Don Bigote: Chapter 7

Don Bigote: Chapter 7

The story to far:

  1. Don and Dan Build a Shelter
  2. Don and Dan Take a Flight
  3. Don and Dan Go to Spain
  4. Don and Dan Do Drugs
  5. Don and Dan Find God
  6. Don and Dan Find Themselves

Don and Dan Find Happiness

“Dude, that was the weirdest thing that ever happened to me!”

Bigote and I are walking back from the cave towards camp. We’re both feeling a little woozy. I think it was from breathing so much methane. It felt like we were down there for hours, but according to my watch it was only about 45 minutes.

“Indeed, my faithful companion,” Bigote replies. “It was a remarkable experience. To think that there is such a race of mutated beasts living deep under the earth’s crust! And to think that their society is so horribly deranged! My word, how far our frail nature can stray from the path of reason and righteousness. It is ghastly to even contemplate the depths that we may fall to.”

“Like, literally though.”

“Unfortunately for us,” he continues, “the information they provided us, though fascinating from a scientific and anthropological perspective, is entirely useless in our fight against the conspiracy. Indeed, I am at a loss to decide whether it would be worse living as a Subterranean, scorning all love and passion and tradition, or living under the dastardly conspiracy, being forced to eat a vegan diet, speaking nothing but Spanish, praying to Allah five times a day, constantly in fear of being accused of sexism, racism, homophobia… Well, now that I think about it, the conspiracy is indeed worse.”

“But don’t they, like, also speak Spanish in Spain?”

“That is a common misconception, Chopin,” Bigote says, wagging his finger. “Owing to the similarity of the words ‘Spain’ and ‘Spanish,’ you would think they were related. But in Spain the people speak ‘Castellano,’ which is a Romance language, historically related to Spanish, but not at all the same.”

“Isn’t castellano just Spanish for ‘Spanish’?”

“Indeed not, my foolish friend. Castellano means ‘Castilian,’ deriving from the great medieval kingdom of Castille.”

“Huh… Well, anyways, do you think that all the stuff that Harry told us about life down there was true?”

“I have no reason to doubt of his honesty, Chopin. Do you?”

“Not exactly but, I mean, it’s just so nuts. Like, maybe he was just some wackoo high on cave fumes who hallucinated the whole thing. I mean, he never showed us his city. It could be all in his head.”

“A certain amount of skepticism is healthy, Chopin, but this would make the room of mirrors rather difficult to explain, not to mention Harry’s method of, er, communicating verbally.”

“I dunno, there are some pretty talented people out there. Like one time on TV I saw a guy who could play the guitar with his feet. And on MePipe™ I saw a guy painting with only his mouth, since his arms and legs had been amputated or something. And also I saw a girl who could make her—”

“Yes, yes, Chopin, the world is full of extraordinary and freakish people. But think! Could any madman consistently speak so coherently and articulately? Could a man who had lost his senses, breathing underground fumes, elaborate a whole imaginary world, one which has no relationship to the one that you and I know?”

“Oh, I guess you’re right. Crazy people are never good talkers.”

“Precisely and indubitably right, Chopin.”

Soon we arrive back in camp, and head to our bunk bed to lie down. But we find that, while we were away in the cave, some people had left their stuff on our beds. And it’s nice stuff too—fancy leather luggage, with an insignia and everything.

“These hippie fucks,” I say, picking up one of the suitcases. “Can’t respect people’s space.”

“It is a simple oversight, Chopin. No harm done.”

“God these things are heavy.”

“Indeed they are ponderous.”

“What should we do with them?”

“You go and inquire as to the identity of their owners.”

“And you?”

“I am weary and will retire.”

“Ah, okay then.”

Even though I’d much rather open the suitcases and nab a few things, I grunt approval and go to find these rich tree-hugger bastards. It doesn’t take long though.

Two guys I don’t recognize, in long black overcoats, are standing right outside the front door of the cabin, smoking fat brown cigars.

“Hey, did you guys leave some fancy suitcases on bunk beds in there?” I ask.

“Ah, I believe it was we,” says a younger one with blonde hair and blue eyes.

“Well, they’re our beds.”

“Oh, I am terribly sorry,” he says, and flicks his cigar. “It’s just I am so used to the servants handling these things. Take this for your trouble.”

And he hands me a big shiny diamond.

“Bro, are you serious?”

“It is a thing for your troubles.”

“Wow! Feel free to leave as much shit in our beds as you want, bro.”

“Much obliged.”

I walk back inside. Bigote is already laying down on the top bunk.

“Dude, you wouldn’t believe what the suitcase guy gave me.”

“Not now, Chopin. I am weary from our subterranean adventure.”

“But look at this!” I say, holding up the diamond.

“I said not now, my most insistent companion.”

“Whatever bro.”

I sit down on the bed and look at the diamond. I’m no jeweler or anything, but it looks legit. Those guys must be filthy rich. What are they doing out here? If I had money like that, I’d be in a jacuzzi on a plane, surrounded by like seventeen thousand naked babes, all models, and eating nothing but steak and milkshakes and giant spring rolls. And that would just be my Monday. Why would you come to take some wack ass drugs in some random ass forest? Some people just have no imagination.

But wait a minute. If these people are as loaded as they seem, then it would be a really smart idea for me to make friends with them. At the very least I might be able to bum a fancy cigar. So I walk back to the door, where the two guys are still there smoking.

“Hey guys,” I say, trying to be all charming. “I forgot to ask your, like, names and stuff.”

“Ah, how rude of us,” the younger man responds. “My name is Franck. Franck von Hochgeboren.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say, and shake his gloved hand.

“And I,” says the older guy, “am Professor Allesprachen.”

“Alyspricken?”

“Just ‘Professor’ is fine.”

“Any relation to that Dr. Krajakat guy?”

“Relation? No, no, no.”

“Well, I hate to ask but, uh, could I trouble one of you for a smoke? You see I left my cigars back in Alabama.”

“Yes of course,” Franck says, hands me a cigar, and then lights it.

Now, I’ve smoked a good deal of wacky tobacky in my day, but I ain’t never smoked a cigar. I start gagging as soon as I puff.

“Careful, young one,” Professor says, patting my back. “You are not supposed to inhale.”

“What? Then how do you get high?”

“It is… more for the flavor.”

“Wow, weird. Is this, like, a European thing?”

“These are from Cuba.”

“Oh word. Is that where are you fellas are from?”

“We are from Geheimnisland.”

“Ga what what?”

“It is a little-known microstate surrounded by the country of Germany,” Franck explains. “Actually, my father is the king.”

“Woah, no way. Does that mean you’re the prince?”

“Yes, indeed. Though I am currently in exile…”

“Like, you’ve been kicked out?”

“It is a long story. Tell me about yourself. You still haven’t told us your name.”

“Oh, shit. I’m Dan Chopin.”

“And what brings you to Europe, Dan Chopin?”

“Uh, well, that’s sort of a long story too. Basically my boss, Don Bigote, is on this quest to, er, fight against this evil plot that he thinks is going to cause the end of the world.”

“My word!” Professor says. “He sounds like an important man. I would very like to meet him.”

“He’s asleep right now but I’m sure he’ll be happy to talk to ya’ll when he wakes up.”

And then, as if on cue, who but Don Bigote himself, mustache drooping from fatigue, walks out the door.

“Chopin, is that you? I had a nightmare about the conspiracy and… Oh, I didn’t see that you were engaged in a prior conversation. Excuse me, gentlemen.”

“You must be Don Bigote,” Professor says, extending his hand.

“Uh, why yes, yes I am.”

“My name is Professor Allesprachen. Your friend here has been telling us that you are on a quest to save the world.”

“Chopin!” Bigote says, turning on me with panic and anger in his eyes. “How many times to I have to tell you to be careful! You cannot go about telling all the world about our mission. You never know who you can trust!”

“I assure you that we pose no threat,” Professor says. “We are merely two Germanophone travelers on a tour of the world.”

“Is that so?” Bigote says suspiciously. “Tell me, then, what you are a professor of, exactly?”

“I am a professor of physics, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, biochemistry, ethnolinguistics, and ontolo-theological gastroenterology.”

“Very impressive,” Bigote says. “But if that is true, then answer me this question. Is the glass half full, or half empty?”

“Neither. The glass is exactly as full and as empty as the laws of cause and effect dictate it to be, which means that its content must be consistent with the moral imperatives of the cosmic order. In other words the glass could not possibly be fuller, nor could it be emptier; it simply is, in itself. Consequently, any opinion as to its fullness or emptiness reveals only an impotent subjectivity.”

“Exactly!” Bigote says. “I see that we can trust these men, Chopin. They are much too wise to be a part of the dastardly conspiracy.”

“Indeed not,” Professor Allywhatsit chuckles. “It takes years of deep study and meditation to answer such questions. No spy, however clever, could plausibly imitate true science.”

“You are a true master of philosophy! It is an honor to meet such an accomplished man.”

“Pish, pish, you are too kind,” Professor says. “Now, let us go inside so you can explain to us this quest of yours.”

I think these two guys got a thing for each other. It’s destiny.

We go inside and sit down on some of the beds facing each other. All the dirty, smelly hippies seems to be at one of their creepy drug ritual orgy things, so there’s nobody else around.

Bigote clears his throat to speak. Franck and Professor lean in eagerly.

“Now,” Bigote begins, “what I am about to tell you may seem outlandish, but I assure you that every word of it is true. All too true, I am afraid. The world in which we live, though apparently enjoying a period of peace and prosperity, is currently deep in the grips of a conspiracy—an enormous plot whose reach extends far into the beginnings of recorded history. This devious plot has been planned, organized, and executed with ruthless efficiency. Its goal? To destroy Western civilization as we know it.”

“How horrible!” Franck yelps.

“Indeed!” Professor says. “But tell me, who is responsible for such a heinous crime against humanity?”

“Who? Who! I shall tell you who: the Muslim-Mexican cabal.”

“Do you mean those fellows who do not eat pork?” Franck says.

“Yes, them.

“And the people who like to eat burritos?”

“Well, technically that’s tex-mex,” I say.

“I see,” Franck says. “How very odd. I never suspected that those two groups of people had any sort of connection.”

“Well, they do,” Bigote says. “In fact, it is fair to say that they are but two manifestations of the same evil force. And it is my quest, as well as that of my faithful companion here, to either foil the plot, or, if it is too late, to preserve whatever remnants of Western civilization so that we are able to rebuild after the fateful collapse.”

A moment of silence follows, as Franck and Professor Smorgasbord look gravely at each other. Then, they nod to each other, and Franck turns to speak:

“What you have said affects me deeply,” Franck says. “I thank you very much for your trust and honesty.”

“It seems that fairness dictates that we should tell you of our own quest,” Professor says.

“You have a quest as well?” Bigote says, surprised.

“Oh yes,” Franck says. “And it is worth telling the story from the beginning.”

“I am extremely eager to hear it.”

The Quest for True Happiness

As I have mentioned, my father is the king of Geheimnisland, which makes me the prince. Now, you will not find Geheimnisland on any map. Its real location is somewhere within Germany. But even I do not know exactly where it is.   

You see, the kingdom maintains the strictest secrecy with the outside world. By complete chance, our castle sits on the world’s largest deposit of diamonds. Diamonds are so plentiful that we use them to pave our roads, build our homes, and even to pick our teeth; and we also sprinkle diamond dust on our food as a garnish. For whatever reason, the outside world values these shiny rocks enormously, so we sell some of it at an enormous profits to neighboring countries. We have used this money to purchase and develop the most advanced technology, enabling us to conceal the entire kingdom (which is about the size of a fair-sized city) from the outside world.

For untold generations, my family has enjoyed a life of the utmost luxury. Indeed, we long ago lost all notion of any other mode of life. My upbringing was no exception.

I was woken up every day by a symphony orchestra, playing pianissimo, in order to gently rouse me from my silk bed. Then I would eat a breakfast of roast beef, curried lamb, baked codfish, and all other sorts of delicacies, washed down with copious amounts of champagne. This would provide me the energy I needed for the harem. In Geheimnisland, it is considered the royal prerogative, indeed the royal duty, to exercise the power of copulation to the utmost limits of the human physique. Thus I would spend most of the day engaged in the strenuous exertion of libidinous activity.

At noon I took a break for the midday feast, which consisted of lobster, clams, paella, lasagna, and figs, this time accompanied by dark beer. After this I would have a massage, sit in the hot springs for half an hour, and then take a short nap. Again, a symphony would wake me up at three o’clock, and the routine would repeat itself until about seven at night, when I would have my final meal of the day, which consisted mainly of steak, fried eggs, and risotto, this time with a fine port wine as a beverage. After dinner I would go to the theater, to see a spectacle involving elephants, acrobats, and dancing girls. An attendant would read poetry to me as I lay in bed, and finally I would drift off to sleep.

For many years I accomplished my princely duties uncomplainingly. The extraordinary physical exhaustion induced by my rigorous schedule of intercourse left me with little time or energy to reflect. But one day, as I was deep into my rounds in the harem, it dawned on me that I was unhappy. Though I accepted that I had grave responsibilities as prince, I also wondered if there was not more to life than endless amounts of food, alcohol, and sex. Thus, that night, instead of having poetry read to me as I lay in bed, I requested the presence of the court scholar, Professor Allesprachen.

Now, you must know that Allesprachen is a native of Geheimnisland; and it is one of the most sacred laws of my kingdom that no native born citizens may ever leave the kingdom, for whatever reason, upon pain of death. I should also note that, aside from his duties supervising the concealment technology of our kingdom, Allesprachen was also obligated to spend several hours in the university harem, in order to maintain his tenure. Thus Professor was not able to give me any personal insights into another mode of life. But with his extraordinary mind, he had deduced some consequences about what life outside Geheimnisland must be like.

“According to the principle of sufficient reason, it can be demonstrated a priori that felicity is an effect of a cause,” he told me.

“I see.”

“And accordingly, such a cause, acting under different circumstances, must, following the logic of modus tollens, produce an entirely different outcome.”

“Of course!”

“And so,” he said, “the consequence may indubitably be surmised that the pleasure enjoyed elsewhere must, if the thesis be rendered compatible with the antithesis, synthesize into distinct forms.”

“Brilliant!”

After this interview, Professor Allesprachen humbly returned to his chamber. But I could not sleep. I was tantalized by the endless possible modes of life existing elsewhere in the world that I would never know; and I was depressed that, having been born a prince of Geheimnissland, I would spend the rest of my days fulfilling my duties in the royal harem.

I spent all night tossing and turning. In the morning, I decided that I was too unhappy to go on, and resolved to go visit my father, the king. I caught him as he was oiling himself up to begin his own rounds in the harem.

“My son! What brings you here, so early in the morning? Surely, the women are expecting us.”

“Yes, father, I apologize for interrupting you. But there is something I would very much like to speak to you about.”

“Speak on, my beloved son.”

“I wanted to ask why we are obligated to spend so much time in the act of fornication.”

“What a silly question! This has been the way of our family for generations. It is our most sacred duty as members of the royal family!”

“Yes, father, but why?”

“What has come over you, son?”

“I… I have been wondering if, perhaps, our time might be better employed.”

“Better employed? Son, are you ill? Our kingdom is depending on us! If we stopped our schedule of copulation, the whole fabric of our society would crumble!”

“But, father, must there not be other ways of life, happier ways of living?”

“Tut, tut, my son. Get this idea out of your head. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as my own father always used to say. But believe me, there are many who envy us.”

“But…”

“Surely, you must admit that sexual intercourse, however tiresome, has its own pleasures.”

“I do.”

“And what would our women do if we did not employ them?”

“I don’t know.”

“You see? As my father used to say…”

“But, father, what if I wanted to take a break for a few days?”

“My son,” he said, as he brushed his chest hair. “I am trying to be patient with you, but frankly you are being ridiculous. Now, get this silly idea out of your head, return to your room, get oiled up, and begin making your rounds. The women are not going to sleep with themselves!”

And with a jolly laugh, he patted me on the shoulder, threw off his robe, and got down to business. I did the same; but inwardly, I resolved that I would not let myself be trapped by tradition. I was going to find a way out of Geheimnisland.

Luckily, I knew just the man to help: Professor Allesprachen.

Again, I summoned him to my bedside.

“Professor, tell me about the technology that conceals our kingdom.”

“Oh, your highness, I could not bore you with such a trivial subject.”

“Do not be reticent, my dear Professor, for I am eager to know.”

“As you wish, your highness. Our kingdom is surrounded by a powerful forcefield, whose radius extends to the very frontiers of our territory. From the inside, this barrier merely looks like the blue sky; but from without, cloaking technology makes the protective sphere appear like a large mountain. We have a treaty with Germany, made long ago, which obligates that country to provide constant military surveillance of the surrounding area, in exchange for a yearly supply of diamonds from our mines.”

“What you say interests me most profoundly. But tell me, oh most wise philosopher, what the world values so much in our shiny rocks? I could never understand it.”

“To be quite honest, your highness, I have not fully grasped the issue myself. It seems that it is the rarity of the rocks that is the source of their value.”

“But, surely, many things in the world are exceedingly rare, but they do not fetch such a price.”

“That is true. According to my research, outsiders have taken quite a fancy to the way the rocks look, and use them when they propose matrimony.”

“Matrimony?”

“It is a form of courtship in which a man and a woman bind themselves together for life.”

“For life?”

“Indeed, it is a strange custom.”

“I find it quaint. But tell me, my good friend, would not a small bit of polished glass look the same as one of our diamonds?”

“You are of course correct, my liege. I too am baffled by the ways of outsiders.”

“Oh, well. I suppose they would find our harems rather a quaint custom, too.”

“I can only imagine.”

“Now, Professor, lean in closely. I have something important to tell you.”

“As you command.”

“Is anyone listening?”

“I believe we are alone.”

“Professor, I need to confess something to you. But first I want you to promise me that you will keep it an absolute secret.”

“My prince, you may repose your complete confidence in me.”

“Professor, I want to see these outsiders for myself.”

“Sire, I share your curiosity. But surely you know it is forbidden.”

“Of course I know. I want to escape Geheimnisland.”

Allesprachen paused for a minute, deep in thought.

“My liege,” he said finally, “while I am bound to obey you, I owe a higher loyalty to your father the king.”

“Yes, Professor. I know what I am asking is illegal. I know that it would be an extraordinary risk for us both. I ask you this in the faith that happiness, real happiness, may finally await us. Not this dreary life of endless feasts and orgies. Surely the reward justifies the risk.”

He remained silent, brow knit.

“Of course I would understand if you refused, Professor. I would only ask that you keep your promise to tell nobody of my request.”

“My prince,” he said finally. “Your desire for knowledge inspires me. I, too, share your weariness with the ways of our kingdom, its endless heavy banquets and its infinite concubines. I will help you.”

“I knew you would understand, Professor. But what shall we do?”

“Give me three weeks to prepare our means of escape. Then, on midnight of the twenty-second day, come to my chambers in the university. But be careful to avoid detection, and make sure to fill your pockets with some spare diamonds: we will need them on the other side. For the sake of avoiding suspicion, I suggest that we do not meet until then.”

“I trust completely in your judgment, Professor. Farewell.”

The time passed slowly. I was so eager that I could hardly contain myself. But I did my best to maintain appearances. Indeed, I accomplished my duties at the harem so conscientiously that my father was very pleased with me. I admit that the thought of leaving made me feeling bittersweet. However wearisome your life may be, familiarity creates some affection. The thought of never seeing my concubines again gave me some pangs of melancholy; and I regretted that I must leave them without even a goodbye. But when I considered my father’s life, how ragged and miserable it must have been, my resolve was strengthened.

On the appointed day, I stole away from my bed as the clock struck twelve, when all the world was tuckered out and fast asleep; and I tiptoed through the university harem to Professor Allesprachen’s chamber. As he directed me, I knocked thrice, gently, on his oaken door. He opened his room dressed in goggles, boots, gloves, and a heavy coat.

“Come in, come in,” he said. “Everything is prepared. But before we go, you must put on some warmer clothes. I am afraid it will be chilly at higher altitudes.”

I dressed as he instructed me. Then, he led me into his workshop. In the center was a large object, covered with a cloth; he strode over and pulled off the covering to reveal a strange machine. It consisted of two seats on an elevated platform, with a control panel in front; the seats were surrounded by two metal rings that could rotate freely.

“You surely are a genius!” I cried. “Tell me, what is this contraption?”

“My prince, we must take advantage of the time, but you will see soon enough how it works.”

Then he motioned for me to get inside; he followed, but not before flipping a switch that caused the roof to open up. With a turn of a key, the machine buzzed to life; the metallic rings began to spin furiously around us, until they became a complete blur. He put his hands on the control panel, pushed a lever, and we began to hover.

“A flying machine? This is amazing!”

Then Allesprachen pulled a nob and we began to ascend at an incredible rate. Soon the university buildings appeared as little toys far below us, and finally were indistinguishable in the darkness of the night. I was exhilarated but terrified, and grabbed onto my seat for dear life.

“How high do we need to go?” I shouted; but the rushing wind made any communication impossible. I was grateful that Allesprachen had given me the winter clothes, since the temperature continually dropped as we ascended, and the wind roared terribly.

Finally Allesprachen pressed a red button and the spinning rings began to emit a strange blue light. The next moment we came to a halt, and a huge mountain appeared below us, covered with snow, illuminated by the silver light of the full moon. Allesprachen pressed the button again and we stopped. The rushing of the wind died down, and the world became uncannily silent.

“What just happened?” I asked Professor in amazement.

“It worked. We have broken through the forcefield,” he told me. “We are free men.”

“My dear Professor!” I said, and hugged him tightly. “You are a genius! You truly are!”

“Do not mention it, my prince. But that we have escaped we must decide where to go.”

“Ah, you’re right… I am afraid I hadn’t thought of that. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Well, Sire, this depends on what you wish to do and see. Shall we travel to exotic climates, or perhaps to iconic monuments?”

“My deepest desire is to finally discover true happiness. The great sights and monuments of the world can wait.”

“This request is far more complex than perhaps your majesty assumes. All the world is full of men and women striving for happiness, in a million possible ways, but nobody agrees on what it consists of.”

“Alas! Are we no better off now than we were back in the harems? Surely there must be some promising destinations.”

