UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
CHRISTOPHER RAYMOND

Crawling about the street of dream

          His hair was a slick back silver clinging to his massive head. It matched the
ragged salt and pepper stubble on his torn up, meaty face. He was six-two in the saddle
and every aged line and crack told me he was a prize-fighter. But he wasn't a prize
fighter, he was a writer.

          I knew he was a writer but why did I know he was a writer?

          He splashed some sort of liquor into his shot glass. At this point, the kind of
liquor wasn't an issue so long as it was liquor.

          He threw the shot down his throat without so much as a flinch or gnaw of the
teeth. Then he glared over at me with bloodshot eyes, pulled a small pad and pencil out
of his inside coat pocket, and proceeded to scribble down some notes or words or
maybe a grocery list at a furious pace.

          I was curious, but I couldn't see, the smoke was so thick in the place my eyes
watered. Everything was a blur.

          Where was I?

          It was a bar. At least I thought it was a bar. But shouldn't the walls be covered in
neon glowing numbing-bright illuminating beer advertisements that used sex you're not
having to make you wanna drink?

          This bar didn't. The walls were stained brown and gray. Every table and stool was
petrified wood. The floor was dirt and dust and the remains of the day. These walls held
blood and sweat and tears and desperation. Preached words echoed off these walls once,
of Saints and seers and Ethereal beings held high. They were angels underground, in
between.

          But the Angels had left this place a long time ago, left the whole city, perhaps.
This wasn't a bar, a tavern, a pub, or a watering hole no more- this was now a Church of
Transient Souls.

          The cold rush of realization spilled down my spine- I was shaking a bit but all the
Prize-Writer was doing was scribbling and throwing them back. Like it was all he wanted
to do in the world.

          He pulled an unfiltered from a crumpled pack and screwed it to his lips. He
flicked a match and flame shot to the ceiling- it crawled across the marbled surface like
blue serpents dancing in space- then flickered and faded away- to perhaps a better place.
When he finally spoke- his voice wasn't thunderous, as you would expect from a
mountain of a man, but shrilly and small- almost weasely. It was the singing voice of a
smoldering Chesterfield.

          "D'yeh know why you're here?" he asked me.

          I stared at him for a minute, then I nodded my head.

          "Sure you do...I know why I'm here..."

          He took a long drag on the smoke, his chest swelled, and he blew the gust of
second-hand my way.

          When the smoke hit my face and my minds-eye swarmed with lucid visions, I
saw long sweaty nights in flophouses with hot-plates, dirt weed, Thunderbird wine shared
with streetlight whores and their promises. I saw good love that didn't work. I saw the
wicked flash of a blade over a sopping wet, pissed-on twenty. I saw all the back-alley
decadence and dirty dead-end hunanity, the brawls, the heavy-handed vulgar nights and
the brutal stumblings of good intentions.

          All these visions stabbed at my mind like the jagged edges of a broken bottle that
once held a good time- a clink of the glasses, a raising of the pint, a cheer of here-here
over the crowd, the boisterous roar of would-be gods.

          The celebration of hiding and drinking and letting it all go.

          I had to cover my eyes...the rush of dancing demons, two-stepping on my
eyelids...it damn near put me to the floor.

          "That's why I'm here," he said. "That's why I do what I do."

          I placed my head on the bar, still trying to stop the visceral onslaught in my eyes,
the collective brain-jolt of madness. He put his giant hand on my shoulder.

          "We'll give it a name. We'll find it. Right now, we're stuck- we gotta get unstuck,
get four-dimensional.

          Make a Billy Pilgrimage of sorts."

          He poured two shots. Put one in front of me. He threw his back, and then reached
over and grabbed mine, threw it back, too.

          "I'll help you, but NEVER....help yourself to my whiskey."

          We stood and walked to the door. He took out a dirty scarf and wrapped it about
his neck. He turned and held up a fist at the bar.

          "You are all DIRTY, DIRTY- whiskey watering SONS of WHORES!" he yelled.
"I'll NEVER drink in this establishment...today...AGAIN!"

          We stepped to the streets, cold and deserted. Black concrete doused in streetlight
of burnt orange and littered with old memories. Fleeting moments. Flashes of essence.
Crawling about the street like discarded letters. All sorts of times. Dates, places,
things...ghosts.

          But who's?

          We sat out walking. The cold wind swung sharp in our faces. The Prize-Writer
reached over and grabbed me by my collar and held me still. He looked about, then
flicked his smoke to the sky and got in my face- the wave of whiskey fume hit me solid.
"Listen, we have a game going here. Something of a job, a mission, a thing to do,
so to speak."

          What the hell was he talking about?

          "Gotta get a rhythm going here," he said, snapping his fingers here and there.
"But pull none of that pop-pop-pop like Roman Candles across the sky stuff with me,
understand? You get to be-bopping existential and I'll box yer ears, capice?"

          I shook my head.

          "No uncertain, directionless wandering for us tonight, my friend. It may have
worked for that Times Square bunch, but we need to get somewhere."

          We continued to walk (actually it was more like glide) down the street.

          The Prize-fighter paused at the corner beneath a blue blazing JESUS SAVES
sign, the neon glow pored between the creases in his face. He was looking for the words.
"Listen, never really had anything against that bunch... Jack was a kind ol' soul
and Neal was a madman, Alan was okay… for a fairy…I did get sick and fucking tired of
him howling that one goddam poem of his," he told me.

          He paused for a second. Pools of blue settled in his eyes.

          "But Bill… Bill scared the SHIT out of me… he SOUGHT OUT his madness.

          Sought it out, so he could write it." He looked at me, a chill going through him,
but not from the cold.

          "...in any case, I just wasn't one of them. And neither are you."

          We continued to glide.

          "But this isn't about them, this is about you, Mr. ________." he said as a grin slid
across his face like a cut.

          "Do you write?"

          I didn't want to hear this question. But for some fucking reason I knew it was
coming.

          "Answer me, do you write?"

          I told him yes.

          "Are you a writer?"

          I told him no. He SMACKED me about the ears- hard.

          "Do you write?" he asked once again.

          I told him yes, once again.

          "Are you a writer?"

          I shook my head up and down vigorously.

          "Oh good," he said. "Means we can go anywhere from here…"











© 2006 Underground Voices