Preface to the 1st Edition
The author to this story does not own the rights to the video games Max Payne or Max Payne 2. He does not own the rights to the characters, story-lines, or any other aspect of those games. He does own his car and a full compliment of furniture, but that's not important right now. . .
Preface to the 2nd Edition
In 1989 I wrote a short story entitled "Address Unknown". It was published in an anthology of short stories by various and sundry new authors. The first printing produced 10,000 copies, the second printing 5,000. There was no third printing.
Over the next 5 years that story developed a small but rabid following. Some time later a young Hollywood director was introduced to the story by a friend. He pitched the idea to Fox (which was looking for another "X-Files"), and they purchased the TV rights to the story (for, in retrospect, a regrettably small sum) and committed to make one season of the show.
While that first season was not a success on the "Seinfeld" or "Friends" level, it was the highest rated show in its time-slot (Friday at 9), won a number of awards, and developed a passionate following (including a vibrant fan fiction community). A company in New York and New England began constructing funhouses based on the show at that time, though none would open until close to 8 months after the end of the first season.
Fox brought the show back for a second season. While the ratings were better than the first season, the network was somewhat disappointed. The show received a few minor awards (some technical awards and one for the actor playing one of the secondary characters), but nothing like it had after the first season. The passionate fan base was, at that point, mostly complaining that the show had "jumped the shark".
It was after season 2 that things fell apart.
While Fox continued to support the show publicly, there was talk that behind the scenes they were pressing for changes. The actor who played John was threatening to walk unless he was given more money. It was during this time (less than 2 weeks before shooting on season 3 was to commence) that the director / executive producer of the show flew to New York, checked into a hotel, and killed himself.
The show never recovered. Season 3 was never made and the funhouses went out of business.
Such history is uninteresting to those who already know it; and sad history either way. I will speak of it no more.
It is a popular misconception that the short story was written based on the TV show, leading to the complaint that it took numerous liberties with it. In addition to our artistic and financial motivations for this new edition, it was and is our hope to set the record straight on this point.
John knew something was wrong the moment he woke up. Everything looked right; every detail in his room was as he had left it, but something wasn't right. He couldn't shake the feeling that this wasn't his home; that someone had built a perfect replica of it and set him in it.
His head was swimming as he got up out of bed. His muscles hurt and he couldn't remember why. Vague echoes of dreams were on the edge of his mind. He could vaguely remember fear, and screaming, and a feeling he couldn't quite place.
And then it was gone.
He walked to the bathroom. His eyes started to focus as he took his morning leak. Then he washed his hands.
He looked at his reflection.
His eyes were bloodshot with bags under them. He looked tired; he felt tired. He was clean-shaven, far too clean shaven. He hadn't shaved in close to 24 hours, and he knew how much facial hair should have greeted him.
Something was wrong.
He rubbed his face as he stared at himself in the mirror. Behind him, something caught his eye. The shower curtain was open; he never left the shower curtain open. The part of his brain that would shrug and not give it another thought was strangely silent. A different part of his brain, one that had always been silent, now spoke. This wasn't his home; the open shower curtain was a mistake, a loose thread in some strange scheme he couldn't begin to comprehend. He steadied his mind to pull it, knowing how much of his world it could pull apart.
Something was in the shower.
He turned to look, and saw wet clothes. Something had been spilled on them; he recognized the stains. He flipped frantically through his mental rolodex trying to find out what it was, but the card had been taken; it wasn't in his head any more. He stared at the clothes, he stared at the stains, and he stared at the pink water dripping down the drain.
There were bloody clothes in his shower, but it wasn't HIS shower. He knew that now. They weren't his clothes, either. It was their clothes and their shower. He didn't know who they were, what they were doing, or why. He didn't have answers. He had questions; he had a place to start.
He took the clothes out of the shower, and something fell to the floor. It was a key. A pink flamingo lay next to it; connected by a metal key ring. The flamingo's eye fixed on him, looking down on him from the floor. It was a rumor of fear, a strange icon of a savage religion.
He threw the clothes from the shower onto the floor between the sink and the toilet. He picked up the key and put it on the counter. His head was full of questions and it hurt. Somewhere there were answers. He knew there were locked doors between him and them, but he had a key.
He took his briefs off and threw them in the hamper. He took a long, hot shower. The water was hot and stung in places; it felt good where he was sore. Down at his feet, the water that ran to the drain was only vaguely pink. For a brief moment, amid steam and soap bubbles, it was an ordinary moment in an ordinary life.
He finished his shower and dried off. He combed his hair and got dressed. It was a nice early autumn day, the sort where one could be comfortable dressed for summer or winter; he dressed accordingly.
He grabbed a bag, small enough to carry but large enough to be worth carrying, and packed several days worth of clothes (and everything else he would need).
