Three Pieces – Dennis Pells
October 24, 2018
With long smooth legs
She slides gently into my mind
Pandora’s opened box lay waiting her to find
Cumulous plums of doom billow out
Shards of despair rocketing, ricocheting about
Descending dread and heartless gray
These unleashed demons she holds at bay
With just her smile so beautifully warm
Makes the wicked wretch and mourn
Their lives they’ve lost I knew they must
Her smile reduced them, first to sand, then dust
With long smooth legs
She slides gently in and out of my mind
Pandora’s closed sealed box she’s left behind
I bring her to me this way often
These warm thoughts of her comfort and soften
The bitter realities of my day
Now as she turns to walk away
Her eyes so dark they draw me in
So dark so wide I’ve fallen in
Love with her, but then again I know you knew
I am damaged and alone, with no way to communicate yet I lay here and concentrate, concentrate and focus my thoughts before casting them out into the cosmos. If you are reading my words, by some miracle I have reached you.
My hope? You will heed my warning; Love is dangerous. Never give yourself over to it.
I know what you’re thinking; what kind of madman would say such a thing? Love is wonderful!
But I caution; Love is insidious, love, will destroy you.
I am proof, I was blinded by love and now cannot tell night from day. My youth I gave and my body, all out of love. Willingly, mind you, but that is the treachery of love.
It started with a kiss, a luxurious deep kiss. The passion quite exquisite; The pain was brief…yet exciting. She was like a determined puppy, licking, nipping. It was wonderful, joyous. I could feel the tension building yet I was masterful, playing her like a Cello, hitting those throbbing low notes then bringing her higher and higher nearing the brink and holding it, holding it, like a note so fine and beautiful it frightens. I never felt so powerful, stroking and caressing and in that final moment, that arching climax, she plunged her teeth deep into my shoulder. Her embrace was fierce, like a death struggle. Spent, we trembled and wept in each other’s arms. I felt God like.
The nick on my tongue healed quickly, my shoulder, the skin grew back slowly but our lovemaking wasn’t hindered, if anything the wounds were a reminder of what I could achieve.
By now you understand, it is not her love that is poison. It is mine that is ruinous.
That was how it began, right now she’s out sowing her seeds, knowing I am no longer sustainable. Later, when she comes to me, it will be for the last time. First she will bathe, washing off the stink of other men before she puts on her lingerie and fresh lipstick. Should this bother me? No, for I know none of them can satisfy her as I. They may try, grunting over her but I know her secrets, only I know what she needs.
Do I have regrets? She took my sight; my tongue is but a nub in the back of my throat, my body, crippled and useless except for her to feast upon. Love has no conscience, no remorse.
The shower turned off, soon she will be here, then she will hold me between her legs like a pillow and ride me until she’s nearly complete. But there is only one spot left for her to devour, one spot that isn’t scared, that is pure and I will give it.
I feel her hungry eyes upon me, I must be quick! You heard my warning, heed my words…
“Hello my Love.”
The name’s Mienhof, Jack Mienhof, undercover investigative reporter. Freelance of course, and that’s the way I like it. No ties to the ‘Man,’ if you know what I mean. I write what I want; I write the truth as I see it, without influence or prejudice.
As you may imagine my stories cut to the quick, no BS, and no soft shoeing around anyone or any subject. The story I am about to share will reveal the raw observations of a seasoned journalist. That being said I feel compelled to say these observations changed me, changed my life and my view of the world.
I was on the lookout for a new story, a real expose’. I was bored with the political and how could I top Russian Collusion, Stormy Daniels, presidential twitter rants? So I turned my attention to the real power brokers, Corporate America.
The bar was elegant, to my standards, rich with dark mahogany paneling, overstuffed leather stools and chairs and a back bar with thirty year old scotch. To my mind a likely hangout for the corporate types.
The patrons were huddled in hushed conversations with an occasional volley of laughter. A woman entered wearing a tight fitting red mini skirt. She approached the bar taking a seat next to me. Towering over me she pulled a Virginia Slim out asking me for a light. Flipping open my Zippo, I looked around wondering, is this legal?
She took a quick drag, “I haven’t seen you in here before.”
Exhaling a thin stream of smoke her blue eyes ran me up and down as if doing inventory.
“I’m new in town,” I lied. “I was recruited from a medical equipment manufacturer in Oregon.”
Her eyes scanned my fingers for a ring. She reached over giving my bicep a squeeze. “You’re in good of shape for an engineer.”
“Actually I’m in finance, I’m the new CFO.” I said, purposely vague about which company.
“CFO,” she said, “My name’s Grace.”
“I’m Jack, nice to meet you Grace.”
Grace took another drag, the smoke wafting up and around her sculptured cheekbones.
“In Wisconsin, is it legal to smoke in a bar?”
