Flamenco, flamingos, and fantasy

Steven Bridenbaugh

Steven Bridenbaugh
Eureka, California, US
May 18
Commerical Maintenance
As a child, I decided that I would become a nuclear physicist. I dreamed that the prettiest girl in third grade was my secretary, as we rode around in a spaceship. I read all the Hardy Boys mysteries. About that time, my parents started saying that I talked too much. I was sent to a prep school on the East Coast. For me, it was a lonely and sometimes cruel place. It didn't bother me that often. As Barney has said, "Our Imagination is a very good place to be!" In 1985, I remodeled a kitchen, and used the money to buy a bicycle. I trekked to Sun Valley, Idaho, and became a ski bum. I now am somewhat arthritic, and I read a lot of theology books. My soul is decidedly triangular.


MARCH 21, 2012 1:52PM

Welcome to the Club Dumas...

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La maison Dumas
         “Woodstock is the great American orgy. This is who the
          Democratic Party has become. They have become the party
          of Woodstock.  They prey upon our most basic primal lusts,
          and that’s sex. ”

         -Rick Santorum,   2008

I wake up, as if from a short afternoon nap, and find myself in Hell. Looking around, I see nothing medieval about the place -- no fire and brimstone, no shrieking, tormented souls. It is seemingly more the product of my own vain wishes and desires. I find myself in a sumptuous Second Empire mansion, with lovely Louis XV furniture, in the company of a beautiful and obviously hedonistic group of people. I am greeted by a statuesque young woman named Mollie, who introduces herself as my guide, and graciously leads me through the mansion.

The rooms are full of wonderful men and women: all brilliant artists and writers, the type of people I searched for yet never found in my own unexciting life. All of us are now apparently dragged into the same glittering doom. Yet, no one seems to feel any despair -- quite the opposite -- all are caught up in a sensuous appreciation of our rich surroundings, the company of beautiful women which are in abundance, and and the spirit of art for its own sake.

I start searching for familiar faces, and pick out Peter Sellers, who I somehow feel is a person that is approachable. I tell him that I loved his movies, and finally I ask him why we are all here.

"In my case, it was the Dr. Strangelove movie, I think, that condemned me to this place. It went against the grain of the company of angels. I like to call them the Corporation. They kept me in limbo for a while, but after the bombing of Iran, after they started calling it a holy war, they decided that it would be best if I were permanently banished." He paused. "You may notice, that we are all rather liberal in our views. They are absolutely stupid, you know. They sent us to this place. They don't know the difference between liberal, and libertine!" Everyone within earshot is convulsed with laughter.

I replied, "But isn't the devil around here, somewhere? Don't you have to worry about Satan, or Beelzebub?"

"Oh, you'll meet him soon enough, but he isn't very formidable."

"That's a relief!" I exclaimed. "I was beginning to suspect that I must be the architect of this place. It would be like discovering that I was related to Hitler, only worse."

"Oh, there's nothing to worry about, honest. Hey, be a sport, and have a scotch with me out on the balcony."

We stepped outside, and looked over a lovely landscape of gardens, fanciful waterworks, flowering trees, and a placid lake. There was even a fantasy grotto, and a small picturesque outbuilding, a kind of cottage. Many of the guests were out on the lawn, frolicking, to put it mildly.

"This place was once the home of Alexandre Dumas, pere. We don't call it Hell. Actually, it is Le Club Dumas. If you decide that you would like to leave and go to heaven, go ahead. Then you can call it Hell. Remember that." I thought over this for a while, and said, "Perhaps I am here for my various transgressions on earth. I can't remember exactly what I may have done, but this place must be a trap of some kind!" I could imagine dreadful consequences swiftly following my every move.

"Oh, absolutely not!" Sellers replied. "This may look just like The Twilight Zone, but it isn't much different from anywhere else on earth. There were always the same number of people messing around, no matter what church I ever went to. And the women here, they are real women. I never met one that wasn't playing for keeps, you know. Wherever you find a scandal, there is usually very little to back it up, at least around here." This I found hard to believe, because two girls in masks, completely nude, had just joined us, serving drinks and snacks. I accepted an oyster-bacon thing on a cracker from one of them. Such perfect bodies. I suppose they didn't really need clothing.

Just then, a rather odd person stepped out onto the balcony. "Hello, Mollie," he said to my guide. "Please introduce me to our new guest." Mollie introduced me to the man, who was, in fact, Satan. He didn't seen very Satanic, being dressed in an drab polyester suit, and a frumpy tie. His shoes were inappropriate. I would have expected much dapper dresser, from the Prince of Evil. He took only note of my name, and started trying to sell us a package of penny stocks. No one was taken in, of course, and finally he left. "What an asshole," Seller said. "I asked him yesterday, why the ridiculous outfit? He said he looks more homegrown, more authentic and believable, that way. He changes his outfit every few weeks, but it's always so gauche. I can't imagine who he takes in, that way."

