One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.

The Prophet of Oblivion

A boy is raised with the understanding that he can be anything he wants to be, and is great at everything he does. This, because of his single mother’s own need for approval.

He grows up believing that the formless, choked scribbles on the refrigerator are worthy of the Louvre. He believes that the dissonant chords and plinks of his untrained fingers are the sounds of the next Bach, or at least Coldplay. He believes that the poems he keeps in spiral notebooks, illegible and illiterate, are those of a poet laureate.

He believes these things. He believes his detractors are merely jealous. He’s always rebuked formal training, arts education, well-meaning attempts at constructive criticism. He was born to create, right out of the womb. His mother, of course, is always right, and she says he is a Natural.

Take pity on the poor, misguided child. He is talentless.

He knows college would simply dull the genius of his creativity. So, at 18, he leaves for New York City with his oeuvre in tow…ready to show the world his natural “gifts”. Ready for the applause, ready to be famous…

I think of the boy as a cross between the relentless faith of Job (Biblical), the worst of (, and the optimism of Pecker (J.Waters).


(Sorry, Frank, I did not end up taking it easy on the poor child. This one went dark on me. And fair warning: his mother has a bit of a potty mouth.)

You gotta be a little delusional, right? To do something awesome? To break the rules, tell the haters to go to hell? That’s where the drugs come in, for the weak ones. ‘Cause if you believed everything they told you, or your own senses told you, you wouldn’t get anywhere. Paralyzed by fear. That’s what all writing exercises are about – same for art, music, painting: get it out, express pure expression, put it on the page, canvas, tape. Don’t think about it. Thinking stops you short. Forget the negative energy coming off everybody and everything around you. Find yourself. Your center. Tell Your Truth. Why you think Hunter S. Thompson was fantastic? Kerouac? ‘Cause they played by the rules? There’s something amazing in you, kiddo. Hell, in everybody – I won’t pull your chain. It’s there, we just learn to shut it off. You can’t function in society if you’re constantly telling it it don’t know shit. Gonna buy groceries? Gonna put a roof over your head? Better play by our rules! Give us our due, maybe we’ll let you in. Go to school. Feed the beast that eats its young. You know how much graduates owe the system when they get out? Enough to get ‘em good and stuck in their “chosen career” so they can’t make a real choice by the time they get all the wolves paid off, by the time they’ve learned school and life got nothing to do with each other, that the energy they thrived on turns to cancer and stagnance the moment they set foot in that office.

Dominic’s mother had rocked him to sleep, cradling his head in her hands. Her clothes smelled of the chicken plant, but for him they smelled of her, her as he’d always known her.

Dominic woke up in the flat. Loft apartment. Loft, to be. Renovated warehouse. Renovation to come. Warehouse. Dominic woke up on the floor of a condemned sewing factory, surrounded by the mechanical skeletons of ancient machines, operated by pre-teens of a bygone, brutal era.

He had not moved his head yet from his bed. Mat. Pile of soiled clothes. Cold yellow sunlight was slicing through the boarded windows behind him, cross-hatching lines across the pattern of the hardwood floor. Rough-sawn planks. Water-stained, raw boards, aging under dust. Motes floated in and out of the shafts of light. His eyes focused on them and blurred again. He felt a communion with the ghosts of eight-year-old seamstresses, missing fingers, sleepless, manhandled by foremen, paid next to nothing, virtual slaves for what counted as vast corporations among a sea of pioneering men.

Dominic’s stomach was empty and his eyelids were heavy. He looked obliquely along the floor, trying to capture the expression his unconscious self would bring to this day, would force upon his environment. His mother’s voice continued echoing through memory.

Whatever happened to apprenticeship? You think we were dragging our knuckles a hundred years ago? Dying off by the carton? People learned a craft. Not this vo-tech bullshit. People learned. Under a master. You knew a guy who was brilliant, you looked up to him, you wanted everything he had in his head and more. And you devoted yourself to him. How do you think we got Notre Dame Cathedral? Cause somebody got their five year degree, then their three year “internship”, crossing their tees and dotting their eyes? Shit. Those guys lived architecture. When people nowadays say “so-and-so is my life,” they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. When those guys put up an arch, they made it something nobody could believe would stand up, and then they stood underneath those tons of stone when the workers removed the formwork. ‘Cause that’s the only assurance anybody had that these guys weren’t full of shit. Architecture “was their life.” Cause if it wasn’t, they fucking died.

His mother’s wisdom began to merge with the guttural stirrings from the first floor below. Dominic raised his head and checked his surroundings. Except for the ghosts, everything was solid and quiet. There was reasonable safety here on the third floor. It was the first that was overrun by sycophants and psychopaths. The Leader of that cabal – a different man from the one who’d called himself The Leader last week – was a pock-marked, slurring villain who caught rats for the group’s sustenance. The Helpmate, having lasted through several regimes, owned homemade knives of his own making: a small arsenal, most constructed of found metal parts, shaped and sharpened on heaven knew what. Leaders and Helpmate had somehow formed a tribe around them, lost people that collected around personalities strong enough to attract, talents too weak to mold or enlighten. Crazy drew crazy, and Dominic hadn’t been crazy enough.

