Nothing

Chapter one

1

“This machine kills fascists” is what the guitar said on it, but it wasn’t about the machine at all.

In a field along the highway I saw an old man in overalls supplicate himself before a tractor like a good Muslim facing Mecca to pray. This was in South Dakota and he was facing north. Perhaps he is part of some old farmer cult. They pray to the tractors to ensure the crops and they sing lullabies to their hammers at night after their wives have gone to bed. The god that protects the crops is green and powerful. Their children construct gallows in the unending rain, just in case a sacrifice must be made. No stones are exchanged and no hymns are muttered through ragged teeth. Watching that man I thought of boxcars and my skin started to itch. I could feel the hum and buzz of the highway and it only half filled my blood. Martin Eden was out there somewhere, just beyond the horizon and purple skies filled with salt.

Now there are wolves in the forest and falcons circle constantly, unable to hear their masters. I am so far from the ocean and I can’t help wondering if it has filled with blood. I light a cigarette with the Zippo that rides in the passenger seat and try not to look at the yellow line. Do I turn back? It’s all still waiting for me, but I don’t think I can face it. The accelerator fits my boot so well, so I press down harder and drive toward what must be the sound of all the mermaids singing. Yes. I am running. The reason? Does there have to be a reason? Why the fuck do readers always look for deeper motives and subtext? Sometimes a story is just a story. This is one of those times.

When Sylvia Plath killed herself, Ted Hughes destroyed her final notebook. He said that he did this to protect the children. If you find this message in a bottle, don’t protect the children. Fuck them.

Hours on the highway and I could barely breathe. A blue sign informed me of food and lodging so I took the next exit and rolled up in front of a nasty motel. The desk clerk looked like she had been ripped out of a bad seventies horror movie, or maybe a snuff film. There was a jagged scar tracing a line down her forehead and no light in her eyes.

I asked her if there was a discount if I paid for a month in advance. She said yes, so I forked over the cash.

Single bed, bad art bolted to the wall, TV remote on a string so I can’t take it with me when I abandon this roach motel. The water in the bathroom tap is slightly yellow, but I don’t drink water anyway. My favorite liquids are all amber. There are vermiculate stains on the carpet. Something seems to be growing in the bathtub. This is perfect.

I unpack my few belongings: a couple changes of clothes, lots of socks, my dagger, a bottle of bourbon. Then I lay on the bed and wait for the phone to ring.

Thus ends the beginning that is really a middle. In medias res, so to speak.

2

“She wakes me up to tell me she’s gone” But I already know that.

Jack Strauss thought he was out when he realized that he still had one chip. He took his seat and continued to play; eventually winning the main event. Moral: you are never really down and out unless you pull the trigger.

After two days the phone does ring. I don’t recognize the voice on the other end, but we talk about sharks for twenty minutes before I hang up. Later that night I find all of my old skin cells hidden beneath the bed. They are plotting a comeback, creating a difficult chess strategy to first defeat me then take control of the continent. My toenail clippings are in on the plan but my liver is the leader.

I drink a liter of bourbon and pass out. My dreams are about rusty coat hangers and trickles of blood.

At three the phone rang again and I stumbled from sleep to answer. The voice on the other end said something vague about the ocean, then hung up. I muttered under my breath and fell back into dream. Whales screaming and nursing mothers.

Sartre didn’t believe in morality and yet he joined the French resistance because he thought it was the right thing to do. Farmers pray for rain, but sometimes the crops just don’t grow.

What is it?

You don’t know, I don’t know, fuck man, even god don’t know. Is it the devil?

What does that even mean?

It’s the thing that tears your flesh and eats the sweet pulp inside. It’s the thing that chains you to the wall,
that rips your sanity and rapes you while your kids watch. One thing I know for sure, if I get out on that highway, then it’s me.

I have to stop carving my face.

3

[[[[[[[

“Common sense. Fuck.” Macgregor took a deep pull from his beer and slammed the bottle back on the table. The room was dark and the air was more smoke than oxygen. It was one of those dank bars where sad old bastards drank during the day. Macgregor was sitting at a small table in the corner. Across from him was a man who called himself Billy Watkins. Billy looked like he belonged in a Jim Thompson novel. He had a long, angular face marked by what appeared to be a dueling scar running jagged down his left cheek. His shirt was sealed by snaps coated in mother of pearl and his jeans bore oil stains. When Macgregor had first noticed him he had been clomping across the room. His worn down boot heels had echoed and sprung as he walked. There were a hundred just like him here. Macgregor would have ignored him had it not been for his left boot. That was the thing that Mac had noticed. As the man walked every other step made an odd, hollow noise. Mac had looked down at his boots and seen that one heel was different than the other.

“What’s up with your boot heel?” Mac had asked.

“That one’s crystal,” the man had said.

“What?”

“My left boot hill. It’s made out of crystal. It’s a long story.”

“I bet.”

“My name’s Billy Watkins,” the man with the crystal boot heel said.

“Macgregor. Call me Mac. Buy ya a beer?”

Then they were sitting at the table talking like men who had known each other for years.

