On Monday the 18th, four writers got together at New York’s KGB bar to present “The Red Throne”, a Stephen King parody. The ridiculous premise was that we found a discarded Stephen King novel in the dumpster behind a McDonalds in Bangor, Maine. Thats right: it was so bad that he got rid of it. But we dove into that dumpster, wiped off the Big Mac grease and decided to present the sad, discarded manuscript to an audience.
Of course, the truth was that we created the story like a game of telephone: I wrote the first section, then passed it to Daniel Guzman, who passed it to Michael Maiello who passed it to Pete Olson who brought it on home to it’s spine-tingling conclusion.
There was also a “King’s Things Trivia Contest, where people won great prizes. Yeah, okay, maybe not great. Maybe not even good. But they were, “Things We Found In Carrie White’s High School Locker”:
After the show, we had a couple of requests from people in the audience (and some who couldn’t make it) who wanted to read it for themselves.
And as those of you who know me know well, my motto is: Give The People What They Want.
So here it is…
The Red Throne
Despite my best efforts to act like a total prick with no regard for the American justice system, I’m stuck on jury duty.
Even worse, it’s such a high profile case that we’ve been sequestered at the Sobremirada Hotel. I can’t really give you too many details, but this famous novelist slaughtered a bunch of people in Castle Rock. Pretty gruesome scene too. The cops found him gnawing on a dead baby’s leg like it was a fucking drumstick, muttering, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
But I’m not really surprised. The guy’s been churning out gory novels since 1974. It was only a matter of time before fiction and reality merged.
To top everything off, everyone in the tri-state area knows that the Sobremirada is haunted. So nobody stays here anymore. The go to La Quinta instead. Or the Best Western. Or even the Bates Motel (before it got infested with bed bugs.) But they don’t stay here. So it’s just me and the other jurors. And it’s a little creepy.
I sat down on the sagging, creaky bed and turned on the TV. The judge allows us to watch anything but news, which suits me just fine. The TV flickered, offered up a fleeting image of David Letterman, sputtered and died.
I stared into the black void of the dusty TV set for a while before grabbing the room service menu off the table. I wasn’t really hungry but I was bored enough to eat anyway. A fat man’s path to ruin. I picked up the phone:
“Hello? This is Richard in room 1408.”
“Yes Mr. Bachman, what can we do for you?”
“I’ll take the Fiesta Combo Platter.”
“The Fiesta Combo Platter? Are you sure about that?”
“Yeah. Sounds great.”
“You’re absolutely positive that you want The Fiesta Combo Platter?”
“Really? You won’t change your mind?”
What is this? I thought. “Yes, I am 100% sure,” I said. “I really mean it. There is nothing in the whole world I want more right now than a mouth-watering Fiesta Combo Platter.”
“Okay. We’ll send it right up.”
The phone went dead as the lights flickered a few times before going out completely. “Oh, come on,” I whispered in the darkness. It was pitch black, not even the hall light crept under the door. The whole hotel must have lost power.
I fell back onto the bed and shut my eyes. When I opened them again, I noticed two beams of light shining through the window, illuminating my miserable room. I walked over, peered outside and saw a 1998 model white Mazda Miata. An icy chill shimmied down my spine. The menacing headlights hypnotized me. I was consumed by dread: this Mazda Miata was diabolical. The engine revved and I heard strange music.
As I listened closer, the full horror of the situation overtook me. There was no mistake. It was Cher’s autotuned voice bleating out her dance hit, “Believe”. Why would someone just sit in the parking lot of the Sobremirada Hotel blaring Cher? What could it mean? Was it a warning sign? An omen? I thought I was losing my mind when the lights inside the car came on…revealing that it was completely empty. This demon Miata was powered by phantoms! Terrified, I rushed to close the curtains as the possessed car flashed its headlights on and off a few times, backed up and sped away.
The hotel lights came back on and I was relieved when I heard a knock at the door. Must be my Fiesta Combo Platter, I thought. I ran over and flung it open, coming face to face with my worst nightmare.
Some people are scared of clowns, some people hate mimes. But for my money, there’s nothing creepier than the hellish mask of Lucha Libre wrester. I tried slamming the door shut but the Luchador leaped inside, his cape fluttering behind him. He wasn’t wearing any pants. He flailed his arms in the air and bellowed, “Buenas Noches, Señor FUCK FACE!”
We stared at each other for a few seconds.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Who am I? I am Ultimo Chupa Sin Pantalones! I’ve been haunting the Sobremirada for 15 years and…three months now. You haven’t heard of me?
