The Perpetual Motion Machine: Part 1 of 3
"I don't want to die" I whispered into the cool, summer night air, watching the ebb and flow of my wife's breast. I had to hold her one more time before going for the silvery handgun hiding in my sock drawer. I breathed in the flowery caress of her hair and anger welled in my belly. Hippocratic fate, that I should die. Here was where I belonged, my arms wrapped securely around my Jenny. I stole away from the embrace; my soul raging at the very thought of it.
As I rose, she roused. A deep breath heralding her eyes fluttering open. She shifted to one side, her head still supported by the pillow.
"Matt?" She whispered dreamily, her fingers sliding hair from her face. I froze in my steps. I gentled my face; I wouldn't let her know that something was wrong. I knelt by the bed and caressed her face.
"Why are you up?" Her voice was dull and fleeting. I placed a gentle kiss upon her lips and tasted the sleep on her lips.
"I have to go. I need to finish something." She pulled her head back in lazy confusion and I forced a small smile. I hated the thought of lying to her, but I wasn't willing to tell her the truth. Would she believe it? The world asks for my life in return for existence and there was no negotiation.
"I want to take you to the coast like I used to. You remember?" She nodded with her eyes closed.
"Why do you have to leave now to do that?"
"For tomorrow to be perfect, I have to get it ready tonight."
"You want to take me to the coast tomorrow?" She said a little more aware of the conversation. She perked herself up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
"Yeah," I said, still kneeling, but now looking up at my wife.
"Go back to sleep." I forced another smile and caress her cheek. She adopted a stern look and a real smile spread around my lips. I took her hand in mine.
"Because I love you; because I always want to. Because you deserve more than I can give, but I'll give all that I have."I kissed her hand with the end of each sentence. I stood up, still holding her hand and I kissed them one last time before releasing her. I moved to the dresser, slid it open, and palmed the silvery gun I paid two dollars for at a pawn shop after a drunk popped the lock in the dead of the night. I turned back to her, while I pocketed the gun, keeping the gun out of sight. She hadn't followed with her eyes. I mouthed the words, 'I love you,' before disappearing out the door. I held myself well, moving down the stairs and moving out to the car, but as I closed the car door to my beat up Studebaker, I broke down and wept. My flesh itched and twitched with the strain of never coming back. I put the barrel in my mouth and stopped myself. 'She'd hear it' I told myself, starting the car.
I didn't know where I was going, so I just drove. The gun rode shotgun, staring up at me. I found a quiet place by a row of swaying greenery. I picked the gun up and stared at it in my hand. It was a light thing in my hand. I had done so much and could have done so much. I put the barrel back between my teeth and moved my finger on the trigger. I felt force travel to my finger, but it didn't pull the trigger. I won't pull the trigger. I refused to die.
"Fuck it." I said aloud and threw the gun back onto the passenger's seat.
I hadn't been here in so long. I could still smell it. The rusty metal aroma of blood, the saltwater misty scent of fear, the paint and cleaning agents couldn't hide it from me. I stood in their kitchen and I fought off the memories of Tony and the look in his eyes, the terrible heartbreak and iced over indifference and hopelessness. Tony Cappetairo's home had been sold and re-sold, painted a rainbow of different colors, the tiles tore up, a new room added on, but it remembered me well and reacted accordingly. It shrank back and shuttered, like a helpless animal too tired to scream. I could feel it wanting to eject me from inside it. Wanting to vomit me out, like bad fish. I sat down on the carpeted floor. The house was empty. The new owners would be moving in, in a week. I wondered if they knew the home's history.
I tried to remember why I chose that day to re-visit the house, but I couldn't come up with a reason better than it felt right. I had been doing that, learning to bide my time with feeling rather than logic. I'd move from town to town, from person to person, strictly listening to whims. They seemed to guide me well. They kept me away from trouble and away from prying eyes interested in a dead man. But it was odd that they would lead me to an empty home with such horrible memories embedded in its wall. I looked down at the blue-green carpet; it was a sort of amber-brown way back when. I liked that old brown carpet. I ran my fingers through its short hairs and started pulling up little strands of carpet fiber to distract myself. 'What am I waiting for?' I thought to myself, pulling up a more difficult piece.
"Do you believe in Fate?" The question hung in the air and expanded somehow; like it was the most important question I'd ever be asked, filling the room with its simplistic importance. The voice sounded familiar, for a moment I thought it might have been my brother Jackie, but that was ridiculous. I twisted around to see him, the slick haired man who ushered me with gun powder and a well sharpened knife into this miserable state of waiting. I never did get his name. He looked worn and dried, not quite old, but not quite alive.
"I asked you that a long time ago." He said through cracked lips that reminded me of crumbling stones.
"50 years and two caved-in skulls ago" I said still seated. I thought to ask why was he still alive but I stopped myself. I'd think the same way as I, although it appeared that the years had been better to me. He lost his immaculate look and seemed to have gained an odd aura, like a fraying rope. A whole slowly falling away from itself.
"I suppose it was fair that you did what you did." He said turning his head to reveal a crusted over crack on the back over his head. I crept back in disgust, remembering the feel of the broken brick and the release of it through the night air. His black hair was matted and clumped together with blood and dirt.
"I suppose, it wouldn't be fair for me to seek revenge for this and I won't if you let me die."
I didn't fully understand what he meant. He looked at me as if he was expecting me to do something, pull a rabbit out of my ass, maybe.
"You ever had a migraine for 50 years. Well, as one would imagine it leaves you with very little patience. I'm tired, I'm in pain and I need you to stop it." He said venomously, his body shook in a subtle and foreboding way.
"I don't know what I can do."
" I am tired, I hurt all the damn time and I promise you this, if you don't let me die, I will make you pray for the joys of the treatment you got in the desert." He said this slowly, in an 'I'm curling up to strike' kind of way.
"I didn't..." I started but he pulled a handsomely polished piece of sharp silver from his pocket and said with a volcanic tremor in his voice. "Choose your words carefully."
I hopped to my feet and he must have taken that as a threatening gesture because he tackled me to the ground and started to stab me in the chest and neck. I raised my arm in defense, which got stabbed a couple times as well, before I blacked out.
I awoke, uncertain of where I was but it couldn't have been to long since I'd blacked out because I could still feel the trickle of blood down my shirtfront. I couldn't see though, I ,for a moment, thought I had gone blind. But I could just manage a small source of light, a short strip of faint yellow, and then there was the whispering cold. It sank into my throat and lungs and stung them both. And it was chased by a dirty taste like old meat or expired milk.
"Hello?" I called out.
I tried to raise my numb arms only to find them restrained. Suddenly the faint yellow exploded into dazzling light, dulled only by a figure, wielding a foreboding hooked instrument. He entered and with a click, the room was flooded with light. The walls were gray and covered with frost. I couldn't find what was causing the dirty smell but I figured it was once human and then I looked at him. He had a broken look in his eye, not broken as in beaten, but broken as in desperate, like an injured elk being circled by wolves more dangerous than ever. He looked like he was going to say something as he approached me but he opted to bash my kneecap with the blunt end of the crowbar.
"Do it!" He yelled as he swung the metal. I could feel his expertise with each blow. Some people would just use their strong arm and swing away. The problem with that is you get tired and can hurt your wrist, then what good are you. But not him, he knew to swing just hard enough to hurt me and he knew where to hit. Across the shins, nowhere meaty, but nowhere that'd keep me dazed for too long.
He had slammed the crowbar into my collarbone and left me to recover for the next dosage of his wrath, which came in the form of his glinting silver.
I expected him to stab wildly, like before, but he just stood there, almost making cuts, almost slashing, but always almost. He was searching for something and within moments, he found it. The crowbar had left large bruised areas around my face and body; he had apparently been looking for a spot that wasn't black or purple. He had succeeded in finding it, on my left forearm and dipped the knife below my skin and kept pressing down into the meat of my arm. The blade made a slow and constant path into me. He started to twist the knife even slower than he pushed it in. The wound started to rip apart, spilling blood down on to the floor. I wanted to scream out, but only managed a gasping whimper like a beaten dog. He took his hand off the blade of the knife and it stood independent of him. He placed his hand back on the knife and started shaking it and finally pulled it out, only to plunge it back into my arm. He repeated this three more times on various parts of my body before he pulled the blade out for the last time. I closed my eyes and dropped my head, when I heard the sound of flint sparking and the wild rush of burning gas.
Fire, that was all that was on my mind. I screamed in that Freezer as that sadistic son of a bitch melted off chunks of skin and fat from my shoulder.
"How far do you think I'll have to go to leave some permanent damage?" He hissed in my ear.
The hiss of the blowtorch was constantly muted by my dry, breathy screams, but beyond my bitter cries and the hissing were his crazed screams. The air stank of flesh and smoke and clouded any hopes of clear thought.
With the smoky slop of a last bit of fat, he twisted a knob on the head of the blowtorch, extinguishing the flame. His cracked lips and his bloodshot eyes formed a bitter grimace.
"Will you do it?" He asked with a dried voice much like his old one. I attempted some pleading and succeeded in only vomiting slightly. He then marched away from me and disappeared behind a corner. The next thing I heard was the whine of a chainsaw. He reappeared and marched wide -eyed toward me with the whirring blade as threatening as blood soaked muzzles. I pleaded with a hoarse and useless voice. The words dropped from my mouth and hit the floor, but I moved my mouth all the same. He hovered the rotating blade just above my left forearm. I couldn't feel the torch, but I definitely felt that. He slowly pressed down. The blade tore my skin like paper, flinging particles of meat and blood all over the room, and within seconds he hit bone and the saw started to whine louder. I started to scream louder as well. I screamed out what was left in my lungs and it still wasn't enough. I prayed for death or at least for the pain to overwhelm me. Neither happened.
But something did. I found my voice and shouted out. "I'll do it!" My throat burned like I had swallowed acid.
'What the hell was I saying?' I couldn't tell how I'd do it, or if it could be done, but his hope would restrain him. "I'll do it." He looked at me skeptical, but his eyes betrayed his doubt.
"You will. How?"
"I have to do it."
"I have to kill you."
His eyes widen in an understanding that I couldn't fathom. If nature couldn't kill him, how could I. He hurriedly undid my restraints, tenderly and gingerly handling my destroyed body, holding me like a baby ready to walk. I couldn't support my weight really, but I still fought to pump adrenaline and dopamine into my veins as he walked me to a wall, so I might lean. Still, I kicked against the ground like I could help the migration. Once I did whatever I was to do, I'd have to try and make an escape. He then handed a silver knife with his hands shaking like it was over pumped with waiting and excitement. It felt cold and sure in my right hand.
His eyes welled with tears and his cheeks started to bloom with hot red hope. I spread my arms in a gesture like a hug, which he slowly entered. He held me tightly, squeezing and bruising bruised, broken and burnt areas and began to weep openly into my shoulder and I closed my eyes and tried to shoo away the terrible, electric ecstasy of the thrill of a ready kill, the want for a wanting victim. I felt the metal warm and rejoice in my hand and with a low breath, I plunged the blade into his lower back, hoping to hit his kidney. I think it hit.
He fell out of my arms to the ground. He gave me a look that said "Thank you for killing me". His eyes swelled with joy and gratitude. He reached back and pulled the knife out and let his steaming inside flood out on to the frost-covered floor. His eyes fluttered and faded in and out of focus and he winced and his eyes welled up, but he never lost that look of gratitude.
I knew I had to leave but something told me it was wrong to let him die alone. So I dragged him out of the hell he'd created for us and into the hallway of a diner that seemed to be under remodeling. Its walls were half-painted powder blue. I let him rest there, propped up against the wall, for a while, so I could rest. I crouched down and closed my eyes. All I could think of was how every part of me hurt. Then how odd it felt, to have blood on my hand again. I had kept red off of it for so long. So long that I almost forgot that they could be stained.
I rubbed off what I could on my coat, hoping to undo what had happened. But then I calmed myself and tried to breathe and I did. I sucked in the back draft of the industrial freezer and thought about how good the breeze from the freezer felt. My bleeding companion coughed up blood and hunched over on himself.
"Talk to me." He said, resting his head on his bicep.
"About what?" I asked
I stared off into space trying to think through my aching nerves and Jenny's face floated to the surface.
"I just recently found out that I have a son, who has kids of his own."
"You're a grandfather."
"Yeah. I'd be about eighty-five."
"You look good for your age."
"Yeah," I chuckled and then winced, inadvertently moving broken and bruised tissue. "My son, who I never met, was fifty-two when he died, heart failure. His name was Harry Bowland, but he had a son and two girls and my wife, my ex-wife died too. On her eighty-third birthday."
I stopped to think of her. Back when she was young. I smiled at the thought of her serene, sleeping face curtained by long, silky brown hair. I thought of the silent moments in the dead of night where we held each other.
"The last time I had seen her, she had thousands of tubes running in and out of her nose and arms and every other place you could put a damn tube. "I thought I got rid of you' She joked. I didn't know exactly why she didn't react in confusion or horror, but she didn't. She just gave me this 'I was waiting for you to come" look.
"I wanted to see her once more. I needed to know exactly what became of her.
I barely knew her though. She had restarted her life, you know." I told him or too the cold space. I just wanted to hear the words float through the air.
"She had had a new husband and a child. She has had a career, and has had vacations, all without me. She has had an entire life happily without me." I took my gaze away from the poor little bleeder across from me. I didn't want to talk anymore, but I figured I'd want a kind voice if I ever died.
"You look so much like you did. But you look so sad. Why?' She had asked me. She placed her hand upon my cheek and she smiled at me. I had to say, she looked so different. Her skin sagged some and her fingers trembled upon my flesh. She was so old and I couldn't help but...' The word danced on the tip of my tongue, not quite ready to be spoken.
"Envy her and ... mourn her, I cried, I envied her so much." I said Envy with a quivering emphasis. A tear escaped the rim of my eye and rolled down my cheek.
"I missed you so much. I'm so sorry.' I told her through my tears." I smiled at the memory.
"I loved her, you know how that feels? 50 years and everything in between and I did." The corpse man didn't reply and I wasn't looking for one.
"I held on to her and that moment and every single moment of our marriage so long ago, but I couldn't keep her, so we just talk. We spoke of the time we spent apart, of the time we spent together, of my experiences, of her family and that night she walked out." I looked back at my new friend and he looked right into my eyes and he mouthed something I couldn't quite understand, before his eyes went blank. I had parents, Jonathan and Lola Dean; I had a brother, Jack. I had a wife, Jenny and had a divorce. I was normal for a time, than I just wasn't all of a sudden. I can still remember the morning. June 2, 1948, it was a warm, Tuesday morning. Back then we were living in a small one-bedroom apartment with a restroom and bath, which we shared with the rest of the floor. The meager consolation we had was the slow wash of sunlight past the darkened, low standing buildings in the morning time. It seemed like two worlds; one was quiet and beautiful and the other had me pushing a dresser in front of the door to keep my neighbors from breaking in, in the middle of the night.
Jenny and I had been married for about six months and every morning for those six months, I'd wake up about before to watch the slow rise and fall of her chest. I had been with her for a while and was amazed to find myself overwhelmed by her. I'd was and probably will never be accused of being good looking, I got a dirty look to me, like I'm forever just getting out of the coal mines and ever since I was sixteen, I looked ten years older than I ought to. But I'm honest and talker, I think ultimately that's what drew her to me. You see my brother and I got jobs at a car parts factory after the war and after my father died. to help our mother keep the family house. But one day, I got careless around an axial press and well, two slabs of metal don't always play nicely with the hands that operate them. My entire arm was shaking and I almost blacked out from the pain, but I could still feel everything. That had to be a good sign. But as Jackie raced me to the hospital, screaming "You'll be fine, Matt," over the thunderous throbbing in my head, I slowly felt my hand and part of my forearm go numb. I peered down at my hand, it looked like a pile of wet, shredded meat and crushed bone, and then I prepared myself for what I knew I was going to hear. That they were going to amputate. That I was going to have to live life with one hand. But when I got to the emergency room and was seen by the doctor, he said he had seen worse in the war and that he'd be able to save it, but I'd have some pain for the rest of my life (he had no idea how true that was,) and the nurse assisting him was Jenny. She looked stunning although it was obvious that she was tired from at least a few dozen hours.
She walked in with an aura of frayed hair and with baggy eyes. She gave a look at the doctor and then at me and I swear I completely forgot I had a damn hand. She had these big brown eyes that slowed the commotion of pain in me. Every day I thought of her and every morning I was wild in love with her. But on that particular morning so long ago, I awoke, turned to her, brushed the silky brown hair from her face, peered into her contented visage, and I felt static and cold. I felt complete indifference, I spent that day, not thinking of her, but thinking about the absence of my love for her and it doesn't make sense now, but then I grew spiteful. I got this idea in my head that she must have done something that I was somehow picking up on. I wanted so badly to go back to a good morning and it killed me that I couldn't. So I chose to numb what I couldn't fix. I drank and I drank a lot. I drank her to tears, us into poverty, and right into the night that ended it all.
It was late, about one or two in the morning and I came home to chaos. Boxes and clothing were scattered over chairs and tables as Jenny and her brothers were flying about the house gathering her things. This isn't me making an excuse but I was drunk and everyone was moving so fast tearing down our newly sprouted marriage and I just wanted answers, which no one wanted to give. So I grabbed Jenny by the wrist, refused to let go until she spoke to me and she looked at me with terribly wide eyes, and said in a trembling voice, "I'm leaving. Let go of me." Those words echoed in my head and I could tell that I was distant and foreign to her and I hated her for it. More than I hated anything, but just for a moment. But in that moment, I smacked her.
Now I never laid an unkind hand on her before that night but that simple contact of flesh against flesh made sure that she hated me as much as I did her in that moment. She walked out the door, leaving her two brothers to kick the crap out of me. She called the house the next morning to cement what I already assumed. She was leaving me and I give her nothing but venom, nothing but worst my mind could fathom. I, to this day, can't explain my reasoning, but I needed her to hate me. She was gone, her brothers beat my ass and weeks later I was served with divorce papers. It was over just like that.
I only truly realize how different I was, when someone tried to kill me. It was 1952; I was penny-less and desperate. Years of drinking don't come cheap. But I thought I had an out. A small time Loan shark named Tony. He had money and a couple guys on hand but he was still small time. I had a feeling in my gut that my luck was going to turn around. I had an odd sort of certainty that I could finally go back. So I go to him and ask for a grand.
So I get on a bus to Vegas and as the New Mexican sun slowly sank, bathing the horizon in a heated red I thought to myself 'Today I win.' I watched the world speed past my window seat and I felt the sickness that had welled in my stomach wash away. I felt optimism, more than I had felt in a long time. I thought back to Tony, him sitting behind his over-sized desk, trying like hell to look powerful and intimidating, but in reality, he looked boyish. He was thin and lanky. His face was long and toned and betrayed no sign of whiskers. He eyed me thoughtfully, betraying noticeable detest at my moth-eaten suit in comparison to his stylish, black pin striped one. "Fine." He said after a long pause. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled a key out and then reached down to a bottom drear. He slide it open and his hand re appeared with a neatly folded bundle of cash and a leather bound notebook. He opened the book and wrote 'M. Dean - 1000.' He looked up at me and said calmly "You're in my book Matt. Don't be stupid and forget that."
The Bus crept to a stop and I speared no time before heading to the Casino with the brightest lights on the strip. The Good Heart, it oozed with red carpet, old women and recycled air. It felt alive and buzzing, every table looked open and welcoming, and the only problem in the world was in the choosing. I eventually settled on a petite blonde dealer at the Black Jack table and I was on a roll. A little money here on craps, a little money there on Poker and I got so much back, until I walked up to the Roulette table. I remember that I had bet it all on 15 black. The ball dropped on 20 red. I stood frozen to the spot for a long time, not speaking, not thinking, and barely breathing.
The dealer asked me to walk away from the table if I wasn't betting. So I did and I found a new spot in front of a slot machine in between a muttering, possibly crazed eighty-year-old woman and a heavyset man with poor hygiene and respiratory problems. No one seemed to pay me any attention here, so it seemed the best place to think. So I was 1,000 dollars in debt to a Loan shark (plus the interest, which made it more like 1500 dollars), pretending to gamble so the waitresses would still give me free drinks and trying to resist the hypnotic glow of the neon and the excited babble of slot machines enough to contemplate how screwed I was.
Although, to my best efforts I tried to look like I was gambling and to my best belief; though I thought I was biding my time, in reality I was just patiently waiting to be shot in the gut by some stony faced stranger hired by Tony after he had found out that I couldn't pay. I tried to tell myself he was small time, like I had on the trip up, but it sounded less true with my pockets empty.
It didn't take them that long to come for me though. I guess Tony knew I couldn't pay before I did. They came, I ran, they caught me and wrenched me from the safety of prying eyes and into the back seat of their car.
2. There's Monsters out there
I remember that car ride more than I remember anything else. I remember it was a Black Cadillac with leather seats. It smelt like new leather, straight off the cow's ass. I guess the color suited the occasion; I liken that car ride to my funeral. Although I didn't die, I was buried and I rested in a fashion. They both wore immaculate black suits, although the larger of the two seemed to be wedged uncomfortably into his. They never gave me their names. Assassins and hired killers seldom do. The bigger one never spoke. He didn't need to. The fierce some nature of his size and face spoke volumes. He had a face, like stone. Hard like stone, big and round and stern. He never flinched, frowned, smiled or attempted any facial expression.
But the smaller one did speak and did show emotion and seemed more human. He had greasy black hair and the hint of age around his eyes and mouth. He moved his fingers through his hair almost mindlessly before he turned from the front seat to look at me; he chewed on his gums and then began to speak. He spoke with a dried out, irritated tone, like a sick person speaking his last words to unworthy ears.
"Can I ask you something?" He said, looking at me as if he actually wanted permission. But he didn't wait for it.
"Do you believe in fate? Tony does. Twenty minutes. It took Tony twenty minutes to call us after meeting with you."
I remember a big heavy something blocking my throat, stopping me from uttering a plea for more time or for mercy.
"I ask because Tony could have been wrong about you. You could have had the money ready and waiting and then we would've had to leave you be. Well, if we were dishonest men we could've killed you anyway and been $1000 richer." He omitted a light chuckle. But assuming we're honest men, Tony would have had to find a new candidate. You see, my friend and myself are not just killing a worthless, deadbeat drunk. We're making a statement. We're going to beat you, stab you, shoot you - Basically be heartless monsters tonight and Tony, who is waiting for us..." He said checking his watch "...will cut out your tongue, and you'll be such an awful sight that the paper will refuse to print the gory details of you. You will make Tony into a monster. Someone no one will want to fuck over and at the same time you will mark him a man who can and will take care of his business." He removed a cigar from his suit jacket and lit it, before taking a long drag on it. "We got a lot to accomplish it one night."
They drove me out into the moonlit desert, where another car sat idling, and its headlights blazing a clear work area. The large one snatched me by the collar and wrenched me from the backseat of the Cadillac. It started from there. A sudden and overzealous kick to the ribs, which was immediately followed by the unmistakable sound of bones shattering. From there they smacked me around quite a bit. I'm pretty sure the bigger one had his heart set on me staying awake for the entire ordeal because he'd kept stopping to smack me awake. But they stayed true to their word. They beat and tortured me until the only sound I could make was the sound of gurgles as I struggled to breathe and finally the small one buried a shotgun shell into the depths of my chest. While I was still retched blood and trying to hold my insides in, they dragged me into a shallow grave and the door to the other car finally opened and out came Tony. He looked rather sleek and elegant, oddly fair faced, as if he was going or had been at the opera. His blonde hair was neatly and handsomely styled, making him seem even younger than he might've been. But also, he looked cold. It almost seemed as if he floated to my side, like some prep school Grim Reaper. He knelt down and looked me in the eyes. They were cold as ice. As if, he wasn't human but something else. Tony allowed his hand to hang in mid air awaiting something. The larger one snatched a bloodstained pocketknife from the desert floor and handed it to Tony. Tony then pushed down my lower lip and jaw, stuck two fingers and a thumb into my mouth, and grasped my tongue. I tried to bite and to kick but pain and fatigue sat heavy on my chest. But that wasn't all. It wasn't just the fear and pain and fatigue, it was the hopelessness. I knew and had accepted the fact that I was going to die. I let tears fall freely as I babbled incoherently.
Tony wrenched my tongue out a good three inches out of my head before he started to saw through it. As hot blood splashed on to my cheeks and down my nostrils, I lost my sight or my eyes just rolled into the back of my head and the world became the taste of salt and metal and then that faded away into nothing but pain and pressure and then the pressure stopped and left me with only the horrible pain. I could feel them throw heaps of dirt on me, before leaving me to the cold. The worst of it was the cold. I remember how my body started to lose heat. I remember the cold as if I'm still in that grave. I would have welcomed death but death did not come. I at one point thought I was dead but I was actually just sleeping. I slept for what felt like days, weeks, and months. But I awoke again and coughed up a good amount of dirt and bit more out of every other orifice. I rose from my grave and slid a finger across the unbroken flesh upon my chest. The horizon was laced with rippling gold as the sun prepared to rise. It slowly soaked the air, the earth, the world with life and it breathed warm light into my chilled lungs. I wasn't dead, I could breathe. I could see. I could think and I could hear the distant freeway and the town 20 miles away, the people in that town their heartbeats, their thoughts. The world was so noisy all of a sudden.
The acuteness of my hearing dulled quickly and muscles grew stronger. There was an energy that now flowed through my body, intensifying individual components. An electric sensation coursing through my veins. I remember the power I felt, the sheer greatness of my being. The knowledge of being something more. I knew I wasn't actually human. I didn't know what I was, but I thought I was God then. I did regrettable things. The sand clung to my flesh and submitted to my weight. The air smelt clean but slightly salty. The sand wriggled between my toes; one of my executioners had taken my shoes for whatever reason he wanted them. I walk through the desert, back to the city and from the city; I traveled back home to Red River, New Mexico.
I stood outside of Tony's two-story home, it was surprisingly domestic. I had assumed he'd surround himself completely with gaudy pieces of shit, but he had a fairly humble and respectable home, a sensible car, and even a well-groomed golden shepherd. The only clue towards his sinister nature was a black car parked across the street from his house. Inside sat my two executioners. They puffed on cigars and joked with each other. I stood far off in the shadows of a neighboring home, waiting for my opening with hot poison pumping through my veins and my damn veins screamed for action. They swelled and ached and ultimately forced me to give in.
I picked up a loose brick from the home's walkway, marched to the passenger's side of the car, and smashed the window. The larger of my two executors shrieked as the glass cut at his face and eyes. The shorter of them erupted out of the driver's side brandishing a small handgun. I waited for him to recognize my face. To see my living, livid eyes burning like all unholy hell. It took a few seconds but he did and his face went milk white. Something clicked in his mind and he ran, but before he could get too far, I hurled the brick with an ungodly strength and it hit with a terrible crack on the back of his head and he fell and didn't get back up. The larger executioner fell from the passenger seat, still liberating tiny bits of glass from his face. With his eyes only partly open, the larger man attempted to rise to meet me, but I gave him a quick and precise kick in between his shoulders, which didn't knock him down but did slow his progress upward. And for a short time, the contest was my wrath pit against his bulk. I'd thrust my wicked heel into his crumbling ribs, hacking away until he collapsed, panting and coughing blood. There I silenced the aching of his body, by shoving my heel into his skull and he laid there like a beaten mountain on the verge of breaking into billions of tiny pebbles.
Then there was the family. The first murder happened in the kitchen, the wife dressed in an elegant night gown. She screamed, fought, and made enough of a racket that the rest of the house was awake. I held her there poised and ready to snap her neck. I remember Tony was there, a small handgun shivering in his hands. He kept shouting threats of how he was going to castrate me, how he was going to burn down my home, how he was going to murder my family. I had a conversation with him that didn't go will prior. I knocked on his door and the Mrs. answered it. A swirling aura of lavender loveliness wafted gently off her chestnut hair.
"Hello, I apologize for the late hour, Ma'am. Could I speak with Tony? It's related to his business." I told her in as civil a voice as I could muster. She eyed me irritably and said "One moment."
Moments later, I sat across from Tony, him looking sour faced and worn. "I'm surprised you're alive." He said, emphasizing the word, 'surprise.'
"I'm surprised too." I replied flatly. I rolled my tongue over a grain of sand still in my mouth. I had been splitting them out for the past five hours.
"I suppose it was fair. I fuck you over, you fuck me over. You went a little over board but I get the reasoning."
"And you get why I'm upset. I paid good money for you to be dead. Those boys don't come cheap. But here you are, looking better than ever. How odd is that one."
He then stood up and turned to face the ocean blue kitchen counter.
"You know how much I paid. I gave them both $750 a piece and told them to seat on it until I find a guy, you." He said turning around and point at me. "That plus the grand you lost and the $500 in interest, you've turned what was a good plan into a very expensive mistake."
"You have no clue how expensive it really is. I'm nowhere near done taking."
"What? You want money or something?" He said, a bold and superior smile stretched across his fair face.
Tony then turned around again and opened a cabinet and before I could think, a bullet lodged itself into my head and I black out. I awoke a few moments later to see Tony's wife hovering over me. She probably heard the gunshot and came to see what was going on. I snatched her by the throat and in a flash, I was behind her.
Then it's us standing, us shouting. Him training his handgun's sights on me. And me poised and ready to snap her neck like a twig.
Next, it's her lying dead on the floor. His eyes, the big payoff, his eyes swelled with tears and you could tell without being under his skin that every nerve in his body had gone numb. You could tell without knowing him that she was everything to him. He dropped his gun and allowed me to kill him.
Next was the eldest son. He was no more than 16, but the way he fearlessly charged into the downstairs living area. "Mom!" He shouted in a panic and then he saw me and we stood there and nothing mattered. He looked at me with so much fear and rage and horror and confusion and everything must have melted into nothingness for him. I could felt his heart break. I could feel his blood boil and scream for vengeance. I could feel his muscle plan an attack independent of his mind. And I could see how far away his mind had gone; it couldn't possibly make sense of what it just saw. I stole a quick glance at the handsome knife set displayed on the counter. Five polished ivory handles stood proudly upon an expertly carved wooden base.
Next I pocketed the fingers I had just taken from a confused sixteen-year-old. The owner lay spread-eagle on the floor, his insides flooding onto the expensive kitchen tiles. I could just hear the terrified breathing of a young girl. Her heart pounding like a jackhammer. I could taste her fear, almost hear her think 'should I run or should I hide.' She must have decided to hide.
Next I had her by the neck. She was no more than thirteen and she was terrified. Her eyes expanded and she shuttered into tears and those tears reached my hand and broke my grip. I backed away, realizing what I did, what I became. I stole back into the night, running to nowhere, running away, away, away, but I leave those thoughts to my icy black past.
4. Little did they Know
We cruised along a rain soaked highway, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. It had been wildly hot throughout the day and the sudden rain was at first, a welcomed surprise, dropping the heat by at least 25 percent. But as we drove through the rain and night fell, the continuous static of the rain left us sluggish. I had agreed to come along to relieve Chris of some of the driving responsibilities, a decision I was beginning to regret. In part, because of the endless stretches of in- activity and in part, because of the fact that I had never felt so foreign and out of place in my life. I had stupidly thrust myself into a sea of wavy brown hair and fiery hazel eyes. There was Chris, who was a year older than me and very well built. I always likened him to a machine, in that he didn't like being unfocused or out of control. Then there was Mya, she was sixteen and almost took the plane trip with her parent. She apparently never expressed a want to go by either means of transportation. I couldn't blame her, no one likes going to funerals. But apparently she chose the less immediate route. And lastly there was Vicky, who was twenty-two, my age.
But I also regretted it, mostly because of the fear of being found out. I had elected to spend 20 hour with the brother of the girl I was secretly dating. I had offered for the experience, for the doing of it. I thought, how great would it be to see the desert, the cracked sand, the endless and the reddish green horizon. To taste the unfettered air, and even better; to experience that with my best friend of ten years and the girl who had my heart, a cheap adventure. We were driving from North Beach, California to their grandmother's funeral in Red river, New Mexico. It was about 20 hours one way and Vicky and Mya didn't manage to make it pass the 7th hour and you couldn't really blame them. Chris and I weren't doing much better.
I sat in my seat, feeling half-dead and completely exhausted, my eyes fixed securely on the mock oak panel dash. Studying the thousands of ignored stains and tiny bits of garbage that commonly plague a college student's car. Sometime around the 6th hour, I forgot where I ended and the old cracked leather of the seat began, around the eighth, I couldn't muster the energy to care. I knew I had to take over the driving responsibilities soon but I couldn't help but nod off. I blinked in and out of consciousness, hypnotized by the rhythmic cadence of the girl's breathing and the falling rain. I wouldn't make the night and I could see Chris pretending to be fully aware. His head would start to bob and he'd let the car drift ever so slightly but quickly correct the car's path and at about the fourth near miss I raised my head and saw it. We arrived upon it like a divine beacon. A gaudy neon sign reading Moe's Motel: Vacancies. It was a one-story cement building cloaked in lazily sprawling darkness. The motel had about eleven of twelve rooms and only one seemed to be occupied. I nudged Chris and said "Let's stop, we're two hours ahead of schedule," He gave me a look like he would rather keep going, but knew he wouldn't make it. He gave an irritated sigh and changed lanes, readying the sedan to pull into the parking lot.
After stirring Mya and Vicky, we made our way to the check in window. It's light spilling out into the night, but somehow managing to leave the shadows perfectly undisturbed. The darks stayed dark and the yellow light from the check out window was loosing ground every moment. A dying pathway to a lonely window. I tapped on the bell and after a few moments of odd rustling and the sound of a radio reporting violence in the Florida Everglades being switched off, we were met by this wild-eyed, wiry haired, old man sporting a dirty beat-up, old, cowboy hat with the initials TP embroidered in black thread off to the side. He eyed the four of us and then pulled out a large red register book to check us in. I couldn't help but think of how he stank of bad food and good Bourbon and it looked like the aforementioned had found its way down his shirt. He thoughtfully gazed at Chris, who was serving a leaning post for both his sisters, and said "You boys have fun now." with a tip of his hat that suggested "Good job, boys" and a toothy grin, revealing yellowed teeth and what looked like chewing tobacco, but could have been just about anything. Chris gave a look like he wanted to correct the motel man's assumption, but opted to just take the room key, while shooting the man a dirty look like Chris had just licked an ashtray. The motel man returned the look by swirling his tongue under his lips in a 'You got something to say?' type of fashion.
Next, we were settling into the room. Vicky and Mya graciously took the bed, a clean enough queen size with a thin, dark blue blanket, while Chris took an armchair that I declined for fear of tetanus. It looked ratty and was wrapped up in duct tape and it looked old, (no, it was old in the 70's, it was a dinosaur.) Someone, I assumed the old man, had stopped caring about presentation a long while back. The room was clean, but there was a strong indication that the previous occupants weren't.
You'd look around and spot an orange tinge of old spilled blood against the white backdrop of the wall or you'd see a darkened corner that probably became a hilarious story of how someone couldn't hold their bowels in some ratty motel in Arizona. I looked around and saw little scratches and scuffs scattered across the walls and ceiling from my make shift floor bed. I played with the idea of waking everyone up to add to the chaos of this room. I for some reason thought of the room as a traveler permanently cemented into the ground, but somehow it managed to get souvenirs from the people who pass through it. I decided against waking up Chris and the girls due to the nature of the trip. But I still wanted to offer something to this room. I grabbed a black Sharpie marker out from my bag and added five words to the inside wall of the closet: Rest in Peace Nana Dean.
I laid myself down on the floor with my legs crossed and my hands serving as pillows. I stared up at a scuffmark that looked like an eye. I don't know why I was fixated on that mark more than any other mark scattered across the ceilings and walls. But I studied every curve and nuance of it and committed it to memory and I lost myself in it, reading its curves and in its curves, I read myself. Its gentle curves told of how uneasy I felt about this whole situation, its jagged peak told of how alien I felt. It knew me well and threatened to expose me for who I was, Mark, a new spin on an old Judas and then I felt the tender brush of Vicky's hand across my chest and the eerie but comforting feeling that you're not laying alone. I turned my head to see that Vicky had woken and move to me while I was lost in my head.
"Did I wake you?" I whispered.
She looked at me with half opened eyes and said softly "No." She then, laid her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. I slowly ran my fingers through her silken hair and I closed my own.
Next morning, I awoke alone, which sent an antsy type of sickness through me, like you get when something doesn't quite go right. But it was probably for the best that she returned to the bed. And within an hour or two, we were back on the road. Chris insisted I speed to make up time lost due to sleep, so we roared down the road, kicking up wind and dust. I could just see a trucker's diner that claimed to have the world's greatest pie. I made a mental note to stop there on the way back and put that claim to the test. I betrayed a slight chuckle when I thought to myself 'I had the world's best pie, but never the greatest.' And then felt a small pang of guilt. I for some reason wanted to see the inside of that dust coated beauty. It was like a gut longing but still then, not quite a longing. It was hard to explain. It wasn't exactly for pie, coffee or whatever they served as much as the place itself. That tiny diner stuck in my mind even after it was long out of sight, disappearing behind the horizon and leaving us no civilized quarter.
And there, in the long stretch of untamed nothingness; amidst my coveted cracked sand and stifling sunrays beating unmercifully on the car roof, it happened. The crash was in slow motion I think, or at least that's how I remember it. The smooth ride leading up to a single solitary pop that echoed throughout the desert and sent the car hurdling into a ditch and out of the control of my useless hands. The wheel jerked violently out of my hands long before my brain got the message that something was wrong. The pop was quickly followed by curses and screams of confusion and terror as the sun-bathed desert shook wildly outside our windows. That then, was followed by dead silence, there probably was sound, breathing, the car settling, or even just ambient noise, but none of it registered in my ear. Chris broke the silence. He brought our worlds back on track with his concerned, brotherly "Is everyone alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine", Vicky, said as she rubbed Mya's back comfortingly. Mya had begun to tremble and cry at some point in the midst of the silence. Vicky's hair was blocking any clear view of her face, I assumed purposefully.
The car fell silent again, with exception to Mya tears and it was a terrible quiet, something like the 'I don't know what to say' quiet you hear when someone dies and the mourners are looking for solace. I could tell that Chris was uneasy. The cogs were turning in his head, trying to fix a problem bigger than him. He needed his sisters to be okay for him to be all right. He needed her to say something, anything, and his eyes searched her tears for the right solution. But Mya had to work through a mound of shock, a mound of reality. She could have died, she could die, and from the look on her face I could tell, that never occurred to her before. But through the shock, she managed a quick nod and a sheepish "I'm Okay".
Chris reached over, wiped a tear from her eye, and brushed her cheek with his fingers. "Let's get some air," Chris announced with a little more calm in his voice, He popped open his door and stepped out. Vicky followed suit and then Mya and lastly myself. We stood there in the middle of nowhere with the wind whipping our cheeks and wondering what we'd do next.
5. Chris, Kelly, and Molly's Diner
Chris's mind whirled with frustration and fatigue. Chris fought to reason away the crash but his head wanted to blame someone and it didn't seem very fulfilling to blame a faulty tire. Especially with that look baby Mye gave. It would make everything so much easier if he could have just blame him and kick the shit out of him. He had just wanted to make it better, but with all the world piling on his head: the funeral, the heat, transporting his sisters and the discovery of Mark and Vicky. He'd woken to the scant sound of Vicky's motion to Mark on the floor. He didn't like it, but now wasn't the time.
He turned to his sisters and Mark and announced that he'd hike back toward a rinky-dink diner a couple miles back. He had only noticed it because of its overly boastful sign claiming the world's best pie. He figured he'd borrow their phone to call a tow truck and hopefully the guy driving could take them to a train station or something.
"I'll come with." Mark offered.
"No. Stay here in case some Hill-Billie or something comes along." He didn't think anyone would mess with them or the car but he didn't want Mark near him at that particular moment. He started down the road, calling back, "I'll be back soon". And he gave a hand wave and marched on until they were out of sight. He walked along the side of this endless stretch of road and desert, praying for shade or for that damn diner to come into view, neither of which came. It was about four miles back, but in 110-degree heat and with no water it's just plainly put 'hell'. So he was baking literally. The sun burned so hot, he couldn't sweat. He could feel his skin cook like bacon, and felt dizzy and hoped what he was feeling wasn't heat stroke, when a cherry red hot-rod came ripping down the road. It swerved haphazardly on and off the road, fishtailing with each turn. Chris entertained the idea of flagging him down but thought better of it. It appeared that the driver wouldn't have seen him and part of Chris doubted that he valued his own life, the way he was driving. So Chris let him disappear off into the simmering horizon and he went on.
He thought of how sickening fresh air felt in his stomach and regretted not taking water with him when Molly's diner peeked into view. It was a handsome sight, standing alone amongst the blazing sun and golden desert and it shined, it was like a hundred watt light bulb it was so bright, just daring to take on the sun.
His legs found new vigor as he pumped them, racing to Molly's entrance. Chris reached the entrance and peered in through the window. The lights were off and the diner was vacant. Chris fell into dread thinking he would have to walk back and wait. He checked a blue and white business hours sign: Monday through Saturday- 9:00am- 2:30am. Sunday: 12:00 pm-11:30pm. 'They should be open' he thought to himself. He tested the door and it open with a cheery ring. Chris stepped in and looked around. The floor was sprayed with broken glass and napkins and there was a stink in the air. Something like meat baking in the desert heat, it stank; something had gone bad over night. He called out, "Hello". There was no answer.
"Hello." Chris called out again.
And then, a thought floated into his head, a robbery. The place looked tore apart, in the corner of his eye he could see a half-eaten plate of steak and potatoes being feasted upon by ants. He looked over to the register, it was opened and empty. Fear rose in his throat as another thought floated into his head. The stink in the air could be human.
"Hello" He called again, his voice cracking a little.
Another thought floated into his head, 'find a phone and call the police.' He walked up to the counter and stupidly hesitated at a sign reading 'employee's only.' He walked pass and looked around for a phone as his insides urged him to run away. This side of the corner looked as bad as the other, shattered plates and cup littered the floor. But no sign of a phone or even a phone cord. He moved farther back into the kitchen where the stink grew and rested comfortably in his nostrils. It looked like a typical diner's kitchen, big metal table in the center, sinks, pots, pans, burners and what probably was a freezer in the back. It reminded him of a summer job he had, working in a kitchen at a sub shop. He, for a second wondered if the guy that works here was put off on this kind of food as much as he had been after working there for a long while and then wondered if that man was still alive.
"Hello." He called for no reason. He wanted to vomit but settled on letting whatever came to mind fall out of his mouth. He started muttered nonsensical sentences ending in "Fucking phone" and "Should go." And there, with the stink fueling the furnace of his fears, he heard the strangely familiar, yet foreign sound of a gun cocking. He had heard it a hundred times in movies, but it sounded so much louder and crisper in true life.
He turned slowly and calmly toward a shivering, petite little red head with puffy eyes. Chris could tell her hair was at one time well managed but now clung messily to the side of her face, held by sweat and tears. She'd been crying and she looked tired, shivering and swaying and keeping her bloodshot green eyes trained on him. He looked her imploringly in the eyes, pleading her to know he meant no harm and despite the gun aimed at him, Chris had the sense that she wasn't looking for conflict, she was shaking like she just had the worst night of her life.
"I'm not looking to hurt anyone." He said slowly. She must have taken that as somewhat hostile because she tightened her grip on the gun and a cold wave of fear shot through him. Chris didn't think she wanted to shoot him, but her intentions wouldn't mean much if something stupid happened.
"Listen, I'm not here to hurt anyone. My car got a flat and I need a phone, that's all." He said, trying to send the message of honesty with his eyes and it seemed to work because she lowered the gun, a bit. And with trembling fingers and a throbbing mass in his throat, he raised his own hand and slowly brought it to the gun. Chris hesitated for what seemed like hours, battling with himself, trying to muster the nerve to take a loaded gun from its owner. But he finally placed his hand on the pistol and slowly moved it into a safer direction, where it discharged into a meat-cutting table.
"Wasn't that loud." Chris tried to joke to relieve the tension and he offered a nervous, but friendly smile to emphasize his harmlessness. She gave a quick sound that might have been a giggle and release the gun into his hand. It was lighter than he thought a gun might be and it was warm. He remembered something from a movie about wet guns being useless and wondered if it was true, but realized that he only needed her to think that.
He walked over to a sink where some pans were left to soak and Chris dropped it in and announced "No more gun." Without her gun, she stood curtained by the shadows with her thin arms wrapped around her chest and a thought floated into Chris's head and now he had someone to ask.
"What happened here?"
6. What kind of name is 'Texas Pete?'
The world was still and over-flowed with a harsh, ugly type of beauty, something like empty clutter and the unfamiliar to weathered eyes. This stretch of road was dirty and under managed. Thousands of people must have took it and left only bits of garbage, hamburger wrappers, soda cups, water bottles, spent cigarettes, Twinkie wrappers etc. But there's something to be said about seeing something you've never seen before. I took it all in and my eyes rested upon a stray garbage bag, snared by a desert shrub and played upon by the wind. I laughed a little as I thought about how ridiculous it was to find litter this far from anywhere and anything, but quickly concealed it when Vicky raised her head to look at me.
Her and I were leaning against the baking back end of the downed car while Mya sat cross-legged on the side of the road seemingly sun bathing. I had asked her how she could stand the hot pavement and she returned "How could you stand the hot metal," and no one thought to bring up the idea of sitting in the car.
