This is an audio performance of a piece from my short story collection, MOONLIGHT SERENADES. It is read by real life Father and Daughter, Scott and Emeline Pierce.
HEART OF CHRISTMAS
a holiday story by Thom Carnell
The wind howled and blew the snow into the air like a blinding, white curtain. Winter had arrived early this year and the world was being held in its frozen grip. Inside the small cottage, a solitary elf sat huddled near the fire. He had a caribou skin blanket pulled tightly around his shoulders for warmth. He looked tired, his eyes burning red beneath the strands of his dangling, blonde hair. The wood crackling on the fire was the only sound in the nearly empty room.
He got up and walked over to the large window at the front of the house. He brushed the dew from the interior of the glass with the palm of his hand and looked out. Outside, he saw several Bavarian style buildings that were set amidst miles and miles of freshly fallen snow. Multi-colored lights on strings illuminated the way from building to building. A large barn dominated the compound and was set at its center. Warm light emanated from inside. The elf stepped away from the window, letting the drape gently fall from his grasp.
“The North Pole. Shit.” He let his head hang despondently. “I’m still only at The North Pole.”
Slowly, he walked back to his spot by the fire. Lack of movement over the last few weeks had made his muscles stiff and his joints sore. It was in times such as these that he really felt his age. Simply put, he wasn’t as young as he used to be and if he didn’t keep himself active, he stiffened up. ‘Move lest ye rust,’ was the expression, he believed. Once he was nearer to the hearth, he sat back down in his chair and drew his furry blanket back around his shoulders to fight off the cold.
He looked deep into the fire and contemplated his situation… and his future. He’d been sitting in this cottage for weeks now. Waiting. Waiting for The Fat Man to summon him. Waiting for Santa. Waiting for him to decide to bring him back into the Workshop after all these years to talk about some special project he had up his sleeve. Some kind of mission.
The elf had worked for The Big Guy before, but it was years ago. He’d grown up in Santa’s employ and had toiled in the Workshop ever since he’d been able to hold a hammer. Time passed and he grew to maturity. All too soon though, he found himself falling out of love with the art of making toys. His heart pulled him in other directions, drew him toward different things. Things like papillas and stellate reticulums. Conditions such as Pappillon-Lefevre Syndrome and the ever-present danger of Periodontal Disease. It had taken him helping a friend on a wild and woolly adventure to decide that he too could question his role in society, to go out into The World and live out his dreams. That he too could be happy. And so, the decision was made for him to leave The Workshop and travel across the snow and ice so that he could go to school to study the time-honored discipline of Dentistry.
Thing was… there wasn’t much call out in the world for a three foot dentist.
And so, after many years of him banging on doors and trying to develop a practice, he had little else to do but return to The Workshop, to do his best to try to fit back in with the other workers. The other elves though… they never understood. ‘High and mighty,’ they’d said of him. ‘Being an elf not good enough’ comments were made and their derision stung him. This was supposed to be his family… if they didn’t understand the desire to follow one’s dreams, who in the world would? No matter what he said, no manner of explanation would assuage their contempt.
And so, little by little, the dentist elf was pushed to the side. Ostracized and isolated. He had no family and even his friends (even the one he’d once helped) had let their relationships fall into an apathetic stale-mate. But Santa had said he’d find a place for him. And one thing that could be said of the old guy, he never lied. So far though, that promise had equated to The Dentist being given room and board, but being left to rot in this little room in this little house while the snow blew about outside.
Waiting for Santa’s mission.
There was a sudden knock on the door and the sound of it startled him. Dragging the animal skin blanket along with him like a ceremonial robe, The Dentist went to the door and opened it. In the hall outside, there stood two elves. One was short with a bulbous nose and a dark goatee. The other was tall with a long face and he wore black-rimmed glasses. And while their faces were smiling, their demeanor was anything but friendly.
“Hello, Dentist,” said the short elf with a noticeable sneer on the last word.
The Dentist didn’t say anything. Instead, he walked back to where he was sitting before the fire, leaving the door open behind him. The taller elf with the glasses nudged it open with his foot and they both stepped inside the room.
“You with me?” the shorter elf asked.
“Yeah?” replied The Dentist as he sat back down in his chair.
“The Big Man wants to see you.”
The Dentist shook his head.
“You ok?” the elf with the Buddy Holly glasses questioned.
The blonde elf nodded, but didn’t move.
The tall elf clucked his tongue and nudged his shorter companion. He pointed to the small table near where the dentist sat. On it, there was a pitcher of thick, creamy Egg Nog. A half-filled glass of the stuff sat nearby.
“Having yourself a bit of a party, eh?” said the elf with the goatee. “We have a minute… Why don’t we get you cleaned up?” He reached out and took The Dentist by the hand. “C’mon, man… Santa’s waiting.”
The tall elf shook his head in disgusted amusement as he walked over to close the door.
Santa and Mrs. Claus were just sitting down to their dinner when the two elves arrived and escorted The Dentist into the room. Cooks had brought in a repast of sliced beef, shrimp, and peas when they ushered him in. It broke Santa’s heart to see the condition the man was in. Gone was the bright-eyed youth he’d once known. This was an elf that had clearly lost his Spirit, abandoned his very purpose. It wasn’t that he looked sick, but more that he had the look of a plant that had been too long out of the sun. Withered. Withered and out of sorts.
They sat him at the far end of the table. The elf with the glasses stood guard by the door so that they might not be disturbed. The short one with the dark goatee joined them at their meal. It took a minute for everyone to settle in, but once they did, all eyes fell on The Dentist.
“I hope you’ve been satisfied with your lodgings,” Santa said as he unwrapped his serviette. He tucked his napkin under his wide chin, the majority of which was hidden beneath his long, white beard.
The Dentist smiled. “It’s been a bit dull.”
Santa smiled as he stabbed a slab of the beef with his fork and brought it dribbling juice to his plate. The action was taken as a signal by the others and Mrs. Claus and the seated elf began grabbing bowls and dishing out portions. The Dentist sat unmoving, ignoring them and staring blankly at Santa.
“Yes, well,” Santa said with a heart chuckle. “We do what we can with what we’re given, eh?” He thought for a moment as he cut his piece of meat. He watched his knife intently as it slid through the cooked flesh. Then, lifting the morsel into his mouth, he nodded at the goateed elf that got up and went over to a nearby desk.
The elf picked up a file from the stacks of papers and manila folders that lay strewn across the desk. He brought the folder back to the table, tabs of paper sticking out like dried leaves being pressed in a book. Opening the folder, he sat back down. As he pulled a stapled together group of documents from it and he handed them across the table to The Dentist.
The Dentist looked the papers over and it was pretty clear what it was: a collection of transcripts from various recorded conversations and meetings; reconnaissance mostly, anecdotal reportage concerning a series of abductions and disappearances that were happening on and around The Island of Misfit Toys. The Dentist knew the area well. He’d been there before. Even met the king there once upon a long time ago.
“This all sounds messy,” he said. “But I don’t see how any of it concerns me.”
Santa looked over at Mrs. Claus. She smiled at him and nodded slightly, silently begging him for his patience. Santa wiped his mouth with his napkin and gave their guest his full attention.
“Do you remember Moonracer?”
Of course, The Dentist immediately remembered the winged lion monarch they’d met when he and his friends once ventured to his island. He remembered him as having helped them, and, in return, they’d helped him by finding homes for many of the island’s lost residents.
“Yes,” The Dentist replied. “The lion king. I remember him.”
Mrs. Claus took a sip of her tea.
“For years, Moonracer was always considered a benevolent leader,” she said, taking over the narrative. “His subjects – the toys – loved him. His hand rested lightly on the rudder of his kingdom. Then, one day, his bride bore him a child, a son, and Moonracer loved that child more than he loved Life itself. It was just prior to this that, I believe, you met him.”
The Dentist sat quietly in his chair. He looked at the piles of food in the bowls in front of him and never felt less hungry.
“A few years passed,” Santa continued. “The boy grew, but… he was frail and peaked. Once day, he fell suddenly ill and was taken by a great fever.” Santa looked into the depths of his dinner plate and his eyes became fixed. Absentmindedly, he batted his peas around his plate with his fork like he was playing hockey. “The boy died soon after.”
“Moonracer turned cruel after that,” interjected the bearded elf. “Many were abruptly enslaved and thrown into his dark dungeons without so much as a trial.”
The Dentist noticed Santa staring at him intently.
“It cannot continue,” Santa said, removing his napkin from under his chin. He wiped his mouth with one corner. He stood, unceremoniously dropping the napkin onto his plate. The linen soaked up the meat’s liquid like a sponge. The fat man ambled over to the window and looked out. Snow blew in a whirling, chaotic flurry over his village.
The Dentist let his gaze wander around the table.
“Again… What does any of this have to do with me?”
Santa looked back and a dark shadow passed over his face.
“Simply put…” Mrs. Claus said quietly. “We want you to go up Silver Mountain.” She stared straight ahead, her lips moving slowly. “Travel to Moonracer’s castle and convince The King to abdicate.”
“Abdicate?” The Dentist asked.
“To give up his throne,” said the bearded elf.
The Dentist looked around the room incredulously. He knew what the word meant. He just couldn’t believe he was hearing it spoken out loud.
“And if he refuses?”
Santa picked up his pipe from a small table near the window and loaded it with a practice hand. He then walked over to the fireplace. He stared into the fire for a moment watching the flames dance and spiral up the chimney. Plucking a length of straw from a broom that was set in the corner, he lit its end by holding it to the fire. Once alight, he held the flaming twig to the mouth of his pipe. He puffed heartily and smoke circled his head like a halo. When the tobacco was burning brightly, he blew the impromptu match out with a plume of smoke> Then, he returned his attention to The Dentist.
“I want you to convince him otherwise.”
Santa sat down in his broad leather chair and took another long pull on his pipe. He let the smoke out slowly before responding.
“Yes… Convince him.”
The Dentist stepped out of Santa’s house and he pulled his jacket tighter against the biting cold. The wind had kicked up and there was a palpable chill in the air. Cold… even for The North Pole. Immense drifts of alabaster stretched across the horizon for as far as the eye could see. Snow was piled high on the roofs and ice frosted the windows of all the buildings.
The Workshop dominated the compound, brooding over the village like a protective mother. Large and shaped like an old barn, the building was like a hearth around which all the other buildings were gathered. To its left were the elves’ quarters: small, squat bunkhouses set in regimental rows. And at the far side of the compound lay the stable for the reindeer.
The bearded elf came out of the house and stepped up alongside him slowly.
“Cold today, he said, trying to sound conversational.
When The Dentist failed to respond, he silently led the way across the snow toward the stables. They crossed the open center of the compound without any further conversation and trudged their way through the deep drifts. The smell of hay grew stronger with every step. As they approached, The Dentist saw a familiar face in the small group of reindeer gathered around one of Santa’s sleighs. With that glowing, red nose, he was kind of hard to miss.
“Hello, Rudy,” The Dentist said once he got close enough to be heard over the howling wind.
“No way,” the reindeer said, his nose pulsing brighter in the dim light. “I heard you were here, but…” He pawed at the ground with his hoof. “Well, heck, man… how are you?”
The Dentist grinned resignedly. “I’m here.”
Rudy walked over and rubbed his head against The Dentist’s upper arm.
“Well, it’s good to see you, man. We should talk later, ok?”
The Dentist looked surprised.
“Are you leading this sleigh?”
Rudy smiled and his nose burned a deep crimson.
“Are you kidding? When I heard it was for you, I insisted on being a part of your team.”
The Dentist scratched the back of the reindeer’s head, just behind the ear.
“Have they briefed you on the mission?”
Rudy shook his head and the bells on his harness jingled brightly.
“Not yet,” he said and shook his antlers. Minute flakes of white fell like dandelion florets. “They said you’d fill us in.”
Before The Dentist could say anything in response, the goateed elf approached and pulled Rudy aside to discuss some of the last minute details. As they talked, The Dentist looked around the stables. It saddened him when he failed to recognize anyone.
“Sleigh’s loaded,” the goateed elf said to him once he was done talking to Rudy. “We put water, some of Mrs. Claus’ biscuits, and there’s hot cocoa in two thermoses under the seat. It should be enough to last you for the trip up the mountain.”
“The mountain?” Rudy asked.
The Dentist nodded as he climbed up the runner and into the sleigh. He made himself comfortable while they harnessed Rudy to the front of the team.
“We’ve business on Silver Mountain.
Rudy nodded, already beginning to calculate their route in his head.
“We’ll head up Jingle Bell Ridge and over Gingerbread Plateau,” Rudy called back over his shoulder. “Once we’re through, we’ll use the ice to cross the water to the island. Then, it’s straight up the mountain.”
The Dentist nodded as he burrowed deeper into his seat beneath the caribou blankets. He pulled the furs about him and gazed up into the slate-gray sky. He knew it would be cold out, especially now with the sun was starting to go down, but the chill in the air felt like it cut deeper somehow. Like the cold he felt outside was being matched by the cold he felt inside.
He took a quick look back at Santa’s house. There, in one of wide windows, he saw a fat silhouette watching them as they headed off into the cold, white wilderness.
Hours passed and The Dentist was left to his own thoughts as the miles of blinding white slid by. He dozed for a bit, but his sleep proved erratic and elusive. While fumbling about in the sleigh, he discovered a leather satchel mixed in amongst the furs and foodstuffs. Inside, there were papers and photographs all focused around King Moonracer. He read the dossier over while Rudy led the way, his nose shining like a beacon in the diminishing light ahead of them.
