What follows is an excerpt from Tony Vigorito’s third novel, Love and Other Pranks, which famed countercultural novelist Tom Robbins characterized as “the single wildest novel I’ve ever read.” Enjoy the excerpt, and find links to additional excerpts at the end.
* 3 *
Though he obviously possessed the moxie somewhere within himself, Merlin was rarely so Casanova with women as he had been with Lila that Halloween, and was so that evening only because a couple of recently reunited matchmakers just in from New Orleans and costumed as an angel and a devil had earlier stepped in front of him, addressed him as Adam, handed him a bumper sticker upon which was printed the phrase Argue Naked, and placed a little white pill impressed with a heart into his palm.
“What’s this?” Merlin inquired as he peered at the presumed tab of Ecstasy.
“Love,” purred the angel perfect.
“Chaos,” dared the devil baritone.
Merlin shook his head, an excessively bacchanalian youth having turned him off to drugs—or medicines, as they are euphemized in the Bay Area. “Thanks, but I don’t—” He offered the pill back to them.
The angel and the devil declined, chiming “Have a beautiful night!” as they disappeared into the crowd, leaving Merlin alone to consider whether he should pop a pill given to him unsolicited by total strangers. He did not consider for long, for though he was in general grossed out by drugs and mistrustful of pressed pills in particular, and though it had been several years since he’d abandoned any experimentation with MDMA due to the effervescent terror of sadness it too often left in its heartbreaking wake, he had freshly lost the group of acquaintances with whom he’d come to the illegal Halloween parade and discovered immediately afterward that his cell phone battery had decided to take the night off. Having been wandering alone through the crowds wondering what he was supposed to do now, Merlin suddenly possessed an intriguing diversion.
However, despite the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area has maintained a tremendous appetite for its magical mystery medicines in the decades since its flower children wilted, the pill Merlin had been given was actually nothing more than a miniature vitamin C tablet supposedly enhanced with a single drop of a homeopathic dilution of a love potion whose molecular structure had been tuned to the mystical resonance of the angel’s favorite Tibetan singing bowl. Whether or not that potion had anything at all to do with how the evening then transpired may never be known for certain, but the fact remains that within an hour Merlin was blasting around, rolling like he invented the wheel, uncontainably enthused as he drew smiles from everyone who witnessed him dance his way toward the front of the illegal parade. In his Tibetan singing bowl–tuned, placeboic intoxication, Merlin felt certain there was only one way to witness an illegal parade, and that was from the deck of its lead float. No barricade could convince him otherwise, and even the policewoman who stood in his path attempting to manage the crowds was so enchanted by his shining grin that she agreed to grant him passage, but only if he let her write the word passion across his chest with her fire-engine-red lipstick. Merlin consented yes of course, and though he could not have fathomed what this would eventually imply, there was but a moment’s retrospect before he understood that it was both invitation and invocation. But Merlin never paused to consider the nature of what it was he was inadvertently inviting and invoking upon himself that night. For that matter, he never even turned the pill over before he swallowed it.
If he had, he would have found another heart, broken in two.
* 4 *
“Quiver me timbers,” Lila murmured moments after her apple-sweetened kiss with Merlin had dissipated. Opening her eyes, she leaned in toward Merlin’s ear. “There is something you should know about me, however,” Lila whispered mischievous. “I sometimes hear music boxes in my mind.” In truth, Lila’s music boxes had fallen suddenly silent when they kissed, and it was precisely this that caused her to notice the resumption of their faraway, plinking chorus.
Merlin blinked, amused. “I shan’t be deterred.”
“Also,” Lila continued, “an imp has possessed me on this Halloween.” The imp she was referring to here was a little white pill impressed with a heart that the couple costumed as an angel and a devil had also given to her, but Lila did not elaborate her metaphor, and thus Merlin and Lila would not realize the coincidence for quite some time.
Merlin smiled nonetheless at her revelation. “That’s nothing,” he shrugged. “I’ve been possessed by an imp since I was nine years old.”
Lila grinned. “I can’t wait to hear that story.”
“As it happened,” Merlin launched, unhesitant upon her prompt, “I had recently finished reading Tom Sawyer, and I was thinking about how that rascal Tom had so much more fun than I did. Up until then, see, I was a well-behaved, straight-A teacher’s pet, obviously a precocious reader, and lying in bed one night I somehow came around to the conclusion that I needed more mischief in my life. I’m nine years old, remember, and this was some kind of a major epiphany for me. I even said it out loud, announcing it into the nighttime, and the next thing I knew my skin was crawling with goose bumps and this jolt of fright shot through me as I all of a sudden imagined that I saw a jaguar lunge at me out of the darkness of the night—”
“A jaguar?” Lila interrupted.
“Some kind of a jaguar,” Merlin nodded. “But all its spots were like eyes. And that of course yelped me right out of bed and bawled me down the hallway, where it took my parents a half an hour to calm me down.” Merlin leaned in close and lowered his voice to a whisper. “But from that night forward, an imp seemed to have possessed me. I became an unmanageable terror to my parents and teachers, a real hellion.”
“A hellion, huh?” Lila nodded with faux gravity.
“I tell you.”
“Have you considered an exorcism?”
Merlin shook his head. “Not a chance. I’m having way too much fun.”
Lila grinned again. “There’s something else you should know about me.”
“Anything, my lovely.”
“My name isn’t really Eve,” Lila confessed. “It’s Lila. Lila Louise.”
“The beautiful Lila,” Merlin smiled. “Well,” he matched her, “I suppose I should mention as well that my name isn’t really Adam. In fact it is Merlin. Merlin Otherwise.”
Lila’s smile broadened. “Aren’t we just a couple of pranksters?”
“You have no idea,” Merlin cautioned. “Laughter is our highest prayer, after all.”
“Oooo,” Lila cooed. “And aren’t the children snickering in the pews the holiest people in church?”
Merlin raised his eyebrows. “Blessed are the pure in heart—” he began.
“For they shall see God,” Lila finished his beatitude.
Merlin blinked, and smiled through his words. “God be praised, and who has time for church?” They beamed at one another, speechless for several moments, until Merlin bowed handsome. “And how do you spell the beautiful Lila?”
“With as many l’s as thou darest lilt off thy sapling tongue.”
“A poetess as well?” Merlin grinned. “Since we’re being so ruthlessly honest here, there is one other thing you should know about me.”
“I don’t believe this is really happening.”
“This mortal apparition.”
“Ah, if by life you mean the ego’s denial of death, then life is an impermanent prank at the end of the day, isn’t it?” Lila smiled.
“The ego’s denial of death,” Merlin repeated, nodding. “A vital clarification.”
“Only a fool would take such a tawdry tale for the truth,” Lila continued. “And we are not fools.”
“No, we are not fools. But I am a pirate.”
“As am I.”
“I don’t always dress like this, though.”
“Subterfuge is essential.”
“Subterfuge is essential,” Merlin nodded. “Of course, once you realize that the ego’s pretense at life isn’t really happening, you discover that there’s really nothing but subterfuge.”
Lila nodded noncommittal. “Actually,” she corrected, “there is something that’s really happening, and it is ever so much more than subterfuge. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Merlin paused a moment before nodding in comprehension. “Of course, my lady. And worth ever so much more than gold.”
* * *
Read further excerpts from Love and Other Pranks and explore Tony Vigorito’s other books, essays, and miscellaneous projects at: