Who Killed Luke Mandrake (Excerpt)

River Phoenix held the acoustic guitar out to Luke like an offering. “What–what am I thinking? You take this. You play.”

“No, no,” Luke said hastily. “You sounded great. Please. Don’t let us interrupt.”

“Oh god, no. I absolutely could not–I mean, Luke! I’d be so honored.”

“Errrm. I’m actually a bit . . . tied up at the moment.” Luke lifted his right arm to show River the chain connecting him to the condor. River’s eyes widened.

“Oh, the poor bird, I mean, how unfortunate for both of you! How did–er–?”

Luke shrugged. “Beats me. We just arrived this way.”

“Don’t use me as an excuse, Luke,” Buzz croaked. “I won’t get in your way. Go ahead and play.”

“Yeah, come on, Luke. Give us a tune.” Phoenix urged the acoustic on him once again.

“Okay,” Luke murmured. He sat down cross-legged, accepted the instrument and strummed a few tentative chords. “So . . . you were putting on a show for the bunnies and the chipmunks?” he asked Phoenix.

“More like a rehearsal.”

“You mean . . . the wolf is in your band?”

“Totally. And the rabbits, the frogs. What did you think?”

“It was unusual, interesting. I liked it.”

“Hear that guys?” River cried, looking around at the creatures gathered in the moonlight, predators and prey together. “He likes it! The great Luke Mandrake likes our music!” River pumped the air with his fist. Aside from a croak from one of the frogs, the animals were silent.

“Quiet bunch,” Buzz remarked.

Phoenix gave Buzz an appraising stare. “Unlike you, Madam Condor, these creatures do not have the power of speech. But they understand me very well.”

“Ha!” Buzz grated. “How did you know I’m female?”

“I know my endangered species. Gymnops Californianus, am I right? The largest flying bird in the Americas, and the female is larger than the male.”

“I like this guy,” Buzz cackled.

Luke had been strumming away softly, finding the voice of the acoustic. It had a smoky tone he liked, and the action was high enough to do some nice bending. He’d worried that his ragged fingers wouldn’t be up to manipulating the thick steel strings. But somehow with the guitar in his hands he felt less fragile, more put together.

“Where did you get this?” he wondered. “It’s pretty nice.”

“Woody made it for me. Not bad, eh?”

“Play something already,” Buzz commanded.

“Okay . . . how ‘bout this. It’s a new one.” Luke attacked the strings with a thundering salvo and began to sing:

You ate your dirty bread
Your poverty was criminal
The demons in your head
Devoured the subliminal
Jewel made of paste
Your muddy boots were crude
Genius in the waste
We envy you for being rude
You’ll never get approval
You’re scheduled for removal
Pig in a poke, pig in a poke
Pig in po-o-o-oke!

As he played, the wolf began to howl tunefully, while the deer stamped her hooves on the stone. Soon the rabbits were thumping away with their hind legs and two bullfrogs glumped out a wild bass-line. Luke launched into verse two:

Your caustic ice inferno
Branded you with malice
The giant caterpillar
Gave the clap to Alice
You had a loaded carbine
Pointed at your spleen
You dove into the Seine
Your fluids washed the river clean
You’ll never get approval
You’re scheduled for removal
Pig in a poke, pig in a poke
Pig in po-o-o-oke!

Luke stumbled through an irascible guitar solo, then flamed out. “It’s not finished,” he said, embarrassed.

“Man, that was something else!” River enthused. “Is it about animal rights?”

“Sort of. It’s about a young French poet, a whore’s son from a little village, who goes to the big city and becomes an overnight sensation. But ultimately the intelligentsia are only looking for novelty, for someone from the lower classes to consume, co-opt and condemn.”

“Oh. So how does that relate to pigs?”

“Well, they treat him like one, I guess.”

“Man, I can totally relate. Me and my sister used to perform in the street for money when we were kids. People treated us like we were cute little organ-grinder monkeys that they could adopt as pets. Oh, you poor kids. Don’t you have parents? And we’d say, Sure we do, they’re right over there at Tiffany’s buying us diamond watches. They’ll be right back.

The rabbits lopped away to nibble at the orange poppies growing from the cracks in the rocks, and the chipmunks frisked and scattered.

“Okay, rehearsal’s over,” River announced. “See you guys at the next full moon!–That’s the only way they can remember when to come,” he added, turning back to Luke.

“Well I guess I’ll be going–” Luke began.

The wolf whined, and River petted him vigorously. “That’s a good boy, Lars!” Lars barked three times in sharp warning.

A low rumbling seemed to emerge from the earth itself, and the rock they were sitting on vibrated. A thunderous noise was echoing through the canyon. River leaped up and shouted, “Flash flood! RUN!”

“What the fuck?” Buzz croaked.

