It may be hard to believe, but before I became the bloated old drunk you’d see camping outside your local liquor store, I used to be quite the stud back in my prime. I was young, athletic; had a full set of long sandy hair and a jawline so sharp it could cut glass. When I wasn’t pumping iron at the gym, I was probably out there pumping somebody’s wife. What can I say? It was the 80s and I’m from West Hollywood; debauchery was sort of the norm back then. After I flunked college and my parents practically disowned me, my life became a self-perpetuating spiral of women, drugs, alcohol and glam metal. The parties were wild and sobriety was a sin, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I couldn’t tell you where or how we first met. It could’ve been at a bar, a street corner, a nightclub—honestly, it doesn’t really matter. Her name was Rachel. She wasn’t the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen or anything like that. Curly brown hair, plaid skirt, thick-rimmed glasses; everything about her was so incredibly mediocre that it seemed almost deliberate, as though she had gone to excessive lengths to not stand out in a crowd. Following a night of fittingly average sex, imagine my surprise when she suddenly turned around and said to me:
“You wanna join a cult?”
Upon processing the unconventional and unusually candid proposal, a sensible person would’ve likely responded with a very definitive ‘hell no’. I, however, wasn’t and never have been a sensible man; as evident by the fact that I didn’t immediately gather my clothes and head for the door. I was taken aback, sure, but I’d be lying if I said that my morbid curiosity wasn’t piqued. It was the sheer novelty of the experience that intrigued me. I was still in that period of early adulthood when you feel like nothing can touch you, so you hop from thrill to thrill regardless of any potential consequences. Besides, I figured that it couldn’t have been anything that malicious, given how casual she was about it.
And so, at around 10 pm the following day, there I was: standing in the middle of an abandoned parking lot outside of town. Before me was an old warehouse that should’ve been equally as abandoned, and yet there were lights and faint music emanating from somewhere within its bowels. I narrowed my eyes and stepped towards the neglected structure. Although surprisingly intact, the windows were made of thick, semitransparent glass. I could only see vague shapes moving about the illuminated interior.
I bypassed the set of old doors that looked to have rusted shut, and instead made my way over to the opposite side of the property. Sure enough, hidden behind several overflowing dumpsters and a mound of scrap metal was another door. There was something scribbled on it with bright pink graffiti:
Enlightenment through excess. Deliverance through pleasure.
It sure seemed like the right place. I walked up to the alternate entrance and pressed my knuckles to its corroded surface, knocking twice as per Rachel’s instructions. After a few tense seconds, the bottom of the heavy steel door scraped against the concrete as it got yanked ajar. A single monolid eye stared back at me through the gap. Judging by what little I could see of the woman’s expression, she definitely liked what she saw.
“Evening, hot stuff. You got a password for me?”
“Right! Yeah…uh… Lord of the Flies?” I answered quizzically.
Her lips formed a playful grin; or at least the half of one. I instinctively stepped back as the thick fingers of a man emerged from the narrow slit, gripping the side of the door and pulling it wide open. The squealing of its unoiled hinges caused me to grit my teeth. Standing on the other side of that threshold, bathed in the ambient glow radiating from within, was a giant. I was no wimp myself, but the leather-clad viking looked capable of breaking every bone in my 6′1″ frame and wearing my limp body like a scarf. Leaning against him was the young Asian woman, still bearing that same grin. With her neon green lipstick, fishnet outfit and rainbow pigtails, she was the personification of the stereotypical rave-goer; quite the contrast to her stoic, heavily-tattooed counterpart.
She beckoned me down the dimly lit hallway behind her; and then through what appeared to have once been a cafeteria. The laughter and the music were getting louder. We eventually came up to yet another door; this one decorated in various outdated safety tips and warnings directed at the staff that used to work here. My colorful guide placed her hand on the handle and winked back at me before pushing it down:
Awaiting me on the other side was what I can only describe as a cesspool of degeneracy. Bodies on top of bodies, writhing and moaning, fucking like the end of the world was nigh; much to the enjoyment of clearly intoxicated onlookers. What passed as a dance floor was littered with clothes and empty bottles; cheap perfume intermixed with sweat polluted the stagnant air. The sickeningly sweet concoction made me feel lightheaded. My skull pulsated in tune with the generic synthpop beat that poured from the speakers, which only partially masked the sound of flesh slapping against flesh. Rachel was there too—sandwiched between two jocks and reduced to a babbling, drooling mess. I guessed she’d been holding out on me; or perhaps the unassuming persona was a means of luring people in.
