I was staying with friends in Seattle. Having an hour or two to kill I stopped for a drink in a bar called The Bar. Inside were row after row of book shelves containing every conceivable book on the law going back as far as 1860. The most perused volumes seemed to be those dog eared to information about drunk driving, and public intoxication. That aside, the place combined the quiet peace of a library with the booziness of any pub. Over a rye I glanced through a few books, discovering it is legal to carry a concealed weapon in Seattle so long as it's under six feet in length, and one can burn down another person's house provided one has the home owner's permission first. However, what I found stuck between two pages was far more interesting.
It appeared to be a map of an island. As the bartender came by to refill my glass, she noticed the glossy print.
She said, "Looks like Vashon."
"Where's that?" I asked.
She replied, "Island out in the sound. There are ferries you can take."
I asked how often these ferries ran, all the while eying an X on the map. Call it clichéd, but it's hard to ignore anything as melodramatic as a red X on a map. Using an app on her smartphone the bartender called up a ferry schedule. If I left right away... I phoned my buddy from the ferry to tell him where I was headed.
He laughed when I told him about the map, and my adventure to Vashon. He said, "Dude, nothing out there but burnt out hippies and alpacas. I'll see you when you get back disappointed."
What he said didn't make me more confident. Still, I was half way to the island so figured fuck it. Alpacas are cute.
Vashon is a wooded island crisscrossed by dirt roads. A few paved streets mark the downtown area, but for the most part Vashon is a place that seems to be drifting backwards in time. The forest stretched out to slap at cars as well as obscure any houses from a direct view. Driving along I caught faint glimpses of lights glowing in windows, the sight more akin to willow-o-wisps than homes. This felt like the kind of place people went to get away from the world. But when I stopped in at a small cafe to ask for directions the locals were kinder than my own family when I was in the hospital. (Concussion due to car surfing, but that's another story.)
The main problem with navigating the small island involved the fact the roads are not well lit. There are several street lamps in the downtown section, but the majority of Vashon is left to the dark. I won't deny a sense of peace cruising along piercing the night with my headlights. It felt like plunging down rapids made of ink, the waves breaking around my car to reveal a forest at the edge of the raging river. As such it should come as no surprise I missed the road I wanted to find. The road signs being Lilliputian didn't help.
But eventually I found it.
The trail, barely big enough for my car, went on farther than I thought it could. A straight line that seemed to go on for miles, though that would be impossible given the dimensions of Vashon. At the very least I should've connected with another road. But lo and behold after fifteen minutes the dirt path emerged onto a clearing littered with various vehicles. I parked between a custom hotrod and a chariot tied to a pair of motorcycles.
Off in what must've been the center of the clearing I could see a dim light. Using my phone as a flashlight I made my way closer to the glow. A man in a tuxedo stood next to a flickering lantern. He looked built to demolish tanks by hand. He stood guard over a wooden shed too small to hold the amount of people the parking lot implied must be inside.
I started to worry whether or not I needed to be dressed a certain way. The clandestine nature of the place struck me, causing the concern I might require a password as well. Then my worries fell away.
As I approached the shed the tuxedo clad tank breaker pulled open the door to usher me inside. Apparently the very fact I was there implied I deserved access. Of course, a brief flash of paranoia raced through my mind. I half expected that the second the door closed a trio of similar burly men would fist-knead me into an unrecognizable lump. The fact I stood in total darkness didn't help this impression lessen.
The fap-fap-click flicker of fluorescent lights. Their steady hum shining on an elevator at the back of the shed. I stepped aboard, and pushed the only button on it. Ca-chunk! Gears set into motion. The elevator slid down into the earth. I felt glad I'd at least told someone where I was, so the investigation into my disappearance would have a starting point.
As the elevator went deeper I heard music. It sounded like guitars and synthesizers trying to romance one another. The hum of conversation joined the melody.
The elevator doors parted.
There are no words. My eyes brimmed a bit with tears. Such sights heaven alone dares to contain. To quote, "Damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'" -- I remember thinking this is where happiness is born.
Part 2: Happiness
And by soon I mean now -- just seems cruel to make a person wait for this epic delight.
The elevator opened on a door ringed in neon, the glowing glass woven into a Wilde paraphrase, "Moderation is Fatal."
