He went to Memphis to see a show. Too young to drink, but there with friends who were old enough, he kept finding drinks in his hands. The bands were loud, and the guitars seemed to pour battery acid in his ears, a sweet corrosiveness though, he raised his hands several times, spilling drinks on himself and those around him. The shouts from his friends and the strangers that he poured beer on and the bands merged and congealed in the air around him like the yellow, sickly smoke fog from all of the cigarettes being lit at once. He was jostled and shaken. At some point, well past or well before midnight, unsure of his direct surroundings or companions, he realized that he was drunk, and possibly abandoned.
His mouth felt gluey and excremental; he hoped desperately that his breath smelled even just a small bit better than his tongue tasted, but based upon the looks he thought he was getting, that may not have been the case. He spun about gracelessly, trying to see above and around the crowd of strangers that surrounded him, but it was useless, there were no familiar faces to be found. He lit a cigarette in an attempt to achieve normalcy; he almost threw up with the first drag. His mouth was arid, he thought Oh Christ, don’t let me throw up, right here, among all these people I don’t know. He choked back some bitter bile, scorching his already smoke-scarred throat. He wished he had thrown up. Fuck these people, I don’t know them.
What did you say?
Did I say it out loud?
Who are you?
He turns around, a girl is there, vaguely familiar, seen before but through the drunken haze transformed, attractive, but in an extremely skinny way, not his usual type, but appreciable, rendered even more so by the alcohol. Lanky even, a bony, tall girl, crane-like, and perhaps because of the strobes and smoke appearing to possess some of that avian grace, swaying and jerking to the music like some faery epileptic, even giving to the word jerk some grace it never before held for him. Her head shaved except for a single, ratty dreadlock that hung down her back and swung with her motion. She looks just like a boy, he thought, a pretty boy, but a boy nonetheless. Am I attracted to boys? Of course not. But I’m attracted to her, right now, and she looks very boyish. I wouldn’t even know she was a girl if I hadn’t been told. That’s a lie, her features are more feminine, just the androgynous qualities of her body. No hips, a boy from the back. So I’ve been told…who is she? A story…what was it?
I’m Erin. I’ve seen you before.
Yeah, he said, but I don’t think we’ve ever met. Not formally, anyway.
Still, at the back of his mind, something important, or ridiculous, or awful, maybe even all of the above. Think, man, think. Meanwhile she’s smiling at him, not something he’s accustomed to, a reasonably pretty girl smiling at him. Think think think think thinkthinkthink somewhere in his brain a possible topic of conversation or a dire warning her face connected to some tale damn this alcohol.
Are you enjoying the bands?
Too late a conversation started, by her, now he’s flustered perhaps something was about to break free and float to the surface memory but the glimmer is gone now, it’ll pop up later, too late too late.
He tells he thinks he has enjoyed the bands, but everything is whirly right now, and he can’t remember who played, and his mouth tastes like an ass, not that he knows what an ass tastes like, it just tastes like he’s always assumed an ass would taste, not that he expends large amounts of time considering the flavors of various orifices, but, you know…
And she’s laughing and she’s covering her mouth and he smiles what he hopes is a somewhat debonair smile but given his current condition he really just hopes he doesn’t look like a mongoloid who’s just learned not to piss in his pants. Why’s she covering her mouth? He’s seen girls do that, and he used to think it had something to do with their teeth, some sort of girly tooth-shame, but then he saw some of the girls who covered their mouths smile, and like more than 50% of them had gorgeous, white, straight teeth, so it’s not all that, and it could be breath with Erin here, because she’s been drinking, and after a while when you’ve been drinking, you’re breath smells like vomit, whether you’ve vomited or not, or smells like something else…
Something else, why would her breath smell like something else? Foggy mirrors, bathroom floors, something threatens to break free, a fragment of memory, then he notices she’s looking at him strangely, he realizes he’s on the verge of losing whatever small connection he’s begun to forge with her, so he drops it, back into the brain well with you, like a fish flung back, so he can dedicate more attention to her and this conversation he’s participating in in fits and starts.
Yeah, he says, I’ve enjoyed the bands quite a bit, I’ve enjoyed the beers quite a bit, and now I’ve lost my friends, they’ve probably left me.
What’s your name?
