UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION 06/2009
SEAN HAYDEN

The Face

         Leonard Moody blinked, leaned forward, squinted, backed up, and blinked again. The face was still there.

Leonard, dressed only in what he called his bathrobe, but was actually a hospital gown he’d filched from Townsville Medical Center during his last admission, stared dumbfounded into his toilet bowl. An unlit Camel cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth.

         “Fuck,” he muttered, “I just shit a Jesus face.”

         Instinctively, Leonard reached for the flush handle, but his hand froze on the lever. This, Leonard thought, must be worth something to someone. After all, he reasoned, people were finding Jesus faces in all kinds of things: potatoes, pieces of toast, water stains, frosted windows, egg salad sandwiches, but this was the first time, as far as he knew, that Jesus had appeared in a piece of shit.

         Leonard sprinted from the bathroom, stubbed his toe in the living room, and picked up the telephone in the kitchen.

         “Fuck,” he shouted, hopping on one foot, dialing, and trying to light his cigarette all at the same time.

         “Four One One information,” a woman’s voiced said.

         “Yah, gimmie the newspaper,” Leonard panted, breathless.

         “Which newspaper are you looking for sir?”

         “Any newspaper. I don’t know. The big one.”

* * * *

        Leonard, no longer in his hospital robe, but dressed in his finest bicycle shorts and Mr. Doughnut tee shirt, stood beside and slightly behind the reporter from The Blabber Mouth, Townsville’s largest newspaper.

         “See?” He said, pointing over the reporter’s shoulder, “See? There’s a face. Do you see the face?”

         “I do see a face,” the reporter said, “but it doesn’t look like Jesus. It looks like John Lennon.”

         “What are you talking about?”

         “Yah,” the reporter said, “It looks exactly like John Lennon. Don’t you see the glasses?”

         Leonard did, in fact, see the glasses, but it never occurred to him that Jesus of Nazareth hadn’t worn glasses.

         “This is amazing,” the reporter went on, “Sammy, get in here and take some pictures of this.”

         Sammy, the photographer, was standing in the hallway smoking a cigarette and wondering why he didn’t work for Better Homes and Gardens, or National Geographic, or Hustler. He slouched into the bathroom muttering something about wasted talent when he looked into the toilet bowl and froze.

         “Jesus fucking Christ,” Sammy whispered.

         “No, it’s John Lennon,” Leonard corrected.

* * * *

        When the story broke, people came from everywhere. At first, Leonard just let them in. They jostled about the toilet bowl snapping pictures and shoving each other for a better look. They stood on their tiptoes and peered over each other’s shoulders. They said things like “That’s amazing,” and “I’ve never seen anything like it,” and “Congratulations. You must be so proud.”

         Leonard enjoyed the attention, but attention wasn’t what he sought. What he sought was money. He began charging admission. Five dollars a head. It wasn’t much, but with more than a hundred visitors per day, it added up. Eventually, he had a velvet rope installed around the toilet bowl. Thank God, Leonard through, I have a second bathroom.

         Leonard spent his days collecting money, smiling, and answering questions.

         “I was just sitting there reading TV Guide…

         “It didn’t feel like anything special when it was coming out, but when I stood up, there it was…

         “No, I don’t even like The Beatles. I’m an Elvis fan…

         “What do I think it means? Well, I guess it means that we should love one another…

         People generally cheered when he said that.

* * * *

        One afternoon, as Leonard was fielding Beatles questions and signing autographs, a fat shrill-voiced woman collapsed in a heap beside the toilet bowl. “Oh my God!” The woman screamed, “John Lennon’s gone!”

         Leonard’s heart sank. He had feared this. How long, after all, could a piece of shit last before it disintegrated? But when he pushed his way into the bathroom, ready to flush the bowl once and for all, a new face stared up at him from the water. Leonard squinted his eyes. Now the shit looked exactly like Fidel Castro.

         “I can’t believe this,” someone shouted. “Fidel Castro! What a rip off!”

