Saturday, November 22, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 419: welcome


We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel caught in a thunderstorm and running down a dark road towards the possible shelter of a large gabled house. Running along with Arnold is the raffish Horace P. Sternwall, author of such oddly-forgotten classics as A Gal Named Elizabeth and Big Gun For a Little Lady; and riding along safely within the porch of Arnold’s ear is his boon companion Ferdinand, the talking fly...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you have decided to take to your bed for the winter with your opium pipe and your lashings of rich Assam tea and are looking for something to kill the time with then click here to return to the very beginning of this 74-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“How oddly right it seems that Arnold Schnabel should have encountered on his life’s journey to immortality no other than the great Horace P. Sternwall – the only other writer to give him a serious challenge for the mantle of America’s preëminent literary genius.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Hustler Literary Quarterly.


The rain poured down and the thunder cracked and boomed and shook the road as if some bored army was firing artillery at us for sport as Horace and I ran madly on, Horace shouting through the clattering of the rain and the roaring from the pitiless black heavens above us the single exclamation, over and over again: “Motherfucker!

I didn’t know what I would do when we reached that big house. I only knew I wanted to get under some sort of shelter from this lashing rain. Would we be turned away? Forced out into the torrent again? Possibly. Why not?

Would we be summarily run off the property, perhaps at the point of a shotgun, off into this deluge to fend for ourselves? Who knew?

I wondered if you could die from tramping in the pouring rain. At least it wasn’t an icy cold rain. It was more like an average, just slightly cold but still bitter rain. Maybe we would get used to it after an hour or so…

Thus were my thoughts occupied until finally Horace and I came abreast of the house.

The lightning revealed a waist-high picket fence a couple of yards in from the road, and a wooden gate; without ceremony Horace went over to the gate, lifted its latch, swung it open, and ran on through. 



I followed hard on his heels, my feet slapping along the stone walk that led up to the big house, which was set back about about twenty yards from the road. 



We reached a roofed porch, dimly lit by a lamp set above a double doorway within. Horace tramped up the four wooden steps into the shelter of this porch,  and I was right behind him.

Now at last out of the rain, Horace bent over, his hands on his knees, wheezing, and still muttering “motherfucker” repeatedly.

I must have been in better physical condition, and so although I too wheezed, I did so not as heartily and loudly as Horace. 



“Hey, look,” said Ferdinand,  and he flew out of my ear and toward the double door right in front of us. The electric light above it, in a yellow, tulip-shaped fixture, illuminated a  a wooden sign hung over the lintel, a sign made to look like a sawn piece of log with some of the bark still on it; carved into the wood and painted in black were the words

STOP-RITE INN

“Motherfucker,” wheezed Horace. “You were right, Arnie. It is an inn!”

“How about our, Arnie," said Ferdinand, "hey, Horace?”

“It’s not just some like secluded scary mansion,” said Horace.

“A ‘quaint country inn’,” said Ferdinand.

“I hope they have food,” I panted. Now that I was out of the storm I was starving again.

“Maybe they got a bar, too,” said Horace.

“I'm going to ring the bell,” I said.

“What a take-charge guy!” said Ferdinand.

“Don’t get in his way when he’s hungry!” said Horace.

“Oh, I won’t, believe you me!” said Ferdinand, and he made a big show of flying out of my way as I went over to the door.

There was a button to one side, and I pressed it.

I heard a sound like a gong go off inside.

“I hope we’re not waking everyone up,” I said.

“Nah,” said Horace, “it’s early still.”

“How do you know?” I said. “Neither of us has a watch."

“Point taken,” said Horace. “Press the buzzer again.”

I pressed the button again, the gong sounded from inside.

I waited, we all waited, in our soaked and dripping clothes. Well, Horace and I waited in our soaked and dripping clothes. I’m sure Ferdinand was perfectly dry.



We waited.

“One more time, Arnie,” said Horace.

“I don’t want to be obnoxious,” I said.



“Press the fucking button.”

“Let’s just wait a little bit longer,” I said.

“Okay, fine,” he said. “Let's wait. We’ll just stand here here dripping wet. I really hope I don’t get pneumonia –”

“Horace, I’m soaking wet too,” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “Certainly you are. Did I say –”

“Let’s just wait a little longer, in case they were upstairs, or, I don’t know –”

“In the bathroom?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Let’s just wait a minute.”

“I said let’s wait,” he said.

“Oh my God, will you just listen to you two,” said Ferdinand. “Why don’t you both get married for Christ’s sake?”

This produced one of those awkward pauses that have occurred with such great frequency in my life.

After half a minute I relented.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll ring the bell again.”

“Thank you!” said Horace.

“Jesus, Mary and –” Ferdinand started to say, and then, “hello!”

Before I could press the buzzer someone opened the door, or one of the double doors.

It was a little old man. 

Even in this world I was not free of little old men.

This one wore a red-and-purple smoking jacket, and he had a lit and smoking brown pipe in his hand. He wore a red ascot with black dots on it, tucked into a soft-collared white shirt. He was mostly bald but the hair he had on his head was silky white and rather long; he wore a monocle with a purple ribbon attached to it that dangled down into his jacket breast pocket, in which was tucked also a white handkerchief. His skin was the color of a sandy beach on a moonlit winter night. He was only about five feet tall.



He stared up at me out of the thick glass of his monocle.

“Good evening,” he said. “May I help you gentlemen?”

“We’re soaked and lost,” I said. “And very hungry. But we have money.”

“Oh, dear,” said the old man, and he seemed on the verge of shutting the door without further ado.

Wait!” cried Horace. “You see, sir, we were driving, and we got lost on the dark road and our automobile ran out of gas! As my colleague says, and as you can see, we have gotten soaked as we walked down the road looking for a gas station. Do you think we might come in just to get dry and perhaps have a drink while we wait for the storm to abate?”

“Your automobile ran out of gas?” said the old man.

