Archive | November, 2013

An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 6

30 Nov

‘Well, my locker’s on this floor,’ one of the waitresses said, mousily. ‘I think I’ll just … go there quick and go to the bus station.’

Swindell frowned at her. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You want us to walk you there?’

‘No, it’s fine. This happens like once a quarter.’

‘This isn’t a floor I’d like to be on,’ Pensivemo said. ‘I’m getting back on.’

‘You want to go back up?’ Swindell said. ‘You’d be absolutely nuts to go back up there. Remember level E?’

‘Well, maybe I’ll try C.’

‘C isn’t gonna be in anything resembling good shape, I can guarantee you,’ Swindell said.

‘Why not A then? It’ll get us further from the damage.’ Swindell stepped out of the elevator. ‘It may be further but A will have a very different trouble waiting for us, I can tell you that.’

‘Hey,’ Pensivemo called to the waitress who was already ahead of them. She turned around. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have smokes, would you?’

She shrugged. ‘I just quit. My dad died of heart disease.’

‘Oh it’s okay,’ Pensivemo said. As she turned and left, he felt peculiar for excusing her father’s heart disease.

Swindell made his way down the hall behind her. Pensivemo followed him to the end of the hall which opened into a large lobby area. It was completely vacant and, like the hall, scattered with goods, papers, boxes, toppled beds, bullet shells, bed covers and blankets, bits of fake flower petals and flimsy fake moss along with real bits of flower petals and real plants with real moss. There were smears of blood along the floor but not as much as in the hallway.

‘Tell me,’ Pensivemo said, ‘what about level A could possibly be worse than this floor?’

The sound of a big whirring engine accompanied a big jeep in beige camouflage entering the lobby area from the right hallway. Men in uniforms matching the colors of the jeep stood on the vehicle’s end: one manning a large, mounted gun, the other some sort of rocket launcher.

Swindell ducked low and ran for the nearest corner and Pensivemo followed him. The remaining kitchen staff separated and spread out. Having ducked behind a series of black leather couches, Pensivemo asked Swindell, ‘Which way? Should we to back to the elevator?’

‘I think that’s as good a move as any.’

‘Is it clear?’

‘I don’t know. Will you check?’

‘You check.’

‘But you asked.’

Pensivemo groaned and raised his head slowly over the edge of the couch. The jeep went quickly down the opposite hallway and one of the men on the back started firing at someone in short spurts.

‘Come on,’ Pensivemo said, quietly.

They both got up and went back to the hallway from which they’d come. Just as they arrived, a figure emerged from one of the rooms to the side. Pensivemo knew the corpulent shape well. It was his favorite guard from before.

‘Now I got you, bitch,’ he said.

‘Hold on a minute,’ Swindell said, stepping in front of him. ‘What seems to be the problem here?’

‘This is one sick son of a bitch, you know that?’ the big man said. ‘You his lawyer or something?’

‘I’m Rover Swindell, the Dean of Grievances, and if I’ve found out that you’ve been harassing my or anyone else’s clients, I’ll see to it that you lose your position, you hear me?’

‘Yeah … I hear ya,’ the big man said. ‘I hear you throwin a title in my face … A title I aint ever heard of.’

‘Now you listen to me,’ Swindell said, getting close to him and sticking his finger in his face.

The big man looked past Swindell, pulled out his pistol and fired at someone behind him. Swindell jumped out of the way, plugging his ears as the big man continued to fire.

Pensivemo ran down the hall to the elevator and Swindell followed him. Once there, he punched the button and waited for the doors to open. The big man kept firing at someone on the other side of the lobby. The elevator doors opened and the two of them spun into either side of it. Pensivemo, having ended up on the right, hit the button to close the doors and they began to move just as a series of gunshots reached the door and sprouted holes in the opposite elevator wall. Pensivemo then hit the level-A button and the elevator started moving down.

Swindell, breathing heavily, shook his head and said, ‘A’s no good.’

