In the wasteland of Brooklyn, New York, I, Dan T. Matthews, sit on my tiny terrace clutching an old hardcover copy of Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan. On this dog day afternoon in August, I devour strawberry shortcake, White Russians, the designer drug XES, and Carlos’s hallucinogenic visions.
Nearby, a bookmarked holy bible is perched on a small round aluminum table. From time to time, I caress the bible while gazing at Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel in the distance, a whirling landmark of bestial Brooklyn.
The phone rings.
“What’s up, Charlie?”
“My dear friend, I invite you to come with me on a Saturday night ferry ride and a nocturnal tour of Forbidden Island. You’ll have a helluva time.”
“Okay, Charlie. It sounds like fun, just like the last time, when I brought V, our first guest. Remember?”
“Of course, I do. And once again, I, Charles Joseph Sharon, promise you a thrilling night on Forbidden Island. Meet me at the pier at 8 PM. And bring a surprise guest.”
“If I can…”
“I have faith in you, Dan. See you tonight.”
Before I go out for the night, I pop some pills and get dressed in my tiny bedroom, then go to the master bedroom and say good night to Mother.
“I’m meeting Charlie at the pier. Don’t wait up for me.”
“Don’t go, son. I can’t be alone.”
“I’ll speak to you when I get to Forbidden Island.”
“Boy, you mustn’t leave me here alone. I might have a heart attack and die.”
“Mother, I’m a grown man now and have my own life.”
“What kind of son are you?”
“I’m your precious Danny.”
“You’re a bad boy!”
“Good night, Mother. Speak to you later.”
And I rush off into the labyrinthine night.
On 9th Avenue and 42nd Street, I find our next guest. She stares vacantly at me and purrs “Wanna have some fun, mister?” “Sure, lady,” I say.
We meet Charlie at the pier at 8 PM. My tall emaciated buddy is busy tapping his black cane against the pavement and humming an old Sinatra song, The Best Is Yet to Come. When he sees us, his azure eyes light up and he stops what he’s doing.
“Dr D, you’ve brought a date. How marvelous! Who is this lovely lady?”
“My name’s Jill,” the old prostitute mutters.
“I’m Charlie. And I’m delighted to make your acquaintance. Now come along. We’re off on a glorious journey.”
Charlie staggers along the pier. We follow my skeletal friend and a young man with a wooden box onto the ferry. After the muscular fellow takes the box below, he departs, leaving Charlie, Jill, and I alone with a mute, shrouded ferryman. No one else is on the ferry. The ghostly ferryman starts the engine and our nocturnal trip to Forbidden Island begins.
Jill sways back and forth, her dark glazed eyes as empty and abysmal as the black waters of the bestial night.
“Stay awake, sugar,” Charlie says. “Remember, we’re gonna have a party, baby.”
“And V’s gonna join us,” I add.
“Yeah, a party,” she echoes. “But who’s V?”
“V is…,” I start to say. But Jill nods off and Charlie goes below to look at the wooden box. “It’s a work of art,” he cries out as he descends the creaky stairs. “I must have a close look at the unholy object.”
And now, I long for another XES high. Then suddenly, after hours of hiding in my brain cells, XES creeps up on me in the darkness, crushes my skull, and grabs my swirling mind and I rush into a drug-induced phantasmagoria.
I scurry off to join the ferryman and notice the mammoth name painted on the ferryman’s cabin-MARY CELESTE. I knock and enter.
Inside, the cabin is empty, the black shrouded ferryman M.I.A. Yet the steering wheel whirls around, guiding us to Forbidden Island. “Vanished!” I shriek as I plummet to the floor and pass out.
“Wake up!” And welcome to Forbidden Island.”
Slowly, I open my heavy eyes and look up at Charlie. Then I clamber to my feet. After suffering an attack of vertigo, I gingerly exit the ferry with Charlie and Jill and stumble along the pitch-black pier.
At the entrance to the island, a lanky wagon driver waits for us beneath a dimly lit streetlamp smoking a cigarette, like a character in a film noir. In the back of the wagon parked a few feet away, a wooden box sits, illuminated by the streetlamp. And the wagon’s headlights light up the long narrow country road beyond.
Soon, a young boy carries the other wooden box from the ferry and places it next to the one in the back of the wagon. Then he saunters off into the darkness.
“It’s time,” Charlie says, and we get into the wagon. The driver jumps in, starts the engine, and drives us across the dark, desolate country roads to our secret destination.
The August night is oppressively hot and the wagon’s air conditioner is broken.
“I’m suffocating,” I shriek.