He couldn't stay where he was.
He grabbed the key and put it in his pocket. He knew he would have to find the Pink Flamingo Hotel. It wasn't listed in the phone book; he knew it wouldn't be. It wouldn't be easy, but he knew what he had to do.
When John walked out the front door of his apartment building he walked into a strange world. There was an undercurrent of familiarity, like something from a forgotten movie or a childhood dream. Faces glanced for a moment too long; they were watching him.
He couldn't trust them.
He was lost. He didn't know where he was or where he was going; he walked aimlessly. He tried to look inconspicuous, but they always saw him. He could see the hot dog vendor tracking his movements, the young man on the park bench (pretending to be talking with the woman pretending to be his girlfriend), and dozens of other people. Just as one would fall out of sight behind him another would be ahead waiting for him.
He found a subway.
He walked down the steps and out of the sunshine. He fished a token out of his pocket and walked through the turnstile. There weren't any signs; none of the maps told him where he was. The station was almost empty; some of the people were watching him and the rest were ignoring him.
A man walked by. John asked him where he was; the man walked on and said nothing. He walked up to a woman and asked for directions to the Main Street Station. The woman shrugged and walked away. John kept trying, and no one helped him. No one spoke to him; few even acknowledged his presence.
He got on a train. People got on and off the train as it went on its way, but it never took him anywhere he knew. The station names were always ones he had never heard before.
The man in the corner was watching him over the front page of the New York Times. When he got off, the woman a few rows away in the jogging outfit started keeping tabs on him. This went on for some time; after a few exits the person watching him would get off and a new agent would take over. When he could take it no more, he got off the train.
He switched to another train. After a few exits, he switched to another. and another. and another. He lost count how many times he had switched lines; he hadn't known that there were that many colors, let alone that the subway had that many routes.
But he was alone. No one in the car was watching him now. He was safe. And he knew where he was now. The dark voice was gone and the familiar female voice was again announcing the next stop. It was a familiar one, a block from his girlfriend's home.
After hours in the subway, the sunshine was comforting. The walk relaxed him; the breeze was cool against his face and he was surrounded by the sounds of calm drivers, contented pets, and happy children.
John found his keys in his pocket. The third one from his car key was to the door of her apartment building. It was strangely quiet and empty as he walked to the elevator, rode it to the fourth floor, and walked down the long hallway to her door. The fourth key opened it.
She wasn't home.
Dishes were sitting in the drying rack. Clothes were draped over the ironing board waiting to be pressed. Her cat's food and water dishes were full. "She must have just left", he thought "and she'll be back soon".
He walked into her bedroom. It was dark, and the feeling that had come upon him when he woke up returned. It hadn't passed until the sunshine after his subway ride, and now it was back. The mirror on her dresser had been broken; a thousand fragments still stuck in place.
He hated how he looked in it.
He raced to the street, though not forgetting to lock the door behind him. A police officer drove by, glancing at him while waiting at a traffic light. John knew the look. However carefully the officer might hide it, he was one of them. He saw, hanging from the rearview mirror, a pink flamingo air freshener.
She was in trouble and he was the only one who could help her. His situation was hopeless, but he couldn't fail her. Somehow, he knew, he would find a way to save her.
He walked away.
They would be coming, and he had to be far away when they arrived. He had no idea how long he had been underground. His watch had stopped, repeating 9:42 like a frustrated teacher. The sky had turned overcast and the breeze had turned from cool and refreshing to cold and domineering. His hands were cold; he shoved them into his pockets for warmth.
He found the plastic flamingo.
He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at it. One leg was bent (forming a figure-four) and the straight leg had a hole punched in it at the foot (like a surreal Christ) where the key ring went through. The eye made him feel small and weak.
He didn't want to find the Pink Flamingo Hotel. It was the last place he wanted to be, but he knew it was where he needed to be. But he didn't know where it was or, even, where he was.
The sky was getting darker, the wind was getting colder, and the city was changing. The flamingo was home here. Everything had withered beneath its gaze: the lights were dim, the streets lifeless, and the people filled with aimless malice.
The night was dark and bitterly cold; John knew he needed to find shelter. Without it he would die; and without him, she would die. He ducked into an alley and huddled into a ball. He blew onto his white and shivering hands to try to get some feeling back in them.
When he had warmed up as much as he thought he would, he returned to the sidewalk. After another block he turned right. Two blocks ahead of him was the brightest and darkest thing he had yet seen: a giant neon pink flamingo.
He had found The Pink Flamingo Hotel.
The hotel loomed before him, far larger than he had imagined. His eyes followed the hotel up, floor after floor, until it disappeared into the night sky; a tower whose top was in the heavens. The flamingo, it seemed, had made quite a name for himself.
