I’m wearing same red cape that I wore at the Eyes Wide Shut party and a pair of black Mary Jane flats, and I feel like Little Red Riding Hood hurrying home to Grandma’s. The silence, the stillness, the solitariness and the blackness are all creeping me out. I’m walking as briskly as I can, willing my destination to appear around every turn. But it never does.
I’m scurrying along this path, in the dark, heading to who knows where, and two thoughts are spinning through my head over and over, first one and then the other.
What am I doing here?
And I can’t think of enough ways to curse Bundy because I know, I just know, he’s set me up again but I have to find Anna and I don’t have any choice. I curse Bundy’s birth, I curse his parents, I curse his stupid tattoos, his ugly penis and his stinking feet. I can’t still the voice in my head and it becomes so deafening and insistent that I have to check I’m not saying it aloud. Not that there’s anyone around to hear me. I’m running in circles through my head and, every so often, I stumble on the answer.
I’m here to find Anna.
I have to find Anna.
Just thinking it steels my determination to reach my goal, and I quicken my pace.
I’m so lost in my thoughts that I forget where I am and it takes the edge off the anxiety and the fear of walking alone in the dark, because although there’s not a soul in sight, it’s teeming with life I can hear. The way the sounds of nature fill the air when you’re walking through a forest, even if you can’t see the source. I don’t hear the sound of a forest, I hear the murmur of sex, the humming of fucking, the sounds of pleasure unbound. Laughter, shrieks, grunts and moans. The slap of skin on skin. And when I peer into the darkness, off the path, I think I can make out limbs entwined in branches, bodies bent over boughs, buttocks sprouting from bushes, figures rutting in the undergrowth. It feels like Eden before the Fall, when sex and nature were one, primal, carnal and wild. Temptation surrounds me.
Although it seems like I’m moving towards the house, I can’t be certain that’s where the path is actually leading because sometimes it doubles back on itself or slips into a series of sharp zig‑zag turns. It doesn’t take long before I start to lose my orientation and I have no idea whether I’m going forward or backward, up or down. Yet I can always see the tall, thin ornamental tower of the villa, like a beacon or a lighthouse, to mark my way.
I feel like I’m walking through the opening montage of Citizen Kane ; those famous first shots that begin so ominously with a No Trespassing sign hanging off a chain‑link fence, then bleed into that long, slow vertical pan up across more fences, railings, gates and balustrades – each more ornate, more solid, more foreboding than the last – followed by a series of slow fades through the ruins of Xanadu, the monumental folly Kane built to celebrate his wealth, with his forbidding Gothic mansion dominating the background like a tombstone.
I think of those fences and gates as the barriers and constructs of my personality; the ones I erected all through childhood and adolescence to protect me from the world. I’m so wrapped up in my own life that I’d forgotten all those invisible fortifications were even there and, instead of protecting me, all they do is bar my way from looking inside of myself, from seeing who I really am. And now I realize I don’t want to walk through my entire life that way. I don’t want to end up like Charles Foster Kane: facing death, but still in denial of what drove him. A haunted man locked up in his haunted house, condemned to rot along with his estate.
This estate, the one I’m walking through, is as derelict as Kane’s, but the further I walk, the more whimsical and eccentric it gets. It’s a ruin designed to look like an antiquity, but built to bamboozle the archeologist who would one day stumble upon it. I’m walking past buildings just set back from the path that seem to tower above me as I approach, but when I get closer I see they’re built to a forced perspective and exist as nothing but skewed facades with flights of stairs that go nowhere. I pass a half‑finished amphitheater that has seats and no stage and rows of columns bearing the faces of sprites and devils. Vast crumbling stone statues peek out over the treetops and from behind the undergrowth – of giants, gods, goddesses, nymphs, mythical creatures – all engaged in some form of sexual congress or exhibitionism. A giant turtle carrying a giant phallus on its back. A sphinx cupping its breasts as water spurts from the nipples. A colossus in battle armor holding his monumental engorged penis like a sword, ready to vanquish his foes.
