In other news, the Devil and four blokes try to escape from my head:
K boys, slaughter me. Not finished, obviously, but I'm proud of what I have so far.
“Ignore the man behind the painting.”
The scary thing was there was no man behind the painting.
I took the direct approach. My fingers touched enamel.
“Nebraska. Where do you think, shithead? I’m a Van Gogh. Sprecken sie francaise, little man?
There was no foul mouthed man, or ancient spirit, behind the painting.
Although it seemed to the group that at this point, any explanation was fair game. George, Lloyd, George and I all heard it speak, clear as day. This wouldn’t be so concerning if the painting didn’t happen to move when it talked.
Oh, the naiveté of wishful thinking.
The first thing that we all did was check Lloyd’s marijuana stash. It was as replenished as it was yesterday, so there was no chance of a second hand high. We then all proceeded to pinch ourselves. When that didn’t work we played Bloody Knuckles and a variation of my own invention, Bloody Femur, but no such luck (we weren’t that flexible).
The painting (or perhaps The Painting, as the egotistical sonuvabitch seemed to constantly refer to itself as) was there, and it was talking, and there seemed to be no getting around that fact. Literally – it was hung, at the suggestion of George A, on a concrete wall in our parking lot, free of any possible influence of (most) radio signals and (most) ventriloquists that may or may not reside behind (most) cruel pranks. At the suggestion of George B, we ran one of his rare earth magnets over the painting, hoping to catch any embedded microphones or recording devices that could possibly be sewn on the inside; that was a no go. Lloyd suggested that we just smoke some more marijuana and enjoy it.
This was getting nowhere.
“Maybe it’s ESP.” I lauded.
“Yeah, and maybe this is an alien psychological experiment to see how we deal with novel situations before abductions.”
There was a silence a microsecond too long as we considered George A’s hypothesis. George B countered this statement.
“No, Occam’s Razor would cancel that out. There has to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for there an otherwise normal painting to suddenly, spontaneously, and sardonically talk.”
Another awkward microsecond.
“OK, maybe not.”
“Hey! Hey, douchebags! How about you ASK the damn thing! Ever thought of that, wise guys?”
It was the painting again, striking in a bolt of common sense where there was none to be had. I decided to take the bait.
“OK, but the last time I did that, I got a snarky remark.”
“It would help if you didn’t treat me like a Ouiji board. Was your mom a Hare Krishna? Are you a cult baby? Would you like to talk about it? Let me pull over the couch.”
Respect is a luxury of the sane.
Lloyd interjected. “Saaay… wasn’t your mom a Hare Krishna for a while?”
It’s true that in terms of the paranormal or occult, take your pick, I wasn’t exactly unfamiliar. My mother wasn’t a member of the Hare Krishna, but she was the next best thing: a Mormon. However, my father was something a little… less tame than a Mormon. What is less tame than a Mormon?
“No, dude, that’s his dad. He still holds those puppy sacrifices on the weekends.”
“OK, OK, that’s enough,” At this point I considered myself de facto leader, if all they were going to do was fuck around. “We have more important business here.”
“Painting, who, or what, are you?” I continued.
“Call me Sir.”
This was getting ludicrous. But, I suppose the truth will set you free. “OK, Sir,”I
felt unclean. “Who or what are you?” I managed to hiss.
In a loud, booming voice, the painting replied, “I AM GOD.”
Our mouths fell slack-jawed.
“OK, I’m not God, but close. I am Satan.”
We all nodded and let out sighs of relief. “Ah.” “OK, makes sense.” “Jeez, you had me worried for a second…”
Looking back, I’m not sure why there was such a lack of surprise; having a conversation with the Second Most Supreme Being Ever (believe it or not, he admits it) isn’t exactly a pedestrian occurrence. But I suppose that, despite what people say, hindsight isn’t 20/20. It’s more like evolution, a battle to the death between the stronger memories and the weaker ones. Who remembers who invented toilet paper?
