Chapter 10: If You See Jesus, Put in a Good Word For Me
Roy woke sometime later, paralyzed and too weak to fight the floating feeling that had already taken over most of his body. Looks like I'm goin' for a ride, he thought. Oh well, it'll be nice to get out for a while, anyway. Roy's etheric energy left his flesh and blood, and he looked back at himself for a moment. He could see in the dark just fine for some reason, and he noted that his physical self resembled a mummy the way it was shrouded in that filthy blanket.
The concrete and iron cell could do nothing to contain him. Roy became aware that there were vast gaps between the atoms in the walls, and he could just slip between them. He moved through the walls and looked upon the unfortunate inmates who had been relegated to solitary confinement.
One haggard old man with wild white hair and a beard to match was watching an imaginary T.V.
"Would you adjust the antenna, Margie?" the old man spoke to his phantom wife. "I'm tryin' to watch the ballgame, and the damned rabbit ears are out of whack. Have the kids been screwin' with the television set again, Margie? I work hard all day, so is it too damned much to watch the ballgame and have a few beers? Don't get on my ass about havin' a few beers, Margie. I don't give a shit about what the doctor says. It's my house, and I'm gonna have a few beers after work. Now fix the rabbit ears. So help me, Margie, if I have to get up and do it myself there's gonna be trouble!"
In another cell, there was a middle-aged man tapping out what must have been Morse Code against the drain pipe under the sink. He was tapping with a freshly extracted molar, blood, roots, and all. Roy wondered if the man had managed that bit of dentistry on his own, or if one of the guards, perhaps Clint Eastwood Wannabe, had dislodged it for him.
There was definitely a regular cadence and a pattern that emerged from all the dots and dashes, and as far as Roy could tell, the guy was sending a genuine message. But to whom? And what did it say?
Upon completing the message, the man bent over the sink and pressed his ear against the drain. He was, presumably, listening for a reply. After a while, maybe a minute, the man grew impatient. He screamed directly into the drain, "Wake up down there! Is anybody listening?"
Roy moved onto the next cell -- it was dark like his own, but the fluorescent bulbs did not appear to be damaged. They had burned out and were never replaced. As was the case before, Roy could see in almost total darkness, and he wondered if he was somehow amplifying the trace amounts of light that snuck in through the crack under the door. Whatever the reason, he wished he had never acquired this superhero-like knack for night vision because a ghastly scene began to unfold in front of him.
Roy wanted to leave, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He stayed as a gesture of kindness so this man wouldn't have to die alone in his cell. This tormented, long forgotten, broken man had his head immersed in the toilet. Both hands were white knuckled as they grasped the back of the water tank to gain leverage over that primordial instinct that was desperately trying to override the suicide attempt.
The man's chest heaved spasmodically, and his back arched high like cats do when they're frightened, and then everything relaxed. The man became still. Roy wondered what kind of willpower it must take to hold your own head under water while every cell, every fiber of DNA in your body calls out to breathe.
Then he realized it wasn't willpower at all -- only despair. Drowning the physical part was much easier compared to the psychological and spiritual asphyxia that occurred in the Chiller over a period of years and decades.
Then, the drowned man's etheric energy vacated his body and became immediately aware of Roy's presence. A conduit of consciousness formed between the two entities, and language and feelings began to move freely between them.
"Who are you?" the drowned man's etheric substance wanted to know.
"I'm Roy. They got me locked up in the Chiller, too."
"I'm Joe. I was Joe. I'm dead now, I think."
"Yeah, I saw it."
"Are you dead too, Roy?"
"No. I can still go back."
"Oh. I don't think I can do that."
"What do I do now?"
"I don't know, Joe."
"But I don't know what to do or where to go."
"Me either. I'm sorry."
"There should be someone to tell you what to do. It's not right just to leave me like this."
"Maybe if you look around, you'll find someone."
"No, I'm stayin' with you. We're a team. Right, Roy?"
"Sure, Joe. I'll stay with you for a while."
"Have you seen Jesus yet?"
"No, I haven't seen him."
"I hope they weren't lyin'."
"Because I used to go to church every Sunday. Every Sunday, front and center, until I ended up in here. You know what I'm sayin'?"
"Yeah, Joe, I know."
"I guess he's just waitin' up in Heaven for me."
"That's probably it."
"Are you leavin' me, Roy?"
"No, I'm right here."
"I think I'm moving, Roy. I feel like I'm movin'."
"Sometimes it's like being in a sailboat. You can control it a lot of the time, but there are winds and currents that can sweep you away."
"Different places. It's okay, Joe. You'll be okay."
"I don't wanna go, Roy. I wanna stay with you."
"I'll still be around. We'll see each other again."
"I can't hang on."
"It's all right. Just let go. You'll be fine."
