Short Stories & Other Mistakes
1999
(Strippers, Madmen, Whores, and Other Saints)

Writing and poetry
From the 1990's

by Richard Van Ingram

RAVEN

Sometimes I wonder what happened to that girl, the one I met that night before they medicated me, in the days that were not slow, the days that knew no calm. How many nights did I spend then with my bones and flesh a glowing white magnesium fire, writhing up and down the streets breathing the smoke of scores of cigarettes in search of... what? Some mythical panacea, some glimpse of holiness? Oh God, the world spiraled around me, a flashing kaleidoscope of Christmas light colors; and through this pitching, screaming landscape I stumbled unsteady on my smoldering feet, watching incredulously as the architecture bent and breathed and swayed and blurred. My lungs worked like bellows, oxygen feeding the conflagration of my soul.

I was well on the way to bronchitis, a little fevered on top of everything else. I hacked up a mouthful of glue-like stuff and spat on the sidewalk before wrapping my lips around the mouth of a fifth of J&B, hoping with each mouthful to stretch out the time till the soaring, light feeling would engulf me, send me into paroxysms of wild and orgasmic speech. At my left arm was my associate, Roach, the owner of the scotch, a drunk by profession. As usual he was nervously drawing on a smoke from our jointly owned pack of filterless Pal Mals.

"Quick," he hissed. "Hide the bottle!"

In one smooth motion I slipped it beneath my jacket. A cop cruiser rolled by, eyeing us. Then it turned up a side street. I pulled out the liquor and had another hit.

I had not slept in four nights, heading into the fifth and felt electrified, better than if I'd just awakened - except for the aggravating haze which seemed to plague my eyes. My mind emerged, though, as sharp as a duelist's blade, thrusting, slashing, stitching faster and faster as my mouth at last worked overtime to express the barest essentials of the thoughts.

"Cathedrals," I growled, " Gothic cathedrals were concretized spirit, worship incarnate, the relation of man to world and God and even Hell laid out in stone. And the theology of light - illumination, reflected participation in the good, kalokagatha, the beauty of the good, goodness of beauty - all there in the stained glass."

"Uhm-hmm. Whatever."

Roach took the bottle and, my hands freed, were whipping around, creating flying buttresses and rose windows out of the chilled air.

"The decent of Heaven into Earth, the marriage of sky and ground, hierosgamos, divinization of the flesh - all right there in those buildings, Roach!"

"Yeah, man, " he muttered, draining the scotch.

"Yeah, but look. Look at THESE buildings, Roach, LOOK at them."

Downtown Athens, Georgia on a rainy winter evening opened around us as we passed the iron gate of the University of Georgia.

"Look at these old brick places, restaurants, beer joints, Chinese, gyros. Plate glass, false 19th century ironwork. Look at THIS. Look!"

We jogged across a street and stopped at the corner of an old brick store building. Set into the wall every three or four feet, just above head level, were these terra cotta-esque cherub faces.

"What is this?" I asked loudly. " What in the Hell are these little heads doing on the side of a store? What does this say about us, now? This is Hell masquerading as Heaven. Filthy Moloch decked out in the imagery of the divine, made respectable by some sort of falsified history. There is worship here of self and pleasure and money..."

Roach belched and spoke.

"Let's go to that club, Michael."

"...demonic usurpation..."

"Uh, Michael, let's go."

"What?"

"Let's go to that club."

The world began to shift around me as if the night had suddenly come on and the intensity of the lights had been jacked up. It was the mere mention of the place, "that club" that sent the white flames from my groin to my extremities; even my vision cleared for a moment. When the feeling subsided, I realized we had kept on walking away from the cherubs and onto the UGA campus. In fact, we were standing in the parking lot behind the philosophy building, the sight of which caused me to cough and spit. Though a Ph. D. candidate in that subject, I had not gone to classes for over a week. I felt no remorse, just a nebulous sort of bitterness toward everything academic. Not knowing what else to do, we stood outside the basement doors lighting cigarettes. Roach looked at me, hoping I might remember his earlier requests.

The lights in the two upper floors glowed warmly while I contemptuously eyed the room where I was supposed to be attending a lecture at that very minute. We are in the outer darkness, I thought. We have been cast out to wail and to gnash our teeth.

The basement door swung out and a short, well-groomed fellow emerged, a small backpack slung over his shoulder.

"Hey, Michael!" he called amiably, throwing up his hand in greeting.

"YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" I screamed.