“I was on TV. On that show ‘Haunted History’. You didn’t see that episode?”
I shook my head. “I mean, of course I knew this place was haunted,” I said. “But I thought it was ‘haunted’ in a more…uh…‘general’ sense.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t make air quotes. Makes you look like an asshole,” said The Luchador. He sighed and sat down on a chair. “You know, I’m not prepared for this. People are usually scared of me on sight. My reputation precedes me. I don’t have to work that hard anymore. But, okay, here goes.”
Ultimo Chupa Sin Pantalones stood up, adjusted his cape and said, “I will haunt your nightmares forever! I will pluck out your eyeballs with fancy toothpicks. I will scoop out your brains and use your skull as a pencil holder. I will decorate my workstation with your bloody toes. I will make a belt buckle with your esophagus.”
Just then the TV came back on. We both turned to see David Letterman interviewing some leggy brunette.
“Oh. I love her. She is so beautiful,” said Ultimo Chupa Sin Pantalones.
“Who is she?” I asked.
The Luchador’s eyes widened. “That is Rose Madder! The most famous supermodel in the universe and you don’t know her? What the hell is wrong with you? You don’t know me. You don’t know Rose Madder. You need to educate yourself. Get out more. Ignorance is a crime.”
“You know what? I’m gonna go talk to her. Ask her on a date or something. But I’m coming back for you! And when I do, I am going to rip your intestines out and jump rope with them! I’m going to make a cowboy hat with your pelvis. And…you know…many other scary things.”
With that Ultimo Chupa Sin Pantalones put his foot into the TV set and stepped into the live studio audience of the David Lettermen show.
The TV went dark again.
There was another knock at the door. I peered out the peephole. Damn it. Mary Blight. Juror #13. One of the alternates. She was so weird. One of those religious freaks. Still, I opened up. I was a little shaken and figured I could use some human contact.
“Hey Mary. “
“Can I come in?” she asked. She didn’t wait for an answer, swept past and sat down.
“Your TV is broken too huh?”
“It comes and goes.”
I looked at her and smiled. She looked at me, her eyes narrowing into little slits. I knew what was coming next. We’d gone through this before. She covered her chest with her arms. The Thomas Kinkade paintings on the walls began to rattle. The bedside table started to shake. The lamps levitated. The remote control and ice bucket rose and slammed into the door.
“You’re looking at my dirty pillows aren’t you?” she shrieked.
“YES YOU ARE! You’re looking at my dirty pillows! Mama always said all you bad men are after the same thing. You want to put your one-eyed demon in my sacred mound! You want to violate my piety! You want to sprinkle your sin juice on my righteous rosebud! Stop looking at my dirty pillows!”
“Woah. Mary. Calm down. No. Trust me. We go through this every time I see you. I’m not looking at your…dirty pillows.”
“The light of redemption will shine, Richard! You will be cleansed by the blood of The Lord!”
I backed away slowly, putting my hands in the air as though she were holding a gun. “Mary, I really need to go to the john.”
“There’s no escape, Richard!”
I slammed the bathroom door behind me, happy to be alone and unzipped my pants to take a piss. What a crazy bitch. Then as the stream of urine hit the bowl, I heard a voice that didn’t belong to Mary:
“Hi Richard. Don’t listen to that lunatic. I think you’re wonderful. I love you. I really do…I’m your #1 Gland.”
I looked around. But no one was there.
“Down here, Richard.”
I looked down to discover that the voice was coming from my left testicle.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I told you. I’m your #1 Gland.”
“But you’ve been disappointing me lately, Mr. Man. Doing those dirty cockadoodie things to yourself.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what I mean, buster. You’ve been spankin’ that monkey. Choking the chicken. Pounding your pud, Richard!”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t. I’ve seen you, thinking you’re the big potatoes. Playing the skin flute! Beating your meat! Buttering your corn!”
Pointing my index finger at my left testicle, I snapped, “That’s enough out of you. Look, I really don’t need this right now.” Before my #1 Gland could answer, I zipped up my pants. What the fuck is going on tonight? I thought. I looked back up at the bathroom counter to find a bottle of rum on it. How did that get there? I examined the label. The brand name was Red Rum. Never heard of it. But I was in no position to be picky. I needed a shot of something to calm my nerves. So I took a healthy gulp of Red Rum. It was strong. I took another. And another. Then my head didn’t feel so good.
