, THOUGH TRY AS YOU MIGHT,

"DID YOU REALLY EXPECT ME TO COWER IN FRIGHT?

"THERE'S NO WAY THAT I'M DYING, IN FACT, I FEEL FINE."

"WELL YOU'RE TALKING TO DRAGONS, DON'T YOU THINK THAT'S A SIGN?"

 

I throw the book across the room screaming, "F**k you, dragon!" Everyone in the waiting room is staring at me like I'm crazy. I guess I had that coming. One lady whispers, "Drugs," to the woman beside her who responds with a nod of agreement.

"Sir?" the secretary/receptionist dressed as a nurse says to me, "the doctor will be with you in one moment."

One. Two. Three. Four hours and one moment later I'm called back to the inner sanctum of the doctor's lair. A pear-shaped girl dressed up like a nurse weighs me and takes my temperature (in the mouth, not the a*s). She asks me how tall I am, even though I'm standing beside the measuring tape glued to the wall. So I tell her I'm 5'9" because that's my usual guess when someone asks me how tall I am, and if it's wrong no one's ever corrected me. She wraps an inflatable tourniquet around my arm to check my blood pressure. I sit and wait. I stare blankly at the pear-shaped rent-a-nurse. I stare at her acne for a moment, then look away so as not to make her overly self conscious. That, and I have the irrational fear that one day I will accidentally put a psychic in tears with idle cruel thoughts. So I stare at her hair, which looks crunchy. Needs more hairspray. Still not crunchy enough. It's never crunchy enough. I love hairspray. See? That's just uncalled for. Why do I do that? So I stare at her buckteeth instead, so as not to make her feel self conscious about her crunchy hair.

She removes the tourniquet and informs me that my blood pressure is normal, or at least not terrible. She's asks me the nature of my visit.

"Stigmata."

"What's that?"

"It's a joke." One in three doesn't get it.

She takes me into a little room with framed medical illustrations of genitals on the wall. She tells me to lie down on the wax-papered ottoman (she uses the word "bed" for some reason) and relax. A confused and incompetent med school drop-out will be here shortly to stick an eight hundred dollar flashlight in your ear. Oh, and by the way, I need you to pee in this cup first. Here's a magic marker so you can write your name on it.

I label the cup FREE LEMONADE.

An hour later some lady in a white coat enters the room. She asks me the nature of my visit. I tell her of my surgical adventures. I remove the blood encrusted bandages. My wounds now resemble Hollywood zombie makeup of the highest quality. She says, "Oh wow. How did it happen?"

"Germs. Bad luck. Heresy. Who knows?"

She gives me another week of antibiotics and tells me to soak my wrists in warm water every day. That is the full extent of her medical advice. She sticks a stethoscope to my chest and listens to my heart. She hears nothing of interest. She sticks a flashlight in my ear. She finds nothing of interest. She does not pull a nickel out of my ear and exclaim, "Look what I found!" I would have liked that. I would have found the gesture endearingly absurd, and it probably would have brightened my whole day ever so slightly. But she doesn't, and it makes me angry and bitter.

And that's it. Here's your new prescription. Come back in a week.

*

Back to the Ratshack Inn. More pills. Starting to feel again. I'm finding blood stains on things I don't remember bleeding on. I'm not suggesting someone else snuck in and bled all over the place, it just bothers me that I'm losing track of my own blood so easily.

The first few days of the week are ritually sacrificed to Hypnos, god of sleep. He accepts my offering.

*

I dreamt of the sun and I dreamt of the sand,

I dreamt of the wind and the sea.

I dreamt of a man with a hook for a hand,

And the b*****d, he looked just like me.

*

My movement is minimal. The bed is my world. I am one with the mattress. The fuzzy blanket becomes a deep blue alien landscape of grassy hills and shadowy ditches, constantly roamed by nomadic hallucinations riding on the backs of strange skittering things that aren't real and never were. Flashing patterns of dotted light are speckled across the white wall sky beneath the light bulb sun. Phantom insects patrol the air, appearing, disappearing, slipping in and out of orbit. A mosquito flies into the sun, melting his wings. Icarus, you are a fool.

On the nightstand is a small red spider. "What do you want with me, spider?" I ask aloud. I glare at it and say, "Did you do this to me? Are you poisonous?" The spider does not answer. "You know something you're not telling me, don't you?" The spider rears up on four legs, trying to look menacing. There's a brief flitter of childish fear, followed by a twinge of disgust, followed by the wrath of my shoe. There are no Buddhists present to disapprove of my actions. Why did you have to kill it? Because f**k spiders, that's why. I give the crushed arachnid a toilet burial along with the three legs that snapped off in the process of killing it. It will have all of its legs in the next life.

I return to bed and go right back to sleep. I dream of Roman centurions riding on the backs of giant spiders, chasing me up a hill to crucify me. They trap me in a web. There's a human fly next to me. He tries to bum a smoke. I tell him I'm all out.

*

Friday night rolls around and I'm sitting on a gut full of pills. You may experience the following side effects: headache, fatigue, nausea, fever, dizziness, blurred vision. I'm in a cold sweat and I can't stand up. I'm on the carpet. Fetal position. I can feel the planet's rotation. The walls dissolve and the ceiling turns to liquid. I have x-ray vision. I can see my bones. They're glowing. Hallucinatory shape-shifting things scamper and frolic in dark corners. A two-headed midget in fishnets becomes a lizard-faced dog becomes a monkey in a clown suit becomes a flying pig becomes...

