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The Raven




12-01-2019 05:50 pst

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The Negative Material Plane


"Desert. Sand. Heat. Wind.

Scorpions.

Scanning the perimeter of the wash is not easy with such glare. Waves of heat are emanating from the soil and causing all in view to become distorted, like peering through an empty bottle of olive oil. Waves of heat. I am reminded of the Devil's Golf Course in my favorite national park. The rocks are searing hot and sitting in their little ruts of fine sand awaiting the next mysterious move. All of the walking and wandering for weeks have brought me to this place, but I cannot stop and rest. Somewhere behind me is a very bad situation bent upon my destruction and I must continue. Ahead is nothing familiar, only worry of the future. This place is the diametric opposite of where I have found comfort in the past and I feel as if much more time spent in the heat will leave me weakened. I may fall back, fall away, and the situation will overtake. It will be my end. The scorpions pay no mind. The sun does not relent. I cannot believe that a simple mixture of my decisions, fear, and the threat have brought me to this most frightening and uncomfortable of locales. Everywhere is devastation, dust, degradation of life, and there is nothing extending more than a few inches off the searing sand. I have arrived here by many actions, myself, and the relationships with others. I worried for years that something like this may take place if I sit back and remain indecisive in life. I worried that I would wind up here... In the discomfort, the heat, the deadly, barren landscape of my construction...

The negative material plane.

Yes, I built the whole thing. I am still building it, and in the back of my mind is an ever-expanding blueprint for more. Will it end? Will I improve? Will anyone give a fuck? The issue behind me was designed specifically for following along as I try to plod through life. Two issues, really. You know. Have you been reading? Did you know the desert was awaiting my arrival? The plane is wrought with heated difficulty, from the simplicity of trying to walk a straight line to the complex combination of all that has brought me to my knees throughout the course of many years. Everywhere I look is bleak. Inside my head as well as out in the world. Nothingness. Dry. Lonely. Having stood by and watched the world move forward, my place inside the plane was guaranteed. Do others go through this? Who gives a fuck? I have not the time nor the inclination to concern myself with people. They can deal with themselves. The outlook before me is bright with damning sunshine, not possibility. Behind me is not supposed to be of note at all. Looking forward is the choice these days. Really? Looking forward to what exactly? More sand? Sun? Fuck you. Work out your own shit issues and leave me to mine. I can walk into the future with eyes open. I can do it on my own. Butt the fuck out.

The threat expands. Just like the sprawling sand beneath my feet, the issue continues, and no matter which direction I turn I see more and more. Something will have to take place. The heat now moves to the back seat, as does everything else in life in order to maintain my sanity. That means others are not going to enjoy that which they have become accustomed throughout the past seven years. I will be absent. Questions may be raised but I can do nothing about them. No answers. Just soil and heat. This is partly due to where I have been pushed, and partly myself. However, if something does not mitigate the threat (read: inside me), that fucking flip is going to worsen by a hell of a degree. I do not wish that, although to slam the world in the fucking face seems joyous. I might love it and I might not. Mitigation may not even be possible at all. I do not know the answer and cannot think clearly enough in the heat to allow for some workable ideas. Right now I can only focus upon my own survival. And yes, that is quite contrary to half of the shit I have published. Suck it up.



311

Fuck you



Last entry had gleaned the idea of the two subjects possibly being related. I do not know. If the backlash I mentioned is actually taking place, well, there is only one direction in the space that I see. In the desert? No. Elsewhere. The grader. I need to shove it aside and work within. A turn. No, not turning away. Turning inward and preserving whatever is left in there. The future is still bleak, but there are steps I can take to alleviate the two issues feeding upon each other. Neither will go away. Perhaps one will ease if I work to keep them separate. I just don't know. Right in front of me is very little vegetation, tons of rocks, and those peaks in the wavy distance seem to be moving further away. Trying to concentrate upon my head is not easy when the temperature is pressing down. I see scorpions all around. Are they after me? Pushing my brain to figure a resolution? Do they want to destroy me? Did I create them? Questions left unanswered as I step in a straight line. Behind me the footprints disappear as quickly as that sand beneath a person's feet when the ocean waves recede. Maybe the scorpions are people. Maybe they will kill me and put all this shit to bed once and for all. I have failed to do it myself thus far.

Two related volcanoes erupting in my head.

The sand does not care. It is searing the bottoms of my boots as I try to step along. The heat seems worse coming up from the sand than the air itself. I see no possibility of shade anywhere, but for whatever reason there is no overwhelming thirst. The walking is difficult and I would think that only so much time can pass before a lack of hydration becomes a problem. And there is no perspiration. I am suddenly reminded of the strain and that biting cold which took me away forever. The desert is opposite my frozen situation. This is not taxing me. The glare, the dryness, and trying to make tracks in a straight line is not easy, but not as arduous as the cold. Granted, that journey did not end well, and considering the stark realization that I may have spoken to myself helped to push the cold away in my head. On the outside was a different story. Icy skin. The current circumstance is quite reversed from that terrible place. Keep going. Steady. Straight line.

Three of the scorpions are grouped and paralleling my path. They are keeping their distance off to the left but holding pace with my slow journey. I stop. They stop. I take a few steps forward and they are right there next to me. Moving toward them causes nothing, but approaching within a few feet I notice one is wearing a tiny set of headphones. The fuck? What is going on there? They do not react to my movements at all. I do not understand. What could a little scorpion be hearing? I continue forward and think of finding some comfort, but the odd scene is bothering me somewhat. This does not feel as a dream, not even the type of which people discuss when there is the knowledge that they are dreaming. Things are very odd, but not such that I am feeling out of mind at all. I am clear of thought. Very clear. Perhaps too clear.

Headphones. Hmm. Ignore. The scorpions move along.

Something off in the distant heat waves catches my eye. A brightly colored object. It is unclear. Closer, I see that a box is lying there partially covered in sand and Yucca. Approaching from the left are my three little buddies. They stop short of my position and sit still like small, frightening statues. The box is larger than I had envisioned from a long distance. It appears to be fashioned from wood and metal, with nothing really standing out. The box is locked. There are straps connected across the front and sides as if the intention is to carry it like a backpack. I see the lock which confounds my brain. Grabbing hold, I realize that to bring it along is not too much to bear, so up across my back it goes. Nope, in the heat it is very uncomfortable, so I let out the harness as much as possible and figure that I can drag it along with me. I know not for how long, but I will try. Around my waist it is not bad at all. In fact, the load leads me to believe that it is empty.

Switchtrack? Hmm...



665

How might the Raven react?



The hot sand can be my end. Everything goes away, melts into the soil, and disappears for all time. No threat, no visions, no decisions, no nothing. No more worry, stress, or attempts at finding joy. Nothing. Fuck me if that does not sound like the best fucking idea. I look over at my companions and they move without a change. What could they be doing there? Are they going to help me? So far they remain off to the left and cruising along with those legs which absorb the heat and handle the routing step. Everything I know about scorpions could fit into a small thimble. I am doing my best to think of the reason they may have showed up beside me and why they may be following along. My head is still awash with problems, things I wish to avoid, and the elusive dreams which pull at my psyche almost constantly. I often feel as if I cannot get through a single day without losing my way. With all of that occupying most of my brain power, the idea of the little legs moving along with me is not something I can spend time analyzing.