He walked to the front door; the doorman opened it for him and tipped his cap. "Good evening, John", the doorman said, "Come in. I hope you enjoyed your walk". John startled to hear the man speak his name, but hid it as best he could. He smiled as he walked past.
Once inside the building, he sat down on one of the sofas in the lobby. His hands and feet began to tingle and then feeling returned. He took the flamingo key out of his pocket and rolled it in his hand. There was no room number anywhere on it, and the place was far too large to try doors at random.
He walked to the front desk.
"Good evening Mr. Mirra", the man at the desk said, "Is everything all right?" "I'm not" John started to reply, but caught himself before finishing with "John Mirra". He instead finished with "sure where my room is" and followed it with "I seem to have forgotten my room number." and then gave a sheepish smile. He didn't know why they would think that he was John Mirra (Had he thought about it, he would have realized how very unlikely it was that the key he held would be for John Mirra's room. But it was far too late and he was far too tired to think about such things. Indeed, had he thought about it, he would have realized that he stood now at the margins of the world and only the impossible was probable.).
"No problem. It happens to people all the time. You're in room (he paused as he searched for the room number on the computer) 665 it says here. We've cancelled housekeeping as you requested. I hope you enjoy your stay and, if you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask."
John walked to the elevator. It opened, flooding him with an all-to-vivid parody of light. He stepped inside, blinking hard, and pressed the '6' button. The elevator jerked and rose with a steady drone.
The elevator jerked to a stop and the door opened into the soothing darkness of the hallway. He walked down the hallway, glancing sideways at the room numbers. Every number had three digits, and every first digit was a '6'. Beyond that, there didn't seem to be any pattern. 607 was between 637 and 674 and across the hall from 698. John reached the end of the hallway; he could turn right or left. He turned right. The room numbers taunted him with the suggestion of a pattern based on some insanely complex algorithm. Each time he thought he had worked it out, the next room number would demolish his theory. He reached the end of this hallway, still without finding '665', and faced another left / right choice. He chose right again. This hallway proved the same as the last two; there was no pattern in the room numbers (save the absence of '665') and it ended at another hallway and another left / right choice.
After several more hallways, it was clear that the hotel was far larger than it had appeared from the street and was far more complex than he could have imagined. It was all he could do to keep from running down the hallways turning left or right without any thought or pattern in his frantic search for room 665. The elevator was a distant memory, like a life boat left behind to swim for shore. Only the island was now as lost as the boat and he was alone among the waves.
And the next door he saw said '665'.
It occurred to him that John Mirra might be in the room. He realized, however, two things. First, John Mirra would be locked out without his key (or, had Mirra gotten another, the encounter at the front desk would have gone differently). Second, John realized he didn't really have a choice anymore. He was here; this was what he had to do.
The key slid into the lock and turned effortlessly. He pushed on the door and it swung open. It was dark; he fumbled for the light switch and flipped it. The room was now bathed in twilight. The curtains were closed and the room was cold; there was a steady hum from the little heater that couldn't.
The room was a mess.
There were clothes on the floor; a long coat, a hat, pants, and boxer shorts. On the table was the remains of half-eaten Chinese food and a mostly eaten McDonalds meal. There was a dollop of ketchup directly on the table next to several empty packets. The mirror over the dresser had been shattered.
In the bathroom the sink was covered with shaving scum, dirty towels were on the floor, the toilet lid was up and the seat down (and had spots of dried urine on it), the shower curtain was open, and the mirror had been broken.
But Mirra was not here.
John was relieved. Mirra wouldn't return; not tonight and not ever. John undressed down to his underwear, putting his clothes in a pile beside the bed (away from Mirra's clothes). He turned off the light and climbed under the covers, rested his head on one of the pillows. It felt good to be warm again.
He was exhausted; his body felt like dead weight. He looked up at the ceiling. He blinked and the world went black for a moment. Those blinks grew longer and closer together until the darkness was only briefly broken by the sight of the ceiling.
And then he was asleep.
John's dreams were full of blood and screams, but he woke not remembering them. He turned on the TV and saw that it was just after 1 PM. His watch said 9:33, but he knew it was broken.
He unpacked his clothes, putting them in the dresser; and took his cosmetics into the bathroom. He brushed his teeth and shaved. He used a washcloth to clean the sink and counter and carefully placed his various tools and products there. He took off his underwear and placed them in the same pile as the rest of his clothes.
He took a long, hot shower. Rather, he took what would have been a long, hot shower had the hot water not run out. As it was, he took a moderately long hot shower followed by a very brief cold one. He dried off quickly, shivering, and got dressed.
He pulled the curtains back and opened the window. Above him the sky was sunny and clear. The air was warm but not hot, and there was a slight breeze. Below him the street was comfortingly normal. The drivers were agitated, but not angry. The pedestrians were each in their own little world with its own little apocalypse, but without the air of malice he had felt the night before. Perhaps it was simply the different perspective that height, light, and warmth give that made it seem that way.