The room began to spin, colors melted, shapes shifted. I covered my eyes, trying to shut out the kaleidoscopic torment. Under my palms, sweat poured down my face. When I finally removed my hands from my eyes, I saw Ultimo Chupa Sin Pantalones grinning at me through the window. Behind him the lights of the possessed Miata shone and I heard Cher’s song. Mary was banging on the door screaming, “Richard, I have the curse! Satan’s blood is coursing through my lady flower! I need to get in the bathroom. Richard!” Meanwhile, my #1 Gland offered muffled masturbatory colloquialisms in my pants.
Plus, I never did get my Fiesta Combo Platter.
I looked at the toilet. I blinked. I looked again. It was impossible. Yet there it was. The toilet had turned into a strange portal; a hatch with a serpent-shaped handle on it. It was glowing red. A red throne. I opened the hatch and heard a voice beckon, “We all float down here…”
I took a deep breath, grabbed the bottle of Red Rum and jumped in.
I’m in a red world, like drowning inside a river of blood, a great gushing torrent of it, filling up the room until there isn’t anything left to breathe. I keep telling myself the same thing — you’re in a coma, Richie baby, it’s all a dream, you’ve gotta wake up, and I wish I could, really, I do… but like Grandma Bachman used to say to me, wishes are like shitting in a pet cemetery that was inexplicably built on top of a desecrated mystical Native American burial ground. Sure, it feels good, but something ugly’s bound to bite you in the ass.
I try to think of something, think of anything. Last thing I remember was a toilet, a handle shaped like a serpent. A voice calling out to me.
“Who are you?”
Who am I? I pull my thoughts together from the red world I’m in, and I try to think. My name is Richard. I was born in Portland, Maine. I went to school at the University of Maine where I met and married Tabitha Spruce. I struggled as a writer until the publication of my first novel, Carrie…
Wait a minute. That’s not my life.
What the hell’s going on here?
Then, I hear a tremendous flushing noise, and I emerge, and…
I can see again. I’m standing in a hotel room, but it’s not my hotel room. A stack of books on the dresser. I go over to look at a title when I notice the painting on the wall of a really creepy clown. I don’t like the looks of it at all. From the bathroom, I hear the thumping of something trapped in the toilet bowl.
Oh, my god, I think. I died and went to Hell.
Now, I hear a noise through the wall, the distinct tak-tak-tak of a typewriter. Someone is hard at work over there.
I pick up the phone and dial the front desk. A man answers and quickly says:
“This is Gerald, please hold.”
Suddenly, I’m listening to AC/DC. I wait about twenty seconds, while the typewriter in the other room continues, and then the man comes back on the line.
“Thank you, this Gerald, please hold.”
Now, I’m listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The typing in the other room is even louder, sounding like jackhammers in my brain. Like voices, spirits chanting out the same syllable over and over, Tak, Tak, Tak! It starts to overwhelm my thoughts, this infernal Tak, Tak, Tak! and I’m about to hang up and bang on the wall, when Gerald comes back on the line. I quickly interrupt him, “Don’t put me on hold again!”
I’m tired of playing Gerald’s game.
He chuckles. In the other room, the typing stops.
Wait a minute. A deep fear creeps up from my testicles, into my intestines and grips my heart like a pair of cold hands, back from the dead. Or maybe the result of a laboratory experiment gone wrong. Or maybe they are controlled by aliens. No, vampires. No, aliens. No, vampire aliens. From the future.
I ask, “What’s the name of this hotel? It’s not called the Overlook, right?”
“Oh, no, no,” Gerald says and laughs again. “The where? No, this is the Dolphin Hotel.”
From the other room, I can hear the typing start up again, very slowly. I look around the room. Have the walls always been this red? I stop and think about what the man said. The Dolphin Hotel. Then it comes to me, where I’ve heard that.
“The hotel from Stephen King’s story ‘1408’?”
“What? Stephen Who? Oh, no, no” the man says and laughs nervously. “Did I say ‘Dolphin’? No, uh, I meant The Black Hotel.”
The typing is getting even louder now, the Tak, Tak, Tak! increasing like ancient drumming. The walls. The walls are definitely a deep crimson red. And, they seem to be getting bigger. Or, maybe I’m getting smaller? What the hell am I saying? I desperately need a cigarette. I search my pockets for the pack of Pall Malls, but then I realize I quit smoking. How long ago was that? Last week? Twenty years ago?
“Wait a minute,” I say to Gerald. “The Black Hotel? Like the one from the novel ‘The Talisman’?”