“You really have no idea where you are. Do you?” She said and laughed. Grace fixed me with her large blue eyes. “I see you were purposely vague about who hired you, sounds like the sitting CFO is getting the axe.” Grace finished the sentence with a knowing smile. “Must be GE medical, they have a history of dropping the lowest performing ten percent every year.”
I gave her a rueful smile. “It’s all about performance.” I said and left it at that.
Grace pointed with her chin to a group of suits at the end of the bar. “You see that bunch? They just got back from a three-day OutWard Bound program. GE mid-management,” she sniffed. “GE believes in team building,” she rolled her eyes, “Sends all the wannabees to that sissy camp.”
Smelling the beginnings of a story I reached in my trousers and turned on the recorder. “So tell me about that.”
Grace glanced at my drink sliding her tongue over her upper lip.
“I’m sorry, I must have left my manners at home,” I motioned for the bartender. “This lady will have a drink on me.”
“The usual, Marcel,” Grace said to the bartender before turning back to me.
“You see the OutWard Bound program is supposed to be about team building, networking and,” Grace put up her fingers doing quotation marks in the air, “Thinking outside the box.” She laughed to herself, “Its really about teaching those whiny little bastards how to play nice with each other.” Grace took a long drink. “CFO you say? Well they won’t be sending you to OutWard Bound.” She studied me with a curious intensity. “You understand that, don’t you?”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
Grace draped her strong arm around my shoulder nearly pulling me into an embrace. “You know.” She whispered. “The top guys, the upper echelon…” She leaned back studying my eyes. “They never told you about… InWard Bound?”
This was the moment of truth. I had two options, admit I never heard about InWard Bound, which might make her question my CFO rank. Or I could try and bluff my way through and take the chance of her catching me in a lie.
“God damn it.” I said, “I saw an email with InWard Bound in the subject line and deleted it. I thought it was something that slipped through my spam filter.”
Grace rolled her eyes, finished her drink in one gulp and rested her glass on the bar.
I raised a finger to the bartender. “What did I miss?”
Grace glanced up and down the bar before speaking. “Probably the most important invitation in your life.” Grace scooted her chair in close to mine. “InWard Bound is very hush-hush. In the last two hundred years its been called by a variety of names but the theme has never changed.” Grace gave another quick look around, “The rumor is nearly every president of the United States has gone through it, kind of a rite of passage, but the names of the participants are as guarded as those of Yale’s Skull and Bones or Rutgers’ Sword and Serpent.”
The news juices were beginning to gather at my hairline and under my arms. Her words were like ripe fruit and I was going to cash in on the harvest.
Grace smirked taking another gulp at her drink. “Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford made a practice of going every summer until they were too old for its rigors, Bernie Madoff and Kenneth Lay would go every spring and fall until, well, you know.”
I took a long draw off my martini hoping it would calm me down.
“So what is the curriculum?” I asked.
Grace finished her drink and I ordered another one. After the bartender was out of earshot Grace spoke.
“I can’t say for sure,” Grace said, her eyes riveted on mine. “Girls aren’t allowed. It’s only for men, real men. Men that aspire to greatness.”
The alarm bells began going off, how would Grace know all of this? I was trying to think of a delicate way of asking when she began a most interesting narrative.
“I was so young,” Grace said canting her head to the side. “I just graduated high school, hitch-hiking my way to Florida.” Grace chuckled. “Back in those days you could hitch-hike across country and nobody batted an eye. I was on a lonely stretch of road in Arkansas, my thumb out, when what looked like a campaign bus pulled over. Anyhow, the door flips open and…..” Grace gave a quick scan of the room and lowered her voice. “We’ll just call him BC. Well, BC steps out and invites me on board.” Grace shakes her long hair loose, “One thing led to another…..” Grace gave a throaty laugh. “I rode him like a bronco.” Grace waved a hand in the air thrusting her hips back and forth as she slapped her ass. “I rode him till he cried.”
“Bill Clinton?” I asked.
Grace held me with a hard stare. “Ladies don’t kiss and tell.”
Grace slopped down her drink and like a fool I ordered another round. Or at least that was the last thing I remember of the evening; I had to that point been matching her drink for drink. Now as I lay on the sofa nursing an award-winning hangover I have time to reflect.
I adjust the volume on my recorder to a level I can tolerate and listen as the evening’s events played back. Grace tells of the two day spent with BC, and now that I know Grace’s capacity for drink, I believe the happenings she describes to be entirely plausible. It was after the last day of non-stop sex and alcohol that BC collapsed in her arms blubbering. He detailed InWard Bound’s history, telling Grace to think of its sacred rituals as building blocks, the foundation to American politics. He said its disciplines are woven into and are the strength behind the fabric of Corporate America. BC concluded with this statement; history will bare him out, the InWard Bound experience is the sole driving force behind American leadership.
