We rounded the last curve; the walkway ended at the open roof of the house, and moonlight shone on a circular tub of stained tin.
“That’s the tar beetle pit,” the writer said to me. “Go watch it, but don’t put your hand in it until I say so.”
He had a lot of demands, but I acquiesced to all of them because of guilt at having forgotten his novel.
My brothers and the writer stayed behind, looking up at me as I approached the tub. Inside, hundreds of thousands of centimeter-long black beetles cascaded over one another, each oozed from their mouths and anuses a purplish thick paste, which reeked of licorice and onions. They crawled over each other to reach the lip of the tub, but constantly fell back, creating the illusion of a rising escalator. At the center was a pool of the licorice sludge.
“Put your hand in the middle,” said the writer.
I pushed my hand in up to my wrist. It was tepid, and after a few seconds my skin prickled as if circulation was poor.
My brother A screamed, and Z was shouting.
The writer had shoved A off the path into the empty space. I watched in horror as he fell down, smashing through the stucco floor, through another floor into a dark space crowded with baboons.
Z struggled with the writer at the brink, but was overwhelmed by his strength, and he toppled backward, plummeting down and down into the area where A had been carried away.
I yanked my hand out of the sludge and clutched it to my chest. My heart beat pounded, and for a moment waves of pain radiated from it like fire in my arteries.
I pointed at the writer, licorice spit and shit dripping from my fingers. “You are a . . .”
“I am a writer,” he said. His chin jutted out, and his face grew heavy with fat. He looked at me as if bored. He sat down at the edge of the walkway, swinging his legs in the emptiness.
I peered down for a few seconds, choked with worry, before I finally leaped. The fall was fast, and I landed softly on my feet in a cellar that smelled of urine and meat. The space was huge and empty. A gigantic caged gate was ahead of me, and through it I could see a well-lit area with rising rows of chairs and tables, like a university classroom. The chairs were occupied by bipedal baboons that occasionally stood and chatted with one another in what sounded like Spanish. In all the brown and gray fur, I caught a glimpse of rich red. It was my brother Z! He was leaning forward on a table, concentrating on a source of light that washed over all of them.
I didn’t see A, and it made me sick.
An enormous, two-headed gibbon crawled down from a crevice above when I stepped to the gate. It stood on the main lock of the gate, four eyes searching me, the heads turning inward to search each other.
“Por que você se aqui?” they asked.
“I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Not Spanish! Portuguese. Why did you fall in here?”
“The writer pushed my brothers down here. I want to see if they’re okay.”
“Raise your tar beetle shit hand to us.”
I did, and the gibbon heads sniffed it, then licked the back of my hand clean. Each head bent towards the opposite shoulder and vomited.
“Eu não posso acreditar como eu amo a vomitar isso!” they said, and unlocked the gate with a lever hidden in the above crevice. The gibbons gestured for me to enter before creeping up into the darkness. The gate rolled open on a track, filling the air with a horrible grinding noise. Hundreds of baboon eyes focused on me, as well as those of my brother. The huge light into which he’d been staring went black.
Z called my name and waved for me to join him.
A tall baboon in the front row grabbed my hand and led me up to my brother, who sat in a chair between two ancient baboons. One moved two seats over to accommodate me and my missing brother. I embraced Z, asking, “Where’s A?”
“He went to the bathroom.”
I exhaled in relief and we both sat down.
The descending rows of tables and chairs faced a low platform at the fore of the auditorium. The baboon to my left pointed to a red button on the table in front of me. Every seat had a button.
“Push the button for a piece of his oblivion,” he said.
Below, a great line of light spouted up from the center of the platform, and unfolded into an enormous hologram of the writer’s head. Except for his face, his skull was transparent, revealing his brain. His brain was the center of the powerful light; the folds radiated with it. His head slowly rotated. The writer looked different from when I last saw him. His face was lean, his expression crisp and aware.
Baboons from all across the room pushed their buttons, sounding like dozens of people simultaneously pushing the plastic bubble in the game TROUBLE. As the buttons were pressed, sections of light within the writer’s brain went dark. By degrees, the writer’s countenance changed, his chin receded, his cheeks slackened and swelled, his eyes lost their electric intensity and concentration, pupils seeming to fade and retract within, to gaze noncommittally at an inward erosion.
My brother pushed his button three times fast.
The writer’s spinning head flickered, froze for a moment facing all of us in this baboon congress, his decreasing intelligence and curiosity apparent in a mouth hanging open to release an unrestrained river of drool.
“Fuck the writer,” I said, and pushed the button, leaving a smear of tar beetle shit and spit.