Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Four

I found my grandmother's Browning handgun on the dining room table when I went downstairs that night. She had long since gone to bed, as had her husband and my parents, so now the house was dark and quiet save the blue bars of moonlight spilling over furniture and the creak of wood settling. After checking to see that the gun was loaded, I went outside to Calhoun's pick-up truck; his keys hadn't been hard to snag, just a few sticky fingers on my end and a few loose ones on his. He and my mother were too fast asleep, having drunken their fair share of wine, to hear the truck start with its usual sputter.

I stuck the Browning on the dashboard, then peered out into the blue-black countryside for the way we'd come. Once I'd found it, I flicked on the headlights, switched the rig into gear, and followed the gravel road out as best I could. Upon reaching the main road, I drove down it as far as Marylou had described. Not a single car save my own lit up the darkness. This was typical on country roads, but all too disquieting given the ample population of Morningbird.

When the odometer clocked in a mile, I slowed down to read the landscape. It wasn't long before I caught the porch-light of a farm. Not wanting to awaken the owner of this farm or his family, I pulled off the road into a forested patch, then cut the engine. It ticked idly while I sat there, re-checking the handgun once more and wondering, again, whether this was the best course of action. But by now, you now how quickly my self-doubt rivets back to certainty, even if that certainty's unwarranted. That's what happened here. I stuffed the gun in my pocket, then went outside into the cool and formless night.

The Spinster house looked like it had been built by half-blind cripples. I could tell this from the one porch-light illuminating its front: the paint was a sickly death-white, the boards were split open in several places, and the whole house leaned out like an old man in a grocery store, to say nothing of the tilting weather vane or unrolled hose.

I made my way to the cornfield at the back of this house. A light breeze touched the stalks, and they leaned into each other in a low, rolling hush. Even with the moon as bright as it was that night, I couldn't see far across the field, and crop circles or not, the field itself only looked like a solitary and gently stirring mass. This made me consider that perhaps the whole effort really was a waste of time, since any visitors who came down would be nigh indiscernible--assuming, of course, they came down at all.

All the same, I was determined to wait out the night, knowing it would be my only chance since our family would leave in the morning. Figuring it was already one or two A.M., not long till the sighting-times my grandma mentioned, I decided to sit in a tire-swing nearby and overlook the field. As often happens to children who try to stay up late, despite the errant will of some of them, and despite their resistance to a thousand greater forces, the touch of sleep eventually took me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Three

My relatives stumbled out of the house in groups of twos and threes, all of them gorged on wine and turkey. By the time the last few were leaving, Ernie was already piling up dishes and taking them back to wash, while his wife chucked her throwing knife into a moose head on the far wall. Each time it struck, the antlers rattled against the wooden paneling, and fur and giblets fell from ruined flesh. She went over and dislodged the knife. Bullwinkle was looking like a Lizzy Borden victim.

“Marylou,” I said. “About your story tonight--”

“You mean the Harrowers?” She cleaned the knife with her dress.

“Yes, that one. Where did these sightings take place, anyways?”

Chuckling, she walked back to her throwing spot. “Everyone says you take after me. There can be no doubt about that if we're talking pure curiosity. You and I always ask the dangerous questions.” As she leveled her aim, I took my own knife from the table and went to join her. “On three,” she said. “One, two--”

I flung mine hard and early, and it hit the moose head with a jelly-squirt sound. “Got it's eye,” I said.

“Just for that, I'll tell you.” She thunked her knife into the pate and looked down at me with a grim smile. “But you've got to promise me you won't go looking for any answers like I think you will.”

“I won't lie to you,” I told her. “That's exactly what will happen.”

She straightened out the table cloth, then sat in a chair and looked me over, as if reckoning just how many volumes of trouble I could author. Then she merely sighed and gave in. “The Harrowers have been visiting Mr. Spinster's cornfield lately, according to the grapes on this vine. He lives in a white one-story house about a mile south of here; you can tell it's his 'cause his weather vane’s leaning at forty-five degrees and his hose is always rolled out. Weird coot; he washes his truck every day.”

“Cornfield, mile south, hose and weather-vane--got it.”

“Are you really gonna go there tonight like I think you are?” For once, she creased her forehead in consternation. The look didn't suit her. Was I going too far with this? I wondered. Did I really need to know? Oh, for fuck's sake, you're Tornado Fucking Jackson; of course you need to know.

“Just promise me this,” she said. “If you do go, go armed.”

Those were the last words she imparted to me before I went to “sleep."

Now before I continue, we must come to an understanding, you and I. You must give me the benefit of the doubt that my experiences on the 25th of November, 1965, are conveyed to you with as much accuracy as I can muster. Not the Thanksgiving feast, mind you, but the events to come. I must also let you know that this evening was among the most important evenings in my young development—it was certainly the most disillusioning. You'll find out why soon enough.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Harrowers, Part Two

A new relative entered every ten minutes. There were Joe and Bonnie Williams, my half-drunk aunt and uncle; there was Clive Williams, my other uncle, and the architect who built Marylou's house; there was a troop of cousins, some older than I, some younger, all of them equally obnoxious; there was Marylou's kid brother, Jasper Williams, a fridge of a man with huge dock-worker muscles who went on and on about gun rights; there was Larry Jones, a sheepish neighborhood mailman conscripted for this event by Grandma, no doubt; there were a slew of other faces I didn't recognize, not because I forget faces easily, but because those faces weren't worth recognizing. At the center of all this sat the Woman herself, the machinator, the buff and brilliant Marylou, dressed in a darker red than I'd seen her in yesterday. Her husband Ernie sat behind her gazing out at the gathering crowd over a little pair of specs; he looked shriveled, almost infirm, as if his years married to that woman had wrung out his soul.

