AT A PARTICULAR MOMENT nearly forty years ago, the bowels of the earth moved and shat fourteen billion lives. Not particularly impressive compared to other moments that gave birth to five kazillion, but of particular significance to Dane Carslake.
To a planetary cantata of bursting larvae, cracking eggs, and the ripping open of amniotic sacs, Dane’s mother’s body, having suffered a full ten days of agonizing labor, was finally allowed to pop the pup and serve up its final child.
The earth chose to celebrate the birth in typical fashion: it continued to turn on its axis, had a hundred million creatures draw their final breaths, and birthed a trillion more.
That’s how special Dane was, by golly.
And he knew it. As a child, he wondered if the other kids actually thought as much as he did. It didn’t seem so. They just seemed to do, not to ponder. And they seemed happy doing it. But Dane never considered whether or not he was happy. He thought and did and turned in his homework on time, but if anyone ever asked if he were happy —which, fortunately, they did not— he would have to have thought about that. But he wasn’t unhappy, if that counted.
But significance was always a more important consideration to him than happiness. Once he realized he was capable of independent thought and action, he became obsessed with the concept. There was an infinity of lives and personalities abuzz around the globe in countless phyla and species, and the fact that nature’s random science project chose to assemble him —and allow him the wherewithal to consider the process— taught him to appreciate the pride of man.
He became obsessed with the remarkable uniqueness of every individual, and bored the shit out of his pre-pubescent peers with his fascination. It seemed all they ever wanted to do was put boogers in girls’ sandwiches and watch Stevie Neff drop his corduroys and squeeze out a butt snake from the crook of a tree twenty feet above them.
At a fart-lighting session in the underground tunnel they called The Fort, Dane wondered aloud, “I wonder if blue looks the same to you as it does to me…” Nobody else cared. They just measured butt-torches and ignored him.
Dane began to grow up just weeks before a junior high summer, with the ill-timed and nearly concurrent discovery of several facts of life that would have been better left unrelated: nostalgia, puberty, death, and personal insignificance. It was a heady explosion of education for an adult, let alone a newly-twelve-year-old … and most of his peers did let him alone.
He lay in his bed, hearing the otherworldly theme of the forbidden Twilight Zone drift like Eden’s snake through the heater vent. It very nearly killed him that he was not allowed to watch what he knew would be his favorite show. The music and that clipped, matter-of-fact narrator’s voice bound him in gooseflesh, and held him in its thrall. He didn’t need to see the Zone to love it.
Then it was gone again for another week, and he would ache inside when he heard his classmates talk about it with excitement the next day. And worst of all was that a girl liked it best. Cindy didn’t talk stupid girl talk about dolls and makeup and Elvis and stuff —she had a subscription to Famous Monsters! And her parents gave it to her for Christmas! They didn’t just let her read it, they bought it for her!
Dane’s mom was okay when it came to comic books, figuring at least he was reading something, but she would never knowingly let him bring a magazine in the house that reveled in man-made monsters and hatchets through the head.
But Cindy’s did.
And so Bernard Herrmann’s theme always brought Cindy to mind: a round, green-eyed face that hid behind a fading mask of spray-paint freckles that spattered her squashy little nose. A face framed with rings of gold rope that hung over her shoulders, dangling at her chest. Her chest which, he realized on his back in the bottom bunk under his younger brother, Jack, had swollen to the fifteen-year-old level.
He drew the image out of recent unconscious documentation. He hadn’t really thought about it before, but… Cindy Thompson had a bosom! With that revelation came another: Dane Carslake had a stiffy.
He reached and grabbed it with both hands, and his body spun upon its axis and shot the sheets, washing Cindy’s face from the screen of his mind.
He realized after the fog cleared that the orchestral crash that greeted his first orgasm was not a heavenly choir of naked, Cindy-faced angels, but rather a woman screaming.
Frightened and spattered with guilt, he quietly leapt out of bed and almost collapsed on the floor as the blood rushed from his head. Giving the blood a moment to climb back into his cranium, he crept into the short hallway and looked into the living room through the slats of the wall heater where he saw a depressingly familiar passion play well into its second act.
