Thwarting the Hillbilly Torturer

Me and about a dozen other people were being held prisoner by a grizzly ex-military hillbilly in a big old southern farmhouse on a hill in the middle of nowhere. This hillbilly enjoyed the occasional bit of amaeturish torture, but mostly he just liked mocking us and holding us in annoyed and frightened suspense. He had lots of guns and knives, an apparently endless supply of tiny dead-end rooms, and the uncanny ability to be looming outside your door at all times.

We the imprisoned conspired endlessly against him. He actually made this quite easy for us; it seemed to bring him great pleasure to keep us perpetually on the verge of escape. Early on he actually gave me free roam of the grounds, having deprived me of anything I could use as a weapon, because he knew I wouldn’t try to run away without rescuing the others. As I walked around the house, I was continually astonished at his audacity, at how loosely guarded everything was. All the windows were wide open, with only flimsy screens to keep us in. The screams of his victims filtered out into the air, and probably carried for miles.

I couldn’t really blame him for his laxity, however–as I myself was having a surprisingly good time trying to thwart him. At one point, I actually awoke from what could easily be considered a nightmare–but was enjoying myself so thoroughly that I had to go back to find out how it would end.

On two occasions, I fought our captor hand to hand. In the first, I wrested an assault rifle from his hands and stabbed him in the back with the bayonet. It had almost no effect, and before I could get to the trigger he grabbed the muzzle and forced it away. Then both he and I reached with our free hands for the little silver-plated pistols he carried on his belt, and ended up pointing them at each other’s heads. He taunted me, daring me to pull the trigger. I hesitated, then jerked my head away and fired. Nothing happened. The bastard had carried them in unloaded, just so he could trick me into going for them!

“I just don’t understand it,” I said. “I’m bigger than you, and younger! I should be able to beat you!” Of course by this time I had figured out that he was combat-trained, but this was the usual bent of our conversations–like Bilbo in the dragon’s lair, I fanned his ego every chance I got, trying to make him get careless. I scarcely needed to. At one point he deliberately left a three-inch folding knife on the windowsill in my room, just to taunt me. What could I do with it, when a five-inch bayonet rammed between his shoulder-blades didn’t even slow him down?

My cell was a narrow third story cul-de-sac with only half a door that opened onto a five-foot wide hole in the floor, through which poured an impossibly slow indoor waterfall. I rapidly discovered that by leaping into the stream, I could transport myself down into a bedroom two floors below where three women and one man were being held. With these I held many a hasty conversation on the possibility of our escape. We determined it would be too dangerous to break a window, as some of us might get out, but we would certainly attract the bastard’s attention and in all likelyhood get gunned down. We couldn’t get through the screens without a tool of some kind, and these were all in the bastard’s possession. So all we could do was bide our time and look for an opening.

Opportunity arose one day when the old bastard, having finally decided we were too much to handle by himself, left the house to gather reinforcements, in the form of another ferrety little ex-military man and a ravenous black attack pig with rubber bunny ears tied to its snout. He was not without a sense of greusome humor, our jailor.

As soon as he left, I got out of my room, leapt across the chasm, and went looking for my brown satchel, which I had had with me when we were captured (though I couldn’t for the life of me recall when that had been, or what the circumstances). I found it just as his old pickup was pulling up the long, dirt drive, and before fleeing back to my room had the time to reach blindly inside and grab the first two round, hard objects that came to my hand: an ancient pineapple grenade and a Cadbury Creme Egg.

In my room, I regrouped, and considered my options. He certainly knew I had these things, and given his habitual clairvoyance, chances are he would realize I had gotten out. But what was I going to do? Blow up the house with me in it?

I heard him coming up the stairs, with his crony at his heels and the pig snuffling ravenously on its leash. I stood behind the door and braced myself, with the same flippant abandon with which I had earlier pulled the trigger of a pistol while he pointed another at my head.