Oh yeah, I’m a dumbass haha I’m Edwin old Edwin T. that’s me.
What is that, like your hip-hop name or something?
Oh good, he thinks, this one has a sense of humor.
Yeah, he said, what tipped you off? My pasty white skin? My clothing, which just shouts MC and totally does not scream punk conformist?
Haha punk conformist, what’s that mean? Aren’t those two terms mutually exclusive?
He finds another beer on a nearby table, untended, half-empty, warm, a beer he would never drink in a state of sobriety, but he’s goddamn parched, his tongue seems sealed to the roof of his mouth by some self-produced unguent, he feels like he could chew paper right now and form a wasp’s nest using his saliva. The swig he takes from the beer almost makes him vomit again, so warm it resembles piss, not that he’s ever tasted piss…
Then it hits him. The story about the girl, Erin, the one he’s talking to right now, or was until he swigged the nastiest, warmest beer ever, the one that sent the piss connection signal to his brain, which fired up the piss receptors in the old gray matter, which in turn, brought the connection he’d been trying to make for several minutes now to the front of his mind, which both thrilled and disgusted him. He realized he was talking to peepee girl.
No, he has had no experiences with peepee girl, never had any kind of urinary experiences with anyone, male or female. The tale, or rather, a series of anecdotes were related to him one night by his good friend his old buddy his old pal Seamus as he watched Erin (peepee girl now) talk to some other boys across the room. Across the room being the safest place to relate anecdotes concerning sexual deviance, or what seemed to be sexual deviance, or what was really just somebody else’s trip, their way to get off, which was really no one’s business but their own, and the business of their respective partners, but shit like that, or piss like that, tends to get around, because people’s minds are blown when something having to do with something nasty, like piss, and sex are interconnected in quirky ways like that, even though sex can be considered nasty, is even sometimes referred to as doing the nasty, is when you get the most private parts of your body the closest to the private parts of someone else’s body, and you rub them together, you insert them, you put your mouth on them, but all that’s ok, no problem, the birds do it, the bees do it, and all that, but ask someone to do something just a bit off of the normal, socially acceptable grid, well, as was said, that shit tends to get around.
Seamus caught him looking at her, and he was ashamed, for no good reason, really, getting caught looking at a girl being one of those things that is totally ok for a young male to do, and it wasn’t really the looking that ashamed him, but the getting caught, and that in itself is fucked up, because why should he give a shit, but he did, for a second, he turned a roseate shade when Seamus grabbed him and asked if he was checking her out. This, of course, led to denials, which were really bullshit, it was obvious he was checking her out, his eyes had been tracking her for several minutes, not in a predatory fashion, or in the least predatory fashion possible for a young male to watch a young female as she went about the business of being a young female, but as was said, being caught tripped all kinds of weird guilt switches in him, so he was compelled to deny it, like he’d been caught fucking a cow, or trying to suck his own dick, God forbid.
But Seamus knew the score, and rather than shame him, unfolded a series of stories about her and her predilections that at one and the same time cemented his interest in her and slightly repelled him.
She likes to be pissed on, and she likes to piss on people. People call her peepee girl. She pissed on my back once.
What the fuck. You’re lying.
I never did, not about this. She’s got a piss hang up.
If you’re telling the truth, which I doubt, it sounds nothing like a piss hang up and more like a piss fetish.
Whatever. It’s what gets her off.
Piss? Piss gets her off?
Exactly. You’ll be fucking her, and she’ll ask, Can I pee on you? Or, could you pee on me? It seems to be interchangeable, but she really digs piss. I was fucking her one night, and she asked me to turn over, and she just let go on my back.
No fucking way. What did you do?
What would you do? I let her piss on me, kept fucking her, then I took a shower later. What else could I do?
I don’t know; it didn’t bother you?
Maybe a little. I was drunk and horny, and I’ve pissed myself before, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s not like she shit on me or anything.
That would have been a big deal?
Maybe, maybe not, all I’m saying is that would have been a different set of circumstances, I can’t even really speculate on that. At the time, the piss didn’t bother me. She had no heat in her apartment, I was cold, and the piss was warm, hot even. So, at the time, it wasn’t a totally unpleasant experience.
Maybe that was just a one time thing, an accident.
