This is the book I have been writing forever. It's where I go when I need to take time away from the manuscript that I am currently in polishing mode on. This is just the first two characters, but pivotal. There are three other pivotal characters. This is an experiment in head hopping times ten.
"Feeback good," grunts Marco. "Pardon format, ooo, ooo."
I've got another 30,000 words on it, and I will present more if you are at all interested.
All The Live Ones
He really wasn't a wise guy. He just thought he was. This was Joe's problem. At the tender age of 41, or was it 42? He thought his world was a mess; and yes it probably was, but he felt sane. He knew that there was more to life than this. He just knew it. He had to believe it. Something, or perhaps someone, inside of the infrastructure told him so. Something, or again that someone, inside of the alcohol clotted, gray mush between his ears was sending out S.O.S messages in a dozen broken languages, obscure symbols and hopelessly blended musical melodies… Murder by numbers, one-two-three, and then suddenly, looking for my lost shaker of salt in peter-weeterville. . .
Just who in the living f*** am I?
Today, his all-broken and bent-up traveling road show found itself underneath an overpass on a south bound stretch of interstate that seemed not to be pointing south at all. The road show had dug in deep under the cement and steel overpass, setting up camp in a hopefully inconspicuous corner the appeared to be camouflaged with assorted branches, switch grass and discarded fast food trappings. Joe was digging through his ratty, Viet Nam war surplus rucksack and was hell-bent determined to find at least one of the many purloined salt packs he damn well knew were there. He rummaged like a man thoroughly engrossed in some kind of life or death mission. One of those lost packs of salt had to be found, absolutely must be found, so as to go with his half-empty medicine bottle of tequila now lying precariously in the dirt and rock some ten feet below him. To add to the misery, the infernal thing was screaming up at him, blurting rude questions about musical composition titles and artists and about dead poets and their importance in the scheme of things and the importance of absolutely not mixing certain over-the-counter drugs with alcohol… and so such. It was becoming deafening, this interrogation by his medicine bottle, and the only the only music going through his head, in answer, was an old Police tune: murder by numbers, 1-2-3, it's as easy to learn as your ABC…
He was down dire in the rabbit h*** now and he knew it. He knew this rabbit h*** perfectly. Hell! He and his rocket man road show had been in and out of its crooked and labyrinthine depths for the better part of a year now. Joe Alice-in-f******-wonderland-stuck-on-I-81-waiting-for-a-truck-to-stick-the-mirror-in-my-face Allen…Joseph Michael Allen and his Mysterious Talking Tequila Bottle Road Show were stuck in a one-h*** gig. Stuck and fucked…fucked like Chuck. And who the f*** is Chuck anyway?
This seemed important. Who is Chuck and why is he f*****?
Two hours, Joe thought feverishly, two f****** hours. The ebb and flow of the interstate was starting to get on his nerves. It was getting later and later in the day and even given the relative coolness of his place in his badger/rabbit h*** under the on ramp, it was getting hot. Damn hot. Where are all these people going? What do they do? Why can’t I remember what I do? Who the hell am I and why am I here? Where is here? As if to emphasize the point, he anointed himself with greasy, sandy dirt and banged his head on his knees for a few seconds.
He also wondered if they were going anywhere important and how come they couldn't at least stop and pick him up. But where am I going? And why? It was a lose-lose situation, he thought. Losing and losing seemed to be a key to his missing history. He was tired, roasting and in a bad mood and there was no background that wasn’t fuzzy or distant except for his ranting medicine bottle and the repetitive thought, Don’t these people know that I can help? I have a key, dammit…I have a f****** key…I just wish I knew where it goes…who the hell am I?
Somewhere along the way, after a failed first attempt, Joe took another semi-heroic tumble out of his rabbit h*** and victoriously retrieved his shouting tequila bottle—it almost begrudgingly told him where to find one of the salt packs, which were "gifts" from a Denny's restaurant at which he had afforded to stop and eat, several miles back. He wasted no time in proceeding to do the necessary, prescription shots.