I figure this place must have been built by some cash‑rich financier with unlimited resources at his disposal as a monument to his outsized sexual imagination. Then, like Kane, he became impotent through age or dissatisfaction or putrefaction, and bequeathed his creation to Mother Nature, who embraced the stone deities as her own, swaddling the naked figures with mosses, vines, roots and weeds.
I feel the figures watching me, I hear the sound of sex in the trees and undergrowth and I hasten along the path, turning a corner, round a copse of trees, and coming upon a small tree‑lined avenue with interlocking branches that form a canopy. It leads up to a large rock set into the hillside, carved into the face of an ogre – chubby and round, with a beard, small beady eyes and a mouth containing just a handful of small uneven teeth. It makes me think of the vagina dentata graffiti splashed on the wall outside the Fuck Factory. This is a vagina with teeth, eyes and pubic hair.
An inscription is carved around its upper lip, and stained in red like a tattoo:
The ogre’s mouth is open wide, as if it’s laughing or screaming, I can’t tell which. Or maybe just screaming with laughter at some private joke. The ogre is looking at me, laughing at me, as if it’s recognized someone who doesn’t belong. Part of me feels like I just want to run inside its mouth and hide, no matter what I might find in there, in the pitch black, just so I don’t have to meet its gaze any more. Because that’s where the path leads, into the mouth of the ogre. That’s where it ends. There’s nowhere else to go, other than turn back and retrace my steps, but I have no intention of doing that. I have to find Anna.
I can hear music, the sound of drums and flutes. It seems to be coming from the ogre’s mouth.
I’m wavering between anxiety and determination, and I wish Anna was here. I think, what would Anna do? But I already know the answer. None of this would faze her. She’d just skip inside gaily because, to her, every experience is a new adventure, a new challenge, a new frontier to cross.
The murmuring sex is speaking to me. It says, ‘Come inside.’ So I do.
Inside it’s so dark that I stumble on a rock almost immediately and nearly fall face forward. I extend my arms out on either side to touch the walls, the ogre’s mouth and throat. They are so close that my arms are still bent at the elbows but I can stand upright without stooping. The walls are cold and damp to my touch.
I feel my way along, stepping gingerly, until gradually my eyes start to adjust to a soft light up ahead. I arrive at a long staircase, cut into the rock with a rusted wrought iron balustrade, leading down into a natural cave system. The roof of the chamber droops like the ceiling of a canvas tent during heavy rain and its surface is covered with long spindly stalactites, brilliantly colored reds and browns at the base, yellow and white by the tip – like the spines of a giant sea urchin. Water drops from the spines into small pools in the rock surface and, as it does so, it reverberates and echoes around me like a bell. Rivulets of water run underneath my feet and I have to hold onto the iron rail to stop myself from slipping. It too feels wet to my touch, as if it’s rotting. The air is stale and sharp.
It feels like I’m descending into the belly of the earth through the gullet of the ogre, like Jonah wandering aimlessly through the whale. There’s nowhere to go but onward, wherever that may lead.
I can see the bottom of the staircase now and I look behind me to see how far I’ve come and figure I’m about halfway down. The further down I go, the louder and more frantic the music gets. It sounds like a hubbub of voices all yelling to be heard.
At the bottom of the steps is a passage that’s barely wide enough for one person and I have to bend down as I walk through. After a few hundred yards it opens out onto a platform that looks out over a large grotto, with stairs cut into the rock leading down to it.
I’m standing halfway up the face of the cavern and opposite, at the other end, there’s a natural waterfall that emerges through a deep fissure in the rock face above it that opens onto the night sky, through which the moon shines down, illuminating the grotto with a spectral silvery light. Flaming torches fixed to the walls provide another source of light; just enough to see that the walls of the grotto are painted with a vividly colored fresco of the garden I’ve just walked through, with the path winding through it and the same stone statues I saw peeking out from behind the foliage. The floor of the grotto is covered in a luminous pink moss that clings to the rock face and glistens and shines in the torchlight like burnished gold.
