ISOLATION WARD – The Feedback Loop

 

A Short Horror Story
By Charles E.J. Moulton

In his mind, Xavier Michael Angelo wasn’t on stage anymore. He was in Hell.

Slowly but surely, he drifted off beyond the loop of his drug addiction into the squeal of terror. It happened while he stood frontstage, almost swallowing the mike, screaming his renowned high C flats, the sweat running down his back, the smell of pheromones and adrenaline kicking his lust even higher up into orbit. Did the sound of his lead guitarist’s 120 decibel solo send him into the tunnel just like last time? Or was it the overdose? Or maybe the feedback loop of wanton lust for cocaine?

Hard to say what prompted the light to catch him again. He heard the porklike squeal of Jimmy’s guitar approaching the speakers and was gone. Xavier didn’t even have the time to wail the lead text of his last theme song refrain on the concept album. It would have been fun. Despite what the critics had written, “Labyrinth” was still his best song ever. The crowd loved the tune and so did I.

Angels have a hard time coping with drug addicts. And so it became harder and harder for me to save him from his on-stage coma. I saw the crowd gasping, some of them screaming, when he fell to his doom again. The music ended, the drummer ending his fills, the hands of the bass player dropping to his thighs. Jimmy’s shouting guitar dropped from his hands, the ribbon around his neck dropping off the guitar hook onto the floor and creating an immense squeal louder than any of the previous feedbacks.

After that, the whole concert hall fell into a poignant silence, interrupted only by a young, blonde doctor, a legal prerequisite for famous rocking drug addicts.
“Is he dead?” Jimmy asked the doctor. “Oh, God, Doc. Please don’t tell me he’s dead.”
The doctor measured pulse and blood pressure, brain activity and then shook his head.
“He was in a negative feedback loop, Jimmy,” the doctor mumbled, the audience watching this scene with shocked anticipation. “His nerves have gotten so used to cocaine that he hasn’t been able to go without it for more than an hour. Have you noticed any changes in his behavior lately?”
“He’s been drifting in and out of conciousness a lot. Doc,” Jimmy repeated. “Is he dead?”
The young, blonde doctor took a long look at the beloved lead singer of the heavy metal band “The Angelos” and shook his head. One moment of silence presided before the doctor spoke again. “No, he’s alive, but in a coma. He’s had a breakdown.”

The word “breakdown” was my cue. I didn’t even have the time to listen to Xavier’s manager and his apologies to the worried crowd. Soon enough, my troubled soul chased Xavier through the tunnel he had created for himself out of the loop between drug consumption and addiction. Xavier raced at a breakneck speed toward his own labyrinth. The spiritual replica of himself seemed set on reaching the end of it. I knew, however, that if he entered that labyrinth it would be almost impossible for him to find a way out. Unless …
No, I shook my angelic head, my black locks so similar to Xavier’s.
Not again. This had to stop.
“Xavier,” I hollared. “Come back. That’s the wrong way. Don’t go in. Please don’t go in.”
Xavier turned around, his bloodshot eyes flickering back and forth. This time, I knew he had heard me. He wasn’t really awake. I mean, not in the real sense of the word. He realized his entrapment, though. Caught in a time loop, Xavier’s body slept while his soul had lost itself in the twilight zone between life and death. Again. Why had he created this labyrinth for himself?
Xavier looked for the voice that had uttered these words, namely me, his guardian angel.
He upnodded the unknown voice.
“I wrote a song about this place,” he yelled. “The only way out is through the labyrinth.”
“No, Xavier, that’s not what you wrote,” I answered. “You’re in a coma. If you go in to that labyrinth, you will die again and I will have to …”
“You’re the devil,” he screamed, interrupting me. “Leave me be.”
“Xavier,” I said, slowly drifting into panic. “You wrote about this place. How does the song end, Xavier?”
For one moment, he stood there thinking, stalling, waiting, trembling, hoping, crying, hating, needing, screaming. I saw that he tried hard to remember his own lyrics. Hard when you’re in limbo, I thought to myself. Hard.
“I don’t know,” he shouted. “Shit, I don’t even know my own lyrics.”
“Yes, you do.”
Xavier shook his head, frenetically now, literally backing into the light, disappearing into the peril of the labyrinth.
“Xavier, no!” I shouted. “Don’t.”
It was too late.
I knew I had to go in there. Or suffer the consequences. I had to do what I feared most: end the schizophrenia and lift Xavier out of his illusions into the real world.

The first thing I saw when I got into the labyrinth were injection needles, mountains of needles, syringes, mirrors, white heaps of what had to be cocaine. A whole lot of other stuff lay about here. Mind you, I drifted about in the labyrinth of forgetfulness where the souls, even angels like me, completely imbursed themselves in the insomnia of this gateway into Hades.

The wide pathway was aligned on each side with high hedges that ended in another pathway that swung elegantly to the right. Music, probably Techno, emanated from what I assumed were large loudspeakers.
Oh, no, I thought to myself, he’s caught in the excess zone. Thumping, bumping, jumping, grinding, thriving, itching, the music digging itself deeper and deeper into its own demise, smelling like a thousand corpses, sounding like a million sledgehammers.

