Down Corridors of Life Purloined
By Anthony G. Bernstein
“We are on the sifting bridge being judged according to which power we give allegiance to…” From the 10 th major principle of Gnostic revelation - Philip K Dick.
His murder was brutal, an ignoble end brought about by his vile deeds and disposition. And none mourned his passing; some cursed his name, others cheered his demise, most did nothing at all. The man was a fiend, a brute, a thief with a crude-oil heart; he made his wage chiefly by putting bullets into people. His name was Jack Colone, commonly known as ‘The Jackal of Hell's Kitchen'.
It was Colone's forty-second birthday and enemies bearing gifts of hot lead had arranged a surprise party. Three hulking forms with shadow-masked faces took ‘The Jackal of Hell's Kitchen' on a road-trip across the Hudson river to a vacant, blighted warehouse nestled in the bowels of Hoboken New Jersey; there the man was laid low in the swelter of a moist August midnight, splayed belly-up on a debris-strewn concrete floor reeking of dank mildew and urine. His body was rendered useless and splintered, however he did not die fast. Colone was a masterpiece of pure animal suffering, gagging hard on his own bodily sewage for an hour, until he escaped the grisly lump of ripped flesh and shattered bone that had been his home for over four bloodshot decades…
…Presently all was numb; void of comprehension, Colone viewed himself from afar. He perceived only a decimated rag doll, leaking rivulets of red ink and expelling coils of wet, pulpy stuffing through pouting gashes which unseamed chest and midriff. He beheld corpse from above with only vague interest and recognition, and it seemed to Colone as if unreal in its soiled Dickeys and mangled tennis shirt mottled with gore. It appeared to him as though he was viewing through the wrong side of a pair of binoculars, and Colone wondered how he could see at all if he was truly dead. He felt as if he was dreaming and free of a horrendous burden. The agonizing death throes of just moments ago were now all but forgotten, and despite this grim view, he grew giddy. The late man now completely doubted that he was gone; he knew that he was merely dreaming, for ‘The Jackal' did not believe in an after-life.
Suddenly, Colone's vision faded into infinity. A silent gray wind descended upon his disembodied spirit in shadowy sheets of surging oblivion. It poured through him as if through a sieve. he wanted to scream as the wind of shadows washed away his individuality, his very essence. As the gusts coursed through his naked soul, he was swiftly transformed; he became the gray wind that passed through him. Colone no longer knew who or what he was. He did not even know if he was. He felt nothing, he was nothing. Only the mute wind of the void that blows endlessly to nowhere did remain…
At length this wind began to dissolve into a fresh reality, featuring a blank sky of charcoal stretching over flat, sandy expanses equally bare. Something bright flickered to life through the dim, just above the horrific, swaying horizon, where the pale sands reddened and the deep sky sharpened its teeth upon the greater darkness. Colone was painted into this newborn reality gliding upon the oddly surreal and sandy expanse, which stretched unchecked to the horizon in all directions. Like the gusts of gray that carried him here, this vista was also gripped in awful silence.
Colone felt like he was drifting along without the aid of form or thought as he sauntered automatically in the direction of the flickering light, which was now swiftly resolving into a white-hot star. He had already grown comfortable with his non-existence when something lurched within the core of his reptile mind and he immediately recalled that he was once called “The Jackal of Hell's Kitchen”.
Impossibly, full consciousness crashed back into his essence like a tsunami. It flooded and flayed him until he screamed. However, he screamed a scream that was not a scream, for he had no mouth of his own. He tried to halt his forward motion, but could not. He looked down to see a pair of fat, grubby feet attached to legs of wide girth. The impersonal limbs were not his, and he had no power over them. This shocked and disturbed Colone profoundly, but when he ventured a glance further up the alien legs his soul reeled in impudent nausea, for he saw with vulgar disbelief that the body in which he was encased was nude and devoid of genitalia!
Colone's new feet stepped apathetically onward, kicking up gravelly sand as he tried to make sense of his frightfully bizarre conundrum, but he then beheld a terrifying transformation overtaking the landscape that promptly made him lose his thoughts. The horizon up ahead and on both sides was rapidly closing in on his position as strips of land broke away at an alarming rate.
