Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Beast, Pt. 41 (Chapter 15g)

It’s not her. It’s not. It can’t be. You’re hallucinating. You’re seeing things. You’ve acquired that brain disorder where you can’t recognize human faces. Sudden onset faceblindness. Faceblindnessitis. No, not itis. That prefix refers to inflammation. Your faceblindness isn’t inflamed.

Maybe that part of my brain is, though. Maybe I bumped my head last night, and I got a mild concussion, and now it’s turned into a mental disorder.

But why would it just kick in now? Why not last night, or this morning? Why not at the pool? You could see the woman in the bikini at the pool.

I mean, I’ve already forgotten what she looked like, but yeah, I definitely saw her.

Goddamnit, I’m going to die like I lived: obsessing over stupid shit.

The faceless creature squirms uneasily in her seat. “Hey, are you really okay? You look kind of… Kind of like you’re freaking out or something. Are you having a panic attack?”

What a perfectly polite and reasonable question. See? This isn’t really happening. It’s in your head. She probably has a face and everything. Most people do. That’s just science. The science of faces. Phrenology. That’s the science of faces, right?

“Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe a little. I think I’m going to go see the auto-doc. Get me one of those tinctures everybody’s been talking so much about.”

I stand up and try to remember where the fitness center is. I had no intention of using it while we were here, so I certainly didn’t pay attention while we were being given our first tour of the villa (if we were, in fact, given a proper tour. I don’t really remember.) And now I can’t ask one of the guys or wander around aimlessly, or I’ll look like I don’t know the first damn thing about the fancy hotel room I’m paying an obscene amount of money to stay in.

I take a deep breath, pick a direction that I don’t remember a bedroom being in, and walk in it. Is this a problem that rich people have? Their houses are too big and full of too much stuff for an unaltered human brain to keep track of? That seems plausible. Ridiculous, but plausible.

Maybe there’s a business there. An untapped market. People hire interior decorators, after all. This would be similar but different. A curator of one’s space, one’s life. Sure, you’ve accumulated all the art and electronics you’d ever need to convince the world that you’re a modern forward-thinking individual with impeccable taste, but will it bring you happiness? Studies of questionable legitimacy claim that it won’t. But you know what will bring you happiness? Being pleased with yourself. That’s where the curation come in. All that amazing stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, the monuments to your aesthetic sensibilities and personal and professional accomplishments, will be cycled through and displayed where you can gaze on them with wonder. “Oh, that’s right! I finished that 10k in 2nd place back when I was 23! Man, I’m great! I’ve done so much with my life!” These reassurances and more can be yours, all for a low low price.

I walk into a linen closet. I don’t know why the villa would even have a linen closet, given that it’s still part of a hotel and maids come in and change the sheets every day.

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The Beast, Pt. 40 (Chapter 15f)

Monk grins and shakes his head, like he somehow has it all figured out. “No way, man. I’ve got it all figured out.”

“Do you now?” Papa Chub replies. There’s a note of skepticism in his voice, irritation and amusement in equal measure. Maybe he sees the child his friend once was and he’s thinking of all the misadventures they’ve shared over the years, all the dumb mistakes they stumbled into and subsequently rescued each other from. Maybe he’s thinking of the things that have changed since those days, the things that haven’t. The things they still have in common and the ways that they’ve grown apart. When they were children, they would have seen each other on a daily basis. Now, I don’t think they’d seen each other for months before I’d pitched the idea of going to the Meadows. Maybe he’s wondering if, in the face of temporal and physical gulfs that have separated them, their friendship is still the same. Maybe he’s wondering if Monk is still the same person.

Maybe Papa Chub’s wondering if he is.

“Man,” I say, “I can see you spontaneously combusting under Sooyoun’s gaze. She’s going to take one fucking look at you and there’s not going to be anything left but a pile of ashes.”

Monk rolls his eyes and smiles at us, suddenly a patient father talking to his idiot children. “Guys, come on. I’m not dumb. Soo and I talked about this. I told her I was thinking about getting a tattoo to commemorate the trip, and she rolled her eyes and said, ‘Yeah. Uh-huh. Sure.’”

“Wait, you asked her permission?” Googe says, his voice heavy with unrestrained sarcasm. I can just imagine the smug satisfaction on his face. “Wow.”