It wasn’t long until I too got added to the vigorous orgy, courtesy of an eager redhead grabbing me by the crotch. Before I knew it, she had unbuckled my belt and was dragging me down with her…
After the spree of indulgence had reached its inevitable climax, both figuratively and literally, everyone’s attention fell squarely on me. Rachel in particular seemed quite pleased that I had decided to show up. She was the first to officially welcome me into the “House of Exorbitance”, and then revealed herself as the cult’s de facto leader. Their mission, as she explained it to me, was simple: enjoy life to its fullest until you no longer can, and then go out in a blaze of glory. She went on to assure me that there was no pressure on becoming a full-fledged member just yet, and that I was free to attend their annual “group activities” whenever I felt like it.
And so, for a while, that’s what I did. As fun as the free booze and rampant sex were, it was actually the sense of community that kept me coming back. Like me, all of them were failures and societal outcasts who just wanted to have a good time. I was introduced to new experiences; taken to places that I’ve never been before; partook in drug-fueled pseudo-intellectual discussions until the wee hours of the morning. It came as a surprise to no one when I expressed interest in formally joining just a few months later.
The initiation ceremony was very much on brand. I was to get high off my ass and hit as many clubs as I can, getting progressively more inebriated until I could no longer remember my own name. The night melted into a soup of bright colors and forbidden sensations. This city, she’s a fickle bitch. She makes a young man feel like the king of Sunset Strip one moment and like a vagabond the next. She promises him the world, only to reduce him to another junkie wandering her neon-lit streets, looking for his next fix. And then, when he is at his most vulnerable and pathetic, she casts a spotlight on him and tells him to dance.
And I danced. Boy oh boy, did I fucking dance. I danced until my legs gave out, and then I danced some more—all for the amusement of the other lost souls damned to this plain of vice and glamour.
I genuinely have no idea how I ended up in the back of that taxi. The driver, a dark man with slicked curly hair and a pencil-thin mustache, was looking at me through the rear-view mirror. I found it odd that he was wearing sunglasses despite it being pitch black outside:
“Where to, son?” He asked with his deep baritone voice.
My face felt numb. It was like I had someone else’s lips sewn on top of my own.
“Home.” Was all that I could think to say.
The man flashed me a pitying smile. He placed one hand on the steering wheel and adjusted the radio with the other. His voice blended with the smooth jazz:
I pressed my forehead to the cold glass, observing the lights as they zipped by. I wasn’t exactly sober yet. Certain colors still appeared more saturated than they should’ve, but the fact that I could formulate coherent thoughts was nothing short of a miracle, considering the cocktail of substances circulating through my system.
As we reached our first stop light, the man glanced back at me once more:
“So, how’s Rachel? She treating you well?”
Surprised, I rubbed the haze from my eyes and met his curious yet knowing reflection:
“You a member of the House too? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
The man chuckled:
“Yeah, that’s sort of the point. Think of me as the… “sponsor” of your little club. A concerned benefactor, if you will. My friends call me Bub, and I do hope we can be friends.”
“Sponsor?” I witlessly inquired.
The man sunk back against his leather chair and tapped his fingers on the mahogany desk that now separated us. The scene had shifted to an office space, complete with drab wallpaper and minimalist decor. The abrupt transition might seem jarring in hindsight, but it somehow felt natural at the time. It was as if reality was suddenly running on dream logic and, much like a dream, one rarely stops and questions its authenticity.
“That’s right. The booze, the drugs, most of the girls—all paid for by yours truly. Ah, but that’s just an appetizer.”
The driver, now donning the skin of a shrewd businessman, took a whiff from his cigar and nudged a stack of papers my way. They slid across the polished surface with little resistance, forcing me to catch them before they fell.
“It’s all there. You can read it if you want. The standard membership is ten years. Just sign your name on the dotted line and you get a whole decade to live the life you’ve always wanted, free of all responsibilities. Think about it, brother: the party never has to stop.”
I examined the contract. It was written in what looked like foreign scripture, yet I could still understand it as though it were plain English, the words warping as I read them. I tossed the papers back on the table. They slapped against the wet asphalt instead.
“And what happens after that?” I asked with an understandable degree of skepticism.