I let my head droop down and I stared at the cracks and scuffs in my sneakers and the fraying strands of my jean pant legs and my mind flushed empty, but for one thought. The sentence "Tell me I should be here," fell out of my mouth and I could feel the sun beat the back of my neck. I made a silent prayer for sweat.
"I need you here." Vicky said in a voice only addressed to me. I felt her thigh just barely brush my own and her thin finger touch the back of my forearm. And for a moment, I wondered how oblivious Mya was to this exchange and then realized how little I cared.
I followed the path Mya's eyes were fixed on, down the road; on a point she could no longer see. "We're going to be so late." Mya said. The statement hung in the air waiting for an answer, a contradiction, something.
"Should Chris be this long?" Mya asked.
"The diner was a little ways off and he'd probably have to wait there for a tow to come. You know, to lead them here."
"We should have gone with him," Mya said to the road.
"Nah, He's fine. Any second now you'll see a tow truck coming." I said feeling a small pang of unease nerve. This all had gone very wrong and me lying only seemed to amplify that fact and we all fell silent again.
'What the hell am I doing here?' I thought to myself.
"He'll be back, soon." I said for wanting to say something.
"Actually I think you're right. I think I hear a car." Mya said, her eyes straining to focus on the distant horizon. She awkwardly stood and brushed gravel from her legs and jean shorts before squinting at a distance glinting something rolling toward us.
As the sun's shine receded from the windshield, the vehicle revealed itself not to be a tow truck, but an old pick-up with sanded off paint. It looked like the type of truck, only meant to be driven at night, through back alleys and mud slicked dirt roads. It was never meant to be so apparent. But there it was and it seemed to be poised toward us. The pick -up slowed as it come into full view and stopped right beside Mya, who had retreated into the sand and closer to Vicky and I.
"Y'all okay?" The driver asked. The voice seemed familiar, so I peered into the shaded cabin to see his face. That old, motel man from last night. I could see he kept on some of the shadows that hung around his face last night.
"Yeah ... I meant we had an accident, but no one's hurt and my brother should be back with the tow truck any second now." Mya said, almost like she thought she might be lying.
"Well, we're a long ways away from anything and you don't wanna be out here for long, end up getting heat sick. Tell me where your brother went to and I'll take you to him."
"He went to that diner place, but he should be back soon, so we're okay." Mya said, looking back at us.
"Yeah, he's been gone for awhile, but he'll soon be back." I said, feeling stupid repeating the same argument.
"All I'm saying is, you don't want to be out here, if you're out here, baking in the sun, you'll need an ambulance to go with your tow truck. I'm just trying to do you a favor." He said and then leaned over the passenger seat and popped the door open.
"Don't worry, I'll get you right where you got to go, scout's honor." The motel man said with two fingers raised and a toothy grin. I found it hard to imagine this man as a Boy Scout, but when Mya looked back to Vicky and me for our answers, I gave a weary head nod and Vicky push herself off the car and started toward the truck and I followed suit. As we all piled into the pick-up, (first me, sitting closest to the old man, then Vicky and then Mya,) Mya peered at the old man's weathered cowboy hat and asked sheepishly "What does TP stand for?"
He grinned, revealing yellow teeth and black gums and said," Texas Pete."
"What kind of name is that?" Mya asked a little carelessly
"Don't know, you'd have to ask the man the hat belonged to,"
7. The Incident at Molly's Diner
The smell of burnt coffee and burgers wafted through the air as Molly's voice screamed food orders over the static of the kitchen's AM/FM radio. The signal bled in and out as a reporter spoke of bloody riots in the streets of Detroit. Apparently after a series of car plants closed down and left thousands with nothing to do but stew in their outrage, the men and women of the city of Detroit marched on city hall. With the tension taut as piano wire, a brick was thrown. By whom, no one knew, but it ignited blind rage and random destruction, looting and lawlessness reminiscent of Sadam and Gamora and it raged with no end in sight.
Molly muttered curses under her breath as she handed the dirty motel man his burger and fries and heard him mutter something about her breasts through the aura of cigarette smoke that so frequently surrounded him. She never liked him; she dealt with the worst of truckers, but couldn't stand the way he stared at her. His eyes were like clawed hands gripping and tearing at her thin waist and her curvy hips. He had that lustful look that she'd get from men, but there was something more to it with him. He had the hints of something more predatory, like he was plotting something behind those black eyes of his and Molly tried her best to look unappealing to him, tried to look her age or maybe even older, tried to display her crows feet, her frown lines, her graying hairs. She was a tough woman, but would pride herself on maintaining her beauty and would at times use it as an asset, batting her eyes at venders to get them to lower their rates, keep truckers in line without ever raising her voice. But with that motel man, it seemed the same as a deer flaunting itself in front of a wolf. It seemed wiser to keep from his gaze, to look diseased and undesirable.
Kyle, in the kitchen was zipping around between the fries station, grill and industrial freezer. Bitterness and fatigue welled in him; he was three hours into his second shift, which he only agreed to as a favor to Molly and he was already regretting it. His back was soar and his mind was numb and he had burned himself twice so far. He was in the middle of flipping the burgers when a commotion arose in the seating area. There was an uproar of terror and screeching chairs, of crashing dishes and curse words and everything was finally muted by a single gun blast. The silence ringed in Kyle's ears; it pounded like a drum and ached unbearably. Fear lodged itself in Kyle's throat and started to choke him until his eyes welled with tears.
A single voice erupted through the pungent fear and silence and said "Okay, now that everyone's calm, I'm going to need everyone belly down on the ground and to start emptying your pockets and I mean now, slow people will be shot in the head, just try me." He said this with a conversational tone as if he were just suggesting an interesting activity. Kyle peered through the kitchen window to see the nine or so inhabitants of the diner descend to the feet of two brown haired men, both wielding shotguns, and a thin attractive redhead, holding a silver handgun.
It seemed that the younger of the two dark haired men had been the one who had spoken the order. He had a long face accented with an angular jaw line and a head full of messy brown curls, while his brother had more of a rounded, meaty face gently marked with wrinkles, implying that he was the older of the two, and peppered with brown stubble.
The elder brother started to collect the various wallets and purses offered to him by terrified diner patrons, while the younger brother led Kelly behind the counter. He then helped Molly back to her feet, looked her in the eyes and said "Now love, would you please be so kind as to open the register and hand the money inside to this tempting beauty here." He gestured to Kelly and she blushed slightly. Molly popped the register open with a ding and started to empty it.
The younger brother turned to his brother and asked, "You got everyone, Luke?" Luke struggled not to drop anything as he juggled his gun, four wallets, three purses and a messy ball of cash. "Joe, I think someone's holding out." Luke said, almost dropping a cracked red leather purse embroidered with the initials "TS".
Joe cocked his shotgun and said "Really? I'm pretty sure I said that slow people would be killed. So whose got over-laden pockets."
He walked around the counter and into the crowd of shivering, fearful people, allowing the barrel of his gun to hover over people's heads for moments at a time and make the statement "I own you," and that statement was made well. It was all too clear that someone's death would take less time and energy than to break a pencil. "Who's going to die tonight?" Joe asked allowing the barrel to linger above the motel man's head. He looked down upon the man, who had taken his scotch with him to the ground. "Did you get this gentleman, Luke?" Joe asked looking up to his brother. Luke craned his head for a better look of the man. "No, now that you mention it, I must have missed him." Joe snatched the man by the collar and forced him to his feet.
"Sir, would you empty your pockets for me?" Joe said shoving the dirty motel man up against the large well-cleaned window of the diner.
The Motel man gave a deep, hoarse chuckle that seemed to knock some phlegm lose from his throat, "Boy Toy, You've got some bark, but I'm gonna need some bite before I can hand my wallet over." Joe betrayed his guise of intimidation for a moment, showing rather a look of shock and surprise. He then collected himself and said loud and venomously "You think this is a game, that I won't shoot you dead for a wallet! You don't mean a thing to me!"
"Bark, Bark, little pup." He said pulling a can of chewing tobacco out of his shirt pocket. He popped the cover off with his thumb and rest that arm on Joe's shoulder. He then rested his other arm on the other shoulder to remove a bit of it. It was eerie how he lingered there, how they lingered there, staring at each other before the motel Man spoke up "If you're wondering what I'm doing , I'm giving you no other choice. You better use that boom-stick."
Joe's fingers rippled on the handle of his gun as fear surged in him. He never wanted it to take this long. It was supposed to be quick and easy. They'd come in and fire the gun a couple times, grab the cash and go. Joe gritted his teeth, tightened his grip on his shotgun and said, "Let's go." He then back away from the Old man and turned to his two associates. "Come on, we're going" He said heading toward the door.
"Joey boy, come on, stay. The fun's just about to start." The Motel Man said with a devil-fabricated grin stretched over his face.
Joe stopped in his track and stood very still for a moment before turning again to the motel man and swinging the shotgun like a baseball bat into his stomach. "You don't get to use my name, you old fagot." Joe roared.
"Finally, we see some life from my boy Joe." The Motel Man said hunched over holding his gut.
"Shut up!" Joe roared as he brought down another blow across the old man's back.
"Joey, that ain't the way you're supposed to use that thing." The Old Man said in a grumbling gasp.
"Shut the Fuck Up," Joe screeched. Joe shoved the barrel of the gun harshly into the side of the old man's head. "Keep your mouth shut." Joe said, with a heated shutter in his voice.
At this moment, the entire diner was saturated in a horrible silence that seeped down everyone's throat and into their lungs. That silence washed over everything, plates and floors, the counter tops and windows and broken by the cheery ring of a bell as a pale, fair faced young man with long, blonde hair entered the diner, walked past Luke and took a seat at the counter. He brushed his hair from his face and raised a finger in the air and said, "Cup of Coffee, Please."
Joe turned and looked at the fair-faced man irritably, trying to ooze with venom or will him to death. Joe was tired; he could feel it in his back, bones and mind. He could hardly bear it and it was made even worst by the growing number of on lookers. A growing number of people were looking up at him, at his face, memorizing it and when the pressure became too incredible to bear, Joe felt it burn away like wildfire through dry- underbrush, starting from his side, ripping through his kidney, up his spinal cord, wrapping around his ribs, through his muscles, up his chest, into his throat, into his brain and burning out his optic nerve as he saw the fair faced man snatch up the helpless Kelly from behind the counter and hold a knife to her throat.
Joe's knees buckled under him and he went sailing into the counter top and then onto the floor. The Motel Man crouched down to retrieve his knife from Joe's side and rose again with it and Joe's Shotgun. Luke gave a deep-throated roar and tried for his gun, but managed only to drop it along with two purses and a couple of twenties. The old man gave an irritated look and lazily pointed the shotgun at Luke and pulled the trigger. Luke went lumbering into a booth.
The diner was silent again, apart from Kelly and the Fair faced man wrestling, her giving sheepish cries for help and useless commands to be released as the diners watched the two. Texas stepped over Joe's dying body and toward Kelly. He snatched her gun out of her hand and pocketed it. He then turned. Cocked his gun and said with one hell of an excited smile "We're gonna have fun tonight."
8. The Broken Body Bebop
I laid there on the floor, feeling useless, feeling heavily. Somehow I equated to cancer, to Ebola, to some disease rotting away at me and spilling on to the floor. And I couldn't help, but equate my life-less friend to a grim reaper, to contagious death, to some terrible reminder of what my blood encrusted hands could do if motivated. I clamped my eyes shut as tightly I could strained my neck and tried to bottle neck the memories, slow and stop them before they boiled up my throat, but small bits slipped past my guard. The pained, shocked and angered look that flooded into Jackie's eyes. I shook the sight out of my mind.
I wanted to walk away from this place, out the door and back to the shadow of a life that I had, but I couldn't. My executioner wouldn't allow such negligence. I was bound to him. Every time I tried to whimper away from the chill of the open walk in freezer, panic and guilt dug deep into my back, I was responsible for him.
I rocked forward, trying to protect my bleeding stump of a hand, but ultimately failed. A horrible shock of pain shot through me, but at least I was on my knees. A second shock of pain ripped through my ribs and caused me to gasp and tear up. I crawled slowly toward that little man, his eyes as blank as plain white paper, his body as limp as a rag doll. I gingerly grasped his wrist and I began dragging him, every inch ripping through me like jagged daggers through my neck, through my ribs, through my chest, urging me to scream the air out of my lungs, but I urged forward.
My body finally gave in seven feet from where I started and I decided to rest there, set up camp and try again in the morning. My face was a pool of sticky sweat that seeped into opened flesh, rudely shocking nerves awake, seeping into my eyes, reminding me why I kept them closed. I then laid my aching bones and screaming wounds down, flat across the cold linoleum, letting the cold wash over me, letting it break me apart, into a pile of pieces that wither felt good or didn't.
And those pieces melted even closer to they could together, and felt the hum of the cooling system hidden somewhere in the walls, could just the gentle moan of electricity and the babble of flowing water somewhere deep beneath me and even fainter than that was footsteps circling around each other in some sick dance and hushed sobbing, like a girl's sobbing, and even fainter than that was the salty taste of fear.
Something happened here besides my blood ruining newly laid floors and painted walls and the words echoed just as I thought them to myself "What Happened Here," and the floor replied answering no one's question "Bad Things." It came out as a whisper, barely audible over the electric hum. Then a thunderous bell rang, muting both voices and then footsteps like booming anvils and then an explosion, something like a tomahawk missile cruising into an oil field, viciously burning everything for miles and shattering my ear drums. I wanted to pull my head away as blood spilled from my ears, but I couldn't.
Everything was muffled and broken apart, muffled screaming, muffled laughter, the muffled sound of a man trying to breathe while his lungs flooded with blood. The sound of hysterical screaming and crying as a girl gets dragged across the floor, kicking and screaming against her will. And then I was released, my neck shot back and I sprang upward on to my feet and then immediately crumpled downward to the floor, trying desperately to get in air, swallowing it greedily.
"What the Hell happened here?" I asked myself breathlessly.
Her screams rattled about in my head, launching me into over exaggerated spasms, trying like hell to shake them off and out, but they stayed. I had to leave. This place was dead silent, but still managed to scream at me, I started warily crawling toward the door, but stopped. I was forgetting someone. He laid motionless; the color had flooded from his skin, giving him a skeletal look, enhanced dramatically by the dark, heavy bags under his eyes. It didn't seem right. It didn't seem fitting to leave him here, to be found in the on coming day and buried nameless and unextraordinary. I couldn't, it was unthinkable.
I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and started the task of removing him from that frosty hallway. Pulling, Pulling, Pulling and screaming breathlessly for the both of us.
After an exhaustive and horrible hour of feeble kicks of my feet and feeble and excruciating pulls of my damage hand, I found myself laying on baking cement and my hand resting in the merciful embrace of the cold sand hidden just underneath the hellish heated top layer. I had finally made it outside. I was too exhausted to comprehend what I was seeing, to think, everything was given a designation as being important: Breathing and healing, and unimportant: Dignity and Pride, and then it was delegated to the back part of my mind. I eventually take back responsible for myself and took in my new surroundings. As far as I could tell I wasn't in Red River. I was in front of a boarded up diner in the desert. Police tape fluttered in the breeze, broken into several segments. A piece tied to the door, apiece wrapped messily around a parking post, each piece broken because it became useless. Whatever happened happened long enough ago that it didn't matter that people crossed police lines.
I turned toward the road and saw my companion's car, beat up, monster of a station wagon. Its paint had all but chipped off and it didn't look like it ever was able to be mobile. The driver's side door hung open, as did the bed. He had been eager, excited to bring his prize to some quiet place to figure out. He left the station wagon like he did because he figured he wouldn't need it for too long. I closed my eyes and went back to not thinking, but only for a moment, then I snapped back. I cautiously tried my feet and was relieved to find then capable again. They protest my weight but would bear it, at least until I got the dark haired man loaded into his old vehicle.
Things moved faster on two legs, but were also three times as difficult, but I managed to place him in the bed on his back where he seem oddly like he was sleeping, the oddly contented look on his face could only help me. I wouldn't need be concerned by passersby interfering with what ever I was going to do with him, and there it was. What was my plan? What was I going to do with him? What did it prove? What the hell was the point? And the only answer I could think of was that it wasn't right to leave him.
I plopped heavily into the driver's seat and found the keys still hanging patiently in the ignition. I placed my hand upon it and gave it a quick thanks for its mercy. I then turned the key. The car gave an angry cough and started rattling steadily. I pulled the beat up station wagon out of the dirt parking lot and on to the road.
The car lazily rolled down the road, the entire inside rattled and shook wildly with every stone and pothole and it seemed that the rattling was over exaggerated; hell bent on making me black out in pain and everything in my left ear was underwater, strictly bass.
The sound of the road and the car and my muffled whines mixed together in some strange rhythm. The underlining humming bass line of the rubber crawling across the road, coupled with the intermittent, unpredictable snare rattle of gravel, followed by bigger boom and bigger stones and me, whimpering providing a melancholy vocal. The sound was entrancing and soothing. Something like cool water pouring down my face. I resisted the idea of letting that sensation take control of the car, resisted the idea of closing my eyes and sleeping some more. The car swayed and rocked and cruised like dancers on a ballroom floor. The tempo changed, sped up and cruised soothingly, with quick rambles tossed in for good measure. Then my eyelids eclipsed the road and I flew through space and air. I flew for what seemed like forever, a sweet relief which was suddenly interrupted by a terrible scream. A booming scream like a tittle wave washing over everything. The car spun like a top and settled safely stretched length wise across the road and in the dead center of the window shield rested a black dot representing a house in the distance. I placed my head on the steering wheel and whispered to myself, "No more sleeping at the wheel."
I placed my hand on the gearshift, moved it into reverse when I heard the scream again, much weaker, but still distinctly a scream. A young girl's scream, terrible and pleading. I sat frozen for what seemed like forever, not quite sure what I should do. The black dot sat in the middle of the windshield like a massive eye peering in on me, waiting in quiet expectation. I took a deep breath and moved the gear shift into drive. The car crept forward, toward the black house bathed in yellow sunlight, toward that girl's scream and toward whatever caused that scream.
9. Thunderous Silence
I pulled up on the house, an old, two-story farmhouse stripped bear of any paint, but still retaining the ghost of its former color and left to rot in the sun. The porch was torn apart and collapsing as was parts of the house itself. It leaned on one side, slumped downward like a wary animal, like something that's been dying for years. It peered down ominously at me through boards falling from their nails and bared its broken window teeth. I tried to locate the front door, which was boarded up and barricaded by plywood and 2x4s. Although the sign was apparently stolen, I could guess the home had been condemned. I walked around the corner and on the far end of the house I found a man sized hole raised a foot above the crumbling foundation that looked to be kicked into being. Inside looked like it might have been a bedroom. A metal frame for a bed sat overturned and bent, beer cans and shopping bags littered the floor, it probably was a popular haunt for teenagers and vagrants, and it stank, it stank like feces and dead animals.
Cobb webs spread like a plague across the walls and ceilings and showed no sign of relenting and even further back was a door that barely hung on one hinge, shielding my eyes from the darkness. Darkness fierce enough to stain the walls and floors and made me wonder if that darkness had cause such horrible rot and decay.
I walked in and skirted around the trash and breaks in the floor exposing the basement below. Every time I walked over a break, I smelt death; rotted pork meat, nasty and vile and I had the feeling that whatever happened here happened down there. I felt the deadly tickle of the death stink trickling and creeping down my throat and it was all I could do to cover my mouth and nose; to make myself small and light and safe, to be there without being there. I had barely touched the door of the bedroom before it came crashing to the floor, shooting a cloud of dust and rot into the air. I caught the door before it could make too much of a racket and set it to one side. I stood in the doorway, trying to rub the filth off of my now fleshed over stump. It was pointless, cut me a billion times and send me down a shit laden river and I won't get sick, couldn't get an infection, but I felt so off center, uneasy. I stepped through the doorway and into the absolute darkness. I kept bumping into things and feeling my heart stop as I heard cracks and breaks in the floor and my heart rejoiced when I finally found the edge of a doorframe. I turned the doorknob and pushed on the door only to find it was block by something, something heavy and low to the ground, something metallic. It made a grinding sound as I pushed on the door. The floor below me started to creek and sag and I took the hint. "What the hell am I doing?" I whispered to myself. I turned back toward the bedroom and the hole. "Why the hell not."
I threw a hard shoulder into the door. With a thunderous crack, light spilled into the room, as the door crashed down on to an engine block that had blocked the door's path.
Light filtered in through broken windows and from behind jar of yellow liquid, (I didn't want to know what was in those jars.) This room was a joke with kitchen as a punch line. The floor was all dirt and broken glass and the occasional cockroach scuttling amongst the two. There were screws and bolts and nails and other odd pieces of metal stored in old mayonnaise jar, stacked in careful sorted rows atop a small, rust caked kitchen table with flower patterns and smears of blackish brown across the top. The thing that threw me was that it seemed, the screws, nails and bolt had nothing to do with the engine block. It was impossibly damaged and only showed signs of being further dismantled. Some psychopath had enjoyed the fruit of insanity here, many years ago, maybe even back in my time.
In the far corner of this new room was a darkened staircase leading down into the basement. I gingerly started down it, expecting it to collapse into splinters at any moment, but it seemed to tolerated me, but cried it's displeasure at every step and the wood sank down like it was partially jellified and threatened to buck me off, send me sailing into darkness, into the rot, into the stink and death and terror.
But I found the solid ground below. I looked around for light, but little was available and shrank into safe little corners where nothing would notice it. The floor was soft and loose with random bit of debris, maybe rocks or animal skulls. The walls were rocky and dirt coated, and left untouched for years and in the far distance sat a door; a lonely door begging to be opened. I inched toward it like it might attack me, like it was the danger and not what lay behind it.
My hand landed softly on the doorknob and my fingers tremble and fought not to turn it, but I succeeded against my finger's fears. The door swelled in its frame and needed force to permit access. The door popped open with a loud crack and a squeak and jammed again, but allowed itself to open with less effort. The door swung open to reveal riot of flies, a thick wall of them. They escaped up and out and toward the light, flying wildly. As the flies cleared, four faint, barely there figures appeared. Four chairs, two of which were occupied, a man and a girl sat slumped over themselves with looks of horror stretched over their faces, tears mixed with sweat and washed their lifeless, bloodstained cheeks.
She couldn't have been older than sixteen, she looked like she died kicking and screaming, begging for some sort of humanity from the person or persons who did this to her. Her dark hair hung like a worn out veil around her face. I peered at her and wondered whose child she was, I wondered who would be looking for that young girl and I wondered who would be looking for him. He wasn't too much older, probably four or five years older than her. He was tall and lanky, with shaggy brown hair that hung close to his face in thick matted clops and he had a long mourning face infected by the pungent shadows and dust. I gritted my teeth and lifted his chin to see his face better. A neat, little bullet hole was dead center in his forehead. I didn't look, but knew nothing about the back of his head would be either neat or little. "What was the point of this?' I asked myself, not knowing exactly what I meant. I rubbed my chin, trying to figure out exactly why something like this could happen. I walked behind the girl and examined the string that bound her, an overly complicated knot that made me wish I had use of both my hands and stayed in boy scouts. I started scratching uselessly at the knot, trying to loosen something, anything.
I stared stupidly into the darkness, trying to focus on releasing the two. I had decided that I should extract them ffom this place. It seemed to be my new lot in life, to be too late to save the body, but not the person. I would take them from this place, faire them to cleaner shore. I'd clean the blood from their bodies and bury these two kids.
Then I thought of my executioner, laying patiently in the bed of the station wagon. He might have a knife on him; he might still have a knife in him. I whispered into the darkness for reasons I don't quite understand" I'll be back soon." I then walked across the basement, up the staircase, through the house, out the gaping hole in the wall and around the farmhouse to the station wagon. I popped the bed door open and shyly patted my companion down for something sharp, when I came across a small, smooth patch hidden under his left pocket. A piece of paper, neatly folded into tight square with "Read Me," written in red ink on one side. I considered opening the note, but I had more pressing matters to consider. I pocketed the note and checked for the knife, nothing was found.
I looked around for something I could use. The broken windows in the kitchen, knock some glass loose and use that. So I traveled again through the hole, through the darkness and into the kitchen. I didn't have to try hard or at all to find a piece. Someone had taken great pleasure in smashing those windows, glass was scattered all across the floor. I snatched one of the larger pieces, which barely hung in the window and started down the stairs. Flies still floated about but were more tolerable, as I re-entered the small room at the end of the basement. I position myself on the floor and started sawing at the girl's roping. I tried my best not to cut her as I did so, apologizing every time the glass shard made what I perceived to be a painful poke and then I heard it. Beyond the buzz of the flies and the sound of the glass cutting rope, I could just hear the faint sound of someone breathing.
10. The One Handed Funeral
The glass slipped from my hand and broke on the floor. I leaned in closer to the girl, putting my ear to her back. It wasn't her, then who? I moved over to the man, placed my finger just below his nose, nothing. I was about to remove my finger when air issued from his nostrils. He was alive, he was breathing. God dam it, He was alive.
"Hello," I called to him; "Can you hear me." He didn't respond.
I checked his pulse; it was weak, but there. He was alive.
I snatched up the broken glass and started sawing into his rope, cutting my own hand in the process. It was slow going but I eventually got him. He fell to the ground, falling forward and hitting the ground with a regrettable thud. I grabbed from under his arms and started moving him out of the death room and toward the stairs. His shoes dug shallow trenches in the dirt floor. I positioned myself first on the stair, preparing my grip and making sure I wouldn't drop the young man on my way up. I started my ascent upward, putting the man's weight on good arm. As I moved the stairs creaked and whined and cracked and broke. My foot fell through the step and I fell on to one of my still opened wound. I screamed my displeasure for the world to hear, a little louder than I would have wanted to. Some part of the stairs, which had loosely held them together, had snapped with that stair. The stairs shifted loose, sank and was falling apart. Each time I placed more than a pound or two of pressure on a step, it'd break loose. I found small footings in the walls and on the stair's framework, nearly impossible to wedge my feet in; but I persisted, fought and I made the climb upward and I found my way back to the surface.
I sat on the floor, ignoring the glass scattered like confetti across everything and breathing deep the taste of shit and dust and not caring what so ever. I took a long look at my left stump of a hand. It was working on a wrist and I praised it for its efforts. It was good, so good to feel a bend; even if it was a small one.
I slowed my breathing to listen for his again. It was real and it was growing stronger, louder. This man was beginning to learn to like air again. I smiled. "Finally some good news." I whispered. I patted this young man on the chest and said directly to his unconscious face, "I'm going to leave you here for now, but I have to find a way to get that girl out from down there." I said pointing to the basement. "And I got another person I have to bury, but I'll be back don't you worry." I shifted his weight off of me and got up.
I stood outside, staring at the horizon. I realized that I had no idea what time it was. The sun was low in the sky, much lower than I thought it'd be. I for some reason thought it'd be noon, but the sky was thrilling with burning purples and oranges. It reminded me of the small one bedroom apartment I shared so, so long ago and my eyes welled with tears. I shook them away and started to walk the circumference of the house looking for a shovel or a second entrance into the basement.
Then by some odd mistake of fate, fortune smiled and let there be around the corner, a perfectly sturdy looking shovel resting right beside the basement's bulkhead, and the bulkhead wasn't even locked. I couldn't help but to laugh like a lunatic. I laughed so hard I cried.
I snatched up the shovel and marched back to the station wagon, a smirk still on my face. I knocked on the bed's window and asked the dead body of my companion, "Where's a good place to lay you down?" I turned on my heels and scanned my darkened surroundings and found a strip of sand still kissed by sunlight, the sand looked smooth and loose; set in between a dried out bush and a patch of dead grass, "A good place."
I started digging, slowly descending downward, all the while wishing for another hand, and all the while wishing for another half an hour of sunlight. But neither was granted and I suppose I didn't really need either. It took longer than I hoped, but I didn't have anywhere to be, so it didn't matter. I had a shovel and was given small favor. Within three or four hours, I had the hole suitable for burying. I walked over to the station wagon, popped it open and transferred my executioner to his resting-place.
I gingerly laid his body in what I considered to be a distinguished position and started moving dirt on him. When I was done, I stared at the patch of dirt, trying to think of something to say, but all that came out was "We're dead, this is to the hope that I'm following you soon." I rose a phantom glass in the air, staring out into the horizon. This place had the apparent symptoms of a dead farm. At least a mile of land lovingly tilled and left to bake and blacken and looked like a gaping void in the growing night's darkness. The winds managed to blow sand everywhere that might catch it. I wondered who lived here, why did they leave, how did they live. It was a question to play with, but ultimately impossible to answer standing here. I turned to the farmhouse.
The wind was starting to blow and chilled me and I chose to jog the rest of the way to the bulkhead. I took the rusted handle and felt it swing open with ease. I stopped; I expected it to have some resistance. I just realized that I'd never asked what happened here. I never asked who did this or where are they now? I turned, leaving the bulkhead open and hopped up through the hole and raced through the house, not caring about the trash, weakened floors and oppressive darkness, to the kitchen where the man had moved himself into an upright position. His head bobbed and swayed. He looked like he was fighting back tears; he didn't seem to notice me. "What happened here?" I asked in a weak voice.
The man's head shot up and his eyes widened to the size of moons, as they rested upon me, his mouth tried to omit a scream or a curse, but only managed a pitiful squeak. He shrank back, escaping down into the basement. There was a crash of splintering wood and eerily strained yell, something like if a beaten dog tried to mimic a man. I raced over shouting, "Are you alright?" The man continued crying out, more a "get away" cry than anything. There was a clamber of wood being shifted off and away.
"Are you Okay?" I called into the darkness. "I think you need a doctor ..."
It hit me like a mack truck, I felt stupid for not realizing it before. He didn't need a doctor, he didn't need anything but time and he'd have all the time in the world. He had a bullet in his head, he didn't survive, but there was no getting around the fact that someone was screaming out in pain down there. I took the bulkhead route into the basement and found the man panting against the wall, weakly trying to wave me away.
"I'm not trying to hurt you. Please" I pleaded, lowering myself to his eye and keeping my distance. "My name's Matt Dean, What's your name?"
I wasn't sure if he could understand me; his eyes still held a rabid look to them. That's where we sat for hours; both of us watching each other, him terrified and me confused and unsure, with the moonlight spilling through the opened bulkhead, but providing little light, only illuminating our eyes. It must have been midnight before he actually talked. "Mark..." I hadn't expected him to talk and had forgotten what he was answering.
"What?" I asked with an irritated tone that I regretted.
"My name is Mark."
"Who's the girl?"
The glow of his eyes narrowed and I understood that he hadn't thought about the girl.
"There's a girl in that room, tied up and dead." I said and immediately felt sick. There was a sound like a trapped animal raging against its snare as his eye disappeared into the darkness. He had gotten up and I followed, I didn't need to see to know where he was going.
"God" He said in a shivering hiss. "Mya, Her name's Mya." He took a deep choppy breath, "We... We were going to a funeral; we got into an accident... God, God, God No." There was a wild rustle and sickly whimpering. "Vicky, where's Vicky?" There was a thud and creak as he fell into a seat. My mouth went dry and lumps formed in my throat as I tried to speak the words that were burning in my mind.
"Who did this, what happened here?"
11. The Roulette Players
He sat in silence, trying to steady his breath, trying to fight back tears. I could feel his lips trying to form the words, "We got in an accident, I was driving..." He looked off into space, trying to fight back a new wave of emotion. "...And we got into an accident. There were four of us; Mya, Vicky and Chris. Chris went to find a phone and I stayed. This guy came in a truck, this old guy. He said he'd give us a ride..." He said, he sounded like someone was gripping his throat; his words were breathless and unsteady. He paused for a minute, just working on breathing.
"He said he'd help us. He pulled a gun on us, he brought us here, and there was another guy... A younger guy... he brought a girl, a red head. They tied us up, down here and ... and ..." He stopped again. I stood in the doorway waiting for him to speak again. He'd start and stop on random thoughts, quick one-word sentences with no effort put toward coherence. His goal was clear; think without thinking, to talk without saying, to explain without having to understand it himself. He wanted to let me know, but wanted someone else to tell it and maybe ten or fifteen minutes later, he managed to breathe out a clumsy, "I need some air." He stood and walked pass me and moved to the bulkhead before I could turn. I wasn't sure if I should press that matter any further.
I paced back and forth, trying to think clearly and then I turned to the girl. She sat slumped to one side, barely appearing out of the corrosive darkness, legs splayed in an unflattering position, her skin sagging in sickly folds. 'That's what I should do' I thought in a breathlessly whisper. I'll take her out of this place, this hell. I thought, holding my hand over my mouth. I searched the floor for the glass shard; I found it even further shattered in a corner. I used a piece barely big enough to cut with and released her. She leaned forward; sliding helplessly, but I caught her before she could fall. I took her lifeless body in my arms and started for the bulkhead, rejoicing slightly because the nub of a thumb and an index finger had finally sprouted and was surprisingly useful in primitive gripping. I never thought of how good it was to have fingers and felt a guilty excitement when I thought of holding things and flexing the tendants in my hands. I emerged from the basement and peered through the night for Mark.
Apart from the moon and the desert flora, the landscape was barren; he must have gone. 'I'll deal with that later,' I thought to myself. I headed to the station wagon and loaded her in. When I got behind the wheel, I realized how tired I actually was. 'It wouldn't make any difference when I left. I thought and laid myself down in the backseat and felt cool waves of relief wash over me.
I woke sometime late in the morning, the next day with the sun beating down on my face. My neck and back ached from the contorted position I laid in. I slid out of the backseat and stretched my full length upward. My back cracked in ripples and I started feeling good. I peered down at my left hand; the fingers were all there; just not fully grown. I raised the hand to the sun, enjoying the warmth as it brushed up against it, blessing each finger.
I sat back in the station wagon and checked the fuel gage, not much left. The gage hovered a notch above the E. I turned to the girl and said, "Let's hope we can get to civilization before the tank hits empty." I closed the door to the driver's seat and pushed the gearshift into drive. I pulled the car out toward the road, thinking about what I was supposed to do with her once I got her to civilization. 'I guess I could just leave her on a park bench or something, somewhere out of the way. No, that's terrible. I could her in the car in a parking lot and call the cops. Say I found a dead body in the back of a car. She won't be left alone for long and they'll contact her parents. It's the best way.' I rolled down the window and listened to wind rush by, I was sick of thinking, sick of thinking about sad things like parent's heart break and young death. Jackie's face flashed into my mind's eye, us as children.
I came rolling down the road, letting the wind wash my mind clean and by odd providence I rolled upon Mark sitting in the sand with his head in his hands about a mile from the farmhouse. He looked like he'd slept like that or that he was sleeping still as I stopped the car. He didn't acknowledge me as I got out and sat beside him and he didn't answer when I asked if he was O.K. He seemed to be distant and I wondered if he had finally cracked overnight. He'd gone through a lot, it was written in huge letters all over his face, it read "I begged for my life and for the lives of people I cared for."
I stared out into the desert, somewhere the world was moving quick and efficiently. Here, it was snared and tethered down and made to crawl at our pace. We sat in silence, waiting for something to happen and after a while, I couldn't take the wait. I cut the world free with a wary, "Whatever happened to you, is yours to keep or give, just get in the car and help me get your friend into the right hands." I stood and got back into the station wagon and waited, gripping the wheel. Mark stood and sheepishly sat in the passenger's seat. I moved my hand on to the gearshift when Mark spoke, "He had us sit in a circle. 'Two bullets, Four People' He said. Mya was crying, Vicky was so brave, she kept saying it'd be Okay ... He stood in the center of us and asked us to choose who was... going to die."
He sounded like he had gravel in his throat. His jaw bounced a few times in effort of further communication. He then looked at me, dead in the eyes and said, "I need you to help me find him." I heard no mistake in his voice, no confusion. He was serious and had a look of severity in his eyes.
He breathed hard and was willing me to say yes. I could feel the gears inside his head try to push mine. "No." I finally said, I knew what he wanted and I knew what it would do to him. Whatever that old man take from him and the people he held dare, the old man couldn't take away that small slice of humanity that laid in him. He'd have to volunteer that and I wouldn't help him do that. He gritted his teeth and looked away. "Please, I need..."
"I know what you need; I know what you want to do. That's why I can't. I imagine that your blood is boiling in your veins, but you feel calm. You feel like there's only one obvious thing to do. Trust me, you can't do that, you don't want that." I said trying make him believe.
"What do you know?"
"Lot, I know you died." He looked at me with confusion.
"You did, I saw a big bullet hole in the middle of your forehead. You died. You died and you died afraid. I know because I could taste the fear on you, something like lot of vinegar and big grains of salt. I know she said please stop a thousand times. She said it so many times it stained her lips and throat. And I know that you don't want to find the man because you are so like me. Along time ago, someone killed me, I killed them back and completely and I think about it everyday."
"I need to find him."
"I do!" He roared, "He might have her. I had been thinking, two bullets, four people. What did he do to Vicky, What could he be doing..." He stopped and I understood.
"Where do you think he is?"
12. Six Fingered Lola
The station wagon pulled into the dust-covered parking lot of a motel, Mark said he first saw the old man. The motel's foundations and walls seemed to vibrate with some ominous energy, like a tsunami of blood and fire. I could feel its heat pulsating around me and arouse something horrible inside me. The motel stank of blood and screaming and pain, but not like the farmhouse. This pain was deep rooted and well established. There's been running and pleading and screaming for years, people died here and there death had been brought here, carried like a sick trophy over short and long distances.
"He's a bastard." I said tasting the blood in the air. I peered down at the fuel gage, on empty. I wondered how long I could drive on empty. I was already plotting my escape.
Mark sat in the passenger's seat, watching the check in window with steely unblinking eyes.
"He's not here, long gone." I said, trying to relax the tension. It was obvious that he wanted more than to save his girl. His eyes had fire behind them.
"How can you tell?" Mark asked, eyeing me skeptically.
"The air, it smells like blood. He's killed before and killed efficiently. With the kill site so close, he'd be smart enough to get out of dodge. Come on; let's check the inside for some idea of where he might be."
We march to the check in window and peered in. My assumption seemed to be correct. The room was stripped bare and partially ransacked; a heavy looking pre-fabricated cherry wood bookshelf was overturned and broken in places. Paperback books and leather bound ledgers were scattered across everything and behind the heated stink of fear, there was something that should have been instantly apparent (It might have been to a normal person, or even me on a better day,) Death. A recent kill. Not too recent though, aged a month or so and set to cook in the corner of some hot box of a room. My eyes traveled across the room searching for the source of the stink, nowhere, but a hint presented itself. A door, probably the caretaker's office or bedroom. I let myself into the room and skirted through the wreckage toward that door. My hand landed heavily on the doorknob, it was locked. I turned to Mark; he was still waiting in the doorway.
"Look through the books here, maybe there's something. I'll try to get in here." I said to him, referring to the locked door.
Mark gave a look of odd conflict; it wasn't hard to see that he was afraid, just as easy to understand why. The devil that tortured him relentlessly dwelled there, in that place.
I jiggled the handle and felt a childish sense of impatience, wanting what I couldn't yet see and wanting it now. I threw a hard shoulder into the door, no good. Something inside cracked, but it held strong and true. Mark looked at me with a small flash of shock in his eyes. It was only there for a second but it was there; a shy little flash of who he was hiding, not the man on the mission, but the young man who might have been happy, who might still have the capacity for happiness. I gave him an apologetic look and gave the door another hard shoulder and it finally popped open. This room was bare but for a queen sized bed with a brass headboard and tied to that headboard was a beautiful blonde woman, stripped naked and secured in the spread eagle position. The same look of terror and pain on her face as was on the face of the girl in the station wagon. Thousands of cuts, long and deep, small and shallow plagued her body, in between her breasts, along her thighs, across her throat, but not a single cut on her face. But her face was far more horrific. Smeared lipstick stretched messily over all her mouth and chin and eyeliner dripped in long thin lines down her cheeks like rotten veins pumping pain and death. I felt sick, I didn't want to be there, I shouldn't have been there. I sat myself in a corner and felt something like cloth under me. I felt so alone, despite the sounds of footsteps and rummaging in the next room.
"I'm tired, I'm so tired." I whispered to myself, or maybe to someone else. Someone who might be pulling strings, someone who might care that I was tired of seeing death, feeling death, tasting, smelling, touching death. Someone who might understand how sickening it is to hear someone's last screams rattling around in your bones. Hearing their cries and their terror. Someone who'd understand that kind of frustration.
I pulled the cloth out from under me. It was a waitress's uniform savagely cut and ripped like an animal had been let at it. I carefully sifted through the torn pieces and came on a cloth name patch. It read in plain times new roman font: Molly. Molly Poor Molly. I picked myself off the floor and turned to the doorway. Mark was gone again. I hadn't noticed the silence. I skirted through the wreckage of the room and back out toward the motel's walkway. I emerged into the sunlight and found Mark trying to get into a room, two doors down. He had a gray box filled with keys. I walked over to him in slow, silent strides.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I checked a couple of ledgers. Business isn't that great here, but a chick named Lola Davis has been renting a room here for almost a year. She's been moved around pretty regularly from room to room. She's never paid, it looks like the two of them might be friends or related or something. He's giving her a room for some reason. I think I could get her to tell me where he is."
He had an excited look in his eyes like he was getting closer to some sick delayed gratification. I hated myself for what I had to say, but I had the sickening sense that it wasn't going to get any better than poor Molly tied up and slaughtered like an animal.
"You can't save her, Mark. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but this guy, if he's anything like what I think he is, she's dead. He'd have no reason to keep her alive and if he did..." I didn't want to say it, couldn't bring myself to say it. We stood there in silence, I watched his eyes fill with hatred for me, he didn't actually argue, but I could read his thoughts through his fiery eyes.
I could tell he was sickened by the idea of walking away. I could tell he didn't care what he found as long as he fought to find it. I felt guilty and low, not because he was sickened by me, but because in that look of hatred, I decided I was going to let him destroy himself. I knew that I would never see that flash of his true self again; it was just a choice of letting him die slowly of misery or quickly in a hell fire of rage. He'd find that old man, find her dead. Her face screwed up in some terrible configuration that'll burn into his subconscious and he'll kill that old man. I was way too late again.
"Never mind, Okay. I'll help you find her." I said, feeling sick with myself.
"I don't need you, I'll find her myself."
"I want to show you something, and then tell me you want to do it alone. I'll respect it."
I led him back into the caretaker's room, showed him poor Molly and watched the fire extinguish from his eyes.
"It's only going to get worst from here. I'm willing to help you, if you'll let me."
He stood in silence, watching poor Molly. "Okay, but don't try and stop me. I need to do this." I didn't need to ask what he meant.
He turned and walked swiftly by me, I sincerely thought he was going to be sick. 'Maybe I went to far' I thought to myself. I followed him back onto the walkway. He had resumed with the keys.
"You don't have her room number?" I asked.
He stopped and hung his head, "To be honest, I don't know if she's even here anymore. The last date she appeared in the ledger was June 4th. As far as I know that was almost a month ago. She was in room 2 which is empty."
"What do you mean 'As far as you know'?" I asked.
"I don't know how long I've been in that basement. I don't know what day it is, what week, month. I don't even know if I'm on the same world as before."
I didn't realize how disoriented he was. How disoriented he must have been.
"Today is..." I had to think about it myself. " ... August 1st, Tuesday... but she could still be here. Keep trying, give me some keys, I'll help."
Mark handed me the room keys to rooms 4, 5 or 6 and I started down the walkway and stopped at room 4. I tried the key, it turned in the lock and the door popped open. The room was empty but for a bed, a dresser and an old armchair. I walked in and checked the bathroom and closet, both were empty. The same ended up being true for the other two rooms, stripped bare, but for a few pre-set creature comforts. I stepped out of room 6 and looked down the walkway for Mark. He had made his way to the last room, number 12. He had been in there for what seemed to a long time. It took less than a minute to search any given room and he was in there for maybe ten minutes. I jogged over and walked into a whirlwind of women's clothing. Mark was hunched over a dresser, tearing through it with wild abandon.
"She's here. No I.D so far, but it's got to be her." He said, breaking from his search.
"Then we'll wait." I said, sitting on the bed. Mark took an armchair and we waited.
We sat for about an hour before I tried conversation.
"So, who is Vicky?" I asked the question with the nerve of a tree shaking in the unmerciful hands of a hurricane. It felt like a stupid question the second I asked it. Mark looked at and said in half a voice, "My girlfriend. Her grandmother had died; I was going with her, her sister and her brother to a funeral."
"You look about the age to be in school. You go?"
"Yeah, I did." He said. It was sad and pointless to try for small talk.
"I'll be back; I'm going to find a phone, so we can get the police after we leave."
"Why?" He said and I wanted to laugh at it, but I didn't have it in me.
"For the woman in the caretaker's room and I'm going to leave the girl here, so her body can get back to her family. I'll leave her in a bed. I'll do that now." I walked out of the room and toward the station wagon. It sat patiently for me, the sun trying its damnedest and failing to make rust shine. I popped the bed open and tried to wave away some flies that had congregated on her. 'I was stupid to leave her here, like this, for this long.' I thought to myself as I carefully lifted her poor sagging frame. She had started bloating sometime overnight or while we searched the motel. She was an odd, vile type of plump, fat like a swelling balloon and pale as limestone. There was the slightest of hints of blood seeking open holes. The shadow of red haunted her lips, under her eyes and shyly peeking out from her ear canal. Her insides were liquefied and ready to bleed.
