Friday, March 26, 2010
Perhaps the nicest thing I could say about Harper was that the foolish young bastard was simply an inherent bore and that there was little, or perhaps not a thing at all he could ever have done to better himself to such a degree that he might have become a passably desirable human being.
Before we began our excursion into this nameless jungle, Harper was a wet-behind-the-ears lab assistant. Apparently young Harper had paid his way through grad school as a farmhand. How very dignified of him.
How in the hell a bumpkin straight out of grad school had been placed on a mission like this, the type of mission for which even a scientist with my experience must spend thirty-odd years trying to earn a spot, I cannot tell you, but there he was. Maybe our mission’s backers thought we might do some farming if we discovered a new species in this forgotten place.
Sarcasm aside, the farmhand story was perfect; it fit him more snugly than his irritatingly white undershirt, which he had worn every day and washed in a stream every night, making it look at all times as if he’d just stumbled across the wreckage moments earlier. It was as if he believed that if he looked like everything was fine, he could feel like everything was, rather than accepting the facts.
The evidence it provided in support of my initial evaluation, when I first shook his hammy hand--that he was an out-of-place buffoon who could make a nice sacrifice if the jungle should demand--might have made the farmhand story more tolerable had it not been repeated more than five times in the three weeks we were together before I decided to kill him.
I don’t do myself justice there; I realized that I must kill him.
“Cold-hearted” is an imaginary characterization. It is but a term our society has applied to those we secretly envy most, those who need not bother with the trifling preordinations allotted by man’s fickle laws and non sequitur dogmas to remedy a particular set of circumstances. One finds quickly that desolation in the anonymity of the unforgiving wilderness offers freedom in many ways, not the least of which is the gift of a cold heart.
Harper’s incessant droning made me feel more alone than did the swirling orchestra of cackles and caws from the ominous night air. During one such concert, struggling to sleep after another hungry day, I came to my realization about Harper’s fate. The taunting, screeching calls of the darkness that night rapped my nerves like bullwhips, so that I might have gone mad had I not found the wherewithal to focus on my bane, and the elation of freeing myself from his nuisance. I hung from the thought like a lifesaver floating in a tempest of loathsome awareness. That, I realized was the issue: I could not help but be aware of him until he was dead, and that was his fault and no one else’s.
The day we crashed, he’d begged that I help him with CPR. He actually wanted to waste our precious little energy on attempting to resuscitate a man who’d been impaled with a branch; I think now that I hated him immediately. Even at the exact moment we realized the other two passengers were dead, I knew he was no one I cared to associate with, regardless of whether he was the only sentient being I would ever see again. I’d tried to shake him but he longed for association with a parasitic passion.
I sat up from my blanket of leaves that night and contemplated the execution of the task at hand. My stomach growled, offering its own angry call into the cacophony of night. I knew the time had come, there could be no hesitation.
He outweighed me by a great deal, so I would have to be careful not to wake him. He would certainly overpower me if I allowed it, but I would not. Brains over brawn, they say. My stomach grumbled again and the hunger pains drove me even stronger.
I blamed him for my hunger on several accounts. He was so massive that my only reasonable recourse upon discovering the emergency food supply in the jungle near the chopper was to bury it and keep it from him. He’d clearly not eaten responsibly back home; I wouldn’t trust him to learn the skill when my life depended on it. If I’d let him slap his gluttonous meat hooks on that box, we’d both have died of starvation. No sense in that.
Furthermore, he had been a hunter--trust me, he probably told a dozen such stories--and it had been five days since he’d killed anything. He told me the animals must have grown aware of us and decided to avoid the area. I suggested he travel farther the next time, but I don’t know that he ever really did.
The hunger struck me once more, louder than before. That’s how I knew for certain it was time. It wasn’t a pretty notion, but I was growing exceedingly weary of crackers and peanut butter, and after all it would be easier to salvage him than bury him. I wondered suddenly if he had already begun envisioning me as a nutritional source as well.
It didn’t matter. He was asleep, so I had the upper hand. But if he hadn’t been I’d still have had the advantage, I reasoned; he hadn’t had as much food as I’d had in the past several days, frequently went on daylong hunts, and even when sedentary a man his size would have necessitated nearly double my daily caloric intake. The way I saw it, I could have woken him up and tortured him a bit first, if I’d wanted to be completely cold hearted.
