One of my short stories was published in the latest edition of Writer’s Block. You can find the entire issue in pdf form by following this link. My story is on page 30.
The story so far:
- Don and Dan Build a Shelter
- Don and Dan Take a Flight
- Don and Dan Go to Spain
- Don and Dan Do Drugs
- Don and Dan Find God
- 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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.
“And accordingly, such a cause, acting under different circumstances, must, following the logic of modus tollens, produce an entirely different outcome.”
“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.”
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.”
“Surely, you must admit that sexual intercourse, however tiresome, has its own pleasures.”
“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.”
“It is a form of courtship in which a man and a woman bind themselves together 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.
“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.
The story until now:
Don and Dan Find God
“Dan, I am afraid I cannot hold it any longer.”
“You sure, sir? There must be a McDonald’s nearby.”
“My dear boy, first of all, McDonald’s is one of the strongest links in the chain of conspiracy, extending all the way from AppleBee’s to Outback Steakhouse. They put mind-control serums in the food, making the populace more docile. And second, I am in a state of dire urethral and bladereal emergency.”
“But where does Taco Bell figure into this?”
“Just stop, Chopin!”
I pull the grey sedan to the side of the road; the tires crunch on the gravel as we slow down. Bigote has the door open before we even come to a full stop. He unbuckles his seatbelt and attempts a flying leap out of the car—a man propelled by the force of nature—and immediately tumbles and falls, hitting his face on the open door, and then rolling into a somersault and springing to his feet. His nose is bleeding profusely and a steady stream of urine, surprisingly vigorous for an old guy like him, appears in no time. I observe all this through the rear-view mirror.
“I told you about drinking all that Diet Pepsi, sir,” I say, after getting out. “It’s a killer.”
“I would appreciate if you could maintain silence while I am in this undignified state,” he replies, the stream still going strong.
“Well I guess I’ll go, too.”
I unzip my fly and search deep down for the urine I know is lurking in the depths. I push and squeeze, and feel a tension somewhere behind my navel, and scrunch it like a sponge, trying to get all the liquid out. I am a little embarrassed of my pitiful tinkle, compared to Bigote’s mighty Niagara.
We both finish.
“Are you okay, sir?” I say, looking at the read streak of blood down his shirt and face, left by his still-bleeding nose.
“Nothing to worry about, Chopin. Blood is but the stuff of the gross material body. The soul is made of finer matter, and cannot escape through the aperture of the nose.”
“Well why don’t you plug it up anyway,” I say, and hand him the tissue stuffed in my pocket.
“Once again, I am much obliged to you,” he says, and stuffs bits of the tissue up his nose.
“So, Mr. Bigote, sir,” I say, “I hate to bring this up again, but where are we headed?”
“My most ignorant and naïve companion, for the upteenth time, we are on our way to Santiago de Compostela.”
“Which is a city?”
“It is the city where the body of St. James was discovered, making it one of Christendom’s great pilgrimage sites.”
“And what’s that to us?”
“You know, your barbarous mode of speech, and persistently philistine questions, do provoke in me great feelings of pity and, at times, rage at the conspiracy which has so debauched your mind, my most benighted squire.”
Bigote has been getting a little testy lately.
“Debitched or not, I’ve been driving for a long time, man, and we don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”
“Stuff and nonsense, Chopin. It is impossible to go and yet remain, as Isaac Newton proved.”
“Listen I don’t see what physics has to do with San Diego con Carne.”
“Santiago de Compostela.”
“Allow me to explain this in plain terms. St. James is the patron saint of Spain. He was a great inspiration for the reconquista and, it is said, actually appeared in battle to aide the Christian forces against the invading Muslims. As such, visiting the shrine dedicated to Santiago may have much to tell us in our quest against the Mexican-Muslim conspiracy.”
“Well, as long as I can get BJ’s and beers there, it should be fine.”
“I assure you, Chopin, they have every civilized amenity, including pyjamas.”
I walk back over to the driver’s side and tug on the door.
“Uh oh,” I say. “It’s locked. Try your side, sir.”
“It does not open, from which I deduce that it is locked.”
“Yeah…” I say, patting myself down, looking through my pockets. “Pretty sure I left the keys in the car.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“We’re locked out.”
“You imbecile!” Bigote said, pounding his fist on the car. “You dunce!”
He is an awfully judgmental guy for someone covered in dried blood, with red tissue coming out of his nostrils.
“Sorry about that, sir,” I say, trying my best to sound real sorry.
“Do you realize the extent to which you have put our entire operation in jeopardy by such a careless and routine oversight?”
“Well, can’t be that bad.”
“I beg to differ, knave, and to differ most hotly. For tow truck personnel are inevitably informants of the conspiracy. Indeed, nearly every individual involved in traffic violations or car repair is directly connected to the central database, which the conspirators use to track the whereabouts of their nemeses. They will find us out immediately, Chopin.”
“Guess we just got to break a window then,” I said.
“I suppose we do, Chopin. Would you like me to try?”
“Be my guest.”
I am pretty excited for what is coming next.
Bigote winds up his body like a spring, and delivers a massive karate chop to the passenger window. His boney hand bounces off with a loud ‘crack.’
“AAAAAHHH!” Bigote says, clutching his hand.
“Oh shit, sir, did you break anything?” I try to say this with a straight face.
“It is too early to tell the extent of the physical damage, Chopin. But it is safe to say that this glass is especially made to withstand assault. Try it with a hefty stone.”
“You got it,” I say, and pick up a loose piece of asphalt nearby. Then I chuck it right at the window from point-blank range. But my hand slips and the asphalt hits the door right below the window, bounces off and hits me in the nuts, sending me to the floor.
My world collapses like an accordion into a tight ball of breathless pain. All time and space disappear. I see the face of God, and He looks like my mom. I smell oil and stale beer and imagine that this is what everything must smell like when you’re dead. Then, I snap out of it a little, and find myself sprawled on the ground clutching my crotch.
“Owowowowow,” I say, when I can find my breath. “God damnit.”
“Chopin, are you alright?”
“Just dying over here, don’t worry about it.”
“These damn feminist, homosexual, gluten-free conspirators! You see, Chopin, they have infiltrated all the regulation agencies. In the past, automobile companies could use whatever grade of glass they pleased. In those days you could shatter a car window with a pebble. But in their mad quest to limit our blessed freedom, the socialists created regulations, stating that these windows must be resistant to kinetic assault. And now you see how clever they are? We are locked out of our own vehicle!”
“Well, technically we stole it,” I say. I have stopped hyperventilating now and I am struggling back to my feet.
“Hello, friends, do you need some help?”
My blood runs cold when I hear this voice. Who the hell is that?
“Why, who might you be?” Bigote says, all suspicious-like. I limp over to his side as quick as I can, hoping to prevent Bigote from shooting anyone. Remember, we still have those pistols from the dead drug runners.
“My name is Pierre,” a boy with a funny French accent says. “I see that you are having trouble with your automobile.”
He’s about my age, wearing a black backpack, a grey hoodie, some ragged jeans, and he’s holding a walking stick. He smiles and I can see that he has spotted yellow teeth.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, trying to sound menacing.
“I was walking along when I saw you two pull over to, uh, make water. I saw you had a bad accident,” he says to Bigote. “Are you alright?”
“I am an old warrior and am long immured to such trifling injuries, but it is very kind of you to ask.” I can tell from Bigote’s tone that he is contemplating something very stupid.
“Well, I see that you cannot get back into your car,” Pierre says.
“Would not you like me to help? I am an expert in these things, you know.”
“In breaking into cars?”
I look at Bigote, who eyes the Frenchie with a narrow gaze.
“Be my guest,” he says finally, after a long pause.
“But in return,” Pierre says, “I would very much like it if you would give me a ride.”
“If it is on our way,” Bigote says.
“Oh, it is on everybody’s way.”
And with this puzzling remark, Pierre whips his backpack around, and pulls out a coat hanger from the front pocket. Then he straightens it out into a little wire, leaving only the hooked end, and presses it against the little crease of the passenger door, and then wiggles it back and forth until, with a little jerk, it pops into the car. He angles the hanger so that it hooks the little doorlock knob, and gently pulls it out and up, unlocking the door. All this is done in less than thirty seconds.
“There you are!” he says, turning around and smiling.
“Very kind of you,” Bigote says, and whips out the semi-automatic pistol from his belt. But the gun flies out of his hand, dropping down on the asphalt road with a thud, going off in the process with a horrible Bang! Before I even have time to react Bigote swoops down and picks up the gun in his left hand.
“Jesus Christ, Fuck!” I say. “What the fuck was that, man?”
“Are you hit, Chopin?”
“No, man, but why did you throw the gun like that? Are you nuts?”
“It’s my right hand, Chopin. I cannot grip anything. I think I broke my fingers from trying to smash the window.”
“Oh, great. Well did you kill Jacques?”
“It’s Pierre…” he says. He threw himself on the ground when he saw the gun, and is now getting back to his feet. “And I am unharmed.”
“Get back on your feet you conspiratorial scum, and die like a man,” Bigote says. “Now, say your prayers—to Muhammad, Hillary Clinton, El Chapo, or whatever other devils you dogs pray to.”
“What is this?” Pierre says, standing and throwing his hands up. “Why are you doing this?”
“Oh, an obliging French vagrant just happened to be strolling by when our car broke down? Very convenient,” Bigote says.
“Woah, woah, woah, woah,” I say, putting a hand gently on Bigote’s arm. “Let’s not jump to conclusions, sir.”
“Chopin, I admire your impulse towards mercy, but we have everything to lose and little to gain by letting this man live. He may be innocent, but he may very well be an agent sent here for the very purpose of sabotaging us, ensnaring us in his cleverly-woven net.”
“But sir, there must be a way to tell if somebody is a genuine member of the conspiracy.”
“Well, do you have some aluminum foil and a cup of water?”
“Then we must resort to circumstantial evidence. Search his backpack, Chopin.”
“Yes, sir. Hand it here, Jacques.”
“Shut up, Napoleon.”
Pierre nervously hands the bag over, and then sticks his hands back in the air. I open up the outside pocket.
“Cigarettes, a map of Portugal, five loose condoms, insect repellent, a harmonica, and a pickle.”
“Hmmmm,” Bigote says. “Go on.”
I open the main chamber.
“A bottle of Jack Daniels, a little tin can filled with weed…”
“I see. Proceed.”
“Seven purple radishes, some sliced jalapeños, a partially eaten bag of cheetos, a frying pan, a package of bacon, a compass, three packs of cigarettes, a fork and knife, a flashlight, a plastic bag full of mushrooms, and a… a pornographic magazine.”