Maybe I won't vomit. Maybe. I'll just crawl over to the toilet just in case. I'll just rest my face on the seat for a minute.

Oh God. There's no escaping this one.

I puke until I cry. And then I puke some more. It takes a while to catch my breath after the final dry heave. I wash my face. My eyes are bloodshot. It's been a long time since I've had a haircut or a shave. I'm starting to look like Jesus. The irony of this does not escape me. I stare in the mirror with sick terror and reflect on my own mortality.

I lie back down on the floor. I'm completely alone, and I'm dying in a s****y motel. No one knows where I am. No one cares.

I black out. Death shows up in a dream. He lights up a cigarette. The smoke drifts out of his sockets. He offers me a lift in a carriage pulled by flaming skeletal horses. I tell him hell no. He laughs and rides off. There's a bright light at the end of the road. Everything goes fuzzy.

*

When I wake up my blood is on fire. I could take more pain pills, maybe. Then again, maybe the meds are killing me faster than the infection. Today will be a day of suffering. I remove my bandages. The wounds have gotten worse. The left wrist looks horrible when viewed alone. When viewed next to the other it looks great, perfectly healthy. My right wrist looks like a bullet hole full of pus. I used to be right-handed.

There's an empty ice bucket in the mini fridge. I fill it with warm water. I soak my wrists, alternating between the left and the right. Hurray, I'm cured! It's a miracle of modern medicine! A******s. I re-bandage the festering wounds, one at a time, one-handed, with great difficulty. How do you treat hand injuries with injured hands? It's a conundrum.

I crawl back to bed. I can't sleep. The room is empty. No TV, no stereo, no books, no magazines. No distractions, no entertainment. No visitors, no friends. Mind-Blowing Pain, meet your new roommate, Mind-Numbing Boredom.

Time passes. Nothing interesting happens for a long time.

*

Just as I begin to drift off to sleep I hear screaming in the room below me. The voice is that of an angry female, clearly the aggressor in a very ugly domestic dispute. She sounds like a werewolf with Tourette's Syndrome. Apparently someone's f*****g someone. "Who are you f*****g?! Why won't you f**k me anymore?! Who are you f*****g?! WHO ARE YOU F*****G?! ANSWER ME!! I HATE YOU!!! I F*****G HATE YOU!!!" I don't actually hear anyone else in the room. Either she's on the phone or she's yelling at a mute. This goes on for a while without much variation on the theme.

I have invented a list of what I consider to be the four primary types of domestic disputes. I base them purely on noise. I'm not a social worker, just a guy with thin walls. The first type is Crying Girl versus Wall Puncher. This one is very sad and loud. The second type is Crazy B***h versus Quiet Guy. That's the one I'm currently being entertained with. Type three is Crazy B***h versus Wall Puncher. This is the worst. Do yourself a favor and leave the house for a few hours, maybe catch a movie. Type four is Quiet Guy versus Crying Girl. This one is my favorite. You can barely hear them.

I walk across the room towards the window. The rain is steady. The sky is deep blue-black. In a few hours it'll brighten up to the color of cigarette ash. Daytime. Another dose of medicine at noon.

There's a man half-running and half-limping down the street. A pack of blood-spattered ambulances slowly trails him like wolves. The man collapses with a scream of terror. The ambulances close in, forming a circle around him. Shadowy figures emerge with a stretcher. The man on the ground tries to struggle. It's no use. They overtake him.

Eventually I sleep. In my dream I feel no pain. My dream-self sits in a dream-room staring at a dream-clock. You'll be awake again soon. And it's going to hurt.

When I wake up my blood is on fire.

I eat more pills and call it a day. I time travel in my sleep. I set the destination for twelve hours into the future.

*

I have another appointment at the clinic today. Can't wait.

On the way there I see a billboard that reads STIGMATA KILLS. GET VACCINATED TODAY. I do a double take and it's something completely different. An ad for a car. I'm letting my imagination get carried away. The next billboard I pass reads YOU'RE DEAD, JACK. AND YOU'RE F*****G CRAZY.

Cute.

I arrive at the clinic. I enter and sign in, then claim a seat among the lepers. The waiting room is packed with sick people, coughing, wheezing, sniffling. Screaming children running laps and burbling snot. I immerse myself in a tri-fold brochure.

 

Finally, an anti-depressant that treats erectile dysfunction while helping you to lose weight and quit smoking. Ask your doctor if Excrucia is right for you. Common side effects include headache, nausea, bloating, fatigue, dizziness, diarrhea, constipation, cramps, muscle aches, bleeding from all orifices, drowsiness, insomnia, excitability in children, fever, chills, impotence, loss of bladder control, severe unrelenting pain, hair loss, weight gain, skin rash, itching, hives, cardiac arrest, stroke, blindness, yeast infection, accelerated tooth decay, mysterious bruises, emphysema, hearing loss, depression, compulsive gambling, thoughts of suicide, pain while urinating, anal leakage, spontaneous combustion, vomiting, and dementia. Seek medical attention immediately if your urine is any of the following colors: red, blue, purple, green, turquoise, pink, orange, lavender, teal, fuchsia, black, yellow, or clear. This may be an early indication of one of many possible rare but fatal syndromes. This medication has been banned in forty-two countries. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist today. Get the most out of life with Excrucia.

