7:2: “The Altruist and the Dead Man”, by Edward Cowan

7:2: “The Altruist and the Dead Man”, by Edward Cowan

So am I loved: plastered against the fifteenth floor by the grace of God and a half-foot of ledge, a dozen or so people staring up from the sidewalk. Craning their necks and stepping back into the street, nudging parked cars chirping indignantly at the territorial violation. Cupping hands over eyes, turning children away, pulling small faces firmly into stomachs. In a metropolis of three million I’m amazed at how many shadows I recognize, how many half-caught reflections on doors and hoods seem familiar if ghoulishly twisted by midmorning sun.

So am I loved, beginning to sweat out here on my ledge. (If ever an employee owned a piece of his office building, I make a strong claim on this ledge. We share a bond deeper than blood; above blood, if you will—fifteen floors above blood.) A support group has formed in the hallway to wait out the storm (so long as there is coffee). The few who live to smoke scamper out into the sun, subliminally grateful at least to their suicidal peer for the unscheduled break. I am the death of order, the breaker of the time clock.

Surely by now my audience appreciates the skill it takes to put oneself on a ledge; certainly they must be taking note, having watched me poke my head out of my window, sniffing for my shadow, creeping out onto my perch. The greatest fear of the ledge-jumping breed: that you will slip on your way out and plummet, denying you choice of time, last words, fully-prepared onlookers (you want them shocked and appalled). So we creep out, scared to death a drop of birdshit will put us off the side of our buildings. No one, after all, likes having his feet cut out from under him, and I’ll believe the man with a death wish who’s not a control freak when I see him.

So am I loved—and not a single one of them is looking up at me.

“Is that Johnson out there again?”

“No, that’s Tudlong. Johnson’s on thirteen.”

“Damn. Can’t afford to lose a guy like him. Good coffee.”

“That’s not the worst. Fairhope’s up on fourteen.”

“Johnson and Fairhope? Sweet Lord.”

“And Tudlong to boot.”

“Who?”

“Tudlong. On fifteen.”

“Not sure I know him.”

“Well, a break’s a break.”

“Amen. Tried the coffee?”

“If Fairhope goes, so does Amalgamated Chemicals.”

“And Johnson has my pitching wedge.”

I have the ability to pull this company down on top of me. A controlled drop—nothing.

Only—which one of them will beat me down?

———•———

Hembrick is a ruined man existing only on the sixteenth floor, like a hotel phantom in the days when skyscrapers were young. We were sent to his office without lunch: the Altruist, the Dead Man and I.

“This,” Hembrick rasps, “has got—to stop.

“Tudlong—!” …Raises a trembling finger, jabs it at me. “What’s gotten into you? Don’t we treat you well here? Salary, benefits? Nice office, decent hours?”

“Yes sir, it’s just—”

“What? Just what?”

My tongue scrapes my teeth, flagellating itself. I can’t say it—not in front of them.

The Altruist smiles and nods at everything Hembrick says. His insolence is balanced by the thrill of having him agree with you. He’s good-looking in that genially unthreatening way: when he shares a room with you you’re rapt by his flawless proportions, the ease and weightlessness of that smile, but as soon as he leaves you forget the exact details of his appearance. He’s whatever adorns the covers of stargazer gossip mags today—bland perfection.

The ladies at my office are magnetized and scandalized by him, the frankness of his glance, the freedom of his hands. Every one of them has a slam-dunk harassment lawsuit the moment he leaves them, hand trailing down the small of the back to rest briefly far below the waistline. He does things to first-day secretaries I wouldn’t do on a third date.

The Dead Man frowns and nods, his fingers steepled under his chin, every word the boss says ingested with the deepest, most solemn concentration. His is a portrait of perfection, too, but rather than inspiring confidence as the Altruist does—the sense that there’s this great joke only you and he are in on—he provokes concern. Those same ladies who jump and giggle at the Altruist’s electric touch press their palms to the Dead Man’s forehead, clucking over his temperature, and pile his desk high with baked goods and bowls of soup.

He cares too much, he stares too long. He has no concept of personal space, slipping into yours and kneading your arm. He parts ways with a hug that stretches past uncomfortable to overanxious; it’s not the friendly, absentminded half-grasp of modern society. No: there’s a real grip there, his hand against your spine pressing two hearts together. Before he releases, you will feel the flutter of his heartbeat, the uncertainty with which it pumps forth red, fleeting life.

