They say the last thing you see before you die is the thing you’ll see forever. I’m not sure I believe it, but what is true, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is the last thing you see before you claw your own eyes out on the sidewalk in front of St Anthony’s of Padua in Greenpoint at four o’clock one winter’s morning is the vision that will haunt you for the rest of your days, gnawing at your dreams and taunting your spirit, infecting every inch of what’s left of your life.

Don’t believe me? Just ask my buddy Angel.

Angel was this freakishly gorgeous light-skinned Puerto Rican-Dominican meth junky I used to make videos with at his super sweet Hell’s Kitchen party pad back in the day. Not a bad dude, all things considered. I liked him. A bit crabby on the come-down, and oh! Just ravenous for drugs and money, but then, who among us isn’t?

On the grisly day in question, Angel had shot up out of a batch of particularly gnarly K-laced methamphetamine five or ten too many times and started hearing voices and seeing faces and shadow people and demons in the closets of his crib and the neighbors’ windows, finally running out into the snow in his gym socks and jockstrap, jogging first over the Queensboro, then the Pulaski Bridge, and on down into Brooklyn. How he didn’t get frostbite is a medical mystery, but how he came to rip his eyes out of their sockets, well, that’s pretty simple.

The batch of twisted crystal I mentioned made its way into Angel’s arm via a roided-up, gold-toothed Jersey City Sicilian who went variously by Frank, Eddie, Joey, Ron, and Satan only knows how many other names. I’d met him before, sure. Bunch of times. We’d done some work together, maybe had a little fun. I think he used different names with different people. Paranoid son of a bitch. I’m just going to call him Frank to spare us all the headache.

Frank had messaged Angel from a pic-less Grindr profile and asked if he was looking to buy, and Angel’d said yeah, so in less than an hour’s time Angel hears a knock at the door, and he opens it, right, and in scuttles Frank. He’s wearing a puffy red coat and gray sweatpants, Mets cap pulled down over his eyes. He peers around suspiciously, then whips out a sack of crystal the size of the Hope diamond. Angel gets rock hard just looking at it.

“You said 120, right?” says Frank. “Got a scale?” His voice sounds like gravel mixed through with hot tar, accent so thick it’d get stuck trying to cross the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan.

“Anything I can do to lower the price?” Angel says.

“Nah,” says Frank. “Well actually, you admin? I could use a good slam.”

“Best doctor in town,” Angel says. “Step into my office.”

They both undress. Frank throws his puffy red coat on the floor in the coat closet and shrugs out of his sweatpants. Angel takes off his T-shirt and shorts, then pulls out a bespoke leather needle case, removes two fresh points and starts mixing up the shots. He has Frank sit with his back up against the wall on the living room floor mattress. Then he ties the tourniquet, sticks the needle in Frank’s arm easy breezy. He pulls back the plunger ‘til a few drops of blood splash into the syringe’s chamber, and WHOOSH! Frankie’s outta here, baby! Frank goes, “Oh! Oh, oh!” again and again, in between bouts of coughing, rolling around on the mattress like a turtle on its back. “Don’t forget to breathe,” says Angel, with a smile. He can be a real sweet guy, if sweet’s the price of a cheap Tina fix. Once Frank’s settled down, Angel does his slam, and the two of them sit on the mattress and watch some porn on the flatscreen, first some amateur orgies, then a Sketchy Sex daisy chain bare fuck, one of Angel’s absolute favorites. Angel wishes he could be the guy in the middle, the one getting fucked and fucking at the same time. The Lucky Pierre, I think they call it.

After a while, Frank says, “You could be in these. Slamrush, Sketchy Sex.”
“You think so?” says Angel. It’s always been his dream to do porn, Sketchy Sex especially. He loves the aesthetic of their films, knows he would fit right in. “You know people in the industry?”

“Yeah,” says Frank. “Tons. I used to shoot videos for Tim Tales out in Berlin and Paris. I could talk to my people there. They know the guys who run Sketchy for sure.”