“My research has uncovered some possibilities. For example, there are some people in a land called Colorado who shave their heads and believe the key to happiness consists in sitting down on the floor and thinking about nothing.”

“How intriguing! Shall we go?”

“Your wish is my command.”

And, saying this, he pushed a gear and the machine began to speed forward at a tremendous rate. The world outside became an indistinct blur; we passed over clouds, mountains, lakes, rivers, and towns, all in an instant. The wind blew so fiercely that I was sure I would be thrown off the machine and fall to my doom. But before I could gather my senses we had slowed down and had begun descending rapidly; in five minutes we were safely on ground. We had traveled so far west that it was late afternoon, and the sun was shining brightly.

After we climbed out of the machine down onto the sandy soil, Professor pulled out a little device from his pocket and pressed a button. Suddenly our contraption vanished from view.

“My heavens! Where did it go?” I asked.

“Fear not, my Prince. I have activated its invisibility mode, so that it cannot be stolen while we are gone. Now, follow me.”

Allesprachen led me down into a wooded valley. In the distance I could see a plain white building, surrounded by large green tents. As we neared I spotted people wearing orange robes, walking slowly through the woods, one after the other, in complete silence. Soon we arrived at the central building. The door was open, so we went right inside. At the end of a long, dimly-lit hallway a middle-aged man was seated on an elevated platform, cross-legged, eyes closed.

I felt hesitant, unsure of the proper etiquette and somewhat overwhelmed by the wealth of new experiences. Still, my determination to find happiness spurred me on. I spoke:

“Oh most exalted master. We come from lands far away to learn the secret of true happiness. Please take pity on us, and instruct us in your ways.”

The man did not open his eyes. I wondered if he was asleep, he remained so motionless. But after a few moments he gave an almost imperceptible nod from his head.

All at once, people sprang up from all sides. They led us away to another chamber, stripped away our clothes, gave us our robes, and then shaved our heads and our beards. An elderly lady brought us to a balcony overlooking the valley below. She pointed to two pillows, side by side on the floor.

“Sit here,” she said. “Clear your mind completely. Any time you have a thought, hold your breath until you feel lightheaded. Do this until your mind resembles a pool of water on a windless day.”

Without a word, we obeyed, sitting on those cushions far into the night. I felt dizzy and lightheaded, partly from holding my breath, and partly from the lack of sleep and food.

Sometime around midnight, one of the nuns came to take us to our tent, where we were each given a cot to sleep on. The next day we were awoken before dawn, led to the same cushions, and left there until lunch. This was the only meal of the day, and it consisted of a bowl of boiled beans and a glass of water. We were instructed to eat in silence. Afterwards, we went back to the cushions; and just like the first night, we stayed there until about midnight. This routine was repeated for about eight weeks altogether, during which time we said not a word.

At first I had so many thoughts that I nearly suffocated myself trying to clear them away. But eventually my mind became ever-more placid, until I hardly remembered my own name. Our bodies wasted away from lack of food and sleep; but our minds became immune to all sensations, positive or negative, until we could hardly be said to be people at all.

When eight weeks passed, the same elderly lady led us back to the master. He was in the same exact position as before, as if he had been there the whole time. We knelt in front of him, bowing our heads. Then I heard a voice, :

“You have done well,” he said. “Now you are ready for the next phase of enlightenment. Return to your mats, and ponder this ancient saying: ‘The only place is no place. The only form is emptiness. The only answer is silence. The only happiness is nothingness.’ When you have discovered the meaning of these words, return to me.”

Without a word, we arose, and were led away from his holy presence. As soon as I was once again seated on my mat, I began to turn over the saying. Three weeks went by without any progress. The words seemed like nonsense to me. I reproached myself for my inability to penetrate the secret. I felt shame for my creeping doubts that, after all, the words had no meaning at all. I despaired of ever attaining happiness. Oh, the nights of mental agony! Oh, the days of torture!

Finally, on the first day of the fourth week, while I was feeling particularly low and helpless, a noticed a little worm squirming on the ground in front of me. I felt a strange sympathy for the creature, thrashing about blindly on the rocks. Was I so different? Just then, a red-breasted robin swooped down and snatched up the poor creature. A moment of despair struck me. Is the world so cruel and pitiless? Is life to empty of meaning? But then it dawned on me. An insight. A revelation. Yes! I had the answer! I had finally understood the meaning of the master’s words.

I got up from my pillow and rushed to the master, excited to tell him the news. But he was not in his usual spot in the temple

“Master? Master? I have it! I have the answer!”

No one replied. But then I heard a muffled voice on the other side of a wall. I got closer, and found a small doorway in the corner of the temple. I listened: there were voices on the other side, several of them. One of them I recognized as the master’s. I considered going away and returning at another time. But then I wondered: was this a test? Perhaps it was time for me to enter the inner sanctum? So, resolving myself, I pushed open the door.

What I saw shocked me to the core.

The master was sprawled on the floor, naked, surrounded by dozens of empty bottles of liquor. He was flanked by five or six young women, equally nude, who were caressing the most holy of holy monks.

I stood there, aghast, for thirty seconds or so. They were all so drunk that they hardly noticed me. “Shut that damn door, you’re letting the breeze in,” was all the master said. I obeyed, closing the door on the horrid scene. Then, I rushed to find Professor Allesprachen. As usual, he was sitting on the pillow, deep in meditation.

“Professor, Professor!” I said.

He looked up, shocked that I was breaking our vow of silence.

“I just saw the most horrid thing. Oh, you will not believe it! I can hardly believe it myself. The master was engaged in fornication! Oh, the horror of it!”

“I was wondering why so many of the nuns were young and attractive,” Professor said.

“Most wise and faithful friend, what shall we do? Even here, we have not escaped the harems of our home! Is humankind doomed to sex? Is happiness impossible?”

“Do not despair, my Prince. This monastery is only one of a million endeavors to achieve happiness. Let us leave and try another method. The world is vast and full of strange traditions. Surely somewhere we can find a place free from coitus.”

So the two of us quietly changed into our normal clothes and bid adieu to the monastery. We flew away in our machine, in search of a new mode of life.

The rest of our story is too dreary to relate. Suffice to say, we have experimented with many religions since then—men and women who read a very old book and speak to the characters in its pages, and a similar cult in which people kneel and pray before golden altars and statues of deceased holy figures. But, sad to say, despite the vehement and repeated condemnations of sex that the practitioners of these lifestyles avowed, we found that, nevertheless, copulation remained an integral part of their practice. Indeed, we have found that the adherents to these religions were most keen to practice the type of sex that they most bitterly censured, such as homosexuality or pedophilia. It is extremely strange

§

“What a remarkable tale!” Bigote says. “But can it all be true?”

“I can vouch for every word of it,” Apfelstrudel says.

“Hold on a minute,” I say. “Are you telling me that you guys are from a place where all you do is eat, sleep, and bone, and you escaped so that you can be happy?”

“That is correct,” Franck says.

“You are fucking crazy, bro,” I say.

“Why do you say that?”

Suddenly a distorted voice booms throughout the camp.

Come out with your hands up. We have you surrounded.

“What on earth is that?” Franck says.

“Oh shit.”

“It’s the conspiracy!” Bigote cries, whipping out his pistol. “You’ll never take me alive, you dirty commie brussel-sprout eating Muslims!”

“Surely it is just the police,” Allesprachen says. “It must be some sort of misunderstanding.”

We have traced your vehicle here. There is nowhere to run, police killers!”

“Police killers?” Franck says.

“It’s a long story, bro,” I say. “We’ve been through some shit to get here.”

“There is no need to panic, gentlemen,” Allesprachen says. “If only we appeal to there reason and rational judgment, we should be able to clear up this misunderstanding.”

“There is no reasoning with these dogs!” Bigote yells. “And I for one am not prepared to be taken to their lair, in order to watch vegan cooking recipes and feminist TED talks for days on end. I’d rather go down in a blaze of glory!”

And with this he cocks his pistol.

“Oh dear, this seems serious,” Franck says.

“It couldn’t be any more serious,” Bigote replies. “Chopin, get your gun. This is going to be ugly.”

“Perhaps,” Franck goes on, “we can be of assistance. We still have Allesprachen’s flying machine, concealed just outside. The four of us could squeeze in.”

You have one minute to come out with your arms raised, or we will open fire.”

“Let’s get the fuck out!” I scream.

The two Geheimnislanders lead us outside. Professor hits a button on some sort of remote control, and the machine pops into view. It’s a crazy looking thing, sort of like the time machine in that crappy nineties movie that I saw once on television when I was a kid.

There’s only two seats, so we pile on top of each other. Franck and I sit on the seats and the old guys sit on our laps. Bigote’s ass is boney, let me tell you.

The metal rings start spinning until they’re going so fast it’s just a blur. The machine actually starts to lift off. And here I thought these German dudes were nuts. Soon we’re over the trees. Below us, I catch a little glance of the Portuguese police officers, guns raised, advancing on a bunch of those hippies. Dr. Krajakat and Pierre are down there, arms up, kneeling, while two officers approach with handcuffs. I doubt ayahuasca is legal.

Soon we’re so far up that the people below us are invisible specks, and I can see faraway mountains and a distant coastline. So we float away to our next destination, where I’m sure there are more wackos waiting for us.

Don Bigote: Chapter 6

Don Bigote: Chapter 6

The story until now:

  1. Don and Dan Build a Shelter
  2. Don and Dan Take a Flight
  3. Don and Dan Go to Spain
  4. Don and Dan Do Drugs
  5. Don and Dan Find God

Don and Dan Find Themselves

“Tell me what you saw,” Dr. Krajakat says, in a low soothing voice, to Don Bigote.

“It is somewhat obscured in the misty recesses of my memory, but I clearly remember the exalted feeling of having made an important discovery.”

“Yes?” the doctor says coaxingly.

“Perhaps discovery is not the right word… It was more like a vision, a sort of sense of being in a world where every wrong is right, a kind of utopia of freedom and righteousness—blessedly free from the dastardly conspiracy that so plagues the world today…”

“And did you see…  her?”

“Her?”

“Yes, her.”

“You mean, the mother?”

“Yes, her! Mother Ayahuasca!”

“I did!” Bigote says, with a tone of eureka. “I remember it all now… She came to me from above, like an angel, with her flowing green hair and her flaming red eyes… and she picked me up and held me in her arms, and whispered something in my ear…”

“What was it?” the doctor hisses.

“That… everything, everything is opposite.”

“Yes!” the doctor says, throwing up his hands in triumph.

“I think he’s ready,” Pierre says quietly.

“Yes, I agree,” the doctor says. “I quite agree.”

§

“Listen,” I say, “you can’t trust these people. They’re all loonies here.”

We are sitting, alone, in our bunk beds in the campsite.

“I believe at least most of them are not Canadian, Chopin,” Bigote tells me. “In any case, I do not see why you are so alarmed. If these people were working for the conspiracy then they surely would have pounced already. What would be the point in waiting?”

“But, dude,” I say, “just think about it. We’re out here in the middle of nowhere, everyone is a hippie on drugs, and this doctor wants to send you into some cave. I mean, how can they know it’s safe? There could be bears, snakes, wolves, or… whatever there is in Portugal. Or you can get lost, or fall into a pit, or the walls can collapse and you can be trapped like those miners in that country on the news.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Bigote says. “I have no fear for my personal safety. Besides, the chance of attaining knowledge which, very possibly, will be vital in our battle against the conspiracy, is worth whatever the concomitant risks of this procedure. And if something happens to me, you will be left behind to carry on the mission.”

“So you’re seriously going into the cave?”

“I am.”

“You’re gonna trust these people you just met with your life?”

“Most heartily.”

“Well then,” I say, “I’m going with you.”

“Now, now, dear Chopin,” Bigote says, laughing, “I am flattered by this display of squirish loyalty, but do not be rash. I am a man of experience and training, and, moreover, owing to my comparatively advanced age, it could hardly be argued that an accidental death would be greatly tragic. But in your case there is an obvious and manifest difference; you are young, and (the conspiracy permitting) you have many years ahead of you, some of which may indeed be happy.”

“If you’re going, I’m going,” I say, crossing my arms.

“Pray reconsider.”

“I’m not leaving you alone to be killed by these crazies.”

“Oh, such words are harsh.”

“This is the way it’s gonna be,” I say, imitating my mom.

Now, I am hoping that by insisting on going with him I might get him to wise up to the loco-ness of this plan. It’s a gamble, I know. But what else am I going to do? I am in way too deep with Bigote now to back out. We’ve broken who knows how many laws; we’ve seen people killed, and then stolen their stuff. I mean, it’s all the way or bust, the way I see it.

“If this is how you feel,” Bigote says, “then so be it.”

Oh shit.

§

“This is the entrance to Sub World,” Dr. Crackerjack (or whatever his name is) says, pointing to a small sliver of an opening in a hillside. “This is where Mother Ayahuasca dwells. The cave was discovered about a decade ago by a married couple on a picnic. The two of them stumbled in, and now the both of them are high shamans in the rainforests of Brazil. We pilgrims have been visiting the magic cave ever since. It works wonders.”

“I am thoroughly intrigued,” Bigote says. “Let us waste no more time!”

“Wait!” Pierre shouts, as Bigote starts marching towards the cave. “We have got to tie you up first.”

“Tie us up?” I say, already so nervous my bowels are misbehaving.

“So you don’t get lost,” he explains, and then pulls out two long nylon chords from his backpack. Quickly and expertly, he wraps one around my waist, ties it securely, and does the same with Bigote.

“They are prepared,” Pierre says to the doctor.

“Okay, now the both of you, listen to me carefully,” the doctor says. “Walk into the cave slowly. Be careful, since it is completely dark inside, so take care not to hit your head or to fall. However, this stage of the journey only lasts a few minutes. Eventually you will see a light in the distance. Follow it. The rest will be clear.”

“I thank you for your counsel,” Bigote says. “And now, no more words. For it is a time of action.”

Pierre and the doctor nod gravely. Bigote turns to the cave and begins to march. I follow him, trying my best to walk normally despite the knot of anxiety in my abdomen.

We reach the cave’s mouth. Like he’s an astronaut in a movie or something, Bigote turns to me, nods, and then steps into the cave. I mutter a kind of fake prayer (you know, the kind of weird under-the-breath wishing that even non-religious people do), try to walk inside, but then I panic and hesitate for a second. A part of me says, fuck this, let’s go back. Then I worry that I’ll lose track of Bigote in the darkness, so I gulp down my nerves and walk inside.

I hit my head on the rocks immediately.

“God fucking shit…”

“Peace, Chopin,” Bigote’s voice says, ahead of me. “This is no time for obscenities.”

“Sorry, sir, it’s just these rocks are so hard.”

“Indeed, they are quite durable, as I have myself noticed through observation. Unless I am mistaken, the cave is primarily granite.”

I walk forward, hands out in front, until I bump right into him.

“Careful, my faithful companion,” Bigote says.

“Oh, sir, I don’t like this,” I say, grabbing onto his arm so as not to lose him. “Can we just sit down here for a few hours, and tell them it was great when we come out?”

“What an idea!” Bigote laughs.

We are edging forward, him in front, me behind, clinging to his boney arm. Normally I’d feel weird in this situation but, you know, when you’re in a cave different rules apply. This is what I’d always say to my buddies when we were in the man cave.

We move on in total silence and total darkness, the only sound the soft padding of our feet on the rocky ground as we slowly shuffle forward. It feels like how I imagine it is to be in one of those sensory-deprivation chambers that I saw on a video that one of my friends—well, she’s not really my friend, but I follow her since she’s sort of cute—posted on LickFace™ a few months ago. It’s like these things where you go into a pod that’s full of warm water, and when the door closes you can’t feel or see or hear or smell anything, and you’re supposed to be like super zen or something like that (though I gotta say so far this cave is not at all zen). I don’t know, it’s something people in Norway to do, I guess because they’re bored from the snow.

For about five minutes nothing much happens. Well, it could have been an hour for all I know. Time is hard to estimate when your in a cave like that. But just then, somewhere in the blank space in front of us, we hear:

Thump.

“Oh my god of my god oh my god,” I say, and hug Bigote’s waist. “We’re gonna die.”

“Calm yourself, Chopin,” Bigote says. He tries to keep moving ahead but I hold him there.

“Let go of me, you fool.”

“Shhhh,” I say, squeezing him as tightly as I can.

We listen for a few moments. I’m breathing hard from panic, and Bigote is huffing from trying to breathe with my arms clenched around his chest. I’m sweating like I’m trying to work off a hangover at the gym, and I feel like my legs are made of jello shots.

And then:

Thump.

It sounds closer this time. I lose it completely.

“Oh please oh please, let’s go!” I start crying and babbling hysterically. “Oh, sir please let’s get out of here. Oh! Owowowow!”

“Will you quit that nonsense!” Bigote says, and tries peeling my arms from around his waist.

“Look you, whatever you are!” he then shouts into the darkness. “Unlike my assistant here, I am unafraid of things that go bump in the night! So, beware, for that makes me dangerous!”

“Oh god, please somebody help us!” I scream. My eyes are streaming tears, my nose is dripping mucus, and I’m farting uncontrollably. My arms and legs are frozen in place—Bigote’s stuck in my embrace—we’re completely defenseless. This is the end, I know it.

And, just then, we hear another noise. It sounds like:

Psssssfffffftt.

In other words, it sounds like a hissing and slightly wet fart. A sharp shart, if you will.

I don’t know whether this is a good or a very bad sign… but the sound keeps repeating. I listen in wild fear, mentally trying to make sense of what it could be… a bear? a snake? a rabid beaver? But the more I listen, the more the sound begins to take shape. Yes, it is most definitely flatulent, but it also has a certain… articulation. Wait, it’s somebody speaking!

“Pssslease pffdon’t fffffffpanic,” the fart voice says. “You have arrived.”

§

The cave is gone. Either that, or we’re gone. I’m not a philosopher or anything, so I don’t know. Point is, we’re not in the cave anymore.

Instead, we’re in a room where all the surfaces are made of little pieces of glass, like a fun-house or something. It’s super trippy. Everywhere I turn, up, down, right, left, I see myself in a thousand little pieces. And since everything is reflecting everything else, the room is multiplied infinitely in every direction. Like I said, it’s super trippy, and it gives me a stomach ache—as if I wasn’t feeling weirded-out enough already. Worse than the mirrors is the smell. It’s nasty, like something rotten, or like that one time I did an experiment in chem class using sulfur. But the worst part of all is that there is someone in this room with Bigote and me…

It’s a man, I think… He’s completely naked, so it should be easy to tell. But he’s standing on his arms, with his legs up flapping in the air, and his ass pointed right towards us. A pretty hairy ass, too, which is why I think it’s a dude.

“Welcome,” he says. But the voice doesn’t come from his mouth… He literally farts the words out of his upturned ass. I gag a little.

“How dare you act so obscenely, you curr!” Bigote shouts.

“Please be calm,” the ass retorts. “I assure you that I mean no disrespect.”

An uncomfortable silence follows, as Bigote and I try to figure out what’s going on. Finally Bigote says:

“Are you Mother Ayahuasca?”

At this, the ass explodes into staccato, rapid-fire farts: pft-pft-pft-pft-pft-pft. I think it’s laughing. I gotta admit I’m very impressed. One of my buddies back home can fart on command, but he has nothing like this level of control. This guy could be on a TV show. When he settles down, he says (or farts, not sure):

“I apologize for laughing, but everyone who comes down here asks me that, even though I implore them, when they return to the surface, to dispel this myth. And frankly, I do not see what a hallucinogenic concoction from the Amazon rainforest has to do with us, down here.”

“Who are you then?” Bigote says.

“My name is Harry,” the ass responds, folding his upturned legs with dignity. “And I am a member of the Subterraneans.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Subterraneans. You see, thousands of years ago, when people began to settle down and start farming, a small group of dissenters decided that the agricultural life wasn’t for them. The rigid schedule, the bland and steady diet, the sedentary lifestyle—they found it to be an unbelievable bore. So they struck out to find another way. Eventually, during a bad storm, some of them got lost in this cave and never found their way out. Over the millennia we have adapted to our new domain. Indeed, I think you will find that we are much happier than you surface dwellers.”

“So why are we here?” Bigote asks.

“Well, you see your surface bodies would be completely unable to cope with the conditions inside our city, so we have constructed this chamber to allow for communication between our two worlds. The mirrors, you see, are to magnify the meager source of light we have available. And the atmosphere is equal parts oxygen and methane (you likely have noticed the smell), so that we both can breathe. We, of course, have no need of light or mirrors in Sub City (as our capital is called), since our world is pitch black, and our eyes have long since atrophied from disuse.”

“I see,” Bigote says. “But why are we here in the first place?”

“Ah, well it’s part of a new government outreach program. We decided that diplomatic isolation was no longer a defensible policy in a globalizing world, and so built this chamber to make contact with the surface world. The fact that ayahuasca rituals take place here was a lucky coincidence.”

“So,” Bigote says, hesitating, “you are here to explain your world to us, is that right?”

“Correct.”

“My attention is yours.”

“I believe the best procedure is for you to ask me what you wish to know. I will answer as best I can.”

“How are you speaking out of your ass?” I blurt out, dying to find out.

“Chopin, how rude!” Bigote says.

“No, it’s quite alright,” the ass says. “Everyone asks me that. In short, the lack of oxygen deep underground caused a change in our biology. We switched from breathing oxygen to breathing methane, and our anuses thus became the primary mode of communication. The ability to delicately manipulate objects or to run quickly are also of little use where we live. Thus, we switched from feet-walking to hand-walking, freeing our muscular feet for the heavy lifting needed in carving out our existence underground.”

“That’s crazy, dude.”

“No, it is evolution.”

“Well,” Bigote says, “I suppose I should start with the most obvious question: Is your society, too, under threat by the Muslim-Mexican conspiracy?”

“What is that?”

“Why, it is the most dastardly plot in all of history! It is a scheme formed by the alliance of the religion of Islam and the nation of Mexico, along with various other groups such as feminists and vegans, in order to destroy western society as we know it!”

“It is a conspiracy formed between a religion and a nation?”

“Yes, that is exactly it.”

“Oh no, that is not a problem here,” Harry says. “You see, we have found that religions are more trouble than they’re worth. Centuries ago, we had a lot of problems with this institution. Everyone was getting all worked up over which god to worship, what god said what, who was the true prophet of god, what kind of hat god wants you to wear, what kind of food god wants you to eat, and on and on. So eventually we just decided to abolish all religion.”