While issue number one sits awaiting my attention and consideration, issue number two moves into the center of my eyesight. I cannot ignore it, I cannot let it go, and I am unable to move from one moment to the next without that problem slamming my fucking head until clear thinking is unavailable. I am so fucking tired of trying to work out this problem that I may have to attack the cause straight away. Right out there where all can see, I will have to make an example out of the catalyst and send it away. The problem does not let up on me at all. And I am attempting to avoid getting into the third fucking issue. There is too much right now. Should I open the box and see if there are solutions inside? Or maybe the scorpions have something for me in there? Food? Drink? Money? Answers? Death? I cannot make a decision, so moving along in the straightest line possible seems a good option. Something has to be out there somewhere. Maybe since I am in the desert, I will eventually run across Vegas. Heh. Money in the box, I find Vegas, enter the promised land, and then drown into something I badly need at any given moment. That would be nice.

The box. Hmm. Keep going. The little guys are right there.

I do not know which way to turn. In the desert and on this horrid plane I must follow the line which has been the norm. In life? I do not have the first damned clue. I am supposed to be the intelligent one everyone seeks when they have questions or insight into something difficult to understand. So, what the fuck happens when I do not know? When I cannot deal with my own questions, others can go and fuck themselves. Give me the space to work within myself or there will not be a me to field your stupid fucking questions. That's right. Fucking deal with it. My help may need to go away. I am sick and tired of trying to be the answer person. A stronger force is pushing me to work on myself, and that means the world can take a flying leap for all I give a fuck. Done with it. Fuck you. As I stop and curse out loud at the searing sun, I glance to the left and something is different.

The scorpions have turned to face me, in a line, and the headphones are lying on the sand. They are still as statues.

I drop the harness and await something. They are obviously focused upon me and my journey, and somehow that box is related. It has to be. Still no movement from them, but I know what they should look like when either fearful or threatened. That stance is obvious. My little buddies are relaxed, or some such thing. The stingers are on the ground rather than curled and ready to strike. Hmm... Do I open the box? I was trying to leave it alone and move along as far as possible before resorting to any help. Or maybe it won't help. I do not know. Whatever is inside that thing (maybe empty, too) might be for me, it might be for someone else, or it might be nothing whatsoever. The fact that it sat there in the sand directly in my pathway could be coincidence or chance. The three caballeros still have not moved. They remain pointed directly at me. Fuck it... Let's see what is inside. Worst case? Less for me to drag along. Best case? Tons of cash for me to throw away. Heh.



669

Which will destroy me?



I square up the top to open the box and the trio of baddies is instantly surrounding my feet. They still display no signs of threat, simply keeping a bit of distance and facing me. The little headphones are gone. As curious as the sight of a scorpion with a headset was, I can no longer wrestle with such a thing. The box has become more important. There is a combination lock of a type I have never seen. Buttons, a hasp, and a small, rectangular patch at the bottom. Upon closer inspection, the buttons are there for appearance only. They do not operate. Thinking as clearly as possible, I assume the release is controlled by a fingerprint. Thumb... Nothing. The other thumb... Nothing. On to the digits, one by one. I reach to the right hand and my ring finger causes motion. The hasp pops up, disappears, and the lock falls to the soil with a heavy thud. Success. Slowly, and without my involvement, the top swings open and all three of my companions crawl inside. Each reaches the bottom of the empty box and disappears. Huh? And then the box closes itself and also fades away. Nothing left. No lock, scorpions, box, nothing. I look back where I had dragged it along behind me and see that the swath of sand pushed aside has corrected and evened itself to hide my route. After hours of wondering about both the box and the little guys traveling with me, I am left alone once again with more mystery and no fucking answers. Splendid.

From lots of things to consider, I am now left with one: Reaching anything which can bring comfort.

Onward through the heat and sand with nothingness around me. My head is still wondering about the things I have run across, and for some reason I feel that there will be more to confound my thinking before long. The little scorpions had begun to feel familiar and I spoke to them out loud. No response was expected, and just as a person may speak to his or her self while alone, I feel the same. Something there to bounce my thoughts and feelings off is better than remaining quiet. It is sort of like assistance. I don't know. Whatever. I did speak to them and asked questions, but now without that outlet I am left fairly lonely. Still nothing around as I move along, every now and again glancing back to see no footprints. The issues begin to take over once again as I have nothing else to occupy my mind.

I miss those scorpions.

Two is not good, three is not company, and now... Just me. Again I dream of reaching the goblet and some cool comfort. And then all those women float through me until I fall, slammed by the threat, and need to take a few minutes sitting down. Head in my hands, worried as if the world is ending yet gratified by the same possibility, and then the issues. What the fuck am I going to do about the two issues? Will the third become worse? Is it even up to me? Ugh. The fucking heat is melting my ability to think. And now there is no one off which to bounce my thoughts. Fuck me, anyway. Maybe I placed myself in this hell just to force a reaction. The largest part of the problem is the threat. It will not let up and I constantly worry over what may take place as a result of me lashing out toward the cause. I fucking hate it to no end and do not wish to think about such sights and feelings any longer. I just cannot stand the twisting. The catalyst is justified, but that does not mean it needs to remain alive. I can make it disappear. I can make it fucking dead. I can deal with that problem in many ways, but none of them are good. And yes, I mentioned that most of the threatening effect upon me is deep inside, yet still there was a beginning after each long period of no worry. The beginnings of the past strikes are all gone. The current? Still there.

Up. Moving. Sad. Angry.

Every fucking Goddamned writing or consideration is now related. Hatred, burning me alive. And two things took place yesterday during my regular activities to send me down. Far down, and without the fucking strength (that everyone seems to believe I have) to rise. It is not there. Fuck you for thinking that I can work through anything. Some aspects of life are far out of anyone's fucking control. All I can do is wait. After all these years of being outside the norm, the last thing I need is another Goddamned push the wrong way. I am sideways, and I doubt there is one fucking soul out there sympathizing. Fuck me, fuck you, fuck everyone and everything. I cannot do this much longer. The enigma may die.



028

Elusive disparity



Remember what I said? The end of all things has begun. Suck it off the screen.

As I quicken my pace, I notice that there is not much thirst, and despite the searing heat, again I feel little inner discomfort. Normally being out in such conditions leads to dehydration, fatigue, or any other number of issues which can drop a person to the soil, giving up the journey in favor of simply lying down and relenting. None of that is taking place, and a bit of hope is the result. The intense heat upon my skin is all that brings me down physically. I have never been comfortable in direct sunlight, especially in those places within which I chose to reside for years. Other luxuries provided what allowed me to flourish in the heat... Luxuries that have long since disappeared. Despite the downsides, however, I do feel that I will eventually reach the comfort and cool that may allow for solutions to develop. So, onward along toward whatever or wherever that may be. In addition to sunshine, the shadow of my problems is right behind like a cloaked figure bent upon my destruction. Neither will go away. I have the time and space to analyze and possibly find a way to either survive the heavy press upon my being or dig a hole and give up completely. The recent realization that the biggest threat imaginable has returned to my head and heart cannot be considered while trying to calculate my obsession and its toll. I do not know what to do or which way to turn. Off in the hazy distance... Two objects.

Another fucking box and something much larger beyond... A structure.

The fuck?

I approach the box, see a similar lock to the last, and press my ring finger. Pop. Gone. Open. Inside I see the three scorpions, one with headphones again, and two other items: An ornate key and a fucking thong, of all things. A thong. Blue, lacy, beautiful. It is folded neatly beneath the key, and as my little, deadly friends climb out, I reach down and grab the soft garment and warm key. Hmm. A key is another small reminder that I am not to understand everything here. The thong, on the other hand, is easier to comprehend. It belonged to Ellie. I peeled it off her more than once many years earlier, I believe. The time of my being in the desert is not clear, however I do recognize her lingerie as if I had seen it wrapping her beauty moments ago. My head goes through all permutations of my relationship with that kitten at high speed, including my second visit when she spent time with me again. During a period when I had almost reached the bottom, I took a chance at her being in the same place of work. Ellie was instantly overjoyed to see me and did not hesitate to embrace my needs and lose herself in my illusion a second time. I was thrown for a loop at the kitten's deep caring and affection, and I lavished her for it. I may have loved her. Maybe. The key and thong go into my pocket, I inspect the box to be certain nothing remains, and walk away from the haunted area, continuing straight.