“Yes!” said Horace.

“Where?”

“Several miles away,” said Horace. He turned to me. “Wouldn’t you say several miles, Arnold?”

“At least several,” I said.

“You won’t get a gas station man out before morning,” said the old man.

“No, I suppose not,” said Horace. “However, if you’re still serving drinks, then perhaps –”

“Would you like a room for the night?” said the old man.

“A room,” said Horace.

“Yes,” said the old man. “A room. Or two rooms if you prefer. Then you could telephone the nearest garage come morning and they’ll send a a chap out with some gasoline for your automobile.”



I know that Horace was thinking about how much a room would cost. I know I was. If it came down to a room versus food I knew I would opt for food, just as Horace would go for booze if it came down to a room versus booze.

I saw no reason to be coy under the circumstances.

“Excuse me, sir,” I said. “Could you tell us how much a room would cost?”

“One room or two?”

“How much is one room?” I said.

“One room with a double bed will be five dollars.”

 
“Wow,” I said.

“I’m sorry if five dollars seems dear,” said the old man. “But that includes an American-style breakfast. Bacon, sausage or scrapple, with eggs any style, including omelets, as well as pancakes, waffles, mush, or home fries.”

My stomach suddenly felt as hollow and empty as the deepest dark reaches of interstellar space.

“I wonder if we could get something to eat now?” I said.

“Well,” said the old man, “you realize it wouldn’t be included in the price of the room.”

“Yes, of course,” I said. I was on the verge of grabbing him by the lapels of his smoking jacket and throwing him aside, preparatory to storming into the house and stomping madly about looking for the kitchen. “So is it too late to get something to eat? Anything at all –”

“We offer a limited but quite satisfying prix-fixe late evening menu,” he said, “at two dollars and fifty cents per guest. Not inclusive of tax.”

“Two-fifty a person?” said Horace.

“What can we get for two-fifty?” I butted in.

 
The old man took a puff or two of his pipe. His eyes closed. I wondered if he had fallen asleep, but then his eyes opened again and he spoke:

“We have a very tasty and savory Beef Wellington.”

“You have Beef Wellington?” said Horace.

“I should not have mentioned it if we did not.”

“For two-fifty?” said Horace

“Not including tax.”

“No of course not,” said Horace.

“It comes with Yorkshire pudding and buttered lightly-blanched peeled asparagus; dinner rolls included.”

“For two-fifty?” said Horace.

“That price does include your choice of a soup or salad course, as well as dessert. Tonight we’re serving warm peach cobbler with ice cream and a cheese soufflé with crème fraiche.”

“Okay, we’ll take that,” I said.

“The Beef Wellington dinner?” said the old man.

 
“Yes,” I said.

“I forgot to mention, for the weight-conscious we offer a fresh fruit plate for dessert."

“We’re not weight-conscious,” I said

“I didn’t think you were, but I felt obliged to mention the fruit plate anyway.”

“Of course,” said Horace. “But, um, what about beverages –”

“Unlimited cups of coffee,” said the man.

“Well, that sounds great,” said Horace. “But, uh –”

“You got a bar in here, pops?” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said the old man.

“A bar,” said Ferdinand, hovering a foot in front of the old guy’s face. “Do you sell alcoholic beverages. Cocktails. Beer. Wine.”

“I didn’t realize there were three of you,” said the old man.

“Yes, there are  three of us,” said Ferdinand, “but I myself obviously don’t need a whole three-course meal, at least not a human-size one. Just a small tiny little finger bowl say, maybe with some of the gravy from the beef, and a few crumbs. I’m not picky, but I would like something decent to drink with my meal.”

“Some wine, perhaps?” said the old man.

“Wine would be great,” said Ferdinand.

“In fact we have a lovely Margaux. My grandson brought back several cases from France after his service with the American Expeditionary Force in nineteen hundred and nineteen. It’s really only just coming into its full flower now I think.”

“Sounds great,” said Ferdinand. “We’ll take a bottle.”

“Well,” said Horace, “heh heh, perhaps we should ask first how much –”

“Two dollars,” said the old fellow.

“Two dollars!” yelped Horace.

“I’m sorry if that seems dear,” said the old man.

“No,” Horace said. “Wait, hold on.” He reached in his back pocket and took out his old worn wallet. “Let’s see, you said five for the room, two-fifty each for the supper, and that’s another two bucks for the wine, totaling –”

“Nine dollars,” said the old fellow, “not inclusive of tax.”

Horace had been fingering the few bills in his wallet, but now he looked up.

“Nine?” he said.

“Wait,” said the old man. He seemed to stare out at the dark rain that was still crashing through the world just beyond the porch. “Five plus two-fifty, plus two for the bottle of Margaux –”

“What about two bottles of Margaux?” said Horace.

“Make it two bottles of the Margaux then, so that’s five plus what did I say?”

“I think you said two-fifty,” said Horace.

“Five plus two-fifty,” said the old man, “so that’s –”

“With the wine I think that’s seven-fifty altogether,” said Horace.

“Not inclusive of tax,” said the old man.

Horace stared at the man. Horace was still holding his wallet open. He glanced at me in what seemed a very meaningful way.

“Arnie, how much cash you got on you?”



I had a moment’s panic. How did I know I had any money at all in this world? Quickly I dug out my own wallet from the back pocket of my jeans.

“You see,” said Horace, addressing the old fellow, “we hadn’t expected to be stopping anywhere tonight, and so we didn’t think to bring a lot of money.”

“Yes, of course,” said the old man.

I opened my wallet and sighed quite audibly with relief when I saw I had a five and two singles in it, all very crumpled, but they looked real.

“I have seven dollars,” I said.

“Hand me five, will you?” said Horace.

I gave him the five.

“I think you said seven-fifty?” said Horace to the old fellow.

“I believe that’s what I said.”