Mom was screaming at Dad, and Dad was taunting her with wordless grins, a provoking skull of cruelty that drove her to increasing violence. Uncle Eddie, Mom’s brother, was trying to intervene, but Mom and Dad ignored him, dancing the Sour Marriage Tango to a familiar beat.
Tiring of the lead, Dad grabbed Mom by the shoulders and shoved her against the wall and she crashed into the heater, kicking dents in the slats right in front of Dane’s face and making him jump back.
So far as the boy was concerned, marriage was about staying together for the sake of the children, so that everyone in the family could keep everyone else from having to suffer happiness. Resentment and exploded dreams and broken promises and “we’ll see”s were what family was about. Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best might as well have been The Twilight Zone to Dane, as fantastical as those families’ lives seemed to him. But it must’ve been that everybody else’s families were like that, because there was nobody on TV like his Mom or Dad or his retarded brother Jack.
Mom cut her ankle on the heater slats, and it brought her to a boil. She launched like a rocket at Dad, cocking her arm to bring it across his face: a face that must have once held some kindness for Mom to ever have married him. But now it was lit with defiant hatred as he easily grabbed her arm in a meaty hand and slapped her face with the other.
Shocked but reflexive, Mom bit hard on the arm in her face, startled to find a chunk of bleeding, hairy Dad-meat in her mouth. As she spat it onto the carpet, Uncle Eddie raced over to her, and Dad charged out the front door.
She shoved her brother out of the way, yelling, “If you go now, don’t you ever come back here!” as she stumbled across the living room and out the door in Dad’s wake. Uncle Eddie followed her outside, begging her to let her husband go, but she was out of control.
Shivering as the cold wet spot on his pajamas made contact with his leg, Dane made his way through the tear-blurred ocean of the living room and stood behind the front door, gripping it with white knuckles as he peered outside.
Dad was already in the car gunning the engine, ready to peel out, but Mom had gone around to stand in front, her hands on the hood, blocking his departure.
“Don’t you dare leave now!”
“Get out of the way, or I swear to God I’ll run over you!”
“Dammit, get in the house and let him go!”
“I’m not moving!”
“I’m warning you!”
Then, slow motion as Dane’s mind slipped into overdrive. The car jerked as Dad dropped it into gear, his foot still on the brake. Uncle Eddie drifted through the quicksand night, throwing Mom onto the lawn and taking her place in front of the car, his eyes going so wide they seemed to bulge. The differential went clank! as the transmission connected, and the Chevy wagon gave a behemoth roar as the accelerator hit the floorboard.
Dad’s skull face locked in a smile as the car bounced over Uncle Eddie as if he were a flesh-and-bone speed bump at the drive-in.
Dane watched Dad pull the car to a halt, never dropping the horrid smile as he looked back to see Uncle Eddie’s body jerking as if the driveway were a hot griddle. Then, he backed up over him! He knew it was Uncle Eddie, but Dad didn’t care. His bloodlust had exploded just like Dane’s penis had moments earlier, but Dad was making a different kind of wet.
Drive, bouncing over the body.
Reverse, bouncing again.
Drive, reverse, drive, reverse, then the wheels just spinning in the crushed, jellied remains… a smoking, tire-rubber barbecue of Uncle Eddie burgers.
The next thing Dane knew, Mom had him in her arms, hiding his eyes. The police were taking Dad away. He had discovered through his father, man’s seemingly limitless capacity for cruelty, and through his uncle, his capacity for goodness and protection. Both examples were vivid, but one was far more potent than the other. And cynic-making.
Dane coped. It was just another thing that happened; another example of how individuals responded differently to the presentation of life. He actually thought it was interesting. For the first time in his life, Dane developed a sense of past. The glow of nostalgia was new to him; he began to remember what it was like when he was little and his Dad used to tell him what to do. And what the all-night drives to Yosemite were like every summer. And when he was in grade school, when he only had one teacher for the whole school year, and no P.E.
