Episode 11--Naked Dead Guys Bar

Episode 11 —
Naked Dead Guys Bar

Episode 11:
Naked Dead Guys Bar


Two barefoot young men in their 20s wearing only loincloths walk into a bar. If you’re expecting a punchline, you have to wait. One guy is soaking wet because he drowned in a cold, muddy marsh. The other has an incredibly disgusting gash on the right side of his head caused by a bullet fired at point blank range. There must be an exit wound somewhere on the back of his head.

If you were a traveler on riverboats or railroads in Missouri during the westward expansion of the young United States of America in the late 19th century, you could easily have found a bar that looked a lot like this one. A dozen or more bar stools handcrafted entirely from natural dark wood are lined up on a brick floor painted ornately near the bar topped with authentic shiny marble. Light is softly reflected from several hanging electrical fixtures that once were gas lamps. Wooden booths accented by thick red leather line one side of the establishment. Elsewhere, there are several round wooden tables and chairs.

But, you are not in Missouri, you did not just get off a boat or a train, and this certainly is no ordinary bar. One stunningly original touch in this odd place is a reflection you can see in the large mirrors behind the bar. The reflection appears to be that of dead man floating on his back. Is this a clever optical illusion of Victorian Era art? Or is that figure of naked, barefoot dead man actually situated in the wall behind the panes of mirrored glass?

The two newest customers at the bar watch a pair of swinging wooden doors off to the side of the bar open to reveal what looks like a kitchen inside. A tall young man with broad shoulders and large arms walks through the open kitchen door and stands behind bar. He is shirtless and barefoot. He’s wearing only blue jeans as if deliberately to mimic the hypersexualized style of male bartenders in 20th century gay bars.

“I am Mal,” the man behind the bar says in a friendly tone. “The bartender here. Yes, my name does suggest that I’m a bad or evil man. You’ll have the opportunity to determine that for yourself. But, first, let me welcome you to the Naked Dead Guys Bar. Our mascot is that big, totally buck naked guy you think you see floating in those mirrors behind me. The number one question I get is: Who was that naked dead guy? And, second is: How big is his cock? I have no answers to those questions. And, no, you are not dreaming. You two are dead. Wearing only loincloths and nothing else. That’s our strict dress code here.”

“Are you dead?” the drowned man asks as he accepts a bottle of beer from the Mal and begins to sip it slowly.

“No, of course not,” Mal says with a taunting smile. “I just run this place.”

The guy with his right frontal lobe missing accepts a bottle of beer from the bartender and says to him, “I don’t remember how I got here.” Immediately as the bartender gently rests his large right hand upon the left forearm of the dazed traveler, this young man suddenly receives a crystal clear memory from out of nowhere.

His arms are bound behind his back as he stands wearing only blue jeans in a small, dirty room in the year 1992. A threateningly muscular fellow is holding onto this young cowboy’s right bicep while pointing a handgun into his right eye. The bartender’s voice slowly says, “You won’t hear or feel a thing,” but the words come from the mouth of the gunman.

The bartender explains, “In 1992, were known as Mark Lejeune. One bullet to your brain finished you. Couldn’t hear it. Didn’t feel it, either. Speed of sound thing along with the instantaneous destruction of your brain’s cognitive abilities. Blew off your cliché of a white cowboy hat across the floor and obliterated a large chunk of your skull. You cannot remember any that. You were dead before the puddle of your blood stained the dirty rug in that abandoned house. Don’t worry, in a very short while, your head will look whole again. I promise. Look up here. I want you to watch your reflection in the mirrors back here.”

As Mark Lejeune obediently stares into the large mirrors in the bar with tears in his eyes, he sees that his head is intact. He remembers feeling that he was caught inside a heated and very wet tornado, spinning him faster and faster while pieces of a disintegrated brick and wood house crash into his body. He feels each and every impact of what once was a solid structure. The pain is very real and inescapable as his body is thrown around and around inside the tornado.

Mal takes a closer look at Mark Lejeune. He notices that this traveler is in his twenties and yet he gives off a sense of confidence owned by a much more mature person. Since he is wearing only a loincloth, there is little left to the imagination about his masculine physique. Mal says, “Good-looking guy. Blond hair. Muscles. Southern accent. Let me guess. You sold your body for sex. Male clients only. That’s it. After sucking some muscled freak in that abandoned house, he shot you in the head as he came. Turns out he didn’t want to admit he was gay. But, you sure showed him you really know how suck a man’s cock.”

Mark Lejeune smiles. “Not exactly. My killer was some drug dealer from California. We never had sex.”

Mal says, “You sure? You’re irresistible. Could’ve made a shitload of money renting that body of yours to men.”

Mark Lejeune smiles and replies, “Never did. Gay, yeah. So what? The big guy thought I had double-crossed him. Drug deal gone bad. How is it that I’m here? How do you know I’m dead?”

“It’s my job to know. Told you I run this place,” Mal says. “I know many things. Don’t make me angry or I have ways to hurt you that you have never even imagined were possible.”

Mark Lejeune raises both of his hands in surrender and says quickly, “Nobody said anything about making you angry. Just asking a few questions here, that’s all.”

“I’m good with answering all of your questions,” Mal says. “Just sit there next to your friend on your new favorite barstools and try to relax.”

The drowned young man says, “Don’t want to be dead.”

“Kind of too late for that now,” Mal replies. “You have a Russian accent. Wandered off from a communist comrades tour bus in Arizona?”

