Here's the next excerpt from Matt Valenti's The Newts:
Ed seeks Directions from a well-travelled friend, and unexpectedly begins his Journey
Ed pulled into a gravel driveway as heavy rain pounded the roof of his work truck. He parked between an ancient camper currently serving as a storage unit and a small motorboat propped upon cinder blocks on the front lawn. A minute later he stood in a puddle on the crumbling cement porch of the house, banging on the front door.
Bob Herkle, a burly man with a cigarette perpetually dangling from his lip, opened the door and grimaced at Ed in the brightness of his flickering porch light.
“Better be important, Ed,” he grumbled.
“Bob, it’s only the future of our nation at stake,” said Ed, in a deadly serious tone, as rivulets of rainwater dripped from the three corners of his hat and onto his silver-buckled shoes.
“Ed, it’s two in the morning,” replied Herkle. “You’re dressed like – like who? Beethoven? Go to hell.”
“Exactly!” cried Ed. “That’s what I need you to tell me. How to get to hell – or heaven – or wherever it is you went when you had your heart attack.”
Herkle looked thoughtfully at Ed. “Which heart attack?” he asked.
“I don’t know – whichever one you told me about,” said Ed, with a puzzled look. “You know, where you saw the light and heard the doctors say ‘we’ve lost him,’ and all that.”
“You mean my second one, I guess,” said Herkle. “We haven’t talked in awhile, so I wasn’t sure if you knew about the latest one, where I actually heard a voice tell me ‘Go back, go back, your work on Earth isn’t done.’”
“Really?” exclaimed Ed. He wondered in awe for a moment at the inexplicably mysterious ways of God, knowing Herkle hadn’t worked at anything in more than a decade other than cashing disability checks and avoiding paying his ex-wife’s alimony. “Shoot, yeah, I didn’t hear about that one. What happened?”
Herkle nodded seriously and told his story:
“I was on the gurney in the emergency room. I felt like I was floating, saw the light, saw the people dressed in white robes holding hands and singing – the whole nine yards. Then I heard the voice, and felt someone put a pen in my hand, and all of a sudden I came back to the world of the living.”
“You think the voice was an angel?” asked Ed.
“Either an angel,” replied Herkle, with a throaty chuckle, “or the woman trying to get me to sign the credit card slip for my co-pay. I never did pay that bill.” He sucked hard on his cigarette and rapped his knuckles on the porch light, and it briefly stopped flickering.
“Bob, I need to get there somehow,” said Ed, “to find George Washington. I want him to run for president again.”
Herkle laughed a great belly laugh, which had the effect of triggering within him a gurgling burp and a hacking cough, both of which occurred simultaneously.
“You been drinkin’ Drain-O or something?” he cried, after he’d recovered a little. Then he added, “Oh, that’s right, you’re an electrician, not a plumber. You been chewin’ on lead wires, then? Forget about whether or not your plan is even possible. Aren’t you at least afraid you won’t make it back?”
Ed looked at Herkle with the steely-eyed determination of a soldier in war. He’d never actually been a soldier, of course, but he was beginning to imagine that his self-assigned political mission was itself a form of military service.
“I’m willing to take that chance, Bob,” he declared. “This plan might be the only thing that can save America. It’s something that I’ve just got to do. Plus, I gave a great speech about it at the Tea Party meeting tonight, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone have the satisfaction of saying I couldn’t do it!”
“I gotcha Ed, I hear you loud and clear. And anything to throw the bums out, I’ll help with. But for the record, I think you’re nuts.”
“If I care so much about my country it makes me crazy, so be it. Just tell me how to get there, and I’ll handle the rest.”
“Well I can see there’s no reasoning with you,” said Herkle. “That’s nothing new.” Squinting his eyes in thought, and taking another deep drag off his cigarette, he said, “So why don’t you try going the way I went? Just have a heart attack. That ought to get you there.”
“No, the doctor says my cholesterol is fine,” said Ed, with a shake of his head. “I don’t sit around all day eating McDonalds and deep fried Twinkies like you do, Bob. And besides, November is just around the corner. I need a quicker way.”
“Well, a good sturdy rope thrown over a tree limb is one shortcut,” said Herkle. “Put it around your neck, hop off a beer cooler, and you’ll be there in no time.”
Ed shook his head again. “Sounds like too much of a tight squeeze,” he said. “I think I’d rather go an easier route.”
“You could try downing a bunch of pills with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s – that’ll do the trick.”
“No thanks,” said Ed. “I don’t want to end up like some Hollywood movie star, everybody gossiping about me in the tabloids.”
“Not much risk of that,” muttered Herkle. “Well, there’s a quick way that goes straight down there.”
“Yes?” replied Ed, eagerly. “The most direct route is what I want.”
“Go downtown to the Bank of America,” said Herkle. “You know, where all those Occupy Wall Street hippies are camped out, slumming with the homeless? The bank’s got that tall clock tower, you know the one?”
“Yes, go on.”
“Well, all you have to do is climb to the top of it, stand on the railing, and wait for the cops to start squirting pepper-spray in the hippies’ eyes.”
“And then . . . ?”
“The hippies will start chanting, ‘Hell no, we won’t go!’ – right?”
“Of course, they always do.”
“When you hear them say ‘go,’ then you go. Straight down!”
“But that would splatter my brains!” cried Ed, wincing. “And besides, now that I think of it, isn’t suicide a mortal sin?”
“No, no,” said Herkle. “That’s only assisted suicide. If you do it by yourself it’s not a sin.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Ed. “My mother always told me if I did it by myself it was a sin.”
“Well she wasn’t talking about suicide,” replied Herkle as he lit another cigarette.
“Listen, just tell me more about how you got there,” said Ed, becoming impatient. “Where was the light coming from? Maybe I can find the light myself.”
“Truthfully, I was pretty drunk at the time,” replied Herkle, with a shrug. “I don’t know what else I can tell you, Ed. You want to come in out of the rain?”
Ed shook his head slightly and sighed. He leaned against the side of Herkle’s porch, soaked to the bone and exhausted. For the first time he permitted his mind to entertain a sliver of doubt regarding his mission. Perhaps it was a crazy idea after all, he thought, and would never succeed.
While he was suffering from this rare instance of self-doubt, a large white moth suddenly appeared, braving the rain as it flew with excruciating difficulty past him, towards its apparent destination: the bare bulb of the flickering porch light. It fluttered clumsily around his tri-cornered hat, then reversed course straight back towards his face, nearly hitting him in the eye, before finally, and through great effort, reaching the light. The glass surface of the bulb was too smooth for its feet to grip, however, and the insect flapped its wings wildly and ineffectually against it.
Ed tried to shoo the moth away, but not out of malice. He felt he was doing the little creature a favor, so pathetic was its unavailing struggle to make its planned landing. But as he waved a dripping wet hand near the light bulb, his fingers grazed an exposed wire. A shower of sparks erupted at the point of contact, and for one brief moment the light flashed brighter than it ever had before. Ed’s body trembled violently, emitting an odd crackling noise, and slumped into a motionless heap on the wet concrete. Startled, the moth fluttered away from the porch in a hurry, as if conscious of its incriminating role in the incident.
* * *