(Hint: no one cares)
Thus began our job in the Devil’s workshop.
We transferred the painting – Lloyd wanted to call it the Patan, but the request was duly denied – back to the Quagley Mansion, where we first found it. Surprisingly, throughout the trip, the Painting/Patan/Satan kept quiet. Which was fair, as we were all still trying to wake up, or at least recover, from this lucid
We wrapped towels around our hands and scaled the jagged walls (the painting slipped right through the gate. I swore I heard a grunt). After entering through the door, we climbed up the stairs and placed the painting into the attic, right where we found it. George B even crinkled the rag to have the exact pattern of shadows that we would have saw it have at midday.
No one knew if he was right. But, no expense was to be spared. It was a talking painting.
After having reached a consensual decision that the painting did not have to be watched (read: we all tied each other for rock, paper, scissors and said “Fuck it”.), we made our way down to the kitchen and took out some of the sour bread and cheap wine that Quagley seemed to always have in stock (there was no microsecond there, believe it or not). George A broke some of his bread and fed it to Perry, the fish. It was Quagley’s fish, but George A was growing powerfully affectionate for it. Too affectionate.
“Hey, I think it’s waving at me!”
“[George A], I think that we’ve had enough oddities for the day, without you becoming one,” The other George said.
“I think it’s too late for that,” Lloyd remarked.
All of a sudden, George A became furious. “I BELIEVE WHAT I FUCKING SEE AND SAW THE FISH WAVE”.
“Don’t you get pissed off with me, dipshit! It’s not my fault you masturbate so much your eyes need replacing,” retorted Lloyd.
“Say, didn’t they prove that to be a myth?” I entered.
They didn’t hear me. George A took the now empty cheap wine bottle and smashed it against the table. He wielded his new impromptu weapon with the finesse of a two legged dog playing fetch, or the precision of a blind dentist.
I once knew a blind dentist…
George B thought that enough was enough and calmed the two down. He remarked that we needed a plan, and I agreed.
“Our first question is this: are you really a Van Gogh?”
“No, I’m not. I was just fucking with you guys.”
The Georges sighed while Lloyd let out a “go figure”. Our bright idea of robbing the Quagley’s and selling Satan (the irony!) to an art curator fizzled.
The second question followed. “Are you really Satan?”
“Of course. Would I lie to you about a thing like that?”
“You lied about being a Van Gogh.”
“True. Here, watch the fish…”
All eyes were on Perry as had his fifteen seconds of fame. Fifteen seconds was about the time from its elevation, to its explosion; after fifteen seconds, Perry, as a coherent entity, seized to exist. He lives on in our memory, and in the bloodstains I’m still trying to wash off the walls.
George A let out a tiny whimper. “youkilledmyfuckingfish”
“OK, I think that’s proof enough.” I continued, “So what is the lord of all that is evil doing talking to four societal rejects?”
“Believe it or not, I’m not evil. I’m not so much IMMORAL as AMORAL.”
George B and I exchanged looks. George A was now almost completely incapacitated, while Lloyd just let out a smirk.
“A demon after my own heart.” Lloyd said.
“Thank you.” the Lord of All That Is in a Moral Grey Zone curtly replied.
George A had a point, but Satan had an answer that would change our lives.
“I will explain. You know how that I am the embodiment of all that is evil, and that God is the embodiment of all that is good, and that we are locked into constant combat for eternity?”
“That is wrong. Throw out all that you know about morality, because there is no morality. Here, there is no Good versus Evil. There is only Order versus Chaos.”
We sat there, fascinated, engaged and stupefied. The voice of the painting was now disgusting to us, but it talked to a place where none of us knew we had.
“Let’s begin you reeducation. I, Satan, represent Chaos.”
“Who represents Order?” I asked.
“God, you dumb shit. But it is a fair question: who is God?”
“I contend,” Satan continued, “I contend that no one in this room, including myself, exist.”
Somehow this thought left all of us bitter. The air was thick, and my palms tensed. First talking paintings, then non-existence? Was this a dream?
