Saturday, May 28, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 486: goniff

We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel on a rainy night in August of 1957, sitting in a booth in Bob’s Bowery Bar with his companions Josh (the sometime son of God), Mr. Philpot (that preternatural bookseller), Horace P. Sternwall (the sadly unheralded author), Ferdinand (the talking fly), and Big Ben Blagwell (that nautical adventurer) who had just begun to read aloud the opening sentences of Horace’s novel of despair and terror, The Ace of Death…

(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; anyone looking for a cracking good long read over the summer months may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 64-volume memoir.)

“Even the most casual reader of Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre must inevitably wonder: ‘Is all this meant to be real?’ To which question I must reply, just as inevitably: ‘Yes, it is not only meant to be real, but it is real, as real as the life we live and as real as the dreams we dream.’” – Harold Bloom, in The Psychology Today Literary Supplement.

“Asshole,” said the Bear.

“Two bit punk asshole,” said the Rat.

“Two bit punk asshole of a welsher,” said the Toad, “and you know what we do to two-bit punk asshole welshers?”

“Give them one last chance?” I suggested.

“Very funny,” said the Rat.

“Funny like a jitterbug contest in a polio ward,” said the Bear.

It was happening again. All I wanted to do was to get back to my own world, my own body, my own life, and here I was in what looked like some dark alleyway with three menacing goons.

The one called the Toad was short and fat, and he had a knife in his hand and a cloth cap on his head.

The guy called Rat really did look like a Rat, thin and sharp faced, with a thin moustache and a grey fedora. He had a leather sap in one hand, and he was stroking it with the long bony fingers of his other hand.

The Bear, not surprisingly, was a big tall beefy guy, and he didn’t have a weapon in his hands, but then I guess he didn’t especially need one. He was punching his right fist into the palm of his left hand, slowly, like one punch every two seconds. His fist was as big as a softball, except it didn’t look soft. He wasn’t wearing a hat, and he had a buzz cut.

The Toad stuck the tip of his knife up against the underside of my chin.

“I could make it real quick,” he said. “One quick shove, up into your brainpan. How would you like that?”

“Is it a choice between slow and quick?” I said.

“Comedian,” said the Toad, and he pressed the knife into the flesh right above my Adam’s apple. It hurt, and I felt blood trickling down the front of my neck.

“Ow,” I said, and my head flinched backwards, and hit what felt like a brick wall.

“Funny man,” said the Rat, and he swung the sap and hit me on the elbow with it, and that really hurt.

“Ow,” I said again.

“How’s this for a joke,” said the Bear. “I smack you in the jaw with my fist and break it. Ha ha.”

He raised his fist.

“Oh, shit,” I said. “Hey, wait a minute.”

“I’ll wait one second,” said the Bear. “Then I break your jaw.”

“I take it I owe you fellows some money,” I said.

“It ain’t us you owe it to,” said the Toad.

“Yeah, it ain’t us,” said the Rat.

“Not us,” said the Bear.

“Um,” I said, “just to refresh my memory, uh, who is it again that I owe the money to?”

“What’re you, nuts?” said the Toad.

“Possibly,” I said. “You see, I seem to have been transported into some unknown fictional universe, and I really have no idea what’s going on.”

“He’s nuts,” said the Bear.

“Crazy,” said the Rat.

“I think I’ll just stick him,” said the Toad.

“Wait,” I said. “If I may just say something before you stick me. If you’ll just tell me who it is I owe money to, and how much, then I promise I’ll do everything possible to, to acquire the money, and –”

“He really is nuts,” said the Bear.

“Maybe he’s just pretending,” said the Rat.

“You pretending to be nuts?” said the Toad, and he held the tip of his knife to my throat again.

“No,” I said.

“You would say that, wouldn’t you?” said the Toad.

“But it’s true,” I said.

“He would say that, too,” said the Rat, and he raised his blackjack in a threatening way.

“Honest,” I said. “I’m not pretending to be nuts.”

“So you’re saying you are nuts,” said the Bear.