I started toward Room #1; Mark had left the door wide open in his haste. I stepped through the doorway and gently placed her on the bed. I knelt down and whispered into her reddening ear, "I'm so sorry. I truly am, but I promise, for you it's almost over." I started moving her legs and arms into what would have been a comfortable position. When I was done, she seemed almost to be sleeping peacefully. I brushed the hair from her face and felt a sharp sting of pain, seeing a line of blood run slowly down her forehead from the bullet hole. I kissed two of my fingers and moved them to her hairline, like I imagined her mother would've done if she had a bad day. "It's almost over young girl. You're going home." I whispered, feeling sadness flood into my mouth and eyes. I stood and started toward the door, taking slow, quiet steps. I walked through the doorway and closed the door behind me.
I peered from left to right; looking for a pay phone and one appeared in the far distance, close to the road. An old glass phone booth that had a crack running up one side and an odd brown substance rubbed on the inside half of the glass. I knew I should check to see if it worked, but I chose to stand leaning in the walkway. I put my hands in my pocket and felt the smooth surface of paper, the note. I pulled it out and unfolded it. The message was written in red ink and seemed to be hastily written. I slid downward into a seated position and started reading:
To my destroyer,
I've spent years and years in miserable, patient hopeless desperation. Wandering from urine soaked alleyway to trash-laden street through the high peaks and dark valleys of smoldering hells, unable to sleep, to think, to numb my veins, even. I held hell, far from god, held it in my belly, in my head, in my fingers. I tell you this because, I now believe in fate. I have suffered because I was meant to. I screamed into deafened ears, because I was meant to. I was sent to you because I was meant to. You will save me and I will return the favor by saying these words, 'Tell the boy to drive slow' and ' Fear not the darkness, cherish the days.'
The letter ended there. When I started reading it, I thought it might be meant for me, but it made no sense. I folded the piece of paper back into its tight folds and stuck it back into my pocket. I decided that if it was meant for me, I should consider the source and chose not to take the note to seriously.
In the far distance, I could hear the roar of a car's engine. I somehow knew it was her, it'd be perfect timing.
The sky was an orange fading into a rich purple when the car rumbled into view, a powder blue Queen Victoria with a dented fender. It pulled into the parking lot a little haphazardly. I could just hear drunken laughter as the car took a sharp turn right by me and stopped several doors down. A tall, portly man and a woman with long, black curly hair and a thin slender body got out and stumble wildly toward room #12 and toward Mark. I started walking at a hurried pace, trying to get to the room around the same time as them. I had an odd feeling that it wasn't a good idea to leave the two of them alone together. There was a terrible ten seconds in between the woman stumbling into the room, noticing Mark and Me charging in behind her. The man that was with her, looked from Mark to me with a silly sort of shock. He looked nervous and trapped.
"Why are you in my room?" Lola asked in a loaded type of fashion, despite the lack of a visual presents of a gun, looking at Mark who was leaning against the dresser. She looked like the type of girl who knew how to fight if she needed to and I felt better about her and Mark being near each other. I didn't expect Mark to be violent, but I learned in my time that a determined man doesn't care much about someone's expectation. Determination tends to care more about the end than the means.
"We need to find Pete." Mark said, with a dangerously hard face. Lola turned to the man, reached in her purse and pulled a messy, crumpled ball of one-dollar bills and handed it to him, it was than that I realized she only had two fingers and a thumb on her right hand. She had painted each finger a different shade of metallic blue. Her other hand also just had two fingers and a thumb, which were also painted different shades of metallic blue.
"Maybe some other time, baby. I have to take care of this." The man took the ball and nervously rushed past me, almost tripping over himself with a look of humiliation, rage and fear.
When the man was out of sight, she started to talk, "I don't know where he is. He's been gone for almost a month."
"He didn't say anything to you about where he might be." Mark said in his best interrogator's voice.
"No." Lola said in an indignant croak.
I moved fully into the room and closed the door behind me.
"What's your relationship with Pete?" I asked calmly. She sat on the bed and crossed her legs.
"I rent a room from him, that's it."
"Yes, I really don't know him."
"You do realize we checked the ledger, as far as we know you don't pay and you've been here for a while." I felt impressed with my argument. She sat in silence for a moment.
"You've been here for a while, you must have smelt that stink. How you lived with it, I'll never know."
"I've lived in worst places." Lola said, looking away from me. Her neck was long and she might have once been very pretty, but she looked worn and sad. I was sorry for such a young girl to honestly admit to living in worst places than here, next to death.
I attempted to read her life through the way she chose to sit, the positioning of her hands on her thighs, the stiffness of her jaw. She hid it well, but I could just see the whisper of breeding, of manners and beneath that was the kiss of some seventeen-year-old. It was humble and light; it cracked and frayed, mistreated like a child's play thing dragged everywhere and through everything. He was different from the thousands of scents and auras that had thrusted their way into her. He was special and I wanted to know why, I almost asked, but refrained. It'd be pointless to ask and would hurt the point we were chasing.
I wanted to jab at her, circle around her in a tight coil, rattle her nerve, make her close up a bit, I felt wrong invading her like I was, reading her body like I was," If you're curious, it's a dead person. He murdered someone and just left them there like they were meaningless. If you know where he is tell us."
"Can I see some I.D.?" She said. I betrayed a small smirk. It was funny that she'd ask for I.D before asking why we'd have blood splattered all over us. I wondered for a moment if she was just used to the sight of it.
"We're not cops. We're just trying to stop him from doing more damage." I said, trying to sound serious and sincere. Mark had a shaky look in his eyes, like he was looking for a way around an obvious idea. I was concerned that I knew what that idea was. I looked Lola in the eyes and said "Please,"
"Me and Pete have an arrangement. I live and operate out of one of the rooms and I give him free snatch from time to time. He would talk about taking me to this club, um... The Good Girl's Club. It's somewhere in Extremo Del Ingenio, Mexico." Mark stood upright, stretching to his full height. I hadn't realized how tall he was.
"Are you lying?" Mark said in a necessarily heated tone that had an odd likeness to rumble of thunder before a storm.
"Mark, you mind waiting outside for a minute." I asked,
"No, fuck you..." Mark said to me in a bark, still while keeping his eyes on Lola.
"...Are you lying?" He repeated.
"Get the hell out, Mark!" I said forcefully, I hadn't yelled at anyone in years and frankly it was a weird feeling.
Mark broke his gaze with Lola to give me a shocked look. I formed my own dangerously hard face and held it until Mark started for the door.
"Pete would love him." Lola said, watching Mark leave.
"Why do you say that?"
"That boy's clearly hurting 'bout something. Pete has a couple of hang-abouts just like him. I've seen into that man and I've seen what horrible things he thinks about and I got to tell you, you don't want trouble with that man. Don't go looking for it." Lola said and as she said it, I felt a deep well of heartache and sorrow. She looked at me with beautiful hazel eyes that screamed twenty-two years of misery and abuse, a good chunk of which was attached to this place. She had opened up again and my consciousness flooded into her, there was screaming and tears flooding through the halls of her mind, there was blood and a desperate need to control pain. There were such horrible things and I couldn't help but to release a stream of tears for her. I wanted to save the little girl that she once was.
"I'm calling the police to pick up the body in Pete's room. I figure you would want to know." I said before walking out of the room.
I turned and walked back into the motel owner's room. The room had sagged and gone mushy, like a balloon slowly deflating and slowly descending to earth. It was dying too, it was ready to die, and Pete had no plans to ever come back here. I surveyed the ransacked room for a phone cord and one appeared, it disappeared under a pile of ledgers. I followed the cord to its end, to a pile of phone pieces. Pieces of big enough pieces to remain useful, but complete enough that it'd be difficult to use effectively. The receiver was shattered, as was the base of the phone. I stuck my finger down where the nine button might have been and pressed down. A flat and electronic beep omitted from the speaker part of the smashed receiver. I pressed the one, which was left intact. The phone rang for moment and then a woman's voice said "911 emergency. What's the nature of your emergency?"
I spoke quick, clear and calm, using only the words a need to use, "There's two dead bodies here at Moe's Motel, It's on a desert road, I don't know where." I didn't quite know how to hang up a phone without anything to hang up with so I let the operator try to get more information out of the floor where I left the phone reminisce.
13. On the Road
Mark was waiting in the passenger's side seat of the car with an over exaggerated angry look plastered on his face, meant to scream for attention. I walked over and tapped on the window. His eyes were the only part of him to give notice.
"The Car's almost out of gas. We can drive until it gives out, but we'd do better with a newer vehicle." He gave a slow blink of agreement. I popped the door open and took a seat. The car had a different atmosphere without the dead in it. The air was less thick or thick in a different way. Before it was thick like wet cement slowly hardening in your mouth and lungs, but at that point it felt like mud or something that might harden but would break apart, something fragile.
I turned the key in the ignition. The car rumbled and broke, I tried it again. The car started to shake and struggle and with a whiny grind it sparked into living motion. The car rolled forward and we started down the road.
The desert rolled past us, rolling like waves on the ocean with wild rocky highs and dusty brush covered lows rippling against itself, over and over again. Mark sat in his seat ticking away. He looked tense and absent, ready to pop.
"That Girl, Vicky. Tell me about her." I said with a flat and dried voice, it sounded almost rude, how I said it; but he didn't seem to notice.
"What do you mean?" Mark said with an equally dried tone.
"What was she like, what did she look like?"
It had been my experience that people in love tend to like to think and talk about love. My asking was a sort of lightness test, to see how far the real Mark might have been straying. Mark's face was an efflorescing bulb of life, burning with a humble goodness that his pain tried to conceal.
"She..." He started and stopped to looked down and away, "She's smart, the smartest person I know and beautiful and... brave. At first, I was ..." He laughed a little and fought it back down, "...I was afraid of her. She seemed like she was something above me." I laughed to myself; I remembered Jenny and thought about how similar him and I were.
"What you're feeling right now..." I said in a shaky tone. "... Hold on to it. I can imagine that you're hurting right now, you might not think so, but that's very good, it's human."
The car went silent as it passed over the sand-coated road, drifting through the cooling desert air, toward the sinking sun that burned like liquid fire and as the car climbed up a small hill, a grinding knock started. The car slowed gradually as it spent the remaining drops of gasoline. Within moments, the car became useless, rolling to a squealing stop. I tried to angle the car's path into some out of the way shrubs on the side of the road, but it still was more an obstruction than anything, blocking almost half the lane. I peered down the road, hoping to see some sort of building or piece of civilization, but I had no luck, just more sand, dried out shrubbery and rocks.
I turned to Mark and said, "The bad news, you already know. We're walking the rest of the way. But the good news is the sun's low in the sky, coming toward sunset. Best time to walk."
He didn't seem enthused about the idea, even with that good news. I got out of the car and started down the road, assuming Mark would be right behind me. A minute or two later, Mark caught up with me, only hanging back by a yard or two. I turned and started walking backwards and said amiable tone, "I had a girl like Vicky." He didn't seem to be terribly interested, but I felt like talking, so I continued, "I met her along time ago. I had crushed my hand on this axial press and she was a nurse. Just a gloriously beautiful woman, she had these beautiful brown eyes. To be honest, I miss looking into them. I can't because she died and ... ah... the way you talk about Vicky is the way I talked about her." I waited, hoping he'd contribute to the conversation, but he remained silent, just walking forward with his hands in his pockets. I turned and peered down the road hoping the horizon would reveal something man-made, there was still nothing but sand and rocks.
I tried again at conversation, "So, what's the plan? What are we doing once we get to that Bar in Extremo Del Ingenio?"
"I don't know. Ask around. He might even be there." He said, sounding tired and I decided to let him be for the time being.
The sun slowly lowered deeper and deeper into the horizon, giving the world a charred beauty, with shadows that stretched for miles. The wind blew, flapping my coat tails lazily in a mindless dance and I could just feel the wind's chill through my sleeves and I knew Mark felt it worse. I was glad I had my coat, glad for its constancy, the cold was coming soon. Mark wasn't as fortunate, wearing only a thin, torn T-shirt and some jeans.
As I walked, waiting for civilization to rear its head out from the distant horizon, the humble sound of an incoming car rumbled toward us. At first I ignored it, not expecting someone else to be out this far. But a moment later, a dark blue pick up rose over the horizon and cruised toward us on a smooth and steady path, it's headlights cutting through the gathering darkness. I raised my hands, trying to flag the truck down. It passed us, but slowed to a stop about thirty feet from where we stood. I raced to the window and gave thanks to a plump elderly man with long gray hair wrapped into braids and golden brown skin.
"What happen to you, boys?" He said, eyeing our torn and dirty clothing with a concerned air. I didn't quite know what to say, I hadn't thought about what to say in this situation.
"Car Accident." Mark croaked.
His eyes must have accepted the lie, "Are you boys alright? You need a hospital?" He said popping open the passenger's side door.
"Come on, get in."
Mark was the first to start to the door and hopped in; climbing into the back row of seat, I followed. The most apparent feature of the cab was that it had a strong smell of ground black peppercorn and something like cinnamon. The old man looked out of place, sitting behind the wheel of a car. He seemed better fit atop a horse, riding along a river, chasing some buffalo.
"Sir, I'm hazy from the crash, Can you tell me where we are?" Mark said shyly.
"We're about ten minutes outside of Naco. You're lucky I was driving down this road, I normally take the highway."
The truck rode smoothly and speedily, gaining little speed as it went. Some how the act of not acting, not walking, not driving, made me feel weak and sick. I pressed my head against the dashboard and closed my eyes. I tried to think of the last thing I ate. 'Must have been at least three days since my last meal.' I thought to myself, putting my hand on my stomach. I hadn't noticed a grumble or pain, but I attributed that to adrenaline or a pre-occupied mind. 'I'll make a point of it to get a big meal in Naco.' I, for a moment, forgot where I was and let myself nod off. I slumped over, pressing my shoulder against the door. It was uncomfortable, but suitable and shortly darkness washed over me.
I was shook awake by the old man, the truck had stopped and it took me a moment to realize where we were. I peered lazily out the window at what looked like a shed with hospital plastered across the top. It seemed the building wasn't built to function as a hospital, but managed to never the less. It looked like a bank that belonged to a big corporate chain.
I lazily turned back to the old man, "I never asked you your name, sir." I said as I righted myself.
"Johnny Two Rivers," He said in a showy way, presenting a hand to shake. I offered mine and gave him a firm handshake. I popped the door open and got out.
"Johnny, if you don't mind me asking. How old are you?"
"Seventy nine years and counting." He said, I let out a soft chuckle.
I closed the door and saw Mark waiting at the door for me. Johnny called after us in a fatherly fashion, "You boys need me to come in with you?" I wanted to laugh again, but held it in. I shook my head no, but Mark called "Yes," in a hurried, wound up way.
I started toward Mark as Johnny pulled the truck into a parking spot. "What are you doing?"
"I have an idea. Go inside with him." He replied.
"What are you planning?" I said, trying to summon some type of authority over him.
"Nothing, just try to keep him occupied." I stared hard at him, not having the energy to argue, he returned my gaze with an equally hard gaze. I felt like clocking him, but I opted to turn to Johnny, who was approaching us. He was deceptively short, wobbling toward like a living lawn gnome. He followed our lead into the hospital. As we approached the check in desk, Mark disappeared from the corner of my eye. I didn't break my pace, I knew where Mark went and there wasn't anything I could do to stop him. I'd apologize to Johnny and give up on him. I'll find somewhere to relax, get a good meal in me and get some sleep. I felt odd fantasizing about the seduction of a cool pillow and a made-up bed.
We stopped at the counter and I felt idiotic as I said, "I was in a car crash a few miles back. I feel fine though." The receptionist was a young red haired girl, probably about eighteen. She handed me a clipboard with some forms attached to it.
"You should be checked out anyway. Just in case. But first could you fill this out." She said with a lazy look in her eyes. I went to go sit down when Johnny said, "Hey, where's the other one. Where's the younger guy." I wanted to apologize to him right than and there, but I chose to keep my silence for the time being. I sat down and started with the paperwork I knew was pointless to fill out.
"Name?" I said to myself as Johnny peered around the waiting room. "Hank Williams, why not?"
"What's that boy's name?" Johnny asked.
"It's Mark, He might be outside." I said hoping Mark hadn't been able to actually take the truck and was still stupidly trying in the parking lot.
"Address?" I whispered to myself as Johnny took a final look around. "Nowhere in particular."
'Primary Insurance Provider?' I read as Johnny hobbled outside. "None to speak of." I wrote.
"Nature of Your Injury/ailment." I read, knowing it had just hit Johnny that his truck was gone. "I'm kind of hungry, could use some bacon." I placed the clipboard down on the adjacent seat and jogged to the door.
I spotted Johnny in the parking lot, twirling in short wobbly steps with a look of anger and wild confusion plastered across his face. The streetlights had come on and blanketed the parking lot and Johnny in a sickly yellow glow.
"Where is he! Where's my truck!" He cried when he saw me.
"What happened to your truck, Johnny?" I asked, walking over to him with my hands in my pockets.
"You two pulling something!" He cried, with a cracking bark and an accusing finger. He struck his scolding finger into my chest, almost making me forget that he was almost a foot shorter than me.
"No, Sir." I said in a defensive tone. "I actually just met that guy yesterday. He has this thing about going to Mexico."
He gave me a hard look and hobbled back toward the hospital; I imagined; to call the police about the truck. I followed him into the hospital, took a seat and watched him walk toward the receptionist, ask to use her phone and she obliged. He spoke for a few moments and surrendered the phone back to the girl behind the desk.
He paced back and forth, never meeting my gaze, never speaking, just waiting for the policeman to come. Within ten minutes, a long faced young man with sleepy eyes walked into the hospital, waited by the door. Johnny walked over to the man and offered a hand in greeting. They spoke in quick whispers and excited hand gestures. Johnny almost seemed to be hopping with every arm wave and as I watched him, an odd hot taste flooded my mouth and I found it difficult to pretend I didn't know that I was long from my bacon.
Chapter 14. And Death Would not Come
The earth cracked and began to part. Small grains of wind washed dirt trembled as it rolled on its own wave and at the crest, a bruised and hardened hand speckled with dried droplets of blood emerged and from behind that bruised and hardened hand, a scream issued. A terrible howl like a sick man dying a painful death, a scream like internal rupture and bleeding, like rotting, like drawn out long term cancer slowly cutting away at body and soul. The scream echoed from the ground as the hand found it's way into the cold night's air. It was cold and afraid and alone. Its owner was cold and afraid and alone. As the owner, clawed his way out of his shallow, hastily dug grave, he thought little of how he got there. He thought little of the pain that bled out of his lower back in muddy black droplets like rust and oil. He thought little of anything, but the bastard that put him there. The bastard that made him bleed, but won't let him die. He rose into near complete black, the cold ground cracking apart as he freed his legs. The blue moon light provided hardly any usable illumination to the darkness around him. A short way away, the murky gloom of a house stood in ominous obscurity. No lights were seen, but there was a taste in the air, something like fear and power, something like big grains of salt and warm cream. He tasted it and wanted it, wanted to know where to find more. He wanted its owner, he wanted it. The earth bucked and rolled under him and he crawled on unsure knees and weak hands toward the house, sucking in the beautiful fear.
It was what he knew, it's what he wanted again. He was so far from it and it sickened him. He had made men crumble into pathetic ruin, made them sale their and their mother's souls. He wanted power again and he knew he'd find it if he found the owner of it, of the pain, the fear, the power, the glory of all of it. The world churned in black swirls and white stars, as the blood drained down his back and side. He had gone used to the dying sensation and had become jaded to it. He didn't care that the blood flowed freely, he would live, he would live until he was release and he would cut his freedom out of that bastard's faces, out of that bastard's heart, out of that bastard's gut. He would push a knife into his chest, in between the ribs, into his lungs and let him choke on his blood. He would cut a pound of flesh off the bastard every minute that bastard delayed his death. He would do it, he had to, he needed to. He should have died a fifty years ago, he should have died a day or so ago. He would die and he would happily kill for it. He had delivered his message, he'd paid his due and was due his payment.
15. Bacon and Eggs
The long faced policeman lazily strolled over to me and said in a slow and thoughtful drawl, "Hello sir, I'm Deputy Andrew Locke. Can you tell me anything about your friend? Johnny says he's going to Mexico? Would you know why?" I looked deep into his eyes, he had old men's eyes; lazy, but experience. In fact, I couldn't help but notice that his whole face was a young version of an old man's face. All over, there were wrinkles waiting to wrinkle, hairs waiting to gray. "No Idea. He mentioned Mexico, a few times to me. That it was important to go." I could tell he was doing more than listening to me, his eyes were tracing the lines of dried blood along my neck and blots and dots that covered my hands, cogs were turning in his head, He wasn't dumb.
"So, you two were in a car accident, how you fairing, Mr...?" His eye somehow went back in time, growing younger.
"Williams. I'm fine." I said with a sort of convincing head nod.
"What about the boy you were with, he O.K?" He had noticed that none of my dried bloodlines were associated with a cut, or a bruise. To him, I had blood on me for no reason, but there is no such thing as no reason blood. "I don't know how he is." I lied and he knew it.
"Sir, I need to take you down to the station for further questioning, if that's Okay with you." The officer said, it didn't sound like there was a choice.
The process was surprisingly cordial. He didn't take out his handcuffs or place his hand on his gun or even alter his voice from his cordial drawl. All he did was placed his hand on my shoulder, look me in the eye and say almost in an apologetic tone "Well, let's go." He led me out toward his car and loaded me into the backseat and off we went. The car peeled off and merged on to the road. He switched on the radio. A gruff, tired sounding newsman reported the news out of Detroit. The riots still raged and the National Guard was called into control the "Angry Poor."
"It's insane what's happening out there." Locke said switching the station to some sort of slow rock song that played softly over the rumble of the gravelly road.
"Tell me something. How did you come to meet this Mark guy?" He asked.
"I know what you think..." I started.
"What do I think?" He interrupted.
"I know that I look bad..." I started.
"I think it'd be wise for you to remain quiet. I think the fact that you're covered from head to toe in blood is problematic enough for you. That's what I was thinking." The rest of the ride was relatively quiet. The squad car pulled into the parking lot of an old building made of some adobe type brick and came to a halt. The building looked official in a small town way and had a wooden plaque mounted above the door reading "County Sheriff's Office."
Deputy Locke turned to look at me and said slowly, "You've been extraordinarily cooperative, which can only be good for you. I'd like to thank you for that and I'd ask you to remain cooperative." It was clear it wasn't a question, but I felt the need to say, "No problem."
"The thing is, I was being a little lax in my duties. I should've explained that your appearance is suspect and because your appearance is suspect, I think you might have something to do with a phone call 911 received earlier this afternoon. This phone call led us to the bodies of one Mya Bowland and one Molly Freeland. Mya, along with her elder sister and a friend of the family; Mark Adams, has been missing for about two months now and Molly for one month. Now what I'm curious about is, if the Mark you know and the Mark we're hoping is still alive are one and the same."
"They are. I found him and the girl a few miles back, tied up in the basement of an old farm house."
"And you decided to disturb a crime scene, get yourself all bloody and make a number of police officers lives at least ten times more difficult?" The Officer added.
"It's hard to explain, but yeah."
"Well, you'll have to officially testify to that inside." He said popping open the driver's side door. He got out and then let me out and together we walked into the station. From there, it was a slightly sloppy version of an efficient machine; the fingerprinting, the mug shots, the awkward half cleaning half evidence collecting, the requests and failures to retrieve photo identification and the taking and retaking of my statements.
When they were done processing me, they sat me in a holding cell where I was told a federal agent would speak to me in the morning. It was an odd change of pace to be sitting on a close to comfortable bench with nothing, but my thoughts to keep me company. The cell was a symptom of a small town. It was devoid of life apart from myself and I couldn't imagine the worst crime in this town being more than a drunken brawl every now and again. I laid my head down on my lonely bench and thought about the note.' He bet a lot on me doing exactly what I did. He barely knew me, but he knew I'd check his pockets and what he meant I'd find peace in chaos. It does really make sense.' I thought. I had to remind myself to consider the source of the note. He had been driven insane by pain and misery and I was concerning myself with a small moment of sudo-clarity. But no matter how much I considered the source I could help but wonder what was so peaceable about chaos and that led me to the thought 'what exactly is Chaos, what was his definition of Chaos?' I shut my eyes and tried to quiet my mind, but it was a slow going process. I started a slow and gentle rhythm of breathing and with each wave of cool air; I sank deeper and deeper into slumber.
I awoke the next morning, to the sound of the cell bars ringing. I peered up to see Deputy Locke peering down at me. "How'd you sleep?" He asked in his lazy drawl.
"Fine, thank you. Is it about breakfast time?" I said, rubbing my quivering belly.
"No, not yet. You got someone from the Department of National Security who wants to speak with you."
He unlocked the door and pulled it open. "Come on." He said, beckoning me.
I rose up, feeling the ache protest in the small of my back. I had a strange affinity to that ache; it reminded me that I wasn't young, that what I saw in the mirror wasn't what I was. I relieved the aches in several bones with a sharp crack and started toward him. I followed him down the narrow hallway toward a series of doors. Each door was assigned a number and at the very end Deputy Locke stopped and gave a quick knock on the door. Someone behind the door let out a gruff, "I'm ready." Deputy Locke then opened the door and let me in. Sitting neatly in a wooden chair was an older looking man in a fitted black suit. He had an odd sucking sour lemons look on his face, all scrunched up into itself, making his mouth look three times larger than it actually was. I approached the table and took a seat, as Deputy Locke shut the door as he left.
"Hello, Matt. I'm Agent Dickens, with the Department Of National Security." The man said. I expected him to flash a badge or show some sort of identification, but he didn't. "How are you today?" He asked. It was an odd sound coming out of his mouth, with his gruff, harsh voice.
"Hungry." I replied.
"Well, we'll get you something after we're done. But first, Can you tell me what happened yesterday? What happened with the girl, with the boy?"
I recited my story, told about finding the girl left tied up in the dark, about finding Mark live in that same darkness. I told him about what Mark told me, about Pete, about the Vicky girl and how she could still be alive and as I told him this, he sat in his seat; staring his steely gaze at me and when I stopped, he asked, "Why were you there, at the farmhouse?"
"It's hard to say." I said into my chest.
"Meaning?" I asked stupidly.
"What were you doing at the farmhouse?" He asked gruffly.
The fact of the matter was the reason I was there, was to bury someone. A fact I couldn't possibly admit to. Even that wasn't the reason really. I went there on a whim; in all honesty there wasn't much logic to it beyond that odd scream I heard. 'Because I was meant to.' I thought about the man who would be inevitably unearthed.
"I was lost, I saw the house, was hoping for help." I said with a dry mouth.
His gaze hardened into a fist, "What do you know of 'Bad Man'?"
"Who?" I asked.
Agent Dickens reached down into a brief case by his legs and pulled out a folder. From the folder, he removed several 3x5 photos and arranged them in a seemingly deliberate order.
"Take a look, Matt." He said waving his hand over the photos. On each picture was the face of an eyeless person. The first was a young, tan skinned woman with cuts and bruises scattered at random across her face. Blood ran down her cheeks from empty eye sockets. The second was an old black man, with less cuts, but more bruises. Sweat and blood flooded his gray whiskers. The third was a little girl, I couldn't tell whether her hair was naturally red or if it was just a mistake of my eye and I remember also thinking that her looking like she was actually crying must have been a mistake. I stopped looking after seeing her.
"The little girl..." I said breathlessly.
"She's still alive, they're all still alive. Most of them are at best, half crazy and partially paralyzed. But they all can speak, he made sure of that. They scream and they cry and they all say the same thing, 'Bad Man Coming." Agent Dickens said, his face twitching and ticking away like a clock.
"What does this have to do with me?" I asked after a long pause.
"Bad Man claimed responsibly for the Bowland girls' disappearances. Sent the department a letter saying his "boy" is coming out of that mess and I'd like to be the one asking the questions, thank you." There was another long pause before he spoke again. "What do you know about 'Bad Man."
"Nothing and I'm not Bad Man or his boy." I said.
"I never said you were. The thing is that, you are linked to the Bowland girl disappearances and therefore to Bad Man and his boys and even more interesting, you claim that Mark Adams is still alive and on his way to Mexico in a stolen truck. You seem to be the closest link we have to Bad Man."
"His Boys?" I asked, not caring that anger flooded into Agent Dickens' eyes.
"Yes, there are a large number of young men who claim to be taking orders from Bad Man. The fucks are proud of all the rapes and murders and beatings and what not that they commit." He said, in a hop, skip and a jump from a scream type of voice.
At that moment, while he came down from his anger, someone knocked on the thick wooden door. "Not Now." Agent Dickens shouted.
"Sir, it's important. It's about the Adams boy." A voice said shyly from behind the door. Agent Dickens stood and exited the room and I could just hear the shy voice say, "Border Patrol detained him last night and he's on his way now."
16. I Can't Fail Her Again
The van rocked and swayed, in a lazy ebb and flow, forcing me away from her. The night prior I had broke a man's jaw. He was a big man with hands coarse enough to light matches off of and I shattered his jaw like something blunt and fragile and it felt good. I watched him fall to his knees and his eyes roll back into his head. He had tried to stop me from crossing the border, asked me to get out of the truck and I felt such anger, such frustration, such righteous power flowing through me. I struck him down and for a moment I thought he was dead. But it didn't make a difference, I was caught in the flow, every second that rolled by was another second that she was dying.
I peered out of the fenced in window of the white and tan paddy wagon and at sheriff's office sign that glinted in the sun, mocking my effort. The van rolled to a stop and the doors opened and I was man handled into the station by two deputies, one; a large olive skinned man with chubby cheeks and flabby hands, the other; a man of medium build and a neatly shaven head. They stood on either side of me, the olive skinned man kept a ready hand on what might have been a tazer. They led me up the office stairs and we arrived into a lonely processing room. I was led to the desk of a thin woman with a red hair and a long thin nose. She peered up at me with eerily green eyes. She proceeded to ask me a number of questions, my name, whether I had any notable diseases, where I was from, if I understood my rights as they were read to me, etc and she asked me these questions in an eerily bored and mechanical voice. Something like the sleepy rolling drawl stereotyped to people from the south. From there I was carted through the station, down a door laden hallway and into some sort of interrogation room and forced to sit into an uncomfortable wooden chair. I was left there for maybe ten minutes before the door opened again and an older looking man in a black suit with a black briefcase stepped in and sat down. For a full minute, he didn't speak, he just stared at me; possibly trying to understand something. But when that minute was up he sounded very professional, he had a low gruff and grumbling voice that rolled out the greeting, "Hello, Mark. I'm Agent Dickens. I was assigned to your case about a month and a half ago. I've been trying to locate you and the two Bowland girls and I'd like your..."
"Don't call them the 'Bowland Girls'. It's Victoria and Mya Bowland." I interjected. He paused for a second, a look of surprise flashed on his face.
"I apologize; I'd like your insight into what happened to Victoria and Mya Bowland."
"Mya died and Vicky's out there somewhere."
"What makes you think that?"
"He only had two bullets in the gun."
"Two bullets?" He asked.
"Two bullets for four people."
"Four people? Chris Bowland was found dead in a roadside diner. Who was the fourth person?"
"What?" I asked, not able or willing to understand what he just said.
"Who was the fourth..." He started to repeat.
"No! Did you just say Chris was... dead." I said feeling sick.
"He is." He said somberly.
I hadn't known that. I for some reason thought he was out there as well, but safe. I had imagined he was back home, still alive and wishing Vicky's safety. But as I thought about it, it made since that he was dead. I wasn't on earth, I wasn't even close.
"I... I didn't know who she was. A red headed girl." I finally said after a long pause.
It went on like that for another twenty minutes. He kept asking questions I wouldn't have expected someone to ask a survivor of something like that. Questions like, 'Have I been to Arizona prior to the road trip?' and 'For what reason was I on the trip?' But one question stood out and made the aim of his questioning clear, 'Why do you think the assailant allowed you to live.'
"What are you getting at?" I asked in response to his last question. He stared at me with fatigued eyes. "Do you think I was involved in these deaths?" I accused, my voice shaking slightly.
"No, I just think it's suspicious that you are the only one to survive completely unscathed. Logic suggests that a man who would kill as randomly and viciously as this man did and does wouldn't think twice about killing you. I'm just trying to figure out why you're alive and why you elected to run to Mexico instead of coming to the police." He said while locking with my eyes with his own steely gaze.
Something stopped my tongue from screaming 'I was dead, you bastard!' The words were caught in my throat, clinging onto some part of my inside.
"I don't know why." I finally said. My mind was awash with ideas; this man was an irritation in the back of my head, not a headache, but an annoyance never the less. I wanted to go.
"Listen, I have no reason to hurt anyone, least of all, Vicky, Mya or Chris." I said
"And I trust that, it still remains suspicious. I mean why wouldn't you go straight to the police? Why would it take some drifter and at least a month for you to reappear?" He replied.
"There wasn't time, there still isn't time. I couldn't ... She's out there somewhere, with someone evil. She could be dead. She could be dying. I can't ..."
"You can't what?" He asked, leaning inward toward me, with this excited look on his face.
"I can't..." I said breathlessly, 'Why did I say I cant out loud?" I thought to myself.
"What?" He asked again. I kept my mouth shut up; I didn't want to give any more up to him.
"What!" He barked in his gruff, gravelly voice.
"I cant..." I felt tears starting to well in my eyes.
"You can't what!" He said, he knew he could get it out of me.
"I can't fail her again!" I shouted, I couldn't say why it came out like that or why it came out at all. It'd been the one question I couldn't shake, the one terrible thought; that I could be responsible.
"What do you mean you can't fail her?"
I didn't want to respond, I held the meaning in as tightly as I could, but it felt corrosive in my mind.
"What do you mean?" He said a little bit more forcefully.
"Down there..." I started, disgust welled in my throat and I had to stop.
"Down there, what?
"Down there... in the basement... He made us choose who was going to die." The floodgates had opened and I couldn't stop if I wanted to. Some part of me was desperate to purge that venom. "He pointed the gun at Mya; Vicky kept telling him to point the gun at her. He looked at me and asked 'who should die?' I said 'Mya" It was the first time I had said it. I wanted to go so bad now. I wanted to run, to somewhere, to nowhere. It didn't matter at all. "Mya's dead because of me."
Shortly after the questioning, I was led into a cell and left to await 'further questioning'. I walked into the small cell and sat and only focused on my breathing. 'She's dead because of me' I thought. It was terrible, but true and untrue. I pictured myself down in the basement, imagining myself brave, imagining myself heroic, imagining myself saving them. I pictured myself breaking my restrains and stopping him, wrestling the gun away from him. I wanted to believe that was true, that we all were alive and safe. But the reality was, I was trapped in a small cell and my best friend was dead, his sister was dead and my girlfriend could easily be dead and all I could think to do is panic. To sit in that cell and feel sick. In moments like that, I would have expected to feel claustrophobic, but all the walls stayed terribly still as if they were looking down on me.
"You didn't get that far, did you?" A sleepy voice asked. I didn't immediately recognize the voice because it was distorted by eating. He was chewing on something squeashy.
"What?" I asked, each word tasting like vomit in my mouth.
"You didn't get that far?" The voice of Matt asked.
"Where are you?" I asked.
"The next cell. Did they feed you, yet? I got these scrambled eggs. They're powdered, but they're great."
"Oh." It was the most I could say. I couldn't think at the moment, couldn't possibly care about too much of anything.
"Could I ask you a question?" Matt asked.
"What?" I asked weakly. I heard him take a final swallow of his scrambled eggs and then him rest what sounded like a paper plate down.
"I remember you saying you were going to a funeral. You and the girls." He hesitated, apparently trying to find a respectful way of saying something delicate. "Could I ask whose funeral?" I was sick of questioning, so I ignored his.
"Mark, it's important, please." He pleaded. I still remained silent.
"Mark, I could help you. I really could, but I need to know whose funeral it was."
"Vicky's grandmother." I said through my teeth, 'why should he care whose funeral.' I asked myself.
"Vicky's grandmother didn't have the same last name as Vicky and Vicky's father is dead as well, right?"
"Yes," I answered in a small well of confusion. 'How did he know that' I thought.
"The grandmother's name was Jenny Dean, right?"
"She called her Nana Dean." I answered. Matt fell silent for a short while; the only sound he admitted was a few shallow breaths.
"Then I'll help you." He finally said in between two shallow breaths.
"Why?" I asked, still confused about him knowing any details of Vicky's life.
"Because I just became sure about something, but I'm still unsure about you." He said flatly.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Never mind that now, just listen to me, Ok?" He said with a note of irritation.
"Fine." I said, not sure what his angle was.
"I'm going to show you something I learned on accident twenty years ago. First, close your eyes and try to tune out all external noise, find your heart beat, it'll be hard but keep at it and you'll hear it..."
"How is this helping me?" I said annoyed.
"Just shut up. Once you've found your heart beat, match your breathing to the heart beat and then draw out your breaths, adding a second with each breath you take. If you keep doing this, you'll start to notice that your heart beat is starting to match your breathing; it'll start slowing to catch up with the breaths. You keep doing this, eventually your heart will stop and you'll wake up in a county morgue drawer about 8 hours later."
"It won't work. They'll revive me."
"That's the odd part, they won't be able to. When it happened to me for the first time, apparently a woman tried to revive me for a full fifteen minutes, far past the point that my brain would have died and she got nothing. So, just try it."
"Okay," I said as I closed my eyes and tried to hear my heart beating. I placed my hand on my chest to aid in finding it. I figured that if I could feel it, I'd know when to listen for it. I slowly I heard the world fade around and then there was just me. Thoughts would drift lazily by me, tiny whispers and quick flashes, nothing too clear. I started silencing those sights and sounds and then there was only the sloshing sound of my inner workings. My upper and lower intestines played a messy tug of war with their own juices, my stomach did the same. I realized I hadn't eaten, but I couldn't think about that now, I had to keep at it. Past the sloshing grumble of my digestive track, was a pulsing rush of liquid. 'It's my heart.' I thought and realized that actively thinking and actively concentrating hurt my concentration. I felt the sloshing sound slip further away from me and I had to try hard not to try as a sort it again. The wet pulsation rounded further again and risen to be the only audible sound. I started breathing to its rhythm; in and out, slow shallow breaths. I continued for what might have been an hour when I realized that the sound I thought was a heart beat was my pulse, it was I large artery, it was three or four arteries. I started searching again, silencing sound as I looked. 'A vein, my lung..." I thought, taking inventory of what I found. After an impossible amount of time I found something that I, at first, thought was another artery, but no. It was a heart, my heart. I started to match my breathing to it beat and as I did so, I felt it take in my air; I felt it push that air into my veins, all through out my body. I gave it air and with every breath I felt it demand less air, I felt it slow and finally it stopped and I faded away to where ever the rest of me went.
The next time I felt consciousness, I felt pain. I felt something very sharp sliding slowly down my chest; I let out a scream and opened my eyes to see a blinding light, only interrupted by a horrified looking older looking man in a light green mask. I thrashed my arms and legs; trying to shake off the pain in my chest and the shock of the light. As the sting of the light weakened, I could just hear a crash outside of myself. I focused my sight toward the older man who had fallen to the ground and was clenching his heart and gasping so loudly that I thought I could feel it inside my own lungs. I tried to stand up, only to fall to the ground in a heap. I could still hear him breathing his panicked breaths. I could still feel it in my bones; he was having a heart attack.
In the far distance, I could hear the sound of footsteps; People were coming here to investigate the ruckus. If they come, they'd would have seen me and all I had been through would have been for nothing. I dragged myself to him and while his watered from the stress of the attack, I removed his scrubs. He was dead before I got his shirt on. From there I willed myself to stand, fight with every inch until I was standing in his oversized shirt, his oversized pants and in his over sized shoes. I then struggled to walk, feeling like the floor was made of jelly and I found it near impossible to find a footing. But even that struggle I overcame. I walked out of the operating room and down a hallway, all the while leaning against the wall. From there I found myself emerging out into the bustling rumble of another hallway, full of people moving here and there, in a seemingly random order. They were all wearing hospital uniforms, like mine and those that weren't lay wrapped from head to toe, like mummies in sheets, being carted around on unwieldy beds built more to stay than to roll. I thought that I would look odd, I would draw attention to myself, with my oversized shirt stained with small droplets of my own blood, with me dragging my shoulder along the wall, but no one gave me a second look. I was left being to find an exit and just leave.
17. Holy Daylight
Breaths rang out in the steamy darkness, slow and heavy. The air was thick and stank of cigar smoke, old rusted metal and the stink of the two unwashed girls. The red haired girl rested across Vicky's lap, a single tear streamed down her cheek. Vicky had taken to wiping them away, but the practice became a meaningless gesture. The action of wiping the tear would have been meant to sooth away the woe, but woe came in droves in the hope ridden darkness. The task Vicky adopted was to not be infected by the sorrow the burned in the air, that blackened the walls, that rotted the old metal. She held the sorrow at bay with a thin, barbed bit of hope she had worked out of a support plank in the wall.
She had assumed that the two of them were being moved about in the back of a moving truck of some sort, but where, she did not know. The air that flowed through the locked steel door burned hot at times and blew cold at others. The world was noisy beyond the metal walls and silent at other times. The two attempted to call out in the start and they were rewarded with vicious assaults and with burning liquids raped into their veins. The drugging didn't necessarily go hand in hand with the girls' volume, but silence garnered less attention, less brutality. Vicky had mastered the art of silence and shadows. She learned quickly to scamper away from the light. The light brought people and the people she saw were vile and perverse. They were steered by desire and anger. She had to escape and the only hope was that bolt, that long slender bit of sharp. She envisioned the action of shoving it in a soft spot on a captor's face. She thought of the mad dash she'd take and guilt soaked her being like sweat.
It bled from her pores because she knew she'd have to leave the red haired girl to do so. A dark night and a breaking point made sure she was slow on her feet and far less than coherent. One night, a crew cut clad captor with a slash across his throat came and explored southward on the girl and she returned with a kick in the face. Blood burst from his smashed nose, swollen lips and he roared in anger. He snatched her by the neck and bashed her twice with a strong hand before he dragged her away, her kicking weakly at nothing. In his haste, he forgot to shut the door. Vicky viewed the night clad world. A yellow light slopped on to a grassy dirt road from a flickering street lamp. The wind bowed the grass stocks and the scent of burning wood and pollen flitted into the chamber where she stayed. She stared outward, willing her legs to lift her and they disregarded her urgings. The door slammed shut and the floor shook.
The girl was return unconscious bleeding everywhere, but most notably between her thighs. She lain motionless and Vicky was not sure if the girl couldn't or wouldn't move. Vicky decided the girl wasn't dead when she finally started to cry. Vicky assumed the captor had injected the girl with tranquilizers, but wasn't sure of the amount. Couldn't have been sure, but she figured he tried to kill her, to overdose her. She'd stop breathing in her sleep, she'd vomit and fill the container with the smell of venomous bile. Vicky tried her best to hold the girl to life and sanity, back when she expected to escape with her. She still took care of the girl as best she could, but only out of habit. The girl was her burden and the bolt was her only hope. She gripped and released it again and again in a silent tactile prayer, confirming its presence. She'd use it and rush away into the holy daylight or the sacred black night.
As the days rattled by and the nights crept forth, the barbed metal she held started to callous her skin, harden against the cutting ridges. She hadn't mind the roughness, she'd tested the bolt against the floor and it stung her hand. A pattern of red marks like tire tread had throbbed painfully across her hand and she couldn't close it. She couldn't have that if she had to use the metal twice. She had also discerned a loose pattern, when she should be ready. The two of them were fed as an afterthought to their captor's pit stops and their captors knew how to move long distances without stopping. Amidst the constant rocking of the truck bed and rattling of the loose bits of metal, she could hear someone make the first complaints for food and rest, once or twice every four or five days. Those complaints built as they went and finally they stopped and hours later they'd throw the girls a sandwich, a soda. She needed to prepare herself, the time had approached. The truck had settled and the world was faintly alive with quiet chatter and the distant rabble of heavy truck wheels and heavier loads. They'd come and come soon. Her hands were hard-bitten and her grip was firm. The thought of the attack wasn't savory in her mouth, even after what she'd seen, but the taste couldn't stay her hand. She had imagined how the entire ordeal might play out. She imagined the craggy whine that the door would make, the flood of pale, dirty light. She wouldn't shrink away from it, she'd give them no time to think. She imagined it would be the man with the crew cut, she imagined shoving the metal in his eye and into his brain, yanking it out and running. Her legs twitched with the thought of flying wildly toward car lights, toward people. She'd run into highway traffic if she had to. The plan wasn't complex, flimsy to say the least. But it was the best of her options. When the door open, she would act and be suffer worse than the girl if she failed.
The door did open, whining wearily. But the crew cut clad man wasn't the one to open it. Hazy yellow light flooded around the shoulders and legs of a tall, thin man with long gray hair and a cowboy's hat perched lazily on his crown. A bulging sack hung lamely from his hip. She knew him, by name, but more by action. She knew him by the tears streaming down Mya's face, her pleading.. She knew him by his rough hands clasped around her throat as she was dragged from the cab of a pick up truck. She knew his stink of tobacco smoke and greasy food. Steamy air wafted in passed him, it stank muddy water and swollen wood. The air was hot, hotter than she thought the air should be.