I quietly picked through a heap of burned metal until I found a favorable shard from the propeller. Serendipitous nature in all its deplorable majesty brought the thought to my mind, “I’ve managed to never come over to his personal area a single time, though he’s encroached mine every day.”
I thought it was a root when first I stepped on the crossbeam of the trap. I don’t know what I thought after that, as I went unconscious after falling into the pit he’d camouflaged with a lid of brush.
When I awoke, vines binding my body against a tree so that my feet could not touch ground, I couldn’t place the pain, oddly enough. But when I saw him chewing the last bit of meat from the bone, I became sharply lucid of the throbbing soreness where my right shoulder should have sat. I vomited impulsively, though I wish I’d not given him the satisfaction.
He turned and broke into some goddamned tirade. “I didn’t care that I was out hunting all day and you were here sitting on your ass. I didn’t care when I saw cracker crumbs all over your clothes. I didn’t even care when I followed your tracks and found your food stash.” Even on a full stomach he was as whiny as an infant crying for a teat. “All I wanted was someone to talk to. But I guess I’ll get over that.” He looked at me like I was the disgusting reprobate from BillyBobsville, then he amended. “… in time.” Then he chopped off my left arm.
God help me, I know it’s a compliment, but the lummox actually did a fair job of patching the nubs. I apparently never lost much blood as, even after three days of consuming only rain water, I am still alive and fairly well aware… for the moment.
It was good luck. All of it. I wouldn’t have had the courage to kill myself, but they’ll never find us. They probably aren’t even looking. But the sweetness of my victory has made this dying day so very delectable. He ranted again about his Neanderthalithic sentiments; fortune drained my consciousness enough that his words were nothing but a garbled bunch of noises pouring from his untutored tongue. Naturally, he continued talking as he harvested another serving from me.
The pain from him cutting off my lower leg, believe it or not, revitalized me. As if drawing together for one final march, my blood gathered in my brain and tuned in as he continued preaching, the flesh of my flame-broiled limbs puffing out his cheeks.
“Show some dignity,” I snarled with great effort. “Don’t talk with your mouth…” I couldn’t get the rest out, but I could tell from his expression, he’d heard the phrase. He leapt up, indignant, stung, and vacant of any response. And with the same glory typically reserved for the choirs of Heaven, he chortled abruptly. My eyelids grew heavy but I found the strength to peel them apart.
Harper panicked; otherwise he might have found a way to dislodge the meat from his trachea. Flailing about for answers or intervention, he tripped and landed in the same fire where he had just cooked, well, me.
It can’t be long now. His body is already smoldering and he never got around to tying off my leg. So, here I wait in the beautiful silence I have striven to achieve for so long, confident I've indeed escaped with a tremendous bargain in the exchange.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Eight years since his last Confession--I rolled that nugget around, testing it in the flame of my mind, and finally decided, there was promise here.
An affair some time back, impure thoughts of course, lying, stealing, and then he started to cry, but only for a moment.
“It’s like… like a doctor, right,” he collected himself, “you can’t repeat this?”
I smiled and suggested he come to the font with me, that the church was empty and perhaps the sensation of the water washing over him would serve as a catalyst in seeking true, penitent reconciliation.
I could see he was scared and so I said, “You’re not the only one who makes mistakes, there is always a second chance.”
“I killed a girl,” he sobbed, “six years ago.”
“Shhh,” I comforted him and helped him to the water, “I know, I know, now shhhh.” His nose touched the water and I said, “But you forgot her boyfriend, huh, dipshit?”
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Between the two eerily equipped locales was a hiccup of forest; to my adult eyes it would most likely be a cluster of trees, which I could perhaps penetrate from both sides with my outstretched arms while standing at its center. The shadowy secret beneath the ever-brown canopy was a godforsaken, one-man boat, half digested by the soggy black earth.
Though he must have only visited us for a few days, I remember my cousin joining my brother and me for a lifetime of adventures in that dark realm. We snapped "clubs" from trees for safety when exploring the abandoned pirate ship and we prepared for battle with the vampires who had trapped my father in his own trunk, dragging him into the undead.