The door opened. Crack! went the sharp seam of the grenade against his temple. He went down. I hit him again, as hard as I could. He was out cold. I shouted to the others on my floor: “He’s down! Come on, we’ve got to go!” They appeared from their rooms just as I did: two men, wild-eyed and desperate. The crony and the pig were nowhere in sight, but at the bottom of the stairs, I glimpsed a foreign object: a small white box full of wires and tubing. A tiny red light winked on and off. Then there was a pop, and white vapor began to hiss out into the hallway. A bomb! Not only had he anticipated his own defeat, he had prepared for it with a fucking chemical weapon!

“Poison gas!” I screamed. “Get out! Get out!” It was too late now. There was no way we could save anybody but ourselves.

I took a breath and hammered down the stairs, past the bomb and out into the atrium at the back of the house. I was trying not to breathe, but still I could smell the smoke–acrid and burning in my nostrils. I smashed headlong through a window, splintering the wooden slats and getting who knows how much shattered glass stuck in my arms and face. I sucked in a breath. The other two were right behind me–and behind them, the crony and the pig stood in the ruins of the atrium, grunting and calmly loading a shotgun.

I looked at the grenade still clutched in my hand, and the Cadbury Egg in the other. “Now or never,” I thought, then: “Mmm, Cadbury Egg!” I was saving that for my reward.

I depressed the lever, pulled the pin, and counted to three. A tiny spurt of flame burst from the grenade. Was that supposed to happen? Too late now. I reared back and tossed it. My stomach wrenched as I realized the armed grenade was still in my hand.

The crony lowered his shotgun, and we all ducked. Boom!

I threw it again. Swish! went my arm through the air. There was another little spurt of flame. No good. We all ought to be dead, I thought. I dropped the Cadbury Egg, peeled the grenade free from my palm with two fingers, noticing some white sticky stuff left behind as I did so, and fumbled it onto the atrium floor. The bastard had sabotaged my grenade!

“Run!”

We ran, stumbling down the hill into the brush. We threw ourselves to the ground, and turned to look back. Smoke billowed placidly from the open windows, swallowing the shapes of the pig and the crony. There was no explosion. Like I had figured: the grenade was a dud. Stupid Army/Navy store!

The three of us looked at each other. “Gentlemen,” I said, “I think we should consider the possibility that he is still alive.”

Hours late, it had dawned on me. This was all part of the game.

The pig and the crony emerged from the haze, snout to the ground and shotgun held at the ready, advancing steadily down the hill.

I woke to daylight.

A Venus Fly Trap Grows Out of My Shoulderblade

I attended a holiday dinner at the House of Purpura. For the occasion they had procured an enormous case of a light port wine, of which everyone seemed to be partaking generously. Michael was gleefully, sloppily drunk for the first time I had seen. Christina and Mr. Purpura were thoroughly amused with each other and chummy, as if having a friendly drink (or three) together was a long-held tradition of theirs which they only rarely got the chance to enjoy. Mr. Purpura’s usual scathing wit was supplemented with a booming laughter that made him resemble a jovial President Castro. Christina was actually red in the face.

I was so surprised at all this that I rather lost my own inclination to drink, wanting to keep on my toes and alert for any new developments, though I had a perfectly good mixed 12 pack of Sam Adams and Shipyard of my own outside in the car.

As fate would have it, I was wise to abstain. We were getting ready for dinner. But not long beforehand, it was discovered that both Michael and I were covered head to toe in exotic insects, which we had endeavoured to collect earlier that day, and which seemed to have escaped. We hurried out into the living room and began clearing them off–tarantulas, spiders, creepy-crawlies, gigantic brightly-colored king crabs, and even several interesting varieties of mushroom. I was impressed to find a young Venus Fly Trap growing out of one of my shoulder-blades, and showed it off to Jennifer quite proudly. The phenomenon, I observed to David, was probably due to the fact that we had put on our sweaters musty and wet instead of letting them dry.

The bugs, we seemed content to allow to wander freely about the house, but I carefully piled up the mushrooms, hoping to make a spore print later, and identify them using my new mushroom guide. Unfortunately, in her drunken glee, Christina mistakenly stepped on and crushed several of the best specimens. I forgave her, and then Mrs. Purpura called us in for dinner.