The scorpions take their previous position to my left and move in the direction I travel.

The headphones are beyond strange. I fail to understand what type of odd circumstance could have taken place for me to see an arachnid listening to music as if it was a pedestrian in the city. Although, since the entire scene seems straight out of a science fiction film, I should not be surprised. All those strange stories pop into my memory. A mysterious key appears and then someone has to find the mating door or lock. I am in no mood for that type of thing. The heat is making my thinking processes slower and difficult. I have no wish to be in a psychological thriller just as when I drove that fucking train. Now I am in the middle of nowhere with three creatures following along and questions that I cannot answer. Too much to figure out right now.



670

Curving into my broken brain



Just as I begin to worry about the need to seek something related to my journey, I look to my left and see that two of the scorpions are now wearing headphones. What the fuck is that all about? Do they even have ears? A nervous system complex enough to process music or spoken words? I thought they operated on instinct. What the fuck? I am no expert in these matters, but seeing them with electronics wrapped around their heads leads me to believe that there is a reason for all of this. The key, the thong, the boxes, the disappearing act certain objects have exhibited. I am getting tired of trying to work through it all. As I continue to walk in the same direction, I feel something inside pulling at me. An emotional response to the conditions of the desert, perhaps. A compulsion, as if I cannot change anything and must keep going toward an end or goal. The scorpions roll along next to me and do not lose pace for a second. Where am I going? Will there be a set of railroad tracks ahead? A station? I see nothing aside from heat waves, sand, and the occasional Yucca. Off to my right there is an Ocotillo tree standing dutifully in the sunshine. It reminds me of Joshua Tree years ago when the Brunette and I wandered that park with our cameras. Loving, disturbing, memorable. Good or bad, I do not know. All I can do is walk. Onward with a shitload of memories and tons of unanswered questions.

I see the sun getting way over to the left as the structure grows in the distance. Still no cooling. The little guys move along just like the issues inside my head. One is taking over the other... Growing out of control, and I feel ill-equipped to deal with it for very much longer. Little tidbits of difficulty, like small scratches at my attention which keep piling upon each other. The days prior to such a realization were rolling in typical fashion and the small issues were manageable. The obsession would flare from time to time and cause me to become a heap of worry, and now such a drop seems simple when compared to this latest growing concern. Each occasion provides another tiny snag, and like a waste line with something protruding inside, the snags pile upon each other until a larger problem must be alleviated. My head is that waste line. Years of snags were workable due to my being intelligent enough to maintain perspective, but the fucking threat has not let up. The line is going to stop. I keep my steady pace with swirls of worry matching the heat rising from the sand. The three baddies carry forward just left of me. They pay no mind.

'You know what you have to do.'

Huh? A voice? Again?

As my brain travels back to the locomotive days and the manner in which that hellish journey ended, I see the structure growing ever larger. I cannot make it out, but the sight does remind me of driving to Vegas and the scarce chance meeting with Juliette. I came off the Mountain Pass to descend into Primm and marveled at the sheer mass of the southern resorts. Over miles of highway they did not seem to get larger very quickly, instead just standing there stoic as if the distance between was not shrinking. They are so massive against the flatness of the desert that miles roll under the tires with no apparent closure. I stare at the height and begin to dream of cool comfort. The voice repeats moments later with its ominous mystery. Julia? Oy God that would be nice. Still there is nothing around, though. Just me, sand and the scorpions. No boxes. In my pocket is another mystery and a beautiful memento. I do not know what to think. Onward.



671

The pedestal upon which I will destroy my head



Some detail becomes apparent as I see that the structure is a huge resort. There is nothing else anywhere, and it reminds me of decades ago when one huge hotel popped up at the state line. Closer and closer at my slow pace. More detail... Palm trees, lights in the waning sunshine, towers with mirrored windows, and a low, sprawling, flat roof line which seems to be over the main casino floor. There is no highway nearby, pushing me toward confusion. I fail to understand a massive resort in the middle of nowhere, but against scorpions with headphones? Not so strange. I quicken the pace in hopes of cooling myself indoors and maybe slumping into a chair with tons of water to drink. The three little ones follow suit. As I finally see a clear image of the hotel, they stop dead at my side and something unexpected happens...

I turn my gaze away from the arachnids to peer up at the towers, turn back to my left and find myself face to face with three women. Andrea in tears, Juliette in headphones holding her tightly, and Ellie... Standing alone also with headphones and a very angry expression, arms folded in defiance. What? I stare as none of them speak. And why would Ellie be upset? The conditions? Wait a minute... They were the fucking scorpions? What does that mean? They did not sting me, so does that mean I am safe? Or are they predators? Still no words and no smiles. Something is very strange and I need to figure it out.

Too much.

Moments pass as I begin to become emotional over seeing all three of them after years. The memories of each bring me to my knees, literally. I drop to the hot sand and close my eyes as everything floods in. Years of living outside my needs, the routine wearing me down to a fraction of a person, and that fucking threat which simply will not let up. All of those issues added together mean I can barely function. Toss in all the vast comfort and care I enjoyed throughout those many trips to the promised land along with the companions which each became a part of me, and the resulting cocktail is not easy to swallow. I have missed them to the point of becoming reckless and uncaring in my actions. The sand pays no mind. The other scorpions slowly scatter in random directions. I sit still, quiet, and lacking any clarity. Yes, I dreamed of connecting with any one of those goddesses for years right up until my first sight of Her. For months She remained in my heart as the others melted away. After that period, and the most difficult days I could have imagined, they flowed into me again. Hence all of the stories. Sitting now in the sand and with a trio of hearts standing close by, I find that it is too much. I must lash. I cannot handle the situation.

I stand and scream out away from the women and toward the structure, for whatever that may be worth. All of my remaining energy flows out as I yell into nothingness for answers. Tears. Juliette lets go of Andrea, comes to me and plants a kiss to my forehead, and then vanishes. Fuck. I miss her. Ellie holds her position as Andrea comes to me and sits. One arm around me, and then words.

'You promised, love.' Fade, gone.

Only the kitten remains. And then the other voice from everywhere...

'You know what you have to do.'



672

Glamour driving me



Damn it. I had figured there was enough of that shit on the train. Guess not. Again I am in the middle of something undefined. Seeing Andrea and then feeling her right up against me was amazing for only a few seconds. My head barely registered her appearance in the desert by the time she disappeared. My heart sinks again. I recall her heels clicking across the floor as she exited our wonderful home away from home, begin to fall, and then Ellie reaches for my hand.

'Stand. Listen.'

Um... Ok. I do as she asks but the attention she requests is being knifed by the disappearance of the other two beauties. Juliette was right there in all her vast loveliness, hair flowing, and looking like a fucking dream yet again. Damn I missed her so much when she left the Luxor, and only the distraction of Ashley and her huge heart kept me out of hell. Had I not connected with that living doll, God knows if my body would have made it out of the goblet. Ashley helped me in every way, and in the end it was enough to allow me to reenter life, such as it was. There is Ellie reaching for me. I take her hand, stand close, and she rips off the headphones and addresses me in all seriousness.

'Scorpions, lover.'
'Yes. Why?'
'Each of the three of us could have meant your end.'
'Fuck.'
'You were weak in the beginning, yet here you are. Remember that.'
'I will.'
'You promised, lover.'