Milton Feurlich was stunned motionless. Being the prize student of the department, I imagine he expected that I would be honored that he recognized and acknowledged me. Hardly - I hated Milton Feurlich. I hated him because he was the beloved of the department and because he was on full scholarship while I was not; I despised him because his teeth were straight and his nose cute and his almond-shaped eyes were of that deep blue shade which attracts women; and because he had the money to pick his dress by the standards set in G.Q. Magazine. But most of all there was the time we first met. I was discussing existentialism with another student in the break room when Feurlich's perfect little cultured voice broke in.

"You don't really believe in any of that, now do you Michael?"

"What do you mean, Milton?"

"I mean, that philosophy is about discovering the meaning of life, establishing values, metaphysics. Superstition. No one's bought that for two hundred years - -"

"Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I do believe in 'that sort of superstition' as you call it. If philosophy isn't ultimately about human life, it's worthless."

"Then you're going to have a hard time as a professor, aren't you? Philosophy is talk about talk. Nothing less, but certainly nothing more."

"-- A sort of game with words? You believe that?"

"Exactly."

"Isn't that like a carpenter making a hammer and then refusing to use it? I mean, language points to things outside itself..."

"More metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. You assume we can use the tool on anything other than itself. How do you know whether words point to anything other than more words? Where's the evidence?"

I smiled.

"Well, Milton, thanks for setting me straight. I think I'll go have a cig and think about this for awhile."

I did. A few weeks later, Milton Feurlich had some difficulty in one of our classes understanding phenomenology until I explained the basics to him and made out a reading list. A few days after that, his paper on Husserl got a better grade than mine - for no reason, I thought, other than the fact that his name was Milton Feurlich and mine was Michael Cannon.

I leered at him.

"What?" whined Milton, smiling nervously. Obviously, he was clinging to the hope that I was joking.

"I called you a motherfucker, boy." I felt my body begin to move towards him menacingly. Roach whistled and began to wander off.

"There's no need for that..." Feurlich's eyes betrayed fear now.

"What are you worried about, Milt? My words are only referring to themselves, right? "

Milton ran for the library and for a second I had the adrenaline-inspired impulse to chase him. Roach's hand on my arm broke the spell.

"C'mon, man. Let's go to that club."

Those words again, and the attending warmth followed.

"O.K. "

Slowly, we turned and shuffled back downtown.

"I could have pounded the shit out of him." My voice was hoarse from liquor and cigarettes and the night air. "Pounded his fuckin' brains out so they wouldn't have anything left to give grades to. Except they'd still give his empty dead head a 4.0 because..."

"Because he's Milton Feurlich." Roach had heard my Feurlich complaint for weeks and had the mantra memorized.

"Yeah, because he's Milton Feurlich. They'd give his corpse the highest freaking grade simply to justify the scholarships they loaded him down with. If he did poorly..."

"It would mean they did poorly."

"Right. It's all politics, Roach, it's all show biz, all appearance, just like this damn wall with the cherubs pasted on it. Man! It's all so damn false and unfair..."

"Yeah. Unfair. Right. Let's go to that club."

There was only one major intersection to cross, one incline, and then we were standing before a dark portal capped with a neon sign pinkly radiating the word "CANDYCANES" out into the misty evening. I fumbled with a cigarette, my hands shaking in anticipation and wonder because I had never been in a strip club before and this, Roach assured me, was one of the finest.

"How much?"

"For both of us it'll be ten. Five apiece."

Roach stood there in front of me, the archetypal UGA grad school drop out. His clothing was faded and worn, the knees of his jeans non-existent, black high-tops ragged. Roach wore a 70's era Army Surplus jacket, an old Screaming Eagles patch just barely attached to the shoulder. And the sunglasses. Roach always wore a pair of black Terminator sunglasses that mirrored the flying lights all around us and served to mask his eyes and emotions. If he had any. In the considerable amount of time Roach and I spent together, I never saw the boy's eyes. He was handsome enough to be considered attractive except that his close-cropped brown hair always needed washing and his strong jaw had a permanent five o'clock shadow.

As I said, Roach was a drunk and lived from party to party. Which was an easy enough life in Athens, Georgia. But finding a party is one thing, getting into it is another and Roach was a past master at getting what he wanted. He was simply blessed with an ability to coax other people into including him in their plans. Sometimes he even made the plans.

Roach, it was rumored, majored in political science prior to taking up drinking as his vocation.

