This isn't the first time I've wrestled this demon. He and I are old friends, I suppose. He's as much of a friend as I have left these days anyhow, and he likes it that way. We always tease, he and I, and he always casts his love for me into the ring. We go back and forth with our japes and jibes like an intimate foreplay.
This time the banter between us becomes frenzied too soon, too hard, too fast and we fall together. He's used to the fall. You'd think I would be, by now. But that's part of the pull isn't it? One time, just one more, here we go. This time it will be different. I'll have more control. I'll best him in the daylight. He knows me though, of old... and so of course, he always comes to me in the darkness.
The glass fills, the elbow bends... the eyes glaze... the demon whispers. So sweet. So low. The fire spreads, the pain numbs. Again. One more. Just... one... more. The demon laughs. He laughs with me at first, and it eggs me on. It's better to feel his dysfunctional love than the dearth his loving keeps at bay. By the time it's too late, his laughter fills me with the hateful knowledge that he was laughing at me all along.
When his taunt becomes the shame that fills me like rising heat from the pits of hell... we fight. Between licks he cajoles. A kiss and a slap, that's his game; kicking me when I'm down but holding my hair back when I can't hold in the poison he's poured into me. Never more than twelve steps behind me, he follows me everywhere I go, whispering his love song in my ear until it hurts. It really, really... hurts.
Now it finds me here, in this nameless motel, ubiquitous as the faceless doleful fools that parade through it's flickering gray parking lot, in and out of the roach filled rooms. Every one of them has a story to tell, this one more tragic than the next and so on. Their woebegone eyes read like bedtime stories to me, as familiar as my own tale of unrealized dreams, lost loves and beaten down spirit. They are the undead created by despair and I am one of them. And I don't care. That's part of the magic the demon wields on my behalf. The skies roll past me, the days run to years, the people hurt so palpably that I can taste their tears... and I can't even care.
Sequestered in this cage I've chosen, I join my sweat into the bedcovers, as if communing with the destitute souls that have lain here before. Who they were isn't a question I have, because I know how they felt and that's enough. They felt like this. Alone. Sick. Afraid. Beaten. So I sweat into their pain, grind into their defeat.
Paucity and neglect lays over the room in a dusty haze. The buzzing of the single light snaps my nerves like bowstrings. The cracks on the ceiling worm and wriggle, spelling words only my pain can read. One moth eaten chair stands like a monument to mildewed apathy. The pain comes up from the soles of my feet, snaking through my nerves and snapping at my sanity. Writhing becomes my normal. Normal becomes my hell.
I can roll over and see the yellowed mirror over the single, cracked sink. Sometimes I offer a croaking, monstrous laugh when reason leaves me and it frightens the ghoul I see staring back at me with those haunted eyes, all lit up with the pit fires behind them. I can smell my own breath, kerosene and dying cells. Tears roll down my face and I'm ready to give in, let go... as the hateful, loving whisper grows to a deafening roar. I scream and puke and scream and writhe... and I drown the demon out with my pain.
Time is defeated. It deadens and stops.
I concentrate on my heartbeat. At first, it sounds like the demon's hooves tapping as he dances around my skull... I hold the beat, count the beat... become the beat of my own heart. It takes eons. I sit outside of time and watch it unfold. I can see it all from here, this stained and stinking mattress forming the foundation of my viewing stand to all creation.
Men found conquering families that become empires that beget dynasties. (Heartbeat.) Universes of suffering are created, flourish, fade and die. (Heartbeat.) I swim in the vast spaces between my molecules and wonder where the deeper wells reside. (Heartbeat.)
I wonder if I will surface or drown. I wonder if I will live or die.
Then time resumes it's march and I know that I've come out on the other side. I can feel the demon just under my thoughts, ready to goad me into falling again.
The first coherent thought I have is...
“How long have I been here?”
I can hear the demon's laugh, tinny and sharp, “You'll always be here.” I know he's right.
As I come back into the here and now, I remember vaguely slapping most of my money down on a scratched formica counter as I stared into the disinterested face of a liver-spotted gremlin. I must have half expected to die underneath the fading and sputtering neon light. I think now that if I die in this den of disinterest, I won't be the first and I'm sure I won't be the last. This place sits on a hellmouth of despair. They pretty much call a day like I'm having Tuesday.
I become aware of a rumble in my stomach and realize, for the first time in what must be days, I feel hungry. It takes every ounce of strength I have to fumble in my pants for a faded few dollars and change. Stumbling out of bed, I wonder where my shoes are but can't wonder long as the pang becomes an insistent nausea of need.
I pull open the door and stare into the parking lot beyond, all cracks and weeds and broken glass. I'm sure there is a metaphor there, but I can't place it right now. I'm dwelling in the distraction of need. I can see rusted vending machines nearby, filled with salty, sugary substitutes for food and I feel a desire strong enough to snap me upright.
The sun is rising on my unknown day and I feel a hollow triumph. One day, that demon might pull me under, wrap me up in his leathern wings and pull me into the hell he has designed for me... but this day is mine and the demon walks in shadowed steps behind me for now. Today, I want to eat. I stagger into the burgeoning light and feel... reborn. Stale chips and soda will serve as my communion.
It's enough to bring me back to life to fight another day.