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Greg Sanders

Mr. Hallucinosis

Jack X. stands on an aluminum ladder trying to find a joist in his ceiling so that he can install a thick steel hook and to that attach a looped cable into which he plans to slip his neck and hang himself. He’s drilled several holes with a 1/4" diameter bit but has hit nothing but air on the other side of the plaster. You’re beginning to get frustrated watching him.

For weeks you have been slinking around his apartment and your work is at last paying off. As he continues his drilling, fine white powder slowly drifts down and dusts the floor around you. You are hidden in the shadow of Jack X.’s chaise. It’s ridiculous, you think, that a man who has set out to perform this simple task of carpentry at such an important time of his life seems so inept, so nervous. He drills more holes, quietly cursing his inability every time the cordless drill punches through the ceiling into nothingness. After more tries he finally hits a joist beneath the plaster, takes the threaded steel hook from a breast pocket, and screws it into the pilot hole. Wood shavings drift down slowly spiraling to the floor. It must be hot up there at the top of the high-ceilinged room in which Jack X. lives alone, and he wipes his sweaty forehead with his sleeve, pushes back his moistened bangs. When he descends the ladder you take shelter properly beneath the chaise, not wanting to be seen before you are ready. You hear him gathering up the steel cable and threading it through the metal collar.

Then he begins to undress—this desire to recreate one’s state of arrival in this world when exiting it is standard—and you see that Mr. X was once probably a good specimen, with a thick chest and muscled arms that have since gone flabby from all the drinking. He’s wearing that mask that’s part of the business, the expressionless joy of being in the last stretch, not at all a glorious joy, but then again not what his relatives will undoubtedly imagine—that he is weeping and fighting himself, under the influence of booze. No, he’s miraculously sober and focused, a real go-getter. They’re always so determined and at peace at this point in the process that it’s as if they’re running on some strange instinct, some primordial engine that once started cannot be turned off. He decides, last minute, to leave his briefs on, and for this you are grateful.

He ascends the ladder, slips the cable around his neck, and tightens it with a brief tug. You run out onto the floor, shouting his name and waving your hands, somersaulting, touching yourself lewdly, laughing. At three inches tall there’s no guarantee you’ll be noticed at a time like this, but you think he sees. Surprisingly, he kicks the ladder out of the way on his first pendulous swing back. This kind of coordination in the throws of the act itself astounds you and you get on your knees and bow to him and his composure as he swings above you, soon dead.

There was a time, and it really wasn’t that long ago, when your wife would accompany you on these gigs that you do, but she’s recently taken ill, or so she says. You suspect she’s having a bit of her own psychic break, what with all the misery you two catalysts of hysteria have caused over the decades. Her problem is that she has lately become sympathetic towards your victims. You don’t understand it. It’s not why you were put on this earth, to sympathize with those whom you’ve come to push off the edge of sanity. This fellow, Jack X., your most recent, took weeks of work before he broke down, and you did it all on your own. What, then, are you supposed to do to get your partner, the love of your life, back onto the team? It’s both a personal and professional dilemma.

* * *

A few months pass and you’re in a log cabin surrounded by towering firs in the Maine woods. In the hearth a fire is roaring, spitting out popping, red-hot sparks. You are hiding in a pile of kindling in a wicker basket nearby. You have come in through the bottom of the basket where a small hole provides a convenient means of egress. Again, you are alone, having left your significant other to her solipsistic moping, her creepy solitude. Next to you a beetle nibbles serenely at a bit of wood rot, unaware of its own pending incineration. It amuses you, the insect’s banality, the lethargic, mechanical movement of its jaws.

Through the weaves of wicker you watch Suzanne, the pretty twenty-something you’ve been working on in this bucolic setting. She is tied to a wooden chair. Her wrists are abraded from struggling against the ropes, but she’s calmed down now, exhausted, and possibly heading towards unconsciousness, maybe even shock. Milling about nervously is her lover, Janice, who seems to believe she is helping her sweetheart. The staple of your livelihood depends on situations like this in which individuals disregard medical advice and go cold turkey without professional supervision. For days now Suzanne, who’s come here at the behest of her lover, has wanted a drink like somebody tossed from an airplane wants a parachute. Janice whispers to her, caressing her face. You can clearly hear, "Be strong, my beauty." She moistens Suzanne’s lips and forehead with some cool water and applies anti-bacterial ointment to the abrasions. Damn it, how you wish your wife were here. The theatrics you used to perform for your victims—screwing each other in plain sight, playing catch with a victim’s possession, shouting into both ears as your client is on the cusp of sleep. But now it’s just you in this little cabin with these two not unattractive and frankly admirable women. Truth is, you’re envious of their devotion to each other.

It’s not easy when there’s a bystander involved. If she catches a glimpse, your career is over. Nobody’s ever come back from that kind of exposure. It’s not like you have special transformative powers and you’re sure as hell not some giddy leprechaun, some amateur, feckless twit. You work hard, have a high success rate, and hope that when your career winds down you can spend your final years in Florida working on Alzheimer’s victims at a leisurely pace.

When Janice goes outside to use the outhouse, you’re on. You walk slowly into the middle of the room and look up at Suzanne who, seeing you (a familiar sight by now), curses, then struggles with the ropes but can’t break free. Her pupils are dilated and she’s white with fear but at the same time hot and sweaty and struggling like a real warrior to get free. She shouts for Janice, first softly, then hysterically. You moon her, wiggling your tiny thumb-nail-sized ass at her for a few seconds. It’s boring without your loved one here. You’re bored out of your mind, but manage to run to and fro, whip around in circles, do cartwheels, flash her, et cetera. When you hear the door open, you sprint back to the basket, crawl in through the hole at the bottom, and take cover in the mess of kindling. You note that the beetle seems not to notice a thing. It is processing the wood like a machine. Janice is back, her belt still undone, and she holds her sweet girl, rocking her back and forth.

"In there. In there," Suzanne whimpers, pointing as best she can to the basket in which you are now suddenly alarmed.

Janice opens the basket top and starts pulling wood out.

"There’s nothing in here, baby," she says, continuing to dig down to prove her assertion. "Just some bugs."

The beetle flashes by you as it is lifted out, clinging to its shard blindly.  Things are happening so quickly that you have no time to formulate a plan.  You are suddenly exposed and you catch the shocked look on Janice's face.  You escape through the hole, barely avoiding being snatched up.  The only place you can run is under Suzanne's chair and out the cabin door, which has been left open a crack.  Then you are outside.  You move rapidly through the underbrush and hear Janice thundering behind you.  You wonder what it would be like to be caressed by such a woman, to be held close to her breast.  None of your kin has ever come back from being discovered.  The woods stretch out infinitely around you.  If only your wife, your beloved, had been with you she might have advised you to be more cautious, to pick a better place to hide.  Why has she been so distant, so unable to accept her role?  The sun is low and  warm light dapples the forest floor in elongated bands.  In the middle of one of these you suddenly stop and look up. Janice's hand-soft, pink, trembling with anticipation-gently surrounds you, enveloping you in warm darkness.

Greg Sanders lives in New York City, where he earns his living as a technical writer and is an MFA candidate at the New School University. His fiction has appeared in previous issues of Blip Magazine Archive, in Red Hen Press's Blue Cathedral, and in a variety of other print and e-venues.

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