Tormented

I watched the hands on the clock slowly mark the passage of time. Seconds sweeping by, their expiration represented by the thinnest needle on the clock’s face. Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed the imperceptible movement of the minute hand either, but these weren’t normal times. We didn’t have a lot of customers in the restaurant where I worked as a short-order cook because of the COVID-19 restrictions. Take-out only. Masks. All that jive. The servers were the first to disappear, quietly fading into the humid, shaded streets of the French Quarter. I didn’t feel too bad for them because they would be getting fat unemployment checks.

The hours were an interminable series of eternities in purgatory, the hour hand standing over me like a prison guard, watching, noting everything I did. Aware of its scrutiny, I worked harder than usual, getting the few take-out orders that came in perfect, cleaning and wiping the entire grill area afterward. I would have kept cleaning that kitchen until hell froze over if I’d had any control over time. But I was only a cook.

The day ended and I removed my apron, washed my hands for the umpteenth time, and went to collect my paycheck from the manager.

“Look, I’m sorry to have to let you go Devon but…well, it looks like we’re all going to be unemployed. I feel like I’m standing on the deck of a sinking ship, going down with it. For what it’s worth, you’ve been an outstanding worker and I’d be happy to give you a letter of recommendation, talk to a prospective employer…”

“Thanks, Tom. We both know there’s not much chance of that. I guess I’ll just ride out the pandemic like everyone else.” I was struggling to keep the darkness from closing in, standing there in Tom’s office, the clock watching me, counting the seconds, waiting for me to implode.

But I didn’t, at least not right away. You see, I suffer from severe, episodic schizophrenia, which is like losing my mind every now and then, like when something really stressful happens, like breaking up with a girl or losing my job. There’s no cure and drugs like Thorazine, Prolixin, Haldol, and all the others don’t work for me. The problem is that the cure is worse than the disease for people like me; my episodes don’t last as long as it takes for the drugs to kick in. But I got to tell you, I wished I had a bottle of Navane in my pocket when I left the restaurant, out of work, my last paycheck in my pocket, facing the prospect of dealing with the unemployment office to get my COVID unemployment checks coming in. I was stressed. At least I didn’t have a girlfriend.

Whenever I feel an episode coming on, I head towards Jackson Square. That’s where the homeless hang out, many of them suffering from severe schizophrenia, unable to keep a job or even have a relationship, not even with themselves. They don’t scare me because I’m like them—now and then. 

It’s pretty weird, knowing you’re about to have a psychotic trip, like doing LSD. I don’t need that shit because my trips are way stranger than what hipsters get from diluted acid. Mine are real, and I mean real

I knew something was wrong when my path along Royal Street took me into the Quarter, crossing Orleans Street, passing windows filled with artwork, antiques, shit like that. Everyone was looking at me as if I was running through the street naked. I was in my work clothes—jeans, long-sleeve green shirt, boots for working in the kitchen—but everyone was watching me, trying to get into my head. They were trying to assimilate my consciousness into a group think through my phone. Unwilling to throw my expensive mobile device in the gutter, I winced but kept moving. I turned the phone off, knowing that wouldn’t stop them. I had an objective, the Café du Monde for a cup of coffee, if I could only make it without being overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of the people around me. They were all unwitting accomplices of the Deep State.

I sipped my coffee, accompanied by a beignet, and avoided making eye contact with anyone, but there was one guy who kept watching me. He wasn’t much older than me, with short-cropped blonde hair and mean eyes. He looked familiar but I couldn’t place his face. 

Fuck your feelings, I feel like I play for the Saints,
I just want to hurt you, aim for the skanks.

That guy was in my head. He wanted to kill me. An evil look transformed his face into a caricature, a demon with horns, grinning at me. Then I recognized him as the evil twin of Eminem, the rap star. His words gave him away. I had to escape, so I jumped up, knocking my table over, and confronted my tormentor.

“Stay away from me! Get out of my head, motherfucker!”

I left him with a surprised expression at my recognition of his identity, and ran out of the restaurant without paying. I fled from his retort.

This darkness comes in me
And comes again
That ain’t me
He’s just a friend who pops up now and again
So don’t blame me, blame him

My hands flew up to cover my ears, running; out of breath, I stopped in front of an art store, not far from Jackson Square. The evil countenance stared back at me from the glass, taunting me, its smug look reminding me that there was no escape.

“I am not you, asshole!” I shouted, turning away from the reflection, fearing the truth, I was the evil twin, destined to commit some evil act to appease the monster that had gotten inside my head.

Stumbling, driven like cattle, my footsteps carried me to my destination.

Welcome back to the land of the living, my friend
You have slept for quite some time

“I don’t want to hear your foul words,” I said, falling onto the steps of St. Peter’s, oblivious to the people walking past. I looked up at the ornate doors, closed to me, not letting me enter and seek asylum in a house of God. I got to my feet and fled, seeking sanctuary elsewhere, stumbling into Washington Artillery Park, collapsing on a bench under a live oak. 

Bed-written and destined to never leave the
Bedroom ever again like the legend of Heather Ledger
My suicide notes, barely legible read the
Bottom, it’s signed by The Joker

I had to fight Eminem’s evil twin, who was not my own, with the only weapon that would work against such unspeakable evil. I joined battle.

“I hear you talking you sonofabitch,

Kiss my ass and go to hell, like the stench that I smell,

Every time your filthy mouth rings a bell.”

And I got an evil twin, so who do you think that’s 3rd and that 4th spot’s for?
And as crazy as I am I’m much tamer than him
And I’m nuts, then again who the fuck wants to plain Eminem?

“Is that all you got?

