The Immortal Coil

📅 Published on December 24, 2020

“The Immortal Coil”

Written by Marc E. Fitch
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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ESTIMATED READING TIME — 24 minutes

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I was awaiting an interview with a dying man, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, watching an ancient television set mounted high in the corner of the hospital waiting room that flashed riot scenes. Placards waving, black faces crying into cameras, the capitol was burning and youths running in the night with bandanas covering their faces as tear gas canisters spiraled out from police guns and bounced along the concrete. History was happening yet I was assigned a pointless interview to go nowhere, to fill space in a local newspaper for people who were so dead themselves they didn’t realize the printed word was deceased, gone. Perhaps I could do a think piece about the latest race riot in the capitol. But there wouldn’t be much to think about in a small, white town that remained an untouched, disinterested minor gear in the strange gyre that turned society. Fifty bucks an article for a Master’s degree in English. The world had gone to shit and, from the scenes flashing across the television, it appeared to be diving further into chaos.

Walter J. Cook’s organs were shutting down one by one.

An old girlfriend once told me that when she was in nursing school a professor asked the class what caused one hundred percent of all death; it seemed a trick question, but it wasn’t. The answer was quite simple — cardiac failure. No matter what causes it, the heart stopping is the ultimate direct cause, everything else is just details. It seemed Cook would find that out soon enough. Death was for the old, as far as I was concerned. I was young, I wanted the action, the chaos of life. I wanted to be covering the riots, the politics of the day, but everyone has to pay their dues and work their way up and that’s what I was doing that dark night.

Walter J. Cook, was a former town councilman who served on the town board for two uneventful decades as First Selectman before retiring with a small pension and a touch of dementia. Cook had backed out of his driveway into the lane of a speeding van, which t-boned his old Buick and flipped the car onto its roof. Cook had sustained internal damage from the seat-belt jolting against his soft organs and, while he was awake and able to talk (though often quite nonsensically), the doctors said his body was essentially shutting down and the wait-list for organ transplants far too long for any hope of recovery. My editor wanted a final interview with a man who had long been a town institution. Cook had no family that I could cross-reference with or with whom I could write up their fond memories, so I was left with the last will and testament of what appeared to be the least interesting man on earth and who was quite possibly insane at this point.

I had seen pictures of Walter J. Cook before; bony shoulders and a sunken chest, with a belly that popped out just over the belt of his chinos. Shirt always tucked in and clothes always neatly pressed and cared for as only elderly men who have retired, or whose children had grown and moved away, could wear. He grew up during a time when men wouldn’t be caught dead in public in anything less than pressed clothes, nice socks and decent shoes. Toward the end of his tenure as First Selectman, in his old age, his skin retained a tightness in the face that was testament to clean living and a knowledge that the world had once been a better place. That was what I thought while perusing through pictures of Cook in the Palistair Register’s database. He had been well-liked during his tenure; oversaw the construction of an entire new sports park complete with basketball and tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields and a playground for the children. He had kept Palistair relatively undeveloped and that was the way people liked it. He would make appearances at the town parades and cook-outs and he smiled with full, well cared for teeth and a certain pained look in his eyes. It seemed an awareness of something “other” which I took to probably be the result of his time in Vietnam while serving in the Army.

But now Cook’s appearance was shocking. He had withered down to virtually nothing, his body so light and brittle as to be lifted off the hospital bed by a small child. The air was static and smelled of rot and shit camouflaged with bleach; plastic tubes and saline bags and cheap-looking medical computers that probably cost small fortunes wound their way into his veins so that he appeared merely the withering human facade of some mass-manufactured machine. Cook’s eyes watched the small television in his room, the same news reports I had been viewing in the waiting room. His eyes didn’t move but he whispered. “So, you have come.”

“This man is here from the Palistair Register, Mr. Cook,” the nurse said. “He wants to talk to you so everyone in town can see how you’re doing. I want you to be nice to him, okay?”

