Hello again. Been a while.
I’m in the midst of a new and strange adventure, teaching English in China. I’ve actually got a bunch of funny stuff I could share about that, and I plan to, but not today. Today I’m only bringing you the first chapter of my new book. Hit the jump to give it a read. (Confession: I don’t know what the hell ‘hit the jump’ means. I just wanted to sound hip. The chapter’s coming in a second though.)
Okay, enough yammering. Here’s chapter one:
There is a subtle humor in the way a human begs. Once you’ve heard it enough times and from enough people, you have to laugh at the inherent similarities.
Begging, at least by human standards, is an act characterized by an emphatic overuse of the word please, the repetition of words and phrases as though they carry more weight on second or third use, and an abundance of promises no person could be expected to keep.
Demonstrated by a nineteen-year-old girl named Samantha, begging sounds like this:
“Please. Oh God, please, I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die, oh God. I know this isn’t you who wants this. I know it’s your boss. You can tell him you killed me and he’ll never know, and I’ll just go away. I’ll move away and he’ll never know you let me go, okay? He’ll never know. Please. I swear I’ll never tell anyone. I’ll never mention any of this to anybody. I’ll pretend it never happened. I’ll do anything you want. I’ll give you anything. I’ll do anything. Just please don’t kill me. Please. Please don’t kill me…”
This particular knee-slapper of a speech was delivered to Thor on a mid-December night in 1999. Samantha had recently become an involuntary resident in the building, one of the drains the Blood Brothers kept on stowaway. There were three rooms in the little palace where Loki and Thor lived that locked from the outside and didn’t have windows, and Thor did his best to keep the inhabitants of these rooms at home.
The prisoners were kept in preparation for lazy nights when Loki and Thor felt like staying in. One could not be expected to go hungry out of a disinterest in leaving the house, so the girls were there if they were needed. But more than anything, they were there to make use of the rooms. The house was so big, after all.
It was also a hobby of Thor’s, and good practice for manipulating the emotions of humans, to attempt to keep a person happy in circumstances where it was exceedingly difficult to do so. For this reason, whenever they had a home like this one with space to keep stowaways, Thor tended to them often. He composed them beautiful meals of filet mignon, kindai maguro, Hot Pockets, or anything else they requested. He brought them expensive wines and extravagant cigarettes. Somedays he played them songs on his guitar or kicked their asses at Risk. He considered them pets, and pets were not worth having were they not given the proper attention.
Each of their rooms contained a shower complete with various soaps and gels, a toilet, a refrigerator stocked with cola and snacks, a minibar, a queen-sized bed, a leather couch, a big screen television, a stereo with CDs handpicked by Thor, a treadmill jokingly referred to as an exercise wheel, an electric toothbrush, and various sets of comfortable clothing including silk pajamas and a bathrobe if they just felt like lounging around.
Thor told them they were part of an experiment and they wouldn’t be kept too long. He would bring them any movie, album, book, video game, or toy that they requested. It was a sort of bourgeois prison cell for sorry chaps and chapettes—mostly chapettes—to live out their days in a quiet, blissful solitude made bearable by mind-numbing entertainment and alcohol before the shadow of death closed in. Most of them gave up begging after a week or two and chose to endure, trying their best to enjoy captivity. Even those convinced they were condemned to die here would eventually accept and find themselves playing The Legend of Zelda until their time ran out.
Really, the bourgeois prison was how humans lived anyway.
Samantha had only been here four days and was still in the agitated phase. She would never make it past this phase because her room was to be cleared for the arrival of a special guest tonight.
“Listen,” Thor said forcefully, clamping a hand over her mouth. “I’m going to help you, but you have to shut up. My boss is going to hurt you if you stay, but if you keep quiet and do what I tell you, I can get you out of here.”
Thor believed obedience from humans was gained with a precise balance of comfort and fear. Too much comfort made them afraid to take a chance, and too much fear made them stupid and unpredictable. That said, in an ideal environment the scale always tipped in the direction of fear.
Samantha counted her options. She knew she didn’t want to stay here. The question was whether to trust Thor as her guide or to make a break for safety on her own. She had seen Thor’s boss a few times and the man was a beast. Thor was sincere, even compassionate.
“I’m going to take my hand off your mouth, and when I do you’re going to stop screaming. If you keep panicking you’ll get yourself killed and me scolded. When I take my hand away, you don’t say another word until we’re out of the house, understood?”
Samantha nodded. She decided to take her chances with Thor. The house was a maze and she didn’t know how many others might have been lurking all over. She had to cross her fingers Thor and his boss weren’t pulling some sort of Good Captor Bad Captor thing. In the true spirit of Las Vegas, she was gambling with her life now, putting her neck on a roulette wheel.
Thor took his hand off her mouth and held it out for her to take, showing her his best calming expression. She stared into his face, his blonde hair hanging in a comma over his forehead and pointing down into his glamorous blue eyes. She took a breath, reached out, and put her hand in his.
No more bets.