“Common sense. Fuck,” Mac said.

“What do you mean,” Billy asked taking a puff from his cigarette.

“What’s the shortest distance between two points?” Mac took another drink, sat his empty bottle on the scarred table top and lifted his hand to get the attention of the bartender.

“A straight line I guess.”

“okay. That’s common sense, but it’s wrong. ”

“It is?”

The bartender brought two more beers and took some crumpled bills from Mac then vanished into the shadows.

“Yeah. I mean, sometimes it is. If the two points are on a sheet of paper then yeah, the shortest distance is a straight line. If they’re on a curved surface, like this planet, then that isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a curved line. That’s non-Euclidean geometry.”

“Fuck.”

“Yup.”

Billy took a long pull from his beer. “So, where you heading?”

“What makes you think I’m heading somewhere/”

“You just look like a man on his way somewhere.”

“Guess I must.”

“Yeah.”

They talked for a while. The conversation meandered between weather, politics, sports and the other crap men in bars discuss when they don’t really have anything in common. After an hour and several beers Macgregor excused himself and went back to his motel.

]]]]]]

4

I don’t care for the thing that is stalking me. It is a perfect engine, as the movie says. My first memory, and forever I thought it was real, is of a shark devouring a boy on a yellow raft. Blood spurted in arcs through the air and the screams coated the beach. I saw JAWS on TV when I was 12 and realized that my earliest memory was a movie. Still, that shark is stalking me. There is no shark like fear. I avoid lust and eat cold spaghetti from a can while drinking Ten High bourbon and flipping the channels on the antiquated TV set bolted to the dresser.

I no longer know my name, so I use a different one everywhere I go. Cullin is the name I gave at the front desk. In the bar I was Macgregor because it reminds me of Highlander, and I think there can be only one. Just me and the shark.

It has infinite rows of teeth that defy description.

Outside the motel, the black parking lot paved in sodium arc light, there is a dog covered in blood. His predatory lope speaks of trouble and things left wounded. I share something with him. I’m younger now than I was then. Still, the scar remains.

Sometime after three the phone rings and I put down my glass to answer it. A woman’s voice asks for Steve. I claim to be him and we talk about movies and music. She likes Kubrick and Polyphonic Spree. I tell her that I like Welles and Steely Dan. We seem like a good match, but I don’t try to prolong the conversation. There is something I need to do.

I leave the motel, find a bar and drink with a guy named Billy.

Nietzsche said “poets treat their experiences shamelessly: they exploit them”.

I’m a poet. But I write in blood.

When she died I wasn’t there. That’s the thing that I cannot handle at all. Sometimes I think that the shark took her. I know that it’s all in my head. It’s all where I sleep.

5

Maybe he said something like don’t move or freeze, but he really couldn’t be certain that he had spoken at all. He had come from behind her in the dark. The parking lot was huge and sprawling with lettered signs to remind people where they had parked. There were sodium arc lights mounted on high poles to illuminate the ground, but many of them had burned out and bulbs were far from the highest priority when it came time for the hospital to spend money. Those bulbs would increase billings.

The woman had a very nice purse. Ted didn’t think that it was a knock off. Even if it was, her pants suit definitely hadn’t come from Sears, which he took as a good sign that she would have cash and credit cards in that possibly designer purse. The real deciding factor for him, though, was simply that there was no one else around.

He moved out of the shadows with the gun shaking in his hand. Either he spoke or he didn’t. The woman saw the gun and froze. Her eyes nearly burst with panic. Ted could smell her. The air was filled with a musk that he guessed must have been the scent of terror. He had never smelled it before. He knew that he was sweating despite the cool air around him.

Ted tried to look vicious. He filled his eyes with what he hoped was the threat of destruction raining down. The look was more like one of confusion, but it didn’t matter. The woman never saw it. The only thing that could attract her gaze was the gun and the opening at the end of the barrel which seemed to be growing larger by the second. She thought that it might grow so large that everything would be pulled into it. The world would vanish into the darkness of the singularity that the gun wanted to become.

Ted reached for the purse and the woman took it the wrong way. She didn’t know why she was doing it, but she reached for the gun. It was almost as if her hand was working of its own accord. She could see her own slender fingers bending around the metal. She knew that her arm was pulling back, tugging at the weapon. But somehow it did not seem at all like she was the one doing it.

Ted realized that everything was going wrong. He could hear his stomach growling loudly and he thought that it was strange that in a moment like that one he should hear that sound. He was afraid that if he didn’t get this over with soon he would shit himself. He tried to pull the gun back from the woman.

Maybe Ted pulled the trigger.

He hadn’t wanted this. He just needed the money. She should have just let him have the money. She should have given a little scream, dropped the purse and ran away. But she hadn’t.

Maybe the gun had just gone off.

He had a daughter to feed and there was never enough to cover all the bills. This was going to be a one time thing, just to get by.

maybe it was his fault.

She collapsed on the macadam. Ted thought that she looked like a fake. Despite the blood, she didn’t look like a real person. Things started to swim. Somehow it was darker than it had been a minute before. He realized that he was about to puke. He leaned forward and gripped his stomach. He started to wretch, but held it back.