Horace took some bills from his own wallet, mixed them in with my five, shuffled them, put a few of them back in his wallet, put his wallet away, then folded up the remaining bills in quarters and handed them to the old man.

“Here’s ten dollars, sir," said Horace,  "payment in advance. Do you think you could toss in a couple of brandies also, just to take the breath of the damp off us?"

“Oh, I don’t see why not,” said the old man.

Horace extended his right hand in the gesture of a proffered handshake.

“My name is Horace P. Sternwall by the way.”

The old man had the little square of folded bills in one hand and his pipe in the other, so he put the money in his side jacket pocket, and then gave Horace a polite but quick handshake.

“My name is Peacock,” said the old man. “Abner Dwayne Peacock.”

“Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Peacock,” said Horace. “This is my friend Arnold Schnabel.”

“How do you do, Mr. Scrabble,” said Mr. Peacock.

He didn’t offer his hand, which was okay with me.

“Just call me Ferdinand, pops,” said Ferdinand.

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” said Mr. Peacock. “Well, I suppose you might as well all come in and get dry.”

He stood aside, holding the door open for us. The room behind him looked warm and comforting.

Horace went in, followed by Ferdinand. I put my wallet back in my jeans and went in also.

Mr. Peacock closed the door behind us, and the clattering and booming of the thunderstorm, which had so quickly and completely become part of my universe that I had become barely aware of it, now grew muffled and faraway, as if part of some other world.


(To be continued; we couldn’t possibly abandon Arnold’s tale at this juncture.)



(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a very possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of
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Friday, November 14, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 418: scary


Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his companions,
viz., Ferdinand the loquacious fly and Horace P. Sternwall, the noted author of such forgotten classics as Port of Shame and The Young and the Damned…


(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you neglected to get your flu shot and you need something to read for the next month while you lie upon the couch all day, go here to return to the very beginning of this 69-volume Gold View Award-winning masterpiece.)

“Arnold Schnabel – this self-effacing former railroad brakeman with a history of mental illness – has now at last achieved his rightful status as the preëminent literary genius to arise from these United States of America.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Mechanics Illustrated Literary Supplement.


I turned and spoke into the darkness of the woods. For some reason I spoke in a sort of loud whisper, I don’t know why, as there certainly didn’t appear to be anyone else around:

“Hey! You guys! Come here!”

“Oh, Christ,” I heard Horace’s voice, not bothering to whisper. “Now what is it, Arnie?”

“Yeah, what is it?” said Ferdinand’s voice. “Is it like the end of the world?”

“No!” I whispered back.

“Are you quite sure?” came back Ferdinand’s voice.

I can’t be entirely sure,” I whispered in reply, “but I don’t think so.”

“Then what the fuck is it?” said Horace’s voice.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand’s small but strangely resonant voice; “it ain’t one of them portals into another dimension is it?”

“Well,” I said, “I can’t be sure of that either, but come out here and see.”

“Just tell us it isn’t anything scary,” said the voice of Horace.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand’s voice. “And that includes like the obliteration of the concept of time and shit.”



“Yeah, fuck that shit,” said Horace’s voice.

“Look, guys,” I said, speaking a little louder now, “just come out here and see for yourselves.”

“Arnie,” said Horace, or at least the voice of Horace; I could only assume it issued from his corporeal form. “Please. Just assure us it’s nothing horrifying.”

“It’s just a road,” I croaked.

“A road?” said Horace. “That’s all?”

“No,” I called. “Down the road a bit and on the other side there’s a house.”

“A house?” said Horace’s voice. “What kind of a house?

“Yeah, what kind of house?” said Ferdinand’s.

“I don’t know,” I hissed. Well, not exactly hissed; there’s that trashy literature I like to read showing its influence again. Anyway, I hissed some more: “It must be the source of those lights you saw, Ferdinand!”

’The source of those –’” came Ferdinand’s sarcastic reply. “Who even talks like that?”

“It’s not a haunted house, is it?” said Horace.

“Horace,” I said, and I admit I was starting to get impatient, “how would I know if it’s haunted? Will you two please come out here?”

There was a pause here during which I could hear Horace and Ferdinand whispering together.

After a minute I heard Ferdinand’s voice again:

“Okay, Arnie, we’re comin’ out.”

“Thank you!” I said.

“No need to be sarcastic, Arnold,” said Horace’s voice.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“What?” came his voice.

“I said I’m sorry,” I said, quite clearly I thought.

“All right then,” said Horace’s voice. “There just better not be any surprises.”

I could hear his footsteps on those dead needles and pine cones, and then I heard the buzzing of Ferdinand.

“Hey,” he said, suddenly, and I realized he was buzzing around my head. “It’s a road.”

“I told you it was,” I said.

“And down there, some kind of house, with lights on.”

“Again,” I said, “just as I said there was.”

Right about then Horace emerged from the woods, and almost bumped right into me.

“Wow, it is a road,” he said. “And a house of some kind down there, with lights in the windows.”

“Well, I hope you two will take me at my word in the future,” I said.

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah,” said Horace. “Jeeze, Arnie.”

“What?” I said.

“No need to get all high and mighty, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.



“Yeah,” said Horace. “Nobody likes being talked down to, Arnie.”

I sighed.

“Nobody likes being sighed at, too, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.



“I know I don’t,” said Horace.

With every milligram of will I possessed I suppressed another and even greater sigh.

“Okay,” I said. “I apologize.”

“No apology necessary,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah,” said Horace. “We’re not looking for apologies.”

Despite the almost complete lack of manmade or celestial illumination out here I could see that Horace still held the flask, and I wondered how much of the whisky he and Ferdinand had drunk in those woods.



At this point I had one of my famous brainwaves, to wit: these two were drunk, and annoyingly so. If they kept drinking they would become more drunk. If they got more drunk they would become even more annoying and unreasonable than they already were.



Therefore:

“By the way, Horace,” I said, trying not  to sound calculating, “I think I would like a slug of that scotch.”