“Tell me this, Tudlong: how are we supposed to maintain a reputation as the most reliable, stable corporate insurance provider when our own employees are dangling out of windows?”

“I-I don’t know, sir.”

“We must not judge him, sir,” the Dead Man says. “He suffers so.”

“Suffers, does he? Well….”

“And hey,” says the Altruist, “it can only help our reputation that he’s never actually done it—we must be doing a bang-up helluva job, right?”

Hembrick chuckles. “I suppose….” He loves them both. Everyone does. When he turns his glare from me to them, then, it softens, preemptively forgives and accepts any explanation, however poor. “But you two—you’re not helping. It disrupts the entire building when all three of you are out on the ledge—it was bad enough when Tudlong went out there that first time by himself, with all those yokels down on the street. But this office grinds to a standstill when you two join in. What gives? This some kind of joke?”

“Far from it, sir,” the Dead Man intones. “I could not be more serious in my intent. I will not stand idly by and watch my brother fall.”

“Maybe it’s a joke,” the Altruist says. “You’ll have to ask the man upstairs.” He winks at me. “But whether it’s a joke or not, this guy is one of my best buddies. Me and Tudman—”

“That’s Tudlong.”

“Tudlong, right—I love this guy too much not to be out there with him.”

“Love him? Christ. You, too?”

“Oh, yes,” the Dead Man fairly sobs.

Hembrick rubs his hands over his eyes, wishing we’d all disappear. When we don’t he jabs a finger at me and snarls, “All right, you, get out of here and get back to work. And I swear—if I so much as catch you thinking about a window, you’re fired!”

“Yes, sir.” The Dead Man squeezes my arm as I rise. The Altruist winks again.

I pause outside the door to eavesdrop. “Now listen, boys, Tudlong or no Tudlong, this company will survive. But you’ve got the McNally account, Johnson, and you’re our point man with Amalgamated Chemicals, Fairhope. I can’t afford to have you splatting on the pavement. So tell me—since you’re both so hell-bent on standing on ledges with this moron, what do I have to do to get him off the ledge?”

“We must counsel him. There is a support group that meets Wednesday nights in the basement of the Church of the—”

“The last thing he needs is to be surrounded by other sad bastards. What our boy needs is some action—get him drunk, get him laid—”

Hembrick’s executive secretary materializes behind me and clears her throat. I jump and scurry off.

———•———

My apartment building is a bunker, housing those for whom the chance at financial, marital, and familial happiness has blown by, leaving fast-food wrappers and cigarette butts swirling in its wake. If World War III starts tomorrow, this will be the place the Army hits first to find the proverbial Guys With Nothing To Lose.

The Altruist and the Dead Man won’t even let me lose that.

My message light winks at me. I shudder. Sure, it could be the parents calling. It could be the old college roomies. It most definitely is not any of the nine ladies to whom I’ve slipped my number in the past six months. But no—

I know who it is.

“Hey, Joe-boy, it’s Johnson. Listen—me and some of the guys in Accounting, we’re heading off for some drinks down at the TattleTail. I know this dancer, Nikki, she’s been dying to meet a solid, smart guy like you. Let me tell you, this girl, she can wrap her leg behind her head and—”

“Joseph, this is Fairhope. I attend a worship group Wednesday nights where we discuss our problems and support each other with Scripture. I’ve told my sponsor about you and he thinks it would be so beneficial if you’d come. If you don’t have a Bible, don’t worry—I’d be more than happy to lend you one of mine when you come—”

Maybe the building manager should just offer a plan where he fills your bedroom with gas as you sleep.

———•———

Not that I’d buy in. To die alone? In bed? Asleep? For shame.

Who needs that?

I’ll tell you what I need—

At the office the next day I roll away from my desk and peek out the window at the street below. Down there everyone has thrown themselves into first gear, hurtling past in slow motion, taking those too-long ‘casual’ steps, necks twitching with the desire to look up, eyes aching to squint at the ivory column of our building and find that one blotch of gray marring its surface. I see people with no business on our street, who’ve walked a block out of their way in the hope that this might finally be the day when I interrupt the endless rerun of their lives with a special report.

The hot dog guy counts his change and winces. Slow day without me.

I feel I should lean out the window and shout down at them all that sorry, but this won’t be the day. That I have to let things cool off, simmer down, wait for Hembrick’s suspicions to find some other target. Won’t take long, I should promise—boss barely knows me. And I would, I’d lean out and shout, reassure them all… except that, to a man, woman and child, they’d peer up, shading eyes with hands, and say: “Who is that?”

