For two years Jim occupied a dungeon cell at Psycho Pasture. His leg was chained to a radiator, he used a stamping machine to make customized license plates for the non-rapist free peoples of paradise, and his cell mate was a pale and greasy man with thin hair and skin disease. Garvey was remorseless about his pedophilia, and Jim often tried to convince Garvey that he ought to feel bad about raping children.
“I mean, at the very least you know that you’re an asshole, right?” Jim said on several occasions. “All other considerations aside, all arguments out the window, in the absence of God and absolute moral authority – you still know in your heart that you’re asshole.”
“No. No, I don’t think so.” Garvey had a habit of squinching up his pasty face and looking at the corner of the room – whichever corner was behind Jim’s left ear – when he was directly accused. It was a habit that nearly drove Jim to murder. “I think, even if it can be said with certainty that I was morally in the wrong, that I am as much a victim of my actions as the children were. I certainly didn’t ask for the combination of genetics, environments, and events that inspired in me an attraction to young girls. And because they are championed and I am vilified, I think it’s fair to say that I’m the only true victim of my raping, and that what you’re doing right now is victim-shaming.”
“Victim-shaming!” Whenever the idea of victim-shaming presented itself, Jim’s pile of tin plates began to fly across the room. Garvey was a surprisingly agile rapist and he usually dodged them all, which made Jim even angrier. “A victim of your own actions? What does that even mean?”
“It means you’re the one who is the asshole.”
“You raped children! You’re a goddamned pedophile!”
“Well, you’re calling me names. That isn’t very nice. And it isn’t very helpful, either.”
“Why would I want to help you? Why would anyone want to help you? You’re the worst thing that exists.”
“If that’s true of me, it’s true of you as well.”
Jim pulled at the chain that bound him to the radiator. “I’m innocent,” he said.
And whenever Jim played the innocence card, Garvey uttered the same mirthless chuckle and said, “Innocence is the conceit of the fortunate.”
For Jim, the eloquence of the Garvey the child rapist was a special kind of torture. Other men might have been able to dismiss Garvey’s arguments, to find solace in the prevailing sentiments of human culture and call Garvey a bastard and be done with it – but Jim had in his brain that absurd combination of worldly ignorance and intellectual curiosity that forced him to think things through. And giving moral accountability to a determinist pedophile was quite the doozy.
One day, while he was quietly concocting a thought experiment that put Garvey in a room with a child and an Armageddon machine, a tap-tap-tap came up through the stone floor. The taps came at regular intervals, always three of them followed by a pause. They seemed to come nearer. Over the course of several hours the tapping continued until the stone in the corner of the cell gave way to the point of a chisel. Jim and Garvey watched in silence as the hole in the floor widened, then an old bearded and friendly face popped through it.
“Damn!” said the head in the hole. “Is this east or west of where I was a week ago?”
“I’m not sure.” Jim thought of Bugs Bunny and Albuquerque, but he decided against the joke because he didn’t want Garvey anywhere near his favorite cartoon. “I always feel like I’m facing north, though. Maybe that helps.”
“It doesn’t. Come help me out of here.”
“I can’t. I’m chained to a radiator.”
Garvey shrugged and stared.
“Well I guess I’ll be on my way then.”
“Wait!” Jim flailed. “Are you escaping?”
The friendly old head barked a laugh from the hole. “Eight centuries ago I’d have said yes. Nowadays I just make my rounds.”
“Once they got you in the system they don’t let you out, Jack.”
“Jim then, Jack.” The dark eyes in the friendly old head focused hard on Jim, then bounced to Garvey and back to Jim. There was some blinking and squinting. “You don’t look like the others.”
“Well I never raped any children.”
“Hmmmmm.” The head chewed on it. “Yeah, I suppose that could do it.”
“You’ve really been trying to escape for eight centuries?” Jim had a sudden flash of what eternity might feel like, and all of it spent with Garvey and the radiator. A chill ran through him. “Eight whole centuries?”
“They weren’t halves, Jack.”
Following the directions given by the cordial head-in-the-hole, Jim unhinged the radiator from the stone wall and slipped the chain out through the gap. His foot was still manacled and the chain dragged behind him, but he was free to move about the cell. With little effort he took up the old man’s hammer and chisel and widened the hole and helped the old man to his feet.
And on his feet he was about the same size as Jim. Older, frailer, a little wizened and bent – but there was an unmistakable vitality, almost violence, in his stature.