“Really?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I guess I’m just a little nervous and out of sorts.”

“Well, a little whisky’ll straighten that out for ya,” said Horace.

“Now we’re talking,” said Ferdinand. “This is the Arnie I know and love. Give him the flask, Horace.” 


“Mais oui,” said Horace. “Avec plaisir!

The open flask was almost in my face.

I took it, and without even bothering to wipe off its mouth, I put it to my lips, and took a gulp, and then another, and one more.

Each gulp of whisky I took would be that much less for Horace and Ferdinand, both of whom certainly didn’t need any more.

I paused, my throat feeling as if a blowtorch had been shoved into it and turned on full blast, and then I raised the flask again and gulped again, then again, and again.

I lowered the flask and made a sound like a hot wind blowing across the desert.

Horace took the flask from my hand and shook it.

“Jeeze, Arnie, you were thirsty!”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “What’d he do, finish it?”

“Damn near,” said Horace. “Maybe a shot or two left.”

“Hey, thanks for saving us some, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“You’re welcome,” I said, vaguely realizing that by attempting to deny Horace and Ferdinand the means to get much more drunk I had succeeded in making myself drunk.

“I think I better keep the rest of this for later,” said Horace, and he screwed the stopper back onto the flask. “Okay,” he said, and he shoved the flask back into his inside jacket pocket. “Now what?”

“I think we should go up to that house,” I said.

“Go up to the house,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Just – you know, check it out?”

“What do you mean, ‘check it out’?” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, what exactly do you mean, Arnold,” said Horace.

“Just – I don’t know, look at it,” I said. I had an idea that if we knocked on the door that maybe someone would let us come in, and that they would give us food.

“It looks creepy,” said Horace.

“That it does,” said Ferdinand. “That it does.”

I turned to the right and looked at the house, down the road and across the road and set back a bit, and now I could even make out a few trees near it, and what looked like sheds of some sort, or maybe garages or barns, and some bushes.

It all did look creepy, even with those lights on in its windows. But I was hungry.

“Look,” I said, “we’ll just walk up and take a look. Maybe it’s an – I don’t know – an inn of some sort?”

“An inn?” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “An inn?”

“Well, I mean, it could be an inn,” I said.



“Right,” said Horace. “A quaint country inn.”

“Run by a kindly retired professor,” said Ferdinand. 

“And his grey-haired wife,” said Horace.

“Enjoining us to eat roast beef sandwiches, and apple pie with ice cream,” said Ferdinand.

“With warm chocolate syrup,” said Horace.

“And pouring us glasses of sherry,” said Ferdinand. “Don’t forget the sherry.”


There was a pause here, during which neither of my companions spoke, nor did I, until finally after a minute I did:

“Look,” I said. “What else are we going to do? Just keep walking, down this dark road?”

“Well –” said Horace.

“Yeah –” said Ferdinand.

“Wait,” I said. “You guys would really rather just keep walking in the darkness, rather than at least just going up to the house, and, and –”

“But it’s scary house, Arnold!” said Horace. “Wake up! A scary house! I thought you told me you liked to read cheap novels!”

“I do,” I said.

“Then don’t you know you never go up to a scary house?”

“Never,” said Ferdinand. “Absolutely never.”

“It’s suicide,” said Horace.

“Tantamount to,” said Ferdinand.

“Somebody’s going to die,” said Horace.

“If not everybody,” said Ferdinand.”

“Right,” said Horace. “If not everybody.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Okay what?” said Horace.

“Okay we just walk past the house,” I said. “Just walk by and keep going.”

“Walk by it?” said Horace.

“Yes,” I said. “Just walk by and keep going, down the dark road.”

“Um, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Now what?” I said.

“’Walk by the house’,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, and I admit, I might have allowed some frustration to become evident in my tone of voice. “Just walk by the house.”

You walk by the house,” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “Please, be our guest. Go on down there and walk by the house. We’ll wait here. If we don’t hear any screams, maybe, just maybe, we’ll follow you.”

“Oh, come on,” I said.

“I say we head in the opposite direction,” said Horace.

“I second that motion,” said Ferdinand. “Let’s go.”

“Away from the house,” I said.

“Yes,” said Ferdinand. “Away from the house. That house which is so obviously, what, reeking of doom, and horror.”

“Very well put,” said Horace. “Reeking of doom and horror.”

“Thank you, Horace,” said Ferdinand. “Coming from you, that is a real compliment. Okay, we ready?”

“Been ready,” said Horace. “You ready, Arnold?”

Again I suppressed a sigh.

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“In what direction, Arnie?” said Ferdinand.

“In the opposite direction from the house,” I said.

“That dark scary house of horror,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh, no,” said Ferdinand.

“What?” I said.

“You feel that?” he said.

I felt rain on my shoulders, my head, my face.

“Rain,” I said.

“Shit,” said Horace, and I could see and hear the raindrops splattering off of his fedora.

Then as if some celestial stagehand had thrown a switch a flash of lightning lit up the entire world around us, the woods, the road, the empty fields across the road, the thick dark canvas of the sky, and that big gabled and spired house a hundred yards down the road. Then the switch was pushed up and the world fell dark again just as a burst of thunder shook the ground with the sound of a thirty-car freight train tumbling down a mountainside.

The rain began to fall harder, and Ferdinand flew into my ear for shelter.

“Shit,” he said.

“Shit, fuck and damn,” said Horace.



The rain came down, hard, as if a great gash had been ripped through the dark sky and a whole ocean was pouring through it.

Without another word, both Horace and I (with Ferdinand warm and dry in the porch of my ear) set off at a run down the dark road, through the stinging and drenching rain, toward the house.


(Continued here, until that very last marble copybook has been transcribed, with all misspellings, errata, and internal inconsistencies rigorously included.)