I stood in a hallway looking at charcoal drawings of ducks while trying to ignore the panting from the guest room as my mother and father went at it. Then came the chime of a triangle, and the crowd got quiet. I went into the living room to see my grandmother standing in the middle of everyone, holding the triangle and grinning.

"Alright, you worthless moochers," she said. "The turkey's out and steaming, so hustle into the dining room and grab a seat before they run out. Losers sit on the floor." We went into the dining room behind her, found our chairs, and sat. Calhoun and Delilah came in last, looking spent. Ernie came out the kitchen holding a huge plate of turkey; his shoulders looked ready to dislocate. The guests "ooh'd" at the sight: golden skin, a glaze of butter, and of course, Marylou's signature throwing knife planted in the spine. When it reached the table, she plucked out the knife with Arthurian gusto, and said, "Viola." We all dug in.

After everyone had claimed their piece of turkey, she started in on her story. "You won't believe the yarns going round town," she said. "Crop circles and such; it's amazing."

"Crop circles?" asked Jasper. He cracked a wing. "What about 'em, 'Lou?" Ernie blew into his handkerchief.

"These ain't crop circles like you see in the papers," she continued. "In the papers, they're always intricate things, all windy and such like a Muslim rug. These ones--well they're strange because they got no symmetry, no pattern. Almost like some, I don't know, equation."

"How d'ya figure?"

"It's not like any math equation you'd find in the universities, oh no. They don't got numbers we recognize, just symbols ordered around all strange-like, in bars that taper into smaller and smaller symbols, getting more complex as they go. I tried to figure 'em out from the pictures I've seen. Can't be done, and I've read more QM papers than most professors."

"QM?" Jasper squinted at Grandma.

"Quantum mechanics, you dolt."

"So these crop circles," I said, "they just started appearing here?"

"About a month ago, yes. Strange things been happening. Real strange."


"That's 'Grandma' to you, runt."

"--I've seen plenty of strange things."

"We know," said Jasper. "Your bear escapades made the papers. Not to mention, word got round about the Stingray. No names were dropped, but it didn't take work to guess who."

"That said," I continued, "such things won't shock or horrify me."

"Fine." Grandma wiped her lips on the tablecloth, then leaned in surreptitiously to tell me more. The adults were drinking more now, and getting as rowdy as their children. "There have been reports going round that beings from above are visiting Morningbird."

"Beings from above?" One of my uncles leaned into our conversation. He looked worried. "Like angels."

"She means aliens, nitwit," I said. "Extraterrestrials. You know, cow-fuckers from the stars."

"Calhoun"--my uncle turned to my father--"you oughta wash your young one's mouth out."

"He's beyond my jurisdiction."

"Now, now," said Marylou. "We don't know what these beings are. Aliens, angels; for all we know, it could be the Soviets. Could be anything. All I've heard is late at night, round two, three in the morning, these crafts come down, not all flashy like you hear people say who see these sorts of things, but dimly and quietly, they come down in the fields. Some say the crafts just sit there, idling in stalks of corn. Some say they open up and beings come out, beings too dark to see, and anytime someone tries to get close to one of 'em, they disappear."

"Are they Greys?" I asked, now rapt. The prospect of aliens never really intrigued me till now, till I was this close to a sighting. Could they really have visited?

"You mean those pasty-looking things with the big eyes? Doesn't sound like it. No, the people who see them say they're tall, maybe seven feet, and wilder-looking than any Grey. They're protected too apparently, behind some shield that stops bullets dead-on."

"Stops bullets?" Jasper guffawed, then pulled apart another slab of turkey. "Nothing can stop bullets dead-on except diamonds. And they ain't got none of those, lest they wouldn't be diddling round fields."

"Maybe," said Grandma. "And maybe you're dumb as a brick."

"Can it, 'Lou."

"Anything else?" I asked her. She nodded, smiling with menace.

"Yes, in fact. The farmers who've seen them--they look like they blame near saw the mouth of Hell. These beings have this effect. I don't know what you'd call it. Harrowing, maybe. They harrow people, sometimes to the brink of madness."

"Harrowers, huh?" I threw back some wine. "I'll look into it."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Harrowers, Part One

My universe is like a theater-house: full of frantic drama, broken legs, and lots of faggots. And like any theater-house, the things that go on inside it don't often occur in the normal world. I tell you this so you understand just how strangely this story may unfold, so you know that huge bears and sentient babies aren't really anomalies in Tornadoland. Though the things to come may strain your credence in me, rest assured they really happened.

On November 24, 1965, we piled into Calhoun's pick-up truck and headed to Morningbird, Tennessee. Winter came down early and in a big way that year, making the roads slick and white, the skyline inscrutable. Delilah started polishing her nails halfway there. I gave up trying to breathe, since I was crammed between her and my father, with no access to the window crank. The cigar smoke didn't bother me, but the stench of that nail polish--it could've knocked down a wall.

"Hey," I said. "You mind?"

"Now you know Mommy's gotta look pretty tomorrow." She splayed her fingers to inspect them.

"Poor bastard's right," said Calhoun. "You're blame near killing our son and you're blame near killing me. Put that shit away." She snatched the cigar out of his mouth, then cranked down the window.

"Fine," she said, "but this is only fair."