His head turned slightly, regarded her with disdain, and I saw a flash of something ugly, something that rests in the dark depths of men that wiggles its way out when all the vestiges of civilized life have been wrested from them. It was, in a word, hatred.

She whispered to me, “He’s not all there. He can be mean, say some disturbing things, hallucinate or think you’re someone else.”

I nodded and Cook whispered inaudibly from what little breath was left in his lungs.

“What’s that, Mr. Cook?” I leaned closer to him and listened for the rasps of his ancient vocal cords.

They came back with a haunting whisper, “I have so many things to tell you.”

I don’t know how to write what I heard that evening or what I heard over my follow-up interviews, which I had never dreamed I would conduct before that night. Even to this day, winding my way through his rambling, virulent and inchoate stories seems to be a maze too complicated for me to solve. I can tell you what I did write for the Palistair Register the following week, after the veil of my former life had been so painfully lifted: “Former First Selectman Considers Whole Town ‘Family.’” A nice, happy, tight little piece with a quick synopsis of Walter Cook’s long life, from birth in Missouri to his time as councilman. But that was entirely made up. I pieced together the short biography I had learned of him during my research and made the nice title from his listing of several town council members over and over when I asked if he had any family left. But I couldn’t write the truth. I couldn’t write what he actually had to say. I couldn’t write about what he kept referring to as “the Immortal Coil.” Every question I asked him seemed to lead into a darkness so insane that half of me thought it was pure hallucination and the other half suspected that reality was far worse than any film or novel.

* * * * * *

[Recording: 6/6/15 7:25PM: 0:03:13]

Can you tell me about your experiences in the military during the Vietnam War, Mr. Cook? And how you’ve seen the world change from that time?

Vietnam was the beginning, boy. Vietnam was where it all began! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell the nurses here. That is where I met Major Kurtz. I had enlisted out of high school, but I was smart, see? During our basic training a man came — we all suspected him as part of the CIA — and administered to us a written questionnaire that we were to all fill out as completely and honestly as possible. It wasn’t like anything else in the Army. You’re always filling out questionnaires, but none of them had been like this. It asked us bizarre questions, largely of a religious nature, asking us if we had ever used LSD or seen unexplained things in the sky. It asked about dreams and nightmares and family histories of insanity. Then, after the written part, we were each taken to a room and hooked up to monitoring devices, like a lie detector, and then we were shown pictures, pictures of dead children and other horrid things, and they gauged our reaction to them. It was all an examination to see if we were capable.

Capable for what?

Operation White Star, of course.

What was Operation White Star?

Even though I enlisted as a grunt, they pulled me into an office and offered me a position in a covert operation set up in Laos with an officers’ group being run by the Special Forces. See, officially, the point of our work there was to teach the Laotians how to fight off the North Vietnamese. It was run by the CIA even before the war began, started in 1961, I think, and it was called Operation White Star. I was outta my league with these guys. They needed a few of us grunts, but they needed ones with intelligence; “open minds” they said, for some of their reconnaissance work. It was better pay, more guerrilla-style combat, rather than just getting shot in the ass guarding a boat dock. I was flown into Laos on an unmarked chopper, low to the trees where Charlie could take pot shots at us as we flew over. We touched down in a small village just over the Vietnamese line. The place looked empty and when the pilot killed the engine it was dead silent. You’ve never been to the jungle, I’m sure, but it is never dead silent… not unless something dangerous is about. Then all the birds and monkeys and creatures shut their yaps and go into hiding. Well, this place was dead silent. The huts were empty. There were no villagers or soldiers. Nothing. But the pilot acted like this was all part of the routine. He led me up to a patch of land, an area that had been cleared out of the jungle. He told me to drop my stuff and just wait there. I said, “Wait for what? To get shot?” “Just shut your mouth and wait,” he told me. Then he walked off back to the chopper, fired her up and took off, just like that, and I was alone, standing in this clearing just waiting to be killed.