Through the red halo I saw a room filled with partiers. Some wore fine clothes, while others strutted around naked. A few wore elaborate costumes which would put Hollywood big budget productions to shame. There's nothing like seeing a naked man puppet a massive crow skeleton, the puppeteer trapped in the rib cage, screaming for help as the bird wanders the room, his frightened gestures beseeching help somehow controlling the crow.
Pedestals about four feet high peppered the harlequin marble floor. Periodically the tops, silver iris portals, whispered open, and trays laden with various appetizers appeared. I recognized a few options such as grilled shrimp, southwestern eggrolls, shot glasses of tomato soup with a small grilled cheese wedge as garnish, but there were more exotic selections as well like tiny bowls of chapulines, a.k.a. deep fried grasshoppers. Several bartenders maintained a twenty foot mahogany expanse. Instead of a rack of bottles, however, they procured a person's order from a series of pneumatic tubes lined up behind them like an alcoholic organ. Every request, no matter how rare, resulted in a bartender punching numbers into a keypad then a whoosh as the bottle, or if necessary bottles in question arrived. Once a glass was filled the booze went back in a return tube.
It dawned on me the room was roughly octagonal with doorways at each of the eight points. I wandered the crowd, steadily making my way to one door. From within I heard the sound of sniffing, quick talking, and giggling.
One foot through the door a woman dressed in a top hat and tails greeted me, "Hello sir. Welcome to the cocaine room."
Inside looked as if the days of disco never died, they just changed clothing trends. Great white mounds made the room seem like a collective of low hills. Off in one corner a laughing group used a hillock of coke to fuel a snowball fight, using the white powder to keep themselves pumped as well as provide ammo. A small man ran past, blood pouring from his nose. He looked at me, hooked two fingers into the corners of his mouth, and pulled a smile so wide his lips cracked and bled.
The woman in the top hat sighed. She whispered into a pocket watch chained to her vest. Soon a trio of burly men arrived. They guided the bloody man out of the room. I watched them head to a door at the head of the octagon, the bloody man laughing the whole way.
I decided to investigate the other rooms. In one I found an assortment of men and woman who put the concept of beauty to shame. Another held a menagerie of animals typically not tame enough to pet, yet in there tigers could be handled like ordinary housecats. The seemingly obligatory room housing every manner of sex, one with a telescope at which people took turns viewing the cosmos in a detail NASA would envy, and a chamber where one could float -- I don't give a shit how cuz I got to fly. The sixth door I entered led to what appeared to be a cathedral wherein any sound, even the softest whisper put a person on the verge of orgasm; and in which a woman sang with a voice to rival any angel's. The seventh held a floating sphere of incandescent purple. Everyone who touched it saw something different, and those who had tended to retire to the main octagonal room to discuss their experience with others.
When I touched it all I saw was the eighth door.
In every room there were a few moderators in top hats and tails. Whenever someone seemed to be, shall we say, enjoying themselves too much the moderators called for a trio of guards who ushered the overindulgent to the eighth door. This always involved the gentlest of hands. The one being escorted out almost seemed to be getting rewarded rather than removed. Yet, I also noticed no one really paid much attention to those being exited.
I thought the eighth door must be some kind of exit or waiting room where the over stimulated got a chance to calm down. That is until I touched the sphere. The vision inspired a sense of contentment. This compelled to go through the door.
I went up to one of the Top Hats, "Hi, I was wondering if a person can just go through that door there. The eighth one. Or is it reserved for the epically exuberant?"
She said, "Yes, you may. Not many choose to, but it's up to you. Most people are happy up here."
"Well, I'm just curious."
She smiled, "That's usually how it starts."
Thanking her, I headed off. The door led to a narrow hall. The light from the octagonal room lit the way for the most part, but after a while it tapered off. Fortunately, by the time that happened black lights illuminated the last few steps. The hallway felt slanted, and I wondered how deep this all went.
The hall opened on another room, this one pentagonal. However, unlike above there was only one other door at the opposite end. That said I would dare say the room stretched out to the size of a football field.
I walked past a great mound of flesh, a man swelled to at least 800 pounds. A tube was being fed down his throat by tuxedo clad servants on step ladders. He swallowed it without so much as a gag. Then those attending him poured a pitcher full of what appeared to be a meat and vegetable puree down the tube straight into his stomach. Televisions set up next to the great mass showed a time lapse account of his stay. In about a minute or two I watched him grow from a slender man to this behemoth. And he looked utterly content.