No. first of all, she never apologized. If I accidentally piss on someone’s back, I’m going to apologize like a motherfucker. No apologies, just grunts and moans. Second of all, I’m not the only person she’s pissed on or been pissed on by. Bruce pissed on her.
Bruce pissed on me once. There aren’t many people or things Bruce hasn’t pissed on. Bruce pissed on himself for five dollars to buy some more beer.
Be that as it may, she asked Bruce to piss on her. Did you ask Bruce to piss on you?
Exactly. I mean, I’m not handing out piss references here, but more than a few guys have pissed on or been pissed on by peepee girl.
And that’s what struck him, as he sat there, trying to hold together his drunken mind, that he was, indeed, talking to peepee girl. It was all he could do not to shout, You’re peepee girl! He felt a sort of warm and nauseated at the same time, like he was meeting a celebrity, or a superhero. The name, peepee girl, it even sounded like some sort of bizarre, fetishistic super heroine name, like a girl who would be in The League of Excretus, with doodoo man and vomitus. He strangled out a short giggle.
What are you laughing at? Are you laughing at your own joke? Punk conformist fashion isn’t that funny. It’s kind of offensive, if you think about it.
Now or never, he thought, either you keep this up and see where it goes, or you run away screaming right now. It’s not like she’s diarrhea girl or lickturd lady. Who’s to say you’ll get somewhere? She’s been nice enough, and she’s the closest thing you’ve got to a friend right now. In your intoxicated state, beggars cannot be choosers.
Oh, I’ve thought about it, and believe you me, it is hilarious. Look at that guy over there.
He indicates a guy in a dirty hooded sweatshirt with patches all over the back and jeans just a few steps away from totally destroyed.
Now, this guy, he thinks he’s the ultimate non-conformist. He refuses to wear polo shirts, or the tight jeans prescribed by the prep set in his probably semi-affluent high school. They sneer at him daily, so he smokes dope, or drinks beer, or maybe eschews drugs altogether in an obstinate refusal to fit in. He hates the government, and his parents, who incidentally are bankrolling his rebellion because they love him so much. He’s obviously an outsider, right?
I know that guy, he’s –
It doesn’t matter who he is. What if he wore pink vinyl assless chaps? Although one could make the argument that there are no such things as assed chaps, just chaps with or without pants. What if he wore those, without pants, and a frilly blouse from his mom’s closet? Would he be as accepted here as he is tonight wearing what he chose to wear?
Probably not, but that’s a different scene.
Exactly. A different scene. We’re all controlled by a scene, one scene or another. All these kids tonight, at the punk show, they think they’re so badass and hip and Out of Step but all they’re really doing is chunking one set of rules for another. You like the band BlahBlahBlah, right?
Well, fuck yeah.
Of course you do. They fucking rule. They put out their own records and lay waste to eardrums everywhere. What if they got huge?
They are huge!
Ok. They’re Memphis huge, Southeastern underground music huge, but what if they got really huge? Like, MTV huge?
I seriously doubt that’s going to happen.
No, right, me too. It’s highly unlikely. But let’s posit a shift in consumer taste. One day, the consumer palate decides it’s tired of the bland food it’s been consuming, and it wants something with some spice. It decides that cookie cutter melodies and one note love songs are sucking, and what it really desires is copious amounts of feedback and throat-shredding angst. Would BlahBlahBlah fit the bill?
Fuck yeah they would.
Goddamn right they would. No doubt! So their underground releases become super-rare, there’s only like so many copies extant, and pretty soon, there’s a phenomenal demand for them. So a huge record label offers them money to re-record their old songs, and some new ones, with total artistic control, because the demand for BlahBlahBlah is so huge that they can pretty much write their own check. What do you think they do? Would they pass up all that money AND artistic control?
Of course not. They release an album, nationwide, on a huge label, that sounds exactly like the shit they used to record in Memphis. Would you buy it?
It sounds exactly the same. The only change is the label.
I sense and understand your hesitance. Upwards of 80% of the people here tonight would shun BlahBlahBlah. And why?
Because they sold out?
Because they sold out. That’s a set of rules. Rules, Erin, are the enemy of non-conformity. And bear in mind, I’m not saying I’d behave differently. I’m only pointing out the hypocrisy inherent in the system. In ANY system.
God, you think a lot. And you talk a lot, too.
