(here is the complete and mostly finalized version of the story; constructive criticism is welcomed and appreciated, as are questions of any kind)
Preface: This epic tale begins at 4:00pm on a Thursday, when I rise from my slumber to find my father has left me a note, saying something about having made an appointment for the doctor, citing concerns about hot flashes and clowns. I do not sleep, because sleep is for infidels. Dusk and dawn have passed, and I set out to the clinic.
FRIDAY: The Ambush
10:45am: I arrive at the clinic. The normal old saggy man is not around and has been temporarily replaced with an old saggy woman, a detail which I fail to notice until hours later. I inform her on various matters regarding depression and narwhals, and the fateful question arises which I have always lied about: “have I ever had thoughts of suicide”. I ponder the consequences of saying yes, and I feel that whatever happens, it should be entertaining; I give her an affirmative. I can see something sinister light up within her eyes, the fires of a white person’s over-reaction burning deep inside. She leaves the room, and approximately three games of cell phone solitaire later, she returns to inform me that if I do not check in at the hospital in two hours, she will tell the police that I am a godless heathen. I later learn that this was a bullshit bluff, but I am becoming quite sleepy at this point, and details/vision become blurry. I begin to regret my choice.
12:00pm: An angry horned man greets me at the desk, citing his gross over-qualification for his current task. Though I do not know it, I smoke what will be my last cigarette for seventy-two hours, and after two hours of Disney channel fornication being blasted throughout the waiting room, I am summoned into the inner sanctum to offer a sacrifice of urine to the cultists. They smile warmly, but I see through their illusion, and I am shunned back into the waiting room.
3:00pm: I am again called into the inner sanctum, where my blood is tapped because I am a virgin. Despite my protests, the cultists keep me quarantined from the others in a room containing grotesque amounts of literature on Jesus, no doubt to ensure me that they are not satanists. I fall into a sleep-like state, because I am goddamn tired.
5:00pm: I am awoken by a shaman, and she tells me that they think I should be checked in to the hospital. I ask many questions, generally following a tone of “I thought I was here to be evaluated” and “It took you five hours to tell me this?”, but she is not fazed. I ask if I can do this tomorrow, and my request is declined, citing concerns about me driving straight home to jump off a bridge. I give her a “what the fuck” look and she smiles warmly, but I cannot see through her illusion. I sign a paper that, unbeknownst to me, says that I agree to be bored out of my fucking mind for three motherfucking days.
6:00pm: The shaman leads me into the sanctuary of her people, handing me a pair of holy robes to be donned before I join the other initiates. The robes are made of blue paper, and I question the validity of a cult that cannot afford, at the very least, some Snuggies. She takes away my cigarettes, citing concerns about bullshit that I do not heed. My cell phone and wallet are also stripped of me, and I begin to realize that I have signed a very ill contract.
6:30pm: The sanctuary is filled with new initiates, and not much else. I am promptly greeted by an 80-year-old woman wearing socks on her hands, and I politely decline her offer of a high five. I spot no less than three middle-aged men that appear to be detoxing from various drugs. The shaman hands me off to her acolyte, who happens to be the first attractive person I have seen in twenty-six hours. I am grateful for this, but she spends most of her time ensuring the woman with socks on her hands does not take her clipboard away.
I am shown to my quarters, and a man wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt is snoring in a cot not far from mine. I am thankful that he is not wearing a Metallica t-shirt. The acolyte provides a tour of the facilities, which are not large enough to elicit a tour. A single shitty television sits quaintly in front of half a dozen chairs designed for the mentally unstable. There are no doorknobs, only these odd pyramid-like contraptions that I can only assume were made for the aliens these cultists undoubtedly worship. She informs me that contact with the outside is mostly forbidden, but that I may call for reinforcements via a singular phone that cannot reach cell phones. I manage to make a single call home, and plead for my music and some books. Every time I use this phone, it gives me a static shock. This cult is skilled in the ways of torture.