Hence he stood there with his hands in his pockets in front of a drunken philosophy student who was doubtless about to be finished with grad school, awaiting the same philosopher to cough up the bucks to get him into a strip club.

A group of girls passed us on the sidewalk as I fumbled for the cash and I saw something like apprehension in their eyes, or disgust - it was hard to tell which. Ignoring them, I managed to claw the money out my pocket as they rushed by and then Roach led me into the gloom behind the club's heavy smoked glass door.

We stood in front of a counter in a small black room, a counter manned by some boy in a white tuxedo shirt with black bow tie.

"May I help you?"

"Yes," said Roach smoothly. "Two tickets, please."

I handed the guy the ten before he asked.

"I.d.s, please. Regulations, y'know."

Roach easily produced his license while I went from pocket to pocket in search of mine. In doing so, I spilled matchbooks, change, and little scraps of paper all over the floor which, itself, suddenly seemed to be tilting wildly.

"Here. Here it is, " I gasped while raking together my possessions from off the floor.

"Good, good. You gentlemen enjoy yourselves."

With this, Tuxedo Shirt pointed to another heavy door just to the right of where we entered. Roach tugged at it and in we went. The floor slanted downwards and everything was illuminated by sets of lurid red light from the ceiling. The temperature there was quite warm, warm enough that I immediately felt the dampness from the mist in my hair and moustache. Loud, rhythmic music throbbed in the air and my head swam so hard that I had to steady myself by grabbing Roach's shoulder.

"It's really cool, " he said like a used car salesman reassuring a reluctant customer, "you'll enjoy it, man. You owe it to yourself."

At the end of the ramp we passed through a curtain of rainbow colored beads, turned left and stepped into a huge smoke-filled room. Off to the left was the main stage, an elevated runway with a red and white candy cane-striped pole at the near end and silver beads across the far end. In between was a mirror ball going full tilt and beneath that was a woman, platinum blonde, writhing to the beat. She was naked, her curves full, maybe a little too full for that line of work.

Across from the stage and to our right was a long bar where several men of various ages were nursing overpriced drinks and sneaking glances at the half-clothed performers who, between their tours of duty on the stage, were mingling with the patrons and picking up table dances. I quickly learned that they got ten dollars a pop for this extra service.

Overwhelmed, I followed Roach to the bar, weaving between the large octagonal tables which acted as platforms for private dances. Some men sat at these, but most were gathered around the runway feeding dollar bills into the blonde's garter belt. I handed Roach a fistful of ones and, while he ordered drinks, I tried to focus on the featured dancer. It became apparent that the reason the dancer seemed out of shape was because she was in her late 40s. Somewhat shocked, I sank onto a barstool and tried to recall if I'd ever seen anyone that old nude before. There was something embarrassing in seeing the woman's shaved pubis undulating only a few feet away. My mind fixed on the question of how many children the woman might have had.

So much for the erotic quality of the experience.

"What?" asked Roach as he passed me a glass of cheap scotch. He sensed something was wrong.

"Nothing," I lied, not wishing to ruin the evening with my bizarre obsessions.

The music ended and the d.j.'s oily voice puked out of the speakers.

"Let's give it up for SILVER!"

"Who's supplementing her Social Security benefits by stripping," I muttered.

After a few men whistled and hooted, there was some half-hearted clapping to go along with the dancer's sloppy bow. She looked to be about as drunk as I was.

"NOW things will get going, just watch, man. They bring out the real talent the later it gets."

I looked at Roach in a vain attempt at seeing whether or not he was serious. All I saw was the sunglasses.

With that, a gong sounded and the room was assaulted by the thick rhythms of an old Ozzy Ozbourne tune - "Crazy Train."

"And now, straight from New York City - MAGDA!"

The lights went out and a strobe came on to reveal in its staccato flashes a tall, curvy redhead every bit as exciting as any I'd ever seen in men's magazines. She did a cartwheel to the end of the stage and, as the lights came up, caught the striped pole between her legs and slowly twirled to the ground. The crowd went wild. The sight of this woman's body clad in knee-high leather boots, black leather hot pants, and a barely buttoned leather vest was enough to erase Milton Feurlich and the other, mature stripper clean from my thoughts. My vision sharpened momentarily allowing me to drink in every energetic motion.

Magda's garter belt filled quickly so the vest came off in just a few minutes revealing two perfectly palm-sized hemispheres with large brownish aureole. This, more pole tricks, and some gratuitous bending and stretching brought more bills to the woman. In return, Magda whipped down a zipper on either hip and the hot pants came off with a flourish. The woman had shaved her red pubic hair into the shape of a lightning bolt that elicited laughter and nods. The cash poured in.

