Sterling Redmond Calico lay sprawled out on his stain-covered recliner, his limbs heavy and lethargic. The poison was snaking its way through his body, he could see with an artist’s imagination its slow and determined march through his veins. Thick, black and ominous, destroying him cell by cell as Red caressed his cheek on the cool salvation of a half-empty beer can. He could see the snow falling fast through the single cracked window in his rent controlled, shitty third floor walk-up. The flakes made neon-white streaks, flying in rapid succession like a warp-speed trip on the Millennium Falcon.
If he wasn’t so caught up in the process of dying, he’d write a song about it. A pounding guitar line behind his signature, wailing vocals. The band would go balls out, the crowd thrashing and dancing in heart-thumping intoxication. Red’s time in the band was his life’s defining achievement, driving away the demons or at least keeping them at bay.
Disjointed chunks of life flashed through his mind, postcards from nearly fifty years of a nomad’s existence. Red as an erstwhile art student right out of high school, an over sized sketchbook tucked under his arm. Back before the bullshit of curriculums and tuition and stultifying normalcy drove him back out into the real world. Thousands of drawings and sketches, intricate, swirling creations of fantasy worlds and creatures. Worlds more real to him, even now, than his own.
He saw a dive bar on a Saturday night, the local drunks lined up to sing bad karaoke. Red went back again and again, honing his vocal skills with a healthy dose of liquid courage, sandwiched in before the obligatory, tuneless cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and right after the asshole that butchered “Old Man River” every single week. Red liked a heavier vibe, even Danzig himself would’ve toasted his efforts.
“Mother, tell your children not to walk my way!”
He wore his frizzy black hair long, loose peasant shirt opened almost to the waist with black pleather pants. A modern day Jim Morrison, (at least in his mind) howling angst into the beer-soaked microphone, night after night.
The needle dangled from his arm before falling to the floor as Red recalled a starry night in a parking lot, holding hands with a girl he once knew in high school. A chance encounter at the bar leading to a brief, tumultuous romance that eventually burned itself out, shattering his heart into a thousand jagged pieces.
Ten thousand days of wandering. Ten thousand nights of oblivion. Odd jobs here and there, driving a cab, online artwork, the occasional album cover he would sell for next to nothing. Working for beer money, until that morphed into the harder stuff. Liquids. Pills. Powders. Needles. The band, before that too, came to a screeching halt. Everything always came to a dead end for Red in one way or another. This was simply the logical progression, the natural conclusion to a pointless, meandering existence. He would go out in his own way, going farther than he’d ever traveled before. Red may be leaving this world, but he was going to have one fuck-all of a time before he did. With the amount of smack currently flowing through his veins, it was bound to be good.
“This is the end, beautiful friend”…Red rolled off the recliner and onto the beer-soaked rug. He felt like he was flying. A thousand shadow-spiders scurried out from a rotting crack in the ceiling, falling onto his semi-paralyzed limbs, his face, into his eyes. Red writhed and buckled on the floor, his hands constricting into rough talons, clawing and scratching at his face as he screamed his throat raw with laughter.
The room began to spin in a kaleidoscope of painfully bright colors, the first notes of a familiar organ-like synthesizer poured out of his apartment walls, a plaintive sitar line wafting through the air. Ray Manzarek was a musical genius, a fucking Beethoven of his time. Jim Morrison may have been the soul of The Doors, but Manzarek was its flesh and bones…
Red watched the ceiling burst open, a bright neon light bathing the room in blood as the Lizard King himself floated down to the floor. The music swirled around him, his enormous head and greasy dark hair swaying in ecstasy. Morrison looked just as he did in those final days before eternity stole him away in a Paris bathtub. Bearded and bloated, pasty white skin lined with the premature age of raging addiction. Just like Red himself.
“He took a face, from the ancient gallery and he walked on down the hall…”
A giant bonfire erupted in the middle of his dingy living room carpet, the remnants of Red’s dried out Christmas tree going up like a witch’s funeral pyre. The Lizard King danced around it in a frantic, clumsy approximation of a rain dance along to Manzarek’s haunting key riffs. Random papers, burger wrappers and an overflowing ashtray all fed the inferno. Red followed along in dulled appreciation, watching Morrison spinning around in bleary abandon. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the piercing chirps of an alarm.
