Short fiction by Andy Rausch
The Gotham night remained a temperate one, despite the falling rain being pissed from the sky. Having been forced to park his beat up Ford Windstar some two blocks away, Leonard now trudged along, hefting both his knapsack and duffel bag up Eighth Avenue. Still unfamiliar with New York City, he was surprised by the number of pedestrians still making their ways to and fro. He had heard many times that the city never slept, but its inhabitants apparently never went home either.
Finally he came to Twenty-third Street, and he hooked a right. The rain wasn’t letting up, and Leonard now feared for the safety of the beloved laptop tucked away in his bag. A short ways in, he now saw the majestic red brick building which housed the Hotel Chelsea. His destination in sight, he started to walk a little more briskly. When he reached the hotel’s 222 West Twenty-third entrance, he stepped in, at long last finding relief from the storm.
He shook the water from himself as an animal would, and stood there staring in awe at the spacious-yet-seedy lobby. As he did, he considered the many artists from all walks of life who had inhabited the place at one time or another. The old hotel had seen its fair share of noted talents in its day, from Leonard Cohen to Stanley Kubrick to Andy Warhol. Even Marilyn Monroe had stayed here.
Leonard approached the front desk, manned by a solitary clerk whose name tag identified him as Ray. The twenty-something man with clean-cut, boy-next-door features, said “Hello” in a genuinely friendly tone. “Can I help you?”
Leonard said, “I have a reservation under the name Leonard Trillman.”
“Trillman?” Ray asked.
Leonard nodded, and Ray tapped away at his keyboard. “And how will you be paying, Mr. Trillman?”
“And you’re staying for two nights?”
Ray tapped at his keyboard some more. His gaze moved up to Leonard. “With tax, that’ll be $206.89.” Leonard reached into his pocket and pulled out his old tattered wallet. He removed two crisp hundred dollar bills and a ten, handing them to the clerk. Ray then gave him his change and turned away for a moment, finally turning back to produce a room key on a plastic black fob. He handed it over. “Can I get you anything else, Mr. Trillman?”
Leonard said no and turned toward the stairs. When he reached the third floor, he made his way down the corridor in search of his room. Once he’d located it, he unlocked the door and entered. The room was a good-sized one, pulling off the same trick the lobby had of simultaneously being both spacious and seedy. Leonard took off his jacket and sat down on the bed, his soaked Mumford and Sons t-shirt clinging to his body. He opened his duffel bag and retrieved his laptop. The machine, plastered with band stickers, seemed to be in working order much to Leonard’s relief. The next item he pulled out from the duffel was a baggie containing weed. He extracted a tightly-rolled joint from the baggie and held it up to his mouth. He fished through the pocket of his jeans, searching for, and finally finding, his Bic lighter. He lit the joint dangling from his lips. The burning paper crackled as Leonard drew on the joint, and he inhaled a big breath of thick pot smoke.
He lay back on his bed and closed his eyes, slipping into the inviting darkness of sleep. When he awoke some thirty-five minutes later, Leonard mentally scolded himself for his faux pas. There was work to be done. With only two days in the hotel room, Leonard had to get to it; the Great American novel wasn’t going to author itself. He sat upright and went to the bathroom. Once there, he went to filling the large dirtied-porcelain bathtub with steaming hot water. He started to undress. Once he was naked, he took a leak in the toilet and climbed into the half-filled tub. The water was hot, attempting to scald him pink but just hot enough that he could stand it.
Shit, he thought, realizing he’d forgotten something. He climbed out, leaving puddles on the cold tile floor, and made his way to the bedroom. Once there, he went to his bag and retrieved the straight-razor from an outside pouch. He carried it back into the tub, toying with it in his hands. Now sitting in the hot water once again, he turned off the faucet and the cascade ceased to be. Leonard opened the straight razor and stared at it a good long time, eyeballing his shimmering reflection in its blade; maybe it was five minutes, maybe it was twenty. He couldn’t say for sure as time was moving at an irregular pace.