That concluded the dialogue portion of the recording. I can hear in the background the bartender call good night to us. My mind flashed, I could see myself standing to leave, stumbling, Grace moving in, her strong hands gripping one leg, one arm throwing me around her neck and shoulders. Next I see Marcel’s crooked smile, sending us off with a good-bye salute. What I hear next is the frantic sounds of our lovemaking. Listening, I hear a shriek, I recognize the voice, it’s mine. I have another flashback. We are in my motel room, I can make out the long shadow of Grace emerging from the bathroom. She seems to float in the dim light, clad in nothing but high-heels, leather collar, and a leopard skin thong. I see the mischievous look in her eyes, her lips curling to a smile. Next I see the whip, manacles, and ball gag. As the recording plays on I hear my whimpers of pleasure, Grace’s throaty shouts of encouragement and the crack of the whip.
I throw the blanket off and examine my bruised limbs. I smile. God, she was something else. I limp to the bathroom and see a used condom in the wastebasket. Thank you! Even in that drunken state I had enough sense to use protection. Odd though, I don’t remember ever buying fluorescent pink, extra large with a reservoir tip. I try brushing my teeth, too painful, I limp back to bed. On the nightstand I find a note from Grace in beautiful looping script;
Jack my Darling,
I doubt you remember our lovemaking, you were pretty loaded. It was erotic, playful, everything I dreamt it would be.
You said you wanted to attend the next InWard Bound session. I can make it happen!
My breath caught in my chest, my hands trembled. Hell yeah I want to go! This could be the scoop of this decade.
I know people, important people. In your pants pocket you will find a business card for Robert Douglas Weatheredpoon the third. You are to be the son of Robert Douglas Weatheredpoon the second, grandson to Robert Douglas Weatheredpoon the first, and you are the newly crowned CEO of Weatheredpoon Oil and Gas. If you are serious about going, be at the corner of Water and Broadway, Friday at six pm.
A limo will pick you up. When greeting them show no fear, they will smell it.
BC told me it was because of InWard Bound that he had the courage to stay with Hiler…we’ll call her HC. Remember that bus I told you about? It was his campaign bus, after completing InWard Bound he went on to become Governor then President! This is your destiny Jack, be all you can be.
I arrived early, taking time to scout out the neighborhood before settling in at a corner pub not fifty feet from the pickup spot. The bartender brought me a drink and I took a seat with a good view of the street corner. I checked my watch when Grace’s words, ‘show no fear’ came back to me. For once could I have bitten off more than I could chew? Being a reporter I was accustomed to taking risks, I figured I was battle hardened, yet…
I was about to step outside for a smoke when a black limo pulled up to the curb. I checked my watch. Looking around the bar I couldn’t help but notice each and every man nervously check his own. Were we all here for the same thing? And what? They take the time to pick us up separately. What was that about? Did they interrogate us? Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bookish looking man check his watch again before heading to the door. If InWard Bound was his destination, he was in trouble; I could smell the fear from across the room. All eyes were on him– the limo door swung open. He glanced back once. I saw the pleading helpless look in his eyes, a look of surrender. He got in.
The limo pulled away from the curb. I stepped out the door and lit up. From down the block I see a tall well-built construction worker carrying a bucket of tools. As he approaches he puts an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
“You have a light, Buddy?” He asked. I strike my Zippo giving him my flame.
Behind the flickering amber Grace flashed an extraordinary smile. “You like my disguise?” I stood in spellbound amazement.
“I didn’t stick around the other morning,” Grace took a long pull off her cigarette, “I always look like hell when I first get up.” From the hard hat to the work boots, if it hadn’t been for that smile, she would have had me fooled.
“So in the morning I just jotted down a quick note, put the business card in your pocket and left.” Grace looked surreptitiously right then left. “It wasn’t until after I got home I remembered the interrogation.” Grace giggled, “I guess the hangover…” She rolled her eyes, “Way too much to drink.”
“So they do interrogate us, I figured as much.” I said.
Grace reached out to shake my hand, in her palm a slip of paper. “I wrote down all I could think of, I don’t know Robert Douglas the third that well, but both his father and grandfather were my lovers.”
I don’t know why, but I felt a pang of jealousy stir in me.
Grace lowered her eyes. “It was a long time ago, Jack.”
I could see she wanted to reach out and hug me, the look on my face must have betrayed my emotions.
“I have the family history, names, dates, all that you should need. Memorize it then destroy it.”
“Thanks.” Grace gave me a clap on the back and started off down the street. I watched her, the rhythmic swaying of her hips, work boots and all I thought, she is one gorgeous lady.
I sat studying the information Grace had given me like a fifth grader for the spelling bee, studied it as if my life depended on it. With the elite clientele, and the secrecy surrounding their identity, a cold shiver went down my spine. Show no fear, they can smell it. The words haunted me. What did they mean? And what happens if they do? I watched as now the eighth limo pulled up. Again I check my watch. I look around the dwindling crowd, two more then the next limo should be for me. From my observations, many nearly skip out to be picked up, yet some were quite the opposite, like the very first one they were filled with fear and apprehension. A quick study of them, I didn’t see any distinguishable physical characteristic they shared as a group. They were tall, short, overweight, slim, fit, good looking and homely. Except for their eyes, they all shared an intensity, a burning desire when gazed upon. There was something behind those eyes, a hunger that wouldn’t be denied. No, those eyes belonged to the leaders of industry, of people and nations that was certain.