He bent, grabbed the forgotten purse and opened it. Inside he found a leather wallet with a hundred dollars inside. He didn’t take the credit cards. Ted stuffed the bills into his pants pocket, dropped the purse and started to run.

6

About Jaws. It was Lester that brought him back. I used to piss the bed dreaming about that damned shark when I was a kid, but we were well past that until Lester dredged it up for me. I know it is out there and I know that it is only bad brain chemistry and these two facts are at constant war with each other in my mind.

Simms. I think that my name may have been Simms. But that was long ago and in another country. I’ve been in this motel for weeks and still can’t figure out which direction I should go.

You don’t want to waste your life.

It’s light out and I need another bottle. Old Crow seems fitting. I keep thinking about all the types of crows that could feast on my remains if this all goes wrong.

The Pied Crow seeks out windowsills and finds waiting cherry or apple left to cool.

The Cape Crow goes out at night and fight crime with his fists.

The Common Raven drinks PBR and listens to Journey and Styx in his trailer.

The Western Raven owns a saddle, but no horse. He likes sausage and peppers in his omelet.

The Carrion Crow, well you know about his eating habits.

The Hooded Crow tightens the ties on his hoodie and hangs at the corner with his bros.

Jackdaw from Wichita travels around refusing to share the water or the wine.

The Rook will checkmate your ass before you see it coming.

The Fish Crow eats worms.

The Fan Tailed Raven can keep you cool in the summer.

The House Crow has room for a family of four, but isn’t worth near as much as he was last year.

Outside the motel is a pool. There are young girls around it. None seem willing to go into the water. That’s for the best. The shark could be there.

I find a liquor store and end up with Maker’s Mark.

7

“The hell you talkin’ ‘bout, Simms? There aint no way you can do that shit.” Lester was propped against his fist, cantilevered from a callused elbow on the sticky bar. The glass of Four Roses in front of him was almost empty and his eyes dropped to it while he did the necessary calculations and determined that he couldn’t afford a refill.

Mitch Simms lit a cigarette and looked around the room. The bar was lined with milky eyed old men slowly decaying over cheap whisky and hand rolled cigarettes. “Yeah I can do it. I’ve done it before,” Simms said to Lester.

“Bullshit, man.”

It was just past noon on a Wednesday and Simms knew that he had no business being in a dank joint drinking bourbon. He should have been at work. He should have been in his cubicle going over the numbers. But when Lester had called he had been unable to resist the chance to get away for an hour or two.

“If you’re so sure then you want to bet? I have ten bucks that says I can stub out a cigarette in my hand,” Simms said.

Lester eyed him and looked at his glass again. “Naw. I don’t wanna bet.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” Lester downed the contents of his glass. “So, you buyin’ the next round?”

Simms pulled his wallet from his back pocket. “Sure,” he said lifting a bill in the air to get the barman’s attention. A minute later they both had fresh drinks in front of them. Simms took a small drink and returned his glass to the bar. The jukebox started piping the sound of Free bird into the air. No one there was likely to have chosen that, so Simms concluded that it must have been set to random in order to entice people to pump quarters into it.

He and Lester sat there quietly for a while, then Simms said “I best be getting back to work.” He stood up and gave Lester a pat on the shoulder. “Give me a cal this weekend, Les and we can do something.”

It had been dark and cool inside the bar and when Simms stepped outside the light was momentarily overwhelming. Everything washed out like old film. By the time he reached his car he had acclimated to the daylight. Simms climbed into his car, lit a cigarette, inserted the key and turned the engine over. He lowered the window a crack and pulled out into the street. It was mid-afternoon and traffic was light. He figured that he should be able to get back to work in twenty minutes or so.

Simms and Lester had known each other for years. They had graduated high school together and had been good friends. Of course, like most of the friends he had had in school, Lester had drifted away from him. They had just taken different paths and all of that. Once in a while Les would call and he and Simms would have a drink and pretend that they had something to talk about. The intervals between those calls had gotten longer and longer over the years. Still, Simms enjoyed the time that the two of them managed to spend together. It always reminded him of days when he had been happier.

It wasn’t that he was completely without joy. Simms enjoyed his weekly poker game with the guys from the office. He liked the two weeks vacation he took each year. And, of course, there was Samantha. She was the one truly great thing in his life. She was the only reason he didn’t chuck it all and head south. He was thinking about her long brown hair when a battered Chevy truck ran a red light and crashed into the passenger side of his car forcing it into the next lane of traffic.

The car skidded sideways, then rocked up with two wheels lifted above the pavement until it was almost past its center of gravity and ready to flip. It paused there an instant, then came back down with a bounce.

Simms head left a smear of blood on the driver side window which somehow did not shatter. His eyes rolled back into his skull. The car radio was still on and he could hear music somewhere in the distance. It seemed to him that somehow Mick Jagger was singing about wild horses and the world faded to black.

8

The painting on the wall seems to be changing.

When I moved in it was a floral thing meant to look like Monet or something. Better from a distance than up close. Now it’s all green water with no horizon and the hint that something is lurking beneath the surface.