From what he could see in the dossier, Moonracer had lived a privileged life. Born into royalty, his youth had been spent being molded for the throne by his parent’s most trusted inner circle. Educated and pampered, he was driven to be a good king. The Dentist remembered when they’d met him while on their adventure. He found Moonracer to be a noble and honorable king. He couldn’t imagine what might have driven him to enslave the very folks he’d been so dedicated to protecting, but, The Dentist supposed, grief could oftentimes do terrible things to people.
He continued to leaf through the documents.
He soon grew frustrated with trying to read in the waning light of day and he moved on to the photographs. The majority of them were of Moonracer through the years. Some were of him in his youth, his tail held high. Others were more recent. In all of them though, his long mane swirled about his head majestically and a righteous certainty burned in his eyes. A few of the photographs featured Moonracer and a woman; the queen, presumably. They sat on their thrones amidst an adoring public. Toward the back of the pile lay a photo of Moonracer and the woman holding a small child. Their faces beamed with the pride and joy of new parenthood.
He turned to the next image.
It was alarming how similar it was to the last photo, but the image had clearly changed. While it was the same Moonracer and his Queen, there was an overwhelming sadness to the image. Clearly, something had happened that affected them profoundly. Then, The Dentist noticed the absence of the child.
From then on, that same sense of loss pervaded every photo. Then, that loss slowly soured into anger. The Dentist gathered the papers and put them back into the leather satchel. What he’d seen had disturbed him. The loss. The sadness. It was too much. He stuffed the satchel back beneath the furs where he found it.
None of it made sense. Not the sudden change in the King’s demeanor. Not the subjugation of an already persecuted population. How were they to blame for what he’d lost? And what was up with Santa hard-lining it like that? He knew what they’d meant when they’d said ‘convince him.’ That was the fat man’s way of sanctioning the rough stuff, of going in heavy. Of saying, comply or else. And as the gray sky gave way to night, he didn’t notice when he slipped off to sleep in the warm embrace of Santa’s sleigh.
The Dentist roused when the sleigh bumped over a small log as it raced across the unbroken landscape of the Gingerbread Plateau. He stretched his back and looked out over the sleigh’s rail at the all-encompassing white. The sound of the reindeer’s bells on the air was crisp and the bright tones echoed for miles. Looking forward, he saw Rudy’s light as he continued to lead the way.
The Dentist called forward for Rudy to stop the sleigh. Nature was calling and he wanted to stretch his legs after having spent too many hours cooped up in the carriage. Rudy picked a spot near the low-lying foothills that led around Candy Cane Ridge. He slowed the team and they finally came to a stop.
The wind bit his cheeks as The Dentist walked a short distance away from the sleigh. After some initial ‘stage fright,’ he stood urinating into the snow and looking out over the desolate, white landscape. As he was finishing up and dressing himself, he spied a small clump of foliage poking its head out of the snow. On closer examination, he saw that they had bright green leaves with small purple berries tucked underneath.
He looked back at the sleigh and saw the reindeer team quietly nibbling snow and resting in their harnesses. He looked back at the plant. He loved the small purple berries. His mother had made Jollyberry Pie when he was a kid. He remembered smelling them as they sat cooling on the windowsill of the house where he’d grown up. He glanced back and saw that the reindeer were still drinking. On a whim, he decided that he had a bit of time. Time enough, anyway.
He trudged through the snow over to the plant and plucked a few of its small fruit. He rolled the tiny orbs around in his hand and purple juice stained the skin of his palm. He threw the handful into his mouth, their skins bursting with rich flavor. A nostalgic wave washed over him as the fruity juice washed over his tongue. Looking ahead, he saw another, larger plant and quickly walked over to it.
When he got close, he looked back and saw that he was now several hundred yards away from the sleigh. He looked out over the barren landscape and saw nothing but a grove of trees a short distance away. He couldn’t imagine being so far away would ever be a problem. He bent over and looked at the plant more closely. There were a lot of the berries on this one. Rather than spend a lot of time plucking them off one by one, he drew a small knife from his belt and cut through the plant’s thick stalk just above the ground. The bush came up in his hand like a bouquet.
As he turned to go back, a great roar erupted from the grove of trees and it echoed across the valley. He looked up and saw the tops of the trees suddenly shake, snow falling from the boughs in heavy clumps. Suddenly, the trees parted and he saw a gigantic ape-like creature coming through the tree-line.
The Dentist was running before he realized it. His feet sank into the snow and it seemed like a dream, like no matter how hard he ran, it would never be fast enough. He pushed himself harder and finally started gaining ground. As he came sliding in, he slammed into the side of the sleigh, rocking it on its skids. He quickly scrambled to his feet and climbed inside.
“Never get out of the sleigh, man,” he whispered to himself as he fought for breath. “Never get out of the sleigh.”
He raised his head to call to Rudy to go – and to go fast – but his voice was cut off by the sound of someone shouting in the distance.
The voice, clearly human, echoed across the valley.
“Go!” The Dentist shouted to Rudy. “Go, go now!”
The team took up the slack in their harnesses and the sleigh started slowly moving forward. The ape creature was coming toward them, bent over and loping quickly. The Dentist was able to see the creature clearer now that it was closer and it seemed vaguely familiar. Like he’d seen it before… or had caught a glimpse of it once in a dream. The beast was covered in hair with long arms and short, squat legs. It had a wide mouth, but, oddly, no visible teeth. The creature raised its head as it ran and roared mightily, its call echoing across the glade. The Dentist saw a man wearing a parka and a knit cap perched on the back of the thing’s neck, riding the creature like a stallion.
“Ya-hoo-hoooo!” the man cried again.
The Dentist felt the sleigh slow and finally come to a stop. He frantically looked around, yelling out to question why they’d stopped. He looked back and finally got a good, clear look at the man’s bearded face. Bit by bit, he started to remember… remember who these creatures were and from where he knew them. He remembered their trip long ago, across some of this very same stretches of ice. This was where he and Rudy had their time together. The experience had helped him to finally decide to buckle down and become a dentist. Slowly, the memory of a boisterous companion on that trip and of how he’d once saved the day played across the screen of his memory.
The Dentist saw the man grab hold of the giant ape’s ear and pull back like reins. The beast slowed to a stop and knelt down onto one knee. The man climbed down from his back gingerly and, once he was back on solid ground, he approached the sleigh.
“Hellooo!” he shouted and his voice rolled melodically across the silent ice.
“You,” Rudy called even as he struggled against the restraints of the sleigh harness. “Hey, I remember you. You… you’re…” His nose lit up brightly as the name came to him.
The man pulled a flap of woolen material away from his face and laughed heartily.
“You got that right, Sonny Jim. I am! I am indeed!” he cackled and his voice was deep and resonant. He nodded toward the giant ape. “Me and my bumblin’ friend here have been scouring these mountains for years now, looking to sell or trade all manner of commodities: furs, blubber, even precious metals like gold and silver …” He slapped his thigh and laughed excitedly. “Silver and gold!”
The man deftly pulled an ice ax from his belt and threw it high into the air. The ax spun and glittered brightly in the light. It struck the ice in front of them, the tip of its blade sinking deep into the downy fluff. He pulled it out of the snow by its handle and licked the crystals of ice that were left clinging to the metal. He tasted the substance and appraised its content.
“Hmmm… nuttin’,” he said, sounding disappointed.
An arctic wind came up and blew across the icy plain, the cold interrupting them.
“Storm’s brewin’,” The Prospector said, looking up into the darkening sky.
The Dentist climbed out of the sleigh and did his best to recover his dignity.
“We’re on our way up Silver Mountain,” he tried to explain. “Do you know these parts? We could use a guide,” he said hopefully.
The Prospector laughed uproariously.
“But, of course! I do know this land. And I know it well!” he chuckled. “I’ve traveled throughout these parts the whole of my life.”
Without another word, he stepped away from the group and walked over to where the large ape stood waiting patiently. The thing stood nearly as tall as the trees and had a ferocious – albeit toothless – countenance, but it stood by and waited on the man passively. By its look and attentiveness, it clearly held a deep loyalty toward the man. The animal’s demeanor was more like that of a large dog than a ravaging beast. The creature bent down and listened intently as The Prospector spoke softly into its immense ear. When he was done talking to it, the beast nodded its understanding and turned its back to them. The creature then ran off; disappearing into the snowy hills without issuing another sound.
“He’ll watch over us for afar,” The Prospector explained as he walked back to the sleigh. There were small clumps of snow sticking to his pants leg and boots. After kicking the powdery white off on the runners, he climbed in next to The Dentist and gave Rudy the ‘all’s clear.’ The sleigh lurched forward and both occupants were tossed back into the furs on the seat. Once underway, they settled in for the long ride ahead.
They soon came to the edge of a large, frozen plate of ice which had spread over the sea. The frozen glacier had extended out passed the shore and the group soon found themselves at the edge of the large sheet of ice. Carefully, Rudy led the sleigh onto the frozen surface. The Prospector got out and walked a good distance back toward the shore. Taking out his ice ax, he started chopping ferociously at the ground. The piece of ice on which they were sitting suddenly broke away and the ocean’s flow began gently carrying them away.
“The current will take us to The Island,” The Prospector shouted so that all could hear. “Once we find land, we can follow the path up Silver Mountain to the castle. I’m assuming you want to see Moonracer?” he asked with a sly look on his face.
The Dentist nodded, but said nothing. He didn’t particularly feel the need to explain anymore of his mission to him. From here on, the information was simply beyond anyone’s ‘need to know.’
More time passed and the group drifted along on the ice, the sky moving slowly overhead. The Dentist and The Prospector talked for a while, reminiscing and catching up, but they soon fell into a relaxed silence and just waited. After a while, The Prospector dozed.
The Dentist retrieved the leather satchel from where he’d set it. Opening it, he picked up Moonracer’s story where he’d left off. Toward the back of the file, he found a separate envelope with an official-looking letter inside. The note had come from Santa and was written on his personal stationary. Accompanying the letter was a report of Santa having sent someone else – someone before him – to talk to Moonracer. Perhaps it was for the same reasons. Perhaps not. There was really no way to be sure. The report didn’t exactly say.
The Dentist looked at a photo that was paper-clipped to the main piece of paper. In the picture, there was the image of a reindeer. He was standing in front of The Workshop with Santa and his expression was friendly, but remained one of concern.
“Blitzen,” The Prospector interrupted, having roused.
The Dentist looked up and saw his companion looking at the photo in his hand.
“What?” he asked.
The Prospector tapped the photo with his finger.
“Blitzen. One of Santa’s team. Word is… he disappeared into these very mountains. Word has it that he vanished into the ice and was never heard from again.”
The Dentist looked back at the photograph and scowled. He didn’t like the sound of it. Not any of it. He slipped the letter back into the satchel and closed it.
Why would Santa send him on this mission and not mention having already sent someone? Further, why would he not say anything about him ‘disappearing’ into these very mountains?
He pushed his thoughts aside as he returned the case to where it had been under the seat. Silence returned to the confines of the sleigh, each man returned to his private considerations as they floated on the frigid sea.
It was several hours later when they felt their ice sheet raft run aground on the shore of Moonracer’s island. It took a bit of doing on all of their parts to get the sleigh back onto solid ground, but once they had, they were soon loaded up and back on their way.
Rudy led the sleigh up the mountain, Moonracer’s castle looming forebodingly in the distance. A few more hours passed and they soon found themselves passing through the battlements of King Moonracer’s castle just as the sun was starting to peek over the horizon. They’d slowed to a crawl as they carefully made their way along the narrow streets and into the interior of the palace. High in the walkways overhead, a rag doll and a teddy bear with wings looked down at them suspiciously. They passed a cowboy riding an ostrich who stared at them balefully while a water gun stood nearby dripping jelly.
Rudy finally brought the sleigh to a stop in the middle of the castle’s central courtyard. The stones were wet with morning dew and they shimmered in the low light of the morning. Christmas wreaths, long past their prime, hung rotting in nearby windows. In a place where Christmas was celebrated every day, it was pretty clear that Christmas hadn’t been celebrated here in a long time.
The Dentist stepped down of the sleigh and was quickly followed by The Prospector. They walked up the line and began unstrapping the reindeer from the harnesses. Once free of their restraints, Rudy instructed the other reindeer to stow the reins and stay near the sleigh to guard it.
A loud clomping sound suddenly broke the quiet. It sounded like a gate was being slammed shut again and again by the blowing of the wind. A clown whose head was on a spring which came out of the top of a wooden box hopped out of doorway and into the light.
“Hello! Hello! Welcome!” the clown called, welcomingly. “It’s ok. It’s ok…. All is well. Come along! Come along!”
The Dentist squinted at him.
“I remember you…” he said. “You’re…”
“The Jack in the Box!” shouted The Prospector.
The clown scowled.
“Charlie,” he said scornfully. “My name… is Charlie.”
The Prospector clapped his hands and laughed uproariously.
“That’s right… Charlie,” he laughed and clapped The Dentist on that back.
The clown shook his irritation off like it was rainwater.
“We’re here to see The King,” The Dentist said.
The clown looked surprised.
“The King?” he said. “Really?”
The Dentist nodded and his expression was stern. “Santa sent me… to come see him.” He nodded toward the castle’s highest parapet.
The clown bowed his head at the old man’s name.
“S-s-santa sent you?”
The Dentist nodded again.
“I’ve been instructed to ask the King a few questions,” he eyed the clown suspiciously, “about some things that have come to his attention.”