         “Listen everyone,” Leonard said facing the crowd, “I’m as confused as you are. I don’t know what happened.”

         “Five dollars for Fidel Castro!” Someone shouted from the back of the apartment, “I’m getting out of here.”

         One by one the Beatles fans filed out. They shook their heads and muttered to themselves. Leonard distinctly heard someone use the word, “scam.”

         Scam? They had been privy to a magic shit. How could they be disappointed?

* * * *

        It was all over Townsville. The John Lennon shit had morphed into Fidel Castro. For days, no one came. Leonard realized that John Lennon was far more popular than Castro, but still, a magic shit was a magic shit. He thought more people would have been interested. Leonard pondered the inexplicable nature of human curiosity while purchasing a pack of smokes from his local grocer.

         “Good morning Leonard,” the store’s proprietor said with his usual inscrutable expression, “I save last pack of unfilter Camel for you.”

         “Thank you, Mr. Quan.”

         “You know Leonard, you do very bad thing when you make Castro shit. Castro very bad man. You should make another shit, only this time, make George Harrison.”

         “I’ll try Mr. Quan.”

         “Rile my guitaaaar, gentry reeps,” Mr. Quan sang.

         Leonard stepped out of Mr. Quan’s grocery and blinked in the morning sunlight. He started the two and a half block trek to his apartment building. Already wheezing after half a block, he stopped, opened his freshly purchased package of unfiltered Camel cigarettes, tapped the bottom of the pack with his forefinger and popped one in his mouth.

         “There he is,” someone shouted, “The Castro lover.”

         Leonard looked up dumbly. A group of visibly incensed men and women stood clustered on the opposite side of the street. One of the men sported a tee shirt with the words, FREEDOM ISN’T FREE spelled out across the chest in big black letters.

         Castro lover? Thought Leonard.

         “That guy hates America!” someone else shouted.

         A fat angry woman twisted her face into an ugly scowl and hurled her bottle of diet peach Snapple across the street. The bottle shattered on the pavement a few feet away from where Leonard stood. Bewildered, Leonard remained rooted, too shocked to move. When a second bottle shattered on the ground beside him, this one much closer than the first, he turned and ran. Cries of “pinko,” “commie,” and “terrorist,” echoed behind him.

         Leonard ran two blocks in the wrong direction and stopped short. Suddenly seized in a grip he was all too familiar with, he clutched his chest. Sweat soaked and panting, Leonard fumbled in his pockets for his nitroglycerine, found the bottle, and popped one of the small white tablets under his tongue. Within minutes, the crushing pain dissipated. Six years earlier, when Leonard suffered the first of four heart attacks, he’d told the emergency room doctor that it felt like an elephant was sitting on his chest. Since then, whenever Leonard feels the onset of angina pectoris, he imagines an elephant, a great shaggy Snufalufagus only he can see, a rank, obese, cigarette smoking elephant, straddling him and sitting on his chest.

         When his wheezing subsided, Leonard wiped the sweat from his forehead and lit a cigarette. Ten minutes later, he was standing outside of his apartment building. Someone had spray painted the words, “COMMIE GO HOME!” on the front door. Go home? He was home. He’d lived there for fifteen years.

* * * *

        Leonard was at a loss. Nobody wanted to see the Castro shit. Beyond that, it had become a liability. People sent him hate mail, shouted insults at him, defaced his property and occasionally, threw bottles at him. He had finally made up his mind to flush the toilet when the doorbell rang. Cautiously, Leonard pressed the intercom talk button.

         “It’s late,” Leonard said, “what do you want?”

         “Mr. Moody,” a young female voice sounded over the intercom, “it’s an honor to speak with you.”

         “Who are you?” Leonard said.

         “We are members of the Townsville University Revolutionary Division. We are here to see the likeness of Comrade Fidel.”

         “You’re not going to throw bottles at me?” Leonard asked.

         “Bottles? Most certainly not.”

