Level 16: Aftermath


“All my choices have proved ill.”
— Frodo Baggins

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Writing dialogue for Gollum Nathan is one of my favorite things.

Gollum sat on the stoop watching Little Ex walk back to her apartment. His insides were wrecked, he had not slept in days, “Wretched, wretched are we! No food, no drink, no one to love, not even a tasty fish! Nothing, my Precious, nothing!”

The Mouth of Sauron was sitting next to him, “We are all of us slaves to many things.”

Gollum looked at the corner of the block. A bum was flying his sign. His name was Ed and he didn’t give a shit. He’d sit out there come rain or shine, just flying that sign, pretty as you pleased. “Not this one,” Gollum gestured at the homeless man, “he is a slave to no one, his life is his own.”

The Mouth of Sauron looked at Ed and said, “It is true, even for him. He worships freedom or laziness or the bottle, and, for better or worse, his god has brought him to this corner, just as yours has brought you to this stoop.”

“Is there no escape? Can man not decide his fate?”

“A man may choose his gods,” The Mouth of Sauron stood, “but this is all. Like seeds in the field, the things we worship bloom, the fruit it bears is our destiny, the outcome cannot be changed, it has already been decided. For 10 years you denied yourself nothing, worshiping gluttony and her gratifications, now winter has come and the storehouse is full. Each man must accept his fate.” Gollum said nothing, “Come, little one, it is time to eat your reward.”

Miserably, I stood and limped into the entryway, my pants held up by one shaky hand, the plate and two mugs in the other. I set them down and fished my keys out of my pocket. The hilarious front door decided to let me in. That was good. It meant I didn’t have to walk the long way around. My hallway smelled like sawdust and endings, I could hear two people having sex. I’d held it together while Little Ex was on my stoop, but once inside I dropped to my knees then lay down on the floor. My bed was too far away.  The Mouth of Sauron had not let me sleep for almost two days. I didn’t have it in me to struggle against him, I needed a different plan.

For months I’d been contemplating suicide. It began as a joke, a fantasy I’d play around with in the mornings. I’d wake up after five or six hours of sleep, my alarm reminding me there was homework to be done, and imagine blowing my head off. It was funny to think that this was better than learning to be an engineer. Over time the vision grew until it seemed a viable out. My classes were horrible, taught by reanimated chunks of afterbirth who hated their students. In one of my courses the professor had been so terrible the school said he’d never be allowed to teach again.

Engineers were the stupidest people I’d ever met. When I’d tell stories about my awful engineering program to a normal human being, they’d shake their head and say, “That’s awful!” When I’d tell those same stories to an engineer, they’d say, “Yeah, that’s what engineering school is like.” Those fucking idiots would slug it out for four or five years, enduring the machinations of their maniacal professors and keep coming back for more. They were like dimwitted beetles who kept charging forward, unaware that some kid was just teasing them and the path they traced was an endless circle around his tiny hand.

When I enrolled in the program, it seemed worth it, I was working toward a goal – a happy life with Little Ex. After I broke up with her, it still seemed worth it. I was working toward a happy life with an imaginary girl I would someday meet. Toward the end of my second semester I was in shambles. It was hard to focus on imaginary futures with unmet girls when your teachers were assholes who got mad when you asked a question.

The other students, those abortions-in-training, weren’t any help. I’d leave class, my brain throbbing, trying to wrap my mind around the lesson I’d just endured, turn to one of the dick heads in my lecture and ask, “Did you understand that?”

“Totally,” he’d say. “It’s pretty easy, when you think about it.”

“Good, great! I have no idea what he was talking about.” I opened up my notebook with its pages of carefully copied notes: “Why did abc + abd reduce to cd?” I pointed to the Karnaugh map written across the page. We were studying Boolean logic, which was algebra in binary. Binary was a number system composed entirely of ones and zeroes and somehow it made computers work.

The student looked at my notes, which were the same as his notes, the ones he claimed to understand. He ran his thumb across the page, repeating my question under his breath. “Why does abc + abd reduce to cd? abc + abd reduces down to cd, so…” he looked up at me, “I don’t know, man.”