 

I was really hoping that would have killed more time than it did. I spend the next three hours staring at the ceiling.

*

A girl dressed like a nurse eventually calls my name. It's not the pear-shaped girl this time. This one looks more like a giraffe. Her haircut makes me think of a poodle. Step on the scale, how tall are you, blood pressure, temperature. You know the drill. Sit in another room, wait another hour.

There's a plastic anatomical sculpture of an ear canal sitting on the counter between the sink and the popsicle sticks. Can you find the cochlea?

I snag a copy of Highlights Magazine off the counter and stare at the drawings as I wait. I try to read a story about a puppy and a duck, but it's in Spanish. I'll never know what became of them on their adventures.

A man enters the room. White hair, white beard, and vaguely resembling a polar bear. He asks me the nature of my visit. I'm getting really tired of explaining the same damn thing to everybody in the building.

He looks at my right wrist. "Hmm."

He looks at my left wrist. "Hmm."

He looks at my right wrist again. "Hmm. Doesn't seem to be healing, does it?"

"No."

"Been soaking it in water?"

"Yeah."

"Huh. Well let's go ahead and put you on some different antibiotics. Starting immediately. And keep taking the other ones. Let's go ahead and give you a shot of antibiotics while we're at it." He jabs a needle in my hip. He grips my right wrist and says, "Let's get this necrotic tissue out of here."

"Necrotic tissue?"

He places both thumbs over the swollen pus-oozing boil and SON OF A F**K C**T F**K S**T F**K W***E!!!

Pus. Blood. Pain. Strawberry custard, pouring out. More blood than I expected. More than I feel comfortable losing. This man is not a doctor. This man is a barbarian. Just bring me the leeches and be done with it.

Even high on pain pills, my right wrist feels like it's been smashed with a sledgehammer bathed in cobra venom. When he goes for the left wrist I scream, "Back off!" He shrugs and walks out of the room.

And that's it.

I leave with my new prescriptions, including more pain pills. My leg is numb from the shot and I've taken on a new limp. On my way out some b***h at the front desk makes a thinly veiled threat about the bill. Not now, I tell her. Just mail it to me. If you can find me.

Back to the drugstore. Pills. Bandages. Food. Water. Antibiotic ointments. Antibacterial soap. Rubbing alcohol. Hydrogen peroxide. Cotton swabs. More bandages. Surgical tape. All these things seem useful and necessary. Forgive me, credit card, for what I am about to do to you. I'll pay you later. I promise.

There's a rough looking hooker (in the autumn years of her life) in front of me at the checkout line. She wears a transparent hooded rain coat and black bra and panties underneath. She's buying lipstick, condoms, abortion pills, penicillin (now available in generic prescription-strength over the counter formula, compare to the active ingredients in Clap-Out), lice shampoo, cold sore medicine, bleach, Vaseline, rubber gloves, Vagisil, bacon, Preparation H, anti-fungal foot and crotch cream, a Snickers bar, twenty AA batteries, and milk. She says, "Man, I could live at this store!"

Under his breath, the guy at the register mumbles, "Oh hell no you couldn't."

The hooker turns to me and says, "Hey, you're a good-lookin' young buck. Wanna go out behind the dumpster? I'll cut ya a deal. Half-price?"

I give her a look that is the polar opposite of enthusiasm.

"Seventy-five percent off?"

"..."

"No charge?"

"..."

"I'll pay you?"

For a sick, sad moment that thought scurries roach-like across my brain. I stomp out the urge to ask how much money's she's offering.

"Okay, well...I'll see ya 'round," she says as she leaves.

I pay for my s**t and exit the store. No one accosts me in the parking lot, and don't think I'm not grateful for that.

On the way back to the motel I notice a shop that I don't remember seeing before. The sign reads "Holistic Healing and Miracle Cures." Sounds like bullshit. I'll give it a shot. The bridge between desperate faith and skeptical doubt is pain.

The store is dark and cramped inside. The whole place reeks of incense. The stereo plays a recording of wind-chimes. Yeah. It's one of those stores.

I try to waste as little time as possible browsing. I grab a bottle of anything that looks useful. Vitamins. Antioxidants to eliminate free radicals and boost the immune system. Herbal supplements from the Amazon. Amino acids essential for...something. Anything with the word Elixir. Skin moisturizing foaming sprays enhanced with the highest quality pharmaceutical grade ingredients including all natural antibacterial enzymes, and containing 82 different trace elements, minerals and nutrients to accelerate the healing process and protect derma cells. I don't know exactly what that means, but they've worded it in a way that makes it sound very positive and effective--and I like that in a product. I pick up a box of something called Magic Shaman Powder. There's a picture of an Indian on the front, so it must be good. Add water to make a special paste that will cleanse infectious wounds and purify tainted souls. Ingredients: baking soda. Wait, that's it? I don't care, I'll still buy it. There's an Indian on it.