Charlie and I open two windows. But Jill is oblivious of the heat, for she’s stoned and nestled in my lap. I inhale the seething country air and taste the foul odors of Forbidden Island. And slowly, we travel through the sinuous fateful night.
The wagon driver stops in a vast field with trenches 10 feet deep. He keeps his headlights on and one by one, carries the two boxes to the edge of a nearby trench. Then he returns to the wagon, leans against the dilapidated vehicle, and smokes a King Size Kool cigarette.
We sit next to the boxes near the deep trench and ingest XES. We’re all stoned. But Jill may have overdosed.
“Stay awake,” I order Jill who continues to nod off. The four of us are going to Joy Land tonight. So stay awake.”
“The four of us?”
“Yes, V’s here too.”
She looks quizzically at me.
“Who is she?”
“V is Vera, my beloved mother. And she’s here.”
I open the box nearest to me. “In here,” I announce, in this beautiful pine coffin.”
Suddenly, I grab Jill’s neck and push her head into the lovely coffin. “See, darling. Say hello to Mother Vera.”
Gazing at Mother’s skeleton, Jill howls. Her ululations drill a hole through the thick darkness.
“Quiet, girl,” I command. “You’ll wake the dead.” And I laugh maniacally while Charlie opens the second coffin, an empty one waiting for its eternal tenant.
But poor Jill is hysterical and dangerously out of control.
“Here, darling, have some more XES.”
Her body shaking, her hands trembling, she grabs my gift, unafraid of overdosing, craving, perhaps, the thrill of death.
“You see, Jill, Dan is really a very nice fellow.”
“Of course, I am, Charlie. I’m compassionate and generous. Tonight all drugs are on the house.”
I feed her XES and a myriad of other designer drugs. When she calms down, we lift her into the empty coffin. Her vacant eyes look up at us or beyond, confused and puzzled, not quite comprehending what is happening to her. But when we close the coffin and lock her inside, we hear her feeble cries.
In the distance, the morgue wagon driver watches us and smokes another King Size Kool. After we perform our ominous ritual, he averts his eyes, crushes his cigarette, and looks up at the black sky.
The night is young and so we continue to get high. From time to time, I talk to Mother and pretend I’m Norman Bates, Anthony Perkins’ character in Psycho, and that this killing field is the Bates Motel.
I eat Time. And Time slows down, almost stops-dies. But still, I do not see with Castaneda’s eyes.
I am Dr. Dan T. Matthews, professor of philosophy at Brooklyn College. A rotund middle-aged bachelor, voracious bibliophile, and murderer, I am the Philosopher King. I kill because I can.
On this tortuous night, the old prostitute dies slowly and noisily. Her faint cries are followed by a long abysmal silence. But eventually, she pounds and shrieks inside the pretty pine coffin.
“She’s still alive!” I shout.
“Yeah,” Charlie mutters. “It’s a miracle she didn’t O.D. Unlike you and me, an old bag like her should be dead after taking that drug cocktail.”
“But she’s still breathing and screaming.”
“Then it’s time,” Charlie says.
We drop Jill, trapped inside the pine coffin, into the trench, and Mother too. After we bury her alive, I hear her haunting screams for hours. Yet Charlie swears he hears nothing. Am I going mad?
Now, I imagine killing Charlie and the morgue driver. I lick my lips with bestial longing.
When I glance at Charlie, he grins wickedly. Does he know? Can he read my Machiavellian mind?
The morgue driver is smoking another King Size Kool. When he looks my way, he nods his head. He knows I’m a killer. But does he suspect I’m hungry for more blood?
I wonder what the two men are thinking. Do they know my treacherous thoughts? Do I know theirs? What will I do before the night is over? I ingest more XES and silently recite a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Then Judas which had betrayed Him, saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests…And they took counsel, and bought with them the potters’ field to bury strangers in…
What will Judas do before the dawn arrives? Who will leave Forbidden Island alive in the morning? I wonder.
Dr. Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, and writer whose stories have appeared in numerous magazines including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, HARDBOILED, DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, DOWN IN THE DIRT, CC&D, PULP METAL MAGAZINE, INNER SINS, YELLOW MAMA, and AUDIENCE. A past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis, he was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature and is the author of 11 books. Four of his mystery, fantasy, and horror stories were published by POSTSCRIPTS, a British magazine and international anthology, in October/November 2014. He recently completed an experimental mystery novel inspired by one of Freud’s case studies and is looking for an agent. He has been inspired for decades by his patients and their heroic stories of trauma and survival.