Others like him dotted the room. Sometimes people more akin to stick figures climbed onto the enormous human mounds to lay on them like fleshy bean bags. They looked happy.
Wandering packs of junkies cranked to the point their eyes seemed ready to pop out of their skulls in an explosion of blood and joy ran around and around the room, many on the verge of flying apart at the atomic level. Those too desensitized from routine fucking gathered in small groups to beat each other until some tiny spark of delight sizzled along their nervous systems causing the combatants -- male v. female, male v. male, female v. female, all for one and one for all -- to fall into one another's arms, bloody messes screwing for the briefest of orgasms. Afterward, their faces resembled those of saints in stained glass. I saw a naked woman walk across a road of submissive backs, those under her command hurrying on all fours to make a moving human cobblestone street for her. I watched a man peel off bits of his skin to feed a tank of baby sharks.
Every so often I walked by small black tents. These barely seemed big enough to hold one person. At one point someone, I couldn't really say which gender, emerged from one of the tents. As the individual wandered off in a daze I stuck my head in the tent.
Not an abstract concept, or even total sensory deprivation. No color, no sound, no head, no air, no up, no down, no light, no beginning, middle, or end. Nothing. I can't even say how I remembered let alone commanded myself to pull me out of there. Fuck all, how was I even aware of nothing? In any event, when I pulled out I found a young man standing beside me.
He grinned. It looked awkward like an expression he was unaccustomed to. I stepped aside, and he climbed into the tent.
The pentagonal space felt larger now, almost infinite in a way. Every sound came at me in a cacophony. The smells of human grease, musty genitals, and blood flooded my nostrils. I felt like I was walking on the ceiling. I sat down on the floor till I regained a bit of orientation.
I noticed I wasn't a lone observer. Others like me explored the room without directly partaking in its pleasures. Part of me wondered what led each of us down here. None of us had to come to this place to silently witness the gallows where autoerotic asphyxiation enthusiasts indulged themselves as well as the desire of those who wanted desperately to pull the lever, and watch the bodies drop, hear them gurgle that last breath; and then see salvation arrive as nuns in latex habits ran up the gallows at the last possible second to cut the ropes, cradling those who came, literally and figuratively, back to life.
There was more to see. So much more, and that other door. I felt compelled to go through it, see where this all went next. But before I could do anything I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I turned to find a bald man with a handlebar moustache standing behind me. A trio of tank breakers accompanied him, arousing my concern this might not be a friendly visit. The bald man adjusted his tie as he spoke, "Pardon me sir, but we've had a complaint."
"May I ask what?" I said standing up.
"Of course, sir. It might be nothing in fact. I would just like to know how you received your invitation."
"Very well," I said, preparing to lie my ass off.
The bald man asked, "Did you acquire it at an establishment called The Bar?"
"Then you are Gilbert Renton."
"So you're 59, and have an artificial leg."
"I am... in a bit of trouble." I know when to fold.
"Not a terrible lot, sir. If you'll please come with me."
Walking back to the door leading up to the octagonal room I asked, "How did you know?"
The bald man replied, "The real Mr. Renton arrived. He's a regular here, in fact had his leg removed on this floor. We reviewed security footage, and found an unfamiliar face."
"Ah ha." I felt the solid presence of the guards as we entered the narrow hall. If things got ugly my only hope was that my death would be a permanent source of regret for at least one of them. With a little bit of luck it might one day inspire him to suicide.
At the elevator the bald man, guards, and I squeezed inside. Wedged between two of the guards I felt like a peach in a vice. When we arrived at the shed the bald man said, "I don't want you to worry. These things happen, and we understand. But certain measures are now necessary."
"Please leave me at least one hand," I asked on the off chance they might honor the request. The bald gentleman in particular seemed like a polite individual.
He said, "Nothing so extreme." He nodded to the guards. Two took hold of me while the third went over to a table. He ignited a blow torch then proceeded to heat a metal X. One of the guards holding me tore off my shirt sleeve.
The bald man said, "I do apologize."
The third guard approached, red glowing steel in hand. I'd like to say I put up a serious struggle. However, leaves do more damage to mountains. What I will say is I smell good when I'm cooking; and the guards did a surprisingly gentle job bandaging my brand.
They then escorted me to my car. I drove back to the ferry. Another ship wouldn't come for an hour and a half, so I spent the time wondering what I was going to tell my friends when I saw them next. There is a place no one is judged for the way they want to be happy. And I think I've been banned from it.