The Writing's On the Wall

Matthew Kressel

            And but Tweed was all like, "Yo, you gotta hear this shit -- this shit is stupid!" And Dig's hanging on to his every word, like "Yeah man, give it to me," and I'm just hanging low, leaning over the bar, staring at all these bottles of all this Blue Curacao shit and thinking, man should I do another shot? And Tweed's jabbering away about some cat he knows, "This cap from East New York, this goomba..." But I'm lost, 'cause by this time I'm three sheets to the wind shitfaced. And I'm eyeing the one chick in this place, the goth over there with the punk belt, sitting all by herself, and it's just about this time I notice my bladder's full.

            So while Tweed's arms are flapping like some drunk monkey and Dig's staring at him like he's hypnotized, I leave them two by the bar, and they don't notice me move 'cause it's like seven beers past two a.m. and who the hell notices shit at that hour? Plus, it feels good to leave 'cause I'm starting to feel like I'm wasting my life with those fools, those fucking morons, and I just need to get away. So I walk into this cloud of cigarette smoke, like someone else's dream, though they ain't supposed to be smoking in this place, and somewhere in the back of the cloud is a bathroom, a little stinkhole, with shit around the bowl, writing all over the walls. I whip my dick out and shoot a stream somewhere. It don't matter where it falls. Everything's covered with piss anyway. And it feels good coming out, like a little blow job 'cause I'm drunk and stoned, and I start reading the stupid phrases on the wall, like "Arab 4 Life!" and an arrow pointing to it saying, "Fuck all ya cocksuckers!" Plus there's all this wack shit, like maybe in Polish, lots of Poles in Greenpoint. Some Spanish amigo stuff and the usual suck my cock phone numbers for dope. I took it all in, you know? I was just taking a piss. And like right above the toilet paper was this big black writing that said, "G, you really should stop wasting your life with those two fools," and I'm thinking what a coincidence, right, since everyone calls me "G" and I was just thinking the same thing when I was next to shithead one and two by the bar.

            So I finished my piss and looked at my face in the cracked mirror, trying to find my eyes behind all the writing. Maybe it was the light, but I was as pale as an Eskimo's tit. Anyway, I fumbled back to the bar, feeling like crap, totally empty. So I ordered a beer. And Tweed's still talking about getting laid and high at some party, and there's this funky techno the DJ's playing, and I start thinking how odd that this crappy little bar has some DJ playing till two a.m. Even though it was like eighty degrees, the dude's got this black hoodie over his head, and he's huddling over the turntable like the Grim Reaper come for your soul. I try to figure him out. Probably some washout clubbie who never got his real break and now he spends his nights high on weed and music, trying to forget the person he never was. Like everyone here, all these fuckers, who've got nothing left except beer. The music was cool though, some funky trip hop beats, and it took me out of the mood I was in so I could concentrate on what Tweed was trying to say.

            "When she moved back in wit' her man," Tweed said, "that's when the things got mad crazy."

            "Yo, you dogged that bitch?" Dig said.

            Tweed smiled like the fucking Buddha, saying, "Man, that shit was so L!"

            They both cracked up while I sat next to them, trying to pretend like I'm into the conversation, drinking my beer and wondering what the fuck I can say to change the topic, to just add something that isn't about weed or hos or fucking basketball. But Dig jumps in, starts talking about this party he went to, for this chick rap artist, "She passed me an L and said, 'How you doing?' and I said, 'I'm doin' just fine now...'"

           "L," their new fucking word. Tweed and Dig pick them up like bums pick up change. And they spend them like crack whores who just won the lottery. And the fucked up thing is I start using them too. Everyone does. They've got a way of sneaking into your head. "L," a blunt, a joint rolled in a cigar. "L," sick, dope, hot, phat, like mad crazy. "L," the fucking elevated train. Who knows what the hell it means today? We just say it. That's how it goes here in Greenpoint.

            So now I'm getting pissed 'cause this is my thing when I'm drunk, I get mad angry, like smash shit, except I never got mad at Tweed and Dig before, but they're always going on and on about weed and bitches and it just gets so goddamned old, you know? I'm looking for something new and fresh, like the sound the DJ was pumping that said there was more to this bar than their stupid conversation. So I turn my eye to the punk chick in the corner, but she don't see me or just don't care, so I down the beer and order another. The bartender's got this long cigarette hanging from his lip and pours me a beer like I've killed his mom, total lack of joy. I smoked some weed a few hours before, had more beers than I could remember, but I can hold my shit, you know? I'm no lightweight. But at that moment I felt a clear light shine in my mind, like I was sober, and I just knew right then that I needed to talk to that girl with the punk belt, that all would be well once I spoke to her.