Fuck you must have been shot

In the balls to talk like such a big fool,

Cause only a fool wouldn’t know what I got,

I’ll rip off your head and throw it in the gutter 

Just to show I don’t stutter”

My last verse was met by silence.

I’d won the rap battle with my evil twin, silence was golden as they say, so I leaned back on the bench, enjoying the sweet smell of victory, but my triumph was short lived.

“Are you okay?”

I looked up to be confronted with my evil twin, no wait, not mine, Eminem’s evil twin, standing there with the same smug smile, taunting me, pretending to ask about my condition, his sarcastic smirk revealing his true purpose. I had won the battle but not the war. Evil never surrenders and it never sleeps.

“Hey fool you talking to me?

Like get outta my face before I feed your gizzard to a lizard

Just to see how it feels.”

Despite getting the upper hand, I knew that he was devious, acting like my friend. Sure enough, he rapped his true intent, the words I heard with my inner ear not matching his lips.

Reversed evolving, turning people into beasts
They’re feasting on each other, strong consume the weak
Flaming ruins, society is lost
Shattered city streets filled with blind, nameless creatures
The sky cracks open, dust is descending
Breath the black air, feel darkness in your lungs.

His vision of hopelessness was drowning me, filling my mind with doubt and a torrent of incoherent thoughts with one purpose: my evil twin wanted me to jump in the Mississippi River. 

“You’re so full of shit your breath stinks,

Suck my dick like eating sausage links,

Get outta my face and crawl back in your asshole,

Punk whore you got no game, just a big mouth and a mind game.”

My words made him reveal his true purpose. His leering expression molded into hate and destruction as he advanced, planning to use his super-strength to throw me in the river himself. I fought him physically, pushing his grasping claws back. He stumbled and fell to the sidewalk, a look of defeat and revenge on his face. No more mister nice guy game.

“What the hell’s wrong with you? You can’t talk to me that way and knock me down. You should be in jail, asshole!”

I laughed in my—no, not me but Eminem—evil twin’s face and flipped him off. 

“Stay in the gutter you skank whore,

Get in my face again and I’ll show you more,

Who’s gonna throw who in the river shore?”

“You’re fucking crazy,” he said as he got up to face me, his eyes admitting that I’d won.

“Fucking right, motherfucker, and don’t forget,

I’m the bro who knocked you on your ass,

Yeh I can take your best and give back trash.”

I felt better about not being deceived by my evil twin, another victory. Our battle was interrupted by a familiar voice.

“What’s going on her, Devon?” It was my friend, Dwayne Peltier, wearing his uniform and a gun to protect me from Eminem’s evil twin.

“It’s the man in black in black in black, 

Got my back my back my back,

Not gonna let evil suck me dry not today not this shack.”

The evil twin faced Dwayne and said, “This guy assaulted me. Arrest him. He oughta be locked up. He’s crazy.”

Dwayne looked at me and at Eminem’s twin, nodded, and said, “I saw the whole thing. You were approaching him menacingly and he overreacted. But he didn’t hit you or threaten you, did he?”

“He was going to throw me in the river!”

Dwayne looked at me again. “Did you threaten…” He turned to the evil twin and asked, “Do you mind if I ask your name, sir?”

“Robert Johnson, from Milwaukee. Down here on vacation. I just asked if he needed some help. He was ranting and crazy—”

Dwayne interrupted, “Yes, sir, Devon does that sometimes, when he’s having a really bad day, not that often most of the time.” He turned to me and said, “Why did you threaten to throw Mr. Johnson in the river?”

I’m not so sure anymore. Another trick of the evil twin. He had possessed this guy, who no longer looked like Eminem. 

“The evil one possesses who he wishes,

It’s just like doing the dishes,

He just steps in and fulfills his wishes,

Swish swish swish until the man in black claims his riches.”

Dwayne nodded and turned to Robert Johnson, who was no longer possessed by the evil twin. “Devon didn’t mean you any harm, Mr. Johnson, but he mistook you for someone else and your threatening behavior made him defensive. He thought you were going to throw him in the river. In his state of mind it was an act of self-defense. If you insist, you can press charges against him but, I can tell you from experience that it won’t go anywhere because he has no history of violence. He works and has a home, he’s not a vagrant, but only suffering from episodic schizophrenia.” He turned to me and asked, “Isn’t that right, Devon?”

“I don’t hurt no one,

It’s the evil twin who does that shit,

Invading the brain, deluding the wit,

I got none of that, not a bit.”

Eminem’s victim shook his head in bewilderment. “No, I’m not hurt, so I guess it’s okay,” before turning to me and adding, “Did something happen today? What made you think I wanted to kill you?”

“The clock goes ticktock ticktock ticktock,

A big fat check and a foot in the ass,

Turned my world into grass,

Mowed down by the boss’s cock.”

Dwayne added, “Do you understand what he’s saying, Mr. Johnson?”

“Yeh, I get it. He got laid off today, and it sent him over the edge. I’m sorry for scaring you like that, Devon. Please accept my apology.” He offered a hand, no longer a claw, and I grimaced as I accepted his proof of being freed of the evil twin’s control.”

“Cool cool cool cool cool,

But you gotta watch your six

Or you’ll become his bitch,

Ain’t no other way to not be a stitch.”

Robert Johnson left and Dwayne looked me in the eyes, his gaze assuring me that I had defeated the evil twin again. “Are you okay, Devon? Can you get home on your own?”

I was tired. I looked up at the sky, bright clouds dotting an azure background, then at the deep green of the live oaks, then at his dark face, my ally in the fight against evil. 

“You got my back,

I got yours,

We scratch each other to get the cures,

Hell yeh I’m straight thanks to my man,

Never let me down don’t think we can.”

He nodded and slapped my shoulder. “Good man. See you later.”

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