The typing is going at full speed now. Whatever that guy is working on, it has him possessed. Good for him, I guess. I have to press a finger into my ear to hear the voice on the other end of the line. It’s getting harder to concentrate. I look at the walls. The walls look almost purple now. And wait, was that clown painting looking at me for a second? I’m pretty its mouth wasn’t open like that before. And that tongue…
“Oh, no. Oh, I’m sorry,” says Gerald, his voice seems to change as he talks, grow larger. “Ha ha, jeez, my brain is such a dead zone. Why did I say ‘Black Hotel’? I meant, this is the Hole-In-Wall.”
“That’s from ‘Dreamcatcher,’ another Stephen King novel, and it’s not even a hotel. It’s a cabin. Have you ever even heard of Stephen…”
“Who?” the man says. “Anyways, no, this place is really called…”
I quickly interrupt, “Don’t you dare say this is the Dark Tower.”
“Haha. No, the Dark Tower is the name of the gentleman’s club on the other side of town. Right across the street from ‘Salem’s Used Car Lot. And the women in that club! Worth a trip, I tell you. Some of the hottest women you’ll ever see! Hoo baby! Down, Cujo! I mean, there’s this one girl, calls herself Firestarter — goodness gracious, friend, you should see the big ol’ Tommyknockers on that one.”
I shake my head. The typewriter is going so fast, it sounds like machine gun fire. Tak-tak-tak-tak! It rattles my senses. I fall to the floor. The clown painting is growing, the fangs are monstrous, its hands extended as if to grab me. The walls of the room are almost black, the color of night, or crows ready to descend on me and eat me alive. From the bathroom, the noises are on the verge of frenzy. Whatever is banging away inside that toilet bowl sounds ready to break free. I look under the bed, and holy shit — I’m looking at a pair of eyes. Large and red, like the eyes of a dragon. I stand up straight, shivering, terrified of everything around me, yet still holding the phone to my ear, this phone is all that is left of the rational world. My poor little body is rattling like a bag of bones.
“Stop it!” I yell into the phone. “Just stop it! Everything you’re saying is one big Stephen King reference! Hell, everything I’m saying, too! What the hell is going on here! Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, I’m starting to sound like a character in one of his novels!”
The noises in the bathroom stop. The pressure in my head stops. The typing in the other room stops. This time, I get the sense that whoever is over there is listening intently now. I can almost sense his presence against the wall, waiting for what happens next.
“Look, if you don’t mind,” says Gerald, “I’d like to get off the phone. Keep an eye on things here in the front desk. Why don’t you watch some television, keep your mind from getting all agitated? Oh, hang on, I need to put you on hold again.”
Now, the hold music is that awful Larry Underwood song, “Baby Can You Dig Your Man.” Wait a minute, that’s another Stephen King reference…
I put the phone down, and then that’s when I notice it. The telephone cord. I hold it up in my hand, staring at it in disbelief.
The phone was never plugged in.
Was I talking to myself the whole time?
Just then, the typing starts again. A great booming sound of each key. A crack starts to form through the wall, as if something is trying to come through. Each tap of the typewriter causes the wall to give way a little more. Whatever is coming, it’s not going to be pretty. I think of Grandma Bachman’s advice again, the one about getting your ass bit. God bless her poor restless undead soul.
The painting is back to life, the arms reaching out for me, just a big demonic clown looking for a hug. The bed starts to shake as whatever is underneath decides to stretch its legs. From the dresser, a flood of possessed novelty items come streaming forth, things like chattering teeth and little windup monkeys clanking their cymbals. The mini-coffee machine on the desk comes alive, brewing up a brand of John Coffey’s Green Mile roast, “Coffee so strong, it’ll shock you right in your chair!” At first, the coffee smells good, but then, I realize it’s spewing out blood, hot and thick. Suddenly, everything starts bleeding. The walls are weeping blood. The clown painting looks like a circus massacre. The television set switches on, showing an ad for Captain Tripp’s Seafood Restaurant, and then it explodes with blood, like a popped mosquito. The bed starts bleeding, big open sores forming on the covers. The pillows are just wet sacks spewing out blood. The lamps are bleeding, throwing the room into a glowing red light. Where the hell is all this blood coming from? I mean, really, where the hell does a possessed hotel room keep all this blood? This is really getting disgusting…
I run into the bathroom, my feet slippery. I trip and slide on the tiles, slamming my head against the toilet seat.
Get up, Richie! I think to myself. Move!
