Fruits of Lunacy: PART SIX, Stansted Airport, London, England – Present Day

Sweet Faustus, leave that execrable art.
Contrition, prayer, repentance: what of them?
O, they are means to bring thee unto heaven.
Rather illusions, fruits of lunacy,
That makes men foolish that do trust them most.
Sweet Faustus, think of heaven and heavenly things
No Faustus, think of honour and of wealth.
Of Wealth!”

Christopher Marlowe 
Dr Faustus: The A Text

“There’s always one,” began Joe, staring again at the stain on the table. “There’s one person in whose presence people feel special, important, warm. That’s the one you need to watch out for. That’s the person to distrust. That person can turn affection into a zero-sum equation, creating rivalry where none was present before, and making the proving of one’s loyalty into sport.” He paused, still lost in the reddish blotch before him. Maybe the stain was faded blood. Blood definitely stains, he thought. The marks left on clothes, or carpets, or other external surfaces are easier to detect, and treat, and erase. The psychic stains last much longer, and no homemade remedy or industrial strength detergent can cleanse one’s mind. Those spots prove elusive and stubborn, corroding one’s synaptic order. The emotional scars left by caustic memories permanently reroute received information, often abandoning the intended destination entirely and settling somewhere the sensory input was never meant to go. Perhaps all trauma is not equal. But that doesn’t mean all trauma is not real.

Abby glared at Joe in a knowing way, her jaw clenched. She said nothing, and let him go on. “You’re stuck in a habit—an addiction to chasing that feeling of the ‘special person’ shining their light on you, and you do whatever they want you to do just to feel that warmth. You know, when that special person is imaginary, they call it religion. But when that special one is real, they call it a cult.”

Finally, Abby spoke. “When did you realize you were …” She reconsidered her phrasing, “At what point did you know what was going on?” 

“What did the President know and when did he know it?” mocked Joe. “This is you asking the question proving intent, right? Doesn’t matter,” he said, trailing off wistfully, eyes drifting upward and landing on the dark specks of the drop ceiling tiles.  

“You lost me, Joe. What are we talking about?”

“Now. Right now,” said Joe, in a near whisper.”

“Joe!” said Abby sharply, breaking him from his trance. He panned his gaze down from the ceiling tiles and locked eyes with her.

“Let’s keep going,” he said, smirking slightly. “We’re almost finished.”

Providence, Rhode Island, USA – 1997

Halloween arrived, and Below Me found ourselves at Luna Sea waiting our turn to be tattooed with the same brainstem cherries that I first noticed months ago on the small hand with the glitter-polished nails. The tattoo, as it turned out, granted admission to the party that night. James, and Jenny had, apparently, already received theirs, but came along for moral support. This came as a surprise to me. I knew Jenny had been spending more time with Diane. And James had been at Luna Sea quite a bit, having made friends with Trip and Del. But I had been so lost in my love buzz, I was not as in the loop as I should have been. 

Del said the tattoo represented feeding the mind. The brain, he said, receives input from all the senses, digesting information and converting it to the energy that forces our unique qualities to bloom. The fact that there were a connected pair symbolized community because sharing experiences made us all better, stronger, faster … whatever. I thought of the connection I felt with Lili. I also thought it sounded like bullshit.

The tattoos were completed in about ninety minutes, and then slathered in cocoa-butter to prevent them from becoming too stiff and painful as they healed. Afterwards, we walked back to the Downward Spiral, where we drank for an hour to dull the pain and make ourselves better, stronger, faster … whatever. I noodled on my acoustic, being one of only a few instruments remaining after Mike and Tripp had come the day before to transport our gear to the yet undisclosed location of our performance. Then we donned our Halloween costumes, and it was time to go. Subconsciously, I knew where we were going, but I had pushed that memory of the impromptu auriculectomy in the transit tunnel to the shadiest recesses of my gray matter, choosing to think of it as no more real that the tricks played on my mind by the psychopharmaceutical cocktail which wildly turned the knobs on my brain-chemistry console nearly every night. 

As we made our way through the archway of that same tunnel, our footfalls echoing through the arched space, I felt an inexplicable twinge of fear. Any witnesses to our presence, that night, may very well have felt a more tangible fear. We had chosen to costume ourselves as late legends of our respective musical instruments, raised from the dead. Dennis was Thelonious Monk. James, wigged and bearded, was Jon Bonham. Jenny, clad all in denim, with a thin mustache and goatee drawn on with eyebrow pencil, was Cliff Burton. Finally, in a gold sequined jacket and vee-neck white tee, I was Jeff Buckley, a mere five months after he drowned in the Mississippi River. All of us allowed Lili a turn with her makeup kit, painting us to appear gaunt and sepulchral. 

Arriving at the metal access door, Lili knocked once and we heard metal on metal, followed by the rusty creak as it swung open. A person in a red, robe with a hood, and a white, expressionless, paper mask held a camping lantern and silently pointed us onward. Stairs led down to a narrow sub-tunnel beneath the transit tunnel. The air felt cool and damp and smelled stale. It was lit with fluorescent, ultraviolet lamps daisy-chained together by extension cords, and placed where the floor met the walls. Scrawled on those walls in phosphorescent paint were arrows leading us to our destination, and more of the stenciled brain-stem images with which I was now permanently familiar. 

A few minutes later, we reached a dead-end that looked like it was once bricked-over, but had recently been punched through to form a makeshift doorway. Stepping through the hole in the wall revealed another, much larger space. We emerged into what I realized was the old East Side train tunnel that had once linked the railway bridge from East Providence, across the Seekonk River, cutting beneath College Hill. The tunnel had discontinued railway passage back in the nineteen-seventies, and was subsequently closed to any type of traffic at both ends. 