It’s my turn to roll my eyes. Of course he asked permission. They’re married. His body’s not his own, his life isn’t his own. He’s agreed to share it with someone else. The same is true of her, too. It’s not a defeat or a concession or a betrayal. It’s an expression of mutual love and trust. It’s–

There’s a sharp flash of pain between my eyes, and the room goes white for a moment, the marble and wood and metal and the people all replaced by a void like a blank page. I can’t see anything but white, and the pain is sharp enough that I can feel my face twisting up. I know that everyone’s behind me, that the couches we’d been drinking on the night before are behind me and to the left.

With my eyes screwed shut, I turn and walk in a wide arc with my hand held out low before me, fingers splayed wide. I’ll find the couch and just sit down for a bit. No one will notice. I can hear Googe and Monk arguing, anger slowly creeping into Monk’s voice, Papa Chub and Erb occasionally chiming in with unsolicited opinions. The girls are silent, but they’re probably just nervous, uncertain about what in the Hell they’ve walked into. Probably they were expecting something glamorous, the celebrity lifestyle that they’d seen in vids. Instead, they got a bunch of neurotics arguing over inane things. But then, it seems like that’s all most vids feature, so maybe the glamor is just a matter of distance and cosmetic surgery.

My knee bumps into one of the seats. I put my hand on its back, pick a direction, walk around it, and sink into it. It’s a loveseat, big enough for two people, but I’m alone.

But only for a moment.

A gentle hand settles upon my shoulder and there’s a voice, soft, feminine. “Hey. Are you okay?”

The pain is subsiding some and my vision is beginning to return, although the world is still mostly white nothingness. “Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just got a little light-headed all of a sudden. I don’t know why.”

“You look a little pale.”

I take a deep breath and let it out. Definition is starting to return to my vision, simple shapes and basic colors, like some antique game struggling to load the polygons and textures from which the world is constructed. “I’ll be fine. There’s an auto-doc in here somewhere. I’m sure it’ll just tell me, ‘You’re low on electrolytes. Drink this tincture and lie down for thirty minutes.’”

The girl laughs, a sound infinitely warmer and more sincere than the woman in the bikini from earlier. I smile at the sound. The earnest laughter of a woman is one of the few things in life that lets you know you’re doing something right.

“’Tincture?’ Wow, what are you, a college professor or something?”

She’s teasing me. I turn to face her, to tease her back, but when I look, she has no face. There is just endless, pitiless white. The world around her has color, has objects familiar, friends beloved, but she is just the white.


The Beast, Pt. 39 (Chapter 15e)

The elevator door opens with a pleasant chime and an almost imperceptible hiss, partially because of how soft the noise actually is and partially because of the loud insistent hum that filled the air of the villa.

“What the Hell is that?” Googe asks. Erb and I look at him, at each other, shrug. Papa Chub is doing his best to ignore the noise and focus his attention on the girls instead, but the infrequent glances away from the girls, glances where his expression changes from humor and good-natured flirting to outright irritation, betray his true feelings.

Just as we step out of the elevator, the girls looking a bit nervous, a shout of pain splits the air. “Goddamn! Son of a bitch!”

“Monk?” I say, instantly moving forward, pushing aside the girls and the boys alike. I’m out of the elevator and through the miniature lobby or foyer or whatever the hell the brochure would call it and moving towards the living room. “Monk!” The buzzing is louder, more insistent, like the humming of angry insects. Maybe it’s my imagination or adrenaline, but the villa smells of blood and electricity, of pain and suffering. My heart is racing in my chest. The inanity of the woman in the bikini, the girls in the elevator, the boys in the lobby, the drugs, the money, almost everything (but not the woman in white, no, never her) is forgotten for a moment. My hands tighten into fists, into iron balls at the ends of my arm, into ill-conceived weapons, and a weapon exists to be used. I don’t know what unspeakable horror has befallen my friend, but I’m ready to leap on it with a manic and hateful glee. As anxious as I am in this moment, I’m relieved. I have purpose. Somewhere in the villa is an enemy I can understand, a fiend that I can vent all of my frustration and tension and uncertainty and neuroses on.

“Oh, are you guys back?” Monk shouts, and his voice is so calm and collected and mundane, that I find myself literally skidding to a halt on the tastefully appointed marble floor of the villa. He’s sitting half-naked at the kitchen table accompanied by a man I’ve never seen before, perhaps ten years older than us with pale skin and long dark hair combed back and black dress pants and a white shirt, the sleeves rolled up and revealing arms covered in tattoos. There’s something in his hands that’s buzzing like a wasp, and he’s drawing it across the left side of Monk’s chest, his collarbone. Dark ink and inflamed skin stretching from Monk’s shoulder down to his elbow mark the path the man’s machine has already taken.