He was afraid to let housekeeping into the room. If they saw the mirrors it would raise a lot of questions that he didn't have answers or time for. He gathered all of Mirra's clothes and put them in a pile in the corner. He cleaned the table. He threw the trash away and put the full trash can outside of the door. When he heard the housekeeping cart, he gathered the dirty towels and took them into the hallway. "Excuse me", he said, getting her attention, "Can I trade you dirty towels for clean ones?" He could tell from the way she looked at him that something about him upset her. Still, she took the dirty towels, gave him clean ones, and emptied the trash can. He took the clean towels into the bathroom, and put the trashcan back by the dresser. There was a clip of money on the nightstand by the clock. There were ten $20 bills, but something that he couldn't quite place looked wrong with them. He put the money in his pocket and began to give thought to what to do next.
He was hungry.
If the streets were less hostile to him than they had been, they were no less strange. Other than the previous night, he had no doubt that he had never been here before. Looking around him, he realized that he at least couldn't lose the hotel. It looked down on everything and would be visible (at least during the day) from all directions for miles.
He started walking.
No one paid any attention to him, which was far from unwelcome. He passed liquor stores, adult stores of varying types, and the occasional grocery store. After a few blocks he saw a McDonalds, but he walked past it. A few more blocks passed by and he was about to go back to the McDonalds when he saw a Denny's. It was far from ideal, but right then, more than anything, he wanted breakfast.
He sat down in a booth. His head was swimming when the waitress asked him what he wanted to drink. "Coffee and Water" was his answer. She asked if he was ready to order. He replied "Grand Slam: scrambled with bacon please". She said "I'll have it out shortly" and walked back from whence she came.
He was deep in thought when his water and coffee arrived and was only aware some time later that they were there. He quickly drank the water and then sipped his coffee. When he saw that the waitress had brought more water he drank it, too. He had drunk 4 glasses of water and 2 cups of coffee when his food arrived.
He smothered his pancakes in strawberry syrup. Something about the color appealed to him. He ate everything quickly, including the buttered toast with strawberry jelly. He washed it down with a fifth glass of water and a third cup of coffee. It felt good to be full.
He took one of the crisp $20 bills out of his pocket and gave it to the waitress when she came by with his check. She returned with two 5's, three 1's, and some change. The face on the $5 bills looked like his, but wasn't quite right. The flamingo was on the $1 bill. He left a dollar and the change on the table and left.
On the sidewalk outside the restaurant he saw a flyer on the ground. He picked it up. It was for the "Pink Phlamingo Phun (P)House". It had a coupon on the back and, more importantly, a map. It was less than two miles from the Pink Flamingo Hotel and perhaps a mile from the Denny's.
He started walking.
The city changed as he walked. The watchers were back. Conversations stopped as he approached and restarted after he passed. Cars stopped. Work stopped. Play stopped. Everyone was watching him; noting his every action and tracking his every move. The air turned cool and the wind picked up.
He reached the "Pink Phlamingo Phun (P)House".
There was no one at the ticket window, so he walked in. It was a hall of mirrors, or at least it was based on a hall of mirrors. There were echoes of footsteps that he thought were his, and other footsteps that he was sure weren't. The lights kept changing and something always seemed to be moving on the edge of his vision. The air was heavy with a sickly-sweet smell.
The mirrors were what one would expect in a funhouse. Some things were compressed and some were stretched. Dull things looked interesting and beautiful things looked ugly.
It wasn't a maze, really. The walkway made a few turns and had spaces off to the side, but it was a linear experience. A man was lying face down on the floor at the exit. John rolled him over; it was the doorman from the hotel.
John saw the blood.
It was smeared along the mirrored floor in a long, irregular line. He had been shot in the stomach. He dragged himself towards the exit but was stopped and shot in the head before he could reach it.
The flamingo was painted on the door; John felt it staring into him. A finger had written in blood on the door. It said "mirrorS arE morE fuN thaN televisioN". The flamingo turned to look at him, both eyes now fixed on his. John felt exposed. It said "thE flesH oF falleN angelS" in a cold, mechanical voice.
John heard himself scream and felt himself break through the door. He ran back to The Pink Flamingo Hotel and hid in his room. He curled up in bed and cried. He couldn't save her. He couldn't save any of them. He couldn't save himself.
He fell asleep.
He woke to a knock on the door. He had left the curtains open earlier; now it was dark outside. He looked through the peep hole in the door; no one was there. He opened the door; the hallway was empty. It wasn't until he closed the door that he saw something on the floor. It was a clue.