“Not a goddamned tourist. I am Mik Volkov. Born in the U.S.S.R. but live in Arizona.”

“Well, in truth, you died in Arizona. Also in Nineteen Ninety-Two,” Mal replies quickly. “Volkov—a surname in Russian that can be translated as ‘wolf’ in English. Let’s call you Wolf from now on. I won’t take ‘no’ for answer.”

“I don’t want to be called Wolf,” Mik Volkov says quietly.

“I really don’t fucking care what you want,” Mal replies. “Wolf is your nickname from now on.”

“I think Wolf is a cool name,” Mark Lejeune says. “I never had a nickname.”

“Shut up,” Wolf says to Mark Lejeune and then asks Mal, “How do you know so much about the two of us?”

“I just do,” Mal says. “Part of the rules, Wolf. You do remember how you died, don’t you?”

“Remember everything. Some Navajo got me drunk. Big guy. Drove me down to the marsh after I was passed out in my pickup truck. Felt everything. Water entering my nose, mouth, and my lungs as my pickup sank to the bottom of the marsh. It was awful painful. Floated away downstream. Knew right away that I was dead. I was inside some gigantic wind storm. Like a tornado. Spinning me. Crashed into chunks of trees that flew inside the tornado right at me. Sharp branches. Plunged right through me. Hurt so fucking bad. Next thing I know, I am here in this bar.”

“Young, macho guy like you,” Mark Lejeune says. “Had sex with that Navajo?”

Wolf says, “No, but I was tempted. He’s a very attractive male sex worker. I’m in my twenties. Always up for sex with hot guys.”

Mal motions nonverbally to Mark Lejeune and says, “Always up, yes. Well, you two could go at it. Got a secret room upstairs with a bed, soaking tub, shower and all.”

Wolf says, “You really think I’m attracted to some young punk like him?”

Mark Lejeune sighs and says, “You’re dead, too. It’s just us here with you. Two macho young guys. If you will just fuck me, I will do whatever you want. We can go upstairs.”

“See?” Mal says. “Just trying to do my job. Connect lonely travelers here.”

“A horny dead guy,” Wolf says. “How more messed up can things get here today? Bartender, why do you refer to us as travelers?”

“On a journey,” Mal says. “From what you knew when you were alive. Then, you arrive here. Kind of a waystation.”

“Why are there no women here?” Mark Lejeune asks.

“Yeah, right,” Mal replies quickly. “Gay men always want to hang out with women.”

Mark Lejeune looks defeated since he cannot think of a suitable response.

Mal says, “Okay, here we go. You two need to understand the rules here.” He hands Wolf and Mark Lejeune laminated cards that have printing on them:

“Everything has consequences here,” Mal says. “You do what I tell you and everything will be just fine. Do I look like the kind of guy you want to mess with here?”

Mark Lejeune looks away to avoid eye contact with the bartender.

“So, we’re supposed to believe this is gay bar in the afterlife?” Wolf asks Mal while confidently maintaining eye contract with him.

Mal chuckles and says, “Well, that’s uncharitable. You are barefoot in addition to being dead. You feel the hot sunlight beating down upon your skin from the sky. The bottoms of your feet, therefore, will feel the heat of the sun bouncing off a wooden deck just outside if you walked out there. You will always be barefoot. This limits where you can walk because your feet can feel pain of heat or cold or sharp objects such as pointy steel nails or broken shards of window glass. Plus, this bar is the only thing on a very small island surrounded by miles of water in all directions.”

Wolf and Mark Lejeune stare at one another.

“Other rules are implied.” Mal says. “This really is just a bar. There really is no Hell. And no Heaven, either. No all-powerful deity up in the clouds somewhere.”

Wolf and Mark Lejeune do not have time to respond as they accept opened bottles of beer from Mal. They both sip their beers quietly.

“Now we have at long last arrived at the ‘share your story’ part of our show,” Mal says. “Go ahead. Don’t pretend you’re not interested in being the center of attention.”

Wolf looks annoyed, but goes along and says, “Born in the Soviet Union. My father is some big shot in Moscow. I am his only son. Was his only son. I came here to Arizona so I might get as far from him as possible. My father will be devastated when he learns I was killed. Another time I failed to live up to his expectations.”

Mark Lejeune nods and says, “I have a twin brother named Matthew. We’re from Naw-lins. I’m the bad boy of our family. He’s living in Arizona. We used to talk on the phone. But, I hung out with rough guys who like guns. Used to think a lot about Hitler and shit like that. Seemed important to me then. Now I don’t care.”

Mal says, “Excellent stories. Mine is slightly more complicated than either of yours. I was recruited to work here. Recruited. Wrong word. I was kidnapped. Stuck here now. A bartender for stiffs like you two. My life is your death. Wrap your mind around that one for a second.”

Wolf asks Mal, “Is this place real? Or are we sharing in somebody’s dream?”

“I was waiting especially for one of you to ask that particular question, Wolf,” Mal says with a gigantic smile on his face. “Yeah, this place is real. Everyone’s dreaming is personal. Not possible to be present in another person’s dream. You are really here. This is no illusion. And, you are not going to be alone. You will be able to meet others who are dead like you. But, only particular dead ones. Specific dead ones. You will only be able to meet and interact with dead people that shared some connection to you when you were living.”

“Such as my twin brother Matthew Lejeune?”

“No, he’s not dead,” Mal says. “But, you are. He won’t show up here.”

“What kind of connection are you talking about?” Wolf asks Mal.

“Emotional. Sexual. Something intense,” Mal says. “Not just being a blood relative, Mark Lejeune. And, Wolf, not merely glancing at some handsome, young cowboy you saw one night, Wolf, inside a crowded casino in Nevada that you wanted to fuck rough from behind as you pinned him down against a slot machine.”

Wolf responds by looking down at the floor in deep embarrassment.

“How long do we have to stay here?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal.

“This is only a stopping off place,” Mal says. “You will not remain here indefinitely. You will be relocated somewhere else when the right moment arrives.”

“Relocated? And how will we know when that right moment arrives?” Wolf asks Mal.

“Well, honestly, it’s not a quiet or subtle moment that I’m talking about here,” Mal says. “One instant you are here sipping on an ice-cold beer. Then, without warning, you are jerked upwards very rudely as though your entire body is being sucked toward the ceiling by some powerful vacuum cleaner. Lifts you right off your bare feet. You kick involuntarily. It’s scary as shit to watch. Looks like it hurts quite a lot, too.”

“Where do we go?” Wolf asks.

Mal says, “You go back to the dimension for the living. Back into mortal life.”

“But, you keep saying we’re dead,” Mark Lejeune says. “How can we go back to being among the living?”

“Simple,” Mal says. “You are born as someone else entirely. You start life anew. You’re a baby again. You grow up and you live your new life. Hardships. Triumphs. Unfulfilling sex. Couple of felony convictions. Prison. Execution. And so on.”

“So, we take our memories with us when we go back?” Wolf asks Mal.

“Not my department,” Mal says with a shrug. “Maybe you will remember being a young and stupid Russian asshole. Or, maybe you just come back as a genius female botanist in a rain forest somewhere hot and wet who has a thing for guys with big hands and feet. I don’t know. No idea at all. I do not have a thing to do with your memories.”

“You’re saying this is, like, reincarnation?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal.

“This is, like, a bar. This is, like, beer.” Mal says mockingly. “Whatever names you want to use are fine. Who cares about what you call things here? Invent a dogma to explain everything if you choose. Already told you there is no all-powerful deity. But, you can go out on a limb by yourself trying to apply some higher power or external supreme being controlling this outcome. There’s just nobody controlling it. You need to come to grips with that, okay?”

“What choices do we have in this outcome—as you call it?” Wolf asks Mal.

“No choice at all,” Mal says. “Just happens all by itself. Natural processes. Sucked upwards toward the ceiling. Death sucks, as it were. Maybe you can choose more wisely how you turn out in your new life. I don’t know for certain. Not my department, either.”

“I never believed in all that coming back again and starting over shit,” Wolf says.

“Well, that truly surprises me about you, Wolf,” Mal says. “You seemed like you were such an intensely spiritual and open-minded person from the very first moment that I met you.”

“What about our ability to feel sensations?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal.

Mal says, “Yes, you can feel physical and emotional sensations. Well, more accurately, you will feel a wide range of sensations that you felt when you were among the living. Not every sensation that is humanly possible is available here. You can taste beer or liquor drinks, for instance. But, you will never get drunk. You do not need to drink water unless for the taste of it. You do not need to eat. Dead guys don’t eat. You can experience many sexual feelings. You can feel it if you get kicked in the balls. I’ll be happy to demonstrate with both of you if you want.”

Wolf and Mark Lejeune together shake their heads to indicate “no.”

“I also can and will have sex with each of you,” Mal says with a wry smile. “I am insatiable. I don’t care if its consensual. I take any guy I want to take. Simple enough to understand, right? And, if you ask about my cock size, I will be very happy to show you what I’ve got.”

Wolf ignores Mal’s threat and says, “Need more details from you. Particular dead people. That’s what you said. I never met Mark Lejeune while we both were alive.”

“Again, an excellent point,” Mal says. “Even for a stupid Russian asshole. You were unaware, Wolf, while you were alive that Mark Lejeune even existed. Your paths just never crossed. Yet, he and you were, in fact, intensely connected. He sold steroids.”

“Steroids? Like for bodybuilders?” Wolf asks Mark Lejeune.

“Yeah, of course,” Mark Lejeune says. “At the gym in Bullhead. Why?”

Wolf stares at Mark Lejeune is disbelief. “I worked out there. Never saw you there once.”

“Was only there late at night,” Mark Lejeune says. “Mainly for buying and selling steroids. With of the personal trainers.”

“Which trainer?”

“Carlo Zarelli,” is the unexpected answer.

Wolf remains silent, but the shocked look on his face is noticed by Mark Lejeune, who says, “And, no, I did not rent my body to him for sex, either.”

“What can you tell me about this trainer?”

“Well, I did fuck him. Maybe five or six times,” Mark Lejeune says. “At the gym late at night. The guy loved looking at himself in those big mirrors. Getting fucked from behind.”

“Not what I meant. I asking do you think he was involved in shooting you?”

“Not that I know. But, I doubt it. He disappeared. I was a selling him steroids. Got them from Mexico. These guys I knew shopped south of the border. I would give the steroids to Carlo. He gave me money that I always gave to the guy who shot me. Carlo had cornered the market. He sold steroids to guys at the gym as their personal trainer.”