Later, Michael, Erin and I attended an outdoor music awards ceremony of seemingly high prestige, which was emceed by Johnny Depp in the guise of Jim Morrison. It turned out that Erin was a new employee of the same establishment that sponsored the awards, and one day it would be her responsibility to take over for Johnny. I considered vaguely that if my girlfriend had connections like that it would easy for her to find someone to get me published.

Valhalla

Having lost some sort of Norse-influenced epic battle of huge, oversized swords and immensely heavy armor in the distant past, our family was fated one day to have to fight again. We spent all our lives in the kitchen and upstairs rooms of our house, for fear whatever monsters dwelt in the basement would come forth before their time to do us harm. On the ceiling of the kitchen were strung all kinds of weapons and tools, which I knew we had practiced with endlessly, graduating to bigger ones as we grew: bows, crossbows, hammers, meat saws, spears, axes, crowbars, swords. Many were rusty, some were shiny and new.

The fated day had finally come, and we excitedly plowed down the stairs and cast ourselves onto the pristine couches and chairs of the living room, which hadn’t been used since our youth. It was exhilarating; the knowledge that we were tempting the monsters without fear sent a rush of adrenaline through me. I knew we had to arm ourselves soon; I went back upstairs, and my dad pushed a button or something on the wall that caused part of it to open up, revealing the floor-length mumuish armor and ridiculously huge cartoon fantasy ax that I remembered from long ago.

As we were getting ready, who should appear through the door of the house but cousin Lucas, shirtless, tan, and ridiculously cut. It had begun–he warned us that a touchstone of the family had fallen deathly ill, and could not be saved unless the fated battle was finally won.

We took up our weapons and donned our armor, and descended the broad gilded stairway into the vast arena hall that was our basement. Ferocious beasts of all shapes and sizes awaited us–giant cats, rhinoceri, bulls, chimaera, and tentacled things for which I had no name. I brandished my cartoonish axe gimli-esque, and leapt from the banister to split a huge displacer beast in two with a single stroke. We fought for a time, unstoppable, slaying all that approached us. Then the bell rang to signal the end, and we all filed out into the locker rooms.

In the hall I ran into Jon Rogers, looking rather small and uncharacteristically mundane in a green short-sleeved polo. He hit me with his usual manly greeting. “DeLuca!” “How did it go?” I asked him. “We lost,” he said. He was on a different team, of course. I knew my family had certainly won. I felt bad for him, and patted him consolingly on the back. But he didn’t seem too distraught. After all he only had to wait another hundred years.

The Ever-Devious and Unfathomable Damian Harris

I was the patsy assassin for a rather cleverly and smoothly operated, Sopranos-esque crime organization, of whom my immediate contact was the ever-devious and unfathomable Damian Harris. He placed in my hands an m4 automatic assault rifle with wooden stock finish (which thus resembled both my least-favorite quake weapon and the euphemistic ‘rifle’ kept in Tony Soprano’s entryway liquor cabinet for the purpose of fending off bears and burglars). He made it clear to me without revealing a single detail of his motive or reasoning that the mark was someone they desperately needed removed, and that I was the only person they could trust to do the deed. It only occurred to me much later, when the manhunt had begun, the specific qualities of mine they required–trust, and a weakness for praise.

It was dusk, and I stalked the general, my unwitting prey, in an uncannily spotless suburban backyard setting, orange-lit by abundant streetlamps and warm indoor lighting issuing from open screen doors and bay windows. The houses were predominantly small, uniform, one-story ranch houses, as in the strange faux-homey suburbs found surrounding military installations. The general sat on his porch, taking in the pleasant spring night with subordinates and friends. I shot him from the street, then fled, pursued by many of the aforementioned subordinates. I knocked one down ruthlessly with the butt of the gun, and put a shot into his head, wincing at the noise of the report, though in fact the echoless snap it produced was more like the sound of a mousetrap than that of a gunshot.