No time was offered him to ponder that horror either; immediately he become aware of a rising barometric pressure. In an instant Colone felt like he weighed over three hundred pounds, now three-fifty … four hundred … five hundred pounds! The gravity kept increasing to unbearable proportions. He thought that he was going to succumb to it any moment, but kept striding with ease down the thinning stretch of sandy terrain instead. The stocky, simian legs were undaunted by the ever increasing pressure, yet Colone felt like his head was caving in. It could not, though, for he was already dead, and the strange body in which he was entrapped was stronger then the gravity – insidiously stronger. The body allowed him to feel the skull crushing pain, but was not damaged in any way!
Colone was dead, but he was also wracked with insane fear; Confounded and confused he walked, feeling like a fractured marionette: cracked, splintered, and controlled. Then, with momentary insight, his poisoned soul grew atrociously sick with despair as he finally accepted the dread nature of his situation. Until that moment of grim enlightenment, he refused to believe that he was dead – he had it figured for a cruel nightmare…
His black thoughts were suddenly shattered as he caught sight of what lay beyond the dwindling stretch of land, and despite everything else he was enduring he reeled in frantic shock over what he beheld. Past the ledges, now less then twenty meters from where he was being forced to walk he viewed oblivion. The approaching cliffs were slowing, but still they came, and even from his location Colone could see that the drop was endless. He saw only unfathomable depths of mind boggling emptiness, far beyond which floated fantastic gossamer swirls of color and light, which, as ledges continued to near, startlingly revealed themselves as a multitude of galaxies, quasars, and so much unknowable magnificence. These gaseous phantasms of prismatic illuminations reached numbers so far beyond conjecture, that to even attempt a vague figure would be absurd. Even the closest visible heavenly activities were so infinitely far away that for Colone to consider their distances would not only be useless, but unwise.
Had the body in which he was now held captive been his own, Colone would surely have been destroyed a second time before this point; but this shell of strange flesh was completely unaffected by the tortures and marched on despite his best efforts to the contrary. He could not even induce this body to move a finger; he was merely an unwilling passenger. The only parts of the frame that he could maneuver were the neck and eyes to witness all the surrounding horrors.
The approach of the sandy cliffs was greatly slowed now, but at this point the land on which Colone walked was reduced to little more than a bridge. He peered ahead to see the span stretching fully to the wild, angry horizon and the shimmering star far beyond. Colone looked up and pondered the dark, monotonous sky. He thought, how damn empty that sky is, how quiet and still . He looked behind him, longing for retreat. Far away the land widened to its original fullness, a flat sandy expanse as far as the eye could see. Now he peered over the slowly creeping left ledge and immediately regretted the act. He could see sand silently sifting away from the ledge and disappearing from view as the sides of the sandy bridge crept toward each other; growing perilously close, yet moving slower every moment. The sand is stalling on purpose to taunt me, thought Colone with rage, like an old tom toying with a trapped mouse before the kill!
Cloaked in panic's billowing flames, he recalled a scene from a forgotten low-budget horror film he had viewed, where the helpless victim was in a dungeon with walls that were closing in to squash him. Then he thought of sand through an hour glass: soon, out of time -- but slow, like this bridge of sifting sand, not to quick, then down I go, a million miles an hour straight to the dungeons of Hell!
The increasing pressure made Colone feel like the back of his ears were pressing against one another in the middle of his head. His brains felt like congealing cement. Yet this body was not his own, and it continued headlong down the center of the slowly dwindling span. Once again he screamed a scream that was mute and desperate. No sound could he make with that alien mouth, and inside it he felt a wet tongue slathering the back of an even row of clenched shovel-teeth.
Oblivion was now groping at his host body's feet, and his silent shrieks turned into weeping. He realized with a start that he was mutely babbling, gibbering psychotically; he had even caught himself sobbing for his mother: a woman he loathed!
He felt the last of his lucidity giving way to the wild loneliness of the utterly lethal void that stretches unbound between the galaxies and eons; but there are no words offered in any known vocabulary to describe Colone's unbridled, lunatic terror as he witnessed the bridge sift away into nothing beneath his feet!