I waited for hours, you see? Hours I waited and finally, right at dusk, this man — an American man — comes walking out of the jungle like he’d been sitting there watching me the entire time, and he just stares at me. He’s wearing fatigues but with no markings, no patches, nothing. He looks at me and says, “You can stay here alone or you can come with me. But if you come with me, there is no turning back, it is full commitment, not just for the war, but for life. Do you understand?” I always thought that was a dirty trick to play, but that is how they operate — dirty tricks, choices that aren’t really choices and then you’re in over your head. So I said, “Yes.” I didn’t want to be left out there by myself. I couldn’t walk to the nearest camp. I was in the middle of nowhere. He told me to leave my stuff and follow him. He led me up a long trail to the top of a mountain. It was night by the time we reached the top, and the jungle was pitch black, but we came to this clearing and there are all these people. Fifty or so villagers on their knees bowing to a Buddhist shrine that was made out of wood and copper — really a beautiful piece of religious art — and there were all the rest of the soldiers, probably twenty of them, myself included. There were two large fires burning and one villager tied up inside the Buddhist shrine, gagged and wrapped around a stake. Major Kurtz — cause that’s who it was that led me up there — took a torch from one of the fires and handed it to me and he said, “Go burn it down.” I said, “What, what do you mean?” And then he screamed at me like some kind of demon and said, “BURN IT DOWN!” The villagers were still all on their knees with their heads bowed and the other soldiers were looking at me like they were likely to shoot me where I stood. “Light this gook up, or so help me, you’ll take his place,” Kurtz told me.

I did it. I’m not proud of it, but I understand it now. It was part of the initiation. It’s something that has to be done. A price has to be paid. You have to leave everything behind and become an empty vessel. Everything you thought about right and wrong, love and honor; everything that we were taught throughout our childhoods must be sacrificed. You see, there are two paths in life — the Right Hand path and the Left Hand path. The Left Hand is the opposite, it is anathema to everything that we have been taught is right. And that is what White Star was. It was a Left Hand path. It wasn’t just war or soldiers… It was religious. It was a belief system that knew no bounds. I lit that man and that shrine on fire that night and it changed my life. You must understand. Kurtz was not just the platoon leader or some CIA spook. No. He was a religious leader, he was a prophet. He was brilliant! The entire North Vietnamese Army was terrified of him — of us! He took whatever he wanted and the government was only too happy to give it as long as they didn’t have to look with their eyes.

He performed rites in that jungle at night that, to this day, I still can’t put into words. It was a beautiful horror. They brand you, you see, but not on your skin. They brand your mind, your very soul, with the Immortal Coil.

Are you smiling, Mr. Cook?

Hahahahaha… you are so young and dumb. That is why I asked for you. The brilliant naiveté of those who think they know the world.

Excuse me?

Don’t be offended. It’s not your fault. The entire world is populated by nothing more than a bunch of carbon copies of people like yourself. Take a look up at that television screen there… You see those people out in the streets rioting? You see those reporters with their shirts and ties and dramatic looks on their faces? It is all an act on a gigantic stage. It is all a veil on which we show movie pictures to entertain your young, delusional minds. Even your universities, your scholars, your politicians are all actors in a play that they don’t even know exists. They play their parts well. All of them puppets…

I think this is enough, Mr. Cook. I’m sure the people of this town will be horrified to hear what you’ve told me tonight. I hope you’re just delusional but I can guarantee you that I will be looking into this offensive and barbaric story of yours…

You won’t tell them. No. You won’t. You want to be a big shot? You want to be a great reporter some day? You watch. You listen to me. You asked me how the world has changed since my time in the war. It has changed, but only because we made it change. You run back to your little life and write your bogus story for the, haha… goddamned Palistair Register… it will mean nothing and go nowhere. The ravings of a dying, demented old man. I’ve been telling the nurses here all kinds of stories this past week. No one will believe a word of what you say. But, if you do want to be a reporter. If you do want the big scoop, you keep your eyes on the television. You come back in two days when Dallas is burning over a Baptist minister being shot by some young skinhead brigade and then you come back here and tell me that I’ve offended you. You go back and do your little research project and then come back here and tell me what you found out. You go little boy! Nurse! Nurse! They’re coming for me! Nurse! Hahahaha…. Nurse!