As the next one passed to leave I tried to emulate the look, which brought a smile to his face. I hoped the smile wasn’t pity, pity for knowing I was a fake. Twenty minutes passed and the last man checked his watch and got up. This was my final opportunity to practice ‘the look’ before my limo would arrive. As he passed my table I held him with such an intense stare I saw him shiver in recognition. Perfect, I thought. Feeling much better I ordered another drink.
I stood before the limousine’s opened door, bending low I peered into the darkness. A musky odor wafted out smelling like a lusty combination of scrotum and leather. I climbed in. On the seat facing me sat a powerfully built man. Indian Chief I presumed for he was bare chested, naked except for a flap of leather over his privates and a magnificent feathered bonnet. His fierce war paint appeared meticulously applied. His lips were dyed a dark red, the shading around his eyes, a rainbow of greens and yellows. He fixed me with ‘the look.’ I extended my hand to shake.
“Never speak or touch Fang.” I looked to the voice beside me.
He too was naked, except for a minuscule loincloth and decorative headband.
“I was just going to introduce myself,” I said offering him my hand instead.
“My name is Seth.” He said pushing my hand aside and embracing me fully. I think he saw the look of shock on my face because he explained.
“You will learn to discard your preconceived notions of what it is to be a real man. Real men aren’t afraid to embrace.” With this he leaned over giving me a warm kiss, first on one cheek then the other. I nodded giving him ‘the look’. Seth smiled. He opened a leather alligator handbag and passed me a loincloth.
“Put this on. Cast off the chains of convention and set yourself free!” For all intent and purpose it was a thong, nonetheless I complied and with a few minor adjustments it was comfortable.
I aced the interrogation, even getting the name of the great grandmother’s first pet’s name correct. All of this was done under the watchful eyes of Fang.
Seth asked, “You do understand the need for secrecy?”
I said I did, and thankfully I answered with just enough uncertainty to elicit commentary.
“Without exception the CEO of every major corporation has been through InWard Bound. Most every president of these United States and every congressional leader has completed the rigors of our training. Our rituals and ceremonies are timeless, perfected and enhanced with modern technology, yet adhering to the three hundred year traditions of our forefathers. I must warn you they are not without danger. We do have a medical team on staff, but we have had fatalities.”
I swallowed hard, trying to quell my mounting fear. “I accept the dangers and welcome the challenge.” I said. Seth glanced at Fang before flashing me a toothy smile.
“Good, most excellent!” He said. “Next there is the sacred vow to secrecy.”
I nodded my head, crossed my legs and the fingers on one hand.
Seth gave me ‘the look’ long and hard before he spoke. “Do you Robert Douglas Weatheredpoon the third vow not to tell anybody, ever, not even your best friend?” I nodded. “No matter what, not ever, ever, ever? Even under torture?
Solemnly I said, “I promise.”
“On your mother’s life, cross your heart and hope to die?”
“I do.” I said with gusto. With that Fang leaned in kissing me full on the mouth.
I was shocked to say the least, then once done Seth did the same. It was a little unsettling until Seth explained it was part of the vow. Sealed with a kiss.
The rutted dirt road seemed to go on for miles before it broke into a clearing. The sun was setting, the pyramid type structure in the background casting a long ominous shadow over the grounds. None of the staff was present, the group’s participants mulled about like grazing farm animals. All were naked, for the most part, except for the standard issue loincloth. As I joined the crowd I was surprised at the lack of organization, I had visions of a drill sergeant barking orders, the men joining ranks marching in unison. In the distance I could hear the rhythmic beating of a drum, its sound simplistic yet mesmerizing. The men didn’t join in conversation, I think it was the anticipation, they were nervous, jittery, herding like buffalo, bracing against a chill wind that blew in from the east. The sun had set, the effects of the cold night air becoming apparent as the men began clutching themselves and hopping in place. The beating of the drum had progressed from a thump-thump-thump to a more aggressive beat. In the men you could see the unconscious adherence to the beat as they hopped in place. Now the drumming was coming from all directions, as if each drumbeat was in answer to the other. Next, like a sweet fragrance on the chill breeze the crisp clean notes of a saxophone drift in. Soon the convulsive hoping and clutching transformed into dance as the notes to Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” began to blare. The scene was spectacular as men bebopped around, taking partners, jitterbugging. I looked off in the distance to see Fang backlit by the moonlight smile sagaciously down on us. When the song ended I saw in the night sky the long arc of a flaming arrow. It struck, setting ablaze an enormous ceremonial fire. The pyramid type structure had stairs running up the center of its four sides, the top flattened out to create an alter, on which stood Seth, a microphone in hand.