Wolf looks visibly upset at what Mark Lejeune has said. Wolf turns to Mal and asks, “Is Carlo Zarelli also dead?”

Mal suddenly and dramatically gestures with both hands toward the double-door entrance to the Naked Dead Guys Bar. The solid steel doors swing inward together with a thud, allowing a strong gust of wind and a brown cloud of desert sand to flow quickly inside. As the dust settles quickly on the wooden floor, a man enters carrying his own head in his large hands. The steel doors slam shut simultaneously with a loud banging sound.

The newest visitor to the bar is young, tall, muscular, and wearing nothing on his large, perfectly shaped feet. He, too, is only wearing the same style of loincloth like the other two travelers. The head that he is carrying in his hands in front of him has an exceptionally handsome face with deep blue eyes and thick, wavy dark blond hair.

“Damn it, man. Will you pull yourself together,” Mal says with genuine anger in his voice. “Try to look presentable, will you?”

The man lifts his own head up to the empty space above his neck. He carefully positions the head onto the neck. The expression on his face reveals the intense concentration involved in the difficult task of reattaching one’s own head where it belongs.

When the man removes both his hands from holding onto his head, it remains attached to the top of his neck as he hoped it would. He shakes his head several times to test the strength of the reassembly process he has just completed. When he is satisfied, the man walks up to the bar nonchalantly as though he had not just made a horrific and macabre entrance.

“You are Carlo Zarelli,” Mal says. “Welcome here. You are dead like these two guys. Remember what happened? Let me help. Before they cut your head off, that entire drug gang in 1992 or whatever year it was in Mexico and repeatedly shot their loads into your ass and mouth. Have an ice cold beer here to chase away that unpleasant salty taste. Call me Mal. I am the guy in charge here. The name of my establishment is Naked Dead Guys Bar. Just so you understand where you are. And, since you already have met these two good-looking pieces of meat, no introductions by me are at all necessary.”

Wolf, Mark Lejeune, and Carlo Zarelli stare at each other in disbelief and silence.

“I just love reunions,” Mal says. “So very festive and full of promise for a splendid time to be had by all. So happy that you all could be together here with me. Carlo, later on, these guys will explain the rules to you. Kind of boring for me to repeat everything each time. Let me lay this out right away, however: You three are connected in death because of being connected while you were living.”

Carlo Zarelli sits down and drinks from his beer bottle on a bar stool next to Wolf.

Mal says, “Drug connections. So wonderfully intense, don’t you agree? All that built-in drama and mystery. Lying. Layers of deception wrapped within other layers of deception. Steroids fuck up a young man’s emotions, too. Lots of rage ultimately develops in every man. You’ve all been there, done that. You had great-looking and highly masculine bodies, though, when you were alive and using steroids. You thought doing so would keep you young and solid forever, didn’t you? Now, you know the brutal truth. You are just three barefoot dead guys and we are all together here in this crappy bar.”

“Why are we barefoot?” Carlo Zarelli asks Mal.

Wolf answers, “We can never put anything on your feet. Socks, shoes, cowboy boots—whatever. All of those things will fall away if we attempt to wear them. Our feet will remain unprotected so we cannot get very far on foot. This bar is isolated. On an island. We’re going nowhere.”

“Very good, Wolf,” Mal says. “I’m pleased that you really were listening earlier.”

“Why do you call him ‘Wolf’?” Carlo Zarelli asks Mal.

“New nickname I gave him,” Mal replies with a glare at Carlo Zarelli. “You are falling behind, Carlo. Try to keep up.”

“Just me and two other dead guys and you,” Carlo Zarelli says to Mal. “I get that. But, what about the guy I was with in Mexico? Was he raped and butchered, too, like me?”

“Ding, ding, ding! The single most insightful question so far, gentleman,” Mal says. “A question that seeks to discover what the fuck is going on out there beyond the confines of this bubble in which the three of you have found yourself trapped. Excellent question, Carlo! I am impressed. Let me try to give you all a completely truthful answer to that awesome question.”

Wolf, Mark Lejeune, and Carlo Zarelli stare in silence at Mal.

“Let me get this all out,” Mal says, “And then I will take all of your questions, okay? Kind of complicated, so listen carefully and don’t interrupt.”

The three dead men nod in agreement to Mal.

“First of all, I only work here,” Mal says. “I am not dead like you three. This bar that I run is only for the dead. Like you. Right now, the living all are out there, somewhere else—in a separate dimension on planet Earth. You were all there in that other dimension if only for a relatively short amount of years before your untimely and violent deaths.”

Wolf, Mark Lejeune, and Carlo Zarelli stare at each other and then at Mal as if they have questions.

“Nope,” Mal says, “Told you to hold your questions until I’m finished explaining. Where was I? Oh, yes. Multiple dimensions. The dead, like you, come here. Only those with whom you’ve had intense connections are here.”

Carlo Zarelli angrily blurts out: “This is just bullshit!”

Mal points at Carlo Zarelli and in so doing causes the dead man to lose his ability to speak at all. He can only gesture and point in desperation to his throat.