“Maybe,” I said. “But the fact is I have no idea who it is I owe money to or how much money I owe.”

“You’re saying what –” said the Toad, and he lowered his knife, but only in a tentative way – "you got amnesia?"

“No,” I said. “Amnesia means you’ve forgotten everything. But I never knew anything in the first place, which is what I’ve been trying to tell you, uh, gentlemen.”

“You’re saying you don’t know nothing,” said the Rat.

“Yes,” I said. “I mean no. I mean I don’t know anything and I never did know anything.”

“Maybe you did know and you forgot you knew,” said the Bear. “You ever think of that?”

“No,” I said.

“Maybe you ought to think about it,” said the Bear.

“Classic amnesia case,” said the Rat. “He don’t even remember that he don’t remember nothing.”

“Unless he’s faking it,” said the Toad. “You faking it, pisher?”

“No,” I said.

“So you say,” said the Toad.

“Yeah,” said the Rat. “What if you’re lying between them pearly white teeth?”

“Maybe if I knock them pearly white teeth out of his head he’ll tell us if he’s lying,” said the Bear.

“I’ll tell you now,” I said. “I’m not lying. Please, look, why don’t you take me to your, uh, employer and maybe I can straighten this whole thing out with him.”

“With her,” said the Toad.

“With her?” I said.

“Yeah, with her,” said the Rat.

“Like he don’t know,” said the Bear.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Him, her, whoever.”

“Shit,” said the Toad.

“Weird,” said the Rat.

“I say he’s lying,” said the Bear. “Let’s show him what we do to lying two bit asshole welshers.”

He raised his great fist again.

“But wait,” I said. “Doesn’t your employer want a chance to get his or her money back?”

“You saying you got the money, goniff?” said the Toad.

“I have no idea,” I said. “But if you just give me a chance –”

“He ain’t got no ten grand,” said the Rat. 

“Ten grand?” I said. “That much?”

“You know damn well how much, welsher,” said the Toad.

“I honestly didn’t know,” I said. “Ten thousand, huh?”

“Ten Gs,” said the Toad. “Why? You got that much?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I said.

“Funny man again,” said the Toad. “A regular Phil Silvers.”

“I say we fix him so he never tells another joke again,” said the Rat.

“He wasn’t that funny anyway,” said the Bear. “Let’s tear him apart and dance the black bottom all over the pieces.”

“Listen,” I said. “All I can say is there’s been some terrible mistake, and I have no idea what you guys are talking about and how I’m supposed to owe you –”

“Not us,” said the Toad. “Fat Flo.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Fat who?”

“Fat Flo,” said the Toad. 

“Fat Flo?” I said.

“You heard the man,” said the Rat.

“So,” I said, “this ‘Fat Flo’ is the, uh, lady I owe the ten thousand to?”

“Like you don’t know,” said the Bear.

“But,” – one thing this universe had in common with the last universe I had been in, it was very hot and humid, and I was dripping with sweat – “but, wait," I said, "I’m telling you guys I know nothing about any of this, who Fat Flo is, the ten thousand, why I owe it to her –”

“You know why, welsher,” said the Bear.

“No,” I said. “I have no idea. Why, how, why –”

“You bet on the ace,” said the Toad. 

“I what?” I said.

“The ace,” said the Rat.

“The ace,” I said.

“You shouldn’t’ve bet on the ace,” said the Bear.

“Shoulda bet on the deuce,” said the Toad.

“Okay,” I said, “I still have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t even play cards.”

“I’m gonna enjoy this,” said the Bear, and he punched his fist into his palm again. “I am really gonna enjoy it.”

“Me too,” said the Toad, and he made a circular motion with his knife.

“This is gonna be fun,” said the Rat, and he raised his sap.

“Okay, hold on, guys,” I said. “If you kill me you won’t ever get the ten grand, right?”

“Yeah,” said the Toad, “and if we don’t kill you we still don’t get the ten grand. So we might as well kill you and at least get that satisfaction.”

“Okay,” I said. “Look, I’ll give you the ten Gs, ten grand, the ten thousand. Dollars.”