After Dad left, Dane was out of school for about a fortnight. When he came back, just a few weeks before summer vacation, he found that the yearbooks had already been delivered and were still circulating. Excited, he got his copy in homeroom, and flipped through the miniature seventh-grade mug shots. He wasn’t in the book. Anywhere. Not even in pep rally or camera club shots. Not even at the lunchtime sock hop. He wasn’t even there. And worse…
… Nobody even noticed.
Oh, he was asked to sign other kids’ books—after all, he had achieved a special level of celebrity when the gruesome details of his uncle’s death began to make the rounds and gather fictive weight. It wasn’t as if nobody knew who he was. They just hadn’t noticed that he wasn’t in the yearbook.
So for all the importance he’d placed on the significance and uniqueness of the individual, he now realized that it just didn’t matter. Nobody cared about what made you different from the others. They only cared about what made you like them. Friendships, romances, conversations were founded on similarities, not polarities.
And so, Dane set out on a personal quest for worldwide significance.
In a quarter-century of attempting to matter, Dane discovered he only excelled at insignificance. It was not that he was talentless, merely that—regardless of what he and his mother thought—he just wasn’t special.
He drew mediocre pictures of uninspiring subjects. Even the attempts at joining the avant-garde were depressingly familiar. In an attempt to shock his grey visions into bold, paint-spattered life, he merely made a mess. The work was not incompetent, merely boring.
He was equally proficient at music. Beatling away on a Silvertone special he saved a year to acquire, he stepped like a mastodon into the world of rock’n’roll. Though his fingers bled greatness, his amp spoke mediocrity. Or just noise. He was almost good enough take a peel-deep bite out of the sixties in a succession of cruddy bands that were destined for obscurity.
Though the life he lived as a musician in the Haight was chronicled as a hotbed of communal sex, mind expansion, and free-spending tours in psychedelic school buses, it seemed that Dane had blinked and missed it. He read about the orgies in TIME, saw the Summer of Love spread before him in full color in the Sunday supplements; even played twelfth-billed at the Fillmore one night in 1969, but he had yet to experience the multi-coupling flesh pretzels he read about in the letters to Penthouse.
He didn’t sing well enough for leads, but did just fine with backing vocals. Just fine. And though he played in over two dozen bands over the years, he never played lead guitar. He was the rhythm player, the guy you notice after you check out the bass player.
The lead singers, the guitarists, the drummers were constantly having their flesh Popsicles nursed by begging bearded toothless smiles, but Dane was somehow passed by the Love Parade. His hair fell to his ass, his bell bottom paisleys hung from slender hips, and his mother felt he bore a striking resemblance to Rod Stewart, which he could not argue. But his relationship with his left hand was far more rewarding than with any of the women he encountered.
After years of garage symphonies and junior high dances—where the 14-year-old girls’ crushes were too dangerous to consummate, and besides, their love was truer than could be reached on the yucky physical plane—he was asked to tour with Dr. Hook. He bit. Okay, it was as a guitar technician, a roadie who made sure their instruments were in tune and well strung, but it was a tour. The sixties were struggling to hang onto the middle seventies, but polyester, John Travolta Mach II (after Welcome Back Cotter but before Pulp Fiction), and Soul Train were doing their best to pry loose its grasp.
Dane and his decade had one last chance to make good. It was four weeks of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. For Dr. Hook. For the Medicine Show. For their groupies. And on the last night of a grueling month of lugging two-ton amps and sound machinery … for Dane.
He found himself in the fabled land of the Big-0, rock style. Musicians, roadies, groupies and hangers-on were in a homecoming Continental Hyatt suite, a recreational pharmacy spread out buffet-style for the indulgence of all at hand. Satin record company jackets were draped like ghosts from a dead decade across the floor, as legs spread, jaws gaped, lips licked, and lily-white buns played clench-and-release to the Wall Street Shuffle. The seventies were a vampire sucking the Peace and Love from the blood-beating stalwarts in the room, replacing them with Hugo Boss changelings and Italian shoes without socks.