Fade. Just like the light of day. I have to move and think. Promises to those beauties. Yes.

Stepping with purpose is all I have left. There is no fucking way I am going to lie down and sleep in the desert. The cold nights mean snakes and scorpions may snuggle for warmth, possibly leaving me without breath by morning. I have to get inside, somehow. On through the sand with way too much swirling into a froth within my brain. God damn do I ever feel alone. Just as every departure from my necessary illusion in the goblet. Alone. Ellie did not look happy with me, pushing my head to think that she knows what I have been doing throughout these many years since she and I embraced. What the fuck have I been doing? Wallowing, complaining, and waiting for the improbable to come strolling into my little world? Yep... All of that. I walk along a straight line toward the hotel and wonder if I have done anything wisely. Choices, decisions, and those moments when I know which way to turn yet ignore such a direction anyway. Considering the highs and lows of my rollercoaster made up of decades, I am floored to be upright and thinking. Just in the last few months, for example, the two main problems have been narrowing my vision like never before. And just one aspect remains certain. I cannot speak with anyone about anything. Remember the isolation mentioned weeks ago? Fuck it. My worry over the issues begins to take a back seat as the hotel starts to appear haunted. I do not know why, but something is off. Way off.

I need more hurdles like I need another reminder of those women and my train.



673

Pulling?



Closer. Worry. Why did I have to see those goddesses? God damn, some of the most wonderful, deluded, and satisfying days of my entire life were spent with them, and the angel tops the list with weeks together. Flights, luxury hotels, spectacular meals, and the two of us absolutely operating as one heart. I have missed her terribly and daydreamed for years. Her heels still resonate and my heart still drops. Seeing that beautiful face right before my broken eyes for a few moments is nearly too much. Each step has me falling further. And she was in tears. Over me. Yep... My actions and unwillingness to rise at all after promising her that I would work to improve myself. How in the blue fuck did she know what I have been doing all this time? Is it that obvious? Like all over my sad face? Hmm. Right now I am not thinking in a positive manner.

What could be next?

Two massive iron gates slowly swing open as I approach the scene. Beyond them is a sprawling garden, impeccably maintained and surrounded by clean water glistening in the overhead lights. The hotel towers are to my right, appearing as historic with such western architecture. I see the main entrance, windows darkened by tint and glowing slightly by gas lamps. The colored lighting all over the outside of the entrance looks like something I would design. Everything works together beautifully. I already feel cooler, both from the nearby water and the fact that I am finally rolling into the resort just as the sun is setting. And then bustling sounds out of nowhere. Behind me. I turn sharply and see The Strip right there where the desert had been seconds before. The fuck? It was sudden and scared the shit out of me. Where did the desert go? I do not know how long I was walking, but long enough and a distance which did not allow me to see this huge resort. All at once I am right in the fold of the promised land. Very strange, to say the least. With women flying through my head and heart, brain stuffed with worry, and one hell of a thirst for water, I head for what appears the main entrance.

No one acknowledges me as I watch the powered doors swing away.

'You know what you have to do.' Damn it anyway. Why? I cannot escape that voice.

The foyer is beautiful. From the cavernous wood ceilings to the polished marble flooring, everything exudes class and exclusivity. The processed air is cool and with enough humidity to drive away the sun’s harsh push at my skin. After spending so much uncomfortable time in the exact element that I despise, being in a controlled environment is beyond welcomed. All of the difficulties in my head calm a measure upon entering. I know the atmosphere so well that anything related to checking in, finding a meal, or looking the part of being within the fold of that culture is second nature. Mere moments are all it takes for me to begin looking at the resort as if I belong there. My place of choice in the world. An illusion, a machine, a giant spinning wheel which welcomes those adventurous people at the beginning and then just days later slings them back into their boring lives. No one stays. No one survives long enough to really drown into the goblet. They are spit out like used-up sunflower seed shells after leaving behind billions. And that is understood by me immediately. I love it. Pull me in, throw me out. I do not care. All of the dramatic and expensive beauty feels like home.

My home.

To my right appears the casino floor, and opposite that carpeted mecca is a massive registration area staffed with pretty people. In fact, everyone I see is attractive and dressed to the nines. And although the interior of the resort is so beautiful, the lighting seems odd somehow, as if every fixture is wrong. I am having a difficult time trying to work out just what is strange, so I decide to roll over to the desk and see if I can get a room and rest. Walking toward the registration area brings more things into view which are wrong. The second hand on the clock behind the concierge is going back and forth from fifteen to ten, and the minute hand is absent. The banker's lamp above the bell captain's podium is flickering as if the voltage is wrong. Above my head there is piped-in music through quality speakers but they are also wrong. They all sound out of phase, like everything was equally wired backwards. What in the hell is wrong with this place? To the desk. No line.



674

Understanding?



I am greeted by a gorgeous woman with makeup from a low-budget film. I know not why, but her face seems out of order. Lipstick on her cheeks, rouge on her eyelids, eyeliner around her lower lip. Huh? What woman would walk out her front door looking as if she put on her face with eyes closed? Was she confused? Her features are strikingly lovely, and when she looks upon me to learn of my needs, those big eyes are fucking beautiful. I express to her my desire to rest in comfort. She then smiles and works the computer with an upside-down keyboard and monitor. I am trying to understand why so many aspects of this hotel appear either backwards or just out of order. She runs through her procedures with confidence and does not act as if anything is wrong. I don't get it, and I may be the only one. Just then I reach into my front pockets and realize that I have nothing with me... Identification, cards, cash, nada. My pockets are all empty aside from those two items from the box. She speaks.

'You look tired. I will have something waiting for you.' Wow, thanks lady.

She works the machine as if everything is normal. Yikes. Am I the only one who notices anything out of place? The whole affair is just crazy. The only thing is her gorgeousness. I cannot stop staring. But then, when could I? Driven constantly by issue number one, perpetually. The woman is right there in front of me and I cannot avoid dreaming. Such is me.

'You're all set, my dear.'

The beauty hands me a small folder with a map, key card, and coupons for food and drinks. One more little item underneath the rest is the clincher. A room charge card. God love that woman for allowing me to enjoy some resort goodies without a penny on me. I needed that. My past trips to the promised land were all rife with lavish meals and excellent booze. I never really gambled much unless running out of ways to kill time, so my resources all went into the things I could not find at home. I thank her profusely, compliment her stunning beauty, and turn toward the elevator vestibule. With everything I have seen out of order, I am fearful of some fucked up elevator situation. If her makeup and computer were any indication, the weirdness is not over yet. Ugh.

'You know what you have to do.' Fuck off.

Sure enough, the vertical transportation follows suit. I look up at the floor indicators and begin to feel as if I have been teleported into the fucking Tower of Terror in Disneyworld. The Goddamned elevator doors are split horizontally instead of vertically, the numbers are scrambled all over the top of each entry, and the buttons for desired direction are pointing left and right instead of up and down. Holy fuck, do I even want to step into a car? Which button do I press if I do not know the hotel layout? The map comes out of my pocket and is no help whatsoever. It is tiny and unclear. 'Ding.' Behind me a set of doors slowly opens (like a freight elevator, no less), and an attendant asks of my floor. His hat is on sideways and the lighting in the car appears black, like a fucking sixties concert. It makes his white shirt glow blue.

'Um... fifty-two.'
'Very good sir.'

Yeah, okay. The attendant looks like he just rolled out of bed five minutes earlier. Hair all fucked up, shoes untied, one shirt tail out, belt hanging out of its keeper. Wow do I ever feel overdressed. Heh. The big doors close quietly and I stand still, awaiting motion. Nothing. The gentleman presses an unlabeled button as if he knows instinctively which floor is which. I'm glad he is there, otherwise I would likely be all over the hotel floors until finding mine. Still no motion, nor mechanical sounds. Even the doors were super smooth. Seconds later they reopen to a dim, nondescript hallway. The elevator (or whatever the fuck it is) did not seem to leave the ground at all, but here I am.