You think Gehry would stand under his new brain queef when they pulled out the supports? Not if his computer hadn’t run a billion calculations on it first, removing every possible risk from the equation. That’s what’s missing from the world today, son. Devotion. People won’t understand it. Or they will, on some level, at the base of their spine, but they’ll already be too bought into the game to give you your due. You’ll be pissing them off.

The second floor was too close yet to the first, and rotten floors made it all the closer. A scramble with rat-eaters clawing at his ankles eight feet below had been enough to put another floor between himself and the clinic of crazy. The plague of madness. The acid that eat the cerebellum.

Such was the price. He would transform his art, his world, himself. He would educate the people, insane and otherwise, on the reality around them. The world is a veil, and its collective memory is the most powerful force for untruth. Only expression survives. Everything is within me, Dominic told himself. I only need to unleash it. Discipline is mine. No one can teach me true expression of myself. And if people can’t appreciate it, I will pity them.

Listen ‘a me. I’m the only one that knows you. That loves you. Flesh of my flesh, I know what you’ll go through. Your classmates, as long as the state makes me put you through that institutional madness, will tell you a million lies, some of them about life, some about you, and a lot about me. Your life is your own. Their lies only penetrate as far as you let them. Your reality is your own. That’s the lesson. Master your reality. Be someone they don’t know. ‘Cause they’ve already got it wrote out for you, champ. You buy what they’re selling, and your soul is dog food.

In his mind he looked up from her lap and gazed on the features, both worn and hard, like an Indian Chief, forever stalwart in an unappreciated resolution. He noted the fresh mark on her lip, but only as a member of her ensemble of features. Over time the cuts and bruises that appeared on her face and hands had established themselves as temporary and sporadic, garnering no more thought than a pimple or uncut fingernails.

Other kids were sallow-spirited over religion, appearance, the opposite sex – a hundred crutches and distractions. Dominic would never bow to these masters. In the end, they hadn’t been enough for his mother, to save her or to satisfy her. There was only the self, and the self could only be known through mastery and denial.

Dominic’s stomach rumbled, and the discomfort he had ignored asserted itself. He sat up and attempted to regain control of his body and mind.

Dominic had a method to his art. Meditate on truth, essence, the universe. Spend as long as it takes, eschewing the world, form, formalism. Then leap at the canvas, grab the pen, force himself into the clay. And create. Without forethought, without the confusion of consciousness. People and their will are a falsity. Let the medium become its own message. What is a piano? Tightened cables of steel over a frame, no different than a suspension bridge. Show people this, bring them back to basics, remind them of base reality, withough prettifying it for them, without participating in their group delusion. Perhaps an eye will open. Perhaps another will join the movement. In the end, we will be stroking the Brooklyn Bridge like the grandest piano, creating a mile-wide symphony, with the car horns our brass section, the engines our percussion.

There will be those that detract, he thought. Philistines that cannot see. Stumbling blocks, only if I let them be so.

Today would have to be a day of sustenance – for himself and his art. The stomach, wasting itself overnight, was becoming a distraction. Dominic uttered a curse on flesh and moved to the landing ouside. Looking out his trellis/landing/rust-eaten fire escape, he devised a new way of dropping from shelf to shelf. Soon his feet met the ground. There were several parts of town where he could be fed, but they were not close to where materials would be achieved. The canvas of the outside world would require oil today – mechanical preferred, organic permitted. A transmission shop was not far. Black oil would provide the tar substance his energy was showing him, the direction his meditations proved true. Perhaps a sandwich could be salvaged as well.

But while extracting the black refuse, Dominic was rousted by a non-believer, forced to exile, left without recourse for the expression of his vision. The fast food place and its own oil would have to suffice. Food would be aplenty, and not missed.

As no smokers were breaking at the moment, Dominic dusted the interior of the paint can he had saved for the purpose, opened the trap’s heavy cover and dipped. A dumpster nearby had plenty of nutrition to silence his complaining body. The paint can full, he pressed the lid atop it, pushing the seams into place and safetying the creative material within. A honey-brown, far from the viscous blood-black he had been looking for. But a recent warehouse fire near the sewing factory would provide the ash needed for an additive. Dominic made his furtive return through a well-known network of alleys.

Dominic arrived at the site of the fire and combined his oil with scoops from a mound of wet soot. He marvelled at the decimation the fire had caused, and at the contrast offered by the one pristine white, free-standing wall that remained. The entire rear wall of the warehouse had been saved, even washed, by the firehoses from outside, and now Dominic stood before a two story canvas that was waiting to tell its message.

Dominic sat before the wall, the paint bucket beside him, and worked at clearing his mind.

I am nothing. We are nothing. Energy is all, the purest form, like the cleansing fire that purged this building, breaking down everything to its most basic parts, consuming because only it has a right to consume, to envelope, reduce, transform, break down and lift to the heavens its offering of unformed-

And in a flash, Dominic was on his feet, the bucket in his hands, the liquid ash engulfing the facade of the building. His hands were in the liquid, pushing it in vast strokes, flailing, casting it with the energy of roaring flames.