My stomach told me, though, something was wrong. What is it? I wondered. Everyone's having fun, the dancer's making money, she's good to look at - what?

His presence was palpable even across the room. He was a tall man, maybe six-six, dressed all in white like a waiter or something. He looked a little like Omar Sharif. In the space of just a few strides he navigated the area between us and bent his tanned, cultured face close to my pale ear.

"Look closer," he whispered before disappearing into the crowd.

Bewildered, I looked around to see if anyone seemed to have noticed the Man in White. They didn't. Then I tried to look more closely at Magda and her whirling dance but still felt dizzy and ill at ease. Roach was watching another girl do a table dance nearby so I didn't even attempt to get his attention. Instead, I began to see, in my mind, the fašade of a Gothic cathedral, like the ones that I had obsessed on earlier in the evening. On the fašade was a scene of the Last Judgment with demons that were part man, part animal. Suddenly, it was if the images from inside myself spilled out onto the people I saw outside myself. The faces of the men around the runway snapped into relief; I could see every pore and blemish and scar and scale on their putrid flesh. I could hear the very spit washing in their mouths, the snap and slither off their tongues, their swinish grunts, mad giggles. In the multicolored lights it seemed for just a moment that they were part lizard or snake, as if they were living demonic images of the Last Judgment.

The glass of scotch I had been drinking from tipped over in my hand, the cold liquid on my lap snapping me out of the trance. Rapidly, I looked from side to side, embarrassed, but I soon realized that no one noticed me, and if they did, they didn't care. I ordered another drink and sat terrified at what had just happened.

Clapping and shouts filled the air as Magda made her exit and the lights came up. Cute waitresses in white stockings, garters, and bustiers made their way from behind the bar, showing their nice legs and taking orders for drinks. But my gaze was focused on an older bald man sitting alone at a table, a stack of twenties in front of him. A heroin-thin blonde girl who could have been sixteen stood on his table swaying her knife-edged hips to some imaginary tune, her small watery eyes fixed on some nonexistent place out on the horizon. For all the world the man's head seemed to me a white skull balanced precariously atop a stuffed black turtleneck and jacket. It was a skull that showed no mirth, no lust, no enjoyment of any sort, merely the look of power and negation.

A dancer in a Dallas Cowboy's Cheerleader costume appeared next to me and softly laid her hand on my shoulder.

"Hi, fella. How're you t'night?" Her accent was inflated as false as her breasts. Nevertheless, there was some charm there.

"I'll do." My voice had grown rougher from smoking and from choking back bile. She flinched a little.

"My name's Buffie. What's yours?"

"Michael."

"Ooooh, that's such a sexy name. I'll bet a cowboy like you could use a dance!"

A sales pitch.

"Maybe later."

The girl pouted beautifully.

"You sure? I've got a little show saved up just for you."

"Not right now."

With that she moved on to Roach.

"Hey, Michael, let me borrow ten bucks man."

I lit a cigarette and lowered my eyebrows menacingly. My hands shook violently as I ordered us both a scotch. Roach shrugged and the dancer moved on down the line. Leaning over, Roach feigned concern.

"What's th' matter?"

"This place. These people. Me. I dunno..."

My thoughts began to whirlwind again like many radio stations playing at once, overlapping and obliterating one another. There was no way to capture in words what I was grasping intuitively - that this place was a truly a place of unveiling. There was something of Aphrodite here, but of Kronos, too. The place smelled, simultaneously, of the bed and of the grave.

"Their eyes," I stammered, trying to concentrate long enough to form a complex sentence. "The look in their eyes isn't... right."

Roach took a deep slug from his glass and rattled the ice around.

"Quit lookin' at their eyes and start lookin' at their asses."

We have been cast into outer darkness, I thought. Another dancer came out and the music went on. Without a word, I steadied my hand tremor and handed Roach a wad of bills of various denominations. He smiled briefly before running into the fray. I got up and limped off to the washroom, took my seat in a stall. There, I pulled a couple of rolls of bills from my pockets and tried to count them but the alcohol and the manic whirlwind sent all my numbers up and away. I laughed, estimating that I had around $500 left - the remainder of next quarter's tuition money that I'd withdrawn from the bank at the start of this episode. School? By threatening Feurlich, I'd probably signed my walking papers. Plus the cops were probably looking for me. Knowing dear Milton he'd called them from the library.