“And his pockets?”
Pierre scrounges in his pockets and gives me two big handfuls.
“Some gum, lots of coins, guitar picks, toothpicks, a wallet.”
“Any I.D.?” Bigote barks
“Yes, it’s in French but it says Pierre Lacrosse.”
“An entire head of garlic, some packets of salt and ketchup from McDonald’s, a few batteries, and some little blue pills, which I believe are ecstasy.”
“That is correct,” Pierre says.
“I see,” Bigote says. “Well, I think the evidence is strongly in favor of his innocence.” Bigote clicks the safety on and holsters the pistol.
“Oh, mon dieu,” Pierre says.
“How did you come to that conclusion, sir?”
“Elementary, my dear Chopin. He had a harmonica, and music is forbidden in Islam; he had bacon, a pork product; and he had alcohol, another violation of the tenets of that nefarious creed.”
“Couldn’t he have been fooling us?” I say, just to figure out how this guy’s mind works.
“He may, indeed, Chopin. I see you are learning their trickery. But the presence of a pornographic magazine cleared up any doubts. For the human body is veiled in Islam; and, besides, feminists cannot abide pornography, since it shows attractive women; and, on top of that, the gays condemn all heterosexual attraction as too ‘natural’; and, finally, vegans consider sex to be an act of animal consumption. So it is very unlikely that the conspiracy would use pornography, even for the purposes of trickery.”
“But I thought all those guys were in favor of porn, right? Like, isn’t it the rightwing people who don’t like porn?”
“Ah, now you see the brilliance of the conspiracy, Chopin. The conspiracy publicly supports porn for its degrading moral effect, but refuses to partake of it themselves. They are dastardly, and will not hesitate to bend their morality to suit their needs.”
“Boy, you sure are smart, sir,” I say. “Excuse my boss,” I then say to Pierre, in a whisper. “He’s just a little paranoid about terrorism.”
“I understand,” he says. “One can never be too careful. So, can I get that ride?”
“Of course!” Bigote says, “and please excuse me for being such an ungrateful host.” And we all pile into the car.
“So, uh, do you know where you’re going?” I say to Pierre.
“Yes, it is only a few kilometers up this road. I will tell you when to stop.”
We drive on without conversation for fifteen minutes or so. I can see Bigote out of the corner of my eye. He is twisting his head this way and that, scanning the surroundings like an alert bird. His mustache has—if this is even possible—grown still more bushy during our time on the run, and now seems to extend outward in all directions like a bramble. Pierre, meanwhile, sits in the back, whistling “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye. Seems like a chill dude.
“Stop! Stop! Here it is!” Pierre says suddenly.
“You sure, man?” I say.
I pull over to the side and we slow to a stop. I look around and see nothing, not a building, a sign, nor a driveway.
“Where are you even going?” I ask him.
“Into the forest.”
“Are you on a hiking trip?”
“Oh, no, I’m going to an ayahuasca ceremony.”
“Ayahuasca?” Bigote asks.
“Oh, sir, I think this is a wonderful opportunity!” I say, thinking fast. “Ayahuasca is a powerful tool that may help us in our fight against the conspiracy!”
I’ve always wanted to try it.
“Indeed?” Bigote says, stroking his stache.
“Oh yes,” Pierre says. “Ayahuasca can change the world.”
“Then let us go!”
“Tell me again what this ‘ayahuasca’ substance is, Chopin. I am having difficulty following your explanation.”
We are stumbling through the forest on a vaguely marked trail, following the Frenchie at a distance of a few dozen feet. He seems to know where he’s going. I am a little worried that he’s leading us into a trap or something; but both of us are packing pistols—not that I know how to shoot mine—so I am not too worried. At the very least I am taking this baguette-eating euro-hippie down with me.
“Well, sir,” I say to Bigote, trying to sound all knowledgeable-like, “the thing is, nobody really knows what ayahuasca is. The recipe was discovered by the Aztecs, but the secret was lost after all of them died, from rape and pillage and stuff like that. But it’s like this substance that lets you see reality with, like, super vision. I mean that you know all this stuff you didn’t know before. Like magic.”
“If I am following your explanation correctly, Chopin, this is a potent substance developed by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Mexico?”
“And they used it in their rituals in order to gain a higher experience of reality?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“And somehow this recipe has been recovered?”
“You see, some people escaped into the forest and kept making the stuff, even after most of their friends and family died from the rape and pillage, and nowadays people pay to be part of ceremonies where they drink some of it and go through the whole deal.”
Bigote stops dead in his tracks.
“This is brilliant, Chopin!” Bigote says, throwing his hands up in the air. “Brilliant! This is the missing piece of the puzzle!”
“The puzzle, sir?”
“Don’t you see, Chopin? This is how the Muslims and the Mexicans communicated back in the time before Columbus crossed the ocean, allowing them to coordinate their nefarious plans before Western civilization even got started off the ground.”
“Hold up a second, sir. Are you saying that the Mexicans and the Muslims were plotting all the way back then? That’s just crazy, dude.”
“It may seem insane, Chopin, but I assure you this conspiracy reaches back into the furthest depths of time. Now, admittedly it was mysterious how the Aztecs and the Muslims coordinated in the Dark Ages. But what you tell me is true, Chopin, and this drug does give you a different experience of reality, it is possible that Mexicans and Muslims could attune their minds by taking the drug simultaneously, on different parts of the globe, and thus coordinate their thoughts. Or perhaps the Muslims smoked hashish… ”
“Yes, it is a bone-chilling thought. Nevertheless, we must suppose some sort of supernatural mode of communication in order to explain the otherwise extraordinary extent of coordination between these two apparently separated cultures. But is it really so surprising? Can it really have been a coincidence that the Aztec and the Muslim empires thrived at the same moment in history? Can it be pure chance that they both subsided in power—or, to be more accurate, appeared to subside in power—as the star of Europe was rising? No, all of this is too much to be believed. What is more, can anyone honestly believe the stories of these Spanish conquistadores easily conquering whole empires with a handful of men? It’s preposterous! The whole thing has been planned from the beginning, Chopin, and in the utmost detail. Both cultures agreed to feign a decline and fall, allowing the Europeans to think that they were the dominant force, all the while plotting how to take over and destroy Western culture, while harvesting its fruits for themselves.”
I sort of spaced out halfway through this, since even for Bigote this was a big conspiratorial wad to blow. And in any case I quickly learned that if you just say “Wow!” at appropriate intervals, he is totally satisfied… I guess a lot of married-couple sex works in the same way. This is why I never want to get tied down to one girl. I mean, it’s not like there aren’t some nice, smart, attractive girls in the world. But for a whole life? Give me a break. Like, variety is the spice of life, baby. Same with friends—with family, too, now that I think about it. Got to change things up every now and then or it all gets so stale and boring, amiright? I love hot dogs, but I don’t want to eat nothing but hot dogs forever and for all time. Same thing with everything and everyone else.
I’ll hand it to Bigote, though. He drones on like nobody else, but he still manages to surprise me pretty often. He’s a special dude.
“We’re here!” Pierre says, as he holds the branches of a little bush open, as if parting the curtains. “Isn’t it lovely?”
Bigote and I catch up and peer through the brush. The ‘retreat’ isn’t a whole lot to look at. There are five smallish cabins, made of wood, all arranged around what looks like a fire pit. Some logs are on the ground, for benches I guess, and empty beer bottles and plastic bags and other trash is spread around. Looks a lot like where went to after prom, some dank place called Stone Beach, though this is a lot cleaner. Might be fun.
“Where are all the inhabitants?” Bigote says.
“Oh, they must be off on a meditation walk in the forest. Let’s go find a spot.”
We follow Pierre into one of the cabins. It’s dark inside—no lights, no lamps, and just a little window on the far end. It seems like Pierre’s been here before, since he reaches for a flashlight hanging on the wall. As he illuminates the cabin I see about five or six double-decker bunk beds. A few of them are covered in stuff—old clothes hanging off the railings, backpacks, socks and underwear and things everywhere, with some empty wine bottles and beer cans lying around.
“You guys can stay here,” Pierre says, gesturing to an empty bunk bed.
“We are much obliged,” Bigote says.
“Do you want to be on top or on bottom?” I say to Bigote.
“As a seeker of wisdom I always prefer to have the higher vantage point, from which I can take in my surroundings.”
“You sound upset, my good assistant.”
“Oh, no, I’m fine. It’s just I usually like the top.”
“An admirable impulse, Chopin, but I am afraid that your subordinate position dooms you to an inferior level of the bed.”
“But are you really the boss if you haven’t paid me yet?”
“Everything in good time, my good assistant. Have no fear, your money will come. Yet we have more pressing matters to attend to than mere fiduciary concerns. For example, my hand requires some medical attention.”
“Allow me,” Pierre says, and comes over and shines his flashlight on Bigote’s outstretched hand. It’s real ugly: His fingers are all bent and crooked and his hand is as red and swollen as a tomato.
“You really messed yourself up, man,” I say.
“Yes, I appear to have done so,” Bigote replies. “It is well that my hand has gone numb, or else the pain would be very intense. I believe I am in shock.”
“If you allow me,” Pierre says, “I can help with this.”
“What, you’re both a doctor and a car thief?” I say.
“I have some practice with both,” Pierre says. “Will you follow me?” He leads us outside and then to another cabin, where Pierre quickly locates a first-aid kit. “Wait here,” he says, goes away, and comes right back holding some little popsicle sticks.
“Let us go outside into the light so I can help you.”
We sit down on some logs that are serving as benches outside a big fire pit, full of black ashes. Pierre gets down to work, using the kindling boards as splints, one for each finger, and then wrapping the whole thing in gauze. It looks like he’s done this kind of thing before, not that I’d really know.
“So,” Bigote says, as Pierre is working. “Tell me about yourself Pierre. What brings a young Frenchman into these parts?”
“Ah, this is a long story, monsieur.”
“I do not think we are pressed for time.”
“Ok, I will tell you, since you very kindly did not kill me before.
“I am from a little town near Bordeaux, out in the countryside. I grew up on a farm along with three sisters. My mother died when we were very young, so we only had our father to take care of us. It was a simple life, a hard life. I had to wake up before dawn every morning to milk the cows. And that was not all. Since I was the only boy, he had me do everything—sowing, planting, harvesting, and all of this agricultural business. For a long time I did this and I was content.”
“The farming life is one of the most honorable and necessary professions,” Bigote says, and then winces as Pierre tightens a bandage.