9

Emma sat on the rough porch working at the hem of her dress with one hand. It was a habit she had. Whenever she felt nervous she would tug and twist at her skirt hem sometimes to the point of tearing a few threads loose. She knew that she shouldn’t do it. Dresses were expensive and she was no good at doing the repair work that her nervousness necessitated. Sure, she could sew on a button but beyond that her skills as a seamstress were nil.

On that day she wasn’t really sure what she had to be nervous about. It was Sunday. Sundays were good days. There wasn’t much work to be done and after church was over she had several hours to waste in whatever way she wanted. Still, it seemed like something was coming. Maybe the weather was going to change. All around her were ignored fields gone to seed. Most of the families that had farmed there had long since given up on the rocky soil and moved on. The place where she lived with her parents had once been alive, but that had been a very long time ago.

She looked up and pushed her hair from her eyes. There was a cloud of dust in the distance. A car was coming up the road. From thee size of the cloud she thought that it must be moving very fast. She stood and watched for it to come into sight. When it came close enough for her to recognize that it was a pickup truck she turned and went inside to warn her parents that there was company coming.

“Someone’s coming, mom,” Emma said.

The old woman turned from the stove where she had been attending to several pots that were just on the verge of reaching a boil.

“Good,” the old woman said wiping her gnarled hands on her apron, “I’ll get ready.”

Emma pulled a chair out from the table and smiled as she sat down.

****

Mac looked down at the fuel gauge. The needle had sank just below the big red E and he was starting to worry that he’d be walking before long. He had turned off the highway earlier in the day thinking that the back roads would give him a better view as he drove. He had been wrong. The part of the country that he had reached had once been farm land. It had, many years earlier, been part of the vast national bread basket that produced the worlds food on small family owned operations. All of that had faded. Factory farms and engineered plants had taken over. Now the center of the country was a maze of unattended dirt tracks, empty fields, crumbling abandoned farm houses and barns, and general rot. Mac was really starting to wish that he had stayed on the highway.

He reached down and turned the knob on the radio. The speakers gave forth static. Mac started to twist the dial looking for a station. The air waves only offered farm reports, fundamentalists, and right wing political commentary. After a minute he gave up and turned the radio off.

He had been trying to keep an eye out for a house that actually looked alive. He figured that if he could find a working farm they would have gas and he could buy some.

The car looked like it probably ran. That was a good sign. A better sign was that the house that the car was parked in front of looked like it actually had people living in it. Mac put his foot on the brake pedal and started the deceleration. He mad the gentle turn into the long driveway and pulled his truck behind the old Buick that was parked there. Mac climbed the steps to the porch and gave a small knock at the door.

A young girl’s face appeared through the screen. “Come in,” she said holding the door wide and letting Mac pass her into the house.

An old woman was standing at the center of the small room which seemed to be both kitchen and dinning area. She motioned to the wooden table. “Have a seat,” she said.

Mac didn’t speak yet. The young girl, she was probably sixteen he thought, kept looking at him and smilingly shyly. When he looked at her she would look away.

The old woman took the chair next to Mac and started to speak.

“When I was a kid I saw a woman give birth in the alley behind Schultz’s Liquor. She had her dress hiked up above her hips and she was screaming and sweating as she forced the kid out of her body. It was bad, but I couldn’t look away. Then, when it was all the way out she lifted the bloody wailing thing onto her bosom and laid back to rest. She hadn’t seen me. I didn’t speak. The woman stroked the baby and cooed to it until its cries quieted. Then, when I was about to leave she did something I hadn’t expected. She pulled the baby close to her mouth, opened her jaw and bit into its shoulder. The woman gave her head a powerful twist and ripped a chunk of meat from the baby. She chewed vigorously and swallowed. The baby had started to scream again. Her second bite put a stop to that. I ran. All the way home. But I didn’t tell my dad. He wouldn’t have cared. That was just the sort of place where we lived. “ The woman, her story finished stood and walked to the stove. “Care for a cup of tea?”

Mac watched her wondering if she was dangerous.

“Sure, I’d take some tea. Do you mind if I ask, where did you live?”

“What?”

“You said that that was just where you lived. Where did you live then?”

“Oh,” she poured the tea. “Here. In town.”

10

Killing is a thing that you don’t want to get used to.

This may look like my face but it’s not. It’s really just a mask that I wear. This is a mask made up of layers of skin and muscle and fat. The real me, the final me is underneath. Buried beneath dermis, epidermis, sub-dermal adipose and striated muscle is a skull. That is the final punch line, you see. I’m just a corpse waiting to take shape. It’s the same with you whether you’re ready to admit it or not. Everything that lives also dies. A bi-sexual playwright wrote about how a king could go progress through the belly of a beggar once. No one has written about much else since. There is a complete literature exploring the absurdity of the ways in which we strive for achievement, love. money, experience, whatever in the face of the reality of our mortality. Fuck that, though. In the end it’s the same with men as with horses and dogs: nothing wants to die. Everything does die though.