7:00pm: The woman with socks on her hands has grown weary from her quest for the attractive acolyte’s clipboard, and makes several attempts to retire to her quarters, entering mine several times in the process. I cannot blame her, because the demonic taint in this sanctuary is powerful. In the meantime, I examine the only sign of culture within this wasteland: a meager bookshelf. In between copies of Danielle Steele, I spot Anna Karenina, and I hide in a corner caressing it, drifting off in between long Russian surnames. The attractive acolyte leaves, being replaced by an obese woman that waddles in excess.
8:00pm: I spot a girl carrying a laptop. She hides quickly, and I am unsure if I really saw her. My parents arrive with survival gear, but my music is snatched away before my eyes, citing the potential ability to stab myself with the headphone jack. My copy of Baudolino survives the interrogation process, and I am granted normal clothes to replace the blue paper robes. I ponder tearing my robes as a throwback to Biblical outrage, but most of the initiates are too busy detoxing. I deem it an unworthy pursuit.
9:00pm: The initiates assemble in front of the single shitty television to determine the fate of this night. Several voices call out for Forrest Gump, but the disc cannot be found; the group settles for Uncle Buck, to much derision from the detox crowd. The AA crowd approves.
11:00pm: Uncle Buck has taught Ferris Bueller’s sister some manners. Satisfied with John Candy’s performance, I retire to my foam cot, hoping that I do not wake for several days. The man in the Led Zeppelin t-shirt is still snoring. After this, I learn that the demonic taint of this sanctuary spoils the possibility of even the most humble hopes coming to fruition.
SATURDAY: The Death of Comfort
6:00am: I awake, bleary-eyed, hoping that it had all been a nightmare. The light of dawn taunts me like an ill-mannered street urchin, and my back screams obscenities at me for sleeping on what was possibly the most uncomfortable bed I have ever encountered. Calling it sleep would be a stretch; the obese acolyte enters my quarters every fifteen minutes throughout the night to be certain that I am, in fact, still alive. Led Zeppelin is still asleep, and I begin to wonder if he has been subjected to voodoo magicks. I emerge from my room to see a twenty-something with a neck-beard pacing back and forth singing Van Halen lyrics in an off-tune voice. Fearing for my life, I quickly retreat back to my quarters, and I consider my options:
– take a shower, or
I choose to brood while taking a shower. I examine the sparse contents of my bathroom, noting that cleanliness (let alone aesthetics) has taken a backseat to preventing all means of hanging oneself; truly, it would take a master to commit suicide in this room. I examine the cultist shampoo (my shampoos were rejected, citing fears that I would smell better than the other initiates), and while the ingredients do not list the blood of daemons, the foul smell tells me otherwise. The shower spews lukewarm water with almost no pressure, and this enhances my ability to brood.
7:30am: Not really feeling any more clean having spent twenty minutes attempting to scrub away the image of the unholy neck-beard, I venture out from my quarters. The Van Halen devotee has taken to sitting motionless in the corner, which appears to be his primary method of sleeping. One of the middle-aged detox men occupies a chair, staring blankly into space. I decide to do the same, thinking that there is perhaps some merit in this activity. After ten minutes of staring at the floor, I give up the search for nirvana, and I embrace my dear Baudolino, hoping that I will fall asleep again.
8:00am: The acolytes dole out deceit in the form of eggs and sausage without remorse, and I do not forgive them. I avoid eye contact with the other initiates, fearing that they might bond with me, thus beginning the process of hypnotism.
Exhausted from having to evade their silent assault upon my sanity, I retire to my quarters, and my stomach voices its concerns over this cult, demanding food that doesn’t taste like shit. Led Zeppelin appears to be awake, and he stares at the ceiling, without movement. Although my suspicions regarding this phenomenon are many, I refuse to pass up the opportunity to sleep through this ordeal, and my back steels itself for another arduous trial.
11:00am: One of the shaman yanks me from my slumber, and he smiles warmly. He performs a dark ritual to see into my soul, but I remain steadfast, even though I lack the comfort of my shampoos. By the end, he acknowledges that I am too narcissistic for this cult. He informs me that I will be able to leave Monday morning, because the high priests do not work on weekends. The shaman is engulfed in a shroud of mist, and I do not see him again. In retrospect, it seems likely that he was a product of the breakfast sausages. Eggs are not usually so sinister.