“So, are you like me, or are you like him?” Jim thumbed in the direction of pasty pedophile.
“I’ve yet to meet my like, Jack.” The old man looked about the cell, and it was clear in his eyes that he’d seen it many times before and was weary of it. “I was a great man for a time, though no one here seems to care. I raised an army out of grass and rock and shook the plains of the earth with hooves and drums. Do you believe that?”
“Is it a metaphor?”
“I sacked Beijing and brought China to its knees. Baghdad, Kiev, the dynasties of Jin and Xia – the known world paid me homage. I ignited the trade between East and West, unified continents under one military rule, and mine was the first reign to tolerate all the religions of man under one sky and under one law. Popes feared my arrow, caliphs my spear, and emperors drank my name or my wrath.”
“So not a metaphor then.”
The old man’s eyes had gone far away with the memory. They were drawn back into the cell by the cut of Jim’s lack of enthusiasm.
“No metaphors here, Jack.” The cordiality returned to his eyes, as if some ironic wind had gusted over their coals. “Just an old man and his memories.”
Jim was no historian, but he was pretty sure that if this guy united continents he probably killed most of the people on them.
“So you got here from the psychopath wing?” he said.
The old man shook his head. “Some of my plunder was underage.”
“Ah. So they got you for the raping.”
A barking laugh. “It isn’t rape if you’re the Khan.”
Jim, the Khan of Khans, and Garvey the pedophile sat in a circle around a pile of unfinished customized license plates. The dungeon cell was small for three men, though the only one who seemed bothered by the closeness was the smallest of them. While Jim and the conqueror traded stories and laughs, Garvey sulked and fidgeted with his chain.
“So you’re telling me,” the Khan was telling Jim – “You’re telling me that this Fuhrer Jack went in for genocide and ethnic cleansing – you’re telling me he was the Khan of a clan that rounded up and murdered millions for spite – and he’s out there golfing in the sunshine and joking about it? And he’s free because he was too much of a coward to get his hands dirty or his dick wet? Seven whores and a Turkish wedding! that’s a nasty trick. Ha!”
“Yeah, he never actually physically did any of it, so he’s clean. Cleaner than most people.” Jim was surprised at the good humor with which the Khan was receiving the Hitler news. Raping aside, he started to like the old conqueror. “Hell, there’s waiters out there that served bad food, and they get to paradise and find out they killed more people than Hitler.”
“Say, how did you do yours?” Garvey wiggled his chain, still attached to the radiator. His soft slimy hands weren’t much for useful work and he fumbled about while he looked at his feet.
“Oh I do miss the smell of freedom.” The Khan slipped back into his revelry, and Jim knew a story was coming. “Do you know what freedom smells like?”
“It smells like horseshit and blood beneath the open sky.”
“I used to ride out alone until I was the only man between the horizons. I looked out and I knew that this world was for me and that I was for this world. If a Chinese army descended from that horizon – or a Persian storm, or the legion hounds of hell – if any nation of men or force of nature had dared to ride upon me I’d have beaten it back. With my bow drawn and my blade between my teeth I’d have fed my grass with blood from the vein or rain from the cloud. That’s what freedom is. It’s riding out and fearing no horizon.”
The Khan paused and ran a hand through his beard.
“Do you know what my armies did, when we were at war on the plains and we ran out of food?”
“I really don’t want to guess.”
“Each man would take his knife and make a cut into his horse’s neck.” The Khan drew his chisel across his own neck. “Not enough to hurt the horse, but enough to draw blood. The earth fed the horses with grass, and the horses fed us with their life-water. Together we conquered the world.”
Jim pictured the Khan, all those years ago, riding at the head of a hundred thousand horses, drinking blood from a flask and chasing down the sky.
“That’s actually pretty badass,” he said.
“Did you lift it like this? I can’t seem to get my chain off the hinge.” Garvey pouted as he rattled his chain.
It was a stark reminder. Jim, for all the respect he had for this Khan, couldn’t shake his doubts. He thought maybe history’s most notorious warlord and rapist shouldn’t be let loose in paradise. But he did want to get out of this cell and away from the pedophile, and the Khan at least had a chisel.
“Do you ever feel bad about the other stuff?” Jim asked the Khan. “Like, the stuff you’re in here for?”
“Look at him , “ pointing at Garvey – “and look at me,” indicating himself – “and ask yourself if we are the same.”