'Fifty-two, sir.'
'Thank you.' I step out tentatively.
'Enjoy your stay, sir.'

Yeah, right. More like 'enjoy the puzzle'. Doors, quiet again. I look to the left and right and see intersections instead of one hallway with rooms. To my folder... Fifty-two eleven. Hmm. Pick a direction. The first door I see is fifty-two-nineteen. The other direction reveals fifty-two-seventy. Yep, a puzzle. Nothing makes sense, not even the room numbers. I have to search. From nineteen to seventy is quite a stretch. More than fifty rooms on one floor? Fuck me, start walking. Sure enough, all of the rooms are out of order and I do not know another option besides wandering. There are no windows at the ends of the hallways like most hotels, so my bearing and sense of direction are all screwed up. After what seems a half hour of roaming the hallways, I see my number at the end of a long run. The numerals are lit from behind, effectively appearing to float off the wall. I am creeped out beyond belief but dying to rest and learn of what the stunning registration woman has awaiting my entry.

Key card. Memories of Juliette and my trouble getting through the door to see her nipples damned-near cutting into the lavender bra. No sound. The door swings in and I see my place of comfort, finally.



675

Lacking, as always. Fuck it.



And... More oddities. Immediately I spy the big window and Vegas skyline beyond. At least one thing is seemingly normal. I know that view very well. The space is large, with a living area and separate bedroom. Through the short hall and past a closet, I see the trolley with an assortment of appetizers, a bottle of scotch (my brand of choice? Really?), a welcome bundle, and a small box similar to those in the desert. Splendid. What does that mean? The scorpion-women are going to crawl out and finally kill me? I wish that was funny. I peruse the food, grab at a covered glass of water, and indulge. Oh God does that feel good on my tongue and throat after such a journey. Refill from the pitcher, and another glass emptied. Wow. What a satisfying draw. The food can wait until I investigate the remainder of my living space, but I have to admit that the alcohol is calling. To my left is the big bedroom, and another crazy scene. The sheets are on top of the comforter, the pillows are at the foot with their cases inside-out, and both lamps flanking the bed have their shades at the bottom. Yep... the bulbs are out in view with shades sitting on the night stands, upside-down. Jesus crap, already. What else?

Another left brings me into the bath. Here we go again. In order to get to the toilet or vanity, I have to step through the large shower. Doors on both sides. The fuck? The water is already running, and the single shower head is pointing up. Wow. I am afraid to look at the fucking toilet after all this bullshit being so out of order. I shut off the water and quickly dash through to the vanity. Yep, the faucet handles, too. One is on the wall over the toilet and the other is attached to the cabinet. Spout? Off to one side of the sink and pointing up just as the shower head. Okay... I need to relax and think about shit for a while. There is just too much going on in this place for me to continue without considering the whys and hows of such things. I turn to the closet in hopes of finding a robe, but instead see cleaned and pressed clothing that I would have brought along had this been a vacation. Very nice jeans, black silk shirts, a leather belt, and two pairs of dress shoes. Below that is a small table with folded shorts and matching socks. Very interesting, and exactly what I typically packed for the goblet.

Attire aside, I have to figure just who or what may be at work here. This place is strange, certainly, but still nothing horrible. I can be comfortable, eat, sleep, and hopefully clean up in that insane bathroom. After deciding that I really cannot do much about the odd circumstance in the short term, I decide to have a little something to eat before showering. Everything on the trolley looks delightful, including my favorite scotch. Ice bucket, poured, appetizers, and thinking. I am feeling that the best course is to get myself together and head downstairs (down?) and look around. The room is nice, but there is much to learn about my situation. Half a snootful later, I take to the goofy shower and make myself presentable for resort atmosphere. I look loyally... Something instilled by my forebears. All of the clothing fits like a glove. This scene was designed for me. I hope I do not lose patience and fuck things up. The little box is sitting there, unlocked. Inside is a charm bracelet of sorts, something I did not expect to see. I do wear a lot of jewelry, but that seems like something a young girl may don for an occasion. The letters are on little cubes with spheres separating them from one another. From the clasp, J, A, M, J, M, A, E, N. Wonderful. I know what those represent. Back into the box it goes as my heart skips a bit at the thought of some of those initials. I do not need anything else pressing at my brain.

Ugh, can I recall the direction of the elevator? Or whatever the fuck it is?

Ding.

'Ground floor, sir?'
'Please.'
'Very good, sir.'

Oy, again with the freaky looking attendant. The machine carries me back to the ground -- I think -- and I nod to the fella as a thank you. Out, right, and past the lobby. I head into the main casino, which appears very similar to the Monte Carlo where I spent many an afternoon with more than one woman. The look is classic, with beautifully crafted wood, dark accents, and the warmth of a rich attorney's paneled office. Across the floor, through a long hallway which splits into two, and on into another section of the club with an even dimmer, older appearance. Walking along and marveling at the gorgeous design and craftsmanship, my head returns to the scorpions, boxes, and those items still resting warmly in my front pocket. I had originally envisioned the key fitting a room door, however the hotel is quite modern and full of high technology. I still have no idea if I will ever have the opportunity to use it. The number is equally mysterious, just like the thong. Onward and into the luxury of a deep lounge. Yes. But then...

'You know what you have to do.'

There is no escape, and I cannot help but believe that Julia is out there, somewhere. God damn would I love to wrap myself in her warmth, just like in the cold. What a fucking stab at my heart.



676

Pushing?



The bar is unbelievably comfortable with plush, high-backed chairs at the tables, soft music along with a lack of televisions, and arms on the padded barstools. There are few in the place, and those that I see are again very attractive. Everyone seems to have been dropped in this resort right off a magazine cover. Males and females alike are staggeringly well put together. I am not accustomed to such a sight. Naturally, upon gazing around the room and my initial reaction, issue number two strikes my head like a fucking hammer. Once again -- and like every Goddamned occasion which forces me to leave home -- something comes along to freeze my intellect and cause a fall. There it is. The fucking threat. Fuck you very much, I have plenty to chew on. I need no more issues and even less distraction in this strangest of places. I decide to save what is left of my self-esteem and keep my eyes front. The bartender is another gorgeous woman with goofed up makeup. I just don't get it. The lights seem better, although that could be due to the dim setting. I don't know what to think. When she approaches with a big, inviting smile, I make it clear that my happiness just increased at seeing her behind the bar. Another, bigger smile. At least that is something positive. She may look different with the slanted makeup, but the beauty is most decidedly beneath. It shines through and brings me comfort, just like every visit to the promised land.

'You know what you have to do.'

