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 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.