[End Recording]

* * * * * *

How does one write something like that? Is it responsible to print the ravings of a dying man who is quite possibly delusional in his death throes? My editor, Bob Haskins, was pushing me for the piece the next day but I didn’t have it. “I need more time,” I told him, but really I needed to digest it, run it through my mind, figure out what, if anything, I was going to write. “Bob, did Mr. Cook request me specifically to come talk to him?”

A funny look. “No. I requested you and I’m requesting you get that piece written right quick.”

“It’s a little more difficult than that, Bob. He’s not exactly telling me things that we want to print.”

“Yeah, well, senility’s a bitch.”

I did a little digging but only came up with hints and possibilities. Cook hadn’t been completely off his rocker. There was an Operation White Star that operated in Laos in the early sixties. It had been covert but ended at the outbreak of the war in 1965 and was supposedly no longer operational when Walter Cook was in the military. I could find nothing on this mythical Major Kurtz; nothing, but then everything as well. I would have to dig longer and that would take more time. There had to be a thousand people with that name that went through the military during the Vietnam era. Indeed, it seemed like every fourth soldier was named Kurtz or Cook. They popped up everywhere: Cambodia, covert missions into China, My Lai, Air America, Son Thang and Than Phong; a lot of ugliness seemed to carry those names. Men who appeared minor grunts — nameless and faceless American soldiers when considering an isolated incident — suddenly became a strange game of connect the dots between Kurtz’s and Cooks across the Vietnam space-time continuum. Different men? The same? Nearly impossible. Walter J.? It was exhausting. My eyes hurt. My brain burned. I thought of him laughing and smiling, recounting his weird story, and I contrasted that with the images and impressions built up over reviewing his years on the town council, smiling in photographs, beloved member of the community. No wife. No kids. No relatives to speak of. No amassed wealth. He lived in a small two-bedroom ranch situated in the middle of a grassy field near the edge of Palistair. His past seemed uniquely unremarkable until you listened to his stories.

But then, it wasn’t his history that was so disturbing, rather it was his prophecy. Dallas burned and my head spun and there was the sudden sensation of a great and powerful veil being lifted by a deranged mind. The television screens were plastered with pundits and attorneys and police officials and politicians all bickering between themselves, describing the gyre as it turned. Something — I could not say what — seemed to be tightening. But when is that just a personal feeling and when is such a feeling evidenced and proven by reality? Two days later, he said and here it was on the television screen happening before my very eyes, and the nation was transfixed.

Bob Haskins pushed my story deadline back to make room for AP articles about Dallas. I went back to the hospital and found Walter J. Cook looking somehow even more skeletal, his eyes piercing through orbital cavities.

“Ah,” he whispered. “And how is your article progressing? Are you confronting the world with the real story of Walter J. Cook?”

“We pushed your story back to make room for news that’s actually important,” I said.

“I threw my bedpan at a nurse today. Got my shit all over her shoes. Where would you like to begin?”

“How about why you’re telling this to me?”

He smiled.

“How did you know about Dallas?” I said.

“Ask a better question,” he said.

* * * * * *

Cook’s house was a small, single-story ranch situated in the middle of a sloping field whose crest dipped over a far hill. It was set back from a road that was barely wide enough to hold two cars passing in the night. His house was a bit of an enigma. While perhaps it was comfortable for a single man in his seventies, it seemed a lower class level than would be expected from a town selectman. The position paid well enough — nearly eighty-thousand dollars per year — but Walter’s house did not exude the kind of largesse that one would associate with someone making such wildly massive claims: claims of pioneering the pornography industry from the sale of opium shipments running from Laos and Cambodia to the States; Wall Street investments in the eighties during the massive climb and divestment of Proctor & Gamble before the poison gas leak in India; the claims of satanic conspiracy deluded through the nineties, run through with susceptible therapists, psychiatric quacks and attention-starved women. Kurtz and Cook and their “Immortal Coil” dipped long, devilish fingers into nearly every industry.