She was stunned at the sight of him. It was a few seconds, but she perceived it as far too long. She sprang up, the bolt in hand. She swung it down at his face and he caught her hand in his own. He didn't seem mad at the attack, his eyes could have suggested pride at the attempt. He wrenched the bolt away from her and tossed it out of sight and away from the truck. He shoved her back down and looked from her to the limp motionless red haired girl. He grimaced at her with an aroma of detestation drifting mildly amidst it. He reached into the sack on his hip and dropped a saran wrapped sandwich in front of her. He handed a second one to Vicky, who stared mindlessly at him. She made a meek attempt to understand the events that just had unfolded, but instead unwrapped the sandwich.
"Stick around. It will all be over soon, girly." He said, turning around and slamming the door shut.
17. Road to Extremo Del Ingenio
I waited patiently in the shadows of the County Medical Examiner's Office for Mark. The building was attached to the hospital and I couldn't shake the fear of being recognized. I had stolen a bag of clothes from a pre operative care storage room. I was lucky enough to find clothes my size, but they weren't to my taste. They were bright and boisterous and all too noticeable; white sneakers that were scuffed to hell, a lime green windbreaker and acid washed jeans. Whoever these clothes belonged to, might have liked the attention, but attention would be the last thing a dead man would need.
I kept peering at the doorway, trying to will Mark to come through the hospital doors. I imagined that he would stand out from the crowd of pale faced people going in and out of that hospital. I figured he would have done something stupid in there and would need to fight his way out. But when he finally did come out, I didn't notice him. He had gotten hold of a pair of scrubs and an oversized corduroy jacket that made him look like a child in his father's clothing. Everything on him sagged and hung loose, flapping helplessly as he walked.
He had actually spotted me, squinting into the darkness. He walked toward me in a strange little mock jog and just stood there in an odd daze, his eyes weren't focused; hazed over like iced glass. He stood at my side, apparently waiting on my move.
"You get out Okay?" I asked, looking at a small, but dark patch of blood on his upper chest. He saw where my eyes were looking and quickly covered it up.
"Yeah, fine. How did you get out of the cell?" He asked, his face growing pale.
"Same way as you, but apparently with better results. You sure you're okay?" I asked, he wasn't saying something.
"I'm fine, listen I've got car keys in my pocket. I say we take the car and figure out how to cross the border on the way, sounds good?" He said, somehow he had lost his breath and was trying to find it again. He had a small strange hint of being on the verge of crying. He then turned away from me and started examining the car key and as he did so, I studied him. He had gained a shaky, unsteady gate, like he wanted to collapse into himself. I remembered my first experience inducing death, I wasn't nearly as shook up as he seemed. It seemed as though, some part of him stayed dead. He tested a clicker attached to the key chain, a honk echoed to the distant left. Mark tried it again and a stylish black, sedan flashed it's headlights, ten cars away from us. The beams were a bright and brilliant blue and shocked through the static air. Mark started toward the car, shivering more than was ever necessary and I followed, feeling half-afraid that he would collapse in the middle of the parking lot.
He started toward the driver's side but I intercepted him, stating that "He had gone through a lot in the past twenty four hours and he should sleep." He gave me a reluctant look, but surrendered the keys. I stepped into the driver's seat and Mark collapsed into the passenger's seat and we pulled out of the parking space and out of the parking lot onto the road.
The ride to the border was simple, no one was looking for us or if they were, they were looking for two dead bodies. The world whipped by us effortlessly, assisted by the sedan's engine. The cool night's air swept the windshield and found airways to invade, so as to cools the inside of the car as well. Wind weakly whipped about the interior, swirling about in invisible patterns and motions, brushing our cheeks. The world was finally cold and static. I felt stationary with my hands wrapped around the wheel and my body only disturbed by the occasional bump in the road, I peered to over to Mark. He had grown pale and oddly still. It would have been easy to make the mistake of thinking he died or was dying.
"You said you went to school. Where?" I ventured.
He breathed in a long, shallow breath, turned to me and with the smallest of mouth movements, he said "Cal State." He looked like it pained him to speak, but I wanted information,
"Does Vicky go there with you?"
"How do you know about Vicky and her Grandmother? Why are you helping me?" He asked, still trying to breathe.
"I was sitting in my cell; I asked for a newspaper and on the front page was the words 'Break in the Bowland case.' There was a picture of... ah... Mya. Some school picture with her sitting in front of a forest setting. I looked at this picture and she looked so much like... my Jenny."
"What?" He asked, his face flooding with confusion and color.
"You might have guessed or maybe not, but I'm a lot older than I look. A long time ago, I was married to Jenny, Vicky is my granddaughter."
"What?" He asked with his confusion being replaced by skepticism.
"You were dead less than two hours ago, it's not that ridiculous such a connection would exist." I reminded him.
"So, when you said, 'you were sure of something, but not of me.' You meant that you weren't sure if I could save her. If you're thinking that, you're wrong. There isn't a force on earth..."
"I'm going to be very clear and very blunt. I'm sure you'll get to her. What you do when you get there, is what I'm afraid of."
"You think I'll hurt her."
"I do. I'm afraid you'll see something wrong with her, something you can't quite explain. She might look wrong, smell wrong, her skin will feel foreign. But the reality is, is that the problem lays in you and no one else. There is something wrong with us both."
"So, does that mean you saw someone wrong? That you hurt someone?" He said and I could tell that he knew what "someone" I might have hurt. There was a moment of cold silence, in which the only noise was coming from the car and Mark's efforts to breathe properly.
"Yes." I said in a whisper.
"And how do you know I'll be anything like you." He said, he emphasized the "you" and I could tell he wanted it to sting.
"I don't," I admitted and I didn't try to speak after that. The car fell silence and we cruised through the liquid night and far over the horizon, I could just see a glow that signified a border crossing tollbooths.
"Stop." Mark whispered unnecessarily. "Turn into the desert, let's try hopping the border fence". I slowed the car as I turned into the desert, feeling the car rocking about unsteadily, as I worked the car through the sandy, rock skewed gravel and broken underbrush. We made a slow path closer to the distant fence, but when the fence was just barely in clear sight, I stopped the car and looked at Mark.
"Let's leave the car and walk the rest of the way. A car parked at the fence might look suspicious." I told him. He nodded his head and stepped out leaving the door open. I stepped out and felt the cold caress my face and we walked to the fence. The world was letting this part be easy. Mark had approached the fence and started kicking in the bottom corner of a fence. Within moments, it gave way to this foot and Mark was squeezing through, I followed and we were on our way to Extremo Del Ingenio.
18.The Night Of The Walking Dead
A grunting howl echoed through the cold desert air, as footsteps thudded like wet viscera under a tenderizing hammer. A slim dotted path of blood followed the pained howls and wet footsteps to a broken, deteriorating form limping down a lonely road. Each step he took caused him to omit a death rattle that ran through his entire body and omit a cry that barreled down the road for miles and into the ears of Jonathan, who was parked in his truck down the road from Moe's Motel. There had been a bit of activity down there and his curiosity couldn't be helped. By the time, he'd made it down to the motel, the police had cleared and the police tape was left to exude an ominous foreboding that Jonathan dared not tempt. The icy night air provided a clean pallet for the flapping crackle of the dry grass and plastic caution tape. Trepidation welled in Jonathan's very core and the marring bellow of the ruined man sent his heart into his throat and his nerves aflame. In his rear view mirror, he could see the vile being emerge from the shadowy gloom of the night. He looked upon his arms and legs, saw his head, his eyes and recognized him as something other than a beastie out of a Boris Coraloft Movie. He stared into the man's cracked and swelled face and sucked in a well of shock. If he wasn't dead, he soon would be. He was bleeding like a stuck pig, red spilled down the side of his gray pants and jacket. His face was cracked and knurled, clenched up like a hateful hell fist. Jonathan jumped out of his car and walked over to the man, thinking the ravaged creature would speed up its pace to him, recognize him as something friendly, or at least recognize him, but that bleeding man just walked on at the same pace. That bleeding man just edged closer and closer. Jonathan stepped in front of the devastation that moved onward and it stopped and gave notice. Its eyes sunken and black, its face covered in a thin layer of dirt and sweat. It stank the primal stink that people instinctively know to be death.
"You Okay?" Jonathan asked, knowing it was a stupid question, but not knowing what other question to ask.
"I got a truck, I can get you some help." Jonathan said, trying to get a response out of the man, but he still stood, his black eyes like black holes sucking the warmth out of the air. Jonathan placed an uncertain hand upon the man's shoulder and somehow the shock of unrest ran through Jonathan. Something was wrong, he didn't know what it was but he knew it was bad. A throbbing erupted from his gut, burning like bonfires. A ripple ran down his spine, through his nerves, into his muscles, into his arms, his legs, his finger tips. He took in shaky breaths and vomited out his exhalation. 'What the hell happen?' Jonathan asked himself. He placed a hand on the throbbing ache and felt heat drip over his fingers. He looked down and saw a bit of broken metal hanging from his gut. He tried to hold on to every breath he had left in him, but they all slipped away. He became very aware of how high off the ground he was, but how short a trip the ground was to him. The ground zoomed toward him within seconds and hit him with a horrible thud. As Jonathan wheezed and groaned the man with the death face kneeled and dug around in Jonathan's pockets. He removed various items, things Jonathan couldn't remember why he ever cared he had. The death man omitted a dried and frustrated groan. He gripped the broken metal and turned it ever so slightly, but it shot fiery infernos throughout his nerves. The horrible pain brought back life, but not his. This one began and ended with a sharp bit of metal in his gut and the man who was twisting it.
"Keys!" The death man croaked.
"They're still in the car, still in the ignition." He said, as the pain started to fade away with the rest of the world. Jonathan died in the middle of the street, the last thing he heard was the sound of his truck rolling away from him. The sound was very distant from his failing ears and then it was gone.
19.Down Low at the Good Girl's Club
We walked through the chilling cold, the stony darkness and the thick underbrush, it's thorny branches snagging and tearing at our clothes, snatching at us like billions of tiny evil bastards hell bent on taking a chunk of meat off one of us. As we hurried low to the ground, fearing the distant light beams that broke the night, I could hear Mark attempt to muffle a cry of pain, heralding the branches success. Every few moments, the distant rumble of a truck echoed through the darkness, crackling through the icy gloom, but after a while the distant rumble became no more than a memory; but we still kept up with the inconvenience of running bent over.
After a few minutes of that relentless and ackward running, I finally tripped over a root or a branch and went sailing to the ground with noisy thud. There, Mark stopped too and fell to the ground almost the same way I had and started panting. We laid there for maybe four or five minutes, before either of us had enough sense or care to brush the thorns off of our skin. After ten minutes, I got up on my knees and peered into the far distance and saw a weak break in the deep darkness of the desert. It was definitely unnatural light, a street lamp or a head light of a car, but for a moment, I couldn't remember if I was facing the border or facing the city. I squinted into dark, piss colored yellow light, half expected to find an answer and the answer did come. As my breathing settled, it became easier to remember which direction I came from and therefore which direction I should start in. I picked myself up and started heading in the direction I was facing, walking on unsteady, shaky ground, that pulsated in time with my still excited heart. Mark rose behind me, stumbling in the darkness and breaking the underbrush as he moved.
With every clumsy step, we approached the faint glow of the city. It jetted up out of the lonely desert, black mass after black mass spaced apart from each other and illuminated by weak and sickly yellow streetlights. The sun was maybe an hour or so from rising, but still managed to make its presents known the closer walked to it. It shocked the distant southern sky with a deep crimson red and deep purple, like a city on fire. Lower to the ground, everything looked like the back entrance in a back alley, it was all metal and brick, all man made and saturated in shadows. The air smelt like grease and ash, something like the car parts factory I once worked at, all heat and heavy cooper laden air. The city appeared vacant as we entered it. It was still night or maybe very early morning and we weren't likely to run into anyone. I imagined that even the earliest of workers would just be getting up. The only hint of life was the slow movements of an old man smoking a cigarette in the shadows of a building. He was sitting on the ground with his head hanging low as a halo of smoke wafted thickly around his face, which wouldn't have been clear even without the smoke, because he had sat himself far away from any source of light. Mark approached him and asked him in an unsure tone, "Sir, We need your help?"
"Que?" He said, his voice was filled over with fatigued irritation and the stink of liquor and vomit.
"No hoblo English, huh?" Mark said in a tone of irritation matching the man's minus the liquor and vomit of course. "Um... Hola, Senor... Podria, podria usted ...ayudamos?" He said unsteadily, summoning what must have been two or three years of high school Spanish.
"Si." He said, sounding sick or distracted. The man most likely had collapsed here after his night of drinking..
"Podria usted ... decirme... um... donde un club llamo 'The Good Girl's Club' ...es?"
"Qué?" He asked, then made a wet sound like a cough, but could have easily been a small amount of up chuck.
"Un club llamo 'El Club de la... Muchacha Buena' es" Mark said, exhaling deeply. There was a moment of silence, where I could tell Mark had became nervous he had failed to properly communicate to the man.
"Si, Alli," He said with a laugh and a shaky hand emerging from the darkness and pointing down the dark alleyway. "En el ponto bajo del valle. Es illumado al diablo." He said with a wet, shaky laugh.
"What is he saying?" I asked Mark, only recognizing diablo as being devil.
"He's telling me where the club is. He says it's down low in the valley and should be lit up like the... 'devil?"
"Gracias, senor." Mark said to the man with a wave of his hand and started down the alleyway and I did the same, giving the man a polite nod. But as we walked away the man called after us, "Las muchachas alli son pequenas hembras repugnantes, sin embargo." He started laughing uncontrollably after saying this.
"What did he just say?" I asked Mark as we turned the corner.
"I'm not sure." He replied, picking up his pace.
We started down the adjacent hill and toward a glowing red and yellow beacon. On either side of us, stood the hollow eyed windows of industry that funneled the warm air toward us, it felt good, like how I imagined water felt to flowers.
Everywhere was soot-covered bricks and bits of trash tucked into corners and snagged into cracks. As we approached the glowing beacon, I could just see the brim of a red neon sign in the far distance, it was a small place, but very apparent, set alone in a dirt parking lot. The sign grow clear as we walked, it wasn't clear enough to read, but the music was loud enough to hear. It was more of a low pulsating rumble than anything and then as we descended lower and closer the sign became clear. The Good Girl's Club blazed into the night, written in red neon English. A hint of its clientele; either Americans or the Spanish illiterates.
We walked into the club and as we did so, I heard some Spanish singer singing over guitars, the steady rumble of drums and the static of a broken speaker system. The music was loud enough to make the wood paneled floor boards shake slightly when the guitarists hit one of the lower chords. A random foray of seats and tables littered the floor and was occupied by riotous old men and giddy looking younger men, all of whom were sipping and spilling beers. The walls hummed with the aged and dying glory of old Miller Genuine Draft signs. There was one behind the bar that now only read: Ill Gen Daft. The room was filled with the smell of beer, cigarette smoke and general human stink and it was dark, as dark as deep waters and back alleys. There was no light, save only for a number of spotlights pulsating to the tune of the music and pointed at three catwalk style stages that jetted away from behind a dirty old black curtain. The perimeter of the stages were wrapped in fencing with a gate locked with a thick kind of lock. On the center stage, a long, slender, dark haired beauty danced. Wearing only what god gave her; she cut tightly woven circles through the air and around a poll with her darkly tanned body, spinning slowly round and around, sending slow rippling waves through her shallow hips and even slimmer waist. Her hair fluttered as she went, riding on the hot, smoky air, like fluid crow's wings in mid flight. I wanted to know her name; I imagined it was something tragically common like Carmen or Anna. Another part of me wanted to be closer to her. Anyone with good sense knew it was her job to look warm and inviting, but she did it well and I couldn't help myself. I imagined caressing her hips and then thought about how long it'd been since I'd been with a woman. I told myself it'd be still longer and resigned to stand in the darkness, becoming part of the crowd of men hypnotized by her distant hips, sucking through my teeth to get rid of the taste of bad thoughts. After a few moments, I turned and peered over and realized that Mark was gone. He had disappeared into the crowd of men sitting in the darkness, puffing on their cigarettes red glow.
I also turned and started moving through the crowd and through the dirty air filled with sweat, stink and cigarette smoke. As I did the song changed and a new girl took the stage, a blonde girl dressed in a blue and yellow sundress with flower prints that flowed with the elegance of river water through the air. She was small, thin and made deceptively shy movements like that was her first time on stage. She was an American; I could see it in the way she walked. She walked as though she wasn't on her own ground, as if she wasn't walking in her own feet. She started to spin, making small plumes of fabric with her dress. She started making circles in a child like fashion, spinning in simple bliss, grabbing and stripping pieces of fabric off her body and sending them over the top of the fencing and flying off into the crowd as she spun. There was a sort of inept grace to her, something very absentminded about her movements, like she didn't understand the ways of men and the world she found herself in. She just kept on dancing and enjoying her dance and the men stood and cheered, catching odd bits of garment as they flew and cheering her on in both confused English and fluent Spanish. Within moments, she was in her bra and panties, her pale buttermilk hips held up red silk panties, which either enhanced the potency of her pale flesh or became enhanced in contrast, and her long, lean face held a beaming smile.
I had reached the other end of the room, where the bar sat, lit by a dull blue glow and by the fading, flickering glory of the ill Gen Daft sign, and Mark stood asking the bartender, a large Mexican man with a thick mustache and beard, something in Spanish. The Bartender had an oddly meaty, but bony face, like the meat of his face strictly tapered to his skull, enhancing the size and severity. Mark had leaned in close to the man, to say what he had to say and when Mark was finished the bartender looked at him for a moment, eyeing Mark in his dirty, blood stained clothes and started to laugh in Mark's face. He laughed his most cutting laugh and tried to cut Mark to the bone. The man flipped Mark off and said what I assumed were a long string of curses in Spanish that surmounted to "Get out of here" before waving him away. Mark looked like he was thinking of hopping over the bar and asking again with a bit more force, but decided against it, opting to ask him again. The bartender gave the same response as before; a finger and a string of curses, but Mark chose to grab the man's finger and bent it in a way that must have broken it. The man roared and grabbed Mark by the throat with his other hand. Mark started throwing punches at the man trying to release himself, most of which landed on the man's head, but the man did not relent. I saw Mark's face turn from red to white in a matter of moments and I also realized that no one else was noticing this exchange, but me.
Over Mark's gasping and the bartender's roars the music still played. Not a single person, apart from myself was interested in the commotion. The men in the crowd drank, cheered and enjoyed themselves wholly. Some of the more intoxicated ones elected to stand on tables and dance along with the music, only to slip and fall to the floor. As far as these men were concerned, the world ended at the edges of their eye lines. This man was about to kill Mark; his eyes had watered up and were starting to roll into the back of his head. As I watched this, I conceded my thoughts and admitted I had to intervene. I walked over and pushed them apart, Mark went crashing down to the ground and the bartender hardly moved at all. Mark was gasping and retching a bit and the bartender seemed to still want to kill him because he came out from behind the bar, his good hand balled in a tight fist while he muttered something in Spanish. I placed an imploring hand up to him, hoping he'd forgive Mark long enough for me to get Mark out the front door. I lifted Mark up and started toward the door, taking one more look up at the stage. I was wrong, while the entire club was looking at the American spinning about in the nude now, she was looking at us. She had an odd look of interest on her face, like a cat looking at a canary.
I dragged Mark out into the dirt parking lot and let him lay in the dirt, I let him roll and cough and wheeze in the dirt. I couldn't help but be annoyed with him. I wanted to say something and I almost did. I almost said, "He was an idiot and deserved what he got. That he couldn't just go acting on whims like that." I almost, but I didn't because I was almost the same in the way I lived. I blew with the wind and chose to only react to the world instead of being apart of it. I took a long look at Mark; he was trying to right himself. His head hung low and he made a sound like he wanted to cry, like he wanted to break down in that parking lot and possibly never get back up again. I stood there, staring at that broken man, I saw him try with all his might to stand and I saw him fail and fail completely. So I stayed with him, tried to remember that he was a 22-year old boy going through hell. I sat beside him and had no idea what to say, so I said nothing. I stared at the distant town above and realized that day wasn't far. The parking lot was bathed in cold powder blue, everything was cool and in monotones. It felt wrong somehow to watch things flourish into livelihood, when such hardships were impressed upon us. But it would, the world would spin without concern for the beings that live in it. Within the realm of ten or fifteen minutes, he had composed himself, stood up and breathed in a deep shutter. He motioned toward the door as if he was going back in. I held a hand up to him and said, "Stay here. I'll try something, Okay?" I gave him a look that probably meant nothing to him, but he obliged me and walked off into the shadowy corner of the parking lot.
I started toward the door, entered the bar and peered back to the stage. The music had changed to a speedy rock song with heavy guitar licks, but the American was still up there on stage, now dancing with a new girl, another dark haired beauty, this one seemed notably less graceful than the original dark haired beauty, also less far less comfortable with the thought of being in that place. It became apparent that the American wasn't sober as she whipped her hair about in wild waves of blonde. She had gotten a bit more rude and excited, attempting to force her lips together with her fellow dancer. After their lips connected for a good half-minute, the American released the other dancer, skilled the fencing, dropped hazardously to the floor and nearly lost the ground under her. She regained it and stumbled to the bar. I again, moved through the crowd toward the bar. The bartender eyed me like he was thinking about taking his unspent anger out on me. I elected not to tempt that idea and sat at the farthest corner of the bar and eyed the nude American as she ordered another drink.
Within moments, she followed the bartender's eye line to me. She made her way to me, bouncing slowly as she progressed. She had playful little eyes, like the tips of black flint matchsticks ready to burn. She stopped just out of arms length and said in a giggly voice, "Hola, Americano."
"Hey... it's obvious?" I asked, peering down at myself as if I was trying to hide the fact.
"We get Americans in here every once in a while..." She started, her eyes drifting from my face to my chest and destinations unclear.
"Do you?" I asked.
"Yeah, normally college boys too stupid to hold on to their money and looking for someone to hold onto their pricks." She giggled.
I gave a slight smirk and asked, "Would you be familiar with an old man called 'Texas Pete?"
"I don't know," She said playfully, taking a step closer to me. She had a look in her eyes like she wanted to be chased.
"What's your name, girl?"
"Good Girl Sarah." She said with a smile.
"Hello Good girl Sarah, I'm Matt. Good Girl Sarah, are you the only American who works here?"
"No, but I'm the best of the Americans here. A couple of moody little shits, if you ask me."
"Now, I'm curious about something. Why are you here, what brings you to the Good Girl's Club?"
"I don't know," She said again, the same flash of wanting to play rushed into her eyes. She took another step forward and took a seat beside me. Playing a silly sort of mock coy, she wrapped her bare legs tightly around each other and brushed off her thighs as if she were straightening a dress.
"What about the other Americans. Any idea why they're here?" I asked, trying not to follow the path of her hands as they tucked neatly into her exposed lap.
"I don't know." She said in between a giggle. I leaned in and looked her in the eyes. They were narrowed and faked a sort of drunken focus; she was enjoying the small bit of fun she found in me.
"Is that the same type of 'I don't know' as your 'I don't know?" I asked, placing some teasing emphasis on the word 'your.' She smiled and bit her lower lip as the corners of her mouth slowly curled upward.
"Yes," She said with a giggle as she leaned in closer to me, placing her right hand on my knee.
"And what type of 'I don't know' ..."I asked, gazing into her watery eyes and being cut off by her.
"We got these rooms in the back. It's all just us. They got rose patterns on the walls and everything." She said, inching her fingers an inch closer to my manhood. I sucked in air nervously before starting again.
"What type of 'I don't know' is it?"
"Pete's" She said. She leaned forward; almost falling on top of me and pressed her lips against mine and pressed her tongue against my closed lip, waiting for access. A part of me wanted to push her away, not because she was drunk and vulnerable, but because she stank of beer and smoke. Her breath was a rush of every drink she had that night. But another part, allowed her to continue, a part of me parted my lips and allowed her tongue to slide in, let myself taste her. A part of me allowed my fingers to taste the soft skin of her hips and move downward to her outer thighs. A part of me wanted to forget Mark and see those rose patterns. But that part subsided and I pushed her away.
"Is Pete here?" I asked, holding her back by her shoulders.
"No," She said, trying to kiss me again, a grin stretched across her face.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Everywhere," She said in a breathless voice before kissing me again. Her tongue slid across the smooth enamel of my teeth, followed by the taste of spiced rum and tequila and something salty, but not quite salty. It was the ghost of a taste, something like the way a penny tastes, the way blood tastes. Why would I taste blood in her mouth? I thought, but chose not to let on.
As she kissed me, I felt the inconstant rush of hot air from her laughter, which fired up the taste in my mouth. I pushed her away again; a bit harder than I wanted to.
"What does that mean? Earlier you saw me and it looked like you knew me? Is that right?" She nodded slowly as her hand advanced up my leg.
"How? Because of Pete?" She nodded again.
"He knows about me?" She nodded yet again, while advancing her hand close to my crotch. I took the hand in mine and moved it away.
"Sarah, where is he?" I asked again, increasing my focus on her eyes.
"I don't know, last I heard he was going to some bar up in Texas." She said, sounding put off. She leaned back away from me and crossed her arms, like a little child who had just got her hand slapped away from cookies.
"Sarah, please. Do you know what bar?" I begged, imploring her to help me with my eyes.
"Some bar all the way up in Pecos, TX. It's called The Blue Devil's Haunt." She said, motioning to get up.
"Thank you. I'm done here." I said, spitting the hot alcoholic taste out of my mouth. I stood before her and turned toward the door when I felt the sharp, stinging pain of something shattering across the back of my head and my shoulders were showered with tiny bits of glass and scotch. The world spun and whirled, like a big top.
"Fucking faggot," Sarah said somewhere behind me. I stumble forward, but caught myself on the shoulders of a short brown haired man, who in turn was shoved into his table, which tipped over along with his table's drinks. The table crashed to the ground with a hollow thud and sent bits and pieces of beer soaked glass sliding in every direction. The short man got up, turned and started pushing me toward the bar, while spouting a long stream of what I assumed were curses in Spanish. I was still dazed and disoriented from the blow to the head and wasn't sure exactly what was going on. I felt the bar hit me in the small of the back. The man kept pushing me and swearing at me in Spanish and in my dazed confusion, I raised my hand and brought it down across the side of his cheek. The man went stumbling back into another man, before charging back at me and taking a shot at my nose. I heard it break with a loud crack. While my eyes watered, the continued his attacks and almost by instinct, I ended them by grasping his throat and pressing down. I could feel I was very close to a break and I was tempted to make it. But instead of that I shoved him away from me. The short man went flying into a table, sending it crashing to the ground. The occupants of that table roared in frustration and anger, taking their rage out of the short man. By the time my eyes stopped watering enough to focus, the bar had erupted into fighting and screaming.
I still had difficulty processing what was going on. Within moments, the few disgruntled men of that table had multiplied ten or fifteen fold. Suddenly something like a truck slammed into my back and I went falling into the crowd of fighting men. I turned my head slowly to my attacker, the bartender. The bartender went through the crowd, smacking rowdy men to the ground, where they stayed, seemingly unconscious. He made a gradual path toward me with a look of wanting blood. I scrambled to my feet, rose my arms up in defense, readying myself for him. The bartender took his first swing, which barely missed me and I took mine, which connected with his stomach and almost broke my hand. The bartender took another, which connected and slammed me to the ground. My head hit the floor with a smack and I laid dazed on the floor. I gathered my senses in time to avoid his heavy booted foot from crashing down on my head. I scrambled up again and started for the door, knowing I was out matched. But before I could he had grabbed my shoulder thrusted me to the ground again and started kicking me in the ribs and head. Each blow meant a new break in my inner workings. I coughed up a pool off blood and screamed a plea for him to stop, which he ignored. He landed a blow square on my temple and I fell deep into darkness. The bar, the screaming and the fighting fell away and I fell into a state of unawareness.
There was a slow and weak light bleeding into the darkness. It was fuzzy and pale, like looking upward from the bottom of the ocean and I slowly rose to the surface. The world was growing clear and within two or three minutes sound and light had synced together and reality became real again. I must not have been dead for too long, because I awoke and the fighting still raged. The bartender was gone, though. I elected not to move anymore than I absolutely needed to. I swayed my head from one side to the other, trying to get an idea of what was happening. Back by the bar, I found Mark fighting the bartender. Mark had wrapped his forearm around the large men's neck and was holding on for dare life, trying his best to close his windpipe or restrict blood flow to the jugular. The bartender shook and roared and tried his best to claw at Mark. But Mark stayed secure on the man's back and soon he started to stumble and stupor and finally collapse to the ground. Although the bartender wasn't fighting anymore, Mark kept a firm hold on him, not sure if the bartender was still a threat.
I attempted to right myself, but one of the bar fighters tripped over me and crashed onto my chest and another stepped on my hand. I howled as new waves of pain shot through my body. The man was slow in rising again, but when he did, my body screamed into numbness. Mark laid his sights on me and released the bartender. He raced over to me, grasped my arm and started dragging me to the door. Every inch was an eternal screaming hell, which ended in the dirt parking lot. I laid there on my back, my eyes squinting against the fully realized sun. There, Mark left me and ran back into the bar. He was gone for five or ten minutes, leaving me alone with the whirling wind. I was confused as to why he went back until he re-emerged with a bleeding and dazed looking man in a torn flannel shirt. The man's nose had been shattered and he had a cut above his left brow. At first, I thought that Mark was the creator of such damages, but then soon remember that we just left a bar fight and anyone could have been responsible. Mark kept asking the man, "Where is it? Where is it?" The man was holding his bloody face and crying aloud as he stumbled along.
"Where is it?" Mark repeated.
The man raised a shaky finger toward a shabby and rusted truck. It looked dead and dried out in the sunlight, although I couldn't imagine it looking any better at night. The truck looked like it had taken up root in that parking lot; dirt and mud clung to its sides and tires and it seemed it wouldn't easily come off.
"Hand it over." Mark ordered.
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. Mark then took the keys and shoved the man away from him. The man crumpled to the ground and continued to cry. Mark walked over to the truck and opened the passenger side door. Mark collected me and we made our escape, the shabby truck rumbling and groaning as it went. I turned my head to Mark and groaned, "One of the weirdest nights of my life."
20. The Beginning of the End
The shrub laden and sandy landscape raced pass us; the plan had become stay in Mexico for as long as you could. Stretch as far out as we could before we made our play for Pecos. I was healing faster than I ever had before. Things being the same for so long, I wasn't ready to admit it, but there was something new in me. It had been less than three hour since we left The Good Girl's Club and my ribs, my head, all my insides suffered from less than a very mild ache. With my body mended, all I had was my thoughts and one thought kept bobbing up to the surface, one that I'd keep to myself. It seemed pointless, it seemed like we were chasing faded hope and obscure dreams. I wished and prayed that Vicky was alive, but the more that I thought about it, the harder it became to find reason why a man like Pete would keep her alive. I hated the fact that I couldn't think like Mark, I knew Mark had his doubt, I knew that every inch we took closer to her meant a new horrible thought flashing into Mark's head. I could read it in his eyes, but the difference was that he didn't stop. There was something behind his eyes, it wasn't hope, it wasn't vengeance or anger either. He was being driven by something that no one could explain.
I stared out the window and let the wind whip at my face and I let my mind wander through the world and then thought of how little I knew of my granddaughter. Mark wasn't much help with details, as he was trapped in his own head, tethered by his own prayers. What I had gathered is that she was smart. She was going to school with Mark, taking Bio-engineering or some such thing like that. When I got Mark talking about her, I imagined a younger Jenny playing the role of Vicky. When Mark recanted the first time they met, at Lake Tahoe in December, I imagined a child version of Jenny having a snowball fight with Mark. I imagined her cheeks stinging as she laughed. I imagined Vicky's glorious brown eyes engaging Mark's eye as she was being introduced by her elder brother.
I had gotten Mark to start another story when I sensed his hesitance was no longer due to him being trapped in his thoughts. He had the symptoms of pressing question that he didn't know how to ask. I relieved him from his apparent struggle to describe Vicky and asked him what I thought he was thinking.
"What do you think we are?"
"I don't know. I feel normal, but somehow I don't." He said, letting the sentence drop toward the end.
"I've tried for years to answer that question. What possible reason would I, would we be alive while others die. It makes no real sense. We're not being asked to do anything, we're just here. We're sort of pointless like aluminum siding. At first I tried to romanticize it, figured I had been given a chance to right personal wrongs, then I thought maybe to bare witness to the world, but in reality it seems we're just here."
We managed to exit Mexico at a border station in El Paso, Texas. I thought the best route would be to break through the fence again, but Mark insisted on trying the border, arguing that we couldn't afford to leave the car behind like we did before. As we passed through back into the U.S, I expected that someone would turn their head, that someone would recognize us, but we were only met with the bored and sleepy eyes of the man in the booth at the border.
From there, we drove or he drove and I slept. I kept dozing off, drained by the trucks constant rumble and the long stints of inactivity. It was an odd sensation, seeing the world hiccup forward in time and space. When the truck finally stopped, it idled in a large, red bricked department store's parking lot. The store had its name plastered above the entrance with spotlight aimed and ready for the first hint of darkness.
"Why are we here?" I asked, still groggy.
"We need some clothes, I'm thinking." He said as he opened his door and stepped out. I looked down at my clothes, the windbreaker had torn and was covered in dirt and blood, it was a good idea to find something less conspicuous. I popped my door open and did the same as Mark, but stopped when I closed my door.
"We don't have two nickels to rub together, how are we going to get clothes?"
Mark reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick, brown leather wallet. It was worn and old, but still promised bounty. "Yeah, we do." He said with a note of breathlessness.
"Where'd you get that?" I asked.
"It was in the coat." He said, putting the wallet back in the pocket "I figured because I stole the coat..." Mark started.
"No, I get it." I interrupted, putting my hand up to stop him.
We walked into the store. Top 20 hits played over the P.A. system, as people pushed carts filled with merchandise in and out of aisles. All around me, I saw despondence and disconnectedness plastered like wax masks on the customers faces. The air conditioning was on full blast, pouring icy cold liquid air down on our heads. We both made an unspoken agreement to take as little time as we possibly could here, both of us grabbing the first thing that appealed to us. Mark had chosen a black hooded sweatshirt and black cargo pants. I had chosen a white dress shirt, a pair of black slacks and a thin black top coat. We had entered, selected our clothing, purchased our clothing, changed into our clothing and left in the realm of fifteen minutes, but before we left Mark made a note of buying a map.
Once we were back in the truck, I finally thought to ask, "Where are we?"
Mark looked up at me with a look of mild surprise. "Pecos. I already spotted the bar. It's a mile back that way." He said pointing down a westward facing road. As Mark pointed, I noticed a slight shiver in Mark's hand.
"You Okay?" I asked, now noticing that his eyes had thousands of little red capillaries pumping and pulsing.
"I'm fine." Mark replied in a quick voice.
"Have you been sleeping, at all?" I asked.
"Don't worry about that now, we have other things to think." Mark said wrapping and unwrapping his fingers from around the steering wheel in a rippling motion. He repeated this over and over again, several times before he started the truck and pulled the truck out of the parking lot. As he drove, I studied him and wondered how I had missed the state he was in. Although, he was seated and seemingly still, he seemed like he was running. His fingers trembled and fidgeted like rabbits ready to run from the troubling noises they heard in the tall grass. His eyes ran an endless marathon up and down the road. His body was screaming his inner fear and discomfort. While I watched him, I couldn't help but think of a rabbit I once saw caught in a snare. When my brother and I came upon the animal near our uncle's farm, he was thrashing wildly, fighting against the metal wire of the thing, which had wrapped itself securely around the rabbit's neck. The wire dug deep into the rabbit's skin, cutting it, exposing raw meat and bits of bone. The rabbit had struggled valiantly and seemed to had exhausted itself into submission, but it suddenly sprang up into the air and was jerked back down by the wire. The rabbit landed on the ground with a thud didn't get up again. It had snapped it's own neck. As I watched Mark, I thought of that rabbit, because I was starting to realize how fast Mark could destroy himself, as I watched Mark, I realized I was watching the undead, something living to die.
Mark pulled the truck over, in front of the Blue Devil's Haunt Bar and we walked in together. The bar was filled with gloom and lonesomeness. The few lights that hung in the place served only to help the occupants find their glasses of beer and the glasses of beer's path to their mouth. If I had to make an assumption to who the clientele of the blue devil's haunt were, I have to say veterans. It was rare that a face wouldn't have at least one scar on it and even rarer to see someone without a wheel chair or crouches. The men of the blue devil's haunt had seen some battlefield at some point in their lives. Mark had started to make a path to the bar to question the bartender, who was a big man with short brown hair styled in a crew cut. He had a grin rounded face and was practically made of muscle, but he also had one arm. His left arm stopped at the elbow in a smoothed and rounded bump. But before Mark could get too far, I stopped him and said in a mock causal voice, "Let me talk to him." Mark took a few steps backward and leaned against a wall.
"How much do you have left?" I asked, thinking I could possibly pay the man for information. Mark reached into his pocket and pulled out the wallet, he then peered into the wallet.
"About $106." Mark said.
"Give it here." I replied.
I couldn't imagine him taking the offer; he didn't look like the type to be sway by $106, but it seemed a better idea to not depend solely on my ability to talk to people. I sat down at bar and gave a slight nod to the bartender, who was speaking to long-haired man with a partial jaw. He finished saying what he was saying, then approached me and as he did so, it became more and more apparent that his lack of an arm wasn't his only affliction. His face was a wildly scarred and pockmarked mess, bullet wounds and knife slashes painted a horrible road map of a hard lived life. The man rested his meaty hand on the bar top and asked me in a soar and gruff voice doused in a Texan accent, "What can I do for you?"
"How are you doing? I was hoping you could help me find someone? An older gentleman wears a cowboy hat, the name's Pete." He took a few moments to inspect me. It was clear he was trying to read my mind, extract my intention; but once those few moment ended he exhaled and said, " There's only one Pete that I can think of that's like the Pete you describe, that Pete is the same Pete that gave me this." He said, running his finger along a long and dark looking scar that stretched across his neck, looking like a long jagged shadow gripping his throat.
"Really? That sounds like his speed." I said.
"So, you know the man? I'd guess you would, seeing that you're asking about him." He said, leaning in and hardening his already hard face.
"No. To be honest, I only know him by reputation, but I understand he's a man to meet. I trust that him attacking you wasn't the first time you met him, How do you know Pete." I was reluctant to admit that I might hold ill will to Pete, in case this man was anything like the bartender back at the Good Girl's Club.
"Actually, it was. I had came back home from the Gulf war. I was just getting use to the loss of my arm and I was depressed about it. I started drinking and in my drinking, I met Pete, started drinking with Pete and had an argument with Pete, which led him to breaking a bottle and slashing my throat open with that broken bottle. He gave me new purpose that night; in that, he tried to kill me, so I'd try the same to him. It's funny; I thought my life was meaningless until he tried to take it. Well, I tracked him down and made my attempts and instead of him retaliating, he offered me this tiny shit hole of a bar." He said, gesturing around the dank room. "I refused at first, of course. I promised I'd gut him and long story short story, he made it clear that it'd end in one of three ways: I walked away disabled, without a dime in my pocket, I took the bar or I died. He made it clear that those were my options and I decided to be smart about it. That being said, I'm still smart and I get annoyed by dishonesty." He said, rubbing his forehead and exhaling deeply. At this point, I became very conscious of where his hand was. "It wastes my time. A man who slashed another man's neck is a man to meet? How do You know who Pete is? Why are you looking for him?"
"I have my reasons." I said, trying to keep the conversation casual, but I could see that I was failing.
"What are those reasons?" He said with a little more force.
"I have money. I can pay for the information..." I said, reaching for the money.
"I don't want your money, I have money. I want you to tell me what you with him." He said with even more force. He had gone loud, but I could tell he was nowhere near a yell.
"If you knew..." I started.
"I asked..." He interrupted.
"He took a girl, a 19 year old girl. She might be alive or dead, we don't know." I said, indicating towards Mark, "But we need to find out."
"And what do you plan to do once you find Pete. Ask him politely to give her back?" He asked.
"I'm not going to lie to you, I don't want to bother with Pete, I'm far too tired to be fighting anyone, I don't have it in me anymore. I just want to get the girl, it's important to me. But he's different..." I said gesturing to Mark again. "... I can see him fighting Pete tooth and nail; I can see him burning a city to the ground to get her back. I can see him doing anything." The bartender looked in Mark's direction and then back at me, "You know he'll probably kill you both, right?"
"I'm thinking that won't be a problem." I said.
"It's like that, huh? Well, as long as you know the risks..." He said, while he started to write on a note pad. "Pete, He likes to drink and when he drinks he talks and he talks a lot. Apparently he has three other properties that he checks up on, two of which are here in Texas." He said, finishing what he was writing and tearing it off to hand to me.
"Thank you." I said, taking the note.
"Don't thank me, just go." He said before walking back in the other direction. It was an easy request to fulfil, so I did. I pocketed the note and walked toward Mark and we walk back out the door.
20. Chasing Wild Geese
Back in the truck, I opened the note and peered down onto what was written. Three addresses appeared in tight jagged letters: The Good Girl's Club in Extremo Del Ingenio, Sonota, Mexico, The Barrow Street Bar in Odessa, TX, and Saint Arthur's Chapel in Andrews, TX. The barrow street Bar was the closest to us, being only about an hour and some change away. Mark was again behind the wheel, he seemed to have calmed himself and found some sense of stability in the stillness of the bar. He still had swirling terror behind his eyes, he still was uneasy, but he didn't seem to be running anymore. What I came to assume was that the thought of getting closer to his goal gave him some sort of comfort.
We rode in silence the entire distance to The Barrow Street Bar, the wind shaking the old rusted metal was the only sound to be heard. We arrived there around late afternoon, but the sun still shined, like it was mid morning. The sun blazed gloriously and hit the large glass windows of the bar and spilled like glistening water across the bar room's mock oak tile floors. Spread in a random foray across the wall that faced the window was dozens of pictures. From the distance I sat, I couldn't quite find any detail to any of the faces of the people in those photos, but it also was because the bar room was set in darkness. The whole bar was empty and dark, save only for a few lights that shined out of the back rooms.
"What do you think? Do you think that someone's in there?"
"I don't know" Mark said in a worn voice, "But it'd be better to try"
"Yeah, that's true."
From the truck, we both exited and walked to the bar's door. I tested the knob and it turn, the door crept open with the hollow chime of a bell that hung over head as we walked in. By closer examination, I noticed that in each and every photo was a girl, the same girl. She was a petite girl with dark blonde hair. She was pretty and seemed to be naturally happy. She had a sort of smile that looked like it wasn't put on for the camera. The more I looked at the photos, the more I wondered what they were and why they were hanging up and then I realized it was a memorial, this girl was dead.
Footsteps echoed from the back room toward us and a short, thin man with dirty blonde hair and a patchy thin beard emerged to meet us. He had baggy mournful eyes that moved in slow subtle waves over the two of us.
"We're not open today; I just came in to balance my books. Must have forgot to lock the door behind me." The man said, moving towards us in an attempt to herd us back out.
"We'll only be a moment." I said, stepping forward to the bar. "How are you today? My name is Harvey Bell. I was hoping you could help us." I, at that moment, impressed myself with my spontaneous name generation talent. I hadn't even thought to lie about my name.
"Is this about Amber's murder?" The man asked. He took on a tone that suggested that he had heard every possible question concerning that matter.
"You mean the girl in the pictures on the wall?" I assumed. He looked behind to the wall of photos and nodded. "No, we're looking for an older man by the name of Pete. He sometimes is called 'Texas Pete."
"Yeah, my silent benefactor." He said with boiling words aimed at nowhere in particular. "He was here two nights ago." He said, a hollow and weak note of anger rang in his voice cooling the boil.
"Was he alone?" Mark asked, sounding slightly excited.
"No, he was with a younger guy. Ah... Morrison, his name is." He said, conjuring the name out of the air.
"Are you sure?" Mark asked, willing the man to give him a shred of information that probably wasn't there.
"Yes." The man said, sounding a bit tired and irritated with the conversation.
"What about Amber? Who was she?" I asked. I couldn't help but be curious about the girl; I wanted to know her story or at least her ending.
"Amber, she was one of my waitresses. She was actually serving Pete two nights ago. I can't say where Pete is, but he's responsible for Amber's death. I'm sure of that." He said, trying to impress the last sentence as a fact in our minds.
"Why do you think that?" I asked.
"He was the last person to see her alive and now he's disappeared. She took him out to his car." He said, again with a note of irritation and anger. There was a long pause, where the three of us just stared at each other and was finally broken by me saying, "Well, Thank you for your time. We'll be going now." Mark and I walked back out the door and to the truck. Mark took the wheel and I sat in the passenger's seat and we peered down at the last address on the list. Although we felt closer to Pete than ever, we also knew that if he wasn't at Saint Arthur's Landing, we'd be back at square one. But even with that knowledge, I couldn't help but feel like we were heading closer and closer to the end of this journey. Mark pulled the truck on to the road and we drove the distance to Andrews, TX.