After the first three whacks, the vile bottle quieted down some and he decided to worm his way back deeper into the overpass enclave. For whatever reason, he started scratching in the soil, digging out a little nest-like h***. It seemed like the logical thing to do. Building a little nest where I can lay little Joey eggs. He figured then to try to get some kind of comfortable, shut down the road show and wait it out until tomorrow. Tomorrow is what day? What year?
There would be another day and he had his salt and what little of his remaining tequila, its bottle having become mute at last; everything in Joe's messed up world was getting a little better with each dribble from it. His prescription was working just dandy, thanks.
He finally unfolded his sleeping gear, spread it out, snuggled under it and proceeded to nurse the last drops of his tequila prescription. Worming himself into a soft and comfortable place under the side of the on-ramp, Joey Allen and his road show folded up shop and went fast asleep. During his brief and wildly vivid dream-state, a series of scared questions and images came to him...
Jenna Carpenter became sentient during a very weird time. It was a weird time because there was a war going on somewhere in a place called the Middle East. Someone called The President had determined that during that year the world would change profoundly to the bad and that all freedoms and things like that would go away if war was not waged. Jenna didn't ever really think about it. She just thought that her mom was weird about it and generally weird anyway. Jenna didn't think much outside of her own box. The Berlin Wall, the Maginot Line, the sharp bamboo fences in Cambodia, the Demilitarized Zone in Korea…Jenna vaguely knew what they had been constructed for but couldn't understand their underlying purposes in the least bit. The Great Wall of China baffled her most of all. Her thoughts on the subject were very simple: Why keep all the people away? You could have helped. If you all had worked together, the world would be better.
When Jenna was twelve or so, she started to have seizures. Her very protective mom didn't understand this phenomenon at all and the child’s doctors were unable to determine any reasonable cause. Jenna’s recollection of the times she spent during those "blank spaces” was that she had been busy talking with God. Needless to say, her mom was insanely worried about that last bit. My little girl is in touch with God? This was certainly unacceptable behavior in the single parent Carpenter household. My daughter is not a freak or a retard— she can’t be just like her father! No, no, don’t go there!
Meanwhile, Jenna was all about talking to God. Why not? His voice was her best friend, her secret friend. In fact, she had been talking to "The Boss" since she was three or so (she didn't call him The Boss until much later, after her first job, but that part of the story will come at a different time). At first she didn't recognize the meanings of words like power and the infrastructure, concepts that often crept into her conversations with the sometimes mysterious God. For her, at the age of three, the whole thing was an amusement, a mystical toy to be played with. It proved also to be a helpful way for her to get upright and learn to move on two legs more fluidly. She was nearly fully mobile by then, a circumstance certainly not unnoticed by her mother.
As she got older, in fact, she realized that her little chats with the voice in her head were becoming progressively more and more productive in both provocative and very real ways.
She realized that she could manipulate mathematical structures better than her friends and that she had a natural gift for teaching others how to use the tools she seemed to instinctively possess. Further, several foreign languages came to her as easily as sound travels: she'd hear someone speaking in French, say, and after consultation with the voice would know nearly exactly how to communicate. The same held for German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and a few others. If anything at all baffled her, all she had to do was ask the voice. The answers came quickly and succinctly. When she started to answer mommy's questions without seeming to think about it, her mother got increasingly more afraid of her. And her abuse of her freakish, adopted daughter became more frequent, subtle and sinister. She’s some kind of witch, I know it! That was after a couple of drinks.
By the time Jenna turned seventeen, she had become a strikingly beautiful young woman. Her hair was an unusual auburn color, with flecks of dark brown and shades of dirty blond. Her eyes were sky blue with little bits of a hard-to-describe green in them. She spoke shyly but clearly, not at all in the sing-song way so many of her peers. Her speech was not at all childlike, and she had an oddly graceful demeanor about her that baffled just about everyone she met. This was clearly evident by the attention paid to her by her teachers and by the more than attentive attraction she garnered in her post pubescent, testosterone-twisted male peers.
Most people, including peers of both genders, had always thought that maybe she was bit retarded or perhaps some kind of savant. She never tried to interact unless engaged to do so, yet was top graded in every class that she attended. She appeared to have no particular hobbies but at the same time seemed genuinely interested in everything and everyone she encountered. If she wanted to, her cohorts had often thought,--particularly the boys!—she could easily have been a cheerleader, class president or even a prom queen or some such if she had decided to break out of whatever shell she was in. The boys in school almost unanimously thought she was drop-dead gorgeous; but because of her apparent unavailability, she was surreptitiously dismissed as way whacked out, off limits. Those that had tried to get close to her universally got a warm, beautiful test pattern.