The curved walls of the tunnel were washed in colored, ambient light from strategically placed Fresnel lights mounted on tubular, steel grids assembled along the sides. Along a pipe running the length of the tunnel ceiling, like the spine of a biblical whale, were hung an assortment of colored lasers and fog machines. The only access was burrowed through the side wall, as the original openings to the old train tunnel were blocked off decades ago. Del stood at a lectern just inside the doorway, verifying admission. He was shirtless, his entire torso covered in tattoos, nearly indecipherable in their overlapping complexity. He wore a mask covering the top half of his face, with bushy eyebrows and a mustache. Every chiseled muscle on his upper body was enhanced, the way only firelight can do, by the glow of two sconced torches placed burning on each side of the entrance.

To my left, toward one end of the tunnel, were a series of three, lit platforms, topped with cages, presumably for dancers. Stretching between them was a curved wet-bar, semi-circular in its construction to maximize access in the narrow distance between the walls of the tunnel. Tripp and Mona were behind the bar setting up for liquor service. I could hear the familiar tone of Mona barking instructions at Tripp, who was moving at his usual glacial pace. To the right, at the other end of the tunnel, was a stage. From my conversations with Jenny, during the past few weeks, I had heard that she and Diane had been working together to design and build something for the rave, but I was unprepared for the spectacle that was the main stage. 

Rivaling anything H.P. Lovecraft envisioned in his description of the ancient gods or great old ones, the proscenium had been fashioned to resemble the open mouth of a great and terrifying beast with half-a-dozen eyes on stalks curving out and over the crowd, irises glowing with angry, red lights. Sharp teeth hung from above, like stalactites, and pyrotechnic gas generators were rigged to blast flames at the walls of the tunnel, inside the mouth. Thrusting from the open jaws of the monster was a snaking tongue that widened into a space for a performer to work their way into the crowd. Mike, Jenny, and Diane were making final adjustments and completing checks of their nightmarish creation’s practical effects. 

“Welcome to the hell-mouth,” said Del, from behind the mustachioed mask. 

“We’re performing on that?” I asked unable to hide my awe. 

“Yessir,” said Del. “For an international audience, baby.”

Lili squeezed my hand the way she did when she wanted to reassure me. I squeezed it back. Reading my quizzical expression, she explained, “DJ Tantalus is a worldwide phenomenon, right? So, his annual Halloween party attracts his followers from across the globe. They receive an initial clue by mail, and they sort of have to Indiana Jones their way to the mystery location. Wild, huh?”

Wild indeed. From there, things seemed to progress quickly, occurring more to us than by us. Below Me was hurried to the stage for soundcheck. Then bustled backstage, where a small, makeshift green room was fashioned from black, velvet curtains, illuminated by ultraviolet lights and candles, and adorned with secondhand sofas and an antique coffee table. Mona, Trip, and Mike were already in there, all wearing Venetian carnival masks. Then Del entered, followed by Lili, who had changed into a gauzy, black dress, black fishnet stockings, black lipstick, a black and silver Columbina mask. On her back, she wore a pair of black feathered wings. Her rainbow hair was pulled up in a messy bun with double, black, sequined headbands giving the effect of a glittering, black halo. Finally, following my fallen angel, Tantalus stepped into the room. In his right hand was a bottle of Russian Standard vodka. In his left hand he carried his mask, always the Medico della Peste: the Plague Doctor. 

“Friends, believe. Believe in me. Believe in the resolute urgency of now,” he said, his magnetic smile spreading contagiously as he handed the bottle to Lili, who filled the mismatched glassware littering the coffee table with shots. She handed out the vodka and, as she did, Tantalus followed her around the group, dosing each shot with two drops from the medicine bottle containing the Wall of Sound acid he had fed us a few weeks before. 

“Budem Zdorovi,” he said, raising his glass. Apparently, all but the members of Below Me and Mona knew what he was saying, and responded. The rest of us exchanged confused glances and shrugged, tipping our glasses and draining them. Then Tantalus said, “Del, let’s open the house.” 


Mike introduced us to the audience. He first boosted the crowd’s energy by saying “Welcome,” in languages from around the globe. 

“Welcome! Bienvenu! Karibu! Mhrbaan! Svaagat! Dobro pozhalovat’! Huānyíng! Baruch Haba! G’day! …” As he went on, each language group present howled at being publicly recognized. 

We took the stage, and for the first time, I laid eyes on the scene. Swaying in thalassic waves, and baying tempestuously, a freakish mob of costumed partygoers, travel-weary and stoned, played their part in the show by feeding us thunderous joy. The drugs began creeping their way upward from within, starting in the small of my back and climbing my cervical spine with tendrils, intertwining vines around my synapses, seeking out the sunshine of my mind in which to bloom. It may have been the acid, or the shape of the tunnel, or both, but from the first chord that night, our music had a swimming, echo-quality that haunted me as never before. We played with a thrashing ferocity. The crowd devoured each song, screaming afterward, and chanting at the close of our set, “Below Me!” until we obliged with an encore. By that point, the lights and the costumes, and the surreal scenario was overwhelming my altered senses, and the world was melting into an impressionist painting.  

The lights blacked out, and we were whisked from the stage. Tantalus stood alone in the green room, statue-still, with his mask still under his arm. He appeared to be in a meditative state, but his eyes opened when he heard us, and he smiled at me. 

“Well done,” he said with calm sincerity. 

“Break a leg,” said Jenny. At this, Tantalus laughed. 