He fell with apathetic appendages limply outstretched…
Without warning all became blackness. The lonely sky was scooped away in an instant; the temperature immediately plunged into the ultimate freeze of deep space. Was he spiraling downward? Upward? Horizontally? Was he traveling slowly? Rapidly? These words held no meaning anymore, for now all he beheld in every direction were black gulfs of infinity – desolation absolute! Colone immediately learned that the body in which he remained imprisoned was equally resilient when it came to this ruthless environment. He was fodder for the fathomless freeze of space, but it did not kill the beast. He felt the ultimate vacuum trying to suck the frozen lungs out of his barrel chest, but the beating of that uncanny heart remained steady. He attempted to slam shut his eyes against stark blackness, but they were petrified in their sockets and felt to him as if stuck with razor blades. He thought that he must be blind; indeed, in his delirium he desperately hoped so, because the alternative was far too mind-lacerating and abominable to even consider – an entire universe with absolutely nothing in it save him! Billions upon billions of untold light years absent of all time and matter, an eternal continuum of naked space! Colone was in hysterics, mutely cursing, raving, and bawling in a fractured, gleeful terror-rant. He was begging for mercy to the infinite onyx silence in which he presently was entombed.
Aimless he fell. Motionless he fell. He fell for millennia. He fell for a moment. Time became skewed hopelessly beyond reason as it gripped tight ‘The Jackal of Hell's Kitchen' with a thousand mighty hands-of-God.
Colone would have long since regressed into a mindless vegetable if not for the constant care of a hidden super-consciousness, an agent of reality intent on keeping him lucid enough to be able to fully appreciate all the soul-searing terrors and tortures assailing him. Jack was a tattered, disemboweled consciousness in a soul grinder; his suffering was epic. However, there did eventually come to Colone a certain familiarity with his black situation, which, at length, began to ease his fright and suffering. It was then that this agent of reality transferred Colone's soul into the body of a singularly fat and warty toad…
Massive disorientation assailed Colone. The endless suffocation, he thought, the unfathomable and vicious desolation, the death freeze … all gone? Wait! He was being lifted up, up and nauseous. He felt a pale, sticky warmth, then sudden terror. Colone was urinating in a giant hand . Understanding hit like a tornado of wild panic as he was jerked into reason. The toad looked up and beheld a child's face of familiar bearing. It was the visage of none other then Jack Colone at nine years of age!
The toad remembered being the boy on some sweaty, boring, and cranky August afternoon at the park. He had just been scolded again, but at least not hit this time. Colone was with his mean mother and her ‘big fat' boyfriend who was always yelling. The couple left the youngster to his own anger. He was wandering unattended through the woods when he came upon the ugly toad squatting in the sunlight on a little lumpy rock embedded in the dirt. The boy did not like this creature. He found that he was curiously repulsed, even offended by it. Now his anger grew into something new, dark, and strange, an exhilarating hate which he had never felt before. Jack's face wrinkled and contorted into a Halloween mask as he viewed the warm liquid of the dirty, ugly toad spreading across his palm.
Remembering clearly the course of events to follow, Colone, as the toad, kicked futilely with his legs in a feeble bid for freedom. This induced the child, now drunk with his new-found loathing, to squeeze the warty creature. He transferred the toad to his left hand and wiped the piss-coated hand on his trousers, then began to crush. Colone felt like his innards were being forced out his mouth. He stopped kicking. After another second or two, the kid let up on his tight grip. For the first time the boy could remember, he was in charge, in full control of another life. The boy was elated; he had found out for himself the pleasures and satisfaction a good scapegoat could bring.
The kid and the toad were in the middle of a wooded patch of land near a small, murky lake. There were little hills and a good deal of thorny shrubbery and poison ivy cropping up in bunches all around. The place was alive with a variety of insects, especially the kinds that like to fly and bite. The soul of the toad was already gone; Colone's spirit alone animated the body of the creature. The sadistic kid flipped it onto its back on a flat rock, and with sharp, dirty nails, cut into the thin, yellow skin beneath the defenseless creature's gullet and began to pull. Cologne, as the toad, felt ghastly rushes of unbearable burning ripple through him. The malicious child was ripping the flesh from his body, leaving dark gray strips of naked muscle exposed to the environment. At the apex of searing agonies, the toad remembered the rush of pleasure he felt as that nine-year-old boy, and for the first time he could recall, Cologne felt shame for his actions. This feeling was swallowed by the torture as soon as it arrived, but due to his complete unfamiliarity of the emotion, it left its mark.
