Luigi’s Pizza, Addison Circle.
Tuesday afternoon . . .
I’m sitting here eating my second slice of pepperoni and mushroom pizza, nursing a Diet Dr. Pepper. I come here to this place whenever I need to think about things. I also come here when I’m hungry. So, really, I’m here most times. It’s conveniently located six floors beneath me, and the pizza is always hot.
I’m wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a green t-shirt, and I think I need to back up a bit.
The guys that work here, they know me as the nice rich guy who lives in the Penthouse with his younger brother. Ricky said it would be a good idea to tell people that we were related so that they don’t start thinking we’re gay. Not that we’re scared of homosexuals or anything. Just that Ricky says that there is some prime tail in this neighborhood, and he wants to make the best of it.
We don’t really look alike. Ricky is tall and thin, with big curious eyes that make him look like he knows more than the rest of us do. Which, I think he might. Me, I’m shorter, with a stockier build. I’m actually in pretty good shape, and I thank the me that I’ve forgotten for that.
Ricky helped me get back on my feet when I woke up in the hospital. He was an orderly at R.H. Dedmen Memorial Hospital in Dallas. He was one of the few people I could talk to that didn’t look at me like some circus freak. He would come down and talk to me, explaining what all the doctor-speak really meant.
See, Ricky went to med-school and got all the way to his last semester, and then he burnt out. He has a taste for the ganga, and it may be partially to blame. He says that he quit school because it wasn’t what he thought it would be. So basically, he’s like the smartest guy I know. He is my only friend, and by default, that makes him my best friend. Although, he’d probably be my best friend anyway.
He knows all of the things my brain injury took from me. Oh, yeah, I had an accident that I should probably mention. About six months and seventeen days ago, Christmas Eve, I suffered massive trauma to the base of my skull which caused,
“ . . . localized bilateral lesions in the limbic system, notably in the hippocampus and medial side of the temporal lobe, as well as parts of the thalamus, and their associated connections.”
I was dead, they say, for 67 minutes.
Apparently, during that hour and seven minutes, the doctors and the monsters played tug-of-war with my soul. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—modern human science and technology prevailed and I lived.
Now, for reasons that were very complex and frustrating to understand, I lost all of my long-term memories. I lost everything that was me. I have no idea who I was, what I did for a living, who I associated with, or what kind of person I was.
Strangely, I did remember some things. I still knew basic things like math, English, and my insatiable hunger for pepperoni and mushroom pizza. I’ll keep eating until it hurts. Seriously.
Anyway, the doctors made it very clear that I will never recover my long-term memories. What made matters worse was that when they checked my fingerprints with all the police agencies, nothing came up. My DNA was a dead-end, too. What I gather from this is that either I was not a criminal, or that I was an extremely talented and cunning one.
When the state has cases like me, we get referred to the Neurology Department where all kinds of doctors and shrinks perform all manner of tests on us. You live at a county support service—be it a Manor, or a House—where you are looked after until such time as you can prove to them that you can become a productive member of society without going raving mad and machine-gunning people down at the post office.
They call these places “tard-farms.”
Anyway, while recovering I started seeing the spooks. At first it was just when I was falling asleep, or waking up in the wee hours of the morning. They’d creep around and basically scare the shit out of me. But I chalked them up to hallucinations. Just neuronal nonsense. You know, wires crossing in places that are still throbbing in my broken head.
But I kept seeing the spooks. And now it wasn’t just in the dark, anymore. I started seeing them when it was quiet, and when I got a little tired. Then I’d see them in the daytime.
It got so bad I started seeing them around other people. I thought, hey, I’ve probably got some degenerative brain disease. Hoped, anyway.
See, disease is something I can understand. I can cope with a sound, grounded answer to my pathology. A diagnosis I can live with, even if it’s killing me.
Give me my advanced schizophrenia.
Find me a tumor developing in my parietal lobes.
A double shot of brain swelling, even.
But what I absolutely didn’t want to hear was that everything was fine. That I was healthy. Fit as a fiddle. Because, if my brain is fine like they say, that meant that I was actually seeing the spooks.
Well, Ricky advised me to go and see a woman named Ms. Josephine. She has a tarot card shop and mystical book store located in Deep Ellum, near downtown Dallas. Ricky knew of this place because there is a head shop located next door. Did I tell you he likes to smoke weed?
So I visit Ms. Josephine at her dark, candle-lit shop. She’s short and chubby, like you’d expect a voodoo priestess to be. She has dark honey-brown skin, and the most incredible eyes you’ve ever seen.
And she says she hears things.
Well, she hands me this book, called the Book of Sighs. Supposedly, she’d been waiting for me for several months, and this book would make sense to me. And since not much of anything made any sense to me, I figured what the hell.
So I take the book, open it to the first page, and it’s nothing but nonsense. All squiggles and dashes and dots and stuff. She tells me that eventually I’ll be able to read it. I shrug, and then haul ass back to my apartment in the tard-farm, before the spooks come back.
Ricky and I hit the Dallas Public Library and meet a librarian named Rupert. He helps us research the book, and we find out that it is very rare . . . and valuable. A mixture of Voodoo and Christianity. It was written at the same time as the bible, in 325 AD, by the same people who wrote the bible, at the Council of Nicaea. So the book is important.
So important, in fact, that people are taking great measures to procure it. Even now.
Turns out that the Book of Sighs was written by St. John the Divine, and is the other parts of the bible. The parts that we’re not all supposed to hear about. The scarier stuff that isn’t discussed in church.