“Men, there is to be no verbal communication between you.” We all looked to one another nodding.
“The first ritual, called the boulders of burden is the physical exorcism, the purging of our minds and bodies, setting ourselves free to start this program without the burdens of the past.” With that, staff members divided us into four groups, each group stationed around the four sides of the pyramid. The ritual began with a half gallon hot water enema, which you were to hold. After, you were slung about the shoulders with a large leather saddlebag, an eighty-pound boulder in each pouch. The over sized scrotum and testis were of course symbolic as was the enema, but the object was clear. The climb up, what they called the steps of life, signified our daily struggle carrying the weight of our manhood and the pressure we are under. Reaching the top you would have conquered life’s obstacles, achieving this you were to cast off your boulders of burden and purge yourself of life’s pressures!
I understood and embraced the symbolism of the ritual and although the administration of the enema was uncomfortable, and to be honest a little embarrassing, I could see it was intrinsic to the outcome.
The physical demands of the climb were enormous, one hundred sixty pounds to be carried up a fifty-foot incline. With each step I considered the burden that is placed on my shoulders every day. The strain of work, the demands of making the mortgage payments, car payments, putting food on the table and I nearly wept. I could feel my legs strain against the weight, my rectum crown under the pressure. Reaching the top I jubilantly cast off the boulders of burden, hunched over in pain my life pressures released in gloriously violent torrent. My mind and body still reeling from the experience I saw the knowing smile on Fang’s face as he nodded his approval. Some of the men were not as fortunate as I, either dropping their testis on the climb or prematurely purging. Either way, Seth invoked the no man left behind dictum, then as a group they would join ranks and make the journey together. I respected this but I also knew the greater lesson was team building and mentoring.
“Men,” Seth shouted. “You have completed the first assignment and I am proud of you all.” At hearing this some men whooped and cheered, pumping their fists in approval, others wept privately in exaltation. “Each of you has learned from this, some how hard and far you can push yourselves. Others a lesson in humility and camaraderie, but all of you have shed the shackles of restraint.” Seth glared down at us, his voice rising to a throaty scream. “Years form now as you lay in bed, is there not one of you that would have given your life for this chance, this one chance to spit in the face of oppression, this one chance for Freedom?” The roar from the crowd was deafening, each man on his feet bellowing his approval.
Seth called out. “The next challenge is called the pit of emotions,” Lowering his eyes he gazed upon us like children. “Here you will battle your innermost demons. Literally. Some you may conquer, others you may not but all of you will find out what you are made of.” The crowd went silent as we collectively held our breaths. “But first we must drink, and we must dance.”
Off in the distance the drums picked up, slowly at first, playing off each other, gradually increasing in tempo until wap-wap-wap, came the rim shot. Next a bass guitar kicked in holding a long thrumming cord until Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” filled the air. The mood was electric, men cheering dancing around the beer kegs, drinks held high they gyrated, the crowd pulsing to the beat.
I made my way to the bar, mixed a scotch and soda and took in the scene. I’m not much of a dancer, yet I found myself swaying in place, the spectacle of it moving me.
The music played on into the night, the drinks having a cumulative affect. I was just thinking the men couldn’t keep this pace up when I heard a trombone, its long mellow notes drift in as Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” began playing. The contrast from the heavy beat, the fast and furious sounds from just seconds before caught the men off guard and they stood in place transfixed by the slow hypnotic sound of Louis’ voice. Then one by one they paired up, arms extended to one another, soon all were entwined swaying to the music. The moon was up, full and lustrous, illuminating the grounds in its soft golden glow, a fitting accent for the masterfully set mood.
The music abruptly stopped. The men dropped their embraces casting embarrassed looks back and forth between them. I heard a lone drum begin a mournful thump——thump—–thump as yet another flaming arrow lit the night sky. The Pit of Emotions exercise was about to begin.
The pit, about fifty feet round and twelve feet deep was dug like a hollowed pumpkin with convex sides. Once in, escape was difficult if not impossible. In its dark mysterious depths savage shadows flit and dart about, I heard snarling, gnashing of teeth when a ghoulish figure with a fierce looking Mohawk and studded dog collar steps into the light. Gnarled with muscles he flexed one huge bicep, as it swelled I saw Fear tattooed across its crown. The display had its desired effect; all the men took a step back as a collective gasp escaped the crowd. Seth’s voice boomed from the speakers.