It was a 9" x 13" envelope. Inside was a map of the city. New York City was nowhere to be found; this was Noir York City, Mirra's city. He shifted the map in his hand and the picture changed; it was his girlfriend now. He could see the 5 freckles on her face; they suggested something to him that he couldn't quite place. He had given a cute name to each of them and wrote a poem about them for the previous Valentines Day. He recited it to himself and smiled; the picture resolved back to the city.
The freckles remained, now red dots on the black and white map. The picture changed again and kept changing. It was her and then it was the city. Faster and faster the picture shifted until it was both her and the city. He traced the lines between the freckles as he thought about the poem he had written for her. He knew what shape the dots made.
It was a pentagram and. The Pink Flamingo was at the center, in the heart of Noir York City.
The Denny's was south of the hotel, the fun house was even further south. John knew that Mirra would kill again for every freckle on her face and dot on the map. He knew he had to stop him, that it was the only way to save her.
He left the hotel and ran north and west in search of Pretty, the second point on the map. The cold air felt like sandpaper in his lungs. His legs screamed at him, but he kept running. He saw police cars ahead. They were parked with their lights on and sirens off. A small crowd was gathered around an apartment building whose door was blocked by criss-cross lines of yellow tape. He had found the second location.
He was too late.
John walked east. He couldn't go in order; there wasn't time. He would have to skip ahead to "Cute" and bypass "Precious" and "Perfect". He wandered around a run-down neighborhood looking for a sign. He knew he was close, but needed a clue.
A cold certainty crept upon him; he was cheating. This was Mirra's game and he would have to play by Mirra's rules. It was an ugly game, sadistic and complex for its own sake. But he had to win it; it was the only way to save her.
He stole a bike and rode south. By the side of the road on an empty block a taxi was parked, its horn blaring. John walked up to the taxi; the driver had been shot and was slumped forward. "Precious".
He rode due west, darting in and out of traffic and running red lights. Horns blared and tires screeched. The cold air tore at his lungs and the drizzling rain burned his face. He was gasping for breath; his heart was racing. But none of that mattered; all that mattered was saving her.
He was too late again. A Chinese man lay dead on the floor of his take-out stand. The flamingo was painted on the floor; the blood was still warm. John knew he was close now.
He raced to the final location: even more quickly, more recklessly, and more indifferent to his own pain than before. The tires slid on the slick pavement but he pedaled harder still. He saw the neighborhood from an hour earlier again. He heard a scream and then a gunshot.
He lost control of his bike and crashed into a parked car. He tumbles over the trunk, the rear window, and the roof. He rolled down the windshield and onto the hood. Aside from a few cuts and developing bruises he was fine. Aside from a number of dents, a smashed rear window, and a cracked windshield the car looked to be fine. The bicycle was not so lucky. It was beyond repair.
But that wasn't important at that moment. John raced to the apartment complex the scream had come from. He ran through the door and up the stairs; the apartment door was cracked open. It was the waitress from the restaurant. Her son lay dead across the room, his throat slit. She lay dying on the floor, a gunshot wound in her stomach and blood trickling out of the corners of her mouth.
He held her as she started to shake. She looked up at him with confused eyes and spoke, "I don't understand. . . I. . . I don't un. . . understand". Her eyes closed, her head dropped, and she stopped shaking. He let go of her and left.
He had only just missed Mirra.
John stood silent for a time. He had failed. Defeat had seemed both certain and impossible, and now it was simply a fact.
The thought occured to him that there was another chance; Mirra would return to "Lovely" and John would have to confront him there. Mirra needed to kill one more time to draw the final line, and John needed to stop him.
He started to run, but his body could do no more. After a few hundred yards he collapsed onto the grass beside the road. His legs were too weak to even stand up. His sides were torn with cramps. He was gasping for breath. He blacked out for a time.
When he came to, he found he could stand up. He couldn't run anymore, but he could walk. He started walking south. With the race now done, he looked around him. In the dim lights of the street he could see people watching him. Shadows ducked into alleys when he saw them. Binoculars glinted in windows and then disappeared.
Something had changed. He should have recognized where he was, but he couldn't. It was all new. The city was changing. Buildings that had been next to each other were now a block apart. Others were missing entirely. Mirra was remaking the city in his own image one murder at a time.
Than a pay phone rang.
John jumped. It was for him, but he couldn't work up the courage to answer it. He kept walking. The ringing faded into the distance. Another phone rang; he kept walking. Again and again it happened. Finally his curiosity overcame his fear and he answered one.
It was his girlfriend. "John, you must run. He's coming after you, he wants to catch you! They're closing in. John, I love you. Don't give up". She hung up before he could say anything. He could hear her voice in his head. The map was useless, he threw it away. She would lead him to Mirra and to her.