At the base of the waterfall, the water runs off in two streams that form an island. On the island stands a small round colonnaded stone structure, like a podium or bandstand, that’s open on one side and spotlit by the moon. Arrayed around either side of the podium are several figures wearing white robes and oversized cartoonish animal costume heads, each playing an instrument – either a hollow‑bodied hand drum or small cymbals. Two of the figures are playing long wooden flutes that flare out at the end. The music is so loud and piercing as it echoes around the grotto that it fills the space with a disorientating clamor of conflicting rhythms and pitches and I can feel it reverberating through my body.
On the podium is a throne with upholstered red velvet seating trimmed in gold and a lion carved into each of the two front legs. And on the throne sits a veiled figure in long flowing white robes that are so loose around the body it’s hard to determine its sex. At its feet is a woman, a naked woman with blonde hair, just like Anna’s, and my heart skips a beat when I see her, but I can’t tell if it really is Anna because she’s too far away and she’s kneeling with her head in the lap of the robed figure, whose gloved hand rests on her head, the way a cleric might do when granting a parishioner absolution from their sins.
This woman has clearly committed great sins because her back is covered in a criss‑cross of painful‑looking red welts and another robed figure is standing behind her with a whip drawn back, ready to administer more. I think back to the time Anna showed me the marks on her wrist and how horrific it looked, and I realize how naive I was, how that was really nothing at all.
Five other naked women, two blondes, two brunettes and one redhead, are kneeling in a semi‑circle at the base of the steps leading up to the podium, facing towards the throne, their hands on their knees and their heads bowed. Waiting their turn.
The music is so loud I can’t hear myself think, so loud it feels as if it’s slowly erasing my identity and filling it with sound. What I can’t let it steal is my purpose. I have to find Anna. I repeat it over and over in my head like a mantra.
I start to descend the stairs slowly and as I get closer to the floor of the grotto, I realize it isn’t covered in moss, it’s covered in bodies; a writhing mass of copulating bodies, of hair and skin and sweat. The carpet of bodies covers every inch of the base of the grotto and creeps up the sides. They’re so entwined that it’s impossible to discern where one separates from the other. Heads are buried between legs and arms. Torsos seem blessed with multiple pairs of limbs. Legs emerge from shoulders, arms disappear between legs and emerge from behind waists. Hands are fixed to breasts. Penises sprout from bended knees. Mouths are either open in ecstasy or filled with some appendage or other. And it’s as if they’ve all been whipped into a sexual fervor by the music.
And I thought I’d seen it all in Anna’s company – on the SODOM website, at the Fuck Factory. I thought I’d seen just about everything. I was almost starting to become jaded, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Not even in the movies.
I put one foot forward carefully, stepping into this teeming mass of bodies and, as I do, it seems to register my presence and start to separate and open up, forming a path for me to walk along. I’m moving through these bodies and I feel so self‑conscious yet, at the same time, completely inconspicuous because no one is paying me the least bit of attention, as if I’m walking through a crowded city street, one person amongst many, amongst hundreds and thousands, lost in the hustle and bustle.
I glance up at the podium, just in time to see the blonde girl stand up and fall back into the undulating swarm of human flesh. Her prone lifeless frame is being tossed back and forth across the floor of the grotto like a body surfer being passed over a mosh pit. Arms reach out to grope and grab her and pull her down. Others push her up and onward.
It reminds of the opening scene of The Wild Bunch , where the children are sitting at the side of the road watching an army of red ants swarm over and devour two scorpions. And they’re watching this terrible spectacle of ritual sacrifice with delight, poking the creatures with sticks to excite them further, encouraging cruelty without conscience.
I watch in horror as the blonde girl gets sucked down and swallowed by the pack, her body lost in the spill. And it’s not as if I can do anything about it. Just before she does I get a good look at her face, enough of a look that I can see it’s not Anna.
Another girl gets up and takes her places at the foot of the veiled figure. The whip is raised, and comes down on her back with a terrifying force and speed. Her body tenses as it hits, her shoulders arch out and her spine in. Her head tilts and her mouth drops open, like a wolf howling at the moon, but her screams cannot be heard, because the music drowns out everything – the sound of the whip, her screams, the mass of bodies around me writhing and fucking – everything but itself.