“In the Pit of Emotions each of you will wrestle with a host of feelings.” Seth grinned. Pointing he said, “These men represent the physical embodiment of what you encounter everyday of your lives. You just met Fear. But what about Hate?” Seth let the question hang in the air as the men looked from one to the other. “Hate is just as crippling.” With those words another ghoulish man stepped from the shadows, this one just as ominous and hideous as the first. Bald, thick necked, shimmering with sweat he turned his back to us; the tattoo ‘Hate’ looked as if it were weaved into the muscle and sinew. Next came SHAME, and PRIDE, each one just as ferocious and freighting as the others. They began jeering us, taunting us, challenging the bravest of our group. I was just taking another step back when one of the men leapt, his fists already flailing as he sailed through the air into the pit. He must have been a General, or a President, I can’t think of any other personality type that would have had the courage. What transpired next was the most heinous barbaric beating I have ever witnessed. There was choking, ball biting, wiener pulling, a ball gag finally silencing his screams of terror and pain. Then the whip came out. That’s when I lost my bladder, a long stream arcing onto the man in front of me. I was embarrassed and ashamed until I felt a warm sensation on my backside. Turning I noticed all the men had been afflicted by this same frailty. I looked amongst the men, observing most had a peculiar gleam in their eyes. Without a word two joined hands and leapt joyously into the pit. Next to me I heard one man begin mumbling, “I’ve been a bad boy, a very bad boy.” He stepped forward. Letting himself go limp, he tumbled in. There was mayhem and carnage; a sea of writhing flesh. I heard a panicked scream, “Noooo.” Then from the darkness, “Yes, yes, harder you bastard, harder.” I’m not a particularly brave man but I couldn’t stand by and watch any longer. I picked up a rock, took aim catching Fear just behind the ear. He stumbled around for a second before collapsing in a heap. I picked up two more rocks, but these weren’t throwing rocks. Holding them in the palm of each hand I smacked them together. No, these were skull bashing rocks; screaming I leapt into the abyss.
That is that last thing I remember clearly. I awoke battered and bruised but functioning. I looked about me; some men were tending to the wounded, others reclined as they ponderously smoked a cigarette, yet amazingly all were smiling. They had faced their emotions head on, they had looked them straight in the eye and said, is that all you got, give me more. These were the bravest of men, these I have to say were Real Men.
The rising sun flashed in the eastern sky, its thin shards of light leaping over the horizon. Champagne cocktails in hand we formed a line to the communal shower. Afterward we were issued bowties and a clean thong.
The breakfast tables had been set with large bone handled knives and formidable looking long tined forks, all in harmony with the rustic surroundings. At the head table sat Fang. Dressed with bowtie he had a regal bearing, the only concession to this attire the war paint around his eyes and cheeks, and of course, his feathered bonnet. Stoic and resolute he raised his glass in toast, in unison we did in return.
Seth stood glass raised; “Men, whatever your endeavor, to wage battle with your emotions was necessary. As you know, emotions can overwhelm you. You wade in headstrong, thinking you are going to bend them to your will. What you have learned is sometimes you must submit. Losing can be a painful lesson.” The men looked from one to the other nodding their heads.
What did this mean? I wondered. Is that what this was about, teaching us defeat?
Seth looked to Fang then back. As if reading my mind he said, “This exercise wasn’t to teach you how to lose, it was a lesson in how to survive. At times surviving the battle is all you can hope for, because it is not who wins the battle that is the victor, it’s who wins the war.”
I shook my head in wonderment, how utterly profound. I looked about me and knew these brave men were the future, our future. In business or politics these men would be there to shape our nation, our world.
Fang locked eyes with me, a sage curl to his lips. Humbled I hung my head in homage.
The scene reminded me of a Harry Potter movie with hundreds of people seated at tables that stretch into eternity. To the sound of trumpets lithe shapely women, who, remarkably reminded me of Grace, carried in meat-laden platters. The men behaved as if they discovered a new species, ogling and harassing them until Seth called things to order.
“After we dine there will be a well deserved rest.” As Seth spoke he gestured with his hand. “The lodge has been prepared, the sleeping arrangement is communal. You are no longer mere brothers, the blood coursing through your veins is wild, untamed. You have gone back to your roots, you are what you were born to be, a pack of wolves. You fought as a pack, and like a pack of wolves you gather at daylight and eat the kill, just as you will be doing now. After, you will retreat to your den until dusk.”
The crowd erupted in unrestrained yipping and howling. The feast had begun, some men casting aside their knives and forks opting to tear at the meat with their hands and teeth. It was freighting yet wonderful to see the men drawing out the animal from within. They were acting on sheer instincts, their carnivorous nature satiated only by flesh.
The lodge was groomed for our stay. The entrance carved through the stone wall looked very much like an opening to a cave. To enter we had to get down on all fours and scamper in. The windows were blackened to keep out the sun, the floor had been covered with earth and straw. In the dim I saw men curl onto their sides nearly passing out from fatigue. Others began grooming and licking themselves and those around them. I closed my eyes, I felt a soft tongue stroking the hair of my back, next a cold nose thrust between my legs rooting and sniffing about. It was then I knew the transformation was complete. I belonged here, at one with my kind.