“Maybe I will restore your ability to speak later on,” Mal promises. “Or not. I like it better when I don’t have to hear your annoying voice. Before you so rudely interrupted me, I was just getting to your connection, Carlo Zarelli, that explains everything succinctly and truthfully. You were in Mexico to buy steroids to sell to bodybuilders. The man you were with was known as Ted Avila. A guy in his late twenties or early thirties. For some reason, it’s difficult to guess his age. Latino ancestry. A proverbial tall, dark, and handsome kind of man. He drove you in his 4×4 to a Mexican border town from Bullhead, Arizona—an all-day drive. He was one of your clients for your personal trainer business at The Bullhead Gym. You persuaded Ted Avila to purchase steroids from you because of the trust relationship you established with him as his personal trainer. Sound familiar to the rest of you guys here today? Ted Avila was attracted to you, Carlo Zarelli. What a surprise! That’s never happened with any of your clients before! Ted Avila ultimately gets into a sexual relationship with you, his personal trainer. You did this so many times. Got involved sexually with masculine men who were your clients. Can you imagine how many sexually transmitted diseases you all could’ve died from?”

Wolf, Mark Lejeune, and Carlo Zarelli look very worried now.

Mal says, “And, then, drum roll, please. There’s one other dead guy in this misadventure.”

Mal continues explaining, “A certain Navajo male named Vincent Wauneka also was a client of Carlo Zarelli at the gym. Late 20 or early 30s. Very handsome man. Well gifted in the masculinity department. A familiar character to you, Wolf? Yes, Vincent Wauneka was the one who murdered you, Wolf, by drowning you in 1992. Turns out that the Navajo and the Latino were executed together in a ritual hanging in Arizona. They apparently pissed off some local gang or whatever. Their bodies were found together with nooses around their neck inside a pumping station by the Colorado River. Both men were also personal training client of the very popular Carlo Zarelli at The Bullhead Gym,” Mal says as he points toward the double-door entrance to the Barefoot Dead Guys Bar.

The solid steel doors swing inward together with a thud, allowing a strong gust of wind and a brown cloud of desert sand to flow quickly inside. As the dust settles quickly on the wooden floor, two men—Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka—enter together. The steel doors slam shut simultaneously behind them with a loud banging sound, but they barely flinch in response.

The two newest arrivals look disoriented as they walk towards the bar. They both are, of course, barefoot and wearing only the same style of loincloths like the other travelers. They look just like Mal had described.

“I have opened up a fresh round of delicious, ice-cold bottled beer for you guys,” Mal announces. “I am going to go into the kitchen to retrieve another case of beer. I will leave all  of you alone to have some quality time together without me around.” He turns and walks out of the door to the nearby kitchen.

Carlo Zarelli speaks first: “If my voice works—. Yes, it does. I want to apologize to each of you guys here today. I truly am a pathetic loser. I know that now clearly. Not going to make any excuses. I was a selfish, arrogant drug dealer who only wanted to find sexual pleasure and avoid pain and death. And, I fucked that up badly, as we all now know.’’

Wolf says, “Well, don’t be so hard on yourself, Carlo. At least you were a decent fuck. I have no complaints about that.”

Carlo Zarelli smiles with sarcasm to indicate how little he appreciated Wolf’s remark.

Mark Lejeune says, “We are only here for a little while. Apparently we get sucked upwards without warning toward the ceiling. We go come back into life. As a baby. As some other entirely different person.”

“If you believe that bullshit,” Wolf says.

Ted Avila deliberately ignores Wolf and says to Mark Lejeune, “You look like you could be the twin brother of Matthew Lejeune. He and I were close friends.”

Mark Lejeune nods affirmatively.

Vincent Wauneka says, “I need to say something. I killed you, Mik Volkov. Now I am dead as well. Nothing else to say at this point. Other than I want you to know how sorry I am for what I did. But, nothing that mattered to us when we were alive matters to us now that we are dead.”

“Why the fuck did you drown me?” Wolf asks Vincent Wauneka. “Why me?”

“It was—,” Vincent Wauneka stops in mid-sentence when he notices the frown on the face of Ted Avila.

“A contract kill,” Ted Avila says quickly to finish what Vincent Wauneka had started.

“What are you two talking about?” Wolf asks. “Contract kill? Are you secret agents or something?”

Vincent Wauneka looks at Ted Avila and shrugs. So, Ted Avila says, “Something like that, yeah. Killing you was a job for Vincent here. Certain people wanted you dead.”

“Who?” Wolf asks.

“Classified stuff,” Vincent Wauneka says. “Political. Not personal at all. I suppose that does not make things better. You are dead. And, so am I.”

“Political?” Wolf asks. “Like because of who my father is in Moscow?”

“Exactly right,” Ted Avila says. “But, we cannot discuss specifics.”

“But you both are dead men!” Wolf screams at Vincent Wauneka and Ted Avila. “What the fuck? How can any secrets matter here?”

“Think he has a good point,” Vincent Wauneka says to Ted Avila. “No breach of security if dead guys know.”

“When you’re right, Vincent, you’re right,” Ted Avila says. “Truth is: Vincent and I work for a top-secret agency. You would not believe us if we told you the details, so what’s the point?”

“What are you willing to tell us?” Matthew Lejeune asks. “Can you explain how we all were connected to Carlo while we were alive in Bullhead?”

“Everything that happens is for some particular reason,” Ted Avila explains.

“I am dead,” Wolf says, “What is the reason?”

“Told you already,” Ted Avila says. “Your death sends a message to your father in Moscow.”

“What message?” Wolf asks.

“When your father learns you were killed in Arizona, he becomes very upset,” Vincent Wauneka says. “He does not believe law enforcement’s official findings that you drowned accidentally in your pickup truck because you were driving while drunk. So, your father goes ahead and he does things he would not otherwise have done.”