‘It’s better than sitting around,’ Pensivemo said.

The level-A button was lit but the elevator kept moving.

‘Why aren’t we stopping?’ Swindell said. ‘Did you hit some other button?’

‘I hit A,’ Pensivemo said.

‘We’re going lower. Did you hit another button?’

‘I said I hit A,’ Pensivemo grumbled.

‘Then where the hell are we going?’

‘It’s just not to A yet.’

The light at the level-A button shut off but the elevator was still moving.

After a moment, the elevator stopped. Swindell was breathing heavily and wiping his forehead. ‘We went lower,’ he said. ‘Dear God, we went lower.’

‘What’s the big deal?’ Pensivemo asked.

The door opened. The hallway immediately in front of them was not a hallway so much as it was a cave. It was ovular, made of dark stone with dim lights placed all the way down the wall until it met another door. From where he stood, Pensivemo could see two ugly gargoyles by the door, both muscular and doggish yet strangely human with horns, both with tongues sticking out as though slobbering over something tasty, both dark but well let by the dim yellow of the surrounding lights. The door they protected looked like it was made of dark, polished wood. A wood door—a place that didn’t need protection.

‘I’m not getting off here,’ Swindell said. He went to the buttons and pushed the one meant to close the door. Nothing happened. He pushed it again, putting all of his body weight into it, panicking.

‘Listen,’ Pensivemo said, ‘I’m gonna go take a walk down that way just to take a peek and see what’s down there. Unless you know something I don’t.’

Still pressing the one button, other buttons, every button, Swindell said, ‘This level is cursed.’

‘Does it have anything to do with the storm on level E?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t wanna find out.’

‘I thought you were the Dean of Grievances,’ Pensivemo said, slowly. ‘Doesn’t that mean anything to these people down here?’

‘Look,’ Swindell said. ‘You saw what level B was like. You saw all that blood. What makes you think it’s gonna get any better the lower we go?’

Pensivemo shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I just thought it was contingent to proximity. I didn’t think it would have anything to do with descending.’

‘Do you even have an aesthetic fiber in your soul, man?’ Swindell said, frowning, frenzied and pale.

‘Well, I’ve been accused of aesthetic fibers. That’s probably because I’ve also been accused of being a poet.’

‘Don’t you know what it means to descend aesthetically?’

‘Well, one can speculate,’ Pensivemo said, shrugging.

‘Well you can find out on your own. I want nothing to do with this.’ Swindell kept trying to push the buttons on the elevator. After a moment—in which his teeth were bared like an angry chimp, his face like a crying child without tears—he gave up and sat in the corner of the elevator, hugging his knees. ‘Maybe it’s a power issue,’ he muttered. ‘It’ll work eventually.’

‘You’re gonna sit there?’ Pensivemo said.

‘I’m gonna sit here.’

‘You don’t wanna see if maybe there’s somewhere better we can hang out?’

‘If there’s one thing I know for sure, I know there’s nowhere better to hang out beyond that door.’

‘Suit yourself then,’ Pensivemo said.

He took a few steps down the hall, got about halfway and looked back at the open elevator door. By then, Swindell was no longer visible, having sat in the unseen corner. Pensivemo faced the wooden door again, the awful gargoyles, the dim lights. Such omen. It couldn’t be serious, could it? It was certainly a bit much.

Once he came close enough to the door to push it open, he hesitated and looked at the seam at the center. The door had that feeling of sleeping evil. That feeling of evil waiting for non-evil to come near and compromise itself. An evil that didn’t need to try too hard.

Pensivemo pressed the right door open with a squeak. The door led into a great open hallway. The hall, like the previous little cave tunnel, had rock walls and a rock ceiling which joined them in an ovular curve. The ceiling was incredibly high—about forty feet up. There was a giant chandelier hanging from the roof that looked like it was made of crystals pulled from deep caves. The floor was marble and shiny with splashy designs and on the other side of the great room was another set of doors, incredibly tall and wooden like the last pair. On either side of this set of doors were two giant lion statues made of stone. Their faces were calm, their eyes slit. The image was very Babylonian, it struck him. He glanced back at the other set of doors from which he’d come and considered going back and waiting it out with the Dean of Grievances.