And just as quickly, the passion left him. His work was complete. He stood back to regard the newly blackwashed facade and to catch his breath. Removed from his immersion in the task, the work now looked almost foreign to him. He knew that others would just as likely consider it a random splattering, possibly accidental, and this did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for it.

From behind Dominic came the sound of a deep exhalation, and he was instantly aware that someone had been watching him for some time. He whipped around and, seeing the figure close by, fled to the sewing factory.

Dominic’s undernourished body soon began to rebel at the effort of running. His head began to ache and sparks burst before his eyes. He pushed through the half block to his home and stopped at the bottom of the fire escape, wheezing. He turned to see the man still running after him. His calls to Dominic seemed beseeching rather than threatening. Unable to scale the fire escape in his exhausted state, he backed himself to the wall and eyed the man’s approach.

Within a few breaths the man had reached Dominic, stopping short by a few paces. He gave no sign of being physically spent from the chase. “Please, don’t be scared,” the clean, visibly shaken man said, holding out one tentative hand in openness, holding the other to his chest in reservation. “I’m an art scout, of sorts. I’ve been commissioned by the combined estates of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat to find groundbreaking new artists. I’ve been watching your work, and I’ve got to say, it’s the most unfettered, energetic art I’ve ever seen. Your use of materials is just – iconoclastic. Let me represent you. I can get you all the exposure you’ll ever need.” The man approached Dominic, slowly, becoming agitated in his speech and motions. He looked from Dominic’s soot-and-grease covered hands to his stained-stiff clothes and matted hair. “And your story! It will be a fantastic, modern retelling of the American Dream!”

Dominic regarded the man, his well-pressed, dark hair and neatly cut, dark suit. This offer was the ultimate answer: an instant path to recognition and approval. A chance to get his message out, reveal the truth, and generate success.

Just as that well-pressed man had offered his mother two years ago. That man had noticed the ever-changing marks on his mother’s face, hands, and arms, had known things about the chicken processing plant and its employees, and had said that her story needed to be told. He had assured her that her cooperation would free her from working there, or anywhere, ever again.

And on that promise he had delivered. But first Dominic had had to watch his mother, his foundation, disintegrate before him, crumbling into a fractured, wounded, weeping mess, bereft of all strength and wisdom, compromised to her core. She’d told Dominic it was an act, a facade of what weaker people are like, those who can’t deal with the weight of the world and the evil of people. But he’d follwed her progression in the months aferward and seen the cancer of fragility destroy the woman he had learned from and respected. Free from work and burden, his mother had turned into a husk, relieved of her conscience and purpose. In the end, only Dominic understood that her wounds had been a source of power for her, and she had allowed the world to turn them into marks of shame.

Dominic’s eyes went from the man to the rear entry of the sewing factory. He made an effort to relieve the scowl that darkened his features. He addressed the man cautiously, with a conscious note of awe. “That would change… everything for me.”

The man’s eagerness was barely contained. “Believe me, I’m only too happy to offer you the opportunity.”

Dominic felt the door to the warehouse behind him. He lifted the heavy, rusted bolt and swung the door wide. “Well, why don’t you come in and see some more work?” He held the door open, inviting the man to step in ahead of him. He could make out a faint rustling in the darkness within.

“Thank you,” the man beamed as he walked through the door, tentatively scouting. He looked back at Dominic, backlit within the portal. “Believe me, you won’t regret this.”

“Oh, I’m sure of it,” Dominic smiled, as he slammed the door shut and threw the bolt into place. He walked away in calm satisfaction as the sounds from behind the door grew from confusion to distress. The rat-eaters would have their fill tonight.

Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved.


7 Comments to “8/15/11-FRANK CIENNIWA”

  1. Cole Bennett says:

    Thanks for giving me so much detail – I’ll do my best not to coast on all the great material you’ve already supplied. It makes me wonder how many of us are this boy – I know I had those depressing epiphanies as I went through the early college years. Now Tyler Durden tells me I am not “a beautiful or unique snowflake”. He has his own wisdom, but it is incomplete.

  2. Pat Bennett says:

    What a story! It was worth the wait. I have a hard time with the theme – I guess mothers always want their children to be secure AND happy! Love, Mom

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks, Mom. I was curious as to how you’d respond. And kinda surprised you liked it. Definitely not healthy minds at work here! (The characters’ minds, not mine. Right?) But I did like exploring how that ingrained mantra of self-reliance could become toxic and produce extreme results.

      Thanks for being a great Mom! I’m secure and happy!

  3. Joe says:

    This is fairly chilling. I developed a phobia about the creatures you feature because of the ending to 1984. I could develop an added phobia with your story.

    I think it’s effective. I wonder if you might leave the territory of the internal monologue sometime.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks, Joe. I’d like to blame the darkness in this one on the characters, but I might have had something to do with it.

      You’ll have to let me know if I ever depart from internal monologue! I don’t think it’s happening with the next story!

  4. Frank Cienniwa says:

    Outstanding! You took the theme well beyond my expectations. The darkness is beautiful and tragic. I’m reminded of the short stories of Clive Barker, Flannery O’ Connor, and Haruki Murakami.
    Fantastic job!

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