The incantatory power of these magic words launches Angel into the most wonderful daydream. He pictures himself inside the porn playing up on the flatscreen, instead of out here on the old, dark, dirty Hell’s Kitchen floor mattress, shooting up with Frank. He almost can’t bear it, imagining how good it would feel. He watches the guys in the porno pumping away in their daisy chain and touches himself, his mouth hanging open. There’d be drool coming out if his mouth weren’t so dry. He wishes Frank had brought a Gatorade, a big red one. We’ll slam again first, he thinks, then I’ll call the bodega for delivery. Angel says, “You want to do some more, man?”

“Yeah,” says Frank. “Let’s slam again. Make ‘em big this time. Let’s fuckin’ fly.”

Angel mixes up a couple of 0.5s, slams Frank, slams himself. This time, the rush knocks Angel flat on his back. He’s the turtle now. He leaves his body and levitates up into outer space. The apartment melts away, Frank vanishes into nothingness. All that exists is Angel above everything, floating away into dark, sweet nothingness. I will float like this forever, he thinks, ‘til I get to West Hollywood, where I will enter into porn reality and leave this one behind. I will shed my old skin and become a new faggot, a Pornhub sensation, the world’s greatest tweaker. For this is my purpose, my part in the plan. Angel slides his consciousness down into his veins, becomes one with the blood there. He can taste the crystal floating around in the blood, mingling with the blood cells and the cells of his virus, and it makes him so happy, he thinks he’ll never stop smiling. He feels the blood travel through his veins down into his scrotum, feels the cum being made there mingle with the blood and the crystal and the virus and the love, and he imagines a geyser, Old Faithful blowing out of him, filling up all the warm holes in the world. It’s why God made me, he thinks. It’s why I exist. I was made to fill holes. That’s it, that’s all. That’s all there is.

Angel enjoys the religious sensation produced by the meth ‘til the rush wears off and he floats back down to the mattress again, masturbating furiously to the porn on the flatscreen.

“You want to mess around?” Frank says.

“Yeah,” says Angel. He doesn’t really, but there’s still a lot left in the bag and he’s happy to work for it. “What are you into?”

“Docking,” Frank says. So they shrug out of their pants and stand face to face. Chris grabs onto his and Frank’s cocks and pushes the foreskins together. They hump back and forth, sliding their cocks in and out of each other. Frank goes, “Oh, mmm, yeah. Ohhhhh yeah. Mmm, fuck. Fuck yeah. Fuck yeah.” Angel can almost feel a click when the two cocks come together, like he’s being plugged into something. Some network going live. A jolt passing through. Something slick slides into him. Angel looks at Frank’s face and that’s when he sees it: the little green light, smack dab in the center of the pupil of Frank’s right eye. It’s nothing much, just a speck, like the light that comes on when you Zoom with your MacBook. Angel thinks at first it must be a reflection of something else in the crib. He looks over his shoulder, trying to locate its source.

“What’s wrong?” Frank says, gold teeth glinting. “Is it my eyes?”

“No,” says Angel. “I mean yeah, no, I’m just…starting to feel a little tired.”

“That’s okay,” says Frank, pumping into Angel’s dick. “We’ll slam again, and then I’ll show you the cameras in my eyes, and we can make a porno.”

No, thinks Angel weakly. “Fuck yeah,” he says.

While Angel’s mixing up the shots, Frank holds a white cup to Angel’s lips. “Drink it,” Frank says. “It ain’t bugged.” Angel tilts his head back and Frank pours the liquid in. It tastes like rotten orange juice, with a metallic aftertaste. He swallows. “G?” says Angel. “Yeah,” says Frank. They slam. Then techno. Punishing bass. Throbbing synths. Angel feels the music inside him like a rabid animal’s frothing heartbeat.

“Okay, now get on your back and I’ll climb on top, and you push into me,” says Frank. So Angel lies down and Frank gets on top and takes Angel inside him. “Push in further,” says Frank. “As deep as you can.” Angel hunkers down and scrunches in, pushing with every fiber of his being ‘til he feels like his whole body’s about to get pulled up into Frank’s hole. Out of breath from the effort, he says, “How’s that?”