“You mean you got the ten Gs?” said the Toad.

“Yes,” I said, although I knew no such thing. “Now that I think about it I think I’ve got at least that much on me, yes.”

“What the hell,” said the Rat.

“Yeah, what the hell,” said the Bear.

“Why didn’t you just give us the ten Gs in the first place if you got it,” said the Toad.

“Well, you know how it is,” I said. “Heh heh.”

“I know how it is when you’re a two-bit punk welshing asshole,” said the Toad.

“Ha ha, right,” I said. “So, look, how about if I just give you the ten Gs, and, you know, no hard feelings.”

“What an asshole,” said the Toad.

“Complete asshole,” said the Rat.

“Total asshole,” said the Bear.

“Here, let me get it out for you,” I said.

I put my hand in my jacket pocket, hoping for the best. Luckily for me that snubnose  revolver that that woman Lily had given to me several universes ago was still in there and I brought it out and stuck it in the Toad’s face since he was the one closest to me.

“Shit,” said the Toad.

“Fucking hell,” said the Rat.

Asshole!” said the Bear.

(Continued here, as our editorial team transcribes yet another few pages of Arnold’s holograph, with only the most egregious misspellings and chirographical errors silently corrected.)

(Illustration by Kirk Wilson. Please look down the right hand column of this website to find a purportedly current listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Click here to order our esteemed colleague rhoda penmarq’s new glossy paperback edition of  lover, and other poems by horace p sternwall – “good old-fashioned poems, the kind they don't write any more”!)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 485: Ace of Death

On this fateful rainy night in a fictional August of 1957 our hero Arnold Schnabel forges his way through a drunken crowd of revelers here in Bob’s Bowery Bar, followed by his friends Big Ben Blagwell (that hearty nautical adventurer), Josh (the quondam son of God), and Ferdinand (the talking fly)…

(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding episode; the curious student of abnormal psychology may click here to return to the misty obscure beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)

“The time has come to recognize Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling
chef-d'œuvre as not just the greatest autobiography in the American canon, but as the greatest American work of any literary genre, tout court.” – Harold Bloom, in The Philadelphia Daily News Book Supplement.

Finally I saw the booth dead ahead, with Mr. Philpot and Horace P. Sternwall sitting in it, with a pitcher of something dark on the table, along with beer schooners and shot glasses with something brown in them, and – yes, my book, my possible salvation, my precious unwritten book or at least a simulacrum of it. I shoved brutally past the last few drunks in my way and lurched into the booth, on Horace’s side, the side closest to the entrance.

There it lay, right in front of me, with the embossed dark lettering on its green cover: The Ace of Death, a novel of despair and terror, by Horace P. Sternwall.

“Oh, thank God,” I said. I picked up the book, with my left hand, as my right hand was still throbbing with pain and partially paralyzed.

“Speaking of which,” said Horace, and he pointed with the cigar he had in his hand, “here’s his son right now! How’s it going, Josh?”

Josh was there, sliding into the place across from me, next to little Mr. Philpot.

“Oh, I’m fine, Horace,” said Josh.

And then came Ben, pushing his enormous body into my side of the booth, squashing me up against Horace, and putting his great right arm around my shoulders.

“Don’t think I’m getting fresh, Arnie,” he said. “But it’s kind of a tight squeeze.

“Oh, boy, whiskey,” said Ferdinand, who was now zigzagging around in his happy way over the table, “and a fresh pitcher of bock!”

Without further preamble he landed on the surface of the liquid in a shot glass near me and began lapping away. Ferdinand was never one to stand on ceremony.

“Hey, Ben,” said Horace, “why don’t you get in the other side? Josh and Mr. Philpot are a lot smaller combined than me and Arnold, for Christ’s sake – oh, sorry, Josh.”

“Quite all right, Horace,” said Josh, and he slid the empty schooner that Ben had given him to hold across the table top to Ben.

“Come on, Ben,” said Horace, “get over there with our lord and savior, big buddy.”