Many words had been thrown around loosely, over-used frequently and sapped of all seriousness since he woke up and found himself in that great establishment. Some of those words were ‘firm,’ ‘marketer’ and ‘branch.’ They were used that often because that was ultimately all they were. All crime was a matter of competing sensibility. The only punitive authority was time and chance.

Before he even came very close to the door, a great baritone voice, heavily amplified and echoing all throughout the foundation, spoke to him saying, ‘What is the name of the client?’

Pensivemo looked around for whoever had spoken but saw no one. Was there a camera somewhere? If there was, it could have been hidden in just about any place. His attention turned to the only things in the room that visibly had eyes—the statues. ‘I’m sorry?’ Pensivemo said.

‘What is the name of the client?’ the voice boomed again.

He hesitated. ‘Pensivemo Croce.’

There was a heavy breath and the voice said, ‘Be patient while we process your information.’

‘Very well.’

The chandelier seemed to dim a little as he waited. The shadows of the two lions were swallowed in the greater darkness. The giant doors began to open slowly with the great noise of its grinding gears. On the other side was a dark, peaked hallway with a well-lit, white wall at the end and another door.

Advertisements

An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 5

22 Nov

Pensivemo stood from the table. Some people were muttering. Others were exiting quickly. A series of echoey sounds filled the air. It was hard for Pensivemo to tell exactly what the sound was but it was like elephants crying. However, it didn’t have all the nuances of animal noise, but an unrestrained sound, like torrential winds. A strong breeze ran through Pensivemo’s hair as he followed an anxious Swindell.

When Swindell turned around to face the windows again, his eyes grew wide. ‘Oh God,’ he said.

Pensivemo turned to see what he was looking at. Outside, the sky was black. Inside the restaurant, napkins and menus swirled into an indoor breeze. Plates were picked up by the air and the wildly blowing pant-legs and long skirts of different patrons flailed about as everyone bunched up to the side of the restaurant, filing out with limbs lifting and waving, voices giving out yelps, hiccups of noise and unfinished sentences.

Swindell grabbed Pensivemo by the shirt, causing it to rip, and pulled him toward the kitchen. Swindell let go, threw himself to the floor and scooted himself against the wall. Pensivemo joined Swindell, who breathed heavily, his face panicked, his eyes wide. ‘We have to get out,’ Swindell said.

‘It’s a game, like you said, right?’

‘It’s not a game anymore!’

A cook in the kitchen walked toward the seating area with a pistol in hand, a fevered look on his stress-worn face. He aimed at nothing in particular. One of the waitresses yelled at him in Spanish from behind the metal table. He fired a round into the air. The sound of the shot was a brief snap swallowed into the moaning, flood-like sounds of the indoor wind.

The lights flickered off and on. The foundation shook. Pots and pans rattled and clanged to the floor.

‘Is someone doing this?’ Pensivemo yelled through the noise.

‘Yeah, someone’s doing this,’ Swindell yelled back.

The lights shut off completely and a few people in the kitchen screamed. The shaking stopped but the sound of the winds grew louder. The lights came back on. Pensivemo got to his feet as the ground rumbled steadily.

‘There’s an escape hatch at the top,’ a waiter shouted, pointing to a metal ladder leading to a small door in the ceiling.

Pensivemo started toward it but turned back to check on Swindell. He was still sitting on the floor, hugging his legs, shaking his head, his eyes all flinched up.

‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’ Pensivemo said.

Swindell hugged himself tighter and let out a sole, uncontrolled whimper.

Pensivemo turned to the ladder and followed the waiter and other workers up the cold, chipped rungs. As they climbed up and out the other side, he saw a square opening in a grated walkway above them, and further above the next ceiling, a system of pipe-lines.