“If I had a horse army I could have been a Khan,” Garvey mumbled.
“Well I don’t really like it, but I’m going to go ahead and be convinced.” Jim chose his next words carefully. “Raping the conquered because you’re awesome is different than raping neighbors because you’re weird. It’s still bad and I don’t think you should have done it, but it’s different. We can be friends.”
“Ha!” The Khan struck Jim’s outstretched hand and gripped it. “And maybe that innocent nose of yours will sniff a way out of this place.”
“The conceit of the fortunate,” Garvey repeated.
The Khan stretched his limbs and went headfirst back into the hole. Jim followed. The hole was a tighter fit for him than it was for the conqueror, and after he was fully enveloped by concrete and earth he had a sudden and jarring fit of claustrophobia, the fear of being eternally stuck and unable to wriggle even his toes, just within earshot of the eloquent pedophile. But after some shimmying he found he could push forward with his feet, and he wormed behind the Khan through the tunnels under the dungeon.
By the grace of Jim’s nose and the violence of the Khan’s chisel, the two men dug miles of tunnel through unknown swaths of time. At intervals they poked their head up, invariably into the cells of plate-stamping pedophiles – most of whom shared the pasty guilt-sunken faces and the fatalism of Garvey – and they rested their bones before traveling on.
On one such occasion, the cell was occupied by a solitary man, and Jim recognized him with horror.
“No,” Jim said. “No, it’s not true. It isn’t. You’re innocent. You’re like me. You’re innocent, tell me it isn’t true.”
“You know him?” The Khan, having come through the hole first, was already lying with his back against the wall, languidly sharpening the edge of the chisel against the metal of the radiator. “Looks like all the rest to me.”
“Who is he?”
“Khan of Khans, this is the King of Pop. King of Pop, the Khan of Khans.”
The King in question sat in the corner with his knees hugged to his chin. Long unwashed hair fell over his eyes. Even so his identity was undeniable. He whispered a piteous “Hello.”
“This Jack is a King?”
“You might have brought the sword to millions,” Jim said, “but this guy brought the dance to billions.” He turned to the King. “Dude, I got my first blowjob because of Thriller. You’re legend. You shouldn’t be here. Tell me you shouldn’t be here.”
For a moment it seemed that the King wouldn’t respond, that he was determined to spend his eternity silently behind his knees. Then he spoke softly.
“Will you believe me? If I tell you what is in my soul, from mine to yours – if I give you the only truth my lips can form – Will you believe me?”
“Yes, I’ll believe you.”
“Then I am innocent.”
The King told them his story. He never moved from his corner nor dared come out from behind his knees. Jim and the Khan listened with the kind of silence that is only inspired by respect and interest.
He began at the beginning. Child stardom and the thrill and terror of success, the struggle to keep his head and turmoil in his family. He described how his rise to greater and greater fame pushed him further and further away from people, how lonely it became in the spotlight – and that his shadow across the stage grew longer with every show. When he came to the climax of his early success, when Thriller went platinum many times over, the Khan couldn’t contain himself.
“Fifty million? Jack, that’s ten Baghdads. You had ten Baghdads paying you for the jitterbug. You must have had more gold than China.”
“I never counted the money, but there was a lot of it.”
“Ha! It’s the squirrel that counts his nuts, but the wolf is always hungry. I like you, Jack.”
The King continued his tale and came to the May of 1992, when his car broke down on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. At a car rental shop he met a man whose stepson was a fan, and as a kind gesture he called the boy to say hi. The boy’s name was Jordan Chandler, and over the next several months they talked periodically over the phone – the conversations culminating in an invitation to the King’s ranch at Neverland.
“It was a magical place. That’s all I wanted it to be. There is a magic in childhood that I never got to have, and I wanted to make sure that others had it.” A shy smile behind his knees. “And maybe I wanted some for myself, too.”
He described the rides and the movie theater, his two-story bedroom and the gardens outside. Guests included statesmen and Hollywood elite as well as children, and the ranch was a place that was always alive. As he spoke of the recovery of several cancer patients, whose treatments he paid for, he almost allowed some happiness into his eyes.
But 1993 arrived, and along with it the jealous and deadbeat father of Jordan Chandler, a dentist who co-wrote Men In Tights and looked like an Albanian Fonzie. He accused the King of child rape and the media shitstorm began.