“Even Christianity?”

“If that is a religion, then yes.”

“That’s monstrous!”

“Whatever you may think, it has worked out quite well. We haven’t had any violence due to conflicting supernatural beliefs in hundreds of years. We did the same thing with nations, too, since we found that people would get similarly worked up over which nation was the best—with the best customs, the best food, the best culture, and all the rest—so we decided that nations are formally illegal.”

“My God!” Bigote says. “But some nations are the source of brilliant and vital traditions!”

“We have found through experience that any group that does not include everyone, and which requires its members to eat, act, and think a certain way, causes social issues that are best avoided through unity. That is why we also outlaw special diets (except for medical reasons) and political parties.”

“But if all this stuff is against the law,” I say, “then half of your people must be in jail.”

“Why, you surface-dwellers are always shocked when I say this, but we have no jails in Sub World.”

“Let me guess,” Bigote says, “mass execution?”

“The thought of such barbarism!” Harry said, fart-chuckling. “No, no, nothing of the sort. We have a very efficient process for dealing with people who break the law. First, they must publicly apologize in front of a large crowd. This is to engender a sense of shame and responsibility. Then they must complete a certain number of community service hours, which normally consists of some menial task, such as garbage collection. Meanwhile, they attend therapy and rehabilitation sessions, in which they are given the psychological and social support to properly readapt to society. This is followed by a probationary period, in which they are provisionally allowed to return to normal life, with periodic monitoring to ensure their proper readjustment.”

“I highly doubt the efficacy of this procedure,” Bigote says.

“Oh, I assure you it’s quite successful. My father once had to undergo this process because he got a speeding ticket in his mole-mobile. And now he obeys the speed limit ‘religiously,’ you might say.”

“That is all fine and dandy,” Bigote says, “but what about the unrepentant criminals? Surely there must be a certain number who refuse to participate, or who are too violent to be amenable to such gentle correction.”

“There have been cases in the past when rehabilitation was impossible, and the criminal was sent into exile into the deeper recesses of the caves. But such a thing has not happened in generations. You see, our criminal system is not simply recuperative, but preventative. Yearly psychological examinations, administered in schools (and all of our teachers undergo psychological training), allow us to catch troublesome cases early, when therapy is most effective.”

“Excuse me the luxury of disbelief,” Bigote says, waving his hand. “But I doubt that all the therapy in the world can eliminate our violent tendencies. Surely, there must be assaults and murders in your society.”

“Yes, occasionally.”

“And you are saying that you do not administer a harsher punishment to those who take a human life?”

“In the case of murder, the perpetrator is forced to attend a meeting of reconciliation with the family of the victim, in order for the criminal to realize the full extent of emotional pain he has caused, and in order for the victims to avoid harboring self-destructive hateful or vengeful feelings. The ceremony ends with everyone rubbing their anuses together, which is the traditional gesture of goodwill in our society.”

“This is absurd! Such a procedure hardly satisfies the dictates of justice! The perpetrator of such a heinous act must suffer. To force the family of the victim to forgive him is cruel! They have a right to be angry.”

“I assure you, for generations we tried to use a system of castigation—corporal punishment, isolation, imprisonment, even death—to deal with crimes, but the end result never fully satisfied. Harsh punishments had the double drawback of making criminals unavailable or unfit for useful social roles in the future, while failing to act as a serious deterrent to other would-be criminals. So we had lots of crime and lots of prisoners. Furthermore, though there was a sense of emotional satisfaction in punishing wrongdoers, we found that indulging in such sentiments led, in turn, to anti-social behavior on the victims’ part, thus perpetuating a cycle of violence.”

“Such dry logic may have its certain appeal,” Bigote spits, “but we are creatures of sentiment, and our emotional natures cannot be denied.”

“We have come to the opposite conclusion,” Harry replies. “Long experience has taught us that many emotions, positive or negative, can have unintended negative social consequences. Love is an excellent example of this phenomenon.”

“Oh, I would like to hear this.”

“Our original hypothesis was that individuals would naturally be best able to choose a partner for themselves. But this had puzzling consequences. Separation was common, and many couples who remained together reported high levels of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, especially when children were involved. After some investigation we were forced to conclude that individuals are inept at choosing partners. In well over three-fourths of the cases we looked into, the choice was unambiguously sub-optimal. Curiously, it is not that individuals are, on the whole, bad judges of character: they do well in choosing friends. Rather, we found that the intense feelings of passionate love commonly involved in courtship severely clouded people’s ability to make wise decisions about a partner.”

“So then how, in your infinite wisdom, do you manage marriage?”

“It is a simple system. First, love-matches are heavily discouraged. We have anti-love campaigns in school, and anti-love poems, songs, and stories are very common in the media, illustrating the danger of this temptation. And we have found that, in the absence of media promoting the idea of romantic love, it very rarely develops spontaneously. Our studies have shown that most love is merely the imitation of fictional tropes—and, of course, imitating fiction is not sustainable. In the rare cases that a couple does spontaneously fall in love, then they are assigned community service in different communities, to ensure the destruction of the relationship.”

“You are monsters!”

“I admit that it seems rather hard when we have to separate an enamored couple. This happened to one of my cousins, a few years back, a terribly excitable girl. But the social stability achieved through this process speaks for itself.”

“Social stability?” Bigote says. “How can loveless marriages be stable?”

“You see, love is allowed to develop within the marriage, but not to precede it. When a person is ready to marry, they follow this procedure: they apply to the Department of Partnership. Then psychologists evaluate members of the opposite sex (or whatever the case may be, depending on the individual’s preference) among the individual’s  friends—the theory being that freely-chosen friendship leads to more stable marital bonds than passionate emotional choice. When a suitable match is found (using various psychological criteria), the marriage is proposed, and continues with the consent of both parties. And I am happy to say that this procedure has almost entirely eliminated divorce. You see, when love is not involved, people enter a relationship with moderate and realistic expectations, and so are seldom disappointed enough to wish to leave.”

“This is a travesty!” Bigote snorts. “This is like solving the problem of heart attacks by putting everyone into an artificial coma. You have robbed life of all its poetry!”

“Poetry is a matter of taste,” Harry replies. “And in my opinion our anti-love poets produce some truly beautiful lines. For my part, I have been in a happy marriage for thirty years, and have not grown tired of my wonderful wife even once.”

“But this whole business of letting committees decide things, it’s preposterous,” Bigote says, waving his arms. “You can never achieve greatness in any realm of life through mere procedures and logic and calculation. Passion is the spark that sets fire to our life, and makes them worth living.”

“For a long time, there were many in Sub World who agreed with you. And of course we have exhaustively tested out this hypothesis. But ultimately we have had to reject the idea that passionate desire is socially useful. In many realms of life, it is quite the opposite—socially destructive. Take politics as an example.”

“Go on, then. Tell us how wrong we are.”

“Well, for a long time it was assumed that the people who were the most motivated to be politicians should be the ones in charge. Thus we experimented with a democratic system, in which these individuals would compete for votes, the theory being that the person who receives the most votes would be the one who is the most skillful leader, the most motivated worker, and the most ideologically representative of the population. But we were mistaken in this. Time and time again, the people who won were merely charismatic. While some proved to be capable leaders, the large majority were exalted mediocrities, whose only true interest was power and prestige, and who were willing to say anything to get it.”

“I admit that this has been our sad experience on the surface world as well.”

“Another problem we ran into is that our leaders, once established, bred an incestuous community. By this I mean they would mainly associate with one another, becoming an isolated class. Rather than working on behalf of the community, they merely worked to further entrench themselves in their positions. Sure they would appear to oppose one another ideologically. But this was mainly a show to convince their voters of their own legitimacy.”

“Again, I have seen it happen all too often,” Bigote says. “So what did you do about it?”

“The solution was easily found, once we abandoned the idea that people should follow their passion to become leaders. Rather, we realized that the reverse is the case: people with no interest in leading should lead, since they are the least likely to be corrupted by access to power. Thus we have replaced elections with a lottery. A person randomly chosen is more likely to represent the views of their community, rather than the interests of the elite. But of course even a normal person may have their judgment warped through access to executive control: so this is why we strictly limit the amount of time that any person can spend in the government. For most positions the term limit is one year. After this year is up, the next leader is chosen through another lottery process. It is called the Yearly Shuffle, and it’s a great festive occasion. My grandfather and my sixteen-year-old daughter were both chosen so far.”

“My word!” Bigote says. “A lottery!? Very well, I admit that such a silly procedure may help to eliminate corruption. But this comes at the cost of great leadership. Where would the world be if Charlemagne, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Ronald Reagan were passed over by some random process, or were only allowed to rule for one year! Yes, there are plenty of corrupt politicians in the world—of this I am much too certain—but great talent naturally rises to the top, and compensates for this human waste!”

Just then I feel a strong pressure on my abdomen—and it isn’t what it usually is.

“Ah, it appears it is time for you to go,” Harry says. “Give my regards to that doctor up there, and do let him know about Mother Ayahuasca.”

Suddenly I am tugged from behind with so much power that I fall backwards, lose my breath, and black out.

§

A confused mass of voices reaches my ears:

“Are they alright? Wow, they smell awful. How’s their breathing? Normal? Get the smelling salts. Keep them on their sides, that’s it.”

Slowly the world stops spinning, and I begin to recollect myself. Asleep? Was it all a dream?

Someone sticks something under my nose, and I am overwhelmed by a powerful rancid smell.

“Jesus fucking hell,” I say, sitting bolt upright and thrashing around with my hands. “Get that shit away from me.”

“It appears that he is fine,” Pierre says. “We pulled them out before the methane got to their heads.”

“Tell me, young one,” Dr. Krajakat says to me, smiling, as he bends down towards me. “Did you see it?”

“See what?”

“The… the place where everything is opposite?”

“Opposite? I’ll say! Down there, everything is ass backwards!”

Don Bigote: Chapter 5

Don Bigote: Chapter 5

The story until now:

  1. Don and Dan Build a Shelter
  2. Don and Dan Take a Flight
  3. Don and Dan Go to Spain
  4. Don and Dan Do Drugs

Don and Dan Find God

“Dan, I am afraid I cannot hold it any longer.”

“You sure, sir? There must be a McDonald’s nearby.”

“My dear boy, first of all, McDonald’s is one of the strongest links in the chain of conspiracy, extending all the way from AppleBee’s to Outback Steakhouse. They put mind-control serums in the food, making the populace more docile. And second, I am in a state of dire urethral and bladereal emergency.”

“But where does Taco Bell figure into this?”

“Just stop, Chopin!”

I pull the grey sedan to the side of the road; the tires crunch on the gravel as we slow down. Bigote has the door open before we even come to a full stop. He unbuckles his seatbelt and attempts a flying leap out of the car—a man propelled by the force of nature—and immediately tumbles and falls, hitting his face on the open door, and then rolling into a somersault and springing to his feet. His nose is bleeding profusely and a steady stream of urine, surprisingly vigorous for an old guy like him, appears in no time. I observe all this through the rear-view mirror.

“I told you about drinking all that Diet Pepsi, sir,” I say, after getting out. “It’s a killer.”

“I would appreciate if you could maintain silence while I am in this undignified state,” he replies, the stream still going strong.

“Well I guess I’ll go, too.”

I unzip my fly and search deep down for the urine I know is lurking in the depths. I push and squeeze, and feel a tension somewhere behind my navel, and scrunch it like a sponge, trying to get all the liquid out. I am a little embarrassed of my pitiful tinkle, compared to Bigote’s mighty Niagara.

We both finish.

“Are you okay, sir?” I say, looking at the read streak of blood down his shirt and face, left by his still-bleeding nose.

“Nothing to worry about, Chopin. Blood is but the stuff of the gross material body. The soul is made of finer matter, and cannot escape through the aperture of the nose.”

“Well why don’t you plug it up anyway,” I say, and hand him the tissue stuffed in my pocket.

“Once again, I am much obliged to you,” he says, and stuffs bits of the tissue up his nose.

“So, Mr. Bigote, sir,” I say, “I hate to bring this up again, but where are we headed?”

“My most ignorant and naïve companion, for the upteenth time, we are on our way to Santiago de Compostela.”

“Which is a city?”

“It is the city where the body of St. James was discovered, making it one of Christendom’s great pilgrimage sites.”

“And what’s that to us?”

“You know, your barbarous mode of speech, and persistently philistine questions, do provoke in me great feelings of pity and, at times, rage at the conspiracy which has so debauched your mind, my most benighted squire.”

Bigote has been getting a little testy lately.

“Debitched or not, I’ve been driving for a long time, man, and we don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”

“Stuff and nonsense, Chopin. It is impossible to go and yet remain, as Isaac Newton proved.”

“Listen I don’t see what physics has to do with San Diego con Carne.”

“Santiago de Compostela.”

“Yeah.”

“Allow me to explain this in plain terms. St. James is the patron saint of Spain. He was a great inspiration for the reconquista and, it is said, actually appeared in battle to aide the Christian forces against the invading Muslims. As such, visiting the shrine dedicated to Santiago may have much to tell us in our quest against the Mexican-Muslim conspiracy.”

“Well, as long as I can get BJ’s and beers there, it should be fine.”

“I assure you, Chopin, they have every civilized amenity, including pyjamas.”

I walk back over to the driver’s side and tug on the door.

“Uh oh,” I say. “It’s locked. Try your side, sir.”

“It does not open, from which I deduce that it is locked.”

“Yeah…” I say, patting myself down, looking through my pockets. “Pretty sure I left the keys in the car.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“We’re locked out.”

“You imbecile!” Bigote said, pounding his fist on the car. “You dunce!”

He is an awfully judgmental guy for someone covered in dried blood, with red tissue coming out of his nostrils.

“Sorry about that, sir,” I say, trying my best to sound real sorry.

“Do you realize the extent to which you have put our entire operation in jeopardy by such a careless and routine oversight?”

“Well, can’t be that bad.”

“I beg to differ, knave, and to differ most hotly. For tow truck personnel are inevitably informants of the conspiracy. Indeed, nearly every individual involved in traffic violations or car repair is directly connected to the central database, which the conspirators use to track the whereabouts of their nemeses. They will find us out immediately, Chopin.”

“Guess we just got to break a window then,” I said.

“I suppose we do, Chopin. Would you like me to try?”

“Be my guest.”

I am pretty excited for what is coming next.

Bigote winds up his body like a spring, and delivers a massive karate chop to the passenger window. His boney hand bounces off with a loud ‘crack.’

AAAAAHHH!” Bigote says, clutching his hand.

“Oh shit, sir, did you break anything?” I try to say this with a straight face.

“It is too early to tell the extent of the physical damage, Chopin. But it is safe to say that this glass is especially made to withstand assault. Try it with a hefty stone.”

“You got it,” I say, and pick up a loose piece of asphalt nearby. Then I chuck it right at the window from point-blank range. But my hand slips and the asphalt hits the door right below the window, bounces off and hits me in the nuts, sending me to the floor.

My world collapses like an accordion into a tight ball of breathless pain. All time and space disappear. I see the face of God, and He looks like my mom. I smell oil and stale beer and imagine that this is what everything must smell like when you’re dead. Then, I snap out of it a little, and find myself sprawled on the ground clutching my crotch.

“Owowowowow,” I say, when I can find my breath. “God damnit.”

“Chopin, are you alright?”

“Just dying over here, don’t worry about it.”

“These damn feminist, homosexual, gluten-free conspirators! You see, Chopin, they have infiltrated all the regulation agencies. In the past, automobile companies could use whatever grade of glass they pleased. In those days you could shatter a car window with a pebble. But in their mad quest to limit our blessed freedom, the socialists created regulations, stating that these windows must be resistant to kinetic assault. And now you see how clever they are? We are locked out of our own vehicle!”

“Well, technically we stole it,” I say. I have stopped hyperventilating now and I am struggling back to my feet.

“Hello, friends, do you need some help?”

My blood runs cold when I hear this voice. Who the hell is that?

“Why, who might you be?” Bigote says, all suspicious-like. I limp over to his side as quick as I can, hoping to prevent Bigote from shooting anyone. Remember, we still have those pistols from the dead drug runners.

“My name is Pierre,” a boy with a funny French accent says. “I see that you are having trouble with your automobile.”

He’s about my age, wearing a black backpack, a grey hoodie, some ragged jeans, and he’s holding a walking stick. He smiles and I can see that he has spotted yellow teeth.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, trying to sound menacing.

“I was walking along when I saw you two pull over to, uh, make water. I saw you had a bad accident,” he says to Bigote. “Are you alright?”

“I am an old warrior and am long immured to such trifling injuries, but it is very kind of you to ask.” I can tell from Bigote’s tone that he is contemplating something very stupid.

“Well, I see that you cannot get back into your car,” Pierre says.

“Very observant.”

“Would not you like me to help? I am an expert in these things, you know.”

“In breaking into cars?”

“Precisely.”

I look at Bigote, who eyes the Frenchie with a narrow gaze.

“Be my guest,” he says finally, after a long pause.

“But in return,” Pierre says, “I would very much like it if you would give me a ride.”

“If it is on our way,” Bigote says.

“Oh, it is on everybody’s way.”

And with this puzzling remark, Pierre whips his backpack around, and pulls out a coat hanger from the front pocket. Then he straightens it out into a little wire, leaving only the hooked end, and presses it against the little crease of the passenger door, and then wiggles it back and forth until, with a little jerk, it pops into the car. He angles the hanger so that it hooks the little doorlock knob, and gently pulls it out and up, unlocking the door. All this is done in less than thirty seconds.

“There you are!” he says, turning around and smiling.

“Very kind of you,” Bigote says, and whips out the semi-automatic pistol from his belt. But the gun flies out of his hand, dropping down on the asphalt road with a thud, going off in the process with a horrible Bang! Before I even have time to react Bigote swoops down and picks up the gun in his left hand.

“Jesus Christ, Fuck!” I say. “What the fuck was that, man?”

“Are you hit, Chopin?”

“No, man, but why did you throw the gun like that? Are you nuts?”

“It’s my right hand, Chopin. I cannot grip anything. I think I broke my fingers from trying to smash the window.”

“Oh, great. Well did you kill Jacques?”

“It’s Pierre…” he says. He threw himself on the ground when he saw the gun, and is now getting back to his feet. “And I am unharmed.”

“Get back on your feet you conspiratorial scum, and die like a man,” Bigote says. “Now, say your prayers—to Muhammad, Hillary Clinton, El Chapo, or whatever other devils you dogs pray to.”

“What is this?” Pierre says, standing and throwing his hands up. “Why are you doing this?”

“Oh, an obliging French vagrant just happened to be strolling by when our car broke down? Very convenient,” Bigote says.

“Woah, woah, woah, woah,” I say, putting a hand gently on Bigote’s arm. “Let’s not jump to conclusions, sir.”

“Chopin, I admire your impulse towards mercy, but we have everything to lose and little to gain by letting this man live. He may be innocent, but he may very well be an agent sent here for the very purpose of sabotaging us, ensnaring us in his cleverly-woven net.”

“But sir, there must be a way to tell if somebody is a genuine member of the conspiracy.”

“Well, do you have some aluminum foil and a cup of water?”

“No…”

“Then we must resort to circumstantial evidence. Search his backpack, Chopin.”

“Yes, sir. Hand it here, Jacques.”

“It’s Pierre…”

“Shut up, Napoleon.”

Pierre nervously hands the bag over, and then sticks his hands back in the air. I open up the outside pocket.

“Cigarettes, a map of Portugal, five loose condoms, insect repellent, a harmonica, and a pickle.”

“Hmmmm,” Bigote says. “Go on.”

I open the main chamber.

“A bottle of Jack Daniels, a little tin can filled with weed…”

“Weed?”

“Marijuana, sir.”

“I see. Proceed.”

“Seven purple radishes, some sliced jalapeños, a partially eaten bag of cheetos, a frying pan, a package of bacon, a compass, three packs of cigarettes, a fork and knife, a flashlight, a plastic bag full of mushrooms, and a… a pornographic magazine.”

“And his pockets?”

Pierre scrounges in his pockets and gives me two big handfuls.

“Some gum, lots of coins, guitar picks, toothpicks, a wallet.”

“Any I.D.?” Bigote barks

“Yes, it’s in French but it says Pierre Lacrosse.”

“Go on.”

“An entire head of garlic, some packets of salt and ketchup from McDonald’s, a few batteries, and some little blue pills, which I believe are ecstasy.”

“That is correct,” Pierre says.

“I see,” Bigote says. “Well, I think the evidence is strongly in favor of his innocence.” Bigote clicks the safety on and holsters the pistol.

“Oh, mon dieu,” Pierre says.

“How did you come to that conclusion, sir?”

“Elementary, my dear Chopin. He had a harmonica, and music is forbidden in Islam; he had bacon, a pork product; and he had alcohol, another violation of the tenets of that nefarious creed.”

“Couldn’t he have been fooling us?” I say, just to figure out how this guy’s mind works.

“He may, indeed, Chopin. I see you are learning their trickery. But the presence of a pornographic magazine cleared up any doubts. For the human body is veiled in Islam; and, besides, feminists cannot abide pornography, since it shows attractive women; and, on top of that, the gays condemn all heterosexual attraction as too ‘natural’; and, finally, vegans consider sex to be an act of animal consumption. So it is very unlikely that the conspiracy would use pornography, even for the purposes of trickery.”

“But I thought all those guys were in favor of porn, right? Like, isn’t it the rightwing people who don’t like porn?”

“Ah, now you see the brilliance of the conspiracy, Chopin. The conspiracy publicly supports porn for its degrading moral effect, but refuses to partake of it themselves. They are dastardly, and will not hesitate to bend their morality to suit their needs.”

“Boy, you sure are smart, sir,” I say. “Excuse my boss,” I then say to Pierre, in a whisper. “He’s just a little paranoid about terrorism.”

“I understand,” he says. “One can never be too careful. So, can I get that ride?”

“Of course!” Bigote says, “and please excuse me for being such an ungrateful host.” And we all pile into the car.

“So, uh, do you know where you’re going?” I say to Pierre.

“Yes, it is only a few kilometers up this road. I will tell you when to stop.”