Monk’s eyes brighten when he sees me. He grins, looking genuinely joyful at the prospect of being reunited with his friends. I hear footsteps echoing off the floor behind me, the gasps from my friends, the comparative silence from the girls, and upon seeing us all assembled before him, Monk shouts over the din of the machine, “Guys! I’m getting that tattoo I always wanted!”

Silence greets his proclamation, but if this bothers Monk, he doesn’t show it in the slightest. Seconds stretch on into eternity until finally Papa Chub, who has known Monk longer than any of us and is therefore the most qualified to say what we’re all thinking, speaks.

“Dude,” he says, and his voice is flat and neutral, a tone reserved for commenting on the awe-inspiring: a beautiful sunset, the birth of a child, the tragic death of a loved one, a childhood home burning to the ground. “Dude. Monk. Your wife is going to fucking kill you.”


The Beast, Pt. 38 (Chapter 15d)

I run my hands over the wall, feeling, probing, seeking, my conviction that I’m right growing with each passing minute. I can half-remember speaking with someone in a suit who must have been a Libretto employee, but the memory is faded, garbled, like radio waves broadcast across the void of space. “Okay, Sir! This is your… It’s keyed to… All you have to do is speak and… Personal… Private…” My memory is telling me (or at least I think that it is) that the elevator is programmed to respond to my voice, to my gesture, to a command phrase. But I have no idea what that might be.

With my back to my friends and the strangers we’ve added to our retinue, I allow myself a frown. This is not the first time my actions and behavior and reasoning while altered have created problems for me the next day. And just like all the times previous, the only solution is to try and guess at what my thought processes might have been. Every drug creates a different me: myself, but depressed. Myself, but overstimulated. Myself, but extra cocky and arrogant. Myself, but humbled. These shades are close enough to me that I can guess at their reasoning, their emotions, their hopes and fears and dreams and goals, but they are not me. They are cruder constructs, base, atavistic. One-dimensional characters with simple motivations. “Oh, I did this? Oh, I did that? I must have been hungry, or angry, or driven mad with lust, or collapsing under the weight of my own self-loathing, or any of a million other things.” They’re guesses. Educated guesses, but ultimately just guesses.

Sometimes even my self feels like a stranger to me. But after a couple of decades, I like to think I know him pretty well.

I take a step back, snap my fingers and say, louder than necessary, loud enough to verge on the theatrical, “Open up, motherfucker!”

There’s a clicking noise. Like the Red Sea, the wall parts, and behind it is a clean, well-lit elevator, all glass and steel and chrome and class and privilege. There isn’t even a button to press: if you’re in the lobby, the thing just takes you to the villa, and vice-versa. It’s ridiculous.

It’s impractical. It’s impressive. Behind me, the girls coo in delight and amusement and wonder.

I turn to the crowd, smiling, genuinely pleased with my success. “Speak ‘friend’ and enter.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t worry about it. Shall we?”

We all enter the elevator and the doors slide shut with hiss. “This is so cool,” the younger of the two girls says, and I’m inclined to agree with her.

We ride in silence for a few moments before Erb, out of nowhere, asks, “Wait, how’d Monk get back into the villa?”

“What?” His words make no sense to me. I’d forgotten Monk existed, forgotten he was with us.

“He must be back in the villa, right? None of us got a call or a message from him saying he couldn’t get back in.”

Next to me, Papa Chub tenses up for a second, sighs. “So he knew where it was and how to get in the whole time,” he says. It is an observation, not a question. My own body tenses up too as I realize how dumb we’ve been, that we could have just called.


The Beast, Pt. 37 (Chapter 15c)

They have not.

We take the elevators all the way down, and wander around the lobby aimlessly but confidently for a little bit. Papa Chub is nothing if not gifted at talking endlessly until folks feel safe and comfortable and welcome, and this is indispensable while Googe and I (but mostly just me) struggle to remember just where the Hell we came from and how we’re supposed to get back to the villa. Erb is alternately amused at our struggles and irritated at our foolishness, but at least he’s pleasant to the girls (which I suppose is more than I can say for my own behavior twenty some minutes back.)

“So, like, where are we going?” one of the girls finally asks after our journey leads us past some bathrooms and over to a dead end.