I skip the hemp clothing rack and approach the register, which sits on top of a glass case filled with glass pipes and glass bongs. And a few glass d****s. The clerk is a white guy with dreadlocks who vaguely strikes me as an effeminate Charles Manson. As he rings up my purchases, he informs me that every purchase comes with a free edition of the best-selling book The Secret of Cosmic Voodoo.

"The secret of what?" I ask.

"Cosmic Voodoo. You're not familiar with it?"

"No. What the f**k is it?"

His eyes light up as he tells me, "It's everything. It's the sky. It's the ocean. It's the Eye of Jupiter. It's a grain of sand."

"So...it's philosophy?"

"It's more than that."

"Religion?"

"More than that."

"New age stoner hippie bullshit?"

"More than that. This book will--"

"Change my life, yeah I know. Fine. Just toss it in the bag with the other s**t."

As I'm leaving he says, "May your aura burn bright."

"Burn in Hell."

"Hell is but a state of mind."

"Shut up, hippie."

So now I have one form of entertainment. A book.

First things first...back to the motel for the cleansing ritual.

*

I stare at the rosy red rings of swollen flesh on my wrists. Blood. Pus. Pain. Alcohol to sterilize the open wound. Wait for the sting. Soak in warm water. Hydrogen peroxide to eat away the dead skin. Apply baking soda paste to draw out the infection. Consult spirit animal for guidance. No answer. I grab a bottle of water out of the fridge and start downing random vitamins. That should help, right? Think positive.

I'm up to eight pills a day on the antibiotics. Four at noon, four at midnight. I don't know how they work. I don't know what they do. Still don't even know what caused it all in the first place. I don't even care at this point.

Ever feel uncomfortable in your own skin? Like all of your organs are plotting against you and all your nerve endings have gone insane? It's easy to think of yourself as a one-celled organism. But of course, you're not. Your body is a vast universe full of strange living things, some of them alien and hostile. Everything has its own little tasks and functions, and the higher purpose of it all is to keep the body alive and functioning. What's the lower purpose? Imagine a cell and ask yourself, what is it? Not in a textbook definition or through a microscope, but on the actual level of other cells. Does it think? Does it feel? Is it sentient in any real way? How does it perceive the world? And here's the worst part...what if all the cells in your body have free will? What happens when they all stop giving a f**k? THE BODY NEEDS REPAIRS. F**k you, I'm union. Let it rot. DESTROY THE BACTERIA. What for? I got no problem with the bacteria. I like the bacteria. On the wall of a sinus cavity workshop there's a poster that reads EVERYTIME YOU SLACK OFF ON THE JOB, GOD GETS A HEAD COLD. From far enough away we must all look like one-celled organisms on the end of a weak microscope. What exactly are we doing?

But I'm thinking in nonsense again. Nothing productive ever comes from that.

I suppose things could be worse. I hate it when people say that. I once knew a lady who took a medical leave from work because her uterus fell out. That's how the office gossip girl phrased it--"Her uterus fell out." I didn't ask her to elaborate. A few weeks went by and the lady was still out of work. Gossip Girl gives me the update. There were complications after the surgery. Her anus fell out. I'm not making this up. That's exactly what the girl said. "Her anus fell out." How do you react to that? Once it sinks in that, no, this is not a punchline, this is serious. What do you say? I sincerely hope that modern medicine has enough wisdom and mercy to give that particular condition a proper scientific name. Something cryptic and hard to pronounce. Something less colorful than "my anus fell out." ("You missed a mandatory meeting last week, Bob. I hope you've got a good explanation." "I do. My anus fell out." "Bob? You're fired." )

I wash off the dried plaster of baking soda, apply antibiotic ointment, and awkwardly re-bandage my injuries. I return to bed with my new book. I eagerly await the life-changing experience it promises.

 

My name is Brent Vanguard and I'm about to reveal to you the Secret of Cosmic Voodoo. When I first discovered the Secret of Cosmic Voodoo, it changed my life forever. I can't even imagine living without it now that I know about it. When you read this book, you'll discover it too. But what is Cosmic Voodoo? It's magic! And where does magic come from? Space! And what controls space? Science! And what's more powerful than science? Voodoo! Cosmic Voodoo!

When I started writing this book I had one goal--to have more success stories than anyone else on the planet. That goal has been achieved. And you can achieve your goals, too. Would you like to have whiter teeth and fresher breath? Of course you would! Ever wish you were taller? Make it happen! Change the color of your eyes! Learn to fly! Haven't you always wanted the power to travel through time? Or control the weather? Or become really good at crossword puzzles? Now you can, and this book will show you how!

Are you in pain? The answer is Cosmic Voodoo! Cosmic Voodoo heals all. It has the power to wipe everything away--sickness, infection, disease, anxiety--gone without a trace! Stop fighting depression and start destroying it! You can be happy all the time, everyday, forever! With Cosmic Voodoo there's no reason to ever feel bad again! Cosmic Voodoo is anti-septic for your mind. It kills mind pollution. Mind pollution is the leading cause of sadness, and sadness is the leading cause of suicide. Suicide is fatal. Mind pollution kills. But you don't have to die anymore, now that you've got Cosmic Voodoo on your side.

