Exterminate Whatever Stands Left
I don’t want to like the taste of your fingers, but it’s all that I can do. All I want, all I want, all I want…
I don’t want this. I shouldn’t have gone to her place. 34th and Vine is a bad scene. Always a bad scene. But I was lonely and my friends all said she’d take my loneliness away. For them it had been just an hour. But she smelled something on me. Essence of car crash. Desperation and longing.
“How old are you?” she asked. An odd question from a gypsy woman on top of a man, grinding, trying to heat him up and hopefully earn some business again later. It took me a second because I could barely think in the state I was in and I didn’t really know how old I felt. I don’t want to like the taste of your fingers.
“26.” I answered.
“Almost perfect,” she said. Not sure what she meant. I was close to done if that’s what she was talking about.
I finished quick. Not like when we were together. I hope it doesn’t hurt that I’m telling you this. But I need to, to hold on. She took my money, got her clothes on and I was ready to leave when she stopped me.
“Not yet. Got something for you.”
I’d heard rumors. Reefer? Heroin? Something altogether unheard of? You know what they say about Ruth. I was tempted. I know. You want me to stay away from that stuff. Almost left anyway.
“I don’t have that kind of money.”
“You don’t. Thing is, that this is for those who need it. Can’t charge for it.” She opened a drawer, pulled out a small vial.
“Yeah? I needed the other thing and you charged for that.”
She broke out in what could only be called a heartless cackle. She made it last. I didn’t feel witty. I felt like I was talking to something that was not altogether a person anymore. I felt like I didn’t want to accept whatever awful gift there was in store for me. I had one eye on the door. Unfortunately, one eye was on that vial.
And I took it. Hungry. Keep talking is all I can do. And I want to explain myself. I want you to understand. I need you to understand. This was for you. Stand up! Run. I should’ve never listened. Or uncorked the stopper of that silvery, stinking vial.
And I shouldn’t have gone home, went to my bedroom and drank it, even though it smelled inedible, inky and probably poisonous. I shouldn’t have ignored the glistening elixir’s attempts to warn me of its own awfulness. But I did. It made time disappear. It made invisible hands caress my face and lips I missed press against me.
Half his face was young and smooth. But tired. And not happy to be there. The other half was fleshless, all bones and teeth and an empty eye socket. Young and dead at the same time. His suit was extravagant but dusty. Like the man himself. He put a cigarette into his mouth. Didn’t light it. You’d have to be able to breathe to smoke and there was no indication that he drew breath at all. As I played the song, my eyes should have been on him since he was so out of place, so unearthly, so wrong, but instead they were where they really were that night. I was watching Glenn size me up.
He had that arrogant smirk on his face that he always had but this time he seemed to be sure that it was completely justified, that there was no reason in the world I should be a threat to him or making time with his girl. Glenn saw me as a turtle neck and an acoustic guitar. He made me tiny when I should have been larger than life and proudest of myself. His eyes were on me, sizing me up and seeing no threat and your eyes were on him as I was playing. You know what I thought. I was right. I know I was right.
“You play pretty good,” he said, offering his hand to shake, like my set wouldn’t have been any good if he hadn’t thought it was, which he didn’t. He didn’t think it was any good. And I thanked him and we sat down. And he should have felt like he didn’t belong. And he should have felt shy and out of place and weak. But you had invited him. You had said it would be fun. I had to pretend that he was a friend instead of your former lover and that I felt comfortable sitting with him and listening to him talk about racing and ask me things about my car that I didn’t really know.
And he went and said it. He joked “you and I should race sometime.”
And you laughed like it was a goof. You laughed and you made me even smaller in front of him. The black man with half a face shook his head like this was the start of something that just shouldn’t be. And he was right.
And it happened again. The way it happened in my dreams. It happens how it always happens and will never stop happening every time I sleep. Am I ever going to sleep again? He revs at the light. And I rev at the light. And you laugh. You laughed at me like it was a goof. No, like I was a goof. I wasn’t a goof. I’m not a goof. You see me here? I’m dead serious and I was dead serious. I know you don’t want to here this. I know you want me to stop talking, but if I stop talking, then you know what happens. I’ve gotta keep it up. I’ve got to fight this so I don’t…
And we’re going down dark side roads. And we’re snaking through the woods and you’re begging me to let you out.