         The Townsville University Revolutionary Division consisted of four Townsville University students, two boys and two girls, dressed in matching black berets and turtlenecks. After they had seen the Castro shit and commented on its stunning accuracy and congratulated Leonard for his accomplishment, the group’s leader, Comrade Gerald, a tall cow eyed young man, called a formal meeting in Leonard’s apartment. Leonard was named as guest of honor.

         They arranged themselves in a circle in the living room. A young woman with black horn rim glasses, short hair, and an even shorter skirt, sat beside Leonard on the sofa. She introduced herself as Comrade Ava, and offered Leonard her hand. Leonard shook Ava’s small soft hand and blushed brightly.

         As Comrade Gerald read out the bullets for discussion, he was interrupted by the sound of slurping. All eyes turned to a heavyset youth busily sucking a large soda through a plastic straw.

         “Is that soft drink from Mc Donald’s, Comrade Dwayne?” Gerald asked.

         Comrade Dwayne squirmed in his seat. “What? I was hungry,” he said sheepishly, “I stopped on the way here.”

         “Don’t you know that Mc Donald’s is a corporate fascist entity breaking the backs of the proletariat?”

         “Well,” Comrade Dwayne said after a moment’s hesitation, “you packed your lunch in plastic Tupperware. Plastic! Do you have any idea what that does to your Carbon Footprint?”

         “At least I’m a vegetarian!” Comrade Gerald said.

         Dwayne’s fleshy face went red, and his bottom lip quivered. Without another word, he stood up and ran out of the apartment.

         “Oh Gerald,” said a slender young woman with long black hair, “You can be such an ass.”

         “It’s not my fault if comrade Dwayne can’t handle the truth. I’m sick and tired of being the moral conscience of this movement.”

         “Moral conscience? You’re so glib.”

         “Glib? My therapist says that I’m a very creative person!” Gerald shouted and stormed out of the apartment. The slender woman ran out after him trumpeting apologies, leaving Leonard alone with Ava.

         “Sorry about your meeting” Leonard managed.

         “That always happens,” Ava said. “In fact, that was one of our longest meetings.”

         “Oh.”

         “But you’re not like the others,” Ava said, taking Leonard’s hand and sliding it under her skirt, “You’re a true revolutionary.”

         Leonard was not sure how moving his bowels had made him a revolutionary, but he didn’t argue.

* * * *

        When Leonard woke the next morning, Ava was glaring at him from across the room.

         “You pretended to be a revolutionary just so you could sleep with me,” she said.

         “What?”

         “I suppose you think I’m a sinner. I guess you think I’m going to hell! Well you can save the sanctimony.”

         “Huh?”

         “Oh don’t try to bullshit me. I went into the bathroom this morning while you were sleeping and I saw it.”

         “What?”

         “You bible thumpers are all the same. Perverts and cheats.”

         Ava stormed out of the bedroom. Leonard heard the door slam shut when she left the apartment.

         Well that was strange, Leonard thought, but then, women had always puzzled him. Rubbing the crust from his eyes, he sat up, fumbled for a cigarette and shuffled to the bathroom.

         “Holy Shit,” Leonard said aloud. His cigarette dropped from his mouth and landed on his bare foot. Leonard jumped up, hopped backwards on one leg and fell on his ass. This time there was no mistaking it. Beard, humble upturned eyes, crown of thorns; the picture a study of suffering and grace, Jesus Christ bobbed serenely in the bowl.

         Leonard got up, shook his head, limped to the kitchen, and prepared his usual breakfast: Atenolol 200mg, Lisinopril 40mg, Lasix 80mg, Aspirin 325mg, one multivitamin, two cups of black coffee, and an unfiltered Camel cigarette. After breakfast, he picked up the telephone and called The Blabbermouth.

* * * *

        Predictably, the Jesus shit made a bigger splash than the John Lennon shit and the Castro shit combined. People came from miles around to gaze upon the likeness of the Son of God. The sick, the blind, the crippled, the insane, all came to Townsville.

         Before long, Townsville, never a popular tourist destination, was overrun. The hotels were booked solid for weeks in advance. The streets were choked with traffic, and on any given day, people lined up for blocks outside Leonard’s apartment building.