Cosmic Voodoo will make all your dreams come true. I'm living proof. But things weren't always so great for me (and believe me, things are great). Ten years ago it was a whole different story. I was unhappy with myself back then. Actually, that's putting it mildly. The truth is, I was a completely miserable wreck. I hated myself and I wanted to die. I was a totally different person--fat and ugly, poor and alone. If you saw me on the street you would have spit on me. I know I would. So what happened? How did I turn my whole life around? How did I go from being a filthy penniless wretch to an ultra-famous super-billionaire? What's my secret? You guessed it...Cosmic Voodoo!

 

This is the stupidest f*****g s**t I've ever read. F**k you Brent Vanguard, I'm going to sleep.

...

I can't sleep.

 

Now a long, long time ago I used to have a job in a factory. A factory, of all places! Me! Brent Vanguard, international film star and noted yacht enthusiast! And I was making minimum wage! Can you imagine it? It was awful! One day at work there was a terrible accident. Fate was sending me a wake up call, and it hurt like hell! I lost both of my arms in a piece of machinery which was nicknamed--oddly enough--the arm-slicer (for reasons that were now painfully apparent to me). It was terrible! I had no arms! Can you imagine it? Me! Brent Vanguard, playboy secret agent and body-builder/model/professional wrestler! The doctors said I would never walk again. Well you know what I told those doctors? I said I WILL WALK AGAIN. MY LEGS ARE FINE. And I did. And they were. The doctors were shocked! It was a miracle! That's when I first realized something. I have power. Raw, unlimited power.

 

It's 12:00, either AM or PM. I've lost track and the sky is always more or less the same shade of dark gloom lately. I tear myself away from the book for long enough to get up and take my pills. I gaze out the window, bored. A homeless man in an alley is being slowly devoured by a python. Or maybe an anaconda, I can never tell the difference. He tries to fight it off with an empty glass bottle. It doesn't work very well.

 

After that moment, everything just started falling into place. I was losing weight and feeling great. And that ugly face of mine? No more. Thanks to a mix-up in the medical charts I scored a dynamite facelift. Now I look just like a young Alec Baldwin. I made myself thin and handsome through the sheer force of my will. It was amazing! But that was only the beginning. I still needed arms. But not just any old prosthetic limbs would do! No sir! Not for Brent Vanguard, super-sexy lady-killer and the first porno star on the moon! I wanted the good stuff! The top secret technology straight from Japan, precision tuned and combat ready, with all the special upgrades and attachments! It had to be the absolute best, because that's what I deserve. The doctors told me they couldn't do it--said it was unethical. Well you know what I did? I fired those doctors. Every last one of them. I told them, "Get out of here! Go live in the streets and beg for change!" And you know what? They did, because no one can argue with a confident man when he's angry. Especially when that angry confident man looks like Alec Baldwin. So I found a beautiful young nurse and told her to find me a doctor with no morals who would perform the operation. She immediately fell in love with me and did everything that I commanded, because I am devastatingly handsome and women do my bidding.

 

These stupid pills make me itch. I hate being itchy. Drives me crazy. Stupid useless hands. Can't even jerk off anymore. I wonder what I'd look like with a hook for a hand. I'll bet people in bars would be afraid to fight me. I wonder if that hobo got eaten yet. Last time I checked the snake's mouth was only up to his knees. How long does it take to be swallowed by a snake? That would make a good title for a Dr. Seuss book. God, I'm bored. Why do I have no attention span?

 

So now I've got robotic arms, a nuclear space station, and a sweet-a*s '67 GTO that I found in the local auto-trader. Ever since I discovered the Secret of Cosmic Voodoo, life's been nothing but green lights. Traffic lights respect me. More than that, they fear me. And parking? I always get the best parking spots. And it's all possible because of the power of Cosmic Voodoo. I can control the stars. When I'm with a woman, I can make a constellation that spells out her name. I make birds sing and flowers bloom. All things are possible with Cosmic Voodoo. Peace. Love. Harmony. Respect. Confidence. Telepathy. Wealth. Fame. Success. Power. Revenge. Chaos. Rainbows. Destruction. Lasers. But don't take my word for it...just listen to these testimonials:

"In my line of work, I'm constantly surrounded by danger. You gotta have an edge, and for me that edge is Cosmic Voodoo. When someone approaches me, he's there for one reason--to kill me. So I give him a quick blast of Cosmic Voodoo to cloud his mind. All it takes is a look and a thought. I can boil your eyes with my thoughts. And I'll warn you first. I'll send you a psychic message that says THIS IS ME BOILING YOUR EYEBALLS. YOU WANT THAT, TOUGH GUY? They get the picture loud and clear. They always back down. Always."

--Freddie Finklestein, Retail Clerk

"I use Cosmic Voodoo to get free cable! It really works! I can even unscramble pay-per-view! Thanks Cosmic Voodoo!"

--Buck Gibbons, VCR Technician

"I hunt vampires. No one else can see them but me, because I know the Secret of Cosmic Voodoo. It opens my third eye and shows me the bloodlines of the universe. I can see the demons. I can detect their auras from miles away. I am the last of my kind. It is my destiny to make the world pure again. I will slay them all. The seven headed dragon commands me. I do not fear the unicorn."