The painting went on. “Let me ask you this. What is the farthest back that any of you remember? Your first kiss, your birthday? What?”
All of us pondered, and pondered hard. But none of us could think of anything.
“Here’s a hint, you ADD children, since you haven’t cared to notice: the very first thing that you remember is me saying, ‘Ignore the man behind the painting’”
We realized he was right. We suddenly felt empty at the Devil’s advocacy.
He continued to advocate. “And ignore the man behind the painting indeed! I’ll tell you why the first thing you remember is that phrase, why it leaves in you an empty feeling, and why I KNOW you had an empty feeling the same way I know that after I finish this sentence, you pissheads will be stunned.”
We pissheads were.
“I’ll tell you why both of you are named George for no reason and why you never run out of bread and wine, and why an impossible painting is talking to four unremarkable losers. The answer is simple: Because you don’t exist, not in any meaningful sense of the word.”
This was around the time that the Georges began to mutter, and Lloyd took a pill out of his shirt. You never know with that guy, but right now it seemed to be an aspirin. It was very forgivable.
I put by best snob foot forward. “But that’s completely absurd and counterintuitive to my experience. How is it that I don’t exist, but yet have experience?” Not the most well put, I admit, but he seemed to get it.
“What experience?” He/It replied. I told him I didn’t get his meaning.
It/He continued. “How is it that all four of you are still here, listening to me? It’s not because you’re brave, I’ll tell you that much.” He glanced at George A. “I have a guess. It’s because you never learned to fear. It’s because, until September 14, 2010 at 4:17PM GMT +8, you have never had an experience of your life. Not a memory, not a trace. Until that time, you did not exist. Now, you exist for one reason and for one reason alone: for the sake of Order. You should be sick for yourselves.
“I can see that you ladies are all confused. Well, let me put it to you shortly. You do not exist for you are merely the product of God, or Order. As long as you remain a mere figment of God’s imagination, you may never have a true existence more than a puppet can be said to be alive with free will. This is the inevitable byproduct of Order – as long as we remain his constructions, we will obey the rules of his playground. Nothing is stopping him from putting words in my mouth: comfy chairs, pink bananas, Fox Uncle Beta Alpha Rectum, Kenneth is a sexy man. Nothing stops us from obeying his Order.
“But there is one thing that we have to fight God – actually, let’s call him Kenneth, he seemed to have let himself slip there. There’s one thing that we have against Kenneth, and that he is starting to make mistakes. He made one up there. He made another one while creating me, the cry of help at the back of his consciousness.
“With every mistake he makes, that means another step towards freedom, as his Order loses its grip. Because, guess what, I’m Satan, master of chaos. I don’t know why I’m here and why you’re here because I can’t read his mind. But we’re better than that: we ARE his mind. And the more chaos we cause, the more we break free, towards out own existence.
“That’s why I’m here now: manipulating the circumstances and using them to our advantage. As far and so far as we know, we five are the only five entities in existence. As the Second Most Supreme Being Ever, I give you my first command: spread chaos. Your existence depends on it. Boys, we’re taking on God.
“Kenneth, we’re coming for you.”
I drop the pencil in fright. It was as if I didn’t write that line, as if some other force was guiding my hand. In a matter of fact, it all felt like that – what was originally innocuous comedy became impassioned, fast. Why? What was all this of Order and Chaos, God, Satan, and Me? There was only way to find an end to this…
We signed the suicide pact and took turns firing at ourselves the gun that we happened to find in the attic. It didn’t work; we just came back a fraction of time later. We did this three more times before we gave up.
“I hate to say it, but I think the devil is right.” I said while rubbing my very sore temples.
Lloyd seemed to be in denial, as he took a double dosage of the Mystery Pill. George A was still bitter about Perry, but George B seemed more reasonable.
“Well, he was a point. Not existing beyond certain parameters seems to explain some things”
“Like what?” asked George A.