Well, we didn't see him go back in; what's your explanation? And, in case you're ever in the same predicament, here's how we made it out alive: we recited Grace--Bless us, oh Lord--over the stagnant pool in the hull of the ship, thus producing enough Holy Water for an army of darkness.
I also remember the gorgeous, big-ass a-frame with the lawn-care crew, pool guy, and fully stocked bar; respectively, where I got my cigarettes, where I bought my weed, and how at thirteen-years-old I made much older friends. By the time we fled that a-frame for a split-level in a bigger city, I could aspire for nothing greater than to break out and conquer my own shoddy wonderland, baptizing myself in its waters and shedding the iniquities of far too much beauty.
After a few minutes he asked the mirror again, “Will you marry… Will you mar… Will you marry me?” That was the one, he realized. His eyes broke course finally, falling into the pit of black at the floorboard.
The world traveled past him like a subway tunnel as he rode his body helplessly into the bedroom. The light from the fixture, clanging below the wild ceiling fan, seemed to have gained wattage tenfold when he dropped it
onto the hushed disaster of a room; a cacophony of clothes, garbage, dishes, and what can delicately be referred to as “other.”
It wouldn’t have kept her, he thought, even if he had been able to say it when he still had the chance, so very, very long ago.
For one thing, at least eighteen beers by that point, and I'm no slouch. With such a broad category, I didn't know where to start, or more importantly where to stop my smart-ass parade. But he was in the midst of recounting his glory days of prison, how he got there, and why he would probably be going back before too long, so I wasn't really expected to answer.
He continued after a beer--not a sip... well it was a sip for him, but a whole beer, "If it came down to it, you probably don't have what it takes to lop off a man's fingers with a pair of gardening shears."
"I just can't really picture the scenario where that's my only option," I answered but I could see he was disappointed in my reply.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
"What'd you say?" Rod spit out, his voice barely shy of angry.
Steven popped his head up, frightened from instinct. Rod hadn't been a jock at his high school, hadn't roughed up any of the local geeks, but from his physique and the way he strutted around with his Assistant Manager's badge brilliantly gleaming, Steven knew who he was dealing with... mostly.
"Oh, it's some uh... just a weird thing," he said, dropping his head and staring into the pavement once more as he pretended to wait for his ride, on whom he'd given up hope half an hour ago.
"Scalaxar," Rod said, proper intonation and everything, "the Realm Keeper."
Steven's lips flapped confusedly until he found, "You play Guardians and Guildmasters?" Steven was brilliant, so of course knew the answer to be affirmative; you're average Joe can't name characters from a role playing game as obscure as G and G. Still, he expected the answer to be no.
Rod shook his head and clicked his car unlocked from across the parking lot, gesturing as he said, "Where we're going, buddy, we don't play G and G."
His insides sizzled as he poured whiskey over the coals of guilt that had grilled hand-squoze patties of self-loath into scorched stones even the dog would turn away.
He rolled down the driver-side window and the slope of angry rain avalanched into his face. The window to her bedroom was the only one with even a whisper of light sneaking around in the great big house. He chanted in his head that her husband would be on another trip in a few days and it would be his own shadow brushing across the curtains, and that was enough; he didn’t
want to be right.
The Piper played on with a secretive shrug and smiled tightly around the mouth of the instrument, the rats zigging and zagging in an elaborate pattern at his feet until being dismissed one-by-one with a flat or sharp.
"I'm a bit of a piper myself;" the Mayor bit his lip and nudged at the air, already beginning to chuckle at his own cleverness, "at least two smokes in the morning and two in the evening!"
The Mayor's entourage guffawed obediently, their laughter carrying the Mayor on its back even further into his poorly-executed buffoonery. He started away joking over his shoulder, "Tell you what: send away the lot of 'em like that and I'll personally give you a thousand bucks!"
The Piper raised an eyebrow and paused his song for a moment, speaking from around the pipe, "Is 'at right?"
Lights One is "Black to House," but I always bring up the cue for Places when I first reach the booth. That's why I get to the theatre early, just so I can do it, without one of the actors sullying my moment of Zen.
In an hour it will be ruined by life, born into a world of iniquity, but now--in my moment--the stage and I share a secret, swearing to each other that we will protect this sanctuary no matter what egos threaten to impurify.
A door creaks open below me--a door I haven't exactly "forgotten" to oil--and the stage goes dark; a secretive wink hush-hushing our pact.