When Pensivemo reached the top, he saw that Swindell red-eyed and pale-faced, had in fact followed them up. The foundation had stopped shaking and the noise from below had muffled into a steady hum. Pensivemo turned to Swindell and asked, calmly, ‘What the hell’s happening down there?’

‘That’s one branch you don’t want on your ass,’ he said, his voice shaky.

‘Come on,’ the waiter said, heading toward a door at the end of the hallway. They gathered around him as he pressed its metal latch and pushed it open.

The next room was completely white with rectangular red rugs, probably about a dozen or so, lying about the floor. On each rug was a man in a white suit, sitting cross-legged with closed eyes as though in meditative trances. All of them were Asian. The rug directly in front of them had standing on it a woman. She had her hair pinned up above her pale face and shiny, red gown. It was only as she opened her eyes that Pensivemo heard what sounded to his ears like traditional Chinese music playing very softly.

Swindell was still recovering from the trauma of fear and the embarrassment of its resulting itchy-eyed, pale-faced terror by way of uncertain glancing around and an air of postured self-assurance. Pensivemo turned to him and said, ‘What is this place?’

Softly, Swindell muttered, ‘This isn’t a branch I know much about. They’re pretty private.’

Pensivemo turned to the woman and asked, ‘Is it alright if we stay here for a moment? Until all the trouble passes?’

‘Trouble will not pass,’ she said, ‘but you may pass through.’

‘But if trouble will not pass, as you say, we’ll just meet trouble again when we come out the other side,’ Pensivemo said. ‘We can’t stay even for a few moments?’

‘You may not stay here for a few moments,’ the woman said. ‘To stay here for a few moments is to sign the contract that all of these men have signed.’

‘And what contract is that?’

‘The contract is such that if you agree to stay here, you must stay here for the rest of time.’

Pensivemo squinted. ‘Unfortunately, eternity isn’t something I can squeeze into my schedule. Would there happen to be another way out?’

She pointed to a white door on the opposite side of the room. ‘But to exit that way, you agree to another contract.’

‘And what might that be?’

‘You agree that any and all activity you have ever been party to will not bring us in as a referral party to speak or act on your behalf in any way.’

‘Very well,’ Pensivemo said. ‘Is it unlocked?’

‘Yes,’ she said.

He bowed to her with his hands pressed together. As each of the others passed her, they all did the same.

Once Pensivemo reached the other side of the door, all the men sitting on the red rugs, without opening their eyes or making a sound shifted over to face him in one fluid motion. By this time the few kitchen staff had joined Pensivemo at the door.

One of the men jumped up from his rug, smiling big. In good, accented English, he said, ‘I know you!’

Pensivemo only realized he’d taken a step back after he’d done so.

‘I mean, I know who you are,’ the man said. The more he talked, the more youthful he seemed. ‘You’re Pensivemo Croce! We studied your plays at university! I am one of those embarrassed to say that I wasn’t sure you did anything else until a friend introduced me to your other works. I’m sorry. I sound cliché. What are you doing here, if you don’t mind my asking?’

‘I’m just … trying to figure that out myself,’ Pensivemo said.

‘Very well! Let us know if there is anything we can do for you!’

The woman who’d been standing at the front approached him, speaking Chinese and shaking her head.

‘Oh,’ the young man said, his face sorrowful but comprehensive. He turned to Pensivemo again. ‘It seems that I’m not able to help you, but I do hope that we will meet again! Though …’ (his face growing sorrowful again) ‘I do think that the only way this will occur is if you come and visit me, for I’m not allowed to leave this room, due to my contract.’

‘Well … maybe I’ll be able to come back at some point,’ Pensivemo said. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Lin,’ he said, smiling. ‘It’s so nice to have met someone who … meant so much to me in such times of trouble.’ For a moment, he looked apprehensive about speaking again, stopping and starting in several gasping breaths. Perhaps having realized that Pensivemo was willing to listen, he said, ‘Well, you know, it’s peaceful here and I’ve been able to learn a lot about the world, but there are still hard times … I dare say that you’re work has even helped me through those times in here … just the memory, I mean, because I can’t have books or anything.’

