map The Lesson

by Ed Hamilton

Published in Issue No. 5 ~ October, 1996

Joe and Henry lived upstairs in my college dorm. They were a pair of druggies from rural Kentucky who never went to class, except maybe once in a while to see how it felt on a hit of acid of something. There was always a party of sorts in their room, and every night, after I’d finished studying, I’d go up there to get high.

One night at around midnight I went up there, and Joe and Henry were nowhere to be found. But their door was standing wide open, so I went in. Sitting out on the bed was a big bag of reefer, half spilled out onto a tray. Also on the tray, jumbled in with the reefer, were about ten quaaludes, a few tuinals, and a bunch of other pills I couldn’t identify.

What a couple of idiots, I thought. Anybody could’ve just walked right in and stolen their stuff–I considered it myself. Worse yet, an RA or other authority figure could’ve come in. John and Henry had already been busted for numerous offenses, and were definitely being watched.

I sat down to wait for them so I could berate them for their stupidity.

But they didn’t come back. I waited for what seemed like a good five or ten minutes. Plenty of people were passing by outside in the hall, and the drugs were easily visible to anyone who cared to look in.

I began to get rather nervous. They’d bust my ass too, for damn sure, even though the drugs weren’t mine.

Probably the sensible thing would have been to just close the door, or else to hide the tray of drugs in a drawer or something. But I just couldn’t stand the thought of Joe and Henry getting off so easy.

They deserved to be punished.

Then I had an idea. I hurried downstairs to my room. A few days before I had changed the ribbon on my typewriter, and, packrat that I am, I’d saved the old one. I had known it would come in handy some day.

Joe and Henry still hadn’t returned. I unraveled the ribbon and strung it all about their room, looping it around chairs and stereo speakers, curtain rods, bedposts, and table legs. The damn thing was long as shit. You wouldn’t believe how long a typewriter ribbon actually is until you’ve unraveled one. Soon the whole room was overlain with a scummy black web.

Up on the shelf over the bed, Joe and Henry had a collection of about twenty or thirty glasses they had stolen from the cafeteria. I wrapped the ribbon around them, but then stretched it too tight. About half the glasses came crashing down onto the bed–right next to the reefer. This seemed a fitting exclamation point to my prank, so I got out of there.

My hands were filthy with black ink–a dead giveaway, I realized at once. I went back down to the bathroom on my own floor and washed them thoroughly, then carefully examined my face and hair in the mirror to make sure I hadn’t accidentally rubbed ink on myself.

Then I went down the hall to my friend Lem’s room to hide out. I told him the story.

“You should’ve stole their reefer,” Lem said. “That would’ve served them right.”

“Yeah, I know it. But they’re friends.”

“They’re not my friends,” Lem remarked deviously. “I’m about ready to go up there.”

I tried to discourage him: “They’re sure to be back by now.”

Lem got to his feet. “Fuck it. I’m going up.”

Now one thing I should mention is that, whenever anything bizarre happens, people tend to automatically connect it with me. For some reason it’s been this way all my life–probably because I’m usually responsible.

Anyway, before Lem could take two steps, Joe burst through the door–without even knocking. Somehow he’d known exactly where to find me. His eyes were wild–he was obviously high on something good–and that, coupled with his long unkempt hair, made him look like a crazed desert prophet. He was holding his hands out before him, palms up. They were covered with black ink.

“Show me your hands!” he screamed maniacally. He had pretty much ink on his face as well.

“What?” I said. “What for?”

“Show me your hands, motherfucker!”

“What are you talking about?”


I shrugged my shoulders, and complied. Of course they were clean.

Joe seemed bewildered, and somewhat crestfallen–but only for an instant.

“I know it was you!” he screamed, shaking his blackened finger in my face. “I know it anyway! I KNOW IT!!!”

“You’ve lost your mind, man,” I said calmly. “Settle down.”

He stormed back out, slamming the door behind him.

Lem and I just laughed–though Lem was a bit upset he didn’t get the reefer. What the hell is Joe so mad about, I wondered, he should be thankful.

But I don’t believe he quite got the point.

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Ed Hamilton lives in New York City. His fiction has appeared in small press magazines such as Exquisite Corpse, The Lumpen, and Gazebo, as well as on-line in Pif, Assorted Realities, Time Out:Netbooks, Eclectica, Anthem, Lexicon, Children, Church and Daddies, and has been accepted for publication in upcoming issues of Pink Cadillac, and Southern Ocean Review.