A deeply concerned look passed over the clown’s face.
“Yes… very good. Very good. But, of course. Well… seeing as it was Santa that sent you… I guess it’s ok. Yes… yes. Absolutely!”
He turned and hopped away.
“Follow me, please,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll take you to see the King.”
The Dentist and The Prospector left Rudy and the reindeer to watch over the sleigh. They followed Charlie into the castle, taking the grand stairs to the upper floors where the throne room lay. Along the way, they saw more small groups of toys gathered along the length of the hallways. The Dentist noticed a train with square wheels on its caboose, a plane that couldn’t fly, as well as a scooter with two wheels in front and one in back. Further along, there was another teddy bear that was riding a bike and a small, Russian nesting doll involved in a heated debate with itself. From what he could hear, they were arguing the validity of someone named ‘von Clausewitz.’ The Dentist wasn’t sure who that was, but the debaters were vehemently arguing their chosen sides. A small wind-up mouse stood next to them and he eyed the duo with an exasperated acceptance; like this was an argument of long standing.
Presently, the trio arrived at a large door where two guards stood watch. To the left of one of them, a reindeer lay drowsing on the floor, near a low, stone table. The Dentist noticed him, but didn’t recognize him, so, he didn’t let his gaze linger. As the clown knocked on the door with his forehead, The Dentist glanced back at the dozing reindeer. Realization washed over him like a cold rain as he slowly began to recognize the face.
The reindeer looked lazily up at him and meeting his gaze was like staring into an empty well. His eyes were uninhabited windows that no one had looked out of for a very long time. The door before them suddenly opened and a large, spotted elephant poked its head out.
“Hallooooo!” the pachyderm called, sounding congested. “Who is it that dares to bother The King?”
The Dentist stepped forward.
“I do,” he said. He paused, then looked into his eyes proudly, “Santa sent me.”
The elephant stared back, darkly. “Santa, eh?” He squinted at him and gave him an assessing up-and-down. “Welll…”
The Dentist put his hand on the door and pushed it open.
“Stand aside! I am here on official business.”
The elephant stumbled back, cursing. He walked toward the gallery, grumbling. “Well, that’s all you had to say…” then, under his breath, “didn’t have to push me like that.”
The Dentist and The Prospector walked to the center of the immense throne room. More cathedral than ballroom, the place opened into a massive, cavernous space. Slate grey, rock walls rose into space, arching high overhead like a basilica. At the head of the room, a tall, golden chair sat upon a raised dais.
Suddenly, from far overhead, a winged-lion flew into the room through a high window. He was large even for a lion with wide, feathered wings that cupped the air that held him aloft. He circled the room and landed lightly on the dais. Before finally settling onto the throne’s seat, he circled the chair several times, eyeing the intruders suspiciously.
“And, what do we have here, eh?” the lion spoke with an open contempt. “Messengers? Sent by the Fat Man, I presume?”
The Dentist stepped forward, frowning. He may not have much liked Claus, but… at the end of the day, he was Santa and that deserved a certain amount of respect.
“I beg Your Majesty’s indulgence,” he began, speaking slowly, “I have been sent by Sa…”
“Yes,” Moonracer interrupted. “Santa, the corpulent megalomaniac. Yes, sent to assess my stability, I understand… and to judge my ability to Rule.”
The Dentist looked at him blankly. He thought it best not to lie. “Yes.”
The lion laughed and shook his mane.
“As if he… as if you… possess the moral authority to judge me. Him on his candy-striped throne. And you… with your failed aspirations.”
The Dentist took another step closer. He now stood at the foot of the stairs that led up to the throne. He stared unwaveringly at the lion, ignoring the personal jab, quietly assessing this king’s state of mind. Since he was now closer, he could see that there were dark circles under Moonracer’s eyes and his mane seemed snarled and unkempt. There was a kind of desperation to his countenance, like someone barely managing to maintain control. His grief had clearly broken him, crushed his sense of right and wrong and sent him down a dark path of hate and subjugation. But it was clear, even after a cursory examination such as this… he was unfit to rule.
“My instructions were to come here and implore you to lighten the weight of your royal hand on the residents of this island. They look to you for leadership, to shepherd them toward a better life. Like a parent mi…”
“Hold your tongue, Dentist!” the lion roared and his tone soured on the last word. “You come into my home and speak to me of parenthood, of my being unable to rule my people adequately.”
The Dentist looked around with an expression that bordered on disgust.
“Well, you must admit… Your kingdom is not what it once was, Sire.”
Moonracer smiled and a chill ran down The Dentist’s spine.
“You… will tell the Fat Man that I will take his words under consideration.”
The Dentist bowed, knowing this was a lie.
“Thank you, Sire. I will inform Santa that an understanding has been reached, then?”
The lion scowled and got up from his seat. He stalked across the platform slowly.
“But please…” he glared down from his throne at the group. “Stay the night. You are welcome to enjoy the hospitality of my humble home.” He looked up toward the open window he’d flown through. “A storm is brewing, but it should pass quickly. You will be able to get back down the mountain by morning.”
The Dentist bowed lower and thanked him once again. He knew he’d need to consider his next actions carefully. His mission had been specific. ‘Convince him,’ Santa had said and they both knew what he meant.
With all he had seen, The Dentist quietly decided in that moment that the king must die.
Night fell and The Prospector, Rudy, and the rest of the team all sat around the sleigh and drank toddies with some of the toys they’d seen around the castle earlier. As the others partook in their revelry, The Dentist excused himself and, saying he needed to use the lavatory, made his way through the shadows at the back of the sleigh. Once at the carriage, he made sure the coast was clear before removing The Prospector’s ice axe from where he’d left it on the floor of the sleigh. He hid the tool beneath his coat and quickly (and quietly) made his way back through the castle to Moonracer’s throne room.
When he arrived at the large door of the throne room, he found it locked. He pushed against it with all of his weight, but it remained steadfast. At first, he was crestfallen, thinking his mission was compromised. But after searching some of the nearby vestibules, he found an access through one of the vents in the throne room’s fireplaces. Sensing no heat, he wriggled his way inside through the flue and angled down into the cold hearth.
He crossed the room stealthily, keeping himself to the shadows. Far up on the raised dais, he saw Moonracer’s form lounging on his shadow-enshrouded throne. As he got closer, he saw the lion bent over and writing in a large book with a plumed instrument. His pen moved quickly across the book’s blank pages and he spoke aloud the words he was inscribing.
“I saw a polar bear… leading and army of penguins. And their eyes… were lust-filled over their angry grins. And the Fat Man… The Fat Man continues to sit on his throne… his throne of lies.”
The Dentist edged closer. The more he heard him say, the more knew his decision was correct; the King had gone mad and had become a liability. Not just to Santa or his people, but to the world. Clearly, he must be made to abdicate the throne. The Dentist thought back to what Santa had said back at that dinner, ‘Convince him.’
He hefted at the ice ax in his hand, as he edged closer. Better to replace him on the throne with someone new,, then let his madness spread and infect others.
“He holds those elves imprisoned in his ‘village,’ and then, calls me jailer?” Moonracer continued. “What do you call it when the jailers accuse the jailers anyway?”
Without any word or warning, The Dentist stepped up behind the king, raising the ice ax over his head. He brought the weapon down with all of his strength. The blade dug deep into the back of the lion’s neck, just at the base of the skull. The king whirled, roaring out in pain and anger. After tugging the weapon free, The Dentist struck again. The ax sliced deeply into the side of his thick neck. The King’s legs went stiff and he pitched forward onto his face. The Dentist raised the ax once again. Moonracer looked up toward the ceiling, his eyes focusing on the glittering surface of the rock wall.
“The tinsel…” he whispered. “The tinsel.”
And The Dentist brought the ax down for the final time.
The crowd gathered out in the courtyard of the castle was slowly starting to disperse. The Prospector, Rudy and the other reindeer, and some of the toys still remained, huddled over a small fire. Most of the others had returned to their homes and their beds. It was late and the Jollyberry wine had run out a short time ago. The small group that remained had found their way past most of the small talk and had settled into a gentle reflection. The fire was warm and the company was pleasant, so they were all content to sit back, enjoy the night, and contribute to any further conversation as the mood suited them.
Charlie yawned and looked up at one of the castle’s tall spires. It had been a long day for him. The arrival of these strangers had only made it all the more tiring. Suddenly, he saw something moving up on one of the balustrades. He gasped and pointed up toward the entryway to the castle, motioning for the others to look as well. As the group looked to see what he was pointing at, Charlie drew a breath and screamed aloud.
On the stairway that led up to the castle’s front door, The Dentist stood in the moonlight with the blood-covered ice ax in one hand and the severed head of King Moonracer in the other. The Prospector leapt to his feet and rushed forward before anyone else could move.
“Leapin’ Lizards, kid… what did you do?!?”
He might have protested further, but the grave look on The Dentist’s face stopped him in his tracks. The toys all looked up at him aghast. Others, hearing Charlie’s anguished scream, came out of their houses and started to gather in the streets. The Dentist stood looking out over the crowd menacingly. He dropped Moonracer’s head and they all morbidly watched as the head bounced like a blood-soaked ball down the stairs.
Charlie hopped up to the front of the group. His eyes met The Dentist’s and he slowly bowed his head, the sound of his spring twanging was unmistakable.
“Sire….” He turned toward the rapidly amassing crowd. “The King is dead. Long live the King!”
The crowd cheered confusedly, none being exactly sure what had just transpired.
The Dentist walked down the stair and passed Charlie in the Box.
“No,” he hissed as he walked by, his eyes hard and without emotion. “Govern yourselves.”
The Dentist signaled Rudy that they were leaving. Rudy and The Prospector immediately set to hooking up the team. Charlie chased impotently after them.
“Please… please,” he pleaded, his face a frightened, twisted thing. “You can’t leave! Who will lead us?”
The Dentist said nothing. He only silently packed up the sleigh and got inside. Soon, all was in readiness and he gave the signal for them to head out. And in that final moment, The Dentist looked at Charlie and his gaze somehow made Charlie feel as if everything was going to be all right.
And as the sun rose up over the horizon, the sleigh slid off into the night, Rudy’s bright, red nose leading the way.
Entire contents © Carnell 2017 No part of this document may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system, without the permission, in writing, from copyright owner.
“My makeup is dry and it clags on my chin,
I’m drowning my sorrows in whisky and gin,
The lion tamer’s whip doesn’t crack anymore,
The lions don’t fight and the tigers don’t roar.”
~ Dave Davies, Death of a Clown
Outside of Marceau’s Nite Club, deep in the heart of the city of Sarkasa, raindrops fell from an angry sky. Tumbling in the air like tiny, shiny coins, the drops pounded the ground with an incessant shishing sound. The opalescent droplets struck the tarmac in a fireworks display of moisture. Then, they exploded into infinity. The rainwater would then make its meandering way across the black roadway, into the gutter, and on toward the sewer and the sea. The multi-colored streetlights reflected gaily off of the dark, pavement, creating a blinking kaleidoscope of chromatic radiance and deep darkness. The street was an Expressionist’s suicide scene, brilliant splashes of color splattered across a motor oil and gutter water canvas.
It was, in a word, beautiful.
The city of Sarkasa sprang up around Marceau’s like an industrialized metastasis. Tall, pillars of chrome and glass stabbed at the sky like King Poles, the municipal sprawl expanding for as far as anyone eye could see. To the East lay the city of Brahma and the agrarian Wilds where cowboy and injun roamed free. To the North were The Scaries what lived in Regulus and the commercial monolith that was Geartown. To the West and South lie Sarkasa Harbor and the sea.
But the city, the city was where every clown’s heart truly lay, where it beat strong and fierce. From Grandstand to Backyard… it was Ben Nye’s Gotham City. So, of course, it was where the important doin’s were gettin’ done.
And all everyone knew - all everyone needed to know - was that The Business was being done up there in those high, chrome towers and The Business was something most of The Zanies who lived down below left to those better qualified. From Harlequin to Mime, as long as everything remained Aba-daba, it was all jeep and jake.
And up above, on roofs which seemed to scratch the very sky… the familiar scalloped shapes of Big Tops gone by. Banners flew proud and the traditions remained honored. It was just how things were done. How they’d always been done. The Circus and The Bunce may have gotten too big for the tents, but The Business…
The Business never changed.
And when The Business was good, it was all “Flag’s Up,” “Cookhouse Open,” and “Come and get your Dukey Lunch.”
The Big Happy Happy, y’know?
Sarkasa, with its hi-rise, monolithic spires and thriving harbor, was a place where every mother’s clown’s dream could come true. It was a place of High Times and Hallelujahs, of Hope and Hootenannies. Not like it had been before.
Before… in the Dark Days.
But, Before was something not even Forty-milers talked about.
Everyone knew that Before was before and thank Barnum for that. These were better times. These were The Salad Days. Gone were the dismal days of Mud Shows and Flea Bags. Gone were the sketchy nights spent sleeping in the rain in some farmer’s far-flung field. Gone were the Heat Merchants and the Soft Lots and anything that felt Hinky, Finky, or Larry.
Those days were All Out and All Over.
Nope, things were different in this hippodrome. This was big. Bigger than Big Bertha herself. The Greatest Show on Earth. And Marceau’s…
Marceau’s was at the center of it all. At Marceau’s, Life was always Bop and Brass Rails, a swingin’ testament to just how big The Biz – and The City - had all gotten. For a clown looking to make a name for himself, Marceau’s was a wellspring of opportunity where men like Monk, Morgan, Mingus, and Montgomery held sway.
