Book of Ferdinand 2
Ferdinand checks into a suite at the Sands and starts the cycle again. Going into his fourth week, the game has grown tiresome. He plays craps, roulette and some games he’d never heard of before. The intent is never to win.
On the afternoon of the third day, Ferdinand stumbles out into Fremont Street looking for a fight. Alcohol makes him sick and gives him awful headaches due to a head injury he received in the war. He hadn’t drank since 1929. He hates the stuff, but again the point isn’t to have fun.
So many people walk around him. He can’t decide on which one to punch in the face. The steady tone in his ears he’d had since the war is now a thousand trombones. He tries to shake them out but it doesn’t work.
Then a stocky older man in a white suit catches his eye. He’s a little taller than Ferdinand at 5’10” and he carries an extra forty pounds in a big belly. His skin is pockmarked, his nose big and red, and his beard grows in brown and gray patches around his almost ape-like mouth. He just stands there with his hair slicked back, staring at Ferdinand with a slight smile, holding a tall glass of ice water.
Ferdinand crosses Fremont Street to confront the man in the white suit. Everything about him annoys Ferdinand. He marches with purpose, deciding to make that son of a bitch pay. Ferdinand stops three feet away, and there they stand, looking at each other as everyone else on the strip bustles by, not paying attention to either of them.
“Well… what are you looking at… you putrid ass licker?” Ferdinand slurs lifting his chin.
“You don’t want any of this pal. I’ll kick your ass eight ways to Sunday.” The man in the white suit smiles.
Ferdinand’s intense hate combined with his complete inebriation keeps him from noticing that they aren’t on the busy strip anymore. The casinos, hotels, streets, cars and people have melted away. Somehow they are now twenty miles southwest, a little past where the city becomes the desert.
Ferdinand starts at the man in white, but the man holds up a single finger, signaling he needs a second. Ferdinand stops despite his unbridled rage while his opponent sets a tall glass of ice water down on a flat rock in the sand.
The Frenchman lunges and connects with a hard right into the other man’s gut and finishes the old one-two with a left to the face. The man in white stumbles back, shakes it off, and laughs. They take turns giving each other a wailing. Ferdinand hopes he can skip the rest of his ritual by dying right here in this fight, and the way his heart pounds, he may die any moment. He couldn’t have fought harder even if someone told him who he was fighting, but after five minutes of swinging and getting hit, his arms are lead.
When Ferdinand can’t punch anymore the two men grapple and fall to the ground to wrestle in the sand. They roll a couple times and finally separate. A few moments go by where they sit three feet apart, staring at each other, and sucking the air for breath.
“Whoa, now, that was a hell of a tussle,” The man in the white suit says between breaths.
Ferdinand, his elbows on his knees, tries to regain control of his breathing. He’s never fought this long or hard in any of his other fights. The salty copper taste is somewhere in his bottom row of teeth. He brushes his wild bangs out of his face and looks around. “Where the hell are we?”
The man in white stands and brushes himself off. “So what’s all this about, Ferdinand? Why do you want to go and off yourself so bad?”
Ferdinand jumps up on his feet, amazed that the stranger knows his name. Then he notices the ringing in his head has stopped. Not only that, but he isn’t drunk anymore. “Who are you?”
“Ego sum qui sum.” The man says.
“J’en ai marre.” Ferdinand responds.
“Aya Ashir Aya.”
“Hebrew?” Ferdinand spits, “So you’re a Jew? I hate Jews.”
“I know. You need to work on that.” The man laughs. An awkward silence hangs between them for a moment until then the man in white continues, “So, uh, I’m God, but you can call me Hank.”
“I’ll call you a lunatic.” Ferdinand brushes the sand off his black suit jacket and straightens out his tie and tugs the bottom of his jacket to make it straight. Then he starts walking back to the city.
“Ferdinand, I need you to stay out here for a couple of minutes.”
“I don’t care what you need… I have prior obligations to see to.” He keeps walking without turning around. He takes three steps, and Hank is in front of him again.