Yeah, I know—I’m not the one they come to see.

Once I was—the first time. And if I had only had the nerve: make your appearance, feel the collected headwind of a hundred gasps, and dive! dive! dive!—I’d be done. I’d be famous. I’d be the reason folks took one bite of a hot dog and twisted their faces, tasting the mess they’d seen splattered on the pavement that day.

But I didn’t. I had to bask. I had to feel. And when I had basked, by the time I had felt all I ever needed to—

A hundred gasps. A hundred pointing fingers. Up in the air. It’s a bird, it’s a plane. The Altruist and the Dead Man.

So I don’t open the window, I don’t lean out, I don’t shout. I turn back to my computer and pound away at the keyboard, hurling figures into deadly collisions with one another, mating policies and fathering tax-exempt offspring. I play God with the parts of people they’re only dimly aware of once a year when we mail them their portfolios.

I peck and answer calls, I take lunch alone in plain sight, I don’t even think about a window (not in the kersplat sense, at least). Things simmer down: Hembrick forgets to scowl at me one day, forgets my name the next. Again I’m a suit, ten typing fingers and the ability to recall simple figures. Here at Monkeys With Typewriters Inc., that’s as much as the boss needs to know.

On the third day I rise from my desk, close my door and slide the window open. It’s a good window for my purposes, not tall enough to stand in but plenty wide to excrete me into the open air. The ledge—really—it’s not much smaller than my apartment. And certainly no more lonely.

Hembrick is at the country club doing the Friday three-hour lunch. The Altruist is entertaining the McNally people at the TattleTail. The Dead Man is mediating a confrontation between Amalgamated Chemicals and the sixty Kansas farmers who claim the runoff from the company plants has poisoned the groundwater.

As I push myself out, the breeze licks me. It feels like returning to the old farmstead, the beloved mutt lapping at your face with no cognizance of your sins but forgiveness all the same.

“Hey, buddy.”

I jump—there isn’t enough ledge for that. My arms windmill and my heels rock as the smiling face of the Altruist fills my vision. He leans against the wall left of my window, arms folded, casual as a pimp on a street corner.

I’d curse him if I could speak—but no, my lungs are caught in the last-gasp melodrama of a terminal spill. I’m going to fall—finally—before the dozens, my dozens, can gather and squint, before the hot dog man rolls onto the curb. He’s ruined everything—the bastard—

An arm karate-chops across my chest, pushing me back against my window, its grip firm and sure but shaking with a palsy of boundless love. Stars blink out in my eyes and the Dead Man coalesces at my right hand, leaking tears.

“Brother,” he sobs.

The building rumbles behind us as the usually placid tectonics of our office shift into lava-spewing fury.

The Altruist smirks. “That’ll be the boss.”

———•———

The fallout of the non-fall-off is quick—after a few hours of screaming, I’m shunted into an office closer to the boss, one without such troublesome distractions as windows, and the copier gets a nice view of the city from fifteen floors. I’m the absolute center of the building, now, by the water cooler and bathrooms, the black hole ’round which all others spin and plummet.

Hembrick, straight-faced, calls it “refocusing on my accounts.”

The Altruist makes a crack about Hitler’s bunker.

The Dead Man just weeps.

Maybe Hembrick feels it will be good for me, healthy, to have a dozen people a day poke their heads into my office and blink in confusion. For me to have to tell them no, the copier is down the hall, around the corner, fourth door on your right. This is Hembrick, forcing me to interact: my boss, who flung up four doors and a Cerberus of secretaries—executive, associate, and in-training—to dodge his underlings.

I come in early, six a.m., alone but for the vacuum cleaners humming with more sentience than the janitors running them—and there he leans by the water cooler, as he leaned on the ledge. Mug wrapping tendrils of steam ’round his saturnine head.

“Hey, buddy.”

I stay late, nine p.m., barricading myself in the handicapped john with my butt on the tank and my feet hitched up on the seat—and there he is at the sink when I emerge, washing his hands, snuffling. His hands a mound of bubbles, his eyes bubbling teardrops.

“We must learn to love ourselves, brother.”

I despair. Hurl myself into the work. The boss has never been more proud—which may not be much to say, since he’s never been proud of me at all, but I admit it’s better than the shouting.

I get a lot of work done. I write a lot of policies.

I issue a lot of death benefits.

God in a cage.

