by Pedro Salinas
Phase 6: Reunion
At the bottom of the mountain there is a lake which stretches in all directions to unimaginable ends. It is the repository for all history’s waste. Many-headed serpents from mythic antiquity battle with prehistoric sea monsters and flesh-eating bacteria for supremacy in its oily black waters. Those souls damned to serve their punishment here toil away their afterlife squelching barefoot in the lake’s wet sucking banks, digging up rotting limbs, worm-eaten organs, Panda Express leftovers, and other stomach turning refuse to be collected and sent to the Bret Michaels Drivin in Sin DMV Party Lounge Presented By Bacardi. There, the dripping, diseased trash shall be consumed by the luckier damned who can afford the restaurant’s outrageously priced entrees.
Nobody here is working. Instead the mass of sufferers before me ignore their duties and pummel each other’s orifices and genitals, unleashing frightening sexual hostility on one another, moaning with pain, ecstasy, and abandon as they receive pleasurous abuse from one and in turn deliver it to another. At the center of this hive of limbs, appendages, and holes lies my close personal friend Armando Balenciaga, a picture of serenity and unity amid the furious tumbling multiplicity.
He opens his eyes and catches my gaze. He seems happy to see me, though it’s hard to tell for sure (his mouth is occupied). Without speaking, he communicates to me, his gentle, refined voice ringing clear inside my mind as in my dreams of him.
“It’s nice to see you.”
“Your great-grandfather sent me,” I reply.
“Yes, I imagine he did.”
“He wants you to come back.”
“It’s a shame you’ll be disappointing him.”
The mass of flesh closes in over Armando and buries him. I am reminded of the sex feasts Armando and I lorded over on the patio of the Castle. Up there in the living world, at the top of the mountain overlooking the sea, we created an inferno in the clouds. Armando loved me then. Perhaps he loves me still. But he does not need me anymore. Down here, among the wretched, he has built himself a paradise.
I turn and walk away from the lake. I will never see him again.
Phase 7: Residency
It is supposed that material wealth means nothing on a cosmic scale. For all the power money holds in the living world, it is irrelevant in the realm of spirit. “You can’t take it with you.”
Wrong. Yes you can. Down here capital gushes forth with the force of an enraged water god. Sumerian emperors mingle with Dukes and hedge funders. They socialize at lavish banquets unrestrained in grandness by the laws of physics or morality; they bond on bowhunting expeditions, stalking, killing, and devouring brontosauri and pterodactyls (all dinosaurs are in Hell); they close deals in sleek boardrooms of dizzying elevation, overlooking vast expanses of the thrumming, throbbing underworld, pashas and kings and financiers victoriously gripping flesh and guzzling fizzy spirits in the shadow of the blood black sky.
My comedy career is going great. Like all performers down here my punishment is to spend eternity doing my act. Immediately I make a splash and soon I’m the hottest ticket in town, luring away the audiences of George Carlin (down here for swearing), Richard Pryor (drug use; swearing) and Harry Houdini (general trickery; all magicians are in Hell).
One night after the show I hear an unexpected knock on the door to my green room. When I open the door I am greeted with the sight of an unfamiliar man of middle age, handsome, dressed casually but elegantly, speaking with a slight Swiss accent and sporting a thin mustache curling upward below his severe angular nose.
“What a joyous performance that was.”
“Utterly astonishing. Not a false note throughout.”
“All the artists of history are as worms thriving in excrement, compared to you. All acts of creative expression in the sentient universe wilt before the magnificent cathedral of your comedic achievement.”
“Thank you so much.”
The man teeters slightly on the balls of his feet. “Ahem.”
“Perhaps I should get to the point. Mr. Salinas, I am here representing the investment firm of Patterson, Ennis, Dawson, Orenthal, Purnell, Harrowood, Insley, Lester, Ericson, Samson, Anderson, Norris, Deacon, Samuels, Undertree, Collins, and Harding.”
“PEDOPHILESANDSUC & H, yes. We are branching out into entertainment and think you are the perfect client with whom to start. We believe comedians to be the modern day philosophers. Have you seen the Louis CK clip called ‘Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy’?”
“A lot has happened with Louis CK since that came out.”
