Written Spring 2011
The Edge... There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living- are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later
Hunter S. Thompson
Keith realized that he was conscious around noon. The first thing he was able to coherently focus on was the throbbing pain in his temple, followed by the large wad of snot caked around his nose. He conjured up all the strength he could find in his body and wiped loose the hardened layers of mucus that had formed a thick shell around his nostrils, as he had done every Sunday for longer than he could remember.
The the first sign that this may not be like every other Sunday morning came when Keith heard the skittering noises under his bed. With his head lifted up they were barely audible but when he placed it on his pillow the sound became amplified to the point that he could not simply ignore it. Fuck, he thought, I was so sure I killed all those bastard things off.
He had seen the first mouse the previous Monday, bolting from behind his legs as he sat on the toilet taking a shit. He had gone out and bought enough traps to stage a genocide, and after removing three corpses from them between then and Wednesday he thought he had eliminated the wretched fucks from his home, but this did not seem to be the case. He wondered why they were in his room despite his best efforts to keep it free of anything a mouse might want to consume.
Keith began to reflect on why exactly the creatures were coming into his room, and what it was that they were eating. Eventually, his thoughts meandered towards the pile of tissues that so often accumulated by his bedside. Piles of tissues stained with mucus and semen that would regularly pile up over the course of a day like today. Keith realized that the vermin had probably consumed more of his seminal fluid than any girl in recent memory, and this realization didn't improve his mental condition in the slightest.
Keith frantically tried to redirect his thoughts towards piecing together the previous evening, a process that led to the usual patches of blurry memories intermixed with hours of pure blackness. However, this morning it was the things he couldn't remember that gave him the clearest picture of what he had done. Normally there would be at least a spot of sobriety at some point between Friday and Saturday evening, and the fact that there was none led him to assume that he hadn't slept at all during the weekend. The fact that the three hundred dollars in his wallet had mysteriously vanished led him to assume that the culprit was cocaine. And finally, the fact that he had done 300 dollars worth of blow without any kind of break led him to believe that he hadn't eaten any food all weekend either, a hypothesis validated by the high pitched squeals his stomach was emitting.
As his mind searched through his vague memories of the previous weekend; attempting to determine just how severely his actions may or may not have harmed his social and legal standing, he began to notice that his mind was not the only thing darting around his room. Every few minutes he would catch a blur of movement speeding around the room just on the outer edges of his peripheral vision. He found these visions to be extremely unsettling, not because of the fact that there was a mouse in his room, but that he was never quite sure whether what he was seeing was real or a figment of his imagination.
This problem intensified the longer he lay in bed, the darting was becoming more and more frequent, and he was still having difficulty determining whether or not they were figments of his imagination. This reached a disturbing low when he glanced at his desk and swore he saw a white blur on the second shelf, an isolated shelf that was positioned about five feet above the ground.
Finally, an answer, Keith thought. There is no way that a mouse could possibly get up that high. But then he thought harder, remembering the time he saw one trapped in the garbage can outside and how he watched jump at least two or three feet high in its desperate attempts to get out of the prison it had trapped itself in. Could the mouse have gotten that high up? What if he used the computer as a jumping block? There was a mostly empty can of beer up there, which was the only thing currently residing in his room that would be considered remotely edible. Could the mouse have wanted the warm, stale remnants of his excess badly enough to perform a series of leaps up the various stepping stones of his desk to reach it? Keith truly couldn't tell.
It was at this point that Keith became cognizant of the quick streaks of brief tactile sensation rapidly occurring all over his body, as if someone were quickly stroking his skin or the area directly beneath it. They've been called the coke bugs before, but Keith used to laugh at the term. Sure he understood how the feeling was similar to that of bugs crawling under ones skin, but he couldn’t grasp how people would scratch and tear at their skin until it was bloody and torn due to what was obviously just a hallucination.