I walked across the stoney sea of this glass covered hell of needles with great care, my eyes slowly getting used to this darkness. Now I saw the dead people, the remains of the souls that used to be people, now vanished into Hell’s Oblivion, not because of sin. They came to Hell because they thought there was no way out.

Bodies without legs, skulls without chins, stomachs ripped out, bones of legs stuck into the heads of dead people. Heroin needles injected into dead eyes.

When I turned the corner, though, the bump and grind of the Techno music had disappeared, exchanged for … what was this? Staring faces, rows upon rows of lost souls, all of them staring at me. Bloodshot eyes staring right at me, heads down, claws out, long hair, screaming high C flats accompanied by the squealing feedback of a 120 decibel guitar.

I don’t know why, but when I realized there was just one of me, neither angel nor demon, neither lost nor found, neither healthy nor sick, I screamed and ran through the masses of replicas of myself. Now they pulled at my clothes, dragging me down. I smelled their dirty sweat in my nostrils, felt their rotting skin on my shoulders, saw their feet taking aim at my stomach, heard them growl. All the while, I felt what I had remembered all along: that I was stuck in the feedback loop between my own hatred and shame.

My rotting carcass dropped through the mud beneath that labyrinth, through layers of screaming skulls in white robes jumping out of the shadows. Soon enough, I landed flat face down in what I knew to be the real labyrinth. The floor was soft, gushy, muddy, slippery. The walls were dark. The aisles and paths twisted and turned. Soon, I felt like a mouse trapped in a maze. Trapped, squealing for his life.

That is when I realized I was dreaming a drug induced fever dream, creating my own Hell from bits and peaces of my own life and things I knew.
One moment, I was a criminal hung, drawn and quartered by the Borgia Inquisition in Rome. I felt the saw cutting through my groin and reaching my living, breathing stomach. The next I knew, I was on my million dollar bed, shooting drugs my ass.

“Xavier!”
The voice was familiar, sounded like a thousand rehearsals, a million concerts, shared groupies and late night beers.
I slowly blinked into the light of what seemed to be the lights in a hospital room.
When I came to, my head almost split in two. It was a sensation I had never ever felt before. It buzzed and grinded at the same time.
Wincing, I turned my head to the right, only badly recognizing Jimmy’s aging, sarcastic face.
“Hey,” I croaked, sounding like a broken old tape recorder. “Jimmy!”
I looked around at the white walls, the big window overlooking a park. First then, I noticed the large amount of cards, flowers, teddybears, photos, and even a bra or two, spread across the left corner of the room on tables and chairs.
“Have I died?” I mused.
Jimmy laughed, his typical bounce of a chuckle sending memories of dirty jokes in large hotel rooms up my brainstem.
“We thought you would, dude,” Jimmy grinned. “The press have talked only about you for over a week. There are entire crews of reporters working night and day to report about your health. They call it Xavier-Gate.”
Even though smiling hurt my face a bit, I didn’t know what they had done to me while I was in Hell, I smiled like a crazy man.

Half way into our conversation, we chatted about this and that and chicks and what not, the subject of my song “Labyrinth” came up. Jimmy told me that the song had become a phenomenon. People were singing it all over the world. Heck, even classical composers were writing arrangements for philharmonic orchestras of the tune.
Then it hit me. The lyrics I had forgotten. The end of the song the angelic part of me had told me I knew by heart.
Yes, the song was about giving in to the seducing powers of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

“Drive into the maze of seduction, shoot into the labyrinth of sex.”

It was a sexy and relentless refrain. The end of the song, however, had been a jibe at the expense of my dad, who had argued with me endlessly about my ferocious lifestyle. In the light of my new experiences, though, the final lyrics gave me a hint that I did have angels and that the heavenly part of me somehow had saved me from myself.

“Dear boy,”

the last lyrics read,

“stay away from the labyrinth. The way out of the labyrinth of addiction is not to go in there at all.”

The anger I had felt against my father subsided. I saw his tired, sad face when he visited me in the rehabilitation centre for drug addicts the first time too long ago. I saw my own sad face when he died of malignant cancer three years later.
Then I looked at Jimmy, smiling again and realizing that some things are better left unsaid.
Okay, I could have told him about the labyrinth, the demons, the feedback loop, the two parts of myself that chased themselves through the maze.

So, I chit-chatted with Jimmy about the new album we had wanted to record for quite a while now. I suggested some adventure stories with angels chasing demons and winning.

Well, the nurse came pretty soon … and I tell ya: she sure was pretty. I had some pizza delivered. What can I say? If you’re in first class in hospital you get extra treatment. So, I was left hoping that the pretty nurse would come back and give me some extra treatment.

The headache returned pretty soon, so I told Miss Pretty and Jimmy to come back tomorrow and let me sleep out my sin. I felt strange. I don’t know if it was the medication Miss Pretty had given me or what it was, because I saw hedges and needles and corpses and mountains of cocaine floating around the room. I told Jimmy not to worry, though. Man, I mean, I had collapsed on stage last week. That was pretty bad, right?

Anyway, after they left me I stopped hallucinating. At least, I thought I did.

That’s when I fell asleep. I dreamt about running through a maze. That is when I realized that I wasn’t Xavier at all, but his guardian angel.

So, accordingly, in his mind, Xavier Michael Angelo wasn’t on stage at all. He was in Hell and there were needles in it.

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