I peered out on to the highway that we traveled; it was closing in on very late day or very early evening. Cold iron gray was mixing in with the innocent blue of the sky, warning that rain was coming. It hadn't rained in a small while and would most likely be a downpour. As we drove, we stayed in silence, for lack of desire for conversation, but still the silence felt wrong and unnatural, so I twisted the beat up old truck's radio knob. Static screamed in whispers through the speakers. Just turning the volume knob to right didn't mean that the volume would increase, it shot up and down in a random and choppy order, but with a minute or two worth of tinkering I managed to get both an acceptable volume and station. An older sounding woman from WNGX spoke the national news to us in a slow and indifference voice. I was preparing to let the radio fade into the ambient noise that surrounded us, until I heard Mark's name.
"The strange and tragic story of the Bowland Girls Disappearances has taken yet another odd turn yesterday, when Mark Adams, a friend of the family who was traveling with the Bowlands, reappeared at the Arizona/Mexican border, was taken into police custody and later was thought to have died in his cell along with another man, shortly after being questioned. After being shipped to a county coroner's office, both his and the other man's bodies went missing. Investigator Dickens had this to say earlier today: 'This entire case is more or less completely senseless and Mark Adams's disappearing act is just more of the same, I guess. But we still have every confidence that we will draw this case to a righteous conclusion and bring the offending parties into light.' Adams is also believed to be connected to the death of a county coroner. The sheriff's department doesn't believe foul play took place but still wishes to take Adams in for questioning." She started on another story, but I switched off the radio.
There was another long and unnaturally cold silence, as the truck rocked and rumbled on down the sun warmed road. Mark had a look on his face, like his mouth was filling up with bile. His face started to discolor and his neck started to twitch.
"You want to tell me about that?" I asked. I tried to drain every droplet of emotion out of my voice.
"He was old, when I revived I scream and he died. I didn't kill him." Mark said, his voice was cracked and shaky. It stank of fear and shame.
"You were wearing his clothes, spending his money, had me driving his car, that true?" I asked, keeping the emotion out of my voice.
"Yes. But..." He started, but shortly after he stopped, petering off. It was clear that he didn't know what came after the but.
"It doesn't really matter, I suppose. No one thinks you killed anyone and you made the best of the situation." I reasoned. What I just heard explained a lot, it could have explained everything if it wasn't for the some spark of completely and utterly assured guilt that hid in the corner of his eyes. The spark held no happy moral ambiguity that one gets from stealing clothes off a dead man. But although I sensed that there was more, I chose not to press the matter, knowing nothing he would say could be of terrible consequence that close to the end.
We continued in silence all the way to Saint Arthur's Landing. The rain clouds hadn't been bluffing and by the time we pulled up alongside the bar, rain water had collected on the old beat up truck's roof and had started to leak into the cab. The sky crackling and booming again and again and flashing white.
When I originally read the name Saint Arthur's Chapel off the note, I thought how odd a name for a bar, but when we pulled into Saint Arthur's parking lot, I understood the name completely. The full name hung on a tall white post: The Saint Arthur's Chapel Bar and Inn. The Bar and Inn looked to be a small converted stone church, with ivy that both thrived and died all across it's sides, being weighted down by fat droplets of rain water. Although it's foundation rested in modern day Texas, it seemed to belong to medieval England. It looked as though it was waiting for some bleeding and battle wary knight to ride in and beg sanctuary, but all it'd get was Mark and I.
We walked into the bar, flapped away as much moisture from our clothing and peered from side to side, taking in the old and hollow atmosphere. The room had the warm scent of an old varnished oak and distilled maple, like whiskey cooking. The entire interior was made of wood or glass and whatever wasn't made of wood or glass looked like it would come out with a good tug. The bar floor was completely empty, save only for a young waitress, washing down the small, circular tabletops that littered the floor space. She was thin and had short coarse black hair, which she had up in a ponytail. She had ear buds in her ears and her back to us, so we were as good as not there to her and she was as good as simple entertainment to us. She whispered the lyrics to whatever song rang out of her earphones. We chose to wait and watch her, rather than disturb the near silence. But she turned and was startled and pulled the ear buds out.
"Hello, Can I help you?" She said with a note of embarrassment feebly concealed in her voice.
"Yes, we're hoping to find someone, an older man, calls himself Pete." I said, hoping it'd be the last time I asked that question.
"Pete?" She asked, dimmed slightly as she tried to think what I might have meant.
"He's an older man with long gray hair. He wears a cowboy hat with TP embroidered on it." Mark added, making an unnecessary gesture toward his head.
"Oh yeah," She said, her face lighted back up. "He was here last night, I think. But he left at about noon today." She said.
"Do you have any idea where he might have gone?" I asked.
"No, he comes in every once and a while, but I don't know where he goes."
"Really?" Mark asked, disheartened. I was starting to get nervous about Mark, whose face had lost a degree of color and whose hands kept balling and unballing themselves. I didn't think that he would be violent, but I couldn't imagine this news could be good for his nerves.
"Yeah, but I think that Jerry might know." She offered, seeing Mark's mournful face.
"Jerry?" I asked, ready to believe that Jerry would have the same answer as the waitress.
"He's the owner; he and Pete know each other somehow." She said, turning toward a lowered staircase, which led to a flimsy plywood door with hundreds of little notes pinned to it. She knocked on the door, which caused the door to shake like it might fall off its hinges. After a few moments, the door opened with a small amount of difficulty. The door hung low and scraped against the floor, but when the door was opened a short, stout, balding man with a grayed half halo of unkempt hair, that managed to hide perfectly behind his ears and around the back of his head. It was the first time, in my many years, that I saw hair like that and for a moment wondered if it naturally grew like that.
"Jerry, these men are asking about Pete, the guy you were telling with last night." She said, before walking back toward the tables. Jerry walked out of what I assumed was his office and peered at us with an air of uneasiness.
"What do you want with Pete?" He asked, his eyes landing on Mark, who was standing three or four feet behind me.
"We need to speak with him. We need to know where he is." I was fairly sure that he, like Lola assumed that we were policemen and he was also nervous that he was in some trouble along with Pete and I didn't mind using that false assumption.
"I couldn't tell you." Jerry lied, I could tell that he was lying, it wasn't any facial slip or vocal twitch that gave him away, it wasn't anything, I sensed that he was lying and lying badly.
"Are you sure?" I asked, trying to imply consequence for lying, but he was more concerned with Mark.
"Yes and I'm actually a bit busy and need to get back to work, so if you don't ..."
"How much is a night here?" Mark interrupted. Jerry seemed not to like the idea, but couldn't think of a good enough reason to deny Mark or his question.
"$40 a night." He relinquished, "You can talk with Jamie about that, though." He waved a hand to the waitress and hurried back behind the flimsy plywood door. I watched him disappear into his office and I said, "We're almost there," to myself.
21. The Compromise
We were given a small two-person room with a pathetic and rattling air conditioner that hung unsteadily and crookedly out of a window that over looked the street below. We were on the second floor, but the walls being made of stone, made it feel like we were in the basement and the natural chill that the stones gave off in the nighttime didn't help any. The ceiling hung low and was made of thick pieces of wood. Peeking through the narrow gaps in between the wood hung small bits of dust clumps and appeared to be the makings of the attic. It was an uneasy feeling that arose in me, when Jamie left Mark and I. Shutting the heavy door with a crisp thud. With the last rush of displaced air from the door closing, I felt a sense of helplessness, as though the closing we were coming to was completely out of our hands.
"I'm thinking that one of us should stay awake. I'm thinking that Jerry cant help but call Pete and Pete will have enough of an ego to come here." I said, the thought was complete speculation, but I was confident in my speculations, confident in my feelings. I closed my eyes and remember the terrible sight of Poor Molly. I had to believe that a man who would do something like that and leave her for anyone to find, had to be confident, had to be unafraid of two men he had no natural reason to fear.
"You still haven't slept, probably in days. So I'll stay awake and you sleep." I said to Mark and he tightened up his face in irritation.
"No." He said,
"You haven't slept in days, in the state you're in you'd be useless..."
"You're wrong, I'm fine. I can't sleep, I won't. Not until I get to her." His eyes were fiery and fierce. He had no sign of submission, just red-hot embers sparking away with only will behind them.
"I'm fine." He whispered. Although he said this, I couldn't help but see that same boy going through hell. The same boy that I found in that terrible, fly and stink ridden darkness.
"No, you're not, but I'm too tired to be arguing, myself. But tell me you'll sleep tonight." I said.
"I can't." He said breathlessly.
"You can. Stop being stupid and dramatic." I said and I gave him a hard as hell stare that said the matter was closed. "I'll sleep now, you'll get me in three hours" I said, brandishing three fingers. "And you'll sleep for the next three hours, understood?"
"Yes." He said with a note of irritation. He looked like he wanted to argue more, but due to his own fatigue he couldn't deal with the strain. He had won a small victory and he seemed to be willing to take it. He walked out the door and closed it with a slightly exaggerated thud, knocking loose a strand of dust particles. When I heard him hit the stairs, I took to the bed closest to the door, hoping its position might help me discern what might be happening on the floor below. I slipped my shoes off and slid them safely under the bed and removed my coat and that at the foot of the bed. The bed itself was a small twin bed with a thin, shabby mattress that had clearly seen more years than it should have. I tested the bed's springs, already assuming that it wouldn't be a truly happy sleep. They were responsive, although not all to the same extent. Some springs pressed up higher than others and promised to press into my back, but I didn't care. I laid down and laid my head down of the cool, oversized pillow and for whatever reason, I smelt it. The faint stink of vomit and grease wafted into my nostrils and threatened to gag me. I quickly turned the pillow and assumed it was some measure better. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself and rest a little. Within the realm of half an hour, I was asleep, only to be reawakened fifteen minutes later and again twenty minutes later and it went that way over and over again for about an hour and a half before my fatigue over came my discomfort.
There was one unclear moment that arose in the hazy, uncomfortable hours in between when I first slept and my awakening. Outside my wooden window frame and beyond the rattle of the rickety air conditioner and the drone of the rain, I thought I could hear the crackling, fading screams of an upset young woman and the deeper, coarser roars of an angry older man. Their argument was distorted and impossible to understand, but the crack that echoed through the rain and the night wasn't, nor was the thud of a small frame that quickly followed and lastly nor was the girl's inconsolable cries. The cries echoed in swirling swarms, spreading up and outward for miles and back to my unconscious ears.
When I finally awoke for good, the night had taken full effect, filling the room with crisp and absolute darkness, with the only exception being that of the light that crept in from under the door. I had very little thought of what I had heard and had convinced myself I hadn't heard it, but even still the thought of which left me feeling slightly sick.
My back and neck had a dull ache to them and I couldn't help but think how odd it was that the worst night of sleep I had was on a bed and not in a car seat or on a police bench. I got up and rubbing the strain and fatigue out of my eyes and tried to gain a sense of time by the sparse lighting outside the small window. I couldn't quite tell, but it had to be late or later than three hours. I sat through and wished I had thought to purchase a watch when I had the opportunity. I caught my shoe from under the bed with my feet, dragged them to me, slid my feet in and grabbed my coat. I had to get Mark and let him suffer the Saint Arthur's beds. I made my way down the stairs to the bar, still feeling my fatigue and tasting that terrible taste that comes with a thirsty mouth that hadn't been cleaned in a small while.
The bar was empty and lonely, save for a table with five men, who sat in a corner, drinking and joking together and an older man in an old and worn leather jacket, who kept to himself, drinking a tall mug of foamy beer. Behind the bar was a younger man with a thin, unsure face and a thin patch of brown hair on his chin. He seemed nervous and sick looking as he cleaned a glass, stealing glances at the men in the corner. I checked my pocket for the cash from Mark's wallet. For whatever reason, Mark never asked for it back, the only excuse I could think of, was that he didn't feel it was his. I took a seat at the bar a few seats away from the older man and signaled for the bartender. He didn't readily look at me and I had to knock on the bar for him to actually come over. He walked over to me and I asked for a glass of bourbon with some ice. He dropped a coaster down on the bar top and then on it, a small glass. He dropped wet ice into the glass with his bare hand and then took out the bottle, which he started pouring while keeping a nervous eye on the men. I, for a second, wanted to ask who they were, but I was sure he wouldn't hear much else than drink orders.
"That's good," I said when the bourbon hit the middle of the small glass. The bartender kept pouring and I repeated myself and finally had to stop him by lifting the bottle myself.
"Sorry, sir." He said, realizing his error when the bottle moved.
"Not a problem, How much?" I asked, pointing to the glass.
"No. On me." He said.
"Thank you. I'm Matt." I said, offering a hand.
"Carter." He croaked, taking my hand. He didn't give a good handshake; his hand fell limp and soft in mine. I released his hand and he went back to staring at the men at the table.
"Tell me Carter," I said, trying to get his attention again. He gave me a quick and slightly absent stare. "Who are they?" I didn't point, but he knew whom I was talking about. Carter looked back to the table.
"They're guests of the owner." He answered.
"Where is Jerry?" I asked, noticing the darkness the bleed from under Jerry's office door.
"He left at 11:00 PM, but told me to let his friends stay as long as they liked."
"And was there a young man?"
"In a sweat shirt?" He asked and I nodded.
" Yeah, he left a little after Jerry." He said, returning his gaze to the corner table. 'That son of a bitch.' I thought about Mark. Of course he would leave and I'd read about him sometime soon. I imagined a newspaper with the headline 'Adams re emerges'. I returned my thoughts to the barmen's concerned face.
"You look like they're trouble."
"They are..." Carter said, he then made a look like he regretted saying it so loudly. He looked over and prayed that they didn't hear.
"Why you say that?" I asked in a soft voice, hoping a hit a low enough tone to make him comfortable enough to continue.
"They're always rowdy, I don't know why Jerry puts up with them and now they got Jamie and she looks like she's having a bad time over there." He said. I turned and peered at the men and in between two broad shouldered men sat Jamie. The man to her left, an excited and sinister looking man with a short brown crew cut, a battered face and a scar across his throat had started to play with her hair, while whispering something to her. She looked like she had a bad taste in her mouth and wanted to spit it out. I turned back to the bar and looked at the young man, "You think they'll be real trouble?" I asked, gripping my drink and sucking my cheek.
"I hope not, I keep telling myself to go over there, but I'm still here." He said, swallowing hard. I took a long sip of the bourbon and sloshed the liquor around in my mouth, through my teeth, swallowed the biting fluid and waited for the heat to raise in my throat. It didn't make me wait long and when it came I felt like I could breathe fire. I took a mouth full and swallowed that, took another look at the bartender and said, "I'll talk to them." He didn't say anything and seemed not to hear me. I stood up and turned around to face the table, grabbed the glass, finished it off and set it back down. I took slow, thoughtful steps over to the table and tried to think what I might say. While I did so, I couldn't help but size up the men. They all looked dangerous or hateful, they all looked as though they would or could be a danger to Jamie. But the man with the crewcut seemed to be the worst, if only because he was the closest to her and paid the most attention to her. I was first noticed by the man who sat to the right of Jamie, a grim and wary looking man with a shaved head, dark mocha colored skin and a deep cross shaped scar on his temple. He locked his disinterested eyes with mine, as if to say. 'Out with it, what do you want?' I had stopped at the side of a thin, older man with a large, flattened nose and a pair of thin, wire rimmed glasses that concealed a dead left eye, milky and hollow. At this time, almost the entire table had noticed me and seemed not to take much care.
"Hello, how are all of you guys doing? You mind if I sit."
"Sure, do it." A pale man in a hooded sweatshirt said almost as a challenge. He had a young face with no hair on it, apart from his thick eyebrows and his barely-there mustache interrupted by a gash on his upper lip. He kicked out an empty chair, which knocked against my knee and screeched along the floor. I took the chair and sat.
"How are you doing, Jamie?" I asked, making eye contact and attempting to let her know that reinforcements had come. She didn't answer, but gave me a look implying that she understood. "The barman says he needs you." I told her, giving her an excuse to excuse herself.
"I'll go see what he wants." She said, starting to get up.
"He can wait, stay." The man with the crew cut ordered, grabbing on her arm.
"I should see what he wants." She said with droplets of anxiety filling her voice.
"Conner, Let the dam girl go and do her job." The pale man said, waving his hand lazily. Conner, with the look of a reluctant child, released Jamie and she hurriedly walked over to the bar and then into the backroom.
"What's your name, man?" A bony faced and skeletal looking man with tired, buggy eyes asked. He looked as he had been mummified and then reanimated; his skin was tight and dry and made his black hair and thin stubble pop, a trick photograph taken in monotone.
"Roger." I lied.
"Well, I'm Alton..." The bony man said, pointing a bony finger to himself, "This is Chuck..." He said, gesturing to the pale man who had corrected Conner. "That's Malcolm..." He said, gesturing to the grim looking black man who had sat to the right of Jamie, "Conner..." pointing to Conner, who kept his eye on the backroom, possibly expecting Jamie to come back for him. " And Hector." He said, gesturing to the older man.
"Roger, I want to get your opinion on something. We're discussing truth. Whether or not it's valid..." Chuck started, his eyelids drooping slightly and his head bouncing slightly as he spoke.
"I think truth is." Alton interjected into the Chuck's explanation, which appeared to upset Chuck somewhat. "What's the fucking point of anything, if truth isn't valid." Alton ended, a bit louder than he should have. It was clear from the scent, sight and volume that they were well intoxicated.
"And I think truth isn't all that valid. It's inconstant, if you go back long enough, the truth was the earth was flat and you could fall off the edge ..." Chuck started, almost knocking over a picture of beer, with his excited hand gestures.
"And I think this isn't bar room talk." Malcolm interrupted, before taking a long drink from his glass and then chuckling to himself.
"Bar talk is just what the fuck you talk about at a fucking bar!" Alton said, starting to stand and raising his voice to a near shout.
"Calm down, calm down. Talk about the nature of truth." Malcolm said, motioning Alton to sit and then tried to suppress a laugh.
"So, what do you think there, Roger?" Chuck asked, putting an odd emphasis on 'Roger'.
"Truth is, I think. I mean, thinking that the world is flat is a misconception, it was never true that the world was flat."
"Exactly!" Alton said triumphantly, pounding a hand of the table and sending a shock wave through all the glasses and pictures on the table.
"No! Not exactly, if you said the world was round back then, they'd call you crazy. If you said the world was flat today, we'd call you crazy. The thing is, neither, us nor they, know for sure, what the truth actually is. It's relative, it's all assumptions and guessing." Chuck said, hopping in his seat and as he spoke. I felt like I was in the loony bin. This argument was for the most stupid and inconsequential and they were talking like any of it mattered and apparently I wasn't the only one who had grown tired of the conversation. Hector started to speaking, rolling and bouncing his fingers as he spoke.
"In realness, truth is valid and is invalid... it's both. Hypothetically speaking, the truth for the barmen is, he will be living tomorrow. He does not know." He said, looking at Chuck. He spoke in a heavy Italian accent that made it difficult to understand his broken English.
"And if I were to plan to kill him tonight, that is my truth. But I don't know if I'll succeed. The universal truth of whether he lives or dies lies in the future, far from us. The truth is there, it's important, if not to me, then surly to him." Hector said, pointing back to the bartender. The men around the table started to chuckle as if they were in on an inside joke, but I wasn't. There was something wrong here, something, if I were smarter, would have known from the start. I remembered Agent Dickens saying something about Pete and his boys.
"Yes, but that truth..." Chuck started up again. Hector put up a hand and shook his head. Chuck took the signal and silenced himself.
"I'm tired of this. We can talk, talk, talk for hours and get nothing and you two are getting excited over it. Why not talk about something happy, something fun."
"I'm not getting excited. I'm having fun." Alton said, pounding his hand against the table. Malcolm chuckled at this and made no effort to hide it.
"I'm not!" Alton said, getting even louder.
"Enough, Alton." Hector said, in a gentle voice. "How about we talk about our friend, Roger?" Hector said, placing a hand on my shoulder. "Tell me, Roger, what is your business here?"
"Travel." I said simply.
"I apologize, but travel is not business, I think." Hector stated, almost as if he were reminding me of something he never said to me.
"Travel can be business." Alton said, to be contrary or at least I assumed so because he didn't follow the statement with an argument.
"No, it can't. If you travel, you travel for a reason and when we ask what Roger's business is, we're asking about his reason." Malcolm said, moving his eyes from Alton to me, reposing the question with his eyes.
"A friend and I are traveling. We're just taking it the country." I lied.
"Sort of a 'Jack Keroaic, On the Road' type thing?" Malcolm asked.
"Yeah, I guess so." I said, noticing the similarities between this conversation and an interrogation.
"Tell me, what sparked this wander lust?" Hector asked.
"I don't know... just a want to go, I suppose. We had the time and the ability." I said. I could tell they knew something about me, but I'd wait for them to say it.
"And nothing else?" Hector asked.
"No." I said simply, leaning backward in my chair. On the other side of the bar, I could just hear the door open, letting in the cold, wet air from outside and then shut again. The cool rush of air quickly pressed against my shoulders before dissipating into nothingness.
"Not a girl and an old man? Not that it truly matters, but why are you aiding the boy?" Hector asked, rolling his fingers with slow, limp hands, like he was trying to conjure the words from his mouth. Alton peered at me in surprise. It seemed my identity hadn't been apparent to him.
"So, you finally come out with it. I'm assuming that Pete is near?" I asked. Malcolm chuckled again and again made no effort to hide it.
"He's not near, He's here. He's behind you." He said, pointing behind my head, toward the bar. I turned in my seat and peered at the long, lean, skeletal frame of an old man bent over the bar, speaking with the bartender. His long steely-gray hair hung low and was only tamed by a beaten black cowboy hat.
22. Why I Do What I Do
He was exactly as Mark had described him and possibly worst. I couldn't see his face and a fear in the pit of my stomach prayed he wouldn't see my face. I wasn't sure why I was scared, only that I was. He turned to face the table with his head hung low, bathing his face in shallow shadows. I couldn't see his eyes, but I knew he was looking at me. He walked over with a lazy smile stretched across his face. As he walked my legs itched and quivered, wanting to stand, feeling that would be safer. It only took a few of prodding for me to give in and stand, only to be wrenched back down again by Hector. He was stronger than he looked.
"He'll want to speak with you, I think." Hector said, keeping a firm hold on my arm. Pete reached the table, standing right behind me and said, "Hey, boys." He looked down to Hector.
"You ask him yet?" He asked.
"Yes, but he didn't answer."
"Not even a bullshit one?"
"No answer at al, man." Malcolm answered.
"Then, I'll ask him." He said while moving to sit on the table before me.
"Why are you helping the boy?" He asked as he sat.
"How do you know about him?" I asked
"Matt, you'd be surprised as to what I know. Now tell me, why are you helping the boy?"
"You already know, don't you? Is she alive still?"
"Let's say that I do know. Tell me why you care?"
"Is she dead?"
"She will be. Why do you care?"
"What do you mean?"
"You've asked enough questions. Why do you care with happens to her or him."
"What's..." I started.
"Enough questions, I'd like for you to start giving some answers. Why do you care?" He interrupted.
"Because I want to protect him from you."
"An answer! Bullshit answers, but an answer none the less. Tell me, what could I do to him that he wouldn't do to himself, to her?" I didn't have an answer and didn't make an attempt to give one, but he wanted it all the same. Mark fell all on his own, without any help.
"Nothing? Can I tell you what I think? I think, you want to help him, simply because you think it'll somehow help you. That if you save him, you save yourself, am I right?"
"What do you mean?"
"Matt, you got the stink of a man who not only killed, but enjoyed it. You've killed and felt righteous. But now it's such a terrible thought, that the only way you deal with living with yourself, is pretending it didn't happen. Someone else did it; you're just setting it right, right?"
"Tell me, when is the last time that you thought about the people you killed? The man, his wife, his son, his little girl? How about Jackie, your brother? Can you think of the last time, you allowed yourself to feel guilt for them?"
"How do you know about that?" A cold chill ran down my back and I felt like vomiting.
"Again, you'd be surprised what I know. I don't blame you though. You look in the mirror everyday and you have to see the same face that did such horrible things. They'll never forgive you and you can't set it right. There is no redemption, no happy ending, is there. The only escape is death and that's not much of an escape for you, right? It seems like there's nothing you can do." I couldn't speak or even think. Somewhere in my mind, I was processing the information, but it was somewhere deep and hidden. A moment or two passed where we just stared at each other. He had eyes curved out of stone and set on fire. But slowly my mind thawed and two words emerged.
"You're wrong." The words fell out of my mouth and through the floor as far as it could go.
"Really." Pete said, raising his eyebrows and curling his pale lips into a smile. His boys around him laughed and stood, moving away from the table. "I don't think so; I think you are completely powerless. But prove me wrong." He said, standing up himself. "What exactly can you do? What redeem yourself through him, through others? Well, me and my boys are going to let off some steam tonight, unless you redeem yourself tonight." I couldn't quite understand what he meant. My mind was moving at a crippled crawl. I turned and watched Hector and Malcolm approach the bartender and Conner made his way into the back room. 'Oh god.' I thought to myself as it dawned on me. "Let me know how you feel if you do."
"Get out of here, Carter!" I shouted across to him. He looked up to me with slight surprise plastered across his face. "Go." I shouted, standing up starting to the bar, but a foot hooked around my ankle and tripped me. I went crashing to the ground and the wind rushed out of my lungs, leaving only a stinging pain in my chest. The foot then pressed itself hard and securely on my back. I looked over to the door; Chuck had walked to it and locked the old, heavy bolt lock that must have been there since the buildings construction. Next I saw Malcolm and Hector snatch Carter out from behind the bar as Conner re-emerged with Jamie, who kicked and fought with him to no avail. 'Oh god.' I thought to myself again, struggling to get out from under the foot, but it managed to stay on top of me. Lastly, two sets of hands grabbed my arms and sat me down in a chair. It turned out to be Alton and Pete. Alton moved behind me and held me back by my shoulders and Pete stepped directly in front of me.
"Pete, Stop. You don't need to be doing this." I said, breathing the pain out of my chest and staring directly in his eyes, trying to will him to listen to me. In the corner of my eye, I could see Chuck snatch the older man and hit him in the back, the man fell and I realized that he had been stabbed.
"What do you want? Why are you doing this?" I shouted at him, feeling sick.
"Why am I doing what I do?" He laughed. He rolled his tongue around in his mouth, faking thoughtfulness. "Because the world is ugly. Because the world is cold and ugly and only getting worse" He walked around me, grabbed a chair from the table, sat it in front of me and sat himself down. "Because I've seen fathers beat their children to death, beat their wives to death and feel justified. Because I've seen buildings built specifically for the purpose, not re-purposed but built for the sole purpose of using rape as a means of controlling people. Because I've seen children, not men with guns, but unarmed untested children kicked to the ground with the same indifference and disgust as if the child was a pile of fermented garbage and shot directly in the chest. I do what I do because these things happen every single day and so called good people allow it to happen. Why? Because they're not confronted with it. I'm everything that is horrible about the world shoved into the face of the average Joe." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, silver pistol with six shots to it. "I do what I do because the world needs a man with a gun to be good and honest and I'm willing to be a hero maker." He opened the chamber and emptied all but one bullet, picking each bullet out individually and pocketing them. He then swung the chamber shut with a heavy metallic clack.
I, for a moment, thought he was going to aim it at me, but he held it out to me on the flat palm of his hand. "If you want me to stop, then stop me." Alton released his grip on me and moved to the left toward the backroom, Conner and Jamie. The pistol seemed to hover in front of me, waiting to be held.
"More people will die. There is only black and white here. If you're not fighting it, you're condoning it. Take the gun." I watched his fingers start to slowly curl around the gun again. The thin bony fingers advanced steadily closer and closer to the gun metal and I knew when he fully had it, the offer would be gone. I watched his flesh progress fractions of an inch and my hand rose to take the gun without me consciously asking it to. I placed my hand on the pistol and took it. His hand fell away and landed on his lap.
"Use it." He prodded. Every part of my hand, every part of my arm wanted to use it, but my head flooded with terror and sickness. Death was cancer to me, just like cancer can be death. But without my asking, without me thinking, my hand gripped the gun and my finger rested itself on the trigger. I looked Pete in the eyes, tried to read his mind. His eyes had softened for a second; they relaxed their ferocity for a single second or even less than one and in the short moment, I saw infinite pain and anger. I saw loss, misery, lonesomeness and something I couldn't quite recognize, something foreign from humanity, something wild and animalistic. I raised the gun and aimed it to his face.
"Do it, Do it." He said in a gravelly, propping whisper. His breathing quickened and he started to swirl his tongue around in his mouth like close to tasting something sweet.
The bang came without any warning, echoing throughout the bar room. From far away, I could hear Jamie cry out in shock and even further away, I could hear the sudden quickening of Carter's breath. Pete didn't cry out in pain as the landed and pressed itself in his chest, he just allowed himself to fall to the ground with a thud.
The room stayed still and silent for a long terrible moment and in that time, I became very conscious of the fact that I was no longer being held by anyone. Alton had moved to my left when Pete gave me the gun. I gripped the hard bit of steel, it was empty but it was still hard and maybe that was all I needed. I peered toward the front door. Chuck, Malcolm and Hector would block my path. I peered toward the backroom door. It remained open and dark, with the only exception of pale, dying orange light. There stood Alton, Conner and Jamie. Conner had her by the arm. I just wished that someone would react, to tell me how I should've reacted. But they all just stood. I swayed my head from side to side, looking at everyone and everything, at the two limp lifeless bodies on the ground, at the two terrified and lively faces held by men with no pity on theirs and I knew I'd need to do something." I will not live with this." I whispered to myself, knowing that Pete would get his hero. I charged up out of my seat and to the left. I swung the gun in my hand at Alton's face. It landed on his cheek with an impressive crack and he crumpled to the ground. I then chucked the gun at Conner's head with all my strength and more. It landed right on his temple and he fell backward, his limbs turning to gelatin. I then grabbed Jamie and kept charging to the backroom, almost throwing her in before running in myself, slamming the door shut and pressing my back against it. I peered through the darkness of the small backroom, bathed in the weak and pathetic orange light beams from the nearby road. The light spilled through the frame of a small window set high on the wall and hidden behind a number of dusty white boxes. I was trying to catch my breath when two or three of the men hit the door and the initial hit would have knocked the door off the hinges and me into the nearby wall, had I not expected it to happen.
"Get out of here, out the window." I shouted at Jamie, feeling some frustration that she still stood in shock and terror. She finally sprang to life and scrambled to take boxes away from the window.
"Hurry!" I yelled as she removed the final box, she then scrambled up the shelves that once held the boxes and forced the window open. It wouldn't open all the way, but just enough for a person her size to squeeze out.
"Go!" I yelled, as the men charged the door again, this time the door cracked but did not fall. Jamie climbed headfirst out the window and disappeared for a few moments. She re-appeared and shouted "Come on!" through the rain.
"Go!" I shouted, using as much authority as I had in me. The men hit the door again, this time the door shattered into two big hunks of wood that beat down on my neck and head and thousands of tiny bits of shrapnel that showered everything. I didn't look back up to see if Jamie had left, but I knew she was long gone.
Next, someone grabbed me by the collar, wrenched me back out into the bar. I tumbled down on to the floor, landing on my chest and whacking my head on something hard, most likely a table. For a few moments, I laid on the floor, disoriented and concentrating only on my breathing. Somewhere beyond the pressure pounding away in my head, I heard footsteps hurry toward me. I knew I that wasn't a safe sound, but my limbs were sluggish and before I did anything, a kick landing in my ribs. I rolled out of the way of a second and manage to trip up the person kicking on his third attempt. He fell clumsily to the floor a little way away from me. I took that opportunity to right myself. I got to my feet in time to dodge a fist swing aimed at my face. The fist turned out to belong to Chuck, Alton laid on the floor rubbing his face. Evidently, he had whacked it on something when he fell. Chuck swung again, this time the fist connected and the bar lights dimmed and flickered on and off for a moment.
In my daze, Chuck swung again, but I caught his fist on my forearm and returned with a punch of my own. My fist landed on his cheek and I could feel his jaw shatter and him slip into unconsciousness. I sensed Alton raise to my side and I dropped a fist down hard on his ear. He collapsed again to the ground. Hector stood a few yards away from me, his eyes flooding with menace and calculation. He took two steps toward when a gruff and fatigued voice barked, "Enough!"
I was dizzy, dazed and adrenaline was flooding every inch of my veins; mercilessly glutted to near rupture. I had some considerable trouble finding who had ordered Hector to stop. "That's enough. We're done here." The voice said. As I regained my wits, I realized that the voice was coming from behind me. I turned in confusion and saw Pete getting up. He was alive and his wound had healed.
"We're leaving." He said, picking up his hat and plopping it on his head. He started toward the door and his boys followed him. Malcolm released Carter and Hector collected Chuck and kicked Alton, prompting him to get up. "Conner!" Pete barked. Conner nursing a wound, but hurried to the door. There was something I was missing, some bit of wildly apparent knowledge that I couldn't see. My mouth bobbed up and down while I tried to find the words, tried to piece together the questions. He was alive. For years, I was completely in my longevity and in the span of nearly a week I find three more, I find my world is far bigger than I imagined. He had opened the door and was half out it, when I finally managed to say something.
"Where is the girl?" It was the only question that mattered at the moment. Every question I would have asked would answer itself.
He turned and grinned, "Don't worry about that. My boy's taking care of that."
23. Bar tops and Varnish
I sat at the bar alone and studied the old bar top of St. Arthur's Landing closely, allowing my ears to do the work of monitoring Jerry, who had met with five men who seemed to make him nervous. The group had sat themselves in the far corner of the room and apparently had no concern for the rest of the patrons of the bar; laughing and joking loudly and obnoxiously. An old, haggard looking man in a beaten down leather jacket sat a few seats away from me, drinking a tall glass of beer and grimaced horribly whenever the men kicked up in their conversation as if he were tasting something bitter. Despite the rowdy men in the corner the bar room was lonely, most likely because of the rain, which had grown worse and worse as the hours rolled by. Beyond the conversation and beyond the general bar noises, I could hear it. I wasn't distracted by it, it was just there and I was aware of it, just as I was aware of Jerry's conversation and the old man's respiratory problem. The closer I got to Vicky the more noisy and present the world seemed. I heard more, felt more, experienced more and experienced fear less. I didn't think on it the fact too much. I just attributed it to the universe organizing itself to aid me in getting back to her. The path seemed so hopeless, so much at its end, but so soon and sudden I found myself so close.
I stared down at the bar top; running my fingers along the thousands of tiny nicks and gashes that plagued its surface. In the grain of the worn, beer soaked wood, I read slow, wanting curls and cuts that were advanced upon by the dark, peeling varnish. I meditated that image as if it were somehow meaningful. The image had an unintentional beauty to it, a pointless beauty and I had to remind myself that its beauty was pointless, but the longer I watched the counter top, the more I managed to forget that fact. It seemed poetic, like the peeling varnish heralded the end, heralded forgiveness, but I had to remind myself that the counter top was just a counter top and meant nothing at all.
I allowed myself to fade away into my thoughts, letting them sweep me away somewhere far and I was only awoken from that state by Jerry uttering, "...and Pete still has the girls?" in a very casual manner. All the moisture in my mouth evaporated and my senses ran into overdrive. I could feel the vibration in the air as a broad shoulder black man said, "Yeah, but we're still guessing why he hasn't stuck a knife in the both off them and dropped them off in a dumpster." My fingers ached and numbed, my muscles screamed for action and anger rumbled in my gut. I stole a quick glance toward the table, estimating the wisdom of taking on the six men. My hands trembled and my mind played out the attack over and over, I heard myself screaming for them tell me where Pete was, I felt my fist breaking bones and clamping down on throats. My imagination ran wild and was only halted by one of the men saying to Jerry, "He actually wants you at the house, he's there now."
"Why? I have a business to run, I need to be here.
"Don't forget who this place really belongs to. He wants to see you, I'd recommend you go." The black man said flatly.
"You mean now?" Jerry asked nervously.
"Now." The black man repeated.
Jerry then stood and made his way to the bar. He placed his half drank gin and tonic on the bar and signaled the bartender. The bartender came and Jerry said, "I'm going home, let my friends stay as long as they like, then go ahead and close up the bar for me." The bartender grimaced and nodded. Jerry walked straight out and the door and I waited a moment before following. As I walked out the door, I tried to slow my thoughts, tried to plan out my actions. I didn't have anything beyond my hands to threaten him with. My pockets were empty, but what I did have was a belt. I touched my finger to the smooth surface of a belt, it felt like it would be able to take a good deal of punishment without breaking and it had a hard buckle to it. It wouldn't put the fear of god into Jerry, but I didn't think I needed to. Jerry was four or five car lengths away from me, unlocking his dark blue sedan with tinted windows. I advanced on him slowly while I removed my belt from its loops. He had nearly stepped inside the sedan when threw the belt around his neck and clamped down hard. He attempted to scream out, but couldn't muster the air. I then forced his head into the door jam and he went limp for a moment, letting his weight fall completely on the belt and therefore on my arm. He regained himself and I laxed my hold and forced him into the car and pushed him further into the passenger's seat, trying my hardest to keep hold of the belt.
Jerry sobbed and coughed in a horrified stupor.
"Take me to Pete." I ordered. It seemed he didn't hear me because he continued in his sobbing and coughing. I tightened my grasp on the belt to remind him I was there and he should heed me.
"Take me to Pete! Tell me how I get to Pete." I repeated.
"It's in Florey." He croaked in horrible misery.
"Where are your keys?" I barked, looking around outside the car, believing he'd dropped them, but when I turned to him, he opened his hand to reveal the keys. I took the keys and started the car. We rolled out of the parking lot and Jerry directed me through his sobbing down the road onward to Florey.
24. I Watch You Burn!
The trip took no more than thirty minutes and that had been thirty minutes of Jerry whimpering and in those thirty minutes Jerry made no attempt to resist me, although there had been a number of opportunities in which he could have easily done so. I had thought that he was merely a self interested man, someone who cared solely for himself and his property, but it became overwhelmingly apparent that he was a complete coward and would possibly sit still if I had released my grasp from the belt.
He led me down a lonesome, tree saturated highway with crumbling pavement. Jerry lifted an uneasy finger toward a barely there opening in the green wall that lined the highway. It would have been impossible to see it without someone who'd been there showing the way. I pulled into the long dirt driveway that was well-hidden behind old maple trees and thorny bushes that grew thickly together and threatened to engulf the driveway altogether. The branches of the bushes scraped the windows of the car as we past down the road and as we traveled, the constant ping-ping of the rain falling on the car roof dissipated and the meager light dissipated along with it until it was only darkness that existed beyond the headlights and beyond the windows of the car.
The car was difficult, bordering on impossible to navigate through the dark, but I imagined the path would have been difficult in the daytime as well. We moved like this for a long few moments, before the ping-ping started up again and the light gathered weakly behind a large house made of wood with glowing windows. The house looked like it would have fallen down with a good push. A single vehicle waited out front, a cherry red sporty hot rod that was parked at a showy angle that successful men naturally parked their nice cars. It was odd though, there being no one to appreciate it.
"He's here?" I asked in an unnecessary whisper, us being reasonably far away from the house and therefore anyone's hearing range.
"I think so," Jerry said in a throaty whisper.
"You sure?" I asked.
"I think so." Jerry repeated in the same throaty whisper. I released the belt from around his neck, grasped it in my hands and exited the car, making my way through the rain to the house. Big fat drops of rain collided with my head and raced down my face, down my cheeks and blurred my vision slightly. As I walked through the sinking mud that flooded over and into my shoes, the front door of the house swung open and smoke bellowed out to die in the rain. I peered from window to window, realizing the glow of the windows flickered wildly, the house was on fire. I looked back to the front door. A man walked out of the doorway into the rain. I squinted to see him, expecting to see the fire mouthed grin of Texas Pete, but when my vision cleared and the man came into focus, I realized it wasn't. It was the younger blonde man; his name escaped me, I had heard it once, while listening to Mya and Vicky's sobs. Hatred welled in me; he would satisfy some of my anger until Pete could be found.
"You remember me!" I yelled through the rain after the man, quickening my pace toward him. "You remember me!" I yelled louder than I ever had. I felt the world tremble when I yelled and I wanted to make him feel that trembling. He peered over to me and gave a blasé look like I were a whining child on the street, but he broke his pace and stood waiting for me. When I reached him, he motioned like he was about to speak, but I didn't give him the chance. I sent my fist colliding down his face and he tumbled backward and fell into the mud. It splattered on to my face and into my right eye, but I couldn't care, rage burned to hot in my veins. I started kicking him wildly, attempting to land as many good kicks as possible. The man screamed something inaudible and kept screaming the something. I stopped kicking him and wrapped the belt around his neck, but before I could clamp down to satisfy my anger and choke him to death, he screamed out what he had been screaming out, "She's in there!" I stopped and let the belt drop to the ground.
"She'll burn, she's burning now. You can kill me, but she'll die too. Or you can go in and lose me" He said breathlessly and dazed, a steady stream of blood and mud flowing down his face. A large part of me didn't want to believe him, wanted to kill him completely and like forward to kill Pete and then save Vicky. This part of me was so large that it truly pained me to back away from that bloody bastard and move forward toward the house. As I moved, he collapsed into the mud, sucking in the dirty, wet air. Something inside me was screaming and thrashing about, like a crazed animal, foaming at the mouth. When I reached the house and rushed into the dried heat, I realized I was crying, but I continued forward.
"Vicky!" I yelled through the smoke and flame. "Vicky!" I yelled again. The flame rippled and crackled wildly and almost concealed a girl's screams. The screams came from the second floor. I focused my hearing as best I could and could just hear the sound of two sets of lungs struggling to breathe. I rushed forward, trying to find a way up, but the stairs weren't apparent, lost somewhere behind the smoke.
"Vicky!" I screamed again, rushing around the flames. I finally found them behind a wall of fire that spat up to the ceiling. I didn't like the idea of walking through flame, but I would have to. I charged at it, leaping into the air and curling into a tight ball. I landed at the bottom of the stairs and panicked slightly as I put out a flaming sleeve, but I continued onward, up the stairs. All the while yelling Vicky's name. Her voice cried out from behind a door at the top of the stairs.
"Vicky! I'm coming." I yelled as I ran to the door and grasped the doorknob. The knob felt like a molten ball on the verge of melting down my wrist and through my hand. I let out a quick yell of pain and tried again, wrapping my hand in my sweatshirt. The door popped open and I charged in. A plume of hot air rushed out at me, causing me to shut my eyes and take a few steps back. I coughed and spat, trying to get the chard air out of my lungs and having no luck in the matter. I continued to cough as I shielded my face and walked forward into the room. The smoke was dense and the room was darkened with the exception of the horrible glow of fire from between the floorboards.
"Help!" Vicky's voice cried. It was so familiar, yet so foreign. It was unnatural to hear her voice flooded with fatigue and terror. I crouched down low and felt around on the ground for her.
"Say something." I coughed.
"I'm here." Vicky said, her voice trembling and dwindling to nothing. I followed her voice to her legs and then to her. I ran my hands along her frame to her hands, which were bound to a pipe by a pair of handcuffs. I tried to wrench up the pipe with my hands and found I got the same result as turning the doorknob with my bare hand. I screamed out again and fell back. I then tried breaking the handcuffs, which were rather hot themselves. As I wrenched and struggled with the handcuffs, Vicky cried out in pain, asking me to stop. I tried to focus on releasing her, but I couldn't take her cries any longer and my efforts had made no difference. I tried to kick the pipe loose, but it remained as solid as the day it was fixed into place. The smoke was gathering thickly around us, seeping into our lungs and fiery light now was flooding in freely from under the floorboards, shocking the smoke into an evil shade of orange, 'She's going to die if I don't do something,' I thought to myself. Tears were welling in my eyes, because I had no idea what that thing was.
I repeated the process of yanking on the handcuffs and kicking on the pipe twice more, to no avail. Each component seemed to only get stronger the more I worked on them. I had my hands tightly wrapped around the handcuffs, desperately tugging when frustration overcame me. I collapsed and screamed out. "I can't. I'm sorry." I said from behind an oversized mass in my throat. I gritted my teeth and felt a perfect swell of sickness. "I've tried and I can't. I'm so sorry."
"Save her." Vicky said in a horrible whisper. Her glance fell somewhere beyond my shoulder.
"What?" I asked in confusion.
"Save her. Get her out of here. Get out." She said in the same horrible whisper. Her voice was fatigued and fading, in gurgled in terror and hopelessness. I turned around to see who she was looking at. A red headed girl laid across the blazing, smoking floor. Her eyes were open and were perfectly calm, glassed over like she was a life-sized doll.
"I cant. I won't do that." I said breathing in hard, deep gasps.
"Save her, she's drugged. They drugged her. She'll die." She said, taking in deep breaths in between each sentence.
"No." I said flatly and forcefully. The heat bled in and the floorboards started to smoke and glow slightly themselves. The flames were coming; they were eating their way through the floor and would eat and tear through our flesh. I placed my hand on the patch of flesh that had caught fire at the bottom of the stairs, the flesh felt calm and unbroken and that's where the thought came. She couldn't possibly take the flames, but I could. I could take the bite and burn and shield them away from her. I quickly pulled off my sweatshirt and placed it over her face, to guard against the smoke and then I wrapped my long arms and legs securely around her body, covering as much surface as I possibly could. I moved us close to the wall with my back facing the room and tucked her head down below my chest. She struggled against me slightly through her confusion and fatigued and muttered fadingly, "No, no. Save her. Please."