“It is, for those who are made for it. But my mother was not from a farming family. She taught my eldest sister, Claudine, to read when she was young, and then Claudine taught the rest of us. Father never gave us money for books, never had any to give. But mother had left her little library in a cupboard. Father never touched them, and he told us we should not waste our time, but gradually I grew interested. I would read at night, before bed, though normally I was so tired I fell asleep after five minutes.”
“This is an inspiring story of autodidacticism! Literature can truly open our minds to new worlds!” Bigote was red in the face from pain now.
“You are right. This is what happened. I started reading a book called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and it changed everything. It opened my eyes. I realized that I was living a shallow life of conformity, working for distant capitalist masters, and that I wanted to experience new things, to really live my life for myself.”
“So what did you do?” I say.
“Well, the first thing I did was I tried to find plants I could smoke on our farm. I used my Father’s old wooden pipe and tried many different species. The corn did not work. The bean sprouts could not catch on fire. The hay burned but did nothing. Finally I found a weed growing next to the house that made me see naked women whenever I closed my eyes, and I heard voices of cats and coyotes if I cupped my ears. Naturally I began smoking it very often. But my Father caught me. He said, ‘What are you doing, Pierre, my son? This is bad for your health. Please stop.’ But I told him, no, that I was expanding my consciousness.
“He left me alone for a while after that, hoping I would stop. But I had no intention of stopping. I found another plant that, when you smoke it, you feel 100 feet tall and your mouth tastes like bee stings. I started smoking that, and soon I had given up on all that dreadful farm work. But my Father, he is very narrow-minded, very much of the old world. So he took his pipe when I was passed out in the barn, and hid it from me. I guessed it was him immediately, so when I woke up I went to him, and said, ‘Hey, old man. Give me my pipe. I’m expanding my consciousness.’
“He said, ‘My son. Look at yourself. You are becoming an addict. Why are you doing this? I love you, son, and I want life to be like the old days.’ But I just laughed at this old-fashioned nonsense, and said, ‘Dad, enough of this trash. Give me the pipe.’ But he refused. So I decided to do something really daring, really crazy, really beyond the norm, and I pushed him. I pushed him right down the stairs and he broke his hip. My sisters began screaming, cursing at me. That’s when I knew they were too conventional for me. They took the old man to the hospital, and while they were gone I packed up and left.”
“Woaaah, dude,” I say.
“Well,” Bigote says, hesitating, “I suppose your father could have been a member of the conspiracy…”
“I do not know about that,” Pierre says, “but I have been living on the road ever since, expanding my consciousness beyond all the bounds of convention. That is why I am here.”
I consider whispering to Bigote that we should skedaddle, but just then a tremendous racket pierces through the dusk. We all look over.
Coming through the forest is a parade of people—shrieking, wailing, bawling, laughing, yodeling, and in general making a big racket. There must be around 20-25. Most of them are relatively young. They are all half dressed. Even the women are topless; but I can’t say I’m really interested, partially from the fear, but also because they all have this kind of wild hippie look to them. You know, knotty hair and dirty skin. They aren’t the bathing type is what I mean. At their head is this middle-aged guy with a kind of feather headdress on, blowing a horn.
“Didn’t you say they were meditating?” I say to Pierre.
“Yes, it’s called primitive howling meditation. It’s one of Dr. Krajakat’s patented methods.”
“Hey, is that Pierre?” the headdress man says as he approaches.
“Oh, Pierre!” he says, hugging him. He has a thick Russian accent. “I’m so glad you could make it! And who are your friends?”
“Oh, this is Dan, and this is Don Bigote,” he says. “They almost killed me earlier.”
“Splendid!” the doctor says, looking at us.
“We have come to seek your wisdom and to test out this ancient technique of, uh…”
“Yes, the ancient technique of ayahuasca, in order to better understand the world we are living in,” Bigote says.
“Well, that is splendid, just splendid! You have come to the right place! In fact, we are just about to begin the ceremony!”
It’s night now. Everyone is sitting in a big circles around a bonfire. There’s a big metal cauldron on the fire that the doctor has been fussing with.
I feel bad vibes, I gotta admit. The people give me bad vibes. They are all crazy-eyed and they look like they’re the kinda people who have orgies—and not the fun kind with a bunch of hot women, but like sweaty, grimy orgies with pudgy guys involved. Also, this Doctor Crackerjack guy is always smiling, and not in a nice-to-see-you way, but in a I’ve-done-too-many-drugs way, where there’s like a crazy edge do it, you know? Like a couple more rides on the merry-go-round will send him tumbling into another dimension. Maybe it’s just me, but the vibes are there, man.
I’m sitting on a log next to Bigote, who has been oddly silent and grave. Everyone is pretty silent, really. They’re all just watching this doctor guy with his caldron. It’s like a cult, man. People are so nutty. Drugs exist just to have fun: trip out with your friends, or dance maniacally all night to electronic music. But people turn everything into a creepy religion thing. Maybe ayahuasca isn’t as cool as I thought it would be.
Finally it’s time to start. Tin cups are passed around. Then the Doctor picks up the cauldron (it’s not that big) and starts going around solemnly filling up each person’s cup. Jeez, I hope this isn’t a poison Kool-Aid situation. He pours my cup, then Bigote’s. I look down at it. It’s a murky, greenish, brownish liquid. Actually, it looks pretty familiar… Yes, it looks just like that stuff Bigote gave me on the beach that made me shit my insides out!
I look over at Bigote. He’s smiling. “It’s an ingenious concoction, don’t you think?”
That’s it. There’s no way I’m drinking this.
“Before we begin,” the doctor says gravely, after everyone is served, “I want to address some words to the people who are doing this for the first time.” He looks at us. “This is not like mushrooms or LSD. You are not merely going to hallucinate. You are not going to dream, or have a trip. You are going to be visited by Mother Ayahuasca. Now, I am not going to comment on whether this goddess is real or not, but she undoubtedly exists, and she exists to help us, her children, find peace, find happiness, and find the truth. Do not fight this process. Do not push away Mother Ayahuasca. Let her inside your heart, and she will heal you.”
Then he raises his own cup: “To her!” And everyone downs the drug. Everyone, that is, except me. I quietly poured mine into the pushes behind me.
A few minutes go by in silence. Not much happens. I’m expecting everyone to start gagging and keel over. But no, apparently it’s not cyanide. Then, about five minutes in, that’s when the moaning starts. Everyone starts to like groan and mumble, like how people do when they’re asleep and having a dream. This gets gradually louder until people start making all these weird ape-like hoots and a sort of howling sound. Meanwhile, Bigote hasn’t said a word.
Then suddenly someone stands up and shouts: “I am the king of France and you are all my subjects!”
And another: “I am emperor of all the world and I order you to make me a pyramid!”
A girl this time: “I am a living god and I demand a sacrifice!”
And then everyone gets up—except Bigote—and starts saying all this stuff. Here’s the gist of it:
“I am a devil’s child! I can breath in the sun and spit out the moon! I can fly up three million miles and back in the blink of an eye, ladies and gentlemen, and I can kick the earth off its orbit with one toe. When I’m hungry I eat asteroids and when I’m thirsty I drink the rings of saturn! Do not look at me with your naked eyes, or you will go blind. My voice is loud enough to melt brains and beautiful enough to melt hearts! My heart is a black hole and my bowels are a cosmic nebula! I am the one responsible for night and day, winter and summer, storm and snow! I rule over the boundless expanse of the universe, dictating what planets will support life, what life will go extinct, and what stars will explode. Destroying civilizations is my hobby! Yes, yes, look at me for I am the great omnipotent force that is the basis of all reality!”
This is a summary of the kind of stuff everyone started to say. I guess they really had killed their egos.
During all this, Bigote still hasn’t said anything. He’s just sitting here, staring out into space, totally silent. I’m starting to get a little worried…
“Sir?” I say. “How are you feeling?”
“I can see it now,” Bigote says, slowly and in a deep voice, like he’s hypnotized. “I can see the secret to everything.”
“The secret to everything? What is it?”
“Everything… is… opposite…” he says, and then falls backwards off the log like a stone—dead asleep.
(Continued from Chapter 2.)
Don and Dan go to Spain
August 3, 2017
“When Christopher Columbus made his epochal voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, vastly expanding the reach of Western civilization, he kept a diary of his voyage, like so many other great explorers have. And now that we, Dan, are retracing the same voyage, I think it is incumbent upon us to emulate that great man.”
“My teacher said Columbus was a genocidal maniac.”
“Oh, Chopin,” Bigote said. “How many times must I tell you? Everything you learned in school was a lie, meant to bolster the great conspiracy.”
So here I am, sitting on a boat a few dozen miles off the coast of Florida, writing this ship’s diary thingy. The boat we’re on is a cargo frigate. Since flying to Spain didn’t pan out, Bigote decided to hitch a ride in a transport ship.
“Why didn’t I think of it before?” he said. “How could I be so dull? Of course the conspiracy would impede us from flying! And though flight is one of our great Western inventions, the sea is far more integral to our history. Thus, as the preserver of our great European heritage and culture, it behooves me to experience this primordial experience firsthand.”
And so on. There’s definitely a downside to this plan, though. Going by boat meant we didn’t have to leave behind Bigote’s shitty old pickup truck, but could take it with us on the ship. It is sitting in a container on deck. That piece of crap will follow us to the ends of the earth.
So what should I report? The sea is… blue. There are waves. The wind blows a little. My room is small and uncomfortable. The sailors live down the hall. They aren’t exactly the typical image of hard-boiled sailors. Some of them are pudgy and bald. Others are nearly as skinny as Bigote. There are even a few women sailors—though not pretty ones.
Bigote is in the cabin next to mine. But he’s spent almost the whole time so far on deck, looking out into the ocean, and saying profound things like “The infinite vast expanse of primordial deep” or “The mother element from which we sprang” and similar things. He also told me to “keep an eye for the varieties of marine life as manifested in this voyage, for they have inspired both great works of literature and profound works of scientific analysis.”
Well, I’ve seen some seagulls and pelicans. That’s all for now.
Yeah, so I haven’t been writing in this the last couple days, since nothing is happening. I am bored out of my fucking mind on this boat. In the movies it’s so romantic and adventurous, but in reality it’s just water—on and on and on, and then some more water. With some clouds thrown in. The boat is so big that it doesn’t even feel like you’re at sea. Sometimes I even forget I’m on a boat, until I reach the end of it and realize that, yes, I’m trapped here.
