“Big man, pig man. Ha ha, charade, you are.” — Pink Floyd

Raymond awakes from a horrible dream to the sound of dogs barking and someone pounding on the front door.

“Just a minute!” he yells, and pulls on yesterday’s Ralph Lauren’s lying next to tomorrow’s Armani’s lying next to a pair of Lee Dungaree’s from the day before.

Raymond groans as he works the fly.

What a dream.

He comes downstairs and opens the front door to find three pale-faced men in ill-fitting but freshly-pressed business suits standing on his Better Homes and Gardens welcome mat.

“Blessed morning, Brother,” says one of the men taking initiative. He’s sweating and extends a greasy palm.


“Blessed morning?” Raymond asks, scratching at his armpits and ignoring Balaam’s outstretched hand. He yawns and eyes Mrs. MacArthur walking her golden retriever down the sidewalk. She waves, but Raymond doesn’t wave back. It’s too early, he thinks, and feels for his phone.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” says Balaam, taking a small bow. “I get a bit excited when I’m working. A good thing, though, to love your job, your duty and purpose in life. ‘The stalwart heart,’ as they say.”

Raymond nods to say okay and eyes his black-suited guests cautiously, querulously. A bead of sweat drips down his forehead as he does. Balaam licks his lips.

“Hot out here,” Raymond says, wiping his face, and motioning to the sweat on each of the men’s foreheads. But the men don’t respond. They just stand there, smiling.

“Well,” says Balaam, clapping to move the plot along, “we’re businessmen, you see, from California, and we’re going door to door to make sure our neighbors know about Choice.”


“That is,” a second man interjects, brushing Balaam aside, “the ability to choose.” The man extends an equally sweaty hand. “Mammon.”

Raymond looks down at the saturated palm glistening in the morning sunlight. The skin is bluish and there are two scars like snakebites on opposite sides of the wrist.

“Choice,” Balaam says, coughing and knocking Mammon’s hand out of the way. He puts three fingers up. “Salesforce. Sears. Neiman Marcus. We’ve got free market and free enterprise, but do people really know how any of this works?”

“It’s the ability to choose,” the third visitor says, extending their hand.

“My name is Mephistopheles and I’m holding out for the iPhone 12. I’m…”

But Balaam elbows Mephistopheles in the ribs before Raymond can take his hand.

“What he means to say is might we come in?”

Raymond looks up the street, down, and then back at the three men collecting dust in the sunshine. The one named Mephistopheles is stout, Mammon looks like a grown baby, and Balaam seems like an alright guy, but all three of them are sweating. Men with the same impish part in their hair. Men breathing out of their mouths. But he shrugs, figuring what the hell, they’re wearing suits, and he welcomes his visitors inside.

The inside of Raymond’s home is what Raymond takes the most pride in. His floors, dark walnut and cherry imported from Switzerland, are the centerpiece of this magnum opus, accented by twin pillars supporting a grand staircase leading to the master and guest suites. In the kitchen, the walls are white. Everything else is steel or black. In the living room, pastel tones and sweet-smelling candles create vibrant echoes of spring. There’s a brick back patio with a full chimney and built-in barbeque hooked up to a self-installed butane storage unit. There’s a Persian rug in every hallway. There’s cedar Venetian blinds in the great room.

“You say you’re all from New Jersey?” Raymond asks closing the door.

“California,” Balaam says, matter-of-factly.

“Northern,” Mammon squeals delightedly.

“Northern California, huh? Never been. You fellas wouldn’t happen to have any of that orange juice, would you? I haven’t had that stuff in years.”

“Orange juice is from Florida,” says Balaam.

“Is that the one next to Iowa?” Raymond asks.

“We’ll get to the orange motif in a minute, Raymond,” Mammon says.

“We have other things to show you,” says Balaam, smiling. So are Mammon and Mephistopheles. Raymond shrugs.

Mammon makes himself at home on a large, bonded-leather sectional across from a mounted 4K TV. On screen, Pat Sajak waves to the audience, saying, “Leave it right there; we’ll be back after this.”

Mammon claps his hands in ecstasy. “I love games,” he says, “especially when the stakes are high.”

“Speaking of games,” Mephistopheles says, and he picks up a white ceramic casserole dish from the dining room table.

“That’s real Pyrex,” Raymond says, quite proud of himself.

“’Real Pyrex,’” Balaam echoes, inspecting the grand staircase, blowing his nails.

“Spare no expense,” says Raymond, dabbing at the air with a single finger. “Although I have no idea what it’s doing out,” and takes the dish from his guest.

Item in hand, Raymond scampers into the kitchen and opens one of the cupboards above the sink. But as he moves, he begins to feel weak and takes a few deep breaths. It’s the heat.

He turns to his visitors, panting and wiping his face as if to apologize, and asks, “What happens now?”

Balaam looks to Mephistopheles, who looks at Mammon, who look back at one another, and then at Raymond.

“I think you know what happens now,” Balaam says, leaving the staircase and joining Raymond in the kitchen, “Have you forgot the desert?” He wraps an arm around Raymond that feels not just warm but hot to the touch.