"Hey, hey." He swerved the truck trying to take back the cigar. "Alright already; I get it; now give it back." She did, and that was the end of it. Any disagreements between my father and mother would usually fizzle out seconds after they began. They never became a spectacle, which I was grateful for in most cases. Just not this one.

We arrived that evening. Marylou Williams, my spry and bright-eyed grandmother, loped out of the house and towards us at our coming. Her tits swung like waterskins on an angry mule.

"Here she comes," groaned Calhoun. "God, that woman."

"Be nice or she'll full-nelson you again," said Delilah as she waved to her mother.

"Let her try."

When Maryou reached the truck, she pulled up the train of her ruby-red dress, then hopped onto the hood, causing the whole rig to shudder. My father braked immediately.

"What the hell is she doing?" he howled. "She'll scratch the paint!"

"Oh, give it a rest, Calhoun," said Delilah, and she hopped out of the truck and went to hug my grandma. While my father grumbled some more and reached for his cigar case, I hopped out as well.

"My!" huffed Marylou, detaching from her daughter, then sliding down onto the gravel driveway. "How your son has grown." She squeezed me hard. I could almost chew the smell of her perfume. "Last I saw you, you were half a foot shorter and not nearly so muscled. Have you been doing your deadlifts like Grandma showed you?"

"Of course," I said, "and you?" She flexed. Apparently she had.

The four of us went to the farm house, a more palatial abode than our own. It had three stories, paneling that hadn't gone to rot, and a few more right angles. For the first time since school began, I was happy to be somewhere, especially with goddamn Marylou, one of the few blood-ties I could respect. The woman scaled construction scaffolds for fun.

"Got more stories?" I asked her, as we stepped inside.

She turned around to face me, her cheeks flushed with excitement, and said, "Just you wait."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Semester Abridged

Baker Street at midnight, any day. 

Like so many words I'd heard that semester, these stuck like a bolus in the back of my mind, not stirring me to action, but there, clinging.

Fall went by at a drowsy clip. The school bus never went near my house and my parents were too tired from fucking to drive me, so every morning I took the tractor to school. At first, people thought nothing of it, just a kid rumbling down Main Street in a dew-glazed John Deere. But soon they noticed me taking it out every day, stifling what little traffic trickled through Fistwood, until an officer approached me about and I told him to shit blood. When I got to school, I parked the tractor in a wooded area nearby, where it sat for seven hours; my parents never seemed to need it.

Class itself became a vacuum of the intellect, as none of my teachers, let alone my peers, understood my opinions on Tolstoy, and given how rheumy and lost their eyes looked when I used long words, I might have been speaking Sumerian. So I gave up any attempt at an education, shot through my semester workload in a week, and sat in the back sketching Banach manifolds. Other than the rare instance where I'd want to finger-paint a picture or mold some clay, I stayed out of the mayhem all day, content with my drawings and praying there would be no groupwork. Ms. Beauvoir, one of the floral-print marms I mentioned earlier, quit calling on me for answers when I asked her why she had an intact hymen.

Near the end of the semester, classes ended for Thanksgiving. This might have been a boon to your average second-grader, but for me, visiting extended family seemed a duller experience than that godawful school. What I didn't realize then was just how far from dull it would turn out to be, and how my life would change that weekend.

Yes, hold that quilt closer. It's about to get strange.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jimmy's Offer

To the out-of-town visitor, Fistwood Public School might have been a charnel house given its austere brickwork and overhanging sense of dread. It contained five equally austere rooms, four for the student body, one for the teachers. Three grades were compressed into a single class, so first to third grade shared a room, fourth to sixth shared a room, and so on until twelfth grade, meaning the tiny cunts playing hopscotch and wall-ball shared the same building as the lanky, pot-smoking, adolescent cunts. As for me, being eight, I got placed in the first-through-third class.

Now let me tell you something. I may have been a kid, but I wasn't a dummy. I'd read my Ovid, my Goethe, my Joyce, even Anna Karenina in its original Russian. These brats, they couldn't make a proper turkey with their fingers. I felt overqualified, out of the loop and out of their league. But rather than acknowledge this, rather than move me up a grade or two, my teacher, a buffalo of a woman with floral print and a necklace of pearls each big enough to clog a firehose, decided to keep me there among these kids.

You're probably thinking: Tornado, if you're so badass, why didn't you lynch that bitch and book it? I'll tell you why. The state made sure that if I didn't go to school, my mom and pop would be put away for shabby parenting. Now in my mind, it ain't shabby parenting to keep your kid on the farm, and it ain't shabby parenting to let him tend the crops and milk the cows and maybe blow up some beehives on the side. What shabby parenting isn't is making your kid sit in a stuffy room full of fucking disease and stench and body fluids where he'll maybe pick up some worthless fucking trivia if he's not coiling in on himself with loathing and disgust. This for seven hours a day; now repeat it every day for the rest of your childhood and tell me the state didn't stamp the best years out of you.

If there was one good thing I could take out of that first week at Fistwood Public School, it would be the fact that every soul from first to twelfth grade knew me as the "Bear Kid." Those who feared me didn't approach me. Those who respected me came forth to tell me so. I remember one group in particular. It happened during recess one day while I was doing one-handed pull-ups on the geodesic dome in our playground while reading Finnegans Wake.

Four ratty-looking kids a couple of grades my senior came up to the dome and laced their arms through its iron bars while giving me a leisurely, curious look.

"Tornado, right?"one  of them asked. He looked to be their leader, since he was the tallest and undoubtedly the oldest.