Monday, March 1, 2010
First time I went to The Leather Lizard, it was around two p.m. on a Sunday. Strange time to go to a strip club, I’ve been told, though I’ve often wondered, when is the “normal” time?
There were countless visits afterward, but I always go back to that first time. After I got hooked on Candy, I began working more and more to be sure that my place in the club would always be secure. Money might not make the world go round, but you sure won’t get far in a titty bar without it.
It wasn’t just the naked women I liked about it. It was like an X-rated Cheers; like a support group where no one had to admit they had a problem.
As a programmer, my schedule is fairly spastic, yet every time I came in the cast of characters was the same. Maybe the dancers changed, it’s hard to keep track of such things.
But, there was Lana, my waitress. If you don’t know, the waitresses at these establishments are one of two breeds; they’re so damn cute you’d trade a footfull of toes to watch her dance, or they’re the type who, with one look, you understand why they didn’t see necessary to have bouncers up front. Let me put it this way: I’d screw Lana before I’d screw her over, and I’d probably be just as afraid.
Petey B tossed bottles behind the bar. The kind of barkeep who never worried much with measuring out his shots, so that a two-fifty well could kick the ass right off any of the name brand mixes. He had three runners, two of them cute Asians. I took them for twins at first, but I’m a bit racist I guess because they’re not related, one’s Korean and one Vietnamese, and there’s a five year age difference. And, I can’t ever remember who’s who. It’s really dark in those places, in my defense. The other runner was a scrawny, squirrel-bearded metal head—my instincts said meth head too, but who knows—who looked like he must’ve gotten the job with a fake ID.
The main man with the dang plan—as he reminded the audience at least once per shift--was resident music magician DJ Operata tha Hot Potata. A white man should just not be able to have dreads so full and vast as his brown locks were, but judging from his marijuana tattoos and jewelry, I assume he’d given it a heartfelt, dedicated effort I could never appreciate.
Lana brought me my fourth rum and cola, round about six that afternoon when the first wave of A-teamers was beginning to take the stage. Petey B must have run out of cola on the second because I had a blazing fire stoking my chest, puffs of courage pouring out like the smoke rings I was trying to fashion.
A few dancers had stopped by, taking a seat on my left knee and asking for a cigarette or a light, sometimes both. One after the other, almost without fail, they would cup my hand in theirs and shove through my resistance with fire-lit eyes, sucking instead of dragging on the cig. What the technique lacked in originality it recouped with its effectiveness. It was a good thing I’d just gotten paid, because each set of flames melted another lap dance from my wallet.
Wednesday was a long-legged Nubian number with the kind of tone-but-ample backside that oh so very few of my honkey brethren have learned to appreciate. For the early evening dancers, she was quite a jewel. She had deep, heavy eyes that blinked purposefully, and only every few decades of awkward chit chat. Even when I’m paying them to pretend they like me, I’m still nervous with women.
I believe I was explaining how the role of Green Lantern is dissimilar to, say, Superman or Spiderman when Wednesday mercifully interrupted, “Do you play pool?”
I thought about lying but realized she might call me out on it, perhaps inviting me for a round of billiards and brew back at her place where she roomed with several of the other dancers. Don’t stop believing, ok.
I compromised, “Well, I’ve played but I’m not very good.”
She smiled sensually, her cheeks glowing through the dark. As her cheekbones seemed to rise into her temples, she surrendered a laugh. She released my non-smoking hand, which I don’t know when she had grabbed, and put both of hers to her mouth trying to catch the runaway giggle.
“What?” I sighed, presumptively embarrassed.
“Pool. It’s…” she bit the inside of her lip, “a code of sorts.”
I tried to convey my facial expression as “Oh I see,” but she did see. She smiled sweetly and took my hand, and walked me to a back corner with a low, deep armchair. A techno remix of a couple of Southern rock hits, I know them but I don’t know them, came on and she went about her routine.
With each pass of her mouth near my ear she would demystify a bit more until, even my simple mind, surmised that for four-hundred-bucks, she would take me in the back and… Well, something really cool was going to happen. I never precisely figured out the specifics.