———•———

Seven days in my new office and someone finally knocks on the door instead of barging in. “Mr. Tudlong? Hi, my name is Blake Fledge. Mr. Hembrick asked me to speak with you today—if you’ll follow me?”

Blake Fledge is sunshine on a cloudy day—you know, the kind of day that’s easy on the eyes, that fosters no false hopes or hopeless expectations, and suddenly a pinpoint of sun punctures that heavenly smear and jabs at your pupils, ruining it all. That’s Blake Fledge. He’s soft pastels and kitschy name-brand ties, Tabasco echoed a hundred times. He leads me to the conference room with the arm-pumping steps of a fitness walker.

“Mr. Hembrick said he’s a bit, mmm, worried about you, Joe. Can I call you—? I’d say it’s a lack of natural light—my God, that office! But at Jump For Joy Corporate Counseling we always say—”

He doesn’t understand why I’m laughing at him. And when he opens the conference room door, he doesn’t know why I stop.

“Buddy.”

“Brother.”

We pull chairs from the conference table and arrange ourselves in a St. Andrew’s cross. Blake Fledge leans forward, elbows draped on his knees to give his hands the utmost expressive range. “Now, we’ve heard there’s been a bit of, mmm, trouble with you three. Something to do with windows and ledges, hmm? I understand—the workaday world can be so-so—” Those hands splay in a shrug. “How can we even put it? Joe?”

I shake my head.

“Secular,” says the Dead Man.

“Bo-ring,” says the Altruist.

“Good, good! That’s a start. See, we at Jump For Joy understand—it can be draining, lonely, unfulfilling at the office. It’s like, the harder you work, the less human interaction you have. And we need that.”

“Oh, yes,” says the Dead Man, quivering.

“And how,” says the Altruist, winking.

“Without human interaction, human contact, human touch, how can anyone expect us to work together? To cooperate, to have fun with it? To trust? Now, I want us to do a little exercise. If you’d all three stand up—”

Oh no—

“And if you’d stand there, and you there… now I’m going to count to three, and I want you, Joe, to—”

But oh, yes:

It’s the fall-into-each-other’s-arms game. The Dead Man stands behind me, his face screwed up with the seriousness of his task, his devotion to winning my trust.

“Now, Joe: one, two, three—”

His arms swallow me. I’m drowning in his embrace, his heartbeat thumping in my ear. I expect a burning baptism of his tears to scorch my skull at any moment, but Blake takes a long enough break from clapping to pull me up. “Oh, that was beautiful! Now, Joe, if you’ll switch positions….”

The Dead Man grips my shoulder and nods with a look that says he knows I would never sell him out for thirty pieces of silver. When I turn, the Altruist is watching with his arms wrapped tight around his diaphragm, his only hope of containing his laughter.

“Okay, Joe—ready? One—”

“Oh my God—” cries the Altruist.

“Two—”

“That woman across the street is ironing naked!”

“Three—oh God!”

So I jerked my head, right, and dropped my arms, yes, and looked out the window to see—nothing, of course. And the Dead Man’s head rebounded twice against the carpet like the softball I dropped in left field during the interdepartmental round-robin last year.

And now he’s bleeding, yes he is, plasma tangling his hair, and Blake Fledge is scooping him into his arms, pieta-style, and the Altruist, he’s laughing, and I—

I’m eyeing that window. This could be my moment. They’re distracted—blood always draws their attention—I could do it—but-but—

This room faces the wrong side of the building, five narrow lanes and bus-stop pedestrians who wouldn’t know a suicide until he crushed the roof of their shelter. There’s no hot dog man to centerpiece the spread of my demise. I have an audience, and an obligation to them.

And now Hembrick’s in the room, bellowing over how the three of us can’t do anything without it spiraling into disaster. One of the company lawyers is shoving forms at us to sign in triplicate. An intern is dispatched for a wet cloth to staunch the bleeding. The Altruist, perched on the table with a knee swinging like a headsman’s axe, winks at her when she returns. She blushes and relieves Blake Fledge of his burden, walking the Dead Man from the room.

Blake is ashen. “I didn’t know—there was so much blood.”

The Altruist drapes an arm over his shoulder. “Yep, he’s a bleeder.”

“A hemophiliac,” I offer.

“A hypochondriac,” the Altruist snorts. “What’s a little blood among friends?”

———•———

Altruist-Dead Man relations are at an all-time low. Well, probably not all-time—there was some unpleasantness in Judea, as I recall.