"Cute shoes," I said. His were velcro. "I'm glad they make 'em for slow kids now; no more tripping over the laces."

He chuckled dangerously. "Whatever they say about you, Jackson, you got courage. Nobody in town talks to me that way. You got spunk."

"Spunk, huh?" I switched arms. "You come here to suck it outta me? Your mother's got first dibs."

"The hell are you reading, Jackson?" piped one of the others.

"Cat in the Hat," I said. "Now fuck off, all of ya."

"Come, come," crooned the leader. "There's no need for nastiness." He climbed up the dome to where my hand clung the bar and sat beside it, then looked down at me with a smile. "I feel we haven't properly introduced ourselves. My names Jimmy Thorn, and these here are members of my crew, the Dragonflies."

"Ain't heard of you," I said. "That's probably for a reason."

"Ain't heard of us, huh?" said a Dragonfly. "Everybody's heard of us."

Jimmy nodded. "Luke here's right. We're a big bunch, forty strong, and always looking for new members. But we don't just look anywhere, you see." He hopped up-right, and slowly arced his way into a standing position, with each foot carefully poised on a bar. My hand now clung halfway between his feet. "We want fighters and biters. The rowdy kids, you know, kids whose folks never gave a damn. We're like the Lost Boys, only we deal in real spears and arrows. If you want a place to go, a place beyond you rotten school and rotten home, come see us sometime, Tornado Jackson. We'll make you plenty welcome."

At this, he hopped off the dome and clicked his mouth to summon his cronies.

"I've seen sewers less full of shit," I said, just as they were walking away.

Jim looked over his shoulder, smiling, and said, "Baker Street at midnight, any day. We'll be waiting."

And with that, they disappeared.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thoughts Before Entering the Grind

You must wonder why a man like me detested, even feared the idea of school. It wasn't that I feared the people there--not the virgin marms who taught me, not the children full of nose-crust--nor did I fear the rigors an education should entail. No, I feared routine. Routine, that vise that clamps the mind and presses it to bursting. Routine, that sad and endless slog to which all working souls are thrown. Routine, robber of autonomy, breaker of wills, black-winged usher to the grave. A child starts life boundless, untied to any constant task, and may while his hours in the pasture mud or chasing shadows in a wood. Then comes the crush of school; all time sinks into empty tasks, and all a day's but waiting for that hour, that holy hour, of the one respite of recess. Did the great polymaths do worksheets? Did Da Vinci take the SAT? Did Pythagoras not find his enlightenments abroad, in far-flung nations rather than at a school desk? Did the first person to conjure fire not learn his art in the wild, or did he spend his afternoon watching a clock on ugly wallpaper? No, a genius founts from within, and all routine will do, all school will do, is crush it. So I'd reasoned. And so I'd decided to sabotage this school lest it sabotage me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stung, Part Four

I can tell you this much. If that dust-devil hadn't clouded my windows, I'd have been out of that field and far, far from any cops. But sometimes Fate likes to cudgel you. And in such cases, one must cudgel her back, right in the fucking head. But that won't come till later. At the moment, I was spinning round the field, blind as a brick, scorching up plumes of dust. The police cars surrounded me. I could hear their doors opening, policemen coming out, then the screech and blare of a megaphone.

"This is the police! Come to a stop immediately and get out of the car!" Did I listen? Would you have listened? No. They opened fire, popping the Stingray's wheels. After a few more turns on shredded rubber, I finally did come to a stop. "Out! Out with your hands in the air!" This time, I obliged. It wasn't my car, after all. As I stepped onto the field, the officers gasped.

"A kid?" one of them howled. "A fucking kid?"

"Alright Junior, the joyride's over." The officers lowered their guns one by one, each man completely beside himself. The highest-ranking among them, a portly sheriff crowned in a cowboy hat, sauntered toward me with an expression of pure awe and disgust. "Are you some kinda psycho?" he asked me.

"Are you some kind of fatso?" I replied. He didn't like this much, and pinned me to the ground, rough as he could without crushing me. These days, I'd have punched his guts through his asshole, but an eight-year-old can only do so much. He cuffed me and dragged me back to the police cars.

"That's Bernstein's Stingray, ain't it?" asked an officer.

"Yep," said the fat man who'd cuffed me.

"I say we burn it and blame it on the kid. Bernstein's an evil fuck."

"Plus it'd get this kid some hard juvie," said another sheriff. "He'll learn the law real quick."

"Much as I'd like to," said the fat one, "we gotta take him to Fistwood. Bill, Joe, get this car to Bernstein. The rest of you, back to your beats. 'Cept you, Mike. You come with me."

They stowed me in the back of a police car, and soon enough, I was being driven back through Fistwood. Turns out the fat one had a name: Bentley. From what I gathered hearing Bentley jaw, people outside Fistwood knew about the Incident last summer.

"Hey Mike," he said, as we shuttled down Main Street. "That kid. He look familiar?"

Mike glanced in the rear-view mirror. "Yup," he said. "Can't say why."

"I think that's the Bear Kid." Mike lowered his shades to get a better look in the mirror, then turned around bodily to see me. He slumped back in his seat.

"I'll be damned," he said. "Looks just like him." He looked at me again. "Kid, you got a lotta problems, and you make a lotta problems. That ain't no way to live."

Course he was right. At the moment, my problems were hauling me to Fistwood Station. When we got there, I had to wait in a room with a pregnant teenage girl. Her eyeshadow had run down her face, so she looked like Pagliacci. Rape case, I figured.

