Allen stepped out into the frigid New York air. His boots crunched on the thick brown snow that had been pushed up against the buildings. He pulled his military green jacket closer around him, scratched at his short unkempt beard, and walked off into the noisy night.
Allen had officially been discharged for over three months now, but had failed to fully land on his feet. Plagued with nightmares, he had trouble sleeping and he had lost one job already for sleeping past his alarm and failing to show up. He couldn’t seem to focus on reality and instead he always saw a ghost image of burning bodies in the background. When he closed his eyes, the ghost image sharpened, so he didn’t close his eyes.
A cat yowled in an alley accompanied with the crash of a trashcan, causing Allen to startle. In his head he knew there was no danger but adrenalin flooded his system anyways, conditioned from his time in a warzone. His heart rate spiked and he felt the cold grip of panic on his neck strangling the breath from him. He stumbled to a door step, pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it with shaky hands.
Allen didn’t really know how he was going to make it through tonight. Bernard was on leave and wanted Allen to show him a good time, but Allen really wasn’t sure how to do that anymore. All Allen really knew how to do was to medicate himself enough to make it through the day. Heroin could make the ghosts return to their shallow graves where they belonged and allowed him to sleep, but fun did not include sleep. Fun did not include heroin. Besides sleeping and work the only activity that Allen had that could be considered positive was lazily strumming on his guitar with a cigarette hanging from his lips. Most nights he ran his fingers over his guitar’s familiar strings gently caressing soft melodies from it that drifted through the night air to be muffled by the sounds of the city and forgotten forever. However tonight, Allen was going to meet Bernard and take him to a party he had heard about from work near Union Square West. Some place called the ‘Factory’. He would have to survive off of cigarettes and whatever drugs where available at the party.
Allen slowly began walking again, conditioned by the military to never be late. A prostitute stepped out of the dark with a cheap fake fur coat and black teeth and tried to intercept him with mumbled come ons. He swiftly side stepped her, while spitting in her general direction. It wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but if he didn’t make it abundantly clear that he wasn’t interested, she would keep trying. New York seemed to be full of such lost souls. Only a few years earlier New York was one of the cultural centers of the New Scene. Art, music, free love, and LSD had spread through the city like some erupting tie-died volcano. It had happened slowly at first; a rumbling buzz and a smoky haze if you knew where to look, followed by the shift in the earth and an explosion of free love and drugs that could not be escaped. Or, so Allen had heard. He had missed the earth shattering event and could only be witness to the aftermath to such a paradigm shift. The casualties were staggering. People who had bought into the new way of thinking without a safety net were now wondering the streets hooked on drugs with no money spouting peace and love as if the world still cared. Allen knew he was a lost soul too, but he wasn’t deluded to the reasons for the destitute state of his affairs.
Allen finally rounded the last block and saw Bernard standing on the curb smoking a cigarette in front of his hotel. His breath created large clouds of smoke and fog around his head and he seemed to bounce either to keep warm in the cold night air or from excitement. His head bobbed like a fishing cork as he walked a circular path in front of the hotel; a strange sort of bate to lure Allen into this night only to be caught, Allen suspected, on some ghastly hook. Allen clenched his jaw as he seriously considered making a run for it before Bernard saw him. He thought that he could possibly dash down the alleyway but between the thought and the doing, Bernard yelled out Allen’s name, and Allen’s last chance to abort the evening had flittered out of reach.
With a heaved sigh, he finished navigating the thirty feet between himself and Bernard. He stopped in front of his friend with a mask of a smile and an outstretched hand. Bernard moved past the offered hand and wrapped his arms around Allen in a vigorous and firm hug. A little surprised by the affection, Allen slowly wound his arms around his friend and his wide fake smile turned into a small sincere one.
“Damn it’s good to see you!” Bernard said as he slapped Allen on the back.
As they pulled away from each other Bernard kept a hand on Allen’s shoulder and Allen responded sincerely if a little less enthusiastically, “Yeah man. Good to see you too.”