“Like what?” Wolf asks.

“He cooperates with people in Russia that he would not otherwise have cooperated with,” Ted Avila says. “He goes along with other men’s decisions. He is a key figure in breaking up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

“How do you know this?” Wolf asks.

Mal walks back behind the bar from the nearby kitchen carrying a case of bottled beer. “Better if I explain that,” he says as he sets the beer on the floor. “One of those implied rules we have here. Human beings think in a straight-line way. Linear. One thing leads to another and another in what seems like a sequence that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. When you were alive, that’s how your mind worked. Even though you are dead, that’s how your mind continues to work.”

“How do these fuckers know what my father did or did not do after he learned I was killed?” Wolf asks.

“Very simple. You each died on different dates,” Mal explains. “Each of you only know what you knew up until the particular day you died. You have no way to knowing what happened after you died. If you all died on the exact same day, you all would be here with the exact same knowledge about things in life. Our two newcomers here to this place died well after you, Wolf. That is how they can talk about things you never experienced or learned about.”

“The U.S.S.R. was dissolved,” Ted Avila says. “Wolf, you died before that took place. So, you could not know anything about it. To Vincent and me, it was a historical fact that happened in our past.”

“What the fuck is going on here?” Carlo Zarelli asks Mal. “Have you been lying to us all?”

“No,” Mal says. “Not at all. Both Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka arrived here because they were executed together in a ritual hanging. On the same day at the same time. They were mortal men like you. They both experienced death. Their necks were crushed by nooses of thick rope during a suspension hanging. And they died. They came here after they died because they are intensely connected to the three of you guys. They just lived longer than any of you. They lived to see things that you all never saw because they lived on after you were dead.”

“What kinds of things have you two seen that we have not?” Mark Lejeune asks.

“Your brother, Matt, goes on to become a famous authority on the subject of mind control,” Ted Avila says. “He gives lectures in Sedona, Arizona and publishes best-selling nonfiction books.”

“Matt always claimed he could read people’s minds,” Mark Lejeune says.

“He could. He actually could. It’s a great gift he’s got,” Ted Avila says. “You, Carlo, have connections to important events in history that you never lived to see.”

“Such as?” Carlo asks.

“Big events,” Ted Avila says. “Involving the lives of many people.”

“Like the end of the Soviet Union?” Wolf asks.

“Yes,” Vincent Wauneka says. “That one you were connected to. For Carlo, it was other things that happened in the United States. Affecting the lives of many. In Oklahoma City.”

“Okay, that’s enough ancient history,” Mal says. “A boring subject and none of that’s really important here.”

“How can the future be ancient history?” Wolf asks. “How can we be dead guys wearing loincloths in a gay bar in some other dimension?”

“Here and now,” Mal replies. “Think only about the here and now. That’s it. Really all you’ve got left.”

“Can we maybe get to make a choice about the life we are born into when we go back?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal.

“You know what?” Mal says. “Usually that particular question comes up from weary travelers a lot later. You wanna know if you can go back to ancient Egypt and hang out with Cleopatra?”

“We can go back to the past and get born into a new life there?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal.

“Yes,” Mal says. “Yes, yes, yes. Going into the past to be born into a new life there is one option. And, no, you cannot choose to be born into a wealthy family so you will jump right into a life of privilege. That’s just a big cannot fucking ever happen kind of rule here. Also, other rules say you cannot come back into the same family that you just left.”

“How do we make our choice known?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal.

“See me after class, young man,” Mal says. “The rest of these guys here seem kind of disinterested in all this what happens next stuff.”

“Are we supposed to go back and live a life to redeem ourselves or something like that?” Carlo Zarelli asks Mal.

“No,” Mal says. “You just should keep making the same choices and mistakes over and over and over. One thing you should know: You can choose not to come back to the living again. But, you would have to remain here in Naked Dead Guys Bar. It’s your choice.”

The five dead guys stare at each other as if they are uncertain if Mal is joking. Eventually, Wolf speaks up. “What happens if we choose to stay here. Right here.”

Mal says, “No living again. Just stay here. I’m in charge. If you do what I tell you, what could possibly go wrong?”

“You mean, like you force yourself sexually upon us?” Mark Lejeune asks.

“You make it sound like it’s a bad thing,” Mal says quickly.

Ted Avila pretends he didn’t hear what Mal said and instead says to him, “Vincent and I have a special set of circumstances to ask you about, Mal. About going back to the living.”

“Sure,” says Mal. “I’m listening.”

“In front of these guys?” Ted Avila asks.

“They are dead. Like you two. No way they can share anything of what you say here,” Mal says.

“Okay, then, here goes,” Ted Avila says. “Vincent here and I, in fact, are agents in an agency few know about. The work we do is kind of like what repair men do.”

“So, you two fix washing machines?” Wolf asks. “Is that it?”

“Not exactly,” Vincent Wauneka says. “A lot more complicated than washing machines. We travel in time. Our work is to repair timelines. We change the past. One example: I was on a mission to end your life, Wolf. I successfully completed my mission.”

“So, for Vincent and me,” Ted Avila says, “Unlike what Mal has said, there really is more than merely here and now for the two of us.”