A little later, my parents came in, Calhoun with his cigar, Delilah red from over-tanning. Bentley approached them. "You Mr. and Mrs. Jackson?" They nodded. "Your son's here. We caught him off-road in Mort Bernstein's Stingray Coupe, chasing a dirt-devil. The side of the car is severely scratched and the tires are out. Not to mention, the whole thing needs a wash. Oh, and this is a no-smoking area, Mr. Jackson. Put that thing out."

Calhoun summoned up the most disgusted grimace he could muster, a sneer that said everything a thousand manifestos could not. Then he rubbed out the cigar in the soil of a potted plant, sized up the fat one, and said, "Any proof?"

"Eight police witnesses and several drivers and pedestrians. Bernstein himself. The fucked-up coupe. Yeah, we got proof."

"This don't seem fair," said Delilah. "We didn't raise our son this way. There must be a mistake."

"I'm afraid not," said Bentley. A secretary came up to him and gave him a dossier.

"You got fucking docs on our son?" spat Calhoun. He looked ready to hit someone. 

"That's correct," said Bentley. He finished flipping through the dossier and gave it to the secretary. "Jesus. This kid's barely on record. He ain't even enrolled in the school here. Care to tell me why, Samantha?"

She shrugged. "Must have slipped through the system."

Bentley didn't buy it. We Jacksons were just too much trouble for the state to deal with, and he realized this. Oh, they knew about me, but no one wanted the Bear Kid in math class. Too many liabilities."

"Let me explain this to you," said Bentley. "I'd really, really like to see this brat in juvie. We can do that, and we will, unless you enroll him in the school here. If he ends up a productive member of society, I won't feel so bad letting him free."

Suddenly I was on Golgotha and this bastard was driving in nails. No, no, no. Not school. Not that. Anything, anything but that.

My father looked at me glumly, as if to say, I'm sorry, Son. Knowing he didn't have a choice, he nodded. "Alright."

So began my Tribulation.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Stung, Part Three

If you've never broken two hundred miles per hour on the open road, get the fuck out of my cabin right now. No, really, put down the plate and take your faggot boots and leave. You don't deserve man-parts. What's that? Oh, you have broken two hundred? Well that's still pitiful compared to the three-hundred I shattered on the Isle of Man. (They call it that for a reason.) But go ahead, have another steak and more wine. I'm just getting started.

When you're going two-hundred-plus on a country road, the foreground becomes an afterimage, like film stock going awry on its reel. You can't tell a bull from a goddamn barn. Fortunately the skyline stays still, and if there are hills, windmills, watertowers, or any protrusions in the distance to serve as landmarks, and if you aren't dumb as past, you should find your way from town to town and back again. So it went that I screamed through Fistwood in the Stingray, then through New Surrey, then Cattlewhip, all in forty minutes' time. Few cars came near me, since it's never busy round these parts. A couple times I swerved into the oncoming lane so people coming toward me would remember they were living.

About fifty minutes in, I saw a dust devil tonguing down an empty field. Seeing as there wasn't a ditch dividing me from that field, I swerved off the main road and drove toward the dust devil. In my childhood ignorance--hey, you can't read fucking everything--I thought I would spin into the vortex as though it were a goddamn tornado. I don't need to explain why. Needless to say, that didn't happen. By the time I had caught up with it, half-blinded by a flurry of copper-colored soil, the warble of police sirens emanated from the road.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stung, Part Two

An entrepreneur named Mort Bernstein owned the Stingray. Every day, he drove sweetheart through town so people could see their reflections in its sheen. He drove it to and from his estate at the far side of Fistwood, a huge colonial fortress of a house with a marble statue at its front of Abraham about to gut Isaac. If memory serves (and it goddamn does) the early Bernstein proprietors of this mansion had slaves.

The morning I climbed over the hedges into the Bernstein Estate, I thought of those slaves in the field and reasoned that my theft would be just desserts for a dynasty of former people-owners. Inside, the lawn looked so untraveled, it might as well have been vacuum-sealed. Pockets of flowers shot up here and there, all in neat arrangements of chrysanthemums, marigolds, roses, and violets. So neat, so tidy, everything so goddamn OCD. There were bolts spring-loaded in the ground for wayward squirrels, and burglars too no doubt; these skewered any creature who triggered them by foot. I cautiously navigated the lawn, eying the grass for glints of iron. A bluejay didn't get the notice. Its husk was shriveling in the midday sun at the end of a springbolt, likely caught in its hunt for an earthworm.

Once at the gravel driveway, I followed this to the entrance, and hid in the bushes beside the front stairs. I waited all afternoon in those bushes, sating my boredom by stripping the leaves to their midribs. The grounds-keeper came out once to dislodge the bird, whistling as he did so, and went back inside without seeing me.

At long last, after hours of waiting and half a bush shorn clean, the front gates creaked open. Bernstein entered in his maraschino-red Stingray. He rounded the lawn, cut the engine once near the stairs, and stepped out in his khakis and sunglasses. Lo, glinting in the sunlight: his ring of keys. Just as he started up the stairs, I pounced on him from behind and snatched them from his hand. By the time he registered what had happened, I was halfway to the car.