Thor put his finger to his lips to indicate silence once more before he led her out of the room. He hammed up his performance, pressing his back to walls and peeking around corners every time he pulled her into another room. At one point he walked from a hallway into a living room, pretended to see something startling, and tugged her back into the hall at full force before pulling her into a room and hiding in a corner with one arm steadying her and the other fastened on her mouth.
“Don’t make a sound,” he told her, laughing on the inside. He held her there for the better part of five minutes before he got bored with it and thought he might be chewing the scenery.
I’d like to thank the Academy. And Satan.
It took him ten minutes to get her to the garage. They reached his Suzuki crotch-rocket and he whispered, “Help me wheel this away from the house before we start it.”
She gladly took one handlebar and the two of them crept cautiously along the dirt path outside the house. Stupid shit like this sold a performance.
He had to more or less put the act to bed when they got to the street and he fired up the bike. He could feel her on the seat behind him, hugging him and pressing her head to his back like a child.
Protect me, Thor. Save me.
He was a romantic movie hero. What a gas.
He fantasized about crashing the bike into a guardrail and sending the two of them flying from the top of a bridge into a rocky river. It would have been funny, but there was no intimacy in it. They rode until they reached a shack on the edge of the desert.
The place was a plywood tent of hammered-together boards that gave way to fifty square feet of living space filled mostly by a bed of unwashed blankets that looked like a horse had given birth on them. Thor had occasional campfires here with outdoorsy drains, and he might have liked to grab some marshmallows and a two-liter of Coke on the way, but even he didn’t have the charm to pull that off without breaking character.
Sliding the kickstand into the sand, he climbed off the bike and put his hands on her shoulders. “You’re safe now. You can let it out. Scream if you have to.”
She buried her eyes in his leather jacket. Indistinct sounds somewhere between sobs, screams, and laughter were coming from her mouth, muffled by his chest. He put his hand on the back of her head and pressed her there, stroking her hair like he was Clark Gable or some fucking thing.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You’re okay now.”
She thanked him a thousand times without moving her head from his chest. This was comfort like she had never felt.
“I can’t stay,” he said, “They’ll look for me.” He climbed back onto the bike and waited for her to stop him. She took the bait.
“Wait. Don’t leave me here.” She was a helpless damsel in distress. There were tears streaming down her face and Thor took a moment to congratulate himself on the wonderful villain-in-the-making he’d created. The traitorous bastard of a courageous hero. The horseman of the apocalypse in shining armor.
He sighed and stepped off the bike. He put his arm around her and showed her the inside of his shack. There was less than nothing to see.
“Try to get some sleep. I’ll come back in the morning, after sunrise.” He felt weird saying this. “I’ll get you on a plane somewhere. Just wait for me.”
“Why did you help me?” She held onto his jacket and looked up to his eyes.
Thor gave a sigh and a dramatic pause before he answered. He wished he had tear ducts to sell the sickening melodrama he was about to let loose.
“You remind me of my wife. I couldn’t help her, but… I couldn’t watch her die again.”
Now it was her turn to hold him. This poor brute. This confused and wonderful hero. This beautiful, beautiful man. She wanted him to hold her safely here forever. She knew—or thought she did—that despite his unsavory present, the result of the hell through which life had dragged him, at some point Thor’s wife had been a lucky woman. There was someone so caring and true just beneath his surface. This blond-haired, blue-eyed angel had bruises on his wings.
Thor went for broke. “I’m so sorry. You don’t know how hard it is. This life. I… I want out. You don’t know what it’s like to wake up every day and know you’re hurting people, Tara. It’s horrible.”
“My name is Samantha,” she told him, but she was pretty sure she knew who Tara was. He confirmed it for her.
“Sorry. My wife.” He breathed unsteadily, like a human trying to bury the memories of a painful past in a shitty movie from a Nicholas Sparks novel. “I should go. I don’t… I…”
The character he was playing lost control and kissed Samantha. He grabbed her thick, brown hair and tilted her head back so her mouth could meet his and he could gently taste her lips with his tongue the way he wanted her to think he had his wife so many times in the past. She didn’t make a move to resist. She could see the good in him. She wanted to help him forget his pain. As they kissed, he slid his hand from her back and up the curve of her hip, along her belly and up to her chest. His fingers tightened around her breast for an ephemeral moment before he ripped his hand away. He cursed and called himself an idiot. This is what humans did after a kiss on stage and on screen. It spelled romance for some reason.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m really sorry. I’m so… I’m just so…” What fun it was to play seducer with such a meek character.
“It’s okay,” she assured him, putting her arms around him and resting her head on his shoulder. She kissed his cheek.
Thor let her have it, that moment of human ecstasy. He kissed her again and let his character throw all his inhibitions to the wind. Finally a little of the real Thor took the stage and they fell back onto the bedraggled sheets.
She kissed him. He was courageous and handsome and wonderful and it was raining in his heart.
She kissed him. He was a beautiful blue-eyed angel delivered by God.
She kissed him. He was the closest real life got to the storybook hero.
He kissed her. She was sold.
No one would find the body out here for at least a few days.