Colone, the child, giggled a little as the endorphins sparkled to life in his brain. The viscous kid lifted the toad by its tiny arms over the flat rock. He continued to tug at the now wet, dangling flesh with his free hand as Colone, the toad, convulsed in an abyss of witless agony. For Colone's benefit, perhaps, this toad had a singularly powerful constitution. After the trauma it had suffered, it should have already received its first visits from the many scavengers above and below; this creature was still feebly kicking and twitching pathetically. Colone screamed a billion silent screams as the child continued t o tug gleefully, wondering why there wasn't more blood. Finally He stopped pulling; he couldn't seem to get the skin past the joints of its now palsied legs without ripping it. If only you knew, thought Colone from inside the agonized toad, if only I could make you see what you are doing to yourself. However, the boy was now bored with his new toy. He dropped it onto the flat rock, then considered letting it croak in the fullness of time in the swelter of the hazy afternoon sun. “Fuck that,” he said out loud, “my kill.” He brought his tattered Nikes down upon it - squash .
Colone was falling once again in that same humanoid prison as before his experience as the toad; only this time he fell across the blasting nuclear caldron of a star's corona. Had he been alive, he would have been blown away into specks of ash, then promptly atomized and lost in the restless solar winds before he even had the chance to feel pain. However, since he was already the doomed dead he received no such quarter. Slowly he sizzled. His intestines poured like lava as he was incinerated into molecules, brutally aware of every moment of his unique experience.
Colone awoke to view a generic lawn attached to a familiar suburban house. He was a dog, a handsome Golden retriever. After his initial disorientation, he became aware with a sense of mad elation that he felt no pain. He was neither frying nor being skinned, and he could breathe again, how sweet the air was! With his sensitive canine nose, he could smell virtually everything around him. Nothing made any sense, but he knew how he felt. He cried. In the body of that hound, he wept and wept with a desperate, blissful numbness. Every emotion known to man passed through Colone's dog mind in a violent flash.
Suddenly, he was blasted back into lucidity and compelled to understand his future by the super-consciousness that controlled him. He was inside an animal that was well cared for, a loyal pet loved by his family. Across the street however, in an unkempt two-story house with cheap, gray vinyl siding, there dwelt a sadistic ten-year-old psychopath-in-training named Jack Colone. This malicious kid did not like the sound of the retriever's barking, and being in a particularly black mood that warm and overcast September evening resolved to finally act.
The spirit of the canine was already free; Colone was now the sole occupant of the dog's body. Presently he began to howl in fear as he recalled what he did to the innocent creature on this hostile night. He then remembered how the dog's howling had set him off, so he frantically tried to stop barking, but quickly discovered that he could not desist. A new and even fiercer terror welled up inside him and took full control, for the glory of those few carefree minutes of freedom from the soul-embalming tortures of body and mind were now too much to endure. It rekindled jackknife acuity to his agonies that had been lost in the continuous onslaught. Colone heard himself desperately blurting these words in his mind to a deity in which he did not believe: “HELP, GOD! HEEEELP, GOD! PLEASE, GOD! HELP, HELP! I CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE! I BEG YOU, LET ME BE AT PEACE! AT PEEEACE! I'M SORRY FOR WAT I DUN! I'M SORRY FOR WHAT I DUN! PLEASE, GOD! I BEG YOU, NO MORE!” On and on and on…
Still, the dog continued his barrage of odious barks and howls even louder then before. The owner of the retriever had just started her shower, she could not hear anything, and her loving spouse was out. There would be no help from them, just as before.
Colone was tied up on a dog run of five meters in the open yard of the house. He was still howling for mercy, and the hound in which he was trapped was yowling and wailing, bucking and braying and pawing the grass all along his run. Then, as sudden as a lightning flash, Colone was recalling his cruelty, all the sadistic brutality he had administered to so many over the years. He reminisced about his over-nourished blood-lust, as well as the flagitious acts of abhorred fiendishness that ultimately precipitated his grisly death. Colone finally ceased his desperate pleas for mercy, silenced by shame, but the barks continued to sound from his unwilling throat. He now realized with absolute certainty, almost as if in answer to his wails for deliverance, that he would have to revisit every one of his crimes from the unique perspective of his victims . He would be kept lucid and aware, being permitted past the gate of sweet oblivion only upon completion of his cruel cycle of terror and trauma. Colone would surly have collapsed under the colossal weight of that realization and sobbed for eternity had he the will to do so, but presently he could only be the dog-puppet and wait for an unavoidable past to play itself out once again.
~ First appeared in The Harrow , August 2007 © A. Bernstein ~