Finally, at long last, Leonard opened up the blade, and then his vein. The blackish blood pulsed from the slit like disco lights at a nightclub. He raised his other wrist and followed suit, making sure to slash diagonally rather than horizontally so the wound could be stitched shut when the time came. He stood up, water dripping from his body, and he walked, still soaked, to the bedroom. His wrists were seeping blood at a steady pace, and Leonard went to work outlining a giant, bloody pentagram on the white tile floor with it. Once he had sufficiently painted the floor, Leonard retrieved his laptop and sat it in the center of the drawn shape.
Leonard went back to his knapsack and searched through it, effectively covering it in blood, producing two hot cans of Foster’s and a carton of Benson & Hedges. He sat a pack of the cigarettes and the two beer cans inside the marked area. He then reached inside his bag and pulled out five fat black candles—one for each corner of the pentagram. He carefully laid them out around the design and then lit them. He stood back, looking over his work and admiring it. He then went to his duffel bag and pulled out an old, dog-eared book whose dust jacket may or may not have been fashioned from real human skin. He opened the volume to the book-marked page, and carried it to the pentagram. He sat down near the design and began to read from the book. The meaning of the ancient words were lost on him, so he enunciated each word as carefully and clearly as possible. He didn’t know what the words meant, but he knew what the outcome would be if all went as planned. Finally he got to the portion of the passage where he was to include the demon’s name, and he said “Charles Bukowski,” having verified that the author was a servant in Hell through the use of a Ouija board. He went on reading the rest of the gibberish-sounding words.
Once he had finished reading the passage, a cold wind reached out from nowhere, extinguishing all five candles. Leonard watched the pentagram. Now a bright yellowish light started to jut up from the floor in the center of the design, reaching up to the ceiling. He saw the very distinct silhouette of Satan looming over him, and in front of that appeared a second figure, bathed in fire. The thick smell of sulfur was unmistakable. The figure before Satan writhed as if in pain, and then fell to the floor in the center of the bloody pentagram. The fire and light subsided, as did the silhouette of the Dark Lord, and Leonard saw that the man was as naked as he was.
The naked fat man sat up, looking hairy and disheveled. The only thing that looked different about the Ham and Rye author from the photographs Leonard had seen was that his eyes now glowed a fiery red. “Why have you summoned me here?” the demon Bukowski howled, his voice booming and frightening. Leonard felt as though he might piss himself, intermingling urine with the dripping blood which now covered his legs, but managed to control his bladder for the time being.
“I have summoned you to write for me,” said Leonard, trying his damnedest to sound as ferocious as Bukowski. (It didn’t work, and Leonard’s tiny flaccid penis would do little to make him more intimidating.)
Bukowski’s face contorted and he cocked his head, his fiery eye holes fixed on Leonard. “Write for you?”
“I’ve brought you gifts, you’ll see,” Leonard said, pointing a bloody index finger towards the cigarettes and booze. Bukowski’s burning-red stare now turned to the beers, and he was, for the moment, satiated. He reached down and grabbed one of the cans with his long-fingernailed hand, popping it open. He raised the container and guzzled from it, Foster’s streaming down his face. Next he tore open the pack of smokes, removing one and lighting it with a flame that emitted from the end of his finger. He went to smoking a cigarette, taking long drags and savoring the moment.
He looked up. “What,” asked the demon, “do you want me to write?”
“You’re going to write the Great American novel.” Leonard listened to his weighted words, enjoying the stern sound of his own voice. “And I’m going to take all the credit for it. I will be seen as a great writer, like you.”
The demon Bukowski looked at him with those red, hollowed-out eyes, perhaps studying him. His expressions were difficult to discern with his having no eyeballs. “What exactly would you have me write about, master?”
Master. Leonard liked that. “Surprise me, Charles,” he said. “Write whatever suits you. And make it the very best you can. I command it.”
Bukowski sat Indian-style in the center of the pentagram, his long old man testicles drooping to the floor, and he started banging away at the keyboard madly. Leonard was surprised that the author-turned-demon knew how to operate a Dell laptop as he had passed on to Hell way back in 1994, but he figured that was hardly the most astounding aspect of this remarkable occurrence.