“Thank you, Jenny,” he responded after his fit of laughter subsided. “And, thank you for a great show tonight. Now, head out to the dance floor. You’re going to want to see what happens next.” The voice of Mike was coming from the stage, and I focused enough to hear him say one word clearly.


She emerged in fog, dramatically backlit with blue lights. At first, just her silhouette was visible. Then, a softly-gated spotlight struck her, and I could see the fallen angel clearly, alone on the stage, feet crossed, arms behind her back coquettishly. Suddenly, the pyrotechnics flared from behind and she revealed a violin and a bow. The crowd fell silent as she raised the instrument beneath her chin. She closed her eyes and began to play. She began slowly, stroking long, dissonant chords. As she played, the entrancing tune grew frenzied until the pace rode the edge of madness. I was mesmerized. All this time she had patiently listened to me playing guitar and never once did she reveal her prodigious talent, which put to shame my clumsy hackery. I was awestruck. Lili skipped and twirled along the lolling tongue of the hell mouth, tracked by the spotlight, while underneath her violin, a steady beat began to rise. Then, at the peak of her crescendo, the stage lights rose, revealing the turntables, and the man in the plague doctor mask. 

 Lili disappeared from the stage as all focus shifted to the legendary DJ Tantalus, operating his Technics 1210s from within the fiery jaws of the hell mouth. She reappeared at my side, and I threw my arms around her and spun her in the air. If one is lucky, one may have two—maybe three—perfect moments in a lifetime, if one possesses the wherewithal to recognize them as they happen. This was one of mine. I swayed with the music, watching Lili dance freely and effortlessly. Despite the room being filled with costumed strangers, separated by language, culture, and geography, I felt we were connected forever by this profound shared experience. My bandmates, and Lili, and Tantalus, and Del, Trip, even meek and mousy Diane, had all become my family. 

It may have been an hour later, when the music stopped, and Mike came on the mic to introduce Tantalus. The world around me had melted into a surreal stew of indistinguishable emotion and sensation. My perception of time was bent. So, I do not know when, exactly, the cages on top of the pedestals became occupied. The people inside them were definitely not dancers. I had no time to further examine their identities before Tantalus began to speak, and, while some memories of that night failed to imprint, his words remain chiseled indelibly on the walls of my mind.

“My friends. My family. Thank you for being here tonight. A night when the veil between the worlds is at its most permeable. A night when the realm of light and the realm of shadow meet.  Tonight is the night when we can bang on the doors of the manors to demand they share their riches, or else we exact revenge. Trick or treat. 

“Let me ask you a question. Did Jesus charge a fee for performing miracles? Did he quote a price for feeding thousands with five loaves of bread and a pair of fish? What about when he raised Lazarus from the dead, hmm? Did Lazarus receive a surprise bill, months later, from his health insurance provider, for a staggering amount of money? ‘Should have found an in-network messiah!’ Right? Christ’s sermon on the mount blessed a lot of people, but to the best of my recollection, none of them were in advertising, or commercial real estate, or private equity. ‘Blessed are the investment bankers, for theirs if the kingdom of Heaven?’ No, no, no. Instead, Jesus makes a point of saying how it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter Heaven. The only financial transaction I recall from the Gospel involves thirty pieces of silver, and the recipient is not remembered fondly by history.

“What about Muhammad? Did the Prophet charge for his divinely inspired teachings? ‘Ninety-nine cents for the first minute, three-ninety-nine each additional minute? Operators are standing by.’ Siddartha Gautama, the prince who became the Buddha, did he cast off his riches, his clothing and jewelry, because he simply would not be seen in last season’s fashion and must, must, must have the new spring collection? 

“Full disclosure, I don’t believe in any of it. I stopped talking to imaginary friends when I was six. To me, the idea of an afterlife is just a way to ease the unbearable existence toiling away for the comfort and amusement of the capitalists. The much maligned ‘opiate of the masses.’ The point I’m making is that the foundation for most of the world’s ethical teachings—the so-called moral fabric of society—is persistently contradicted by the pursuit of material wealth. In fact, the practice of economic superiority supersedes all other doctrines, regardless of what those in positions of power and authority pretend to value. Religion, patriotism, and social decency are all infected by the tension between who has wealth and who does not. That makes money America’s true God. That makes millionaires America’s high priests. 

“And what does that make the rest of us? Expendable, that’s what. We are useful only insofar as we produce for them more wealth. ‘Trickle-down’ economics, right? Just a trickle. Enough of a trickle for us to consume what they need to sell. And, if we stop consuming, then we’re no longer of any value and we’re judged as such. 

“Money has become a substitute for morals. If you screw a friend to make a profit, don’t worry. It’s not personal, it’s just business. If you exterminate a nation to make a fortune, that’s Manifest Destiny. But go to the government with no wealth, seeking assistance with health care, or housing, or education, or food—basic human needs—and you’re labeled a ‘welfare queen looking for a handout.’ You’re a fucking parasite.

“The source of the indignity, the mendacity, the atrocity in our lives can all be found if we follow the money. But then what? If we continue to chase the money and nothing else, we’ll chase that money right off the edge of a cliff, like lemmings. It’s the corrupt system, you say? Sure it is. But you can’t blame a system. A system can’t be held accountable. Systems are made of people, am I right? And people can be held accountable. Not in a court of law, unfortunately. Laws are a system designed and enforced by people to perpetuate their own power and wealth. That’s why you can be fired by the company you work for, evicted from your home, and then arrested for protesting your firing or eviction without a permit. Meanwhile, the millionaire who owns the company that fired you, and owns the building that evicted you, and owns the cop who arrested you, is sipping scotch on a yacht in the Caribbean and never knew you existed in the first place. Try politics you say? Well, politics is society’s means of solving its collective problems without resorting to violence. But when the amount of money one has can tip the scales, outweighing the number of votes, then power has become commodified, and we’re back to square one. Starvation in a nation of plenty is violent. Homelessness in a land of fenced in golf courses is violent. Choosing which of your children gets medicine this month in the richest society in the history of the world is violent. The system is passive aggressive with mortal consequences.