In the twilight we gathered for out next challenge.
“Tonight is the most important night of your lives.” Seth shouted from the altar. “The lessons taught will be burned into your memories for eternity.” Seth narrowed his eyes. “Prepare yourselves. You are all leaders, CEOs, congressmen, but to complete this challenge you must learn to work as a team.” There was a collective gasp from the crowd. Fang stood staring down at us with his steely eyes, the crowd fell silent.
“It will take all of you, from the weakest to the strongest, it will require all your collective talents to prevail.” With that each man looked one to the next with an appraising skeptical eye.
“This will be a competition,” Seth put a finger to his chin looking ponderous. “As is everything in life. And it will not be without danger, you will be entrusting your very lives to your teammates.”
Now the men truly were scrutinizing each other.
“There will be two teams, the object is to cross the river.” Seth looked over the crowd, “The challenge will be staying alive.”
Moonlight cast long eerie shadows as we walked the well-worn path through the woods and meadows. Single file our muted silhouette bobbed and weaved across the landscape like the dark side of a caterpillar. I could smell the water even before I heard the roiling tumult. Our pace slackened, Seth veered left, Fang right and the men drew to a halt.
Gesturing with his hand Seth said, “Behind me, the drop to the rocky riverbed is some thirty-five feet. The rapids in this stretch of river are rated at a class four.”
I don’t know if it was steely resolve or sheer panic, but no one made a sound. Fang stepped forward. With this, Seth said,
“Fang will select two men to pick the teams.”
Fang raised both arms in the air, tilted his head back, closed his eyes and slowly lowered his arms’ index fingers extended. One pointed directly at me.
“We leave you here with nothing but your bare hands and your collective ingenuity. You are to cross this river, the team to make it first is the winner.” Seth looked directly at me and the other team leader, “Remember your vow of silence. There is to be no talking amongst yourselves.”
I will call the other leader Joe to keep it anonymous. Joe and I walked down the line of men, we had very little to haggle about, his thought was to pick the largest, strongest of the litter, mine, whether Joe was aware of this or not, was to pick the smallest wiriest of the bunch. Once our teams were assembled the groups separated, moving about one hundred yards apart. Immediately I saw Joe frantically hand singling to his men, seconds later they were rummaging through the woods looking for dead fallen trees. I gathered my men and with a series of hand gestures indicated I wanted one of our crew to scale the far side of a tree, out of Joe’s view. The chasm spanned about sixty feet, the far bank elevation being slightly higher than our own. Like a little monkey one of the men was up the tree, after a minute he shimmied down. By now I had cleared an area, large enough for him to scrawl into the dirt what he had seen. On the other side there were ladders and ropes all visible under the moon’s eerie glow. I looked over to Joe’s camp and as I had suspected they had stationed one of their men to keep an eye on us. At this I mimed I wanted our ten fastest runners to take off along the bluff, go about two miles then double back. Soon after our men left ten of Joe’s men followed. Next I had our remaining men remove their leather thongs and tie them together. Finding a good sized sapling with just the right bow strength and height I had our man shimmy up to the top and tie off our sling. Four more men joined him at the top and the tree began to arch. As the tree bowed close to the ground I had our smallest man climb in. The idea was to land him in what looked like a stack of hay bales. We heard only one scream, it was in flight, just before he slammed into a tree on the far bank. The next volunteer had to be coaxed, well actually knocked unconscious before we could get him into the sling. But his flight path was true and his landing uneventful. Coming to, he sat up and waved. A couple more and they would be able to use the ropes and ladders to get the rest of us across.
Joe’s team to this point had successfully carried one giant log to the cliff’s edge. I saw them scratching their heads when their eyes fell upon us. They watched us launch three more. By now our ranks were dwindling and I knew if it came to a fight we were at a disadvantage, not only by sheer numbers but size and weight. To stave off the inevitable bloodbath I gave instructions to keep launching as I went over to negotiate. Joe’s smile was menacing as he towered over me. I indicated if we worked together we could all win. Of course I knew it was a lie, and he knew it was a lie as well. Joe immediately took command of our launch site loading one of his behemoths into the sling. The man soared magnificently, chest out, head held high, like a dart he sailed straight into the face of the far cliff. There was the collective EEEWWW at the sound of the sickening splat before he slipped into the raging torrent. I indicated the next should hold his arms above his head for better aerodynamics and the second one was launched. This achieved the same end result except with more pizazz. Then we tried having them curl into a ball, next lay sideways and eventually feet first. By now my ruse was starting to catch on, no longer horrified by the thunk and splash my men began quietly laughing after each mishap. Joe fixed me with a sinister look, rage ballooning his eyes when he realized his advantage in numbers had been misspent. Then he studied my group and the remainder of his deciding they were more than equal to the task. This is when my ten runners came jogging up the trail looking fresh and vital. In an instant we set upon them, there was a lot of slapping and gouging, and of course wiener pulling and ball biting before Joe’s men were subdued. As we secured them with their thongs from the far bank our men were able to string a rope across. I could see Joe’s runners off in the distance just as we tied off. Like river rats up an anchor rope, one by one we scurried safely across.