Fucking ridiculous.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure Sauron struck when he did because of all the stress. My hilarious stomach gurgles were a result of the anger and hatred I felt toward my professors and the other students. When I started throwing up blackened death shit it was the poison of my rage exploding out of me. I was a failure, a n00b. I tried to climb a mountain I had no business attempting and paid the price. It made me sad. I started fantasizing about killing myself. Each morning, I’d wake up and imagine a gun in my mouth, my brains splattered on the wall behind me, like the evil warden at the end of Shawshank Redemption. It wasn’t anything special, lots of people had suicidal thoughts, but after eight days of brutal agony, of hopes crushed and a meeting on the stoop with my beautiful ex, that gun started looking a little more viable.

I thought about Robbie, living it up in South America. After my mom refused to cosign my student loans, Robbie stepped in and did it for her. I still had $10K in my bank account, I could leave that for him, but he would have had to cover the difference. If I killed myself, I’d be screwing my best friend.

The floor was cold and hard, I decided to try make it to my bed. It took a couple of minutes to cross my apartment on hands and knees, but I made it. I slipped under my blankets and began to cry.

The place where Sauron laired was far too tender to touch. My guts were inflamed and swollen, I couldn’t even lay on my side. I tried to read. I’d recently purchased a digital reader. I wanted the first book I read on it to be Tolkein’s classic. I was mid-way through when Sauron attacked. That’s why this story was full of Lord of the Rings references. I turned the little tablet on and tried to read but it didn’t work, I was in too much pain, I couldn’t focus.

For eight days the pain oscillated between miserable and unbearable, now the mathematician had added a positive integer to the equation and the wave increased in intensity.

For eight days I’d struggled and with each hour I’d grown weaker. Pepto hadn’t helped, Ex-Lax did nothing, the chiropractor’s adjustment never took hold and my mom said Jackie said the doctors couldn’t help. For 10 years I’d ignored the chronic diarrhea I contracted while working as a fisherman in Alaska. For 10 years I’d memorized the location of every bathroom in every city so when I needed to go, there would be no delay. I’d always figured my chronic malady would lead to cancerous growths that would kill me in my 40s, but I never imagined it would be so painful — or so soon. I thought I’d eventually start shitting blood, go to the doctor for some sort of test and be told I had a week to live. That seemed pretty good, no fuss, no muss. But eight days bedridden spent thrashing against an unseen foe with no end in sight, was more than I had bargained for. Gods were like that, they always put you through more than you could handle.

Wretched and alone, a 32-year-old man boy who could barely move, who hadn’t eaten in a week, who was slowly wasting away. I looked at The Mouth of Sauron. He was sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, watching, making sure I didn’t sleep. There was no need to shove the sword through my guts, the orcs in my intestines had reached a critical mass, their general could sit back and let them do their work.

For eight days I fought the sickness inside. I raged against it, making multiple trips to the grocery store, soaking water until my back hurt. My mom took me to the chiropractor and I drank as much filtered water, chamomile and chicken broth as my stomach could stand, but none of it worked. I was fighting an uphill battle from a wheelchair.

On Sunday, May 20, I decided to stop fighting, to let the disease have its way. It was my final, desperate ploy, the last tactic of a defeated general. For eight days I had fought, now I would rest. The pain in my guts would not let me sleep, but it couldn’t make me move. I would lay there, as motionless as possible, and hope my body managed the rest.

Hours passed, the orcs inside slammed and cut, pillaging what remained of my strength. Occasionally, I cried out, groaning to the heavens before settling back into silence. I tried to find Zen, to separate from the pain, but could not. Every second was a separate agony with no end in sight.

“You have been quiet all day,” said The Mouth of Sauron. “Would you like to soak some water?” I didn’t answer, even speaking cost energy and my body needed every ounce in order to survive. I wanted so badly to sleep, but could not.

I filled my time with thoughts about a gun and the world that might come after.

to be continued

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