Fuck me in an elevator, that came from the other end of the bar. I search. A woman, sitting alone and right between the overhead lamps leaving detail out. I cannot make out her face. My drink arrives as I scramble to learn of the source of that frightening voice. The bartender strolls away, I take a necessary deep draw off the glass, and continue to stare off to my right. No more voice, just a silhouette with a martini. The woman in question turns to grab something from her purse, enabling me to glimpse a mass of blonde hair. Her face is still a mystery. When she again rights herself, the voice repeats from near darkness. I am at the opposite end and too far away for anything more. Another swill. Damn that's good. The bartender returns to lovingly ask if I am ok, and I trouble her for water. A smile, a tall glass is filled, and I thank her with a touch to her slender hand. More smiling, along with a whisper... 'Go see.' Huh? What is this fucking place? The lights flicker slightly and then cease. Am I to know that woman? I do not understand. With my luck, she will probably turn into a scorpion and kill me. More booze will be necessary for me to get up and approach her. So far, one slight glance is all I've had. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I order a second glass of courage from the loveliness and decide to test the waters a bit when she returns. There are so many strange things around me that I feel that pushing may get me somewhere, or at least rock the boat some. My cocktail is gently set on a fresh coaster. And then I give her a line with no ambiguity. The woman immediately expresses appreciation and a kiss to my hand. What? How? I'm going to need some time for such an exchange to sink the hell in. My attention returns to the dark mystery across the bar. Ok, that's it. I am going over there. Maybe some clues can be found. Thus far, I am at a loss. I no sooner stand and straighten my shirt when the blonde rises from her seat and turns toward me. Oy God. She saves me the trip by strolling over and I finally see the face. It does not match the voice, but I see Julia right in front of me with a sharp bead on my eyes.

'Are you surprised?'
'More than I can say.'
'Let us move to a table for privacy. What I am about to tell you is going to be troubling.'
'Okay.'

The fuck? She is not Julia unless the woman changed her hair color, although in this place nothing should shock me. Every detail (and believe me, I remember) is there except the black hair. Julia would be the one to speak in such a manner, forceful and leaving me sans choices. The last time I listened to her did not work out so well. What could she want? I watch her walk and begin to feel the way I did when that goddess allowed me to be close. Her warmth, caring, and affection carried me forward quite a lot. Without her assistance and loving demeanor? Yep... I would not have made it as far as I did, and certainly would have been unable to understand the reasoning behind the journey. God damn the woman is gorgeous from any angle. Though her long, blonde hair is not what I recall, it is still amazing. I cannot help but feel apprehensive, too. Her statement caught me off guard. The train was one of the most frightening and arduous situations I have ever experienced and I have zero desire to repeat. We reach the corner of the room, sit close under the small blue light, and she looks at me as if I am running the world.

'You failed.'
'What the fuck?'
'You heard me, mister.'
'Yes, I did, but why are you here?'

Julia looks at me with the eyes of a stranger. I nearly falter between her ferocious words and the memory of us being lovers and connected on all levels. She had been so kind and caring that the contrast is harsh. I sat with the blade of that rail journey ready to strike at any moment when she appeared and brought a comfort I thought would never return. Yes, the whole thing went bad. I know that. Julia knows, as well, and apparently finds a modicum of disappointment in the fact that I fell down. Perhaps more. Her eyes do not change as I search for the woman who tried to save me. I have to know if she is in there.



677

Why?



Julia explains that the train’s destination was supposed to be this very hotel and my efforts to continue the trip fell short. Like... Terribly short. That is difficult to hear because I nearly broke myself trying to understand why things unfolded in such a hurtful manner and how I could have been expected to get through it all. My family was there, others from the past, and that hellish situation in the passenger car was horrible to experience. The combination pushed me harder than anything in my life, and considering the circumstances, I thought I fared well in getting as far as I did. I even emerged in the snow with a greater knowledge of how I became the man sitting before her (usually) beautiful eyes. Apparently, Julia disagrees. A lot. Fuck me.

Well, fuck her. Yes, I died in the frozen wasteland. I saw no out. Damn it all. I am further informed that she believed in me, loved and cared for me, and hoped beyond all else that I would come out the other side unscathed and feeling as if I mattered. Nope. Quite the opposite. Dead and frozen solid.

'Where are the rails?'
'What are you talking about?'
'If my locomotive was to reach this place, where are the tracks outside?'
'Don't be a wiseass, mister. You fucked it up, not me.'
'Kiss my ass.'

I was just asking out of logic. I saw nothing, although by the time I was close enough to see the resort clearly, my focus was narrowed to finding comfort. Julia sees no humor nor anything else in my simple questions. She goes on speaking to me with the beginnings of tears... The connection and trust we shared, my need to be near her to maintain sanity, and her unending push to keep me alive were facets that I can barely comprehend by this point. I hate the fact that Julia is displeased, but I still need her. Above all things, she is the beautiful soul who carried me through one of the worst scenes imaginable. Nothing can change that. I wracked my brain over the past, pulled myself into hell with my last bits of strength, stood facing the past, and killed a man in front of those who had affected me most in life. I emerged exhausted but better. I tell Julia in so many words. She freezes before me and begins to break down. Time to exit the backward public eye and seek solitude before going further.

Check, door, elevator.

Everything strange that I noticed earlier is no longer within my vision. All I see is damage and emotion. To my room, which is now three floors higher and in a different position. For fuck’s sake, more confusion is not going to help anything. We enter the mirror image of where I was before, and I find that the trolley has been cleaned and the only items remaining are the scotch and water. All of the food is gone. Hmm. Time for a drink. Julia perches herself by the window and looks at me with sympathy in her big eyes. I cannot be upset with her for taking issue with my actions. I just cannot. She loved me. Loves me? I do not know. The expression on her face sitting there patiently tells me just how much she wishes to help. God damn the woman is so very kind. I am starting to regret being an idiot toward her caring manner. Still no words from her since before we entered my odd room.

'I am sorry for being an ass.'
'Accepted, my dear.'

Wow. Such a sweetheart all the time, just like in those warm locomotives. I have to maintain the direction of the conversation lest I begin to want Julia physically. That will not help anything, however the dreams still take over a good portion of my psyche since I am a proper obsessive alcoholic. She tells me that her last wish is to add stress to my already difficult situation. Again... Sweet. Julia rises and steps toward me with purpose, after which we embrace a long while as my head tries to work through so many things. We sit at the table together, continue in the same vein, until finally I realize that this situation is going to be taxing, just like that fucking passenger car in the middle of a frozen wasteland. Julia plants a wonderful kiss to my forehead, smiles, and leaves my room. What? Why? Isn't she going to help? That is the last thing I would have thought could happen. Maybe she is leaving me alone just like when the second train disappeared. Perhaps. Or, perhaps I really did anger her to the point of losing the connection we once shared. Either way, I am alone again and need more booze. Fuck it. Time to go see that big-eyed bartender and throw myself all the way in.

The elevator has again changed location with respect to my room.



678

Negative



Through the vestibule again, I spy that goddess behind the registration desk. Hmm... Should I go over there and rock the boat? Yes. I shall. There is no line again (not that anyone would choose to stay in this weird place), so I walk straight to her with a smile. There is that fucked up makeup pattern all over an otherwise gorgeous face. Nearly to the desk, something catches my eye to the left. Flickering again... Lights fucked up... And something else which pushes my head away from women: The main entrance to the resort is gone. No doors, no driveway, no nothing. Just an ornate wall decorated with images of the hotel's history. Where did it go? Can I get out if necessary? Damn it, one more little tidbit of crap on my already growing pile of concerns. Maybe the woman can answer some questions.

Gawd damn is she ever lovely. I tell her as much. Smile. A hand to mine. Dinner? Yes, we already determined that when I checked in. What time is she available? One more hour, and she gestures toward the far-west end of the club as the location of most restaurants. Excellent. I express to her my desire to spend time together after dinner as well. She agrees. I will be at the bar if she would care to meet me there. Yes. Wow. Perhaps I should ask if she has a suitcase full of hundred-dollar bills. Every question leads to a yes. To the bar for some time. I wish I knew where Julia went. No word, no voice from beyond, no nothing. Worry.