Unknown to all was that she was in fact a cheerleader of sorts. Jenna Carpenter was cheering on a very different squad. Yes! She had friends and—Wow!--those friends held on to her very tightly. With unspoken unanimity, they were sure they were somehow protecting her.
The fact of the matter was vice versa. Jenna held her few friends very tightly indeed. Of course! Jenna talked with God and she chose her friends wisely and helped them however and whenever she could. This was Jenna fact.
One sunny and cool afternoon, right after school let out, she and two of her closest friends decided to venture to the nearby Outlet Mall, ostensibly to shop for clothes. It wasn't anything special, no special occasion, just friends going shopping. Jenna liked the Mall for various reasons, the least of which being shopping for clothes; but she especially liked the two girls who accompanied her that day. Her “best friend” Anna Williams (whose family had gotten her a car for her seventeenth birthday, a couple of months back), was almost a diametrical opposite of Jenna in terms of outward personality. She was a varsity cheerleader and had the giggly, buoyant, energetic rah-rah thing down to a science. Also, like Jenna, she was uniquely blond and fell into the category of what the boys called “HOT!” What lay beneath that well groomed exterior is another story entirely.
Jenna’s “second best friend” more closely resembled someone who one would think—mistakenly—Jenna should look like. Kylie Minh was a petite, bright-brown-eyed girl with long black hair and a wickedly acerbic sense of humor. Her sense of the absurd was so keen she could whittle with it when so inclined. She was the comic relief in the group, and under any circumstance where mirth was needed to lighten things up, Kylie applied her talents with glee. Another thing about Kylie, too: the boys didn’t say it out loud but they thought she was as “HOT!” as the other two, but in a way they were still too young to truly understand.
The teachers and counselors at May-Lyndhurst High School (at which the three girls were then-- finally!—seniors) often thought curious thoughts about these young ladies. These thoughts were fraught with macabre Elizabethan witch references and un-holy trinity stories and other such nonsense. They couldn’t say why, if asked.
When the trio of friends got close to the Mall, which was a little over a mile away from their school, there seemed to be some kind of crazy mess and confusion going on all around. The police were everywhere and the parking lots and the doors to the shops that they had hoped to shop in were all taped or being taped off. Dogs were sniffing and dragging their uniformed masters all about. Jenna closed her eyes for a minute…and the blood! The blood is everywhere! And there was an overwhelming image of a man in her mind: a man spitting tobacco on her. Jenna immediately demanded from her secret friend an answer to what was happening. All she got back was kind of like the static fuzz you hear on a badly tuned radio.
She tried harder. Her friend, God, seemed not to be paying any attention to her at all that day.
Not even in the least bit. She was confused, hurt and a little afraid.
Anna rolled the driver side window of her almost new car down and asked an obviously scared patrolman: "What’s happening here, officer?"
“Look miss, you girls just turn it around and drive straight home now, okay?"
Anna persisted: "What happened? Why all the ambulances and the dogs?"
The cop winced. "Look, little lady, this is not a good place to be right now! You guys go home. Go now!" He pulled out his baton and pointed somewhere. "Go now!"
As if radio controlled, Anna turned the car around, found an opening to the main road and left the vicinity in short order. All the while, Jenna craned her neck, kept looking back.
Something was horribly wrong. She wondered, nearly furious, why her secret friend had evaporated on her. There had to be a reason for the madness she had just seen: there just had to be.
How come her secret friend was dead silent? Was there some reason? He (It?) was always there to answer unanswerable questions. This wasn't fair. She was becoming uncharacteristically hysterical.
A flurry of sharp words came then: Your mom?! That man spitting is...
Then, along with a sudden rush of abject horror, came more of her secret friend's words.
Jenna would never be the same. She would never, ever, be the same.
A bewildered and scared patrolman at the mall said later that he had heard in the distance the most horrified and sorrowful scream he had ever heard in his whole life.