"Hey, hey, hey!" He nearly tripped as he scrambled after me, and his shades clattered on the pavement. "You slimy little fuck." I swung open the passenger's side, lunged into the driver's seat, and slammed the door shut behind me. Mort barreled into it right as I thumbed the lock shut. Here I was at last, at Apollo's reigns. I turned on the ignition. While Mort swung around to the driver's side, screaming like a broker on Black Tuesday, I gripped the still-warm leather steering wheel and, since I was too short to see over the dashboard without kneeling on the seat, kicked off a shoe so it would weigh on the gas. The Stingray shot forward instantly. Mort's howling and pounding subsided in his failure to chase me on foot.

"I'll slit your throat, you little shit!" The gates began to close, no doubt the grounds-keeper's effort to trap me. Seeing this, I pushed my shoe down harder, hitting ninety. Knowing I'd rocket through that gate, and knowing it was his Stingray that would do the rocketing, Mort screamed at his grounds-keeper. "Open it! He's going through!"

And so I did, clipping a gate on my way. I was out now. Free and boundless in that fucking Stingray. It would be the greatest hour of my childhood. Yes, hour. You'll find out why.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stung, Part One

Before we venture further into the Encyclopedia Badassica of my life, let's look at some of the goings-on in the world of my youth. By 1965, Uncle Sam sent troops overseas to slake his thirst for Commie blood. Scores of Fistwoodians enlisted right away. Fuck if they knew why. So far as they were concerned, when Sam called, you answered, with a rigid back and a hand to your head. By the summer of that year, farmers' boys were coming home in boxes, mothers were grieving in streets, and the town graveyard became a public forum. With the War, Malcolm X kicking the bucket, New York going dark, L.A. going stark raving goddamn mad, hard drugs trading hands, and hippies slapping tambourines, public sanity dissolved quicker than Tums in a hot tub.

But even that year had its ray of hope. The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, to be exact. Someone in our town actually drove this gorgeous glistening chariot. One fateful day I asked myself: Why should he have that car, and not I? And in a dream, the Stingray answered: He shouldn't. I didn't need much more convincing. Besides, who would send an eight-year-old to the slammer for grand theft auto?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Lesson in Nature, Part Three

August the Second, 1964. As clearly as I remember being pulled from my mother's birth canal like a potato from a drain, I remember that accursed August day, the day I discovered Odin's secret. He and I were visiting a liquor store. Pets aren't usually allowed in liquor stores, but bears were the new exception. After handing the owner a dollar bill, he plunked a bottle of Ms. Carriage whiskey on the counter, then slunk out into a back room as fast as possible. It wasn't hard whiskey, but fuck you, I was seven.

We left the store to a toasty summer afternoon. The streets of Fistwood were mostly empty, as they often were these days. I wrenched the cap from the bottle with a tooth. "Drink up," I said, and poured half the contents down Odin's throat. He shuddered for a moment like a stroke victim. Then the whiskey took hold and he wobbled off the sidewalk and into the street, forcing me to drag him by his neck-fur back beside me. You'd think a bear would have alcohol tolerance. To show him a creature who did, I swigged the rest of the bottle. It affected me little--maybe a volt to my stomach, but nothing to short out the brain. "Let's go to the park." Odin belched in agreement.

It happened halfway there, as strange things are wont to do between one place and another. Herbert wouldn't publish till a year later, but I'll be damned if it didn't sound like a Shai'hulud boring its way beneath us. But these reverberations came rather from a beast on land, a beast, I soon realized, approaching from behind us. Out from the fucking aether, dark and huge as a locomotive, tore the bear goddess herself, a specimen four times greater than any grizzly. Odin's mother. An obsidian queen.

We fucking booked it. Usain Bolt never ran a faster mile; from that street to the park to the play structure, Odin and I ran, ran, ran. And roaring behind us, two stories tall and dribbling foam, the great she-bear closed the distance, cleaving pavement, sending a car into a wall, and shredding the awnings above her. Jesus Christ, that roar. It rattled the brain in my skull. The bear wanted blood.

Using all my remaining energy, I launched up from the bark below the play structure and onto its wooden beams, breathlessly wriggling myself over and out of claw's reach. Odin, meanwhile, clambered up the slide. A few children who'd been using the structure fled screaming.

She slowed to a lumber when she reached the pool of bark chips. Growling, she began to pace around the structure, no doubt assessing its weaknesses, while I looked hard into her eyes. One was black, the other blind-white with a scar down its brow. Here's where your average seven-year-old would've broken down in tears. Me? I threw that fucking Ms. Carriage right into her working eye. She half-ducked, and the bottle shattered on her forehead.

It had taken Odin's mother this long to track him down, but shit, she'd succeeded. How they'd parted in the first place, or how long it had taken her to find them, will forever remain a mystery. Odin looked up at me, pleading like the first time I'd seen him.

The she-bear lunged at us. Normally a building the size of this play structure would disintegrate on impact. And in fact, several of its beams went flying. But after listing a bit and threatening to topple, it thumped back into place, and the she-bear pulled back. You've never seen a bear this big, nor any land-dwelling creature. Her face bore the stamp of mania. She could've plucked up a telephone pole like a daisy.

Before she lunged a second time, a blast went off nearby. She flinched at it. The sheriff I'd seen weeks ago now stood at the edge of the bark-pool, holding a shotgun at waist-level. He cocked it, fired again, advancing toward her in quick, deliberate steps. The she-bear would have none of that.