Once, the joint was little more than a Back Yard speak-easy, what many who were of a certain mind-set considered to be ‘a low-down Mime Bar.’ But when all was said and done, Marceau’s was a place where you could throw a little jazz at a girl, get your whistle wet, and have yourself some good times. And at Marceau’s, the hooch was always Top Shelf, The Pie Car always four-star, and the dames… Well, let’s just say it was nice to spend a little time with someone who wouldn’t – who couldn’t – give up your secrets.
Over the years though, a funny thing happened. Somehow, Marceau’s managed to accrue for itself a thing equaling class. For the Sarkasa social scene, the club had become more than a Water Wagon Joint or a Stick and Rag Show. Marceau’s was all done up right. No matter who you were or where you fit in under The Top, everyone came to Marceau’s.
Marceau’s was a G-Top. It was The Place to be seen. And, if the Ducats were right, it was place not to be seen. But in the end, it was the place to get “happy.” And nothing was more important in a world full of clowns than to get happy.
Amidst the hubbub and the clamor along Midway Boulevard, among the Downtown Wagons, and the Ducat Grabbers, and the Forty-milers, no one noticed when a nondescript cab pulled up to the curb outside of Marceau’s. Nor should they have. None of the Joeys or the Rubbermen milling about had a reason in the world to so much as glance up when a young, blonde girl, coat clutched tightly around her body, climbed out of that cab. And even if they had, they would have guessed by the white paint on her face and her flower-bud lips that she was just another Marceau’s Girl showing up for her shift and nothing more. The hearts painted on both cheeks… The checkered outfit… it would have all made sense.
But, if they would have paid a little more attention for a little while longer, they would have seen this particular Mime look around nervously as she dug deep into her pocketbook to get the cab’s fare. They would have been watching as she shoved the money into the space between the driver’s window and its frame. And then, had they but looked a little while longer, those same Joeys would have seen her bending over and saying something to the driver. Something perfunctory… something polite… something classy… like, “Thank you.” Because if they had seen that, if they had seen a Mime speak, well… that would have caused quite a stir, kicked up a ruckus it would’ve. Set off a full “Stars and Stripes Forever” scene.
See, Mimes didn’t talk.
Mimes couldn’t talk.
It was what made them Mimes. And, believe you me, being a Mime was never a status grabber. People were only too happy to go to them for their – shall we say – diversions, but treat them as actual equals? Not gonna happen. And the scariest thing was that having a child that couldn’t speak was something that could happen to anyone. From Rodeo to Auguste to the most affluent of Harlequin families, no one was exempt from deformity. And make no mistake; it was something every parent worried about during their pregnancies.
And the most insidious thing of it all was that the condition didn’t present itself until the child was of an age when they were supposed to be learning to talk. It was like a small piece of them - the one that gave them the ability to speak - was missing. As the child aged, it simply never started speaking. Many families would try to protect the child, with euphemisms like ‘Johnny is a late bloomer” or ‘he just doesn’t have much to say,” but soon… people found out and scandal followed. Having a Mime child could ruin families, no matter who they were. So, people just sort of looked the other way when a child ‘went to live with relatives’ or simply disappeared. The family had an obligation to raise the child, but once the kid cleared adolescence, they were pretty much on their own.
And in Sarkasa, “on your own” for a Mime meant working at Marceau’s.
In actuality, it was a marriage made in Heaven. With the social stigma of being a Mime being what it was, having a place for them to work and be of use was a win-win for everybody. Marceau’s meant that they could earn their way, thereby giving what many considered to be a social outcast a place in society as a contributing member.
And, again, Mimes being Mimes… everything that occurred at Marceau’s was always kept on the Q.T. See, for them what worked at Marceau’s, keeping an average fella’s (and, as time went on, some not so average fella’s) confidence and confidentiality was a point of pride. According to the ones Bumbo knew, it gave them a certain nobility. Despite their questionable social standing, if there was one thing a Mime could do, it was keep a secret. And in Sarkasa, everyone had secrets. And most of them wanted them kept quiet and out of the light of public scrutiny.
So, it wouldn’t have been every day that a Harlequin like this girl - Angeletta Trivelino, by name - would have come to Marceau’s. Not someone this young … not at this hour. And not through the front door. Nope, not one of those Grimaldies out on the street had enough sense to pay attention, so, as this girl gathered her courage and started walking across a street which glittered like it was made of diamonds, she walked unnoticed and alone.
(full story appears in MOONLIGHT SERENADES available now)
The face of genre fandom is a kaleidoscope of different people, backgrounds, and perspectives. A person’s love for all things spooky need not necessarily mean that they fit a certain aesthetic or sport a specific wardrobe choice. Genre fans are a collection of unique individuals who all come from a wide variety of vocations.
Celebrity genre fans are no different. Some of them are actors. Some are musicians. Lena Headley (300) cites films like Session 9, Black Christmas, and Martyrs as favorites. Eddie McClintock (“Warehouse 13”) is another actor who supports the genre. Tina Turner reads Anne Rice. Richard Christy (Howard Stern Show) is a major horror fan. Hell, even Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) refers to herself as a fan with The Exorcist and Poltergeist topping her list.
Another name that might surprise you: that of actor, comedian, UFC commentator Joe Rogan. Since coming to the public’s attention in 1995 when he began a four-year run as eccentric electrician Joe Garrelli on the immensely popular show “NewsRadio”, Rogan has surprised and entertained audiences the world over. As his comedy reputation continued to grow through the late 1990s, Joe branched out and added “mixed martial arts commentator” to his resume and massively broadened his already large fan base. While the gig surprised many, to others, it made a lot of sense. After all, Joe won the US Open Tae Kwon Do Championship at the age of nineteen and, as the lightweight champ, went on to beat both the middle and heavyweight title holders and take home the Grand Championship. Then, from 2001-2006, hosting the network challenge show “Fear Factor” solidified Rogan as a viable commodity and made him a household name. Once the popular stunt show’s run ended, Rogan returned to his first love – stand-up comedy – and proved that his was a voice that was insightful, contemporary, and utterly hilarious.
Now, with his sold-out comedy shows, continued involvement with the highly successful UFC, and hugely popular podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, Joe sits at the forefront of the world’s attention. He continues to speak openly on topics many other people in the public eye would shy away from such as psychedelic drugs and marijuana use, conspiracies, and alien/human interaction. His is a considered and informed voice unlike any other in the media.
I spoke at length with Joe Rogan, and what I discovered may – once again – surprise you.
To be fair, it should be said that the following interview includes some of the notorious “7 words” George Carlin warned you about. Life’s tough, kids… wear a cup.
Dread Central: Ok, I’m going to start this recording, so everything you say from here on out will be held against you…
Joe Rogan: Holy shit!!
DC: Let’s start by me asking some easy questions. You play a lot of music in your podcasts. What are some of your favorite bands?
JR: That seems like it should be an easy question, but I never really fucking know what I really like. I’ve always loved classic rock. I’m a big fan of music from the 70s. I love The Allman Brothers and Hendrix and shit like that, but I’ve never sat down and quantified it or put together a Top 10.
DC: I was a buyer for Tower Records for like 10 years, so my tastes tend to run all over the place, from old school jazz to rock to whatever.
JR: I tried hard to get into jazz, but it is the one thing that, for whatever reason…
DC: I would think though that someone like yourself who does jiu-jitsu would really like it because it’s so freeform and improvisational.
JR: I don’t know. It just seems to me that they’re just kind of banging away on their instruments and I appreciate that and everything, but…
DC: Sometimes it feels like “Ok, this is everything I learned while I was at The Berklee School of Music” in three to five minutes. I used to take my wife to jazz shows and she’d always end up looking at me like, “What the fuck is this shit?!?!” Just a room full of guys all nodding their heads and laughing because of some technical thing the band was doing.
JR: [laughs] I wonder if there are a lot of female jazz fans? Is it more of a male-oriented thing?
DC: Well, I think there are a lot of female fans of things like “Quiet Storm” or “soft jazz” stuff like Kenny G.
JR: Is that really jazz though?
DC: Not really… But when you get into shit like Thelonius Monk or Coltrane, a lot of women tend to just look at you like you’re nuts. Now, I know you’re a reader and you’re kind of all over the spectrum on what you read…
JR: As far as fiction, I love horror books. It’s practically all I ever read. I don’t read anything about war or romance or politics, that’s all nonsense to me. I’m enjoying books by Joe Hill like HEART-SHAPED BOX and I have a copy of HORNS. I love King. Didn’t you and I talk about Guillermo del Toro’s THE STRAIN on my message board before?
DC: Yeah, we did…
JR: I liked it in the beginning. It was like, “Wow, this is kind of cool. It’s interesting,” but… I think we both talked about how, at the end, it was like he was just trying to finish it.
DC: I think that happens a lot. Writers will have this great idea and they’re cruising along and then they look at their word count and think, “Oh, shit! I’m getting to 170,000 words… I need to wrap this up.”
JR: How is the new one supposed to be?
DC: I’m so swamped with reading other stuff that I ended up thinking, “Do I spend a few days buzzing through something I know might be flawed or do I take a chance with some unknown quantity?” I’m hearing good things about King’s new book, Full Dark, No Stars.
JR: I haven’t picked up a King book in a while. I’m kind of skeptical since he laid off the drugs. [laughs]
DC: I think getting off drugs and getting hit by a car can change your perspective a bit. [laughs]
JR: Uh… Yeah… not just getting hit, but having your whole body ruined.
DC: You also read a lot of stuff that is non-fiction, stuff like Terrence McKenna, and that seems to have affected you pretty profoundly. I mean, a lot of the expanding consciousness stuff.
JR: Well, obviously I’m a huge fan of McKenna’s work. His books are very entertaining. His lectures I think are more entertaining. He was almost a better talker than he was a writer. His writing was very information-filled, but it was a bit flat as far as entertainment value. You had to really be into the subject matter, but I’m obviously fascinated by anything that has to do with the psychedelic experience and he was one of my favorite “psychonauts,” I guess you could call him, because he was such an intelligent guy and so brave about his quest to make people aware of the power of the psychedelic experience knowing very well that a lot of people were going to consider him to be a silly person for taking this on. It’s such a controversial topic. Whenever you get into the topic of psychedelic drugs, immediately you’re thought of as a nut.
DC: Or a hippie…
JR: Or a hippie or just a silly person… a person who’s not to be taken seriously. And I think that’s really a shame. I mean, it’s really a by-product of a bunch of different things. The actual accounts of real people who’ve done psychedelics… a lot of them are as silly as shit. There’re a lot of silly, knuckle-headed people that are into psychedelics, but there are also a lot of really brilliant people who have used psychedelics and changed their lives. But, for the most part, when we think about… even today, people who are really well known intellectuals or the flavor of the month like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens… you never hear of them expanding on the psychedelic experience. It’s one of those things that puts you in this weird sort of hole. It’s really odd to me that those guys don’t talk about psychedelics. I don’t know what kind of experience they have with them. I know Hitchens likes to drink, but… If your whole thread is about religion… If that’s what you’re constantly talking about and putting it in perspective for people who are zealots and trying to enlighten them, how do you not know or how do you not bring up psychedelics? That really is the elephant in the room.
I think the root of almost all real, true religious experiences is probably psychedelic drugs. I mean, that IS the connection to the Afterlife. It IS the connection to the higher power. It is the road map to the center of the mandala. It really is. What I’m saying is that it really is what all these people are looking for. All these people who are looking for this being touched by a higher power or this feeling of being in the presence of something divine or something indescribably wise… like really being in the presence of God. That really is what a true psychedelic experience gives you. It’s very humbling. You come out of it very loving. You come out of it feeling like you have a responsibility to do something about this experience and make it have a positive effect on your life. That is what all these people are looking for… all these people who are talking in tongues and throwing their arms up in the air and crying out for someone to come down and give them the wisdom. That’s what psychedelic drugs are there for, man. They’re there for you, but, for whatever reason, it gets left out of the debate because it’s thought of as a frivolous topic. If you’re the type of person who is into psychedelic drugs, you’re like… me. I’m an easy person to be dismissed.
DC: Well, look at someone like Ram Dass… It’s like, “You’re ok. Yeah, you’re a Harvard academic, but now that you’re openly talking about these drugs, you’ve gone way off the rails… and here’s an easy answer for sidelining you and, by extension of that, the debate.”
JR: Sure… and Timothy Leary as well.
DC: I wonder if by trivializing it, it diminishes its appeal… I mean, here’s a solution to everything people are looking for… and it’s easy… but there’s no cash in it. There’s no church-based economy inherent in it. Instead, we’ll trivialize it and say, “no…no… no… listen to the guy on the pulpit who talks about the Ten Commandments and Leviticus and blah blah blah…” because there we can tap into a revenue source and exert some control.
JR: There’s a little bit of that, but I think there’s also what you said – it’s too easy. I think, for a lot of people, the idea that you can just take a gigantic dose of mushrooms and have this insane, religious, powerful, all knowing experience… it just seems like a cop-out to people. You should be meditating on a mountain for thirty years to have that. You should earn that, you know what I mean?
DC: Staring at your navel…
JR: Yeah! The fact that you can get there with the same method that some goofy high school kid who just watched SOUTH PARK and giggle off of a few caps and stems… that’s the method you’re going to use to change your whole life? Whoa, you sound like a nut!