The room grew hotter and hotter and the orange smoke turned violent yellow and grew so thick it was impossible to see anything but the terrible threat of flames that danced boldly behind the smoky curtain, even at the low level that we sat. The flames danced and advanced on us and within minutes I felt the first licks of the flames. I gritted my teeth and my eyes watered slightly and I made the foolish assumption that the flames might pass or show mercy. They, of course, didn't, they attacked and bit and burned and within moments, I understood why fire ants were called fire ants. I had been bitten by a few as a child. My eyes rolled into the back of my head as the flames blazed their way up my back, drying and tearing as it went. In my pain, I squeezed tighter than I should have, but quickly repented, transferring the strain to my lungs, into my jaw, into any part of me that couldn't cause her further pain.
26. You have become like Death
I blinked in and out of consciousness, the room swirling around in lazy ellipses with every waking moment and with every waking moment; my nerves sparked up and started to scream. My nerves screamed and rattled about like billions of starving children in some third world nation and the aching pain made me yearn for sleep. I pressed my eyelids shut and tried my best to pretend that none of it was real. I whispered again and again that it was all imaginary, but my efforts were ultimately laughable. The harder I wished the pain to be pretend, the more real it became and it occurred to me that the only relief I could have had, would have been the effortless type. I had to forget the pain that swelled like pus filled boils in my chest, but forgetting that type of pain would have been like asking someone to grow a foot taller.
As my wits gathered, I realized that I was limply suspended in the air. There were a number of straps and riggings that cut into my arms and legs and another set that ran across my shoulders and in the far corner there was the faint and gentle sound of breathing. I tried to move my mouth, but failed. The skin around my face was tight and brittle. I licked the inside of my let cheek and tasted rot and vomit and I tried to remember when I might have vomited.
"Evening, Mark." A tired, somber voice said. "It's Matt."
I tried my mouth again and got the same result as before, but somehow he knew what I was trying to say.
"I'm guessing you're wondering about the girl. She's alive, she was brought in with you, she isn't that far from death, but she's alive. She's downstairs in the ICU" He said in a fading whisper.
I wanted to smile at that thought, but even starting that motion caused small beads of blood to form on my lips and cheek.
"You've done well, Mark. You saved her. She's safe." He said getting up from his seat and moving toward the door.
"Wait." I said while a hot stream of blood slid slowly down the side of my cheek and disappeared into some part of the side of my face. "Take me to her. Please take me to her." My entire face hurt from those few words and I prayed he wouldn't need any further convincing.
"No, you rest. She's in a bad way, I won't lie. But she's stable. In due time, you'll go to see her yourself. Rest now. When you wake up, I've got a lot to tell you." I wanted to argue and insist, I wanted to cry, but I could do neither, so I did what I could. The light flicked off and the door closed with an odd sucking sound. With the room in complete darkness, it became easy to forget that I was in pain and therefore fall back to sleep.
I awoke sometime in the first lights of the morning. The window was flooded with pale icy blue light and the light spilled across the floor, only interrupted by the shadow of the open blinds. It was an odd type of light, it was the type only seen in dreams and nightmares, but I was fairly sure this was neither. I was also certain I was better. I flexed my fingers and felt no pain; they felt strong and capable. I then tried my toes and then my calves and so on and so forth. No part of me hurt unbearably and the parts that did, only hurt when maneuvered in certain ways, all of which could be avoided. I then started to squirm and struggle out of my riggings and had a sudden fall. I slipped clumsily out of the rigging and fell to the bed and finally bounced to the floor. I hit the floor with a crash and scream that heralded a wave of pain that shot up and down my spine. I seriously considered staying there on that cold hospital floor bathed in eerie blue light. I thought about how good my life would have been if I never picked myself up again, if the floor became my permanent home. At the time, I couldn't imagine that such a fate would be terrible, but I couldn't stay on the floor, not yet at least. I had to see Vicky, I had to know that she was really safe, she was truly alive.
I pressed my palms against the floor and pushed myself up and felt every pound of my weight. I got to my feet and started toward the door when I found myself hindered by several sets of tubes and a few wires. I pulled them off and out one by one and continued in my stride out the door. I limped and hobbled my way down the hall toward an elevator bay illuminated by a warm yellow light. My eyes weren't quite prepared for the light's strain and caused me to clamp my eyelids shut and try to rub out the strain. When I placed my hand on my eyes I felt a large patch of dried leathery skin. I followed the path the leathery skin blazed to a large, leaking hole. There was a hole in the side of my face. Shock and panic shot through me wildly and recklessly, but it dissipated and I regained focus and remembered it didn't matter. I took a deep breath and continued forward.
In the middle of the two elevators that sat in the bay, was a hospital directory. I slid my finger down the list of department names until I found the ICU, ground floor. I eagerly pressed the down button with my index finger. The doors rattled open slowly and a low, loud buzzing sound omitted over head. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the ground button. The elevator seemed old and everything was bathed in a sickly greenish yellow. I paced back and forth; waiting impatiently for the final ding that'd signify the ground floor. It came and the doors rattled open again to reveal a hallway bathed in the same dreamy blue light as my room. I peered out of the elevator and toward the left end of the hall and saw a break in the blue light where a nurse with curly red hair sat at a curved desk under a sickly yellow light. She peeked her head out from the desk toward the elevators in curiosity. I walked out of the elevator and toward the sea of lime green curtains the sat behind her. I had assumed that behind the curtains were beds and on one of those beds was Vicky laying in some peace that she hadn't seen in months. Peace I gave her.
I continued passed the nurse and she called after me, "Sir, you can't be here. Sir!" I ignored her and continued in my path and she raced to intercept me. She was at least a foot and half shorter than me and seemed only to be getting shorter.
"You can't be here, Sir." She repeated. She got a good look at my face and repented, turning her gaze to the ground. It seemed that my height and burnt visage scared her. I shoved her aside and continued to the curtains. The nurse ran behind the desk and picked up the phone, I assumed to call an orderly or a security guard. I came to the curtains and wrenched open the closest one to me. The bed was empty, so I moved on. I continued down the line of curtains, wrenching them open again until the last one. I pulled it open and there Vicky was laying serenely. She seemed so small and brittle in her bed. She wore a clear breathing apparatus around her mouth and nose. Her feet were curled back into rounded points like a ballerina and were tucked high and tight, her entire body was tucked tightly. She laid sleeping in a ball. I approached her side and placed my hand on her wrist.
"Vicky." I called. She didn't readily stir from her sleep. "Vicky." I called again, tapping her wrist. Her eyelids parted ever so slightly and she gave a groan that said she was awake. I was very silent and thoughtful for a short while, but for what seemed like hours.
"Vicky." I said again, using half the air in my lungs to say it. Her eyes opened wider and she looked directly at me. The moment her eyes hit recognition, she closed them again and turned her head away from me.
"Vicky, it's me." I said, my voice trembling into a crackling whisper. She didn't turn her head back to see me.
"Vicky, what's wrong? ... Why aren't you looking at me?"
"I can't." She said, her voice trembling as if it were ready to drown under a wake of tears.
"Why..."I started, but petered out. She didn't respond. We stood in a horrible silence, before my voice bubbled up into a sudden roar. "Why!" She pulled the breathing apparatus away from her face and said, "Kelly, Mya, You are like death. I can't help but see the people who've died when I think of you."
"I did what I had to." I said in a low whisper.
"I'm sorry, Mark but..." She started.
"I did what I had to!" I interrupted, shouting from a hot furnace in my throat. "I saved your life! I saved your life." My hands shook and anger welled in me. "Say you forgive me." I said, calming myself.
"I can't, I'm sorry but I can't. Too much has happened." She said. My teeth clacked and gritted themselves.
"Say it!" I yelled, wrapping my hand around her throat. I forgot who she was and where I was. All there was was anger and the pursuit of the words 'I forgive you.' She did not say it, she would not say it. An arm swayed around my neck and pulled me away from her and then sent me tumbling to the ground. I looked up to who had pulled me away and saw the furious face of Matt. I had the hurried footsteps of more men and felt the shame rushing toward me even faster. I picked myself up and charged him. I wasn't quite sure why. I ran low, attempting to take him down by the mid section, but he caught me. He held by the shoulders and brought his knee up into my face. When he removed it, a stream of blood and spittle followed. He then knocked me backward into the hall. My back slammed against the cold linoleum. The shock dissipated the anger that welled in me and all that remained was the horror of what I tried to do. I picked myself up and ran.
27. The Perpetual Motion Machine
'I wanted to be wrong about him, I honestly did.' I thought to myself as I watched Mark raced down the hallway like a wild deer at the sound of gunfire. He cut to the left at the end of the hall and was intercepted by two men in white hospital garb. He scuffled and fought and was wrestled to the ground. From where I stood, I could just see his face, I could see the fire that consumed him, could almost see it rise from his throat as he screamed. I looked past his thin, chard black cheeks which tore and bled as he howled and into and through his eyes to something disgustingly familiar. It was a look I knew I had; not a look of rage, not a look of horror, it was the simple and plain look of fact. He gave a look that said plainly that his actions had to have taken place. I had wanted to believe Mark would remain a hero, but I've lived long enough to know how dangerous hoping could be.
I turned back to Vicky and approached, whispering a thousand prayers that she was alive, not because she was the granddaughter of Jenny, of mine; not because I was inspired by the love Mark once had for her, bot for any other reason then she was human and I was prepared to re-enter humanity. She laid still, a terrible stillness that sickened my heart; that hurt my heart. I placed my hand on hers and felt her stillness and felt a tear roll down my cheek. I didn't want it to be true. I took up her limp and still hand and squeezed it, it gave no resistance. Her fingers just released their heat and folded together in my hands. Another tear fell, rolling slowly down my cheek to meet with the other. I brought her hand to my face and kissed each of her fingers. I went to bring her hand back to the bed when I felt the most minimalist of squeezes, such a perfectly weak closing of the fingers, I wasn't completely sure that I hadn't done it myself. Her hand didn't move any more and I couldn't be sure that if the faint barely there warmth was hers or mine. I took a deep breath and held it as if my breathing might impede my ability to feel.
I squeezed her hand again, felt the blood slowly stream through her veins and capillaries and finally felt her weakly squeeze my hand back. She would live, she was alive. My heart swelled with relief and I let out a long, hearty breath like I hadn't taken in air in days instead of seconds. I didn't try calling her name or waking her; I knew she would be fine enough. I watched the seemingly invisible rise of her chest and hear the seemingly inaudible rasp of her breath.
I moved away from her side, backing away carefully as if my footsteps could affect her condition. I stepped to the outside half of her curtain and looked back to the hall. Mark was on his knees, struggling against the men in white, while the nurse that sat behind the desk tried to subdue him with a sedative. His hands were bound together with plastic riot cuffs and one of the men was pressing down hard on his neck. He kept his neck stiff, jerking and swaying like a stubborn, old dog bitterly resisting the pull of its master. He was desperately trying to push his way up and almost had, but midway slipped and crashed to the floor with the two men falling on top of him. They successfully pinned him to the ground and the nurse succeeded in injecting Mark in the thigh. I watched him fade out of consciousness, the fire in his eyes dying slowly. I wanted to believe in him. I wanted to believe him when he said; I didn't know if we would be alike.
I wanted a lot, I suppose. I wanted a lot and understood so little. I watched as they dragged the unconscious Mark away, his face still held some of its fierceness. He was beyond me. In the day and days to follow, Vicky and Mark's face plastered national newspapers. The headlines and various law enforcement agencies named Mark a suspect in connection to both the Bowland murders, although evidently Mark refused to testify for or against himself. The few pictures that were released of him showed a gaunt and deathly figure, his face remained charred and bleeding, something I didn't quite understand, I suppose it would have been possible to do so, if we could stop or hearts, I guess we could prolong existing injuries, but why would he? Maybe it was overly dramatic way of saying he wanted to suffer, maybe he was actually trying to die.
Had I not known better, I would have thought he was dying, that was the fear of the prosecution. A small, balding well dressed man swelled up his chest in front of a sea of television cameras and raged and ranted about how imperative it was for such a fiend to see the weight of the U.S legal system, to have proper justice be served. They motioned to rush the court date and had moved it up to a time long before Vicky would've been able to give a testimony. So with Mark not defending himself and no one able to defend him, he was swept up and washed away, seemingly destined to be an unspoken oddity in some prison cell, brooding away as the world past him by. As Pete was at large, waging his war on everyone and everything, searching for a someone to stop him. It was all very perplexing to me; the only obvious link between the three of us was our capacity for doing damage. We were born of violence and that became our existence. We were nothing more than hot blood and blades and once I understood that I had all I needed to find out exactly who Texas Pete was. He, like me, came from violence, came from blood, from fire. I would be the man to kill an immortal. I would end his endlessness or that was the thought. A face emerged from the night one night, cracked and fuming like a long forgotten nightmare standing in the doorway holding a sharp bit of metal. I was immortal and unafraid when my first companion came a courting. He found me outside of Arizona on my way eastward. He popped my jugular vein in a bathroom at a truck stop and I guess he knew somehow that he'd done his damage because he left me to bleed out. I waited for the wound to close, but it continued to spill down the front of my shirt, spreading like red wings. As the air left my lungs and the blood pressure dropped, I felt cool water wash the heat away from me. Towards the end I felt calm, cool, I was unafraid. I didn't have the strength in me to struggle. My arms and legs felt like ten ton weights and I was beyond the concept of moving them and towards the end, I knew I wasn't coming back, but I still wasn't gone.
28. The Cold, The New, The Awakening
John and Jon pulled their old work van into the diner's parking lot. They'd been renovating the place for it's new owners. A gentle wind kicked sand into the air and blew the steely smell of blood past them. Their noses weren't accustomed to the smell and therefore it was easy to dismiss the stench as maybe some damp wood, maybe paint or maybe a mixture of the two; but when they entered the pool of drying blood allowed for no confusion. A thin trail of browning red led backward toward the billowing gloom of the opened storage freezer. Thin wisps of cold beckoned John and Jon further in. The apparent gore proliferating like bacteria in a dirty petrey dish. Brown streaks stretched and dotted across the newly laid and finished linoleum tiles and the carefully coated powder blue paint. Jon and John both in turn gasped and grimaced as their curiosity beckoned them forward into the old walk in storage freezer. Inside torn chord littered the floor and did little to conceal the appearance of further blood and unexpected nudity. A man laid asleep amidst the terrible gore, shivering ominously as frost crept across his extremities. His hair was black with the solemn augur of gray intermingling like cracks and imperfections in a newly paved road. His face had a clean sort of filth about it, the type common to working men and men familiar to stress and struggle. John, the less tactful of the two Johns, elected to wake the slumbering man with a nudge of his work boot. The nude man wheezed his displeasure and attempted to find more comfort in a tight fetal curl. John proceeded to nudge the man more, pressing his boot heel against the man's hip. The man grunted in irritation, but did not stir. John, irritated himself with the man's nudity and reluctance gave a quick, not too hard, but none to soft kick to the man's back. The man gave a sudden qasp of the icy air and looked to the two Johns in shock.
"What's your name? Why you here?" John demanded, taking advance of the fact that towered over the man.
"Matt...Matt Dean and I'm not sure why I'm here.
29. The Abyss
'What is this?' I asked myself as I looked out on noiseless nothingness that swirled with trillions of opaque particles. They danced with aimless elegance on ethereal winds. They curved upward and downward, darted and split. Is this death? I asked myself, attempting to breathe in and finding I couldn't taste air. Air was far from this place, but seemed unnecessary. Air was fuel for muscles, for the brain, for cells. I was far from those things.
'Is this it? It seemed unfair, I dreamed a dream but that dream is far away from me now. I remembered so long ago, yearning for the cool peace of that place; feeling such terrible fatigue with the weight of living anchored around my neck. My years of atonement seemed wasted. There was no pain here, no reason for fear; but nor was there reason for hope. I was in nothingness, apart of nothingness. The sorrowful conclusion is that I always was. If deeds in the material world led inexorably to an immaterial one, than what would be the purpose. It's all the meaningless transfer of energy. I had such fear, such hope and it was all for not.' My thoughts then turned to the world I left behindand all of it seemed all the more unfair. The trillions of tiny particles flitted toward me in a strewn, glass cloud. I thought of the men who spent there entire lives as I had spent one terrible night. So many men who will share this noiseless space with me; only there thoughts to torment them. Those who stay on earth. I realized I didn't want to die.
'And those who got to live; not much good to be said about the whole of them. Avarice is the purpose of humanity, its call to greatness. The rise of humanity is the rise of its malice and selfish tendencies. They are on the shoulders of giants, but also the backs of the meek and unfortunate. Those that can be killed are killed, those that can be used are used and all in the name of resources and saratonan, even the greatest human virtue is bloody with the self interest. Consider the slaughter of innocence, the destruction of the holy and the worthy. It happens everyday, every moment, every second of inaction is a second stolen, stolen from a child beaten to death, a young woman kidnapped and bound in darkness, ripped from one another. It's a constant in that world, like the seasons changing and the oceans flowing. While this fact disgusts those whom know it, they do so little, they thrash and rage so infrequently. If man had the morality he claimed, he'd go mad with the thought of it all. He'd never sleep, never rest, never slow; but if man had that morality, the world wouldn't need such extremes. Instead, man stands on his own shores and fixes minor trifles and marvels at his righteousness. What lies he tells himself' I thought of smoke and fire, of knives and cuts. The mental processes accompanying my jaw locking and vocal cords stretching and vibrating played, but the actions didn't follow. I felt myself get worked up, felt tremors work through me and then felt myself submit to the fact that I truly didn't feel anything.
The cloud rushed and rolled forward and burst, spreading out a mile wide. Each particle seemed to brighten as it swelled, arching closer and closer until the particles were a great glowing wall which roared forth and enveloped me. It's light piercing through my consciousness, burning and tearing it. Somehow it tore even more; the more the light intensified, the more I could feel it burn my phantom limbs. I could feel it blister my lost throat and char my nostrils. I squinted my eyes shut, fighting back the light as best I could and when I opened them again, I laid on the red carpeted floor of a train passing through an infinite night. A number of the formerly plush seats were in severe disrepair, their contents rolling and bouncing about the floor. A number of seats were torn up and splintered, fragments jetting upward with boding evil. Some of the windows were broken, but air did not rattle the fragments, didn't blow air about the cabin. Eerily, there were no doors, the cabin stretched onward forever, it's curved wooden roof caked with black coal dust and cobwebs. Bare light bulbs hummed softly and glowed dirty light as they swayed on their cords.
"Hello, Matt" I looked up from the carpeted floor and looked into the fair face of Tony Cappetairo. He sat cross legged, staring down at me with a blank expression imposed on his face and an unscathed, pristine killer standing on his side.
I stood hastily, expecting some sort of an attack. Tony smirked at my panic and gestured toward a broken, dust caked seat across from him.
"Sit." He requested and it was a clear request. He had lost a great deal of the cool authority he once had. I obliged him hesitantly, eyeing the man that stood at his right hand.
"Do you know what this place is?" Tony asked in a wandering, idle voice like the question didn't matter.
"A train." I said, still eyeing the rejuvenated murderer. The murderer smiled in time with Tony.
"This is nonexistence. This is the place where time and space fall short and scamper away." Tony said. I turned my gaze to him and noticed that he had centered his gaze directly on me, utterly unmoving.
"That doesn't make sense."
"It really shouldn't. The fact that you're here is dangerous enough. Do you know why you're on this train through nonexistence?"
"To asked questions by a dead man." Tony smirked at my response and held in his reply for a long few seconds. The man behind him shifted and my eyes shot back up to him.
"You are here because the world is breaking with you in it. Not just your world, but all of the universe. You still are in a way."
"Think of an undertow in the vast ocean or better yet think of cinder wafting down into a bail of hay. You are caught in something so much bigger than you and you're causing so much damage. Reality is breaking because of you."
"Me. I'm not doing anything."
"I never said you did. This is one catastrophic cosmic accident. But the fact remains, you are breaking reality. You were supposed to die, but then you didn't.
"I've died plenty."
"We both know that isn't true. Death isn't exactly death if it doesn't stick. You've philosophized about this long enough to know that." He said, sounding more like the Tony I once knew. I wasn't sure what to say next.
"Time is diligent, so diligent that it would horrify you if you truly knew. It stays in this perfect vacuum because otherwise what happened to you would happen thousands upon thousands of times."
"Instead, it happened four times."
"Well, that's actually you fault. Not yours in this carnation, but yours all the same."
"My fault." I said. I stared at him again. I wasn't asking a question, but giving him an opportunity to correct himself again.
"Exactly. What would you do if you were God?"
"Buy the world a Coke. Can you tell me what you're talking about without all the questions." He smiled again and it started to irritate me. He somehow knew and exaggerated it, teeth and all.
"I know what you would do if you were God because in a sense you are. You don't send the stars across the skies and make the sun rise, but you were or are making things happen." He leaned forward and the lights dimmed around us.
" You've been trying to fix a problem you have little grasp over. Which has been my fault... our fault. We needed to figure out the right ingredients to set things right. Time is a machine, we've been trying to fix it while it still ran. Any maintenance knows that no way to fix a major issue. The gears keep running and causing other problems, before long the entire system falls." The air surrounding us turned murky like muddy lake water. I couldn't see the other.
"I don't understand." I said. My voice sounded defeated and strangely foreign.
"Stopping time, Matthew. Time is like river. The consequences of damming it are high. We can not have the world as it is. Like a river, when the dam breaks it won't necessarily flow the same way."
"What do you mean?"
"The world was you know it, as I know it, will not be. The people you knew won't exist."
"Jenny won't exist."
"And Mark. And my wife. That Lola girl. Amber. The girls from the bar that brought those picture. You're looking at the narrow picture, Matthew. This is life we are preserving and we're in the eleventh hour. Fuck with this and there will be nothing else." I somehow knew the killer in the shadows had moved behind me and was posed for something less savory than a pat on the back.
"Do you understand me?" Tony said, his voice was filled with sandy venom and warning. I sat silently, trying to understand what made such little sense.
"I do." I said. I knew the voice was my own, but it was completely alien. A strong arm slid around my neck and constricted. My arms flew up to fight it away as the pressure rapidly grew in my face. My skin was on fire and my hands were ineffectual.
"This is where we begin. Learn the past, it'll help. I swear." Tony said. With that the murderer jerked my neck upward and it snapped. But it didn't feel like a snap. It felt like wind rushing past me. It felt like warm sunshine spilling down on my head and shoulders. It smelt like car exhaust and oil. A brilliant blue light bled down from above and encompassed everything. The light paled backward and I found myself standing in the middle of a lonely, sun burnt road. Gnarled and thorny underbrush tentatively crept from the fringes of the roadway. The rumble of an engine sounded in the distance, it's presence caused the earth to shutter faintly. The car came into view, the sun dazzling on its windshield. The car came and past me in mere moments, it's speed causing a vortex of displaced air. A linear rod of light flashed, distorting the car's form, but the moment I perceived it, it blinked out of existence. I turned to watch it go and a cracking pop sounded in the distance the sedan gained. The car lifted and tilted toward the driver's side. It continued and in a flash was spinning and bouncing with any given side used as a focal point. The car finally crashed into the side of the road and smoked forebodingly. It laid crumpled and twisted with its wheels still spinning uselessly in the desert air. I jogged to the wreck as a pathetic cry rattled weakly from a smashed window. A man dragged himself out from the passenger side window. His face was concealed in a sheet of sticky red. His right eye was clamped shut and was sunken down. He continued to cry as he came to rest in the middle of the road. He lay on his back, writhing in pain. I peered into the crushed cab and saw all of whom that remained in the cab was dead. A girl in the backseat had fell to the roof, but the other two, a girl with dark brunette hair and Mark remained suspended by their seatbelts. Stealing deep gasps of possibly nonexistent air. I didn't understand, I turned in confusion to Tony. To one side of me was the smashed wreck which now smoked ominously, to the other was the ancient and ruined train aisle way where Tony sat patiently.
The world rushed by, the ground swelled and receded in a constant blur as the train ran its course across the southwest. A few seats down from me, a baby cried and had been crying for the past two hours. His mother had him pressed against her chest as she gently patted his back. She fumed with fatigue, frustration and the unmistakable aura of helplessness. I read it off her face. She was young and alone. Wisps of blonde spilled over her face, swinging back and forth as she inhaled and exhaled. The child's cries were surprisingly relieving; all things considered. Continuous irritation is preferable to considerable humiliation, like being accused of homosexual necrophilia. I had awoken nude and surrounded by blood. Apparently, some of which wasn't mine; apparently some of which contained a sizable amount of dead cell conducive to a corpse. Through later analysis, they found that the cells weren't exactly dead as much as dormant. This of course, didn't explain why I was nude in a storage freezer with blood spattered about; a question I asked myself and was asked repeatedly.
I was also accused of breaking free from holding and aiding another man in the same and then transferred to Naco, AZ and. Again, I insisted I didn't and the authorities insisted I did. They had my fingerprints, my photo; they got my name wrong, but I gave a lot of fake names in the past. Ultimately, they decided I hadn't done anything worthy of holding me. They kept asking me about the Bowlands, about Mark Adams, about some one named Bad Man and decided I had nothing valuable to contribute. They decided I was more of a victim than anything in regards to the storage freezer and they decided the escape I was accused of wasn't one. This was the official assessment; what was written down in the book, but unofficially I was handed a train ticket and told stay out of Arizona. I was happy to end the questioning and discomfiture and therefore happy to oblige that request.
The young mother had slipped into her seat like a theft, quiet and obscure. She seemed to hope that obscurity would continue until she reached where ever she was heading but said secrecy was as her roused. At first, the child threatened with snorts and coughs and the mother attempted to pacify him. This seemed only to encourage him. Before long, the child was competing with the rabble of the train engine and commenced outclassing it. I kept a curious eye on the two; not irritated with them, but almost amused by them. 'This is life' I thought to myself. It was utter isolation displayed plainly in public. Typically, I'd watch from a distance, but I found standing and approaching the poor girl. I sat in an emptied seat across from her and she paid me no mind or wasn't aware enough to pay me mind. From the closer angle, I could see her once green eyes were red and worn with dried and re-moisturized tears.
"Hello," I said, my nerves locking my jaw. She peered at me and removed a hand from her child to hastily wipe her eyes. She didn't answer and gave a surly look like I was unwelcome. We sat in weighted...not silence with the child crying, but thick unspoken tension.
"How old?" I ventured, trying to appear less tense. She didn't answer or drop her glare.
"Looks about six or seven months, maybe? Boy, right?" I asked, watching the child cry. It seemed he was crying himself out ; although the volume still remained, it seemed strained and puttering out.
"He's beautiful. A good looking kid." I said through a smile, trying to keep her eye contact. Eye contact, which she evaded. "What's his name?' I asked, betraying a mall whisper of frustration. The child continued his crying, more to himself now than aloud. It seemed he wasn't soothed into submission but exhausted to his rest. She stroked his back gently; more dragging her fingertips along his back than a true rub. The child shuttered slightly before pressing head into his mother's chest.
"Bentley" She said; still not offering any softening of her glare.
"Baby Bentley." I said, exhaling silently.
32. Welcome to the Madhouse
It was quiet where I was; the echoes even died precipitately. The walls and ceiling hung low or my bed stood high. I couldn't have been sure anymore; I hadn't left my bed in a long while and I wasn't attentive when I was put in it. I wasn't attentive because of a liberal amount of sedative and I hadn't left the bed because of a set of tightly secured arm and leg restraints. All of it was unnecessary as I saw it; I wasn't interested When the white room where I stayed was brightest, a small Hispanic nurse came to wash the burns on my face, back and arms. When she was done, she'd grimace at me, say something like "Those poor girls" in a long low draw and than she'd reapply my bandages with the care of a loving mother. I had no reason to fear her, but I did. I was always more at peace when she was gone and held my breath when she was near. Beyond the nurse who cleaned and reapplied my dressing and another who came with food and drink, I was left alone in the white room. I was locked behind light green coated steel bars, re-enforced glass and green painted cement.
As the day rolled onward, I had taken to watching the sun pass across the white tiled floor and counting the tiles themselves. From what I could see there were nearly 140 and probably more if I had the energy to look for them, but I hadn't. I had remained wilted and still in my bed for days, silent for weeks. I wasn't sure what I was doing and hadn't cared to think of it. I'd die here. That was my plan, with black, oily seepage seeping from my face and only tile counting to occupy my thoughts, I'd find that illusive doorway to death. The future was a foreign conception, applicable to everyone outside that room and as far as I care to no one.
My thoughts only ever shifted away from the tiles when a Dr. Good shifted it and he did so far more easily than my resolve cared to confess. He appeared meek and unassuming, a small man with a mop of brown hair and a thin sheen of brown-gray stumble. But all it took was him coning in, settling his thin, undersized frame down and saying, "Vicky Bowland should not be alive; I want to figure out why she is." With those casually spoken words, a supernova of anger, fear, grief, guilt burst forward and quickly following it was the arousal of my nerves. Electric pain popped and snapped across my chard frame.
"I think the key is you, Mark. You both should be dead, but Vicky at least remains consistent with a burn victim. You on the other hand; your burns heal and move and spread and recede. They're impossible. You're impossible." Dr. Good said, rubbing his worn upper lip and then moving the hand on my forearm. I pulled my arm away as far as I could and felt pain blow through it. I didn't omit a noise, but the pain must have been written on my face. He re laid his hand to his lap.
"First fake burn patient I've ever seen to use real burns." Dr. Good said, laughing softly to himself.
"So, Let's get to it. I've been approved to carry out some tests on you, see what makes you tick." He examined the tension etched in the lines of my face and sucked on his cheek.
"Not happy, I assume." He said through a parody grimace. " Well, we're leaving that for the days to come."
He stood and started for the door, taking long strides. He stopped short and suddenly, took a deep breath and bled out the words, "They're going to kill her. They plan to at least." My veins burned and wriggled, my nerves rippled, sending anguish throughout my entire body in rapid pulsing waves like a heart beating. I omitted a dry croak like wood slowly breaking. My muscles constricted against the restraints that held me. I wrenched and twisted against them in vain; they held true. Dr. Good turned on his heel and watched me, a bemused look on his face. Individual thoughts ruptured and dissipated and the only clarity that came arrived with the sudden crack in my forearm. Sensation bled out from my arm and up my shoulder.
"Mark, you're bleeding." Dr. Good said, remaining where he stood, but covered his mouth. Something was obstructing my airway and my first attempt at speech in weeks amounted to pitiful grunts and gurgles and a warm sensation dribbling down my chin. I coughed and spat, sending little red projectiles into the air and across the room. By the door, Dr. Good had backed away toward the door to avoid my flying spittle. My eyes rolled into the back of my head and body began to cease; I would assume something was wrong. A screeching beeping sound blared off to my right in a piercing repetition. I couldn't breathe and red and white bursts popped in front of my eyes. The warmth burned down my neck and chest as the sensation died away. It didn't hurt and it just might have been death, but still not quite. As the sensation enveloped my entire frame, I was completely aware and somewhere north of my body. I felt nothing and holding thoughts was like holding flames in a breeze.
Still unable to move freely I watched as Dr. Good hesitantly moved toward my motionless body. The piercing repetition I heard melded into a single whining tone that bounced off the walls and down the hall.
"Mark?" He said, his face pale and sickly. He breathed methodically in and out in a seeming attempt to hold in his bile.
As he approached, his knees unnecessarily bent in a stalking stance, his face started to regain some of its color.
"You did this before. You're playing possum." He said, his thin lips curling upward and parting in nervous enthusiasm. I had the thought that maybe this was different. The only other time I did whatever that was, it was illusive, but this came over me unexpected. It felt like being ripped from my body. He placed two fingers on the side of my neck and released a hushed laugh.
"What do I do here?" He asked himself aloud in a breathy whisper. His eyes darted back and forward in ever increasing velocity as his internal cog works ticked away. Suddenly, he backed away from the bed, burst out of the room and down the hall, sprinting the entire way. He re-entered the room a few minutes later, a medical bag in hand and a squat, black haired nurse in toe. He dumped the medical bag on my chest and started rooting around inside of it, extracting a needle. The nurse flicked off the whining monitor that indicated my death before putting on a pair of rubber gloves. He plunged the needle in my vein and drained as much as the needle would hold. Dr. Good removed the needle and handed it to the nurse who raced out of the room with it. Next, he flashed a light in my eyes and down my throat, breathing heavy and nervously as he did so. Once he saw what he was looking for, he undid the restraints that bound me, his fingers working wildly and clumsily across the buckles.
The squeak and whine of under-greased wheels intruded on Dr. Good fiddling with my deceased body. He was taking skin samples from the burns on my cheek when a gurney pushed its way through the doors, guided by the same squat nurse and a lumbering orderly with a mass of tattoos peeking out from under his long sleeves and the slightest hew of gray, shortly cut hair on his crown. Dr. Good placed the sample into a glass tube and placed a rubber stopper on top. He reached back into the bag and emerged again with a small glass bottle and a thin needle. He placed the needle point in a small hole in the top and pulled back on the plunger. When the needle was filled, he pressed the needle point into my vein and emptied the contents. The bottle's label read something in very fine print, but I sensed it wasn't something I'd want in my veins. He returned the needle and the bottle to the bag as the orderly and the nurse came to lift my body onto the gurney with a quick grunting heft. The gurney shifted uneasily as my weight dropped on it, but the orderly caught it firm. The nurse and the orderly then raised metal guards on either side of me and they started to move me toward the door, pushing by the same guards. The whine of the wheels was the only notable sound, my two escort's footwear might have been some sort of standard issue orthopedic or they learned to walk softly. Along the hall, men moved into view, garbed in different varieties on the same black. Thin overcoats, hooded sweatshirts, a black cowboy hat with the initials TP sown into the side.
"Pete." I said with lips devoid of matter. I couldn't move, he was right there and I couldn't move. The men behind Pete fanned outward and started removing small arms from their hiding places. Several quick pops burst throughout the hall and the nurse and the orderly were pushed back . The nurse crumpled to the ground, screeching in horrific pain. Her shoulder was a red spring, the orderly was luckier. A shell caught him in the head and he sailed limply into the gurney, sending it into the wall and in doing so, sent me colliding into the wall as well. My skull smacked against the cement wall and I lolled over the gurney guard rail. In a confused daze, I found myself pulled back into my aching, numb form and I watched Dr. Good race away from the commotion, whirling in a kaleidoscope . I couldn't tell which direction he left in because a strong hand forced me off the gurney and onto the cold floor. The same hand forced me into a feeble standing position and started forcing me down the hall. Another pop echoed down the halls, heralding the end of the nurse's screams. As I was led, I heard the wavering sounds of conversation and the sound of yet another pop and a pained scream. My chin was wrenched upward to the face of the man holding me; a single milky eye peered down at me.
"Welcome To The Madhouse." He said, beleaguered by a heavy Italian accent. As he pulled me down the hall, it became harder and harder to keep my feet under me, keep air in my lungs, keep tension in my jaw. Before long, it drooped downward and saliva ran down my chin and the hallway whirled even more wildly than it had with Dr. Good's flight.
32. Little Runaway
The train shifted and wriggled continually as if it lazily hoped to buck me off, but instead it only managed to knock me into my fellow passengers and caused me to nick my hand on a loose bit of browned metal peering out from some of the seat's dark blue and black fabric. The blood seared in the opened wound, but didn't bleed notably. I sucked on the cut while returning to the seat across from Jamie, who had warmed to me considerably after Bentley fell asleep. She wasn't completely fond of me, but she tolerated my presence and would allow small comments to drift in my general direction.
"You Okay?" She offered, while not offering her gaze. She reserved that for her child. Bentley made quiet popping sounds with his lips in an unconscious attempt to suck on something. He looked far more serene and made the edges of my lips pull slowly upward.
"Fine." I said, wondering when she looked up at me. "The trick that's eluding me is keeping my feet under me." I said, hoping she'd bite at the jest. She hadn't.
"It's really not that hard. It's not that rocky a ride." She said shifting Bentley's weight.
"I know, I've just been feeling a little drunk lately." I said, not entirely to be funny, but she smirked at me and returned her gaze to the child.
"Hmm?" She said, brushing a loose strand of hair from her face.
" You mind if I ask you where you're heading to."
"New York, to my sister's."
"Mind if I ask where from?" She eyed me for a few seconds and breathed in an irritated air. She opened her mouth and then closed it, the rigid manner of her shoulders, her neck, and her hold on her child read like someone wanting to run.
"What?" I asked.
"I don't want to talk about that." She finally let out.
"Oh." I said, happening upon the probable answer. Young and alone with a small child, it couldn't have been a very long list of possibilities. I didn't say anything, she didn't say anything and for a time, we listened to Bentley make his popping sounds.
"I'm going to find my brother. He has been gone in the world some place and I have little else to go, so I'll go to him." I had decided it as I was saying it and it was an odd decision. I hadn't spoken or thought of him in ... I had no idea. It was the thought of how long it's been since I saw Jackie that sparked the continuous thoughts of what I had been doing since and I couldn't quite remember. There were things I learned in that time, but I couldn't remember when I learned them.
"You Okay? You look a little sick." Jamie asked, peering into my eyes.
" Yeah." I said, realizing that I must have betrayed confusion.
"Are you sure?" She asked again, leaning forward.
"Yeah, just had a thought."
"Just the frog that walked in the bar."
"The one that asked for grapes? So corny." She said through a shy, quieted laugh.
"What about the pirate selling earrings?" I asked, smiling at Jamie as she covered her mouth and held in her laughter.
"Shut up." She said playfully, both coughing and laughing. Bentley cooed and shifted a little. The sound halted Jamie's laughter immediately, but sparked a little in me. Jamie formed the words 'shut up' in venom and shot it my way. I moved my finger to my lips in compliance and she allowed a warm smile to slip from hers.
A sudden spasm of pain shot through me and manifested outwardly as a wheeze and a watery eye. But inwardly it was fear, of what I wasn't sure. I gave an unconvincing reassurance to Jamie's concerned look and excused myself to the bathroom. The floor under my feet seemed to had found more vigor. As I made my way down the aisle, I found myself in near collapse again and again. My knees smacked against armrests and with each assault, a new spasm arose and with each spasm, I had the sensation of getting closer.
Possibly closer to being enveloped.
I spilled into an empty bathroom, stopping just short of smacking my head against the wall, overestimating the distance the stall provided. The spasms came more and more rapidly, splashing in stormy waves. I retched into the toilet and more on the side of it. I fell to the floor, sick sticking to my face and a sound like a voice echoing in my ear. At first, I assumed it was someone on the other side of the door, Jamie perhaps. But as the voice cleared, I recognized it as my own voice or close to it. It...I was saying something over and over again, but it sounded like a message over a broken receiver, but with one last spasm of boiling pain, the message sounded crystal clear.
"Get off the train. Get back to Arizona. They're going to arrest you in a few stops."
This command was accompanied by a very murky memory. It felt like an old photograph ravaged by time. The visual aspect was the hardest part to make out, shadows pacing in agitation, the sound was clear, muffed but clearly anger and desperate. The feeling of limp weight in my arms rang and twitched in my nerves and lastly the scent was the strongest. Lavender burned in my nostrils, whatever it was, I was very close to it. The smell left me dazed and withdrawn. I laid crunched up in that tiny stall, on the bathroom floor, in my own vomit, pursuing phantoms. I'd almost have them and they'd slip away like smoke through fingers. What shook me from it was someone on the other side of the stall door. A deep baritone passed through the false wood and asked if I was okay in there. I heard the question but didn't think to answer it. I stayed silent and the baritone called again betraying my concern.
"Motion Sick." I blurted out, it was a feeble attempt to placate him and his voice away. He asked for me to just leave the door unlocked for safety. I assumed he was afraid I'd pass out and drown in my spew.
I did as I was asked and he left me to clean myself and pursue the ghosts in peace.
The Master Stroke
Dr. Good raced down the hall, black bag shaking in hand and Nurse Marie in toe, back to Mark's side. His hard soled shoes clacked richly as he went. He'd witness the improbable with that boy and he needed something, anything. The itch had raced up and down his spine once he had seen the mock death. It had fascinated him ever since he'd heard about the resurrecting twins popping up in the news. That was the name he had given them. He had never seen the other man's face and didn't think it mattered how accurate he was. Men dying for no reason in their jail cells and walking away healthy as horses from the morgue. This wouldn't arise again for him or for anyone. He knew Pete wouldn't approve, but the inching question persisted, why? Pete would be coming soon for the boy; of course, he didn't give specifics. He said he wanted the boy and that Dr. Good was to keep the path clear. Such typically meant, those in the path would be killed, and possibly him included.
He charged into the room, failing to control his breath and to conceal his trembling nerve. His mind whirled and barreled through every possible consequence of the actions he was taking anyway. He withdrew blood and handed it away to Nurse Marie, knowing with the vile went any hope of denial. Pete would know, he'd see and the only reactions Dr. Good foresaw were violence for him. The battle between the ill-advised intentions and the undeniable fear raged onward and forced his fingers to fidget and spasm as he withdrew skin samples. 'The clumsiest samples I have ever extracted', he thought, a grimace stretched across his face. His heart jumped as Nurse Marie returned with a gurney and a large orderly. The two loaded Mark's limp body onto the gurney and the three made their way down the hall and into the crossfire of Pete's boys.
Dr. Good panicked and rushed the other way and was intercepted by the man himself. He peered down at Dr. Good, his eyes narrowed and drained of emotion, but somehow rage still oozed off of the old man. He remained silent for the last of the gunfire, each shot a reminder of the consequence awaiting him.
"What you up to, Harold?" Pete asked, his voice tired and worn.
The tone gave no hint to the wild thing that Dr. Good had seen time and time again. The wild thing that had led him into the incredible and terrifying life he now led. He knew exactly how it felt to break a sobbing man's neck under his heel because of that man.
"He... He was ...flat...flat lining. I had to move him." Dr. Good said, his shaking nerves now thrashing like an animal struggling against it's own death.
"Flat lining." Pete stated, it wasn't a question, Dr. Good sensed.
"I knew he's wasn't dying, but I needed to do something about it. He was spewing blood all over the place. Look in the room. I had to do something. He's a patient and I'm a doctor." Dr. Good said, his breath growing more and more forceful and his heart starting to bruise the inside of his chest.
"Okay." He stated plainly. He lowered his hands into his pocket and his right hand returned with a battered pistol. Dr. Good's eyes landed on the thing and his ability to breathe failed him all together.
"That's what happened. I swear." Dr. Good blurted out a bit louder than he meant to and he regretted the volume instantly.
"I know." Pete stated as plainly as before. Dr. Good's eye stayed on the pistol, but still he wasn't able to caught the swift motion the barrel took from being at Pete's side to being lined perfectly with the doctor's shoulder. He pulled the trigger and Dr. Good's shoulder burst into a wild riot of red and agony. Dr. Good crashed to the floor and made a number of animalistic grunts and moans. It took him a few seconds to remember that Pete was still there and still had his gun full of hot little bullets.
"It happened. I swear." Dr. Good cried, from the ground. His shoulder bubbled and bled. Pete knelt by him, hovering the barrel of the gun just above the steaming wound. Dr. Good made a feeble attempt at crab walking away and found the feat impossible. Pete stared silently, surveying the depth of the gore. A sigh that seemed to almost be self congratulating left his lips.
"I know." Pete repeated in the same plain, worn tone. Pete moved the barrek downward toward his thigh and fired again. Dr. Good burst out in a convulsing rage of limbs. He thrashed wildly, but composed himself once Pete rested the gun in between his eyes. He fought to control his breathing and the struggle released a stream of tears down his cheek.
"They'll find you here, bathed in your own blood and when they do, I want you to tell them everything." Pete said, staring right in his eyes.
"Tell them what?" Dr. Good asked, the barrel making him go cockeyed.
"Everything." He said, drawing the words out in a gravelly hiss. "Let them know about the bomb, the murders, gravesites. Let them know how big this is. I'm taking my master stroke."
"What do I say about me?" Dr. Good said, tears rolling down his cheeks. The answer was already apparent
"You're apart of everything." He said, breaking the kneel and stood. His face rose into the shadowy heights, his worn expression remained as an imprint in Dr. Good's mind.
"I'll go to jail." Dr. Good said in a weak and defeated voice.
"I'll kill you if you don't, you lying sack of shit." Pete said, he then turned and walking down the hall.
He called down the hall in a casual sort of afterthought. "You'll probably just life with the cooperation, probably better with those bullets."
Dr. Good called back through a torrent of unrestrained tears. "Pete! I'm sorry. I swear I am." Pete didn't answer the cry, but left him to make it.
Breathe Away The Pain Or Burn It
I turned to Tony, slowly walk down the narrow, shifting, rattling aisle. Tony eyeing me all the while. A small bit of smugness filled the spaces behind his eyes and he knew that my lack of speed was due to great hesitance, being less than eager to start the next stage. The train started to clatter and make a racket, the windows shuttering in their frames.
"The rides getting rockier. No time to waste." Tony said, gesturing as he did before. The train bucked and keeled to the left and right, it was getting rocky and I was concerned with what happen when the ride ended.
I sat in the seat, it seemed more cluttered with dust and more laden with rips and gashes. The train was falling apart.
"That momentary flash of light. You know what that was?" Tony asked.
"I said enough with the damn questions. It was me, that is what you're going to say, right? I stopped the car from flipping and killing everyone. Was it wrong?"