“Ah, but Horace,” said Josh, tapping his cigarette ash into a tin ashtray that was overflowing with cigarette and cigar butts and ashes, “I have news for you and Mr. Philpot – it’s official, I am merely a human being now.”

“Ha ha, you jest, my lord,” said Mr. Philpot, who was smoking a pipe, but it seemed to me to be a different pipe than the one he’d been smoking the last time I saw him – this one was a dark reddish wooden one with what looked like William Shakespeare’s head carved into the bowl. He started to pour some of the dark liquid in the pitcher into an empty schooner in front of Josh.

“No, I’m not jesting, Mr. Philpot,” said Josh, “– thanks for the pour by the way –”

“You are quite welcome, dear lord,” said Mr. Philpot, and he shoved the pitcher over towards me and Ben.

“But that’s just it, sir,” said Josh, “you needn’t call me ‘dear lord’, because I really am just an ordinary human being now.”

“Oh ho, yes, sure,” said Mr. Philpot. “Quite risible my dear lord, quite risible indeed!” He waved at the six filled shot glasses that were set out at intervals on both sides of the table. “I ordered a round of Old Forester’s along with the pitcher, so don’t anyone say old Philpot ever shirks his shout. Horace and I have been waiting for you guys, so let’s drink up.” He picked up the shot glass in front of him and he turned to Josh. “To our friend ‘Josh’,” he said. “He might say he’s just a normal human being, but to me he will always be our most dearly beloved and most merciful lord and savior. Hear, hear, gentlemen!”

Horace, Ben and Josh all picked up the shot glasses nearest to them. I wanted to start writing in the book, but with all the aches and pains emanating increasingly from various places on my body a shot seemed like a good idea at the moment. My right hand was still pulsing with hurt, and so I picked up the shot glass nearest me with my left hand, but I saw that Ferdinand was still lapping away at its contents.

“Hey, easy there, buster!” yelled Ferdinand.

“No, no, my dear chap,” said Mr. Philpot. “That is Ferdinand’s shot.” He pointed to another shot, a few inches farther to the left from where Ferdinand’s had been. “Take that other one.”

“Yeah, jeeze, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, “you already swallowed me once tonight, give me a break.”

“Sorry, Ferdinand,” I said.

I put Ferdinand’s shot glass back on the table and picked up the other one.

I drank, we all drank. The reader with a good memory might recall my claim that I rarely drink shots down at one go, but I made an exception in this case. It burned on the way down of course, but the burn was quickly replaced by a suffusion of pleasure through my entire body and brain, no, not so much pleasure, but a warm numbness that significantly lessened the various physical pains I had been suffering just a moment before, as well as the moral and psychological ones, I’m tempted almost to say the spiritual pains.

My table companions immediately resumed verbal discourse, as Ben poured black foamy liquid into a schooner in front of me, and then into another for him, but their words faded into an untranslated babble as I sighed beneath the weight of Ben’s heavy warm arm.

I took a drink of the black liquid, which I surmised tasted indeed like some sort of beer, apparently or allegedly a bock, not that I could tell for sure, I who customarily drank beers that tasted all alike in their soothing blandness, like Schmidt’s or Ortlieb’s, but this one whatever it was was a welcome change. Maybe if I ever made it back to my own world I would start ordering bocks and stouts, maybe I would even wear a beret and grow a goatee and buy a pair of bongo drums and try to learn how to play them.

I had put the book, The Ace of Death, back down on the table. There it was, my only hope of escaping this dream in which I had been caught for what felt like four years at least. 

I took out the pen from my shirt pocket, that green and yellow Eversharp ballpoint. I used my right hand, which still ached, but to which a modicum of functionality had now returned, thanks to the Old Forester and that first refreshing gulp of bock.

Before opening the book I took a moment to think about what I was going to write. I didn’t want to descend into literary hemming and hawing and false starts as I had done the last time I had tried to write in it.

The thing to do, I thought, was just to get right to the point, the point being to transmit “me”, that is my consciousness of me as Arnold Schnabel, out of the body and the world I was in and back into the body and world I had left behind, my so-called “real” world, making sure to stipulate – if possible, in the very first sentence – that I would be mysteriously but completely free of pain upon my re-entry to my version of planet Earth.