It’s something watching a man die. Not at all like in the movies. Last words are never epigrammatic or cathartic. They never come to sudden life changing understanding. No one grows or changes very much in the minutes before their heart stops pumping blood. None of us are better for the experience. It is not, as the books like to say, a final stage of development. In the end they cry, or beg, or demand that they don’t deserve it. Then their eyes go black. In that instant everything they are and everything they have been simply ceases to exist. It’s actually sort of anticlimactic. A bit of a letdown, really.

I’ve been through it a few times and it never gets any better. It never means anything.

I’m getting confused about my timelines. This is later than that.

My teeth are sharp. My eyes are flat, polished obsidian. Nothing lives behind those eyes. Perhaps nothing ever has.

Once, while I was driving, I saw two men who were obviously drunk racing lawnmowers down the street. This was in Nebraska, maybe. They seemed perfectly content.

11

Cullin had often thought that life was a lot like being on death row when your captors refused to tell you the date of your execution. It was interminable waiting and fear and underlying dread. He felt nervous all the time and the worst part was that he had no idea what it was that he was afraid of. He had begun to suspect that just below and beneath everything he knew there was another world; a world that wanted to break through the thin netting of reality and wash it all away. These thoughts plagued him as he drifted from consciousness and all the way to black.

The room where he stayed was no bigger than one of the cells in a maximum security prison. There was a single bed, a table made of faux wood with two scarred, stripped chairs and no other furniture. Over the bed was bolted a painting chosen to match the boldly striped carpet. The bathroom was barely large enough to contain the undersized tub and toilet. This room was just like every other shit motel room in the world. It had been Cullin’s only home for weeks and it was starting to feel like it fit. He couldn’t stay much longer. If he did, he would atrophy. There were things that had to be done and he couldn’t do them from that room.

He turned and pulled the pillow into a tight little ball next to him as his eyes fluttered. Something like a moan passed from his lips and his leg bucked beneath the sheet. It would be wrong to call what Cullin was doing sleep. The word sleep would imply rest, respite, calm. There was none of that for him. Fever haunted his slumbering mind. In dream he was pursued by something dark and unseen. He could smell the musk of its hide and hear the guttural rasp of its breath, but he could never catch sight of the beast. It was always the same. Something primordial moving in the depths. On the bed his muscles would twitch and seize in rhythm to the Bosch images of his dream. Sweat ran like rivers in miniature along his flesh and the muted cries that escaped from him grew louder as the dream marched forward. He would emit grunts that wanted to be words, but weren’t Then, always, just before he woke he would see her face. It was beautiful and fine and sad: wide, green eyes set in relief against her porcelain flesh framed by light brown hair that curled easily at the tips. Her generous lips would stretch in what looked for an instant like the beginning of a smile, but would reveal itself as a painful grimace. As she started to shriek he would notice the rivulets of blood running down her brow and into those lovely eyes. Then, just as he could take no more, he would snap upright in bed, the sheet clenched in his fist, every muscle flexed, teeth clamped tight holding back the scream that wanted so badly to get out.

Sometimes in his dreams his name was Simms. Sometimes it was Macgregor, or Mac. Sometimes it was Brody. When he was awake his name was a mystery even to him.

That night was no different.

Waking would bring the bottle.

Cullin climbed from the bed and found his clothes where he had left them piled on the floor. He dressed in the dark and took his keys from the table. Outside on the balcony a cool breeze blew. Cullin could see the interstate from where he stood. Trucks moved past on their way everywhere and he couldn’t help thinking that he should be on his way somewhere as well. The parking lot below him was an island of arcadium light surrounded by stygian dark. Cullin breathed the night air and started to walk.

I want to tell you that he stopped to watch a leaf being blown about by the wind, but it seems like that might be a bit much. If I lingered on those sorts of details you would likely find me to be a bit of a prig. So I wont tell you that.

Cullin did not have to search. He knew where the bar was located. In fact, he had been there the previous two night. This had become something close to habit. He would awake from his dream, get dressed and walk to the bar to calm himself.

Inside it was dark and the smoke infested air held a certain comforting weight. The old Schlitz sign over the bar produced a sick hum that should have made him feel uncomfortable, but somehow seemed just the right counterpoint to the juke box that always played Free Bird or Piano Man or Amy. The center of the room was dominated by a pool table that no one ever used. The bartender was named Kirk. He had a ragged scar down one cheek and rheumy eyes that always seemed to be focused three and a half yards past whatever he was looking at. He never spoke in more than guttural affirmation.

Cullin approached the bar and said “Bourbon rocks, double.”

“Ayuh,” Kirk said as he began to pour. “Four-fifty.”

Cullin dropped a five on the bar and took his drink to a table on the far side of the room. He fished a crumpled pack of Kents from his pocket a shook a cigarette loose then struck a match from the book he found din the ashtray.

It didn’t take long before Mitch sidled into the chair across from him. Cullin had met Mitch on his first night at the bar. He was a lanky sort; about six one and as big around as a hedge post. From a distance he looked like a belt buckle with boots and a Stetson hat.

“How’re they hanging?” Mitch took a long pull from his beer.