"If you see Jesus, put in a good word for me, would you, Roy?"
"Sure, Joe, I'll let him know."
The connection began to hum and crackle as Joe's etheric energy faded, and Roy was left with a deep impression of torment and confusion.
"What a world," Roy mused as he looked at Joe's mortal remains. The body was still kneeling on the concrete, the head sunk deep down into the toilet bowl.
Good luck, Joe, Roy thought. I hope you find peace. Come to think of it, I could use a little bit of peace, too.
He wanted nothing more than for his consciousness to be dispersed into nothingness, but no matter where he went, there he was. He couldn't seem to get away from himself.
Well, Roy thought, I guess I'll just keep moving.
He emerged in A Block that housed about one-fifth of the regular prison population. There was nothing to see there, so he continued his ascent until the prison was just a shoebox-sized structure far beneath him.
It was a sad sight. Roy could hardly believe that insignificant looking building could contain such hellish misery for so many people. His own skin and bones, blood and organs were locked inside that place ... locked inside that tiny cell like a calf waiting to be taken to the slaughterhouse.
Disenchanted and on the verge of despair, Roy let his consciousness zone out. He was no longer actively controlling his motion through space and time, but instead, letting himself be taken by a gentle current. What had he told Joe? Sometimes it's like being in a sailboat.
It's difficult to discern how much time elapsed, but at some point, Roy realized he was pretty far from the West Virginia State Correctional facility. An open sea stretched out beneath him and touched every horizon, and rolling waves undulated in the moonlight. He became acutely aware of another traveler in his presence -- someone was very close to him.
"Who's there?" Roy shouted out with a pulse of psychic energy.
"A friend, Roy," came the telepathic response.
"I didn't think I had any left."
"Of course you do. My name's Lindsay."
A luminous cloud swirled in front of Roy. It was about the size and volume you'd see exhaled from a frat boy's lungs after a good rip off the bong. For a moment, the face of an attractive young woman appeared in the nebulous tangle of energy.
"Hi, Lindsay," Roy said. "Where am I?"
"You're over the Atlantic. You have to start paying attention when you're traveling outside your body. Focus is the key."
"Right. Focus," he repeated.
"Now it's time to go back."
"I don't want to go back. It's not good there."
"Go back, Roy. I'll come for you tomorrow in my physical form."
"Don't ask too many questions. You're losing it, Roy. You'll decohere if you don't get back soon."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"No. Things will get better. I already told you I'll be there tomorrow. We'll get you out. We have a plan."
"Who's we?" Roy wanted to know.
"We'll get to the questions later. For now, focus on getting back."
"I think I'm lost. I don't know the way."
"Come on, Roy. I'll take you."
Roy felt like a tired light bulb, buzzing and flickering from darkness to light, from light to darkness. He realized he was close to the nothingness Lindsay had spoken of, and he wanted to let his consciousness fade out. It would have been easy to let go, but Lindsay was whisking him through the night, willing him to keep it together.
The waves blurred beneath them, and then there was the meandering coastline, and a great pillar of light beaming upward from the earth into the night sky. It was New York City -- a hive of humanity -- nine million people hoping, dreaming, dying, drinking, drugging, praying, working, sleeping, eating, fucking, fighting for triumph, feeling tragedy, trying to feel anything, everything. When you get that many people together in one place at one time, it's like that old thought experiment with the monkeys and the typewriters. A lot of crazy shit can happen.
A strange energy crackled and hummed above the mega-metropolis. Billions of thoughts and emotions rained skyward and boiled into a turbulent, indecipherable static. One coherent thought emerged from the chaos, and it stabbed into Roy's consciousness like an ice pick.
It originated from a man -- just some random man - who was getting a back alley blow job from a common streetwalker. It was as if Roy were seeing through the man's eyes. The submissive posture of the woman while she was down on her knees, the man's mind calling out over and over again: yes, yes, yes ...
And then it was over, and all his seething lust suddenly evaporated, and shame rushed in to fill the void.
Twenty-six years, the man thought. Twenty-six years of marriage without cheating on Emily. Now this. I couldn't help it -- that whore was wearing fishnet stockings. It's my weakness. Emily won't wear them. I've asked her so many times, even begged her to wear them. But she never would. When's the last time she gave me a blow job? 1987? What's she expect? I'm a man. I have certain needs. And besides, it was just a five-minute blow job. She looked clean. No sores. And I'm only twenty-five bucks lighter. No harm done ...
The man's thoughts faded and dissolved back into the cauldron of indecipherable static, and Roy was glad for it. He didn't like the sudden insight into a stranger's mind. It was disturbing. There are too many gray areas inside a human's mind. Right and wrong get muddled into fuzzy concepts. They melt into a Mobius Strip, and you'll wander down that strip, traversing both sides of it before returning to your original starting point. And never will you step over an edge or a boundary of any kind. It's a seamless transition, and you'll never know when you've crossed over to the wrong side of the tracks.