Shit, sorry, I’m fucked up. The more substances I ingest, the more verbose I get.
I can tell. Wanna get more fucked up?
And from some occult fold in the hooded, patched sweatshirt she was wearing, she pulled out a non-descript pill and held it out, on her soft, creased palm, in front of him. Now ordinarily, he would have been a lot more circumspect about accepting a strange pill from a complete, albeit friendly and somewhat known by reputation, stranger, but that night was not one of those evenings. Without any thought whatsoever, he took the pill from her palm and popped it into his mouth, then he found another half-emptied beer on a table (fuck it, he thought, might as well), and slugged down the pill. It was only after the point of no return that he thought to ask a question.
What was that you just gave me?
To which she gave no response, save to laugh, long and hard, a girlish laugh, pealing with innocence and charm, which, nonetheless, chilled him no little bit, because who responds to a question about unknown pharmaceuticals with a laugh? Chinese villains in Victorian opium dens? Guys named Luigi in seventies gangster films? Shady African-American dealers who offer just a taste? He wished to run to the nearest restroom and vomit the mystery pill up right away, but he was invested in the moment. So he laughed with her, long and hard.
Next thing he knew, he was walking down the street with Erin, in Memphis. Not one of those well-lit, neon soaked streets that Memphis has, but one of the dark, alley-like streets, one that had no one on it, and if someone had been on it, it would have been no one he wanted to see. Of course, saying next thing he knew is a cheap and somewhat clichéd device, but it honestly seemed like the pill she had given him had created some sort of wrinkle in his temporal sense, undoubtedly, the pill did not kick in that quick, nor was there some sort of bizarre Now we are in the bar, but all of a sudden we are on the sidewalk strange ripple moment, but that’s how it felt to him. There were, of course, pieces of evidence that pointed towards some sorts of intervening moments, but he would be damned if he could interpret them in any kind of coherent manner that represented a narrative.
There were: a distinctly vomity smell emanating from the collar region of his shirt, that led him to believe he had either vomited, and wiped his mouth on his collar, or been vomited on in the chest region.
Next: a brownish stain on the sleeve of his shirt, near the wrist, which appeared to be dried blood, or shit, but his brain was campaigning fiercely for dried blood, even though numerous examinations could produce no wounds of any kind, so it would have had to be someone else’s dried blood, or oh fucking God, his own shit, or Christ all-Goddamn-mighty-no, someone else’s shit please oh fuck no. It would not occur to him until later that he had possibly suffered a nosebleed that evening, and no small amount of anxiety was expended on this evidence alone.
Then: on his hand, a blurred stamp, not belonging to the bar he had started out in, which provided its patrons with wristbands and not stamps. This was perhaps the most distressing bit of evidence, borderline terrifying. Yeah, the shit or blood stain was frightening (or, good Christ! A shit and blood mixture!), but it was a nearly definable thing, an almost quantifiable piece of some sort of proof, but this blurred hand stamp was another thing altogether. It appeared to be some sort of gnarled or deformed figure, a hunched character, but could that have been all attributable to the smear? Were those horns? A cowl? Shit, what kind of satanic figure or death-surrogate is stamped on his wrist? This , this is terrifying. Erin, the peepee girl, she either could or would not shed any light on the subject. Did he go to some weird satanic club? Who knew? Anyone who did was clamming the fuck up. Peepee girl just laughed every time he asked anytime he asked what had happened. The same, pealing, fey laughter as earlier, after the pill question, but laughter that seemed less innocent with each occurrence, laughter when nothing was funny, laughter that was creeping him the fuck out.
Where the fuck are we going?
Laughs and laughs and laughs.
We’re going to a place.
Well no Goddamn shit. Obviously we’re going to a place. Does this place have a name?
Laughs and laughs and laughs.
We’re going to meet this guy I know. You’ll like him. His name is-
Car rolls by, loud, bassy music playing loud, lyrics indecipherable. What did she say? He’s not sure. Perhaps: His name is Seth. Or…
What did you say?
Laughs and laughs and laughs.
It’s right up here.
They stumbled into a doorway. Was the doorway there a second ago? Of course it was. Had to be. Doors do not; they DO NOT appear in formerly smooth, seamless walls. Nor do sensible people take strange pills from people they don’t know and embark on…what the fuck time is it? It’s dark…so dark it could be late…but so late it could be early? And where the hell are they? A nameless street, unfamiliar to him, apparently known to her, with little doorways so dark they seem not to be there until you are pulled into them.