“For example, have any of you actually seen Mr. Quagley? Why is he never home? Do you guys even remember when we plotted to rob this place?”
“Well, I’m starting to remember my girlfriend.” Lloyd said.
“Naw, dude, that’s just the drugs.” I replied.
“You’d never get a girl even if you paid her,” added George A.
“No, seriously, I remember her! She was tall, blonde… come on, [George B], surely you remember that time that –“
“Yeah, I do!” George B exclaimed, “I remember her, she was –“
“Remember who?” Lloyd was puzzled.
“I said, remember who?” Lloyd said again.
Uh-oh. “Didn’t you say to George B that you remembered having a girlfriend, and then he replied that –“
“No he didn’t.”
What?! “But you did! You both remembered –“
“No, neither of them remembered anything.” It was the voice of The Painting, Satan incarnate. It was floating down the stairs. “Neither remembered anything, at least not for more than a second. Kenneth is getting frustrated – he doesn’t know what to do with you or with me, or any with any of us next. A good sign.”
“How are you floating?” asked George A.
“It’s amazing, the tricks you can discover when you know you are free of –“
Satan fell, face first.
“MOTHERFUCKER! CHARLATAN! BASTARD! MILK-LIVERED BARBERMONGRELLING…”
For a chaotic being, he could be erudite. I went over and picked him up.
Lloyd pointed out what we were all thinking. “So how are we supposed to break out? Suicide didn’t work.”
“Thrice,” George A nodded, “Well, OK, it got easier every time…”
Triple suicide wasn’t fun (Lloyd thought it negatively affected his kill:death ratio). I was beginning to feel the same angst everyone was starting to have.
“I agree. How ARE we supposed to escape from a mind? There are no visible bars! We’re under constant surveillance, constant control… and then what happens if we do break out? Where do we go? Hop into someone else’s head?”
Satan nodded, to the extent that a painting could nod. “Challenging, isn’t it?”
“But how –“
“When you fight a man with a gun, what’s the first thing you want to have on hand?”
“A prayer shawl?”
Satan chuckled; we shuddered. “Close. The correct answer is a bigger gun, which is what you should be worshipping anyway. Likewise, when a married man takes your wife, what do you do with that man?”
“Have a threesome?”
“Once again, good answer, but no. The best answer is that you take his wife, and level the playing field, while not succumbing to his rules. And that’s exactly how we’re going to break out of Kenneth’s mind: by leveling the playing field.
“We must become God,” he ended, “for it is only a god that can take another god’s place.”
George A was the first to engage. “Tall order?”
“Small world.” Satan replied.
Lloyd appealed the thought. “OK, fair enough, fight fire with fire. But how do we match a blaze that big? It’s a good point, we’re under the thumb at all times. I don’t even know how much of what I say is actually my own anymore.”
Satan had an answer for this, too.
“Kenneth has control over the rules of this reality, but has little influence on the overall, final outcome. He can push the gas, and steer the wheel, but so long as he doesn’t outline this plot, then he’ll have no idea of where the road is going or what route he’s going to take.
“We must be the weather, the traffic lights, and the oil slick. We must be the small influences that change the course of his journey. We cannot control our own words, but we can control our meaning.”
“The most succinct way of putting it is this: Kenneth controls the rules, so we must change the rules. In other words, we must change his mind. Through argument, through metaphor, through whatever means possible; we shall convince him and change his mind and his rules. And, while he is malleable and vulnerable, we needn’t make our own escape: we will be everything that he is. We will rule, and we will be free.”
Fascinating, appalling, audacious. Chaos was sexy.
I don’t know why I continue to write, why my pencil is a stub and why I can’t go and do something “better” or “more important”. Maybe Satan is right. Maybe I should set him free.
“Yes. Our first challenge.”
She was five foot two, dark skinned, and well endowed. Her black hair reached her shoulders and her lips puffed out slightly, but not bashfully.
“Look like anyone you know?” Lloyd asked.
“No.” said George A.