It just sucks. There are no girls—none worth speaking of, anyways. I thought that the sailors would know how to throw a party, but when I sat down at their table after dinner they were all just quietly playing cards. There were hardly even drinking. So I just grabbed some beers and went off to my room, hoping to at least get a mild buzz before bed. But about three beers in I realized that it was all non-alcoholic. What kind of a boat is this?
Yesterday I was so bored that I tried to see how many times I could jack off in one day. The answer is four and a half. And even that got boring after a little while. I’m so bored I even considered having a conversation with Bigote. I bet he has a little bourbon snuck away in his bags. But that old streetlamp has been holed up in his room the last few days. Whenever I peek in he’s pouring over maps or lost in a book, with papers sprawled all over the floor.
“I am planning our routes of travel and exploration once we get to the continent,” he told me. “For we must employ our time industriously. There are many things we must research in the brief interval between our arrival and the impending catastrophe. Education, technology, philosophy, science—the scope of our precious Western culture, so perilously threatened, is vast and deep!”
I shut the door and went back to my room.
Anyways today finally something happened. The captain invited us to his private cabin for dinner. He’s sort of a swarthy fellow with a well-trimmed white beard. He wears this stupid-looking blue cap and a white suit. Very spiffy.
“So what brings you two to Europe, in any case?” he asked, as he was cutting his lamb chop.
“I’m afraid our task, such as it is, is shrouded in secrecy,” Bigote said, gravely.
“Secrecy, eh?” the captain said. “You guys working for the CIA or something?”
“The CIA? Absurd!” Bigote spouted. “They are the last people I would be working for!”
The captain scrunched up his eyes a bit.
“So, are you like a terrorist or something?” he said, grinning slightly.
“If ‘terrorist’ is a name for somebody violently opposed to the current order of things, then, yes, I am a terrorist.”
The captain sat up straighter and eyed Bigote narrowly. Then, deciding that such a silly-looking person could hardly be any danger, slapped him on the back.
“Or something like that, in any case,” he said.
“Oh,” Bigote said, evidently pleased. “I forgot, I brought a gift for the table.” And like some kind of magician he pulled a bottle of wine out of his sleeve.
“It’s an excellent vintage, I assure you,” Bigote said, laying it on the table.
“Oh no, oh no, I’m afraid I don’t drink,” the captain said. “But thanks for the thought. You two are welcome, of course.”
Bigote seemed surprised. He leaned back in his chair and stared hard at the captain, who was engaged with a potato. Meanwhile I grabbed the bottle, yanked it open, and poured myself a big glassful.
“This is really good!” I said.
“It is, indeed,” Bigote said, gravely. “Is the captain certain he wouldn’t like some?”
“Oh yeah, I don’t drink wine or something, in any case,” the captain said.
“How strange…” Bigote murmured to himself.
I could tell that Bigote would muck things up if I allowed him to go on, so I decided to cut in.
“So, cap, what you got on this ship?”
“Oh, it changes every trip, in any case. But usually we have at least a few shipments of cars, some electronics like smart phones and computers, something like that, and some other consumer products like shampoos and soaps and makeup, something along those lines, and also we have been taking across lots of beer and spirits, lately, in any case.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, lighting up.
“Yes, we got about 15,000 containers or something on the main deck.”
“And who takes care of all that stuff?”
“You mean, like guard or or something like that?” the captain said. “Well, nobody really. It’s not like there’s anywhere to go, in any case.”
He laughed to himself while Bigote continued in his weird, gloomy silence. I don’t know what Bigote is up to, but I had an idea. It is 11:15 pm at the moment, and when I’m finished writing this I am going to get my hands on some of that beer the ship is carrying over.
What a fucking night. I have a hangover so bad it could kill a purebred stallion. It’s past noon and I just woke up. So here’s what happened.
The captain was right. Nobody guards or watches the containers on deck. It’s totally empty out there. The containers are just sitting in giant stacks, with narrow passageways between them. It’s like walking through a labyrinth with giant walls. Pretty claustrophobic. Obviously I could only reach the containers on deck level. They were closed, of course, but opening them wasn’t tricky. There’s a big bolt you need to pull out and the door swings open. I tried to do it as quietly as possible but the old rusty things makes a clanky, creaky sound no matter what you do.
As soon as I figured I was safely far away, I opened one at random. It had a few cars in it—boring ones, hybrid sedans. The next one had piles of laptops. My laptop is kinda old so I made a note of this one. I went on like this, opening and closing the containers, until I began to give up hope of ever finding what I sought. Finally after about half an hour I unbolted one door and slowly pushed it open. I shined my phone inside and—behold!—beer! Stacks of it!
But the next thing I knew I was flat on my back with a sharp something pressed against my throat. Someone had tackled me and was pressing me to the ground. A sweaty hand was covering my mouth, preventing me from screaming. I looked up to see the face of one of the sailors—a mild, doughy man with a bald head. His eyes were wide with fear and he was holding a screwdriver to my neck.
“Who the fuck are you?” he hissed in the darkness.
“Mmmm, hmmm, hmmm,” I said through his hand.
“What?” he said.
“Mmmm nnnnn mmmm,” I said.
“Oh right, my hand,” he said. “I’m gonna move it, but don’t you fucking scream or I’ll shove this into your neck.” He moved his hand from my mouth.
“I’m sorry, I was lost,” I said.
“Well what are you doing here?”
“Uh, nothing,” he said.
“Yeah, me too.”
“Alright,” I said. “I was looking for beer.”
“Seriously, the crap they serve in the cafeteria has no alcohol.”
“Who are you?” he said, relaxing his grip a little.
“I’m one of the passengers.”
“You with that tall guy with the crazy mustache?”
“Yeah he’s my boss.”
“So you’re not searching for thieves?”
“I am a thief myself.”
“Well, fuck man,” he said, finally getting off me. “You scared me shitless.”
“Me too,” I said, and got up. “Were you actually going to murder somebody? I mean, how could you have gotten away with it? We’re on a ship, dude.”
“I guess I didn’t think it through,” he said. “It’s just, my momma always taught me not to trust strangers who come round at night. Well, you want a drink?”
“I need one now.”
I walked into the cargo container. There was some space near the entrance where I could sit down on some of the beer boxes. On the floor were six or seven empty cans.
“Here,” he said and handed me one. “My name is Francis, by the way. My momma named me after her pa.”
“Dan,” I said.
“You can drink here—but don’t tell anyone.”
“Why would I do that?”
I cracked the beer open and began to drink. It wasn’t cold and it wasn’t good but it was alcoholic. He grabbed one, too, and started gulping it down. We drank in silence for a while, both of us chugging. I was pretty jolted up from the whole attack thing and I didn’t want to risk provoking this crazy guy again. A big part of me wanted to go, but beer is beer, and here was beer.
About five beers deep I noticed Francis was making some funny noises. It sounded like gargled words. Oh boy, I thought, this guy is really nuttier than Bigote. But then I listened and I realized that he was sobbing. Jesus Christ what a night. I tried to ignore it but it was kinda messing with my head, hearing some guy crying while I was trying to relax and drink. Finally I couldn’t take it.
“You alright, dude?” I said.
“I’m fine,” he choked.
“Sounds like you’re crying.”
“Yeah I’m crying.”
“So is this something you do when you’re fine?”
“Not usually,” he said.
“It’s… it’s just… it’s about a girl.”
“Her name’s Leslie. She’s on this ship.”
I mentally went over the female sailors on this ship. There were two, possibly three candidates. I shuddered.
“What about her?”
“She’s just, so, so beautiful. She reminds me so much of how my momma looked when I was a kid.”
“I bet she does… So what’s the problem?”
“I’ve been working with her for months now, and she hardly noticed me.”
“Maybe she’s married?”
“No, she had a fling with one of the other guys.”
“So what’s your problem?”
“I try to talk to her, you know at meals and in the halls and stuff, but she just blows me off when a few words. Barely even looks in my direction. Oh, my momma always told me that I’d never find a girl like her! And now I did, but she doesn’t like me!”
“Just go for someone else, bro. Like, probably there are some nicer looking girls on shore.”
“Maybe to you. But to me she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Those arms… those legs… her anchor tattoo. It drives me wild.”
I gagged a little. But a bro is a bro and you’ve got to do what you can to help.
“Alright, Francis. Here’s my advice.”
“Pfft, what do you know? You’re just some kid.”
“I don’t know Leslie but I do know a thing or two about getting laid.”
“Ah, even if you do, it’s no use. My momma always told me that I wasn’t ever gonna find a girl to marry me. Said I cry too much.”
“Shut up and listen. You need to spike her drink.”
“What?!” he said. “I’m not a rapist, man. My momma taught me to respect women.”
“No, no, no,” I said. “You tell her you’re going to do it.”
“The captain doesn’t give you guys alcohol, right? So take a bottle or two of liquor from one of these crates, tell her you snuck it on board, offer to pour a little in her drink in the mess hall, but only if she agrees not to tell anybody. That way you two have a little secret.”
“Then you give her a compliment. But, like, a low key one. Like you don’t want to come off desperate, you feel me?”
“Tell her she has nice eyes?”
“No, man, that’s so cliché. Tell her she has really good teeth.”
“I think some of them are fake.”
“Perfect then. Give her the booze, tell her that, and she’ll be like putty in your palm.”
“It sounds skeevy, man. My momma always said alcohol is the sweat of the devil’s back, and that ain’t no good ever came of it. My pop died of it, you know, drank up all his money and then finally kicked the bucket, and my momma always told me I should never drink on any account or the same thing would happen to me, no doubt about it. But I get so sad and lonely when I’m out here on this ocean. Damn stupid boat. The only reasons I became a sailor is because my momma said it would toughen me up.”
“You really like to whine, Francis.”
“Oh, that’s what old ma always says.”
“Well, why don’t you try my plan and see what happens? You don’t have much to lose.”
“Screw it,” he said, sitting up a little straighter. “I guess it’s worth a shot. Mamma always said you couldn’t get nowhere in life without a little risk.”
“And listen, Francis, when you talk to Leslie, try not to mention your mom.”
We went on drinking for a while after that, but I don’t really remember too well what we talked about. Anyways, tonight at dinner he’s supposed to try out my plan. I guess we’ll see what happens.
As I predicted, the plan went off a hitch. Not many people can resist the combination of free alcohol and smooth compliments. That Leslie woman couldn’t, at least. I watched Francis at work from across the room. Bigote and I have our own table in the mess hall, on the other side of the room from the sailors. But yesterday Bigote didn’t come to dinner for some reason, so it was just me, eating like some sad pathetic loser, all alone on my side. Well, at least I had some liquor that I took from one of the containers—so I felt pretty cozy pretty fast.