“I was guilty from the first moment. I woke up one morning and I was Jack-O the Wack-O. They painted me like I was some kind of dancing pedophile siren from hell. The whole media, they just decided together that the story was too sensational to pass up, and there were too many viewers at stake, and it became a competition to see who could Wack the Jack-O first. They didn’t care that the feds found no evidence, that the witnesses had no credibility; they never asked if Evan Chandler might be a dirtbag extortionist; they never considered the possibility that any man anywhere could ever be innocent of such a charge. When I allowed the police to photograph my naked body, did they commend me for cooperation with authority and the ultimate transparency of my defense? No, they made fun of me for it, and tried to lobby the department for exclusive rights to my nudie pics. They spent millions in a campaign to get my neighbors to bear false witness against me, and the Christian nation ate it up.
“And when I was acquitted of all charges, there was never a single retraction or word of apology. They just stopped covering it. For the rest of my life the public figured I was an escaped child rapist.”
Though he began quietly, speaking carefully through the tension of embarrassment, the King grew more animated as the tale grew more bitter. He abandoned the shelter of his knees and went on with the hopeless energy of the condemned – with the awful conviction of a kind heart that has suffered too much.
As an epilogue to his tragic tale, he spent an hour calling Martin Bashir a bastard and Diane Dimond a whore, and then he was silent.
The Khan of Khans whistled. The raking of his chisel against the metal of the radiator was the only sound in the cell. Jim allowed for a period of respectful silence before voicing the question that had been pinching his brain since the tale began.
“But you’re innocent then. I mean, I’m innocent too, but you’re like, double super innocent. So – why are you here?”
The King sighed. “I begged the angels not to take me here. I told them I was innocent. And they believed me. But they said that pedophilia is different than other crimes. In the eyes of humankind, once you are accused you are guilty forever. People couldn’t have their paradise if they thought there might be pedophiles running around. So here I am. For eternity.”
“Not a fucking chance,” said Jim. “Not a goddamn fucking chance. No way, man. Khan, he’s coming with us.”
The Khan of Khans blew the shavings from the sharpened tip of his chisel. “If the King will follow the Khan, the Khan will lead. But you must give me your word, Jack-O, that when we taste again the sweet air of freedom, you will teach me this magic of the dance. The Khan of Khans would walk across the moon.”
The King blushed and nodded his assent.
The Khan’s chisel cleared the way, Jim’s nose guided the chisel, and the tragedy of the King gave them a purpose. It became clear to Jim and the Khan that purpose is what they had lacked, that through freedom and force of will alone they had merely wandered, that in the name of the King they tunneled straight and true. After the passage of several more swaths of time, the three men dug out and into the heart of the prison.
It was a wide space that was brightly lit. Television screens lined the walls, and on each screen was the prison cell of a pedophile. Thousands of screens. Jim saw with some pleasure that Garvey was still fumbling at his chain.
In the center of the space was an old man sitting in a chair.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Jim,” the man said. “Though I didn’t expect your companions.”
“You’re coming here is the result of an experiment, proposed by the devil and endorsed by the angelic fold, an experiment designed towards one end: To demonstrate through the free action of an innocent soul the moral justification of this facility, or the dissent that would necessitate its destruction.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the warden.”
“The warden? Hey, you’re just the guy we need to talk to. The King and me, we’re innocent. And the Khan is pretty convinced that it isn’t rape if you’re a Khan.”
“Yes, your friendship with the King of Pop and the Khan of Khans is – unexpected. But I assure you that its absurdity is surpassed only by its irrelevance. It is you who are well and truly innocent, who stand even unaccused. It is you whom we have chosen to make this choice.”
“You chose me?”
“The Pedophile Test that you failed was not a test. It was a personality profile. A computer algorithm decided that you are the one who should decide the collective fates of all pedophiles forever.”
“Wait a minute, so I’m the one?” Jim elbowed his companions. “I’m the one, guys. The one, the King, and the Khan.”
“The desired profile is found in one of one hundred thousand. Given the current reckoning of the dead, there are a million of you.”
“Well then I’m one in a million.”
“This is not a joke.”
The warden took a TV clicker from his pocket and pressed a button. The television screens all changed at once, flickering from the cells of the pedophiles to recordings of their crimes. Thousands of screens depicted heinous acts against children, acts that no reasonable person might fathom or even consider possible. From all sides came the leers of sadistic and satisfied abusers, the confusion and torment of the abused, the graphic reality of unwanted penetration.