Allen began walking, Bernard following in his wake and they fell easily into what Allen called the ‘conversational waltz’. Their discussion was filled with polite conversation of introduction and reacquaintance. Everyone knows the steps, none of which are particularly interesting. After running through the initial pleasantries they came to the heart of the matter.
“So what’s the plan for this evening?” Bernard said through the smoke of a cigarette.
“This waiter from my restaurant, Frank, invited us to this place called the Factory.”
“You’ve never been there?”
“No, I… don’t get out much. But he said that it’s impossible to not have a good time there.”
“Ok what’s this Frank guy like?”
“Oh Frank? He’s cool. We close the restaurant together most nights. He’s got this really thoughtful quality to him, like he knows more about you then he lets on, and he has this just razor sharp wit.”
“But is he fun? Is this going to be some lame intellectual party?”
“Umm, I’m not sure really, but we smoke grass when we close all the time. There’s sure to be that sort of crowd there.”
“God I hope so. I really need to let off some steam.”
The question made Allen nervous. He hadn’t given much thought to the sort of party that Frank would invite him too. He was just thankful to have something to do with Bernard. While Allen considered Frank to be one of his closest friends state-side, when he really thought about it, Allen didn’t know much about Frank.
During the past month or so, they had worked together frequently and Frank had this disarming ability of knowing the skeletons in your closet. One night while they smoked a doobie in the back alleyway behind the restaurant, Frank had simply asked him how long he had been shooting heroin. While Allen had initially denied it, Frank had been persistent and sympathetic enough that Allen eventually opened up to him. His advice to Allen had always been to get out of his routine. Get out there. Meet people. Have fun. While Frank was exceedingly easy to talk to, he didn’t necessarily fully understand the monsters in Allen’s closet. Frank had invited him out to ‘The Factory’ multiple times, but Allen only took him up on it because of Bernard.
“Ah, here we are. It’s in here.” Allen said as the building came into view.
They walked into the rotating doors of a grey building and headed to the fifth floor. Allen and Bernard came to a halt in front of the prescribed door, and Allen nervously smiled at Bernard as he knocked on the door. The muffled sounds of laughter and music could be heard through the door and after waiting for five minutes, Allen knocked again with a firmer hand. Finally the door began to swing open; the sounds of a party tumbling into the hallway and a large leather clad man opened the door. He folded his large arms over his rotund chest and said, “Who are you?”
Taken aback, Allen responded, “I was invited by Frank Incognan. Is he in there?” Past the large man a large room covered from floor to ceiling in what looked like aluminum foil could be seen while every sort of person imaginable meandered around the place.
Seemingly not impressed the guard responded, “There is no one named Frank Incognan…”
From behind the man a swirl of cloth erupted into the conversation with an over-exaggerated falsetto, “Allen darling! There you are! George dear, they’re with me. You can go on about your business.” Before Allen knew what was happening he was pulled into the party by what at first appeared to be a very statuesque women covered from head to toe in aqua and gold chiffon. Threading her arms through Bernard’s and Allen’s she escorted them into the heart of the room, her clownishly exaggerated eyes twinkling at him. Her hair was an impossible shade of red that wound down her back in soft waves. “Allen dear, I thought you were never going to show. I’m so glad you did.”
Finally the face clicked, “…Frank? Is that you?”
Frank pulled him in close and said, his voice dropping down to his normal octave, “Felicity, here my name is Felicity.” Frank once again pulled away and like a master ball room dancer pulled both them around to face him. His voice rose again to that impossible falsetto, “So Allen, dear, are you going to introduce me to your little friend here?”
Once Bernard realized that a man was being so handsy with him he detangled himself from Frank as best he could without causing a scene. His voice dropped to a dangerous rumble as he said, “Hey bud. Get your hands off me.”
As Bernard bowed up, Allen stepped in between them while Frank said, “Touchy, Touchy, I’m sorry if I offended.” However Allen could hear the sarcasm in his voice.
Before this escalated further Allen interjected. “Uh… Frank, this is my old buddy from Vietnam, Bernard. Bernard, this is the waiter I told you about… Frank” Allen managed to say. As Frank’s eyes looked expectantly at Allen he added, “Sorry… Felicity?”