(Please scroll down the right hand column of this page for a a quite-often current listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Christmas is just around the corner, so order now for your own Railroad Train to Heaven™ action figures – the perfect stocking-stuffers for young and old!)





Friday, November 7, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 417: not nothing


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, here in a dark evergreen forest with his friends the immortal Horace P. Sternwall (author of many revered classics, such as A Broad Named Maude and They Call Him Cad) and Ferdinand, the talking fly...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you’re looking for a new and harmless hobby then click here to return to the very beginning of this 57-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Arnold Schnabel somehow managed to make of himself not only the greatest and most original author in the American literary canon, but also one of its most engaging and delightful characters.” – Harold Bloom, in the
American Journal of Medicine.






Horace took my arm. I’m never comfortable having a man walk arm in arm with me, but in this dark forest I didn’t mind so much.

“Give me another hit off that muggles, will ya, Arnie?” he said.

I had forgotten I was holding the reefer. It was still lit, a tiny red – and, yes, somehow reassuring – fleck of light in this world of vaguely shifting blackness, and so from my right hand I passed it to his left hand, and as we trudged along on those dead needles and cones Horace proceeded to puff away with vigor.

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand, somewhere invisibly ahead of us. “I like your style, Horace P. Sternwall, I really do!”

“Hey, you know what my motto is, my little friend?” said Horace in a tightened voice, without releasing the smoke from his lungs.

“No, I don’t,” said Ferdinand. “But I think you’re gonna tell us." 


Without breaking stride Horace exhaled a great opalescent cloud of smoke, and now I could see Ferdinand buzzing happily around inside it, breathing as much of it in as he could.

“Ha ha,” said Horace. “I dig your style, too, Ferdy. But here’s my motto.”

Before going on he took another puff on the “muggle”, and, holding in the smoke all the while, he spoke:

“Don’t put off. Any pleasure. Do it. Now. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Not an hour from now. Not a minute from now.”

He finally exhaled again, and once again Ferdinand hovered and twirled and spun in the midst of the fragrant smoke.

“What about one second from now?” said Ferdinand after he had sucked in and then exhaled all the smoke his minuscule lungs could hold.

“Not even a second!” said Horace, as we tramped on between those trees that were only barely less dark than the darkness in which they implacably stood. “What if you have a heart attack? What if a goddam piano falls on your head? What if they drop the fucking A-bomb?”

“Or what if some stupid housewife swats you with a fly-swatter?” said Ferdinand. “Or even worse, sprays some of that obnoxious poison shit Flit on you? What about that?”

“Ha ha!” said Horace. He squeezed my arm. “Don’t worry, Arnie. Here.” He held the reefer in front of me. “Take another toke.”

What could I do? 

True, I could have said no. Horace and Ferdinand would have chided me of course, but I don’t think the fear of their hearty masculine raillery was the reason why I took the reefer and puffed away on it quite freely as we made our way through that dark forest, no, I think it was because it was simply easier to do so, because I myself was quite simple, in the sense of “simpleton”.



“That’s our Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“He’s not so bad,” said Horace.

“It’s his Roman Catholic background,” said Ferdinand. “He can’t help being a square sometimes.”

Horace squeezed my arm.

“Just remember, Arnie,” he said. “This is the second that counts, the one we’re in.”



“Horace is right,” said Ferdinand. “I’m a fly. You better believe I live second to second, man!”

I suddenly realized that the marijuana was strongly affecting my brain. I almost felt that I too was a fly, or maybe a moth, buzzing around in my head, trying to get out.



“But what if a second lasted forever?” I found myself blurting out.

“What?” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “What?”

“What if a second wasn’t followed by another second,” I said, tramping merrily along while taking another puff on the reefer.


“What the fuck are you saying, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, after a couple of seconds in which my last sentence seemed to vibrate in the darkness all around us, among those trees that were only slightly distinguishable from the air that surrounded them and me and my friends, those trees which now seemed almost to be obligingly stepping out of our way.

“Yeah,” said Horace. “What the fuck are you trying to say, Arnie?"

“What if all of existence was just one long continuous second,” I said. “One endless moment.”

“What the fuck?” said Horace.

“Yeah, man,” said Ferdinand. “What the fuck?”

“And not only endless, but without beginning either,” I said. “Just one enormous moment, no beginning, no end. No middle either. Just one moment which exists beyond the concepts of past and future, beyond even the concept of the present.”

Horace and I tramped along arm in arm through the darkness, following the faint but unmistakable buzzing of Ferdinand leading the way.

“What the fuck, Arnold,” said Horace after a while, again.

“Yeah, what the fuck, Arnold,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, wait,” I said. “The reefer has gone out. Horace, you want to get those matches out?”



“Tell ya what, Arnie,” said Horace. “Stick it in your shirt pocket, we’ll smoke the rest later.”

“But,” I said, “but what about this second?”

“Fuck this second,” said Horace, “because you’re giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

 
“Yeah, me, too, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Seriously, just put the joint away for a while.”

“Okay,” I said, and I dropped the extinguished reefer into my workshirt pocket.

“And try not to say anything really weird, at least until we’re out of these woods,” said Horace.

“I’ll try,” said the little moth inside my head. “I’m sorry.”

“Okay, don’t worry about it,” said Horace. “How much farther you think we got, Ferdinand?”

“Can’t be too much farther,” said Ferdinand.

“Thank God!” said Horace. 


“And I goddam hope it’s not much farther,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, me too,” said Horace.



“I’m sorry if I upset you guys,” I said. “It’s just that I got to thinking about the whole concept of time, and if it’s possible for existence to exist outside of any notion of –

" 
"Arnie!” said Ferdinand. “What did we just ask you not to do?”

“Um,” I said.

“Yeah, Christ, Arnie,” said Horace. “Just keep a lid on it until we get out of these goddam creepy woods, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, “but –”

“But what, man?”