“See? I’m a wild man, I’m a maniac. I’m not the new, civilized man. I’m like him!”
And you’re crying.
“This is dangerous. Stop the car!”
I really wanted to. As a visitor to my body, as the one observing the biggest mistake I ever made, I wanted to stop the car. I want you to know that. I want you to know that I tried. If it wasn’t a dream or a memory or whatever it was, that car would have turned around and I would have brought you back to my place and I would have held you all night as if I’d never have you in my arms again. In the mirror,I could see the half faced man in the back seat looking on disapprovingly. There must have been something alive left in him because he too wants me to turn the car around and not go through with this.
Glenn slows down. Glenn’s scared. Glenn knows the road is getting narrower and it’s taken better men than he has. I should turn around. I should go home and hold you as if I’d never have you in my arms again but I take advantage of this. I take this chance to prove that I’m the bigger man.
“Turn the car around!” you order me. It’s the wrong time to order me around. It’s the wrongest possible time. Every time I see this, I wish you didn’t take that tone with me. Maybe if you hadn’t taken that tone, I wouldn’t have sped up. And
“Just tell me,” I say, as I say every time, “all I want, all I want, all I wanna know…
The silent halffaced man stepped out of the memory with me, as if he had every right to be in my room. In the bedroom where we…
“Who are you? Why are you here?”
“You called for help, boss. You turned the silver key. So the door to dreams is open.”
The voice was familiar. The half a face was familiar. For a second, I couldn’t place it. But then I figured it out. Robert Johnson. The bluesman. Soul sold to the devil. Dead at 27. A legend. A dead corpsefaced legend.
“And what do I do about that?”
The door in the wall was breathing again.And sighing. Sounds of orgasm. Sounds of infants wailing. Snippets of arguments we had played backwards. Glenn’s voice mumbling incoherent phrases in languages that I’d never even heard of. Until he came to one word that he repeated again and again with amusement. “Well read”. You told him I was well read. What are you doing with this faggot? He’s sweet, he’s intelligent and he’s so well read. Well read well read well read…and the way you looked at him. Just tell me okay. All I want, all I want to know…
I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me. I’m obsessed. I’m hurting. I don’t want to like the taste of your fingers. All appetite. All need. I want to hold you but if I touch you again I’ll have to…I don’t want to like the taste of your fingers.
The door was making noises. And talking like Glenn and talking like you and me. And Robert Johnson with half a face was standing there stiff as a column holding the house up. Waiting for me. Everything was waiting for me. The door to dreams was open. So I approached it again.
The houses on my block were shadow houses. They were twisted into funny shapes, unreal geometries, like the ones in German silent movies. My neighbors don’t live inside them. I don’t know if dream neighbors or strange creatures or ghosts do and I don’t want to find out. The sky was dark, but there is light coming from a shining white triangle. The full moon there was a distant pyramid. I couldn’t even count on round planets in the sky anymore. Robert Johnson walked behind me, though I’d thought he’d come to guide me here. Who was guiding me?
I traveled spirals of street as strange things flew overhead. Bats, birds, apes with wings, shapes I couldn’t figure out. The skies were filling with unlikely animals as I made my way into god only knows where. I spent what felt like hours walking towards my destination not knowing if they were going to swoop down and take me or if something else lay ahead that would make me wish they had. For a man who’d lost his true love and put a gun in his mouth only a week before, I was filled with a strange, overwhelming sense of consequence. And it only got bigger when Robert and I walked into the woods, woods that on our side of the door of dreams had led to the all too narrow road where I forfeited the woman I love in a race I didn’t to be in to begin with.
At the crossroads, semihuman beasts were gnawing on limbs that grew on trees. They were smaller than men, twisted and misshapen with faces that were almost doglike. I tried to turn around and flee, but Robert Johnson, solemn and shaking his head would not let me. It was too late.
The monsters dispersed as He came, fading into the night or hiding among the dreamtrees. My heart sank as he came, my mind raced as he came. My soul suffered as he came. I never felt more like it was silly and pathetic to be a man who sang songs and read poems in coffee shops. I never felt more like there was something to be afraid as when He appeared. The dark man at the crossroads.