Just whispers and secrets about the Land of Sorrows. That’s where the souls go when they’re not wanted by God or Lucifer. Imagine it like a second Purgatory . . . for lost souls. A waiting ground for the damned.
As the time goes by I see more and more spooks. Then I start to get haunted by this girl that looks oddly familiar. Discounting the fact that she’s obviously dead, she was, well, attractive. I know that makes me a sicko, but it’s true. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And I was certain that I knew her from my past.
Anyway, I see her several times in my apartment, and eventually we start to communicate. She convinces me that she needs my help. That nobody had ever gone to heaven, and that they’re all trapped in this Land of Sorrows. Something about a gate that should have been opened long ago. You know how aloof ghosts are.
She tells me that this place is stacked right on top of our world, separated by the space of one tiny little electron. Just enough where we can’t see them, and they can’t see us.
But me, since I was dead for so long, I’m able to walk on both sides. Deadside, and the Earth plane. So, not knowing any better, and finally able to make sense of the Book of Sighs, I agree to help.
Ms. Josephine, Ricky and I, we perform an experiment where I crossover to the Deadside by facing my worst fear—drowning. Then I crawl out of my own body, through my chest, and see this dark, twisted place. It’s just like our world, only melted and distorted. Bent and warped, with all of the color drained away. Everything is just different shades of gray and black. The people that live there, their only color is in their eyes.
And it’s cold.
And the longer I stay on Deadside, the closer my body gets to dying over there. See, my body temperature drops dramatically while I’m on the other side. It’s all Ricky and Ms. Josephine can do to keep my body alive while I’m gallivanting around. Coincidentally, I have only 67 minutes in the Land of Sorrows before I go into complete hypothermia and end up a permanent resident.
Oh, yeah, and there are monsters that rule the sky, just waiting for an excuse to come down and shred you to bits. So, basically, this is the most horrifying place you could possibly imagine spending eternity. And this girl, Kristen, she wanted me to save all of the souls that have ever lived on earth, ever.
She told me I was the reincarnate of St. John the Divine. That I was a savior. And . . . that she and I were in love in my forgotten past life. And I believed her. I wanted to save her. I would have done anything just for her. The fact that I was going to save all of us from our horrible fate, that was a bonus.
So we all loaded up into Ricky’s father’s private jet, and headed for Damascus. I used the book as a key, inserted it into a dusty old wall, and opened a large invisible door. All of it while being technically dead. The whole crossing over thing is something that you just don’t get used to.
Anyway, as this door opened, flooding the Land of Sorrows with color and life, I noticed that only a few people wanted to leave. In fact, it was only 23—Kristen, my dead librarian friend Rupert, and 21 other souls that I had seen here and there. Nobody else wanted to get anywhere near the doorway.
As you might imagine this was rather alarming. I had figured that there would be a mass exodus through the door since they had been cooped up in that awful place for millions of years.
Then, the love of my forgotten life—Kristen—she dropped a bit of a bombshell on me. She said that we were in love, but that I killed her in our past. Apparently she still held a bit of a grudge for that. I tried to apologize, but she wasn’t hearing any of it.
Some people just can’t forgive some things.
Then she heads off into the colorful world beyond the doorway with her 22 other friends, and I am suddenly surrounded by flying monsters and a bunch of big mean guys who turn out to be angels. On the plus side I now believe in Angels. So that’s neat.
This one Angel—Uriel—he explains to me how I’m pretty much the biggest idiot in the entire history of time. How I’ve been played from the start by this girl, and how I just basically spit in God’s face by opening that door. Turns out there were missing pages to the Book of Sighs that I hadn’t read.
Those pages explain, in very clear language, that the book is never to be used to open this gateway back to earth, from the Deadside. Those pages tell anyone who has passed the first grade that they should not be messing with things they have no business messing with. But see, I didn’t read any of those pages.
Uriel tells me that I’ve just let 23 evil souls escape back to earth where they will do all sorts of unpredictable, horrible things . . . and it’s all my fault. All because I had the hots for a dead chick that I apparently offed in my former forgotten life. So, I’m a douche-bag of epic proportions.
Uriel very bluntly explains to me that I’ve made a huge mistake, and that I will be damned if I don’t go back to earth and hunt down each and every one of those 23 escaped “Evils,” he calls them.
To win back my salvation I must track down these 23 evil souls. This is my only chance at an afterlife. I work for the other side now. I’m a dead-tracker. Think of me as a bounty-hunter, or a skip tracer, or a detective . . . or even an agent. An Agent of the Dead.
Oh yeah, and he doesn’t give me a choice in the matter. He just says to basically go back to the Earth plane and wait for him. One of those don’t call us, we’ll call you kind of deals. And now that’s what I’m doing, as I shovel in pizza like there might not be a tomorrow.
Because, really, there might not be.
Nothing is certain, right now.
And I feel this uneasiness in the air. A kind of negative electricity. Ms. Josephine warns me to pay close attention to those little tingly feelings I get. She’s always reminding Ricky and I that those strange feelings—the ones we live our whole lives trying to ignore—those are defensive systems that our bodies developed over millions of years of evolution.
Those cold shivers, and half breaths, and apprehensive glances—all of that is to let you know that the monsters are coming.
And all of those nuanced alarms that I just mentioned . . . I’ve got them all going off. If this pizza wasn’t so damn good, I’d probably be in a full-blown freak-out right now.