“In a desperate land…lost in a Roman wilderness of pain….”
Random bits of song and memory mixed together in perfect synchronicity with the Lizard King’s over exaggerated moves, the song raising in fever and pitch, higher and higher, the sound filling his head to capacity…Red somehow managed to flip over, using his elbows to painfully prop himself up, his throat raw from screaming. Laughing. Screaming.
“It hurts to set you free, but you’d never follow me…”
Oh, but I would follow you! I will, my Lizard Liege! Try me!
Morrison stopped his frenzied dancing, turning his horrible, obsidian gaze on Red at last, the music violently swelling and rising all around them. In Red’s delirious state, the creature’s head flickered in and out from human to a giant, angry lizard and back again. It took three heavy steps, seven miles across the land, and stretched out one purple-veined hand out to Red. Tiny spider web cracks crisscrossed the dead man’s mottled face and Red couldn’t decide if he was looking at the ghost of his past, present or future before deciding he really didn’t give a shit.
“I am the Lizard King, I can do anything…”
Red reached out to him, starstruck. It wasn’t every day that celebrities, even dead ones, stopped by to pay him a visit. Hell, he hadn’t had any interaction with a live person in weeks, other than his dealer, but Red didn’t count him. The greedy bastard.
Up close, he saw a worm playfully slither up Morrison’s left nostril and back out of the right. He yanked Red to his feet, the violence of the sudden movement making him retch with dry heaves. There was nothing in his stomach to throw up, other than beer and an ancient bag of Cheetos. Thick waves of black smoke from the holy bonfire enveloped them and Red began to feel the first lick of flames at his ankles. He was mildly surprised it didn’t hurt.
The song began again, the well-known tale of a killer walking down the hall, as Morrison lunged out with one meaty arm and grabbed him by the throat. He lifted Red off the ground, shaking him around the pyre like a limp dishrag. The room spun by him, everything in the apartment turning into ash and soot as they danced. This is a fitting end for the Lizard King and I. The only one that could ever be. Faster and faster they went until Red was sure he would literally explode, the life seeping out of him under the King’s iron grip.
The song reached its inevitable climax, Manzarek’s synthesizer and Morrison’s animal grunts coming together with Red’s final breath into one terrifying, demented coda.
This. Is. The. End.
The door of Red’s apartment flew open, red-hot flames shooting out. A welcoming committee from the gates of hell. The Lizard King gave him a final playful squeeze before chucking Red out into the hallway, full throttle, smacking him hard into the opposite wall. He oozed down in a puddle of his own goo, body spent and broken. The door slammed shut but not before Red got one final glimpse of his otherworldly visitor (Guardian Angel? Ferryman?), the song and his decaying lizard face slowly melting back into the raging inferno. A demonic waxwork nightmare.
Sterling Redmond Calico laid his head on the smelly, shag nineteen-seventies era carpet in the hallway, settling himself in for a long winter’s night. He vaguely wondered what it would feel like to burn to death. Red closed his eyes, riding the crimson wave as frantic, disembodied voices lulled him to sleep. An enormous man with an ax charged directly at him, the Grim Reaper in the flesh, come to cleave my head in two. His final thoughts were of Manzarek and Morrison and giant, dancing lizard-men.
The Grim Reaper crossed the final barrier, heaving Red across his shoulder, running through the flames before the lights finally went out. He never even felt the jar of frigid winter air or the crunch of a rock-hard snowbank as he was bodily thrown in to it. He’d never see everything he ever owned come crashing down around him in a fiery heap; sirens and death and brilliant, dazzling destruction. Through it all, Red could hear Morrison’s mesmerizing voice, leading him. Taunting him. Whispering sweet nothings in his ear.
This. Is. The. End.
But is it? Is it really?
The Lizard King continued to dance circles through his overloaded brain. Is this a dance of life or a celebration of death? As impossible as it might seem, it appeared there was a fifty-fifty chance Red might actually have a merry Christmas after all.
Either way, he figured the odds were in his favor.
“People fear death even more than pain. It’s strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Yeah, I guess it is a friend.”