We drive on without conversation for fifteen minutes or so. I can see Bigote out of the corner of my eye. He is twisting his head this way and that, scanning the surroundings like an alert bird. His mustache has—if this is even possible—grown still more bushy during our time on the run, and now seems to extend outward in all directions like a bramble. Pierre, meanwhile, sits in the back, whistling “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye. Seems like a chill dude.

“Stop! Stop! Here it is!” Pierre says suddenly.

“You sure, man?” I say.

“Yes, yes!”

I pull over to the side and we slow to a stop. I look around and see nothing, not a building, a sign, nor a driveway.

“Where are you even going?” I ask him.

“Into the forest.”

“Are you on a hiking trip?”

“Oh, no, I’m going to an ayahuasca ceremony.”

“Ayahuasca?” Bigote asks.

“Oh, sir, I think this is a wonderful opportunity!” I say, thinking fast. “Ayahuasca is a powerful tool that may help us in our fight against the conspiracy!”

I’ve always wanted to try it.

“Indeed?” Bigote says, stroking his stache.

“Oh yes,” Pierre says. “Ayahuasca can change the world.”

“Then let us go!”

§

“Tell me again what this ‘ayahuasca’ substance is, Chopin. I am having difficulty following your explanation.”

We are stumbling through the forest on a vaguely marked trail, following the Frenchie at a distance of a few dozen feet. He seems to know where he’s going. I am a little worried that he’s leading us into a trap or something; but both of us are packing pistols—not that I know how to shoot mine—so I am not too worried. At the very least I am taking this baguette-eating euro-hippie down with me.

“Well, sir,” I say to Bigote, trying to sound all knowledgeable-like, “the thing is, nobody really knows what ayahuasca is. The recipe was discovered by the Aztecs, but the secret was lost after all of them died, from rape and pillage and stuff like that. But it’s like this substance that lets you see reality with, like, super vision. I mean that you know all this stuff you didn’t know before. Like magic.”

“If I am following your explanation correctly, Chopin, this is a potent substance developed by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Mexico?”

“That’s it.”

“And they used it in their rituals in order to gain a higher experience of reality?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“And somehow this recipe has been recovered?”

“You see, some people escaped into the forest and kept making the stuff, even after most of their friends and family died from the rape and pillage, and nowadays people pay to be part of ceremonies where they drink some of it and go through the whole deal.”

Bigote stops dead in his tracks.

“This is brilliant, Chopin!” Bigote says, throwing his hands up in the air. “Brilliant! This is the missing piece of the puzzle!”

“The puzzle, sir?”

“Don’t you see, Chopin? This is how the Muslims and the Mexicans communicated back in the time before Columbus crossed the ocean, allowing them to coordinate their nefarious plans before Western civilization even got started off the ground.”

“Hold up a second, sir. Are you saying that the Mexicans and the Muslims were plotting all the way back then? That’s just crazy, dude.”

“It may seem insane, Chopin, but I assure you this conspiracy reaches back into the furthest depths of time. Now, admittedly it was mysterious how the Aztecs and the Muslims coordinated in the Dark Ages. But what you tell me is true, Chopin, and this drug does give you a different experience of reality, it is possible that Mexicans and Muslims could attune their minds by taking the drug simultaneously, on different parts of the globe, and thus coordinate their thoughts. Or perhaps the Muslims smoked hashish… ”

“Woah, dude.”

“Yes, it is a bone-chilling thought. Nevertheless, we must suppose some sort of supernatural mode of communication in order to explain the otherwise extraordinary extent of coordination between these two apparently separated cultures. But is it really so surprising? Can it really have been a coincidence that the Aztec and the Muslim empires thrived at the same moment in history? Can it be pure chance that they both subsided in power—or, to be more accurate, appeared to subside in power—as the star of Europe was rising? No, all of this is too much to be believed. What is more, can anyone honestly believe the stories of these Spanish conquistadores easily conquering whole empires with a handful of men? It’s preposterous! The whole thing has been planned from the beginning, Chopin, and in the utmost detail. Both cultures agreed to feign a decline and fall, allowing the Europeans to think that they were the dominant force, all the while plotting how to take over and destroy Western culture, while harvesting its fruits for themselves.”

I sort of spaced out halfway through this, since even for Bigote this was a big conspiratorial wad to blow. And in any case I quickly learned that if you just say “Wow!” at appropriate intervals, he is totally satisfied… I guess a lot of married-couple sex works in the same way. This is why I never want to get tied down to one girl. I mean, it’s not like there aren’t some nice, smart, attractive girls in the world. But for a whole life? Give me a break. Like, variety is the spice of life, baby. Same with friends—with family, too, now that I think about it. Got to change things up every now and then or it all gets so stale and boring, amiright? I love hot dogs, but I don’t want to eat nothing but hot dogs forever and for all time. Same thing with everything and everyone else.

I’ll hand it to Bigote, though. He drones on like nobody else, but he still manages to surprise me pretty often. He’s a special dude.

“We’re here!” Pierre says, as he holds the branches of a little bush open, as if parting the curtains. “Isn’t it lovely?”

Bigote and I catch up and peer through the brush. The ‘retreat’ isn’t a whole lot to look at. There are five smallish cabins, made of wood, all arranged around what looks like a fire pit. Some logs are on the ground, for benches I guess, and empty beer bottles and plastic bags and other trash is spread around. Looks a lot like where went to after prom, some dank place called Stone Beach, though this is a lot cleaner. Might be fun.

“Where are all the inhabitants?” Bigote says.

“Oh, they must be off on a meditation walk in the forest. Let’s go find a spot.”

We follow Pierre into one of the cabins. It’s dark inside—no lights, no lamps, and just a little window on the far end. It seems like Pierre’s been here before, since he reaches for a flashlight hanging on the wall. As he illuminates the cabin I see about five or six double-decker bunk beds. A few of them are covered in stuff—old clothes hanging off the railings, backpacks, socks and underwear and things everywhere, with some empty wine bottles and beer cans lying around.

“You guys can stay here,” Pierre says, gesturing to an empty bunk bed.

“We are much obliged,” Bigote says.

“Do you want to be on top or on bottom?” I say to Bigote.

“As a seeker of wisdom I always prefer to have the higher vantage point, from which I can take in my surroundings.”

“Ah, ok…”

“You sound upset, my good assistant.”

“Oh, no, I’m fine. It’s just I usually like the top.”

“An admirable impulse, Chopin, but I am afraid that your subordinate position dooms you to an inferior level of the bed.”

“But are you really the boss if you haven’t paid me yet?”

“Everything in good time, my good assistant. Have no fear, your money will come. Yet we have more pressing matters to attend to than mere fiduciary concerns. For example, my hand requires some medical attention.”

“Allow me,” Pierre says, and comes over and shines his flashlight on Bigote’s outstretched hand. It’s real ugly: His fingers are all bent and crooked and his hand is as red and swollen as a tomato.

“You really messed yourself up, man,” I say.

“Yes, I appear to have done so,” Bigote replies. “It is well that my hand has gone numb, or else the pain would be very intense. I believe I am in shock.”

“If you allow me,” Pierre says, “I can help with this.”

“What, you’re both a doctor and a car thief?” I say.

“I have some practice with both,” Pierre says. “Will you follow me?” He leads us outside and then to another cabin, where Pierre quickly locates a first-aid kit. “Wait here,” he says, goes away, and comes right back holding some little popsicle sticks.

“Let us go outside into the light so I can help you.”

We sit down on some logs that are serving as benches outside a big fire pit, full of black ashes. Pierre gets down to work, using the kindling boards as splints, one for each finger, and then wrapping the whole thing in gauze. It looks like he’s done this kind of thing before, not that I’d really know.

“So,” Bigote says, as Pierre is working. “Tell me about yourself Pierre. What brings a young Frenchman into these parts?”

“Ah, this is a long story, monsieur.”

“I do not think we are pressed for time.”

“Ok, I will tell you, since you very kindly did not kill me before.

“I am from a little town near Bordeaux, out in the countryside. I grew up on a farm along with three sisters. My mother died when we were very young, so we only had our father to take care of us. It was a simple life, a hard life. I had to wake up before dawn every morning to milk the cows. And that was not all. Since I was the only boy, he had me do everything—sowing, planting, harvesting, and all of this agricultural business. For a long time I did this and I was content.”

“The farming life is one of the most honorable and necessary professions,” Bigote says, and then winces as Pierre tightens a bandage.

“It is, for those who are made for it. But my mother was not from a farming family. She taught my eldest sister, Claudine, to read when she was young, and then Claudine taught the rest of us. Father never gave us money for books, never had any to give. But mother had left her little library in a cupboard. Father never touched them, and he told us we should not waste our time, but gradually I grew interested. I would read at night, before bed, though normally I was so tired I fell asleep after five minutes.”

“This is an inspiring story of autodidacticism! Literature can truly open our minds to new worlds!” Bigote was red in the face from pain now.

“You are right. This is what happened. I started reading a book called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and it changed everything. It opened my eyes. I realized that I was living a shallow life of conformity, working for distant capitalist masters, and that I wanted to experience new things, to really live my life for myself.”

“So what did you do?” I say.

“Well, the first thing I did was I tried to find plants I could smoke on our farm. I used my Father’s old wooden pipe and tried many different species. The corn did not work. The bean sprouts could not catch on fire. The hay burned but did nothing. Finally I found a weed growing next to the house that made me see naked women whenever I closed my eyes, and I heard voices of cats and coyotes if I cupped my ears. Naturally I began smoking it very often. But my Father caught me. He said, ‘What are you doing, Pierre, my son? This is bad for your health. Please stop.’ But I told him, no, that I was expanding my consciousness.

“He left me alone for a while after that, hoping I would stop. But I had no intention of stopping. I found another plant that, when you smoke it, you feel 100 feet tall and your mouth tastes like bee stings. I started smoking that, and soon I had given up on all that dreadful farm work. But my Father, he is very narrow-minded, very much of the old world. So he took his pipe when I was passed out in the barn, and hid it from me. I guessed it was him immediately, so when I woke up I went to him, and said, ‘Hey, old man. Give me my pipe. I’m expanding my consciousness.’

“He said, ‘My son. Look at yourself. You are becoming an addict. Why are you doing this? I love you, son, and I want life to be like the old days.’ But I just laughed at this old-fashioned nonsense, and said, ‘Dad, enough of this trash. Give me the pipe.’ But he refused. So I decided to do something really daring, really crazy, really beyond the norm, and I pushed him. I pushed him right down the stairs and he broke his hip. My sisters began screaming, cursing at me. That’s when I knew they were too conventional for me. They took the old man to the hospital, and while they were gone I packed up and left.”

“Woaaah, dude,” I say.

“Well,” Bigote says, hesitating, “I suppose your father could have been a member of the conspiracy…”

“I do not know about that,” Pierre says, “but I have been living on the road ever since, expanding my consciousness beyond all the bounds of convention. That is why I am here.”

I consider whispering to Bigote that we should skedaddle, but just then a tremendous racket pierces through the dusk. We all look over.

Coming through the forest is a parade of people—shrieking, wailing, bawling, laughing, yodeling, and in general making a big racket. There must be around 20-25. Most of them are relatively young. They are all half dressed. Even the women are topless; but I can’t say I’m really interested, partially from the fear, but also because they all have this kind of wild hippie look to them. You know, knotty hair and dirty skin. They aren’t the bathing type is what I mean. At their head is this middle-aged guy with a kind of feather headdress on, blowing a horn.

“Didn’t you say they were meditating?” I say to Pierre.

“Yes, it’s called primitive howling meditation. It’s one of Dr. Krajakat’s patented methods.”

“Hey, is that Pierre?” the headdress man says as he approaches.

“Doctor!”

“Oh, Pierre!” he says, hugging him. He has a thick Russian accent. “I’m so glad you could make it! And who are your friends?”

“Oh, this is Dan, and this is Don Bigote,” he says. “They almost killed me earlier.”

“Splendid!” the doctor says, looking at us.

“We have come to seek your wisdom and to test out this ancient technique of, uh…”

“Ayahuasca, sir.”

“Yes, the ancient technique of ayahuasca, in order to better understand the world we are living in,” Bigote says.

“Well, that is splendid, just splendid! You have come to the right place! In fact, we are just about to begin the ceremony!”

§

It’s night now. Everyone is sitting in a big circles around a bonfire. There’s a big metal cauldron on the fire that the doctor has been fussing with.

I feel bad vibes, I gotta admit. The people give me bad vibes. They are all crazy-eyed and they look like they’re the kinda people who have orgies—and not the fun kind with a bunch of hot women, but like sweaty, grimy orgies with pudgy guys involved. Also, this Doctor Crackerjack guy is always smiling, and not in a nice-to-see-you way, but in a I’ve-done-too-many-drugs way, where there’s like a crazy edge do it, you know? Like a couple more rides on the merry-go-round will send him tumbling into another dimension. Maybe it’s just me, but the vibes are there, man.

I’m sitting on a log next to Bigote, who has been oddly silent and grave. Everyone is pretty silent, really. They’re all just watching this doctor guy with his caldron. It’s like a cult, man. People are so nutty. Drugs exist just to have fun: trip out with your friends, or dance maniacally all night to electronic music. But people turn everything into a creepy religion thing. Maybe ayahuasca isn’t as cool as I thought it would be.

Finally it’s time to start. Tin cups are passed around. Then the Doctor picks up the cauldron (it’s not that big) and starts going around solemnly filling up each person’s cup. Jeez, I hope this isn’t a poison Kool-Aid situation. He pours my cup, then Bigote’s. I look down at it. It’s a murky, greenish, brownish liquid. Actually, it looks pretty familiar… Yes, it looks just like that stuff Bigote gave me on the beach that made me shit my insides out!

I look over at Bigote. He’s smiling. “It’s an ingenious concoction, don’t you think?”

That’s it. There’s no way I’m drinking this.

“Before we begin,” the doctor says gravely, after everyone is served, “I want to address some words to the people who are doing this for the first time.” He looks at us. “This is not like mushrooms or LSD. You are not merely going to hallucinate. You are not going to dream, or have a trip. You are going to be visited by Mother Ayahuasca. Now, I am not going to comment on whether this goddess is real or not, but she undoubtedly exists, and she exists to help us, her children, find peace, find happiness, and find the truth. Do not fight this process. Do not push away Mother Ayahuasca. Let her inside your heart, and she will heal you.”

Then he raises his own cup: “To her!” And everyone downs the drug. Everyone, that is, except me. I quietly poured mine into the pushes behind me.

A few minutes go by in silence. Not much happens. I’m expecting everyone to start gagging and keel over. But no, apparently it’s not cyanide. Then, about five minutes in, that’s when the moaning starts. Everyone starts to like groan and mumble, like how people do when they’re asleep and having a dream. This gets gradually louder until people start making all these weird ape-like hoots and a sort of howling sound. Meanwhile, Bigote hasn’t said a word.

Then suddenly someone stands up and shouts: “I am the king of France and you are all my subjects!”

And another: “I am emperor of all the world and I order you to make me a pyramid!”

A girl this time: “I am a living god and I demand  a sacrifice!”

And then everyone gets up—except Bigote—and starts saying all this stuff. Here’s the gist of it:

“I am a devil’s child! I can breath in the sun and spit out the moon! I can fly up three million miles and back in the blink of an eye, ladies and gentlemen, and I can kick the earth off its orbit with one toe. When I’m hungry I eat asteroids and when I’m thirsty I drink the rings of saturn! Do not look at me with your naked eyes, or you will go blind. My voice is loud enough to melt brains and beautiful enough to melt hearts! My heart is a black hole and my bowels are a cosmic nebula! I am the one responsible for night and day, winter and summer, storm and snow! I rule over the boundless expanse of the universe, dictating what planets will support life, what life will go extinct, and what stars will explode. Destroying civilizations is my hobby! Yes, yes, look at me for I am the great omnipotent force that is the basis of all reality!”

This is a summary of the kind of stuff everyone started to say. I guess they really had killed their egos.

During all this, Bigote still hasn’t said anything. He’s just sitting here, staring out into space, totally silent. I’m starting to get a little worried…

“Sir?” I say. “How are you feeling?”

“I can see it now,” Bigote says, slowly and in a deep voice, like he’s hypnotized. “I can see the secret to everything.”

“The secret to everything? What is it?”

“Everything… is… opposite…” he says, and then falls backwards off the log like a stone—dead asleep.

Don Bigote: Chapter 4

Don Bigote: Chapter 4

(Continued from Chapter 3.)

Don and Dan Do Drugs

“Dan, will you do me a favor, please? I think those brutes knocked out a few of my teeth.”

Don Bigote sticks two of his boney fingers inside his mouth and pulls his cheek, showing me his bloody gums. We’re sitting in a lifeboat—me rowing, him sitting opposite me—floating in the Atlantic somewhere off the coast of Europe. We left yesterday, very early in the morning, and have been floating since then without spotting land.

“Listen, Mr. Bigote, this is the third time you asked me this. Are you feeling alright?”

“To tell you the truth, Dan, I feel rather unwell. Those monstrous animals knocked me over the head rather hard.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“But are some teeth missing?”

“How many did you have to begin with?” I ask.

“Seven.”

“Yeah, you’re down to four.”

“Those beasts!” he says, punching the air with his fist. “Those brute beasts!”

“I’m not feeling too hot, either, sir,” I say. “I don’t know how much longer I can row.”

“You’re doing admirably, my boy,” Don says. “Say, where are we?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. One of sailors told me to keep going southeast and we’d hit Spain within 24 hours. But I’m pretty sure it’s been longer than that.”

“May I see the compass?”

“Sure.”

“Hmmm,” he says, holding the little compass that was stored in the boat’s cabinets. “According to this, we’re going northeast, not southeast”

“Sir, this is no time for joking around.”

“My dear Chopin,” he says, “I have never told a joke in all my life. See here.” He hands me back the compass.

“Isn’t this southeast?”

“Have you ever studied the art of navigation, my esteemed assistant? The evidence is indubitable.”

“Are you kidding me? What direction does the needle point?”

“North.”

“It points north?!”

“Oh!” he says, throwing up his hands. “How low our education has fallen, in the hands of the Muslim-Mexican conspiracy!”

“But I was sure it points south!”

“Have they taught you this lie, too, Chopin?”

“No, I just figured it would point towards Antarctica, since it’s so much bigger than Greenland—like, more gravity.”

“I see that the noble science of physics is also in a sorry state.”

“Should I turn around?”

“Hmmm,” Don Bigote says, stroking his mustache. “Judging from what I presume was our position, I believe you can just continue east and we will reach land somewhere on the Iberian coast.”

“Oh God, I hope we’re close. My hands and my back are killing me. And I’m already super sunburned.”

“I have faith in your youthful strength, Chopin. I would offer to help, but the injuries I received at the hands of those subhuman conspiratorial henchmen render such a course of action inadvisable for the sake of my future health.”

“I really wish you hadn’t pulled that stunt, sir.”

“Are you referring to my courageous action against the global conspiracy as a ‘stunt’, Chopin?”

“I’m just saying that we could have had a nice, easy trip to Spain and gotten off with all our stuff, and now we’re lost in the ocean.”

“Do not take this the wrong way, Chopin, but sometimes I pity your naiveté. They could never have allowed us to land. If not for me, we would be sitting in some dungeon in Saudi Arabia being forced to speak using gender-neutral pronouns and being fed a steady diet of vegan cooking.”

I decide it’s useless to try to talk sense into the man, so I lazily row some more. Bored, I observe my boss. He’s sitting straight upright, his eyes constantly scanning his surroundings in a weird twitching motion, his tongue exploring the gaps in his mouth, his left hand twirling his mustache. What a freaky dude.

Maybe I’m just dizzy from the rowing, but I don’t feel very angry at Bigote, despite the fact that he created this stupid mess. I’m actually starting to like him. Somehow all his conspiracy talk is starting to get under my skin. Not that I believe that Muslims and Mexicans are responsible. Not the gays either—though I guess feminists might be up to something. But anyway, is it so crazy to think the world is gonna end soon? I mean, lots of people think so. My dad says stuff like that all the time. And if that’s true, then Don Bigote isn’t the worst guy to hang around. I bet he’d be pretty useful in the apocalypse. I just need to survive till then. And when it’s all over, I’m sure he’ll give me a country or something to be king of, and then I can fulfill my lifelong dream of owning a harem with all the hotties that survive. Isn’t this a good idea? Or maybe the sun is getting to me.

§

I wake up feeling like I’d just passed through the intestines of a giant worm. If it were a hangover, this would definitely be in my top five worst ones. I guess I passed out at some point yesterday as it began to get dark.

“Egad, Chopin! I think we’ve hit land!”

I open my eyes, get up, and look around. We’re on a beach.

“Thank God!” I say, scrambling out of the boat. “I thought we were done for.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” he says. “But now we are faced with yet another difficulty. We must find some human settlement and ascertain our precise location.”

“Can’t be too far.”

“You may be right, Chopin. But in my weakened condition I do not think I can walk even a short distance.”

“I’m not feeling too hot either.”

Bigote sticks one of his big spider legs out of the boat on the sand, and tries to climb out. But he falls flat on his face and begins floundering around in the water.

“Sir!” I say, and rush to help him. I pull him up and out of the water. He sits slumped over on the sand like a washed-up jellyfish.

“Oh, Chopin, I’m ashamed to be seen like this. Will you help me get to those trees over there?”

I drag him to some palm trees nearby and set him down.

“Chopin, I think those malicious conspirators poisoned me while I was being held in captivity. I am faint and weak. I fear this may be my final hour.”

“Oh, don’t complain so much, sir. You’ll be alright.”

“I am no malingerer nor am I prone to fits of hypochondria, Chopin. I need medicinal aid.”

“I think there’s some tylenol in the rowboat.”

“Don’t be flippant, Chopin. I need something far more powerful. Luckily my many hours on survival blogs have given me a deep knowledge of medicinal herbs. Perhaps I can find something around here.”

“What kind of blogs are we talking about here, exactly?”

“Will you pass me a couple leafs of that bush over there?” he says, pointing.

“This one?”

“Yes. Oh, and also those little berries on that one. And a few of those needles. This is very good. Now, will you fetch a bottle of water, a dish, and some cutlery from the boat?”

All this done, Bigote begins to crush the plants together with a knife and a little water until he gets a muddy greenish paste that looks like the primordial ooze from which all life emerged.