"Give it here!" I hollered, and opened my arms for the gun. I was much closer, and high enough to shoot her face. The sheriff hesitated too long before throwing me shotgun. It landed in my arms just as the she-bear tore into him, cutting short his screams with a bite that took his head. Blood sprung from his neck in two quick spurts, and he crumpled onto the barkchips. The bear took another bite from his corpse before leaving it to bleed out and then lumbered back toward us. I lifted and cocked the shotgun, half-hoping to dissuade her, half-hoping she'd lunge again. The second half won out. When she lunged this time, I fired right in her face. Howling, she keeled onto the play structure. Odin and I rocked wildly as we clung to the beams. The she-bear rolled off and gathered its energy for a second go.

Here I must gather my own energy for this last stretch of the tale, for it's the hardest to speak of. Don't give me that look, you fuck.

Odin, seeing his mother wounded, left my side and went down the slide to join her. When he reached her, they shared a moment of primal kinship common to many human families. It consisted of Mother Bear swiping a claw across her child's face. Odin didn't retaliate. They growled to each other in bear tongue, then Odin looked at me once more. Don't, I ordered with a glare, but the young bear didn't listen. The she-bear nudged him back the way she'd come, turning her back to the decimated play structure and the gun-wielding boy within it, and the two of them left. They left without any more trouble.

Once it was over, police, reporters, and doctors appeared by the scores. The reporters fired off questions and accusations while the doctors pulled a tarp over the mess of a sheriff. I ignored them all, looking instead at the street through which Odin and his mother last traveled, and then went back home.

And that's the story of my childhood. Well, one story anyway. I see your glass is empty, but you haven't touched your chocolate steak. Eat the fuck up, because I've got more to tell you.

Not about the bears, no, but their story isn't over. As a matter of fact, I kept the shotgun in a padlock case beneath my bed, knowing one day I'd revisit Odin's mother. For now though, our tale of these bears has reached its close, and I will thus move on to other, equally intriguing matters.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Lesson in Nature, Part Two

Hold on a second while I stoke the blaze, you fuck. Gets cold as a wizard's balls in these mountains. There. Now, where was I?

Right: bears. When I came back from the quarry that night and got into bed, that bear's fate still hung in my thoughts. Would a lone salmon tide it over? Would it eventually find a stream? Would my parents ever fuck quietly? And so on, until I dozed off. Now here's the thing about bears I've come to realize. You will never, ever fully comprehend their motives or allegiances. Dogs? Your eternal fetch-whores, no doubt about it. Horses? Once you break 'em in, you're their one-and-only. Pigs? Cats? Rattlesnakes? All these creatures make it known whether they like you or hate you. But bears, as the late Timothy Treadwell can attest, might nuzzle you one minute and rip you open like a fucking Otter Pop the next. They're Nature's eternal mystery. Not to mention, fucking awesome.

Here's what happened. The rest of that week went by without consequence. I went back to torturing bugs between chores--worm stretch-racks became a favorite--and gave up the honeybee holocaust. Soon that black bear vanished from my thoughts. Like all anomalies, it lost its strangeness. That is, until one Sunday morning when my parents were busy at Catholic mass, eating their Jewish Santa.

I woke up to a clatter of pans. I wrenched the shotgun from beneath my pillow, loaded it, and descended the stairs to the kitchen. But instead of a human burglar, I found an ursine one, the same black bear from the quarry; I could tell from its stray-dog face and bee-stings. The damn creature was trying to open the ice chest.

(If anyone ever tells you that bears aren't intelligent, tell them to fuck a blowfish. Bears are brilliant, and they will find you if they know you've got food.)

After considering my options--helping the bear or letting it starve--I opened the ice chest, pulled out a rainbow trout, and tossed it to the bear, who ravaged it in half a minute.

"You're alright," I said. The bear grunted. "Your appetite reminds me of vikings, so I think I'll name you Odin, after their God. Sound good?" (I read a lot when I was seven.) Odin grunted again, and this time he looked up at me with a pair of the damnedest pleading eyes I'd ever seen, so I sighed and fed him another fish. After scrubbing bone and giblets from the kitchen floor, I took the bear outdoors and looked it straight in the eye.

"Now listen," I said. "You stay out here"--pointing to the ground--"and don't ever let Pop see you or he'll blow your head in. Got it?" Odin yawned, showing me a set of incisors sharper than anything you'd see on a Cutco commercial. He did this as if to say, Let your father try. Amused, I walked over to the bear and scratched the back of his head. He snorted contentedly, then turned and sauntered back to the forest. That would be the first of his many visitations.

At this point, you're probably wondering why I befriended the bear. Here's why. It's a fucking bear. You have any idea how badass a seven-year-old looks walking around town with a bear beside him? Shit, people give you discounts. And besides, like I said, he was alright. A good bear to be around.

I soon realized after seeing and feeding this bear that you didn't have to ask permission to take bears around. When my parents found out, they told me to "get fucking rid of it," so I looked at them, then looked at the bear, and said in the smoothest voice I could muster, "Get rid of it yourselves" They didn't argue. Pop never got his gun. And for the rest of the summer, nobody crossed us. I remember a pair of meaty Fistwood sheriffs stepping out of a coffee shop, giving us a look of bridled terror, and saying in low tones, "Afternoon, Mr. Jackson," before picking up the pace to their cars.

Alas, we must return to that ursine mystery I mentioned earlier. For at the end of the day, every bear has a secret. And Odin? Let's just say he had a four-legged secret who was coming my way.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Lesson in Nature, Part One

Like any red-(white-and-blue)-blooded American child, I spent a lot of time torturing bugs. It got to the point where my backyard was an Auschwitz for arthropods. Pillbugs met their end at the bottom of an acid-filled beaker. Ants beheld the divine wrath of a magnifying glass. I even made a guillotine for a praying goddamn mantis. It was, in a word, wunderbar. But the best of all, the pièce de résistance of my little reich, was a set of Halleluja firecrackers saved just for beehives. Picture me in a homemade hazmat suit, complete with pillowmail and a football helmet, jamming sticks of mini-dynamite into the crevices of hives, lighting them, then standing back to watch these empires roast in seconds. When the survivors swarmed me, I had a can of spray ready to finish them off.