“Go on, Lars! Git!” Phoenix shooed the wolf forward, and it bounded down from the stone stage and took off. “Get to high ground!” he yelled back at Luke and Buzz. “Hurry!”

“Hop on, Bozo!” Buzz squawked. Luke hastily shifted the guitar around so that it hung on his back, threw one leg over the vulture’s bony middle, and she rose into the air in great, labored strokes.

They had gained altitude none to soon. Below them tossed a sea of horns, hooves and fur. A vast herd of buffalo stampeded down the canyon, grunting and snuffling, clattering over the stones and splashing through the shallows. Beyond the pounding and lowing of the beasts, a deeper thunder echoed from the canyon walls.

As they rose higher, Luke could see the foaming flood approaching, huge and white, smashing its way down the canyon, from one wall to the other, destroying everything in its path. And looming above and behind it, there appeared an enormous dark cloud in the shape of a man.

But where was River? Luke searched the cliffs with his eyes. He spied a figure clinging to a column of reddish stone.

“There he is!”

“And?”

“We have to help him!”

“We have to help us, Bozo!” Buzz retorted. But she flapped over to where Phoenix was struggling to clamber up the smooth sides of the rock formation. Buzz lighted on the top of the pinnacle as Luke jumped down.

“I’ll be all right here,” he shouted over the roar of the mountain of water that was swiftly bearing down upon them.

Buzz squawked something that sounded like it could have been “Probably, not!” as she dropped down toward Phoenix.

There wasn’t much to hold on to, but Luke was able to sit, sort of, on a spot where the formation narrowed a bit. Still, if the flood reached this high he would be swept away. He had no idea what would happen to him then. Can zombies drown? he wondered. The biggest danger, no doubt, was being dashed to bits.

Luke wrapped his legs around the stone pillar and extended his manacled right arm down as far as possible. Phoenix had grabbed hold of Buzz’s feet and she was straining to pull him along as he scrabbled his boots up the side of the formation. Luke grabbed River’s sleeve, hauling on it with all his might. Then the younger man was up beside him, clinging to the summit of the rock as best he could. Buzz perched once more on the tip of the pinnacle.

“Luke, hurry! It’s almost on us!” she screeched.

Less than fifty yards distant now, approaching faster than an express train, an airborne lake pounded the canyon walls well above the height of their tiny spit of rock.

Luuuuuke!” Luke thought he heard Buzz skrawking up there, before the thunder of the deluge overwhelmed his ears. He wrapped both arms and legs around both the rock and River Phoenix, who gripped him tightly. Then the flood slammed into them like a raging mammoth, and Luke felt his grasp torn free. He was blinded, deafened, water filled his mouth and nose. River had surely been swept away, and he had no idea whether Buzz was beside him or if they’d been ripped apart. The deluge battered him, he spun and snapped, slammed into stone, felt his bones shatter.

Why the hell was I trying to be a hero?

Luke had lost any sense of up or down. Pain seared him where jutting splinters of bone speared through his flesh. The broken bones ground together excruciatingly as he was flung to and fro in the waves. Then he collided violently with an obstacle, and the fragment of his brain still able to think was eradicated in a blast of agony. Everything went dark.

Chapter 1 of “Who Killed Luke Mandrake?”

dollheads Rebecca Migdal
• The Goddammerung, Book I: Who Killed Luke Mandrake? Vol I: Famebeau •

Back in the day, if memory serves me right, life was one big party
where every heart gaped wide, where all wines gushed forth.

One night, I took Beauty on my knee. –And I found that I was sick of her.
–And I cussed her out.

I armed myself against justice.

I hit the road. O witches, O misery, O hatred, you can keep the jackpot!

–A Season in Hell, Arthur Rimbaud

 

March 31, 1994 –Portland, OR

Luke stroked the burlwood stock of the Remington Model 11 twenty gauge shotgun with his fingertips. Freedom from all physical limitations, that was the blessing he imagined his death would confer upon him. Freedom from pain at least, he was guaranteed that, he supposed. Either way, he had understood the deal he was making, when he set out on his drug-fueled sprint to stardom. From the start, his own untimely demise had loomed ahead with inevitable finality.

With its dainty bullets, auto-loading feature and low recoil, the Remington was a sensible choice. A classic, highly collectible and suitable for small game hunting, it was the gun for a sportsman who was also a showman, and a favorite with taxidermists and museum specimen collectors. Not your weapon if you wanted to make a Grand Guignol statement by leaving a messy headless corpse, but certainly the instrument of choice for a suicidal rock star with angelic good looks. Administered by mouth, the gunshot would leave the face perfect and the body easy to identify.

But suicide was not what Luke Mandrake had been thinking about, when he added the Remington to his collection of firearms.

