Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companion that aged rascal Mr. Jones on a brick road in a forest in a land far, far away...
(Go here to read our previous chapter; if you have absolutely nothing better to do with your time you may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume masterpiece of autobiography).
“Far from being a so-called ‘outsider artist’ along the lines of a Henry Darger or a Helen Martins, Arnold Schnabel is rather the ultimate ‘insider artist’, and it is we on the outside who have now have the privilege to enter his world.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Rosie O’Donnell Show.
The forest grew more dense and closer to the road on both sides, and the branches of the trees on either side almost touched above our heads. The road curved away and disappeared in the distance before us. I began to have misgivings.
“Mr. Jones,” I said, speaking very loudly in order to be heard over the noise of the birds.
“Say what?” he called back.
“This is starting to worry me.”
Gamely the old fellow was shuffling along, and I continued to limp along with him.
“It’s those birds,” I yelled (as he and I continued to yell throughout the following conversation). “Those screeching birds. And these woods. And this road.”
I looked up at the filigreed strip of sky visible above the road.
“The sky is creepy too,” I said.
“It’s the same blank grey sky as back at the house,” said Mr. Jones.
“True,” I said, “but what about those children back there?”
“What about them?”
“Well, wouldn’t it make sense that limbo would be, would be on the way to hell, or --”
Mr. Jones stopped, and pointed a finger at me.
“Look, will you stop being such a yellow-bellied poltroon? Who says limbo would be on the way to hell? Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. We don’t know, do we?”
“No,” I said.
He took out his pipe.
“We’ve come this far, let’s keep going.”
He stuck his right hand into his trousers pocket.
“But what if we really are heading to hell?” I asked.
He brought his hand, empty, out of his pocket.
“Arnold, I’m sure we’ll see some indication if we approach the gates of Hades.” He switched the pipe to his right hand, and now he stuck his newly free left hand into his other side trousers pocket. “You know, smoke and fire and whatnot. The cries of the damned.”
“But maybe these screeching birds are an indication,” I said. “It’s so weird, especially because we can’t see the birds.”
His hand came out of his pocket and in its fingers was another folded-up wad of tin foil, about two inches square and a quarter-inch thick.
“Voilà,” he said.
“Wait,” I said, “What are you doing? That’s not more hop, is it?”
“No, it’s not hop,” said Mr. Jones. “It’s just Mary Jane, so relax.”
Putting his pipe between his dentures he unfolded the tinfoil to reveal a thick clump of Mary Jane.
“Found this in Arbuthnot’s couch last night. Not sure how good it is.”
“Mr. Jones, do you really think it’s a good idea to smoke that right now?”
“But it’s all I got to smoke. I gave all my cigarettes to that little Chinee kid back there.”
“Yes, but must you smoke marijuana?”
“You got something else to smoke?”
“No. But must you smoke at all?”
He began to stuff the marijuana into the bowl of his pipe.
“It’s not a question of must, my boy. It’s a question of what I feel like doing.”
“You just smoked a bowl of hop not fifteen minutes ago,” I said.
“What are you, my mother? Christ, Arnold, don’t be a bringdown.”
He was holding the tin foil right above and next to the bowl of his pipe, and with his index finger he carefully wiped every least grain of marijuana from the foil into the bowl.
“You know you gave your matches to that little boy,” I said.
Tossing away the tin foil Mr. Jones reached into his right jacket pocket and brought out another book of matches and showed them to me. Pilot House matches.
He tore one off, struck it, and put the flame to his pipe. He drew deeply, and then, holding in his breath, he offered me the pipe, stem-first.
I shook my head. The birds continued to screech. Thirty-six seconds passed, and then Mr. Jones exhaled the smoke in the direction of my face and, extending the pipe even closer to me, he said, “Come on. Be a man. Take a hit.”
“I don’t think I’d better,” I said.
“I think at least one of us had better keep his wits about him.”
“Pretty fair talk from a former mental case,” said Mr. Jones.
“All right, then,” I said, and I took the pipe.
“That’s the spirit, my boy,” he said.
I drew on the pipe, and held in the smoke.
“There’s a good chap,” said Mr. Jones, taking the pipe back off me. “Hold it in good now.”