He was shadowy,dark as soot and improper, something not at all genuine. Like he was in blackface. But different. Less a man in blackface than a blackness in manface. My brain was flooded with names and none of them were the right one and all of them were the right one. San Simon. Old Nick. Kalfu. I shuddered.If I was standing with the darkness at the crossroads next to Robert Johnson, then a deal was about to happen. I don’t know what I wanted besides you. Was he going to give you to me? He could give me anything I suppose. All I wanted was you. And I don’t…I…I don’t…I don’t want to like the taste of your fingers. Stand up, struggle, run!
“Mr. Johnson tells me,” said the dark man at the crossroads, “that you have lost something dear to you.”
“Someone,” I corrected him. I don’t know where my audacity had come from, but it was important that I make that distinction.
“You act like I’d care or know the difference. I deal in alchemy. Everything is just shapes and matter. There are only things. No people to me. I can give things people need. I do not need to understand or appreciate them.”
I wanted to walk away, though I was not certain of the way home or if there was one. I tried to keep standing up to him, to stay a man in the situation, to be a big shot alpha male like Glenn.
“I’m not interested. I’m a good songwriter. I don’t need to know how to sing the blues.”
It occurred to me as I said it, that being a man would be to do whatever needed to be done to get what I needed and do right by you. I always want to do right by you. I do not want to like the taste of your fingers, I do not want to like the taste of you. Not this way.
I can beat this. I’ll keep talking, I can beat this. Love is bigger than this, right? If you do. I know you do. I don’t. Glenn’s greasy hair. Glenn’s arrogant face. Glenn’s car. Glenn’s hands on you every time I close my eyes. All I want, all I want…
And he laughed.
“You don’t have it in you. I do not see the point in transfiguring something into what it is not. There are other qualities in you that I would amplify, that will allow you to get what you want. And you’re not leaving here without knowing you’ll get what you want from me.”
I tried to keep confident. I choked back my fear. I had to. You’re either unafraid of him or you’re scared to death. You either stand before him, ready, unashamed and defiant or you collapse and keel over dead. And I had to live. I hadn’t much felt like it this past week but I had turned the key. I had to know exactly what was on the other side, especially if it meant that I might actually have my dreams come true. You know that all I dreamed of was you.
“And what is it that I want?”
“I don’t need to answer that,” he hissed and as he did shadowy batwings sprang from his shoulders, a wingspan the size of a condor’s, “I do not need to tolerate impudence. The silver key will be found again. You’re welcome to walk away with nothing or to be killed on this spot. It is of no consequence to me.”
And there came a moment, I could think of nothing save the name the entity had given me, the true name. In my world, there existed nothing but that name branded into me. I fell to my knees and lowered my head out of respect. Every time you close your eyes, it’s him you see. Every time you think of this world floating in nothingness, you are thinking of him surrounding the Earth. You are thinking Nyarlathotep. I was filled with knowledge of Nyarlathotep. The knowledge exists only because of his mercy and grace. You exist because of his mercy and grace. Black tears were streaming down my cheek and the only reason I could think of because the only thing in the entire world I could think of was Nyarlathotep.
“You will be the wild primal thing you fear. You will be a fleshly thing. You will not be known as well read or polite. You will have power. You will have back the one thing you want. And you will be complete and you will be changed. Do I let you rise and make this compact or do I kill you where you kneel now?”
I chose living. I rose to my feet, walked back through the door of dreams and I was full of knowledge of all that I needed to do and all that would come to pass when I did. I saw the hunched body and animalistic face I was going to develop as he fulfilled his end of the bargain. I saw the pack of flesheating things waiting behind the door of dreams that would finally come through because of the pact I’d made and the key I’d turned for the dark man at the crossroads. And even with these images in my mind all I could think was that I needed to go to the graveyard and find you.
And against every notion of decency and compassion and good judgment I did. And against every notion of decency and compassion and good judgment I lay you on my bed and kissed you again, tasting your lips, knowing you once more and breathing breath back into your lungs, filling you with his knowledge and my dreams. Giving you just enough strength to live but not to move, letting me that I’d been had and the howling ghouls were coming to make this world theirs.
And here I am with you, with the last thing that matters talking just to keep my mouth moving so I don’t stuff it with you. I did it all for you. I became this all for you and I’m letting them in because of you and because of Glenn. And the way you looked at him and the way he, the way he…yeah. The way he won. You can hate me for it, but it still matters to me who won that race. And it still matters to me how you felt and it still matters to me the way he looked at you and all I want, all I want, all I wanna know…