The Altruist meets me at the water cooler the next morning with two mugs of coffee. His says Quiet! Genius at Work.

Mine says I’m Going Nucking Futs!

I walk by him, shut the door to my office and lock it.

Ten minutes later comes a knock on my door. It’s the Dead Man, swaying on his feet, sloshing coffee, a halo of bandages holding his brains in his skull. His mug says What Would Jesus Do?

I tell him I’m sorry. He says: “There is nothing to apologize for. I was meant to fall.”

Down the hall, the Altruist gags. When the Dead Man lurches off, he jams a foot into the breach as I shut the door. He says: “Don’t we all know what Jesus did?”

———•———

Two weeks and I can’t take it anymore. They follow me through the office, bumbling into each other as I round corners. I leave the men’s room and hear shouting matches as they collide at the door.

Last week, as the Dead Man stepped into the stairwell, the Altruist stuck out a leg and sent him tumbling down two flights. The next day the Dead Man limped in, his leg but not his spirit broken. There’ve been shoves, elbows, scaldings. He never retaliates, just says the Altruist will be judged for his crimes—though no one has yet witnessed the Altruist actually perpetrating any of them.

I’ve considered my options—maybe ask Hembrick for a transfer, switch coasts. But I’ve no doubt two more transfer requests would trail mine over purple mountains’ majesty and amber waves of grain. Maybe disappear, stuff a backpack and lose myself in deepest Montana. But—

Forget it. We all know the next line.

I’ve considered a thousand options, but in the end they all turn the corner of logic and crash into the dead-end of the one truth:

I can’t let them chase me from this building.

It’s my building. My window, my floor. My people below. My sidewalk upon which to splat. If I surrender, I’ll be giving up everything mortal man has worked so hard to build up, tear down and build again. Ever higher, ever more, westward ho—the usual.

They think I want to martyr pointlessly. The fools. Have they never realized, in all these thousands of years, that every man martyrs himself on the pyre of his insecurities and thwarted desires?

I don’t want my people below to validate my suffering. Just my existence.

Obviously, then, I need a plan.

———•———

It’s a doozy, proverbial-style. Resurrection-style. One day I huddle in my office, door closed, lights dim—and the next—

I stride the halls, poking my head into the break room, my ears into other people’s business, my tongue into water cooler chitchat. I join the NCAA Tournament office pool, take it up the rear in the first round and cheerfully surrender my twenty bucks. I sign the sympathy cards making their endless, interminable rounds. I sing at every birthday party, haunt the break room. My door is always open, my smile always bright.

Hembrick puts me back in the racquetball rotation, mentions a niece I should meet, and cuts Jump For Joy Corporate Counseling a check.

I don’t even think of windows—really. But the Altruist and the Dead Man do. They keep my vigil, waiting for me on higher and lower floors, sometimes the same. The entire lunch hour, sometimes—waiting, snapping at each other, both sullen with the blunting of their divine or demonic conceits.

Does the hot dog man still dispense lunch with relish at the thought of my demise? Do the usual suspects gather along the sidewalk in a messy stew of anticipation and dread?

How should I know? I don’t leave my desk. I don’t care—really. Well, a little. I care enough to listen for one thing, all I’ve ever wanted to hear, as my coworkers press against the windows flanking my former office:

“Where’s Tudlong?”

Beautiful.

———•———

A month later I’ve gotten the niece as far as my couch and my racquetball game as close as 21-18, and Hembrick calls me into his office. I present his three-headed secretarial gauntlet with three vases of flowers.

He pushes the key to the executive washroom into my hand. He hesitates doing it—he has to gather those muscles, force the electrical impulses down the chute from his better instincts—but he does. Because I’ve been good for the niece.

When I tell him I’ll be staying till at least nine, he barely flinches. “Just lock up,” he says with an Altruist-worthy wink.

He rushes to work the next morning and barely suppresses a gasp of relief that I’m not a wet spot on the sidewalk. No—I’m typing away. Still with the death benefits—always.

On Friday he stops by my office to invite me to the country club for lunch, but I peek through a canyon of files and demur. “Good man,” he says, then blinks as he realizes he actually means it.

I give him twenty minutes to pat himself down and return for anything he forgot. I bring the secretary-in-training so many flowers she can’t even see my face, then unlock the executive washroom. It’s all porcelain gods and jade marble countertops striated with the kind of white lightning that never actually strikes blasphemers. All is sunlight—flushed in amber through arched windows.