Jesus Christ I am fucked up. What the hell did you give me?
Laughs and laughs and laughs.
A bit of spittle leaves her mouth and he can feel it land on his lower lip, cooling there. He wonders briefly, and then pushes it from his mind, whether anyone has ever pissed directly in her mouth. He rubs the back of his hand, the hand with the smeared stamp on it, across his lip. Is it cold? Yeah, that pill is probably fucking with his circulation. What did she give him? He asks himself, and is almost seized with laughter himself, and he fears that if he starts, he may not stop, or he may start crying, or he may laugh until he cannot breath, and die, hunched there in a doorway of dubious reality, and as he dies he may piss his pants, and leave Erin all hot and bothered, at which thought he is forced to again stifle what he fears are the terminal giggles.
Oh my God, are we fucking there?
If she starts to laugh again, I may strangle her, he thinks, I may just choke the fucking laughter right out of her, and this thought causes a twofold fear: A) he is not, nor has he ever been, a violent person, and the fact that he considers homicide, in his heart of hearts, where he cannot lie to himself and dismiss this thought as a joke, scares him, and B) he is afraid, inconsolably afraid, that if he begins to choke her, even with his hands wrapped tight around her neck, squeezing off all of her air, that she would somehow still be able to laugh at him.
Instead of laughing, though, she says, Yeah, we’re here, this is it, and begins to pound on the door in the recess in the wall.
The door opens, and there’s a party going on. He follows Erin in, looking to see who opened the door to them, but it’s dim, and as the door closes behind them it becomes measurably darker, although that would seem counterintuitive, being that there are no streetlights on the street, and there has to be light in the party somewhere giving the dancing? Swaying? Fucking? Fighting? figures some sort of shadowy definition, but be that as it may, as the door closes, things become dimmer, and the darkness seems oppressive, like something physical, a cloak drawn around or a blanket thrown over the party. Then again, he thinks, maybe that pill is fucking with my perception.
He can see shapes of people, but nothing sharp enough to hang features on, and bizarrely, they seem to ebb and flow like shadows as he walks among them, following Erin. They recede and grow closer depending on his position relative to them, as he walks toward him they blur backwards or sideways, behind him he can sense them growing closer, like shadows attempting to attach themselves to his heels, but never close enough to make contact, and of that he is glad, perhaps it is the music or the distortion wrought by the pill or simple exhaustion, but everything seems malevolent and sinister, and he’s losing more nerve by the second.
The music, he can’t even really hear it, it’s more like a suggestion of music really, but there is definitely music playing, it just seems like it’s beyond his ability to hear it, like it’s on some weird frequency he can only pick up certain pitches of, there’s a muffled throbbing he’s sure is a bassy beat, but it really only sounds like the blood beating in the veins in his head, except that it can’t be just that, because the shadow figures are doing whatever they’re doing in perfect rhythm to it. In addition to that, somewhere, fluttering just above that, there’s a suggestion of flutes, pipes of some sort, perhaps synths, but sounding, what hints he can catch of it, sounding more breathy and organic than machine generated. Not to mention the ominous chanting, barely there, louder, then softer, warping through the air, growing then shrinking, like a bubble, pulsing, threatening to pop.
At first, they were in a large room, with all the shadow figures moving around them in the darkness, although again, perhaps darkness wasn’t quite the right word, because he could see Erin perfectly, she lost no form whatsoever, so whatever was blurring and dampening his vision did not cling to her. So he’s following her, like a light, because even though she’s somewhat responsible for the predicament he’s in, she’s still the only really human thing he can see, and he’s afraid, rationally or not, that if he loses sight of her, these shadow dancers may lose whatever inhibitions are keeping them away from him, and if they touched him, he would freak the fuck out. Not to mention, she appeared to be leading him into a hallway, or at least the room was narrowing, and the narrower it got, the less of the vaguely defined forms of the shadow people there seemed to be.