Raymond tries to think but can’t. He’s suddenly so tired his knees are shaking. Sweat runs in rivers from his forehead. His heart pounds faintly in his chest. “Hot out today,” he says, and wipes his brow again. His arms are soaked, his neck, his crotch. He leans over the counter and turns on an adjustable ionic fan. He has to set the Pyrex casserole dish down to do it, and when he pulls his arm back, he knocks the ceramic pan off the counter, panting. It falls and shatters on the floor.

“Feels good,” Balaam says, staring at the beads of sweat trickling down Raymond’s face. He licks his lips in hunger. Raymond, too tired to care, doesn’t notice, and only hears Balaam ask, “What do you remember about being a boy?”

“I certainly don’t remember it being like this,” he says, picking up the dish and sweeping the broken shards into the waste basket. “My whole life I thought I was going to be something authentic, a product of my own choices, but all I can remember is this,” and he motions from one appliance to the next. “The Samsung microwave my family got when I was twelve. The Sony television my dad brought home to replace our old JVC one with the rabbit ears. The AM/FM cassette player with 15-inch subwoofers,” and he looks through the far wall, “The 1993 Toyota Camry LE we got in 1995.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” says Mephistopheles, who’s also wandered into the kitchen. He has a mouth full of berries, and some of the juice has dribbled down his chin like blood, staining his white dress shirt.

“There’s more at play here,” says Mammon, moving over for Balaam, who’s peeling an orange. Mephistopheles joins the other two on the sofa, his shirt clean. The smell of oranges fills the room.

Raymond’s phone chimes. A text from a wrong number. “Sorry about that,” he says, and pockets his Galaxy S9.

“Business or pleasure?” asks Balaam, exposing knife-point teeth as he smiles.

“I think that’s the cue,” Mammon says, and the three men stand up intently.

Just then, Raymond enters the house through the back door. He’s howling at the top of his lungs, and races for the sofa. Raymond bites and snarls and growls and barks. Balaam, who’s only line of defense is throwing his half-eaten orange, misses the dog, but distracts him long enough for Balaam to get a strong grip around the animal’s neck. Mammon helps by grabbing Raymond’s legs.

Held fast by Mammon and unable to shake his grasp, Raymond whines and whinnies. He whimpers as Raymond is lead upstairs by Mephistopheles. All four men are pouring sweat.

“We’ll get to you next,” Balaam says to the dog. “Don’t you worry.”

Mephistopheles has Raymond in a head lock and is dragging him down the hall. When they reach the master suite, Mephistopheles produces a length of rope and ties Raymond to the solid mahogany canopy bed in the center of the room.

As he works, there’s a single, sustained yelp downstairs, and then silence.

“What are you doing to me?” Raymond asks, feeling his skin loosen. His thoughts are sloppy. His body drained.

“Less talking, more aging,” Mephistopheles says, and touches Raymond on the chest.

Raymond coughs and gasps for air. He can feel his body sagging. He starts to wrinkle; watches his skin turn grey and wither; feels his bones turn brittle and then break into a fine, powdery ash. Blood bubbles like molasses from his veins and evaporates on the Berber carpet before it can leave a stain. His teeth blacken, his eyes shrink, and in the middle of all of this he cries out, “I lie on social media to get attention,” but it does no good. The moon won him fair and square.

“At least have some dignity,” Mephistopheles chides. “Everyone makes themselves out to be more than what they are. It’s the first rule of advertising.”

“And the second?” Raymond asks timidly, not knowing it’s the last question he’ll ever ask.

“That’s easy,” says Mammon, joining Mephistopheles at his side, “Make someone look secondary.” He waves his hand through the air like he’s exposing a vast, untapped wilderness.

Two intentional minutes later, Balaam joins them. The three of them stand there.

Mammon asks, “What do you think he knows about being a corpse?”

Balaam says, “Nothing.”

“I like his smell,” says Mephistopheles, “Like spoiled meats.”


Raymond wakes up from a horrible dream to find he’s been chased by the moon into the middle of the desert. The moon, though a waxing crescent, creates a natural spotlight in a clearing of finger-like saguaro. Standing in the clearing are three tricksters wearing business suits. They grab Raymond as soon as they see him and tie him to a stake, where they force him to eat sand, only the sand is black and tastes like orange cleaner and spoiled meats. They say things like, “That’s a good boy,” and pet him.

The three tricksters are delighted at Raymond’s willingness to do everything they say. One tells him to stand on his head, so Raymond stands on his head. Another tells Raymond to bark like a dog, and so Raymond runs around going woof woof woof like all the other dogs. The third trickster isn’t impressed, and tells him to close his eyes.

Raymond does as he’s told, but feels something puncture his chest. It takes his breath away. He looks down to find his left breast stabbed through by the lower point of the moon.

The tricksters give out a cheer as gold, not blood, flows forth from Raymond’s chest. They stretch out their hands and let the gold run through them like water, staining their fingers, which they lick and lap and taste.

They say, “Gold is greater when it’s earned through blood.”

They say, “It’s less sweaty.”

The moon laughs, the night darkens, and after having drained the gold from Raymond’s body, the tricksters thank the moon for its service profusely. They offer Raymond as a reward. The moon, delighted, obliges, winking, and hauls its prize, Raymond, kicking and screaming, off into a black so dark everything disappears in its wake.

And the dream fades.

And Raymond can hear dogs barking in the distance.

And there’s a knock on the door.

So he pulls some pants on.