Francis is not a handsome sight in any lighting or at any hour of the day—and neither his his lady for that matter—and the way he acts is dopier than a suicidally depressed poodle. Trying to watch him sweet-talk this woman, as he stuttered and mumbled and shifted uncomfortably, was sometimes too much to take. But it was also kind of morbidly fascinating, like watching those nature documentaries about snakes and eels mating. Also, I have to admit that it’s nice to see my pickup tricks even work in this challenging situation.
I finished eating and left, since I didn’t wait to see any more beastiality. I figured I better check on Bigote before bed. But when I went down to his cabin and knocked on the door, there wasn’t any answer. Finally I just opened the door; but the room was empty, except for the usual books and papers and crap all over the place. I checked the bathroom to see if he got food poisoning or something, but no Bigote there either. I considered just going to sleep. But that guy really can’t be trusted on his own. So I decided to walk around a bit to see if I could find him.
Five minutes later I ran into Bigote standing on deck, leaning on the railing, looking out at the ocean. Strange thing, even for him. It was already dark so there was basically nothing to see, not that there was much during the day. Plus, it was cold and sort of rainy.
“Yo,” I said.
“Is that you, Chopin?”
“Yeah. Watcha doing?”
“I am contemplating the infinite expanse of the sea.”
“But you can’t see it.”
“The pressure of the wind and waves conveys to me a sense of endlessness that I find quite soothing. It is one of man’s most ancient sensations. Inklings of divinity came to us from the deep waters.”
“Seems like it’d still be better during the day.”
“Imagine what it would be like, Chopin, to be an explorer on this ocean. Night and day would come and go, the wind and the rain and the sun would alternate in the heavens above, and the vast blue would reveal no clue of what lay beyond. It is one of the Western mind’s greatest attributes: that yearning towards infinity, the urge to go beyond the bounds of knowledge.”
“Seems kinda boring to me. You sit on a boat for a few months and finally you find land that isn’t any better than the one you left. Probably it’s worse since you don’t know anyone there.”
“Enough of this babbling, Chopin. I must confide something to you.”
“Is there anyone around?”
I looked left, right, behind.
“Good. Well, Chopin, I am beginning to suspect that we are, even now, in the clutches of the conspiracy.”
“Yes, it is a grim possibility. But some actions of the captain have excited my suspicion, which has only grown upon subsequent observation.”
“Oh that captain guy? Yeah he’s sort of lame.”
“I did not notice any physical deformities, if that is what you are referring to, Chopin. But I am almost entirely convinced that our captain is, indeed, a Muslim.”
“It is a frightening possibility. But I have reason to think it is true.”
“Because he has a beard?”
“No, Chopin, many good and honest men are bearded. But the fact that he refused my wine was my first clue. He does not partake of alcohol.”
“That’s why I don’t like him.”
“Not only that, Chopin, but we ate lamb in his cabin. And we have not once been served any pork aboard this ship.”
“There’s bacon in the morning,” I offered.
“A diversion,” Bigote said. “Most importantly, Chopin, when I tried to subtly follow the captain’s routine, tracing his daily movements, I lost track of him several times during the day as he retreated to his quarters. These times corresponded exactly to the customary times of prayer in Islam.”
“So what if he’s, like, a very busy former alcoholic who doesn’t like pork chops?”
“Just listen to yourself! What are the chances of that? No, no, by far the most obvious conclusion is that he is a member of that powerful sect. If so, this would mean that the global conspiracy might already be aware of our movements. Think about it, Chopin. We might be headed right into a trap!”
“Wow this is some heavy stuff, dude. But try to calm down a little. I mean, we don’t know anything for sure, right?”
“That is correct. We must, however, take action quickly if we are to head off this disaster. I will soon make a decisive test to see if he is or is not part of this nefarious conspiracy. And if he is, we must strike without mercy, or suffer disaster.”
“It’s something I found on the internet after years of research. A foolproof test to determine whether somebody is a Muslim-Mexican-feminist in disguise. You see, members of the conspiracy have microscopic magnets implanted into their bodies, which they use in their global tracking device to coordinate their actions. Now, this magnetic attraction is much too faint to be picked up by ordinary compases. But a specially prepared strip of aluminum foil, floating in a cup of water, will inevitably turn towards these dastardly conspirators.”
“Listen, Bigote, with all due respect, I think this is a big mistake.”
“I mean, how can this work? The little piece of metal might turn in any direction!”
“Skepticism is a healthy habit of mind, Chopin, and I commend you for it. Yet this technology is tested and true. There is no doubting the results.”
“But you can’t trust everything you read on the internet, man.”
“You are no doubt correct. But the principal involved in this device goes back all the way to Archimedes, who used a similar contraption to identify disguised Persians.”
I opened my mouth but thought better of it. There is simply no talking sense into a guy like this. The best I could hope for was to stall him until we got to Spain, which would be in just three days.
“Alright,” I said finally. “I trust you. Just make sure to let me know before you do anything. I want to be by your side in your fight against the, uh, conspiracy.”
“You have my word,” Bigote said. “And now it seems we should both retire to our rest.”
Later last night, after Bigote went to bed, I snuck off to the beer container again. Francis was there already.
“Dan!” he said, already feeling it a bit. “You’re a genius! I got Leslie’s number!”
“Dude, you guys work on the same ship.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s true. But also she said she wants to drink with me again tonight. Oh, my momma would be so proud! I can’t wait till I can see the look on her face when I tell her that her boy Francis finally found a woman!”
“I’m happy for you, bro. Let’s have a toast.”
We clinked our cans together, downed the contents, and crumpled the cans.
“I really owe you,” he said, his voice cracking a little. “This is the best thing that ever happened to me. Better even than when my mom hired a clown for my seventh birthday party. I can’t never repay you.”
“Actually,” I said, “I do have a little problem you can help me with.”
“Well, you know that guy who I work for?”
“You mean the big old man with the big old mustache?
“Yeah, him. So he’s a little crazy.”
“What, like, he hears voices or something?”
“No, no, it’s not that. Much worse than that. He thinks the captain is a Muslim.”
“Captain Wellington? Why?”
“Because he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t let anyone else drink.”
“Well, the captain has the same affliction that took off my old man. He’s a drinker. Almost crashed a ship a few years ago, was so far gone. But your friend thinks he’s a Muslim? Does he have a problem with Muslims? I mean, my momma doesn’t like Muslims, neither, but she also says you gotta let other people live their own lives, since meddling never gets you nowhere.”
“Like I said, he’s crazy. Also a little racist. Also a little islamophobic. Point is we need to stop him from doing anything bad.”
“What’s he gonna do?”
“He has a gun.”
“Holy cow, man,” Francis said. “What can we do about that?”
“Here’s my idea. Tomorrow, after breakfast, I’m going to try to distract him. Keep him busy in the mess hall. Meanwhile, you sneak down to his room, look for his gun, and take it someplace safe.”
“Alright, sounds good to me. Do you know where he keeps it?”
“Just look everywhere.”
I drank a couple more beers and went to bed. Didn’t want to be too hungover in the morning.
I got up at the usual time, around eight, and made my way over to the mess hall. I already knew how I was going to keep Bigote distracted long enough for Francis to take the gun. Just take a map of Europe and ask him about his plans once we arrived. The only risk was that Bigote hadn’t left his gun in the room, but was carrying it with him. But I thought that was unlikely since we usually had breakfast in our pyjamas.
Normally the mess hall was already full when I arrived. But today it was completely empty. The lights were on and some of the chairs were pulled out, and there was food in the kitchen. But no cooks and no sailors. And no Bigote. Oh shit.
Suddenly one of the doors was pushed open.
“Dan!” It was Francis. “Jesus, man, you have to come with me!”
“What is it?”
He was already running down the hallway, and I followed. We climbed some stairs and then some more. Finally we reached the cockpit.
“Your boss,” he said. “He’s in there with the captain. He’s holding him hostage.”
“Oh shit, oh shit,” I said. “This can’t keep happening!”
I pushed the door open and went inside.
“Chopin!” Bigote said. “Thank heavens you’re here!”
Bigote was standing in the middle of the cockpit. He was clutching his revolver and pointing it at the captain, who was standing at the wheel. A group of sailors were crowded on the other side of the room, watching anxiously.
“I used the detecting device, Chopin. It pointed straight at him! My suspicions were correct!”
“Wow, that’s serious,” I said, playing along. “So what’s the plan?”
“I am afraid we are in somewhat dire straits, if you will pardon the nautical pun. As you can see I have this diabolical wretch here at my mercy, and I have instructed him to take us to Cádiz, an ancient Christian port. Doubtless it was his plan to deposit us in a Muslim country, Morocco probably.”
“This guy is crazy or something like that!” the poor captain yelped.
“Quiet, you!” Bigote barked.
“As usual, you’re acuteness astounds me,” I said. “But may I make one suggestion?”
“Of course, my faithful assistant.”
“Having all these sailors in the room is dangerous. I think we should get them out of here.”
“Capital idea, Chopin!”
“You heard the man!” I shouted. “Everyone out or he’s going to blow this infidel captain’s brains out!”
I walked towards the sailors, with my back turned to Bigote, and gave a conspicuous wink while waving them out of the room.
“Wait here, sir,” I said to Bigote. “I’m going to make sure they keep their distance.”
“I would truly be lost without you, Chopin!”
Out in the hallway I rushed them out of earshot of the cockpit.
“This guy is out of his mind!” one of them said.
“What do we do?” another hissed.
“Uh, lemme think, lemme think… do you guys, like, a stun gun or any weapon?”
“This is a cargo ship, man.”
“Hmm. But aren’t there usually, like, flare guns on ships? I usually see them in movies.”
“In the lifeboats there are some flare guns.”
“And what would happen if you shot someone with one?”
“I mean, if you were close enough it could knock someone over. But what are we gonna do?—have a shootout? I mean, that guy has a real, actual gun.”
“But maybe if we caught him by surprise,” I said. “Could that work?”
“How would we do that?”
“I’m thinking, at night, when it’s dark and he’s tired.”
“There are lights, though.”
“Can you turn them off?”
“Yeah, we could!” one said. “With the main circuit board.”
“Then I think we have our plan.”
Here’s what happened.
After making the plan I went back to the cockpit with Bigote, who raved on and on about the evil conspiracy while the poor captain stood shaking at the wheel. The day seemed to drag on endlessly with Bigote waving his gun and his mustache around in all directions. Finally the sun began to sink. At around seven it was properly dark. At 7:30, as planned, the lights shut off.