11:30am: The neck-bearded fellow is flipping channels, and I happen to catch a glimpse of Gandalf. Seizing the remote, I hunt the dear wizard down, discovering an all-day marathon of Lord of the Rings in progress. For the next nine hours, I guard that most holy power over the television like a mother hawk, the continuation of my sanity inexorably linked to Frodo’s quest more than any fanboy could ever dream. To my surprise, Led Zeppelin rises from his slumber, and he sits down to watch, saying nothing. I fall asleep amidst the marshes of the dead, and I awake just in time to rescue the television from a VHS viewing of Titanic. Led Zeppelin gives me a knowing look – though he has not shaved in weeks, I accept his support in my cause. I have found my first ally.
1:00pm: My back has swayed my knees and shoulders to its cause; these chairs were not designed for mortals, and my attempts at adapting them to my uses are futile. This cult is skilled in the ways of torture.
7:00pm: I am temporarily interrupted from the loving embrace of Middle-Earth to consult with one of the acolytes. No doubt word of my victory over the illusory shaman has spread; she has been chosen to test her mettle against me, and her wavering gaze suggests she is unsure she can best me in mortal combat. The victory is easy, and Aragorn looks pleased, upon my return. This was not a coincidence.
9:00pm: The detox crowd demand Titanic, citing concerns over the questionable relationship between Frodo and Sam. While I cannot deny them this point, I remain steadfast, knowing that effeminate voices and awkward dialogue are merely circumstantial. A vote is cast, and with the valiant aid of Led Zeppelin, the forces of good prevail, for two more hours.
11:00pm: The exhaustion of utter inactivity overtakes me, and I crawl back to my quarters. The ill mattress laughs at my attempts to siphon relaxation from it, but I do not heed its merciless taunting, citing an inability to understand the foreign tongue of cultish furniture. Led Zeppelin is already asleep, noble warrior that he is. My body aches at every joint; this cult is skilled in the ways of torture.
SUNDAY: The Wurst is Yet to Come
4:30am: No. No. No, no, no. It cannot be.
It is dark.
Led Zeppelin is snoring.
My heart, which shrivels like an erection at a comic con, tells me that dawn is not near. Dawn has forsaken me, its feelings hurt over being compared to a street urchin. I apologize profusely, and I am not forgiven. I lay upon my foam cot, impossibly awake. I am not even left with the whispers of a dream to entertain me; like a prostitute with no clients, my thoughts wander the empty streets of my mind, desperately searching for a solution to this situation. None are found, and I know that I will not be allowed to sleep through this ordeal. I resign myself to my fate, taking Baudolino with me into the main shrine. The neck-bearded singer is not to be seen, and I conclude that God sort of exists.
6:00am: The sun decides to show its cowardly face. One of the detox men has risen, likely drawn by the scent of agony and despair, and he voices unintelligible slurs in my direction. I respond with long words that may or may not comprise a sentence, and he looks dizzy. I continue reading.
8:00am: This sanctuary has an endless supply of sausages. I ponder a crass joke about sausage-fests, and I laugh to myself. Horror strikes me, as I realize that I have taken the first step towards joining this cult. Seeing this, a shaman smiles warmly in my direction, but I parry her blow, quickly riposting with a frown. She emits an ear-piercing wail, and disintegrates into a puddle of demonic taint. The other initiates do not seem to notice.
10:00am: A few of the initiates gather in the main sanctuary. They voice concerns that coloring pictures is no longer entertaining, and they request the release of a board game. Boggle is revealed as an option, and my whole body quivers at the notion of finding words in a 4×4 grid of letters. My advanced rhetoric convinces the others, and the first game is played.
I have found forty-one words.
The combined total of my three opponents is less than thirty.
My heart shrivels. If it were a prune before, it is now a raisin. The others wisely choose to find a different game. Another hour is spent on Scategories. Most of my contributions in this event are euphemisms for penis. The AA crowd approves.