“Systems feel no fear. Systems feel no pain. But people do. You do, right? I know I do. And when our only leverage are our voices and bodies, then we must use those assets to defend ourselves against the people who have backed us into a corner. We are all cornered animals. Our power is that we are cornered animals together in solidarity. It’s our obligation to demonstrate to them that they are merely flesh and bone. That they can feel fear. That they can feel pain. They have held us in quiet desperation for too long; held their boots on our necks for too long; stolen the breath from our very lungs for too long, and now it’s time to rise up together, and take our pound of flesh. It’s time to eat the fucking rich!

“Let this be a beacon to all those who starve and a warning to all those who starve us. We are coming, and we are hungry for justice!” 

The tunnel erupted in adulation for his sermon. I felt the call to action and looked at Lili by my side. As she applauded, we exchanged a look, and I understood more deeply than I ever had before, the catalyst for her principles. I wanted to hold her hand and follow her and Tantalus into battle. There were only three people in the room who remained silent: the men in the cages. The cages, which until then had been dark, were suddenly bathed in harsh light, and for the first time I saw the prisoners. 

Three men, one in each cage, were in various states of distress, both physical and emotional. However, I recognized right away Andrew Dashe, one hand clasping a bar of his cage, the other hand conspicuously missing. The stump was wrapped, but the bandages had been applied inexpertly, and appeared as if they had not been changed in too long, if ever. There was a fat man in a white dress shirt stained with blood and grime, and a pair of white briefs. His face was swollen with bruises, but I was still able to recognize him as Anthony Moltilupi. I knew the third man from the night he was brought against his will into the transit tunnel and lost an ear to a straight razor. He turned out to be Brian Tuttle. He had not, in fact, abandoned his job as a radio station executive to sail the Atlantic. 

Del, a sheen of sweat reflecting the colored, source-four lights pouring down from above, materialized from the crowd and scaled one of the cages, causing Brian Tuttle, trapped within, to shrink in terror. Anthony Moltilupi, jumped at the rattle caused by a skateboard being dragged across the side of his cage by Trip, who had rolled down the length of the bar in his usual laidback fashion. Diane and Jenny parted the crowd, each holding the other’s hand and each holding a flaming torch. They made their way to the final cage that held Andrew Dashe who was slumped against the bars as if he had surrendered all hope.

Then came the boom of Tantalus’ voice once more. “Once upon a time, there was a bard who wanted nothing more than to travel the world making music that filled souls sufficiently so that his listeners were inspired to fill his belly. So long as he finished most days with enough to eat and a place to lay his head, he was content. Then one day, as he played his lute and sang, with his hat overturned to collect coins, a stranger appeared and said, ‘Son, I can fill a hundred hats a day with gold, if you let me sell your songs for you.’ But the bard, being content with his simple life, declined. ‘Son,’ said the stranger again, ‘Don’t you want your art to inspire all people everywhere to be as happy as you?’ The bard did want to share his happiness as far and wide as possible. So, he reluctantly agreed. The stranger then tipped out the coins in the bard’s hat, and put half in his pocket. ‘Fair is fair,’ said the stranger. Next, he led the bard to shiny tower. Inside was a glass box with strange devices that cut and flattened and folded the bard’s melodies into neat, little, gray cubes, bearing little resemblance to the colorful art he made. The bard protested, arguing that each time he played was unique, inspired by every individual sunrise and raincloud he encountered on his journeys. ‘Trust me,’ replied the stranger When the bard recoiled at hearing the bland, sterile, sounds, washed clean of the road dust on his voice, pressed into flavorless cubes, the stranger said, ‘Trust me.’ And, when the stranger recompensed him with one gold coin for every twenty he, himself, took in from sales of the bard’s music, the stranger said, ‘Fair is fair.’ Finally, despondent at the precious moments of life he’d wasted with the stranger, the bard said he would just as soon go back to the life he left behind, traveling and playing for only enough to allow him to continue doing what he loved. The stranger smiled cruelly, and handed him back his empty hat. So, the bard returned to his simple artist’s life. Or so he thought. For, wherever he stopped to play his lute and sing his songs, he was recognized as the bard from the little, gray cubes, chastised when he failed to play exactly like the clipped, colorless recordings; and jeered when he did. Having lost his purpose and his joy, he traded his lute for a bottle. And, in that bottle he remained for the rest of his short, unhappy life.” 

As the story ended, Del swung down and opened the cage. He was handed a large, canvas duffel bag as he entered, which he set down on the floor of the cage. Brian Tuttle, in a state of learned helplessness, did not attempt to flee. Rather he slunk as far away from Del as he could in the small space. Del opened the bag and extracted two large handles of Evan Williams green label bourbon whiskey. Then he produced two, red, Solo cups. He handed them to Brian, who cringed when Del extended his hand. Tentatively, Brian took the cups, and held them while Del poured a shot from one of the bottles into each of the cups. Setting down the bottle, Del took one of the cups and held it up to Brian, in the gesture of a toast. The voice of Tantalus rang out once more as he said, “We raise our spirits to you, Brian Tuttle, gatekeeper and profiteer. For all the free spirits you have drowned in the name of the free market, we drink. And we remember that it is poetry that will redeem humanity, not commerce.”

