My tale of travesty and woe begins a mere thirteen days ago, if my sense of time is functioning on any comprehensible level. Like many other tales, this one begins at Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery. Not surprisingly, as I am a cook there. Matt Halperin is my name — most people just call me Halperin — and you might know me as a member of a local band in the Fox Cities.
On this particular night, I was sitting in a booth with a kid named Ryan who I met because, quite frankly, he has nothing better to do with his time than sit at Perkins. Clearly he has no life.
“Let me put it like this: you’re having anal sex, violently thrusting. And after all the grunting and moaning, you look down on your sheets and see some weird, gelatinous mixture of blood, semen, discolored K-Y jelly and feces. Taking this substance and gargling it would be a more enjoyable time than sitting through the Paris Hilton film Nine Lives.” Ryan says this with a straight face, and then downs a large swig of coffee.
That’s just the way he is. Of course, he was talking out of his ass if you think he actually knows what happens during anal sex, or any sex for that matter. I really doubt he’s ever had a girlfriend — and with language like that, are you really surprised?
But this was how nights at Perkins often went, only this night was different. Because when I went home that evening, I was never going to see Perkins again.
Normally, the day begins when the sun shines through the window well, on to my face and igniting my hangover headache. But on this day, the sun never shone. I woke up of my own accord in complete darkness, not even the dimness of a cell phone face to guide me. What the fuck?
Last night had been stormy, but living in a basement I have little fear of storms. Tornadoes? Not a problem. But this time I think I missed something a little bigger… although I could tell it was now mid-day and I was well-rested, there was no light or noise from the neighbor kids playing basketball. Just silence. No hum of a computer monitor or a television displaying “Judge Judy”.
I reached for where I knew my cell phone to be, sitting on a chair within an arm’s length. I opened it to get a bit of light, and saw there was no signal. I couldn’t even call my bandmates or check my work schedule. But the clock confirmed my suspicions of the afternoon. Stumbling to my feet, I used this little light to navigate through the basement — which was little more than my bedroom, a common area, and a door leading up to the outside.
Panic finally set in when I tried to open the door. While I don’t think it was locked, there was no budging the solid wooden mass. There must have been some kind of cave-in or something, blocking my door and windows. What had happened during my slumber? I got images that I was trapped in some movie — that nuclear disaster film “The Day After” or maybe “The Day After Tomorrow”, although I had not seen the latter and really wouldn’t know how that felt.
I checked my phone again, hoping to call police or perhaps my father. Still no signal. I tried the switches, all light bulbs and my massive Panasonic television (much too large for my dorm-style living quarters). Electricity was completely unavailable.
The rest of the day was spent waiting for electricity to return or for rescue workers to figure out someone was trapped underneath a house. Someone who I thought was fairly popular in the region, but judging by their slow response time, perhaps not.
Waking up is strange when you expect sunlight to have returned or to be greeted by liberators with food and oxygen masks. It’s also disheartening when you don’t wake up to this expectation.
I reached for the cell phone again, only to find that the damn thing was dead already. You cheap-ass, Motorola piece of shit. This was going to complicate things, and I stumbled around once more in search of a light source. A lighter, some matches, candles, anything. Why did I have to quit smoking?
Luckily, I recalled my dad collects weird gadgets, and he had given me a crank flashlight with an LED. I had put it in a junk drawer, figuring it was more or less never going to come in handy. Thank Satan that sometimes being eccentric pays off. I turned the crank, and sure enough the blue-tinted light filled the room far better than my cell phone had.
This momentary excitement was stifled once I again remembered this did nothing to get me out of this cozy, little oubliette. (You probably don’t even know what an oubliette is… it’s a place you put people to forget about them.) No food, no potable water (all I had was a hole that went into the ground I often used for pissing in when I was drunk). And worst of all, no one to talk to.
Another day sitting around, reading the few books I could find on my shelves. A Shakespeare anthology, a psychology textbook and that stupid “Who Moved My Cheese?” book I got from my friend Stacy after she had some work seminar on efficiency or something. I was better off asleep.
Another day awakening on my black futon mattress — although all things were more or less black in this dungeon now. I was sore all over, having too much sleep and far too little nutritional intake. Luckily I wasn’t really required to perform any physical activity because I don’t think I’d be much good for it. Beyond pacing and cranking the flashlight, any sort of exertion just left me feeling like I had the flu or something — just completely run down.
It was this day when things took a severe turn for the worse, although I didn’t know that right away. I noticed that bugs were starting to get in to my living quarters. Nasty little bugs with black bodies and red spots, like Japanese beetles or some sort of inverted ladybugs. I first saw a group of them when I felt a bite on my ankle. It felt like a fish hook had snagged me.
I figured if bugs could get in, this assured me of air for the time being. And if the bugs could come in, surely this meant I could leave if I would just find a little note reading “Eat Me”, indulge myself of the cakes nearby, shrinking down to their size…
You know, that Shakespeare isn’t all bad. The sonnets are a bit much, but “Twelfth Night” was enjoyable… ah. Another day in solitude. Was madness far behind?
“If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions.”
I started cranking the flashlight before I even got out of bed, feeling the urge to defecate. I had to crouch over the piss hole and used notebook paper as my cleaning material. A messy job, but necessary.
I went to change my shirt — something I hadn’t even done up to this point — and found treasure in my top drawer, which most people would use for socks. Two cans of Tab, a bottle of Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat beer left over from last Christmas, a bottle of fish oil concentrate pills some hippie bitch left here and Butter Toffee Creme Savers, left over because I don’t like butter toffee.
