At the table, he told his father and his mother of his good luck. His mother said “It’s good luck you haven’t got your arm broken or your teeth knocked out.”
My literary tastes then, tended toward the Hardy Boys or Jim Kjelggard novels about Irish Setters and beaver dams. See how far I have come.
Global polymorphic giants hire the cyberverse and the criers cooked their bindles again for a couple cents a word. The technology and convenience that allows us to share, but the thin tubes were more constricted now. And the little birds would not open their mouths, to reach out in immediate and efficient ways so much. And the pasty tar dribbled out like they did last summer, requires that we accept less and less for our efforts, and no longer accepted the inserts, in 160 characters or less.
Craig Sager was sitting at the bar, staring down at the dregs of a Peach Bunny. He had tried several syrupy concoctions so far. His head was splitting. Insect guitar sounds leaked from somewhere around the edge.
“The word is more of a parasite than I ever thought it was. And I thought it was a parasite.” The voice seemed to come from inside some large can, deadpan and gravelly.
Sager turned slightly, peered at a black and white apparition of an old man in a baggy suit. His face was impossibly gaunt and sunken in on itself. The image flickered slightly, like bad reception.
William S. Burroughs continued morosely. “A thought is a seed planted under the skin. It will stay and fester there for years, its dark thread will travel like a virus.”
American’s sideline reporter was halfway bombed and didn’t give a shit about dark viral things. His whole fucking life was a dark viral thing. He missed his fictional parents in Saskatchewan. He looked blearily up toward a cute bartender in a crisp white shirt. “What kind of drinks use butterscotch schnapps?”
A hand spun him around on his bar stool, the old man was up in his face, smelling like tainted cheese. “Who are you?”
Sager wasn’t so bottomed out that he couldn’t appreciate a gag. “Just a man in a pink suit.”
William’s bony knuckles hooked into his abdomen, Sager crumpling in pain. He would have slid off his stool if the old man hadn’t held him up. The waitress watched, impassively. Sager sucked air, “why?” A soft binging sound came from his pocket. The black and white man disappeared. Sager pulled his electronic device out and stared at it. A soft monochromatic woman’s voice.
“Your word count is 673. Please deposit $13.46.”
Sager just stared. “I don’t.... what am I supposed to do?”
“Your word count is 688. Please deposit $13.76.”
Sager howled in anguish, “you’re my fucking phone for God’s sake!”
He fumbled for a credit card, wiped it helplessly across the phone in random, useless patterns. A set of bony knuckles crashed into the side of his head. A brief second of hot white static pixelated to black. The distant sound of keypad clackings, echoing and mixing with the incessant insect chorus, the cicadas were back.
A 1965 Ford Futura yawed back and forth across the undulating black tar highway. The man in the passenger seat had a death grip on the dashboard. The pain in his head was almost unbearable, tiny white sparks firing randomly in his field of vision and drifting outside. The scenery seemed to float past backwards. He looked slowly to his left. William was talking to himself, a monotone recitation. Sager looked down at the skin on his hand. It was shades of black and white, only his clothing was in color, the fuchsia rayon shirt in improbably saturated relief.
“Are we going back in time?” Sager’s voice seemed calm. It could get no worse than this.
“Only a few days.” That voice, as if the inflections were randomly generated and sorted.
“It seems so much more than that.”
“Writers, like elephants, have long, vicious memories. There are things I wish I could forget.”
Sager shook his head, watched the outside go by. A boy was pulling a wagon, reading a book. He stopped, startled, eyes wide open as the Futura drifted past, wheels squealing rubber protest. The kid went back to his book.
Flag lay beside the pool. He opened great liquid eyes and turned them on the boy with a glazed look of wonder. Jody pressed the muzzle of the gun barrel at the back of the smooth neck and pulled the trigger. Flag quivered a moment and then lay still.