But even if blood were all he’d get sucked tonight, it was enough. He walked into the party, leaving the ignominy of a decade that forsook him in his wake, spread his arms in the sign of the cross, and surrendered.
He was unable and unwilling to hide the erection that stretched his jeans as he tiptoed over the pistoning minions to the smack bar. The sight of all this flesh —much of it still tight and youthful, some of it jiggly and dimpled, all of it shiny with heat and false passion— made him hungry: for food, for sex, for life, for humanity. For eternity.
As usual, they were all doing and he was watching. He stood at the wet bar, doodling finger-pictures in the expensive powders laid out for the guests, when she stood up and made eye contact. Her spider eyes ran tears of sweat and mascara down her cheeks, and her mouth was smeared with crimson, mostly left behind to decorate the throbbing stalk on a desperately greying record executive panting on the floor. She wiped her mouth and her crotch on a towel, wrapped it around her waist, and walked toward Dane.
Certain she was coming for pharmaceuticals and not for him, he gallantly looked away, trying not to stare at the tiny sweaty tits that were all nipple as they stared at him. But she knew the difference between man and woman, and knew he noticed. She fished in a huge snifter filled with parti-colored drugs, gulped down some windowpane, then shoved Dane’s hand in, placing another hit between his fingers. Helping him, she led it to his mouth, pushed it in with her own fingers, leaving them inside his mouth as she made him swallow. And suck.
His erection tested the Levi’s guarantee as she slipped her fingers out of his mouth and into her own, tasting him, then using her insect digits to remove his shoes and socks. She stood wordlessly before him, silently daring him to make a move, and they were standing tall, two trees in a pygmy forest.
He could feel each of the fibers in the shag carpeting under his feet, exquisitely aware of their polyester texture wriggling, struggling to live beneath the crush of his flesh. He looked down to see the fibers reaching up between his toes, and binding him solidly to the floor.
But that was his only heightened experience. He looked at the flesh locomotive that was chugging to oblivion around him, and it was suddenly desaturated of all color. Sound muffled in cottoned reverence, he stared dully at the monochrome movie that lived at his feet. He’d heard about the colors on acid, but it figures that for him they’d been purloined.
He saw his reflection in his twin tree’s eyes, then noticed her bark turn up into a sexy smile. She reached to release a sturdy root below his waist, but as she leaned in to devour it, it shrunk protectively from her attack. No matter how much she coaxed, its retreat was final.
So Dane bade farewell to the Stratocaster, Plaster-Cast world of music, as unfulfilled there as he was in love, life, and creation.
He slept through the eighties, waving goodbye to that decade with ten years’ seniority at Shearson Lehman as an eighth-class drone, a festering, childless marriage under his belt, and a growing paunch hanging over it. Bored to somnambulance by a noncommittal and disinterested planet, he grew plates of armor made up of equal parts bitterness, resignation, and alcoholic indifference.
It was not always so. His marriage began with a frantic coupling and a mutual taste for sweat on skin. He and Andrea coupled often and eagerly, experimentally and exhaustingly, with the laughter, passion, and abandon that signified the non-physical, spiritual side of their relationship as well. Sexually, they were oral obsessives, always eager to fill one another’s mouths with one another’s flesh. Devouring themselves, they kept an uncaring world at bay, and for the first year or so, it was never allowed to intrude.
But it’s a persistent old planet, ain’t it? —and it kept reaching out and grabbing for them in little pinches that over the years turned into big, jawing bites. Sweat and semen gave way to mortgages and taxes, and eventually to sleep, ne’er to dream.
Their mutual fascination with one another became a thing; a sick-making thing, a gradually creeping cloud that slowly darkened their lives. The unannounced sprinkle turned to deluge before anyone noticed.
Those differences that so charmed and charged one another became irritants, that which made them individuals kept them from becoming one, then drove an iron spike between them. Joy turned to boredom turned to anger turned to bitter resentment.