Mal says, “That is the absolutely fucking best story I have ever heard any dead men tell me here in this place.” Mal starts clapping his hands vigorously. Then, he suddenly stops clapping and says, “What a remarkably rich imagination the two of you guys have. You’re implying that you have access to a time machine that can be used to cheat death. Someone sends you back to the point before your death and you get replaced with a young, living version of yourself. So, in effect, you are immortals thanks to your time machine.”

“Well,” says Ted Avila, “When you say it that way, it sounds like a bullshit story.”

“The prosecution rests, your honor,” Mal says dramatically. “No further questions.”

The ceiling above where Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka are sitting on their barstools suddenly opens up. A fierce downward wind blast pours into the bar from an oval opening above everyone. Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka are immediately sucked upward with great force toward the ceiling by a sudden reversal of the air currents.

They kick their legs involuntarily and flap their arms as if that will stop what is happening to them. They shout out in apparent agony and humiliation. But, just as quickly, Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka are no longer present in the bar. The oval opening that was in the ceiling has closed and sealed over like there never was any opening up there at all.

“Did you just do that?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal. “Pretty fucking awful to watch those guys go like that. They look like they suffered quite a bit.”

“Actually, I would’ve been happier to see them both suffer a lot more,” Wolf adds quickly.

Mal says, “No, I did not just do that. The removal of the dead to be sent back among the living is not my department. It happens independently from anything I say or do here.”

“You believe any of that time travel garbage?” Carlo Zarelli asks Mal.

“No,” Mal says. “They were desperate. Very original. I must admit. But, desperate just the same. Forget what they said. We will never see the two of them again. They are gone forever.”

The solid steel doors of Barefoot Dead Guys Bar unexpectedly swing inward together with a thud, allowing a strong gust of wind and a brown cloud of desert sand to flow quickly inside. As the dust settles quickly on the wooden floor, two men—Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka—enter together wearing only the same style of loincloths that they wore on their first visit.

The steel doors slam shut simultaneously behind them with a loud banging sound, but they barely flinch in response. They just keep walking toward Mal and his three dead guests, all of whom look totally disoriented and unable to speak due to the shock of seeing Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka returning to the bar.

“Maybe you can open up a couple of bottles of expensive champagne?” Ted Avila asks Mal.

Vincent Wauneka says nothing as he walks confidently up to Mal and punches him hard in the mouth to demonstrate his dominance. When Mal topples to the floor, Vincent Wauneka says, “Just a little sign of our appreciation, bartender.”

Mal gets back onto his feet. He has an expression of reluctant acceptance on his face. “How is this possible?” he asks.

“We’re just travelers,” Ted Avila says sarcastically. “Like these other guys.”

“Except we are immortals,” Vincent Wauneka adds quickly. “Our coworkers use a time machine to bring us back from the dead. You can choose to believe it or not. We do not care what you guys think or say.”

“Never met anyone like you two before,” Mal says with obvious exasperation. “Did you have to hit me so hard?”

Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka grin at Mal and shrug.

“You guys feel the tornado experience when you die?” Mark Lejeune asks. “Spinning around, faster and faster. Stuff smashes into your body inside the violent winds. Then you show up here in this bar?”

“Pretty much,” Ted Avila admits. “To me, it feels more like being propelled out of a volcano as it erupts. Hot lava burning my body. Rocks smashing into me. Very painful.”

“You never see dead ancestors?” Vincent Wauneka asks Ted Avila.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Ted Avila replies.

“Me, neither. Just checking,” Vincent Wauneka says quickly.

Wolf says, “We seem to have been here quite a while now. But, I notice that the sun is still directly overhead. Like it’s always noon.”

Mal manages to reply, “Yeah. That’s because we are outside of spacetime here in this dimension. It not only looks like it’s always noon. It actually is always noon.”

Once again the ceiling above Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka suddenly opens up. A fierce downward wind blast pours into the bar from an oval opening above everyone. Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka are immediately sucked upward with great force toward the ceiling by a sudden reversal of the air currents. They kick their legs involuntarily and flap their arms as if that will stop what is happening to them. They shout out in agony as expected.

Mal and his three dead guests look totally disoriented and unable to speak after what they have just witnessed. The solid steel doors of Naked Dead Guys Bar unexpectedly swing inward together with a thud, allowing a strong gust of wind and a brown cloud of desert sand to flow quickly inside.

As the dust settles quickly on the wooden floor, two men—Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka—enter together wearing only the same style of loincloths that they wore on their previous visits. The steel doors slam shut simultaneously behind them with a loud banging sound, but they do not respond because they are accustomed to the routine. They walk toward Mal and his three dead guests, who look dazed.

“Well, this is getting boring,” Ted Avila says to Vincent Wauneka. “You’re not going to hurt the bartender again, are you?”

“Not this time, no. Maybe you have someone you can call to report this?” Vincent Wauneka asks Mal, who merely shakes his head in disbelief.

“Our bartender here explained it to us before you two arrived,” Wolf explains. “There is no divine deity like many people believe. Nobody to call for answers here. We can try to pretend that there’s some higher power or external supreme being controlling this. There’s just nobody out there running this freak show we’re stuck in.”

“That’s kind of depressing, isn’t it?” Ted Avila asks Wolf as though he means it.

“What do you two want from us?” Carlo Zarelli asks Ted Avila. “You must want something.”

“I have a question for you. Do you remember when I fucked you on a wooden table in that dirty bar in Mexico?” Ted Avila asks Carlo Zarelli.