“Yeah, I know you got to get back, rent some whores, and then try to shoot yourself in the head. I give you points for originality, but I just can’t let you do that. I need you for a job.”
“This is ridiculous… I don’t care.” Ferdinand stomps past him toward the city.
“Fine, but where are you going?” Hank asks.
Suddenly the city isn’t there anymore. Bewildered, Ferdinand spins around searching the horizon. Nothing but hundreds of miles of sand.
Ferdinand turns to Hank, “It’s not real… It’s all a hallucination… or maybe I finally did it… I must be dead.”
“That’s pretty much what they all think at this point,” Hank says, pulling out a brown cigarillo and lighting it.
Ferdinand screams, “If you are God Almighty then shouldn’t you be out ruling the universe or something?”
“It’s kind of on autopilot. I’m not really a micromanager.”
“Why don’t you go find someone who believes in you… Because I do not… You’re wasting your time here, stinker… I don’t want to help you or be a part of any scheme you are concocting… Make the city return so I can go shoot myself in the head.”
“You really have gone out of your way to get the attention of a God you don’t believe in. Sorry, and you’re already a part of the plan, buddy. And you don’t have to be a saint for me to talk to you. Actually, I kind of think those types are boring. I used to hang with Lot smack dab in the middle of Sodom. Or Gomorrah. Honestly, I can’t remember. I’m not very good with history. Anyway I find that people are a lot like a pane of glass.”
“Fragile and dirty? Yes.”
“No, I mean they’re more interesting after they’re broken. If you see a bunch of shards of glass on the ground you can’t help but look at it sparkle and shit. You have all those shapes, each one is unique, reflecting light in all directions. If they’re not broken, well, then you can see right through them.”
“Oh this is wonderful.” Ferdinand throws his hands in the air. “Philosophy, the second biggest waste of time.”
“Religion being the first.”
“Don’t read my mind… Do not do that.” Ferdinand shakes his finger at Hank.
Ferdinand looks off at the horizon again, but all he sees is sand. He runs his hand through his hair and sighs. “Now what?”
“We’re entering the digital age and it’s time for humanity to grow up, so I’m trying one last time. After this I’m done. The kids gotta start thinking for themselves. After this no more messiahs, no more holy books, no more churches, no more bailing you out, nothing. I give the planet to the bugs. You understand?”
“No… not at all… the universe is being run by a psychotic fool… and what’s more I don’t care… I am not going to try and decipher any of your ramblings… I am here for one reason only.”
“Yeah, well,” Hank exhales a long plume of smoke, “I’m not going to let you do that. In fact, you are not going to get one day older, not until you finish this job.”
Then Hank’s gone.
“Insanity, he says he won’t let me die but then he leaves me in the middle of a wasteland.” He sits down and shakes his head. He looks up at the searing sun and takes his black jacket off. That’s when he remembers the glass of ice water.
It’s still there. The ice hasn’t even melted somehow. He gets up, walks over and picks it up.
He starts to lift it to his lips but stops when he notices a ghastly figure walking toward him from out of the scorching desert. This hulking figure emerges from the wavy lines of a desert mirage. Such a strange pathetic sight, a single man in soiled and ripped slacks and a striped blue shirt with a ragged navy blue necktie. This man, dressed like a horrorshow in rags and tatters with red blistering skin, peeling off his face and hands, and what looks like gangrene on his exposed shoulder, limps right up to him. It makes absolutely no sense. But that is the theme of the day. Ferdinand is so stunned he doesn’t move, not even when the man shambles up and takes the glass of ice water from his hand and drinks it all down. Then he chews greedily on the ice cubes.
“My name is Bertram James Olds, and I have come hundreds of miles on a Holy Quest. I’m looking for a doctor. Tell me my good friend, are you a doctor?”
Ferdinand looks again at his red blistering face, cracked lips, and dried blood on every article of clothing. He glances at the festering green infection showing through a hole in his shirt and says, “Don’t they have doctors where you came from?”