A lot of you know me as Matt Norman, former J.Crew model turned internationally famous blog writer and karate expert. But, in reality, I'm much more than that.
Over the last few weeks, I've started working on what I think may become my third novel. Third novel would sound a lot more impressive if the first two had actually been published, but, as the kids say, "it is what it is."
As a change of pace from my usual blatherings about nothing in particular, I thought it might be fun to show you all the first chapter. As far as novel chapters go, it's not very long at all. However, I must warn you, it's longer than my average post, which typically can be read in a matter of joyful moments. Or, as some of my fans have told me, in one trip to the restroom.
As is my custom, I've blurred out the swearing just incase anyone is dealing with nosy IT guys. I think I got them all. Allow me to apologize in advance, however, for some of the subject matter. It is, perhaps, not for the PG-minded of readers.
We're All Going to Hell
“Hey. Luke. Lukie-Luke. Wake up, brother.” The voice, familiar, is sing-songy, affected. “Hey, hey, Lucas. Lucas wake up.”
Technically, he is awake; he has been for about thirty seconds. He’s sure though that if he’s perfectly still, the man—the voice—will go away. That happens sometimes: it just sort of leaves, as if it was never there in the first place. Particularly when he’s sleeping. Maybe when that happens, it’s a dream. Well, it’s always a dream, he supposes, in the defining sense of the word, but sometimes it’s more of a dream than other times. Whatever that means. It’s a very complicated concept for him to get his mind around. It always has been—from the very beginning.
“Luuuuuuke.” The voice changes now. “I am your faatha.”
This is an old bit, a not-so-good impression of Darth Vader, and the man seems to think it’s pretty funny because he always snickers afterward, like no one has ever said this to him before.
“Seriously, man. I wanna talk. I’m bored. Nothing to do tonight. You’re the only thing on my agenda. That sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? Like I don’t have anything better to do.”
Lucas sighs, the way people do when they’re pretending to be sleeping; he’s really trying to sell it. He’s in no mood for this tonight. He’s in no mood for this any night, actually, but less so tonight.
“Oh, come on. That was a fake sigh. You’re a sh*t actor, you know. Always have been. Acting takes commitment. It takes skills.”
Lucas opens his eyes, finally giving up, and, of course, there he is, sitting at the computer chair, reclining a little, his legs crossed. The man is dressed this time in leather pants, a black t-shirt and a black leather jacket. And, as usual, he’s wearing those stupid sunglasses, the ones that wrap around his head. Fly glasses, he calls them. They scream of the 1990s. He looks like a clown.
“There he is! Mr. Lucas.” The man claps his hands, a lazy, sarcastic round of applause. “What’s up, man? I thought I was going to have to start shaking you around, screaming and all that. I hate when you make me do that. It isn’t dignified, a man in my position, to be carrying on. I have a reputation to uphold, you know. I was knighted, after all. Well, sort of. I’m not British, so it’s more of a--”
“Oh, don’t be like that. We haven’t talked in ages. Just wanted to see how you’ve been, mate, that’s all.”
The Irish accent is off tonight. It always seems to come and go, like watching an actor struggle with a dialect over the course of one of those long period pieces. “You don’t even sound like him, you know,” Lucas says.
The man lights a cigarette and takes a big, exaggerated drag of it, running his hands through his longish, black hair. Too black, obviously colored. Lucas can tell even in the dimness of his room. The only light is from the streetlamps outside, creeping through his blinds. “Am I buggin’ ya? I don’t mean to bug ya,” he says, and then laughs again. “When you’re famous, like me, world-f*cking famous, your accent kind of evolves. People like me have been everywhere, heard everyone. Go online and listen to some Madonna interviews and you’ll get what I mean. That bird doesn’t know where in the hell she’s supposed to be from. Hurts to listen, too. Personally, I think she’s just afraid--.”
“That’s not it,” says Lucas. He’s sitting up now, leaning against his headboard. “Your accent sounds wrong because I can’t do an Irish accent. Therefore, you can’t do an Irish accent either. I’ve thought it all through. I’m on to you.”
“What are you implying, Lukie? I don’t believe I like your tone.” Smoke hangs around his face and it fills the room. Lucas used to worry about this, about the smoking or the yelling or the singing or whatever the man did when he showed up, but he eventually figured out that it isn’t necessary to worry. Later, there’s never any evidence that he was ever actually there. The dream thing, again.
“I’m implying the same thing I always imply. That you don’t exist. You never have.”
The man fingers a black rosary that hangs below his throat, a gift, he claims, from the Pope. He laughs, a condescending, European sound. “You’re talking sh*t. If I don’t exist, if I’m not who I say I am—or, who, to be fair, I’ve implied that I am—than how do I know what you were dreaming about just now, you sick f*cker?” The man nods at where Lucas’s boner is, hidden beneath a slight rise in his comforter. “Girls don’t really like that kind of thing, you know, putting it all over their faces and such, like in all those videos you watch on your computer. Trust me, I know, I’ve tried it many times. Their reaction is always . . . anti-climactic. Well, so to speak.”