As I weaved through the narrow streets and tiny yards, leaping fences and ducking behind feeble shrubberies, it occurred to me how stupidly I was going about my escape. No one alive had seen my face, yet I persisted inexplicably in toting the murder weapon everywhere I went, waving it about like an idiot. Immediately after that intelligent realization, I saw that Damian had in fact fucked me with the very m4 I was still clinging to. I wiped it clean on my shirt, dropped it under a bush at the first opportunity, put my hands in my pockets, and strode away causally down the street.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the military installation to find a police-state style trial by angry mob of officers already taking place. Imagine my utter and retrospectively almost comical devastation at discovering that their chosen scapegoat was Erin, lovely and tragical in red and black. There followed a painful mockery of a courtroom drama in which I attempted to defend her. They ignored me, and prepared to execute her firing-squad style. I was holding her, steeling myself to shield her with my body and try for a suidical escape, when I started mercifully awake.

Las Dias y Los Noches de Monsignor Martinez

An old couple in Westwood was running a scam where they let on to certain parties that they were interested in funding the production of independent films. They continued to encourage and demand results from those involved, promising again and again to provide funds and help. But really they were offering no help at all, and only doing it to see how far they could string people along, a la the various obnoxious patrons of the arts encountered by Old Benvenuto in his autobiography.

It so happened that I was taken in by this for a while, as were a pair of foreign students from Spain (the same that Michael and I had met in the MIT Linguistics department a few days before). But though I rapidly figured out their scheme and warned the Spaniards, it turned out that this deception was only the most superficial layer of a deep and devious conspiracy to blackmail and eventually enslave every person of grace, intelligence, and creative and artistic merit in the world, numbing them by nothing more than fear and torment into tools for world domination.

Soon the dream deteriorated into a matrix-like urban chase scene through bare, unfinished corridors and paint-spattered scaffolds high above city streets. Their first line was composed all of women–one of them southeast-asian and naked, another blonde and clad in white–but all so beautiful and fascinating that the sight of them was hypnotizing, like that of siren mermaids diving among deadly shoals, or fair specters beckoning from the grave. Whenever I saw them approach I was overcome with sympathy, with the desire to help them from their plight–yet I saw the weapons in their hands, and the helpless coldness in their eyes, and so I forced myself to flee.

They were something above a dozen in all, and so swift and agile and deadly that soon I realized I could not hope to escape them no matter how I ran or leapt or dove. So I took refuge in a little empty room all painted white, with a single door and a single window, and prepared to make my stand.

I had picked up a little brown-tinted automatic from one of them, possibly the blonde. With this in hand, I crouched by the window and watched the building across the street, from which my pursuers emerged one at a time onto the scaffold.

Walking among the women and behind them, goading them on, were two others of a different sort: tall, shifty-looking, craggy-faced latino men in bad suits and dark sunglasses, who resembled your generic drug-running goons a la El Mariachi or Las Dias y Los Noches de Monsignor Martinez. Clearly, these were the people behind the conspiracy, or at least its enforcers. They were flesh and blood, yet bullets alone did not seem to harm them, but only slowed them down. It took them some time to heal, but there were so many others to back them up that I could never get a chance to finish them off.

As I peered at them through the little bathroom window, however, I saw something in their attitudes, their postures, that suggested all the beautiful artists and geniuses they had enslaved were not yet truly mindless servants, but resisted them, and only did what they did because of whatever threat to their art the conspiracy held over them. Could they see, perhaps, that their enemies had no such power over me? Why else had they simply stopped there on the scaffold, and not tried to come after me?

I looked at their faces, and once again overwhelmed by pity, I decided to risk it. Running out of the little room, I leapt, grabbed the rail of the scaffold, and swung myself with incredible gravity-defying matrix skills across the open space between the buildings, to land squarely before the two sunglassioed villains. “Dodge this,” I did not say, and planted a bullet in each of their skulls.

It seemed I was right, or at least that I had gained a degree of control over the dream, for the women around me all turned and echoed my shots with each of their own. I placed a foot over each of the ugly men’s throats, and stood watching until they breathed their last.

Then I awoke.

Clearly this dream was intended as a moralistic fable warning against the perils of submitting one’s art to the judgement and design of those willing and capable to exchange a livelihood for it. This drawback is true of every form of art. Old Benvenuto’s lamentations at having been forced to abandon the one truly great patron he ever had really struck me, and the gaps in comprehension and appreciation between those with power and those with talent have only swollen in the centuries since his death.