         At first, the Townsville Police tried to disperse the crowds, but when The Blabbermouth ran a few front-page photographs of police officers strong-arming cripples who’d traveled for days hoping for a miracle cure, public opinion swayed city officials towards a different approach.

         Leonard’s street was cordoned off from traffic, bottled water was distributed free of charge, and a string of Porta-Potties were deposited.

         Pilgrim’s Village was born.

         At first, Leonard was pleased, once again, his shit was the talk of the town and the money was rolling in, but he soon grew weary. The street outside his apartment building had been transformed into a three-ring circus. Leonard was afraid to go outside. The media were always waiting for him. He couldn’t even go to the corner to buy a pack of cigarettes from Mr. Quan without being accosted by pilgrims and the paparazzi.

         Finally, Leonard barred his door to the public all together, but it didn’t slow the influx of people. Day after day, more pilgrims arrived in Townsville and camped outside Leonard’s apartment building. In a few short weeks, Pilgrim’s Village had grown into a teeming shantytown, and Leonard had become a prisoner in his own home.

* * * *

        Prior to the magic shit, Leonard’s only source of income had been his monthly disability check, but prior to his disability ––a herniated disk sustained during some truly inspired hip gyration–– Leonard had been a relatively successful Elvis impersonator. Although he still possessed a superb singing voice, Leonard found himself utterly unable to channel The King as he once had. The emotional pain was too great.

         Fed up with his sequestered existence, Leonard opened his bedroom closet and dug out his old Elvis costume. He’d gained a little weight since he’d stopped working but felt certain he could still squeeze into it, posttraumatic stress be damned.

         Resplendent in a white sequined jumpsuit, black pompadour wig, stick on mutton chop sideburns, and extra large orange sunglasses, Leonard Moody, through his bedroom window, breeched the cool night and descended, with great effort, the fire-escape.

         Once safely on the pavement, Leonard slipped up the alleyway and emerged through the shadows onto the main street. Disguised as he was, Leonard was able to walk with complete anonymity through the crowds who had taken up residence in front of his apartment building.

         Under most circumstances, a man so fat he stretched an Elvis suit to its limit would stand out in a crowd, but in Pilgrim’s Village, Leonard hardly managed to engender a raised eyebrow. There, amidst the all night cook fires burning in garbage cans, the bible waving bag ladies speaking in tongues, the stench of unwashed bodies and overflowing Porta-Potties, the wailing throngs of lost souls seeking divine recognition, the psalm singing and the gnashing of teeth, the groups of men and women with arms upraised to the Lord and toilet seats around their necks, Leonard moved unrecognized.

         Once past the police barricades, Leonard headed towards the park. Seeking solitude, he traced his way through crisscrossing side streets, avoiding the main thoroughfares. As the Carnival din of Pilgrim’s Village dissipated, Leonard’s mood lightened.

         What to do now? That was the question. Certainly, Leonard was pleased that his shit had morphed into a less contentious figure. No one, after all, would throw bottles at the guy who had shit Jesus. But being the custodian of a piece of magical excrement was fast becoming a larger burden than it was worth. He had made a great deal of money. It would be a simple matter to flush Jesus down the crapper and retire.

         Leonard’s silent reverie was severed by the sputtering rumble of a bulky black panel van in desperate need of a new exhaust system. Leonard looked up in time to see the van’s side door slide open and discharge several masked figures wielding short stout clubs. Before the hefty Elvis impersonator could say, Thank you very much, one of the clubs came down with a thwack, and everything went black.

* * * *

        Leonard woke with a hatchet-like pain in the center of his skull. He tried to roll over, but his left arm held fast.

         With reluctance, Leonard opened his eyes, finding himself sprawled naked on a wooden floor and handcuffed to a radiator. “Mr. Moody,” a voice said.

         Through hazy waves of nauseating pain, Leonard saw an obese woman dressed in the 18th century garb of a Mormon fundamentalist.

         “Are you awake, Mr. Moody?” Her voice was both fluid and nauseating, like an oil slick.