“That lady Lily said there was ‘nothing’ beyond the woods. So what if there really is nothing on the other side of these woods? I mean, literally nothing? What if the world just ends there, like a cliff, looking out on nothing – nothing but, like, the vast empty reaches of outer space?”

“Oh, Jesus, Arnie,” said Horace. “You’re fucking killing me.”

“Well, I’m only repeating what she said –”

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Did I not fly above the trees, and did I not see lights in the distance?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So how can there be nothing out there if I saw lights?”

“I don’t know,” I said. 


“Lights are not nothing,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said.

“So there is something out there.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“What do you mean you guess so?”

“Yeah, Arnie,” said Horace, “you’re not even being logical now.”

“But what if those are just lights in the middle of the nothingness?” I said.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Arnie,” said Horace.

“Yeah, look, Arnie, do us all a favor and stop trying to scare the shit out of us.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to. But what if maybe the lights are a portal into another universe?”

“Arnie!” said Ferdinand.

“Yes?” I said.



“Just zip it, okay? Just till we get to wherever we’re going.”

If we ever get there, I said to myself.

“What do you mean, ‘If we ever get there’?” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”

Horace squeezed my arm again, hard this time.

He put his lips close to my ear as we stumbled on, and he whispered.

“Please just shut up for a while, Arnie. Or else I swear I’m going to get hysterical. I told you I’m a coward, so please just shut up for a while."

“Okay,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“All right,” said Ferdinand. “We got that settled, now let’s keep moving and get the hell out of this nightmare.”

It’s not easy to follow a fly in a dark forest, but Horace and I did our best, following Ferdinand by the sound of his buzzing and by his voice, as he checked in with us every minute or so.

“This way, guys, keep up now. You okay, Arnie?”

“Oh, sure,” I said.



“You’re sure?” he said.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine,” I said.



“You okay there, Horace?” said Ferdinand.

“Don’t worry about me, pal,” said Horace.

“Okay, just checkin’. You guys need to take a rest you just let me know.”

“We don’t need a rest,” said Horace. “Let’s just keep going. Right, Arnie?”

“Oh, sure,” I said.



I realized that I had upset my friends with my philosophical musings, and it seemed best just to try to forget about it and move on. I tried to make my mind a blank, because I was afraid if I thought something about time and infinity and nothingness and other universes that I might forget myself and speak my thoughts aloud.

But then I also realized at once that I am incapable of making my mind go blank, at least not willfully, and so I tried to occupy myself by thinking of something nice. I thought about Elektra – her smell, her voice, her kind eyes, her soft skin the color of a black-and-white milkshake. It seemed like five and a half years since I had last seen her, although I realized in another sense that it had not even been twelve hours. Maybe someday I would see her again.

Someday.

Some day, some day or night, some hour in the future, but would that future be years from now, even if it were technically this very day?

Or was I to be marooned forever in worlds that did not even exist?

Would I finally find myself alone, for all eternity, in a state of darkness and nothingness? 

Would I be nothing?

Nothing, I thought. Nothingness. Nothing more nor less than nothing.

Nothing.

Only nothing.

Nothing.


“Arnie!” yelled Ferdinand.

“Yes, Ferdinand?” I said.

“Will you please shut up?”

Thank you, Ferdinand!” said Horace.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Was I speaking aloud again?”

“Yes, you were speaking aloud!” said Ferdinand.

“Loud and clear!” said Horace.

“Jeeze, I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry,” said Ferdinand, “just stop doing it!”

“I will,” I said.

“Wait,” said Horace.

“What?” said Ferdinand.



Horace stopped, and stopped me with him.

“I just remembered I have a flask on me.”

“Oh, thank God,” said Ferdinand.

“I got it out of Laughing Lou’s glove compartment,” said Horace. “You like scotch, Ferdinand?”

“Yes, I like scotch,” said Ferdinand, “but at this point I’d take a quadruple shot of grain alcohol.”

“Let me just get it out,” said Horace, and he took his arm away from mine.

My eyes had gradually gotten much more adjusted to the darkness, and so I could just make out Horace reaching into his jacket and taking out Laughing Lou’s leather-encased flask. He unscrewed the cap on its little hinge.



“Just pour me a little in the palm of your hand, Horace,” said Ferdinand, “and I’ll lap it right up.”

“Will do, partner,” said Horace, and I vaguely saw him holding the flask upside down over his left hand, apparently letting a few drops fall into his upturned palm, and I could only just sort of make out Ferdinand flying into the tiny pool of whisky.

Horace lifted the flask to his lips with his free hand, and I heard him gulping.

He brought the flask away and sighed deeply.

“You want a hit, Arnie? If you promise to stop scaring the shit out of us?”

“Oh, no, thanks, Horace,” I said. “I’m good. But you two go ahead.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we will.”

I turned away, leaving them to their bibulous pleasures.

I looked out into those dark woods.

And then I thought I saw something, a faint glow of some sort.

I took a few steps ahead.

“Hey, Arnold,” said Horace. “Don’t go wandering off.”

“Oh, I won’t,” I said.

I went a few more steps, and suddenly I realized that I had stepped out of the forest. Right there in front of me, separated from the woods by a narrow scrubby verge, was a dark paved road. Above was a thick nighttime sky, with not a star in sight. Across the road I could just make out what looked like a wooden fence. And down to the right, across the road and set back from it, maybe a hundred yards away from where I stood, was the bulk of some sort of big house or building, with turrets and gables and dormers, and lights in windows.

This was not nothing.


(Continued here, an army of Schnabelists would have it no other way.)



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Friday, October 31, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 416: escape


Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel is speeding along a dark country road in a stolen pink 1955 Cadillac “60 Special” driven by his friend the celebrated author Horace P. Sternwall, when suddenly they hear the awful sound of a siren, and, peering into the rearview mirror, they see the approaching flashing lights of a police car...