“Oh, fuck,” says Frank. “Oh, fuck, yeah, that’s good. Yeah. Just like that. Don’t move. Don’t push or pull. Stay still. Now look at me,” and Angel looks down at Frank, into his eyes, and the little green light comes on again. The light comes on, and it feels so good. Whatever was in that cup is kicking in now, flooding Angel with that religious feeling again, his feeling of purpose, the reason he exists. He mugs for the camera, looking deep into Frank’s eyes. He can see the lenses in there zooming in on his face, caressing the lights and shadows his perfect bone structure illuminates.

“That’s perfect,” Frank says. “Just like that. Beautiful. You gorgeous boy. Smile for daddy.” Angel smiles, suddenly shy. “Awww,” says Frank. “They’re gonna love you, baby. They’re going to eat you alive.”

The white cup again. Angel knocks it back. “I’m a fucking demon,” he says. “Fuck yeah.” Another slam, then another. 0.7’s this time. The white cup. A scratching sound from inside the coat closet. It must be Frank in there fucking around. “Hello?” Angel says, confused. The scratching stops. Several moments pass. Where’s Frank? His clothes and shoes are gone. The music’s turned off. There’s no porn playing. Everything is quiet. Angel listens to the sound of his own heavy breath. Tries to slow it down a little. Can’t.

“Hello,” says a voice from inside the coat closet. Then techno again.

“Fuck this fucking psycho tweaker,” says Angel, stalking over to the closet as the booming bassline kicks in. A chemtrail of fear follows him over. “Yo,” says Angel, pulling open the door.

Frank’s not there, but his coat still is. The coat has a face. It looks red at first, like the fabric, but as Angel stares, the redness gives way to a patchwork tapestry of indescribable colors undulating together in discordant, arrhythmic patterns. Poking out from the flesh are two fat lips made of soft bronze, shiny, sleek, and liquid smooth. Gold teeth glinting within. A green light comes on in the middle of the right eye.

“You better work, bitch,” says the face. “Show me that cock.”

“Nah,” says Angel, slamming the closet door shut and scampering back to the mattress. “No way,” he mutters. “I ain’t fuckin’ around with no jacket face motherfucker.” The bag of Ts still on the mattress, thank Satan. He mixes up another shot, the biggest one yet, but after scanning his arms, hands, and feet, Angel can’t find a suitable vein. He removes the point from the needle and shoves the prickless syringe up his ass, shooting the liquid in and waiting for it to dissolve. He puts porn on and starts jacking, waiting for the big bump to kick in. The flatscreen goes dark, then turns back on ragged and staticky, the picture cut into fragments, pixels floating in and out of the screen. Pornhub, thinks Angel, and the site pops open. A video begins to play. It’s the daisy chain again, three guys in a row all screwing each other raw. “Mmm,” says Angel, edging closer to the screen, jacking furiously. He wants to push through the screen, push into the porn world. He feels ready, like his whole life’s been leading up to this moment. He sticks out his tongue, and caresses the screen with it, tasting the spit and the cum that lubricate the cocks sliding in and out of the holes.

The camera angle shifts to a wide shot and Angel sees that the guy in the middle, the Lucky Pierre, is him. It’s Angel. He’s fully absorbed in the fucking, his eyes closed, moaning and panting. But it’s definitely him. It’s me, thinks Angel. I’m in the porno. Angel thinks, zoom in on the face, and the screen cracks. Fragments of pixels scramble this way and that. The screen freezes, then comes back to life, zoomed in, a close-up on Angel’s face. Angel opens his eyes and looks out at Angel, a point of green light at the center of his eye.

“I made this for you,” says the porn Angel. “We made it together. You’re my star. Don’t you like it, baby?”