Or was that asking too much? Very well, I would allow a few minor aches and pains, but no debilitating ones. So I would need to write something like: 

Arnold Schnabel suddenly returned to his body and to the world he had grown up in and lived in for forty-two years, and much to his relief he found himself mysteriously but completely free not only of excruciating lower back pain but also of crippling pain in his knees.  

How hard could it be to write something that simple?

I uncapped the pen, put the cap on the rear end of the barrel, took a breath, and opened the book.


Where previously there had been a blank page I now saw the printed words:

The Ace of Death
a novel of despair and terror
Horace P. Sternwall

I flipped through the book and the pages were filled with print, with words and punctuation marks.

I closed the book.

“Hey,” I said.

“Okay, Ben,” said Josh, “thank you, but no.”

“What’s the matter with her?” said Ben, he was pointing at a fat drunken negro woman dancing what might have been the black bottom, possibly by herself, holding a beer bottle, and with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

“I don’t know,” said Josh. “She just seems a little, how shall I put it –”

“You’re just prejudiced is what you are, my friend,” said Ben.

“I’m not prejudiced!” said Josh.

“Hey,” I said.

“I like negro gals,” said Ferdinand, who was now sitting on the rim of his shot glass, which was half empty. “They’re real, man, no bullshit, not like these white chicks.”

“Gotta say I’m with you, Ferdy,” said Horace. “Gimme that brown sugar, man. What about you, Mr. Philpot, you like your women dark like your beer?”

“I like women anyway I can get ‘em,” said Mr. Philpot, “although at my age I’m afraid I have to pay through the nose for ‘em –”

“Hey, guys,” I said.

“What about you, Arnie,” said Ben. “You like them dusky black gals?”

“Listen,” I said. “Something has happened to my book.”

“Your book,” said Ben, “your book –”

“He’s obsessed with that book,” said Ferdinand.

“It’s a Horace P. Sternwall book,” said Horace. “Why shouldn’t he be obsessed with it? Ha ha!”

“How come there’s words in it now?” I said, tapping the cover. “This book was blank before.”

“Yes, my dear chap,” said Mr. Philpot, with what I assumed was meant to be a chuckle, a sound like an aged crow coughing, “that was rather naughty of me, selling you a blank book, ha ha. I felt guilty and so I put words in it for you. But very much words in our friend Horace’s typical style.”

“There ya go, Arnold,” said Horace, and he gave me a little punch in the arm. “You got one of my books. Enjoy.”

“But I wanted to write my own book,” I said.

“Wow,” said Horace, “that kind of makes me feel like chopped liver.”

“But it’s not even really your book, Horace,” I said. “Mr. Philpot made it somehow, with his – his magic, or voodoo –”

“Still it’s got my name on it,” said Horace. “And Mr. Philpot said it’s in my style.”

“Very much so,” said Mr. Philpot.

“But you see,” I said, “you don’t understand –”

I held up the Eversharp pen, as if this would help him understand.

“It’s like this,” said Ferdinand. He had been drinking some more of his whiskey, but now he’d flown up onto the rim of his shot glass again, and he wiped his mouth with one of his arms before continuing. “Arnold wanted to write his own book because he wanted to make it a – stop me if I misrepresent this, Arnold – he wanted to make it a novel in which he returns to his own world.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Philpot. “Well, that makes sense, but, I’m sorry, I did not know that.”

“No one’s blaming you, Mr. Philpot,” said Ferdinand.

“I’m sure Mr. Philpot meant well,” said Josh.

“I think it was a very nice gesture of Mr. Philpot,” said Horace. “Of course I’m a bit prejudiced because it is one of my books.”

“It looks like a good one, Horace,” said Ben. “The Ace of Death. Sounds pretty, like, suspenseful. I’d like to read it.”

“Thank you, Ben,” said Horace.

“Can I take a look at it, Arnie?” said Ben.

