This is another story dashed off most likely in the wee morning hours of a meth-fueled comedown in the basement (it would be a stretch to call it a bedroom) of the townhouse in SF’s Lower Haight that was my primary residence for the better part of ’98. Apparently I wrote two versions of it, and while both have their merits, on reread I prefer the punchy energy of this one. Though chances are I’ll publish the other version next just for comparison’s sake. I’m not sure either is entirely successful in relating the story I wanted to tell, something about semi-militarized meat delivery drivers in a pre-apocalyptic wasteland of the Southwestern U.S. that had been abandoned by the govt. after a manmade toxic disaster. Somewhere under all the testosterone and self-consciously cybergrunge aesthetic I think there’s a redemption story trying to smuggle its way out.
Far to the crack
A story from the Safety Belt
By Stephen T. Brophy
An impenetrable curtain of sand slaps the windshield, obscuring the white-hot horizon. Somewhere beyond the tumultuous orange cloud lies Cali, the golden homestead, prefab plastic suntanned ancient Rome, reenvisioned without irony by semiconscious imagineers of the Holowood Dream Machine. Somewhere back there, to the East, an impotent President prays to whatever God’s been preselected for a miracle cure, preferably one without too many deleterious long-term side effects…
I can’t go back for him. I can’t because it would mean my ass, too. I can’t go and cradle his head in my arms, give him comfort in his final moments. I can’t because for him, those moments have already passed. Besides, I doubt he’d want it. I do not mourn for him, alone here in the cab of his truck. Not just because I didn’t know him well, but because tears have never been much my style. Even as a baby, my Grandma Plowhorse told me, my capacity for extended, meditative silences was almost eerie. But then, Grandma Plowhorse was a full-blooded Navajo with a legendary gift for genealogical myth-making. Me, I never went in for all that Native American reservation bullshit, got out as soon as the getting was good and never looked back. My partner, though, back there on the roadway with his body all perforated and broken, wolves, buzzards and vermin hovering for their share of what the cannibals can’t finish, he and Granny Plowshare would have got along just fine. His collection of fully-posable, self-customized totemic action figures dangling from the rearview, ceiling, doorhandles, and most every other inch of nonessential space in the cab are plenty testament to that.
The Cracker Mac Daddy, what he called himself, a great fat redneck with a penchant for whisky and a history of dirty biz. DeepFed field work that took him to the farthest-flung, warrest-torn corners of what he called “this massive bastard planet.” Spoke broken bits of a hundred international lingos, all in his corn-syrupy slo-poke Bible Belt drawl. His visible skin, face, neck, forearms, even the fuzzy vee of chest exposed by the open throat of his Western shirt, a grisly cross-hatch of scar tissue and crude tattoos, badges of honor, merit, memory, whatever, like the dolls.
No…he’d said it through teeth so clenched I thought they’d shatter. They’re not dolls.
What are they then?
Yeah. More’n that. They’re…they’re…symbols, y’know, icons, tokens. Of what? The fallen. The lost. The forgotten and the damned. Each one, see, is a perfect likeness of one of the soldiers I served with.
No. This goes beyond friendship. These people were…fellow warriors. Ah, you wouldn’t understand.
Maybe, but I’m trying.
They were like braves. You get me now? Folks who did one thing, very well. What?
Fight. Kill. Die.
That’s three things.
No. T’ain’t. And these, these are how I remember them. See?
The doll…uh, action figures.
Yeah, like, like, kachinas. Get it. If I’m in a bad way, I can look at one of these, think of the person, and I…this gonna sound screwy and I don’t usually share this, but, guy like you, you oughta get me.
Anyway, they give me a little bit of their power.
Where do you, what, you get these at a toy store? Find em, steal em off kids, what?
They’re made for me. Each of these is an exact likeness of the man. Or woman.
(At this, he fingered the curvy, limbless, molded plastic torso of a redheaded GI Jane.)
Why are they all…messed up?
That’s to show what become of em. How each of em looked, last time I saw em. Toymakers do that? No. I do that part myself. It’s, well, kinda cathartic. Ah. Think I’m nuts.
Probably. Who wouldn’t be? All the shit you musta seen. Nuts not to be nuts.
