It was the same way he always woke up, feeling like a truck had hit him, feeling like something evil had crawled down his throat and died, he lay sprawled on the couch cradling the empty bottle he had sucked down the night before like an old lover. His heart-burn was bad, his heart burned bad, and that badness rose like fire inside him.
His head split as he wrestled his leaden body off the floor, and the muscles in his back and on his side ached to the bone. The TV was still on, infomercials blasting through his skull at an impossible volume. How many days had this been going on for? How many days can a man wake up like this, he thought, before something bad happens? This is my life, he thought… goddamn.
In the bathroom he stared at his reflection for a long while, trying to decide whether or not he should shave his miserable face. He was dimly aware of the sour, alcohol stench rising from his pores. Rum. It had reached a stage where he didn’t even need to hunt the bottles down to figure out what he’d been hitting the night before, his stench said it all. I’m a stench connoisseur, he thought. He grinned widely at himself and stumbled backwards into the shower.
The steaming, scalding hot water brought him up a level from the depths he had plunged himself into, but the surface was still a lifetime away. He’d been drowning for too long. He brushed his teeth, but it did nothing for his breath. He put deodorant and aftershave on, but it did nothing for his stench. He ate a grapefruit for breakfast, but he hardly tasted it and just barely kept it down. He got dressed last.
Putting his tie on made him grin again. He’d always thought of himself as the type of guy who would eat a bullet when things got too much, but recently he’d changed his mind about that. Recently, he’d seen himself as more of the hanging type. He could imagine how it would feel as he kicked the chair out from under him and struggled like a fly in a web, every exertion bringing him closer to death. Two things about hanging appealed to him – the fact that you die with a hard-on, and the fact that he would use his ties from work to do it.
He decided on his plan of action on the way to work, he was listening to The Doors when it came to him, in an epiphany punctuated by the lumbering, morning traffic, and Jim Morrison’s screeching vocals. The day was overcast, but when the idea came to him, his world was flooded in sunlight.
Entire office blocks turned to towers of orchards and blossomed as his car sailed past, parking lots crumbled and sprouted forests of magnificent pines, the asphalt cracked and fields of soft, rich, green grass rolled endlessly toward the brightest horizon he had ever imagined. It was finally happening, he was abandoning all hope, all desire, he was letting go of everything and focusing his entire being on one goal, one plan, his plan.
Highways melted into crystal clear rivers, cars fell apart around him and were instantly covered in blankets of moss and mushrooms. As he drove closer to his plan, the foliage got denser, it became humid, misty. The rivers turned to swamps, and he could feel his world teeming with a million hidden creatures, croaking and calling and growling; hidden in the thick, soupy, dense jungle that was swallowing everything around him. This is great! he thought. This is the best day I can remember, I know everything is going to turn out great, this is the best day…
He was glad to find his office block utterly ruined, thick jungle vines wrapped themselves around the brick and cement and rent huge cracks throughout the building. The natural order was taking over, the law of the jungle. Colossal tree roots curled their way through reception, rupturing the tiled floors and ruining the blue/grey carpets in the staff tea room forever.
Elaine, the secretary at reception, greeted him and asked what was so funny. ‘Your face’ he replied, and smashed his fist into it until all of her front teeth were broken and her nose was hanging at an obscure angle. He was still laughing when the security guards fell on him and tried to cuff him. One of them made the mistake of getting too close, and he tore the guard’s throat out with his teeth, and pushed his thumbs into the other one’s eyes, right to the back of their sockets.
It was easy from there, the guards had guns. He blasted his way through the jungle, blasted his way through Chief Information Officers and Human Resources Managers and Account Directors all the way up to the top floor. The elevator was made from bamboo, monkeys pulled thick vines threaded through pulleys to operate it. He killed the monkeys.
At the top, the air was somehow thicker than on the ground, and it smelt like something long dead. He was heading into the CEO’s office, that was the prize, that was his goal, the others meant nothing, they had just picked the wrong goddamn day to go to work. He found the office locked and shot the doors until his guns clicked.