“Yeah, sure, Ben,” I said.

I shoved it over closer to him. 

Now I had no plan, none whatsoever. I was trapped in this universe. 

But then it occurred to me all at once that maybe all I had to do was find a piece of paper, anything, just something to write on. I realized that my schooner of beer was sitting on a cardboard coaster, a Rheingold beer coaster. I lifted the schooner and turned the coaster over. It was blank – yes! This could work…

“Shit,” said Ben, he was holding the book up open near his face, reading while moving his lips. “Say,” he said. “This is good! Great opening here, Horace.”

“Thank you,” said Horace.

“Just dumps you right into the action,” said Ben.

“That’s the way I like to do it,” said Horace. “Just get right to it without a lot of pussyfooting around.”

“Read it out loud, Ben,” said Ferdinand. “I’m curious.”

“Okay,” said Ben.

“No, wait,” I said.

“No, listen, Arnie,” said Ben, “this is really good.”

“No, Ben,” I said, “Jesus, please –

“Yes?” said Josh.

“Ha ha,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Go ahead, read it Ben,” said Horace. “Out loud.”

And Ben began to read out loud.

(Click here for our next thrilling episode.)

(Kindly scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a purportedly current listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Please click here to order our friend rhoda penmarq’s {under the pen name “horace p sternwall”} “the little cheeseburger girl, and other stories” – it’s the feel-good hit of the summer season!)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 484: religion

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here amidst a drunken crowd in Bob’s Bowery Bar, on this momentous rainy night in a version of August of 1957; in attendance also: that roistering nautical adventurer Big Ben Blagwell, “Josh” (aka the son of God), and Ferdinand, the loquacious fly…

(Please click here to read our immediately previous thrilling chapter; the curiously intrigued may go here to return to the far-off and half-forgotten beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume memoir.)

“And so is Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre indeed a memoir, or a roman fleuve, or a religious testament? Could it perhaps be all three?” – Harold Bloom, in The Sports Illustrated Literary Issue.

I raised my hand and extended it towards Ben’s massive waiting hand, but then I had another attack of honesty or cowardice, cowardly honesty let’s say, and I quickly closed up my fingers and drew my hand back.

“Ben,” I said, “before you shake my hand, I just want to ask you please not to crush it.”

“Gee, Arnie,” said Ben, and he did look somewhat hurt, I have to admit. “I had no intention of crushing your hand.”

“I know,” I said. “But you’re very strong, and I’m afraid that in an access of enthusiasm you might crush my hand.”

“I promise I will be gentle,” he said.

“Ha ha, I love this,” said Ferdinand, who was still hovering in the plume of smoke trailing up from the Sweet Caporal in Ben’s left fist.

“Hey,” said Ben, addressing Ferdinand. “I’m sorry if I’m a strong guy. But you just wait until we get in a scrape. Then maybe you guys will appreciate it how strong I am.”

“We appreciate it,” said Ferdinand. “We appreciate you’re a big ox.”

“Hey, Josh,” said Ben. “Back me up here, will you, brother?”

“What?” said Josh. “I’m afraid I didn’t hear any of that, it’s so noisy in here –”

Actually I think he just wasn’t paying attention. He really was taking on what seemed like very human traits.

“I’m only saying,” said Ben, “that these guys will appreciate it and be thankful how strong I am if we get in a rumble.”

“Oh, I know I will,” said Josh.

“There ya go,” said Ben. “You guys hear that? And that is coming from the son of God himself.”

“Retired son of God,” said Josh, with a slight smile, a smile that almost wasn’t a smile. “I’m a human man now, remember.”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “But still. You used to be the son of God, so that’s got to mean something.”

“Well –” said Josh.

“It means something,” said Ben. “That’s all I’m saying. And it means something to me that you appreciate me.”

“Well, sure – “ said Josh.

“Not that I was ever much for religion myself,” said Ben.

“Well, I’m sure you have your own personal code,” said Josh, “a sort of personal religion –”

“I ain’t about to pray to no God,” said Ben.

