The base of the fountain was now hidden behind a seven-foot-high circle of stacked body parts, the ice angel rising from the center. The remaining wig monsters gathered around the perimeter, facing inward, as if waiting.
There is no possible way this is actually happening.
Well, might as well go with it. I clenched my throat, filled my lungs until my diaphragm pushed out against the gold-plated belt I was wearing, and screeched:
“I knew a man
No, I made that part up
Hair! Hair! Haaairrr!
Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!”
The creatures spun our way, donned some very disappointed frowns, backed away.
“Brilliant!” shouted Marconi. “You’re really annoying them! Let’s move!”
We pushed forward toward the fountain, the sound of the music thundering through the room, scattering the beasts before us like a leaf blower. One of the wig monsters spat at me.
“My melon soul
Crushed by your Gallagher of apathy
Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!”
We reached the length of our cables, still some distance from the fountain. Marconi went forward with Jennifer in tow. They got within blessing distance of the angel and Marconi said, “Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs, which tell us of the wonders of your unseen power. In baptism we use your gift of water, which you have made a rich symbol of the grace you give us in this sacrament. At the very dawn of creation . . .”
“There’s a wolf behind you
No, wait, it’s just a dog
Oh, shit! Badger! Baaaadgeeeerrr!
Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!”
We hit the first solo, John ripped into it. Several of the wig monsters were now chewing on John’s guitar wire.
The sound died into faint, pathetic guitar pluckings.
The monsters lurched toward us en masse. John, thinking quickly, ran over and snatched the microphone from my hands. He began making guitar sounds with his mouth.
“WAAAAHHHH wah-wah-wah-wah-wah, weet woo weet weet woo—”
I didn’t think that would work. I spun on Dr. Marconi, saw him stepping up over the human-parts wall toward the fountain itself. I followed him, climbed up, stepped on a face, a bundle of six hands, an ass.
The pool was black now. Not black like oil, but black like a cave, so that you couldn’t see any reflection or ripples in the surface, not even when Dr. Marconi waded out into it. A black rain fell off the angel’s wings above us.
John mounted the pile behind us, screamed, “WAH, DO-DO-DO-DOOOO-DO, DEE DOO DOO—”
Marconi, knee-deep in black oil, reached out and touched the icy surface of the statue. He said, “We ask you, Father, with your Son . . .”
John had reached the end of his solo, was now making up a third verse to the song.
“My hat smells like
lubricant, I don’t wanna touch it
Wait, this isn’t mine! And it’s not a hat!
John’s mic cable was cut. The sound died.
“—on the waters of this font. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Marconi stepped back.
John turned to the waves of approaching monsters and said, “NOW LICK THE STATUE!”
The blackness in the pool suddenly rose, covering the feet of the statue, spilling over the edges of the fountain. I leaned over and pulled at Marconi’s jacket, pulling him back, not sure what was happening but certain we didn’t want to be standing in the middle of it when it did. He waded over to the edge of the pool. He raised one leg out of the blackness and we saw, with horror, that he had no leg. Everything that had been submerged was gone, his pants ending in a neat line with only empty space beneath—
—and then it was back, whole again. Like a trick of the light. The doctor suddenly sprang out of the pool with renewed motivation. I glanced nervously at my white patent leather shoes disappearing under the rising black tide.
John and Jennifer helped us clamber up the wall of human limbs, then we ran our asses off across the ballroom floor. There was a whistling sound, like wind howling through tree branches. I saw a couple of chairs scooting along the floor toward the fountain, suddenly felt a pull like I was running from an electromagnet with a gut full of iron pellets.
One of the wig monsters skittered toward us, but was suddenly lifted out of the air and sucked back to what I was fairly certain was a portal to Hell. The howling sound was loud now, deafening, the sound of a jetliner. Folding chairs were flying through the air as if propelled by dozens of invisible Bobby Knights. The five of us pushed our way forward, somebody screaming around me but the sound lost in the rushing noise. John grabbed my shirt and pointed me toward the small space behind the stage, room to crouch back there. Jennifer screamed something I couldn’t hear, something that sounded like “Todd!”
Sparks blew out from the ceiling lights, and we were cast into darkness.
A few small banks of emergency lights clicked on, faintly glinting off the wings of the ice angel in the center of the room. We stumbled back behind the stage, huddled down like tornado victims. We waited.