And Bukowski wrote, occasionally cackling at his own prose as he did. Leonard did not ask him what he was writing, knowing the words would be his own in a matter of hours. Once the demon Bukowski had finished downing his second can of Foster’s, he turned and demanded more. “More beer!” he bellowed, his screeching voice sounding inhuman.
Leonard wrapped his wrists with white hotel towels, turning them red in the process, but remaining naked just as the incantation had demanded. Leonard was feeling light-headed now, and he hoped that his demonic slave would complete the manuscript before he passed out from loss of blood. Leonard reached a bloodied hand into the bag and produced another can of Foster’s, rolling it into the center of the pentagram. Bukowski clutched at the aluminum can, and tore it open, guzzling its contents and once again spilling it all over his face. He threw the aluminum can at the wall with such force that it shook the room, and for the first time Leonard wondered what might happen were Bukowski able to escape from his pentagram prison. He felt a chill run down his naked, wet spine, and he forced such thoughts from his mind. Much to Leonard’s surprise, the demon did not demand another beer, but went on banging away at the keyboard.
Soon, Leonard thought, he would be seen as an accomplished author. He just had to force himself to stay conscious until after the demon Bukowski had completed their novel. Finally, just as Leonard was feeling extremely woozy, the demon spoke in that eery high-pitched voice of his. “Please read this passage. Let me know what you think, master.”
The light-headed Leonard agreed to read the section, and he inched forward towards the pentagram. Bukowski slid the laptop out from the symbol, and Leonard started to read. The prose he saw there on the laptop was remarkable, one of the finest things he’d ever read and certainly better than anything he could have produced. The words danced on the page. Not wanting to pass out before Bukowski finished his task, he slid the computer back to him.
“It’s amazing,” said Leonard. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. And just think, I’ll get all the credit.”
Bukowski looked at him for a beat, his fiery eyes seeming to stare through him. “Can I tell you a secret, master?” asked the demon.
Leonard nodded. “Yes?”
“When you slid the beers into the pentagram…”
“Yes?” asked Leonard, biting at his lip.
“And when you slid the laptop into the symbol…”
Leonard didn’t understand. “What, Bukowski?”
Bukowski grinned a particularly fiendish smile. “You broke the plane, freeing me from my prison.”
Leonard now realized the mistake he’d made. His eyes got big, and Bukowski just went on grinning. The demon stood up and dove towards him, snatching him up in his arms and raising him over his head. Leonard was quite light-headed now, and the room was spinning. Or was that him? Bukowski slammed him across the room into the old television set, and Leonard’s head went through its screen. He was cut badly, and there was now blood streaming down his face. Despite his light-headedness, Leonard’s wounds hurt a great deal. He wiggled out of the television frame, blood in his eyes, his knees being cut by the shards of broken glass which littered the floor. Suddenly Bukowski flung the laptop into the wall beside Leonard, and it shattered.
“Here’s your fucking novel, asshole!” raged the demon.
Leonard manged quietly, “My…my…novel…” He stood, swaying as he did, and tried to maneuver towards the room door. He took one step and Bukowski was on him again, clutching at his right arm, the blood seeping quickly now. Bukowski yanked at the arm, and Leonard felt a searing pain unlike anything he’d ever experienced. The demon had torn off the appendage. Leonard stood there, swaying, bloody and confused. The demon Bukowski raised the arm and swung it towards him like a club, knocking him into the wall. Before Leonard could move, Bukowski was on him, beating him over and over and over again with his own arm.
And Leonard, like his appropriated novel, was as dead as disco.
Bukowski turned and sighed. He pulled another can of beer out from Leonard’s bag and picked up his smokes. He sat down, naked and trembling, in an aged recliner that had seen better days. The demon popped open the can and took a swig, beer streaming down his chin. He used his finger to light another smoke, and he sat and puffed on the cigarettes and drank the beer his would-be captor had given him. As he did, he wondered where he would get his next drink.