The bodies continue to peel away in front of me and I’m almost in the center of the cavern now and close enough to the podium to see the faces of the girls, to see that none of them are Anna either. The girl in front of the throne has been lashed into unconsciousness and she’s slumped at the foot of the veiled figure.
This is a weird fucking scene. The weirdest. Too damn weird for me. Right now, I just want to run and get the hell out of here, but I can’t. I’m at the mercy of this swarm of bodies.
The music is pounding in my ears. My heart is beating so hard that it feels like my chest is going to explode. It’s beating so hard that I can feel myself start to panic and hyper‑ventilate. And it takes every ounce of willpower to stop that from happening, to slow my breathing down and regulate, so I can take stock of what to do and where to go. And now it seems to me as if the bodies are not opening to accommodate the path I’ve chosen but that, instead, they’re leading me, and as long as I keep walking, the bodies will let me pass.
Soon enough, I’m almost at the other side of the cavern and I can see an opening in the rock face, a passage out, and I realize that’s where they’re leading me. Each of those final steps is more excruciating than the last. And, finally, I can’t take it any more and skip over the last few arms and legs to safety.
I dash through the opening down a narrow passageway as fast as my legs will carry me and I don’t look back until I hear the music decrease in volume, until I can barely hear it any more and I can hear the echo of my footsteps as they hit the floor. And the passage splits into three, then two, then turns in on itself. And it feels like I’m back in the bowels of the Fuck Factory again, getting horribly lost.
I pass by chamber after chamber and as I pass each one I peek inside. Each one looks like a scene from the SODOM website. There is a girl in some kind of stress situation or scenario – tied up, caged, chained, restrained – and surrounding them an audience, like the one in my dream, all wearing carnival masks, galvanized and aroused by the spectacle that has been presented for them.
Like the grotto, the walls of chambers are painted, but this time with an interior scene, like a theater set, complete with windows, doors and adjoining rooms. I pass by each chamber slowly enough that I can make sure Anna is not inside and then move on. I’m walking through these catacombs and after a while it feels like I’m walking around in circles. Either that or the punishments just all start to look the same.
I come across one room that looks empty. Curiosity gets the better of me and I walk inside. Like all the other chambers I saw, all the furnishings are painted on the walls, except a small dais, made up as a bed, and a marble statue standing opposite it.
A man’s voice from behind says, ‘What took you so long?’
He sounds so familiar to me. This voice, I know it.
I turn around to see the man in the harlequin mask, the man from my dream, my sex partner from the Juliette Society party. A sense of relief washes over me at the sight of a familiar figure. He’s wearing a knowing smile and a black hooded cape. He was expecting me, but I can’t work out how.
‘I’m looking for someone,’ I say.
And I scan the room as I say it, even though there’s not a lot to scan.
‘Well, here I am,’ he says, intent on drawing my attention and my eyes back to him.
‘Not you,’ I tell him. ‘My friend. Anna.’
‘Do I know her?’ he says.
‘I don’t know… ’ I reply, looking into his eyes.
‘Should I?’ he says. That smile flickers across his face again. I don’t really know what this is about or where it’s leading, but it feels like he knows more than he’s letting on and he’s teasing me.
‘Come,’ he says, walking towards me and extending his hand. ‘I want to show you something.’
He motions to the marble statue in the corner of the room.
Willingly, I take his hand and it seems so familiar, like when a child reaches for its parent’s hand and slips inside it like a baseball glove and it feels so comforting and warm.
From the back, the statue looks like a man with really hairy legs. He’s kneeling down and bending forward with his arms out in front of him, either kneeling in prayer or masturbating with his back turned so that no one can see. As we get closer, I see that he’s doing neither.
It’s a statue of a man, and there’s no other way to say this other than to be blunt – it’s a statue of a man fucking a goat. Well, not exactly a man, but a half‑man/half‑goat, with horns, like the devil. The top half is human; the bottom, goat. Technically, I guess, it’s really a goat fucking a goat and no laws of man, nature, or God are actually being violated or transgressed. But still… it is fucking, there’s not really any doubt about that, because the goat‑man has his penis inserted into the goat’s lower regions. If a goat has a vagina – this is really embarrassing, I don’t know if a goat has a vagina – then, yes, it’s inserted into the goat’s vagina.