“The potion is prepared,” he says, holding up the vomity dish.

“I’m not sure I’d eat that, sir…”

“I admire your caution, Chopin, but I’m afraid my options are quite limited. Either succumb to the poison of my captors, or trust in my botanical knowledge.”

“I think you should take a bet on your captors not knowing anything about poison.”

But as I say this, he takes a spoonful of the slimy green paste and pops it into his mouth. I observe him closely. His face tenses up with disgust. He gags a little. He swallows it down. I’ve seen it all before, like one of my lightweight friends taking a shot. I expect instant vomitation. But, instead…

“It worked!” he cries in triumph, and jumps to his feet. “I feel wonderful, Chopin!”

My eyes pop out in disbelief. Does this nutcase really know how to make medicine from plants? Now that I think about it, I guess it’s the kind of shit he would know. Here’s a guy who can’t go five minutes in society without making the evening news, but put him in a forest and he’s good to go.

“Chopin, honestly this mixture is a wonder drug! You must try some.” He holds up the plate to me.

I look at it warily. It looks like crushed up caterpillars. But I look at Bigote, and I can’t deny he seems a lot better. Screw it.

I take a spoon of the mushy mess and slowly hold it up to my face. Then, without giving myself time to taste or smell it, I jam it down my throat. First I taste the acid bitterness, but at least it’s better than most of the light beer I drink. But then I feel the slow descent of the thick, burning mass down my throat and into my stomach. My limbs come alive with a tingly, fiery feeling. Suddenly I feel wide awake and my heart starts pumping with adrenaline.

“This is like ritalin!” I say.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Bigote says. But I notice a strange note in his voice. I look and see that he’s red in the face and covered with bullets of sweat.

“Hey, you alright sir?”

But as I say this, suddenly I’m sweating and burning up, too, and I feel an ominous descending motion in my insides like a lead weight hitting my bowels.

“Excuse me!” I yell, knowing there isn’t much time. And I run into the forest, unbuckling my belt, unzipping my fly, so that my pants begin falling down my waist as I scramble to some hidden spot. I see a nice little clearing in the bushes up ahead, but as I stumble forward my foot catches on something hard and heavy, and I fall straight on my face. I try to get back up, but I feel it coming and I know there is no time. So I bend into the fetal position and await the onslaught.

It is more horrible than even the worst combination of beer and burritos can wreak. I don’t even want to talk about it. I am in so much pain that I begin to hallucinate colors and shapes. My eyes are streaming with hot tears. I cry for my mom and weep. It’s all over in five minutes—which pass like eons—and I’m so weak afterwards that I can only crawl away and lay, pants down, covered in scratches, sweat, and tears, curled up on the forest floor. And I solemnly swear that this is the last, ultimate, and final time that I trust Don Bigote.

I lie here for a long time, slowly recovering my consciousness, waiting for the pain to go away. My stomach is still on fire. I probably lost all the water in my body, through multiple channels. My vision is still blurry and I’m seeing spots. But the mosquitoes are biting me and it smells like a locker room, so I slowly get to my feet, perform the necessary cleaning—don’t ask—and start making my way back.

But after just a few steps I notice something weird in the grass, dangerously near the disaster zone. It must be what I tripped on. I go forward, holding my nose, to investigate. It’s… a metal suitcase. What the hell? I take it to a safe distance and open it up, hoping to find a million dollars or some gold or something like that.

I’m not far off. The suitcase is full to the brim with little baggies of white powder. What a find! I had a friend who dealt coke in high school and he said a gram cost at least 60 bucks. And there must be, like, a lot of grams in this suitcase. I mean, I don’t remember the metric system very well, but we’re talking dozens of grams at minimum. Heck, it might be one of those kilogram things. Get this stuff to the right people and we’ll have enough to rent out a club, with enough coke left over for everyone there.

At this point I remember that I had an English professor in high school who used to give us these moral dilemma things, and one of them was finding a big wad of money in the street. The right thing to do is to turn it into the police, of course (not that I’d do it). But what’s the right thing to do when you find a buttload of cocaine in the middle of a forest? Leave it? I mean, some teenagers might find it when they’re off drinking, and then I’d be the one responsible for their cocaine addiction. Do the coke myself? That’s just impractical. Call the police? They’ll arrest me! The only responsible choice is to take it and sell it.

I gingerly close the suitcase and start back towards Bigote. I find him sitting against a tree, his shirt torn off and wrapped around his head, his eyes wide and blank, his thin, pale, bony chest exposed to the mosquitoes.

“Chopin!” he says as I get close, though he doesn’t turn his head towards me, but looks blankly upward.

“Hey boss.”

“The potion I made seems to be having a strange effect on me.”

“You’re telling me man.”

“I appear to have gone blind, Chopin. And I think I have developed a severe fever.”

“Are you serious?”

“But fear not, Chopin. Just as was true of the blind Homer, by losing my earthly sight I have gained a higher sensibility. I see now that my course of action has been in error. What a fool I have been!”

“So you’re done with the conspiracy?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Chopin. The conspiracy is all there is. But I was in error in deciding to explore the decaying Western civilization. You see that our current civilization, however noble, nurtured a viper in its bosom. Western society must have developed a weakness, an essential flaw, which made it vulnerable to this heinous conspiracy.”

“I think you should drink some water, sir.”

“Do not interrupt, Chopin. This is important.”

“Sorry, I…”

“As I was saying, Western society, though the most glorious civilization known to history, must have had some essential flaw which has led to the conspiracy. So instead of preserving it, Chopin, we must begin anew. We must emulate Robinson Crusoe, stranded in the wilderness, learning from scratch how to survive: how to tame the rough boughs of nature, how to harness the power of the winds and the water, how to reap the land and sow the soil. And from this noble simplicity a civilization will naturally emerge, like a plant from the soil, infused with the goodness of simplicity and free from the corruption of decadence.”

“So, like, those people on Survivor?”

“At first, yes, that is what we must do.”

“Here?”

“This is as good a spot as any, Chopin.”

“I don’t think that’s a great idea, sir. One time in school we had to read a book about something like that, though I only read the SparkNotes so I could copy answers on the inside of my arm for the test (which worked by the way), and I think the book was about these kids who get stranded on an island and do something like that, and it doesn’t end well.”

“I am afraid your speech, Chopin, is sometimes so full of vagaries and redundancies and asides, that I have trouble catching your meaning.”

“Like, I think we’re just gonna go crazy and eat each other.”

“Nonsense, Chopin. We are in the bosom of nature and have plentiful resources to draw upon.”

I open my mouth to answer, but just then I feel an aftershock of the potion somewhere in my lower intestine, and instead say “One second, sir!” and run off to suffer my fate. But I don’t want to leave the suitcase for even a second, so I take it with me and drop it off nearby.

The business done—much less painful this time, thank God—I pick the suitcase up again to head back to Bigote. But of course life is never so simple and easy, not even during summer vacation, and the next thing I know some strong arm is wrapped around my mouth and something that feels an awful lot like a gun barrel is jammed into my back.

“Who you?” I hear a voice say, gruffy and Russiany.

“Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm,” I say.

“Move your hand, Hugo,” I hear another voice say, squeeky and nasal. “And if he yells, shoot ‘im.”

The strong arm moves down from my mouth to my neck.

“Who you?!” the gruff voice repeats.

“Hey, guys,” I say. “I assume this is about the drugs?”

“Oh, well here we got a really smart guy,” says the nasal voice. “Don’t we, Hugo? Real fucking smart. I can’t believe how smart he is, figured it all out by himself.”

“Tell who you,” the gruff voice says, and jams the gun harder into my back.

“Hey, hey, guys take it easy. I’m here to make the handoff to you. The boss didn’t want anyone stumbling on the shipment,” I say, trying my best to sound like I’m from a movie.

“Oh, the boss doesn’t trust us, now?” says the nasal voice, now appearing in front of me. He’s a small, skinny guy with a thin mustache, wearing a fluffy beanie and a leather jacket. “Doesn’t trust old Hugo and Ed to get the job done? Thinks we need some supervision? Thinks we’re babies, does he?”

“No, no, he’s just had a few shipments go missing in the past few weeks, that’s all,” I say.

“Oh shipments missing, like it’s our fault,” he continues. “Let ‘im go, Hugo.”

The arm withdraws and I fall to the ground, panting. I look up to see a big bald man with small squinting eyes, dressed in a tank-top.

“Hugo, check if it’s all there,” Ed says, as he paces angrily back and forth. Hugo bends down and opens the suitcase.

“Here all,” he says.

“Good, let’s get the hell out of here. I hate this place.”

They stumble off through the bush, and I automatically follow them.

“What do?” Hugo says to me.

“I was, er, wondering if you guys could give me a ride. You see our boat ran out of fuel and we had to take a lifeboat to get here.”

“You didn’t check your fuel beforehand?” Ed says, waving his finger around. “You didn’t think it was a good idea to just take a moment, a few seconds, to look at the fuel gage? It didn’t occur to you? Slipped your mind?”

“I…”

“Just come on,” he says.

We only go a few more paces when another voice breaks through the brush.

“Chopin, is that you? Chopin?” It’s Bigote.

“Who the fuck is that?” Ed says, whipping out his gun.

“Hugo kill,” Hugo says.

“No, no, wait guys. He’s my partner.”

“Your partner?”

“He’s cool, you guys. It’s just… He took something while we were on the boat and he’s still coming down from the high. He’ll probably say some crazy stuff, but just ignore him.”

“You know,” Ed went on, “when I got into this business I thought, I really thought, that I would be working with professionals. Serious people. People who wanted to do a good job. People who wouldn’t do drugs when they’re transporting drugs. Is that too much to ask? Is that an unreasonable expectation?”

“Chopin?” Bigote calls. “I hear other voices. Who are you with?”

“Sir!” I call out. “I have some excellent news. I have found some allies in our fight against the conspiracy!”

“Allies, Chopin? How do you know?”

“They gave me the sign, sir.”

“The sign?”

“Yes, the universal sign of the counter-conspiracy. I read it in one of the blogs you’re always talking about.”

“Well, if you say so, my good assistant,” Bigote says.

“What the fuck are you guys talking about?” Ed says. “Is this some kind of funny joke? Some kind of hoo hoo, hee hee, laughing haha joke?”

“It’s the only way I know how to keep him calm,” I whisper. “Otherwise he has a bad trip.”

“This is priceless, priceless.”

“Hugo hungry.”

“I know, Hugo. We’re going now. Hey kid, get your friend and we’re getting out of here.”

But just then a roar whooshes over head. It’s a helicopter flying low. Hugo and Ed jump to the ground, and I follow their lead.

“Oh, Jesus it’s the fucking cops,” Ed says. “Bastards are stepping up their patrols.”

“Chopin!” Bigote calls again. “I think that’s the conspiracy! They’ve followed us here!”

“What do we do?” I say.

“Hugo kill.”

“Chill out, Hugo,” Ed says. “We gotta wait out here for a while to be safe. Now it’s too dangerous to make a move.”

We move into the clearing where I left Bigote. He’s still leaned up against a tree, his eyes wide and white.

“Still blind sir?” I ask.

“As a bat, Chopin. Thus I must apologize to my new allies for not getting to my feet to formally greet you, for my weakened physical condition and lack of sight would make such a procedure very burdensome. But I give you my warmest welcome and heartiest gratitude.”

“Man, he’s totally gone,” Ed says to me.

“Hugo hungry.”

“God damn it, Hugo, can’t you wait?”

“Pancakes.”

“Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?” Bigote says.

“We’re the knights of the fucking round table,” Ed says. “Who do you think we are?”

“Ah, is that what your organization is called? What a noble name for a noble cause!”

“Are we gonna have to put up with this? Will we be forced to put up with this the whole time?” Ed says to me.

“Chopin!” Bigote says. “I must say that my potion is having a strange effect upon my nerves. I am afraid that I was over-excited before when I was talking of beginning a new civilization. Though the idea may have some merit, the thought has occured to me that we ought to recruit more people before we make the attempt. Though perhaps our two new friends would be interested?”

“Interested? In what?” Ed says.

“Well, instead of fruitlessly fighting the evils of the current world and striving against difficulties to preserve what we have against the coming darkness, perhaps it would be better to let the world go its own bad way and to start anew, inventing a new way of life for the world to come.”

“Boy, if I could start the world over,” Ed says. “Boy, what would I do? Boy, oh boy, oh buddy boy. Lemme tell you, if I could start the world over.”

“Exactly!” Bigote says. “Think of the possibilities!”

“First thing I’d do is I’d get all these big tough guys who think they know what’s what and who’s who and are breathing down into their chest, and I’d teach them hows it feel to iron your shirt like the rest of us, hows it feel to button your trousers like an ordinary fella.”

“You are quite right,” Bigote says. “The world is full of power-hungry demagogues who must be humbled if the world is to be set right.”

“And another thing,” Ed goes on. “I’d show ‘em what it means to be a real workin’ fella. You know? A real professional guy. A guy who knows his business, who sits down without crossing his legs, you know what I mean?”

“A work ethic is no doubt the cornerstone of any good society,” Bigote affirms.

“One thing that really grinds my gears into a knot is all the hullabaloo on the news. I mean, what kind of a world are we living in? All these shaved faces in suit ties and one says this, another says that, and what happens in the end? I’ll tell you what happens. The same thing that always happens.”

“Dishonesty in politics is one of the constant plagues of civilization.”

“Hugo hungry,” Hugo grunts.

“All right, all right,” Ed says. “We’ll go to the car. Happy now Hugo? Did I make you happy? Am I being a good partner?”

“Hugo no want talk.”

“You hear that?” Ed says. “Hugo no want talk. And Hugo never want talk. Know what it’s like working with a guy who no want talk? Oh, it’s barrels of fun. Whole barrels.”

“Hugo no want talk. Want pancakes.”

“Let’s just go.”

I put Bigote’s arm over my shoulder and help him walk. We go on for about half an hour until we reach a little dirt road. There, covered with a camouflage tarp, we find a grey sudan. Ed gets in the driver’s seat, Hugo the passenger’s, and Bigote and I crawl into the back.

“Where we headed?” I say.

“Oh, we got a backseat driver now do we? Someone who wants to drive from the back?”

“Sorry, I….”

“Just let me worry about it, will you?”

“Hugo want eat.”

“Hugo, will you just cool it? I mean, just pack a snack next time, okay? Can you plan ahead? Is that so hard?”

Hugo grunts grumpily.

We start driving, turning from the dirt road, to a local road, to a small highway. It’s a rural area and it’s still the early morning and there aren’t so many people around. The weather is quite misty, so we can’t see very far, and there isn’t much to see anyway except trees and fields. Some time passes without anyone speaking. Then Ed says:

“Anybody gonna talk? Or are we going to sit here in silence, like I do every day with this big guy over hear? Real great company you two in the back are. Regular social butterflies.”

Bigote has meanwhile passed out. He’s slumped in his seat, his face pressed against the window, drool dripping from beneath his mustache. I don’t feel so hot either. I haven’t eaten or drunk anything since that damn potion, and I feel dizzy in the head. But I don’t want to be taking any chances with these people, so I decide to give it a go. I open my mouth:

“What…”

But I’m immediately cut off by the sound of a siren behind us. It’s a cop car.

“Oh Jesus,” Ed says. “Can this day get any worse? I mean, can it? Please, God, make it worse than it is. Please, I beg you.”

“Hugo kill.”

“Will you just let me handle this, Hugo? Hugo no kill, okay?”

“Hugo hungry.”

We pull over by the side of a country road. The cop walks up from behind and up to the driver side window. Ed rolls it down.

“Yes, officer? Is there a problem?”

Bom Dia. Posso ver sua licença?”

“Hey, buddy, I’m sorry but I don’t speak Portuguese.”

“Ah, pardon me. May I see your license?” he says in perfect English.

“Why’d you stop us?” Ed says, as he squirms to take his wallet from his pocket.

“Your lights weren’t on. In the fog, you must have the lights on.”

“My lights weren’t on? You stopped me because my lights weren’t on?”

“It’s the law, sir,” the officer says, as he grabs Ed’s license.

“Well, can I just turn ‘em on now and you let us off with a warning?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. I’ll have to give you a ticket.”

“Well, isn’t this wonderful? Isn’t this just great?”

“Sir, please sit here while I search your information.”

“Does this make you feel powerful, huh?” Eds voice keeps rising in pitch. “Make you feel like a big tough guy? Is this how you get off, buddy?”

“Sir, please be quiet.”

“Oh, now I have to be quiet? You’re so high and mighty you can tell me to shut up?”

“Sir, I will not ask you another time. I’m going to search your information and I will be back in 3 minutes.”

“Hey, listen buddy,” Ed says, changing his tone. “I know this may seem a little unusual, but how about we just take care of this between the two of us? How’s, say, fifty euros sound? Will that take care of the problem?”

“Get out of the car, sir,” the officer says. “This is not acceptable behavior.”

“Me? Get out?”

“You heard me,” the officer says, tapping his hand on the car.

Just then, with a roar, Hugo’s arm shoots across the space, grabs the officer’s hand, and drags him into the car.

“Argghhhh!” the officer screams, until Hugo’s huge arms wrap around his neck and squeeze until there’s a loud crack. I heave but there’s nothing to vomit. Bigote keeps sleeping.

“Did you just kill him, Hugo? Did you really just kill this guy right on my lap?”

“Hugo kill.”

“Jesus, Hugo, another one?”

The two men open the doors and get out. Hugo pulls out the dead officer and throws him into a ditch by the side of the road. I get out, too, from pure shock.

“Another one, Hugo? Another police officer? I can’t believe this. You know this makes my life difficult? Do you understand it hurts our business? Not to mention it’s honestly a little cruel, Hugo, a little cold-hearted, if you don’t mind me being frank.”

Ed is waving his little arms around like a madman, pacing back and forth, jumping up and down, doing his best to intimidate the giant.

“Hugo hungry.”

“Oh, and now Hugo is hungry. Hugo kill and Hugo hungry. What Hugo want eat, eh?”

“Pancakes.”

“Oh, the fucking pancakes!” Ed says, his voice ascending into a shriek, waving a pointed finger in Hugo’s face. “Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes! Hugo want pancakes today! Hugo want pancakes yesterday! Hugo want pancakes to—!”

His voice is cut off as the giant man grabs him by the throat and lifts him off the ground.

“Hugo, Hugo!” Ed says, his voice rasping, his legs kicking in the air. “Hugo, please! I’m sorry…”

“Hugo not like Ed.”

“Hu—!” Ed spits out, before Hugo’s massive paw tightens and produces the same spine-chilling crack as with the police officer. Ed’s body goes limp.

“Hugo kill,” Hugo says with satisfaction.

I watch the whole thing and I’m paralyzed with fear. I’ve never seen a man killed before, except in movies and video games and stuff, you know, and it’s really not pretty in real life. Like, honestly it’s pretty horrible to watch. My legs feel like jelly and my mind is a total blank, sort of like the time I got caught cheating by Sharona, but that’s a different story.

Hugo holds Ed’s body for a few seconds, grinning with pleasure. I mean, it must have been the first few seconds of peace and quiet the guy had had in years, no offense to Ed. But then Hugo throws the body aside and turns his big bald head towards me.

“Hey, man,” I say.

“Hugo kill,” he says.

“Don’t say that, dude. That’s just mean.”

“Hugo kill and then eat pancakes.”

He begins walking towards me. I want to run but I’m like a deer in headlights. I’m attached to the spot. He gets closer and I try with all my energy to walk backwards, but instead I just fall on my ass. He’s right above me now. This is it. I love you, mom. You’re alright, dad.

His hands reach out towards me. I close my eyes. The next moment I hear a soft thud and a huge weight lands on me. I open my eyes to find Hugo sprawled out on top of me. He’s a heavy bastard.

“Beware the force of my valiant arms!” Bigote cries. He is standing over Hugo, holding the metal suitcase.

I squirm from under the big guy, who’s bleeding a lot from the back of his head, and I get up.

“You saved me!” I say, in disbelief, to Bigote, and I hug the idiot with all my might.

“A gentleman never abandons his assistant,” Bigote says, proudly. “Especially not one as resourceful as yourself.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“Nay, do not be so effusive with your gratitude, Chopin. Indeed, it is I that should be thanking you.”

“Me sir?”

“Why yes, Chopin. That was a brilliant maneuver you pulled back there. Fooling those agents of the conspiracy into thinking that we were their allies! It was brilliant. I would truly be lost without you, Chopin.”

“Oh, yeah… of course…”

“Now, quickly Chopin. We must steal their arms and their vehicle, and evacuate the scene. Surely the conspiracy will be hot on our trail here.”

“Right!”

We strip the two drugrunners and the poor officer of their guns, get in the sedan, and drive off as fast as we can without attracting unwanted attention. And I make sure to turn on the lights.

Don Bigote: Chapter 3

Don Bigote: Chapter 3

(Continued from Chapter 2.)

Don and Dan go to Spain

August 3, 2017

“When Christopher Columbus made his epochal voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, vastly expanding the reach of Western civilization, he kept a diary of his voyage, like so many other great explorers have. And now that we, Dan, are retracing the same voyage, I think it is incumbent upon us to emulate that great man.”

“My teacher said Columbus was a genocidal maniac.”

“Oh, Chopin,” Bigote said. “How many times must I tell you? Everything you learned in school was a lie, meant to bolster the great conspiracy.”

“Ah, right.”

So here I am, sitting on a boat a few dozen miles off the coast of Florida, writing this ship’s diary thingy. The boat we’re on is a cargo frigate. Since flying to Spain didn’t pan out, Bigote decided to hitch a ride in a transport ship.

“Why didn’t I think of it before?” he said. “How could I be so dull? Of course the conspiracy would impede us from flying! And though flight is one of our great Western inventions, the sea is far more integral to our history. Thus, as the preserver of our great European heritage and culture, it behooves me to experience this primordial experience firsthand.”

And so on. There’s definitely a downside to this plan, though. Going by boat meant we didn’t have to leave behind Bigote’s shitty old pickup truck, but could take it with us on the ship. It is sitting in a container on deck. That piece of crap will follow us to the ends of the earth.