“Well, no matter. We intend to liberate you from the confines of the underworld. From now on you shall be completely unfettered by time or space, able to leap across eons in a single instant.”
“We desire you to travel the vast plains of history, seeking solutions to the mysteries of existence, and report them back to the firm. What does it all mean? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there something instead of nothing? PEDOPHILESANDSUC & H can do a lot with the answers to these questions. With your help we expect to recoup our investment twenty times over.”
“And if I’m not interested?”
“Oh, that’s not an option. We have already purchased the debt of your soul. You are under our control.”
Phase 8: Adrift
Plato, Cicero, St. Augustine, Muhammad Al-Karaji, Peter Abelard, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Malcolm X, Jean-Michel Basquiat. These are some of the great thinkers I am expected to query now that I am free from Hell and left to roam the endless expanse of time. PEDOPHILESANDSUC & H has directed me to synthesize these men’s meditations on the self, society, ethics, and the nature of reality, and present my findings to the firm for subsequent data analysis.
Boring. Instead I psychosexually terrorize the geniuses as they sleep, unleashing nightmares of a thousand ecstasies upon their slumbering minds. They quake and quiver in my ghostly presence, furious ropes of ejaculate relentlessly exploding out of their exhausted genitalia at my command. They beg the unknown wraith causing them such torment to have mercy. Once, long ago, I was capable of mercy. But it is foolish to speak of my past self. I am in 16th century France and the creature known as Pedro Salinas does not exist yet. Michel de Montaigne screams in spasmodic agony as another pleasurous thunderbolt throttles his spirit.
PEDOPHILESANDSUC & H soon grows tired of my hijinks and drops me as a client. They decline to bring me back to Hell, instead leaving me unmoored in my deathless vagrancy. I do not see how this is a punishment. My liberation is exhilarating. I leap across the millennia of human progress, from the agricultural settlements of the prehistoric Indus Valley to the gleaming machine-intelligent Dubai of 2180. In mere instants I hurtle from the peaks of achievement to the dregs of perversion, and then back again to a new dawn, a new era, a new hope for what man can be. I glide across the spectrum of human possibility, from the sublime to the barbaric. Beauty, war, music, blood, inspiration, conquest, chivalry, rape, honor, hatred. I feast on it all.
But soon I grow bored. History can be so limiting. After all, human beings do not live in the world as it is. We do not pay to watch a piano player merely sit in front of their instrument. We pay to hear the hallucinations transmitted from the mysterious woodland of inspiration where they were granted entry. Delusion, dream, imagination. This is where the human soul truly resides. This is where every great advancement in human achievement originated—not in what is, but what could be. I journey to the realm of fantasy to see what delights await me.
Despair is creeping up my spine. Nothing thrills me anymore and the firm’s punishment starts to make sense. Absolute freedom comes at a cost. With no boundaries, what are the rules of the game? What does it mean to win, or lose? I can go everywhere. I can do anything. For what? What possible sensation could satisfy me now?
Final Phase: Beyond
At a loss, I succumb to sentimentality, and return to my hometown of Jews, Confederate Flag. I float above the barren field beside the county highway, where, as a child, gripping a pocket knife to protect myself from the feral possums in Taintstain Creek nearby, I would lay under the constellations, vowing to become a famous comedian and join that tapestry of immortals above. I have not only returned to the place, but to the very moment. I am looking down at myself as I was, a young child wise beyond his years, gazing through my ghostly form up at the night sky, wondering what the world has in store for him. I wish I could warn him. The growls of the feral possums cut through the starlit midnight air.
Suddenly, I know what to do.
Plunging down into the possum’s form, I feel what it is to be a beast. Hateful energy beats within me like a tribal drum and every moment I do not give purchase to this rage is sheer bitter agony. I sprint toward the dozing boy. Within seconds I am upon him. I jump on his neck as he realizes what is happening and plunges his pocket knife into my stomach. My sharp teeth tear through his delicate throat and the crunch of bone gives way to mealy gristle and sweet blood. Meanwhile the boy’s blade carves my insides. We die at the same time and are finally released.
At once blissful emptiness subsumes me totally. I am the bottomless blackness surrounding the island of being. I am the lack which gives the light its brightness. I am the absence which gives the presence its shape. I am nothing. I am gone. So it always has been, and always will be. So it is.