I held it in while the birds continued to screech and as Mr. Jones lit another match and put the flame to his pipe again. I looked past him at the woods. At least I couldn’t see any little children.
Finally I exhaled. By the way, please don’t ask me why I took the pipe from him and smoked, don’t ask me why I gave in so easily. Well, all right, if you insist, I suppose the reason was that my pride was hurt by his remark about my mental history. I guess I wanted to show him I could handle it. But I regretted my decision almost immediately. The screeching and cawing and cackling of those invisible birds seemed to be growing louder and more shrill with each passing second. And the seconds now suddenly were passing very slowly, which didn’t help matters at all. Amazingly though, Mr. Jones didn’t seem to be bothered as he blithely puffed away.
He offered me the pipe again.
I was terrified, I was sure that we were very near the gates of hell and that this avian cacophony was indeed the crying of the damned in their sundry eternal torments.
Mr. Jones blew a cloud of smoke in my face and then said, “Go on, you’re wasting the muggles, man.”
As terrified as I was I was still too proud to seem like a coward to this decrepit old reprobate, so I took the pipe and inhaled deeply and held it in.
“Hey, you guys!” someone yelled.
At first I thought I might be imagining the voice. There was so much noise from all those invisible birds.
But then Mr. Jones pointed past me, to the far side of the road.
Still holding in the marijuana smoke I turned, and there, standing by the other side of the road, was a naked thin bearded man who needed a haircut.
“Don’t be alarmed,” called the man.
Now I exhaled the smoke, and lapsed into a coughing fit. Mr. Jones came up behind me and clapped me on the back a few times. God knows why people do this, it really doesn’t help. He also took the pipe out of my hand. I think he didn’t want me to spill the marijuana that was still in it.
The naked man looked up and down the road, or down and up, it was all the same to me after all, and then he walked toward us.
“Pardon my nakedness, but it’s part of my punishment. But what the hell, I’m sure you guys have seen naked men before. In the showers after gym class, or in the service maybe. How are you? You got a cough there, friend?”
“No,” I said, “it was just a little smoke, went down the wrong way.”
“Oh, shit,” said Mr. Jones.
“What?” said the naked man.
“I said oh shit,” said Mr. Jones.
“Heh heh, I get it. That was just what I said when I first walked down this road, lo, many, many moons ago.”
“Looks like you were right, Arnold,” said Mr. Jones.
“Right about what?” said the naked man.
“Right that we were walking into the bowels of hell.”
“Oh, you’re not quite in hell yet,” said the man. “Just close to it. Very close to it in fact. Hey, could I have a puff of that tobacco? You don’t know how many years it’s been since my last smoke and I still think about it all the time.”
“It’s not tobacco,” said Mr. Jones. “It’s Mary Jane. Marijuana.”
“Oh,” said the man. “I’ve never tried that. Is it good?”
“Pretty good, otherwise we wouldn’t be smoking it.”
“Can I have a puff?”
“Damn, you people around here sure are a bunch of moochers, aren’t you?”
“What did you expect? Saints?”
“Ha ha, good one,” said Mr. Jones. “All right, let me just get it goin’. Now watch how I do it. Ya gotta take a good lungful and then hold it in.”
“Hold it in?” said the man.
“Yeah. If you just puff on it like regular pipe tobacco you’re not gonna feel nothing. So hold it in as long as you can. Watch.”
He lit the pipe again, and after taking a good lungful he passed it to the naked man.
“Take a good lungful and hold it in,” repeated the man.
Mr. Jones, still holding in his lungful, nodded.
The man took a good lungful, but then he started coughing, even worse than I had just done.
Quickly Mr. Jones stepped forward and took the pipe from the naked man’s hand.
Mr. Jones let the smoke he’d been holding in drift out of his mouth, and then said, “It takes some practice.”
“Oh. My,” said the man, and he coughed a few more times, but with decreasing violence.
Mr. Jones handed me the pipe. Without thinking about it, I took another lungful myself.
“Can I try it again?” said the naked man, even though he was still coughing a little bit.
“You’re just gonna waste it,” said Mr. Jones. “We only got the one bowl.”