Bernard slowly took Felicity’s hand and shook it with a little more force that Felicity probably wanted. “Nice to meet you… Holy shit! Is that John Lennon over there?”
Frank pulled his hand back from Bernard and shook it as if it was slightly uncomfortable but continued in his perky manner. “Oh yes, John is a dear friend of Andy’s. Comes here all the time.”
Lighting a cigarette and turning to look in the direction Bernard was indicating, Allen said, “Andy?”
Frank turned to stare incredulously at Allen. “My god, Allen do you even know where you are?”
“Umm… The Factory?”
“Darling, this is Andy Warhol’s place.”
“Wait, the Marilyn Monroe guy?” interjected Bernard.
Frank scoffed, but continued on, “I believe there is quite a bit more to his work but yes… the Marilyn Monroe guy.” Frank pulled a cigarette holder from the billowy folds of his luxurious wrap and lit a cigarette. He held the cigarette lazily between his fingers near his face, his elbow folded daintily into his side.
Allen felt overwhelmed, and began to think that perhaps tonight had been a huge mistake. He turned back to Frank and said, “Listen Frank…”
“Felicity” He corrected.
Allen continued slowly, “Felicity… Look, I think this may not be the sort of scene that Bernard and I are into. I mean, I didn’t know you were into this kind of shit.” Frank looked at him humorlessly and Allen added softly. “Sorry, no offense”
Frank chewed thoughtfully on his thumbnail, smudging his rouge on the side of his thumb. He heaved a sigh and said in a pitch more closely resembling his normal voice. “Allen, I understand this might be a bit of a shock. I knew your secret and I thought perhaps you could know mine. I was hoping that you might be a bit more accepting, but it’s to be expected I guess.”
Now Allen felt kind of bad. Frank certainly knew how to guilt trip like a women. “Frank don’t be that way. I just need a little time to process this. I’ll take Bernard to a bar or something instead and I’ll see you at work.”
As the words came out of his mouth, Bernard put a hand on his shoulder. “Whoa, let’s not get carried away now. While, I agree this isn’t strictly speaking normal, it’s still kind of a groovy scene. Come on Allen, that’s John Lennon over there. It’s not like we haven’t seen this sort of shit before. Think about those lady boys back in Saigon. If Frank keeps his hands off of the merchandise I think we can hang around for a little while, see what develops.” Bernard said looking around the party.
A smile twitched at the corners of Frank’s bright red lips but his eyes seemed to slice through Bernard, “Believe me, the merchandise is more than safe from these hands.”
Allen nervously inhaled on his cigarette as he turned back to Frank. “Well Fr…” Allen paused to clear his throat, “…Felecity, I guess we’re staying. If you wouldn’t mind showing us around I would appreciate it.” Allen said.
Frank smiled at him with that knowing look and turned and began to walk away. He said over his shoulder, “Come on boys, I’ll show you the refreshments.”
Bernard and Allen shared a look, unsure what they had gotten themselves into, but followed in his chiffon wake as told. Every surface was covered in a silver metallic gleam that reflected and bounced light, so that while there were few lights in the room, the entire space had an ambient glow. The distorted clownish reflections of everyone in the room slid across the walls. This Andy Warhol must have wanted to live in a fun house but Allen found the effect very disorienting.
Frank led them into a long kitchen made entirely of stainless steel. Using his cigarette as a pointer he said, “You can make a drink here. Andy has anything you could possibly want. There is also some food here for settling the stomach, but here…” He opened a drawer, “…is your complementary hit of acid.”
Bernard eagerly held out his hand for the stamp sized paper. Allen was much less eager. He had firmly stayed away from hallucinogens. He had had bad trips stone cold sober; god knew what LSD would pull from his subconscious. Frank handed both of them a piece of paper with a flourish and Bernard immediately placed it in his mouth then went about the kitchen looking for a beer.
Frank then turned to Allen and with a cocked eyebrow purred, “Your turn dear.”
Allen feared his own mind and began to decline the hit, but as he pulled away, Felicity drew closer placing a hand on his arm. “Come on, don’t be shy.”