The bar looks the same. Very few people, dim lighting, and those comfy stools welcome me like nothing else. Immediately I am approached by the stunning beauty with crazy makeup. Her eyes tell me I was missed, and upon her dropping a drink in front of me I toss it out there. Smiles. I gush at her over and over and receive the cutest expression with a tentative hand to her shapely mouth. The worry subsides a touch as the reaction catches my eye deeply. More gushing, a hand to mine, and I go all in. I ask her name, lean forward, and invite her to have dessert and coffee in my room later. Yes. Another smile. Holy fuck, that was just too fucking easy. The tall brunette -- Alexandra (wow) -- looks at me as if I am dessert. And then...

'Do what you have to.' Shit, crap, fuck, damn. Go away, goddess.

I have no idea what happened to Julia, but in the meantime and until I learn of what she is beckoning me to accomplish, the decision is made to drown myself just like years ago. There are so many reasons to enjoy myself and very few to be logical. The lights flicker again, making my head snap to the right just like earlier. I expect to see that blonde hair again but no one is there. Hmm... I have no idea what I am supposed to do and Julia is leaving me few clues. I remember being dropped near that railroad car with her beautiful voice carrying me across the roadbed, but in this place the mystery is deeper, elusive. All I have thus far are things being vastly out of order, upside down, backwards, and all manner of weird. Everything, from the Strip appearing to the boxes and scorpions (where did all that go?), the thong and that beautiful numbered key, and on to things inside these walls... People, lighting, architecture, and my room which seems to have been designed by a power I that may be better avoided. There is just too much and I told her. Whatever. Fuck all that for the time being. I am going after some enjoyment, if possible. Maybe.

Slam.

Alexandra sees a drastic change in my facial expression and steps away. Something is wrong. My head... Bad. Instinctively I know that I cannot continue with her. I need to go. My room, there is a difference now. I have to get up (up?) there and learn. Something... I don't know, but the feeling is terrible. Out of the bar on nervous legs, I dash to the elevator and instruct mister goofy pants to bring me home.

Floor ninety? Fuck me running.

After running around even more fucking hallways than earlier, I finally come across my door, which is already open. I hear water running. Some of it has reached the threshold, and it is not transparent.

Red. The water is blood red. Do I even want to walk in? Where is Julia?



679

Backwards



I hesitate to get closer. Something is very wrong in there. I have not felt so fearful since arriving home after throwing myself at Ellie. Closer to the door I see more water and the feeling that running away from the scene seems better. But I have to see. I must know. Another few steps and I can hear the water pouring off what seems the bathroom sink. Again my room is in a different configuration. Why does it keep changing and moving higher in the hotel? When I walked toward the gates a while earlier, the towers did not appear more than ten floors high. This is ninety. Fuck me, nothing is clear.

I hear a voice. Julia?

I swing the door away and see that the room is in fact not mine. The number is incorrect, yet I was led here by thoughts of Julia in distress and the elevator attendant's direction. Should I trust that guy? I learned to trust her long ago. She saved me. A few steps inside and I am walking in the red. I see the living room with nothing odd other than someone else’s luggage. Hmm... Perhaps I need not be here. Julia emerges from the bedroom in tears and grabs me. Holding tight, I hear words of love and appreciation followed by apologies for tripping me up straight out of the gate. Jesus, what the hell is going on? The water is still running out of the bedroom, too. I have to know what is going on in there. Red water equals not good. All at once the worry in my head amplifies ten fold.

'Go.'

Damn her voice anyway. I don't want to hear it, nor do I wish to follow her instructions. I've had plenty of that business in the fucking cold. And I mean frozen. Julia pushed me over and over, initially confusing me, but later my knowing was worse than her forceful words. She knew, too. She was well aware that the trip was going to cause me to fall through the floor yet pushed anyway. The outcome was supposed to be an eye-opener of sorts and a situation which made me think, above all other things. Well, that certainly took place. There was a parallel issue, though. A bad one. Now? There are two issues which bring me to my knees at any given moment. The scorpions and the manner in which I was addressed by Ellie the kitten out there in the heat has become a third. Yes, she made a point, but none of it helps me. The hotel and mysterious nature of everything I encounter is causing me to falter. Julia's voice again, the desert scene which still floats in my head, and those two Goddamned problems which rule me. The strange appearance and function of all within the resort is not helping and I still have no idea of why everything is so weird. I seem to be the only individual who notices. Whatever, back to the present problem. I enter enough to see into the bath.

My brain is struck badly as I see a woman on the floor of the shower, nude, and appearing as if she has been cut. There is no way she is alive. I see skin and hair, face obscured, and not a stitch of anything covering any part of her. She is face down. The voice again, this time directing me to the living area. Why? And what the fuck does this have to do with me? I can barely process anything after seeing such a terrible sight in my bathroom. Yes, I can see that the room is mine by my things being there in the closet. Who in the holy blue fuck is in my shower? Who else has been there? The watery blood is beginning to affect my weak stomach. Moments earlier I was going to throw myself at the gorgeous bartender and now all of that is completely erased. I can barely breathe. What a horrible thing to see. I feel no worry for my well-being, only that of the woman lying there sans heartbeat. I know not what to do, so moving and following Julia's enraging voice seems the only direction. Out.

And there she is. Julia herself, now with black hair as on the train, and glaring at me with arms folded as if I have misbehaved and disappointed her somehow. The fuck? What is going on?

'You ruined it all.'
'Huh? Ruined what?'
'Her. Them. You did it consciously, as well.'
'I do not understand what you are saying.'
'You are still doing it.'
'Fuck you anyway.'
'Solve the problem. You know what you have to do.'



680

Upside-down



There it is. The line which I cannot stand.

What the fuck is this? The Shining? Is Stanley Kubrick going to walk in and kill me with a fireman's axe? The scene is horrendous, gripping. I can barely remain on my feet without running and screaming my way down that maze of hallways. There is no clarity in my head. The blood is everywhere like a person exploded in the bedroom. Julia is standing defiantly in the middle of it all. She looks at me as if I have answers, but there is nothing. I just need to get the fuck out and away. My sanity is in question. Hers seems to be intact. The questions and observations about my like and decisions are completely opposite her loving and supportive manner on the train. I do not understand why she is so upset with me and being cold.

'Why are you attacking me?'
'I am here to help you'
'I still do not understand.'

As frightening and unnerving as the situation in that haunted room, I still feel a bit of comfort from her. Julia takes my hand and begins to lead me back into the hallway. The floor is completely soaked with redness and the scene is hideous. I just need to get out and away of everything. I do not know who that poor woman is. I have never seen her. Julia pulls at me to walk with her. There is just too much to process. Along the hallway and to another door. Thank Christ the fucking floor is clean and dry. Through the door, I see the same layout as my terrible room. To the sofa with my blender of a head trying to keep up with so much.

'Sit. I will spell it out for you.'

Fuck me, I do not want to be slammed again. I fear that she is going to tell me to look into the bathroom. I swear I will run the fuck out. Julia sits against me, takes my hands, and begins to regale me with my life and effects upon others (mostly women). None of it is easy to hear. She gestures to my pocket, after which I realize the key and undergarment are to become illuminated at last. I pull the thong from my pocket and hold it for her inspection. What the fuck is she all about? Ellie's clothing had always been beautiful and I loved everything she wore, both outside and underneath. I fail to comprehend just why this particular piece of lingerie is related to what is going on in the hotel. Julia looks to me and effectively shrinks my intellect by pushing the entire Ellie affair into selfish, damaging territory. And then she makes it very clear that I have done no good for anyone aside from myself. More detail comes out... Call girls, running away, throwing resources away on whatever distracted me from everyday life, all of it. The car, too. The fucking slipper came into play as one of those things I did for no good reason. Ellie's thong is being twirled in circles as Julia lays it all down as if she has been rehearsing for years. The thong represents every desire, the obsession, and my willingness to toss the world aside for my own comfort. Gain? Nope... Just comfort and desire. Upon reaching home each time, the largest pull at my sense was the heroin and Julia knows full well about that one. She has it, and I dove at her as well. On the train she let me do anything I wished in order to keep me satiated long enough to address my issues.