They were spread like star constellations across the globe.

“What does all of this have to do with Dallas?”

“What do you know of Charlie Manson?”

“He was a raving lunatic that killed a bunch of people and has a swastika tattoo on his forehead.”

“Oh, that’s just the beginning,” he said. “Kurtz sent me to meet Charlie in July of 69, just before his great ascension. I could feel the power emanating off of him like heat from a black sun. Looking into his eyes was like looking into a doll’s eyes. He was proof — evidence — that we are all merely puppets. He was evidence of the turns of the gyre, the forces that move like liquid through us all. There is no right, there is no wrong. There is just what is and what will be.

“I found Charles in a cave at the edge of the Mojave Desert, an arid, horrid place spotted with Joshua Trees and rock outcroppings. I had followed the glow of firelight and near dawn I had found them in a cave entrance, naked, fleshy, slithering over each other like a nest of snakes. Charles stood so close to me… He stared at me with those doll eyes. He took me by the hand and led me beyond the dull glow of firelight into the back reaches. The cave narrowed like a downward spiral — a coil into the earth — and on it was painted words of the coming war; Helter Skelter, swastikas, and painted images of strange rites; pentagrams and Stars of David. Then three figures moved forward from the darkest reaches of the cave. I could barely make them out, but, as they came into the light, I saw it was three women fully nude but wearing the heads of animals — a buffalo, a goat, and a stag — that had all been recently slaughtered and hollowed out, still with the stink of blood and meat. They walked to me and they took me by the hand. And I tell you, kid, I have never been so moved by a woman in my life. We laid down together and we fucked until I was nearly dead from dehydration. They never removed the animal heads and I began to think of them as different creatures — mythical creatures — created from an amalgamation of man and animal. But with their dead eyes — their doll eyes. I cried out in ecstasy and it echoed all through those cave walls, down the coil of darkness and I remember… I remember something strange sitting in the deepest reaches of that crypt. It was a man, I think, sitting cross legged in the dark, watching us and I could feel him watching us and, for some reason, I knew deep down that he was pulling the strings of our intertwined arms and legs and cock and cunts. It was he — the great stage director of the puppet show. His eyes glowed; his teeth white as snowcapped mountains. He sat like an emaciated Buddha. I remember I wanted him. I wanted him so badly that I would do anything just to touch him, but he would not allow it. He kept pulling our strings till I was nearly dead and the girls were bleeding between their legs. I never truly saw the puppet master. When I woke there was nothing there, and Charles was once again dancing and singing in the firelight of the cave entrance and his people were slithering together in the darkness, making strange noises and gestures and eating pills and mushrooms. I walked out of the cave and Charles stared at me once again with those massive doll eyes. ‘Helter Skelter’, he said to me.”

“Again… What does this have to do with Dallas?”

“That boy that shot down that preacher in Dallas. He had a tattoo, didn’t he?

“The number 88 on the back of his head.”

“Of course he did.”

* * * * * *

I popped the lock in the backdoor of Walter Cook’s house and cracked the door jamb going through. Didn’t matter. The old man would never be returning and the house would probably be razed to make room for a modern colonial. The air was stale, unmoved for the past two weeks that Walter was in the hospital. It held that boring, unremarkable old man smell — dust comprised of withering skin particles and mothballs. In that instant I saw Walter J. Cook as a rather pathetic figure. For all his delusions of grandeur, his own coil was proving more mortal by the second. Walter J. Cook lived a quiet life in the town of Palistair, even when serving as First Selectman. He was not known for entertaining house guests and was usually quite brief at social or town functions but the man got things done, which led to his reelection several times over. People naturally assumed that he was just a bit shy or a bit of a recluse, having never met the right woman. There were even rumors of him having never met the right man and that his tiny house set in a field was his form of keeping things easy and simple, like a monk taking a vow of poverty and chastity.