That was me in 1964. Now I use real dynamite without a faggot hazmat suit. But I was seven back then, and while I burned through cigars like they were going out of style, God forbid I get a bee-sting. So here I am, blowing up bees, when I run out of hives on the farm. You getting this? I killed every one of the little shits, killed 'em all. To this day, that farmland has never had another buzzing, and you can blame those dead flowers on my sadistic ass. But was I content? Fuck no. Instead of going back to Yahwehing anthills, I stuffed a backpack full of firecrackers, got on my eight-speed, and pedaled to the nearest quarry.

The trip took ten, maybe fifteen minutes. When I got there, I hopped off my bike and took a look around. It was early evening, long shadows, lots of gold and red. Mayflies hummed over the quarry pond, and you could hear cicadas sawing. My search didn't take long. That hive--Sweet Lapdancing Mary--that hive was huge. We're talking the size of an engine block, with bees big enough to cover a grown man's thumb. So what did I do? I took out twice as many firecrackers.

Here's where it got weird. I jammed the firecrackers into the side of the hive, lit the ends, and stood back to watch the show. And what a show--honey fucking everywhere, gobs of it oozing down the trunk. Think Chinese New Year in Pooh's pantry. In fact, the honey came down in such quantities that I could smell it from where I was standing. But what I didn't know until that moment was that I wasn't the only one smelling it, because to my surprise, a baby black bear hobbled out of the underbrush to nab some. The sight of it sent me into panic mode--that is, until I realized its parents weren't around, and it probably couldn't eat me if it wanted to. See, this black bear looked like it had crossed the mountains on an empty stomach. Burrs clung to its mangy hide, and its face looked more like a stray dog's than a proper bear's. It sat down below the blasted hive and started lapping up the trickles of honey. Bees gathered around its head, buzzing and stinging to save their lifeblood, but the bear just ignored them.

During all this, I had returned to my bike with the intention of getting the fuck out of there. So far as I knew, when a baby bear's around, its mother ain't far. And what sane boy wants a family of goddamn bears chasing his eight-speed? Me apparently, because I couldn't leave, couldn't pull away. This pathetic creature had a hold on my pity. Yes, the same pity that saw thousands of insects to their end. For some reason (don't judge me, you fuck) I wanted to help this goddamn bear.

When it finally finished lapping up the honey, at which point the bees had given up, the bear crawled away from the tree and curled up in the grass to sleep. I looked at the sky. Figuring I had maybe a half-hour till dusk, I flicked my bike into gear and pedaled back to the farm. There I stole a salmon from the ice chest; fortunately, my parents were too busy fucking in the barn to notice. When I got back to the quarry, I found the bear still sleeping, and rather than wake it up, I plopped the salmon in the grass near its head, and went home content with my good deed. Little did I know, just then, the depth of shit I was getting myself into.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dramatis Personae: Me

I was born in Fistwood, Tennessee to a ropey-muscled farmer named Calhoun Jackson, and his wife Delilah Jackson. What I remember in those first months of my life include: jacking off in Delilah's womb, playing soccer with her placenta, and mostly basting in fetal juices. Whenever she got "comfortable" with my father (and believe me, I could tell; those walls were thin) I'd kick around her insides like fucking Pelé. They got the picture quick.

The day I came out was Mother's Day. I had to time it just right so she couldn't finish breakfast in bed and funnel down those awful crêpes. She delivered me in the living room, right on the bear rug. The first thing I reached for, sitting there on that gutted grizzly all damp with blood and mom-juice, was the cigar in my father's mouth. He lifted me up and pulled the machete from the dinner table to cut the umbilical, and right then, I ripped that cigar from his mouth and stuck it in my own. I still remember that first puff.

Ever since then, I've been Living. No, no, no. Not being alive. Fucks like you "be alive." I don't deal with the IRS, the PTA, or any bureaucratic ejaculate. If I want something, I take it. If I feel like climbing Kilimanfuckingjaro, I climb it, no forms filed, no questions asked, no cyclone of Q&A with work, family, or friends. Sure, it's roughed me up now and then. I've had my share of cuts and bruises and abductions. But I'll tell you about that later on.

What you need to know now is that most of what I tell you may seem hard to believe, but every ounce of it is true. I've been places you can't imagine. I've seen things that made lesser men break down. And all of it, every word, really happened.

But before I blaze ahead, drink the rest of your Chardonnay, you fuck. That shit was expensive.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Have a Seat

Right there, in that leather armchair. That's right. Here, have a Chardonnay and some chocolate steak. You're in my cabin in the middle of the mountains, alone, unarmed, and smelling like shit. There's a fire crackling in the hearth. You draw up your quilt--my mother made that quilt, you fuck--and lean your cheek toward the blaze. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you came here to listen to my stories. Well, I don't know better, because that's exactly why you're here and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

My name's Tornado Jackson. Yes, Tornado, as in a whirling column of dust and wood that God saves just for farmers. And Jackson, as in the late Michael. My name is Tornado Fucking Jackson, and if you're really looking to stay, I've got a hell of a lot to tell you.