Yeah... That went well.

What about the fucking key?



681

Wrong



Something is different. The room, the light. To my left I see that the living room window is much larger. No, something else... It is now a door. A huge sliding door, beyond which is a balcony. Wait... A balcony? In a Vegas hotel? Impossible. The windows rarely open more than enough for two fingers to get through. A balcony is unheard of.

'Do you understand?'
'I think so.'
'Listen.'

And then tons more, all the way back to that insane trip to southern California and the very first time I took a drive alone and without the best of intentions. Julia knows everything and holds nothing back. Still her eyes are very intense. Every now and again I glance to the balcony and attempt to calculate why it might have appeared. More words pointed at me. The thong again. Scorpions? Yep. The three principle loves who all tried to help me in their own ways and leave me feeling at least a little good about myself. I lavished each of them as much as I was able. I loved them, cared endlessly, and tried to comfort each with my learned ways in life. Ellie told me in the desert that each of them could have meant the end of me. Yes, that cannot be argued. And I went on in life. I remained standing, for the most part, and did the things expected of me by the others. Andrea knew more, however, and looked at me as if I had not kept my word. Damn it anyway. Juliette said nothing. They confronted me, Ellie spelled it out, and then I moved on. They disappeared and left me to my own mind's inner workings. That hurt. It still hurts. Julia knows everything, as usual. Fuck me.

Poof, she is gone.

Huh? What the fuck is all this? Who was that woman in my shower? What is the significance of the fucking key? I still have a shitload of questions and Julia dumped me on the side of the road again. Damn it.



682

Senseless



She said I can destroy the source, but that may not be as easy as the suggestion. The threat stands as one issue which remains between me and my future, the obsession falls behind that, and the current condition of my head may not allow either. Again I see the balcony and colored lighting beyond. It is beautiful. All those insane nights spent on high -- both at the dining table and in the towers -- left me realizing that without the high points I cannot be happy. No one else has the ability to affect or end that, either. Julia told me to ignore what I can, deal with what I am able, and spend my time in the middle. Be the center of myself, and focus upon what I have the strength to accomplish and lift me. Back to the sofa. Julia? Still absent, but at least the room is quiet and comfortable.

I pull the ornate key from my pocket and realize that Julia took the thong. She used it as a visual aid to the damage I have caused myself and others, but never returned it to me. I already miss it. That little, gorgeous reminder of Ellie and me being so close for days. The key is another story. The number. I don't get it at all. It fits nothing that I have run across. Granted, the attendant at the registration desk was quite a distraction, and upon realizing that I have no control over this place and decided to throw caution to the wind, I began to hit on Alexandra and began to forget the important things, even Julia's presence. Perhaps that was a part of the reason that she pushed so hard. Just like in the past, I had become enamored with a woman's comfort and thus did not do what was necessary. Could that be the point? I understood her taking issue with my decisions and behavior, but so many other aspects of this place are still mysterious. Does everything have a reason? The elevator attendant, for example. What could his nutty appearance have to do with me? Am I out of order too? Or my head? Or the way I treat others? I don't know, but the key is burning a hole in my pocket and I have to know. Try, dumbass, just try. Think.

The balcony? Fuck.

With everything that has taken place thus far, I feel that some air might be nice. And then I see it... The door has no handle, only a lock. Could it be so simple? And the fucking thing fits. Turn, click, open, air. Nice, for a change. As I step out, the warmth flows over me and feels good after being in a controlled environment for so many hours. And now something else that is very odd. The balcony extends to the right and around to the bedroom, but there is no railing. No glass, no nothing. I am standing outside in the night and the only thing between me and the Vegas lights is air. Maybe six feet away there is nothing. Wow.

'You know what you have to do.'

Damn it. Shut up, goddess. Leave me alone. I have enough to work through. Why does she keep pushing? Did we not have a conversation already? Nothing has been solved, though, only the simplest of relations in this weird place. No, Julia, I do not know what I have to do. What the fuck is she on about? For the love of Christ, please don't let there be a railroad car nearby. Heh. I wish that was funny. Quickly injected into my mind is the fact that two of the scorpions (women) wearing the headphones meant they were not there to listen to me. A symbol of my unwillingness to hear anyone. No shit. I never have. Others kindly offer help, just like those three images from the past, but I do not care. Did not care. The one occasion when I did follow the words of another left me standing and facing my past, present, and everything in between that had been caused by just two situations and short periods. The last thing I wish is to rely upon someone else.

Well, now look at me.

Something behind. Someone. I feel it, I hear it and am frightened of seeing. I need another mystery like I need more problems in my head. Everything is swirling at once. The threat, Julia, all three of the scorpion women, the strange occurrences all over this resort, my obsession, and now a voice behind me. More shit piled on top is the last fucking straw.

I turn. Holy shit.



683

Off the edge



The woman who was lying in my shower covered in blood is now standing nude just inside the door.

'Take care of it.'
'Who are you?'
'I am all of them. Do it.'
'What? How?'

Nothing more. She is standing there glaring at me with hands at her sides. What am I supposed to do? My heart begins to falter and I feel that I may cry at any second. Still she stares, motionless. I scramble to try and understand, but nothing is clear. I can feel the wind, hear the sounds of the streets, and as I remain in her gaze nothing comes to mind. Nothing. I cannot think. I cannot find the answer. She raises one bloody hand and in it is Ellie's little thong. Her other hand follows with the key. Both are now bloody and causing me to feel a fear I did not think was possible. On her left wrist is the charm bracelet. My head fails to wrap itself around the contents of one of the strangest days I have ever lived. She just continues to stare with arms extended, as if to speak to me with objects whose meanings run deeper than I had thought possible. No words. I take a step as the emotion rails me worse than I have ever felt. Everything, every issue, person, hurtful word, decision... They all spin me into a ball of distress. My heart pounds for answers but the effort is wasted by this point. She stares, no blinking. I think... Take a step? I do it. The woman shakes her head as if to tell me no. Stop. Again, she is completely still. Step back. A nod. What? I don't get it and the feelings are causing me to become reckless. I have to find a way out. With blurred vision and welled eyes, I remain there for several moments and try to come up with something. Anything. Fuck.

I cannot take much more of this. I am feeling as if I failed to follow Julia's direction. She was so loving and helpful on the train that my only wish is to be out of this hellish place and back in the caboose, wrapped in her arms. Nope. Not possible. I am here and have to deal with this shit. The woman is like a statue. Not a flinch, breath, twitch. More and more I am becoming so distraught that any little up would be like the largest victory, although I also know that such is impossible. Inside I already have the outcome all laid out like a map to hell. It is there in front of me, shining, clear, pulling. The woman lowers one arm and drops the key. Right before my eyes the fucking door slams shut with an authority I did not believe was possible. She steps to the glass and continues to point. The other hand opens and the last semblance of happiness drifts to the carpet and becomes drowned in blood. Thoughts are convoluted, yet one stands out.

Flashes of Julia and the others. Flashes of the slipper and all it represented. Flashes of trips all over the country. Darkness, pain, threats, beauty. Fading. The woman's eyelids gradually slide closed and I see the strength to stand draining from her body. Slowly she folds in half and hits the floor in a heap. My head rights itself in a nanosecond and I am finally out of the fog. Julia was right. She was always right. Turn. Step. Wind. Lights. Blurry.

Another step. The edge. A smidgen of comfort within because now I know. At last, I know. One more step.

Flashes. Falling. Flying. Floating.

I know. I really know.

Tumbling.

Smack."



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