‘Hm,’ Pensivemo said. ‘Well … I’m glad I could help. I just …’

The woman looked at Pensivemo sternly. ‘You and your friends must leave now or the contract to stay here will be fulfilled by your loitering.’

‘Okay,’ Pensivemo said. He gave Lin a little wave and went to the door.

The door led to a hallway with a metal grated floor and ceiling with mirrors on either side. The mirrors were bent in such a way that everyone looked like swirls of flesh-color and hair-color.

At the end of the hallway was another door that looked like an elevator.

‘Shall we?’ Pensivemo asked.

‘There’s nowhere else to go, I suppose,’ Swindell said.

The half dozen other cooks and waitresses filed in with them as Pensivemo said, ‘What was that back there?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Swindell said. ‘I’ve never seen that room. Some new firm, I guess.’

‘No, before that,’ Pensivemo said. ‘At the restaurant.’

‘Let’s just focus on the future, alright?’ Swindell said.

‘Focus on the future?’ Pensivemo said with disgust. ‘How? I don’t have a past yet. Which level do we take? A? Will that get us out of here?’

‘No, B is more likely to get us out of here,’ Swindell said. ‘But something tells me it’ll be difficult this time of day.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Well, let’s give it a shot.’ Swindell pushed the white B button and the doors shut.

The elevator sank with an odd suddenness, as though their souls were still above them somewhere. They were all silent as they descended. The small bell chimed and the doors opened.

Beyond the elevator, the hallway was covered in papers, charts, blue bed sheets and bullet shells. The floors and walls were spackled and smeared with blood, as were places on the floor. A woman screamed in the distance.

‘I think we’re on the wrong floor,’ Pensivemo said.

An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 4

9 Nov

The air-raid siren sounded again from Sintek’s pants and his face curled up into one of strained sorrow. ‘Jeez Louise! Listen, Pens …’
‘Hold my thought?’

Sintek smiled and pointed a finger-gun at him with a cock of his head. ‘You’re way ahead of me, pal. I’ll be right back, I swear on my mother’s good grave!’ He was out of the room by the time he finished his sentence.

Pensivemo sighed and went to his bed to sit down.

Just as he did, there came a sputtering of noises over the intercom. ‘Hello?’ Pensivemo called.

‘Yes, eh, Mr. Croach?’

‘Croce,’ Pensivemo said.

‘Mr. Croce, we were just checking up on you to make sure that everything was being properly taken care of.’

‘You wouldn’t happen to know where I could purchase some cigarettes would you?’

There was white noise for a moment and interrupted spurts of sentence.

‘I’m sorry?’ Pensivemo called.

‘Yes, I’m sorry,’ the person on the other end said. ‘I was just calling because I understand that you’re scheduled for an appointment this afternoon with Rover Swindell.’
‘I am?’

‘Oh … well … Alice said you requested the meeting and she scheduled it for you.’

Pensivemo groaned and put a hand to his face. ‘Who’s Alice?’

‘She’s our level C receptionist.’

‘Great. Okay. I mean, why am I meeting with eh …’
‘Swindell.’

‘Why am I meeting with him? I mean, is it something you think I should carry through with?’

‘I would recommend it seeing how he’s a very busy man. His time is very divided and he’s very in-demand, you know. I’ll let you in on a little secret between you and me. If I were you, I’d just go anyway, even if it was a mistake. You can think of something to talk with him about on the way if you don’t have anything particular in mind.’

‘But what do …’ He sighed. ‘Never mind. Thank you.’

‘Do you need someone to guide you there?’

‘Yeah because I’m not sure where he is.’

‘Very well. Alice will be there shortly. Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Croachy?’

‘You know where I can buy cigarettes?’

‘Oh … Probably a corner store, I would imagine.’

‘And where are those?’