John had no idea how far he walked or how long it took. He could hear her voice the whole time and it was all he thought about. She comforted him, encouraged him, and said she loved him. Finally, she guided him to The Pink Flamingo Nightclub.
The walls looked not so much like mirrors, but rather like liquid metal suddenly frozen, preserving its ripples and waves for eternity. The strangeness of the reflections comforted him; he hated the world enough now not to want to see it twice. . . and his experience with doubles had not been, to that point, positive.
Mirra's men were everywhere. They were drinking Flamingo cocktails and laughing. John was trying to stay out of sight. He saw Mirra talking to someone. John had seen the man before, but couldn't remember where. Mirra's knife was on the table next to him, the blade stained red with the blood of the waitress's son.
Behind them, a woman was dancing on the end of the bar. She was taking her clothes off and taking dollar bills from Mirra's men. It wasn't until the second time he looked at her that he saw that she looked just like his girlfriend. The voice in his head was silent now, but he knew it wasn't her. It was his girlfriend's double that was dancing on the bar; her Mirra that was stripping for Mirra's goons.
Then everything went wrong.
A group of men burst through the door. Some were dressed up like policemen and some like doctors. Mirra's men joined them; they were all Mirra's men, and they were coming for him. Mirra disappeared with John's girlfriend's double in the chaos.
John grabbed Mirra's knife and the man he had been talking to. John held the knife to the man's throat and screamed for everyone to get away. He circled back around to the door; Mirra's men kept their distance. John backed up to the door. He didn't want to lose his hostage, but he knew he couldn't take him further. He pushed the man at Mirra's goons, dropped the knife, and ran out the door.
Black vans with the flamingo logo on them came out of nowhere and chased him. He ran, but they surrounded him. Mirra's men poured out of the vans dressed like doctors; their uniforms so very white and everything about them so very clean.
John tried to run, but there was no way out; his girlfriend was silent. He felt something hit him, and saw a dart in his leg. He pulled it out and let it fall to the ground. The world started swimming. The voices of the men were distant and slurred. He felt disoriented and weary.
He fell asleep.
John woke up
He couldn't move or open his eyes. He heard voices and knew they weren't in his head. "No, sir, he isn't awake yet. (pause) Yes, sir, of course sir. (pause) We'll do everything just like we planned." The voice got louder now, and its owner sounded upset, "But sir, we can't do that. It isn't. . .". After a long pause, the man spoke again. He was quieter and calmer, sounding resigned, like a dog that had been kicked, "Yes sir, as you say."
He couldn't move. He opened his eyes and found that he was sitting in the back of a van. He was strapped to a chair at his neck, chest, waist, knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists. His hands were taped into fists.
Two of the 'doctors' were in the back with him, watching him; they didn't speak. John looked out the window. They had left the city; the countryside was sickeningly pretty. The sun was setting on a lovely day, rain glistened on grass, birds sang in trees, and children played. The whole scene reeked of a Norman Rockwell painting. Once, John would have enjoyed such a sight, but not now. The flamingo had looked into his soul, and now he had seen. He had seen the secrets living under the skin of reality, the corruption of flesh; beyond the world of skin, the architecture of blood and bone marrow.
The van pulled into the Pink Bird Mental Institute. John felt a sting in his arm, and then he knew no more.
When John came to, he was strapped to a gurney and being pushed down a long hallway. He could see rooms to each side. He saw a face through the window on one of them. The man looked at John and his face changed; he had seen what haunted his dreams. He spoke, starting in a low growl and ending in a violent scream "The flesh, the flesh. I think I died, I think I'm dead. I don't know. I don't know. Death is coming! It's coming! They're here. They're here! Get away. Get away! I'm gonna hurt you. I'm gonna hurt you."
The voice faded. The gurney stopped. One of the men fumbled with a set of keys and opened a door. They wheeled John into a room. A man pretending to be a doctor asked him questions. He asked about John, his girlfriend, the doorman, the waitress, and a few other people John didn't know anything about. He asked John why he had killed his girlfriend and why he had killed the waitress's son. He asked John if he knew what a paranoid schizophrenic was. Then he gave John a shot in the arm, and he went to sleep.
The days were mostly the same after that. In the morning they would give him a shot. Then the doctor would tell him that he was insane, that he was psychotic, that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. John would believe him. The doctor would tell him that he had killed his girlfriend and others. John would believe him. John would cry about how sorry he was or ramble about how he was going to fix things. Once he caught himself screaming about how she had deserved it.
In the afternoon the drugs would start to wear off and John would return to himself. He would be in his room, thinking about how much he hated Mirra and how much he wanted to hurt him, how much he wanted to kill him. Mirra would mock him in the bathroom mirror; the flamingo was always with him.