Like when a cute girl in fishnets starts making small talk with you, and she casually mentions a quiet little spot that's not far from here. Like when you try to save the planet from greedy corporations, but you end up as an accomplice to murder in the death of a war hero, then you testify against all of your friends and your one and only true love, and then end up rotting in solitary confinement.
At last, Lindsay and Roy had put the great city behind them, and undeveloped terrain stretched out for miles. They were moving at a good clip -- probably faster than a 747, Roy guessed. But then again, speed is defined as distance over time, and his concepts of time and distance had kind of come unglued. Maybe eons were passing, for all he knew, or maybe microseconds.
The tangled Appalachian Mountains rose out of the earth, and Roy knew he was close to the prison. Dread flooded into his consciousness, and he tried to surge away from Lindsay, but he was weak.
"It's okay, Roy," Lindsay soothed him, "I'll see you tomorrow. We're gonna get you out of there."
The statement resonated with sincerity, but Roy still had serious doubts. He wondered if he was dreaming, or hallucinating, or maybe existing in some weird limbo state. He only knew for sure that he felt the sensation of a very rapid descent; he saw blurred images flash by him, and he heard the sound of rushing wind. He finally crashed back inside of his own body and sat upright with a gasp.
Roy's world had gone black again ... black like the grave. He realized he was still wrapped in the dirty blanket, so he poked his head out. A razor-thin band of light at the bottom of his cell door hinted there was life somewhere beyond his four wretched walls. Sleep took him again.
When Roy finally woke, he was more than a little disappointed he wasn't dead. He thought about plunging his head into the toilet and waiting to breathe in a torrent of water that would extinguish the pilot light inside of him.
He wondered if he could really do it. Joe did. He watched him do it. Roy wondered how long Joe had been wasting away in the Chiller. A decade? Two?
Roy crawled to the toilet on his hands and knees and touched the cold stainless steel bowl. The Nothingness was waiting for him in there. It would transport him to a neutral state -- one of unknowing, of unfeeling. Roy hoped it would be a lot like how things were before he was born, or better yet, before he was conceived. The world and all the people could go on doing whatever it is they do.
Roy stuck the tip of his index finger in the water, just enough to break the surface tension. It's cold, he thought, and he wondered if it would feel similar to brain-freeze, like when he was a little boy eating ice cream too fast on a hot summer day. When you're young, the summer seems to last forever, he mused.
Sandlot baseball games and swimming pools. Casting a line into the pond while lounging beneath a willow tree and the cicadas' song lulling you to sleep.
Sleep sounds good, Roy thought. I think I'll just sleep forever.
He grasped the rim of the toilet bowl with his hands at the ten o'clock and two o'clock positions, like a college freshman getting ready to power puke after a night of cheap beer, Jell-O shots, and spicy Mexican food. He took a deep breath, presumably his last one, and plunged his head into the water. The shock hit him hard, but Roy held fast, and soon a calming numbness started to soak into his head.
Gradually, the air in his lungs began to sour and burn. There was going to come that moment when a more primitive part of his brain would take over and execute a last-ditch effort known as the gasp reflex.
That will be the moment when this battle is won or lost, Roy thought. I just need to be strong for those few seconds.
He moved his hands from the rim of the toilet bowl to high up on the water tank. Get a high grip, just like Joe did. Leverage is the key.
A very sudden, very violent force snatched Roy up by the back of his shirt collar.
"Suicide bug must be goin' around," a snarky voice boomed in Roy's head. "First old Joe, and now this waste of skin." After a few big gulps of air, Roy was able to string a few thoughts together and deduce he was in the presence of none other than Clint Eastwood Wannabe. Roy spat a mouthful of rusty toilet water into the prick's face and advised him to go fuck himself.
Clint Eastwood Wannabe cocked his fist back like the hammer on a Colt 1911 ready to send a whole hell of a lot of hurt, but then caught himself. "You're lucky your sassy ass Chinese lawyer's here. Otherwise, I'd have saved you the trouble and drowned you in the commode myself."
"He's not Chinese," Roy said, a bit confused.
"Yeah, he ain't a he either. So make your ugly self presentable. You got an appointment with her in ten minutes."
"Ten minutes?" Roy needed clarification.
"Yeah, ten fuckin' minutes. And you better think long and hard about what you say goes on in this place. Because her sweet little Ivy League ass ain't gonna be here to protect you every minute of every day. You better think about that."
"Yeah," Roy said quietly.
Clint Eastwood Wannabe gave him a bar of soap, a towel, and marched him over to the sink. "No time for a shower, pretty boy, so you're gonna have to make do with a bird bath. And don't forget to scrub behind your ears."
"Right," Roy said.