But the house looked as if it had never even been lived in. Everything was set up like a fully furnished rental that hadn’t been touched in years, or a stage-set from a seventies sitcom. The wallpaper and furniture seemed to move backward in time and, in my mind, I could hear the echoing laugh-track of the imaginary audience. But they were all laughing at me. I was the joke. I was the jester on a stage being laughed at by principalities of the real. I felt a strange sense of hate and anger standing in that tiny house, thinking of the things that Walter had told me. I was looking for that audience, searching under couches and in cabinets, hearing their laughter and knowing that they were pointing at me and whispering to each other with hushed voices, almost embarrassed for me because I was too clueless to know any better.  I knocked over lamps and smashed a mirror in an outburst of rage. There was a painful bloom in my stomach, the unfurling (or was it the uncoiling?) of something long dormant but suddenly awakened and sick with hunger. I tore into his rooms, ripped open beds, emptied drawers, kicked in closets searching for something, anything that showed me… what? To this day, I’m unsure. I broke sinks and tipped over the ancient television, broke pipes and upturned tables like some Midwestern teenager on a wilding. I was breathing hard and heavy, delirious, and not able to make sense of myself, much less this strange, totally unremarkable and boring place that I had just desecrated with chaos.

A single door was locked beneath the stairway. A hiding place for the laughing audience. “You miserable fuck!” I said and I kicked through the door. And, indeed, there was a sound of laughter when the stairway beneath the house was revealed through the kicked-in door. There was the smell of cold concrete, heavy with subterranean moisture. I hit a light switch and there seemed an endless cascade of fluorescent lights kicking on that echoed in what sounded like a cavern. I took the steps slowly, cautiously to the bottom.

The basement was the size of a football field, solid concrete painted a dull steel gray and seamless. The space was vast, so much larger than the house itself, extending up the hillside. It seemed a massive fallout shelter. But it was not stocked with food and supplies or anything of the sort. It was spare and sparse and nearly empty, except for the walls. They were adorned with massive canvasses of symbols, completely stark, simple and utilitarian — a red canvass with a white circle and black swastika, four-sided pyramids with the all-seeing eye at their apex, the Sigil of Baphomet, variations of crosses set in circles and misshapen spirals, black on white. Four long glass cases were filled with, what seemed to me, artifacts both ancient and modern, like some kind of strange museum. Set in the middle of the wall of images were three massive statues — figures of men ten feet tall — featureless and made of pure metal, their smooth contours stood with heads slightly bowed as if in contemplation or, perhaps, looking down on humanity. Their presence caused an anxiety in me that I had never felt before. I almost turned and ran from their gaze, as if they would suddenly come to life and take me. To this day I still see them standing there, watching.

On the floor, massive and painted in black, the number 88 turned sideways and overlapped to form a double helix — like two symbols of infinity side-by-side, showing the DNA strand that guides all of life, and I suddenly began to realize the nature of the Immortal Coil. At the far end of this massive basement museum was a single high-backed, leather chair set before a screen with an old film projector, stung up with two large coils of film. The fluorescent lights didn’t extend this far, so it was in shadow. I feared someone was in the chair, but it was empty. I pawed at the projector. I flipped a switch and the machine turned on with a burning light and a square appeared on the screen as the film began to whirl over the projector. Images began to form, the pictures racing ever faster, forming movement, contrasts, faces, people, and then things… things that I could never forget.

* * * * * *

[Recording: 6/10/15 11:13AM: 0:01:24]

The next place will be Oakland,” he said. “But don’t worry, soon it will come for all of you. It has always been a war and it comes to all of us sooner or later.

