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The Ogre photo

I’m eighteen, and I’m sitting on Mikey’s couch, across the room from Rodolfo, who we call Rodo. I’ve just arrived, and there’s nothing going on yet. You go to Mikey’s to make something happen because things just happen there. Everything happens there.

There’s a knock on the door.  It’s Bron Todney. Bron is our Magical Negro, and I realize it’s not cool to have one of these characters in your stories anymore, but earlier this year I saw him smuggle one handle of whiskey, a fifth of vodka, and a 40 oz beneath his belly when we were looting a K-Mart during a rolling blackout; all Bron was wearing was shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops. If that’s not magical, I don’t know what is. When we got back to my apartment that day, it’s like the booze was multiple rabbits he kept pulling out of his hat.

But today we are at Mikey’s and when Mikey opens the door, Bron shoves his finger into Mikey’s mouth. Mikey chokes but he’s laughing, and as Bron pulls his finger out, he purses his lips, nodding with an inquisitive grunt.

His eyes dart to Rodo—he stomps over, shoves his finger in Rodo’s mouth. “No! No!” says Rodo, then tongues the tiny present around. “Okay,” he resigns in defeat, then starts cackling when he sees my eyes widen in horror, knowing I’m next.

Bron points at me, “You ready?” “Oh shit, okay,” I say.

Bron shoves his finger under my tongue then pulls it out quick like I’m an ATM. “Swallow,” he says, covering my mouth with his hand. I do whatever Bron says these days, because last month he held me upside-down by my ankles over my two-story balcony to prove a point, and as I watched my spare change hit the ground below my screaming head, I vowed to never cross him again. But today he’s giving me the gift of two hits of acid, so why would I? The only thing he asks in return is our obedience.

“Get in the fucking car,” he says to the three of us, pointing to the front door of no return.

* * *

I always know the acid is taking hold when I start compulsively rolling my shoulders back, over and over, as if the acid is telling me to do it, and I can’t stop because it seems to release it further into my cells, waves of euphoria rising from my feet to my head and back down again. Then, I’m sure I’m ramping up to peak because I can’t stop laughing, laughing at merely existing. It’s hilarious the way the three of us are dying of laughter, contrasted with Bron pursing his lips to appear in control, until he can’t help releasing a deep, bellowing chuckle that makes us giggle so maniacally we lose  oxygen.

For balance, I look out the window of Bron’s tricked out station wagon. There’s a wild wind blowing through the trees lining the highway, animating the friendly branches to point the direction we’re heading, and there’s a slight dread that going back the way we came is no longer an option.

But I’m too resigned to worry. We feel like a speed boat the way we’re bouncing along, like we’re hovering above the highway turning molten, like all that asphalt is becoming liquid from Bron’s psychotic velocity.

“Maybe you should slow down, Bron?” Rodo suggests, giggling, knowing there’s no way he will.

“Man, I’m trying to get this ride over with so we don’t get pulled over,” he says.

I ask Bron where are we going, anyway?

“Well, we just took the last of my acid so we are going to Jared’s to get more.”

Jared’s apartment is like the Mikey’s house of the next town over, only it’s way crazier. A darker energy of brittle white trash sadness, a black hole of stale, stifled atmosphere that makes you forget you can just laugh at everything like we do back at Mikey’s. We think of Jared’s and begin to freak out. Rodo looks over the front seat to me and Mikey in the back, making a triangle of dread eye contact until I bury my head into Mikey’s shoulder—which only makes a blank slate for my imagination already conjuring phantasmagoric scenarios transpiring at Jared’s. It’s souring my trip and we’re not even there yet.

“Sorry guys,” Bron says. “I just didn’t want to go there alone.”

We enter the city limits of El Toro, which has recently been renamed Lake Forest to appeal to whiter real estate opportunities. Orange County city councils can whitewash a town’s history all they want, but an apartment building like Jared’s will remain a stain of blight, the filth permanent for each temporary resident. With every tenant an alcoholic, drug addict, or high-risk mental health case, we feel ourselves sinking with them as we pull into his parking lot.  The asphalt of the open highway has gone from flowing river to swamp—the walk to the front door is sludgy like quicksand and I imagine tentacles conspiring beneath our creeping sneakers.

Jared’s building is a sore thumb ghetto tenement, out of place among a rapidly developing neighborhood. Despite its imposing stature, it gives the feeling it’s endangered, and just a matter of time before it disappears. Yet, as we enter its front door, we feel we are being swallowed by it, victims of a predatory hunger between its last gasps. As we enter the belly of the beast, all we have is our eye contact to keep us anchored. We alternate placing our fingers in front of our lips, saying shhhh…, like pressure releasing from Bron shoving LSD into our young mouths an hour earlier. We’d rather not see who or what lies behind these numbered doors we’re passing, as all these tenants will be mirrors, confirmations of our existence we’d prefer to avoid.

We ascend the Escher-esque stairwell, challenged by its sharp angles. We’re like fish swimming upstream against rapids, our determination biological and mysterious.

I can’t recall what Jared’s apartment number was, but when Bron points to it his eyes get scary wide. He looks to Rodo and I, communicating its inherent occult numerology. The only way to escape the impending doom of this suffocating moment is to knock on the door.

No one answers. Bron knocks harder—we can hear voices on the other side, but this wooden door is clearly a membrane separating us from another dimension. We panic once Rodo suggests maybe the voices aren’t real, that we are imagining spirits of the dead accumulated through this cursed building’s sordid history, and the only way out of this theory: maybe it’s us who are dead, that we are ghosts and that’s why they can’t hear us, and we start to lose it so hard that we start fondling each other’s bodies to assure we’re real, pinching each other in the ribs and caressing one another’s faces to prove our worries wrong.