Right. But I ain’t. I’m the sanest man ya ever met, I bet. Cause what I know, it’s enough to drive ya that way. Beyond right, wrong, good, bad, beyond leftist politics and reactionary dogma. Truth. Pure and simple. Humanity, so far from God, so close to eternity. Ya go and go until somethin breaks and no one can fix it, right? That’s all. Do what you’re made for. Just do it well. What else is there? Couldn’t tell ya. That’s right and that’s just fine, how I like it. What you believe in, Johnny?
The OmniBank, Monolith, and the almighty dollar.
Yer on yer way, boy.
Whatever. Fate. Destiny. A fat steak and a good fuck. But remember, a perk’s just a perk, t’ain’t a reward.
I’ll keep it in mind.
Alone in the cab now, trying to figure out the control system, all these dials and lights, myriad as a shuttle cockpit. Alone but not really. Mac Daddy’s pantheon of comrades all around me, staring out through their damage with dead little eyes, those that still have them, staring and giving me none of their secret strength. And in the back, a dozen plus head of live cattle still left, settling down now after their restless upset, the unexpected savagery of the SkullChasers attack, beyond their bovine comprehension. Still, no one to talk to, no one to help me reconcile the events of the last mad hour.
New to this, my first long haul, partnered up with BeefCo.’s number one meat runner, I didn’t figure he’d like me much, from what I’d heard about him. But we’d found a few things to talk about, if not a lot of common ground. Now he’s gone and I miss him. Sacrificed his Cracker ass so that I might live, not that I was so important. But the delivery had to get through, else we might both as well be corpsed. No turning back, not with BeefCo., unless you could afford to cover the cost of the meat, at retail price. Six months working gratis might repay the debt, eighteen if they only took a percentage, and that was if they let you back on long haul, highly unlikely. Shitcanned in the end, either way, Bob Buck and Co. didn’t brook sissies or cowards or drivers that couldn’t go the distance. Right job for a semi-retired soldier of misfortune like the Cracker, no doubt. But me? No warrior here, just a guy who liked doing bongs and watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, wanted a girlfriend who didn’t expect much, and enough liquid in the bank to make rent and maintain a low-key hassle-free approx of the so-called good life. Desperate times called for creature comforts, a roof, some hooch, tunes. Fuck the serious shit. But here I am, lips deep in it. Nothing at all like delivering pizzas in the burbzone. Sure, you can get killed doing that, too, but at least there’s tips.
Try it man, it’s good money, and if you do alright, Monolith’s got a tracking system, you can move up, motor pool, security, the sky’s the limit.
I never drove no big rig, hominy. Gameboy don’t count.
So, you fudge it on the rez, dudeman. Not a lotta guys wanna do this.
So why do I?
Cause, JT, you been outta work since two Xmasses, and the odd lawn job just ain’t gonna cut it, and the brown bud border runs gonna get your ass slammed.
Oughta just make this shit legal, hominid.
Fuck it, tobacco companies ready to jump right in on that, cut you down and out, no room for the small bizboys.
Too too true.
Well, what say?
What day you say they interview?
I could just swing the truck around (not without jackknifing) or pull over (and be instantly set upon), go up topside with one of the autocarb’s (and get plugged with a hundred SkullChaser crossbolts), do something bold and rash and stupid and at least try to save the fat ragged bastard, too old and used up to be risking his half-plastic ass to throw a couple cows down as a sort of peace-offering-cum-decoy, appease or else slow the onslaught of those cannibal biker freaks. But no, the Cracker tells me, whatever goes down, ‘cludin me, just keep the rig on the road and goin’. And, he adds with a wink, ya ever call em dolls again, I ain’t responsible fer their actions. And that’s that. Goodbye, Cracker Mac. Son-of-a-bitch. Not everybody gets a burial. Cracker said that one, too.
Safety Belt rolls by outside, manmade badlands, scorched earth backdrop for a toxic odyssey. I journey further, keeping to the edge of the no-zone, no safer, really, in a big rig with nowhere to run. I wonder, as I chew on Cracker’s share of the beef jerky, what would happen if I just set the cruise control, logged to the coordinates of the onboard computer, and bailed. Truck knows the route better than I ever will, no doubt. That ever happen, Cracker, dust-crusted semi pulling into Cali, right into the BeefCo. Exchange nexus, hissing and pissing oil as it settled into a tired patient idle, no driver in sight? Here I am, look what I brung ya? Cracker has no answer, a hundred some-odd miles dead and gone.