‘Well, they’d be on corners.’ A little embarrassed laugh.

‘Very well,’ Pensivemo said, defeated. ‘Thank you.’

After a moment, Alice arrived, She was the same maid he’d spoken to before. She smiled tiredly and said, ‘Alright, are you ready?’

‘Yeah. I think so.’

As they came into the hall, the big man with big biceps who’d briefly detained Pensivemo before nodded at him, saying, sharply, ‘Punk ass bitch.’

Alice gasped.

‘That was for me,’ Pensivemo said.

‘Oh my,’ Alice said. ‘I’m terribly sorry. It’s so political around here.’

‘I’m starting to gather that.’

They came to an elevator which opened up to a group of suited people inside, all smiling, just finishing brief personal conversations and sliding back into whatever business would take them to their respective floors. Pensivemo and Alice got out at level E and joined a crowd of people headed cheerfully toward a room noisy with downturned voices and forced, professional laughter. The restaurant was big, brown and pseudo-antique—a place with a feigned history. There were leafy, green plants between every table divider and baskets of flowers hanging from the ceiling. White candles flickered about the tables and gas-powered fireplaces dividing what could have been one large room into a series of small rooms.
Pensivemo thought it peculiar that Alice didn’t check in with anyone at the front desk. She led him past the hostess and to a booth where there sat a middle-aged man with his horseshoe of hair shaved close to his balding head. He wore thick-framed glasses and a black suit with a yellow and navy-blue striped tie.

Alice nodded him goodbye with a smile and left them alone. This Mr. Swindell glanced briefly at Pensivemo from his menu and back at it, frowning taciturnly. ‘Theeeee pasta bowl here is pretty good, in case you were wondering … But so is the salad, if intensive afternoon carbs make you drowsy like they do me.’

‘Place is nice,’ Pensivemo said.

Rover Swindell turned his face into the air for a moment with a troubled look and back to Pensivemo. ‘Does it smell funny to you in here?’

‘Like what?’

‘Like skunk.’

Pensivemo sniffed into the air, frowned and shrugged. ‘Smells like potato salad and espresso.’

‘Huh. Just me then.’

‘I uh … appreciate you taking time out of your day and …’ Pensivemo decided it would be better to assume than to ask, ‘for lunch.’

‘Oh, it’s just a matter of business. And as far as lunch goes, it’s all free anyway.’

‘Free?’

‘Oh yeah.’ Swindell said. ‘One of the crazy amenities. You don’t know much about this place, do you?’

‘How’s this free?’

‘This place rakes in a lot of money. So eh, Mr. Croce, tell me what I can do for you today.’

‘Well, I’m not sure, first of all.’ Pensivemo sat back and scratched his head. A waitress approached them and they each ordered water. He waited until she smilingly walked away before he said, ‘I’m trying to figure out how I got here, but also I’m trying to figure out the best way to go about fighting eh … my charges. I’m not sure that’s something that … you’re at all concerned with or if I should take this up with someone else.’

‘Your charges you said?’ Swindell laughed visibly but silently.

‘What’s funny?’

‘Who have you been talking to?’

‘Aside from some grumpy receptionist and air-headed maids, Dr. Sintek.’

‘Dr. Sintek,’ Swindell said, amused, a shake of his head.

‘What? Is he not really a doctor?’

‘Oh, he’s a doctor.’

‘Is he a lawyer, even?’

‘He is but he’s …’ Swindell sighed and put his hands together, dodging the ice-waters that the waitress slid close to them. ‘He’s doing something quite particular in his field. You see, right at the moment we’re having a bit of trouble with some competing markets which have divided up from the one main one, you know.’

‘I really don’t know.’

‘Well, let’s put it this way. There are factions that have seen it within their best interest to patrol certain halls here or certain wings. They have the right to be here under the Marketer’s Unimported Guideline Act to make their own laws under our roof, but we can do battle with their own laws by, for the most part, muscle arming them with the power of the state or just sort of avoiding them. People in your position might get into quite a bit of trouble with the more nitpicky factions but once you learn the ropes, you can get good at completely avoiding them altogether without even doing anything in the way of legal action.’