So what should I report? The sea is… blue. There are waves. The wind blows a little. My room is small and uncomfortable. The sailors live down the hall. They aren’t exactly the typical image of hard-boiled sailors. Some of them are pudgy and bald. Others are nearly as skinny as Bigote. There are even a few women sailors—though not pretty ones.

Bigote is in the cabin next to mine. But he’s spent almost the whole time so far on deck, looking out into the ocean, and saying profound things like “The infinite vast expanse of primordial deep” or “The mother element from which we sprang” and similar things. He also told me to “keep an eye for the varieties of marine life as manifested in this voyage, for they have inspired both great works of literature and profound works of scientific analysis.”

Well, I’ve seen some seagulls and pelicans. That’s all for now.

August 5

Yeah, so I haven’t been writing in this the last couple days, since nothing is happening. I am bored out of my fucking mind on this boat. In the movies it’s so romantic and adventurous, but in reality it’s just water—on and on and on, and then some more water. With some clouds thrown in. The boat is so big that it doesn’t even feel like you’re at sea. Sometimes I even forget I’m on a boat, until I reach the end of it and realize that, yes, I’m trapped here.

It just sucks. There are no girls—none worth speaking of, anyways. I thought that the sailors would know how to throw a party, but when I sat down at their table after dinner they were all just quietly playing cards. There were hardly even drinking. So I just grabbed some beers and went off to my room, hoping to at least get a mild buzz before bed. But about three beers in I realized that it was all non-alcoholic. What kind of a boat is this?

Yesterday I was so bored that I tried to see how many times I could jack off in one day. The answer is four and a half. And even that got boring after a little while. I’m so bored I even considered having a conversation with Bigote. I bet he has a little bourbon snuck away in his bags. But that old streetlamp has been holed up in his room the last few days. Whenever I peek in he’s pouring over maps or lost in a book, with papers sprawled all over the floor.

“I am planning our routes of travel and exploration once we get to the continent,” he told me. “For we must employ our time industriously. There are many things we must research in the brief interval between our arrival and the impending catastrophe. Education, technology, philosophy, science—the scope of our precious Western culture, so perilously threatened, is vast and deep!”

I shut the door and went back to my room.

Anyways today finally something happened. The captain invited us to his private cabin for dinner. He’s sort of a swarthy fellow with a well-trimmed white beard. He wears this stupid-looking blue cap and a white suit. Very spiffy.

“So what brings you two to Europe, in any case?” he asked, as he was cutting his lamb chop.

“I’m afraid our task, such as it is, is shrouded in secrecy,” Bigote said, gravely.

“Secrecy, eh?” the captain said. “You guys working for the CIA or something?”

“The CIA? Absurd!” Bigote spouted. “They are the last people I would be working for!”

The captain scrunched up his eyes a bit.

“So, are you like a terrorist or something?” he said, grinning slightly.

“If ‘terrorist’ is a name for somebody violently opposed to the current order of things, then, yes, I am a terrorist.”

The captain sat up straighter and eyed Bigote narrowly. Then, deciding that such a silly-looking person could hardly be any danger, slapped him on the back.

“Or something like that, in any case,” he said.

“Oh,” Bigote said, evidently pleased. “I forgot, I brought a gift for the table.” And like some kind of magician he pulled a bottle of wine out of his sleeve.

“It’s an excellent vintage, I assure you,” Bigote said, laying it on the table.

“Oh no, oh no, I’m afraid I don’t drink,” the captain said. “But thanks for the thought. You two are welcome, of course.”

Bigote seemed surprised. He leaned back in his chair and stared hard at the captain, who was engaged with a potato. Meanwhile I grabbed the bottle, yanked it open, and poured myself a big glassful.

“This is really good!” I said.

“It is, indeed,” Bigote said, gravely. “Is the captain certain he wouldn’t like some?”

“Oh yeah, I don’t drink wine or something, in any case,” the captain said.

“How strange…” Bigote murmured to himself.

I could tell that Bigote would muck things up if I allowed him to go on, so I decided to cut in.

“So, cap, what you got on this ship?”

“Oh, it changes every trip, in any case. But usually we have at least a few shipments of cars, some electronics like smart phones and computers, something like that, and some other consumer products like shampoos and soaps and makeup, something along those lines, and also we have been taking across lots of beer and spirits, lately, in any case.”

“Oh yeah?” I said, lighting up.

“Yes, we got about 15,000 containers or something on the main deck.”

“And who takes care of all that stuff?”

“You mean, like guard or or something like that?” the captain said. “Well, nobody really. It’s not like there’s anywhere to go, in any case.”

He laughed to himself while Bigote continued in his weird, gloomy silence. I don’t know what Bigote is up to, but I had an idea. It is 11:15 pm at the moment, and when I’m finished writing this I am going to get my hands on some of that beer the ship is carrying over.

August 6

What a fucking night. I have a hangover so bad it could kill a purebred stallion. It’s past noon and I just woke up. So here’s what happened.

The captain was right. Nobody guards or watches the containers on deck. It’s totally empty out there. The containers are just sitting in giant stacks, with narrow passageways between them. It’s like walking through a labyrinth with giant walls. Pretty claustrophobic. Obviously I could only reach the containers on deck level. They were closed, of course, but opening them wasn’t tricky. There’s a big bolt you need to pull out and the door swings open. I tried to do it as quietly as possible but the old rusty things makes a clanky, creaky sound no matter what you do.

As soon as I figured I was safely far away, I opened one at random. It had a few cars in it—boring ones, hybrid sedans. The next one had piles of laptops. My laptop is kinda old so I made a note of this one. I went on like this, opening and closing the containers, until I began to give up hope of ever finding what I sought. Finally after about half an hour I unbolted one door and slowly pushed it open. I shined my phone inside and—behold!—beer! Stacks of it!

But the next thing I knew I was flat on my back with a sharp something pressed against my throat. Someone had tackled me and was pressing me to the ground. A sweaty hand was covering my mouth, preventing me from screaming. I looked up to see the face of one of the sailors—a mild, doughy man with a bald head. His eyes were wide with fear and he was holding a screwdriver to my neck.

“Who the fuck are you?” he hissed in the darkness.

“Mmmm, hmmm, hmmm,” I said through his hand.

“What?” he said.

“Mmmm nnnnn mmmm,” I said.

“Oh right, my hand,” he said. “I’m gonna move it, but don’t you fucking scream or I’ll shove this into your neck.” He moved his hand from my mouth.

“I’m sorry, I was lost,” I said.

“Bullshit.”

“Well what are you doing here?”

“Uh, nothing,” he said.

“Yeah, me too.”

“Bullshit.”

“Alright,” I said. “I was looking for beer.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Seriously, the crap they serve in the cafeteria has no alcohol.”

He paused.

“Who are you?” he said, relaxing his grip a little.

“I’m one of the passengers.”

“You with that tall guy with the crazy mustache?”

“Yeah he’s my boss.”

“So you’re not searching for thieves?”

“I am a thief myself.”

“Well, fuck man,” he said, finally getting off me. “You scared me shitless.”

“Me too,” I said, and got up. “Were you actually going to murder somebody? I mean, how could you have gotten away with it? We’re on a ship, dude.”

“I guess I didn’t think it through,” he said. “It’s just, my momma always taught me not to trust strangers who come round at night. Well, you want a drink?”

“I need one now.”

I walked into the cargo container. There was some space near the entrance where I could sit down on some of the beer boxes. On the floor were six or seven empty cans.

“Here,” he said and handed me one. “My name is Francis, by the way. My momma named me after her pa.”

“Dan,” I said.

“You can drink here—but don’t tell anyone.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Yeah.”

I cracked the beer open and began to drink. It wasn’t cold and it wasn’t good but it was alcoholic. He grabbed one, too, and started gulping it down. We drank in silence for a while, both of us chugging. I was pretty jolted up from the whole attack thing and I didn’t want to risk provoking this crazy guy again. A big part of me wanted to go, but beer is beer, and here was beer.

About five beers deep I noticed Francis was making some funny noises. It sounded like gargled words. Oh boy, I thought, this guy is really nuttier than Bigote. But then I listened and I realized that he was sobbing. Jesus Christ what a night. I tried to ignore it but it was kinda messing with my head, hearing some guy crying while I was trying to relax and drink. Finally I couldn’t take it.

“You alright, dude?” I said.

“I’m fine,” he choked.

“Sounds like you’re crying.”

“Yeah I’m crying.”

“So is this something you do when you’re fine?”

“Not usually,” he said.

“Ah.”

“It’s… it’s just… it’s about a girl.”

Oh boy.

“What girl?”

“Her name’s Leslie. She’s on this ship.”

I mentally went over the female sailors on this ship. There were two, possibly three candidates. I shuddered.

“What about her?”

“She’s just, so, so beautiful. She reminds me so much of how my momma looked when I was a kid.”

“I bet she does… So what’s the problem?”

“I’ve been working with her for months now, and she hardly noticed me.”

“Maybe she’s married?”

“Nah.”

“Lesbian?”

“No, she had a fling with one of the other guys.”

“So what’s your problem?”

“I try to talk to her, you know at meals and in the halls and stuff, but she just blows me off when a few words. Barely even looks in my direction. Oh, my momma always told me that I’d never find a girl like her! And now I did, but she doesn’t like me!”

“Just go for someone else, bro. Like, probably there are some nicer looking girls on shore.”

“Maybe to you. But to me she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Those arms… those legs… her anchor tattoo. It drives me wild.”

I gagged a little. But a bro is a bro and you’ve got to do what you can to help.

“Alright, Francis. Here’s my advice.”

“Pfft, what do you know? You’re just some kid.”

“I don’t know Leslie but I do know a thing or two about getting laid.”

“Ah, even if you do, it’s no use. My momma always told me that I wasn’t ever gonna find a girl to marry me. Said I cry too much.”

“Shut up and listen. You need to spike her drink.”

“What?!” he said. “I’m not a rapist, man. My momma taught me to respect women.”

“No, no, no,” I said. “You tell her you’re going to do it.”

“Huh?”

“The captain doesn’t give you guys alcohol, right? So take a bottle or two of liquor from one of these crates, tell her you snuck it on board, offer to pour a little in her drink in the mess hall, but only if she agrees not to tell anybody. That way you two have a little secret.”

“And then?”

“Then you give her a compliment. But, like, a low key one. Like you don’t want to come off desperate, you feel me?”

“Tell her she has nice eyes?”

“No, man, that’s so cliché. Tell her she has really good teeth.”

“I think some of them are fake.”

“Perfect then. Give her the booze, tell her that, and she’ll be like putty in your palm.”

“It sounds skeevy, man. My momma always said alcohol is the sweat of the devil’s back, and that ain’t no good ever came of it. My pop died of it, you know, drank up all his money and then finally kicked the bucket, and my momma always told me I should never drink on any account or the same thing would happen to me, no doubt about it. But I get so sad and lonely when I’m out here on this ocean. Damn stupid boat. The only reasons I became a sailor is because my momma said it would toughen me up.”

“You really like to whine, Francis.”

“Oh, that’s what old ma always says.”

“Well, why don’t you try my plan and see what happens? You don’t have much to lose.”

“Screw it,” he said, sitting up a little straighter. “I guess it’s worth a shot. Mamma always said you couldn’t get nowhere in life without a little risk.”

“And listen, Francis, when you talk to Leslie, try not to mention your mom.”

We went on drinking for a while after that, but I don’t really remember too well what we talked about. Anyways, tonight at dinner he’s supposed to try out my plan. I guess we’ll see what happens.  

August 7

As I predicted, the plan went off a hitch. Not many people can resist the combination of free alcohol and smooth compliments. That Leslie woman couldn’t, at least. I watched Francis at work from across the room. Bigote and I have our own table in the mess hall, on the other side of the room from the sailors. But yesterday Bigote didn’t come to dinner for some reason, so it was just me, eating like some sad pathetic loser, all alone on my side. Well, at least I had some liquor that I took from one of the containers—so I felt pretty cozy pretty fast.

Francis is not a handsome sight in any lighting or at any hour of the day—and neither his his lady for that matter—and the way he acts is dopier than a suicidally depressed poodle. Trying to watch him sweet-talk this woman, as he stuttered and mumbled and shifted uncomfortably, was sometimes too much to take. But it was also kind of morbidly fascinating, like watching those nature documentaries about snakes and eels mating. Also, I have to admit that it’s nice to see my pickup tricks even work in this challenging situation.

I finished eating and left, since I didn’t wait to see any more beastiality. I figured I better check on Bigote before bed. But when I went down to his cabin and knocked on the door, there wasn’t any answer. Finally I just opened the door; but the room was empty, except for the usual books and papers and crap all over the place. I checked the bathroom to see if he got food poisoning or something, but no Bigote there either. I considered just going to sleep. But that guy really can’t be trusted on his own. So I decided to walk around a bit to see if I could find him.

Five minutes later I ran into Bigote standing on deck, leaning on the railing, looking out at the ocean. Strange thing, even for him. It was already dark so there was basically nothing to see, not that there was much during the day. Plus, it was cold and sort of rainy.

“Yo,” I said.

“Is that you, Chopin?”

“Yeah. Watcha doing?”

“I am contemplating the infinite expanse of the sea.”

“But you can’t see it.”

“The pressure of the wind and waves conveys to me a sense of endlessness that I find quite soothing. It is one of man’s most ancient sensations. Inklings of divinity came to us from the deep waters.”

“Seems like it’d still be better during the day.”

“Imagine what it would be like, Chopin, to be an explorer on this ocean. Night and day would come and go, the wind and the rain and the sun would alternate in the heavens above, and the vast blue would reveal no clue of what lay beyond. It is one of the Western mind’s greatest attributes: that yearning towards infinity, the urge to go beyond the bounds of knowledge.”

“Seems kinda boring to me. You sit on a boat for a few months and finally you find land that isn’t any better than the one you left. Probably it’s worse since you don’t know anyone there.”

“Enough of this babbling, Chopin. I must confide something to you.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Is there anyone around?”

I looked left, right, behind.

“Nope.”

“Good. Well, Chopin, I am beginning to suspect that we are, even now, in the clutches of the conspiracy.”

“No way.”

“Yes, it is a grim possibility. But some actions of the captain have excited my suspicion, which has only grown upon subsequent observation.”

“Oh that captain guy? Yeah he’s sort of lame.”

“I did not notice any physical deformities, if that is what you are referring to, Chopin. But I am almost entirely convinced that our captain is, indeed, a Muslim.”

“What?”

“It is a frightening possibility. But I have reason to think it is true.”

“Because he has a beard?”

“No, Chopin, many good and honest men are bearded. But the fact that he refused my wine was my first clue. He does not partake of alcohol.”

“That’s why I don’t like him.”

“Not only that, Chopin, but we ate lamb in his cabin. And we have not once been served any pork aboard this ship.”

“There’s bacon in the morning,” I offered.

“A diversion,” Bigote said. “Most importantly, Chopin, when I tried to subtly follow the captain’s routine, tracing his daily movements, I lost track of him several times during the day as he retreated to his quarters. These times corresponded exactly to the customary times of prayer in Islam.”

“So what if he’s, like, a very busy former alcoholic who doesn’t like pork chops?”

“Just listen to yourself! What are the chances of that? No, no, by far the most obvious conclusion is that he is a member of that powerful sect. If so, this would mean that the global conspiracy might already be aware of our movements. Think about it, Chopin. We might be headed right into a trap!”

“Wow this is some heavy stuff, dude. But try to calm down a little. I mean, we don’t know anything for sure, right?”

“That is correct. We must, however, take action quickly if we are to head off this disaster. I will soon make a decisive test to see if he is or is not part of this nefarious conspiracy. And if he is, we must strike without mercy, or suffer disaster.”

“A test?”

“It’s something I found on the internet after years of research. A foolproof test to determine whether somebody is a Muslim-Mexican-feminist in disguise. You see, members of the conspiracy have microscopic magnets implanted into their bodies, which they use in their global tracking device to coordinate their actions. Now, this magnetic attraction is much too faint to be picked up by ordinary compases. But a specially prepared strip of aluminum foil, floating in a cup of water, will inevitably turn towards these dastardly conspirators.”

“Listen, Bigote, with all due respect, I think this is a big mistake.”

“A mistake?”

“I mean, how can this work? The little piece of metal might turn in any direction!”

“Skepticism is a healthy habit of mind, Chopin, and I commend you for it. Yet this technology is tested and true. There is no doubting the results.”

“But you can’t trust everything you read on the internet, man.”

“You are no doubt correct. But the principal involved in this device goes back all the way to Archimedes, who used a similar contraption to identify disguised Persians.”

I opened my mouth but thought better of it. There is simply no talking sense into a guy like this. The best I could hope for was to stall him until we got to Spain, which would be in just three days.

“Alright,” I said finally. “I trust you. Just make sure to let me know before you do anything. I want to be by your side in your fight against the, uh, conspiracy.”

“You have my word,” Bigote said. “And now it seems we should both retire to our rest.”

August 8

Later last night, after Bigote went to bed, I snuck off to the beer container again. Francis was there already.

“Dan!” he said, already feeling it a bit. “You’re a genius! I got Leslie’s number!”

“Dude, you guys work on the same ship.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s true. But also she said she wants to drink with me again tonight. Oh, my momma would be so proud! I can’t wait till I can see the look on her face when I tell her that her boy Francis finally found a woman!”

“I’m happy for you, bro. Let’s have a toast.”

We clinked our cans together, downed the contents, and crumpled the cans.

“I really owe you,” he said, his voice cracking a little. “This is the best thing that ever happened to me. Better even than when my mom hired a clown for my seventh birthday party. I can’t never repay you.”

“Actually,” I said, “I do have a little problem you can help me with.”

“Anything, Dan.”

“Well, you know that guy who I work for?”

“You mean the big old man with the big old mustache?

“Yeah, him. So he’s a little crazy.”

“What, like, he hears voices or something?”

“No, no, it’s not that. Much worse than that. He thinks the captain is a Muslim.”

“Captain Wellington? Why?”

“Because he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t let anyone else drink.”

“Well, the captain has the same affliction that took off my old man. He’s a drinker. Almost crashed a ship a few years ago, was so far gone. But your friend thinks he’s a Muslim? Does he have a problem with Muslims? I mean, my momma doesn’t like Muslims, neither, but she also says you gotta let other people live their own lives, since meddling never gets you nowhere.”

“Like I said, he’s crazy. Also a little racist. Also a little islamophobic. Point is we need to stop him from doing anything bad.”

“What’s he gonna do?”

“He has a gun.”

“Holy cow, man,” Francis said. “What can we do about that?”

“Here’s my idea. Tomorrow, after breakfast, I’m going to try to distract him. Keep him busy in the mess hall. Meanwhile, you sneak down to his room, look for his gun, and take it someplace safe.”

“Alright, sounds good to me. Do you know where he keeps it?”

“Just look everywhere.”

I drank a couple more beers and went to bed. Didn’t want to be too hungover in the morning.

§

I got up at the usual time, around eight, and made my way over to the mess hall. I already knew how I was going to keep Bigote distracted long enough for Francis to take the gun. Just take a map of Europe and ask him about his plans once we arrived. The only risk was that Bigote hadn’t left his gun in the room, but was carrying it with him. But I thought that was unlikely since we usually had breakfast in our pyjamas.

Normally the mess hall was already full when I arrived. But today it was completely empty. The lights were on and some of the chairs were pulled out, and there was food in the kitchen. But no cooks and no sailors. And no Bigote. Oh shit.

Suddenly one of the doors was pushed open.

“Dan!” It was Francis. “Jesus, man, you have to come with me!”

“What is it?”

He was already running down the hallway, and I followed. We climbed some stairs and then some more. Finally we reached the cockpit.

“Your boss,” he said. “He’s in there with the captain. He’s holding him hostage.”

“Oh shit, oh shit,” I said. “This can’t keep happening!”

I pushed the door open and went inside.

“Chopin!” Bigote said. “Thank heavens you’re here!”

Bigote was standing in the middle of the cockpit. He was clutching his revolver and pointing it at the captain, who was standing at the wheel. A group of sailors were crowded on the other side of the room, watching anxiously.

“I used the detecting device, Chopin. It pointed straight at him! My suspicions were correct!”

“Wow, that’s serious,” I said, playing along. “So what’s the plan?”

“I am afraid we are in somewhat dire straits, if you will pardon the nautical pun. As you can see I have this diabolical wretch here at my mercy, and I have instructed him to take us to Cádiz, an ancient Christian port. Doubtless it was his plan to deposit us in a Muslim country, Morocco probably.”

“This guy is crazy or something like that!” the poor captain yelped.

“Quiet, you!” Bigote barked.

“As usual, you’re acuteness astounds me,” I said. “But may I make one suggestion?”

“Of course, my faithful assistant.”

“Having all these sailors in the room is dangerous. I think we should get them out of here.”

“Capital idea, Chopin!”

“You heard the man!” I shouted. “Everyone out or he’s going to blow this infidel captain’s brains out!”

I walked towards the sailors, with my back turned to Bigote, and gave a conspicuous wink while waving them out of the room.

“Wait here, sir,” I said to Bigote. “I’m going to make sure they keep their distance.”

“I would truly be lost without you, Chopin!”

Out in the hallway I rushed them out of earshot of the cockpit.

“This guy is out of his mind!” one of them  said.

“What do we do?” another hissed.

“Uh, lemme think, lemme think… do you guys, like, a stun gun or any weapon?”

“This is a cargo ship, man.”

“Hmm. But aren’t there usually, like, flare guns on ships? I usually see them in movies.”

“In the lifeboats there are some flare guns.”

“And what would happen if you shot someone with one?”

“I mean, if you were close enough it could knock someone over. But what are we gonna do?—have a shootout? I mean, that guy has a real, actual gun.”

“But maybe if we caught him by surprise,” I said. “Could that work?”

“How would we do that?”

“I’m thinking, at night, when it’s dark and he’s tired.”

“There are lights, though.”

“Can you turn them off?”

“Yeah, we could!” one said. “With the main circuit board.”

“Then I think we have our plan.”

August 9

Here’s what happened.

After making the plan I went back to the cockpit with Bigote, who raved on and on about the evil conspiracy while the poor captain stood shaking at the wheel. The day seemed to drag on endlessly with Bigote waving his gun and his mustache around in all directions. Finally the sun began to sink. At around seven it was properly dark. At 7:30, as planned, the lights shut off.