Have to figure, most of my family, definitely Granny Plowshare, probably lots of others, several years since gone the way of Cracker and his comrades. Not the same way, mind, but rather poisoned as victims of the intentional fallout that ravaged and rendered uninhabitable this soulless stretch of contained Armageddon, what the mediators of buzzpop cleverly nicked the Safety Belt. Aftermath, many believed, of some government con to sever Texas and much of the Southwest from the precious resources of the Greater United Estates of AmeriCo. No way, I say, and some things Cracker drawled seem to confirm me. Fed’s haven’t got that kind of pull, not anymore, much less the imagination. Nah, only one bunch could pull off such a devilish deed and actually stand to bennie from it, what with their HQ smackdab in one of the superscrapers towering over downtown HousTex. Only Monolith. My boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, only a few more bosses removed than I’ve got room for.
Rumors abound about the Belt and its attendant dangers, but thus far, the reality far exceeds even my wildest expectations. Tumor dogs, polyploids, manimals, feral chickens, no such childhood terror fables are any match for a full contingent of flesh-hungry motorcycle devos sporting handmade weaponry and their previous victims’ skulls over the headlamps of their custom-jerried hogs. I soiled my only khakis and when I finally can’t stand my own smell, figuring even a sudden crossbolt’s worth the risk, I roll down the driver’s side window. Almost right away, flies find their way in start buzzing my lap. Night falls, I hold out that long, pull over and have a good wash, kill the rest of the first day’s whisky and do a jolt of megamphetamine before I get back on the ancient broken highway. No rest for the wounded.
Get the babbling loonies, wired to the eyesockets and feeling the amp tingle all the way to my split ends. No one to talk to and every shape-shift shadow out the window a potential agent of looming doom. The radio long since given over to white noise, the atonal squawk of music from the Big Bang Era. I have to talk to someone, so I direct my garbled, nonsensical, all-give-and-no-take commentary to the seared, scarred, charred, and chopped figurines that comprise Cracker’s morbid pantheon. Try with all sincerity to remember their names, the few he told me, make them up whenever memory doesn’t serve. So much for honoring the dead.
I become particularly chummy with the one called Smokin’ Hole Jimi, who got his spine twisted up like a corkscrew after encountering a high-voltage containment wire, a near-invisible monofilament of secreted, waiting death. I have to resist the urge to twist his legs back around the right way, since that seems to be all that’s troubling him.
Try to strike up a flirtation with the red-haired mine-blast amputee, Hypodermia, try to make her feel attractive, okay about her ruined self, but all I get for my valiant efforts is a steely scowl and sobering silence.
“C’mon, guys, the night is young and so are we. Let’s light em up and burn em down!”
“Jimi, you know how to rage on the stage, huh? Let’s tear the roof off this whole theater of operations!”
“Eddie Chunks. Special Ted. 2Fro. Give it up for the g-force, ya’ll! We need total all-out jam warfare deep inside the enemy perimeter! Can do?”
“Alright, I give up. Don’t say I didn’t try. They ain’t pinnin’ these morale problems on my red ass. No way. Hey, what was that? You guys see that? Nobody? I swear, I thought I saw…”
Flashing by, just for a second, less, a patch of almost ghostly white in the uninterrupted darkness. Not a rabbit, maybe a coyote, but on two legs, not four, and wearing, I think, a T-shirt. Slowing down, why, I don’t know, amp logic, probably, making me hit the wrong pedal, making me downshift and ease off on the blast even as the schedulator counts off how much more time I’m losing. And dumbass, drug-buttered me slowing down to manually check stats on a possible psycho hell-bent on slicing me up for Sizzlean. Eyeballing the passenger sideview, just a smudgy square of night and the reflection of the rig’s running lights. And then…something else, staggering, lurching, clawing at the sidepanels as makes its way towards the cab. I’m frozen, can’t even remember how to manage the shifter.
“What’s my move, Jimi?”
Jimi swings on his lifeline of nylon fishing twine, slowly twisting until his feet face me and his face faces the armory box.