They were no longer married; they just kind of hung around the same house. Not that they didn’t share; on the contrary, the cathode glow of home shone equally on them both, saving them from the monster god, conversation.
Tip-toeing the eggshell floor of their existence, they hid behind the leering wink of Jerry Springer to keep the bullet words at a safe distance. Anything spoken could and would be misconstrued.
It seemed Andrea was always pissed off, and treated each word as an invitation to do battle. They infected one another with a cranky, world-hating disease that brought out the worst in one another, a defensive pit of discontent that masqueraded as polite hatred. Easily ignited, they seldom spoke. Dane had seen the dead hole behind Andrea’s eyes take over what once held the excited light of dreams fulfilled. So he worked to extinguish his own fire with sips of Remy that made him cozy. Well, he never reached cozy, but the blanket wrapped him nonetheless.
Jerry turned into Jay into Conan, then into lights out and better-get-some-sleep. But even with the gentle coaxing of Remy Martin warming his dead stomach until it burned, sleep found only uneasy purchase on Dane’s pillow. Contact with Andrea’s body, once so electrifying and magnetic, now made for cranky grunts and I-was-just-about-asleep!s.
Trying to keep still but wanting to wiggle his foot in his nervous wakefulness, he glared at his wife from behind closed eyelids. And the longer he lay awake, the more okay it seemed to die. He wouldn’t mind it right now if it were just lights out, if he just croaked right here, right this minute. It would be so much easier. Just to die and not have to worry about getting any sleep. If the heavy pounding of his heart would just stop. If it would just burst, and quit shoving blood through his veins in such a noisy rush. If he had a gun, it would be so easy to just shove it in his mouth and pull the trigger, spattering an empty, septic mind all over Andrea’s pillow. If it could all just stop, and let his blood run down her face with her tears, and wouldn’t she be sorry then? And the weight could be lifted, and the pain could stop. Then they both could be happy. Please, God, sleep or death.
Finally, the Xanax unconsciousness, black and dreamless.
… And with grim inevitability, Dane’s life continued its statistical course with a divorce, a depressing bachelor apartment near the office cubicle, an allergy to the milk he needed to fight the festering ulcer that had seized his gut, and an addiction to the alcohol that deadened the fire and fanned its flames at the same time. He felt like a cigarette butt, slowly being ground out by the Birkenstock of life.
He worked and drank and tried to sleep, his paunch broadening, his hair thinning on top. His part slipped lower by the month, until soon he combed it from his ear in long strands over the shining desert that was his scalp, waxing it in place and avoiding winds that would lift the stiff hair-hat into a wave of greeting. He knew it wasn’t fooling anyone—certainly not himself—but he couldn’t bear a hairless reflection in the mirror.
The night his divorce was final, he didn’t need the Xanax to sleep. Not even the Halcyon. As soon as he flicked on the bedroom TV, his own lights went out. The entertainment was far superior that night on the dream-o-vision that spun laughing faces around his careening bed. When it settled, he was with Cindy Thompson again, for the first time since school. She was a freckled twelve, but with a high school body, and it was all in his hands. Hands that rolled the socks from her ankles, slid the Catholic plaid skirt up legs flecked with fine little sunny-gold hairs; hands sneaking under a thick white bra that offered no resistance, pulling long crumples of toilet paper from the wads underneath. Fingertips burning as they made contact with the hiding alabaster bulge that had never seen the sun. The jolt of contact with tiny nipples, hardening under his touch into miniature towers barely larger than good-sized goosebumps. Then, his own flesh tower, hidden by the girth of encroaching middle age, plunged into hitherto unexplored territory, exploding within as soon as it was engulfed.
And he remembered another time many years back when dreams of Cindy Thompson soiled his sheets. Pavlov’s dog barked, with Uncle Eddie’s dying face and skid-mark body. Cindy Thompson, semen and blood. Death and taxes. Time and tide.