“To our villa, like we said,” Papa Chub answers immediately. He’s smiling still, but the humor’s gone from his eyes. Likely he’s just as worried as Googe, just as annoyed as Erb. “Now, I’m not going to lie to two intelligent sophisticated young women such as yourselves. We are, in fact, a little lost. But that’s what happens when you party all night, strike it rich, and keep the party going until the sun comes up. Ride hard and put them away wet, you know what I’m saying?”

I smile to myself. Nice one, Papa Chub. Make us sound like interesting crazy dudes, and not shockingly incompetent.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It’s about horses originally,” Erb says to no one in particular. Still, the girls’ attentions snap towards him, and eyes of the younger looking of the two (by which I mean she might be nineteen and not twenty) light up.

“You know about horses?” she asks, her voice rising in excitement. Papa Chub is forgotten, at least temporarily, and he does not look pleased by this.

Erb blinks in surprise. “Uh, yeah, some. My family has a few. My little sisters ride.”

“Oh, my God, I love horses! They’re such beautiful creatures! It’s sad that they don’t exist in the wild anymore, don’t you think?”

Erb smiles. It’s a sincere, guileless smile, the smile of a man who’s set aside the wall of distance and indifference he’s erected around himself because he’s found something that’s comfortable and familiar to engage with instead. It’s not Googe’s hopeful grin. It’s not Papa Chub’s predatory smirk. It’s just the smile of a man with a surprising amount of opinions about equines and a willing and captive audience.

Googe stands on listening as Erb and the girls discuss ungulates. Papa Chub, meanwhile, slides along the periphery of the group and back towards me. He’s got an unhappy look on his face, probably due to the sudden attention Erb’s getting and the fact that we’ve been utterly lost for a good thirty minutes at this point. “Dude,” he hisses once he draws close enough. “What are we doing?”

“We’re trying to find the express elevator back to the villa. Come on, man. Try and keep up.”

He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and opens them before speaking again. “Okay, let’s try that again. Why haven’t we found it yet?”

“Because due to a combination of drunkeness and inattentiveness, we have no idea where it is. But I kind of remember it being by bathrooms.”

“There are bathrooms everywhere.”

“Yeah.” I stare at the wall and frown, but the seed of an idea has been planted in my mind. “But how many of them have dead ends that go just a little bit past them?” I mutter mostly to myself.

“Hm?”

“No time for small talk! I’ve got to act on my great idea!” I push my way through the group, nudging aside Erb and the girls with my shoulders and stand before the wall. The surface is perfectly uniform, the wallpaper identical to the kind everywhere else in the Libretto’s lobby (subdued and classy and probably carefully chosen because the pattern makes the human brain five-percent less risk-averse or something.) Still, I am confident that the elevator we’ve been seeking for so long is here. I’m certain of it. Some gesture, some spoken command, some hidden button will reveal the way forward.

This kind of random, unfounded certainty is probably a sign of insanity, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m rich. That means I’m eccentric, not insane.


The Beast, Pt. 36 (Chapter 15b)

My eyes narrow to slits. My lips press into a tight line. I bring my arms up from their neutral place at my sides and fold them across my chest, puffing up and hardening my features like some long extinct ape displaying dominance. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I most certainly am not,” Papa Chub says with unflinching calm. “You should apologize.”

“You know, you–”

“No, you’re not listening to me” he says, and there’s a gentleness to his voice, a soft smile to his face. He brings his hand up to the level of his eyes, lifts his sunglasses, winks, lets them fall. “You should apologize.”

It clicks. I take a deep, exaggerated breath, make a show of calming and collecting myself. “You’re right. Yeah, you’re right.” As best as I’m able within the crowded confines of the elevator, I spread my arms in a gesture of openness and good will. “Sir. Ma’am. Kids. I’m sorry for my behavior. It’s just that society’s done my nerves up wretched and I’ve been on edge all day. But let me make it up to you. Give your name and room number to one of my associates, and I’ll make sure that your dinner this evening is fully compensated.”

The man and the woman glance at each other nervously, and I smile and hold up my hands, fingers outstretched as if to say, “No, really, I’m harmless, unarmed and everything.”

“I understand,” I tell them. “Some nut acts like an ass in an elevator then claims he can make it all better. Why you should trust him? And, Hell, this is the Meadows. That probably makes me even less trustworthy, right? There must be a thousand guys like me, all telling tales and making big promises.”

“You’re an asshole!” the woman says. Her hands tear free from her sons’ heads. I guess it’s okay for her to swear in front of them, but not for them to listen to a half-hearted rant about the horrors of aging. Go figure.