Five hundred bucks, then, for boozing and eating and sleazy hotel rooms. Standing, I laughed again and flushed a twenty down the pot. It swirled away, just like my mind and my future were threatening to, it swirled just like the room and I grabbed the wall in time to stop the motion.

Back in the club things were becoming lively. More patrons - UGA students, mainly - were pouring down the red ramp to Hell and girls of various shapes, sizes, colors, and styles were dancing on nearly every table. The waitresses could barely keep up with the orders and the bouncers, two burly linebacker types in tuxedos, issued gentle warnings to overly rambunctious guys attempting to cop a feel or intimidate the women. Suddenly, the bouncers grabbed up a transgressor, snapped him into an armlock, and dragged him up the ramp to the street.

Something drew me stage-side. Maybe it was curiosity or the liquor or my warped brain chemistry or the deformed desires of my soul. In any case, I tripped and stumbled my way there, found an empty seat and took up watch.

"What'll it be?" screamed a waitress in competition with a rhythm machine.

"Scotch, double. Rocks."

The lower half of my body was a hunk of lead while the upper half was weightless, flame-like. I observed that, though stimulated beyond belief, I had no thought of sex. Instead, the animalistic behavior - and appearance - of the men around me held my attention. When the light shifted, for moments at a time, the crowd seemed to be populated by reptilian beings in ball caps, tongues flickering, cold eyes glinting and boring into the warm flesh of the dancers. There was a universal fascination with the vagina, some men practically slithering onstage to get a closer look before the bouncers roughly enforced proper etiquette.

"And now," thundered the d.j., "here's... RAVEN!"

The screeching sound of White Zombie's "Black Sunshine" ripped through us and a tall, wiry young woman in blue and white striped leggings, white g-string and bra emerged from behind the curtain of silver beads. Her straight, jet-black hair hung mid-back level and swayed to match every step she made down the runway. Then she was off, hair out in a tornado swirl, muscular thighs working overtime to the fast music. Her hips were miraculously mobile and her belly rippled like a sail caught in the breeze. I found myself struck by the girl's eyes that seemed full of curiosity and self-assurance and by her long, straight nose, her small, dark lips.

Unlike the other dancers I'd seen, she was neither girlish nor was she voluptuous. Her breasts were small, hips moderate, and her shoulders delicate, but the overall appearance was one of strength. She was a warrior goddess, a Pallas Athena without crimson tresses.

Only a few men dared put dollars in her garter and she disdainfully ignored them, made no move to strip. Disgusted at the fact that this amazing woman was about to go unpaid, I fished out a hundred-dollar bill and, when she moved in front of me, I held out the cash. For a second she stopped moving, blinking at the note. There was a hint of amusement on her lips as she knelt down and allowed me to gently place the money in her garter. She mouthed the words, "Thank you," stood, and proceeded to slowly remove her bra. Then, without dancing, she slowly lost the g-string. Somehow I had missed it before, but now that she was only a foot or two away, I saw the jet-black tattoo of a raven in nose-dive between her navel and shaved pubic region.

Raven intended to ignore everyone else in the bar and dance for me alone, which she proceeded to do. Even when guys started offering dollar bills she ignored them and remained glued in front of me. Her motions were easy, curvilinear and deliberate, as her long body became a song of seduction and vengeance. For the first time, there was a definite energy in my groin as the snakes and lizards and demonic things around me faded; all I could consider was this one beautiful woman dancing in the darkness.

There was a persistent tapping at my shoulder. At first I thought it was Roach, so I ignored it. Then more tapping. I turned to face what must have been a mechanic or something, judging from his uniform and the permanent grease stains on the hand he was poking me with. Confused, I lifted my eyebrows.

"PUNK!" he yelled. "WHAT ARE YA DOIN'?"

Still confused I shrugged and turned back to Raven's performance. The big greasemonkey grabbed my shoulder hard and spun me around.

"Who th' FUCK do ya think ya are, getting' HER to dance like that?"

My mind rolled around. Was this a jealous husband, a boyfriend, a crazy fan? These were possibilities I hadn't considered before entering the game. I tried to pull away, with no luck. In the fellow's other hand was a beer bottle with my name all over it. Being drunk, insane, and mostly numb, it was hard to take the idea of a beating seriously.

"Eh, go away, " I belched.

Just then, the waitress returned with my drink - and with the two bodyguards. One big boy grabbed the mechanic's bottle wielding arm and the other wrenched the man's hand from my shoulder. He shrieked like a little girl as they dragged him away and I sank into my chair.