Then a group of Mirra's men would come in, dressed in white, and give him another shot. He would fight them, but they always won. Usually he would get a few good punches or kicks in. Once he bit one of the men hard enough to draw blood. He never saw that one again. He would fall asleep and they would strap him to the bed.
It was always the same after that.
John would be back at the Pink Flamingo Nightclub. The flamingo would be there, standing over the doorman's body. Mirra would be there too, talking to the flamingo. John, hiding in the shadows, could see and hear everything. Mirra would talk about John's girlfriend, the doorman, and all the others. The flamingo would nod in agreement. Then the flamingo would speak in its dark, mechanical voice, "mirrorS arE morE fuN thaN televisioN". Mirra would nod and laugh.
Then they would hear him. . . or see him, he don't know. They would turn and look at him with their cold, dead eyes. Mirra's smile would grow, his white teeth shining in sadistic glee. The flamingo would speak again, "thE flesH oF falleN angelS." Mirra would step towards him, knife in hand. The flamingo would look at him; piercing him and hurting him with his eyes. And John would always wake up to the sound of his own scream, strapped to his bed in the white hospital room.
And the cycle would repeat. John had no idea if it had gone on for days, weeks, or years. None at all.
One morning, the doctor told John that he had a tumor in his brain, that it was making him crazy, and that they would have to operate. John stared at the doctor through glazed eyes and nodded. He felt weak as they walked him back to his room. When the drugs wore off, Mirra appeared to him in the bathroom mirror.
"mirrorS arE morE fuN thaN televisioN", the flamingo said, as Mirra flashed his smile with an air of superiority. He said that John's girlfriend had joined him. The flamingo spoke again, "shE haS dieD heR haiR reD."
John didn't believe them. He didn't think he believed them. He didn't want to believe them. He smashed the mirror with his fist. Fragments, streaked with red, fell to the floor and two of Mirra's men restrained him. They gave him a shot and he fell asleep.
John woke up somewhere he had never been before; he was strapped to a hospital bed. A man he didn't know was standing over him; the doctor from the Pink Bird Mental Institute and two of Mirra's goons were also there. The strange man said "we'll be forced to operate aggressively", and the doctor nodded. John didn't know if his girlfriend was still alive, but as long as there was a chance, there was a chance he could save her. He couldn't let them do what they were about to do.
He felt something against his forearm. A piece of the mirror had stuck there and they hadn't found it. Listening to the men talk, they thought he was unconscious. He knew this was his last and only chance. He would have to be perfect.
John maneuvered the shard to his hand. He cut through the strap on his wrist. It cut him and hurt him, but he kept going.
His arm was free, but he didn't do anything. They didn't know what he had done, and he couldn't give it away yet. He heard a tool rev; he cracked open his eyes and peaked out. The doctor was standing over him, tool in hand, ready to start cutting.
John swung his free hand (holding the shard) into the doctor's eye. The doctor screamed and fell back, scattering surgical tools. Blood poured onto the floor. John undid the strap on his other wrist and feet and grabbed the saw. He backed into the corner. The other 3 men tried to talk to him, mixing in soothing advice and threats.
John screamed at them "DEATH IS COMING! IT'S COMING! GET AWAY! I'M GONNA HURT YOU!" The two goons approached slowly. One said "Easy now, easy now, just hand over the drill". John turned it off and reached out his hand. "Good, good" the goon said as he got within a few feet of John.
The saw and John both screamed. The goon screamed, too, as it cut his arm and then slit his throat. The other goon tried to help, but was too late. The hand that grabbed John lost three fingers. John swung the saw at the goon's head, and he fell in an explosion of blood.
The fake doctor went for the door, but John was closer. Now it was his turn to back into a corner. It was John's turn to talk, "the flesh. . . the flesh. . . I think I died. . . I think I'm dead. . . I don't know anymore. . . the flesh. . . the flesh. . ." He had played their game, now it was their turn to play his. It was the fake doctor's turn, and all he could do was scream and bleed and die. He did all three.
The saw shut off and fell to the ground. John left. He was still disoriented from the drugs and bleeding from his wounds. But he was free. He found a sink and washed himself. He found clean clothes and changed. He went outside.
He was lost in Noir York City. He was part of it now. He was a killer. John Mirra had made him a killer. He had become John Mirra. "Maybe", he thought, "I had always been him." The streets were empty; somewhere the flamingo was watching him.
John looked at his reflection in a coffee shop window. He startled at the face he saw; it was the one from the $5 bill. He looked at the sign over the door and saw that he was standing outside a coffee shop, the sort of place people go who want Starbucks coffee and want to feel superior to those who drink Starbucks coffee. A piece of paper was taped to the window, announcing a poetry reading by a certain "Poole". It had one of his poems on it, a piece titled "Somebody's Been Wearing My Face Again". He read through the fourth and final stanza: "In this hall of mirrors, built by liars, I am a pale reflection of myself".