I get up, pants covered in blood, and slam the door shut. However, even here, the typing noises are deafening. I can hear the wall starting to give way in the other room. The bathroom is not how I remember it looking. Everything seems like it’s made from old bones, like the remains of ancient monsters, remade into decorative hotel designs. It’s like if the hotel room stripped off its skin, revealing the foul-smelling rib cages beneath its bland façade. I look at the red toilet, that evil red throne. What does it want with me? The banging from the toilet bowl has stopped. I’m terrified to open it, but I’m more terrified of whatever unseen horror is about to break into my room. My mind runs through all the possible Stephen King scenarios, until I realize something.
I am in a Stephen King story. I am the main protagonist in the worst Stephen King story ever, the one secretly brewing behind all the well-known novels, like a strange and ghostly afterbirth. This is the anti-novel that exists in order to provide balance for all his mind-boggling bestsellers. The secret pact he made with Satan or Randall Flagg or Leland Gaunt or the Man in Black or whatever it is that Stephen King calls his demonic overlord (Mr. Grey, anyone?). And I know what must be done. I must destroy this novel by any means necessary. I must destroy its self-referential tendencies and sealed-off, hermetic in-jokes. I, Richard Bachman, must venture into the Dark Half of this novel, look Under the Dome into the monstrous bowels of Stephen King’s overworked imagination, to take a Stand, and… dare I say, kick this story into Maximum Overdrive.
I fling the toilet seat up, and stare into the swirling red vortex again. What will I find on the other side? A lonely back road, car headlights staring me down? A haunted cabin filled with unseen monsters? Another Children of the Corn sequel? I take another deep breath just as the monster smashes open the bathroom door, and… down I go again.
Tak! Tak! Tak!
Tak! Tak! Tak!
I awoke face down on the linoleum-tiled floor of a hotel bathroom. A river of drool had slithered out of my agape maw, pooling on the grimy floor. My tongue had shriveled from lack of moisture. My brain throbbed against the inner wall of my skull.
Tak! Tak! Tak!
The sound of somebody typing on either an IBM Selectrix, an old Atex machine or, God forbid, something fabricated by Dell, reverberated through the walls, which were decorated, in 70s fashion, with renditions of lilies on wallpaper. I pulled myself to my feet. I wandered out of the bathroom and into the adjoining bedroom. There was a large bed, facing a boxy television set, so square that Volvo might have designed it. I examined it more closely. It had a “clicker” attached to it via wire. It had been manufactured by RCA. In America. It seemed as if I had traveled not just through sewers and space, but through time as well. No modern American could ever manufacture a television set.
Tak! Tak! Tak!
The noise pierced my cerebellum. Have you ever had a cerebellum piercing? It’s the opposite of a Prince Albert. It’s a Prince Charles. I mean, it really hurts. On the nightstand, next to a Gideon Bible, was a pleather-bound Trapper Keeper, embossed with the ornate logo of the Overlook Hotel. I opened the book. The first page said “off-season amenities.” I turned the page. It was blank. I turned the page. It was blank. I turned the page. It was blank. And so forth. There was no play. What that meant for my inner child was not immediately apparent.
Tak! Tak! Tak!
Every keystroke vaporized one of my synapses. Every tap had all of the drawbacks of a line of cocaine without the energizing benefits that would allow a person to sit, isolated in a room, producing hundreds of pages worth millions of dollars out of nothing more than a sense of paranoia and an encyclopedia of comic book premises. What if cars could drive themselves? What if a girl could start fires with her brain? What if nerds were telekinetics? Clowns, am I right? In old country, dog eats you.
The toilet was my obvious escape route, so I went back to the bathroom, but when I lifted the fuzzy, fuschia fur-covered lid, I found the bowl was clogged. There would be no escape. I went back to the bedroom and dialed the front desk, but the phone rang, unanswered. This was Aspen, Colorado, in the off-season, decades before the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Aspen Food and Wine Festival and the Aspen Ted-Ex talks with their clever power points, ideas worth spreading, and readily available plumbing services. No, in Aspen, Colorado, in the 1970s all you had was a large, empty hotel and Hunter S. Thompson running for sheriff on a “legalize it,” platform. All work and no play, so they say.
I ventured into the hallway of the Overlook Hotel, following the keystrokes of the phantom writer. “Where are you?” I yelled, and the only response was the echo of my own voice. The hallway stretched out in front of me, so that every step I took seemed to get me nowhere, as if I were a hypothetical participant in Xeno’s hypothetical paradox. I broke into a run, but no matter how fast I moved, how much my lungs burned, how hard my heart thumped or how painfully my quadriceps throbbed, I could not cross the thickly carpeted distance. Cocaine and jogging are apparently not the keys to health that I thought they were.