         “Who are you? Where am I?” Leonard managed.

         “Who I am is not important,” the glaring, pie faced woman said.

         Leonard tried to get up, and was reminded by the biting pain in his wrist, that he was restrained.

         “Listen,” Leonard said, “I’ve got money. Just let me go and I’ll give you whatever you want.”

         The woman’s eyes gleamed like nickels, and her pink tongue darted in and out of her mouth. “But you’ve already given us what we want.”

         “I have a medical condition,” Leonard pleaded, “I need my medications. You have to let me go.”

         “We have seen the sign, Mr. Moody.”

         “Sign?”

         “In your bathroom. The sign of the coming of the end of days.”

         Leonard looked up in time to see the woman bring a club down on his head. He felt the room tilt and the world swim, and fell, once more, into unconsciousness.

         When Leonard woke next, it was to the sound of hammers. There were more people in the room this time. The fat woman from before was there, along with several cross-eyed children, all dressed as though they’d just stepped out of an Amish village. A burly man with a thick tangle of curly orange hair was on his knees swinging a claw hammer, while a short bald headed man held a wooden beam across another. When they had finished, the two men hefted their creation. Leonard squinted his eyes. The roughly fashioned crucifix swam in and out of focus.

         “You are the risen Lord made flesh,” the round faced woman with the toxic voice chirped, “you are the lamb, you are the blood sacrifice.”

         “Huh…? What…?” Leonard sputtered.

         “In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus questioned. It is a mystery how God can be both pawn and king, but it is a glorious mystery.”

         “Listen,” Leonard said, suddenly awash with fear’s stark clear-headed sobriety, “I’m not whatever you think I am. I’m not anybody. All I did was take a shit.”

         “Is it time Momma?” one of the children said, hopping from one foot to the other.

         The moon-faced matriarch nodded, her eyes twinkling.

         Leonard was unfastened from the radiator, pulled to his feet, and thrown down upon the cross. The two men began lashing Leonard’s arms to the arms of the crucifix. They cinched the ropes tight, stretching his arms to the point of breaking. Pain blossomed brightly. His vision dimmed.

         Leonard watched the moon faced woman squat beside him and hold a nail against his open palm. The man with the shock of orange hair handed her his hammer. Leonard opened his mouth to plead, but his voice had deserted him. Over the woman’s shoulder, he saw his Snufalufagus shuffling towards him.

         The elephant shifted its weight from foot to foot, lolled his shaggy head, and eased itself down on Leonard’s chest. Leonard, feeling the all too familiar leaden weight, thought instinctively, fleetingly, about the nitroglycerine tablets he didn’t have. He felt his heart rate climb. Thirsting for oxygen, he gasped and sputtered. Pearls of icy sweat coated his skin. Soaking wet, panting, shivering, Leonard closed his eyes. He could hear the sound of hammering from far away.

         The elephant yawned, stretched, and slept. Leonard Moody saw no more.

* * * *

        Ava pulled the black wool ski mask from her head. Her close-cropped hair was soaked with sweat. It was far too hot for the ski mask, but she was unpracticed as a burglar. Armed with a pair of salad tongs and a plastic beach pail, she tiptoed through Leonard’s apartment. Once in the bathroom, she held her breath, leaned over the rim, and peered into the toilet. An entirely new visage floated idle in the bowl.

         “Amazing,” she gasped, “it looks just like her.”

         Having secured the booty, Ava slipped out through the same window she had entered. Why, she thought, should a dishonest cheat like Leonard Moody, be the guardian of such important poo? Poo like that should belong to everyone. This wasn’t theft, she reasoned, it was liberation.

         Her plastic pail sloshing softly by her side, Ava descended the fire escape and disappeared into the night.

Sean Hayden's short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in: All Hallows, The Dirty Goat, The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, Fickle Muses.com, The Griffin, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, M-Brane SF, Necrography, Portland Review, Tabard Inn, and Westview.

More on Sean Hayden can be found at his website: www.schayden.com







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