--Wesley Gellar, Serial Killer

"I will f**k you up. Can't nobody f**k with me. I got that Cosmic Voodoo s**t. You don't even know. I'll beat a b***h's a*s for real. You think I'm playin'? You don't want this. I will f**k you up for serious, b***h. Step the f**k back."

--Rhonda Jenkins, Hair Stylist

"Bottom line? Cosmic Voodoo gets you laid. I recommend it to everyone."

--Colt Python, Adult Film Star

"Every living thing I point to dies. Not right away, but eventually. That's power, my friend. That's the power of Cosmic Voodoo."

--Ted Billingsly, Census Clerk and Atrophy Wizard

 

Pills. Sleep. Pain. More pills. Itchy. I'm developing a strange rash.

The screamer downstairs has started up again. "I HATE YOU! I F*****G HATE YOU! YOU NEVER LOVED ME! I'LL KILL YOU! DON'T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN! I AM CALM!" And then she-- "I HATE YOU!!!" And then-- "I F*****G HATE YOU!!!" And then she finally stops. I hope. A door slams and a car cranks up. There's a sound of squealing tires, then sweet, sweet silence.

I look out the window. The snake is gone. What day is it?

 

Still not convinced? Just try it out for yourself! Satisfaction guaranteed! Here's the Secret of Cosmic Voodoo in seven easy steps:

STEP ONE: VISUALIZE A CHICKEN

STEP TWO: CUT OFF THE CHICKEN'S HEAD IN YOUR MIND

STEP THREE: DRINK THE BLOOD OF THE CHICKEN WITH THE MOUTH OF YOUR SOUL

STEP FOUR: FORM AN ENCHANTED PSYCHIC WALL TO BIND THE DEMONS OF THE MIND

STEP FIVE: SPEAK THE ANCIENT MAGIC WORDS TO AWAKEN GORLAHM, DARK LORD GENIE OF THE PINEAL GLAND

STEP SIX: OFFER YOUR SOUL TO THE TWELVE DEVILS OF THE ASTRONOMICON

STEP SEVEN: START LIVING YOUR DREAMS

It's that simple! Start tapping into the unlimited power and madness of Cosmic Voodoo today!

 

Can't stop itching. Can't concentrate on this dumb book. I throw it on the floor.

I stare at the ceiling, trying to will myself back to sleep. I can't sleep. I get up and wander into the bathroom. The lights turn dim. The mirror turns black. Why did that just happen? The glass ripples like liquid. Am I hallucinating again? Am I even still awake? I feel numb. Paralyzed.

Something suddenly breaks through the surface of the liquid mirror from the other side. F**k, the other side of what?! And what the fu--a dolphin?! Why is there a bright blue dolphin sticking its head out of the mirror?!

"Hello, Jack."

"How the f**k, what? Who are you? And why are you speaking English?"

"Would you prefer this?" The dolphin makes a high pitched noise like a demonically possessed computer modem.

"Okay! English! Speak English!"

"Have it your way. Human speech it is, then."

"Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"My name is Gorlahm and you have summoned me."

"I...what? How?"

"With this chicken." As it says this, a fat bloated chicken comes gracelessly flapping out of the mirror and hits the floor with a heavy flop. The chicken's head explodes and a gushing jet of wet crimson paints the ceiling. The headless bird points its blood-hose of a neck at me. It sprays all over my face and some of it goes into my mouth and down my throat. That's what she said. Shut up, voice in the head. I'm in no mood for your comments right now.

The dolphin leaps out of the mirror and grows legs in midair. It lands on all fours like a cat. A large, shaved, shiny, bright blue cat with a dorsal fin and the head of a dolphin.

I'm f*****g speechless.

"Relax, Jack. I'm here to help. I'm your spirit animal."

It's not even a real animal. It's closer to a mutant alien monster painted up like a cartoon. It's the exact shade of blue as the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull. Its voice sounds just like Billy Dee Williams. Didn't he used to do commercials for Schlitz?

"Colt 45," says the dolphin monster.

"Huh?"

"He did commercials for Colt 45, not Schlitz."

"How did you...are you reading my mind?"

"Of course. That's where I live."

"Am I crazy?"

"Obviously. But I wouldn't worry about that. Here's the bad news: you're dying. Just thought you should know." And then he jumps face first into the toilet and flushes himself. The lights get brighter and the mirror returns to normal. My reflection stares back at me.

Something's wrong. Why is my skin bright red? I feel sick. I think I'm getting a fever. The room's spinning. Now what's wrong with me?

There's a sheet of paper that came with the antibiotics listing warnings and side effects. SYMPTOMS OF OVERDOSE AND/OR ALLEGIC REACTION: ITCHING, RASH, REDNESS OF SKIN AND EYES, NAUSEA, FEVER, DIZZINESS, HALLUCINATIONS. SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT IMMEDIATELY. IN SOME CASES, THIS MEDICATION HAS BEEN KNOWN TO CAUSE A FATAL BLOOD DISORDER.

What the f*****g f**k?! Fatal?! Motherfucking fatal?! I run back to the bathroom mirror. My eyes are completely red. F**k. F**k. F**k.

My wrists are finally healing. The medicine is fatal. This is a cruel joke.

Get dressed, get in the f*****g car. Back to the white tower. The neon red cross. Needles. Little knives. Cups of urine. Vials of blood. Back to the white-walled nightmare.