12:30pm: Outside, the sky turns pitch black, and a terrible earthquake rattles the entire sanctuary. A giant chasm reaching down into the depths of the earth erupts in the middle of the shrine, and one of the detox men (still sitting in a chair) falls into the abyss. grunting incomprehensibly as he plummets into the void. Out of the deep nothingness, the high priest emerges, floating quaintly in the air. The chasm closes behind him, leaving no trace of its existence. The earth ceases to shake, and the sun appears once more. The smell of sausages lingers in the air.
I ask the question that lingers on the tip of every initiate’s tongue: “I thought you didn’t work on weekends?”. He laughs loudly, and a swarm of gnats erupt from his mouth as he does so. “No,” he says, “I don’t normally, but we’re short-staffed this weekend”. He beckons for me to follow him, and seeing that he is unarmed, I trail him cautiously.
When we have reached our destination, he turns to face me. In the distance, I think I catch another glimpse of the girl with a laptop, and for but a moment I take my eyes off the high priest. Seizing the opportunity, he begins to grill me with questions, and I am no match; his grilling is superior even to George Foreman’s. The stench of sausages becomes overpowering, and images of neck-beards and socks swirl around me. I sweat profusely, and tell him what I told the shaman and the acolyte.
The high priest gives me a quizzical look, and I can manage only to counter with a smirk. “Really, you don’t need to be here,” he tells me. I give him the most powerful “NO SHIT” glare that I can muster. Despite this, he maintains that I cannot leave until tomorrow, and I weep internally. He lets forth with another tremendous laugh, and this time a flurry of fruit flies burst forth from his mouth. He floats away, though the taint of sausages still lingers in the air.
I retire to my quarters, where I am surprised to see that Led Zeppelin is not in his cot. My back utters vulgar curses at me as I collapse onto my foam piece of shit. Dreamless sleep overtakes me, and I am grateful.
5:00pm: I am rudely awakened by an acolyte I have not seen before. She has the audacity to tickle my feet to speed the process of emerging from my slumber, and before I have time to ponder the legality of her actions, she is talking loudly in a voice one might use to herd cattle. She wants me to join the other initiates for dinner. I question her gender, or at the very least, the functionality of her ovaries.
At the foot of my bed, I find a pile of new clothes, and a note from my father. It does not say anything interesting. I sweat profusely.
7:00pm: The initiates have gathered once more in front of the shitty television. The fate of this night is sealed: the VHS viewing of Titanic cannot be prevented any longer. Led Zeppelin is nowhere in sight. He has abandoned me. With aught else to do, I submit myself to this doom. Popcorn is made, and it smells like sausages.
8:15pm: Leonardo DiCaprio looks like a twelve-year-old boy.
9:00pm: To my immeasurable surprise, the Titanic sinks.
9:30pm: The Titanic is still sinking.
10:00pm: I search my youthful memories of this movie for any recollection of it taking this long for the goddamn boat to sink. None are found.
10:30pm: If I were permitted to watch paint dry, I would.
11:00pm: I ponder my past relationships through the lens of Kate Winslet as she floats on a frozen crate. After a few seconds of this, I decide that I would find a better use of my time sleeping. My back disagrees, but I tell it to shut the hell up. My pimp-hand remains strong, even in this dark place.
Led Zeppelin snores away, as ever. Thoughts of late 90’s CGI fill my head, and I am thankful for the distraction. I comfort myself with the knowledge that a mere twelve hours remain, before I am free. Sleep takes me, and I am pleased to be taken.
MONDAY: Pursuit of the Lovely
I awake from a nightmare involving Frodo, Kate Winslet, and Van Halen. It is still dark, and I feel panicked; it does not seem as though as I have slept very long. My body is flooded with warring sensations. I am starving, yet my stomach informs me that it will re-enact the destruction of Pompeii if I give it any more sausages. I am utterly exhausted, but sleep refuses to take me back. I yearn for something soft to touch, and for a brief moment, Led Zeppelin’s beard looks promising. The ill desire passes as quickly as it came, and I am left alone, wishing merely for something beautiful to behold. I briefly wonder if this is what old age feels like.