I was all Augustus Gloop on the Tab for a moment, relishing its flat but somehow refreshing taste. I had a few Creme Savers, set the bottle of beer aside for later, and virtually ignored the fish oil. I don’t mind that chick leaving her scarf or sweater here, but the fish oil is completely unwarranted.
The bugs had bit me a few more times in my sleep and seemed to take an interest in my food supply, probably smelling the sweet sugary goodness of the Tab. As I kept the supply on top of the dresser, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to get to it. And even if they did, why would they want to chew through aluminum (or, as the British say, “al-u-min-i-um”) and glass? No worries.
Finishing the first Tab and sucking on a Creme Saver, I returned to Shakespeare, almost forgetting there was an outside world waiting for my triumphant return.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
By now, I was beginning to wonder if there really was an outside world. Just myself, a can of Tab and these incessant bugs. I woke up with them nibbling on my legs again, and I was so sore I almost didn’t want to swat them from my calves.
I drank the Tab, and had another bout of panic. The realization was setting in this might be the end of me. At the last moment before the pendulum hits, there might not be a cavalry and General Lasalle to save me from the Inquisition. I tried to eat the bugs today, having no other reasonable source of sustenance. This was a bad idea, their crunchy insides being both bitter and likely poisonous. My saliva became frothy and my throat swollen. It seems only fair if they can eat me that I could eat them, but as they say — who said life is fair?
Today was also the day the smell of the basement became unbearable. I don’t know anything about plumbing, but wherever the sump pump hole goes, it wasn’t going there anymore. The piss and shit I had left in the hole was backing up, a small puddle of yellow-brown, a color so awful no one has ever bothered to name it.
The stench and my panic was driving me to tears and all I could do to calm myself was to dig my nails into my palms and let the electric pulse of my blood course across my wrists. I would scream, but I couldn’t even bring myself to do that.
I fell asleep at some point, but don’t recall when or how — I am certain it was my body giving out and not a venture of my own volition.
Impia tortorum longos hic turba furores
Sanguinis innocui, non satiata, aluit.
Sospite nunc patria, fracto nunc funeris antro,
Mors ubi dira fuit vita salusque patent.
I couldn’t find the flashlight today. I must have left it somewhere in my slow, growing madness. Well, perhaps “madness” is far too harsh… my delirium, if you will. You try going a week without any friends, light or decent beverages. But somehow my wits were gathered well enough to be fully cognizant of my pending fate, paradoxically making me panic and become even more unstable. Ha ha hah ha hah — mental health will drive you mad!
The first thing I noticed was the growing colony of bugs beginning to burrow into my flesh. Not just taking a nibble here and a good bite there, but actually reaching beneath my skin into my tender tissues. Goddamn it. I tried to swat at the bugs, but I couldn’t see them and couldn’t feel them when they weren’t directly on me. I couldn’t dig them out from my legs without tearing my flesh apart, fascia by fascia, sinew by sinew.
Propping myself up with the aid of a nearby chair, I stood and shuffled my feet towards where I thought the doorway was. My legs hurt with a pain I can only compare to shin splints. I mean, I know what it felt like — it felt like moles were building tunnels in the backyard of my lower extremities. But until you’ve felt that particular sensation, it doesn’t really make sense to the uninitiated.
No light meant no Shakespeare. Oh Romeo, where for art thou, Romeo? I was left to amuse myself by singing the few songs that would come to my mind. For some reason, Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” has been omnipresent in my consciousness, so I sang it over and over again. I sounded awful with my throat still dry and swollen, the bug’s poison still in my mouth and probably now in my legs.
But I mumbled on and on in the darkness, and each verse grew louder and louder as I was filled with pride. The fickle finger of Fate was fucking me — fist-fucking me, even — and I laugh! Ha ha ha! You can take my air, my food and my legs, but you can’t get the beautiful image of those distinctive cat-eye shaped tortoiseshell glasses and brunette tangles of hair out of my mind!
And I thought I’d live forever, but now I’m not so sure
You try to tell me that I’m clever
But that won’t take me anyhow, or anywhere with you…
Today I woke up finally too weak to move. The bugs had claimed me for their their prize, some kind of a trophy, while my skin and muscles withered away with the ticking of the proverbial clock.
All I could do now was hope that help would arrive before there wasn’t enough of me left to be worth saving.
Days Nine Through Twelve
I was descending into madness, and to say anything conclusive as far as there being nine days or twelve days or any number at all is really very disingenuous of me. Without the sun, I could no longer tell night from day, day from next day. Sleep was my only escape from this mental prison, but I feared sleeping, not knowing how much of me the bugs would claim by the time I woke up.
I could only really move my neck and face, not even sure if the body was working or capable of working again. My thoughts wandered constantly to literature, placing myself as the protagonist in fantastic stories. I could hear the narrator say in a matter-of-fact tone, “One morning, as Matthew Halperin was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.” I heard this clearly and almost even believed it. Wanted to believe it, perhaps.
How could I avoid lunacy when my world was now nothing more than the feel of small, hairy legs across my cheeks? I had an epiphany — now I could see what Ryan meant when he was trying to say how bad Nine Lives with Paris Hilton was… though this may have been worse.
It wasn’t much longer until they made the final strike and burrowed into my eyes, shredding pupil, cornea and retina. Devouring optic nerves, crossing through the permeable membrane until all of a sudden…