He had Afghanistan on his mind. He couldn’t forget the smell of burning flesh … and that was very strange because he had never been there. He was a kid in Junior High. His name was Percy, a name that inspired bullies to make his life miserable. He preferred Afghanistan, but the smell kept him away so he had to face the bullies at school. He had an epiphany: no one was going to save him. He had to suffer the humiliation and abuse until he was ejected from the alimentary-canal of the school system. Whose life was it anyway, he wondered, because the other day he saw breasts in the mirror and realized he was hot … but not in a good way because the boys just wanted his tits and no one respected him for his mind or other abilities. It was a bad dream. He’d been having a lot of bad dreams, but they settled down once he graduated from High School. School pranks and high-jinx also tended to disappear. Humiliation and belittlement became more civilized. In college Percy was rejected because everyone thought he was gay – he was not, but his name set the stage. Percy began to notice an order in the world, a set pattern of abuse and retribution. He decided to participate to see where the pattern led. He majored in Economics, the most elementary form of social control. An economist meted out rewards and punishments from an ivory tower in some glass skyscraper. Percy married Mari Merci who worked as a seamstress to help pay for Percy’s education. She was a pawn, but Percy grew fond of her and accepted the cataclysm of marriage and being faithful to one person as a punishment for using Mari Merci to achieve his goal of a more settled life. To that end, Percy had another epiphany: there are no gods, no miracles, and no afterlife. For ten years, Percy worked at the Boston Make-piece Company as a second tier accountant. His doctorate in economics was not enough to earn him a promotion. His competition was a taller, better-looking recent graduate. Mari Merci had sacrificed her own career to help Percy and now she was frustrated at his lack of advancement. She had an affair and ran off – it was predictable. Percy accepted the consequences of his situation. He plodded ahead. He observed the patterns that recurred in his life like luminous lines that spread out from a hub and intersected with other lines. Life seemed to be a verifiable grid, a latticework of trivial setbacks, disappointments, and embarrassments. Life was mundane. He had another epiphany: life was too ordinary – all the mysteries were solved. From day one there was a plan, a path from the beginning at pre-school to the end at cremation. Percy realized something was terribly wrong … nothing could be so predictable or banal. The humiliation he suffered only made his life more like every other life: a neat little package wrapped in a bow of victimization. The fear of being someone’s victim made everyone hyper vigilant. Everything had to be kept tidy, neat, and intact. Percy felt like a pet hamster running inside an exercise wheel. “Why,” Percy’s inner voice snorted in exasperation.
“Why, indeed,” Sidney Greenstreet reiterated. Greenstreet was an old-time actor from the 1940s, a big man with a deep voice. He sat in an overstuffed armchair in Percy’s living room. Percy was fond of old movies. One of his favorite films was “The Maltese Falcon” where Greenstreet played the role of a powerful gangster. Having this esteemed actor in his living room was something out of the ordinary. Percy had an odd reaction, a sexual attraction to the big man in the armchair. Greenstreet laughed. Of course, he really wasn’t an old time actor – he was something else entirely. “Archon,” the big man said, “I’m the Archon of the Red City.” This was rich, Percy thought. His imagination was running wild. He had never heard of the Red City, but it made sense if you could accept the idea that there was something lurking beneath the surface of ordinary life – something beyond boredom, beyond the mundane. Percy wanted to believe. The big man smiled, “I can make your life hell, or I can take you to heaven. In either case you will be free from the prison of ordinary reality.” There was no hesitation – Percy jumped at the opportunity to accompany the big man into the Red City. He left his body behind. In some hidey-hole of his subconscious, Percy knew the truth: no gods, no miracles, no afterlife – and no Red City. It was all in his mind.