"Yes." He said simply, he looked taken aback, but he persisted. "Time is like a river. A paradox is like a dam. It interrupts the flow in time. If something happens like someone living when they should die, it degrades it like overexposed film. Time didn't know what to do with Mark, to do with Pete, to do with you."
"To do with him." I said, eyeing the small executioner that walked into view.
"Not quite. He's similar, but nevertheless special."
"How so?" I asked, looking for something special about him.
" That's why you don't die, you and the others. Time said you stop at a specific point and you didn't. It's wrong because you didn't save anyone. You could have damned them, you might have damned them to something worse than death, nonexistence." The death marker balled his fists and flexed his muscles. The gesture said we'd be singing the same tune.
"Are you ready?" Tony asked.
"Yes." I said, simply.
The small assassin moved toward me as slow as fog moving over lake water. He didn't move behind me as I had expected. He stood in front of me, waiting for me to rise. Having my neck snapped wasn't pleasant, but the next step in the process seemed less so, but still I stood. He didn't give me too much time on my feet before he knocked me off them. One blow like a sledge hammer sent me sailing through the air and I crashed into a row of chairs. I heard my spine crack, it didn't break, just crack. He knew that the first blow didn't kill me and he sped at me to deliver a magnitude of strikes like thunder and before long I couldn't shield myself. I could only watch his fists rain down on me. He had perched on my chest, his teeth bared like an animal and his fists gruff like stone. Blow after blow, each one felt less like crushed bones and more like burn of strong whiskey on my throat and the fire of cigar smoke. It felt like the honest ache of a hard days work, rough skin abused by hand-made rope and reluctant cattle. The gurgle of my lungs filling with blood was replaced with the sound of laughter at a good off-color joke. I smelt the smoke, tasted the whiskey. I saw my oldest sitting with his elbows on his knees in the dirt below me and my buddy Everett to my left resting with me on the fence, watching the sunset over the wind swept plains. The grass danced by the will of the gusts and the light of the red sun. Everett had swiped the whiskey from Old Man Jed Bernard's collection. Right under his nose, like the old bastard needed it. The good shit only ever tastes right after a long day. He'd done nothing more than buy land since he settled his oil wells. Still, Everett was a crazy son of a bitch taking it, a good old boy though. That day was one of the good ones, better than the ones I had. Good days made me thing of the long, bad ones. The ones people never think they'd get through. I knew I was screwed up for going there. A good day was going on and I couldn't help but think about my son. He took his own life, he was terrified to fight in Lincoln's war. They were coming for him, going to give him a gun and a uniform and he put a gun in his mouth. "Didn't want to go out on someone else's terms." He said. That was behind me now, thinking about it only made me hurt.
"Good life, Yeah Caleb?" Everett asked, passing me the bottle. The thought of my son felt like a punch to the gut. I breathed the pain away, sucking on the bottle.
"Good life." I said tiredly. I passed the bottle down to my boy and puffed on my cigar, the smell of smoke had faded, the taste too. The sunset was gone pass the horizon and the plains were in darkness and I was on my back, the killer on my chest. He stared down at me, blank faced and still. Tony's dull laughter drifted over head like choking smoke.
"You need a break, Matthew?" He asked.
"More." I said, wincing from the pain of speaking. Motion of any sort promoted a shudder of protest.
The fair faced monster grinned before making a fist and sending it crashing down on my head. The single blow sent me back to the smell of dry wood burning on a fire, of a pot of beans boiling and burning. The black copper pot heating up; the one that had stayed for two generation and would stay for another few generations. The smell of hot metal and burnt beans filled the small one room home, the stink would embed itself in the wood. I was never much for cooking, but the Mrs. was late from the market and I was a sight hungry after work, same with the boy. I'd seen cooking done right and it done wrong. I knew the value of both. I smiled at the exasperated look she'd give me as the boy and I sat with our bowls full of blackened beans. She was a good woman, hard like you had to be out here, but tender like no one I knew. I took the beans off the hook and burnt my hand in the process. It clacked and clambered against the floor and a bit of the contents plopped out, but most stayed in and stayed good enough. I set what I could into two bowls for me and the boy, when a heavy knock bothered the door, shaking it in its frame. I grasped a fire poker and let the door swing open. It was a somber faced Everett clutching his hat in his hands. The big man grimaced and mourned with his entire body. His broad shoulders sloped until they threatened to break and his back bowed like his head weighed the weight of the world.
"How you doing, boy." I said, offering my hand to him. He didn't take it, didn't notice it. He just kept looking down at my boots like there was something written on them, his big brown eyes swollen and red. I took my hand back and fixed my thumb onto my belt.
"What's wrong?" I asked, a bit of fear swirling like sludge in my stomach, kicking up gassy bits of bile up my throat. He still didn't answer, the thought in his head wouldn't be so easily pried from him.
" Everett, what the hell is it?"
"Your wife... your baby girl." He breathed out with his worn, dusty drawl, a tremor betrayed in his voice. He took a step back and started to breathe in heavily. He pursed his lips like he wanted to reclaim the words.
"What happened." I asked, my mouth hanging and prickles riddling across my lips. Everett didn't answer, he just continued to back away.
"Everett! What the hell happened with my wife and daughter!"
"They're dead." Everett started in the other direction at a fast walk and I caught him before he made it too far.
"What do you mean? How?" I said, holding the large man fast. He could have easily broken my hold, broke my arm if he had the mind to, but he just got to looking at my boots again.
"Pete. Bernard's boy from Texas. Got his hands on your wife. Shot her when she slapped him for it. Killed the girl when she got in the way." He broke my hold and ran off. I stood dazed and weak. I stood damn still, thoughts of breathing evaporated like steam. This far out west, the law was on payroll. Mention Jed Bernard in this town and a man could do about anything. That's why Everett didn't want to tell me. Pete had taken nearly all my family and I couldn't turn no where. Law wouldn't help, most of the rest of the folk in town worked for him, couldn't go to them. My options were few and hard anyway I shook it. A rage welled in me, a heat like all hell rose in my throat, burned in my veins, bled from my eyes in hot tears.
"Enough!" I yelled. "I've seen enough!" I prayed Tony would hear me, take the anger from my heart, the pain.
"One last thing and then you're through here, Matthew" His voice called in a soft, smoky intonation like a weary parent quieting a complacent child. His voice rolled with the subtle winds, spilling over itself and back towards me. The breeze reeked of salty sweat and dry grass. Tony's words rode the along the winds and whirled back and hit me in a warm, filmy mass that stung my eyes. I closed my eyes and exhaled the crippling shock, the numbing pain and I then inhaled rage, inhaled bitterness, hopelessness. I opened my eyes to the high moon resting in a black night, a looming eye peering down at my deeds. It jockeyed to see me from behind the tall ornate Bernard Mansion, a damn grand place painted white with a long manicured lawn and a big porch that wrapped around the entire house. Rose bushes stood guard out on the front lawn, both tall and imposing. Time was Bernard held New York style parties at that house, brought people in by train for it. If one had the mind to, they would have easily spied a spree of drunken nakedness and naughtiness that'd put a frown on the creator's face. But that was when he had blonde hairs well treated with pomade, as gray hair sprouted on his head, he grew less interested with other people's rowdy company and more interested with being a bastard and choking the town dead. That fact might have meant something somewhere else, but not to the sunken eyed, underfed people in the town. I had ignored my own assumptions about the townsfolk with their dirty hands and gin soaked whiskers, prayed them to back me, but they knew what I knew. Putting Pete in a jail cell, even for a moment, would trigger Judd to break the town. It'd be easy, he'd sell his pikes and leave. With him, he'd take jobs, he'd take the pretense of order, he'd take what little life was still in that town. They'd let the wolves slaughter as long as it left them scraps of torn flesh.
His son, Pete was every bit of the bastard his father was, a spitting image even with blonde perfumed hair which he rested upon a trademarked black hat with a TP embroidered to the side.. But had none of his father's business acumen. He ran as far north as New York and as far south as Mexico, drinking and being as lawless as his father's wealth would extend him. He had carried on his father's unseemly tradition with the goal of surpassing it and gotten close. He tasted whomever he had thoughts for, whether they had thoughts for him or not. He'd done dirty by me and the only thing a man could do was return the favor.
The kerosene sloshed in messy bursts against the white paint and caused the color to bleed in long stripes. I covered as much of the home as the small rusted metal container would allow and when the container was spent, I flicked a match at one of the deeper kerosene puddles. It ignited almost instantly and raced ravenously around the home. The grass caught fire better than the heavy wood of the home, though the flame still climbed methodically. The burn hop-scotched from grass tip to grass tip towards me and I backed away cursing the kerosene for spoiling the view for me. I readied a shot gun I had stowed in the distant grass and searched for a vantage point. A savory one exposed itself in the stark shadows of a low branched burch tree that dried out in the summer heat. I crouched down, cocked the gun and took aim. Settling up for me was burying some buckshot in Pete's chest, watching the bastard drop while his home dropped around him.
The burn worked up the wood, started to smoke out the first of the home's occupants, a hand full of half dressed girls. It didn't take too much time for my target to scurry out in outrage and cry out in confused anger at the sight of the fiery creepers working their way up his father's home. The old man creaked his way down the front porch, cane in hand, hollering at Pete. He tried to make sense of the smoldering embers fluttering about the air. Once his eyes hit the flames, his cries died away and a breathless horror scrambled in its place. The two small Bernard men stood motionless in the glow of the flame, smoke creeping toward them and me. I wouldn't shoot him in the back. Not by some sense of honor and fairness, I just wanted to see his eyes fade to death.
"Pete!" I called, leaving the shadows of the dried burch. He turned and I pulled the trigger. The shot sprayed him in the center of his chest and he fell back without crying out. He crashed unceremoniously to the dried out grass. The flame crawled toward the noise of Pete's whimpers, creeping like a cat after a mouse. Judd Bernard made a motion like he wanted to aid his son, but didn't complete a bend of the knee or an extension of the arm. He instead shook weakly as he turned to face me. I still had a barrel full of buckshot and Pete's weak whimpers of dying didn't feel like enough. Judd's furrowed face soured in anger and recognition.
"I know you. Richards, right? Caleb, you shot my boy. My boy shot your wife. I know, but your life's not worth nothing anymore. You shoot me, make yourself feel better, but you won't survive the night. You as dead as your better half."
I pulled again and Judd fell. He died instantly, didn't whimper at all. I walked the short distance to stand over the bleeding pair. The flames slunk toward Pete, licking at his side and he found himself motivated to overcome the pain. He dragged himself along feebly on his elbows away from the lurking flames. The smoke was thick in the air when I pressed my foot on his back. He whined openly and stopped his progress. Flicking embers wafted towards and bit at my hands and face. The bits of orange light caught on me better than it did Pete. Fire struggled up my legs, a slow ascension toward my crotch. I lost interest in Pete's suffering as one might when fire gets involved.
I crashed to the ground and kicked at thin air, trying to shake the flames off. The flames clung and spread along me. Worse than the flames was the loss of sensation. The harder I fought, the less ability my muscles had to fight. The burn reached my chest and the stink of smoky greased meat penetrated my nostrils and poured down my throat. I gagged on the taste and my eyes stung. 'The kerosene.' The last coherent thought I had before the flame overtook me and I found myself resting on the rumbling train's carpeted floor.
Alone In the Desert
I stood lonely on the platform, watching and grimacing as the train sped away. I didn't like the idea of being left behind. It reminded me of something I didn't quite remember all too clearly. Something like childhood scars. The platform itself wasn't at all welcoming, comprised of a tin roof supported by a sun scorched wood left to rot to near collapse. Beyond that there was a long parking lot, a longer stretch of sand swept road and the forever desert that supply an ample store of the sweeping sands. I sighed as I wondered what I was supposed to do now. A voice scarier than all hell told me to leave my train, and a lovely young lady to do what. To walk about in the desert and die of thirst and exposure and yet I was here. I grimaced at the visions that still hiccuped in my mind, dark nights and loose bricks, screams and pearl handled knives. I kept shaking the thoughts away and they kept coming back. 'I wasn't the person.' I prayed and I prayed.
The occasional car whipped past and never gave the platform a second thought, the only proof of their present being whirling, displaced air. I wandered down toward the lonesome road, the smell of hot dirt sailing through the air. The breeze pushed me along down the southern side of the road and I obliged it for want of direction. As I moved, my heels clicked richly in the long nothingness and a cold chill danced along my spine. I was alone, awash in golden sands and looming red rocks glaring down at me. I pulled away toward the high sun burning down on me, punishing me for my existence. I took my coat off and cursed the sun back. The chill broke from my spine and flowed about my fingertips, numbing each like I'd lift them in ice, cold water. I shoved them into my pockets and moved along, a sick feeling burning in my belly. It came in swaying waves washing up on me. I stopped, placing a hand of my stomach and held back the pain. My legs crumbled slowly down under me and I found myself sitting at the side of the road. The thoughts from the train burned back at me, like heartburn singeing my throat. I spat out the thoughts to the ground as the flooded into my mouth.
A ramble rolled toward me as I spat. My head creaked upward as the sound materialized into an unnaturally clean black Cadillac slowing to a stop in front of me. The black popped and gleamed violently against the sun, blinding me to the rolled down window. The smell of honey laced cigar smoke carried on the eddying winds. I squinted through the light, but saw nothing. The car door popped open in silent invitation and I hesitated to accept it. The door opened wider and the light crept nervous into the Cadillac to reveal a black panted leg sporting a polished dress shoe. The figure rested in the backseat, but the driver's seat rested empty. I followed the hesitant light into the car and into the ashy, sucking shade. The interior was devoid of visual spectacle and was saturated with olfactory overload. I was bombarded with the smell of newly slaughtered leather burning in the steaming, enclosed space that fought with the honey smoke cigar which fought with the smell of mossy, grave soil.
The car started up again and the light bled through the tinted glass, filling the car with just enough light to reveal a worn, fatigued and dirty face. He wore a very clean to contrast the muck that marred his skin. His nails, his hair, his teeth were little more than dipping filth than impossibly managed to avoid that beautiful suit of his. The thought came to thank him, but I didn't act on it. I stayed silent and waited for him to finally break it. He did with an icy voice laden with superiority and irritation.
"I think you've gotten off better than you should have, Matt."
"How do you mean?"
"You've been far to gentle with yourself. You're like a fluffy, little piece of cotton candy, pink and sugary and ready to be washed away with the first sign of a moist tongue. If you're going to be ready, you'll need to get a little more callus."
"You were in my head on the train?"
"Hearing voices in your head?" He said with a filthy chuckle like cracking, rotted wood. "No, my abilities, though impressive, do not extend that far, Matthew. Listen, what do you know of your past?"
"Nothing I'd be interested in knowing."
"Really, why? What have these voices told you that makes you wish you hadn't known?"
"Nothing I can really remember. It's more tastes in my mouth, more stenches burning under my nose."
"More like blood on a kitchen floor."
"And I'm not at all interested in learning anything more than what I have. If I could get rid of that, than I would." I continued, ignoring his comment.
"Don't worry too much about that. Regressing to who you were would be as useful as keeping you who are." He shifted in his chair, moving his leg up to show off his shoe's luster. My eyes dropped down to the shine and he raised his hand to my chin, bringing it up to his eye line. He held his hand to me and the connection started to burn. The closest equivalent would be a seeping chemical burn like sulfuric acid on his finger tips. I pulled my face away and he followed with both of his filthy hands. I clawed at his hand, tried wrenching them away and met with new burns. My hands bled and shook uselessly in midair. My skin burned down to the bone and I took to escaping rather than fighting, but escape came difficult when confined to the backseat of a moving car. I pulled back and he followed. My elbow bumped the window and I drove my elbow through it. The glass burst both out and in, slicing the back of my neck and somehow leaving him unscathed. I screamed as the car sped along the burning road and suddenly it stopped. He took away his hands and rested them on his lap.
"Stop the fucking car!" I ordered, keeping as much distance as I could from him. He didn't oblige me, but offered a smile instead. I rested my head back and felt the resistance of warm glass. I turned and saw unbroken tinted glass, impossibly clean. I placed my hand to the glass and my hand was as unscathed as the glass, as the immaculate leather seat interior. I brought my hand to my face and it was unmarred.
"Stop the fucking car now!" I ordered again, feeling bile burn in every possible direction. "Now!" The car whined to a sudden stop and I spilled out backward. My back thudded against a concrete surface cooled by some flimsy bit of shade. I looked up to see a tin overhang. I looked to my side and saw railroad tracks stretching down the horizon. I peered to the car and saw that it wasn't. All there was left before me was a long parking lot, a longer stretch of sand swept road and the forever desert that supply an ample store of the sweeping sands.
I peered to the sand swept road devoid of life of any sort. The crabgrass danced on the warm, summer winds and the smell of warm sand permeated my nostrils. I got to my feet and raced to the parking lot in time to see the first vehicle, a red truck, a newer model by my estimation. I peered away into the burning horizon. The red pick up pulled its gleaming grill forward, its red paint turned purple in reflection of the violently blue sky. Its shine burned a beacon across the pavement, toward me, right into my eyes. I threw a hand up in defense and walked toward the moving vehicle. It rolled to a stop as I stepped into the road. This one had a little dirt on it, the type of filth you'd expect on a truck moving through the desert. The window rolled down and a plump, tanned, wrinkled face topped with gray braided hair peeked out bearing a quizzical look like he was seeing a man with two heads and four arms.
"What's your name?" The old man accused. His eyes hardened, but his red skinned face paled. I didn't answer, the first thought was that he was an extension of the filthy man in the nice car, with the nice clothes. He shot a pressing grunt to cross the distance and breathed in shakily as if the noise took away his breath.
"Matt." I said, hardening my gaze and readying my fists.
"You walked the road before?" He asked.
"No." I called, peering around me. My breath stopped in my throat, my finger tips numbed at the sight. The platform was gone. All that stayed in its place was the shifting sand contending with wisps and patches of crabgrass. I turned and viewed a hill rising to conceal the road ahead of me. It made no sense, where was I? What did the filthy man want from me?
"Can I get a ride somewhere?" I asked, gesturing toward the truck.
"I don't give rides anymore. Some asshole took this truck off me after I gave him a ride."
" I'll die out here."
"How'd you get out in the middle of the desert?"
"I wish I could tell you. Just for a little while." I begged. The old man softened his stare and pulled his head back into the truck. He sat in silence for a second before peeking his head back out and waving me over. I jogged to the truck, popped the door open and gave my thanks. He grimaced at me for a short while and started the truck back up.
"Can I ask you your name, sir?" I asked, offering my hand to him.
"Johnny Two Rivers." He said, taking my hand and shaking it firmly and surely like a hand should have been shook. The truck rolled over the hill and over the horizon.
The Family Reunion
Another bed, no restraints that time, but I had figured the door was locked. It was an attempt to do the same thing a little friendlier. The drugs that were injected into my lifeless body had faded, but I wasn't in a hurry to bounce about the room. The thought of the effort was exhausting. They had stripped me of my hospital things and replaced them with pin striped pajamas. The room I laid in was caste in filth and shadows, the light fixture had been ripped out of the ceiling for some reason, and the only window in the room was painted black and barred with thick iron bits of rhubarb. Someone, the previous occupant maybe, had scratched a tiny hole in the paint. Something that wouldn't be noticed unless one were to look directly at it. The view it provided wasn't spectacular and I would sooner leave it alone. Through the small hole, rustling trees batted their dried branches against the glass, past that, there was the distant hint of a gravel driveway busy with trucks.
The bed was better comfort, springs popped up at random points in the mattress and it stank of sweat and filth, but it was soft enough, steady enough, quiet enough. On that bed, the world was silent, was calm. Heavy booted Footsteps beyond the closed door threatened to disturb me, but they never did. The door remained closed, remained closed for days and day after day, I prayed it stayed that way. A week went by before I changed my stance. Hunger overwhelmed my need for isolation. The broiling ache in gut, the bitter, brittle pain that ran through my neck, back and joints reverberated off the four walls like sonar, reminding me of the space I was confined to. It took another day before I started banging on the door for food. The door was indeed locked, double bolted or something, it didn't shake like a normal locked door. I shouted at every footstep that passed by my door, I kicked, banged and cursed at every single one of them. Two weeks passed before I stopped, before I parked my malnourished bones in a filth strewn corner and just stared at the door, tears welling in my eyes and sand pouring from my mouth. Not literal sand, of course, but taste had faded from my tongue, moisture drained from my lips and a weight pressed deep into my chest, like god had has thumb digging in my torso. I wiped tears from my eyes and realized my burns were gone forever. The tears came more easily.
In the third week, the door creaked open and a small, balding man came into the room. He pushed a rusted wheelchair in front of him; it screeched and hobbled along like a pained old man. The man pushing the chair fought with it as it fought to remain in one functioning piece. It creaked to a stop beside me and he lifted me from beneath the armpits and deposited my wilting physique into the chair. I leaned forward haphazardly and my caregiver didn't do much to stop my tilt. We made a slow and dangerous path out the door. From the door to a faded and stained powder blue hall, from the gloomy hall to a set of double doors, he rolled me as my muscles withered on their bones. Rather than stop and open the doors, he sped up and rammed them with my knees.
I moaned softly and winced into my sagging shoulder as more light than I had seen in weeks spilled messily over me. The noise of a dozen or so people flooded my ears and caused me to shrink further into myself. The chair came to a stop at a long folding table adorned with plates, cups, a large bowl of eggs with tiny cubes of green peppers and couple of orange juice filled pitchers. Across from me was a black man with a shaven head eating scrambled eggs with liberal squirts of Ketchup. Beyond him was a second table filled with people and a row of windows overlooking a sun dried and withered orchard. To his side were a number of scar-baring men and women talking with one another. Not but a small few turned to look at my caregiver and mine entrance. The older man departed from me and took up an empty seat at the second table. He picked up his fork, stabbed into a bit of sausage and grimaced sourly at my presence. I stared back at him and with a subtle hardening of his gaze I broke mine. I redirected my gaze to a number of dusty, cracked plaques hanging on the walls. A few of them were missing and the bare wall was just a little bit paler than the rest. Resting unobtrusively in the opposite corner was a pair of doors leading into a kitchen of some size.
A finger stroked the gelatinized flesh of my forearm. I turned to see a blonde haired girl who was offering me a shy smile and a plate of the same Ketchup squirted eggs. I flopped my arms on to the folding table in a feeble acceptance of her offer. She held it in midair for a few more moments, gazing with large blue eyes, before reading my lack of vigor as a request to be fed. She placed the plate on the table and sunk a fork into a large cluster of egg. She brought it to my mouth and opened hers, telling me to mimic her. I did, she put the eggs in my mouth and I devoured them. I sucked on the metal of the fork, the greasy yolk taste faded into the taste of something like a battery. As it slid down my throat, my eyes watered. It hurt to swallow, it hurt to chew, to suck. The entire process was filled with beautiful pain, the glory of more than the taste of fester and rot bursting in the mouth. I wasn't always excited about eggs and the mixture of ketchup was never appealing, but this was perfect. She pried the fork from my lips and returned the fork with more egg. Each time, she pried the fork from my desperate tongue as it cleaned the metal of all it had and each time, she reminded me to open my mouth, as if I needed the instruction.
With the last bites, my hasty tongue caused me to choke on a bit of egg and she was ready with a helping of orange juice. She smiled lovingly as I drank, her upper lip sliding to reveal her teeth, insipidly dulled by coffee and smoking. I breathed her in and could smell a bit of each and wanted the coffee. I opened my mouth in an attempt to request a cup and a pathetic croak emitted. The black man across from me chuckled to himself, as did the girl beside me. I eyed the man, thought on his scars, on his soft, rumbling titter.
"I've seen you before." I spat out shakily.
"I know you have. We've been waiting for you to get here. We've been watching you." He said while moving eggs about on his plate.
"I don't ..." I croaked, tasting the sore sourness in my throat.
" Don't worry about it. That's for later. Eat now. Rest, be merry and all that." He said, dismissing my confusion with a wave of his fork.
"I'm Sarah." The girl to my side interjected. I broke my gaze with the man across from me and looked at her.
"You still hungry?" She asked, dumping eggs onto my plate without my answer. Sarah stabbed a glob and brought it to my mouth. I pursed my lips and tried the strength in my arm. It rose just under the height I wanted it to, but she understood the gesture well enough.
"Coffee?" I wheezed and grimaced at the taste of curdled breath. Coffee would be good, a strong taste to kill a strong taste. The man across from me chuckled again.
"Probably not a good idea, the way your throat is sounding, man. I'd stick with the juice, maybe a toothbrush afterward. Shower after that." I gave a weak smile
Sarah refilled my cup and brought it to my lips.
"Sarah, let the boy be for a bit. He'll choke on something the way you're forcing it down his throat." Sarah's face reddened and she relented with the cup, it's contents just inches from my tongue. Silence sat between the three of us.
"A shower would be good." I said, faintly breaking the silence.
"I'll take you." Sarah said, getting up and the two of us traveled away from the table, out of the room, down the hall and past the room where I stayed. The door remained opened, the room remained silent and loathsome. The darkness swelling in the room's depths seemed to spill out in an attempt to claim me. I leaned away from the doorway as we passed, holding my breath. I breathed more easily as we approached a rickety old supply elevator bathed in weak darkness. It sat in a convergence of that and two other hallways. One to my left and the other to my right, and each stretched their powdery blue further than the eye could easily measure. I turned my focus to the looming shaft that waited before me. Light spilt through narrow gaps in the car's plywood boarding. The elevator shook forebodingly as we stepped on, the car making banging sounds against the walls. I had expected a door to close us in, but no door was available. Sarah pressed a button and the elevator began its descent. The cables that held us whined loudly and caused the wood to vibrate, the wheels in my chair to vibrate, my bones to do the same. An electrical hiss sounded overhead, something like the sound of exposed wires.
The journey was slow, thin lines of powdery, yellow light caressed our cheeks and illuminated the violent storm of dust the car movement displaced. The dust fell in thick cakes and I was glad I was going to a shower. The elevator passed its first floor, cleaner light and cleaner air spilled its way in. As we descended, I spied a pair of thin men having a loud conversation in a dirty hallway much like the one we had left. Unlike the one we had left, this one didn't have double doors at the end of it. It was painted strips of pink and pale purple. The pink and purple opened up at the end into a wide empty floor and tall walls, scuffed and its wallpaper was made ragged as if an animal was let loose into it. I recognized the thin men as I did the man in the dining room upstairs. They were talking loudly and drunkenly in the bar of Saint Arthur's Landing.
"Where is this place?" I asked, eyeing the men. I felt nervous for the first time since I awoke on that filthy mattress. I'd felt desperate, apathetic, angry and numb. I felt filthy and felt sick. I felt like I was going to die, but knowing I was surrounded by people I've seen before, who had a tacit or maybe direct connection to Pete.
"It's an old orchard, turned to a nuthouse, turned to our home." Sarah said warmly.
"Where?" I asked.
"Somewhere over the rainbow, where blue birds fly." She replied, a giggle bleeding from her lips.
"When do I see Pete?" I asked for the sake of asking. I asked to let her know I knew.
"When he's ready for you. He says it'd be counter-productive if you saw him with all the anger still in your blood." She said massaging my shoulders. We dipped below the floor and fell back into darkness.
"He has plans for you and he wants things to be perfect."
"What plans?" I asked.
"That would be telling. Wish I could. I never liked secrets." Sarah said. She brushed her fingers along my cheek. I smelt them for a moment and smelt flowers. I never knew the different scents, but I knew enough to know they were fresh flowers on her fingers.
The car's floor made level with yet another floor and came to a rest. The walls were painted in light and dark green stripes that stretched down the end of the hallway to an open shower room. Rows and rows of rust speckled shower heads peered down at mildew coated tan tiles. Sarah pushed me forward into the hallway lit with hazy gloom and weak halogen fixtures that bled light like scabbing wounds. The smell of body odor swirled in the heated air.
"Need any help?" She said before omitting a bubbly laugh and dropping her hand down toward my chest. I rose my hand to meet it. My weak fingers touched her soft ones. She interlaced her fingers into mine and squeezed them.
"No, I don't." I said, pulling my fingers away and placing my hands on the metal rungs attached to the wheels. I gathered strength into my arms and pulled down on the rungs forward and the chair lurched forth a few inches.
"Let me help." Sarah said sounding scorned. A sharp strike rippled through the collapsible back of the wheelchair and I shot forward. The resistance in the left wheel caused the chair to swing around, tilt dangerously and before I regained control of the chair I spied Sarah re-entering the elevator and pressing a button.
"See you." Sarah said, sending a mock wave my way. I thought I saw one of her fingers stand a little higher than the rest as her hand dropped to her side. I breathed in and out in deep, hard breaths. I watched her ascend into the darkened shaft before I attempted to command the chair again. I placed my hands on the rungs again and paused. My index finger had gotten stung by the unexpected acceleration of the metal. I gripped the rung and rolled forward, the lonely sound of rubber squeaking against wet tile echoed through the balmy space.
The Sea and The Desert
"You looked like you recognized me." I said, to break the silence between the two of us. He stole a glance in my direction and swallowed something before speaking.
"Yeah. You look like some one I saw a little while back. He was on this road, covered in blood and dirt. He looked like hell as you'd imagine. Funny thing is, he shook my hand like you did. The boy you were with, you know where he is?"
"What boy?" I asked confused.
"Don't bullshit me. The boy, he stole my damn truck. He broke out of prison and killed a bunch of people doing it. He took that girl right out of her hospital bed, probably killed her too." He said the last part with a heavy weight in his throat. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands and secured his eyes on the road.
"Johnny, I honestly don't know who you're talking about." I said nervously. I breathed in slowly, knowing that though he wasn't staring at me, he didn't need to. He spoke volumes in the flowing silence. He had decided my guilt the moment he picked me up. I could only assume that the warning I got on the train was correct, that I was a wanted man, that I was going to be arrested and Johnny Two Rivers was eager to be the one to deliver me. I thought of ways I could get out from a moving truck, the obvious being the least savory in my mouth. I was a young man, he was an old one, and it wouldn't be a tall task to wrestle away life from the man, let alone the wheel or his consciousness. I didn't like the idea though, injuring an old man wouldn't help my case with the police, or anyone else I claim to, that I'm not a dangerous person. I had fuzzy memories like photographs sunk at the bottom of a murky lake. Try as I might, the memories still bubbled up and sent bitter disgust rising up my throat.
The next option after violence would have been convincing him I would hurt him if he didn't stop the car. The last option would have been almost as undesirable as the first, jumping out. Johnny hadn't locked the doors despite his suspicion, and he wasn't driving at a fatal speed should I jump out, but I imagined the impact would be anything if not horrifically painful. I gripped the door handle considering this option. The road sped by, turning from scorched sands choking dried underbrush to sizzling gray sidewalks lorded over by the burnt red, clay bricked buildings of a small town left unburdened by foot or car traffic. I searched the town for my eventual destination, a glimmering shield hovering over the words 'Police Department.' I had no idea what I did and the thought of learning those lost actions made sick burn through me like a shot of acid down my throat. The truck slowed and pulled over to a sidewalk. I gazed through the window and noticed that I wasn't staring at a police station. I looked across to a laundry mat. I peered through the other window, a restaurant.
"Johnny, what's going on? I thought you'd be trying to get me to a jail cell." I asked, wrapping my fingers around the door handle.
"No, that'll happen, but I got to talk to you. I need to know something. You hungry?" Johnny asked with that old charm that only old men possess. He exited the truck and crossed the street to the restaurant. I was shocked at how impossibly easy it became to escape. He didn't even look back to see if I was coming. The intelligent thing would have been to walk down the street, leave the old man to sit alone with his questions stewing in his mind. I would have been reckless, but productive to take the advantage of the small town sensibility Johnny had and might have snatched the key from the overhead hold and take the truck, but I didn't do the smart or productive thing. I walked across the street to the restaurant. The sun was high in the sky, but was starting to fail, giving the world the slightest hue of seared orange and stretching shadows a mile long down the lonely road. I wrapped my fingers round the door handle of the inexplicably named Seaside restaurant. The doors and windows wrapping round the restaurant were meticulously clean and tinted a light, cool blue like a deluge of water might wash pass my legs if I broke the seal on the door. The interior didn't flood out with my entrance, but Wayne Newton crooning his thanks by way of 'Danke Shoen' and a wall of icy air did escape into the warm summer afternoon. A single brunette waitress turned the cogs and greased the wheels. Her lone effort wasn't that tall considering that I was the third person that I could see to share the Seaside air.
I parked into a cracked red leather booth seat across from Johnny, who had a coffee cup clasped in his liver-spotted hands. The leather of the seat was thin from years of use and felt like it'd tear with my weight. The walls were a dark, oak style wood stretching up to the ceiling which looked to be in less impressive repair. It was dotted and stained with water damage and the signs of years of accumulated grease. Every rare moment, I turned my head in a new direction and found a trout or salmon posted on a plaque, its mouth wide open and its tail swishing. Johnny stared vacantly in my general direction, his brown eyes hinting at a going gray. The waitress placed a light hand on my shoulder and asked me if I'd like a coffee, I declined and opted for a glass of ice water.
"What's the problem?" I asked, breaking the silence with a blunt approach. Johnny's eyes returned to their original brown and his red cheeks reddened slightly, blossoming into a deep, dark crimson.
"I don't know how to say what I'm here to say without sounding like I'm nutty. Part of me thinks I am." He said, lifting the cup to his mouth. He gingerly placed it back down on the table that separated us and opened his mouth to speak and stopped as the waitress, Tina as her name tag suggested, placed a coaster on the table in front of me and then a perspiring glass of water. Tina strolled away and Johnny started up.
"Damn it all. I'll just sound crazy, then. I've been traveling down the road I found you on ever since I saw you the first time. That road's out of my way, but I had a feeling I needed to be on that road, like it was the place to be, you know what I mean?"
"Not the foggiest to be honest. I'm still under the impression that we never met before."
"Enough with that." Johnny said, waving away the comment. " I've been looking for you, though I didn't know it and I've been having dreams. Terrible ones where everything goes off the cliff. Ones with death, shotgun blasts flying through the air and not knowing if they're friendly or looking to kill you.. Ones with horrible fear and a big damn bomb blowing the world to hell. I don't understand it much myself, but there's a big bomb out there and there's someone looking to use it. They don't know what it will do. The world isn't as young as it used to be, it can't take the hit, it'll collapse in on itself." Johnny said, his eyes searching mine. I smiled stupidly, thinking he must have been joking, but knowing that what he said wasn't funny.
"Are you kidding?" I finally asked, pausing patiently for him to add something to the statement he had thrown out at me.
"I'm not." He said simply, a frown descending on his wrinkled face.
"Oh! The note." Johnny said excitedly. He gestured to my jacket pocket. I slowly rose my to the pocket and found nothing.
"No, the inner pocket." He said with the tone that this was the most obvious thing in the world. I checked that one and closed my fingers around a folded small piece of paper. I took it out and dropped it on the tabletop, a little white thing with 'Read me' written on top, worst for the travels I had made. I cracked the thing open. The fold was still crisp, but was joined by many others which hatched and cross-hatched across the thing. The note was written hastily in a sharp, red ink. A scanned the letter slowly and peered up to Johnny, my brow crinkled in confusion.
"Fear not the darkness, Cherish the days?" I repeated from the note, offering the thing to Johnny. He took it and gave the thing a once over before dropping the paper down to the table.
"I don't know what it means, but I dreamt that you had it. I think the message might have been meant for the both of us. I think it means we're going to die and we shouldn't be afraid of it." Johnny said, sounding like he wasn't interested in such advice. His face was draining its color and his cheeks moistened with sweat in the cold air. He picked the note back up, refolded it and slid the thing over to me and breathed a nervous sigh.
"What do you know?" Johnny asked, looking into his half-drank coffee cup. I took the note up and pocketed it. I took a long drink of the water, tasted the cold and its affect on my unsteady nerve.
"Nothing. I have these memories that I don't want, but they don't have anything to do with a bomb."
"You got to know something, damn it. This was all leading me to this conversation with you."
"I know nothing." I said, clearly. "Some bomb, some fight to the death. I know nothing, literally, nothing about it. All I know is that someone wants me prepared and decided to beat my ass earlier today to accomplish that. He says that I was being too soft on myself, that becoming who I was, was counterproductive. Whatever that means."
"Who said that?" Johnny asked, his eyes brightening to near ember.
"I don't know, executioners don't normally give names. They're rude like that." I snapped, the thought of his burning hands melting my flesh to the bone.
"Don't be an ass." Johnny spat. "What did he look like? What the hell do you know then, damn it."
"He had a dirty face and dirty hands, but he was in a pristine Cadillac and he was wearing a damn nice suit. He said he needed me ready, for what I can't say."
"He's the one that beat you up some?"
"He killed me some, I think."
I peeled from the gravel parking lot and down onto the road, the car bouncing as it made the transition. The man in the back, Riley his name was, moaned horribly and the two others sat uselessly beside him. I wanted to bark an order to them to comfort the man, but I elected to concentrate on the road before us. I shot down the road at a speed seemingly unnecessary, seeing as the men watched in a stupor as I whirled away from them. No one was chasing us as far as I could tell, no burning headlights rushed at us like fireballs through the night. My foot didn't ease off the gas pedal and my eyes wouldn't stop shooting back to the rear view mirror.
'Keep your eyes on the road.' I thought to myself and I would have, but each time I stole a glance at the mirror, I saw the shadows churn like rich, black pudding, something was back there, hiding behind the evil veil of the tall trees.
"Look back there," I ordered to the car as a whole, "You see anything." Mark knelt up on his seat and peered into the black void. He stayed silent for a second, leaning closer to the back window. I passed the car through a shaft of moonlight washing through a break in the trees and peered to the mirror. I saw it as Mark said it,
"Matt! Drive faster. They're coming after us." I pressed harder on the gas pedal and we lurched forward into the night. A black truck with a gleaming chrome grill had burst through the moonlit gap. Its headlights were out; it was a grim night thing, hungry and powerful. It was stalked back by a hot rod that I knew would easily overcome the pick up and my vehicle as well. For whatever reason, it was giving the lead to the black truck. Behind there was another sporty car, painted red with a fuming grill. It appeared to the left of the pick up, lagging further behind than the cherry hot rod. The three vehicles made a lopsided V along the road, a hunting formation.
The road ahead of us was straight, so I couldn't loose them in the turns and at some point, they'd decide this pursuit had gone long enough and the sports cars would run me into a ditch. I peered about the road, the tension bleeding up my spine in long terrible drips. The trees were narrowing, the moonlight was bathing more of the world its dim gloom. To the left, a clearing appeared, more accurately, the poorly fenced back yard of some soul fast a sleep. As soon as I noticed it and had the thought of cutting through to the street adjacent, did the sports car with the fuming grill cut that option off. He pulled up to my side and started to herd me to the right. I kept my space from him and slowed to get around when I realized the black pick up as on my back bumper. I peered around for another opening and found it in a field to the right. It didn't border a road that I could see but it was away from my pursuers. I cut to the right, saw the advance of the hot rod and its intention to T-bone me and relented in my gamble only to clip the speeding red blur as it advanced and caused me to whirl dangerously into the dead grass. We came to a rest as the other vehicles began to flank us. The black truck in front, the hot rod to my right and the sports car to my left. The car knocked its dazed surrender into the air as the car doors opened. I readied the handgun as I moved the gear shift into reverse.
"Mark, get up here." I said, my eyes glued to the advancing men. A black I remembered to be Malcolm, a thin man sporting a goatee I knew as Chuck and a few more men that I didn't know glared at us and approached as if we were the dangerous ones. Mark climbed over the seat and joined me in the front. I handed him the gun and told him to be ready. He took it reluctantly, holding it like a rotted piece of meat. I tried to restart the engine and it didn't seem interested in going for us. I kept turning the key in the ignition and getting nothing from it in return. As I did so, I watched as the men outside reached back into their respective vehicles and re-emerging with unfriendly artifacts with banana clips and snub noses attached. I grimaced and worked the ignition quicker as they prepared their guns for action, aiming them and taking bracing stances.
"Mark..." I said, stealing a glance to him and realizing he had the gun in his lap rather than aimed and at the ready. I made a prayer that something would happen if I switched gears and it did when I put the car in drive. The car shot forward and ran right into the black truck as the men panicked and dove out of the way. I took the opportunity to try the reverse and it happily worked, though the slam forward didn't do anything positive for the injured man in the back or any of the able bodied people for that matter. We swung backward and away from the blockade of vehicles and escaped back onto the road, breaking away to the left. I didn't waste a second of our new head start, blasting down the road as the battered car whined its displeasure.
The head start was short lived, but our pursuers were sluggish in its start. My car was still running after the crash so I had to assume his would be active, but I and the other two would be far ahead of the black truck, whose glinting grill had come off after the crash. The hot rod was blasting forth like the sports car couldn't, just tapping the back bumper of our sedan. I swerved into the left lane and dropped my speed so I was behind him and he mirrored me, taking an opportunity to bump my side as if to say, I'm not letting you go so easily. With my decreased speed, the sports car reminded me it was still in the game, bumping my bumper from behind. The two of them started to herd me off the road. I was in a bad place and I couldn't think of a great way out.
"Shoot the fucking gun at them." Riley blurted out. I didn't like the idea, but I down right hated the idea of dying in a car wreck. It was my only option until a better one showed up in the form of a split in the road. A humble green sign told me that I'd be turning on to Ext. 41. 'There's my exit.' I whispered to myself. I spied the sports car and could tell it knew my intention. It couldn't do much about it though, if he attempted to block me, I could run him off the road and the hot rod couldn't stop me either. He could pass me easily, but he'd open up the right lane, the straight away road. I kept my straight path, planning on turning at the last minute, give them seconds, milliseconds of time to react. Ext. 41 came for me, I turned sharply and the sports car tried to block me as I predicted and I rushed him off the road into a guard rail, through the guard rail and off to cleave down the outstretched limbs of dried out Joshua trees, splitters whirring into the air. Meanwhile, the hot rod was forced to keep his previous route, his only other option being smashing into the partition between the two roads. I breathed a sigh of relief, but took it back as my rear view mirror alerted me to the black truck sans its grill. It was a distance away from us, but gaining ground and though it was a truck and therefore couldn't be pissed off, the thing's speed and broken face made it look fairly pissed off. I kept my speed to force him to keep his distance, but he was driving hard, using every bit of his horse power. He was wasting it though, my new road had many options, many roads to disappear into. I took the first one that came to me, then another and then a third to make sure. I stole into a vacant driveway and waited, turning off the engine and not caring if it wouldn't turn back on. I hadn't realized how stiff my bones were, how much they were hurting me. My fingers were locked around the steering wheel and I half considered asking Mark to help me get them loose. I concentrated on breathing and reassured myself that the rest would fall into place. The story didn't' end here, I've seen it and it's not in a shadowy driveway.
I tried the car after a half hour of silence in the driveway, it didn't start for me. I grimaced at the sound of dying sparks under the hood.
"One more thing, please." I prayed to the steering wheel.
"Try it in drive." Vicky finally piped up. I switched the car into drive and peered forward to the ranch house before us. 'Probably shouldn't drive through that.' I thought to myself. I shifted the car into neutral and announced to the car in general that we needed to get out and push. Mark and I took up the call for pushing while Vicky took the steering wheel.
"What was that, back there in the field?" I asked as my feet found traction in the driveway pavement.
"I never fired a gun before." Mark admitted, taking more of the car's weight than I had expected. The car rolled from the driveway as Vicky turned the car out road-ward.
"Try it." I told Vicky. A moment later, the car roared and whined like some sort of dying predator.
"Just one more thing." I said, tapping the hood. Vicky left the driver's seat and kept the door open for me. I stepped in and Riley leaned forward, wincing terribly.
"We've lost them, right? We can take me to a hospital?"
"Sorry, not quite. The hot rod is doubling back, it'll shadow us, but that's a good thing. It'll draw out Pete. Mark, you're going to take him out and I get to slip away just as the Arizona Police come to arrest his boys."
"I'm fighting him alone?" Mark asked a strange mixture of fear and revelry blooming across his bruised flesh.
"I can't go against him. He's a hacksaw and you're the only one of who can't get hacked." I said, holding up my hand. The cut I had gotten on the train while walking to Jamie and Bentley had scabbed over, but clearly was healing like normal man's wounds.
"You're human." Mark said breathlessly.
"And you are, Mark. You're just stuck. Hopefully, something could be done about that." I said more to my other self, hoping I could hear me. Mark stayed silent and the revelry escaped his fac.
" We win, the bomb doesn't go off. Just in case, I've got two guys waiting at the finish line with a hand full of guns." I said with a smile flashing back to him and Vicky. I started the car down the road, taking a page from the boys and leaving my lights off. I kept my speed down because driving through the darkness was a talent I didn't have and in fact, I gave up on my secrecy in return for safety. The black truck was gone and the hot rod wasn't in sight, though I knew it was there. I picked up speed and burned through my sand swept surroundings. The faint glow of houses held off in the distance, leading me to Johnny and Mitchell.
I pulled into the convenience store parking lot alongside Johnny's truck. The old man slept in the driver's seat while Mitchell laid back in the backseat. He perked up and looked nervous.
"Is it time?" He called to me.
"Not yet." I called back. I gestured for Mark to give me Warren's six-shooter. He grimaced, apparently not wanting to give it up, but knowing he'd never use it. I got out of the car and started toward the store, limping the stiff stress from my body.
"Where are you going?" Mark asked nervously.