Outside, the sky is black and filled with smoke and swarming birds of prey. The rain has stopped. The city is in flames. Heat lightning fills the sky like flashes of gunfire. The buildings all look like coffins. People everywhere, burning, screaming. Wild dogs run rampant, ripping apart corpses. I keep my eyes on the road.

I'm doing 110mph. There's a car on my tail, chasing me. I thought it was a cop a first. It's not. It's a hearse. It pulls up beside my car, keeping pace with me as I accelerate to 120. The driver looks familiar. Dressed in black. His face is a skull. He smokes a cigarette. He's got a gun. And I think he's drunk.

Death. You son of a b***h.

He rams the car, making me swerve. I retaliate. Death is thrilled. This is sport to him. He takes a shot at me. I duck as glass showers over my head. I look up to check the road. Everything's clear. I blast through a red light without consequence. Lady Luck loves a daredevil.

Death's still beside me, draining a whiskey bottle. I take the initiative to ram the hearse again. The taxi's an old warhorse of a Chevy Caprice, she can take it. The hit takes Death by surprise and he drops the bottle out the window. Now he's pissed. He aims the revolver directly at my face. Looks like a .45 Magnum. I've seen enough Clint Eastwood movies to know that I don't want to be anywhere near the barrel when it goes off. That, and common f*****g sense takes a quick vote for evasive action. I slam on the brakes and yes, my seat belt's already on. Old habit. I spin out in a circle of burning rubber. Death flies past me and into the next intersection. A speeding fire engine is coming down the other road. It hits Death full force on the driver's side. The hearse tears apart into a flock of giant bats and scatters into the night sky. Showoff.

The road is clear again. I pick up the trail where I left off. I keep my speed at a cautious 90mph and watch for anything else that might come along to present any more problems. I'm finding it hard to relax. Monstrous mutants are creeping through the city. Ignore them. Giant parasitic organisms drift through the air, glowing like deep sea creatures as they drape their tendrils over buildings, devouring them whole and leaving only dust. Just ignore them. Whale sized worms burrow up through the streets and sidewalks. F**k off, it's not important. Just drive. Hideous arachnid beasts scale the walls of skyscrapers. They're taking over. They're everywhere. Gorlahm, if you can hear me, please save me with your evil dolphin rainbow magic.

The hospital's close now. I'm seeing the signs for it. EMERGENCY. I drive to the front of the lot. There's a sign right beside the main entrance that reads, "Reserved for the Dying." I feel uneasy about parking there, but it doesn't stop me.

Past the cops, past the metal detectors. The waiting room is a bloodbath. It's a busy night, and everyone's in a hurry.

The lady at the reception booth looks to be several hundred years old. She has a harelip, a glass eye, and her bottom jaw is made of plastic that's been somehow surgically attached to the rest of her face. She hands me some paperwork. She's not talkative.

I wait.

A monstrous orderly walks past me rolling an old lady in a flaming wheelchair.

I wait.

A legless man crawls towards a vending machine, trailing blood.

I wait.

A nurse clings to the ceiling, catching flies with her tongue.

I wait.

My turn finally comes.

"What's wrong with you?"

"Medicine. Fatal. Need tests."

"Step on the scale. How tall are you?" You know the drill.

A nurse leads me to a large room divided in two by a curtain. She makes me strip and put on a hospital gown. I lie down on a disturbingly comfortable bed. Won't you please stay awhile?

I wait. And wait.

A doctor comes in and asks what's wrong with me.

"Your f*****g medicines are killing me! Look at these side effects! They're all fatal! Why would you prescribe this to me?!"

He looks at me, slightly puzzled, and says, "I didn't actually prescribe those to you. This is the first time we've met."

"Well, your people gave them to me!"

"My people?"

"Medical jackals! I know you all roam in packs!"

He half-scoffs, half-chuckles. "I can assure you, we're not jackals." Lies.

"Whatever. I need you to find out if I'm dying. And if I am, make it stop."

"You're fine."

"What?! Why is my skin red? What's this rash? What caused these blisters? Why am I running a fever and hallucinating...more than usual?"

"Those are a string of unrelated coincidences, probably due to stress."

"Bullshit," says the dolphin monster.

"Get the f**k out of here, you freak!" I scream back.

The doctor c***s his eyebrow and gives me a very stern look. "I beg your pardon?"

"Not you. I was talking to Gorlahm." I point to an empty chair. S**t. He's gone.

The doctor makes a scan of the room and says, "That's a chair. Do you always make up strange sounding names for other people's furniture?"

"It was a dolphin, but forget it."

"Are you insane?"

"Quite likely. You're sure I'm not dying?"

"Would you like a second opinion?"

"Yes."

"Just a moment." He exits the room.

I wait. And wait. And suddenly everything is cold and dark.

Death walks into my hospital room holding a clipboard, and I instantly regret asking for a second opinion. He's examining my records and shaking his head, making little tsk tsk noises.

"Jack, Jack, Jack. Quite an unhealthy lifestyle you've carved out for yourself, wouldn't you say? Chain-smoking. Excessive drinking. Heavy drug use. Drunk driving. Unprotected sex with women of questionable virtue. You're my kind of scum, you know that?"