"Thanks," I said to the waitress handing her a ten. "Keep the change."

She smiled grimly and handed me my scotch.

Raven finished her performance a little while later and gave me a mysterious hand sign before leaving the stage.

"She wants to talk to ya, mac," said an old man to my left. I nodded.

I sat there, sipped my drink, and looked around for Roach, who was nowhere to be found - probably off making it with one of the dancers, I thought. The crowd's noise grew as the evening wound down and the men became more drunk. When the lights came up I had to squint hard in order to see at all and I allowed my gaze to rest on the floor to get some relief. Then, another tap on my shoulder. I turned expecting a bottle in the teeth, but it was Raven towering over me in a new costume consisting in white go-go boots, white short shorts, and a tube top.

"Come over here," she said. Her voice was soft and young, somehow innocent seeming. I followed her over to a series of booths along one wall and we sat down in one.

"I just wanted to say thanks for that tip. You sure that's what you wanted to give me?"

The look in her eyes said she was half-considering giving it back. After days without bathing or shaving, loaded and hallucinating I must have been a sight. What was there for me to say? My thoughts were outrunning my mouth and my mouth threatened to begin trying to catch up.

"Yeah, no problem."

It was all I could do to keep from telling her how magnificent she was, how intriguing. I wanted to Harrow Hell and take that woman out of there with me back out into the icy air of the night where we could run away from that sick and freakish town, where we could hot wire a car and point it into the night and drive. I could see our black-haired children on the horizon and a place to live, any place beyond this. Maybe a place in Spain...

Instead, I repeated, "No problem."

Raven smiled uneasily. I scared her.

"Well, I've got to get ready to dance again later..."

"Wait."

"Uh, what? Do you want a table dance? I'll do you one on the house."

There was something about this woman, something I could see in her eyes and in her motions. There was a dream in there trying to escape, and it was dying down here in the Underworld, languishing unnoticed and ignored.

"What," I said, "do you want most, Raven?"

"Huh?"

"What do you dream about? You're a dreamer."

"Look, I'm not here to put up with any kinky stuff, mister. I'm a dancer, not a freakin' prostitute."

I shook my head and waved my hands.

"You're not getting' me. It's not a sex question - I just want to know... what you want out of life. You know."

She wrinkled her eyebrows and sucked in her cheeks.

"Why should I tell you? That's private."

"Take a chance, Raven. "

She took a deep breath and looked at me like I was a nut. And I was. Then she decided that a confession to a nut might be... interesting.

"Well, if you have to know, I want to be a dancer. I mean, a modern dancer. There's this school out in New Mexico I've been saving to attend. It's expensive, you know?"

I dug down into my pocket and brought out the rest of my cash.

"That's about four hundred. Take it."

"Yeah. Right. Who'd you steal it from?"

I smiled.

"Myself."

"And what do you expect in return?"

I slid the pile of bills to the girl and stood.

"You've been working here too long."

"You'll just be back for it when you're sober."

"I won't be back. Ever."

I raised my eyebrows in a serious, earnest way. She touched the money and looked at me with a sad, deep look.

"Who are you?"

"Just take the cash and don't ask."

I shook my head, turned and walked to the ramp, up and out of the club. It was very cold out on the street. The mist had turned to light rain so all surfaces were reflective and the reflections mixed with the distortions provided by my soul making the landscape look like something out of a horror movie. I began to experience vertigo and nausea. As cars flew past blowing their icy spray, I hung my head in a public trashcan and vomited for what seemed hours. That was when I heard The Voice.

"So, you thought ya were gonna get out of it dincha?"

The mechanic's fist caught me in the side of the head, knocking me to the ground in a cloud of blood and puke. By the time I figured out what was happening, the man's steel-toed work boot had found my gut.

"What makes ya think yer good enough fer the likes o' HER, you college freak?"

By the second kick I was out cold. I don't know how long I was in the street before the cops found me. A minute or a thousand years - it doesn't matter. All I remember is the dream I had, the dream or vision or hallucination, take your pick...

...The Man in White descended the spiral staircase with a silver tray balanced in one bronze hand. He radiated a pure white light that caused the hundreds of rattlesnakes on the floor to recoil in horror, opening a path to the old chair in which I sat. Maybe I was chained there - I don't know. Wordlessly, the man handed me a note from the tray, then turned and climbed the staircase. In the dying light, I could make out something really important.

What it was is none of your business.

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