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you have decided to retire from worldly intercourse and are looking for something really long to read then you may go here to return to the far-off and all-but-forgotten beginnings of this 63-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“Until the day I die I will not cease to expound the glory of the most profound American writer since Horace P. Sternwall: no other than a humble former railroad brakeman named Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the
National Geographic Literary Digest.








“The Twelfth of Never” came to its end, Horace reached over and switched off the radio, and now the police siren sounded much louder.

So this was it.

We were going to get arrested. 



We would be sent to jail. 



So, not only would I still be trapped in the universe of  a paperback novel titled Rummies of the Open Road, but I would be in jail in that novel. What was the sentence for stealing a Cadillac? A year? Two years? But then after all it was my first offense…but – wait – what if it was my third offense in this world? Could I get life in prison?



The above thoughts flashed through my brain in the space of two seconds, and they probably would have continued in that depressing strain indefinitely had not Horace interrupted their flow by speaking:



“We’re just gonna have to outrun them,” he said, and he stepped on the gas.

“Oh, no,” I said. “Horace, you’re going to get us killed.”

“We can’t die,” he said, glancing at me. “The novel we’re in ain’t even half over.”

“You think so?” I said, putting both my hands on the dashboard and pushing against it, as if to push away violent death.

“Yeah,” he said, or shouted actually. We were both shouting by this point, over the roar of the Cadillac’s motor, the rushing of the night air through the windows, the keening of the police siren. “I figure we’re only like thirty-eight thousand words in,” he yelled, glancing at me again. “We need at least thirty more thousand words, maybe more, even for a paperback original, y’know?”

“The cop car is getting closer, Horace,” I said.

I was looking into the rear view mirror. The flashing red hood-light of the police car was getting bigger and brighter by the second, the siren screaming louder, more loudly, progressively more loudly? It was loud.

“Oh, wait,” said Horace, shouted Horace. “I just thought of something.”

“What’s that?” I said, whined.

One of us has to live, but maybe the other one will die. I mean there’s no guarantee that both our characters have to live through the book. Or – I know – maybe the one character gets horribly crippled, even paralyzed maybe?”

“Horace,” I said, “you really have to slow down. I don’t want to be the one to die or get paralyzed.”

“Neither do I,” he said. “Jeeze, Arnold, you really can be self-centered.”

“Horace, just slow down. In fact, slow down and stop the car.”

“Stop the car?” he said. “What? You want to go to jail?”

“No,” I said.

“Because this could wind up being a prison novel, pal. Very easily. There’s no guarantees in the paperback-original novel business.”

“I have an idea,” I said, although I really didn’t have one.

“You do?” he said.

“Yes!” I said, and then all at once I actually did have an idea.

“What is it?” he said.

“You stop the car as quick as you can, before the cop car gets any closer. Then we run into the woods and try to escape.”

That’s your plan?”

“Do you have a better one?” I said.

“Nope,” he said, and abruptly he yanked the gear shift, slammed on the brakes, and brought the scar screeching to a halt on the left side of the road.

He doused the headlights, turned off the motor and pulled out the ignition key, which was still attached to his big ring of a few dozen odd keys which no doubt worked for just as many foreign and domestic motor vehicles.

Then he turned to me.

“Let’s cheese it, pal!”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I jumped out my side, slammed the door shut and ran around the front of the car to follow Horace, who was already running into the darkness of those thick woods.

The woods were almost pitch black, the trees crowded close together, their foliage blocking out any glimmer of light from the nighttime sky. Our feet crunched in dead stuff on the ground.

Horace was just a dark thrashing shape in the darkness in front of me, but I followed him by the sound of his gasping and panting, by the heavy crunching of the soles of his work shoes on the forest floor, by the tinkling of that ring of car-thievery keys in his pocket.

We ran into the darkness.

I could hear the wail of the siren growing louder behind us, but then as Horace and I blindly trampled on through the dark woods the sound of the siren suddenly spiraled down into silence behind us, doubtless as the policeman left their parked cruiser and cautiously approached Laughing Lou’s abandoned pink Cadillac, their revolvers drawn and cocked.

We ran on, Horace panting and wheezing ahead of me, and me just trying to stay behind him. I figured if I did that then at least I wouldn’t crash into a tree. I’m not sure how Horace didn’t crash into a tree, he was probably running with his arms stretched out straight in front of him, or maybe it was just a drunken man’s good luck.

But then after a minute I heard Horace’s pace slowing, the thudding of his shoes growing heavier, his gasping growing louder and more strangled, and finally I banged right into him, and we both went crashing to the ground.

We lay there in the dead pine needles and cones, side by side, and I stared up into those dark leaves above us, if pines can be said to have leaves, if these were indeed pines and not some other species of evergreen, or even a fictional one, what did I know? 



I stared up into the dark stuff growing out from the trees, which may have been pines.

Horace wheezed and panted. I wheezed and panted. The darkness seemed to vibrate above us. I was covered with sweat, presumably Horace was too.

After a couple of minutes, maybe more – while the darkness churned above me like a universe of nothingness that seemed to be drawing me into it, and the only thing keeping me from it was the last ounce of willpower I still possessed – Horace spoke, whispered hoarsely.

“Arnie? Do you hear that?”

Hear what?” I said, whispered, rasped.

“That’s just it,” he said. “There is nothing – no noise, not a sound.”

He sat up, I could hear him doing this, but now, as my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I could see him also, just barely, especially the wet shiny flesh of his face.

I pushed my own corporeal self into a sitting position.

I don’t hear anything either,” I whispered.

“They must have driven on,” Horace said, still in a low voice if not quite a whisper. “What the hell, they got Lou’s car back. They don’t pay those cops enough for them to go chasing through woods at night after a couple of two-bit drifters like us.”

“I guess not,” I said.



“For all they know we’re coldblooded itinerant murderers. Why should they take a chance?”

“That sounds – reasonable,” I said.

I suddenly realized I was still holding between my thumb and forefinger the reefer I had been smoking in the car.