Del drained his cup as the crowd began to rumble. He looked at Brian expectantly. Obligingly, Brian put the cup to his lips and tipped his head back. As he did, Del struck him in his exposed throat. Brian staggered back, sputtering and gasping for air. Del turned and reached into the duffel again, this time producing a pair of handcuffs and a bright, red plastic funnel. As he turned back to Brian, who was struggling to draw breath, he gave him a powerful kick square to his chest, sending him backwards into the bars of the cage. In a moment, he had Brian’s hands cuffed to the cage, behind his back. Grabbing Brian by the hair, he pulled his head back and pinched his nose until he was forced to open his mouth, allowing Del to jam the funnel in. Holding the funnel, Del began dumping the bourbon down Brian Tuttle’s throat. Brian struggled, but Del was more than capable of overwhelming him. When the first large handle was empty, Del, started on the second, and did not stop until Brian Tuttle was clearly dead, drowned in the eighty-proof alcohol forced down his throat. The crowd roared its approval. I joined them.

The applause was cut short by the echo of Tantalus, “Once upon a time, there was a prosperous thief. However, unlike most thieves who avoid conspicuous displays of their ill-gotten goods, this thief preferred to flaunt his wealth and boast of his schemes. To avoid repercussions for his crimes, due to his ostentatious tendencies, the thief bought the loyalty and influence of judges and the local constabulary. One evening, as the thief and his entourage emerged from an expensive meal at an inn, a poor man sitting outside the inn asked him for a few coins. ‘Please, sir,’ said the pauper, a tin cup outstretched in his hand. “I haven’t eaten in several days.’

‘Perhaps you should work for your coin, like the rest of us,’ said the thief, turning to his companions with a disapproving smirk. ‘Instead of expecting to be supported by hardworking men like my friends and I.’  

‘Would that I could, sir,’ replied the beggar, ‘But I’m blind, and nobody will hire a blind man.’

Determined to save face, the thief countered, ‘I cannot give something for nothing, can I? That wouldn’t be fair. I hear your voice. Can you not sing? I see your feet. Can you not dance? I will pay you to please me and my company with song and dance.’

The poor man reluctantly stood, setting his coin cup on the ground before him. Then he broke into an awkward shuffle, singing an old hymn, his voice infused with trepidation. When he finished, he gave a dizzy bow, and waited. The thief began to chuckle, and said, ‘No. That will not do. That did not please me. In fact, that was so pitiful, I feel I owe you nothing. I feel, instead you owe me for suffering through such a miserable spectacle. For wasting my time, I demand remuneration.’ With that, the thief reached down and took the poor man’s cup, with its two, meager coins rattling inside.

‘Thief! Cried the poor man, reaching out and catching hold of the thief’s cloak. The thief whirled around to face the poor man, enraged, and plunged a dagger between his ribs. As the poor man slumped on the ground, dying, the thief and his cohort strode away, confidently, knowing they were insulated from any consequences whatsoever for their dastardly actions.”

Trip wasted no time with the task before him. He edged his way behind Anthony Moltilupi as the large man in the cage listened to the story, enraptured along with the rest of us, tears streaming down his face. Trip had quietly drawn a long, thin blade from a sheath on his belt. He paused, as Tantalus caught Moltilupi square in his gaze, and the man in the cage opened his mouth as if to speak, but no sound came out.

Tantalus spoke. “Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.” And Trip, having slipped his hands quietly through the bars from behind, ran the blade across the throat of Anthony Moltilupi. With his other hand he reached around with a stack of the same red, Solo cups with which Del had made his toast, and began filling them with the blood that flowed from the severed artery. As cup after cup of life drained from Anthony Moltilupi, the light left his eyes. Trip handed the cups of blood out to the outstretched hands of the partygoers who, in turn, handed them backwards, until the red plastic cups were dispersed amongst the wild-eyed mob. 

“Justice is served,” said Tantalus, tipping the cup and draining it. We all did the same. A silence fell over the crowd as we drank, followed by thunderous ovation. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, leaving a smear of the dead man’s blood on the padding between the thumb and forefinger. 

“Once upon a time,” began Tantalus for a third time, bringing the cheering flock under control, “there was a Baron who ruled over much of the land. He lived atop a great tower, looking down on the small homes in the village beneath him. Although he taxed them more and more, there came a point when the simple lives that satisfied those in the village below were insufficient to produce enough to feed the growing appetite for riches of the greedy Baron. He ordered the villagers to vacate their homes to make way for a class of people with the means to meet the Baron’s inflated rent. But, to his surprise, the villagers refused to go. They stood firmly and peacefully together, in opposition to the Baron’s demand of them to leave. And, upon hearing the unified voice of the people, pleading with him for dignity, security, and to respect their lives at least as much as he valued a few more coins in his pockets, do you know what the Baron did? I’ll tell you. He set fire to their homes and burned them to the ground. The Baron claimed that all who dwelt within at the time of the blaze escaped safely. However, being that the homes belonged to those of little means; and, whereas those of little means often sleep more people beneath one roof than they feel safe disclosing to the authorities, there were several souls who did not escape safely, or at all.”

I remembered reading an account of a fire a year or so before that engulfed several old structures on one of Thayer Street’s blocks. As I recall, it included a few artist’s loft dwellings, a consignment shop, and a record store. It had been replaced with a dreadfully trendy and overpriced retail clothing chain store and office space. 

The sharp, sweet smell of gasoline fumes awakened me from my memory, and I trained my gaze back to the last cage, where Andrew Dashe slumped resignedly, his one remaining hand resting on his forehead, halfheartedly defending against the accelerant with which he was being drenched by Big Mike and Dennis, each swinging a red, plastic, petrol cannister. Dashe appeared to have accepted his fate. He did not scream. He did not struggle. As Diane and Jenny approached, the man in the cage struggled slowly to his feet, turning away from the women holding the lit torches. He locked his eyes instead on Tantalus. 