‘So what’s Dr. Sintek have to do with that?’

‘He’s basically a contract lawyer who’s learned the minute and very specific laws of the major marketing factions around here. He basically caters to guys like you—new guys who don’t know much at all. He charges exorbitant amounts and tries to tell you that if you’re loyal to a certain faction, that they can cover part of the cost. I bet he didn’t tell you that part, did he?’

‘No.’

‘The food around here is free, but not the immunity.’

‘So what would you suggest I do?’

Swindell frowned. ‘Man … it really smells like skunk in here. It smells like a damned skunk or like something died. You know?’

‘I really don’t …’ Pensivemo started to smell it. It did, in fact, smell like skunk, with that extra gassy thickness of close proximity. ‘What the hell is that?’

‘It’s got to be some kind of violent, reactionary marketing tactic.’

‘You keep saying “marketing.” I thought this was a jail.’

‘Bet you also thought it was a hospital.’

‘What is it?’

‘I suppose I’ll have to eat my words. It is kind of a jail, or at least, it’s become one. Certain marketers have reserved the right to hold people—who had once complied to their Terms of Service and later transgressed them—in prisons of the specific marketer’s making. We really didn’t think it would go as far as it’s gone but we’re doing a lot better about counteracting the awful petty stuff. It’s all about money, as I’m sure you’ve well gathered by now.’

‘So I’m not in prison but there’re prisons here?’

‘Well, sort of. Yeah. I mean … the prisons, in my mind, are not unlike a very serious game that some kindergarteners might play. Half the prison’s structure is psychological in this case, you know. As long as you’re willing to play these different games with these different factions, or as long as you’re afraid of them, they have power. You’re in their prison for as long as you’re willing to go along with their rules.’

‘So it’s all fake?’

‘No, no, there’s nothing more real. I’m just saying, it’s all very fluid. The rules are subject to you but the different sets of rules are not always subject to one another, and sometimes, the different sets directly subvert or negate one another. Does that make any kind of sense?’

‘Well, my concern is this,’ Pensivemo said. ‘I’m not sure—’ A woman screamed.

Swindell stood to look across the divider. The light in the restaurant dimmed and outside, through the windows, the sky was quickly filling with black clouds.

‘Storm?’ Pensivemo said.

‘Oh shit,’ Swindell muttered. ‘Come on.’

An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 3

4 Nov

‘Now, there’s a lot of paperwork to go through and there’re a lot of things to discuss, but I think we can at least get your sentence cut in half. I really think that because of the nature of your crimes, even as decadent as they first appear, are certainly not as bad as some other crimes for which guys a hundred times nastier than you got one-forth the sentence, you understand?’

‘Uh … my charges? What are they?’

Sintek slapped his hands together. He flung them into pointing indexes at Pensivemo and said, ‘Right! Oh, how silly. How absolutely silly of me! I need to read you your charges before we do anything else.’

He went to the U where all the knobs, touch-screens and buttons were. ‘Come here,’ he said, motioning with his finger, not looking at Pensivemo. He came to him and looked down at a document Sintek had pulled up.