“That’s really odd,” I said.

“What’s really odd?” said Horace.

“I’m still holding that reefer,” I said.

“Oh, good,” he said. “I think I have some matches.”

“Horace!” I croaked.

“What?” he said. “What is it?”

“Horace,” I said, “we can’t smoke this reefer now.”

“Why not?” he said.

“Because, because –” I knew there must be a reason.

“Yes, go on,” said Horace. “I’m waiting. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Because we’re lost in some dark woods,” I said. “We don’t know where we are. And the police are after us!”

“I’m still waiting for a reason why we shouldn’t fire up that doobie,” said Horace, and a flame burst flinchingly into being before my eyes and his smiling sweaty face became visible as he held up the paper match he had just struck.

“Oh, jeeze,” I said.

“C’mon,” he said, “stick that joint in your phiz before the match goes out.”

Without really thinking about it, just as I have done about 99.99% of everything I’ve done in my life, I put the reefer between my lips, and even partially cupped it with one hand as Horace gave me a light.



“There,” he said, shaking out the match as I held in the smoke. “Doesn’t that feel better?”

After holding the smoke in for half a minute I slowly exhaled. Oddly enough, or perhaps not oddly, I did feel better.

“Huh?” he said. “Right?”

“Yes,” I admitted, quietly, and I let out with a small but not entirely unpleasant cough.

“Hey, where the hell am I?” said a familiar if slightly muffled voice. “Why’s it so dark?”

“Ferdinand!” I cried.

“Ha ha,” said Horace.

“What the fuck?” said Ferdinand’s voice. “Arnie?”

“Ferdinand,” I said, pulling the left breast of my seersucker jacket away from the front of my sweaty work shirt. “You’re in my shirt pocket.”

“I am? How’d I get here. And is that reefer I smell?”


“Yes,” I said, my chin to my chest as I addressed my pocket. “Are you able to fly out?”

“I feel crappy,” he said.

“You drank too much champagne,” I said. “Do you want to rest in there for a while?”

“No, I’m comin’ out,” he said, and I heard him more than saw him buzz up out of my pocket to hover between me and Horace.

“Are you okay, Ferdinand?” I said.

“I’ll tell you what would make me feel a whole lot better,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Hit me, Jack.”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“Come on, brother,” he said. “Shotgun.”

“Um?” I said.



“Ha ha,” said Horace. “He means the reefer, Arnie.”

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “Give me a toke of that joint you’re bogarting, Arnold.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

I took another drag on the reefer, held it in for a long moment and then slowly blew it out, and in the plume of pale smoke I could see the tiny hovering dark spot of Ferdinand, breathing it in.

“Ah,” he said, after the smoke had dissipated. “Now I feel better!”



“Good man!” said Horace. “Okay, Arnold, pass it over.”

I passed him the reefer.

“So what’s been happening?” said Ferdinand. “Did I miss anything exciting?”

“Clue him in, Arnie,” said Horace, and I heard him sucking on the reefer.

“Well, you passed out from too much champagne, Ferdinand,” I said, trying not to sound judgmental. “And, while Laughing Lou was supposedly getting us some cheeseburgers, that lady Lily told us that Laughing Lou was going to do us no good, and that we should run away. So we did, and Horace stole a Cadillac that apparently was Laughing Lou’s, but then, just as we were about to take off in the Cadillac, Lou came out into the parking lot and he started shooting a pistol, so Horace pulled out and headed down this dark road, and we found a couple of reefers in the glove compartment, and Horace lit one up, and we were smoking it, but then a police car started chasing us, so Horace pulled up at the side of the road and we ran off into the woods until we finally collapsed here.”

“So not too much has been happening?” said Ferdinand.

“No,” I said. “I guess not. Except we don’t know where we are or what we should do or where we should go.”

I heard the mighty sound of Horace exhaling, and I felt and smelled the smoke, and I heard Ferdinand sighing as he breathed it in.



“You got to learn to accentuate the positive, Arnie,” said Horace.

“Tell me about it,” said Ferdinand. “Arnie’s a cool guy and all, but he can really be a downer sometimes.”

“But, but –” I said.

“Lookit, give me a second or two,” said Ferdinand.

“Okay,” I said. What else could I say?

I heard him buzzing upward.

“Cute little guy,” said Horace. “I really like him. But he’s right, Arnie. You shouldn’t be such a doom-and-gloomer.”

“I know,” I said.

“Here.” I saw the glowing red tip of the reefer coming closer to my face. “Take another hit,” he said. “Maybe it’ll loosen up that railroad spike you got stuck up in your ass.”

“But, but –” I said.

“No buts,” he said. “Now take it.”

I took it, managing not to burn my fingers. And I took a good drag, and held it in. I have very little self-control, as the attentive reader will have noticed long before now.  
I heard a sound like the descent of the world’s tiniest buzz bomb and then Ferdinand’s voice:

“Good news,” he said. “I see lights, and they don’t look too far away.”

“What kind of lights, little buddy?” said Horace.

“Like a house or something.”

“Maybe it’s a diner!” said Horace.

“Maybe,” said Ferdinand. “Couldn’t really tell.”

“Hear that, Arnie?” said Horace. “It could be a diner! We can get some chow, maybe find a way out. Who knows? We’re saved!”

I exhaled the smoke. I wasn’t so sure we were saved, but we couldn’t sit here all night.

“Feel better now, Arnie?” said Ferdinand.

“Sure he feels better,” said Horace. He clapped me on the shoulder. “Come on, Arnie!”

I struggled to my feet. I sensed that Horace was having difficulty getting up, so I reached down, found his arm, and pulled him to his feet.

“Thanks, pal,” said Horace. “So, Ferdinand, which way?”

“Follow me, boys,” said my friend the fly, and he seemed to buzz off in the direction we had been running when we collided and fell.

We followed him into the darkness.


(Continued here, and onward unremittingly.)



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