“Around my knees.” This was the same set of greetings they exchanged each night.

“Gimme one of them cancer sticks,” Mitch motioned to the pack on the table and Culling slid it across to him.

A plump waitress with coffee colored eyes that sang despair stopped at the table. Cullin ordered himself another double and a beer for Mitch. Mitch watched her ass as she walked away. “I fucked her last year,” he said.

“Oh yeah?”

“Fat chicks are the best. They want it more so they really work for ya.”

“Yeah. I fucked her in that big ass.” He took another drink and stubbed out his cigarette.

“It doesn’t look so big to me,” Cullin looked at something fascinating in the bottom of his glass.

“Naw. Not that big I guess.”

The girl came back with the drinks and sat them on the table. Cullin handed her some bills. “Keep the change,” he said.

She gave him a smile that brightened her eyes for just a second and said “Thanks honey,” before crossing back to the bar.

Cullin looked up at Mitch and said “You know Blackbird?”

“Huh?”

“That song, blackbird. By the Beatles.”

“Yeah. I know it.”

“The guy singing-”

“Paul McCartney.”

“What?”

“The guy singing is Paul McCartney.”

“No, it’s Lennon,” Cullin says.

“I don’t think so.”

“Doesn’t matter. The point is: he’s telling this blackbird to take broken wings and fly then to take sunken eyes and see.”

“Yeah,” Mitch sounds a little bored, but plays along.

“Well, what I keep wondering is, is he talking about the bird’s wings and eyes or is he offering the bird his own eyes and wings?”

“What?”

“The eyes and wings, in the song, whose are they?”

“They’re the bird’s. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t think so.” Cullin stubs out a cigarette.

“What you mean?”

“It’s a question of grammar. He says ’take these broken wings’ which tells the whole story. Say that I want you to pick up your pencil and write something. I’d say ’take your pencil and’, but if I’m offering you my pencil I’d say ’take this pencil and’. See, so if he was telling the bird to use its wings he’d say ’take your wings and learn to fly’ but that isn’t the case at all. He says ’take these wings’ so it sounds to me like he wants to offer the bird his broken wings and his sunken eyes. It’s like he wasted what he had and can’t see or fly so he hopes that the bird can make batter use of those things than he did. It’s really sad if you think about it.”

“I guess,” Mitch says. “Ya want me to introduce you to Ellen?”

“Who?”

“The fat waitress,” Mitch finishes his beer.

“She’s not that fat,” Cullin said.

“Whatever. You want me to introduce you?”

“I don’t know. I need to piss.” Cullin stood and found his way to the men’s room. After he had emptied his bladder he stood at the sink and took a long look into the reflection of his own eyes. It’s a miserable existence, he thought. There was not nearly enough whiskey in his blood stream to dull the agony of breathing air that she did not share. Cullin understood that as long as she was dead he would not be alive and since there was zero chance that she would cease being dead, there was no chance for him to live again. His heart kept flexing to force blood through his veins simply so that he could accomplish the tasks that were left to him. While he was washing his hands Mitch stepped up beside him and asked “What room you stayin’ in in that motel?”

“Why?”

“Never mind that. Just tell me what room.”

“243.”

Mitch walked out into the bar and Cullin dried his hands.

The place was called Pier 99, but you weren’t very likely to encounter any sailors there. It was one of those dark dives that tried a little too hard to elevate dank to an art form. Cullin loved it. That was why he kept coming. The first time he had walked through the door, he had almost written the place off. He would have, too, if it hadn’t been for Frank. Frank had lowered himself into the chair across from Cullin and said “buy me a drink and I’ll tell you a story.” The guy was old, eighty if he was a day, and smelled of Tiger Oil. He was old man thin; hung on a frame that suggested muscle and sinew that had been there thirty years ago, but had been eroded by the hours. His eyes were milky and blood shot, but far from going dark. His face looked like a badly folded map of Pennsylvania.

Cullin lifted his hand to signal the waitress and got the old man his drink.

“I used to be strong,” the old man said, “but now I got nothing.”

To Cullin that sounded like a rare truth. He sipped his drink and gave the man space to continue. It didn’t take long.

12

I’m on the bed when there is a knock at the door. It’s a girl. The waitress from the bar. I don’t know why she’s here, but I think it’s best that I send her away before she sees thee painting. Something is about to break through from the other side and I don’t want her to get hurt.

I drink from a bottle of Old Crow and watch sitcoms on the crappy TV until I get an idea. It’s a good idea and I don’t want to lose it.

Chapter two

1

Nietzsche said that things done out of love are beyond good and evil. I hope that is true. Maybe it was about the machine. Or, at least about how the machine could be used. The truck is a machine and it’s use is to take me south.

If I go off the reservation I might escape the thing that stalks me. I need to find a shark. Oceans are where sharks live. If mine isn’t in my brain, then I’ll find it in the waters. Far south and if I repeat myself then that is just because I have a chemical imbalance and can’t avoid that sort of thing.

I don’t bother to check out of the motel. I just leave the key on the bed and lock the door behind me as i leave.