DC: You’ve kept to the organics, true? You’ve never done LSD or…
JR: I try to avoid anything that I know has completely wrecked people’s minds. A lot of that has been because I’ve been very fortunate to meet people who have fucked their brains up. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people with cocaine problems early on when I was really young, so… I was always terrified of coke. I had seen what it had done to people. I’d met people who’d had heroin problems and seen what that had done to them. So, I’d had some real clear evidence stuck in my face at a very young age that there is a lot of stuff that’s just not good for you. But, you don’t really hear that about marijuana. You don’t really hear that about hash. You don’t really hear that about mushrooms… Although, there is a depiction in the book TRUE HALLUCINATIONS where McKenna and his brother, Dennis were somewhere in South America and they took mushrooms and Dennis had some sort of a schizophrenic episode for a couple of weeks where he’d really lost his marbles. But, who knows what they were taking. They might have taken so much stuff…
DC: And you never know if there were already cracks in Dennis’ foundation before they dosed, you know? The trip might have just sort of brought those flaws to the surface.
JR: Yeah, absolutely. You just never know what kind of psychological state he was in when he took that stuff and that has a big effect on it.
DC: A lot of people know you as an actor, a standup, a martial artist, and a sports commentator, but you’re also a big horror fan and monster fan. Was that interest sparked early on? As a kid, were you gobbling that stuff up?
JR: Yeah, man… When I was really, really young, for as far back as I can remember, I loved monster movies. My mom used to be a horror movie fan and she used to watch movies with me when I was really young – like 5 and 6 – like vampire movies and shit like that. It was something I always really enjoyed. And still to this day, I always get really excited when a monster movie comes out. There’re just not enough of them, man… and the ones that are out all suck.
DC: While reading your message board, I sensed the outrage you had at Splice when it came out. You could tell you really wanted it to be good …
JR: It sucked SO hard. [laughs] The way I described it to people was, “Here’s how bad it was… they made this artificial human and they put this artificial human in a basement where it grew to full adulthood within a couple of months and, a couple of weeks after that, Adrien Brody fucked it. So, it’s not that he just fucked a monster, but he’s a pedophile monster fucker!” He fucked a baby monster. The whole thing was so wrong on so many different levels and so stupid and at the end when it changed sexes…
DC: What got me was… as soon as it got a dick, it went out raping.
DC: It was like in 28 Days Later, where the soldiers were capturing women to have sex with them. I’m like, “Dude, it’s been 28 days!” It’s not even been a month. I’ve gone a year without getting laid. Calm down!
JR: I know. It’s pretty ridiculous. I get upset… I got upset at THE WOLFMAN. It was so weak. I was really disappointed in Rick Baker because I was a huge Rick Baker fan as a kid. At one point in time in my life, I actually contemplated being a makeup artist when I grew up. I loved The Cantina scene in STAR WARS and how Baker would talk in great detail about how he fabricated all these masks and what he did with AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. I mean, AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON was awesome and was really a great werewolf movie even though the technology was a bit limited at the time. Like when he had the werewolf moving through Piccadilly Circus, moving through the crowd, you see him for a second, two seconds, you just see this thing on four legs and it’s fuckin’ awesome. It was terrifying. It looked menacing. It looked powerful. It looked like a real monster. And then you have this Benecio Del Toro thing where it’s a stupid mask and it looked so hokey with the bottom teeth sticking out like the old Lon Chaney, Jr. I guess they were trying to do a tribute to that, but god what a letdown. It wasn’t even remotely scary.
DC: When we sat down to watch it, as soon as Del Toro starts reciting Hamlet, we were like, “Oh boy…” [laughs]
JR: [laughs] “Here we go…”
DC: [laughs] But Baker goes from American Werewolf to Harry and the Hendersons . I think he just likes putting hair on people.
JR: You may be right there. HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS… you gotta kind of give him a pass on that. He was just trying to make a kid’s movie, but fuckin’ WOLFMAN… there’s no pass on that. I mean, the fuckin’ scene where Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins are fighting… Jesus Christ! It looked so dumb. It was awful. It’s like, “You guys have made a movie with 2010 technology and 1980s sensibilities. So hokey and shitty.
DC: When you say that you and your mom used to watch a lot of horror films, was this when you lived in San Francisco?
JR: No, it was even before then… when I lived in New Jersey. My whole life I’ve always been a huge, huge fan of horror movies, horror comic books. I just recently bought a bunch of the book versions of the CREEPY and EERIE comic books. I love those. They brought back a lot of memories.
DC: Do you remember the film that really hooked you?
JR: I was always a big fan of werewolf movies for whatever reason. Those were always my favorites. I loved THE HOWLING… I just loved the idea that some regular guy who was just going along in his life and all of a sudden he gets bit and now he’s fucked. And now, he’s got to figure out what to do because he turns into a monster. I just loved that.
DC: I think it taps into that whole “beast within” thing.
DC: From what I know of you, I notice there are a few things that are sort of touchstones. One is werewolves and the other is apes. You really seem drawn to those creatures. I mean, your special was called Talking Monkeys in Space and you have a production company called Talking Monkey Productions…Is your interest in apes part of that same thing that drives your interest in werewolves?
JR: Definitely. I mean, there’s a part of all of us, especially if you’ve experienced as much violence as I have, where you realize that there is a certain line that gets crossed in the human mind or the human psyche. There’s something in the consciousness that gets crossed where you literally are exactly the same as an animal. There’s no difference at all. There is no language. There’s no contemplation of the consequences of your actions. It’s just pure primate violence. I’ve been very close to that my whole life with martial arts and I’ve just seen a lot of fucked up shit in my life. I’ve always been fascinated by the origins of human beings and I have always had this deep, deep fascination with all sorts of primates. I find it amazing that these things, which are so similar to us, are all around us at zoos and, in some parts of the world, people actually live around them. It’s a really interesting thing. Any time someone gets fucked up by a monkey… Like if I go to the news or some shit like that and I see something like that guy in India who was a mayor of a city and he got killed by a monkey… that’s the first shit I want to read! [laughs] I wanna read it. Like “Whoa, what happened to that guy?”
DC: Or the woman who got her face eaten off who was on Oprah. What the fuck was that all about? [laughs]
JR: I’ve been telling people for years that chimps are super fuckin’ violent monsters. If chimps lived around us, we’d have to shoot them all the time. They’re really dangerous. They’re the closest things to us and they’re some of the most brutal and vicious animals in the animal kingdom because they’re intelligent and they have a plan. They go for your genitals. They bite your fingers off. They pull your face apart. They’re not trying to kill you. They’re trying to fuck you up and that’s a scary, scary thing.
DC: I remember a National Geographic documentary I watched once that showed an orangutan that was handed a coconut. He held it in his hand and suddenly you see coconut milk start leaking through his fingers and then the coconut just collapsed in his fist. There weren’t any grimacing or any visible signs of exertion. It just held it and crushed it – no problem.
JR: We can’t wrap our heads around how strong they are. They could literally pull your arms right off your body. POP! We were on the set of NEWSRADIO back in the day and there was a baby chimp on set for some scene and it was only two years old. This little guy got on my back and started beating on me. I was holding on to him and it was like he was made out of wood. He felt like he was carved out of ebony wood, just solid and dense. You can’t imagine how strong they are and this was a baby. A little tiny baby. Imagine a hundred and fifty pound grown male… my god! The strength those things have. And now, they’ve found those super chimps in the Congo called Bondo Apes. I am constantly fascinated by that. These are huge six foot tall chimpanzees that the locals call “lion killers.” They have two different names for chimps: “tree beaters” and “lion killers.” These enormous chimps… they sleep on the ground in nests like gorillas because no one fucks with them. They don’t even have to climb up in trees. They are so loked out, they just get to sleep wherever they want. They’re like, “Fuck you! Come get some!” These are giant chimps, man and they’re real. This was like a myth for the longest time… The book and the movie CONGO was a big part of that and it was based on mythology, based on some really old photos from the early 1900s. Someone had shot and killed one and they had it propped up on a stick, their arms were hanging from a stick and they had it standing at its full height. I remember it was a really controversial photo where people were like, “Is this a mutant gorilla? What is this thing?” As it turns out, it’s not a mutant gorilla. It’s an entire sub-species of huge chimpanzees that lives in one particular area of The Congo.
DC: But we take something like a chimpanzee and put it in a suit and put it on a tricycle and give it a smoke… just bizarre.
JR: I know, right? We have this weird thing that we do with all dangerous animals where we make them like our cute little buddies. Tony the Tiger… “They’re grrrrrreat!” Klondike Bars are sold by polar bears. Polar bears are fuckin’ ruthless cunts. They’re the most vicious animals. They live in the harshest climate. Have you ever seen videos of the polar bears trying to kill pilot whales that are stuck inside an ice patch? The whales get stuck and there’s only one hole where they can go to get air. There was too much ice for them to swim and get out to the open sea. So, they kept popping up in this one area. The polar bears recognized this and they started just clawing at them as they were doing that, just biting junks of them as they come up. You’d see these poor whales popping up every couple of minutes or so covered in scars and open wounds and every time they’d pop up, the polar bears were there grabbin’ them.
DC: I imagine the polar bears couldn’t image what it was that is underneath the ice… or the size of it.
JR: They don’t give a fuck.
DC: They just see a potential food source.
JR: They’re pretty ruthless, man. There’s a terrible story I read once where these guy’s boat hit an iceberg and was taking on water, so they had to get off the boat and onto an iceberg… or ice island… and they called for help, but help was hours away. So, as help is coming, they see a polar bear and the polar bear starts getting closer to them. Then, the polar bear dives off of one particular ice island that he’s on, dives into the water, comes onto their ice island, and kills one of the men. He then grabs him, swims through the water, pulls the body onto the other ice island and start eating him in front of everybody. Whoa…
DC: You once showed some drawings on your podcast that you did back when you were younger, and they were quite good. Was drawing something you lost interest in and replaced with something else?
JR: I had a bad high school art teacher who was kind of a dildo. He was one of those guys who was always telling you that life was going to suck. “You’re not going to be able to draw what you want.” He was a failure, you know? And he was promoting failure. He wasn’t saying, “If you work really hard, you can have a job as a comic book artist. You can do it. You can live your dreams.” He wasn’t that guy. He was the guy telling you, “Well, not that many people get that job. You probably won’t. You’ll probably wind up doing diaper ads.” That’s what I remember him saying… that you may have to draw diaper ads. That was like a big thing that he was pushing. I don’t know why it was diaper ads or why it really stuck in my head, but it did. I was like, “What the fuck, man?” All I wanted to draw was monster shit. I wanted to draw like CREEPY and EERIE type comic book shit. I used to make my own comic books and it was all that kind of stuff… and some Marvel stuff, too. I was really into THE PUNISHER and THE HULK and things along those lines. I really got into it, but this guy was just such a drag that, in my senior year in high school, I didn’t even take Art. I just stopped taking it. I kept drawing on my own. I still did it, but really I was just doing it for my own fun.
DC: As this was happening with the art thing, was this also around the time you found martial arts?
JR: Well, the art thing started really, really early. It started so early I don’t really know when. My mom just sent me a box of drawings and stuff from way back when I was like four and five, so… There was never a time in my younger years when I wasn’t doing art. It was as I got more into martial arts and as my art teacher started bumming me out… He was just really negative. He just never saw potential. It was like, “Why do you want to draw this all the time?” All my drawings were like axe murderers or werewolves or dragons or some Conan-type dude fighting off some three-headed beast. It was all that kind of shit because that’s what I was interested in, man. I was fucking fourteen years old and instead of nurturing that, he was the doom and gloom guy.
DC: Isn’t that always the way? “Those who can… do and those who can’t… teach.”
JR: It’s horrible, man. It makes me sad when I stop to think about it… Yeah, I know, it’s a really minor thing. “Boo-hoo to me… I had a douchey teacher.” Nobody raped me or anything. It’s pretty minor, but… It’s fine though. He actually probably did me a service because my life turned out really fun. This was my thought at the time, “Well I could always do art on my own. I don’t really need to do it for a living. I could always just do it for enjoyment.”
DC: It’s funny how a good teacher can elevate you and vice versa… I had a guy in junior high school who taught Hamlet and really made it come alive. That’s one polarity. The other is this art teacher who just shit all over everything.
JR: Yeah, man… you can get lucky. I had a really bad math teacher, too, which is the same thing; just doom and gloom and negativity. It was like, “You’re gonna be a loser.” You know, when you really stop and think about that, it’s almost criminal – telling kids that they’re going to be losers. You fuckin’ asshole. You’re a grown adult and you’re putting that seed in a child’s mind. But, they’re really doing that because they’re incredibly weak human beings. It’s so sad that that is what we’re left with in a lot of the public schools. We’re left with these people who don’t have this massive passion, for the most part, to be educators. They just don’t have a lot of options and this is what they’re doing. What they’re doing in teaching kids is… they’re providing these kids with their first sort of real view of the world. This is the real view of how you’re going to perceive mathematics and history and life and future careers and options as far as what you do for the rest of your life, and they’re idiots. It’s the weirdest thing. It’ll never make sense to me how teachers don’t get paid exorbitant amounts of money. I mean, martial arts teachers get paid really well. You can get a lot of money by teaching martial arts. I know guys like Renzo Gracie who probably makes a million dollars a year teaching jiu-jitsu. And yet, there’s these fuckin’ teachers who are really shaping the future of all these kids and they’re garbage.
DC: There’s nothing as depressing as when you go into a public school teacher’s lounge. Just broken people sitting there smoking, dreading their next class… and all for like nineteen grand a year.