This particular Sunday, however, things were different. As the sensations grew more rapid and intense he began to again consider the mice. If they had truly reached the point of consuming his bodily fluids then wouldn't his sweat stained mattress appear to them as a veritable buffet? He had always taken solace in the fact that mice were cowardly creatures who wanted much less to do with him than he did with them. But like all animals, the need for sustenance could drive them into otherwise inexplicable behavior. Additionally, the fact that the only thing separating his mattress from the floor was a misshapen box spring, irregularly propped up with stacks of paper and other detritus in the areas where the springs had collapsed, meant that they would have no difficulty reaching the feast his body was providing them.
The hallucinations only escalated over the course of the next twenty minutes, along with Keith's response to them. He began to frantically kick off his bedsheets every time he felt anything that had the slightest potential to be a mouse. He would then sit up and stare at his bed for any signs of movement, but would see and feel nothing until he finally relaxed himself enough to lay down, only experience the creeping sensations all over again. This cycle of panicked spurts of paranoia followed by fruitless attempts at rest only broke when Keith jolted upright for what seemed like the hundredth time and saw a distinct gray figure dart off of the side of the mattress.
In a single, instantaneous motion, Keith sprung up from his bed, landed on his feet, and spun around in a 180 degree turn so that we was facing the bed head on. He stood there for five minutes with his muscles tensed, his body frozen, looking desperately for some sign that the intruder was something more than his neurons going haywire, and finding none. He was finally able to convince himself that it was in all likelihood a hallucination. After all, while it was far more vivid than anything he had fabricated previously, he still only saw it out of the corner of his eyes, and he had yet to see a mouse clearly for more than an instant. He just had to be hallucinating, he told himself over and over. Yet no matter how often he repeated the mantra, he couldn’t fully silence the nagging doubts lurking in the back of his mind.
Once he regained some control of his senses, Keith came to the conclusion that real or not, the mouse problem eliminated any chance of further sleep. With that in mind he began the preparations for stage two of the ritual. He fumbled through his room digging up and sniffing the scattered articles of clothing to find something that didn’t smell like it had been sitting on his floor for an indefinite amount of time. He ended up settling on a pair of jet black jeans with no visible stains, a pair of mismatched socks that weren't as lucky, an old yellow t-shirt marred only by a small cigarette hole near the bottom, and a pair ratty old sneakers that Keith believed were primarily responsible for the wretched odor that seemed to constantly permeate his room.
Next, Keith sat down at his computer and searched for an album that might help him cope with the predicament he found himself in. He ended up deciding on “The Velvet Underground & Nico” by The Velvet Underground. The moment he heard the opening celesta notes of “Sunday Morning”, he knew he had made a good decision. Lou Reed's voice seemed to instantaneously relax his mind and ease his worries. To people familiar with The Velvet Underground's catalog, such a reaction may seem a bit out of place. After all, what could so soothing about a band who spent most of their output chronicling the seedy underbelly of late 1960's New York? But underneath all the tales of indiscriminate sex, rampant drug use, and glorified transvestism, Keith could hear the compassion and understanding in Lou's voice. His head may be pounding with the force and unwavering rhythm of a trance song, and his movements may have the slow jerkiness of a Harryhausen creation, but when he listened to the Velvets, he at least knew he wasn't the first person to stray a bit closer to the edge than he may have intended.
Keith stretched out his legs and leaned back in his chair, where his eyes rested on a dirty piece of paper towel sitting on the floor of his room. He smiled as he picked the towel up to examine it. It was beautiful. Layered on top of a backdrop of various shades of brown sat eight red blotches. Some were thin and bright, covering large portions of the towel with uneven splotches of color like a half assed piece of graffiti. Others were small and dark as an early season cherry, and Keith could run his hands along them and feel the thick layers of dried blood that comprised them in all their vile glory.