Jody threw the gun aside and dropped flat on his stomach. He retched and vomited and retched again. He clawed into the earth with his finger-nails. He beat it with his fists. The sink-hole rocked around him. A far roaring became a thin humming. He sank into blackness as into a dark pool.
* The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1938
Burroughs limped along the sidewalk, it was scorching hot in the late afternoon. An old hooker held his arm at the elbow’s crook. Her makeup was thick and her hair was blond. In another life she had been a teacher. Sager walked behind them, almost an afterthought. His skin had returned to its normal, ruddy color.
A group of young men with blurred, ecstatic faces tumbled from the casino in an abstract wash of color. They were shouting and free, they had come for summer games and refused to leave. They looked at the strange trio and laughed and snickered and whispered among themselves. And brushed past on the sidewalk, jarring the old man’s shoulder.
One of them yelled in surprise. “What the fuck! He cut me!”
The others gathered around. “He didn’t cut you. That’s no cut, man, it’s barely bleeding. It looks like something got under your skin.”
William smiled, old teeth like dried corn kernels. And turned and limped away with his companion. Craig wasn’t told to follow and had fleeting thoughts of escape. He looked back and forth, a widening gulf between the two small groups. And hastened after William.
“Look, just make it stop for a little while. I’m down with Tawny Kitaen and Saskatchewan. I like retro textiles. I am interested in interpersonal relationships. The season’s months away, just put me on the shelf? Please?”
The old prostitute stood and listened. She turned empathetic eyes toward the old junkie, nodding her head. William pushed his fedora off his forehead and contemplated the plea.
“I will think about it.”
Craig nodded. “Good, that’s all I ask. Think about it.”
William made a fist with his old rheumatoid knuckles. Craig grimaced and closed his eyes, waiting for the pain. Nothing. Finally, he opened his eyes again. He was sitting on the patio in Scottsdale with Anne, evening floating up off the 14th green. Mixed grill meats were sizzling inside the Broil Master. He closed his eyes against the pain. Why wouldn’t it stop?
Anne swirled the ice cubes in her glass and smiled. “It’s not so bad, is it? The children have been caught up in the ungodly pageantry all evening. They'll be wanting to play.”
He could hear their voices from inside, mixed with sound of television. The noise of a crowd, and strains of music. Something far off stirred, he was conscious of the hairs on the back of his creased neck.
“Daddy, daddy, they’re marching now!”
He hoisted his rayon bulk out of the Adirondack chair, and made his way inside. The big screen television showed a serpentine parade, the athletes of many nations. The children stood, transfixed by something that was new to them but somehow ingrained. Chipper’s face was glowing as he watched. His sister turned from the television, young and hopeful. She looked at her father. “Do you think Grammy and Grampy are watching?”
A smile finally came over Craig’s face, warm, simple, and genuine. “I bet they are, Bunny Bear. I bet they are.” The music morphed as his people came into view, a wash of red jackets. He stood taller, and placed his hand over his heart. “O Canada!”
Anne had walked in from outside, her ex-dancer’s walk. “Batavia, Craig. You’re from Batavia, Illinois for God’s sake.”
He closed his eyes, and his mouth set once again, the crevices deepening.
The wagon bumped along, the first dandelions scratching up through buckled sidewalk. Salt air, cut green grass. The boy bent down and picked some of the bright yellow flowers. His mother would like them. Something stuck him and he instinctively put his hurt finger into his mouth. At home in the kitchen, he showed it to her. She was tall and willowy then, and clear of mind.
“It looks like something tiny under your skin. You must have pinched a nettle. I can get it out for you. It’ll only hurt for just a moment.”
He shook his head vigorously. His mother smiled at him.
“It’ll just have to fester and work its way out then. Unless it’s a seed and it grows into something big! Like a beanstalk!”
His eyes widened. His mother hugged him, to show that she was joking.
“I’m going to get started on dinner, Daddy will be home soon. Are you going to your room to read?”
The boy nodded, and turned, and walked toward the stairs.