The highway twists to the east before it starts in its primal direction. Sine and Cosine. There is a sunrise somewhere but I cannot see it. All I can sense is the cry of the highway and the dead landscape around me. This is not running. This is not running.

I want to be released. Freedom from chains that can’t be seen but can be felt. I fear that when I reach the ocean it will be black and filled with the bloated corpses of children. My eyes cannot handle that, but I need to know for certain.

At a truck stop I buy a pre-paid cell phone and a bottle of Jim Beam.

2

“All I’ve ever seen is winter.” Simms meant it as he said it.

“What does that mean?” His father was sitting next to him on the couch. This was the house where Simms had gown up and the house where his parents still lived and always would.

“It gets so cold here. It snows and the rain pounds and the days are too short. Even when summer comes I can’t see the ocean. I dream about it sometimes and it looks green and dark and so big I can’t stand it, dad. I want that ocean. I want to see the water every day and I can’t have that here. I can’t have summer.” Simms kept rubbing his face as he spoke.

“You need a drink.” The old man stood and left the room. When he returned he was holding two glasses filled with amber liquid. Simms recognized it as the good Scotch, which never got served to anyone.

Simms took a glass and sipped from it. “Thank you.”

“What are you going to do for money down there?”

“I’m gonna sell everything before I go. It’s cheaper down there. I wont need much. Just some rest.” Simms drank more. He wanted to watch that. In his shape alcoholism was a real risk. It happened a lot to men after they lost their wives.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“yeah. There’s no reason anymore. I was here because she was here, and now she isn’t. I feel like I’m dying, dad. I feel like I’m dying.” Simms wasn’t crying. He was finished with that. He had cried when they told him that she had been murdered. He had cried every day. He had broken at the funeral. Now he was done.

“I know.”

“No. You don’t. You can’t.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Everyone’s sorry. That’s all anyone can say any more. I’m fucking sorry. Fuck sorry. ya know? Fuck sorry. Shove sorry up your ass. ” He drained the last of the scotch. “Where’s mom? I need to tell her good bye.”

“Why don’t you wait a while? Take some time to figure things out.”

“There’s nothing to figure out. It’s fucking winter all the time.”

“son, it’s winter in your heart.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I don’t know.”

3

“May your wishes all come true” is the dumbest thing anyone ever said. What you wish for is never what you really need. Wish for love and get it. See how that turns out for you. Men are just like horses and dogs. Nothing wants to die, but everything does.

4

“We can take care of it. We can take him to the vet and take care of it, son,” he said looking down at the boy whose eyes were already filling with tears as he tried not to look at the broken pile of fur that had been his dog. The man and his child stood by the edge of the road. The truck which had not slowed and had not swerved when the dog had bolted out onto the gravel in front of it was already out of sight.

“No. I’ll take care of him,” the boy said.

“The vet can do it.”

“He’s my dog. I’ll take care of him.” The boy’s eyes were set.

“Okay.” The man walked up the walk and into the house. When he came back he was carrying a Remington .22 rifle. He handed the gun to the boy and did not watch as his son did the job.

After it was over the man looked down at the dead dog. It’s fur was matted with blood and its eyes had gone dark. “I’ll get the shovel,” he said.

“No dad,” the boy said, “I’ll do it. He was my dog.”

5

Simms awoke. There were sounds. Light spread from his side and washed over him and the voices in the distance and squeaks and what was that? A tube. In his arm. Beeping. And what? A bed, He was in a bed. A woman in white leaned over him.
A hospital. He was in a hospital. His head hurt. He managed to swivel his eyes in their dry sockets and caught sight of Samantha in the chair next to his robotic bed. She was reading a magazine and did not see that he had opened his eyes. Off course she was there. Where else. She was always there.

The nurse, a whisper of perfume and a hint of round breasts, swept from the room and he sank back into sleep. He may have woke sometime during that first night and seen her there again. In the morning he couldn’t be sure. He did know that she was still there when the sun rushed in and pulled him from the river of sleep that had pulled him along.
“You’re awake,” she said with a smile. “You had us worried there.”

“What happened?” He could remember Les and the bar and stepping out into blinding light and after that everything was gone.

“You were in an accident.” She looked about ten years older than she had the last time he had seen her. Her eyes were wet and ringed with angry red. “You’re going to be okay.”

“Okay, ” he said and faded out again.

His legs were broken. Some ribs. There was a gash running the length of his face and something was wrong with his head. He still couldn’t remember what had happened, but he knew that it must have been bad. There was pain but that wasn’t nearly as troubling as the terrible gap in his memory. Simms worried that the missing pieces would never return.

Time passed.

6

A pale diner. The waitress is too thin and calls me ‘honey’ every time she comes to my table. She fills my coffee cup every ten minutes and gives me a series of winks that creep me out.

I don’t want to tell you the story of how I started drinking. It isn’t one of those cute, instructive stories that teach an important object lesson and gently inform about the human condition. The whole thing is largely pointless, lacking even sturm und drang. If I told you, you’d likely be bored by the whole thing. You wouldn’t learn anything, and nothing would be illuminated. Besides, you’ll figure it out on your own if you pay attention.