“What, what’s this?” Bigote said in the darkness. and turned to the captain. “What’s going on?”
“I have no idea or anything like that.” the captain said. “Maybe a circuit broke or something.”
“You feminist scum!” Bigote screamed. “This is some kind of trick, isn’t it?”
“I swear I don’t know, in any case.” the captain said, shrinking as Bigote stuck the gun at his face. “Please, point that thing somewhere else or something.”
“I’ll point it where I damn where please, which is usually at global-warming hoaxers like you!”
“Hey, why don’t I go see what’s going on?” I said.
“I have grave misgivings about this,” Bigote said. “I fear the crew may be planning an attack.”
“Well, if they do anything funny, just shoot the captain,” I suggested.
“Of course, my dear Chopin.”
The captain gave an audible whimper.
“I’ll be back in five minutes.”
“May the spirits of our illustrious ancestors guide you.”
Out in the hall one of the sailors was there waiting, ready with the flare gun. He was chosen because he said he took shooting lessons as a kid. A couple other guys were there, too, ready to rush Bigote.
“He’s standing in the same spot,” I told him. “Next to the wheel, to the left.”
After waiting some time I went back to the door and opened it.
“I’m back, sir. They said it was a circuit and they’re working on it.”
“Ah, what a relief to hear your voice,” Bigote said.
Standing right behind me, invisible in the darkness, was the armed sailor. I felt him aim the gun towards Bigote’s voice, and quickly got out of his way.
“So tell me again about the plan?” I said.
“Well first, my dear Chopin—”
Suddenly the cabin erupted in a bright red light. The flare fizzed across the room towards Bigote. But—it missed!—just grazing his right shoulder.
“What the devil!” he said, jumping away. But the flare had ignited the shoulder pad of his smoking jacket, which was now aflame.
“Help! help!” he yelped, running around the cockpit. “Chopin, get this jacket off of me!”
“Yes, sir!” I said, running up to him. The orange flames of his jacket were the only light in the cabin. I ripped off the sleeve that was not on fire but I couldn’t get the jacket off his right side, since he was firmly holding onto his gun.
“Drop the pistol, man!”
“I can’t, Chopin!”
The flames were quickly spreading down his arm towards his hand.
“Drop the damn gun, you fool!”
“This is my eternal right and duty!”
Finally I pulled on his jacket so hard that I jerked the gun onto the floor. As soon as the captain saw he started shouting.
“The gun, the gun, he dropped the gun! Get him or something!”
With this the sailors rushed into the room. Bigoted dashed for the pistol but, thank god, the sailors got to him first and pinned him to the ground.
“No, no, no! We’re doomed! I’m so sorry!”
As instructed, Francis came in too and pretended to tackle me, so Bigote wouldn’t know I was in on it (I gotta cover both sides of my ass).
“They got us, sir! They got us!” I yelled.
“Throw him in the brig or something!” the captain barked. “Throw that madman in the brig, in any case!”
“What a day, eh?” I said to Francis that night. We were back in the container, drinking beer.
“Yeah, man. How did you meet that guy?”
“He was my neighbor.”
“Say, what’s gonna happen to him?”
“Oh, you know, same thing that happened to my Uncle Bob. They’ll throw him in jail for attempted murder. He tried to kill his ex-wife, you know, but he botched it up by forgetting to load the gun.”
“Ah,” I said. “About that. I kinda need my boss to, like, not be in prison.”
“Well it ain’t gonna happen now,” Francis said. “That man is jailbound. I think the Spanish coast guard will come and pick him up.”
“I mean, he totally deserves that, but… he’s my boss and there is no way he’s going to pay me from prison.”
“What do you expect, Dan? My momma always says that not enough people are put in jail, and half the world would be in there if they got what was coming to them.”
“Oh, of course this is what I expect. But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out another option.”
“What does that mean?”
“I mean we need to break him out, man.”
“Are you out of your mind?!” he said, spitting out his beer melodramatically.
“You owe me.”
“But why on earth would you want to set a man like that free? He could have killed all of us.”
“Listen, I got him under control. Don’t I?”
“I can’t do this, man, it’s just not right. If I got put in jail my mom would die right to death, that’s what she tells me.”
“Oh, is this it?” I said, acting hurt. “Is this how you’re gonna treat your friend, the one who helped you get your dream girl?”
“Don’t do that, man, don’t say that.”
“Is this the repayment I get for my kindness?”
“But we’re on a boat, man, where are you gonna go?”
“Put me on one of those lifeboats.”
“It’s just not right, man.”
“Look. When are we arriving in Spain?”
“I think the captain said tomorrow morning.”
“And I guess the cops are coming as soon as you guys get there?”
“I guess so.”
“So that means we’ve got to go tonight.”
“If they catch me helping you they’ll throw me in jail! And my momma told me never, ever, ever to break no law, since I’m not bright enough to get away with it.”
“Well, didn’t she tell you to stand by your friends?”
“So let’s go.”
“Okay, wait, just hold on and let me think.”
“It’s, what, around two now?”
“At four is when hardly anyone will be awake. That’s when you should go, if you want the best chance of getting away. Here are my keys. If anyone ever catches you, say you found them on the ground. I would go with you but… Oh, Dan I have a bad, bad feeling about doing this.”
“Don’t worry, man, I’m no snitch. How will we get to land?”
“All the lifeboats have a compass, maps, and some food—you know, survival stuff. There’s a switch thingy that lets you lower it into the water from inside the boat. You should be all set.”
“Thanks, Francis. Now I owe you one.”
“Just don’t get me in trouble, and we’re even.”
It is now three in the morning and I’m sitting in my room—waiting. I’ve already packed my and Bigote’s things into one of the boats. The weather is not too bad. According to Francis we should get to the shore by around noon tomorrow, if we go the right way and don’t capsize. To be honest I’m not very excited about this plan. The only time I rowed a boat was in summer camp in the eighth grade. But there is one good thing about this plan: At least we’ll leave behind that damn pickup truck. So much for this ship’s diary thing. Wish us luck.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One time there was a bull and his name was not Ferdinand and he cared nothing for flowers.
Hemingway’s reputation precedes him: a misogynistic, alcoholic, macho author whose maximum sentence length was five words. Given all this, it is difficult to understand why feminist, vegetarian, and highbrow folks often end up reading and enjoying his work—as I’ve seen happen. Clearly there is more to Hemingway than his myth; but separating the man from his reputation is especially difficult in his case, since the myth, however simplifying, has a substantial grain of truth.
The best place to begin this disentanglement may be his short stories. Hemingway was an excellent writer of short stories, perhaps even better than he was a novelist, and these stories display his style in concentrated form. More than that, the succession of tales allows the reader to see Hemingway in all his favorite attitudes, which makes this an ideal place for the critic to set to work.
The most conspicuous aspect of Hemingway’s writing is his style. He was, above all, a stylist; and his prose has probably been the most influential of the previous century. He uses simple words and avoids grammatical subordination; instead of commas, parentheses, or semicolons he simply uses the word “and.” The final affect is staccato, lean, and blunt: the sentences tumble forward in a series of broken images, accumulating into a disjointed pile. The tone is deadpan: neither rising to a crescendo nor ascending into lyricism. One imagines most lines read in a monotone.
On the level of story and structure, too, Hemingway is a stylist. He developed characteristic ways of omitting material and splicing scenes to disorient the reader. Between two lines of conversation, for example, many minutes may have elapsed. Characters typically talk around the issue, only eluding vaguely to the principle event that determined the story, thus leaving readers to grasp at straws. The most famous example of this may be “Hills Like White Elephants,” a sparse conversation between a couple in which they make (or don’t) a decision to do something (or other).
Hemingway’s most typical plot strategy is to fill a story with atmospheric descriptions and seemingly pointless conversations until everything suddenly explodes right before the end. My favorite example of this is “The Capital of the World,” which is hardly a story at all until the final moments. His protagonists (who are, to my knowledge, exclusively male) are most often harboring some traumatic memory and find themselves drifting towards the next traumatic event that ends the narrative. The uncomfortable darkness surrounding their past creates an anxious sense of foreboding about their future (which the events usually justify)—and this is how Hemingway keeps up the tension that gets readers to the end.
Hemingway is certainly not a writer of characters. An experiment will make this very clear. Read the dialogue of any of his protagonists out loud, and even Hemingway fans will have difficulty saying who is doing the talking. In short, all of his protagonists sound the same—like Hemingway himself. You might say that Hemingway had one big character with many different manifestations. Luckily this character is compelling—damaged but tough, proud but sensitive, capable of both callousness and tenderness—and, most important, highly original. A much underappreciated aspect of this character, by the way, is the humor. Hemingway had a dry and occasionally absurdist comedic sense, which can be seen most clearly in this collection in “The Good Lion” (a story about a lion who only eats Italian food).
His stories circle tightly around the same subjects: war, boxing, bullfighting, fishing, hunting, and desperate love affairs—with alcohol ever-present. Without doubt Hemingway was attracted to violence. But he is not a Tarantino, an aficionado of the aesthetics of violence. Rather, violence for Hemingway is not beautiful in itself but a kind of necessary crucible to reduce life to its barest elements. For with life, like prose, Hemingway was a minimalist and a purist. And the essential question of life, for him, was what a man did when faced with an overpowering force—whether this came in the form of a bull, a marlin, a war, or nature itself. And the typical Hemingway response to this conundrum is to go down swinging with a kind of grim resolve, even if you’d rather just not bother with the whole ordeal.
Nature plays an interesting double role in Hemingway’s fiction: as adversary and comforter. Sometimes characters escape into nature, like Nick Adams going fishing. Other times they must face it down, like Francis Macomber with his buffalo. Yet nature is never to be passively enjoyed, as a bird watcher or a naturalist, but must always be engaged with—as either predator or prey. Of course you always end up being the prey in the end; that’s not the question. The question is whether these roles are performed with dignity—bravery, resolve, skill—or without. Writing itself, for him, is a kind of hunting, a hunting inside of yourself for the cold truth, and must also be done bravely or the writer will end up producing rubbish. And even the writer ends up prey in the end—eaten by his own demons.
This, as far as I can tell, is Hemingway’s insistent theme—the central thread that ties his other interests together. And one’s final reaction to his work will thus rest on the extent to which one thinks that this view encapsulates reality. For me, and I believe for many, Hemingway at his best does capture an essential part of life, one that is usually missed or ignored. But such a universally cannibalistic world is difficult to stomach in large doses.