For the first time in a quarter century, and under circumstances depressingly similar to the last, Dane wept, washing away a life unlived, unearned. Though the tears eventually dried, his pain never did. He bolted back a shot of Remy to soak up the blood.
It was the next morning that, despite the rain, shone sunlight on him. He got the morning mail, still rubbing the sleep-crust from his eyes, brought on by the duct-draining of the night before. The notice was there: an invitation to his high school class’s reunion. His mind immediately vacated the present, dumping his work, his divorce, his alimony, his ubiquitous bottle of Remy, and the crush of the planet itself on his shoulders into a subdural dustbin.
The headcheese of his brain grunted memories, painted them with a rosy watercolor, and convinced Dane he was being transported into a better time. An easier time. A happier time. And better than that was the signature of the reunion committee chairman at the bottom of the invite: Cynthia Thompson.
Not Mrs. Cindy Wiederhorn, or even Cynthia Thompson-Applewhite.
Cindy Thompson. Singular. His silent partner in two of the most important solitary orgasmic experiences of his life. He had two months; he would lose weight, buff up, and see Cindy Thompson. And go back to when he was happy. He’d forgotten that there was never such a time.
The plane spat him onto the parapet, and he knew he was coming home. Tonight was the big deal on Madonna Street. The city had grown and blighted, just like all the others in the world. Emptied of life and filled with activity and industry, it belched in his face, replacing the scent of spoiled cantaloupe from his youth with the choking diesel air-wick that darkened the sky. But Dane was oblivious. All he could smell was the carob-tree-and-Clorox musk of Cindy Thompson wet dreams. He was going back to school, back to his friends, back to his innocence, and back—for the first time—to Cindy Thompson. His step was sprightly, his body ten pounds lighter than it had been eight weeks before.
He let Hertz put him in the driver’s seat, and headed to the hotel where the gala was to be held, checked in, and began to get ready. Six hours early.
He was sit-upped and showered and blown dry and tied and polished and raw-silk-jacketed by four, and the soiree was not until eight. He fidgeted with the room service cracker-dough pizza, and let himself be bathed by the magic glow of SpectraVision as he popped a Diet Sprite from the mini-bar and kept from drinking. There would be enough of that later.
His heart pounding a pre-detox Ginger Baker solo, he stepped into the crepe-paper and winking-white-light past, and found himself in the progeria ward.
The faces were all familiar, and mostly corrupted by time’s passage. The recognition was immediate, but each of them looked like children painted over with practical joker’s dust of time. A layer of wrinkles, a jacket of fat, powdered grey wigs. They were not adults, they had not grown; they’d merely been dipped in age.
The men had suffered the worst. Shining pates, broad beams, thick glasses. Dane actually felt he had survived the ravages of the past two decades better than most as they pinned his senior picture to his lapel. But most of the women had taken care of themselves. There were many who were unable or unwilling to combat the bodily backfires of multiple births, but a surprising number had nipped, tucked, and aerobicized to look even better than they had in school.
He smiled as he recognized faces, scanning the crowd for Cindy, with hopeful eyes. He walked up to old chums with a grin and a greeting, and made a remarkable discovery. Each one reacted the same way: a quick, sneaky glance at the picture on his chest, a vacant lack of recognition, a glad-handed howdy, and an excuse to move on after an awkward, conversationless pause.
No one recognized him.
Not merely that their reminiscence was vague … they truly could not for the life of them remember him. Apparently, Dane was a master of the delible impression.
As the band played Beatles, Badfinger and Beach Boys, and graying, overweight slobs embarrassed themselves with a drunken jerk and a side of mashed potato, Dane wandered like a ghost through the strangers-by-choice. He had stepped from the time machine, and been ambushed by Morlocks.
And still no sign of Cindy Thompson. But who cared? If she weren’t married, she’d probably be fat and bald and saddled with a dozen brats. Or more likely, she’d be more beautiful than ever, tantalizingly available, and when their eyes met… that same light would click off. She wouldn’t know who the fuck he was, either, the bitch. And he sat down to nurse a drink, hating her. Wishing her dead.
