The Birth of Ar Lain Ta (Part One)

Everyone gets to pay the gatekeeper. In the end we pay with the only currency that we own. The gatekeeper’s desires are simple. All he wants is all we’ve got.

They call me the Troll. I’m a gatekeeper of sorts and I have my own kingdom. Of course, I have to follow the rules, too. He’s always watching me. He watches me through the eyes of the junkies that live here. Who’s he? I’ll get to that.

That’s why I treat everyone the same here in the last dope house on the block. No one gets here without paying the high price. Every one of us has opted out of the world as most of us know it.

Have you ever woken up in the morning at first light, heard the birds chirping, and then cursed the sun for burning you out of slumber? Have you ever stumbled to the bathroom looking for the wake-up shot that you hoped was still there, knowing full well that at three in the morning you had used it because the dreams in your head had grown sharp yellow teeth that were ripping away the pieces of what was left of your soul? Have you ever come to in the dark alley between mortar and bricks, behind the dumpster, where you had hidden to protect yourself from the young boys out wilding?

No, maybe you wake up scratching the dead skin on your face cursing the job that you must go to every day where your essence spills out into the ether as you wait on customer after customer. “And what would you like in your coffee, sir? Who’s next? Just jerk the handle, I’m dying, sir. I could use a drink myself.”

Or maybe you sit in a cubicle, one of many in a giant row of them, staring into a computer screen tabulating figure after figure, maybe checking zip codes hour after hour, pressure building up in your bladder, but “oh my god, I can’t go yet, there’s still so much to do and they never stop coming in. I hope I pass that urinalysis, I didn’t know that they’d pick me today. I don’t want to lose this job and wind up homeless.”

Quite possibly you’re a beautiful woman waking up late in the afternoon. Your body aches from running from the tables to the bar in that costume that always makes you feel like a piece of ground round served up steaming in a hog trough. The bruises where you were pinched dot your upper legs, you still smell the drink that someone threw at you because you wouldn’t give them a kiss. “Better the drink than their breath,” you think as you make your way to the bathroom to clean yourself before you are fouled by life once more. You look in the mirror and see the worry lines starting at the corners of the mouth, sparrow-prints at the eyes that are suddenly very wet and you swallow hard and splash water into your face, sobbing deep in your chest.

Just maybe you are the President of the United States waking to the news that another woman claims to know about the tattoo on your penis and you wonder how George Washington, John F. Kennedy, or even J. Edgar Hoover would have fared in this terrible time when everything is grist for the cows at the public watering trough called television. You roll over to hug your wife. She is crying. An emptiness that is full hurts between your lungs. “Maybe a war is not a bad idea,” is the thought that crosses your mind.

Hey, maybe you’re a writer like the guy in the corner there who is between stories or poems. You haven’t written a word in over two weeks and the worry stomps your mind into its down hellish nether regions. We all have them in our heads. Your mind says, “Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ll never write again. Maybe I’ll just shoot some dope; I know a place where I can go, downtown where all the lights are bright, downtown where I can die tonight, downtown, everything’s waiting for me.”

I could go on and on and on. That’s how life is. Sooner or later we all wind up knocking on the door of the gatekeeper.

I’m a gatekeeper. My kingdom is a subterranean basement where junkies come to dream about what might have been. What should have been. What could happen if only, if only, if only. Sometimes I tell the stories and he writes them down. I’m not the only one here who tells the stories. Everyone who comes here has a story, maybe more than one. The guy in the corner — the Troll points to a bearded junkie sitting at a typewriter, he writes them down. He never tells the stories but he’s always listening and writing or typing. All it takes to shake him out of a deep nod is for someone to say, “Oh yeah, let me tell you a story about what happened to me.”

There are times, in the middle of a story, that he will stop to fix; maybe his hand has started to shake, maybe he just wants to hold off the cold and the cramps until the tale is over. His memory takes over and he’ll play catch-up while he’s listening. He may get to hear the same story a few times but each time it is a little different, depending on who’s doing the telling. It could be different even with the same teller.

He writes the stories but he always laughs and says, “I don’t really guarantee their accuracy, you know. But I don’t have to, see. No one believes a junkie.”

Call him Seth. Last name Morgan. The writer. I’m the teller but he’ll record it. He promised not to lie or change the facts and to write it just like I tell it. Junkies always make promises.

Let me tell you about another gatekeeper. The one who watches me. The one who might very well have his eyes on you. Some people call him the Dustman. Others say he is the king of the dreams that live between waking and sleep. Still others say that he is just a man who has chosen a path of crime and that he is nothing more than a druglord. I choose not to argue with anyone’s story when it is about him. The confusion clarifies my beliefs. My beliefs? I’ll tell you this story and let you form your own.

I’ll tell you this story about his beginnings. It was told to me by a Harvard professor who comes here now and then for a bit of a rest. Forget about it. I’m not going to reveal my source. You would probably recognize the name.

In the beginning the Dustman’s only name was Ar Lain Ta.

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