JR: Ugh… can you imagine? It’s so hard to believe that that’s what they get paid, but those are real numbers. You can barely get by if you’re a fuckin’ teacher, and it’s such an important thing to provide for children.
DC: You look at the political arena and hear how everything is “about the children,” but then you start talking about raising the education budget and people flip out.
JR: I know, right? Think about all the money being spent on these wars, and even more so, how about the war on drugs? What about all the nonsense money being spent on that and they can’t come up with shit when it comes to education?
DC: Look at the prison system…
JR: Well, there’s a lot of money in the prison system now. The most frightening thing about the prison system in this country is that it’s being privatized. That is terrifying.
DC: How do you lock people in cages for profit?
JR: And no one says anything about it. No one’s clamoring for this to stop.
DC: You’ve talked in podcasts and interviews about how you have something of an obsessive personality… like the videogame Quake (which is where I first ran into you online). So, when you got into martial arts, did that come into play? Did you just jump into it with both feet?
JR: I’ve always been obsessive about pretty much everything from the time I was a little child. Anything I got into, whether it was drawing or anything, I got into it like crazy. Martial arts was really the first thing that ever gave me hope that I wasn’t going to be a loser. So I really, really gravitated toward it.
DC: Not being a loser… that’s a big thing for you.
JR: Yeah, well… I grew up around a lot of losers and one of them was my dad. There was a lot of desire to not be like that guy and not be like all of these people around me who had no hope and no future. And when you’re insecure and your parents break up when you’re really young and you grow up poor, there’s this overwhelming desire to make sure that this never, ever happens again. When I was young, I wasn’t concerned with “Hey, I just want to go and have some fun and hang out with my buddies.” It was “I don’t want to be a loser when I grow up.” That was the number one theme in my head. Martial arts was really the first thing where I was a clear winner at something. Like, “Hey, I’m good at this. I have an identity now. I am somebody. I can be good at something.”
DC: There’s obviously this positive aspect of training, but have you ever encountered anything negative?
JR: To training?
DC: Yeah, for instance… you’ve talked about how you’ve blown your knees out.
JR: Well, overwhelmingly it’s been positive because even the knee surgery thing… I still practice martial arts and I have no knee problems. Fortunately, they have surgery now and they can fix things. There are always injuries and there are psychological setbacks and things can be very, very difficult. But those things – those setbacks – are good because you rise above them and you learn. “Hey, when things are bad and when you fuck up, you can actually take that fuck up and grow because of it.” You can use it as a tool and learn from it. So, I would say that it was overwhelmingly positive. It’s a huge learning experience. I think for kids one of the most important things for them is to do something really difficult so that they learn that they can do something difficult. That something that seems insurmountable like when you’re first learning martial arts and you take your first class and you throw a kick and you’re all off balance and you feel goofy, you will never imagine that one day you’ll be throwing three-sixty spinning wheel kicks in the air. It’s like, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this, no way I’m going to win tournaments against some of the best guys in the country. There’s no way that’s going to happen.” It seems like it’s impossible. It seems so far away that it can’t be reached. But it can be reached. You can make it. You just have to believe in it and you have to keep growing and keep going and keep moving forward.
I have this new tattoo that’s of this samurai Miyamoto Musashi fighting this tiger and it’s my whole right sleeve. One of the reasons I got it is… pretty much my whole life… I read this Miyamoto Musashi quote when I was young from THE BOOK OF THE FIVE RINGS and it’s that once you understand The Way broadly, you can see it in all things. What he’s saying is that once you understand what it takes to get good at something, once you understand what it takes to get Zen, to fall into whatever it is – the mindset, the discipline plus energy plus focus – all those things to get great at something, you can do that with ANYTHING. You can do that with music. You can do that with writing. You can do that with anything. It’s just a matter of time and focus and energy, and it is truly all the same thing. It all comes from the same place. It’s all focusing on whatever that is and then channeling the energy of the universe to create something. And that, to me, was the biggest lesson in martial arts. It was that I could DO this and, if I could do THIS, I can do anything. It’s really the same thing that got me good at standup comedy. It’s the same thing that gets me good at every aspect of my life.
DC: Some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned have been found in failure and getting my ass kicked both figuratively and literally. And as painful as those lessons were, they all taught me something which, in the long run, made me a better person. Failure can either make you or break you. You learn from those mistakes and those defeats, and it all helps to hone the blade. So, because you do live – what with working for the UFC and with your own training – in a world of violence, and considering that a lot of things in life come out in art, do you think that violence in art can go too far?
JR: Not too far… I mean, it can go too far for me where I don’t enjoy it or it might go too far for you. But my “too far” might not be as far as your “too far”, and your “too far” might not be as far as another guy’s “too far.” It’s all subjective. For one person to say that a violent movie is too violent… No, it’s too violent FOR YOU. The person who created this movie obviously enjoyed it. There are a lot of films that are very disturbing. Look at SE7EN… that was a fuckin’ deeply disturbing movie. To some people it was too much. To some people it was like, “What is the point of making a movie like this?” But not to me and I’m going to assume not to you. It might not be good to you, but what is it? Whatever anybody’s done in a movie, it does not come close to depicting what must have been experienced by real, live people during The Holocaust. All the shit that you hear about experiments that were done on people, some of the crazy shit that the Japanese were doing… Art often mirrors real life and, if that’s the case, then there is no line that you can cross because every fuckin’ horrific thing imaginable has actually been done by someone. You might not want to see it and that’s understandable, but that’s your choice. It’s not like someone’s going all CLOCKWORK ORANGE on you and propping your eyelids open with toothpicks.
DC: You always have the remote to shut it off. Do you think your experiences with things like DMT and other psychedelics have opened up your imagination to certain genre films and literature? I mean, once you’ve seen reality take a distinct and mind-expanding bend, are you open to more expressionistic art and concepts?
JR: That’s an interesting question. I think once you’ve seen what you can see in a full-blown DMT experience, it does sort of open you up. In your mind or in your imagination, there’s a fence somewhere where everything past this fence is preposterous and the DMT experience is so preposterous, but so real, that you kind of go, “Do we need these fences anymore? Let’s just knock these down, because even if I don’t go there, we don’t need these fences.”
DC: I equate it to pain tolerance. I mean, you talk to a young girl and she cuts her finger and it hurts. But then, you talk to a woman who’s given birth and that cut finger is no longer a concern because, as you’ve said, the fences have been moved. Now, her concept of pain and your concept of what is preposterous have been altered.
JR: I think it certainly changes. I think your perception of everything changes when you have such a mind-blowing experience. People have talked about how much being abducted by aliens has altered their view of the world. They don’t feel as if they live in this innocent world anymore. They feel like everyone around them really has no idea. They’re almost like children who are insulated from this brutal reality. The reality of what alien abduction probably is… I don’t know what people are experiencing, but it’s most likely that they are having a DMT experience which is happening organically. Almost all alien abductions take place while people are sleeping. We know that when you’re sleeping, you’re brain is producing psychedelic chemicals. People can have panic attacks. People can have adrenaline rushes. You could easily be having some sort of DMT rush and you can have it while you’re sleeping. You can have some incredibly intense experience that feels real. And you know what… this whole idea of discounting it by saying, “Ohhh, it feels real that you went to some other dimension and were taken aboard a spacecraft, but it’s really a hallucination.” I’m not even sure about that. I’m not sure that it, instead of a hallucination, is not possibly a real experience. Like what you’re experiencing is not a chemical that perturbs reality, but in fact the chemical that opens up a gateway to another reality. That’s just as possible.
DC: Someone on your messageboard asked a question about “sleep catalepsy” or “sleep paralysis” and, because I happen to work a regular job in sleep medicine, I tried to explain what was going on. But what was interesting was that my post explaining this was sort of dismissed because the idea that something spooky was going on was sexier, you know what I mean?
JR: That’s a good point.
DC: People really want to believe that something otherworldly is going on.
JR: They want to believe SO much. It drives me crazy because I want to believe, too, but I recognize what it is. I have a lot of friends that have real fuckin’ issues with UFOs. Some of them WANT to believe. I’m not saying that UFOs aren’t real. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t take a position unless you’ve had personal experience, and even that personal experience should be evaluated as objectively as possible. “Was I hallucinating? Did I have some sort of schizophrenic experience? Am I looking at this from a realistic point of view, or am I just tricking myself into thinking this is really happening?” Critical thinking is really lacking from people who are looking for that “sexy” experience.
DC: Have you ever gone to a UFO convention?
JR: I haven’t actually. I’m sure they must be fuckin’ crazy.
DC: Some of them are crazy. They’re so intent on it all being real. It reminded me of this documentary I saw that talked about how we make up our minds on a visceral level and then we begin to accept or reject information filtered through that emotional decision we’ve already made in our minds.
JR: Absolutely. We look for validation to confirm our ideas and it’s not objective. That is my problem with a LOT of people when it comes to this goddamn UFO experience. I’ve talked to people that say, “I’ve done research, man! I’m watching these YouTube videos… All these people can’t be lying!” Oh, yes they can! Is it possible that there is a liar? Yes! I know liars. Do you know liars? Yes. We all know liars. So it’s possible that there are a thousand liars. Or a million. And some of these people might not even be liars. They might be crazy or imbalanced. You’re telling me that you can’t find a hundred imbalanced people? I can find a hundred unbalanced people in a day. If you just let me drive around Los Angeles and just stop people on the street and ask them a few questions about Life… “What do you think about this? What do you think about that? Has this ever happened to you? Do you believe that you’re psychic?” I guarantee you… You give me a full eight-hour day and I can find a hundred unbalanced people easily. A hundred people where you couldn’t trust a goddamned thing they said. If they said the sky was blue, you’d need to double-check on that. If they said that the water is wet, you’d say, “I’m not sure! If you say water is wet… we might have to check.”
DC: And yet these are the people that get held up as “authorities.” Art Bell used to do it and now George Noory does it on Coast To Coast AM… They have these people talking just crazy shit in an authoritarian manner and people believe them. I mean, the guy may be a little sketchy, but the fact that he’s preaching to the choir, he gets a pass.
JR: Preaching to the choir is really dangerous. You need people to step in and question what is going on because these people really don’t want it to be fake. They don’t want these people to be crazy. It’s a belief system that’s just as rigid and silly as Christianity or anything else.
DC: Look at Jesse Ventura…
JR: Yeah! Everything, man… “9/11 was an inside job.” Do you know for sure, man? Is it possible there was incompetence? Is it possible that it was a combination of incompetence and SOME PEOPLE knowing? Did they maybe know something was going to happen, but didn’t know the extent?
DC: I wanted to talk to you about your messageboard. I’ve been a member there for seven or eight years, give or take, and I am fascinated by it. Not only because it is such an eclectic collection of people, but it’s become my number one news source… as weird as that sounds. [laughs]
JR: Mine, too.
DC: It’s a place where I can get instantaneous spin in both directions. And… where else can you get hard news backed up against World Star Hip Hop videos? [laughs] So, how did it all come about? Was it an organic thing?
JR: Yeah, completely organic. It was started in 1998. It was some free EZ Board software. Andrew, the guy who created my website and has created every single incarnation of it except the latest one, said, “Hey, maybe we should have a little messageboard where we could all post shit.” We were thinking it would be like ten people, and that’s what it was at the time. A lot of it was the guys we played Quake with. It was just all of our friends online, just a small handful of people. Then, somehow or another, it got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, and before you knew it, there were thousands of people… and before you knew it there were a million posts… and before you knew it there were MILLIONS of posts. And it just got crazier and crazier. It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced.
DC: I’d been online for a long time when I found it and was pretty hardcore… You know, getting in people’s faces, “flaming,” etc., but when I encountered your board, that was the one place I felt like I needed to step back and lurk a little. I just found almost everyone there not only really funny, but really smart and well informed. They were also amazingly adept at taking someone’s argument and pulling it apart. Almost immediately I was hooked and being there got me into your comedy and your outlook, and I’ve been there ever since. That said, I can’t help but feel like it’s also a huge promotional tool for you.
JR: I guess so, but I very rarely use it as a promotional tool. The Board is pretty much The Board. I think if I went on there and was like, “Hey, guys… come support me and vote for me on this and buy my shit and do this here and do that there…” If that was everything I did… Even on Twitter, every now and then, I’ll say, “Hey, I’m performing here” or “Hey, this is going on” and I’ll get all these people saying, “How about using Twitter for something other than marketing?!” People just douche on you left and right over stuff like that. If I had done that, I don’t think The Board would have become what it is. I think what it is is… it’s The Board. It’s its own thing. I mean, it has my name on it and I guess I have to take some sort of responsibility because I’ve nurtured this environment where you can post photoshopped pictures of people with dicks in their mouths and the next post is about the Large Hadron Collider and its effects on humanity and then right after that is a post about how many dicks has Sasha Grey sucked in her life and it’s a real debate… [laughs]
It’s the strangest board ever. It’s like religion and philosophy and psychedelic drugs, but really what it mirrors more than anything are my own personal interests and my mind and the personal interests and minds of like-minded people. That’s what we’re getting at the place. There are so many people who think so very, very similarly and all of us together are in this group and we found sort of a home where a bunch of other people think that way as well and we can meet up online. There are a lot of silly people on The Board. There are a lot of people who are Conspiracy Theory people. There are a lot who are hardcore vegetarians and vegans and they want to argue about shit. There are people who are Conservative and they want to argue about Liberals. There’s just a lot of shit going on that is not necessarily along the lines of how I think, but just having them all there in this sort of big group hive, I think it provides a chance for everyone to evolve and see all these different people’s experiences and different points of view and get a feeling for it. It’s just a very, very rare environment, very rare opportunity we have to have all that together in one meeting spot where you kind of know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get freedom. You don’t know what you’re going to get as far as topics. Any day you can click on Shit Talking 101 and be blown away by some new, weird revelation, discovery, or scientific innovation. There’s always something going on or someone who has a point of view that you disagree with or agree with or someone who posts a video that makes you rethink your whole life. That happens EVERY DAY on that board.