Even within the boundaries of his own style, Hemingway has some notable defects. He most often gets into trouble nowadays for his portrayal of women. And it is true that none of them, to my memory, are three-dimensional. What most puts me off is the cloyingly subordinate way that many of the women speak their partners. But what I found even more uncomfortable was Hemingway’s racist treatment of black characters, which was hard to take at times. And as I mentioned in another review, I can also do with fewer mentions of food and drink.
These criticisms are just small sample of what can be lodged at him. Yet even the harshest critic, if they are a sensitive reader, must admit that he is a writer who cuts deeply. When Hemingway’s story and his style hit their stride, the effect is powerful and unforgettable. My personal favorite is the paragraphs in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” when the narration switches to the lion’s point of view:
Macomber stepped out of the curved opening at the side of the front seat, onto the step and down onto the ground. The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some super-rhino. There was no man smell carried toward him and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side. Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach.
(Continued from Chapter 1.)
Don and Dan Take a Flight
Next Monday, as usual, I walk in Bigote’s front door. Also as usual, I’m hungover. I’m wearing sunglasses and everything is still too bright, it’s a quiet morning but the birds chirping nearby are deafening. My stomach feels like it’s full of acidic foam, and I have a crappy taste in my mouth that won’t go away no matter how much water I drink or how many times I spit, and every once in a while something shifts uncomfortably in my intestines. And do I regret a thing?
Bigote’s place is even messier than usual. A book is splayed open on the floor, right in front of the door, so I accidentally kick it as I walked in.
“Fuck!” I say, bending down over my stubbed toe. “Fuck, shit, bitch!”
I was wearing flip flops, and the book was one of those big hard-cover tombstone books that nobody reads, so my toe hurt. A lot.
“Fucking shit,” I say, as I flip the offending book to see its title. It’s called The Decline of the West. Of course.
“Dan, is that you?” comes a voice from the kitchen.
“Yes, it’s fucking me. Why don’t you clean up your damn house when you know people are coming over?”
“Sorry, Dan, I can’t quite hear you from out there. Would you mind coming over here? I have something cooking, and the crackling oil is causing quite a ruckus.”
I come into the kitchen. Don Bigote is stooped over a frying pan, spectacles down on his nose, a grease-stained cookbook by his side, surrounded by dirty measuring cups, a ripped open bag of sugar, an empty carton of milk, and of course his mustache thoughtfully standing guard over the whole scene.
“I thought that I would prepare some breakfast for you, in thanks for getting me out of that perilous situation last Friday.”
“Uh, oh yeah, cool.”
“It’s just finished!” he says, and begins scrapping the contents of the frying pan onto some plates nearby. He walks over and puts one in front of me. It’s full of bacon burnt to a crisp and a rubbery fried egg.
“You needed a cookbook for this?” I say.
“Oh, forget it,” I say, and take a big bite of the carbon meat.
“Is this in reference to the plan of building a shelter? Because, if so, I quite agree.”
“You’re quite right, Dan. My original idea was seriously flawed. For one, building a shelter in the United States leaves us too open to detection and attack. We need to distance ourselves some more from the center of the conspiracy. Besides, how could I hope to preserve the treasures of Western culture from here? What a blockhead I am! Clearly, we need to go to Europe—to the motherland, so to speak—if we earnestly wish to gather the fruits of European cultural achievement.”
“Huh? Go to Europe?”
“Yes, Dan, it’s a far better plan. We can simultaneously isolate ourselves (to some extent) from the grasping reaches of our enemies, while putting ourselves in direct contact with the civilization we hope to preserve. It’s perfect!”
“You’re talking about ‘us’ again.”
“Well, of course, you must come with me. As you demonstrated in Home Depot, you are invaluable to me. Without you, I would have succumbed to my own foolish impulses.”
“You’re saying you’re gonna take me to Europe?”
“That is an adequate summary of my proposal.”
“Woah, dude. Where in Europe?”
“Excellent question, my dear Dan Chopin. I have considered all the political entities, both large states and small, and there is one clear best option: Spain. Spain is geopolitically unimportant enough to make it a safe hiding place. It has a great deal of historic depth, possessing some fine Roman ruins, to name just one example. It is the birthplace of some of the most excellent architects, artists, musicians, and writers who have ever lived and breathed. And, most importantly, the Spanish already have experience in fighting the Muslims and the Mexicans.”
“Uh yeah?” I say, as I struggle to chew the fried egg, which has the approximate texture of a car tire.
“Yes, indeed. For seven whole centuries, Muslims lived in their country—a long, dark night of oppression!—until the brave Spanish Christians rose up and pushed them out. And of course the Spaniards are responsible for toppling the ancient Mexican empires in the Americas.”
“So, wait,” I say, having finally finished swallowing the egg. “Let me get all this straight. You are offering to pay for me to go with you to Spain?”
“So we can, like, learn about Europe and all that?”
“Hell yeah!” I say. “Let’s get our asses out of Alabama!”
* * *
Four days later, we’re in the car on the way to the airport.
I’m driving—I don’t trust that whack job behind the wheel—and Don Bigote is sitting in the passenger seat, the window rolled down, his mustache fluttering in the wind. Through the ventilators I can smell the burning chemical odor of the old truck’s worn-out transmission. Several cars have honked at us because of the trail of impenetrable black smoke we are leaving behind us. Well, they can go to hell.
I’m feeling a little weird about the whole thing. Bigote is one strange dude, no joke, and I think his relationship with reality is worse than my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, Sharona, who once threw my phone in a public toilet. Is this really a good idea? What if he does something equally crazy as he did in Home Depot and gets us thrown into Spanish jail? Well, Spanish jail doesn’t sound so bad. I read online somewhere that they’re co-ed.
My dad was totally against the idea.
“What?! Go to Europe with the Colonel? That’s totally insane!”
“But, dear,” mom said. “It’s just for a few months, and maybe it can be really good for him.”
“I’m getting paid,” I said.
“Yeah, but have you seen that guy? He’s a crank, a loony, a crackpot. What’s he going to do in a foreign country? Does he even speak Spanish?”
“There’s Google translate, dad.”
“Oh, honey,” mom said to dad. “I think this is a great opportunity! Danny can travel, get some work experience. And, after all, Bigote isn’t all that bad. He’s a bit of a hippie, sure, and eccentric, but I don’t think he’s at all dangerous.”
“I don’t feel good about this at all,” dad said. “Danny, listen. If anything goes wrong, just get on a plane and fly home. Don’t worry about the money.”
That’s roughly how the conversation went. So yeah, I suppose I have an escape option if worse comes to worse.
I see the sign for the airport, and take the exit.
“Where should I park?” I say.
“Oh, just over there.”
“But the sign says 72 Hours Maximum. Isn’t there a long-term parking or something?”
“Oh, Dan. What’s it matter? I’m never coming back!”
“Well, maybe some day, far in the future, after the great Cataclysm.”
“I don’t remember you telling me this.”
“No need to worry, Dan, we can just leave this old thing anywhere.”
“You’re the boss,” I say, and pull into a spot.
We get out and begin getting our bags. It isn’t much. I have a duffle bag and a backpack, and Bigote a brown leather briefcase and one of those rolling suitecases. We shut the doors and lock the car.
“Goodbye, old friend,” says Bigot, tenderly touching his shitty pickup truck. “You’ve been good to me.”
And we turn and walk through the parking lot towards the terminal.
“You know, Dan,” Don says, “apart from being a necessary means of transportation, this voyage also provides us an excellent opportunity to investigate air travel, one of the West’s most triumphant achievements.”
“Ever flown before?” I say.
“Actually, no. This will be my first aerial experience, and I must say that I am tremendously excited. The only thing which prevents me from being positively jubilant on this occasion is the unfortunate, but inescapable, global conspiracy.”
“Well, we’ll get away from that soon enough,” I say.
“Ah, don’t be so sure, Dan, don’t be so sure. The conspiracy reaches everywhere. Even this whole business of tickets, passports, visas, security—all this tyrannical nonsense!—it’s just a way for the conspiracy to control our movements, and by doing so, our minds.”
“I thought it was because of 9/11 and stuff like that?”
“Dan, sometimes your ignorance pains me. 9/11 is connected to this, yes, but of course you must realize it was a false-flag operation.”
“A what flag?”
“You see, it is true that the Muslims were behind it, as everyone already believes. But what is not true is that it was the work of a relatively small band of Muslims, without the government’s notice. You see, the Muslims are the government now. They tricked some poor fools into hijacking those planes, in order to distract the populace, to scare us, allowing the executive branch to expand its power, and the security state to extend its tentacles into every aspect of our lives. Just like we find here!”
Bigote gestures grandly at the airport.
“So, you’re saying that Muslims, who own the government, destroyed the Twin Towers in order to expand the power of the government, and then blamed Muslims?”
“Well, I just hope they don’t do it to our flight,” I say. “Alright, let’s double check. Do you have your passport?”
“Right here,” Bigote says, taking out a blue booklet and handing it to me.
“Well done, isn’t it?” Bigote says, winking at me.
“Pretty convincing, eh?”
“Convincing?” I say, blinking in disbelief. “Don, is this a fake?”
“Why, of course it is. I am traveling under a fake name, so I can’t use a real passport.”
“Are you kidding me?!”
“Don’t worry, Dan, I followed an instructional video. They said it’s guaranteed.”
I flipped through the pages, and immediately noticed that the edges were coming apart, like the whole thing was held together by Elmer’s glue.
“You better not get us arrested,” I say.
“Dan, have some faith in me. We only need this to get into Spain. Once there, I’ll make another one.”
“Well, because I’m going to need to forge a visa, of course.”
“Forge a visa?”
“And you too.”
“Dan, I feel like I have to spell everything out for you. On a tourist visa, you can only stay for 90 days, which is of course not nearly enough time. And I can’t exactly obtain a working visa or a residency visa—for the aforementioned problem that I am traveling under an assumed name. Satisfied?”
“Oh, God, I’m going to jail, I’m going to Guantanamo Bay!”
“That’s another false flag, I’m afraid,” says Bigote.
* * *
We check in successfully—the woman at the front desk looks a little too long at Bigote’s passport, but finally lets us go—and now we’re on the line to security.
I am sweating like a pig already. Fuck, I am such an idiot! Dad was right, I should never have tried to take a trip with this nut. Look at him: bobbing his head up and down like he’s brain-dead, walking like he’s got a stick up his ass, with those stupid thin glasses on the tip of his nose—does he even need glasses?—and that ridiculous mustache. Oh God, why doesn’t he trim that thing? His mustache makes him look even more suspicious!