Faculties snapping back into some approximation of action, I key the codelock and dig in the box for a suitable weapon as the whatever-it-is draws ever nearer. Grasping at the door handle now, desperate, wanting in. The top of a head appears, a round white dome, shaved not quite clean, scalp nicked here and there in the non-pro process. Then some eyes, the standard two-set, wide, wild, blue as they say the sky used to be, blue as it is in old vids, but how real is that? Peering in, frightened and curious and maybe completely deranged. A boy, I think, a kid, maybe thirteen, fourteen. Way out here? All alone? I point the White Noise gun at the face in the reinforced window and the eyes drop back out of sight.
Should haul ass, right? Throw it in motion and roll. Any sane man would. Like the Cracker. Shit, Cracker never would have stopped in the first. But I’m not the Cracker, and only questionably sane, this point, and more than any of this, I guess, I’m desperate for some company.
Sliding out the cab, all I can hear from everywhere is ticking, some kind of time-bomb ambience. The dash-Geiger, the schedulator rollover, the cooling engine—when’d I shut it off?–and little drips of fluid underneath the truck. And a more musical sound, the chirp-tick of what sounds like electric crickets. No boy, no being, somewhere far off a howl, and no moon even to bay at. A sudden scuffle as I bend down to peer into the shadowy gap between the undercarriage and the blacktop.
“Hey, hey,” I say, more abrupt than soothing, how I meant to be. “It’s okay, kid. I ain’t gonna zap ya.”
Silence. Kind of. Tick tick tick. Chee-urp. And some breathing, stereo mix, me and the kid.
Slowly, the kid slides out from under the truck, shakes off like a wet dog, and stands there, about ten feet down, just glaring. In one hand, a mean-looking blade, no handle, serrated edges and a kind of hook at the point. Holding it out, just a little, trying to look menacing. I’m unmoved. All fear gone, a wave of near-relief behind the megawatt ampage.
“Need a ride, kid?”
No reply, silent as the dolls inside, only the blue eyes aren’t so cold, so dead. Betray a hint of fear and plenty suspicion. Understandable.
“Can’t talk? What? C’mon, I gotta get movin’ here. And I could more or less use the company. What say?”
Kid lowers the knife, blade comes to rest alongside the seam of ragged Levi’s. Gesture of faith, I do the same, pointing the static stunblaster at cracked asphalt.
I try to feed the kid, try talking, get tight-lipped grunts and wild gestures in reply. Wild child, I figure, dumb bastard savage. How’s it stay alive? I wonder, but I don’t want to get too personal right off the bat. Kid keeps mute, staring at the broken little warriors, batting at them with grimy, blood-crusted fingertips.
“Leave her be,” I say, catching the kid trying to pull Hypo fom her dangling place. Suddenly protective, these stupid toys, but just because I don’t want to piss off the Cracker, dead though he’ll ever be.
The kid makes a motion, the universal gesture of for furtive scribbling, and I point at the glove box. Could get interesting. Kid fetches pen and notepad from amid the stowed rubbish, and I think I see something in there, something out of place maybe, but then the little door snaps shut on whatever it is. The kid there, scribbling away, then holding out the pad for me to read by the pale green dashglow.
“What ar thay?” it read.
“Hey, you speak the lingo. What up?”
More scribble. “I ain’t a idjit.” Written in near-perfect dialect.
“So I see. Anyway, long story, and not mine to tell.”
I started to wonder what the little punk’s trouble was, just mute or something grisly, like the tongue cut out.
“How come you don’t talk, kid?” Plunging on in.
The kid looks pensive for a long set of seconds, and kind of embarassed, too. Then shows me. A quick flash, lips pulled back in a grimace, revealing a crazy metal gridwork criss-crossing yellow-brown teeth, some missing, others just broken, some kind of botched backwater orthodonture. Thank the God of EZ Payments for my dental plan. No, thank Monolith. Evil fuckers sure take care of their own. Long as we stay useful. But this mess, shit, kid’s mouth like the site of a train derailment. Then it dawns.
“Wired shut, huh?”
Kid just nods.
“What, you break your jaw?”
Head shakes again, side to side this time, a negative. More scribble.
“Punnitchmint,” the note reads.
“Jeez, you musta been a bad boy.”
Kid looks puzzled, just for a sec, then furiously writes some more.
“I’M A GURL!!!”