I decided to take my leave of Mr. Sellers, and asked Mollie to take me to the gardens. For one thing, the two girls were starting to pay a lot of attention to him. "Another question-- are Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman anywhere around here?" I asked. "Oh, they'll probably come around here, sometime. They're just not dead yet." "Oh, obvious answer," I mumbled, and we left. A girl was sitting on his lap, as we left the balcony.

Entering the garden, I was greeted by a swirling flourish of flying birds, and an avian fanfare of cheery birdsong. The scent of thousands of flowers, the hum of bees, the croaking of tiny frogs, and the thick, slightly damp carpet of grass and moss-- it all temporarily overwhelmed my senses, which seemed in perfect order, even if I was, in fact, dead. We walked along a delightfully murmuring stream, and I could not help noticing how wonderfully it had been designed, all of it being a landscaped garden. "Let's go to that cottage," I told Mollie, and we turned down a mossy path toward the structure, a whimsically odd building, with ornamental eaves and windows, and a small pond gracing the front entrance. I noticed, as we approached the steps, carved stones set into the brickwork, each with a title from the works of Dumas.

Inside the house, we found a jumble of books and papers everywhere. The bookshelves sagged with the weight of musty, leatherbound tomes. Sitting at a small writing desk sat a small, dark-complexioned man. His hair resembled an afro, slightly smashed to one side, as if he recently had been sleeping. "I think you must be Alexander Dumas!" I said, hopefully. The man assented that he was indeed Alexander Dumas, author of the Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Cristo, and countless other works of popular fiction. I told him that I admired his incredible productivity as a writer. He laughed, and said "I always had a lot of help. We wrote for tabloids, basically. There was such an insatiable demand for my work, that I employed a lot of men to help me write. Some of them, I must admit, were just as talented as I ever was. Which is why I continue to write, even now." I asked Mr Dumas who reads his posthumous writings, and he replied that it was primarily for his own enjoyment. "I was such a hack writer, actually. I've been trying to create more profound literature, ever since I died. I like to think that, whenever they decide to make another movie with one of my works, I can still inspire them, through some mystical connection."

I complemented him about the beautiful gardens and house, and asked him about the lake, which I had seen from the balcony. "Oh, that's actually Monet's lake," Dumas replied. When I first arrived here, Satan asked me if he could buy my house, and he acquired the lake at the same time. In exchange, he said I could stay here and write, in my own house, as long as I want." "I guess the devil doesn't have a complete lack of taste," I replied. Dumas laughed, and said, "He'll probably buy something much more tasteless, when he gets bored with it."

He asked me if I would like to read any of his new works. I was delighted at this prospect, and he picked up a manuscript, still loosely bound with string. "Take this with you. I sure you will enjoy it. In this one, d'Artagnon travels to Ancient Greece, and meets the rogue Alcibiades, and they have a lot of adventures together at the Olympic games." I was afraid to be entrusted with an actual manuscript, but Dumas insisted. "Every word I write, I never forget," he explained. I glanced at the contents, briefly, and accepted the book with reverence.

We left the cottage, and decided to wend our way towards Monet's lake. I was looking forward to finding a bench somewhere, sitting down, and opening the book, but the weight of the manuscript seemed to be increasing, the farther we went from the house. I noticed a man wearing a day pack, who was approaching us, going the other way, on the path. "Where did you get that back pack?" I asked. "I sure could use one of those." "Here, it's yours, now," the man said, and gave me the pack, and I thanked him. I put the manuscript inside, donned the pack on my back, and we set off again. Unfortunately, this didn't help very much. I became increasingly burdened with it, and finally the weight became intolerable. I took the pack off, and sat down next to the lake, and rested. I decided to take a look at the book, and I reached into the pack, only to discover a large stone. I took it out, and put it on the ground.

The stone magically started to grow even larger, until it was a huge boulder, which became embedded in the moss. Lichen gently etched its surfaces, and soon, it merged with the landscaping. A tiny frog mounted it, and began chirping. I lamented that I had not read more than a few sentences from the book, before I took it from the house. At least it was still a beautiful thing, if only a part of the garden.

We spent several hours walking around the lake, enjoying ourselves, not needing to converse much, such was the beauty of the place. Finally, we turned back to return to the mansion. Standing next to the lake, I was shocked to see Ronald Reagan, in a most embarrassing condition. He was buck naked, except for his white underwear, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. He was standing, holding the reins of his horse, with a rather blank look on his face. Occasionally, he would say something to the horse, which kept on eating grass, contentedly. I was afraid that he was not in his complete senses, but I decided to speak to him.