The next exercise I am reluctant to share but I must, its significance beyond measure for any serious student of the American corporate culture.
This was a private ritual, meant only for the victors. All my teammates were in attendance. These were game men, even the fractured and dislocated were on hand. Those that were physically able hoist me above their heads, to the thrum of drums I was carried into the lodge. Fang and Seth stood beside a large oak barrel grinning their approval.
Seth stepped forward. “We reserve this most sacred experience for the leader of the winning team.” Fang beamed as he led me toward the barrel.
“This barrel represents the full circle of this learning experience.” At these words Fang nodded in agreement. “These men trusted you with their lives. Is there not a greater honor one can have?” The drums began beating louder, the tempo reaching a blur.
In a shout Seth said, “Now in turn you must trust them!” Fang flipped the barrel on its side bending me over it. The ropes were secured first to my hands then my feet.
Seth said for all to hear. “Can you trust these men?
Defiant I nodded my head, yes!
“Would you trust these men to rest their nutsack on your anus?”
With that, the first man bellied up behind me resting his scrotum on my buttocks. I felt…penetration! The howl that escaped my lips was instantaneous. My legs and arms strained against the ropes. I caught my breath and howled again, then again and again for the next hour as I trusted each man in turn and before it had ended I had trusted Seth and Fang too.
Seth took a step back wiping his brow, “The Barrel of Wisdom has taught you well my son.”
For the first time I looked over my shoulder.
His eyes hardening Seth said, “The lesson learned is Never trust anyone. No matter how good their intentions, no matter if they owe you their lives. You can’t trust anyone if they have you over a barrel.”
One might think the Barrel of Wisdom experience would leave a bad taste in your mouth. Not after I put it all in perspective. I know nothing would have driven the point home more than that hands on experience. No, I wouldn’t care to go through it again yet the wisdom gained will be with me forever.
I knew our time together was drawing to an end when the preparation for the rebirthing exercise began. When Seth first talked about it, I thought he meant it as a metaphor for the whole InWard Bound experience, not an actual physical act. It wasn’t until I saw the enormous elephant that I finally understood.
Seth explained; in order to complete our transformation we must be reborn. Yes, the birthing would mean different things to each man, but the physical experience of rebirth will signify the beginning of a new life using all the skills we had acquired at InWard Bound. Seth stood before the crowd dwarfed by the massive mastodon.
“As you can see we have implanted a shunt to facilitate the physical rebirth.” Petting the elephant’s trunk he said. “Many years ago when the rebirthing ritual first began the men were introduced,” Seth pointed to the shunt, “into the actual birth canal, but an elephant, not being accustomed to multiple births… In a humanitarian gesture we decided to have you introduced into the lower bowel.” Seth smiled, “The experience is the same and this the elephant really seems to enjoy.” Seth pointed to a makeshift shower, “First we bathe you in oil, next you are dusted with pepper. We found this speeds the process along. In years past we had far too many stillbirths.”
I felt my knees buckle. I swooned for a second until I got my balance.
The men stood in line, some their heads bowed in solemn reflection, others weeping softly and yet others were joyously animated. I truly didn’t know how I felt. I looked about me. I knew I wasn’t up to their standards. How could I be? I was a fraud. I cringed thinking about the Barrel of Wisdom. What I learned was how to take it. These men knew how to give it. They knew what to do when you had a person over a barrel. And isn’t that what it takes to stand in the boardroom of a major corporation, to rule Wall Street or lead nations? If the circumstances were reversed would I have been able to…? The answer is a sickening no! I knew these men were a special breed of super-humans. Like BatMan or Captain America, they were all cut from the same cloth.
I watched the first birth and was awed by the sight and sounds of it. The elephant’s labored breathing, the crowning as the head pushed out, then the first gasp and wail.
I wondered. Was there hope for me? I stood under the Shower of Life, its warm oils soothing my tortured spirit. I barely remember being rolled in pepper. My next sense was of being in a dark moist cocoon. I can hear, feel the thunderous heartbeat, next the warm embrace, then the beginnings of contractions. I am to be born again, I feel it, the urgency, the push!
I stand at the limo’s open door, turning I see Fang atop the pyramid, the setting moon illuminating his stunning image. I raised my hand in farewell before slipping into the limo’s backseat. I find the window button, quickly rolling it down; I want to call out and thank him when I remembered our oath of silence; just as well, there are no words that could express what I felt at that moment. As the car pitched and bucked down the rutted dirt road I wondered; would I be able to measure up to these men? Could I be a Senator, a President? Would I be able to run a Fortune five hundred company? At this point I didn’t have an answer but the one and only thing I knew for certain: I had the right training.