He took the pipe from me, took another few puffs and held them in.
“Just a little bit?” said the naked man, clearing his throat.
Mr. Jones shook his head, but he handed the pipe to the man, who took a good draw and held it in, this time without coughing right away.
I finally remembered to exhale the smoke in my lungs. Mr. Jones nodded to me in an approving way, then he exhaled. Finally the naked man exhaled and immediately went into another coughing fit, a really bad one this time. Once again Mr. Jones grabbed the pipe from the fellow.
“Oh, my,” said the man. “Oh, my.”
Mr. Jones and I looked at one another. He shook his head again, then struck another match and put it to his pipe.
Finally the naked fellow’s coughing subsided.
“Whew!” he said. “So, where are you fellows headed anyway? If it’s purgatory I can take you in, show you around, get you settled. Come on.”
“No!” I said.
“No?” said the naked man. “You mean -- you’re going to the, uh, other place?”
“If by the other place you mean hell then you’re wrong again, buddy,” said Mr. Jones, exhaling smoke as he spoke. “Not yet we ain’t anyway, are we Arnie?”
“What?” I said.
“Christ, you’re stoned already,” said Mr. Jones.
“Stoned?” said the naked man. “You were stoned? That’s a horrible way to die, isn’t it?”
“Uh,” I said.
Mr. Jones tugged on my polo-shirt sleeve.
“I think we better turn back, Arnold.”
“Yeah. I agree,” I said.
“You can’t just turn back,” said the naked man. “That’s not allowed.”
“Watch us, nature boy,” said Mr. Jones.
“But you’re not allowed.”
“Do we look like we give a shit?” said Mr. Jones.
“You’re going to get in trouble.”
“Let us worry about that, pal,” said Mr. Jones.
“I’m only telling you so you don’t get in trouble.”
“Like what kind of trouble, getting condemned to live naked in the woods with no tobacco?”
“Well, yes, now that you mention it, that could happen.”
Suddenly the screeching of the birds, which had never stopped through all this, grew much louder and even more abrasive to my sensitivities.
“Uh-oh, see?” yelled the naked man. “Hear that screeching?”
“We ain’t deaf,” yelled back Mr. Jones. “What the hell is that racket?”
“That’s the screeching of the damned,” yelled the man. “And they’re getting closer. This means you’re in for it. Look, I’m getting out of here before they get here and drag me away too. If you two are smart you’ll follow me.”
“Where?” yelled Mr. Jones.
“Into the woods,” yelled the man.
“Oh no,” yelled Mr. Jones.
“It’s not so bad,” yelled the man. “You get used to it. Like anything else. It’s only purgatory after all.” The screeching swelled again, like a wave rolling down the road. “Oh, shit,” said the man, “they must be almost here. Follow me if you want to, but I’m getting out of here!”
He had been edging toward the woods as he was speaking, and now he turned and ran off into them.
Just then, coming down the road from the direction we had been headed toward, we saw a whole crowd of people, jogging toward us. The people all seemed to be naked. The screeching grew louder and now finally I could tell where the noise was coming from.
“Great,” said Mr. Jones. “Now we’re fucked.”
“We should run for it,” I said.
“Run?” said Mr. Jones. “I haven’t been able to run in over thirty years, and if you don’t mind my saying so I don’t think you’re gonna be able to sprint like Jesse Owens neither.”
“We can’t just stand here and wait for that mob. Let’s go into the woods and try to lose them.”
“Good idea. Let me just have one more hit on the old pipe.”
“Oh, all right. We’ll save it for later.” He stuck his finger into the bowl to tamp its contents down, and then put the pipe in his suit-jacket pocket. “Okay, let’s cheese it. But let’s go in the other side from where that moocher went. He gave me the creeps.”
“Okay,” I said, and I hobbled and Mr. Jones shuffled off the road and into the woods.
Once we were a few yards in Mr. Jones said, “Let’s go straight in until we’re like invisible from the road, then double back toward the big house.”
“Good idea,” I said, and we plunged deeper into the dimness through the undergrowth and the trees as that infernal screeching swelled ever closer behind us.
(Continued here, and incessantly.)
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