“You stupid boy!” he yelled at Tantalus. You child. You insignificant … you insignificant mosquito! Killing me accomplishes nothing.”

“I respectfully disagree,” replied Tantalus. “True. Killing you as a singular act doesn’t solve the long-term issue, per se. However, killing you as a symbol, demonstrates the service of justice, and inspires the greater movement. Think of yourself as a matchstick. Yes, you’re just one, brief flame among many just like it. But, if that one matchstick lights one candle, and that one candle lights two more, and so on, then soon there are hundreds, even thousands of illuminated minds. The shadows in which people like you operate become harder and harder to find.” He turned his masked eyes to Jenny and Diane, hands still clasped, eyes shining like amber in the torchlight. “Ladies, let there be light.”

Jenny and Diane pushed their torches between the bars and stepped back. Andrew Dashe erupted into flames. He whirled around, trying to shake free, crashing into the sides of the cage, as if he was the only participant in the world’s most psychotic mosh-pit, dancing to music only he could hear. As disturbing as it was, I was unable to look away. 

“Oh, and Andrew,” said Tantalus, his voice reverberating through the P.A. system, “Mosquitoes kill more people than any other creature in the world. So, show a little fucking respect.”

Dashe, having finished his morbid routine, fell to his knees, and collapsed face down in the center of his prison cell, delivering the most sickening bow. Del rushed over with a fire extinguisher and doused the flames with an aerosol hiss that reminded me for some reason of the sound of my father’s shaving cream cannister from when I was a boy. The memory of my father shaving, early mornings before he drove to work, juxtaposed with the acrid scent of burned flesh and gasoline clouding the air around the three caged corpses opposite the many-eyed hell mouth somehow snapped me out of my obedient trance. I looked around with a fresh perspective at the grotesque menagerie crowing their approval and gnashing their teeth, their pupils dilated to the size of pie plates behind their masks, giving a standing ovation at the final act of the horror show before us. The pulsing beat began again, and they danced in celebration of their leader, manning the-ones-and-twos, and holding his headphones to the side of his hook-nosed mask. 

Suddenly, it dawned on me that this was a moment in my life when what I did next—what I accepted or rejected—would immutably define my character. In my flash of clarity, I saw how misguided and grave the situation had become. Rather than liberating hearts and minds, this gravity was feeling like a tether. Tantalus was right about everything except method. If this was the only way to achieve the change he wanted, then maybe the juice was not worth squeeze. 

I found Lili on the dance floor. She extended her hand, and I took it, spinning her, and drawing her close to me, cheek to cheek, so I could speak softly in her ear.

“I think we should go. Let’s go, okay?”

She stopped dancing, placing her hand on my chest, over my heart. “Are you serious?” she said, smiling skeptically. 

“Yeah, yeah I think so,” I responded.

“Why?” she said, her smile faltering. “What’s going on Joey? This is a big deal. This is a big moment. We’re part of something … more than ourselves. Don’t you want to be part of shaping a better future? Take a few minutes. Go backstage, smoke a bowl, change the channel in your head. Just think about all you’ve heard here tonight, then come back and tell me it doesn’t make perfect sense.” She drew in close to me, so I could smell her skin and feel her warmth. My heart, already racing, beat even faster with the electric hum of her proximity. She held such power over me. Love is patient, love is kind, love’s a chain around your mind. I thought a new spin on First Corinthians might not fly at weddings. But it would make a great song lyric.

“Joey,” she said, her hand on my face, “Joey, I want you with me. There’s too many places not to go to, together.” 

Lili was right. It did make sense, all of it. I knew that on an intellectual level. This was a cause I believed in, and a woman I loved and admired. So, I nodded to her, pulling her in close again, and I kissed her. 

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, okay. I’m probably just … the acid and the nerves, you know?”

She smiled at me again, and I felt like she was mostly convinced. I pulled away from her, pushing through the manic throng, toward backstage. As I reached the aperture leading behind the proscenium, I saw Diane and Del facing off in one of the wings of the stage. I slowed my approach and heard them in a heated and animated conversation. But it did not sound like they were speaking English. It sounded like they were arguing in a Slavic language, like Russian. Or maybe I did not hear that at all. Night after night of tripping on LSD left me questioning the validity of my sensory intake. If an experience did not confirm my priors, then it may not have happened outside of my head. But I only had look over my shoulder to witness Big Mike and Dennis placing shrouds over the bodies of the victims in the cages to verify that horror, at least, had, in fact, happened. 

Diane and Del parted ways, and walked in opposite directions. I saw Diane pick up two extra cans of gasoline that Del had set down in front of her. I guess they bought four and only needed two to cook Andrew Dashe alive. She arranged the two containers neatly next to the surplus paint supplies brought by Jenny to create the hell mouth set. Diane turned and saw me. Of all my new family, Diane was the one I knew least well. She was quiet and organized and far less flamboyant than the rest. Although our relationship was cordial and pleasant, I sensed that she felt mildly resentful of my relationship with Lili.  

“Everything okay, Joey?” she asked, wiping her hands on a rag.

“Just going to sit down for a few minutes. Recharge, you know? All apologies, I just need a quick break.”

“I hear you,” she said, looking past me. “Just make sure you’re ready for the final hour of Tally’s set. The hell mouth is going to heat up something fierce, bother.” Then she walked away, leaving me alone with my racing thoughts. 