What will happen in Oakland?

It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that it will happen. And it will happen again and again and again till it is over.

What is the Immortal Coil? What does all this have to do with it?

Hahaha… you want simple answers, don’t you? Not so bright maybe. Wouldn’t it be easy if I just told you everything like a TV show? I could — maybe — but it wouldn’t help you at all. You’d get locked up in the psych ward if you uttered a word of it to anyone else. No. I don’t wish that on you. I just want you to carry it, to keep it going.

I don’t think you know me very well then, if you think that I would keep up your legacy…

Heh… No. I’m not imparting to you some dying wish like a man passing the torch to his son. No. I’m spreading to you, like a disease, a cancer that will eat away at you. You want to leave? You don’t want to carry this illness? Really, it’s too late but you can leave now if you want, but we both know that you won’t. Curiosity kills. It drives insane. It will spread from me to you to countless others. You will try to prevent it but you will be incapable. For good or bad the Immortal Coil will continue to wind tighter and tighter and you will help it, like it or not, till there is the ultimate war. Helter Skelter, my boy, just like Charles predicted.

Never going to happen, you crazy old fuck.

You think not? It’s already happening, every day, every city, every news report, every person.

I think your Immortal Coil is taking a little too much credit. You’re making a kitten into a tiger.

In 2002, I attended an unofficial conference of small-town mayors and first selectmen in Las Vegas. You can look that up if you like, it’s in the town records. Quite an affair I must say. All lights and booze and call-girls running through the Bellagio with a withered and gray-haired old white man on each arm. Orgies going all through the night with Viagra and cocaine in candy bowls. The girls… they let us do whatever we wanted. I had never been the same since that night with Charlie in the desert and so my tastes were quite — different — I suppose. But those girls did not flinch once. They did not ask questions. I was able to… well, anyway, enough of that. It was quite an affair, to say the least. But the pinnacle of the conference was our observation of a great neonatal surgeon. We were transported by a series of buses out of the city limits into the desert — a trip which took several hours — until we came to a large circular building in the middle of nowhere. It had a very low profile because most of it was underground. We were led down a spiral deeper and deeper under the earth and then into a massive surgical theater, everything dark but the bright, white light in the center and viewing screens above the lights so we could view the intricacies of the procedure. There was a man — the surgeon — who appeared quite older than any of us at the conference but, I tell you, there was never a steadier hand in all the world. He moved as if he were an animatronic prop with wrinkled human skin pulled over its pneumatic workings. There were two nurses with him. I never saw his face in full because of the mask, but I could see his eyes and his hands and his movements, and, I tell you, that was enough to show me that this was no ordinary man. He was something else, but definitely to call him human would not be sufficient. The same with Kurtz and that figure brooding in the back of Charlie’s cave in the Mojave. He was something… other.

Two police officers escorted a black girl into the center of the theater. She couldn’t have been more than twenty and she was feisty, fighting them the whole time but finally they managed to get her on the table and strap her wrists and ankles down with leather straps. The surgeon injected her with a large needle which caused her to calm down almost immediately. We could all see she was pregnant, probably six months, I’d say, but I don’t have an eye for these kinds of things, no experience, you understand.

Then he began. She was put under anesthesia and the surgeon took a scalpel to her protruding belly. He cut gently at first and then harder and the blood was allowed to spill on the floor and it was collected in a shallow ring etched into the concrete that enclosed the surgical table. The three nurses stood in the background with the police officers, hands folded in front of their laps, stone-still, like porcelain figurines. We watched closely on the camera as the surgeon pulled back the thin layers of skin and muscle and fat and then exposed the sleeping child in the mother’s womb, shiny with membrane and pulsing umbilical cord.