The mysterious man who had identified himself as “Bub” rubbed his chin. The headlights of passing cars briefly illuminated his features. As the ever-fluctuating scenery remolded itself around us once more, I found myself standing in the middle of a dank alleyway . Rain dribbled from the sky, accumulating in greasy ponds of diluted grime and filth; as clouds of rising fog enveloped us both. It was a frame straight out of an old noir film.
“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you? That’s good, I like that.” The man remarked before lowering his sunglasses and revealing the pair of unsettlingly blue eyes concealed beneath. I felt cold just looking at them.
“The price is firm: once your membership is up, I get your soul. Simple as that.” He explained with the casual enthusiasm of a used-car salesman
I looked down at the stack of papers lying at my feet. The rain was starting to soak through the pages, smudging some of the ink. I pressed the man further:
“So I get to party for ten years and then spend an eternity in Hell? I’ll be honest, doesn’t sound like a great deal.”
Bub’s bellowing laughter echoed across the sea. We were now standing on a pier, side by side instead of facing each other. The purple sun was starting to rise on the horizon, dyeing the sky in shades of pink. I saw a herd of zebras run across the still water. One of the animals halted and turned towards me, peering at me through the vertical yellow eye in the middle of its head before trotting off as well. I couldn’t help but be entranced by the psychedelic vista unfolding before us.
“That’s not how it works, son. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. Lights out. There are no pearly gates or fire and brimstone waiting for you on the other side. Your soul returns to the big ol’ great cosmic soup. All I want to do is put it to some actual use. Think of it like donating an organ, if it makes you feel any better.”
The man reached inside his suit jacket and produced what looked to be a polaroid, then proceeded to wave it in my face.
“Alright.” He said “Here’s my final offer: you get twenty years to do whatever the hell you want. I’m talking complete financial independence without ever having to lift a finger and, if you’re smart with it, a lot more then that. By the time your forty, you could still be snorting blow off the tits of some model half your age. But there is a condition…”
He handed me the photo. It was a head shot of Aiko—the flirty Asian woman who usually manages the door along with her behemoth of a boyfriend. Scribbled on the back of the picture was an address. Bub was quick to allay my concerns:
“All I need you to do is deliver a package. Nothing more. Once you do that, I’ll consider our deal finalized. I’d do it myself, but I like maintaining a more “hands-off” approach, if you know what I mean.”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek and glanced back to the rear door glass. We were parked outside of my run-down apartment complex. I exchanged a nod with the driver and promptly exited the taxi. As I ascended the steps to my room, wondering how much of our conversation was just the byproduct of a bad trip, I spotted a small cardboard box placed on my doorstep. It was taped shut and had Aiko’s address written on it once more, along with a big “Do Not Open” sticker addressed to me.
Now, to most of you reading this, a decade or two of unbridled decadence might seem like an incredibly short time to be trading your soul for, but to a dropout and all-around meathead like myself, who always thought that they wouldn’t live long enough to see their thirties, the proposal was actually quite tempting. Since joining the cult, my increasingly hedonistic lifestyle had prevented me from holding down jobs and the bills were piling up. I was weeks away from getting evicted.
In the end, I decided that this literally once in a lifetime opportunity was simply too good to pass up, so I did exactly what was asked of me that very next morning. The first check from my mysterious benefactor arrived shortly after, and let’s just say that the sum was more than substantial. We never saw Aiko or her boyfriend again. After a while, I didn’t even need the cult anymore. Why go to a grimy warehouse to get my rocks off when I could host parties in my private yacht full of high-class escorts? To say that I was living it large would’ve been an understatement. I bought casinos, hotels, an island in the Caribbean—all because I could.
And then, in the early 2000’s, it all came crashing down. From one of the most prominent playboys in Hollywood, I became a nobody almost overnight. My bank accounts were drained; my properties—seized. Predictably, my wife left me soon after and took what remaining assets I had with her. I’ve been living off of my dead parents’ savings and the occasional handout ever since. Honestly, I’m surprised that I’m still kicking in spite of it all, though that won’t be the case for long.
Yesterday, I received a package from an unknown sender, not unlike the one that I delivered all those years ago. It’s currently sitting next to me. In it is a revolver with a single bullet in the chamber and a note attached to it. The note reads:
Your membership has expired and your payment is way overdue. The House of Exorbitance has been lenient with you thus far, but the time has come to collect. I trust you won’t disappoint me.
Your friend, Bub.
Credit: Morning Owl
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