Still, he had arranged for a friend to make the purchase. There was no point in Charity or his Mom catching wind of it. They would only object, even though he had already explained to them repeatedly that his arsenal was essential for the protection of home and family.

Home was the 5000-square-foot chalet overlooking the Willamette River that he and Charity had recently purchased. The nostalgic quaintness of its mullioned windows and solid, half-timbered architecture had charmed Charity, his antique-obsessed wife. The built-in oak gun cabinet with its advanced thumbprint-activated lock was what had sold Luke on the place.

Luke worried about intruders. Paparazzi, thieves, crazed stalkers, presumptuous fans, uninvited salesmen and renegade drug dealers–they clustered around him like flies. It was one of the consequences that ensued upon achieving worldwide fame. Yet Luke could not bring himself to hire handlers. He wanted his real friends to feel comfortable visiting him, wanted privacy for himself and his family. More to the point, he disliked and distrusted police, soldiers–anyone whose philosophy of life veered toward the martial end of the social spectrum. Why would he want bodyguards shadowing him twenty-four hours a day? The last thing he needed was a bevy of hired thugs hanging out in the laundry room, or in the hall by the door, or somewhere around the back of the shed. This was not a way of life, to Luke Mandrake’s mind, that was worth the fantastic quantity of money it would have cost him.

Constant vigilance was the price he paid for his stubbornness.

Within days of closing on the house, Luke had begun to feel trapped there, pacing the carpets as if he were locked in a luxurious cage. His fame, like the bars in the leaded windows, separated him from the society of fellow miscreants and weirdos, from the liberty and the anonymity that had once been his own.

He had to do it. He had to set himself free.

Charity believed in reincarnation, and although Luke was skeptical, when she described to him her vision of the place where souls gathered between lives, it was the very picture of a lost paradise. Maybe he really was on his way to that lush and fruitful garden, over which a female deity presided, wrapped in a radiant aurora.  If God were a woman, then surely the afterlife would be a haven for lovers, a place for reuniting, a land of peace where wholeness and tender fellowship were bestowed upon all gentle spirits.

Luke raised his head and gazed out over the Willamette, but he didn’t see black water dimpled with moonlight. All he saw was a window on oblivion.

He closed his eyes, and prepared himself for the shot.

Zombie Punk comic, Page 1

Zombie Punk By R. L. Migdal page 1

Death, drugs and rock and roll! World-wide fame did not save the life of this anguished punk rocker. Perhaps celebrity was the last thing he really needed…or even wanted.

The black-and-white art was created in 1996, and first colored digitally in October of 2008. The retooled, full-color version of the comic finally came out in October 2015.

To create the painting I drew upon photos that came out in the media at the time of Kurt Cobain’s death, combined with reference photos I took of a model, posed in the position in which I supposed the body may have been.

In the roman à clef, the character based on Cobain is called Luke Mandrake. In the comic, his name is “Nurdt Nobrain.” Not long after, I came across another parody comic about Kurt and Courtney that used the last name Nobrain. It depicted Courtney at Lollapalooza, suddenly realizing that she didn’t know where Frances was, and then finding her at the grocery store on the checkout conveyor belt, like Maggie in The Simpsons.

Nobrain has become a fairly common term used by detractors to refer to Kurt. I have never considered myself a detractor, but sometimes people assume that my comic is meant to poke fun at him in a cruel way. I hope as you read the pages the true sensibility will come through. It is derived from that of the punk scene at the time: searing honesty, and self mocking-humor mixed with genuine compassion.

If you can’t wait to read the whole thing, the comic book is currently available for purchase on Indiebound.

Zombie Punk Cover Art

The picture that started it all, created in February 1996 for my editorial portfolio. Researching the “humorous” portrait of the late Kurt Cobain, I became inspired to create the comic.

The art was created first as a black-and-white painting, which I had laser-copied onto heavy card stock. This copy was then colored using wax resist.

Visit Me on Patreon

The first novel in The Goddammerung series, Who Killed Luke Mandrake?, is written! It is divided into two volumes, Famebeau and Funeral For a Zombie.

The comic book it’s based upon is currently available for purchase on Indiebound. You can subscribe to my Patreon feed to read both the comic and the novel in weekly installments. Each installment ofWho Killed Luke Mandrake? features a brand-new illustration like the one above.

There’s even an audiobook version available–it’s worth listening to it just to hear Andy Laties’ shakuhachi transitions.

A picaresque, supernatural journey through a 90’s sub-pop-culture of fame, sex, drugs, music and gender identity, Zombie Punk is the opening act of my epic series, The Goddammerung. Drawing upon archetypal figures, the novel explores how the dynamics between culture and the realm of the subconscious reflect the evolution of sexual identities, artistic expression, social realities and the potential of the human spirit to move toward love.