"I'm thirsty." I said, not looking back to any of them. I tucked the gun under my belt toward my back. Someone followed behind me, but I wasn't in the right mind to care.
I opened the door and a electronic bell sang my entrance. The store was empty save for a tired looking man with gray hair and a pair of wire rimmed glasses on his face. I hobbled toward the back cooler and popped it open selecting a cherry cola. I hadn't drank a cherry cola in forever, the argument could be made that I had never drank a cherry cola. I was the severed hand of a man who liked cherry cola. I unscrewed the top and praised the liquid as it spilled down my throat. I turned to get to the counter and standing behind me was Vicky. She wasn't here in my memory, why was she here now. I peered down at her, she was beautiful, just like her grandmother. Her brown hair, her brown eyes, it was all so beautiful. She opened her mouth with a nervous air escaping her lips.
"You kissed my fingers?" On a better, this might not have been a question, but a clarification of events. The way the words fell from her mouth implied that she wasn't sure if any of the things she'd seen had been real.
"Yes." I said simply.
"I was in the hospital, I was hurt bad and you kissed my finger, you were crying at my bed side."
"Who are you?" The tempting thought crossed my mind to tell her that I was her grandfather, but then I wondered if she'd believe me. There were things I could tell her about Jenny that might make me credible, but more likely an old man with a young face would be as convincing as a known swindler trying to sell his honesty.
"No one." I said in a somber whisper. "You've been through a lot. You want a drink." I asked, suddenly sounding like my own father. His voice was so far away from me now and it felt good to just have that for the fleeting moment that it was there. She stared at me in unsure silence and I broke a smile out for her. She smiled at me and I opened the cooler door for her. She got a cherry cola as well. I paid for both and drank the cola with her as the door burst open and Mitchell came in with the shotgun in hand and panic on his face.
The moon hung low in the inky black sky, no stars peered beyond the clouds swirling over head. I breathed the stress away from my shaking nerves. We had gotten away, Vicky was alive. I pressed my hands against the near dead green sedan as it knocked and pinged, settling in the hot exposure of the convenience store parking lot. The sound of foots shattered the calm and I turned in time to avoid a strike to my face. Pete had found us. He swung again and it connected, a spray of crimson jetted to the ground. I peered to the red truck and saw the old Indian man wobble out and skirt me and Pete. He disappeared around along the side of the sedan. The sound of a door popping open sounded before another blows slammed into my gut and yet another descended upon the back of my skull. I dropped to the ground and my head was wrenched up by a strong hand. My body followed hastily and wildly, savage blows bashed my stomach, each one pushing more and more air out of me and filling my mouth with more blood. Pete finished his volley with a hard fist into my face, my lip burst open, my vision when fuzzy and I crashed to the ground, limp and spitting. Three or four whirring old Indian men dragged a hand full of wincing Ripleys before being met by mass of black clad limbs bearing shiny things. The old men held a pistol between himself and the black mass. Another Indian man burst out and was wielding a shotgun. The two weapons kept the mass at bay long enough to get the Ripleys into the store.
"Disappointing me, boy. I was expecting some fire in your belly after the venom you were spouting." Pete said with vitriol bellowing off of every word. He dropped a heavy foot down toward me, but I rolled out of the way. He made another attempt and I evaded that attack as well. He changed tactics and swung his legs, catching me in the lower back. I cried out and made an attempt for my feet. The attempt got me a blow to my side and I crashed to the ground again. I rolled to avoid any future strikes coming my way and managed to find my knees. Pete charged, I grabbed him around the waist and slammed him to the ground. I swung on him, shot my fists as fast as I could. I bashed him repeatedly about the face and the back of his head drove into the parking lot asphalt. Both his and my blood ran down his face and beard. He put an end to my strikes with a blow to my side. I eased off him and he took the opportunity to take another blow to my chest. I dropped a heavy into his face before relenting to my feet. I backed away, breathing through the blood filling my mouth. Pete got to his knees and I swung the long, hard bone of my shin across his face and his neck snapped loudly. He dropped back to the ground in a motionless heap. I spat a stream of blood out before walking away toward the store front. I got a few steps in before my legs were taken out from under me and I went crashing to the ground head first. Blood pooled in the gravel beneath me from origins unknown, it just poured from me. Pete's forearm wrapped around my neck and constricted tight. Pressure built in my face and neck as air was refused access. I struggled my way my feet and jumped backward, he was prepared and held in balance. I shoved an elbow into his ribs and tried again. This time, we slammed to the ground and his grip relented for a moment before he regained it. I jerked my head back and felt it hit his chest uselessly. I tried to hit him with my elbow again and slammed it into the ground. Spots flowed in my vision and haze burned my lungs and face. I blacked out still trying to limply attack him. I awoke while the ground crawled under me. My ankles throbbed with an iron grip.
"Fuck you." I spat, tasting nothing but the iron of red in my mouth. He slowed his progress to look at me. He shot me a weary, blood drenched smile and picked up the pace. I patted my hands around the ground around me and closed my hands around a sharp feeling rock. I launched the rock at Pete's face, his head snapped back in a whirl of blood and he released my ankle. Before he regrouped I shot up onto shaky legs and dropped a hard fist down on his head. He reeled back and I breathed the haze out of my head, taking more time to do so than I should have and being punished as a steely hand wrapped around my throat. My windpipe clasped shut and a hard hand slammed against my face. A second blow rushed toward me and I blocked it, delivering one of my own. He relented his grip and stumble backward. I threw a foot into his gut and he grunted throatily as he again back stepped. I eyed the looming Cliffside not far from us, I thought of rushing him and throwing him down flashed in my mind. I hooked in a headlock and rushed him backward toward the edge and as we approached, he hooked me round the thighs and dropped me down. I landed head first, rolled and kept rolling. Each attempt at orienting myself caused further injury so I allowed myself to go limp and roll the distance that remained. I finally landed at the basin of the hill and picked my bloody, broken self up and dodging Pete's descent down the hill. I brought up my good arm in a strike and bashed Pete in the face, he reeled and left himself open for another strike to the face. I batted him again and again until he was on his knees. With a bloody scream that burned through the night, I put more than I had in me into a kick across his head. His head snapped back, whirled and he dropped to the ground. I peered down at him, knowing he'd rise again and not being willing leave him until he stopped rising. My left arm hurt and I was sure it was broken. Blood drained from me in continuous streams, pooling in the dirt below. The ramble of a car sounded in the distance. I turned and saw that I stood on the road that rested below. As expected, Pete rose slowly and shakily, spitting out a long sticky chord of blood.
"I'm going to kill you, I swear." Pete spat.
He got to one knee and I dropped an elbow on the crest of his skull. He fell a short measure and rose again. I hit him again and again he rose. The strikes seemed to hurt me more than it was hurting him. I stepped back and panted, trying to help the air flow down my nostrils. Pete rose to his feet and charged me. In that moment, the car drove over the ridge and I took hold of Pete. I lifted him up with both arms, my broken one screaming, and threw him in the path of the car. He hit the windshield and bounced into the air, his hat flying and his hair whirling in a spiral of gray. He smacked the ground with a hellish thud and didn't move. The car had skidded to a stop. The driver stepped out with a look of horror plastered across his face. He looked sick as he approached Pete's limp body and almost completely ignored me. I made a path toward the hill side and attempted my climb. As I moved upward, I heard the man call to Pete and then the man scream out in horrific pain. I turned and saw Pete digging his fingers into the man's esophagus. I turned to attack and he rushed to attack. We met in a tackle which he managed to prevail in. I found myself on my back being bashed in the face until darkness descended over me. The pain, the fury, the violence was gone.
All things were and weren't at the same time. I was somewhere low, being pulled along something hard and bumpy. Voice like sounds echoed in the forever bloom of shadows, they made noises I understood on one level and couldn't possibly understand, on another.
"Hold them until the rest show up. Then kill them alive." A voice called, but who was it talking about. I was the only one here. I was completely alone.
All of us were on the ground, away from the long windows speckled with sand and pigeon waste. Behind the windows, the boys were flashing their machine guns, circling like vultures waiting for their meat. I did an inventory of our resources inside the store. I wasn't sure of Mitchell's ability to use a gun, which might not have been that big an issue. What ever bodies or ammo we had was obviously eclipsed by what they had. We had two handguns, a shotgun and two people who might have any idea how to use them. They had fucking machine guns, the type that chopped trees down and not the thin ones either. The store clerk locked the door, trembling fingers struggling with the bolt. He then went for the phone as the lights went out.
"Shit," Mitchell said. The next thing was head lights cutting through the glass, sending long shafts of light along the floor. I took my gun out and clenched the thing for the security it held. I peered around a shelve, looking across the long parking lot, passed a row of vehicles spaced a fair twenty-five feet from the door, to an old pick up truck turning out to the road. Mark had been beaten. I had made a unthinkable mistake. The future was wrong and we were going to die for it. I peered to Vicky, whose face had lost its color and who's hand wrapped around a thin screw. She kept herself in a tight ball of limbs and tiny, trembling prayers.
"Five bullets." I said in a thoughtful whisper. I studied the world outside, six gunmen.
"Everyone stay down, stay low." I said to the store. It wasn't a necessary command. Everyone was tucked in tight and down low, but I needed them to stay that way, bullets would be firing very soon.
I stood and cocked the six-shooter. I moved toward the door, popped the lock open and swung the door out into the light of the head lights. I saw them raise their guns, the bullets were about to fly. I rose my weapon, popped off two shots which sailed into one man, his gun dropping to the ground. The bullets burst forth, chasing my heels and sending sand and gravel into the air. I ran hard, eyeing my target and eyeing my attacker at the same time. I stole away the parked sedan as the metal behind me rattled and burst. I was by the trunk, I needed to be by engine, that would be the smart thing or better yet, not where they knew where to shoot at me. The gun fire stopped and seconds later the car's frame fell a few inches. I peered up to an angry face wielding his hateful metal. I scrambled under Johnny's adjacent truck and catching the edge of a bullet as I emerged on the other side. My leg was soaked with blood but it was only the meat, mostly the outer flesh. My mind made it worst than it was and I knew I hadn't the time to make mountains. I forced the panic from my lungs, forced my hands to stop shaking, for a moment I thought I stopped my leg from bleeding. The gunmen was coming, I needed to evaluate, three bullets and a wounded leg; at least four more men with guns waiting for slaughter.
I crouched myself behind the truck's massive engine, cocked my gun and studied the shifting shadows. The gunman's shadow angled long, almost touching the store. He was to my left and approaching me slowly. The elongated shadow was difficult to gage in terms of gun placement. If he had it down, I could pop one in his chest and fall back down. If the gun was cocked and aimed, he'd blow through me like wet tissue paper. The third option was to just have the gun aimed where he should be and fire before he got the chance to. Even if I hit first, he could still fire at me, less accurate of course, but still with danger abound. Then the situation thickened, the sound of shuffling footsteps brought forth the slender shadows of a second gunman. One down, three covering the door and two were coming after me. The truck dipped with the gunmen's weight. Whatever I did, I had to do it soon.
An echoing blast rocked through the air and my eyes widened at the sight of the first gunmen turned his head to see what had happened. I shot up and unleashed to shots into his chest. He fell back and the second gunman launched forth from his hiding spot in time to see me escape around the truck. On the other side, the first gunman grunted and gutted his teeth, blood bubbling from his lips and spurting from his chest. He fought weakly to raise his weapon at me and I gave him my last bullet. He died quickly and offered me his gun in return. The second gunmen launched himself around the truck again and toward me, but I dropped him like the other, the only difference being the amount of bullets used. I collected his weapon and studied further for more movement. There was none, the shadows weren't giving me anything. I crawled and peered around the sedan and saw who made the big boom. Johnny stood frozen with the shotgun aimed at no one. I ran hunched over with the guns in hand. Two of them were missing, only two bodies rested on the ground.
"Johnny, get back in the store." I said to him in a loud whisper. I swayed my head from side to side, looking for them, keeping my gun at the ready. Johnny didn't heed my request, he remained with his shotgun aimed and his finger on the trigger.
" Johnny, get to the truck. It's gone wrong, we can at least get out of here." I told him. He seemed to like this idea better because he started toward the car while I passed him, watching for the stray gunmen. The truck door popped open and then slammed shut, the sound made my trigger finger itch. The truck started to swing out from the parking space when one of the strays peeked his head out. He opened fire on the truck, bullets burning through the tires and bursting the glass. I unleashed the remainder of one of my guns at the man and blood launched into the air before he disappeared back behind the corner he came from.
"Johnny!" I called, keeping my eyes on the corner for more attacks. Johnny didn't answer.
"Johnny!" I called again, stealing a quick glance back to the truck. The little that I saw was a little bit of movement. I wasn't sure if it was just gravity or the shifting of an injured man. I back stepped my way to the truck, my eyes locked on the dangerous corner. My heels hit the bullet riddled truck and I called to Johnny again, softer this time.
"Johnny, are you alive?"
"Yeah," Johnny said, his voice, wet and quivering.
"You've been shot?"
"Is it bad, can you get back to the store?"
"I don't think so."
"Give me the double-barrel." I said, exchanging it for the machine gun. "Keep an eye on that corner." I said, pointing to the dangerous one. I then crept around the truck, looking for the bodies. They might have something, they might have a phone, some sort of communication. I patted at the bloodied navy green pants of the second gunmen I dispatched. I pulled a hard thing from his pants pocket, a long folding knife. In his other pocket was baggy of some powder I didn't recognize. I assumed it was some sort of drug and pocketed it. I moved to the first gunman, patted down his black jeans. In one pocket was a magazine for the gun, in the other was lint. I turned to the light blocked by the destroyed sedan and figured out the obvious. If the lights were on, the cars were on, and their keys were in their ignitions. That didn't necessarily mean those vehicles were vacant. They could be harboring any sort of murderers and not to forget the second stray, where was he?
I turned and popped the truck door open and snatched the two birding guns, it wouldn't kill a grown man, but a shot to the face would hurt like hell.
"How you doing Johnny?" I asked.
"I'll live." Johnny said, his declaration wasn't very convincing, what with his struggling breaths.
" Watch the door, I'll try and get us out of here." I exited the car with the birding guns under my arm and the newly replenished machine gun at the ready. I hit the store doors with more force than I had expected, moving at a half jog, half limp across the parking lot. I swung the door open and dropped a gun on the counter and one in front of Mitchell.
"I need some back up." I said to the clerk who's face had turned paper white. Mitchell took up his gun and peered over to the window.
"Where are they?" He asked.
"Some are dead, but one of them is still out there somewhere." I thrusted the gun toward the clerk, his name tag read Glenn, but he was reluctant to take it. His hands slowly and with such defeat, closed around the weapon and the three of us started toward the doors.
"Vicky, we'll be back for you and him in a second." I told her, popping open the door and waiting for Mitchell and the clerk to filter out. I left right afterward, moving ahead of the other two. We bounded to the row of burning head lights, the clerk's panicked, heavy breaths rattling in my ears.
The three of us slowed as the cars neared. I raised my gun and signaled for the others to do the same. I scanned for a sign of life and saw none. The lights were now and all that. I waved Mitchell ahead to the passenger's side of a dark blue muscle car and I took the driver's. We aimed our guns around for good measure and then scrambled our way in and Glenn did the same for the back seat. I shifted the car into drive and rolled the car up by the store door. I peered in and grimaced. The stray had shown himself. He had his arm wrapped around Vicky's neck and had a gun aimed at us with the other hand. I pressed on the gas as bullets erupted forth, shattering the glass and sending it at us. We stopped once we were out of harm's way and I asked the million dollar question.
"We have to get them. Who's coming in with me?" Glenn immediately shook his head no and I didn't blame him.
"Fuck." Mitchell said, I wasn't sure what that meant until he got out of the car with me. The two of us skirted along the store wall while keeping as low as we could. The muscle car we had exited suddenly peeled off, heading toward freedom and the night washed road. Mitchell spat Fucker out after him, but I still couldn't blame him.
A commotion arose in the store and against my better judgement, I peered into the store and watched as the injured man wrestled with the gunman. The fight was more the gunman ramming the injured man into random shelves and cooler doors. The injured man kept his hold and the gunman held Vicky fast. It was as good an opportunity as any, the gunman couldn't quite use the weapon he had while fighting with two other people. I called to Mitchell, told him to charge with me and soon the gunman was fighting with four instead of two. The injured man dropped to the ground and his concern became not being stepped on. Next Vicky was broken loose and Mitchell forced the gunman into and then through a cooler door. The man was either unconscious or dead and no one was terribly concerned with figuring which it was. I picked up his gun and I handed it to Mitchell. He then offered his rifle to Vicky who cradled the thing nervously.
"Are you Okay?" I asked the injured man who was stretched out on the ground with sweat pouring off him relentlessly.
"Fuck you." He said, breathlessly. I helped him on one side and Mitchell took the other and the two of us moved toward the door as new lights moved toward us.
A bouncing wall of light rode toward us, none of which were the spinning blue of police lights. I set Riley down and hunkered down myself, keeping away from the broken windows. The cars pulled into the parking lot and their doors popped open. Simple laughter floated toward us, as did calls of "You've got shot the fuck up, man." And "These fuckers aren't going down easy." Johnny was out there alone and dying with murderers for company. The amount of light pouring in through the windows said I wouldn't succeed if I tried what I had earlier, but calls came ringing through the shattered glass. My name was cut on the shards. They yelled for me individually, claiming something special for me. Bottles sailed through the windows to scatter along the floor. Rocks and random debris followed shortly and skidded into the coolers, cracking the glass. The sounds of machine gun fire popping through the air burned my focus. I couldn't think. All I could hear was my name, glass shattering, guns firing and continuous laughter. They were having a good old time out there and they wanted me.
"How did he get in here?" I whispered to Vicky, nodding to the gunman wedged into the cooler door.
"He just showed up. I don't know from where."
"So not from the front door?"
"No. We had our eyes on it, we were waiting for you." Riley said.
"Mitchell, keep low and try and find the back entrance. There's one somewhere. Get them out, I'm going out front."
"No." Vicky whispered. I ignored her, standing and moving to the door. A loud cheer broke out at my sight and the cheer gave way to applause as I walked out into the parking lot, my machine gun in hand.
I moved toward a crowd of men, cracked smiles plastered across their faces and identical machine guns in their hands. The crowd parted to reveal the blood soaked murderer, the dead man, first of my companions. His face was lined with deep cracks and dried black blood. His clothes were torn rags barely clinging to his twisted frame. When his black void eyes fell on me, a smile like the earth cracking in to formed on his face. He walked forward and the crowd began to swallow the two of us. He'd spoken before so I had expected some sort of repartee, but instead he just charged at me, his fists like boulders cinched on by blood colored leather. His hand knocked into my face and my feet left the ground, my back quickly taking their place. The machine gun left my hand and slid away along the pavement. I rolled to my chest and got a boot heel to the back of my head. My face smacked into the ground, bursting a blood filled balloon somewhere. My face and the ground beneath it was covered in the sticky red. Fingers ran through my hair, gripping and pulling it upward until I was nearly on my knees. Somewhere in the world, calls screeched through the pain riddled darkness and the fingers were wrested from my head. I fell back to the ground and then I was picked up and put on my feet. In a daze, I saw a knife being forced out of the dead man's hands. He was going to slit my throat with that, wasn't he?
He was released sans the knife and I was pushed forward. He took a swing at me and my unsteady legs saved me from tasting it. He swung again and missed again. About this time, I figured that I should be fighting and threw a punch. It popped him in the eye, but he didn't seem to notice the pain. I threw another hand at him and his head snapped back, but his body lurched forward. His fingers locked around my neck and I shoved a knee into his groin and then into his gut. Still he did not release me. I drove a fist into his face and again I drove it into his throat and finally his grip was released. He fluttered back onto his ass and I charged at the opportunity, driving my knee into his unprotected face. He broke back, his body skidding into a wide spread eagle.
The boys were getting antsy, shifting about with their guns raising and lowering. They'd be shooting soon enough. That fate was delayed for a time by the dead man rising again. He was on his feet and attacking before my mind could understand the action being taken. He swung hard and I dodged, springing back into one of the boys. He shoved me forward back into the dead man who snatched me by the collar and swung me off my feet and to the ground. I crashed into the asphalt and felt a wet crack somewhere inside me, heard a wet crack inside of me. The woos coming from the crowd said they heard it too. The sound didn't detour the dead man and he compounded my pain with a foot along my skull. I think that made some noise, but I couldn't be sure. His fingers wrapped around my hair and I was pulled up to my knees. A pair of strong hands were wrapped around my skull and some instinct inside me knew he was about to snap my neck.
"Ay, ay, stop him. We haven't seen shit yet. This guy was supposed to have just kill six of us." A voice called.
"Let's just be done with this, man." Another voice called in contention.
"Is this what you've become?" I whispered to the dead man. "You're entertainment. You're a circus chimp." He wrenched my neck painfully, but not lethally. That was a warning.
The argument continued, but ended with the consensus that I should die. The dead man didn't move, but chose to growl in anger. He shoved me to the ground and marched forward. I wasn't looking at his path of destruction, but heard screams and gunfire. Some of which was aimed at me. This time, it wasn't a bullet along my leg, but through it. The bone shattered and my leg was useless. Next was more gunfire, the dead man was killing and Johnny was firing from his truck. I dragged myself along the ground, toward him. He was my way out. I hurried as fast as a shot man could to the truck. In the confusion, no one was tracing the gun fire to him and that was a blessing. I reached the truck, and that was a blessing. Lastly, blue lights swirled in the black night air, whirring the siren cries and cleaving the crowd of murderers apart. I was under Johnny as he fired and a bullet from nowhere flew toward us. Johnny's head cracked back and he disappeared beyond the window's horizon. His shotgun crashed down on me and Johnny disappeared out of view. I was breathless, but couldn't tarry. Bullets flew toward me, but not with much accuracy.
Some ran on foot, while others escaped into cars, others fired at the police officers, while others still were snatched and thrown to the ground.
I began the hell of dragging my destroyed leg along the ground, a snail trail of blood following me and Johnny's shotgun clutched clumsily in my hand. I wasn't sure where I was going to, but I knew I needed to be there soon. The thought fell into my mind with a sudden burst of pain. The bomb, Mark had failed to stop Pete and the bomb was still going to go off. My fingers closed around the door handle of one of the boy's cars. A red hot rod, the one I had evaded on the road. It was fast and that's exactly what I needed. I dragged my frame into the driver's seat and grinned at the keys swinging in the ignition. An arm swung around my neck, a strong one, wrapped in a leather sleeve.
"I came here for a little killing and I haven't had any. You did good on the road, better with a gun. But now, I'm going to snap your neck and drive off into the night." I pieced together the face by the way the voice sounded.
"Malcolm, your name is right?" I asked.
"Yeah." He whispered, tightening his grip on me.
"I'm in the driver's seat." I said, wrenching the gear shift into reverse, turning the key and stamping on the gas. We slammed into a police car and Malcolm lost his grip on me. I put the car in drive and burst forth, the wheel screeching madly. I roared out onto the road as lights followed me.
"Stop the fucking car!" Malcolm roared at me, but my leg was roaring louder. He gripped me around the neck again and I brought the butt of shotgun up into his face and again to silence his woozy grunts. The phantom screeches of the police were deafening. The hot rod kept us a safe distance from them, but they kept securely in my rear view and worst yet, they would pop up at random points. Tagging my side after launching from a random exit. I kept my distance from them all, knowing the price for being caught wasn't a jail cell, it was oblivion and oblivion shook the earth beneath us all. In the far distance, a glowing orange halo stabbed at the night sky. A boom cut through the sirens, through Malcolm's curses and the pain in my leg. The bomb had gone off.
The smell of over chard marshmallows lifted my head. I sat across from Chris who slowly turned a marshmallow over a crackling campfire beside his little sister. Her marshmallow was a swelling torch. The fire rested in the midst of a forest of black trees. In the far distance, a murky light like headlights shining through thick fog swirled in wait.
"I think your marshmallow is done." Chris said.
"I like them burnt."
"Where am I?" I asked, not grasping the fact that I was speaking with dead people. Mya extinguished her marshmallow and started to pick off the black flesh with her fingernails.
"We don't know." Chris said, taking his marshmallow from the flame and taking a bite from it.
"Maybe that's why she's late." Mya said.
"That doesn't explain why you're here, Mark." Chris said.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Vicky needs you. A lot of people need you. There's more to do, man." Chris said as the darkness rustled and a slender figure moved toward us.
"Can't I stay here? I've done a lot and I've been so tired."
"There's more to this than just you, Mark. The world, the whole of existence needs you to finish this. Get up."
"I'm not you. This is too much." I said, my lips prickling and a chill washing down my spine.
"I died, I was shot down in a diner. You've done far more than I did and you will do more. Get up." Chris told me, his eyes pleading. The figure moved into the light and I knew her face. She'd lost her drugged out doll eyes, but looked the same in the flickering fire light. She sat beside me, placing a comforting hand on my back.
"Kelly." I said simply. My mouth hung open and I realized the common thread running through my company.
"I let you all die. I can't do that anymore. I don't have the stomach to see death everywhere." A hand that wasn't Kelly's dropped on my shoulder.
"Then do something about it." Morrison said, looking down at me with a gentleness that I had never seen on his face. I looked from face to face, each glowing in some sort of need. They needed me to get up.
I was tired of seeing people die.
I awoke in a pool of my own blood in a well lit room. I pushed myself with quivering limbs to a seated position. All that was around me was a metal, meat cutting table and a locked metal door. The room wasn't cold, though my loss of blood made it feel that way. I peered forward with dizzy eyes as the door opened and Sarah sauntered in with a black bag in hand. She knelt in silence and opened the bag. A white bit of cotton in hand, she dabbed at the bloody cuts on my face, breathing out sweet breath for me to take.
"I think I like you." I said, my mind unable to extend itself beyond that room and her proximity. She didn't respond in the slightest, not even a facial twinge. I wanted to repeat myself, but it felt better to let her clean the blood from my face. As the blood was clear, she moved to a pair of tweezers, picking tiny pebbles out from my skin and hands. That didn't feel as good, neither did the hydrogen-peroxide. I would have batted her way, said I'd heal fine without it, but if not physically, mentally it felt good to be cared for. She had finished, placed the appropriate bandages on and was about to leave when I caught her hand. She didn't resist me, but didn't seem too enthused by my contact. I pulled her closer despite it and placed a bruised and bound hand on her chin. With that I drew her near and kissed her softly.
"You should leave here, please." I said, drawing her in for another kiss. As our lips touched, I felt a shutter move through her and as she leaned in closer, I felt her wet tears on my cheek. She put her arms around my neck and gave me greedy kisses as she fell into me. I pulled away for a moment, touching her forehead with mine.
"You need to leave, it's not safe here." I kissed her again and pushed her away, realizing that some of the tears on my face were my own. The door opened behind the to of us and in came Hector and the looming, grim faced Mexican. The Mexican said something along the lines of 'Get out,' in Spanish and Sarah stole a watery glance at me. I nodded and she left. The Mexican balled and un-balled his fists and I understood that there was going to be some fighting.
The Mexican wrenched me up to my feet and a fist slammed into my gut. I roared and bent my knees to fall, but he held me up. As my eyes regained focus, I saw a knife in Hector's hand .
"One more death will change nothing." He whispered, drawing back the blade. He held it by his waist, his muscles itching for the kill. The door popped open as the blade launched forth, sliding cleanly into my stomach and retracting only to fly back in. I screeched out a bloody cry, literally splattering blood out onto the Mexican and Hector. The Mexican allowed me to fall to my knees, the knife still stuck in my belly. I found it hard to hold myself up, even on my knees, so I fell to my chest. A loud argument broke out, but I only could understand half of it, partially because Hector was screaming in Italian and partially because a pressure was throbbing away in my ears. I wanted to black out, but something was saying I shouldn't. I wanted to pull myself up, I knew I wouldn't go under if I could just sit up, but my midsection was useless.
"You had no fucking right!" Pete's voice boomed. I was kicked over onto my back and the blade was wrenched out unceremoniously. I screeched again, but this time it was far wetter. Hector yelled something in his language and Pete barked, "Fuck you. We don't have time for that bullshit." Hector started to speak, then there was a sound like a hard hand cracking a face open, then a clattering of feet and then a heated silence.
Pete broke the silence with a voice marred by rage like I've never heard from him, "Get the fuck out before I take this blade and do something I'll regret." Two sets of feet left the room and hands were placed on my shoulders. I was rose to a seated position against the wall and Pete knelt to look at me. His face mirrored his voice, etched out of a large mound of rage. His breath rattled and burned and a second later, he cracked a hard hand across my jaw, breaking it. I fell with the momentum of the hit, only to be lifted back up. He lifted my fractured chin up to examine the damage.
"Better fucking be worth it." He said, dropping my chin and turning to leave. The light was turned off and the door was slammed behind him, but it didn't stay closed. It bounced back, spilling light back into the room as his hard footsteps dulled away into the sound of silence. The door opened shortly after, the slender silhouette of Sarah slunk through the darkness and took me up with a struggling, strained breath. I helped her the best I could, which seemed not to be by much. My ascent was still slow and I hung low off her shoulder as she moved me toward the door. We made a turn toward the stairs and the fresh sane air there behind laid. It was tempting, but I had business to finish, miles and miles before I'd sleep.
"No." I told her, breaking away toward the wall. She followed me, trying to take me back up, but I resisted with a pathetic effort. She took me under my arms and helped me right myself.
"We should leave." She said, emphasizing the collective noun. She didn't try to take me in the direction I was trying to avoid, but she offered up her silent hope that I'd go with her.
"I have to finish this"
"Why!" She asked, frustration bubbling up on her face.
"Because this is what I am. There is where I belong." I said to her, breaking her grip and standing with strength given to me by the pain of a knife in my gut and the fire that bled from it. I stared down the hall, passed the room where I drove a knife into Morrison, to the evil white glow that escape out from under that heavy metal door. I took a step toward it and away from Sarah.
"Leave, I'll be okay. He might be a hacksaw, but I'll break a couple of his teeth out." I told her, not fully grasping that she wasn't familiar with the comparison Matt had made. I marched my way down the hall, breathing the stinging pain out from my waist.
"Mark..." Sarah called with the quavering sound of defeat betraying her.
"I'll be fine." I said back to her. She turned and was gone and somehow I knew I'd never see her again.
My hand landed on the cold handle of the metal door at the end of the hall. As I had expected it didn't turn. The stupidest thing I could have done turned out to be the only thing I could think of, so I started to make a racket. My foot flew through the wood of a sturdy looking door. My shoulder slammed into and through the wood of another. Finally, someone came to investigate, not from behind the metal door, but from one of the doors I had abused. A young man swung a broken door open brandishing a gun at me. I laughed at him, not because anything at all was funny, but because I had lost a little bit of blood and was starting to enjoy light-headedness. I smacked the gun away from staring at me and then drove my palm into his face, remembering how much it hurt when Hector did it to me. His head snapped back and his grip stayed on the gun. It went off near my side, but not through it and I was glad for that. I drove my palm into his face again and he reeled back, slamming against the wall. His face bubbled and gushed with blood, not just from his nose but from his mouth. His eyes were soaked in tears. 'Maybe he can't see to well right now.' I thought to myself, jumping out of the way of his rising barrel. I shot my hand across his brow and he near fell on his face. He tried aiming again, waving it in a wide ark. I took his gun hand and shot it up where he fired off two more shots into the ceiling. I drove my palm repeatedly into his face until he stopped fighting me. He collapsed to the floor, blood streaming from his face and splattered across my palm. He wasn't rising, but his chest waxed and waned with wet breaths.
I knelt by his side and took up his gun. I wasn't sure if I'd use it, but it'd be better in my hands than in his, if he were to wake up. A click threatened my consciousness over my shoulder. I turned and was confronted with the barrel of a big handgun. Hector's arm extended the gun toward me and a bruised, broken smile cracked his face open, etched in blood but conceived of vengeful joy. He brought the gun across my temple and I fell into the wall. My gun slipped from my hands and a metal circle digging deep into the base of my neck told me not to retrieve it. Hector spat something out in wet Italian, but I assumed it mirrored what the metal circle ordered. The barrel collided with my head a second time and I swore.
'I wasn't going to die, that was the point' I thought to myself as my elbow swept along his face. His head snapped to one side and his body followed the momentum as his gun hand shot up, releasing a bullet into the air. Before he could catch himself, I drove my fist into his face and he dropped to the ground. I scrambled for my gun as he scrambled to put the ground back under his feet. My path was shorter and therefore I was had the gun in his face before he'd gotten a stable footing.
The gun didn't deter him like it did me and he swung his palm into face and I shot back, my nose bursting like a smashed tomato. He was better at that than I was. I hit the ground, but I still held the gun and I used it before he could injure me further. He didn't fall. I had expected him to, but he stood before me holding his belly and gritting his blood stained teeth. He took a step forward and I fired again. The bullet flew straight and true, ripping the flesh of his face apart. He fell, his back thudding loudly against the ground.
I rolled and found getting up near impossible with the wound in my abdomen still bleeding, but the advance of more of Pete's faceless murderers became a good enough motivator. The metal door at the end of the hall swung open with a gushing torrent of boys, literally boys clearly younger than myself, clutching guns and bearing teeth. As the torrent thinned, Pete emerged with a fatigued smile haunting his whiskered face. I was on my feet and had the two guns. I couldn't tell how many bullets I had, I had no idea if I could shoot the damn things right, but I tried anyway. I held a gun in each hand and fired away as I backed away from the approaching men. The guns kept jerking upward, firing into the ceiling and deterring no one. The gun in my right hand clicked empty as I hit the wall and as the boys descended on me.
Hands snatched the guns away and snatched at my arms, only to be batted away. I drove sharp elbows into faces, ripped my shins through legs. I wasn't going down easily, but I was restrained. My face was shoved into the ground and my arm was wrenched behind me to the point it might have been pulled from its socket. I was raised and dragged after Pete gave the order for me to be moved back down the hall, down behind the metal door.
I was dropped like dirty laundry on the ground with intense light spilling over my shoulders. The room I laid in wasn't adorned with much frills, a row of high metal garage doors, a folding table supporting a hand full of books, a metal cabinet fastened shut with a heavy chain and a looming, green and yellow bomb stretching the full thirty yard length of the room. This used to be a shipping and receiving area in its old life, but now it was the end of the world.
Pete stood before me, trying to crush the metal of a handgun. His smile wasn't quite a smile, sort of what's on a crocodile's face. He wasn't thinking about what his face was doing. He dropped the gun before me.
"I'm starting to think this won't work. You've got something, kid. But you're not what I'm looking for. You can't kill me, I can't kill you. You want to leave, fine. You want to try killing anyway. I'm game."
I couldn't stand, the pain in my gut was too much. The boys crowded behind me. Though he said it, I doubted this could end as easily as me bobbling my way out of this mad house. I closed my hand around the gun and Pete breathed a loud, surprised breathe as he gestured for another gun. One sailed through the air into his hand.
"You shooting from the floor?" He asked, clicking the hammer back.
"I've had my ass kicked all day, little help getting up would be appreciated." Pete laughed and gripped me by the shoulder, pulling me up to my knees. I took it from there. I clicked my gun back and locked eyes with Pete. I rose my gun, he rose his and I fired into the biggest target in the room. I couldn't shoot worth a damn, but that didn't matter if the target was as big as that bomb. I figured I couldn't hurt the thing if I tried, there built like tanks and for good reason. You don't want radiation to bleed out killing the people firing it. The bullets sparked and popped and a wave of woes escaped the crowd of young men. A bullet hit something and tore through it, releasing gas in a fluttering white gusher. A 'shit' sounded over my shoulder and the sounds of hurried footsteps followed.
"Fucking Sheep." Pete called after the fleeing men, firing off round after round into the crowd. Men dropped where they ran, lurching forward in blood slicked heaps. Pete's gun clicked empty, but whatever bullets he had in that gun weren't wasted. A breadcrumb trail of bodies led to the door, out the door and down the hall. Some had still escaped and I figured, he'd find them. But for now his attention was on me. Mine, however, was split between him and the ever growing hiss from the bomb and the knocking sound that lay within. It didn't sound like anything I wanted to be standing near, but I was certain that a nuclear bomb couldn't be set off with handgun bullets. Still the hissing grew, the knocking grew and suddenly and loudly, a small explosion blew a bit of the metal casing off. A second explosion belched flame along the floor. A third explosion lifted me up in the air, white flame licking at my face and clutching my arms firmly. I was still conscious as the flame smacked me against an adjacent wall, push me until the wall collapsed. I only lost consciousness when the roof fell in a hell fire fist.
The first thoughts of consciousness I had was that I was conscious. I paid no mind to my severed forearm, my loss of vision in my right eye, my complete lack of hearing, just that I was conscious. A nuclear bomb should have done more damage than this one had, I was in full view of the blast and I still had limbs. Feeling crept into my limbs, an electric sensation followed by dull pain. You can't set off a nuclear bomb with a bullet, that made no sense. Pete must have had a some bomb somewhere. They always had explosives in the movies, always had some ace in the hole. Maybe he was planning to blow me up and creep away with the bomb. I needed to get up, I couldn't let him get away. I tried to get my legs under me, but they were pinned under something. I only had one hand to pry the thing up with and that was about three to few. I realized how close the gray slab ceiling was, right there at my face, my own breath blowing back on my cheeks. I wouldn't have the right leverage even if I had the extra hands. It was genius, he'd have the bomb, he'd blow it up somewhere public and far away and he'd have some of his boys slither out from their hiding spots to dig me out and put me through hell until I became as cracked as Pete. But as my hearing returned, that genius plan sounded less genius when it was coupled with Pete screaming in horrific pain. He swore rapidly, loudly, with shaky, wet breaths. I couldn't see him, but he was still here. His screams cut off suddenly with a wet trickle alone the cement wreckage. That sound was closely followed by wet, savage grunts and stumbling footsteps.
"Hello!" He screeched in between his bitter groans. "Hello!" He called again. My voice escaped my lips. It was bitter and unstable and it said, "I'm here."
"Say that again!" Pete called and I called back to him. I felt a hand hit my foot, he knew where I was. The gray section of ceiling shifted and moved again and finally was hefted away with grunting, struggling breaths. Pete stood over me, his skin blackened and hard to see in the near pitch blackness, his once steely gray hair now gone, leaving him bald. His belly was spilling out in red drops and another wound replaced what was his left cheek and cheekbone. I could see his tongue sloshing about in his mouth as he licked what was left of his teeth.
"You look like shit, boy." He said with his wet voice. I had thought the same thing about him. I attempted to get into a seated position, but Pete pushed me back, lording over me with suddenly fiery eyes. He shoved his hands over my face and mouth. I couldn't breathe and didn't have the strength to fight. He pushed hard and I felt one of my teeth break loose. He wanted to kill me, but suddenly he gave up on it.
"It's all just fucking masturbation. Fucking pointless, two men like us trying to kill one another." He said, walking toward a distant light. I got myself up and I followed after him to an opening in the destruction. It was a small archway made from two slabs of concrete leaning against each other and standing hardly high enough for a full sized man to squeeze out of. The two of us were tall and injured to hell. Squatting was painful, but we did it all the same. Neither one of us were asking or offering help getting through, but we both did. We broke into the blazing sunlight, burning crabgrass and tree limbs danced like glimmering ballerinas. The smell of apple blossoms was all but gone, replaced by chard dust particles and sweet, burning sap. The trees dripped embers, but not forever. In the far distance where Pete and I headed, the flames hadn't tarnished the woods or the poisoned apples. When the flames stopped dripping their ashes on our heads, we dumped down on the dried grass. The explosion had knocked the apples from their branches and Pete scooped up one, crunching into it. I almost told him that they were filled with arsenic and than I remembered that I didn't care if he died. This was his land, more his than mine. He knew the apples were poison. For the hell of it, I bit into one. It tasted like apple flavored cigarettes and a mouth full of blood. The bloody taste was my own and the cigarette taste I didn't mind. The only irritant was the man I was sharing the scene with and that wasn't too irritating. We ate in silence as a grunting, wounded noise parted the trees. Matt was coming, hobbling as bad as we were while using a shot gun for a walking stick. His left leg was wet and red with blood and gore. He hopped along to us, wincing and coughing.
"Mark, Get away from him." He said in a desperate pant. Pete laughed a wet, fatigued laugh and I got up to help him. I was in position to be a leaning post, but I was better off then him, he was human now. He couldn't heal and the blood he lost would probably kill him. I set him down, which he fought. He was riding adrenaline and expecting a fight. The fight was over, all there was, was watching the trees burn.
The three of us sat and bled into the grass. Sleep was a sexual thought, arousing like what soldiers fantasize about when they finally get home. I laid back in the grass and I closed my eyes. I didn't see it, but I knew Pete and Matt followed my lead. We were in too much pain to sleep, but being still on our backs was almost as good.
The blood was sticky and stiff in the overbearing sunlight. It felt good in an odd way, like dying might feel for the terminally ill. Mark hadn't given me any information, but the fact that the world was still around meant that the bomb hadn't gone off, the building had collapsed somehow but we'd get to that. At that moment, my focus was on breathing and forcing the pain from my destroyed leg.
"What happened?" Mark asked the simmering, ash blackened air. A silence hung in the air, weighed down by wincing breaths. Movement rustled to my side and I didn't check to see who it was. The silence was restored for a long moment before Pete broke it.
"Your sloppy shooting ass probably sparked the ignition source on the bomb." Pete grumbled as the flames kicked up their crackling applause.
"That bomb is about fifty years old, been tended by nut-jobs and fuck-ups. I'd expect you popped a thin spot in the metal." I perked my ears and reluctantly opened my eyes. The trees were making a racket and the fire was calling for attention.
"Ignition source?" Mark asked dully. He was the last to be laying. I had gotten to my elbows, my eyes locked on the advancing flames. The fire was swirling and forming something. I couldn't be sure of what though.
"You're a fucking idiot, boy. Nuclear bombs have a radioactive fuel source and an ignition source. You shot the ignition source. That's it." Pete dismissed Mark with that last statement and he followed my eye line to flames. They were dripping down to a central point, into a central figure, a human body. Once the body was fully formed, the flames dulled and darken. The fuming smoke formed a flowing black coat, the flicking, dying wisps became fingers and hands. The angry orange died away into a face, my face, his face. The worn, prematurely old looking face of Matthew Dean. When his form was fully extinguished, he started toward the three of us and somehow it felt like death was approaching. Pete was the first to stand, a look like he was impressed stretched over his chard and broke face. Mark realized that someone else was with us and got up with slow, breathy effort. He lastly helped me to my feet and allowed me to lean on him. I stood face to face with myself, watching as he scanned the three of us. His eyes held more authority than I was use to seeing in myself. We were the same height, but he seemed like he was taller than me.
He kept his mouth shut, only offering his strong stare to us, so I offered a question to him.
"You stopped time, right?" I asked, feeling some inexplicable stillness I was only familiar with once before. He turned his gaze to me and smiled a weak smile.
"Yes. It's the only way I could be here." He said.
"Except you are here." Pete said moving his gaze from the two versions of myself. "So the question is, why are you here again?"
"I'm here because this is the end, the true one. I have to ask something of all of you that I don't wish to ask. We are dead men, all of us. It's time for us to go to our graves. Time for us to die." My fingertips were gone, my limbs cold, my being aching with the thought he suggested.
"Time for us to die." Mark repeated.
"Yes. Time and Space has been made fragile, the bomb was a close call, closer than is acceptable." He said gently. "So..." He continued with his eyes directed to the ground.
"Just do it." Pete interrupted with his jaw locked and the visible muscles in his face constricting. My mind went to running, pumping acid into my leg muscles until they bled and I found myself far from here.
"What did I die?" Mark asked.
"In the car, it was supposed to flip."
"Who else dies?"
"The girl, Mya."
"None of this would have happened?"
"And Matt?" He said, turning to me.
"No. Hell, no. What reward is that. I'm human now, I deserve to be human." The words issued in a vacant voice. He looked at me mournfully, his eyes were watery with tears.
I realized that I was standing by my own strength, Mark and Pete were gone. My wounds were gone, all that remained was the fiery wreckage of the asylum and the man I had come from.
"I'm better than you. I swear I am."
"I know, but I have no choice." He was so apologetic and it made it so much worse. The scenery bled away into shadows and ashes, a sole light danced downward through tiny flitting particles of dust. The particles floated around the two of us and the other me was fading. I was so close to being alone and then I was. I was alone in the near darkness with only my fear to guide me. I closed my eyes to bar the tears that were coming and when I opened them again, I stood where I wanted to be for so long. Jenny, she lied on the bed in our tiny apartment, her silky brown hair veiling her wonderful flesh. I was breathless as I moved to lay down with her.
Mark stuffed a single school bag with previsions for the next forty-eight hours: a change of shirt, clean enough dress shirt for the wake, his toothbrush, so on and so forth when a knock sounded on his dorm room door. He swung it open and was handed a postcard by a smiling blonde haired girl that had taken to getting his mail for him and he'd suspected she'd also taken to him. He wouldn't embarrass her by pointing out his unavailability, so he just returned the smile and thanked her for the favor. He examined the postcard as he scooped up a pair of socks to be stuffed into the bag. The handwriting wasn't familiar and neither was the name, Matthew Dean. The postcard was from Red River, New Mexico and had a picture of a sun scorched desert vista. All it read was, "Mark, drive slow and check your tires - Matthew Dean."
Matthew Jones - The Perpetual Motion Machine
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