NIGHT FINAL: a short story. By Michael Layne Heath. 1977

I writ this at age 19, recently discovered from journals of that time. Aside from the odd syntax mistake, it is as written then.

It is, for sure, a piece inspired and in thrall of the world I thought was out there – NY, California – the first exposure due to a dear pal to the Beats, and general hormonal teenage surrealism.

Make of it what you will – and, to paraphrase Brian Jones, don’t judge it or me too harshly.


He turned his back on the stuffed owl he had for a full minute been fondling absent-mindedly. Some things must be evened out, he thought. He then mounted his horse and rode from the trophy garden to the front door of his mansion.

I’m just a regular geek, he thought. Appreciate living? Appreciate Brancusi? Some kind of mercenary chemistry has been going on.

He entered the main hall to find his minstrels, strumming the lost chord. It was last year’s top headline, and even the Freemasons were among those that gave him an award. Now it was this year, nearly over, yet he had to see what winter wonder could be worked out. But first, there was Brancusi to worry about.

There were 17 night-final editions of the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE that had been lying around, unknown to him, for ages. His wife bought them the day of his great scientific discovery. Sadly, she passed on two days after his return. Months passed. The man was surprised to hear from his servants one day that there were these papers in a storage box under the house. Found there when making room for a few old and useless items, the servants said.

The man was shocked, and started to cry, all the tears from his wife’s demise working overtime to appear on his cheeks.

Time passed further and, as he found fame as easily as a raindrop slides down a windowpane, he became a man in demand. Able to find a group of strolling players to serenade him 24/7 with his great global achievement, quite secure in his microsphere.

Still, being very practical, now and then he was at his old job of career appraisal. People would come to see him – by appointment, naturally – for his government-licensed approval of their careers and daily doings.

‘Just wonderful! You are absolved of guilt. Here is your five-year renewal!’ was his spiel of approval, as he handed people their badge of worthiness and sent them on their way.

He was so frantically secure that he built his mansion around his office. And one day, he was brainstorming a way to decorate the office. It was then that he remembered the seventeen night-final editions of the SF CHRONICLE. In a flash, he was off.

The next dawn found an entire room of wall-to-wall yellowing newspapers. As a tribute to his wife, and an authoritarian device of guilt to make offenders get on their knees and bootlick to his content.

The papers left over were used to form a quasi-religious, quasi-tacky futuristic cassock, adorned with black monkey fur and 3-D postcards depicting random dreams the man had soporifically experienced. Across the chest were strips of skylight glass that radiated cirrus cloud patterns. His head piece was a cardinal’s peak with a burgundy gold tassel on top. It wasn’t really that important to have, except when people came in and couldn’t look him directly in the eyes when daring conversation.

Now he was dressed. His servants held the double French doors open for him to make the quarter-mile stride to his office. Upon arrival, his sexy if scantily brained and clad secretary leapt from her desk, hips making their way to her boss, body following up the rear and hers too.

‘You have only one appointment today, sir…’ The man swept past her in a fug of monkey fur and aged newsprint into his office, slamming the door behind him.

After 20 minutes, several bottles of concord wine and a phoned-in death threat, he splayed his fingers and pronounced himself ready.

The man glanced up to his right at one of the pages on the wall. It was totally blank, save for a few words in the center, black against a white background: THE NIGHT FINAL SAVES LIVES.

He thought about that for a moment, then leaned back in his chair, sighing dejectedly. It was out of his hands. His mind drifted to Jamaica, the Bahamas and weeks of opiate sunshine to follow.

Elsewhere on the estate, a Jaguar XKE could be heard speeding away into the distance.

The maids played bridge in the pantry. Old Ned sat under the willow tree in the front yard, complaining about the quality of his Darjeeling tea, and about all the pills Nursie made him take.

Brancusi was already seventeen minutes late.

December 1977
College Park/Adelphi/Langley Park, MD.

Copyright 2016, ML Heath, Feudal Gesture Press.

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