The band stopped playing, right in the middle of “Without You.” Danny Turner stormed the stage and took the microphone for some no-doubt earth-shattering announcement. Dane’s eyes were going rheumy as he glared at the former A.S.B. president, Mr. Track-Star-With-A-Hundred-Girlfriends, Mr. Handsome-Glad-Hand-Superman-Smile-And-Spitcurl-Straight-A-Valedictorian-Dickhead-Voted-Most-Likely-To-Succeed. Dane was getting drunker. Fucking self-important jock with the 170 IQ gained fifty pounds, four kids, and more chins than a Chinese phonebook. Dane gloated about the creep’s fall from grace. Okay, Daniel T. Tuner, esquire. High school was the best time of your life. It’s all downhill from here. You manage the garden section of the Sears at the mall, pulling down—what?—a cool 25K a year? Bitchen. Dane gloated, watching the chins warble, but not hearing the song. Quivering, even frightened. What the fuck was this feeb blathering about now?
The room had gone silent, and the P.A. rang with feedback around the words: “…is dead.” Big gasp, Dane perked up. “… friend to all of us, and who worked so hard to make this event such a special one for us. But her limo crashed through the guardrail on 248, and by all accounts, it was all over very quickly.”
Dane went white. No.
“Who among us did not love Cindy?”
No! Not that Cindy!
“I know we’ll all wish the Thompson family…”
Dream lover, wet sheet, heart-squeezing, happy-making, death’s head Cindy Thompson. Dane had killed her.
He was suddenly at the center of a very tiny universe, and it revved up into a wavering spin around him. Centrifugal force tried to throw him against the far wall, but to protect himself, he threw up all over the table in front of him.
And that led him home, clicking his heels and hoping Toto would join him. Off the plane and back into town. Making a choice. Not going to the house, the unbearable shrinking prison. Going to a better place, a more important place, a more spectacular place… for a spectacular act. He went downtown, riding the elevator in the tallest high-rise to heaven.
Monday, lunch hour, traffic, both on foot and on wheels. The streets choked with zombies that lived on carbon monoxide and anal-retentive schedules. Clockwork automatons that clocked in at eight and out at five, melted microwave meals blocking their bowels and clogging their arteries. It was time for Dane Carslake to be noticed … if not in life, then surely in death.
He stood out on a ledge on the library tower, forty-six stories above the insect grid. Acrophobia whirled about him, tugging at his clothing, and he felt a King Kong surge of power. Wind whipped at him, and he felt strong, decisive, conclusive. He would matter with a splatter.
Wind rammed up his pantlegs, cooling his erection, frigid but proud. The city ran its business, oblivious to him. But not for long. An animal inside him made Dane howl at the top of his lungs: no words, merely raw emotion. But the city drowned him out.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, letting it drop to the sidewalk below. Generating twenty-six stories of momentum, it nearly cracked the newsboy’s skull when it hit. The kid fell unconscious across a bundle of the Times, making crimson headlines.
An old woman rushed to help the boy, picking up the wallet and pocketing the cash before she looked up.
Even from that height, Dane could see activity below. The ants were pointing up: a bird? A plane? No… it’s street-splatter man!
He pulled off a loafer and gave it a toss. It crashed through the windshield of an uninsured ‘69 Datsun, which screeched across three lanes in startlement, ramming a Mercedes and a school bus into the sidewalk. Score: 1 unemployed wife-beater, 3 upper-crust matrons, returning from group-rate lid lifts and tummy tucks at the finest plastic surgeon in the city, 5 pedestrians—including one in a wheelchair that should have been worth at least double points, and 14 students from a school for the mentally challenged.
Now, people were looking up, pointing at Dane. Already there was a Metro Traffic report on the unusually heavy downtown backup. Gridlock spread out at Dane’s feet, widening across the city’s expanse, and his satisfied smile at its fulcrum beamed across his face.