I wanted to leave. But I did not feel like I could go freely. Then again, maybe I was just being paranoid. I had, however, just witnessed a ritual triple-homicide in front of an enthusiastically approving audience. Those circumstances probably justified paranoia. Was I trapped? Was I in a cage myself? I remembered the way Del hammered that guy in the Downward Spiral weeks ago. Or was it months ago? All the guy did was touch Lili for half a second. I was contemplating betraying her trust and her entire value system. What would he do to me? I thought of the way Lili looked at me when I told her I wanted to leave. I thought of the crowd hanging on Tantalus’s every word, and how I felt persuaded by every point he made. I thought of Dennis pouring gasoline on a man, and Jenny holding the torch, both secure enough in their convictions to participate in murder. I was alone. Panic was radiating from my solar plexus, filling all my thoracic nooks and crannies. I had to get out. But how? 

I needed to create a distraction. So, I formulated a hasty plan. Grabbing the two cannisters of gas, and a few cans of paint thinner from the neat pile in the corner, I carried them to a wing of the stage where the gas-powered pyrotechnic generator lived. Then, I poured a stream of gasoline from the barrel of the pyro device to a scrim draped along a wing of the stage. Shadowy movement caught the corner of my eye, and I rushed to hide the remaining cans behind the pyro generator, walking away quickly, just in time for Big Mike to round the corner into view. He passed the pyrotechnics device and walked to a table on the far side of the stage on which was arranged an assortment of complicated looking electronic equipment, presumably to control lights, sound, and other effects. 

While he was engrossed in the many dials and sliders on the wired equipment, I slipped past him, taking off my sequined Jeff Buckley jacket and dropping it in a shadowy corner. Steadily and stealthily, I made my way closer to the tunnel’s only point of ingress or egress. The crowd was in the peak throes of euphoria as the music built, layer upon layer, driving up and up on a frenetic crescendo. At the far end of the tunnel, I saw Lili mount the stage. Watching her dance, I started to second guess my decision to leave. She moved with such graceful and reckless abandon, her rainbow hair spilling over her shoulders, and I felt helplessly drawn back toward her. The beat reached its most maddening peak, and finally, mercifully dropped. The crowd went insane. From her perch on the stage, Lili scanned the room, drinking in the panorama of the great gathering of wild things. Then spotting me by the door, her smile disappeared, replaced by a judgmental look so ferociously paralyzing it might have stopped the Earth turning. I was mortified. Guilt and fear collided in my stomach, causing me to vomit slightly in my mouth, and then choke it back down. Then everything went sideways.

When I enacted my hasty, acid-addled plan, I had underestimated the combustion force of the accelerants. I intended to create a distraction. I accidentally built a bomb. The pyrotechnic effect ignited the gasoline trail, which led to the mostly filled canister, burning a small hole through the side, igniting the gasoline within, and converting it to a flaming projectile that shot directly into the crowd, where it exploded. The second canister caught fire, spinning wildly on the stage, and bounced right into the back of Lili, whose black wings and gauzy black dress were immediately set ablaze. Another bang, and a can of paint thinner popped and shot upward, spraying flames all over the proscenium, and the wooden hell mouth quickly lived up to its name. Big fans had been set up behind the stage to blow any fumes from the fire effects, or from the man who was burned alive, away and out towards one end of the tunnel. Now, however, those fans blew the rampant inferno directly at the people, many of them already burning. 

I watched in horror as Lili fell to the stage and rolled, trying in vain to extinguish the blaze spreading over her whole body. Her rainbow hair caught fire. She tried to stand, but only managed a crawl, and I saw her beautiful face, which only minutes ago I had pressed close to mine, melting and charring away. I heard her scream, a feral, animal howl. One of the long, pointed teeth that hung from the mouth of the beast, above her, now aflame, broke free and plummeted straight down on top of her. And then she stopped screaming. Lili was dead. 

People were stampeding in my direction, clambering over one another, trying to reach the exit. James was dragging Mona and Jenny, both unconscious, along the floor. From the stage, Tantalus was cutting a pathway through the fire. Several injured partygoers were blindly staggering toward him, their gestures indicating they needed help. His mask gave him the image of a rampaging pterosaur as he vaulted them, making a direct line for me where I stood petrified in place by the shock and horror of watching Lili die. At that moment, a large section of the stage collapsed, pinning James, Mona, and Jenny beneath, and cutting off the path to the doorway for everyone but me with an impassable wall of flames. Screams of terror were matched only by those of agony as those not yet too injured to ambulate found their paths hopelessly obstructed. From beyond the flaming barricade, Tantalus tore off his mask and looked at me directly. I would have preferred he glared at me in anger. Instead, his eyes expressed confusion and profound disappointment. Even more so than the heat of the fire and the choke of the smoke, stinking of burning hair and cooking flesh, his disappointment inspired me to finally turn and run. 


I’ve been running ever since. Within a few minutes of exiting the tunnel, I arrived back at my apartment to throw into a suitcase whatever clothes I could grab. Because I was paid entirely under the table, I had about two-grand in cash in a drawer. Lili, for all intents and purposes, had been living at my apartment and had a few drawers of her own in my old bureau. Rummaging beneath her clothes revealed what turned out to be about sixty-five hundred dollars rolled into elastic bands. She was, after all, a drug dealer. So, this wasn’t a surprise. 

Standing in our messy bedroom, looking around at the common detritus of cohabitation, a wave of emotion crashed over me. As I held one of Lili’s sweaters up to my cheek, feeling the fabric and smelling her scent, I collapsed to my knees, weeping. I indulged my humanity for only a few minutes, before wiping the tears from my sore, swollen eyes. Just over an hour later, I was paying a cab driver, as he pulled up to the curb in front of the departure doors at Boston’s Logan international airport. 