I stumble into the bathroom to stare into the the make-shift mirror. It is nothing more than steel that may once have been polished, but has now rusted, and my visage is obscured by blots of decay, making even the phoenix on my chest look dull and forlorn. I wash my face with cold water (the lukewarm water is not available at night), before shuffling out into the main shrine to look at the bullshit clock.
It is 2:30am.
The clock looks back at me without a shred of remorse.
My fury is matched only by my despair, so I sit down on the floor. This is not effective.
Knowing of no other way to vent my frustration without assuring an extended stay with this cult, I do the only thing a man looking to preserve his sanity can do: push-ups. The obese acolyte, who is doing her fifteen-minute espionage, seems confused at the nature of my activity. I am grateful for the first honest sweat I’ve had in days, and I manage to exhaust half an hour honing my impeccable vanity. My rage has quieted enough to go back to Baudolino.
3:30am: An asian man I have not seen before stumbles into the main shrine. He takes a seat across from me, and a polite conversation about how the fuck both of us ended up in here ensues. He shows me some fresh wounds from when the po-po slammed him into the pavement, and we share in righteous indignation against The Man. I am rejuvenated, for a short while, until a younger member of the AA crowd joins us. He describes the sabotage of an affair with a married woman nearly twice his age, and the asian man and I share a knowing glance; we do not pity him.
Eventually the conversation takes a turn for the worse, and a semi-passionate discussion of Jesus breaks out. It is a conversation I have heard a dozen times before, and I am displeased to find that the record is still broken, after all these years. It is temporarily intriguing to be, for perhaps the first time, on the opposite side of this engagement, but I soon find it is not much different than it once was.
Once the debate has sputtered out, the AA fellow returns to his quarters, and the asian man and I discuss various matters of Warcraft and Counterstrike for a while longer. This is, undoubtedly, the first genuine conversation I have had in nearly three days. It feels eerie, knowing this, and as I think of more things I have not done since this cult captured me, I feel utterly panicked at the notion of staying here any longer. This place makes me feel fragile and needy, two qualities I take great care never to emit and do my best to avoid acknowledging.
As the conversation begins to falter, I return to my cot that I might gaze at the non-descript ceiling and bore myself into a coma. This is not effective; try though I might, I stare for an hour without results. Each time I think I feel the subtle touch of unconsciousness, the obese acolyte peers inside to ensure that I am not dead, and apparently to ensure that I do not sleep. I want to scream holy obscenities in every direction.
Measureless sands of time sift through my fingers as I imagine myself in every manner of fantastic circumstance that is superior to my own. Here, I stand upon a mighty tower of stone, and I am the night’s lone watchmen. There, I reside in the crow’s nest of a regal battleship, gazing out at colorless seas on a moonless night. Now, I am a soldier in enemy territory that must sacrifice my sleep for the sake of my comrades. As important as I try to fantasize my circumstance, I yearn only for rescue.
I look down at my phoenix, and such a bold and excellent salvation I envision! At the very first light of morning, a most magnificent and terrifying firebird would rise up from the ashes of my hope, and from its wings would leap divine sanctification. Purifying flame would consume the rampant corruption around me, and only glorious beauty would be left behind. What more might I desire, than to see the existence of this place no longer necessary, and in its place, objects of eternal fascination and limitless grandeur, monuments to true pulchritude, dedications to elegance and grace. At the sight of these things, I could only fall to my knees and weep tears of joy, that my eyes had been blessed to witness such things.
The phoenix gives me a blank stare. The unbeauty of this place remains unmoved.
A few hours after dawn, the high priest convenes with his council of shaman, and he grants me leave before mid-day. An acolyte unlocks the giant steel door at the front of the sanctuary, and I leave silently and without ceremony. Outside, the sky is gray and featureless, and a fickle wind is tossing bits of rain around. The world is green, and never have I felt so grateful for such color.
I save my first cigarette for when I am home. I lay upon the damp grass, and watch the tendrils of smoke join the clouds above; it tastes better than sex, and I am, for what seems the first moment in centuries, at peace.
My heart is stricken with pity as I think back to those still within. I shall have to go back and rescue them, some day. I have much training to do.