DC: What I find interesting is that without too much intervention by you or the moderators there’s an equilibrium that gets established. The community supports the people who make good points but also squashes down the radical goofballs. And, in the end, if you read everything and you keep in touch, you get a really good barometer of how people are thinking… especially people who are pretty smart. I think even the “dumbest” person on your board could probably be the “smartest” person on somebody else’s board, you know?
JR: It’s intimidating and I think it keeps really, really dumb people from expressing their opinion because they read all the shit that people talk about. A perfect example… there was a recent thread where two guys were having a debate on the pros and cons of growth hormone therapy and they started getting into all these fuckin’ crazy details about science and it got really heavy. Really intense, intelligent discussions, breakdowns, and scientific analysis… and I thought, “What a weird board this is!” It’s such a weird place that such a really deep and intelligent discussion can take place right next to “scat porn.” You can literally scroll down to the next post in that same thread and see a guy on his keyboard covered in shit with a log of shit in his mouth. [laughs] There’re no rules, man. It’s like your mind. At any moment you can be standing next to some old lady and the thought comes into your mind, “I could, if I wanted to, kick this old lady into traffic.” You don’t do it, but that thought is there and it’s like that on this board. Somebody might be debating the UFC and out of that – BOOM! – there’s a photo of two guys fuckin’ each other in the mouth. [laughs] It’s like, “Why is that there?!?” [laughs] I don’t know, but that’s how it goes there.
DC: I see the board and your involvement on Twitter and the podcast you do as part of this new model of interacting with one’s audience. Your access to your audience is amazing and you’re really free about it and you’re really giving in how you give out information. I’m now seeing other people in the public eye adopting what you’ve been doing for a long time. Did you at any time say, “This is the way of the future. This is the way that we ought to go” or was it, again, more organic?
JR: Totally organic. The Twitter thing was organic as well. I’m looking at my Twitter right now and here’s this guy that has an Albert Hoffman/Alex Grey portrait as his avatar and he’s letting me know that there’s a NOVA special on fractals coming up. Then there are people from the UK who want to know when I’m coming to do a show there, and then there’s another one that wants to talk about some shit that’s going down with the Wikileaks papers that are being released about the Iraq War. It’s really very similar to the messageboard. I post things that I find interesting. I post up things on my Twitter that, to me, are intriguing and things that I think are something I would like to know about if somebody else had this information… Show me! Tell me what’s up. Here’s a study on psilocybin at John Hopkins Medical Center about how psilocybin leads to spiritual realizations. So I put this up on my Twitter, and then all these people thank you and they retweet it. It really becomes just like the messageboard. It’s very, very similar. But there are more people on my Twitter than are even on the messageboard. I mean, how many members are there? I think it only has forty-five thousand or something like that, but my Twitter has like two hundred plus. So it’s really the same thing. It’s like “build it and they will come.”
DC: And the weekly podcast came about the same way?
JR: Yeah, same thing. The podcast was totally organic. It started out with me and Brian Redban sitting in front of laptops bullshitting. It’s kind of beautiful in that respect. It’s almost a year old now and, in that year, you can see the full evolution from sitting in front of a laptop to professional microphones and a mixer and a soundboard. For a long time people were complaining about the sound issues so… we figured it all out. We got it all together slowly over time. Now, it’s not just me and Brian… Now, I’m getting guests and every day I’m getting emails from people who want to promote their books or their thing, some guy from Vegan.com wants to come on and debate me about eating animals… There are all sorts of different things that are happening with it now. Again, it’s totally organic. It just sort of happened. I didn’t sit down and say, “Hey, what I’m going to do is that I’m going to create my own radio show. Since nobody wants to give me a radio show, I’m going to make my own.” No. It just sort of fuckin’ happened.
DC: Did I hear something about the podcast being picked up by Sirius satellite?
JR: Yeah, it’s picked up. We’re working out the details right now as far as revenue and advertising and stuff, but yeah… it’s going to be on Sirius. It should be cool. But honestly, I don’t know how many more people it’s going to reach on Sirius than it’s going to reach on iTunes. We’re getting hundreds of thousands of downloads every week.
DC: You said recently that when you were abroad people were coming up to you and saying, “Your podcast is really changing the way I’m thinking.”
JR: A LOT of people are saying that.
DC: How heady is THAT?
JR: It’s very heady because it’s something I never considered. I just thought we were entertaining, but… We’re stoned as fuck and we start talking about Life and Philosophy and I start talking about how I really and truly feel and how I think about things… I take a lot of time to consider my opinions. I don’t have flippant opinions on things, and if I do, I’m more than willing to reconsider those opinions and talk about them. I’m not married to any of the ideas that I keep in my head. So when I talk about this and my critical objective reasoning that I use when I’m thinking about something or when I’m considering a subject, those methods, that way of thinking and communicating… There’re a lot of people who don’t get that. They don’t have that around them. They’re surrounded by the same sort of knuckleheads that they grew up with or work with or whatever and they don’t have… you know… drug-addled weirdos around them or whatever it is. [laughs] Or people who are open-minded or free thinkers or someone who’s not chained-down to a job where they can’t be free to express themselves. That’s a lot of it, too. The reason why people think a certain way is because they kinda have to, man. If you’re in a fuckin’ job where you work for Verizon in Corporate Sales, you can’t be running around talking about DMT.
DC: I also think the podcast – like your Twitter and your board – is this cornucopia of topics where you can go from an informed MMA discussion to, in my opinion, a Master’s Class on comedy. You guys talking about the nuts and bolts of constructing bits… it’s amazing. People can’t get that kind of thing anywhere.
JR: You don’t get that anywhere. I mean, most other comedy podcasts even don’t talk about that stuff. I think, for some people, they don’t want to… I don’t know. Maybe they’re self-conscious, maybe they don’t think about it that much, maybe they have an opinion that the show should be more professional or something. You know, I’ve been on other people’s podcasts before and I kind of get disappointed when we start talking and it’s so regimented. Their questions are very much like, “Here comes another question that I have prepared.” When I get people on my podcast, I don’t prepare at all. I mean, I do… I know who my guests are, I know what they do, so I have things that I find interesting that I would like to talk to them about, but it’s not like I have a sheet of paper with thirty questions that I have to ask. That’s not how it goes. It’s more open-ended. What’s cool about the podcast is that it’s a conversation and what people get out of it is that it’s just… I ran into this nineteen-year-old kid from Ireland in Boston who was telling me, “You’ve changed the way I look at the world. There’s no one like you near me in Ireland and because of you and your friends on the podcast, it’s really making me reconsider my entire life.”
DC: That’s got to be amazing.
JR: It’s pretty intense, but it’s awesome. I love it. I have formulated my philosophies over a long life, over a life filled with very extraordinary experiences. I’ve gotten a lot out of that by taking chances in life, by developing my character, by doing very difficult tasks and learning from them and understanding my motivations and understanding my desires, my thought processes, and objectively looking at Life in general, Life and the universe. All of these big pictures that a lot of people just don’t get the opportunity, the chance, they don’t get the time to consider all of these things. I think it’s great. It gives me a certain amount of responsibility, but no more responsibility than I have for myself. I mean, I have a responsibility to my own mind to consider things in a certain light. So I don’t think there is any more responsibility having all of these people that are into the podcast where it’s influencing their lives. I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s great. I’m happy for it. I don’t feel any additional pressure though. It’s just… It’s all good.
DC: Speaking of life experiences… I know you’re writing a book. How is that going?
JR: It’s going great. It’s fun.
DC: Is the way that you’re writing the book the same way that you write your blogs?
JR: Yep! It’s all disconnected and fucked up. [laughs] It’s written just like the blogs. It’s all longer blogs connected together, a series of essays, and thoughts on life. My tentative working title is “Irresponsible Advice from a Man with No Credibility”, and a lot of it is shit that I’ve learned about life and a lot of it is half tongue-in-cheek where I give advice. Advice like you should forget the economy. It’s nonsense. It doesn’t make any sense to hope it doesn’t fall apart and if it does, even if you plan for it, what are you going to eat, dried fruit in your fuckin’ basement? How are we going to get through this? Instead of thinking about all of these things, just concentrate on what you do enjoy and enjoy your life. Don’t worry about what money is because money really isn’t anything. Forget about it. Just make enough so you don’t have to worry about it. That’s it. That’s my advice. Politics? Fuck them! Fuck them in their asses. [laughs] Move to the place where you can get the most freedom. Vote local politics… they’re probably still real. National politics are a gigantic clusterfuck of corporate interests and special interest groups influencing politicians and creating laws that are designed to make other people more money. Period. That’s exactly what it all is. Stay the fuck out of it. Stay out of these Republican versus Democrat arguments. Stay out of these silly arguments about what we should be doing in Afghanistan. Just get out of there. Just stop. Stop with all of that. Concentrate on what you enjoy. Concentrate on your own life. That’s a big part of this book. It’s like trying to explain to people that this life is really a transient experience and you can waste a massive amount of it just doing what other people want you to do, playing their game. I know so many intelligent people that get caught up in politics and they want to talk to me about it. “Did you hear what happened with Nancy Pelosi in The House?” Why don’t you just talk to me about fuckin’ what happened with The Undertaker and Triple H? It’s the same shit. You’re talking to me about nonsense, man! You’re not talking to me about anything real.
DC: Any discourse in which the likes of people like Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell are major players… Yikes!
JR: The whole Sarah Palin thing…Every time I watch Glenn Beck talk about her running for President or any of these fucking pundits that actually treat her seriously, to me, that’s like, “There’s a string above that puppet, ok? I’m looking at the string and you’re not addressing the fact that there’s a string there. How come there’s a string right there and you’re not saying anything about it?” I can’t take that shit seriously. I have to change the channel. It’s like crazy nonsense. What they’re doing now is recognizing that Sarah Palin gets ratings so they’re pretending that Sarah Palin would be a good President. No one is stepping up and saying, “You crazy bitch, you haven’t read a book… ever! And you want to be President? You’re a dingbat!”
DC: Recently, she said, “We have to support our North Korean allies.” [laughs]
JR: I heard that! [laughs] Hilarious! You fuckin’ clown! You fuckin’ clown-shoe!
DC: Is there an editor on the book, or are you writing everything?
JR: Sort of, but… I’m not really going to listen to them to be honest with you. I had one guy and it was really gross. They had one guy who was a writer who was assigned to work with me, and after I sent him the first thing, I got these notes back from him and it was so ridiculous. I was like, “Dude… we can’t work together.” He wanted to change this and add that and make things much more obvious, and the way he wanted to start the chapters was clunky. It was like we were doing it for idiots. It’s really how I felt. It was too intrusive. I was like, “I’m just going to give you a full book. I’m going to give it to you and it’ll be done and hopefully you’re going to love it.”
DC: And if not…
JR: And if not, then I don’t need ya. I’ll just release the shit online. I don’t give a fuck. This whole Internet and what’s going on right now in the world with the access the average everyday person has to things… to sell their things, to push the things… any information that they have or any product that they’ve created… You have this weird access to other human beings to market to that was never available before. It’s really fascinating. It’s a beautiful time, man.
DC: Look at a guy like Andre Dodson. There’s a guy who now has kind of a career going and that was only from him being on the Internet.
JR: He really does. He’s doing commercials and shit. I don’t know how long he can keep it up, but he’s trying. He’s riding it. We live in very, very unique times where the average person no longer has to rely on the established media companies like a newspaper or a magazine or a publishing company. You can just publish a blog. You can put an eBook out. You can make your own music. There are people and bands that have become very successful just because of the Internet now. Like Die Antwoord… that South African band that I’m really into. That guy got famous from the Internet with millions of hits on YouTube and now they’re selling out arenas. It’s amazing! It’s an amazing, amazing time.
DC: Explain a bit about Higher Primate.
JR: Oh, the clothing company? That’s sort of an organic thing, too. I had an idea for a shirt that I wanted to get done and I found some artists and we collaborated on an idea. They drew it up and I wore it for my special, TALKING MONKEYS IN SPACE. Once I had that done, we started talking about putting together a store and putting together a bunch of different designs and shirts. We have a bunch of new ones that we’re working on now. We put them out and they sold out SO fast. We then said, “OK, well… it looks like we got something here. Let’s make some more.” I’m taking the same approach that I did with the website and Twitter and everything else – just letting it develop on its own. It’s the same thing I did with the podcast. It will become much bigger than it is and I’m going to keep going with it and let people get into it. I didn’t do any advertising. I mean, I told people on Twitter, “Hey, here’s my thing,” Brian Redban posted something on the messageboard, and that’s all it took. It sold pretty much all of the units that I had initially and now we’re ordering new ones, and like I said, we have some new ideas. It’s really kind of cool, you know? It’s just something that happened on its own.
DC: Where are you finding your artists?