His first gusher. It had taken six years and damn near 30,000 dollars worth of the stuff to make it happen, but it finally had. While he was happy that his nose had a Herculean constitution, there had always been a trace of jealousy in his eyes as he would watch his friends scramble and panic as the life ran endlessly from their nasal cavities like a glorious fountain of depravity. A gusher had always been one of the last major landmarks down the desolate highway of cocaine excess, and the fact that he had finally passed it cemented his status as someone who could careen into oblivion with the same speed and intensity as anyone else out there.
Well, almost anyone. Keith began to juxtapose his creation to the only comparable work that he was aware of, the walls of the old Fun House. Back between 69 and 70 Iggy Pop and the rest of the Stooges lived in a rundown house on the outskirts of Detroit. The Stooges, being heroin addicts, would shoot up regularly in the Fun House, and when they did they would spray the leftover blood from the syringes all over the walls, floors, and ceilings of the house. By the end of their stay the house splattered with enough hemoglobin to make the place look like an early Pollock.
Keith would have loved to see it. It must have been amazing. One of the last remnants of true beauty in a world surrounded by ugliness. Beautiful enough to bring a jaded, nihilistic soul like his to tears.
In his younger years, Keith had earnestly tried to find meaning in most of the traditional ways people filled the void, things like politics, religion, and money. Unfortunately, every attempt at doing so left him feeling more hollow than before. All politics really boiled down to was determining your beliefs about how the world should operate by arbitrarily picking from one of two slanted worldviews the way a might person choose a football team to root for, then sticking to whatever the ranking sociopaths on your side tell you to believe with all the fury and stupidity of a rabid wolverine.
Religion was no better. If there was something meaningful in what those prophets and saints were trying to say all those years ago, it was long ago corrupted by legions of opportunists looking to exploit whatever they could to further their personal agendas. The confines of materialism were no match for Keith either. All it took was one line of blow to realize that there was a much more efficient way of getting a thrill than the constant quest for better material goods. People talk about how exorbitantly expensive cocaine is, but if you do a cost benefit analysis between the thrill obtained from buying a brand new plasma screen TV compared to the rush of sending a fat line into the back of your throat, cocaine would win by a landslide. Sure, the risks were much higher in the drug game, but Keith had already gone down the rabbit hole, and there was no going back to the boring comforts that he was once willing to strive for.
In a culture like ours, structured around deceit, corruption, and mental slavery, the only things that could be truly beautiful are the things that stand in complete defiance of it. Things like the Fun House. Things like Rock and Roll.
For a man like Keith, with an extraordinary ability dissect and demolish any ideology placed in front of him, Rock was the only thing he would ever truly believe in. The only thing that's not afraid to present itself as what it is. The only thing that is willing to yell at the top of it's lungs that the emperor is naked and that we are all a bunch of fools for thinking otherwise, before stripping naked itself and dancing in the streets, reveling in the feel of the cool breeze that everyone else shields themselves from with layers of delusion and false morality.
And believe in it he did. Keith believed in Rock and Roll with an admiration that seems out of place in today's world. A devotion that perhaps would had been better suited to a different time. A devotion that would have been perfectly at home in a place like feudal Japan or ancient Greece.
Ancient Greece was a perennial fascination of Keith's. He loved reading about their ancient culture, the gargantuan monuments and buildings they would erect, the intellectual growth that paved the way for all Western thought.
But it was the limitless loyalty of the Greek soldiers that fascinated Keith the most. Not only would people line up to fight for the glory of their homeland, but they would revel in the opportunity to die for it. Soldiers would strive for the honor of being part of the front row of a phalanx, the standard battle formation of Greek warfare, a position that entailed being the first soldiers to come up against any enemy combatant, a position that led to an almost certain demise. So strong was their passion for the values of their homeland that they would not just be willing to die for them, but would outright volunteer for the privilege.