            I thought maybe I could bum a smoke and that would be my in. So she's sitting alone just writing in her little book, empty beer glass next to her. And I think, just a quick piss to clear my gnads, make sure I don't have a booger hanging from my nose, and I'll be right back. So again I walk through that dream smoke to the bathroom, close the stall door and do my thing. I start reading the walls again. Now the black writing by the toilet paper says, "G, you aren't listening. You're just getting fucked up every day and going nowhere. Are you going to change your life or are you just going to waste away?"

            And now this really freaks me out, and I piss on my shoe by accident. I look around the bathroom, thinking, there's another stall, right? But there isn't. So maybe Tweed is playing another one of his sick jokes. But, no, he’s at the bar the whole time. He's six foot four, with a bladder like Kansas. I run my hand over the writing, just to check, but it's dry. By the little dots at the end of each letter I can tell it's Sharpie. I used to tag all over the five boroughs with those things. They don't ever wash off.

            So, fuck it, I think, just some freaky coincidence. Let's go back and talk to that chick. Maybe she's into S&M or bondage and likes to dress up in PVC, 'cause chicks with spiked belts like hers usually do. I spring out of the bathroom and slide up to her, and all stupid-like I say, "Hey, got another smoke?" She lifts her eyes to meet mine, and I'm stunned retarded. Her eyes are all shiny, crystal blue, even in the dim smoky light, and I'm totally mesmerized as she keeps me in her stare and reaches into her purse, pulls out a long Camel Light and hands me one. So this is Brooklyn, right, and there's no smoking in the bars anymore, but no one gives a shit after midnight, especially in this forgotten place. It's like some prohibition speakeasy, a place of the past, at least that's what it feels like. So I'm thinking I'm Bogart or somebody, all smooth, all Roaring Twenties, and she's probably thinking what a dork, and anyway I'm just standing there with this butt in my mouth waiting for her to give me a light.

            Instead, she says, "Sit down."

            My balls start tingling 'cause my mind's racing ahead to all the nasty things she's gonna do to me, like tie me up and spank my bare ass with her belt, and I sit down, lean over and say, "What you drawing there?"

            She turns her sketch book upside down so I can see and she shows me this real sick picture, with bodies all mutilated and demons and dragons and all sorts of evil shit, then I glance back up into her eyes and see what's so enchanting about them -- she's got this dark power, like a well that sucks you in over the edge. And my cock goes flaccid, just like that. I'm done with her, but before I get to stand she flicks her lighter and sticks the flame before my eyes. Now I'm thinking, should I take a light from this evil girl? And why do I get the feeling like there's something more to this than just a light? Like some deal with the devil. But, you see, cigarettes are part devil too because before my mind decided, my body's already leaning in to get the light.

            The nicotine soothes as it goes down, and suddenly my balls are tingly again, and I start making silent excuses why I shouldn't hate this devil girl. She smiles at me and offers me her beer. I never saw, you know, when she got a new one, but soon I'm drinking again.

            So we start talking about all this trippy shit, like alien abductions and Mayan prophesies and CIA conspiracies. She tells me her soul's from the Pleiades, that in a past life she was Native American shaman, that she's gone deep undercover into the Illuminati, and while she's talking my heart is pounding and my head is spinning like I've been dosed with acid. And I know she knows this, this devil girl, she knows the tricks she's playing with my head, how it's freaking me out and how she's sucking me into her power. So I panic. I got to get away from this chick before she destroys my mind, and I'm up in second, through the dream smoke, and back into the bathroom again. And that's when I remember the writing on the wall.

            Now, get this, I'm not making this up. You're probably thinking, okay he's been smoking weed, drinking all night, talking to some crazy chick, he probably just freaked himself out. I tried to tell myself the same. But I swear the next part is true. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. I read the writing above the toilet paper dispenser that said, "You're hopeless, G. Look into the bowl and just die."