The King buried his face in Jim’s shoulder. “I just wanted there to be magic in the world!”
“What storm is this? I’ll cut it from the sky!”
“Dude change the channel!”
“These are the crimes that the devil could not suffer,” the warden said. “Though she exiled Sin and made paradise the seat of all souls, she could not bear the freedom and happiness of these child rapists. She devised an argument against their eternity, built this prison, and decreed that they alone should be denied a greater existence.”
The warden clicked the clicker and mercifully returned the screens to the prison cells.
“But she is aware that paradise cannot survive the contradiction of her decree. Either everyone gets in and gets what they want, or only some people do. The relativism of a godless eternity cannot endure a single act of tyranny. And that is why you have come, irrevocably, to this place.”
The pedophiles, who had moments before been shown in their true and awful light, now sat quietly in their cells and slept or stamped their plates. Garvey had somehow tangled his chain around his neck and was struggling to breathe.
“Just call it Hell and be done with it,” Jim said. “And let me and my friends get the hell out of here.”
“With the exile of Sin came the emancipation of the soul. There can be no Hell without Sin, and even this prison should not exist.”
“Well what do you want from me then?”
“To make a choice.”
“To endorse through innocent suffering the devil’s moral tyranny, and dwell in this darkness for eternity – or to deny the exigency of her platitude, destroy this facility, and give paradise even unto child rapists.”
The warden reached into his coat and pulled out a banana and a puppy.
“Eat the banana and you shall go free, along with your friends, along with every pedophile imprisoned here. Pet the puppy, and neither you nor anyone else shall ever leave.”
An abridged and not entirely accurate collection of Jim’s thoughts as he stood with the King of Pop and the Khan of Khans before the warden of Psycho Pastures, and decided whether or not to be the pedophile Jesus:
A choice. They want me to make a choice. Maybe I stopped believing in choices. I didn’t choose to be the one, or to have the Khan dig into my cell or to dig myself into the King’s. I didn’t choose to stamp plates with Garvey the eloquent pedophile.
Innocence is the conceit of the fortunate.
Can I still make one though? If none of the events that transpired to take to me this place, to this moment and this new point of origin – if everything that ever happened to me was completely out of my control – if all the neurons firing through the synapses of my brain are just knee-jerk reactions to a random existence – Hey, wait a minute, am I even thinking these thoughts or are they thinking themselves? These words, these ideas, I can’t say where they’re coming from. This might not even be me. How can I say what’s what if I don’t know where my whats are coming from?
Fucking shit fuck cocksucker fuck suck cock and shit.
It sounds like me. But why did I go with fucking shit fuck instead of cockup whore cunt or titty suck twat? When the fucks and twats are all in play I seem to be free to bat them around – but through what impetus did they arise? I’ve got a bat but where are these balls coming from?
Oh my god my brain is a dumbass with a bat and the whole world is throwing fuck-balls at my head.
Stop thinking then. I can’t stop. Okay. Bagarglarglargagabargabagdadagmdargababada. That still counts as thinking, dumbass.
Take it for granted then. Say it and mean it and believe it in spite of everything. That’s what they call faith, right? So get some faith, bub. Alright here it is: There are at least a few moments that arise out of the stream events whose outcome is contingent upon the free action of thinking bodies. Boom. I said it and I goddamn believe it.
So do I pet the puppy or eat the banana?
You could eat the puppy.
Get the fuck out of here.
You get the fuck out of here.
In the end Jim’s decision came out of a memory. He no longer cared if the memory was the predetermined result of the myriad calamities that swarmed from the big bang to 1980s Tennessee, or whether its occurrence in his brain at the present moment was a matter of chance, fate, or will. What mattered was the experience and his interpretation of it, and the unassailable fact that it was his memory alone.
It was that first blowjob, received in the bed of his Chevy pick-up on a back country road. He remembered the chill of metal against his bare ass, the constraint of the Levis around his ankles, the gentle scraping of untrained teeth across his cock and the warmth of the back of her throat. It lasted all of two minutes and when it was over she coughed and gagged his cum onto his belly and cried. She cried for ten miles as he took her home and his belly and pubic hair were sticky with bile and cum. But goddammit it was a blowjob, and it happened under a clear Tennessee moon and to the savage bass line of the radio edit of Thriller. His first blowjob, and he owed the King a solid for it.
He ate the banana.