Such a notion seemed so alien to the world that Keith resided in, but he understood lack of ardor amongst the denizens of modern America. We lived in a culture that thrives on deceit, and everyone knows it. Every businessman who blindly chases Capitalism’s empty promises of fulfillment through long hours of soul crushing tyranny while his children walk home from school alone, every girl who is too scared of the passing whispers to ever allow the endless dreams of cock and balls that haunt her imagination to pass into fruition, every post-grad who, with a heavy heart, decides that it is time to stop partying and to be an adult, not because he wants to live a more simple and relaxed life, but because he is too chickenshit to alienate himself from his co-workers ideas of a good life. Who in their right mind could feel a powerful sense of sincere devotion to a country whose ideologies are as hollow and flimsy as a snot bubble.
But Rock and Roll was different. Rock could inspire true devotion. Rock and Roll gave Keith everything he had. It was Rock that confirmed to him that he wasn't the fucked up one. That what's fucked up is this world of charlatans that surrounded him and tried to make him stretch and contort into incongruous slots that he knows he can never fit into. Rock and Roll was the reason Keith saw through them all, and for that he would gladly volunteer to die in it's phalanx.
Four hours had passed, and along with them Sonic Youth's “Bad Moon Rising”, Elliot Smith's “Either/Or”, Coltrane's “Ascension”, Titus Andronicus' “The Monitor”, and about half of The Velvet Underground's second album “White Light/White Heat”. What hadn't passed, however, were feelings of paranoia and restlessness, the jitters and lack of motor coordination, and of course the ever persistent hallucinations.
In fact, as he sat at his computer letting the music rip through him and reading the sermons of saint Bangs, the mice seemed to have been amassing an army. Now every thirty seconds his vision would be interrupted by the familiar peripheral flashes, and the strong urge to investigate each of them had transformed into a compulsion, leading to Keith dart around as if controlled by a puppet master whenever he had the misfortune of witnessing something unusual on the other side of his room.
While questionably sane, Keith still had the presence of mind to realize that his condition had gone well past what could be reasonably described as a hangover. Keith began to realize that the room he was residing in was having a cancerous effect on his reasoning, but just as he began to formulate an escape plan the first jolts of true fear shot through his body.
Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck. It was the now 6:30pm on the Sunday of spring break. This meant there was a good chance that all of his friends had gone home already. The notion that he could very well be alone sent Keith's heart racing faster than any coke rush he could remember. Some strange form of animal instinct took over as he scrambled out of his chair and began frantically dialing the number of anyone he thought might have the slightest chance of still being around.
Ten calls and no leads later, and the he was on the verge of a mental breakdown. True fear was beginning to set in, and Keith was slowly beginning to realize just how serious his condition was. What he wanted more than anything was some kind of answer as to how long he was going to be stuck in this state. Whether he was going to start getting better soon or whether he should start preparing himself for more serious action.
Keith knew what he needed to do, though the prospect unnerved him. He had a friend named Charles who was a grad student in biochemistry at Drexel. If anyone knew what he was in store for it was him. The call, however, would not be an easy one. Sweating, Keith pressed the call button next to his contact entry.
“Yo Keith, what's good?”
“Nothing much man, how you doin?” Keith could hear the nervousness dripping from his voice.
“Not bad. Whats up?”
“Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Sure, fire away.”
“Lets say I went a little overboard this weekend and did a bit too much coke. How long is this psychosis going to last?”
“You fucking idiot, how much did you do?”
“About a quarter.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, how much on each day?”
“To be honest with you man, I have no idea, I bought a keg on Friday, but since almost everyone else went home I have just been up drinking it and doing lines since then.”
“You fucking moron, what the fuck did you think was gonna happen to you?”
“I don't really know, I just ended up with 350 in back utilities falling into my hand so I decided I would live it up this weekend.”
“Well I hate to break it to you man, but you may be in this for the long haul. Hopefully this will finally teach you your fucking lesson.”
“Yeah, I mighta gone a bit too far this time around.”
“Well listen, I'm in the lab for a three more hours but give me a call later tonight and you can come over and crash here. And for fucks sake stop doing shit like this.”
“Alright man, peace.”