“And I think that’s quite a legitimate choice –” said Josh.

“I seen too many guys praying, begging for God to help ‘em when they was burning up down in the boiler room after the ship got hit by a Jap torpedo.”

“Well, I can see how an experience like that –” said Josh.

“God didn’t help them poor guys,” said Ben.

“And I’m very sorry to hear that –” said Josh.

“So what’s the point of praying?” said Ben.

“Well, I think that some people think that prayer is a way to, to, uh –”

“It’s bullshit, Josh,” said Ben. “Excuse me for saying so.”

“No, that’s quite all right –”

“It’s bullshit,” said Ben, again.

“Yes,” said Josh, “well, that’s certainly a valid, er, well, let’s say it’s an honorably arguable position, that, um  –”

“So, yeah,” said Ben, cutting in. “I am not exactly what you would call the religious type. In no way, shape or whatever.”

“Form,” said Ferdinand.

“Form,” said Ben. “In no form am I even remotely religious. And I hope you don’t mind me saying that, Josh.”

“No, not at all,” said Josh.

“Not religious,” said Ben.

“Okay, we get it,” said Ferdinand.

“That’s just me,” said Ben. “Love me or leave me.”

“Heh heh,” said Josh.

“I just don’t buy it,” said Ben. “Religion. At all.”

“And that’s okay,” said Josh. “But –”

He paused, as if he had forgotten what he wanted to say, and I noticed that now he was sweating even more profusely, more so than even Ben or me.

“What?” said Ben.

“Pardon me?” said Josh.

“You said ‘but’. ”

“I did?”

“Yeah,” said Ben.

"Oh," said Josh.

“But what?” said Ben.

“But, uh –” said Josh.

“But,” said Ben.

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand.

“Hey, Ferdy,” said Ben. “Let Josh finish.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdy. “Sure, Ben. Oh, shit. Ha ha.”

Ben turned to Josh again.

“Go on, Josh. Don’t listen to him. But what.”

“But –” said Josh, and then: “Oh! I remember now. Just that you may not be ‘religious’ per se, but I think it’s true that nonetheless you have a code, a sort of personal code, which, which, uh  –”

“I got a code,” said Ben. “My code is that you look out for your buddies. That’s my code.”

“And an excellent code it is,” said Josh.

He took his handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his brow under the brim of his straw trilby.

“I’m gonna piss myself,” said Ferdinand. “I swear.”

“What do you mean?” said Ben. “What’s so funny.”

“What’s so funny is the way you’re torturing poor Josh.”

“I’m not torturing him,” said Ben. “Josh, am I torturing you?”

“No,” said Josh, and, stuffing his handkerchief any old way back into his breast pocket, he quickly looked away, into that crowd of dancing and thrashing drunken people that surrounded us.

“See?” said Ben, addressing Ferdinand. “Josh says I’m not torturing him. ‘Cause all I’m saying is that even if he is the former son of God I don’t hold that against him.”

“You don’t hold what against him?” said Ferdinand.

“Not helping them poor shipmates of mine who were praying to him while they was getting burnt alive.”

“Wow,” said Ferdinand.

“Getting eaten up by sharks in the water.”

“Okay,” said Ferdinand.

“Being tortured by Nazi black leather lace panty vixens.”

“Oh, boy.”

“Horribly tortured,” said Ben.

Josh had turned to face Ben again. Ben took a great drag of his Sweet Caporal, then exhaled the smoke in Josh’s direction.

“Okay, Ben,” said Ferdinand, “let’s get back to the booth and order some drinks.”

“Tortured to death,” said Ben staring directly at Josh.

Josh heaved a great sigh. He glanced away again, into that mob of dancing, thrashing, shouting and laughing drunkards, then he turned back to Ben. It seemed as if he were trying to think of something to say, but coming up blank, and finally all he said was, “Uh –”, and then nothing.

“But I don’t hold it against you, Josh,” said Ben, and he gave Josh a little punch on his left shoulder, little for Ben anyway, because Josh managed to remain on his feet, although he did stumble back a step. He rubbed his shoulder with his right hand and he looked at Ben.