“Fuck you,” says Angel, backing away from the screen. The rush from the booty bump kicks in but it feels like nothing, like dead air being blown up Angel’s hole and into his veins. He unzips the bag again, pinches a rock between two fingers and sticks the whole thing up his ass. The white cup Frank gave him to drink from is still there on the floor, halfway filled with a thick gray liquid. Angel chugs the whole cup in a single gulp, then bolts out the door. He pounds down the hallway, descends the fire stairs, bursts through the double doors and out into the cold night air. He takes off running, trying not to look at the shadow people in the windows, hideous black humanoid shapes in front of bright red lights. Then he blacks out.

When his eyes blink open, Angel finds himself staring at a large pair of feet, scaly and raw, with the longest, yellowest toenails he’s ever seen. The feet stink. Angel coughs. Looks up. The feet are attached to the legs of a long-haired old Chinese man lounging in a lawn chair outside of St Anthony’s, the church down in Greenpoint. The man does not seem cold, though he has no blanket or jacket to speak of. He sits, staring off into the void, muttering under his breath. The church looms over them like a fortress in the purple night sky. How the hell, thinks Angel. Did I just…run here? He rubs his head with frigid fingers and tries to stand, falls back on his ass instead.

“You sit there!” says the man, his mouth a toothless chasm. “Sit and watch the birds.” He indicates an aluminum pie plate on the floor next to his feet, filled to the brim with sunflower seeds. It’s only 4 a.m., but already the morning birds are coming to eat, sparrows and finches and little blue buntings.

“I can’t,” says Angel. “I’ve got to go.”

“YOU SIT,” thunders the man. “You sit there ‘til we finish our video.”

“No,” says Angel. “You’re not. You can’t be.” But even as he says these words, he knows. He looks at the homeless man, into his eyes. Sees the little green light in the center of the right one. Thinks, no fucking way. No more of this shit. I’m out. Fuck it. That’s when he claws his eyes out. It’s a bloody mess. He scrapes his fingers around in the backs of the sockets, ripping the stalks in two, then plucks the orbs from their circular cradles and smashes them into goo on the pavement with the heel of his hand. Naturally, I caught the whole thing on tape. I’m the guy with the camera in my eye, if you hadn’t already guessed. Name’s Mammon. Me and Frank, we go way back. I scratch his back and all that. I was hoping for a similar kind of partnership with Angel, but alas, no dice. Real shame, that. We could’ve made some beautiful art together. I shoot all kinds of snuff films. Porno for demons. I travel around, in and out of different bodies, using the eyes as my lenses. Animals are easy. They don’t give a shit. They’re one step higher than robots, if that. Human beings are tougher. I have to be invited in, mostly. Frank helps with that. Gets the paperwork in order, so to speak. Shame about Angel. He was beautiful. Could’ve been a huge star. Though I shouldn’t complain. The footage I got of the eyeball incident netted about 15 trillion views. Me and the wife were eating out for months after that one. I don’t do it for the money, though. I’m not in it for the fame. If you do it for those things, you’re doing it all wrong. For me, it’s all about the process. The work is the reward. I still remember the feeling of that morning, when I made those videos of Angel. What a beautiful gray day it was, and what a gorgeous moment we created together, one neither one of us would ever forget. Me, the director, and Angel, my shining star. He’s a Catholic now. Lives in a group home for AIDS people. Too bad, really. He had so much potential. Whatever gets you through the day, though. I don’t judge.

I think about that morning a lot. Re-watch the video. I’m especially proud of the aerial shots. Good thing all those birds were there. I switched back and forth between sparrows and finches, got tons of great stuff. Angel crying and rolling around. The homeless guy laughing and pissing on the side of the church. My audience loves the crazy shit. Weirder the better. You think that’s wrong? Hey, one man’s snuff is another’s Eat Pray Love. Like I said, I don’t judge.

After I got everything I needed from Angel, I hopped out of the cedar waxwing I was in and floated up into the ether, riding a wind current a few miles before launching myself still further out, back behind a dark cloud, and then further upward still, out into the black abyss of space.

Then I went home and finished editing another video I’d shot of a bunch of teenaged heroin addicts jumping off a speeding freight train and into a swamp outside Pensacola.

It was hilarious.

I love making people do stupid shit like that.