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December, 1999. A young man finds himself in a mental hospital, strapped to a bed. Though a prisoner of the system and his own devices, he is not alone. One by one, he meets a ragtag group of fellow patients, and is quickly sucked into their madness. Together, they escape the hospital and begin a campaign of violently spiritual deconstruction.

Chapter One

Bhagavad Gita, baby

Satan the devil.
These aren’t the things you think about when you play this game. You don’t think that God has a name just as the devil has a name. You think about the last movie you saw.
You think about ‘The Pompatus of Love.’
Starring John Cryer, Adrian Pasdar, Mia Sara, Kristin Scott Thomas.
You don’t think about anything remotely profound when you play this game.
You remember the blurbs.
“A better guy-talk comedy than ‘The Brothers McMullen.’ ”
Nothing profound. Don’t you dare.
“A delightful ‘Diner’-esque comedy.”
You think of the movie you saw before that. Not watched. Saw.
The Prince of Egypt.
And the movie you saw before that.
And again, before that, but really, what’s the point?
You see the world in alphabetical order when you play this game, and everything needs rewound.
We were playing that game where you stick a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger, you know what I’m talking about. It only has one bullet in it, and when it’s your turn, you have to spin the cylinder, cock the hammer. The cocking isn’t necessary, but it embellishes the drama. You say something pithy, slap life in your words on a bumper sticker. Then you insert the gun fellatio style, and you swear the gun should have a name like John Holmes, or Bobby Suede. Then you count to three and pull the trigger. The gun is a Smith and Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum. If you’ve seen any of the Dirty Harry movies, you know what I’m talking about. It can penetrate a bulletproof vest. The Highway Patrol use it to stop cars. It can take down a brown bear, or cape buffalo. The cape buffalo weighs approximately 1,984 pounds. The weight of an adult human head is approximately eight pounds, or less, three pounds of which is the brain. You won’t survive this game, if you win.
That game where nothing’s profound.
And we weren’t playing with a Derringer. A Derringer, it looks like a sniveling sissy of a gun, even though the bullet is actually .41 caliber.
We were playing with a .44 Magnum.
And we were playing that game where everything’s nothing.
One bullet.
Five empty chambers.
The odds aren’t very good.
When I say ‘we,’ I’m referring to the five of us. The infamous Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse. That’s Arthur, Bobby, Richie, Johnny, and myself. When I say ‘the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse,’ I’m talking about the ones responsible for everything you’ve read in the papers, or seen on TV. More specifically, the crimes committed by the underground movement known as Cezele 2000, and I use the word ‘crime’ loosely, but mostly for Johnny’s sake. Johnny and his beliefs. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s how it all started, but there’s no way of really telling. Not now anyway. It’s too late. It doesn’t matter.
It was Bobby’s turn.
The first time we played, I remember thinking there was no fair way of deciding who goes first. But Johnny said it didn’t matter, because you have to spin the cylinder anyway, so no matter when you go, your odds are the same. Twenty percent. You’re born with the same odds for gluten intolerance.
Bobby says, “The world is just a big vagina.”
And he spins the cylinder.
And he inserts the gun into his mouth, all ten point sixty-three inches of it like it’s some black man’s long but skinny hard steel cock.
Even though there’s unblemished silence, everybody’s counting.
And you think about the melting point of table salt.
You do not think anything profound when you play this game.
You think of standing over a metal pan with a butane torch, looking through the polycarbonate visor of your SGE 150 gas mask with military grade NBC air filtration.
The melting point of sodium chloride is approximately 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bobby cocks the gun.
And you brace yourself for the recoil.
You wait for the muzzle flash.
Bobby squeezes the trigger.
Once the table salt melts, zap it with eleven volts of electric current using two wires attached to the positive and negative terminals of a car battery. The resulting charge will emanate chlorine gas.
Bobby peers down the barrel of the gun.
The chlorine is a diatomic, greenish-yellow gas first used as a weapon by the Germans against the French in the Battle of Ypres. It attacks the upper and lower respiratory system, causing generalized hypoxia.
Bobby hands off the Magnum, smiling.
Never buy a gas mask on clearance.
Never smile.
You haven’t just conquered death.
Piss on your handkerchief all you want. You didn’t pull a fast one on anybody.
Death has conquered you, but you’ll receive no Cross of Victoria.
Arthur, Arthur was next. Arthur takes the gun, spins the cylinder, cocks the hammer, raises it to his mouth.
Arthur says, “Life’s the canvas. Death’s the easel.”
And you brace for the recoil.
You wait for the muzzle flash.
Arthur squeezes the trigger.
You don’t look around before you do this.
You never make eye contact.
You find something to focus on. A point of convergence. But you don’t pretend you’re somewhere else. Stay in the moment. But don’t you dare get melodramatic. This is just a game.
Arthur hands off the gun.
Once you have the pure sodium, store it in a hydrophobic liquid, such as kerosene. The kerosene will act as a barrier, preventing ignition from contact with moisture. Exposure to vapor in the air will cause the formation of sodium hydroxide. Appropriate amounts of powdered sodium can spontaneously combust, regardless of liquid reaction.
Richie spins the cylinder.
Molten sodium is used as the heat-transfer medium in nuclear reactors.
Richie cocks the hammer.
Richie says, “Gang banga’s pulled out tha’ nine millimeta.’ Stopped the bullet with my Bhagavad Gita.”
One, two, three.
Richie hands off the gun.
And I think of Lea.
Johnny cocks the Magnum.
Lea, Lea, Lea. I shouldn’t think about her, but I do.
Johnny says, “The other day, I mistook reality for verisimilitude.”
It was moments like this when I swear Johnny has read one too many Palahniuk novels.
He reads too much, period.
I know this because Johnny knows this.
Just kidding.
I know this because it makes me think I’ve heard it somewhere before, that maybe we’ve been here before, when, of course, we have.
And you brace yourself for the recoil.
Johnny puts the gun inside his mouth like it’s a steel hose that he’s going to siphon the truth with.
You wait for the muzzle flash.
He squeezes the trigger.
I can’t keep up with all of them, but I know I’ve read at least half the books that were on Johnny’s floor, all in a heap next to his bed.
Johnny hands off the gun, lets out a little laugh, which you weren’t supposed to do.
The Dark Tower.
The Republic.
The Tin Drum.
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.
And I think of the skin on Lea’s neck, that smell of lemongrass sage.
You don’t look at anybody. You don’t make eye contact. Don’t you dare. You don’t want your friend to be haunted with the look in your eyes right before you splattered the back of your head against the wall.
I spin the cylinder.
I cock the gun.
I ease it slowly into my mouth like a dental mirror, and for the first time in my life I can see what’s inside.
The Birdcage.
The Crucible.
Double Jeopardy.
You see the world in alphabetical order.
Fight Club.
And everything is checked out. Returned late. Everything needs rewound.
That lemongrass sage, her thick hair dividing her face in a golden curtain, that green, feline eye spearing me through like a jousting lance.
Take care of Lea, I say.
“Savagely Funny!”
“Raw and Exhilarating!”
And I squeeze the trigger.

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brandt miles

Devil's Elbow, USA

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