When we returned to the table, I excused myself to the restroom, where I counted my cash. I could get a private throw and about four more drinks, just enough to help me cope with what I had resorted to. But when I returned to the table, a quarter-smoked cigarette with a pinch of bright pink on its white butt sent up a smoke-signal, floating away like the Ghost of Call Girls Past.
I sunk back into my drink, which was now mostly melted ice, and scoured the room for Lana. When I spotted her, she was coming down the steps of a section so exclusive I hadn’t realized it was there. To my tax bracket, it may as well not have existed at all. After a few passes of the strobe, I could just make out Wednesday’s bare back as she replaced her top.
Lana came to me, a crowded tray from the VIP section giving her an off-balance approach. “Wednesday was called away, Sugar. Fella over there said he’s got your next drink. And dance.” She gave me a look that was a little embarrassing, as if to say, I know you’ll like that.
“Well, I’m waiting on Wednesday anyway, so unless he wants to share…”
“He picked out someone else for you. You’ll like her.” She started away from my table but stopped after a few waddling steps. “Ya want the dance or doncha?”
Of course I did, so I followed her, stopping briefly at the bar to cash in my free drink. “A Godfather.” Even Petey B didn’t know that one; amaretto in Scotch. “Dewars,” I corrected as he went for the well.
She led me into a room which had, much like the VIP section, been invisible since I’d arrived. I sat on a plush couch, afraid to look at the seats too closely under the black light. After a few minutes of bass shaking my greater head back into prominence, I decided to slam my drink and leave.
“Ok, gents we gottanother hot mother—What! Shut yo mouth!” prattled DJ Operata, “Why doncha whip it out and give it up! Easy guys, I mean the dollaaaaaaassss. Hey! And it’s getting’ a bit cuh-ra-ra-ra-razy up in hee-uh! Des-ti-neeeeee, got a switch in the rotation, move that moneymaka’ to the main stage, while Mrs. C-c-c-candy, gets dandy with one lucky guy! You too fellas, got the dolla they’ll make ya holla…”
Then Candy came into my life and everything else sort of disappeared. Right then and there.
Candy was out for at least twenty minutes and I was worried. I’m not around much trauma, but that can’t be how long you’re supposed to be out, right? She finally stirred, her body contracting then swimming headfirst across the couch, stretching like a cobra from a pot, with an obnoxious yawn. It was cute on her.
She looked about; at me, her stuff. “What the…” Her eyes froze in saucer shape. Then her irises ticked about the room, the rest of her remaining perfectly still. “You need to go.” She emphasized the word strongly enough I almost did.
“We’re ok. One look at my little buddy,” I raised my hand, the roly-poly exploring it, “and they turned tail and ran.”
“They don’t run, they regroup.” She popped from the couch like a magnet pressed against its own and crashed into me, her hands pelting me with gentle—though I think she was going for tough—shoves toward the door.
I pirouetted behind her, afraid that I might not have the upper body strength to resist her if I tried. “Candy, I don’t mean to be a dick, but I just saved your life and you’re really being…” I couldn’t say anything mean to those pretty green eyes, “Rude.”
Those green eyes weren’t nearly as pretty when she snapped back her lashes and fried me with them, hissing, “Fuller is an idiot,” she struck the d and t sounds like they’d done something wrong. “He kidnapped me because he knew Benny was looking for me.”
God, it was only a day ago, I realized.
“Benny’s lookin’ for the redhead, Petey,” said the scrawny bar runner, apparently convinced that the blaring club tune would keep his secret. “He says he’ll give fifty-g to anyone who brings her in. Seventy if she’s alive.”
My heart split into dozens and the pieces scattered to play bumper cars from my ribs to my ears. I felt like the throbbing from my blood must have been making my skin bubble. I guess not, as they kept talking.
Petey B pressed out a sarcastic laugh, and I swear he checked me out in his peripheral. “Someone snatches up Candy, they ain’t bringin’ her in alive. That’s fact.”
“Are you listening!” she demanded the rhetorical question, somehow, rather than feigning any sort of inquiry.
“No,” I hollered defensively. I’d missed the word I wanted to say, but hey at least I was in the ballpark. Usually I would’ve tried to get away, so I counted it as a small victory in and of itself. Baby steps.
“I am,” thundered what I guessed was the voice of Satan’s meaner big brother, the sound flooding the house so that it seemed to be coming from everywhere.
Then I fainted. Only seemed fair.