There, at the end of the hallway, he could see something that buoyed his quickly sinking spirit: there was a door beginning to form out of the murk, or the outline of a door, he could see a white light beginning to manifest in a rectilinear pattern, it appeared to be a door, and behind the door light, and he felt so much better to see the light, because the light would banish the shades, and she was leading him to the light, looking over her shoulder and beckoning, smiling at him, her teeth gleaming like bones (that’s some fucked up shit where did that come from?) but her smile seems more innocent than it has in a while and maybe this goddamn pill is starting to wear off but no he turns around to look behind him and the shadow figures seem to be crowding into the hallway behind them and he’s still totally fucking apeshit freaked but he turns around again and they’re almost at the door and the light and he feels much better now and she reaches out a hand and opens the door and he follows her in to the sweet sweet light and…
And came face to face with a terrifying, nightmare figure. Here was the nameless man, Seth, or…, and he’s bald, he appears to have no hair whatsoever on any of his body, and he’s massive, head and shoulders above both him and the girl, and he’s wearing the weirdest outfit ever, except he realizes it’s not an outfit, that this guy is covered head to toe with tattoos, tattoos so densely patterned that they appear to form a pointillist outfit, and the enormity of this artwork is too much for him to take in, and he thinks the guy might be naked, or maybe not, but maybe his underwear is a tattoo too, and the guy smiles to see Erin, and oh my fucking God his teeth are filed, but filed in a weird manner, filed to points, but the points don’t meet, the teeth are juxtaposed, they lock into each other, like a cartoon shark’s smile, and he feels dizzy, just taking in this mammoth character one detail at a time, so he’s afraid to try to comprehend the big picture, so he’s relieved when Erin does the introduction.
Edwin, this is-and there’s a feedback squeal, incongruous, as the music has been shut off by the door closing behind them, which he wishes it was open, he wants to go out there with the shadow people, anywhere but to be in here, with these grinning lunatics, in this light, no longer preferable to the darkness, and the teeth open up, and his tongue is somewhat shredded, and there are pink dots of blood on the teeth and oh Christ he’s speaking and the voice, the voice…
The voice was like a pumpkin being dropped, no, like liquid filth hitting water, no, like paint being stripped, no, like a wasp’s nest, no, like a bandage being removed from a festering wound, no…
Check out my art, Edwin.
And he could not have willed his eyes to do otherwise.
The tattoos were a catalogue of mortality. Here, a figure swung from a rope, his eyes distended, tongue swollen, lolling grossly.
There, a terrified man, trapped in a car, underwater, on a bicep, the nameless man flexed his muscle, and did the water level rise? Did the horrified face contort into a scream?
A gun suicide, a gun homicide, an elderly woman dies alone in bed, starvation, stabbing, suicide after suicide, bludgeoning, the depravity of death scrawled into his flesh seemed infinite, but each figure was depicted with otherworldly clarity, and he looked at each with mounting nausea, until the sharp-toothed man directed his attention elsewhere.
Check this one out-the voice oh dear Lord the voice-it commanded with soft obscenity, and the man raised an arm and directed his attention with a finger that ended in a nail that could crush cockroaches, that could pierce armor with its pyramidal grotesqueness, and at the end of that nail…
A figure, a familiar figure, no, two familiar figures, one male, one female, and one is offering a pill to the other, and in a series of images near transposed on upon the other, the male figure swoons, grabs his throat, and falls in a pool of light.
All the air in the room becomes close and warm, like an air blanket, he is choking, he claws at his throat and looks from the gargantuan, snaggletoothed figure to Erin, and they both smile, they are smiles devoid of sympathy or humanity.
One more, the voice croaks, and he follows the fingernail with a dread borne out of inevitability.
There, in plain script, at the end of that finger, the only text he has seen on that whole, horrific, body, the words:
This Never Happened.
And try as he might, whenever he came back to Memphis, against every urge of self-preservation, he could get no one to talk to him of Erin, of where she was, what had become of her. He always felt that people were laughing at him, just before or just after he arrived or left, but he never saw her again.
Jonathan Scott teaches eighth grade Language Arts in Jackson, Tennessee. There seems to be a peculiar connection between his and the adolescent mind that allows him to do a fairly decent job. He writes, when no one is looking, about secret places and secret thoughts. He has a girlfriend and a cat on which he lavishes affection and two sons he is trying to raise as men. The most difficult thing he does is to try and balance time for reading with time for writing.
–Art by Navid Sanati