The doors swung open, and he found himself at this, the moment of his life, facing down the greatest evil he had ever know, all out of shells.
She wasn’t in her normal work clothes, that was the first thing that threw him. She was barefoot, wearing a torn loincloth, and her breasts were bare except for the hundreds of beaded necklaces that hung from her neck in green and gold. Her hair was loose, spilling onto her shoulders in thick, golden tresses. He had thought this jungle belonged to him, he had thought that it was his, but now he knew, he was wrong.
Her skin had a light sheen to it, and glowed bronze. He could clearly make out her taut sinews beneath her flesh, and he knew that even though she looked calm, leaning back, half sitting on the wreckage of her desk, her palms resting on it’s rent mahogany surface, in an instant she could spring at his throat. Her smile said it all, the things that slithered and lurked behind her swamp-green eyes said it all. He threw his guns down. He met her languid gaze.
There was all the murder in the world in her eyes. There were the shadows of the empires she had crushed, and the fires of the bodies she had burned to get to where she was. For the first time he saw her for the predator she was, at home here, in the dank, in the dark, in the rot.
He stripped his clothes off, unable to tear his eyes from her and crossed the vast tracts of swampland between them.
Her tender embrace when she held him against her betrayed nothing as the fingers of her free hand trailed slowly backward across the desk and curled around the rusted handle of her letter opener. When their lips met, a feeling of sweet rapture flooded his senses and overwhelmed him to the point where he didn’t feel the sting as she plunged the letter opener right to the hilt in the flesh of his back.
His rapture began to rise, he tore the beads from her neck and stripped the loincloth from her waist, he found the nape of her neck and bit down hard as his fingers slipped between her thighs and found her wanting.
She pulled the blade from his back and plunged it in a second time. He forced her thighs apart, and, bending down to kiss her where they met, felt something warm trickle down his spine.
He sunk himself inside her, she arched her back, he felt something irrepressible welling up inside himself, something great and terrible. It spread from his loins throughout his body, it felt like lava in his blood, it shivered up his spine and filled his skull to bursting.
His breath began to rasp in his throat, he coughed violently, felt something warm on his lips, opened his eyes. She had plucked the blade from his back and was sinking it deep in his stomach, rocking slightly with his every thrust, her gaze slithering behind slime of her green eyes.
He pulled the blade from his stomach and turned it on her. She gripped his wrists as he forced his weight down, the blade edging closer to her throat, while he thrust himself violently between her glistening thighs. Her sweet moans spurned him on through the mist that had started to roll before his vision.
The feeling inside him was growing, swelling with every lumbered breath, sweat pouring from his every pore, the tip of the blade bearing down, making a small dimple in her throat with it’s rusted point, and all the while she held him fast in her Medusa-gaze, right up until the feeling burst inside him, and he cracked his spine and rent his sinews and splintered his teeth between his grinding jaws.
He was magnificent in that moment, he felt magnificence, he felt it with every staggered heartbeat and tasted it with every raw, iron-laden breath. He collapsed on her with all his weight, and though he drove the blade clean through her jugular, she didn’t flinch.
All went quiet in the jungle, the eyes of a million swampland creatures watched them as their breath grew strained, and their hearts beat synchronously, slowly pumping the life out of them both. Before her eyes dimmed, she met his gaze one last time.
“You’re late for work Harold.”
He returned her impassive stare, and for the first time in weeks, he spoke his usually trite, unemotional response with more conviction than he’d ever felt in his entire life.
“It won’t happen again.”
The jungle watches them die, but feels nothing. The jungle has many queens and many kings, but sooner or later, the law of the jungle usurps them all. The croaking, calling and growling of a million unseen creatures resumes and is joined by the far-off sound of police sirens wailing through the humid, jungle mist.
© Tony Niemeyer 2009