Road food is always terrible and I have to wash the taste of it away with a pull from my flask. The Kentucky flavor makes everything better. When it hits my blood the burn will stop.

7

Samantha sat on her small porch thinking about the peeling white paint on the three, mostly, decorative columns that didn’t really hold up the roof. The sun was seriously thinking about setting and the wind had started to rise. It was getting cool. Samantha lit a Chesterfield and looked out across the small yard. Up the block some boys were playing football in the street. They didn’t have pads or helmets, and she hoped that they wouldn’t be seriously injured going down on the pavement.

The screen door creaked. Simms was standing beside her, a beer in his hand.

“Whatchya doin’?” he asked.

“We need to paint.”

“Huh?”

“The house. We need to paint the house. It’s peeling everywhere. The neighbors are going to start complaining that the place looks like crap.”

Simms took a swig of his beer. He looked at her. She was beautiful. Maybe not in the way that the girls in the Victoria‘s Secret catalogue were beautiful, but in her way she was extraordinary. He wanted her right then. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ll pick up some paint tomorrow. White, right?”

“Right.”

“Cool.”

“I love you,” she said.

“I know you do.”

“Fuck you.”

“Okay.”

She smiled at that. “Not now dummy. maybe later,” she said.

Simms went back inside. Samantha stayed and waited for the sun to pack it in. Despite the whole paint situation she felt pretty good. She was happy. Not fairy tale happy. Not sappy movie happy. Just regular, real life happy.

The wind was starting to develop a real edge. Winter was coming.
8

Out here late at night the AM stations give you a real feel for the world you are in. This may be Kansas, or maybe I’ve slipped into Oklahoma. It’s hard to see the state line markers in the dark, especially on the back roads. I’m sticking to the dirt and blacktop as much as possible. There are fewer cops and less chance of an incident. Things can get weird out here.

The voice coming through the speaker is telling me about the current market value of winter wheat. That’s why I’m guessing Kansas.

Sometimes I see a shadow moving on the horizon and it looks like a big dorsal fin. I try not to think about it. I try not to think about her either.

I’ve got a little money hidden away. I could drink and play cards until I just withered. I could die on my own terms without doing the world any real damage. But.

I have killing to do. There’s a list in my head and it starts with dealing with that shark. Then there are men on that list. Nothing is random. I know that now and I can see exactly where I stand in the infinite line of causation that stretches all the way back to the singularity that set the entire clockwork mess into motion.

I flip the radio station and hear Buck Owens singing about being a monkey.

9

Near the end of the year a man who no longer called himself Macgregor or Simms came to the coast. No one there bothered to ask him his name. If they had he would have told them that it was Cullin. He no longer remembered how long he had traveled to get there. Nor was he certain at what point in the journey he had ceased to be Macgregor or why. For months Cullin waited there in that small village, warming himself in the endless sun and growing stronger each day. He ran on the beach and swam in the ocean and bided his time waiting. If any of the simple fishers who lived there had asked him why he was waiting or what he was waiting for he would have been unable to answer them.

10

I wake up in another anonymous motel room. I don’t remember getting here. This could be anywhere. Check the drawers. Nothing in them except the Gideon Bible, which has nothing to do with me. I believe in only one god and he lives either under the waves or in my mind.

The phone rings and I answer it.

“Simms?” The voice on the other end asks.

“There’s no such person,” I say.

“That’s okay. Just listen. You have to be careful.”

“Never.” I hang up and find my bottle. I’ve started drinking earlier and earlier.

11

She watched as the wind lifted a crisp golden leaf from the ground and held it momentarily aloft, then grew tired and let it fall again. They were gathered under a tent erected to shield the mourners from the rain that had been in the offing all day. It was cold. She thought that the ground must be hard and that the digging could not have been easy. Of course, these days men did not do the work with shovels and picks. They had machines to do all of the heavy lifting. Just as well, she thought. Just as well.

The minister was reading something about seasons from a worn leather bible, but she couldn’t concentrate on it. She couldn’t quite understand how any of this could matter; how it could be real. Someone should have been tolling a bell. Soft music should have played and they should have held hands. But that wasn’t how things were done.

When the casket lowered into the welcoming earth people started filing by offering meaningless words and hugs and tears. She couldn’t hear any of it. She looked at him sitting next to her. She saw his hands clenched, knuckles white. That seemed right.

He looked different. It wasn’t just that his face looked older, which it did. It wasn’t that his eyes were red, which they were. Somehow he had changed. This was not the man who had married her daughter. This was the man who had lost her. She couldn’t help thinking that somehow she was burying both her daughter and her son in law in the same grave. maybe that seemed right too.

12

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7 Comments

  1. […] Nothing […]

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  2. This is good. Keep going. More. Need more.

    Like

    • I have quite a bit more and plan on posting it this weekend

      thank you

      Like

    • There is a lot more now. Hope you enjoy it

      Like

  3. […] Nothing […]

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  4. sweet! definitely keep it rolling.

    Like

  5. Well, all things considered…

    Like


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