I told him that I was a fan of his, for a while, when he was president. There was a lot of construction work, everyone was buying real estate. I was starting to remember a few things about my own life, which I could not, I just noticed, remember all that clearly. "And why in tarnation are you here?" I asked him. I would think you would be in heaven."

"Oh, heaven is such a wasteland, nowadays. Unending holy wars. They want to purify it, and get rid of all the undesirables." I asked him if he was lonely. "I'm just waiting for -- um, Nan, I think. I like this place though. Chessy, too. The grass isn't quite as good there, up above." I told him we were heading for the house, and he said that it sounded like a very good idea. He mounted his horse, and we started back. As we neared the house, the horse became excited, probably at the prospect of a sack of grain, and began to gallop. We saw Ronald and his horse racing up the stairs and entering the house, still mounted.

When we entered the house, Reagan was, not surprisingly, the center of attention. People had a lot of questions, all political. He seemed to take the questioning with a lot of his customary charm. This surprised me, as he was at the same time apparently still seriously afflicted with dementia. After an extended question and answer period, he started asking people if they would be interested in an investment opportunity in gold mine stocks. "Oh, it's you, Satan!" someone said with disgust. Once exposed, everyone started to ignore him, and finally, he led the horse out of the house, and didn't return. I was completely taken by surprise at his disguise; it had never crossed my mind. "What a douchebag!" the person standing next to me said.

Having become very tired, I sat with Mollie on a large settee. I must have been a submissive husband, or had a lot of hangups, back in my own life, because I was completely unable to think very much about, let alone initiate any romantic activity. Mollie just sat kindly by, stroking my balding head, and told me that it was alright if I slept. "You will be safe with me," she said.

I awoke with a start. I had been conversing with Sartre, and I think Soren Kierkegard, and they had become increasingly annoyed by my comments about existentialism. When they were fully aware of my lack of sophistication in philosophy, they became ravenous wolves from which I fled. I opened my eyes, and to my relief I was back at the maison, still in the company of my beautiful guide.

Breakfast came. The fare was fruit, served with a wonderful cereal concoction, all delightful natural food. "I wonder what they are eating in heaven, if we get to eat this!" I said appreciatively. Everyone stared at me, hearing this question, but noticing their wry, quizzical expressions, I could tell it was not from annoyance. "Oh, they only eat fast food, there." I laughed, but nobody else thought it very humorous, and everybody went back to consuming this repast.

I retold my dream to a few people, who were amused. Sartre and Kierkegaard were not at all so intellectually fierce, I was informed. Still, I didn't want to meet them, just yet. I would need to practice my philosophy on people more like myself. So the day went, enjoyably enough, and I approached various people who seemed to be as unexceptional as myself, to ask them what they thought of Existentialism. I was surprised to meet a number of people, who like myself, had never really understood what it was, back in the sixties, when it was so popular. I particularly enjoyed all the confusion we had about "Waiting for Godot". Most people had no idea who Godot was, and they had only watched the movie.

One man seemed particularly clever-- he said he thought Godot was supposed to be God. It was an existentialist movie, because they kept waiting for God to happen, and he never came. I asked him if he was Satan, and he said he wasn't. He wasn't offended at all, by that question. What a terrific fellow, I thought.

Later on, in the afternoon, there was weather. "This will be a treat, wait until you see this!" somebody told me. It was monsoon, and beautiful, majestic clouds began to drift over the blue skies. Soon, it rained torrentially, but only for about fifteen minutes. Then, this was followed by an incredible display of lightning and thunder. I began to fear that there might be lightning strikes close to us, but no one seemed afraid. "Look!" a woman exclaimed, with an electric excitement in her voice. "We're going to see another transfiguration!" Surely enough, the activity in the skies above us was acquiring a spiritual significance. Shafts of golden light struck the land in places, and a glowing cloudbank revealed an animated display of angels, it most certainly appeared, to my eyes. In the midst of them, I recognized a face, but I could not immediately tell who it was.

Finally, somebody said. "Go figure. It's Rick Santorum. I guess he's getting what he asked for, to send us all here!" I began to understand it all. What a perfect place to send all the intellectuals and otherwize politically undesirable people. A hotbed of lust. We watched, facinated, as Santorum was drawn upward and away into the mystery beyond.

I have decided to become a painter, down here in Hell. I am working on a painting, called "The Rapture of Santorum". It will take me a thousand years to complete it I am having so much fun with it, I don't care if I am damned. When I am finished with it, maybe I'll have the courage to converse with Sartre.

         SONNET 129 by William Shakespeare

        The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
        Is lust in action; and till action, lust
        Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
        Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
        Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
        Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
        Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
        On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
        Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
        Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
        A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
        Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

        All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
        To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell. 

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What a fun and clever piece of work!
Thanks for participating in Fiction Weekend! I really enjoyed this story - very imaginative and I loved the references.
Yes! What a great and original Hell. Great writing. All unexpected.