It was weeks later, here in London, that I learned that more than two-hundred died in the fire in the tunnel. There were, apparently, no survivors. Initial reports indicated it was just a rave gone wrong. But, as more forensic evidence came to light, questions surfaced. Why were there so many foreign nationals in attendance? Why were there reportedly missing persons found in cages? Then, eventually, why were all the bodies of the members of Below Me recovered, except for one? Me. 

Stansted Airport, London, England – Present Day

“That brings us here, give or take a quarter of a century,” said Joe, sniffing back tears, as he tried to appear composed. 

“So, you did it,” said Abby, sounding curiously relieved. “You killed them.”

“Yeah, I did,” responded Joe, looking through eyes succumbing to his tears. “But not everyone.”

“No, Joe. You just told me you did. You just said there were no survivors.”

At this, Joe stiffened again, guarding himself emotionally, and asked, “Any word on that extradition? What’s our E.T.A. on that paperwork?” Abby was silent. “There’s no extradition, is there?” Abby looked down and allowed a slight smile. She reached into the briefcase by her knees and produced a file folder.

“Of course there is, Joe. I just need a signature from you regarding your statement.” She slid the file folder across the table to him and reached down into the briefcase again, coming out with an expensive looking black pen with a cap. Abby stood up and closed the distance to Joe, pen in hand. 

“I don’t believe you, Diane,” said Joe, stopping her in her tracks. He opened the manila folder. It was empty. “It is you, right? The scar on the hand where the tattoo was removed. The heavy makeup and high collared shirt to hide the scars. Did you have reconstructive surgery after the fire? I didn’t see it right away.” Abby was silent. “It’s been decades, after all. But … come on, Diane.” 

“Fine. Yes. You’re right, it’s me,” she said, throwing up her hands. But, before Joe had time to react, she reversed the gesture, pulling the cap from the pen with her teeth, and plunging the tip into his shoulder. He felt immediately warm and fuzzy. He was rooted to his seat. Turning his head, Joe saw that the pen cap had hidden the needle of a syringe, now being extracted from his upper arm by Diane.

“Fentanyl,” said Diane. “By the way, my name isn’t Diane. It never really was.”

“What’s your name?” asked Joe, but he was so drugged, it sounded like he was speaking through mud. He was starting to drool. 

“It doesn’t matter now. What matters is that I’m going to kill you soon, Joe, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So, just listen.” She pulled the chair from her side of the table close to him, sitting slightly behind him to his right, so she could speak into his ear.

“Once upon a time, in a quiet, suburban neighborhood, lived six children. There were four brothers and two sisters. They may not have all been related by blood, being from three sets of parents, living in three separate houses, all next door to each other. But brothers and sisters they were, nonetheless. This wonderful, extended family shared a secret that bonded them. You see, although they went to school every day, and played soccer on the weekends, and had backyard sleepovers in tents, and attended church on Sundays, just like other, normal, average, American boys and girls, their parents all had secret jobs in addition to the jobs they held for the sake of appearances. You see, their moms and dads had been sent to the United States in the nineteen-seventies as spies for the Soviet Union, gathering information about the US government, in order to undermine the cancerous empire of capitalism that threatened the more equitable and just society envisioned by the USSR. And, while the USSR was unable to withstand the test of time, the vision remained worth preserving. And the work continued. 

“Then, one day, when the children were in their junior high school classrooms, armed government agents conducted a raid, snatching their parents from their homes and offices, and breaking apart the happy, loving, family. The siblings were placed in foster care. However, they remembered their loyalties: to their parents, to their true homeland, and to each other. Therefore, as soon as they could, they escaped their foster-care prisons, finding one another once more, and vowing to continue the work of their mothers and their fathers. The two sisters and four brothers struggled to build a beautiful and powerful movement, spreading the doctrine of a collective, fair society by any means necessary, and never forgetting the corrupt state who took their parents away. And it was working. They grew their following, and dealt justice to the perpetrators of inequity.

“Until, that is, a cowardly bag of rats squirmed into their inner circle and murdered them. You murdered my brothers and sister, Joey.” This last part Diane hissed in his ear as she slid her black, leather belt from its loops, and wrapped it around his neck, pulling it tight and placing a foot in the middle of his back, pushing with her leg. 

“You took everything from me. You killed the girl you said you loved. And, Lili, she genuinely loved you. That was not an act. I will never understand why she loved a piece of shit like you, but she did.”

“I’m sorry,” Joe croaked as best he could past his blocked trachea, as his eyes bulged. He was sorry. He had agonized with regret since Lili caught sight of him sneaking out of the party. He should never have let her go, as he held her close on the dance floor that night. He wished he had followed her all the way to hell if that’s where she felt like going. He’d bring the marshmallows. He should have been the one to die that night. 

“Fuck your sorry. You can go to hell, Joe,” she growled through clenched teeth. And, as he struggled “Can I bring a friend?” 

Specks of light crackled through his vision as oxygen deprivation sapped the light from his eyes. He felt his heartbeat accelerate, doing everything it could to pump blood to his brain so it could lap up every remaining morsel of oxygen his depleted bloodstream had to offer. Until, finally, the lack of respiration began to shut down his organs, and his heartbeat slowed. Choosing to surrender his spirit while envisioning the most beautiful memory he could conjure, he stopped struggling, dedicating instead his last wisps of dwindling lifeforce to his imagination. As twenty-six years’ worth of fear and guilt gave way to sweet relief, Joe staved off the end just long enough to picture in his mind’s eye, Lili, the dancing girl with the rainbow hair. He smiled. And then, darkness.