Sintek read it aloud for him. ‘Well let’s see … Oh, well, the charges are listed in such a funny place and there aren’t any character spaces between them and their penalty number codes … But your charges are, as follows: one charge of Scatological Turpitude. One charge of Suggested Nymphet Obsession in the Second Degree by way of Poetic License. Two charges of Racially Oriented Fetishism in the form of Viennese Waltz Patterns, again, by way of Poetic License. Three charges of Manipulated Translation Stress on the AB-AB Rhyming Schemes of Rilke. Nine charges of Barthelmismo—Jeez, man! One charge of Transgressional Distillation in Light of Interpretations of Works Including But Not Exclusive to Irish Plays Based Around the Architectonic Symmetry of Immanuel Kant’s Vocabulary. One charge of Vocational Blasphemy. One charge of Poetic Blasphemy. Two charges of Libel by way of Implied Philistinism. Four counts of Malicious Intent to Facilitate Insanity in the First Degree for, one, Not Resolving the Subdominant, two, Constantly Vocalizing Melody Lines One Quarter Step Below the Key Signature While Feigning Naivety—the music ones are mostly technical, it seems. Ah, and here’s another aesthetic one: two charges of Over-determined Anti-Schopenhauerianism by way of Pansexual Rectitude in the form of Wagnerian Dramatization. And lastly, at least in this particular document, one charge of Localized Cognitive Dissonance in the Company of a Celebrated Dignitary. Oh! It looks like two counts of Scatological Turpitude since Gnostic Turpitude is no longer tenable but still appropriative to the specific vulgarity of the former. None of this’ll wash, Pens, I can guarantee you.’

‘Are there dates listed?’ Pensivemo asked.

‘Not here, but eh … I’m sure I can get a hold of them.’

‘Are there witnesses?’

‘Yeah, I can’t seem to find the reports.’

‘You really don’t think any of that’ll wash?’

‘Sure, it’s a lot of seasoning for one big piece of punitive pepperoni but I think we got something to work with.’ He smiled and wagged his finger. ‘This is where your condition comes in.’

‘Right, right. I meant to ask you about my condition.’

‘Well, I think we can push for the insanity plea.’

‘Oh, well—’

‘I’ve seen your medical records. You take meds.’

‘Just insulin.’

‘But that’s it! Over a long period of time, right? I’ll have my doctor look at you. Certainly, with that much insulin getting pumped into your veins all the time, you’d have to be a little nuts, right?’

‘I don’t know, really, I just—’

‘I’m gonna get you out of this place. I can get you out on bale, see. I can put you up in a place with full immunity too, see? No freaks bothering you for a piece of your royalty checks. And you do have a lot of royalty checks, which only gives me full faith in the existence of those same freaks, see. But I can put you on a beach! Girls in bikinis serving you martinis all day and everything they feed you tastes like coconut and even the cheese’ll get you drunk. You’d like a place like that, yeah?’

‘Are you my lawyer?’ Pensivemo asked.

‘Yeah. What a question! But I guess you’ve been out of it for a while, right?’ Sintek brushed his hands through his hair and widened his eyes. ‘I got to get out of this dump. They’re coming down on me pretty hard. Every time you turn a corner or look at someone wrong, they charge you. Last month, for instance, I got charged for turning a corner, you know: Failure to Assume Democratic Demeanor When Turning thus Emulating an About-Face Step in Keeping With the Tyrannical Aesthetic of the Enemies of Democracy in the First Half of the Twentieth Century. Second charge for turning: Instigating Optical Confusion in Sight of Parties Appointed to Preemptively Determine the Intent of Motor Functions.’

‘So how’d you get out?’

‘Hey, it’s politics, kid. Let’s not start a basic class discussion just now. But certainly, I do think you could pass for crazy. Just the combination of your eyes and that sort of crater-ridden face of yours. Do you smoke? Look at you. Of course you smoke. You smoke, right?’

‘Absolutely, I thought you’d never—’

‘Great! I mean, I’m sorry, I don’t have a cigarette on me. But my point is, I think it would be good for you, you know, to shake a little bit when you smoke in front of people.’

‘Shake?’

‘Yeah! You know, like someone with a psychological malady. You probably twitch when you get upset, yeah?’

‘A little in the eyes, sure.’

‘Great! All you have to do, is you have to keep from stopping those basic functions and we’re already off to a good start.’
‘You think it’s such a good idea that we’re talking about this stuff right here … right now?’ Pensivemo said, brushing the back of his neck.

‘Caution, sure. I understand. But you can’t be too cautious. My ex-wife got charged once with Lateral Ethicism with the Intent of Direct Negation of Primal Inclinations. See? You can’t win.’