Lucas shakes his head, covering himself with a spare pillow. The man is always doing this. He's always grandstanding, claiming to have created things, like pitbulls and MTV. That’s the thing about him that Lucas can never fully understand. On the surface, he claims to be one thing—an obvious thing Lucas can see with his own two eyes. That changes from time to time. Although it hasn’t changed in quite a while, not since his dad played that album for him, Achtung Baby. But, beneath that, like, between the lines, he claims to be something much more significant. Something not even human, technically.
Lucas takes a deep breath. “You know what I was dreaming about because I know what I was dreaming about. I don’t remember what I dreamt about last night. So, neither do you. You can’t trick me any more, like when I was a kid.”
The man shifts in his seat and ashes on the carpet, not giving a sh*t. It’s all part of his persona. “The greatest trick I ever played was convincing the world that I don’t exist.”
“Now you’re just quoting The Usual Suspects,” says Lucas. “I’ve seen that movie like a hundred times. You know, you’ve never once quoted a movie I haven’t seen? In fact, have you ever noticed that you’ve never once told me something I don’t already know? You just repeat things. Like, obvious things that I’m already thinking.”
The man leans forward, flashing his teeth. “And have you ever noticed that you don’t have any f*cking friends and that maybe you should be a little more courteous because you might need me more than you think you do?” His voice is sudden and mean, like a snarl. The man can be like this sometimes. Friendly, and then, just as quickly, not friendly.
Lucas sinks into his bed a little and looks at his closed door. He wishes the man would go away and never come back. His life would be a lot easier.
“I’m sorry,” the man says after a moment. “That was mean. It’s just . . . well, it’s just hard to talk to your generation. You’re so f*cking desensitized. I mean, I show up here in your room in the middle of the night, and you act like it’s nothing, like you’ve f*cking seen it before. What’s a playa gotta do to get noticed around here, burn the f*cking house down? Show up on a fifty-foot jumbo screen? The f*cking cover of Time magazine. God, you’re all so unoriginal. Your whole demographic. Unorigninal. The f*cking lot of you.”
“I’m unoriginal? Dude, you’re the one who shows up looking like . . . that all the time? He’s not even that popular anymore, you know. I mean, not like he used be. And he hasn't dressed like that in years. It was just a . . . a character or whatever. Back in the 90s.”
The man adjusts his fly glasses, pushing them up the bridge of his nose; they’re a little too big for his face. “All of this is your choice, Lukie. It always has been. I was perfectly happy before, as Michael Jordan, and before that when you were going through your Brad Pitt Fight Club phase. Believe me, it was a blast looking like that. I couldn’t take my eyes off myself. Anyway, you’re getting me off script here, you clever bugger. It’s a sin, you know.”
“What do you mean? What’s a sin?”
“What’s a sin?” the man mocks Lucas, flicking his cigarette behind the dresser. “Imagining yourself splattering all over some poor girl’s face like a damn sex-criminal, that’s what. Talk about a f*cking violation. Do you think that’s what the lovely female face was created for, to be soiled by your dirty little man seeds? I hardly think so. Pervert.”
“How can that be a sin? It was a dream.”
“Hey, I don’t make the rules, and I’m definitely not criticizing. I just think that lying to oneself is lame. Amateurish, really. And it’s also a sin, lying to yourself, though just a technicality, I think. Again, not my call. I adhere to a far more streamlined version of morality. A f*ck of a lot less finger-pointing and name calling. So what if you want to toss it all over your lab partner’s face? I mean, who doesn’t, right? So what if you want to say f*ck all the time or kill a whole bunch of people you don’t like. Sh*t, who am I to judge?”
Lucas bites a sore cuticle, tugging at dead skin with his teeth. “My brain chemistry was altered, that’s all?”
The man lights another cigarette. He has an endless supply. This version of him smokes almost constantly, and you can hear it in his voice, like the sound of scraping when he talks or sings or yells. “What are you talking about?”
“An intense event or a trauma can change your brain. It can make you see things or hear things that aren’t really there.” Lucas is reciting now from the books and Web sites he’s read over the years, and from what the doctors told him so long ago. Years now. “That’s all you are. Synapses firing with nowhere else to go. And they create . . . you.”
“So you think you’re . . . what? Crazy? Damaged? That’s what they’ve made you believe?”
“No. I’m not crazy. If I was crazy, I wouldn’t know that you’re not real. I’d actually believe that you exist.”
It feels good to say this, to tell the man this to his face. When Lucas was a kid, he used to be so afraid of the man, whoever he was pretending to be. Lucas would nod; he’d simply agree with whatever the man said, shivering and stammering at the monster who was pretending to be someone else. But not anymore.
‘You’re just me,” he says. “A part of me.”
“Oh Lucas. Lukie, Lukie, Luckie. I promise you. I am real. And, I’m sure as hell not you—or a part of you. Thank . . . well, God. No offense.”
“Yeah? Then who are you?”
They have been at this moment before, at this odd impasse of momentary, weighted silence. For all of the man’s posturing and acting out, he’s never come out and actually admitted who he is. Or what he is. He’s never used that name—or any of the dozen or so other names for what he pretends to be.
The man takes his glasses off now, for dramatic effect no doubt, but it’s too dark, and so there’s just black there in his eyes, like two big marble pupils and nothing else. “You know exactly who I am. And I know a lot more than you do, you skinny wank.”
And then he’s gone. And so is the smoke.