I’m early—unexpected: the hot dog man is trailing a wake of burning pork and customers across the street. Their eyes dart to my old office.

I’m about to announce myself when I hear a scuffling from below.

“You!—get off—stop hugging at me—”

“Stop pushing, then.”

“God, look at you—you can barely even walk. You’ve got no business being out on this ledge.”

“I have business here as long as you do.”

“Oh, trying to pin this on me? Are you actually suggesting you’re not out here because of him?”

“Would you shirk the blame for tempting him so?”

“Tempting? Me? Hey, I’m not the one who gave every crackpot with half a mind the precious idea of martyrdom.”

I told you—

The scuffling pauses… I might have said that aloud. So, what the hell, I finish:

“—I don’t want to be a martyr.”

A forgettably handsome face peers from under my ledge, followed by a mess of bandages with eyes and a mouth.

“Hey, buddy.”

“Brother.”

The Altruist tries a smile—chummy with a wink. “Come on, Joe-boy. That’s nice to say and all—hell of some last words—but we all know that’s not true.”

The Dead Man frowns—or maybe grimaces in pain—but nods. “Any man who does as you do wants to be a martyr.”

“Because if you didn’t want to be one, what would be the point?”

“You’re wrong.” I don’t know why I bother arguing with these two, their minds petrified by millennia of blind conviction… maybe to prove to them, this pair with no real notion of mortality—you have to show them, really make them feel how little it all truly means.

The Dead Man turns away. “I will not watch as my Brother succumbs to this foolishness.”

The Altruist’s eyes flash. “See! See!” he trumpets. “He turns his back on you! But I-I’m here for you, buddy, I don’t care—”

“If I jump?” I bark.

He starts, gulps, but says, “If you jump, buddy, I’m right there with you.”

“And you?” I shout at the Dead Man.

“I said I would not let you fall alone,” the Dead Man answers over his shoulder, “and I will not.”

Below us the crowd has gathered, the hot dog man egging them on, my coworkers spilling forth. The dozens gather in an arc around the sidewalk. The flow of traffic congeals to a muddy trickle: windows down, heads popping out. And I hear the voices waft from below: “There! There he is! That’s Tudlong—the first one!”

Oh, my people—they are so sweet….

The Altruist laughs. “See, buddy? For them. That’s why you’re doing it. Two thousand years of rock-solid history and this guy comes along to shake things up? I don’t think so.” Even the Dead Man chuckles.

“I’m not doing it for them.”

The Dead Man turns. “Prove it.”

“All right.”

Damn them—

I’m not doing it for the people below—really. But examine the way I always pictured it: me sailing downward like an eagle streaking seaward for a quick supper. Wind blasting the water from my eyes, parching them wide open beyond the very possibility of blinking, shoving the scream down my throat. And their faces—all O’s, mouths and eyes, just like me. A collision not with the pavement, not with mortality, but with fifty—a hundred—a thousand souls all reflecting me in the last moment of my life.

Sometimes one must turn his back on his people to force them to see….

All right, damn them—

I do it. Turn a smart pirouette, tap my heels together and fall off the ledge, waiting for him to catch me, Blake Fledge-style. Either of them.

I pass them in a frozen backstroke. At least they give the O-faces I’ll never see from my people.

All right, then, I shout at them, do it—live up to your promises—

Follow me down, gentlemen.

I fall and watch them, the Altruist and the Dead Man, pushing and shoving like two schoolyard bullies with no one left to shake down for money. I fall and wait for either of them to take that leap—you know, the one about faith. But they don’t.

They’re too busy daring each other to jump first.


 

Edward Cowan’s stories have been published in The First Line and Thieves Jargon. He has recently finished a black comic novel, My Life as the Source of All Evil, which stirs virgin sacrifice and satanic ritual together with runaway consumerism and irrational exuberance. He lives in Athens, Georgia, where he contributes the occasional political and/or pop culture column to Flagpole, Athens’ alternative weekly paper. To contact Edward, please email him at info@edwardcowan.com or visit his website.

I was inspired by a stray thought: what would be the definitive fantasy of a deeply disturbed, desperately lonely man? Being fought over, not for his romantic attentions, but for his very soul by the Almighty and his antithesis… and then throwing their attentions back in their faces. A riff on the “You’d all feel terrible if I died” scenario we all put ourselves through in our most self-pitying moments, pushed to its ultimate end.



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