JR: We got them through a connection that my manager has. They’re these really cool guys who are weird and have tattoos on their knuckles and shit. Just a bunch of strange guys from Silver Lake who have done a lot of stuff for a lot of bands like Foo Fighters and a bunch of different movies and shit. They’re doing some stuff for COWBOYS AND ALIENS right now. They’re really good artists and really cool guys with the perfect sensibility. They know where I’m coming from so we kind of sit down and talk about stuff and it’s really interesting.
DC: Is the clothing line a sort of Plan B?
JR: It’s just because I think it would be cool to have a bunch of shirts like that.
DC: So, no real business plan… [laughs]
JR: Yeah. No plan… Not with anything I’ve done. Ever! [laughs] My entire career… there’s been no plans. I just kind of go.
DC: The book is coming soon. You continue to perform stand-up. You’ll continue to do the UFC… which seems to be like the greatest gig ever.
JR: Fun gig, yeah! I’m just enjoying what I’m doing. Ultimately, I’ll probably just do stand-up comedy. That’s where it will go eventually. I’ll probably stop doing the UFC someday. When? I don’t know. The traveling and everything… I prefer to travel just for the comedy.
DC: I know that you’re married and have kids, which is something you seem to be ferociously private about. That seems to be the one part of your life that you put up some pretty solid walls on. I imagine that the traveling inherent in doing comedy… and then you throw the UFC in there… that’s got to be tough.
JR: Traveling when you have kids is not fun. You miss them, but you have to make a living. It really makes me appreciate them when I’m away from them for a couple of days and I come back so… There are some good things to it. I definitely think that traveling flavors your life and it gives you more insight into the human animal and it makes you a better comic. Stand-up comedy is ALL about your perception and, if your perceptions are very limited or very local, that’s what you’re going to have. You’re going to have this limited perspective, this limited point of view, and I think that’s a terrible thing for your art. But, ultimately, I do think that I will be traveling just for stand-up comedy. I’ll eventually stop doing the UFC, When? I’m not sure. I don’t have any immediate plans. It’s something I toss around in my mind and it’s also confusing for some people sometimes that I’m a stand-up comedian/cage fighting commentator. I mean, everything I’ve done in my career has been… none of it seems like it makes sense. When I was a stand-up comic, FEAR FACTOR didn’t make any sense. Like, “This guy is a comedian and a fuckin’ FEAR FEACTOR host? That doesn’t make sense.” And the UFC makes even less sense. I’ve done a lot of weird stuff.
DC: But I think when you scratch the surface, it kind of does make sense once someone gets to know you a little better.
JR: Yeah, ’cause these are my interests. Well, FEAR FACTOR maybe no… The only thing about FEAR FACTOR that made sense was my experience with competitive athletics. I knew how to motivate people and help them and get them goin’. There were a lot of times on that show where I was genuinely entertained and enjoyed it and really was happy for the people who won and it was a positive experience, but… For a lot of the other parts of the show, it was just a job. A good job, but… a job.
(Interview ran on Dread Central in January of 2011)
Cigarette smoke swirled in the bright beams of light pouring in through the windows of Kathy Mae Gilbert’s trailer home. The smoke danced like willowy strands of ether within the pillars of luminosity that stabbed their way through her thin, Kmart curtains. Inside the trailer, the air was a dank, cough-inducing fog bank that never seemed to go away;, satisfied just to hang in the air and whirl over the faded velveteen couch. Next to the sofa, a worn, faux-leather La-Z-Boy roosted, the sheen of its fake hide rubbed off in the spots where it came in repeated contact with human skin. The furniture sat like squatters in front of an old, wood-veneered Motorola television set. Against one wall, half a dozen boxes from a move made six months ago waited to be unpacked. The place was a shit-hole, but for Kathy Mae it was home, a squalid fortress of solitude to come to and rest her bones after working double shifts at the Hog & Dog Ddiner and do exactly what she was doing now: sit and smoke and pretend for a moment that her life had gone a different way.
Kathy Mae had been a smoker since she was twelve and never once did she consider quitting. Her Daddy taught her to smoke when she was little. It had been one of his parlor tricks when guests came over to drink beer and work on cars. “Watch my li’l girl… she’s so damn growed up… she even smokes!” But even before that, she’d always thought smoking was cool. People in the movies smoked and they looked cool. Daddy smoked and he was also cool. These days though, Daddy was also dead and buried. Throat and lung cancer claimed him several years ago. Kathy Mae could still remember seeing him sitting on the porch of his house, smoking through the tracheotomy tube in his neck.
Before she knew it, nicotine had its hooks into her and she was fully addicted by the time she hit high school. Her smoking was like a lethal legacy handed down, just one of many bad habits given to her by her parents. Hell, she’d even smoked, despite her doctor’s warnings, through the entire length of her pregnancy. And why the hell not? She never wanted kids and would have been all too happy to have left her womb a barren landscape. Unfortunately, Billy Ray Beaumont saw to it that that was not to be.
Billy Ray had sweet-talked Kathy Mae at the Leslie County Swap Meet and wined and dined her on a spectacular buffet of frozen pizza rolls and Mad Dog 22. Theirs was a union made in hillbilly heaven, but from the start it had been destined for failure.
One dark and stormy night, when he informed her that he’d forgotten to bring a condom (a “jimmy,” he’d called it), she was just liquored up enough to say “What the fuckheck.” Billy Ray didn’t have it in him to drive straight, what were the odds that he could shoot straight?
Pretty good from the sound of the screaming brat in the other room.
“Okay, you little shit dispenser!” she shouted. “I’m comin.’”
She stalked into the other room and lifted the screaming baby by one arm out of the laundry basket where he, more often than not, spent the day sleeping and crying and swimming in his own shit. The baby wailed loudly and kicked its legs in the air, to little effect. The child, Johnny Garth Beaumont by name, had been brought into the world with a criminally low birth weight a little over a year ago and he’d gained precious little in the way of body mass. The little shit brat had been colicky for the last week or so and Kathy Mae’s nerves now bore the stretch marks of his foul mood.
“Jeezus H… Will you shut the fuck hell up!?!” Kathy Mae screeched into the baby’s wailing face.
Johnny continued to blubber loudly and flail his spindly limbs.
Kathy Mae slapped him twice sharply across the back of his legs and tucked him into the crook of her left arm. She unbuttoned the front of her grease-stained waitress uniform and hauled one of her pale breasts out from the sweat-sodden depths. Roughly, she pushed the nipple into the baby’s mouth, hoping he’d nurse or, at the very least, quiet down. Either one would have been just fine for her. She looked down, annoyed, and sighed in frustration when he didn’t. Johnny didn’t seem to want her nip, he just continued kicking and crying like a banshee. His lone tooth, sticking up from his gum -line like a headstone, glimmered dully in the dim light.
“Fucking kid…,” she said. “I cain’t give you what you want to make you stop cryin’ if’n you don’t tell me what it is you fuckin’ want!” The last word sounded like the desperate cry of someone at the end of her rope.
Johnny spit the anemic areola from his mouth, threw his head back, and let out another ear-splitting wail. The baby’s eyes were full of tears, the corners caked with a gummy sludge. A high fever raged like a fire within his little brain and nothing Kathy Mae did or could do would stop it. The baby had lain for far too long in the cold trailer; his body rife with a combination of the flu, colic, and rampant malnutrition. Kathy Mae’s breast milk was pitifully inept at providing the nutrients he needed in order to fight off the host of viruses that now coursed through his system. All his mother’s body was able to give to him was a lethal mixture of nicotine, alcohol, and cheap diner food with just a splash of methamphetamine.
“Gawd damn ya, ya ankle biter, eat will ya!?”
Kathy Mae propped up the child’s head and pressed his face against her breast with all her might, thinking that she could make the baby eat with a combination of brute force and strong will.
The child managed to pull back from her far enough to catch a quick breath and let out another wail of pain and frustration. Kathy Mae took the sides of his head in her hand and pressed his face back to the meat of her breast.
Johnny’s mouth and nose were smothered by the drawn flesh that surrounded the fatty tissue of Kathy Mae’s breast. He tried in vain to move his head in order to pull some air through his turned-up nose, but Kathy Mae’s grip was too strong and his underdeveloped muscles were far too weak. His little hands beat against her chest futilely. Saliva coated both the nipple in his mouth and his face, but still Kathy Mae pressed on.
“Eat will ya, goddamnit? Eat!”
Johnny’s lungs screamed out for oxygen, but his mother, either in apathy or anger, ignored his plight. His tiny fists beat with less and less force against her bony chest, his strength draining from him like water through a colander. The smell of tobacco and speed-laden sweat was the last thing to flit through his diminishing senses before Johnny Garth Beaumont died in his mother’s indifferent arms.
After a few minutes, Kathy Mae drew the baby from her breast and roughly wiped his mouth of spent lactate with the back of her hand.
“You done?” she asked, not registering in the sparse light the child’s slightly blue tinge. “You just lay here for a minute and I’ll change ya just as soon as you shit that out.”
She laid Johnny down on the tattered, yellow sofa and went off to fetch herself another cigarette.
~ * ~
An hour or so later, Kathy Mae had damn near forgotten about Little Johnny and his crying. He’d been so quiet since she’d fed him last that it was almost like he wasn’t even on the planet. She figured that, by now, it had to be just about time to change him.
“A goddamn cow on a milking machine, that’s all I am to you,” she said as she walked over to the couch. She plopped herself down on the sofa, puffs of dust springing up into the air.
Johnny lay where she’d left him and, thank the Llord, he seemed to be sleeping peacefully for once. She picked him up brusquely, his body limp in her hands. She slid him like a football into the crook of her arm and checked the back of his diaper. Finding it empty, she once again pulled her tit from her uniform. As she did so, she felt the child stir slightly in her arms.
“Now you take this with no more of your goddamn complainin’,” she said, pressing her breast to his cobalt-tinged lips. She slid her nipple into the baby’s slack mouth and sat back into the well-worn arms of the couch. The baby roused a little and his mouth began the gentle sucking sensation that told her he was feeding.
“You must be feeling better, ya brat. You’re eatin’ again.”
Johnny awoke with little knowledge of his brief life or of his reprehensible death just a short time prior. All his brain knew was that the initial confusing whirlwind of sensations—the lights, the sounds, the tantalizing smells—had finally started to settle down. Slowly, they’d begun to focus in on just one: hunger. As he nursed, the hot fluid coursing over his tongue became distasteful; milky and acidic to his palate. It was a sour and nauseating excuse for a meal. And while Johnny had never gotten a chance to learn what life had in store for him, he had learned in his short stay on the planet that his mother’s breast could yield something that almost resembled nourishment. Now, death showed him a new purpose for her breast. Instinctively, he clamped his mouth down harder, nipping at the soft flesh with his tooth, and sucked harder.
~ * ~
Kathy Mae sat dozing on the couch, her cigarette burned down to a cylinder of ash in her hand. Far off in her senses, she could still feel the baby nursing. He’d been at it for what seemed like an awfully long time. He would need to stop soon, she thought, since she was starting to feel a little woozy. She glanced up at the clock over the stove and realized that she’d been sitting there sleepy-eyed for almost half an hour. Her head felt light to her somehow and the floor seemed uneven beneath her feet. Her sight made the angles of the room seem… off. Her perception waffled like an image in a fun house mirror.
She tried to pull the baby away from her breast, but surprisingly, he wouldn’t let go. From the way he was holding on, he must have been hungrier than she’d first thought. Pulling gently, she attempted to dislodge Johnny from her chest, but he had latched on too tightly. She tried again, harder this time, only his little hands kept pulling himself closer.
“Well, you’ve managed to mess up my only clean uniform, Johnny Boy. Good God, it feels all wet,” she said. “I’m going toa have to go change now before my next shift at the diner!”
She reached up and forcibly dislodged Johnny’s mouth from her nipple. Her hand came away wet and coated in a dark, viscous fluid. She looked down at the baby and saw his mouth straining to get back to his nursing. His eyes were closed. His mouth remained pursed and sucking at the air.
“Goddam, Boy! What the… fuck? Did you bite me, ya little bastard?”
Johnny looked up to meet his mother’s gaze. His eyes were unfocused and still gooey from his infection. His pupils were now clouded and opaque.
Kathy Mae’s mouth dropped open as her child pushed toward her and latched back onto the place where her areola had once been. Blood flowed out of the side of his tiny mouth as he abruptly bit into her flesh in earnest. Pain screamed through Kathy Mae’s drug-addled senses and instinct commanded her to push him away. She tried to get a decent grip on him, but his new-found vigor confounded her. He chewed and tore at her breast, insistently demanding the only sustenance his newly reawakened system could now tolerate.
Kathy Mae stood up and pulled the child forcibly away from her chest. In disgust, she held him at arm’s length. With all of the wriggling and kicking, he jerked out of her grip and dropped like a stone to the ground. With an audible grunting sound, what little air that was held captive in Johnny’s dead lungs came out in a rush. Kathy Mae tried to get to her feet, but her legs went all rubbery from the loss of blood. She stumbled and collapsed in a heap next to the couch. She tried to crawl away from her child, but her coordination was off and her limbs felt weak.
Pressing her back against the sofa, she looked across the floor and saw Little Johnny dragging himself rapidly toward her across the beer-stained rug. His mouth was still working busily and the pupils of his eyes shone creamy white. His expression seemed filled with a hunger that was like something she’d never seen before. As his cold, little hands grasped at her ankle and he began pulling himself up her leg, Kathy Mae drew a stuttering breath and started to scream.
(first appeared in NO FLESH SHALL BE SPARED)