A little smoother than usual, I think. Maybe not. Meh. But I think this is the new hook, Chapter One. If anyone's in a mood to comment, drop me a line.


My watch calls it two o'clock, a.m., and the sky is nothing but giant black from horizon to horizon. There's no stars here, and sometimes I miss them.

Then again, there's no sun here, either, but I've gotten used to that. It's like being in one of the neon cities, in Vegas or NYC, once the sun's gone down but the streets have been turned on and there's so much light that you don't even cast a shadow and you don't notice when it's gone from day to night until you look up and see dark sky overhead.

And that's comfortable at least, because that's something you can hang out there as reasonable, make it into something you can relate to. This is a party town, right? Sure, sure. And the good parties happen at night, so it's got to be night around here 24/7. So, yeah, so long as you can keep from staring up at the starless sky, it's easy enough to believe that you've stumbled into Saturday night on Broadway, July 4th weekend on the Strip, something like that.

I'm just strolling through tonight, half an eye out for Sheik Europa, sipping a beer I got off one of the carts near Little Gate. The beer here is always good, smooth and cold and filled with tiny amber bubbles. I sip and I stroll and watch the show.

'Cause the street's always good for a show. Whenever Little Gate opens, which is every couple of seconds, and some battered old soul comes stumbling through, yeah, and the strippers and gigolos and the pushers and the gamblers descend on them, yeah, there's the show.

Put yourself into it, if you can. You just died, right? You were in a hospital bed and you heard your heartbeat monitor go flatline as the dark came in from the edges, or you heard skidding tires when you jaywalked across what you thought was an empty street or you were reloading your rifle when you heard the scuff of a boot coming around a corner and turned just as whoever you were trying to kill rat-tat-tatted you with a third-world copy of a Kalashnikov, right, and you're still screaming and clutching at your chest and trying to pray to the JC or Allah or Buddha or whatever to save your sorry ass and then suddenly there's all this light, and every sin you've been denying yourself comes running up to you, ready to party and give you anything you ever dreamed of.

Yeah, 'cause, near as I can tell, you only get through Little Gate if you were a devout whatever and followed all the rules and didn't spend a lot of time asking questions about the more contradictory sections of your religious text. The people who didn't believe in anything, were agnostic or secular humanists or whatever, they don't come in through Little Gate. I dunno where the hell they go. I'm figuring there's a place, but I really couldn't tell you. Everybody I've met here says this is it, the City and the Wilderness, but I don't buy it. If you don't buy into the game, maybe you get the option of not playing it. Of course, if you believed in something but didn't do all the shit your were supposed to do, ate meat on Fridays or cheated on your wife or whatever, you end up out in the Wilderness, and that's some rough shit, brother. Bet your ass.

And the funny thing is, most of those fractured old souls don't realize that they've haven't actually made it to whatever afterlife they thought they were headed to. Then again, you're an 80-year-old man who just kicked off from renal failure in a charity hospital somewhere and a Playboy-quality chick suddenly appears and lifts her skirt to offer you her shaved pussy, maybe you've found all the Heaven you figure you need.

Yeah, it's the sex that takes most of them down. The chicks are all smooth curves and naughty smiles, the guys are muscled shoulders and six-pack abs, and any of them are happy to indulge in whatever fucked-up fantasy you might have been harboring for the last couple of decades of your life. There's a more or less permanent open-air orgy going on about a dozen steps from the Gate. If, like me, you've got some other options to slake your lust the sight is less than appealing. And the squishing noises are enough to flip your stomach over.

It's not all fucking, although, yeah, there's more of that than anything else. There's the druggers, stumbling around all fucked up on something heavier and cleaner than the best dope they ever scored back home. Drooling, telling you about the amazing epiphanies they're having. Y'know, honestly, I hated that shit before and I still hate it. These are the ones that I'll occasionally pop in the jaw, send crashing down to the golden cobblestones, watch the blood flow from around their shattered teeth, kick in the ribs a couple of times. No real good reason for it, I guess. Just job stress and your basic Scorpio disdain for idiots.

What else. Right, there's the gamblers, the gluttons, the thieves, the wife-beaters, the husband-stabbers, the pedophile rapists and secret poisoners, the compulsive liars, the treasonists, the animal abusers, the, well, the whatever the hell awful vicious things people kept themselves from being when they were alive that they've given full reign to now that they've died, the most disgusting, base, disturbing crap you can imagine, all in full swing in the market, the bars, the gambling dens and whorehouse, the fetish warehouses were anything goes all night long.

Yeah, it's a show, always, and I'm just wandering through it, wondering where the fuck Sheik Europa's gotten off to, and thinking, as always, about Mags Verbosa and eyeing the wall next to Little Gate with a thought towards jumping over it and heading into the wasteland to see if I can find my girl at home in her little cottage.


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