Kieth tried to calm himself. Three hours, all you have to do is hold your shit together for another three hours and everything will be good. You'll be able to go to Charles' carpeted, furnished, and mouse free home where you can sit back on a couch and just let all the madness go away.
Until then, however, he was on his own, by himself in a city unconcerned with yet another of its residents flying over that ravine into the depths of madness. Keith decided the best option was to at least leave his room. He got up, paused the music, grabbed his jacket and left, shutting the door and padlocking the latch shut.
Keith's first stop was the bathroom, where he stared at his reflection in the slab of glass that could once be called a bathroom mirror. His hair was a grizzly mess of mats and tangles that he could barely run his fingers through. His nose and mouth were covered in dried blood. The black-light that illuminated the bathroom brought out previously unseen stains in his shirt, and made the dried snot caked around his pants glisten and glow like they were made out of crystals. Keith ran his hands under the sink and cleaned himself to the best of his ability before proceeding down the stairs.
The downstairs of Keith's house was more noteworthy for its lack of decor than any specific contents it may possess. Of the three rooms, the kitchen, with its refrigerator, microwave, stove, and counters, was the only one that could ostensibly resemble it's namesake. His living room consisted almost entirely of empty floor space, covered only by an empty TV stand, a reclining chair in the far corner, and a radiator against the front wall. His dining room was even more sparse, its open expanses marred only by a broken table laying on it's side in the corner.
It was the dining room that Keith decided would be his away base for the final stretch. He dragged the table into the living room and turned on all the lights on the first floor. He could still hear thumps and creaks and feel the crawling all over, but standing in a vacant and well lit room meant that at least he could discern that they were detached from reality. He zipped up his jacket and prepared himself for what was to come. It would be a dull couple of hours, but after what he experienced today he was ready for some boredom.
And dull those hours were. Aside from the occasional misguided impulse to check under the radiator, Keith spent the next two hours standing in the middle of the room, running his eyes around it in a steady rhythm, relishing the well deserved peace. Keith wasn't even surprised to feel his eyes began to get droopy, and the urge to sit down seemed to envelop his body, filling it with a peaceful warmth that called him to the reclining chair like a siren song.
Keith laid back in the chair, kicking the legs up and stretching his muscles with a sense of expectant ecstasy. He still had another hour before he could get the hell out of his house but if he slept through that deadline than at least he would get some much needed rest. Keith slowly felt his eyelids melt, gradually covering his eyes with a blanket of calm tranquility.
Pouring rain. A large white rat darts across the kitchen floor down the basement stairs. A second one follows suit along the counter-top. A pair of eyes at the window. Two. Four, Seven. Keith's eyes snap open. He jumps out of the chair, rushes into the kitchen, and slams the basement door shut. The rain is pouring down now, so he wasn’t hallucinating. He hears a thrashing noise from behind the basement door, along with vicious scraping and scratching noises coming from every direction. Thousands of noises converging in a singular assault on his sanity by way of his ear canal. Through the cacophony he tries to pull out the individual noises, the crashes and clatters that seemed to come from nowhere and surround him without the need for a physical presence. He makes a hasty dash for the away base in the next room over.
Even the away base was not safe from the horrors that haunted him. The noise in his basement began to become unbearable, and the base's proximity to the door meant that he was especially aware of the tumultuous chaos occurring down there. He tried not to think about what was producing that racket as he scrambled to the other end of the house. He briefly considered going back up the stairs, but the racket coming from his room seemed to be tenfold what had driven him out of it, so instead he huddled in the far corner of the living room, trying in vain to control the trembling that had taken control of his entire body.
It was at that point that he heard the gnawing. While he couldn’t pinpoint the source of any of the other noises this one stood out clear to him as coming from behind the TV stand. It was a vicious sound, he could hear the teeth of whatever was making it grind up against each other as it chomped intently on some unseen feast. And while he knew the location of the noise, it still felt to Keith as thought the creature were directly in his ear, chewing and gnashing through his skull with the fury of a wolverine.