I stopped. A child stood before me. He was slight, innocent. The kind of kid who could grow up to be Wesley Crusher, sometime in a near future vision of the far future. He stared through me, his pupils dilated to eclipse his irises.
“Do you want to see a dead body?” he asked.
“I will stand by you,” I said. “But only if you stand and deliver.”
“No deal,” he said. “I hate calculus.”
“How do I get to the end of the hallway?” I asked.
“You have to walk the Green Mile,” he said.
“You mean that depressing movie where Bjork is a blind woman on death row in Finland or someplace?”
“No,” he said. “The other movie. Without Bjork. And not The Shawshank Redemption, either.”
“How do I walk the Green Mile?” I asked.
The boy handed me a joint and a lighter.
“All work and no play,” he said. “It’ll kill ya.”
I took the joint, lit it and inhaled the sweet viper. Now, I could move forward, puffing along. It took 420 steps for me to reach room 420. Behind the door, I heard the steady: Tak! Tak! Tak! I tried the knob. It was locked. I tried the true and tested ‘70s police officer shoulder-door tackle and hurt my shoulder.
I knocked on the door.
The takking stopped.
“Room service!” I called.
A long silence ensued. Then, foot steps. The bolt clicked. The door opened. Before me stood a man with a short cropped haircut, a mustache, beady eyes and full clown makeup. I looked at him. He looked at me.
“I didn’t order any room service,” he spat.
“Then why did you answer the door?” I cross-examined.
“You’re disturbing my work,” he said.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “But my name is Tom. And I’m never dull. I’m a best selling author and I’m my own biggest fan.”
He invited me in. His room looked just like the one I’d woken up in, except that on the wall there was a picture of a woman sitting on the seashore, next to a hatbox.
“Creepy picture,” I said.
“I didn’t paint it,” he replied.
On the desk, underneath the mirror was an IBM Selectric, an Atex Machine or, God forbid, some monstrosity manufactured by Dell. The desk was covered with paper. The wastebasket next to the desk overflowed with paper. It was all Hammermill Color Laser Gloss Paper, 94 Brightness, 32 pound, Letter Size, 300 Sheets per Pack. One can always tell. When your life is cocaine and paper, you notice the details. The paper had been typed over.
In front of the desk was a large, red chair – a throne, almost. Droplets of red liquid continuously oozed from the fabric, pooling onto the floor below. Had you purchased such a piece of bleeding furniture at Raymour & Flanigan, you would certainly return it in exchange for a refund and an exorcism conducted by a qualified bishop.
“You’re a writer, Tom?”
“I’ve been known to spin a tale,” said the clown.
I picked up a piece of the paper.
“Put. That. Down.” He hissed, in a manner that would suggest a period. Between. Each. Word.
“You seem to over-punctuate,” I said.
“Copy editors are vermin,” he replied.
I looked at the paper in my hand. It said, “The world is flat.” Then there was a line break. Then it said, “The world is flat.” A line break. “The world is flat.” A line break. “The world is flat.”
“You’re Thomas Friedman,” I said. “Trapped in Aspen 30 years too soon for the Aspen Ideas Festival.”
“Yes,” he said. “I write for The New York Times. Or, I will. When the globalization comes around.”
I picked up another piece of paper. All it said was “The world is flat,” ad nauseum. I picked up another and it told the same story. Then another. Then another. “The world is flat. The world is flat. The world is flat.”
“This is what you’ve been takking on that IBM Selectric, old Atex machine or, God forbid, something put together by Dell with old chewing gum and Atari parts?” I asked. “This is what you’ve been driving into my cerebellum?”
“The world is flat,” he said.
“It isn’t,” I said. “It’s globular. This is a settled issue. You’ve been wasting your life, Thomas Friedman.”
A fire lit in the clown’s eyes. His mustache flared. He put his hands around my neck and squeezed my Adam’s apple. He was uncommonly strong and quickly drove me to the floor. The supply of oxygen to my cerebellum evaporated and only the fact that I was high on marijuana and an experienced cocaine addict kept me conscious. My cerebellum had long evolved passed the need for constant need of oxygen, though I couldn’t help but fixate on an apocalyptic future scenario or chain of restaurants called “The Stand.”
“Let go,” I said. “Or I’ll use my mind to set you on fire.”