“Look, I’m sorry for everything, Ben,” he said.

“Really?” said Ben, but not in a sarcastic way.

“Yes,” said Josh. “I honestly am sorry. That I – that we, that is my father, myself, and H.G. –”

“H.G.?” said Ben.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Josh. “H.G., the holy ghost –”

“Oh, I get it,” said Ben. “H.G. Holy ghost.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand.

“I’m really sorry,” said Josh, “that I, we, allowed your friends to suffer, and die, but – and you know, I too was tortured, scourged, horribly tortured, even a crown of thorns, and crucified –”

“Screaming,” said Ben.

“Pardon me?” said Josh.

“The screams,” said Ben. “Of my shipmates.”

“Oh,” said Josh.

“The screams,” said Ben, again.

“Gee,” said Josh.

“Blood curdling screams,” said Ben.

“Hey, big guy,” said Ferdinand. “Calm down, okay, buddy?”

“The screaming,” said Ben, looking off into that crowd of drunks.

“Wow,” said Josh, “I really feel, I don’t know, guilty –”

“So, Arnie,” said Ben, turning to me, “I can shake your hand now? If I promise not to crush it.”

“Okay,” I said. The thing was, or one of the things was, that I was beginning to feel the return of all my various aches and physical agonies, in my knees and legs, my arms, my face and head, in other words the pill that Bowery Bert had given me was starting to wear off, but nevertheless I cautiously extended my hand again.

I know, or I’m pretty sure, that Ben didn’t mean to crush my hand, but in fact he did grip it in that fashion that my favorite writers would call 'vice-like', and soon pain exploded from my hand, forcing me to yelp and curse.

“Ow! Fuck!” I said, yes, I said, yelled, yelped that latter word in the presence of the son of God, even if he was only a man now. 

“Hey, sorry, buddy!” said Ben, setting free my throbbing hand. “I forgot myself.”

“It’s okay, Ben,” I said, although it really wasn’t okay, as I waved my paralyzed fingers in the smoky air in front of me, although this waving did nothing to mitigate the waves of pain pulsing from fingerbones, knuckles and joints. “Look, let’s just get back to the booth and order some drinks, okay?”

“Good idea, buddy,” he said. “Gee, it seems like we’ve been trying to get back to that booth for weeks, don’t it? You ready, Josh? No hard feelings, right?”

“No, of course not,” said Josh. He had finally stopped rubbing his shoulder, and he looked as if he needed a stiff drink.

“Let’s move,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around in an excited-seeming way. “I feel like I could chug a whole shot glass of that bock beer!”

Ben raised his great hand again, with an obvious view to giving me the same sort of supposedly comradely blow on the shoulder he had given to Josh, but the last thing I needed was another source of pain and so I quickly turned away and struck off through the mob in the direction of the booth, bolts of pain shooting up from my knees, my right knee primarily, but the left one was nothing to be sniffed at either. I stumbled and limped and shoved my way, holding my crushed right hand close to my chest. 

All I wanted to do was to get to my blank book as soon as possible and try to write myself out of this world and back to my own world – but would I even be able to hold the pen in my hand? Would I be able to concentrate on what I was writing through the myriad agonies that were now rising up from a dozen points in my current corporeal host?

I felt the need for whiskey, and beer, to dull the pain, and, yes, the alcohol would only cause me to suffer another sort of agony when I woke up the next day, if there ever was a next day, and if I ever woke up in it: the agony of hangover, but that was in the future, and this was now, and I wanted whiskey, and beer to wash it down with, I wanted them both the sooner the better, and I made a hurried mental note that when or if I finally did start writing my way into my own world that I would stipulate in the text that I should not be in pain – in other words I would be in a fantasy world.

(Continued here; Arnold has only just started to warm up.)

(Please scroll down the right hand column of this site to find what the editor hopes to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Please do yourself a favor and click here to order our prolific friend rhoda penmarq’s new book {under the nom de plume “fred flynn”} “darkness, my home town, and other stories”.)