I look ahead to the security guards. Oh no, they’re ethnic! Bigote is going to think they’re Muslims or Mexicans or something. Fuck my life!
“All liquids must be put into a sealed plastic bag,” says one of the guards in a mechanical monotone, “and separated from your luggage. Please take your laptops out of your bags and out of their cases, and put them into a separate tray. All cell phones, keys, jackets, belts, shoes, and metal objects need to go into a bin and through the machine.”
The people ahead of us are all doing that awkward scramble where they unpack half their luggage and get half-undressed, only to be waved through the machine to the other side, where half of them are stopped anyways to have their bags searched or their bodies waved with the metal wand, or something.
“Okay, so, just like we practiced, okay?” I whisper to Bigote.
“Of course, Dan. No need to worry. I have done thorough research.”
“Ok, well, just stay quiet.”
We get to the conveyor belt thing and begin doing the undressing dance. I put my little duffle bag on the conveyor belt. Soon I’m being waved through the metal detector, which thankfully doesn’t beep. I look behind me, and see that Bigote is fumbling with his belt, which is really difficult to take off because wearing a giant brass belt-buckle shaped like the state of Texas. Jesus…
I turn back and look for my bag. Some bald security guard, wearing white latex gloves, is standing over it.
“Sir, is this your bag?” he says.
“Okay, I’m just going to do a quick chemical test.”
“Wait right here, sir.”
He pulls out a little white cloth thing and begins whipping it all over my bag. He goes over to a machine and puts the cloth inside. He looks down at it, and frowns.
“Sir, would you mind if I searched your bag?”
“Sir, the machine gave me a positive reading for marijuana, so I have to perform a search in order to let you through.”
“You can detect weed? No way!”
He quickly unzips the bag and begins ruffling through my stuff. Shit, shit, shit. Try not to look nervous. Ah, but it’s too late! I’m fucked! My weed is in an old pencil case in one of the side-pockets…
“SIR, STOP WHERE YOU ARE NOW AND PUT YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!”
Someone behind me shouts this at the top of his voice. There is a confusion of screams and shouts, as people around me start running away in all directions. The cop searching my luggage immediately drops what he’s doing, jumps over the conveyor belt, and pulls out his gun.
I look and see Don Bigote standing in the metal detector, his hands on his head, which makes it easy to see his old revolver strapped to his hip. Of course.
He’s surrounded by about five security guards, all of them with their pistols pointed at him. One is radioing for backup.
“Sir, I need you to lie down on the floor, slowly, without moving your hands. Alright?”
“But I have an open carry license!” Bigote says.
“Sir, lie down now or we will have to shoot.”
“It’s my constitutional right!”
“SIR, GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!”
“Get the fuck down, Bigote!” I yell at him. “Get your mustachioed ass down!”
Several tense moments pass. Bigote appears torn. A part of him seems to be considering having a shootout. But finally, deciding that he’s outgunned, he follows the cop’s instructions and lays down on the floor. One of the guards approaches carefully and takes the revolver out of his holster. The gun removed, all the guards close in, pinning him on the floor while they put him in handcuffs.
While they’re all busy, I decide that it’s the best time to skedaddle. But just as I’m about to walk off, I hear Bigote say:
“Dan, don’t wait for me!”
“Hey, are you with this guy?” one of the guards says, as he grabs my shoulder and spins me around.
“Uh, him? No…”
“I’m afraid you have to come with us, sir.”
“Oh no!” Bigote shouts, as he’s being dragged off. “Dan, not you too! The monsters!”
Next thing I know, I’m in handcuffs, too, being led off to God knows where. Great.
* * *
This is a nightmare. Wake up, wake up, wake up. Oh man, I should have went to the bathroom before this. Beer and burritos was a terrible idea for breakfast.
I’m sitting in one of those sterile interrogation rooms, like you see on television, except it’s real. The walls are plain white, and there’s a mirror on one side. And I just know a bunch of cops are on the other side, watching us through the glass, probably making fun of Bigote’s mustache. Better not be saying anything about me.
Bigote is right next to me. We’re both seated in these awful metal chairs, our hands handcuffed behind our backs, with an equally metallic table in front of us. Really, it’s just like TV, except on TV they usually separate the terrorist suspects. Also, on TV the terrorists usually don’t need to take a big, probably smelly dump while they’re being interrogated.
“Dan, I’m so—”
”NO TALKING!” cracks a voice on the loudspeakers, interrupting Bigote.
Silence resumes. All I can hear is a ventilator and Bigote’s breathing, which sounds like another ventilator.
Right on cue, a detective enters. He looks the part: big masculine jaw with five o’clock shadow, big buff shoulders underneath a black suit, and all the rest. He closes the door behind him, walks over to the empty seat across from us, and sits down.
“My name is Detective Murky,” he says, his voice all gruff-like, “and I’m here to find out what the hell you were doing with that gun.”
“We’ll never talk!” Bigote shouts, his voice choked with enthusiasm. “Never!”
“Can’t we like, get a lawyer or something?” I say.
“Terrorists don’t get lawyers!” says Murky.
“A lawyer, ha!” Bigote says. “They’re some of the most heinous conspirators!”
“Jesus Christ, Bigote,” I say. “Will you shut the fuck up?”
“Enough playing around!” Murky says, slamming his fist on the table. “Who are you? Muslims extremists?”
“Oh, please,” Bigote says. “Is this your plan? Frame us as Muslims conspirators? We’re not even circumcised!”
“Speak for yourself dude,” I say.
“Dan, let me handle this.”
“Not circumcised?” Murky says. “Who are you, then?”
I hear Bigote inhale slowly.
“I suppose at this point,” Bigote says, “there’s no use in trying to keep a secret.”
“That’s damn right.”
“You see,” Bigote says, “we’re on a mission, a mission to save civilization.”
“Save civilization from what? American tyranny?”
“Don’t be a fool!” Bigote says. “From the international Muslim-Mexican-homosexual-feminist-Marxist-scientific conspiracy!”
Murky’s eyes widen, and he sits up even straighter in his chair.
“Explain,” he says.
“Well, there is no time for details. But suffice to say the conspirators have already penetrated every layer of government, and are now very near their goal: the total collapse of Western civilization. I wouldn’t be surprised if you yourself were an agent.”
“Okay…” says Murky, his eyes narrowing. “What’s your mission, then?”
“You see,” Bigote says. “If my calculations are correct, it’s far too late to prevent the conspiracy from succeeding. But there is still some time—a few years, maybe—to prepare for the inevitable. That’s why I’m trying to go to Spain, to gather up the fruits of Western civilization and preserve them for the scattered bands of survivors who will survive the collapse.”
Murky sits for a few seconds, saying nothing, rubbing his temples with one hand. Meanwhile, the pressure in my intestines is becoming uncontainable. The inevitable happens. A fart begins to escape my insides, seeping out slowly at first, making a whirring whistling sound, but quickly accelerating into a roaring flapping explosion that fills the entire room with its rumbling.
A few seconds of dreadful silence pass—the interval between the explosion’s report and the explosion’s effects—as the sound disappears into an echo, and then into a dreadful memory shared by everyone present. And then, finally, the smell hits.
I detect it first—it’s even worse than usual, a mixture of rotten eggs, vinegar, and old ham that’s gone bad—and then Bigote catches a whiff (I can tell because he starts coughing), and finally it reaches Murky, whose only reaction is to blanch paper white.
“Excuse me,” he says, and quickly leaves the room.
“Dan, that was brilliant,” Bigote says, between coughs. “Excellent diversionary tactic. Now, help me figure out how to slip out of these metallic restaints.”
“You know they can hear and see everything we’re doing, right?”
“That’s just what they want you to think, Dan. Now hurry! There’s not much time.”
Suddenly, the lights go out. Someone has pulled the alarm! The sprinkler’s start drenching us with water, a siren is whirring, a bell is ringing, and red lights are flashing. As if my headache wasn’t bad enough already.
Murky bursts in the door.
“Quick!” he says “Come with me!”
With his left hand he jerks me to my feet, and with his right hand he takes Bigote. Soon we are being pushed into the hallway, around a corner, through a corridor, as people all around us are running left and right, carrying folders, bundles of paper, laptops, and crying babies, trying to protect what they can from the sprinklers.
“Is there a fire?” Bigote says.
“Just shut up and move!” Murky answers.
After what seems like a long time, Murky slams us both against a wall.
“Wait,” he says, as if we have a choice. He gets out a big bunch of keys like janitors always carry, fumbles a bit, finds the right one, and then opens a nearby door.
“Come on!” he says, and grabs us again.
Now we’re outside, somewhere in the airport. He puts us both in the back of one of those little golf cart things that security guards use, and begins to drive.
“What on earth is going on?” Bigote screams.
“Sorry about the alarm,” Murky yells back as he’s driving. “There wasn’t anyway else to get you guys out of there.”
“What? You pulled it?” I say.
“Not only that, but I disconnected the security footage so they wouldn’t see us escape.”
“This must mean that my worst fears are confirmed,” Bigote says. “He’s an agent of the conspiracy, Danny. We’re being taken to one of their brainwashing facilities where we’re going to be forced to watch gay porn and global warming documentaries until we lose touch with reality.”
“You don’t understand,” Murky says. “I’m helping you escape.”
“Sweet!” I say. “Thanks! Hey, did you also manage to get my weed?”
“Why would you help us?” Bigote says.
“Listen,” Murky says. “I got this job because I wanted to keep my country safe from foreigners. But the more I see what’s going on in the world, the more I think that our own government is on their side! First that scumbag Obama was elected, a secret Muslims who was born in Kenya—that birth-certificate was an obvious forgery!—and then all these Syrian refugees? The whole world has gone crazy!”
“Exactly!” Bigote cries.
“So when you told me what you what you were doing, I thought, ‘Well, here’s a man I got to help’.”
“Oh, rejoice, rejoice!” Bigote says. “Thank heavens for the few remnants of decency in this godforsaken world!”
We arrive in the parking lot, and Murky takes off our handcuffs and lets us go.
“Now get in your car and drive off quick.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” Bigote says, clasping Murky’s hand.
“Don’t mention it,” Murky says. “Now go, fast!”
Bigote and I jump in the pickup truck, drive straight through the parking gate (no time for the fee), and onto the highway, leaving a cloud of black smoke trailing behind us as we speed away towards our next misadventure.
(Continued in Chapter 3.)