“You couldn’t accomplish such a feat if you’d outsourced it to India,” he hissed. His mouth opened, wide like a snake, and it seemed he would devour my carotid artery. I kicked him hard in the groin and he rolled off of me. I crawled quickly toward the door and escaped the room before he could regroup to pursue me. Still stoned, I was able to actually move down the hallway and I reached the elevator. I bashed the buttons and one of them (the one furthest from me, natch, I never catch a break) opened and I leapt inside. I took it to the lobby and sprinted out. I sought refuge in the empty hotel bar.
But it wasn’t empty.
Behind the bar stood a fairly translucent, young looking Ted Danson, wearing every part of a tuxedo except the jacket and pants. He casually polished a highball glass. “Can I get you a drink?” he asked. “Taking a break from all your worries sure might help a lot. Sometimes you want to go where everyone know your name, Richard Bachman.”
“Yes,” I said. “A superhumanly strong Thomas Friedman just tried to kill me.”
“That’s awful,” said Ted Danson, suavely (also known as “Dansonly.”)
“I need a stiff drink,” I said.
“Sour apple martini coming right up,” he said.
“Heavy on the apple pucker,” I said.
“You know it,” he said.
Over the course of several (16, I’m a cokehead) sour apple martinis, the ghost of Ted Danson (an actor who wasn’t even dead) told me about the history of the Overlook Hotel and how, in the off-season, it drove its very few residents mad.
“When does the offseason end?” I asked.
“In 20 or so years,” he said. “As soon as there’s an Aspen Ideas Festival. Or maybe an event built around food and wine, sponsored by a magazine of the same name. Until then, Aspen is nothing. Just Hunter S. Thompson trying to be sheriff.”
Another drop of sour apple pucker would have turned me into a sour apple puker, so I bid the ghostly form of Ted Danson good night and went back to my room planning to jam my head back into the toilet.
I locked the door to my room, using every lock available. Then I went into the bathroom and locked that as well. The toilet was still clogged. I kneeled before the throne, stuck my head in, and hurled as the world swirled around me.
Tak! Tak! Tak!
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
The wall gave way to the head of an axe. I was covered in pulverized sheetrock. I snorted some of it. Damn it. It was actually sheetrock. The clown of Thomas Friedman thrust his head through gaping hole in the wall, grinning like a carnivore at an expense account Peter Lugar luncheon.
“Here’s Tommy!” he announced, referencing a late night talk show popular at the time. You remember Ed McMahon, right? He used to be young, in that era where the toilet had left me. The era where I almost certainly was about to die.
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
Friedman heaved the axe into the opening again, ejecting a spray of sheetrock which covered his mustachioed mug in thick white dust in a way that reminded me of a Japanese movie. My favorite Japanese movie. I heard a scream. A low scream at first but then a scream that pitched upwards into high falsetto octaves and made the small hairs on my arm stand at attention like a row of buck privates. It was an animal scream. I thought of a walrus in heat I once saw in a movie. A Japanese movie. My favorite Japanese movie.
Then I realized the scream was coming from me.
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
This was the moment that I, Richard Bachmann, decided that I was not going to die in Aspen in a decade that didn’t even have the decency to know what PowerPoint was. I flailed against every furnishing in that shithole of a bathroom, knocking the plastic-framed mirror off the wall, kicking a hole the size of a small child through the porcelain of the tub and finally ramming my fist through the cardboard thickness of the vanity, where I found my salvation.
The plungers manufactured by the PJK Plunging Group of Hong Kong group are not the most sturdy clogged-feces-removal-devices ever created by man (that honor goes to the magnificent phallic masterpieces of the Kohoi Fish Salting and Sucking Device Concern based out of Osaka), but a man in the desert doesn’t stop to taste the water before he drinks.
I ran to the bloody commode and shoved the plunger in. Something guttural and low moved deep in the dank dark bowels of the plumbing beneath me. Something similar moved in my bowels. I pushed again, feeling the globular bits of horror lodged far down the rusted pipes coalesce and shake. The ancient metalwork behind the walls vibrated, a low vibration, like that of a passing truck or a cellist caught in a blender. I pushed again and the smallest sound came out – a chirp, really – before every inch of lead in the walls rattled and groaned and gush of terror sprayed out from behind them.
Tom Friedman looked at me, almost plaintively, and then exploded – a red mist amongst the sheetrock and crap leaking from the walls. Darkness surrounded me and I passed into a warm, feverish unconsciousness.
I awoke dazed and slightly feces-covered on the bare white tiles of in an empty bathroom. Another bathroom. It was hot. 90 degrees easy and dry. I stood up. The room smelled like desert – well, desert and that disinfectant they use at strip clubs and fast food restaurants. That disinfectant that smells vaguely of bleach and the remnants of a high school attempt at an orgy.