“What, what’s this?” Bigote said in the darkness. and turned to the captain. “What’s going on?”

“I have no idea or anything like that.” the captain said. “Maybe a circuit broke or something.”

“You feminist scum!” Bigote screamed. “This is some kind of trick, isn’t it?”

“I swear I don’t know, in any case.” the captain said, shrinking as Bigote stuck the gun at his face. “Please, point that thing somewhere else or something.”

“I’ll point it where I damn where please, which is usually at global-warming hoaxers like you!”

“Hey, why don’t I go see what’s going on?” I said.

“I have grave misgivings about this,” Bigote said. “I fear the crew may be planning an attack.”

“Well, if they do anything funny, just shoot the captain,” I suggested.

“Of course, my dear Chopin.”

The captain gave an audible whimper.

“I’ll be back in five minutes.”

“May the spirits of our illustrious ancestors guide you.”

Out in the hall one of the sailors was there waiting, ready with the flare gun. He was chosen because he said he took shooting lessons as a kid. A couple other guys were there, too, ready to rush Bigote.

“He’s standing in the same spot,” I told him. “Next to the wheel, to the left.”

“Alright.”

After waiting some time I went back to the door and opened it.

“I’m back, sir. They said it was a circuit and they’re working on it.”

“Ah, what a relief to hear your voice,” Bigote said.

Standing right behind me, invisible in the darkness, was the armed sailor. I felt him aim the gun towards Bigote’s voice, and quickly got out of his way.

“So tell me again about the plan?” I said.

“Well first, my dear Chopin—”

Suddenly the cabin erupted in a bright red light. The flare fizzed across the room towards Bigote. But—it missed!—just grazing his right shoulder.

“What the devil!” he said, jumping away. But the flare had ignited the shoulder pad of his smoking jacket, which was now aflame.

“Help! help!” he yelped, running around the cockpit. “Chopin, get this jacket off of me!”

“Yes, sir!” I said, running up to him. The orange flames of his jacket were the only light in the cabin. I ripped off the sleeve that was not on fire but I couldn’t get the jacket off his right side, since he was firmly holding onto his gun.

“Drop the pistol, man!”

“I can’t, Chopin!”

The flames were quickly spreading down his arm towards his hand.

“Drop the damn gun, you fool!”

“This is my eternal right and duty!”

Finally I pulled on his jacket so hard that I jerked the gun onto the floor. As soon as the captain saw he started shouting.

“The gun, the gun, he dropped the gun! Get him or something!”

With this the sailors rushed into the room. Bigoted dashed for the pistol but, thank god, the sailors got to him first and pinned him to the ground.

“No, no, no! We’re doomed! I’m so sorry!”

As instructed, Francis came in too and pretended to tackle me, so Bigote wouldn’t know I was in on it (I gotta cover both sides of my ass).

“They got us, sir! They got us!” I yelled.

“Throw him in the brig or something!” the captain barked. “Throw that madman in the brig, in any case!”

April 10

“What a day, eh?” I said to Francis that night. We were back in the container, drinking beer.

“Yeah, man. How did you meet that guy?”

“He was my neighbor.”

“Go figures.”

“Say, what’s gonna happen to him?”

“Oh, you know, same thing that happened to my Uncle Bob. They’ll throw him in jail for attempted murder. He tried to kill his ex-wife, you know, but he botched it up by forgetting to load the gun.”

“Ah,” I said. “About that. I kinda need my boss to, like, not be in prison.”

“Well it ain’t gonna happen now,” Francis said. “That man is jailbound. I think the Spanish coast guard will come and pick him up.”

“I mean, he totally deserves that, but… he’s my boss and there is no way he’s going to pay me from prison.”

“What do you expect, Dan? My momma always says that not enough people are put in jail, and half the world would be in there if they got what was coming to them.”

“Oh, of course this is what I expect. But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out another option.”

“What does that mean?”

“I mean we need to break him out, man.”

“Are you out of your mind?!” he said, spitting out his beer melodramatically.

“You owe me.”

“But why on earth would you want to set a man like that free? He could have killed all of us.”

“Listen, I got him under control. Don’t I?”

“I can’t do this, man, it’s just not right. If I got put in jail my mom would die right to death, that’s what she tells me.”

“Oh, is this it?” I said, acting hurt. “Is this how you’re gonna treat your friend, the one who helped you get your dream girl?”

“Don’t do that, man, don’t say that.”

“Is this the repayment I get for my kindness?”

“But we’re on a boat, man, where are you gonna go?”

“Put me on one of those lifeboats.”

“It’s just not right, man.”

“Look. When are we arriving in Spain?”

“I think the captain said tomorrow morning.”

“And I guess the cops are coming as soon as you guys get there?”

“I guess so.”

“So that means we’ve got to go tonight.”

“If they catch me helping you they’ll throw me in jail! And my momma told me never, ever, ever to break no law, since I’m not bright enough to get away with it.”

“Well, didn’t she tell you to stand by your friends?”

“Yeah.”

“So let’s go.”

“Okay, wait, just hold on and let me think.”

“Well?”

“It’s, what, around two now?”

“Yeah.”

“At four is when hardly anyone will be awake. That’s when you should go, if you want the best chance of getting away. Here are my keys. If anyone ever catches you, say you found them on the ground. I would go with you but… Oh, Dan I have a bad, bad feeling about doing this.”

“Don’t worry, man, I’m no snitch. How will we get to land?”

“All the lifeboats have a compass, maps, and some food—you know, survival stuff. There’s a switch thingy that lets you lower it into the water from inside the boat. You should be all set.”

“Thanks, Francis. Now I owe you one.”

“Just don’t get me in trouble, and we’re even.”

It is now three in the morning and I’m sitting in my room—waiting. I’ve already packed my and Bigote’s things into one of the boats. The weather is not too bad. According to Francis we should get to the shore by around noon tomorrow, if we go the right way and don’t capsize. To be honest I’m not very excited about this plan. The only time I rowed a boat was in summer camp in the eighth grade. But there is one good thing about this plan: At least we’ll leave behind that damn pickup truck. So much for this ship’s diary thing. Wish us luck.

Don Bigote: Chapter 2

Don Bigote: Chapter 2

(Continued from Chapter 1.)

Don and Dan Take a Flight

Next Monday, as usual, I walk in Bigote’s front door. Also as usual, I’m hungover. I’m wearing sunglasses and everything is still too bright, it’s a quiet morning but the birds chirping nearby are deafening. My stomach feels like it’s full of acidic foam, and I have a crappy taste in my mouth that won’t go away no matter how much water I drink or how many times I spit, and every once in a while something shifts uncomfortably in my intestines. And do I regret a thing?

Bigote’s place is even messier than usual. A book is splayed open on the floor, right in front of the door, so I accidentally kick it as I walked in.

“Fuck!” I say, bending down over my stubbed toe. “Fuck, shit, bitch!”

I was wearing flip flops, and the book was one of those big hard-cover tombstone books that nobody reads, so my toe hurt. A lot.

“Fucking shit,” I say, as I flip the offending book to see its title. It’s called The Decline of the West. Of course.

“Dan, is that you?” comes a voice from the kitchen.

“Yes, it’s fucking me. Why don’t you clean up your damn house when you know people are coming over?”

“Sorry, Dan, I can’t quite hear you from out there. Would you mind coming over here? I have something cooking, and the crackling oil is causing quite a ruckus.”

I come into the kitchen. Don Bigote is stooped over a frying pan, spectacles down on his nose, a grease-stained cookbook by his side, surrounded by dirty measuring cups, a ripped open bag of sugar, an empty carton of milk, and of course his mustache thoughtfully standing guard over the whole scene.

“I thought that I would prepare some breakfast for you, in thanks for getting me out of that perilous situation last Friday.”

“Uh, oh yeah, cool.”

“It’s just finished!” he says, and begins scrapping the contents of the frying pan onto some plates nearby. He walks over and puts one in front of me. It’s full of bacon burnt to a crisp and a rubbery fried egg.

“You needed a cookbook for this?” I say.

“Pardon?”

“Oh, forget it,” I say, and take a big bite of the carbon meat.

“Is this in reference to the plan of building a shelter? Because, if so, I quite agree.”

“Huh?”

“You’re quite right, Dan. My original idea was seriously flawed. For one, building a shelter in the United States leaves us too open to detection and attack. We need to distance ourselves some more from the center of the conspiracy. Besides, how could I hope to preserve the treasures of Western culture from here? What a blockhead I am! Clearly, we need to go to Europe—to the motherland, so to speak—if we earnestly wish to gather the fruits of European cultural achievement.”

“Huh? Go to Europe?”

“Yes, Dan, it’s a far better plan. We can simultaneously isolate ourselves (to some extent) from the grasping reaches of our enemies, while putting ourselves in direct contact with the civilization we hope to preserve. It’s perfect!”

“You’re talking about ‘us’ again.”

“Well, of course, you must come with me. As you demonstrated in Home Depot, you are invaluable to me. Without you, I would have succumbed to my own foolish impulses.”

“You’re saying you’re gonna take me to Europe?”

“That is an adequate summary of my proposal.”

“Woah, dude. Where in Europe?”

“Excellent question, my dear Dan Chopin. I have considered all the political entities, both large states and small, and there is one clear best option: Spain. Spain is geopolitically unimportant enough to make it a safe hiding place. It has a great deal of historic depth, possessing some fine Roman ruins, to name just one example. It is the birthplace of some of the most excellent architects, artists, musicians, and writers who have ever lived and breathed. And, most importantly, the Spanish already have experience in fighting the Muslims and the Mexicans.”

“Uh yeah?” I say, as I struggle to chew the fried egg, which has the approximate texture of a car tire.

“Yes, indeed. For seven whole centuries, Muslims lived in their country—a long, dark night of oppression!—until the brave Spanish Christians rose up and pushed them out. And of course the Spaniards are responsible for toppling the ancient Mexican empires in the Americas.”

“So, wait,” I say, having finally finished swallowing the egg. “Let me get all this straight. You are offering to pay for me to go with you to Spain?”

“Yes.”

“So we can, like, learn about Europe and all that?”

“That’s it.”

“Hell yeah!” I say. “Let’s get our asses out of Alabama!”

* * *

Four days later, we’re in the car on the way to the airport.

I’m driving—I don’t trust that whack job behind the wheel—and Don Bigote is sitting in the passenger seat, the window rolled down, his mustache fluttering in the wind. Through the ventilators I can smell the burning chemical odor of the old truck’s worn-out transmission. Several cars have honked at us because of the trail of impenetrable black smoke we are leaving behind us. Well, they can go to hell.

I’m feeling a little weird about the whole thing. Bigote is one strange dude, no joke, and I think his relationship with reality is worse than my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, Sharona, who once threw my phone in a public toilet. Is this really a good idea? What if he does something equally crazy as he did in Home Depot and gets us thrown into Spanish jail? Well, Spanish jail doesn’t sound so bad. I read online somewhere that they’re co-ed.

My dad was totally against the idea.

“What?! Go to Europe with the Colonel? That’s totally insane!”

“But, dear,” mom said. “It’s just for a few months, and maybe it can be really good for him.”

“I’m getting paid,” I said.

“Yeah, but have you seen that guy? He’s a crank, a loony, a crackpot. What’s he going to do in a foreign country? Does he even speak Spanish?”

“There’s Google translate, dad.”

“Oh, honey,” mom said to dad. “I think this is a great opportunity! Danny can travel, get some work experience. And, after all, Bigote isn’t all that bad. He’s a bit of a hippie, sure, and eccentric, but I don’t think he’s at all dangerous.”

“I don’t feel good about this at all,” dad said. “Danny, listen. If anything goes wrong, just get on a plane and fly home. Don’t worry about the money.”

That’s roughly how the conversation went. So yeah, I suppose I have an escape option if worse comes to worse.

I see the sign for the airport, and take the exit.

“Where should I park?” I say.

“Oh, just over there.”

“But the sign says 72 Hours Maximum. Isn’t there a long-term parking or something?”

“Oh, Dan. What’s it matter? I’m never coming back!”

“What?!”

“Well, maybe some day, far in the future, after the great Cataclysm.”

“I don’t remember you telling me this.”

“No need to worry, Dan, we can just leave this old thing anywhere.”

“You’re the boss,” I say, and pull into a spot.

We get out and begin getting our bags. It isn’t much. I have a duffle bag and a backpack, and Bigote a brown leather briefcase and one of those rolling suitecases. We shut the doors and lock the car.

“Goodbye, old friend,” says Bigot, tenderly touching his shitty pickup truck. “You’ve been good to me.”

And we turn and walk through the parking lot towards the terminal.

“You know, Dan,” Don says, “apart from being a necessary means of transportation, this voyage also provides us an excellent opportunity to investigate air travel, one of the West’s most triumphant achievements.”

“Ever flown before?” I say.

“Actually, no. This will be my first aerial experience, and I must say that I am tremendously excited. The only thing which prevents me from being positively jubilant on this occasion is the unfortunate, but inescapable, global conspiracy.”

“Well, we’ll get away from that soon enough,” I say.

“Ah, don’t be so sure, Dan, don’t be so sure. The conspiracy reaches everywhere. Even this whole business of tickets, passports, visas, security—all this tyrannical nonsense!—it’s just a way for the conspiracy to control our movements, and by doing so, our minds.”

“I thought it was because of 9/11 and stuff like that?”

“Dan, sometimes your ignorance pains me. 9/11 is connected to this, yes, but of course you must realize it was a false-flag operation.”

“A what flag?”

“You see, it is true that the Muslims were behind it, as everyone already believes. But what is not true is that it was the work of a relatively small band of Muslims, without the government’s notice. You see, the Muslims are the government now. They tricked some poor fools into hijacking those planes, in order to distract the populace, to scare us, allowing the executive branch to expand its power, and the security state to extend its tentacles into every aspect of our lives. Just like we find here!”

Bigote gestures grandly at the airport.

“So, you’re saying that Muslims, who own the government, destroyed the Twin Towers in order to expand the power of the government, and then blamed Muslims?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, I just hope they don’t do it to our flight,” I say. “Alright, let’s double check. Do you have your passport?”

“Right here,” Bigote says, taking out a blue booklet and handing it to me.

“Good.”

“Well done, isn’t it?” Bigote says, winking at me.

“Huh?”

“Pretty convincing, eh?”

“Convincing?” I say, blinking in disbelief. “Don, is this a fake?”

“Why, of course it is. I am traveling under a fake name, so I can’t use a real passport.”

“Are you kidding me?!”

“Don’t worry, Dan, I followed an instructional video. They said it’s guaranteed.”

I flipped through the pages, and immediately noticed that the edges were coming apart, like the whole thing was held together by Elmer’s glue.

“You better not get us arrested,” I say.

“Dan, have some faith in me. We only need this to get into Spain. Once there, I’ll make another one.”

“What? Why?”

“Well, because I’m going to need to forge a visa, of course.”

“Forge a visa?”

“And you too.”

“Why?!”

“Dan, I feel like I have to spell everything out for you. On a tourist visa, you can only stay for 90 days, which is of course not nearly enough time. And I can’t exactly obtain a working visa or a residency visa—for the aforementioned problem that I am traveling under an assumed name. Satisfied?”

“Oh, God, I’m going to jail, I’m going to Guantanamo Bay!”

“That’s another false flag, I’m afraid,” says Bigote.

* * *

We check in successfully—the woman at the front desk looks a little too long at Bigote’s passport, but finally lets us go—and now we’re on the line to security.

I am sweating like a pig already. Fuck, I am such an idiot! Dad was right, I should never have tried to take a trip with this nut. Look at him: bobbing his head up and down like he’s brain-dead, walking like he’s got a stick up his ass, with those stupid thin glasses on the tip of his nose—does he even need glasses?—and that ridiculous mustache. Oh God, why doesn’t he trim that thing? His mustache makes him look even more suspicious!

I look ahead to the security guards. Oh no, they’re ethnic! Bigote is going to think they’re Muslims or Mexicans or something. Fuck my life!

“All liquids must be put into a sealed plastic bag,” says one of the guards in a mechanical monotone, “and separated from your luggage. Please take your laptops out of your bags and out of their cases, and put them into a separate tray. All cell phones, keys, jackets, belts, shoes, and metal objects need to go into a bin and through the machine.”

The people ahead of us are all doing that awkward scramble where they unpack half their luggage and get half-undressed, only to be waved through the machine to the other side, where half of them are stopped anyways to have their bags searched or their bodies waved with the metal wand, or something.

“Okay, so, just like we practiced, okay?” I whisper to Bigote.

“Of course, Dan. No need to worry. I have done thorough research.”

“Ok, well, just stay quiet.”

We get to the conveyor belt thing and begin doing the undressing dance. I put my little duffle bag on the conveyor belt. Soon I’m being waved through the metal detector, which thankfully doesn’t beep. I look behind me, and see that Bigote is fumbling with his belt, which is really difficult to take off because wearing a giant brass belt-buckle shaped like the state of Texas. Jesus…

I turn back and look for my bag. Some bald security guard, wearing white latex gloves, is standing over it.

“Sir, is this your bag?” he says.

“Yep.”

“Okay, I’m just going to do a quick chemical test.”

“A what?”

“Wait right here, sir.”

He pulls out a little white cloth thing and begins whipping it all over my bag. He goes over to a machine and puts the cloth inside. He looks down at it, and frowns.

“Sir, would you mind if I searched your bag?”

“Um, kinda.”

“Sir, the machine gave me a positive reading for marijuana, so I have to perform a search in order to let you through.”

“You can detect weed? No way!”

He quickly unzips the bag and begins ruffling through my stuff. Shit, shit, shit. Try not to look nervous. Ah, but it’s too late! I’m fucked! My weed is in an old pencil case in one of the side-pockets…

SIR, STOP WHERE YOU ARE NOW AND PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!”

Someone behind me shouts this at the top of his voice. There is a confusion of screams and shouts, as people around me start running away in all directions. The cop searching my luggage immediately drops what he’s doing, jumps over the conveyor belt, and pulls out his gun.

I look and see Don Bigote standing in the metal detector, his hands on his head, which makes it easy to see his old revolver strapped to his hip. Of course.

He’s surrounded by about five security guards, all of them with their pistols pointed at him. One is radioing for backup.

“Sir, I need you to lie down on the floor, slowly, without moving your hands. Alright?”

“But I have an open carry license!” Bigote says.

“Sir, lie down now or we will have to shoot.”

“It’s my constitutional right!”

SIR, GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!”

“Get the fuck down, Bigote!” I yell at him. “Get your mustachioed ass down!”

Several tense moments pass. Bigote appears torn. A part of him seems to be considering having a shootout. But finally, deciding that he’s outgunned, he follows the cop’s instructions and lays down on the floor. One of the guards approaches carefully and takes the revolver out of his holster. The gun removed, all the guards close in, pinning him on the floor while they put him in handcuffs.

While they’re all busy, I decide that it’s the best time to skedaddle. But just as I’m about to walk off, I hear Bigote say:

“Dan, don’t wait for me!”

The idiot!

“Hey, are you with this guy?” one of the guards says, as he grabs my shoulder and spins me around.

“Uh, him? No…”

“I’m afraid you have to come with us, sir.”

“Oh no!” Bigote shouts, as he’s being dragged off. “Dan, not you too! The monsters!”

Next thing I know, I’m in handcuffs, too, being led off to God knows where. Great.

* * *

This is a nightmare. Wake up, wake up, wake up. Oh man, I should have went to the bathroom before this. Beer and burritos was a terrible idea for breakfast.

I’m sitting in one of those sterile interrogation rooms, like you see on television, except it’s real. The walls are plain white, and there’s a mirror on one side. And I just know a bunch of cops are on the other side, watching us through the glass, probably making fun of Bigote’s mustache. Better not be saying anything about me.

Bigote is right next to me. We’re both seated in these awful metal chairs, our hands handcuffed behind our backs, with an equally metallic table in front of us. Really, it’s just like TV, except on TV they usually separate the terrorist suspects. Also, on TV the terrorists usually don’t need to take a big, probably smelly dump while they’re being interrogated.

“Dan, I’m so—”

NO TALKING!” cracks a voice on the loudspeakers, interrupting Bigote.

Silence resumes. All I can hear is a ventilator and Bigote’s breathing, which sounds like another ventilator.

Right on cue, a detective enters. He looks the part: big masculine jaw with five o’clock shadow, big buff shoulders underneath a black suit, and all the rest. He closes the door behind him, walks over to the empty seat across from us, and sits down.

“My name is Detective Murky,” he says, his voice all gruff-like, “and I’m here to find out what the hell you were doing with that gun.”

“We’ll never talk!” Bigote shouts, his voice choked with enthusiasm. “Never!”

“Can’t we like, get a lawyer or something?” I say.

“Terrorists don’t get lawyers!” says Murky.

“A lawyer, ha!” Bigote says. “They’re some of the most heinous conspirators!”

“Jesus Christ, Bigote,” I say. “Will you shut the fuck up?”

“Enough playing around!” Murky says, slamming his fist on the table. “Who are you? Muslims extremists?”

“Oh, please,” Bigote says. “Is this your plan? Frame us as Muslims conspirators? We’re not even circumcised!”

“Speak for yourself dude,” I say.

“Dan, let me handle this.”

“Not circumcised?” Murky says. “Who are you, then?”

I hear Bigote inhale slowly.

“I suppose at this point,” Bigote says, “there’s no use in trying to keep a secret.”

“That’s damn right.”

“You see,” Bigote says, “we’re on a mission, a mission to save civilization.”

“Save civilization from what? American tyranny?”

“Don’t be a fool!” Bigote says. “From the international Muslim-Mexican-homosexual-feminist-Marxist-scientific conspiracy!”

Murky’s eyes widen, and he sits up even straighter in his chair.

“Explain,” he says.

“Well, there is no time for details. But suffice to say the conspirators have already penetrated every layer of government, and are now very near their goal: the total collapse of Western civilization. I wouldn’t be surprised if you yourself were an agent.”

“Okay…” says Murky, his eyes narrowing. “What’s your mission, then?”

“You see,” Bigote says. “If my calculations are correct, it’s far too late to prevent the conspiracy from succeeding. But there is still some time—a few years, maybe—to prepare for the inevitable. That’s why I’m trying to go to Spain, to gather up the fruits of Western civilization and preserve them for the scattered bands of survivors who will survive the collapse.”