            And I know I shouldn't. That I should run out of the bathroom and get the fuck away from the bar before I lose my mind, but I'm a tool, a loser, hopeless just like the wall said. So I look down. Before I even flush, the water is spinning, spinning, colored chunks spiraling around, and I'm ready to puke, when I feel like I'm shrinking, and I can't tear my eyes away from the spinning bowl. It's like some hypnotist's spiral, with death at the center. I've had some bad trips back in the day, but this was nothing like those. I was ripped from my soul, flushed down that toilet like a piece of dung.

            The next thing I know I'm puking on the floor of the bathroom, my body totally cold, and the toilet above me is overflowing. Somewhere I hear knocking, voices, maybe Tweed's, and then a boom as someone breaks the lock.

            "Holy shit, you okay, man?" Tweed screams. As he grabs me I hear this commotion at the bar. I try to stand, pushing Tweed off me.

            "It's the writing!" I say, screaming, spitting up again. "It's talking to me."

            And Tweed's like, "Yo, you just trippin' man! Chill!"

            I stand by the sink, my whole body shaking, and splash water on my face. I look at myself in the mirror. And the fucked up thing is I'm not pale anymore. My cheeks are flushed like I just ran laps around the bar. In the broken mirror I see the graffitied stall. My stomach turns as I see the scribbling above the toilet paper roll. You'd think I had enough, right? But I have to see what it says now, so I wobble over to the toilet and read. But there's nothing there, nothing for me. Just some fluff about Republicans liking it up the ass and a poem by Octavio Paz.

            I turn to see Tweed frowning at me, like I've disappointed him somehow, and I notice that his hair is different. I remember it being parted on the other side. I follow him out into the bar all shaky, my legs weak, my vision clouded like I've been swimming in a chlorine pool all day. The cloud of dream smoke is gone and there's this small crowd staring at me as I emerge. One stupid kid by the bar claps and cheers. Dig gets up from his stool, finally noticing that there's something worth his attention going on. He offers me a drink. No, I tell him, sitting by the bar and swallowing gobs of water that the bartender's pouring by the bucketful. He's ready and waiting to pour a new glass as soon as I finish the last. He smiles and says, "You okay, kid?" I look at Dig and notice that on his chin he's got this little red goatee that he didn't have fucking fifteen minutes before, and instead of talking about weed and whores he says to Tweed, "Nietzsche's solipsism was really a dialectic with himself." Then they start talking about shit I didn't even think they knew, and now I'm really fucking confused because all the bottles of Blue Curacao behind the bar have been replaced with rows and rows of red Grenadine.

            While I was in the bathroom the DJ took off his hoodie and now wears a white wife-beater with the arms cut off, sweat running down his chest, and he's mixing some trance techno shit while staring right at me.

            The punk girl still sits in her booth, scribbling into her sketch book, when she looks up to meet my eyes. She waves me over. And though I don't want to go, though I just want to go home and sleep, I walk over anyway and sit down, like I have no control.

            "You okay?" she says.

            "Yeah. Cool," I say, "Just too much to drink." But it's a lie 'cause I'm still in total dread of what just happened, and I'm shivering like it's twenty degrees.

           "Want to see another drawing?"

            And I think, no, no fucking way, but before I speak she turns her little book around to show me pictures of angels and cherubs and flowery gardens of delight. It reminds me of something from childhood that I can't quite remember, and my heart breaks at the sight of it. And I'm warm all of a sudden, like hot from the inside. And I start looking right down her crotch where her punk belt is. I notice it's wrapped the opposite way it was before -- I notice these things -- and then I glance up into her eyes, her fucking green eyes, not blue anymore, but bright green, like leaves in spring, sucking me into them just like before, only now the feeling is pleasant, blissful, a little heaven, and I want to fall into them forever. Then she grabs my wrist, pulls me slowly towards her, and whispers into my ear, "Do you want another beer?"


Matthew Kressel

Matthew Kressel is a writer and a software developer. He is a three time Nebula Award Finalist, a World Fantasy Award Finalist, and a Eugie Award Finalist. NPR Books called his first novel King of Shards, “Majestic, resonant reality-twisting madness.” His short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, io9, Nightmare, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and The Best Science Fiction of the Year, as well as many other places. His work has been translated into French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Czech, Romanian, and Polish. As a software developer, he created the Moksha submissions system, in use by many of the largest fiction publishers today. And he is the co-host of Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series in New York with Ellen Datlow. You can find him on Twitter at @mattkressel or at his website

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