The door opens. “Gross, what are you guys doing?” says Jared, one eye cocked in front of a billowing wall of smoke.

* * *

Our eyes strain to the aggressively textured interior as Jared waves us in: an archaeology of fast-food containers, fallen-solider cans of beer, empty spirit bottles, stolen street signs, and other erratic objects that seemed funny or even useful at the forgotten time of their acquirement. It all appears lighthearted until we adjust further, noticing some of these objects are people that aren’t moving, unphased by our entrance.

Jared explains why he took so long to answer the door. “We think we finally got rid of Ogre, so we were worried you might be him,” he says, handing us each a can of Natural Ice.

I turn to Bron and Rodo, my mouth too gaping to talk: Are we Ogre? 

“Who the fuck is Ogre?” Bron asks.

Jared sighs, looks to his mom, who we are startled by; hollow eyed and silent, she looks like the little old psychic lady from Poltergeist but with Gene Wilder hair. Communicating an untold shame, she leaves the room.

“Ogre is a menace, a seven-foot-tall methhead who never wears a shirt. I can’t remember why he showed up here…” Jared does the math. “Fuck, like five days ago. But we finally lured him downstairs, told him there was a hot chick asking about him by the bike racks, told him she’d be back in ten minutes and we ran back upstairs and locked the door. Dude is so spun he believes anything, but we are scared to death now that he’ll come back wondering where this girl we made up is.”

“Yeah, he’s fucking ripped too,” someone else says. “He’s got like, superhuman strength. That’s why he never wears a shirt, he’s real proud of his abs. He can’t get through a sentence without flexing, probably cause it’s all lies.”

The four of us are frying on the couch and every time we squirm, the cushions swallow us deeper into immobility from the neck down; we can only turn our faces to one another in horror, except we can’t stop giggling, all the more horrific. The other teenagers in the living room just stare at us, smiling; we are reminding them they can laugh about this. We get acquainted with these faces, paralyzed in wonder; then panic—we can hear Jared’s voice, but his body has disappeared.

“I said, did you guys lock the door behind you?” his disembodied voice queries.

The smiling faces say fuck—they all grow legs and stumble to the door, the door that’s swinging open, and it’s too late—Ogre has returned, intrusive and triumphant. A gangly, angular and muscular creature so tall he has to duck under the jamb. When he stands in the living room fully erect, wearing nothing but blue corduroy shorts cut off so high the pockets peek out, he holds a bicycle chain lock above his head victoriously, like a sword from stone; a makeshift weapon, we can see it’s stained with another man’s blood.

I fucking got ‘em—he wasn’t gonna get me—where’s the chick, I said—what’d you do with the hot chick?—and he tried to ride away so I chased him—I fucking chased him all the way to the store—beat him with his own chain—the crowd was going wild he explains, punctuating each boast with a full-body pro-wrestling flex, growling as he tightens his veiny biceps, hunching over to protrude his abs so far his physique looked riddled with tumors. As he dances around the living room, shouting into each of our faces, a tiny crack pipe dangles out of his back pocket, bouncing, staggered on the rhythm but somehow never dropping to the mildewed carpet.

The toilet flushes; Jared re-emerges from the bathroom, nonplussed. Ogre pivots toward him so anyway man, I gotta hide here cause the cops are after me. On cue we hear sirens—Jared runs to the window. “Fuck, they’re here. Everyone, get in my room. Cover yourselves in blankets or something.”

Vibrating with psychedelic toxicity, our bodies absorbent prisons for the most aggressively absurd oppression there’s now no escape from, we cram into the bedroom after the apartment’s platoon claims priority on Jared’s bed. In solidarity, they throw an extra blanket over me, Bron, Mikey and Rodo to hide us and because we are shivering, nearly convulsing with fear. 

Eyes peeking from underneath, we see Jared pacing, wondering what to do with Ogre—part of him wants to give him up to the cops to liberate the apartment from his wrath, while the other part knows his apartment harbors the wrath of multiple sheets of LSD that could earn Jared years in prison.

As the two of them argue, Jared shuts the bedroom lights, and shoves Ogre inside with us in the pitch black. “We’re not dead, but just pretend we don’t exist,” Bron whispers to me, my eyes embedded in Mikey’s shoulder. But Ogre’s vision has been taken—we are so hidden under the blanket he doesn’t see we’re there. I feel his whole weight step onto my ribcage, and I can hear them fracture like snap crackle pop, almost effervescent if it wasn’t for the shrieking pain I howl from, so I am the problem now, everyone tells me to shut the fuck up.

“This is the police, open up!” we hear from behind the door as Ogre lies over the four of us. Wood splinters, Jared protests, he knows nothing, but please don’t go in his room where his mother is sleeping.

The bedroom door flies open, three cops with their guns drawn, flashlights on half naked Ogre spread over us, too late for a hiding blanket.

Injury to injury, I feel the weight of the cops on top of me, crushing my ribs further, and I can’t help but whimper to give my pain a voice, somewhere to go, buried alive under the Ogre fighting the cops horizontally. I hear his chain jingling, the zaps of the cops tazers tazering, Ogre’s unruly limbs flailing, drawn, quartered, and dragged out to the front door where I hear the cuffs cuffing. Now that the roughhousing is over, Ogre resumes bragging I might look bad to you pigs but you shoulda seen the other guy and now we can’t stop giggling triggering my ribs won’t stop hurting make it stop, please make it all stop don’t you understand it hurts to laugh?