The goat, like most goats, even when they’re female, has a beard. And it’s lying on its back, with its hind legs up in the air and the goat‑man is fucking it and tugging on its beard at the same time. And the goat, it’s not looking terribly happy about this state of affairs, it has to be said. In fact, it looks terrified. Or maybe I’m just projecting. But I’ll tell you this, the whole scenario looks pretty creepy, even if the statue itself is beautifully carved and rendered.
‘Do you know what this is?’ he says.
‘Pretty explicit,’ I say. ‘Other than that, no idea.’
‘Take a guess,’ he says.
‘Ancient Etruscan pornography?’ I ask.
‘Close,’ he laughs. ‘A couple of centuries off. It’s Roman. Pan. The God of fucking.’
I’m listening to his voice and it’s really bugging me because he sounds so familiar, but I just can’t place it.
‘Do you know where this comes from?’ he says.
‘The Playboy Mansion?’ I say.
And now I’m just fucking with him, because he’s trying to patronize me. If I could see his face, I’m sure it would be scowling.
‘Herculaneum,’ he says, as if I should know. ‘Italy, near Pompeii. In the private villa of Julius Caesar’s father‑in‑law, who was himself an extremely powerful and influential figure.
‘Can you imagine what went on there?’ he says. ‘What kind of activities this inspired?’
And he gives Pan a friendly little pat on the ass.
House parties? I say.
‘Correct,’ he says. And I’m glad I’ve finally got something right. But somehow I was expecting him to elaborate a little more. He’s playing with me again.
‘This isn’t the real one, unfortunately, but it’s a very good copy – all the details are present and correct,’ he says, running his index finger slowly and methodically along Pan’s erect penis, as if checking for dust. ‘And it serves its purpose.’
Which is, I say.
‘Don’t be coy,’ he says.
I’m not, I say.
‘This is what it’s all about,’ he says.
‘What is this place?’ I ask him.
‘This,’ he says, ‘is the garden of earthly delights. The marriage of heaven and hell.’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’
‘The Juliette Society,’ he says.
As soon as I hear the name, I’m back in the place I first heard it. Back in that bathroom with Anna. And I thought it was just a silly name for an elite swingers club. Apparently not.
‘I’ve heard about it,’ I say. ‘But what is it?’
‘The Juliette Society are a people united by one idea, a shared philosophy, all dedicated to the pursuit of sublime pleasures. We have common interests, shared goals and unlimited means.’
‘Sounds like a club for filthy rich people who like to get their rocks off,’ I tell him.
‘It’s not a club,’ he says. ‘It’s a tradition. A bloodline through history that began with the pre‑Christian mystery religions and cults that worshipped pagan deities. The Roman authorities saw the cults as a threat to power and order. So they stamped down on them, broke them up and rounded up their devotees.’
The mystery religions are sounding a bit like the Fuck Factory of the Ancient World, but I’m not sure he quite means it that way.
‘What they didn’t know was that a lot of public figures and executives in the Roman Empire were also members of these cults,’ he says. ‘They were hunted down, imprisoned and put to death. But the cult survived and went underground, hiding itself in plain view. Since that time, it’s been known by many names.’
And he reels off a list of names that sound like the titles of cheesy horror B‑movies.
The Cult of Isis.
The Secret Order of Libertines.
The Hellfire Club.
‘The name it’s known by now is The Juliette Society,’ he says. ‘But they all derive from the mystery religions.’
‘What was the mystery?’ I ask, intrigued.
‘The mystery wasn’t a thing to be uncovered,’ he says. ‘It was a place to be invoked, a place like this. A final destination, not a stop on the road.’
He’s talking in riddles, but I’m completely entranced.
‘And how do you get to this place?’ I say.
‘There are three stages of initiation.’
‘Disorientation of the senses.’
I’ve been there.
‘Intoxication of the body.’
Seen that. All present and correct. And here I am.
It wasn’t a chance happening, or a random series of events that brought me.
I was led here.