Allen felt uncomfortable so close to the man in women’s clothing and Bernard closed in behind him blocking off his retreat. Bernard firmly gripped his shoulders like a coach massaging a prize winning boxer. “Come on, man. Live a little.”
Feeling the waves of mental pressure emanating from his companions, Allen caved and took the piece of paper and before he lost his nerve stuck it on his tongue. Shaking him roughly, Bernard said excitedly, “Yeah! We’re gonna have fun tonight!” Allen felt Frank’s amused gaze on him, and he nervously pulled on his cigarette in response. He sauntered by him and Bernard and Allen could do nothing but follow. He ended up sitting lazily on a white leather couch among some other house guests, with crossed legs and an attitude that Allen found strangely seductive. They joined Frank in the group and conversated while a doobie was passed around the circle. Allen sat quietly letting Bernard do the talking as he attempted to let the weed sooth his nervousness.
The trip began slowly and Allen almost missed the signs. At first, the walls began to breathe. The group he sat with seemed to go in slow motion, their words dropping in tenor and coming out impossibly sluggish. Their movements left tracks as the outlines of their bodies became fuzzy and dull.The realization that it had begun scared Allen and his fears forced his trip in an automatically bad direction. He closed his eyes in an exaggeratedly slow manner as the colors around him became muted. The surfaces rippled like tickled fabric. Allen turned to take a closer look but his heart nearly stopped when he saw grey fingers begin to slip through the surfaces as if they were made of water. Frank’s and Bernard’s voices echoed away from him as the groans of the long since dead rose up and took their place. Faces with a sickly pallor, slanted eyes, and jet black wet hair, surfaced in the floor below him, reaching up to drag him into their cold crypts. Allen’s panic was an icy cage that held him in place unable to flee the ghoulish images assaulting him. He heard the sounds of chains drag and hit at a slow steady march pace and he knew that they were meant for him. The sound of distant thunder rolled over him as a small skeletal figure began to pull itself up Allen’s leg, black goo pouring from its mouth.
Just as Allen began to grip his chest, knowing that his heart would burst and he would die, everything stopped; frozen in place as a voice floated past him as if it was echoing through a cave. It was distant and ethereal. The voice called and enticed him softly and seductively.
In New Orleans…
Allen’s panic immediately subsided as the hauntings stilled, and held their places like statues. Allen turned to follow the voice, knowing it would lead him out of the dark labyrinth he found himself in. As he stepped, his footsteps created ripples in the floor as if he were stepping through an inch of water.
They call the Rising Sun
It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl,
And god I know I’m one…
Allen stepped forward to see a fog covered stage. Figures stood silhouetted against the back light. A guitar chord thrummed through him and the faces became illuminated. Amongst the ghostly grays a woman came forward becoming a beacon of color and life. She wore a pink crocheted top that exposed her midriff and a floral red floor length skirt that billowed around her. There were flowers in her midnight black hair. Allen could smell their fragrance and he stumbled toward her, completely bewitched.
My mother was a tailor,
She sewed my new blue jeans,
My sweetheart, he’s a gamblin’ man,
Down in New Orleans,
Her voice wrapped him in velvet, and her eyes heavy and lidded pulled him closer. The song was so familiar and while it may have been due to the acid, Allen felt it was the most amazing song he had ever heard. Her words and the low slow march of the guitars came to life. The strange futuristic aluminum New York apartment became the house of the rising sun in the dim glow, full of rich burgundies and patterned walls. He could see it as if he had been there.
Oh mother, go tell my baby sister,
Not to do what I have done,
And shun that House in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
The guitar thrummed deeper and louder and the world seemed to explode. Lightning sparks snaked and multiplied across the walls until it seemed that the walls were holding back an immense weight of lava which could be seen glowing through the cracks made by the lightning. The scenery began to peel away like paper turning to ash. As it blew away what was left were walls crawling with numbers and symbols. They crawled like ants across every perceivable surface. The people returned in his perception and everything was as it was before the song began except for the numerical patterns. His body relaxed as the guitar quieted and her voice returned to sing the last verse of the song.
Oh mother, go tell my baby sister,
Not to do what I have done,
And shune that house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sunns 18.104.22.168da2