Murky sits for a few seconds, saying nothing, rubbing his temples with one hand. Meanwhile, the pressure in my intestines is becoming uncontainable. The inevitable happens. A fart begins to escape my insides, seeping out slowly at first, making a whirring whistling sound, but quickly accelerating into a roaring flapping explosion that fills the entire room with its rumbling.

A few seconds of dreadful silence pass—the interval between the explosion’s report and the explosion’s effects—as the sound disappears into an echo, and then into a dreadful memory shared by everyone present. And then, finally, the smell hits.

I detect it first—it’s even worse than usual, a mixture of rotten eggs, vinegar, and old ham that’s gone bad—and then Bigote catches a whiff (I can tell because he starts coughing), and finally it reaches Murky, whose only reaction is to blanch paper white.

“Excuse me,” he says, and quickly leaves the room.

“Dan, that was brilliant,” Bigote says, between coughs. “Excellent diversionary tactic. Now, help me figure out how to slip out of these metallic restaints.”

“You know they can hear and see everything we’re doing, right?”

“That’s just what they want you to think, Dan. Now hurry! There’s not much time.”

Suddenly, the lights go out. Someone has pulled the alarm! The sprinkler’s start drenching us with water, a siren is whirring, a bell is ringing, and red lights are flashing. As if my headache wasn’t bad enough already.

Murky bursts in the door.

“Quick!” he says “Come with me!”

With his left hand he jerks me to my feet, and with his right hand he takes Bigote. Soon we are being pushed into the hallway, around a corner, through a corridor, as people all around us are running left and right, carrying folders, bundles of paper, laptops, and crying babies, trying to protect what they can from the sprinklers.

“Is there a fire?” Bigote says.

“Just shut up and move!” Murky answers.

After what seems like a long time, Murky slams us both against a wall.

“Wait,” he says, as if we have a choice. He gets out a big bunch of keys like janitors always carry, fumbles a bit, finds the right one, and then opens a nearby door.

“Come on!” he says, and grabs us again.

Now we’re outside, somewhere in the airport. He puts us both in the back of one of those little golf cart things that security guards use, and begins to drive.

“What on earth is going on?” Bigote screams.

“Sorry about the alarm,” Murky yells back as he’s driving. “There wasn’t anyway else to get you guys out of there.”

“What? You pulled it?” I say.

“Not only that, but I disconnected the security footage so they wouldn’t see us escape.”

“This must mean that my worst fears are confirmed,” Bigote says. “He’s an agent of the conspiracy, Danny. We’re being taken to one of their brainwashing facilities where we’re going to be forced to watch gay porn and global warming documentaries until we lose touch with reality.”

“You don’t understand,” Murky says. “I’m helping you escape.”

“Sweet!” I say. “Thanks! Hey, did you also manage to get my weed?”

“Why would you help us?” Bigote says.

“Listen,” Murky says. “I got this job because I wanted to keep my country safe from foreigners. But the more I see what’s going on in the world, the more I think that our own government is on their side! First that scumbag Obama was elected, a secret Muslims who was born in Kenya—that birth-certificate was an obvious forgery!—and then all these Syrian refugees? The whole world has gone crazy!”

“Exactly!” Bigote cries.

“So when you told me what you what you were doing, I thought, ‘Well, here’s a man I got to help’.”

“Oh, rejoice, rejoice!” Bigote says. “Thank heavens for the few remnants of decency in this godforsaken world!”

We arrive in the parking lot, and Murky takes off our handcuffs and lets us go.

“Now get in your car and drive off quick.”

“I can’t thank you enough,” Bigote says, clasping Murky’s hand.

“Don’t mention it,” Murky says. “Now go, fast!”

Bigote and I jump in the pickup truck, drive straight through the parking gate (no time for the fee), and onto the highway, leaving a cloud of black smoke trailing behind us as we speed away towards our next misadventure.

(Continued in Chapter 3.)

Don Bigote: Chapter 1

Don Bigote: Chapter 1

Don and Dan Build a Shelter

In a little town in Alabama—where exactly I won’t tell you, since my dad says the internet is full of creeps—there lives a man who wears a grey smoking jacket on hot summer days, who has a loaded antique revolver on his hip at all times, and who keeps an arthritic greyhound out back. This guy is my neighbor, Don Bigote, who everyone calls “Colonel.”

Despite his nickname, I doubt he ever was in the army. I think he got it from his habit of wearing a gun all the time (though God knows he isn’t the only person to do that around here). Or maybe it’s the stiff, sort of soldierly way he walks and moves around, like he’s a windup doll made of wood. In any case, it’s clear that the guy was never a soldier, since he’s so skinny and light—basically a skeleton with some skin stretched over it—that a bumblebee’s sigh could sweep him away.

This gauntness, combined with his enormous height, makes him look like a human streetlamp.

But I forgot to mention Don Bigote’s most striking feature: his enormous white mustache. I don’t know how he maintains that thing, since his hair is thin, and the top of his head is totally bald; but the mustache sits proudly and nobly, completely covering his mouth, sneaking up towards his ears, shivering in the wind, perfectly brushed, trimmed, and sculpted. It is a work of art.

Don Bigote isn’t working now. Nobody’s quite sure what he did before he retired. My dad thinks he was a schoolteacher, since “All teachers are useless hippies! And besides how else could he have such a good pension? The good-for-nothing, stealing from the government!”

Most people agree that Bigote’s a bit off. He doesn’t seem to have any friends or family. His social life is confined to his greyhound. The two of them make quite a pair during their walks through the neighborhood. The poor whelp is almost as stiff, skinny, boney, and haggard as Don Bigote himself. The old girl walks slowly, limping slightly, with her head bent down, not pausing to sniff at anything, while Bigote marches forward to an invisible drumbeat.

You get the picture. Well, Don Bigote has been our neighbor for a long time now; and aside from a few neighborly interactions, and aside from the usual commonplace hellos and all that, and aside from the occasional jokes about his weirdness, we haven’t had much to do with him. Not yet, anyway.

Lately I’ve had much more important things to worry about.

I just graduated high school, which is a big deal. That’s something you only do once. You can graduate college multiple times, and you can get married to many different people—consecutively or simultaneously (depending on where you live)—and you can have as many kids are your sexual potency permits and your wife’s (or wive’s) fertility allows, and you can exclude as many of those kids from your will as your heart desires, and you can even die over and over again if someone is kind enough to bring you back to life with a defibrillator—but graduating high school is a one-off thing. So I’m savoring the experience.

To get particular, this savoring involves a lot of drinking and as many girls as I can convince to be a part of the celebrations. I have carefully budgeted, planned, and I have convened counsels, secret and solemn, with friends and acquaintances, and I have run careful reconnaissance missions, sent invitations, bought supplies—beer and condoms, mostly—to ensure that this savoring goes on without any interruption for as long as possible. So far so good.

Last night was no exception. I won’t go into details, but I had a proper debauch. I’ll just say that this morning I woke up on Jimmy’s couch next to someone, needing badly to pee and vomit (not in that order), with a terrible headache and a slight burning sensation in my loins that I hope is just from friction. After taking care of business, I do what I always do: throw on my clothes and sneak out, leaving everything for Jimmy to clean up.

Well, as I’m walking home, bleary-eyed, head pounding, body aching, blinking in the bright day, pausing occasionally to spit up a little into the bushes, this infamous Don Bigote—who, I should make clear now before I forget, is the entire subject of this story, and the entire reason I’m writing in the first place, so pay attention—this infamous Don Bigote, as I was saying, with his mustache twinkling in the sunlight (he must’ve drank something recently, since it looks moist), walks over from his front porch to his fence and starts talking to me.

“Hello, good sir,” he says.

“Ugh,” I reply.

“Fine day, is it not?”

“Yug.”

“Yes, there is a northerly breeze, and the sun’s rays are dripping full down like a waterfall from heaven.”

“Gargle.”

He opens the gate of his fence and approaches closer. I can hardly keep my eyes open, and judging from the sounds my stomach is making, I don’t have long to get to a bathroom (we ate spicy burritos before the party).

“May I ask, sir,” he says, “if I have the honor of talking to the first-born son of Mr. and Mrs. Chopin?”

“Yurgle,” I answer.

“And is this first-born son bestowed with the appellation, ‘Daniel’?”

“That’s me,” I say. “Dan Chopin.” Stomach clock still ticking.

“Ah, what a pleasure,” he says, and stretches out his hand. I do likewise and he very formally and firmly shakes my appendage until he’s good and satisfied.

“And am I correct in the knowledge, recently acquired, that this very same son, Dan Chopin, is recently graduated from high school?”

“Mmmm.” Stomach can’t take much more of this.

“And is this same aforementioned son, the honorable Dan Chopin, currently in want of gainful employment?”

“Uuhhhhhuuuhh!” I scream. “Dude, just send me a letter!” And I run into the house and make it just in time (well, close enough).

I shower, nap, get up, shave, apply deodorant under my armpits and my legpit, and then I go again to the bathroom just to make sure my system is totally vacant, and then—cleaned up, spruced up, and emptied out—I go downstairs to enjoy the good and wholesome cooking of my wonderful mother, who is already busy in the kitchen, as my acute nose informs me.

“You got a letter,” she says as I walk in. “It’s on the table.”

“Oh yeah? What’s for dinner.”

“Chicken. You got a letter. It’s on the table.”

“Oh yeah? What kind of chicken?”

“Roast, with rosemary. The letter is there on the table.”

“And what’s on the side?”

“Potatoes and greenbeans. The letter’s right there on the table.”

“Oh yummy, potatoes and greenbeans!” I say, as I sit down at the table and absently open the letter, thinking it’s just the usual bullshit about college. But then I pause. It’s written in script, and the writing is all squiggly and fancy-like. I need to squint to read it, since who writes in script? It goes like this:

My dear Daniel, 

I hope this letter finds you in good health and fine spirits. I am sorry to have caught you at an inopportune moment earlier today, my sincere apologies.

I am writing you today to introduce a certain proposal into your hands. Recently I have been doing a great deal in my house, and it struck me that I badly require assistance, seeing as I am old and increasingly in need of haste due to events beyond my control.

My proposal is this. I wish to contract your services, for a few hours each week, to help me around the house. For your services, I will give you a suitable monetary reward, the exact amount being negotiable but certainly substantial.

If you wish to accept this offer, or if you are merely intrigued and wish to learn more, please come over any time tomorrow and we will discuss it further. If, however, you cannot or do not wish to accept this offer, be assured that I understand and respect your decision, and no further action need be taken on your part.

 Yours faithfully,

 Don Bigote

What a wackjob. Who writes like this? Well, what should I do? I’ve got so many parties coming up, I don’t think I have any spare time…. tonight at Jimmy’s again, then Thursday I’m with Jessica, then Friday we’re going to the old factory… But then again, if I work during the day, maybe it won’t be a problem. And some extra money could really help with the debauching…

“Hey mom,” I say.

“Not for another five minutes,” she says, stirring something.

“No, it’s not about dinner. But thanks for letter me know.”

“What, then?”

“This letter, it’s from the Colonel. He wants me to work for him.”

“That’s nice, dear.”

“Says he’ll pay.”

“Very nice.”

“What do you think?”

“Well, it sounds terribly nice.”

“Should I do it?”

“I think it would be a nice thing, Danny.”

* * *

Next day at noon, I knock on his door.

In three seconds Don Bigote opens it. He’s dressed the usual way: pistol on hip, grey smoking jacket, mustache looking as sharp as a razor blade.

“My dear Chopin, come in,” he says, gesturing stiffly.

“Yo,” I say. “What’s up?”

“I am so pleased you came.”

We walk to his kitchen. On the way I get a glimpse of his house. It’s a total mess. Magazines, books, and papers are strewn everywhere. It’s a weird assortment of stuff, too—the National Review, ¡Adios America! by Ann Coulter, a book of Latin grammar, a history of the Spanish Reconquista, and several books with the Twin Towers on the cover. Equally random are the pictures on the walls—Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, the Confederate flag, a map of Europe, a glossy photograph of a castle, and an old oil portrait of someone with a big chin who looks historical and important. And the whole place smells like cigars and sawdust.

When we get to his kitchen—chipped plates, dirty dishes, and greasy glasses in the sink, and pots and pans and cutlery strewn everywhere—a radio is playing:

“Nowadays, you can’t say you’re against immigration or the media immediately calls you a racist. Like, am I a racist if I don’t like Mexicans? It’s a conspiracy! The left is trying to open the floodgates, my fellow Americans, and they’re already in control of all the television, all the…”

Don Bigote turns off the radio. Then he pulls out a chair for me at the kitchen table, and walks over to the cabinet to get something. In front of me is a Bible (in the King James translation), and a book called Vaccines and Autism: Behind the Liberal Conspiracy to Poison our Kids.

“I understand,” he says, as he rummages through his shelves, “that nowadays it is illegal for people of your age to partake of alcoholic drinks. Government tyranny!” He pulls down a bottle of bourbon from the shelves. “Those ungodly communists!” He pours me a drink, and pours himself one.

“To freedom!” he says, and we clink glasses. The bourbon burns.

“Onward to business, then,” he says, crossing one leg over the other, sitting straight up as if someone stuck a stick up his ass. “Chopin, before I begin, I need your most solemn promise of confidentiality. What I am about to tell you is very sensitive information, and if you were to tell anybody, maybe even your parents, then things could get very bad for me.”

“No worries, dude. I’m no snitch.”

“Excellent. Well, to begin, surely you are aware, Chopin (not to put too fine a point on it), that the world is in crisis. This much is clear to everybody. Immigrants are pouring in and turning the streets into chaos, Muslim terrorist are sneaking into countries and killing untold numbers of innocents, and the media and the government are doing nothing to stop it.”

“You sound like my dad.”

“Yes, all this is generally known and rightly complained of. But it has lately come to my attention—how exactly, I can’t tell you, just know that it was the process of many years of painstaking research on the internet, searching through countless forums and chatrooms, as well as a huge effort of radio listening and book reading—it has come to my attention that the trouble goes far, far, far deeper than you think.”

“Oh yeah?” I say, and polish off the bourbon.

“You see, all of these events are connected. The Muslims, the Mexican immigrants, the Media, the Government—they aren’t separate phenomena, but are working in a close alliance. And they have been for a long time, Chopin. Now, I don’t want to scare you, but what if I told you that everything from the Twin Towers attack, to global warming, to vaccinations, to multiculturalism, to abortion, to evolution, to feminism—all of these, Chopin, are part of a carefully planned and perfectly executed conspiracy.”

“Is it alright with you if I have another glass?” I say, as I walk over to the bourbon bottle.

“Yes, yes, of course.”

“So, like, why?”

“Why?”

“Yeah, what’s the point of this conspiracy, then?”

“Chopin, don’t be naïve!” he says. “The purpose is as clear as crystal: to end Western Civilization as we know it.”

“Mmmhmm,” I say, mid gulp, mulling it over. “Are you sure about this, dude? Sounds pretty crazy to me. Like, isn’t the government busy killing the terrorists over there? And, like, why would feminists want to blow up the World Trade Center?”

“I know it may seem hard to believe,” he says. “But that’s just the brilliance of it—that’s why nobody but me has figured out the truth.”

“Well, alright. Then shouldn’t we stop it? Or like tell the police?”

“Chopin, Chopin, I wish we could. But I’m afraid the conspiracy goes far too deep. I mean, look at this.”

He pulls out a twenty dollar bill from his pocket.

“Just watch.”

He starts folding it very carefully, like its origami or something. When he’s finished the bottom is triangular and its been folded lengthwise in half.

“See?” he says, handing it to me.

I can see two parts of the White House with trees on the end.

“Can you believe it?”

“Well, I’ve honestly seen better. My friend can make a swan.”

“The Twin Towers!” he says.

I look again. I guess it does sort of look like two buildings on fire, if you squint.

“The twenty dollar bill has had this design since 1928. You know what that means? They have been planning this since before the World Trade Center existed! And at the highest levels of government!”

His eyes were wide with terror, and his mustache seems to be squirming around on his upper lip like a small animal.

“Wow, that’s pretty crazy,” I say. “Some real illuminati shit. So, like, when’s the last time you went to a doctor?”

“You can’t trust doctors either, Chopin. I’m afraid they are some of the most fiendish conspirators of all.”

“I see, I see. Wow, dude, seems pretty hopeless. So what do you want me to do?”

“At this point, Chopin, I think that there is no hope of preventing their success. Civilization will collapse entirely, in about five years if my calculations are correct. Thus, I have taken it upon myself to begin storing up knowledge for the dark times to come. If I cannot prevent this disaster, at least I can make it easier for future generations to rebuild civilization and regain what was lost. This is what I need you for.”

“Yeah, go on.”

“You see, I am building a shelter beneath this house, a shelter deep underground, where I will store up all of the knowledge, the literature, music, architecture, painting, poetry, all of the science and philosophy, and of course all of our theology and religion, where it will be safe, I hope, when society begins to fall apart. I can’t build it alone, so that’s why I wanted to hire you, as an assistant.”

“So, like, how much are we talking here?”

“Is this a monetary question?”

“Yeah. Cashwise, how much?”

“Well, since I expect money will lose its value in a few years, I am willing to be very generous. How about $50 an hour?”

“I’LL DO IT!” I say. “Let’s start right away!”

* * *

“Okay,” he says, “let me see here. How long did you say the basement is?”

“25 feet and 3 inches.”

“And tell me the width once more?”

“20 feet 8 inches and a quarter.”

“Hmmm. This means, according to my calculations, that we need about sixteen hundred cinderblocks, eight bags of cement (I have the mixer machine already out back), at least half a ton of gravel, and several hundred feet of plastic tubing.”

“Why tubes?”

“My dear Chopin,” Bigote says. “The atmosphere on the surface will be unbreathable. We need to install an atmosphere purification system, to remove toxins and radiation, so we can survive long enough for the earth’s ecosystem to re-balance itself. Trust me, I’ve read several blogs about this.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“Why, do you think I’d be so heartless as to leave you to fend for yourself during this cataclysm? The thought of it!”

“And my parents?”

“Well, uh, you see Chopin, space is very limited.”

“Ok, I hope you’re a good cook, then, if I won’t have my mom with me.”

“Have no fear about that. I have been practicing the ancient and noble arts of French and Italian cooking, so that I can teach the survivors how to make poulet cordon bleu and spaghetti—two vital elements of Western culture.”

“Alright, well then, just don’t light the place on fire.”

“No more time for small talk, Chopin. We must attend to business. Let us away to the pick up truck, to purchase these supplies and start construction.”

“Ok, but I’m driving.”

Bigote’s truck is a true piece of shit and leaves a trail of black fumes behind it as it coughs its way to the department store. The whole interior smells like gasoline and burning brake fluid, which pours in through the ventilators, and the seats aren’t even comfortable.

“I bought it used,” he explains. “No paperwork, paid in cash. For the past seventeen years, you see, I have been doing my best to live off the grid. No bank account, no government records, no paperwork, no signatures, nothing. I live invisibly.”

“But isn’t your name on your mailbox?”

“An alias, my good Chopin, an alias. My true name is not Don Bigote.”

“What is it, then?”

“Here we are!” he says, as the Home Depot pops into view.

We jump out, and I pick up one of those big metal trolleys for serious home improvement shopping. Bigote leads the way, his giant legs crawling like a giant spider over the flat parking lot, his mustache fluttering heroically in the wind. He looks ridiculous and I feel embarrassed, but money is money.

We walk through the sliding automatic doors and into the big, spacey interior, that always reminds me of an airport hanger.

“First, I suppose we should get the concrete,” Bigote says, staring down at his list through wire-framed glasses.

“Welcome to Home Depot,” someone says. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, do you—”

Don Bigote looks up at the assistant and freezes. I look at the assistant, too, and recognize him immediately. He’s my classmate Juan López, from Venezuela, a short, dark-haired boy with a nose piercing. Quite good at lacrosse.

“No, sorry, I’m not in need of anything, just browsing, thank you very much…”

Don Bigote turns and bolts down the nearest aisle.

“Yo Juan, you coming tonight?” I say.

“Dunno yet dude.”

“Ok, well see ya around.”

I follow Bigote.

When I find him, he’s leaning against the tires, pale and panting.

“Dude, what’s wrong?”

“Don’t you see!” he sputters. “They’re here! The Mexicans!”

“Who, Juan? He’s not Mexican, dude.”

“That’s what they want you to believe!”

“Who? His parents?”

“Oh, this is bad, Chopin, very bad. If they see what materials I’m buying, they will get suspicious and investigate, and my scheme will be ruined. No, it’s too risky, too risky.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s fine, dude. Juan’s cool, mostly. He did hit a guy in gym class in April. Got suspended.”

“Damn them to hell!” he says, pounding his fist into his palm. “Clever bastards! I will not be defeated so easily!”

And with this, he pulls his revolver out of his holster and starts dashing towards the front door.

What the fuck are you doing?!” I scream, and run after him.

He gets to the end of the aisle, stops, and aims straight at Juan.

“See you in Hell, communists!”

“Wait, wait, wait!” I yell, and tackle him from behind just as the shot rings out.

The bullet goes wild and hits the roof. Meanwhile the two of us slam into a shelf full of electric drills, which comes tumbling down. And then, like in all the movies, the domino effect: one shelf hits another shelf hits another, until the entire store is collapsing. Babies are crying, men and women are running for the exits, the alarm is sounding, red lights and a siren, the sprinkler too, everything is going totally nuts, and the string quartet is still bravely playing.

Finally the last shelf tumbles down, and the place is deathly still. The two of us slowly get to our feet.

What do we do? What do we do? Shit, shit, shit, Bigote will get arrested, and then who will pay me? And what if they arrest me to? Think, think, think.

Wait!

“Freeeee stuff!” I yell. “Get it quick, get it now! Before the cops come!”

The store explodes again, as every customer begins frantically looting, ripping open the cash machines, filling up their arms with everything they can carry, running this way and that, in every direction, and still the string quartet doesn’t stop.

“Now’s our chance! We’ve got to go!” I say to Bigote, and yank him towards the exit.

“But the shelter!”

“No time, dumbass! Let’s get our asses in drive, and skedaddle!”

And we run out into the parking lot, jump into the car, and zoom into the sunset.

(Continued in Chapter 2.)