Hell swarmed in the streets below, much to his delight. He knew it was time to act, that there were no doubt cops and shrinks in the elevators now, rising to the occasion to talk him down. And he could hear the chuffing of the waspy helicopter in the distance.
High in the sky, he could hear the honking, the voices, the city symphony that was composed just for him, and he prepared to dive. But another sound caught his ear.
And a scream.
And even more madness below. Running, screaming, cacophony.
And Dane spotted its source. Across the street, a full three stories below him in a window in the Citibank tower. A sunburned gunman was firing randomly into the crowd … a red sniper.
As if he could feel Dane’s eyes on him, the sniper looked up, and their eyes locked. The gunman smiled as he raised the weapon and framed Dane’s face in the crosshairs. Dane leaped … but not before the bullet crossed the street and dove into his body.
Unbelievable force threw him against the huge glass plate that shone indirect sunlight on the Members of the Board within. Executives looked up just in time to see the safety glass shatter into spiderweb cracks as Dane’s body bounced off the window. His head cracked like a soft-boiled egg on the concrete ledge, and his body flailed gracelessly through the air.
Never had Dane been more aware of his environment; his brain cataloguing every detail, his nerve endings scrabbling to the surface, magnifying everything. As death beckoned, his life was heightened. Blood was rushing from the crack in his skull, rosy eyewash that prettied the view of the smog-choked concrete city. The bullet had blasted a hole the size of a Granny Smith apple through his diaphragm, just below the heart. He was aware of the wind whistling a C-sharp through the tunnel wound. The hole played a scale as unfamiliar body parts found the exit hole and came to the surface.
The fall was endless and unglamorous, as Dane’s body fell against ledge after ledge, bright lights of concussion when his head met concrete, hot rips of pain as limbs shattered, shards tearing through the flesh. And always the electrical current of awareness turned up to 11.
So slow. So endless … until the end.
Then, the pavement rushed at his face at a million miles an hour, shoving his teeth through his brain and out his back. It all went black as he swallowed his palate.
It took nearly ten hours to clear the gridlock. Drivers cursed one another, praying for each other’s death so they could get home a minute or two earlier. And a chorus of radio reports sang a round of the day’s events, a new tragedy to tabulate, a new mass murder to chronicle, prosecutorial careers to make, fodder for a new book, six-figure TV-movie rights, agents, and other ghouls picking their teeth.
There was a new name to add to the list: Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Juan Corona, Angelo Buono, Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Whitman, Richard Ramirez, and now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our special guest, Andrew David Bigelow, the Citibank Sniper.
A piker in the mass murder game, really, a tally of ten dead, and merely by bullet, no sex, no direct contact with knives or axes or chainsaws; hell, he didn’t even eat any body parts or hail Satan with their blood. Just got dumped by a girlfriend who was sick and tired of being beaten up and fucked raw whether she liked it or not, and ol’ Andy just got pissed and blew off a little steam.
An unspectacular showing in the big-time human hunt, and soon forgotten. But at least he was there in the news morgues, interviewed in an HBO documentary on multiple murderers on death row.
But what of the victims? Okay, there was Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas. But she was a movie star and they were a part of the evening’s festivities. Dane Carslake was merely the sheet-covered foot, out of focus way in the back corner of the picture on the newspaper, one of ten victims whose identities were being held pending notification of the relatives.
In fact, Dane was never identified. His wallet was now in the possession of a sweet old lady who welcomed lonely old men into her guest house, fed them homemade wine laced with battery acid, and collected their social security checks for them. Accordioned by the Main Street trash compactor, Dane’s features were far from recognizable, and the truth of the matter is, the cops really didn’t give a shit.
So they scraped him off the street, slopped him into an anonymous pine box, and laid him to rest under six feet of earth.
And a miraculous thing happened: the body decomposed, bacteria bred, worms fed, and his body broke down into a primordial jelly that made very good baby food for the million-and-a-half new lives that were spontaneously generated within him.
Photo by Ryuhei Kitamura
Copyright Mick Garris
First published in A Life in the Cinema, by Mick Garris, Gauntlet Press, 2000.