Lukewarm water came out of both the hot or cold taps. I washed my face in both
Opening the door revealed a long empty road, a piece of asphalt really – something that a real road would be offended by if this thing, this collection of gravel and dirt stretching out into the mirages and heatwaves that had the temerity to call itself a road actually called itself a road. This road was the kind of road that were it to grow hair would have a pony tail even though it was balding in front and would show up to road family reunions with its eighteen-year-old road girlfriend who would smoke weed in front of all the little road kids and brag about being just one test away from getting her road GED. This was the kind of road that wouldn’t clean up the jacked up cars in front of its road trailer until some other roads called the road cops and this road got dragged out of its road front door in its road tighty wighties in front of a FOX TV crew.
I had only seen it for a minute and I hated this fucking road.
I was standing next to a Texaco station. The nozzles hung pendulously down from gas pumps which had moved less fluid in the last decade than a man with a bladder cancer. The sign above advertised that diesel was 97 cents a gallon.
Two men emerged from the convenience store. They were Johnny Cash dressed in his signature outfit and Yul Brenner dressed as his character from Westworld. Each man held a Slim Jim in his right hand. Johnny Cash had snapped into his. They stared at me for a moment and then took off like jackrabbits into the distance.
The Man in Black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.
There’s that part of the brain that sometimes does things without that part of the brain that makes you “you” knowing what it’s doing – and the part of the brain that is you goes along riding shotgun. The part of my brain that was me watched that other part of my brain make my body, still stinking of sheetrock and the digestive contents of Aspen before it went all vegetarian, start running after the two men.
The men receded, further and further until they melded into the nothingness of the desert. I followed the road forward, sweating in a way that turned the thin layer of sheetrock dust still clinging to me into a kind of perspiratory spackle that cracked along my joints as I walked. The landscape passed by, a monotonous nihilism of dead animal carcases, slowly-drying vegetation and signs for a Stuckey’s restaurant that never appeared.
The sun seemed frozen in place – or was it actually frozen? There was no time here, only distance and the long empty highway – that shitty, shitty highway. I walked and walked until I finally turned a corner and saw a small structure up ahead.
It was the Texaco station.
I walked towards it, the way that a man walks towards a massage parlour that advertises “body work,” when he’s not sure whether it gives actual massages or hand jobs and he’s not really sure whether or not he cares. I drew closer and I saw a figure emerge from the bathroom behind the convenience store. Closer, and two more men emerged, one was dressed in black and the other looked like a bald western gunfighter. Both of the two new men had Slim Jims in their hands and they ran off. The first man followed and I retched in terror.
The rest of the walk down to the Texaco was not unlike the walk of a condemned man to the firing squad or a teenage couple down the family planning aisle of a Duane Reade. My hands shook as I approached the bathroom door and turned the knob. The interior was pristine and smelled only of the desert and bleach melange that greeted me when I first came to consciousness here a few hours ago.
The chrome handle of the toilet was cold – far colder than the ambient heat of the barely-ventilated desert bathroom would have lead me to believe. I touched it for a moment and then pressed. A coriolis spiral of clear water flowed down the bowl. Nothing more. I breathed for a moment.
Then blood began to seep through every crack in every tile in the bathroom. It flowed through the fixtures, out of the chamber behind the commode, over the naked lightbulb above me and within the space of a minute filled the room. The warm comfort of nothingness surrounded me and I passed out of the out of time I was in and out of time itself.
The green shag carpet of the Sobremirada is unmistakable, even awaking to it as I was in a pool of my own vomit, clutching a bottle of Red Rum and covered in vague and sinister stains that I didn’t care to trace. I was, for the first time in my life, glad that the United States had a jury system. I looked up at the Thomas Kinkade painting on the wall and very nearly kissed it.
There was a knock at the door. There was nothing special about that knock. It was the type of innocuous knock you might hear on any door in any state at any time comfortable in the expectation that you’d open a door and find either a Brownie or a Mormon.
Still I felt the dread as I opened the door and saw something that was neither a Brownie nor a Mormon.
“Mr. Bachman.” A cadaverous man was standing before me.
“Yes.” The man smiled revealing a mouth that made me glad for the invention of the dentists’ drill.
“I have your Fiesta Combo Platter.”
“Oh thank God,” I said. “You have no idea how much I -”
The man interrupted me, “There’s just one problem, Mr. Bachman.”
“And what is that?”
“We haven’t served the Fiesta Combo Platter for 13 years. Heh heh heh heh. Heh heh heh!”