John looked at himself in the window and then walked on.
A pay phone rang.
John answered it. He heard a familiar voice speak. "John Mirra?"
John answered. "Yes, this is he."
The voice spoke again. "This is John Mirra. Welcome to the next level."
John screamed. and hung up the phone. and screamed.
John tried to walk away, but the part of his brain that controlled his feet wouldn't cooperate. He looked down at his feet, half expecting to see them fixed to the floor. He instead saw another Pink Flamingo room key. He bent over and picked it up. He looked at it without making eye contact with the flamingo. The number "846" had been carved into the key.
He knew where he had to go. He could see the Pink Flamingo Hotel towering over the city. It was calling him and he couldn't refuse.
He started walking.
The sun set and the sky grew dark. The air was getting colder and the wind was getting stronger. As he drew near the hotel to the hotel, the streets got more and more crowded. They people walked shoulder to shoulder, bumping into each other, only vaguely aware that anyone else was there. The hotel was drawing them, the flamingo was calling them to witness to the end.
The crowd parted for him without acknowledging his presence, like his proximity troubled them in ways they couldn't understand. A fog became a drizzle. The drizzle became a shower. The shower became a hard rain. Wind screamed through the street and around the buildings. Lightning flashed, casting hard shadows on the faces of the people and the buildings. Thunder roared and the Earth shook.
John walked, alone in the crowd, towards The Pink Flamingo Hotel. His watch said '11:47', but that didn't matter anymore. He was soaking wet and very cold, but he put it out of his mind. He was going to the hotel; Mirra was waiting for him. That was all that mattered.
He stood at the door of the hotel like Jack before the giant. Up in room 846 he knew he would find the sadistic mind and the depraved heart of the hotel waiting for him.
"This way, John", the doorman said, "They're waiting for you". He had a hole in his forehead; beneath his jacket his white shirt was stained with blood.
"Good evening Mr. Mirra", the woman at the front desk said. It was the waitress. He could hear her son behind the counter, too short to be seen over it, "Mommy, when can we go home?" She looked down at him and smiled "soon, baby, soon".
The elevator was waiting for him; he stepped inside. The door shut and it started moving. He didn't need to push any buttons; the elevator knew where he was going. The button didn't need to light up; he knew where it was taking him.
The door opened on the 8th floor. A red arrow had been painted on the wall. It pointed to the right; he followed it. Behind him the elevator doors closed. He could hear it disappear beneath his feet.
There was nothing in the hallway: no people, no decorations, and no doors; just darkness and silence. He walked on, and the hallway ended in a door. He could see light under the door and numbers on it.
He was here.
John took a deep breath; he wasn't sure he was ready. He reachedinto his pocket for the key; Mirra spoke. "Come in".
He opened the door. A clinical white light burned his eyes. When they had adjusted he saw the room. It was very large and at least 3 stories high. It had external windows on three sides, and through them he could see the storm still pouring its wrath upon the city. There was a table between the door and the center of the room. Someone was standing behind the table.
John Mirra. The flamingo was with him.
Someone else was standing in the center of the room, hands raised, surrounded by candles. It was his girlfriend. As his eyes adjusted, he saw the thin cords around her ankles and to the floor, and around her wrists and rising to the ceiling. She had been gagged. Her clothes were torn and stained with blood. Her body was a tapestry of bruises, cuts, and burns.
She looked at him.
Her eyes said everything. They had done things to her: violent things, horrible things, sadistic things. Things that only the very darkest parts of his mind could imagine or understand.
John walked toward the altar. There was a white cloth across it, stained with blood. There was a gun and a knife. John lunged and grabbed the gun. Mirra grabbed the knife. John pointed the gun at Mirra and tried to move around him. Mirra danced around the room, keeping himself between John and his girlfriend. Mirra spoke. "Whatcha gonna do, JOHN? Whatcha gonna do? There's only one way out of this, only one way for you to end this."
John couldn't shoot Mirra without killing his girlfriend. He couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger. He lunged at Mirra. The knife swung and blood spilled. John retreated, still holding the gun. He was squeezing his upper arm with his hand as blood dripped out of it. Mirra spoke again, over-enunciating his words, giving them hard and sharp edges. "Is THAT how you want this to end, JOHN? You came all this way just to puss out in the end, JOHN? What's the matter JOHN? You can't fucking END this?"
The gun went off. Mirra vanished and his girlfriend slumped over. Blood poured out of the top of her head, dripped down her hair and into her lap. She was dead.
Outside the rain had stopped. The wind had died down and the clouds were dissipating. The sun was shining and the streets were empty. It was almost over.
There was one bullet left in the gun. John opened his mouth and closed his eyes.
He pulled the trigger.
and then it was over