Silence. I risked a peek back at the dark well. From the blackness, there was movement. Dark shapes rose up out of the portal. They were like freestanding shadows, vaguely human, long and lean figures, eight or ten feet tall each. Their only features were a pair of tiny, glowing eyes like two lit cigarettes.
One by one they slipped out and into the dark room, a crowd of them, shoulder to shoulder, flowing out of the portal. They shambled out like a spreading pool of spilt oil, perfectly silent, filling the room, a constellation of little red flickering eyes.
They were around us now, closing in just feet away, making their advance in perfect stillness.
And then, the silence was broken. There was a low, screeching sound, like steam escaping. Plumes of smoke or steam rose from the base of the ice angel, a bright, white light down there like it was a rocket about to take off.
The sound grew and grew and grew, became animal, a scream of pain.
In the dim light of the emergency lamps, the holy water angel sank, descending into the black hole.
There was a thunderclap, so loud I thought it would split me in half. I clenched my eyes shut, covered my head with my hands, begged God to forgive me for accidentally bringing an end to all of creation.
There was a jolt, then a bodiless, weightless feeling like drifting out of a dream.
A hand touched my shoulder. I flinched as if gouged with a branding iron. Things were quiet again. How much time had passed? I felt like a man waking after a nap to complete darkness, confused about the time of day.
I opened my eyes and it was Jennifer, with John and Marconi standing behind her. Lights were on. She helped me up and I turned to the center of the floor.
Nothing there but empty, red carpet. No fountain, no bodies, no black hole. The room was completely vacant except for us and a few random toppled chairs still scattered about. I sat down on the floor, suddenly exhausted. John and I looked hard at the spot where the fountain had been. We each extended a hand toward it, and gave it the finger.
The doors burst open. Suits and cop uniforms poured in.
Molly the dog came bounding in with them, a bundle of chewed-up papers in her mouth. She dropped the stuff in front of me, barking her head off. I looked down at two tickets to the Marconi show, which she had presumably gotten out of the young couple’s luggage. I nudged the tickets aside, saw a CD labeled: Amazing Grace: The Brooklyn Choir Sings the Gospel.
A bearded man wandered over, looking dazed, and I recognized him as the husband of the woman we tried to save before she dismembered herself and everything went to Hell.
I said, “I’m sorry. About your wife. What was her name? Becky.”
He looked at me, confused, said, “No, I’m not married. What happened in here?”
I couldn’t answer. I lay back on the floor, my body shutting down even with shoes shuffling all around me. I hadn’t slept in forty hours, every muscle screamed in pain. I had flown off the cliff of a gargantuan adrenaline rush and was crashing fast.
Somebody said my name, asked if I was okay. I didn’t answer, the sound of the commotion dying around me as the heavy monkey of sleep rested its warm, furry ass on my eyelids.
DARKNESS AND WARMTH, and then the nasal EEEK EEEK EEEK of an alarm clock. I had a taste in my mouth, smoky, like I had licked an ashtray. I felt something itchy and thick around my mouth. I shot my eyes open. Where the hell was I?
I sat up in bed. Not my bedroom. I looked over at a watch on a nightstand. Not my watch. A nicer one.
I looked around the room, the alarm still screeching its complaints from the nightstand. I found a mirror. There was something dark on my face, and I slapped my hand up to it. Hair. I climbed out of bed and walked toward the mirror. I had a thick, full goatee.
What the hell?
I sat heavily on the edge of the bed. Whose room was this? A voice from behind me said, “Are you going to get that?”
I fumbled around and found a button on the alarm. Jennifer Lopez was in the bed. And I mean the actress.
Oh, wait. No, she rolled over and it was just the local Jennifer Lopez. She got out of bed, wearing a tank top and underwear, and she sleepily walked off to what I guess was a bathroom. She had a faint, white scar at the top of her thigh. She farted softly as she closed the door.
I stood, found a cell phone among the stuff on a nearby chest of drawers, dialed John’s number.
Operator recording. “This number has been disconnected . . .”
I was in a slow-burn panic now. I glanced out a window, saw a tree in the front yard with leaves turning fall colors. I went back to the phone, scrolled through the quick-dial numbers. I found an entry for John—a different number than I knew—and dialed it.
I heard water running in the bathroom. I held my breath as the phone rang four, five, six times. Seven.
“Hello?” John, sounding sleepy.
“John? It’s me.”
“Yeah. What’s goin’ on?”
After a moment, he said, “You don’t remember the last six months, do you?”