“You have me there, ma’am. I am. Or at least, I can be. But the offer is genuine. You don’t have to take me up on it, and if my behavior has soured you that much on the possibility, I sincerely apologize.”

The woman snorts in derision. In a moment of perfect, impeccable timing, the elevator rings and comes to a halt. The doors slide open. The woman’s eyes dart up towards the digital readout and she leaves without saying another word, her children dragged by their hands, her husband following with his head held low. The door closes with a whispering noise behind them.

I turn to the girls and grin. “Wow, thank God those downers are gone, huh? Hey, have you girls ever seen a penthouse suite before?”


The Beast, Pt. 35 (Chapter 15a)

We head back to the villa without saying much to each other. I feel partially responsible for that, feel like I should say something to correct things, but nothing comes to mind. I let it go instead. We don’t need to fill the air with constant chatter. The silence is almost as good as camaraderie. It’s its own kind of camaraderie, in a way. At least that’s what I tell myself as the elevator rises, the floor numbers lighting up and going dark in a seemingly endless succession as we ascend.

The elevator pauses. The doors open and people pile in, an overweight man and woman with two overweight pre-pubescent boys. The process repeats a few floors later with three septagenarians then again a few floors after that with a couple of giggling college-aged girls.

“We should have a private elevator,” I mutter.

“Hm?” comes a grunt from one of the boys. I glance over my shoulder to see Erb and Googe pressed into opposite corners of the elevator, their own relatively thin frames crowded by the more spherical forms of the family. Papa Chub, meanwhile is carrying on a conversation in whispers with one of the college girls. He seems infinitely more comfortable than the other two.

“We should have a private elevator. That’s part of the luxury of the villas, right? You’re taken care of? You don’t have to interact with the unwashed masses?”

“Hey!” I look back over my shoulder to find the man and woman glaring at me.

I shrug my shoulders. “It’s just an expression. I’m sure your hygiene is impeccable.”

“So we have to ride in an elevator with other people,” Papa Chub says with a playful note in his voice. “Don’t be so antisocial.” I turn and look to find that he hasn’t even glanced at me, that he is smiling and his eyes are still locked with one of the college girls’.

“It’s not being antisocial.”

Erb snorts. I glare at him.

“It’s not just about being antisocial. We’re not in the right elevator.”

“How do you figure?”

“The building’s fifty stories tall. The villa is on two stories and on the top of the building. The elevator only goes up to forty.”

Everyone, the family, the old folks, the college girls, turn to look at the digital counter above the elevator doors. Behind me, Erb mutters, “Oh, son of a bitch.”

“Maybe there’s a second elevator on the fortieth floor,” Googe offers.

I shake my head. “We only took one elevator when we left and again when we came back.”

“What about last night?”

“Shit, I don’t remember last night. Do you?”

Even Erb is silent at this.

“Maybe there are stairs?”

“Stairs? Check your privilege, man. We’re not coughing up thousands upon thousands of creds a night to take stairs like a bunch of chumps.”

“Hey!”

“Oh, please. You take stairs? I’m sure.”

“We don’t take stairs one,” of the college girls chirps.

I roll my eyes. “Of course not. You’re, what, twenty-one? Nineteen? Your metabolism hasn’t betrayed you yet. But it will. Give it time. That’s the way of all flesh.”

The girls gasp. The man and the women’s eyes go wide, her hands clap over her boys’ ears, knocking their heads together. Googe is wide-eyed and silent. Erb is glancing around nervously.

Papa Chub, however, is pissed. “What the fuck?”

“What the fuck what?”

“Why would you say that?”

“What? It’s true! When we were their age, we could drink a bottle of vodka for dinner, eat a cheeseburger for breakfast, and be the textbook definition of good health. Now I’ve got to spend an hour a day on a treadmill just to keep from looking like a gelatinous mass!”

“I think you should apologize.”

The words hang heavy in the elevator. All is silent, and for a moment it looks like one of the girls might be about to open her mouth to add her consenting opinion, but something (probably the look of cold rage on my face) stays her tongue. “What?” I say, and it’s as much of a growl as anything I’ve ever levied at one of my friends. The woman from the pool, my own thoughts about, my friends’ ripping on me for driving off said woman, all of it has conspired to leave me in a pretty terrible mood. Papa Chub telling me I should apologize to someone I’ve never met before and will never meet again is, in theory, grounded in decent behavior and a desire to adhere to the social contract, but I’m in no mood for it. The time for human decency is past.


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