“Yeah, of course,” Carlo Zarelli admits very quickly. “Is that what you want now. Me, stretched out on top of one of those wooden tables over there in front of everyone?”

“No, not really,” Ted Avila says with a smile. “Just glad to know you remembered that one particular afternoon in Mexico. I know you’ve gotten fucked by each of us travelers here and wondered if you were able to keep track.”

“Are you judging me?” Carlo Zarelli asks Ted Avila.

“That’s enough,” Mal says angrily. “You two cannot just come in here and disrupt everything like you’re trying to do. Just get on with your lives.”

“What you mean is get on with our deaths,” Vincent Wauneka quickly adds.

Mark Lejeune laughs freely, but quickly stifles his emotions when he sees how angry Mal appears. When Mark Lejeune returns to sipping his beer, Mal turns his attention to Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka and ask, “How long has your super-secret time travel agency been sending immortals such as yourselves to alter the past?”

“You think what we do is a joke? Two dead time travel agents walk into a bar,” Ted Avila says with a wide grin. “Stop me if you’re heard this one before.” He cracks his knuckles as a nonverbal threat, calling attention to how big his hands are.

“No more trouble. I’m just frustrated. This is all new to me,” Mal says with embarrassment. “Can you two help me understand what’s going on?”

Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka stare at each other now that the know how unique their presence in the bar must be.

“If what you’re asking is—. We don’t know a fucking thing about death,” Ted Avila explains. “Or, the process of death. We just do our jobs. If we’re killed while on a mission, well—. Somebody back at base always brings us back to life using time travel.”

“But, you do remember that you and Vincent Wauneka were here two times already,” Mal says.

Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka nod simultaneously in response to Mal’s statement. He follows up with a simple question for the time travelers, “When you are back at work. At your agency. Do you remember what you have experienced here in this place?”

Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka look at one another and shrug off Mal’s question.

Mal says, “Never saw this happen before. And I have worked here for tens of thousands of years.”

“What?” Vincent Wauneka asks Mal. “Not possible.”

Ted Avila says, “You say you’re a bartender, but that’s not the whole story, is it?”

Mal replies, “No, of course it’s not the whole story. I was recruited to work here. In this dimension. This place appears to be a bar because the dead will be comfortable with this appearance. How do I explain? On Earth, there are some in life who perform similar essential and natural processes like I perform here. For instance, there are bees whose entire lives are devoted to the purpose of plant pollination. They play an essential role. I have the essential role of guiding human transitions from life to death to life again.”

“Who recruited you?” Ted Avila asks Mal.

“Not recruited. More like a mass kidnapping,” Mal says. “Against our will, many of us were pulled from mortal life so we could serve the purposes and the processes in waystations like this. Not all waystations appear as a bar that you see here. There probably are an infinite number of variations. Each one has someone in charge like I am here. Essential to the process. I can never leave this dimension or stop doing the work that I do here.”

“So, you are nothing more than a slave, then?” Vincent Wauneka asks.

“Well, that is not a word I would use, but, it might be accurate, I guess,” Mal says. “I don’t get compensated for what I do here. But, I have to admit there are some benefits to working here and being stuck here. This is not like Earth. But, as an example—water at 14,000 feet above sea level on Earth boils at about 186 degrees Fahrenheit due to very low air pressure. Normal boiling temperature for water is 200. In this dimension, it’s not about air pressure. It’s the framework of the dimension, itself that’s very different from on Earth. That framework gives me powers I otherwise would not have had if I remained a mortal man. I can have sex as many times as I want with anyone I want here. Never run dry, if you get what I mean. I also can do things—move objects—just by using my mind.”

Wolf is completely agitated now. He stares at the reflection of the naked dead guy in the mirrors of the bar and suddenly starts angrily shouting: “I’m done with this. Heard enough. This is all just complete bullshit. What a fucking nightmare.”

Mal frowns at Wolf and then Mal moves his left hand slightly in the air. This hand movement apparently causes Wolf to fly from his bar stool and slam violently into a side wall of Naked Dead Guys Bar where he slumps face down upon the wooden floor like a mannequin. His body begins to decompose rapidly into clumps of bone and skin but minus any blood. Eventually, there is nothing left but shallow mounds of flesh-colored dust resting on the brick floor.

“Wolf made his choice,” Mal announces. “I’ll sweep him up later. Anyone need a fresh beer?”

“What happened to him?” Mark Lejeune asks Mal.

“Physical trauma in this dimension causes disintegration,” Mal explains.

Mark Lejeune asks, “Can you speak English?”

“Dead guy’s body turned to dust,” Ted Avila says.

“You guys have any job openings at your agency?” Carlo Zarelli asks Ted Avila as Vincent Wauneka breaks into unrestrained laughter.

The ceiling above Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka suddenly opens up. A fierce downward wind blast pours into the bar from an oval opening above everyone.

Mal looks genuinely upset as he nods with acceptance to Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka as they are sucked upward with great force toward the ceiling by a sudden reversal of the air currents. They kick their legs involuntarily and flap their arms as if that will stop what is happening to them. But, nothing they do ever changes what is meant to happen.

Mal stares up at the ceiling and can find absolutely no sign of being disturbed by the presence of a vortex. He says aloud to himself, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.” He comes to accept that there have been countless times Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka have returned to the Naked Dead Guys Bar.

Perhaps their relentless bullying and fucking him against his will has helped Mal remember the two time travel agents.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

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