Then he cut into the child. A small incision at the base of its tiny skull. All the while both mother and child slept under the gas and we could see the blood pulsing between them. Then he delicately cut into the brain and removed a small piece from the child’s brain stem. It was a quivering piece of pink and gray gelatin, no larger than the child’s fingernail, but on the screen it was massive — glorious — a true piece of the primordial life. The surgeon held it up for all of us to see and we applauded him and his work.  He placed the jellied life in a small container and handed it off to one of the nurses. The child and the girl were stitched up and returned to the streets from where they came. I believe she ended up in an insane asylum, babbling incoherently about what she had seen and been through. But oh! That was a glorious night! We painted the town red that night — as the old saying goes! But I tell you… Oh, come now! Where are you going? The nurse won’t be by for my sponge bath for another hour! Wait! Hahaha…

I’ve heard enough…

* * * * * *

I stumbled from the back door of Walter J. Cook’s house and into the gray dying dusk. I felt drunk or drugged, everything spinning and whirling; the ground beneath me had shattered and I was plunging into the abyss. I walked into the field that ascended the hillside behind Cook’s house and had seemed so endless. I walked and stumbled through the tall grass, moving toward that strange horizon. I thought that I might just walk for eternity then. Leave everything behind. Leave the world behind. Images flashed through my mind like lightning flashes. Images from the old film reel, images from my recent memory, images of the future…

* * * * * *

I haven’t even begun to tell you all the strange and mysterious wonders! Haha. You will never be the… wait. What are you doing there, son? Oh, I see. You think this will somehow make it better? You think this will somehow save your soul? I’m already dying… What good will it do?

It doesn’t matter.

But don’t you see, son? Don’t you see the position that you have been placed in now? Don’t you see the decision that stands before you?

* * * * * *

There, at the crest of the hill, the gray horizon where the earth spills over into the dull evening sky, I saw them approach, as if rising up out of the earth itself. And I stopped and stood before them, helpless, reeling, and they looked down at me with their hideous countenance and raised their feminine arms to me, while boring holes in my skull with their dull animal eyes…

* * * * * *

How do you think you will get away with it, son? In this hospital full of people? With me hooked up to all these contraptions like some cyborg? All of them will scream bloody murder and you will never escape. I see the rage in your eyes, son. I know the feeling. I’ve been in your same position myself. Think of all the stories you could break! All the headlines you could garner with the foreknowledge of the coming hardships! You want to be something more than a dumb, small-time reporter don’t you?

* * * * * *

I could see their animal heads in the dying light, their gloriously feminine bodies reaching their hands out to me as if to take me beyond the hill-crest, into the horizon. I could feel it — sense it, just over the bend of earth. There was a dark force radiating just out of sight. A dull glow piercing the darkness that was nothing but rage and evil and cunning. The puppet master was dancing his strings as the vixens were calling for me to fall into their embrace. Which one? I wondered. Kurtz? Manson’s demigod? The Surgeon? Which one had tread this soil? Which one waited just over the ridge behind Walter J. Cook’s house?

* * * * * *

Fine, son. That’s the way you want it. Go for it. You are throwing your life away to hasten the death of a dying man. But you have your choice. You will make it soon enough. You can try to forget but you never will. Everywhere you look you will see the Immortal Coil and it will… MMMMMFFFFFFF! [sound of muffled screams, hospital equipment being jostled and knocked over, more muffled screams, an ECG machine flat-lines]

[End Recording]

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Marc E. Fitch
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Marc E. Fitch


Publisher's Notes: N/A

The author invites you to check out his latest novel, Boy in the Box, available now from Flame Tree Press. Ten years ago a mysterious and tragic hunting accident deep in the Adirondack Mountains left a boy buried in a storied piece of land known as Coombs’ Gulch and four friends with a terrible secret. Now, Jonathan Hollis and brothers Michael and Conner Braddick must return to the place that changed their lives forever in order to keep their secret buried. What they don’t realize is that they are walking into a trap — one set decades earlier by a supernatural being who is not confined by time or place: a demon that demands a sacrifice. Get it here.



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