In a blinding flash Keith realized just what kind of path he was walking down and the grim reality of the destiny he had chosen for himself. The reality of Sid vicious slowly dawned upon him. All the romantic appeal of him carving “Gimme a Fix” onto his chest before going onstage after his managers had hired bodyguards to stop him from getting drugs seemed to vanish, leaving only the image of a broken junkie behind in their place. David Bowie's cocaine fueled bouts of mysticism seemed to take on a whole new clarity. What if he too had surrounded himself with people who told him these hallucinating were not the product of too much blow, but rather the result of an otherworldly entity trying to contact him. How much closer to that brink would he be without those tenuous and frayed ropes of rational thought giving him some form of solace.
And what of the Fun House. The grizzly nature of their creation struck Keith with all the fury of a wrecking ball, sending his visions of the beauty of an overdose tumbling to the ground. Their was no beauty in this death. Hendrix didn't burn up in a fit of messianic glory, he lay there covered in his own vomit like any other addict.
And the Greeks. The Hoplites who selflessly volunteered for the front lines of battle and a near certain death for the glory of their cities. Keith's mind locked with clarity on one of the lesser known strategic benefits of the phalanx formation. You see, even the most battle hardened of soldiers could get scared when the time to actually fight came around. It was one thing to talk about how willing to die you are from the comfort of home, and entirely another to see the enemy advancing you, outnumbering you, and for you to see with absolute certainty that your death was going to be a painful one. The thing about the Phalanx though, is it left no room for escape, those soldiers on the front had about ten rows more behind them shoving them forward into the spears of the enemy, by the time the soldiers knew what they were getting into it was too late.
The gnawing persisted, growing louder and louder with each crash of teeth until Keith just couldn't take it anymore. The Hoplites may have been trapped in their formation, but Keith wasn’t. Any concern about what he would look like raving through the streets vanished as ran out the door towards his car. He darted into the front seat and frantically began to call Charles.
Charles picked up, he had just gotten back from the lab and was planning on calling Keith. After somehow convincing him that he was OK to drive but still having issues, Charles said Keith was more than welcome to come over and crash. Within seconds Keith had the car started. He jumped out of the parking spot and began careening towards center city.
The drive was one that Keith hoped he would never have to repeat again. His periphery was alight with false beacons of oncoming traffic, and Keith needed all of his wits to identify whether the cars on the road were real or figments of his imagination. He still heard the mice but he knew not to dwell on them. Instead, he blared his speakers as loud as he could and let Television attempt to drown the creatures out. The nervous quiver in Tom Verlaine's voice seemed to resonate with a new intensity in Keith, and the jagged, tightly wound dual guitar lines seemed to mimic his internal turmoil.
The drive felt like an eternity, but like all things, it eventually ended. He parked the car and walked over to the door and knocked a few times. Charles was wearing a warm grin when he answered the door, much to Keith's relief. He chuckled, called Keith an idiot, and invited him up to his apartment.
They got upstairs, Keith collapsed into the couch while Charles walked into the kitchen, filled up a glass of water, and handed it to Keith along with two Xanax pills. Keith gobbled the pills like a five year old anxious to earn his dessert and lay back on the couch. He and Charles talked for thirty minutes or so before Charles said he had to go to bed. He made sure Keith was feeling OK one last time before going into his room and leaving Keith to his own devices.
Keith could still hear the mice, but they didn’t seem to bother him anymore. He finally felt like he could relax now, as the compulsion to investigate and comprehend the noise around him seemed to vanish. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the rag. It wasn't the Fun House, but it was a good effort, and Keith was proud of it. He still had seventy dollars in his wallet, which meant that he could pick up again tomorrow if he was feeling better. Keith put his headphones on and let the blare of the guitars enchant his mind with visions. Visions of parties, visions of destruction, visions of drugs, visions of sex, and visions of rebellion. Visions of marching towards the abyss in full battle regalia.