‘Now, you know how you got here,’ he says, like he knew what I was thinking. And there’s that smile again. I just can’t read him.
‘Whatever the Juliette Society is, I don’t want any part of it,’ I tell him, ‘I just want to find my friend.’
‘You’re already a part of it,’ he says.
‘I don’t belong here!’ I tell him wildly.
‘If you got here, you belong here,’ he replies, looking directly into my eyes.
‘But why?’ I ask.
‘Because the others didn’t.’
‘What others?’ I say.
‘The ones who didn’t make it,’ he says. ‘You see, the ones who give up halfway, or quit, the ones who baulk at the initiation, they were sacrificed.’
Sacrificed, I think. Did I hear that right? And I shiver inside, trying not to look as weirded out as I feel.
‘Is this one of those situations where after you’ve told me, you’re going to have to kill me?’
And I’m only half‑joking.
He laughs, but I don’t think it’s because he got the joke, and he doesn’t say no.
‘We are more alike than we are different, you know,’ he says. ‘More alike than you’d want to admit. Hard as it is for you to fathom. We are not as others.’
I know what this is now. This is that scene in Last Tango in Paris , the only one that anyone really knows or cares about.
The one that begins when Maria Schneider walks into Marlon Brando’s apartment, calling out to announce her arrival. Not getting any response, she thinks no one’s home. But Brando’s sitting there on the floor, eating bread and cheese, saying nothing, not letting on, just waiting for her to arrive.
He already knows what’s going to happen. He’s already decided where this is going. What’s he going to do. She’s oblivious. And she makes herself oblivious because, in some ways, she wants it to happen too.
He’s been waiting here for me too, because he knew that I’d arrive. And I turned up right on cue.
Ready for my scene.
‘Are you afraid?’ he says, moving towards me.
‘No,’ I say, realizing it’s true.
And I’m really not. But even if I was, I wouldn’t give him the pleasure of knowing.
All I’m thinking is, what’s his game? And where is Anna?
‘Should I be afraid?’ I ask.
He pulls me towards him and I don’t resist because I understand that this is where it’s all been leading.
I wanted to come here. I made it happen.
I came by necessity. I had no choice.
I had a talent. And I was spotted.
He pushes me down onto the dais on my back. He already knows what he wants and he’s going to take it. I look up and see the statue. I see a goat and a horny devil on top of her. Myself and him in unholy union. But he doesn’t reach for my beard, he reaches for my throat.
By the time I realize what he’s doing his hands are already upon me and everything’s moving so fast that it’s moving in slow motion.
His hands are clasped around my throat.
I try to scream but it comes out as dead air. I struggle but he knows that he’s stronger than me. I’m pinned to the platform with the full weight of his body bearing down.
I can feel his hands slowly tighten around my windpipe.
And I flash on what happened to all those girls. I flash on what could have happened to Anna. And it all seems obvious now. It all seems so clear.
I should have paid closer attention. I should have listened to my head and not my body. I should have seen this coming.
Nobody wants to die. Not here, not like this.
I don’t want to die. Not here, not like those girls.
But it’s too late for second thoughts.
He’s squeezing the life out of me.
And I summon every ounce of strength and every last drop of air in my lungs to rasp:
He leans down until he’s in my ear and I hear him whisper, ‘Can you feel me?’
His hands tighten.
Then everything goes black.
The next thing I know I’m lying on my back, looking up at a vast, uninterrupted expanse of blue sky that stretches from one horizon to the next. No sun, no moon, no clouds. And even though the color is flat and featureless and completely uniform, it seems like it’s arched over me, as if I’m looking at the curvature of the earth. I feel a slight breeze brush against my body but, at this point, I can’t tell if I’m submerged underwater or floating through the sky.
Ghostly white gulls glide above my head like sentinels. And if it weren’t for the tips of their wings, that look as if they’d been stained with India ink, I’d think they were just floaters drifting in front of my eyes from staring too long into the infinite blue. They soar across my field of vision, some bigger than others on colliding paths at different altitudes, even though it looks as if they’re all inhabiting the same plane. I see a flock of starlings dart back and forth across the sky like a shoal of fish, turning on a dime to catch the current.