"F**k you."

"No need to be rude."

"So you finally caught up with me, huh?"

He says nothing. He lights up a cigarette.

A nurse walks in and says, "Sir? There's no smoking in here."

Death flicks the lit cigarette at her and she disintegrates.

At the same moment, I can hear a man on a respirator being wheeled into the room on the other side of the curtain by a frantic group of doctors and nurses.

"Can you hear me?" one of the doctors asks the man. "Say something if you can hear me."

"Yesss," the patient quietly wheezes.

"We're increasing the amount of oxygen. Is that better? Can you breathe normally now?"

"Nooo. Mooore."

"We can't give you any more air, the machine's as high as it will go."

"Mooore."

"It's as high as it will go. Can you breathe any better yet?"

"Nooo."

More nurses pour into the room. There's talk of needles and IVs and tracheotomies and breathing tubes. His heart rate is too high. His blood pressure is too high. His family enters the room. Medical history is discussed. Has he suffered from any heart attacks in the past? Yes. How many? Three.

Death's undivided attention is focused on the drama unfolding behind the curtain. He's been expecting this. Then he suddenly looks back over to me as if he just remembered that I was still here. Just to drive the point home he says, "You're still here? You're fine. Stop wasting my time, I've got a busy night. Now get the f**k out." He flicks a bony finger in the direction of the door.

Well, s**t. I can't argue with that. I don't want to see how this one ends. I get dressed and head for the exit, away from the screams. Away from the blood and lights.

In the parking lot, my stolen car has a ticket stashed under the windshield wiper. I rip it up and toss it on the pavement. I unlock the driver's side and swing open the door. Gorlahm is sitting in the passenger seat like a dog. "You're welcome," he says.

"Out!"

He hops out of the car, head down and tail between his legs. He trots away and dives into a large rain puddle, disappearing from sight.

I crawl back behind the wheel and crank up the engine.

And now I am going to go find a bar and get very, very drunk.

© 2012 Mike Lamb


Author's Note

Mike Lamb
Copy and paste from original file, paragraphs not manually seperated because I'm lazy.

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register




Reviews

Ummm..... WOW. yup, that's what im left with because that was a pretty awesome and interesting read.... i ache to write like this! Looking forward to devouring more of your work :)

Posted 8 Years Ago


Not the Comsic Voodoo! Mike what have you done?
FUUUUUUUUUCCKK!!!!!!!!




In other news, I really enjoy Jack's narration style. It's very personal and up front. Keep it up good sir.

Posted 10 Years Ago


This is an early draft for a chapter of Jack's Inferno Volume Two. You could try to compare it to Volume One, but it's a different beast altogether. The chapters are much longer, the pace is slower, and reality has a way of fading in and out. Book One is fast drunken lunacy through the first three circles of Hell; Book Two is all madness and misery, droning out like a drug coma. It drags, crawls, speeds up, changes gears, and jumps out windows without giving a f**k who's following along for the ride. By Volume Three it may be all out insanity.

Posted 10 Years Ago


Uhm, can you be my English teacher? Please?

Also, I think I need words to review this. But you stole all of mine. B*****d.
This was...no. I'm not going to butcher this review with words. Just blank white happiness. Enjoy it, you won't get much more from me.
Rating: 10000000000/100

Posted 10 Years Ago


You have a lot of info-dumping going on in the first half making it drag. There's probably a lot of things you can do without, like the tedious, repetitive medical weighing, height...etc.
In fact, this whole thing is raw, needs some brushing up. In comparison to the other excerpts, this sort-of sucked.

Posted 10 Years Ago


First I recommend any readers to chug a steaming pot of coffee, grounds included, before reading this. Then it adds depth and realism if the phone rings, the door bell rings, the bath tub rings, the dogs need to go out, the cat pisses on the curtains, the neighbor dogs start their nightly five hour bark fest, the generator needs to be turned on, the generator needs to be turned off and then you get to the poetry. (nice poetry by the way, good pentagram-meter....) Actually they can skip the first 33 1/3% of this keynote speech. Post poetry is great until the obviously plagiarized Cosmic Voodoo bit... shame on you.... the drag duel with death is the show stealer.... actually, going back to the top just for continuity, the ambulance screed is pretty cool, and the anaconda eating the homeless guy very David Lynch of you... kudos.

I think the word "pace" is an understatement in regards to this manifesto... any relation to Ted Kazinski? never mind, it's not important.
In my Clinic Room Wraith piece I was going to include all this stuff, but that was when I couldn't type as fast as I can now, thanks to Cosmic Voodoo and so I just said F it.... hahahahaahahahahaahahahahahaahahahahaaaaa
aaaa I gotta stop reading this stuff, it's corrupting my mind. lol.

Posted 10 Years Ago



Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

889 Views
6 Reviews
Rating
Added on October 8, 2010
Last Updated on March 15, 2012

Author

Mike Lamb
Mike Lamb

greenville, NC



About
Artist, writer, and a drunken lunatic prophet. I am the author of Jack's Inferno, a dark comedy bizarro/horror novel about Hell, previously published through Wordplague (now defunct). I am also a pro.. more..

Writing

Related Writing

People who liked this story also liked..


Nihilism Nihilism

A Poem by J. R.