And so she is. A puberty oversight. The slight lumps suddenly more visible beneath the soiled tee, finally making sense on that skinny frame. And the lashes around those beautiful blues, delicate, fluttery things, like insect legs.
“Sorry. My bad.”
The kid just shrugs.
“Got a name?”
“Andi,” she writes.
“Andi Monument,” the paper reads, once she’s added the surname.
“Johnny,” I say. “Johnny Throwdown.” Extending a friendly hand. “JT to my friends. What’d you do so bad, Andi?”
“Nasty, huh? Nasty how?”
She doesn’t write anything, just looks at her dirty hands in her lap, the pad and pen hanging loose and useless. A loss for words. Ashamed.
“C’mon, we’re all friends here. Jimi don’t mind. Do ya, Jim?”
The kid watches me funny.
“What’d ya say? Huh? Hypo wants to hear it.”
Heavy sigh and sluggish reluctance, Andi Monument writes down her crime for me.
I laugh at that, and Andi looks kind of horrified. “That it? Jesus X,” and she winces at the expression. “Where you from?”
She writes some more.
I let out a low whistle, impressed and sympathetic. Heritage Farms. I know a little bit about the place, one of the more high-profile Safety Belt enclaves. Real Right White Wing Fundamental cases, Xian paramilitary survivalist types, a town with room for 144,000 souls, not one more, a number of some Biblical relevance, though I’ve never known what. The unofficial Safety Belt census tags the actual population a damn sight lower, though.
“Sucks for you, kid.”
“No mor,” she writes. “I gott out.”
“So ya did. Wasn’t easy, I bet.”
Her eyes go wide, she tries a laugh, a kind of painful snorting behind her barbed wire braces. I have to like the kid.
If sunset was uproarious purples and pinks and oranges and yellows almost off the spectrum, dawn is ashgray and toxic, drab harbinger of some horrendous nuclear winter on its way. I pull over, finally, all caught up on the schedulator after an all-nite drive. Spec-check the fuel reserves, enough blastahol to get us out of the Belt, long as our luck holds. One eye on the horizon at all times, wary of any potential weirdness, perpetually ready to crest. Mind-mangled crashdown, flaming psychic tailspin in the wake of the previous eve’s overamp. Speedfreak apocalypse, this no-place ready-made for it.
Nourish the cows, twice around the rig to survey and assess yesterday’s damage, patch as best I can whatever places the armor plating didn’t hold. Shorted by those BeefCo. sons-a-bitchin’ underbosses, no long-haul trailer this, weak-walled and cheap-fixed, rusted out and weather-wrecked in many integral spots. Not nice, cutting corners on us, underbidding their own profit margin or whatever. Like I know shit about the big biz.
Dig in the auxiliary toolkit, come up with tin snips, needle-nose pliers, a hacksaw blade no longer than my fuck-you finger, a hi-intensity laser coil. Go to work on the kid, impromptu oral surgery, stopping short and refiguring my strategy whenever a tooth chips or her gums start bleeding. By the time I finish, Andi’s lips and cheeks all swollen and torn, four hours gone and the schedulator’s resumed its wage-garnishing countdown. No partner, no matter, every unmiled minute’s costing me a pretty penny, nickel-and-diming my company credit rating down toward the deep red.
Crack an icepak from the medkit after packing Andi’s maw with sterilizing gauze. Sure she means to thank me but she passes out from pain and exhaustion right after I administer a squeeze tube of oatmeal pabulum. Anyway, her mouth is out of prison but still on parole, she won’t have much to say out loud for a day or so. Let her sleep it off, take a quick midday nod for my own ass, re-amp and get right back to rollin’.
“Where to, Mac?”
The Cracker didn’t laugh at my intro line, or much else for that matter. Neither does Andi. Missing my friends and all that flip hipster cynic shit that passes for funny where I’m from. Toxic morning shadows rolled back when Andi was under the knife, the rest is just unrelenting waves of unfiltered solar heat, cottonmouth from inhaling sand.
Andi moans alot in her sleep, I get shot through with empathy pains just listening to her. Harsh life, this, dragged from some suburban somewhere that must have seemed normal compared to the ironically monickered confines of the Safety Belt. My first full-fledged foray and already I want to never come back, cash advances and Monolith prestige ratings be damned. Little girl looking like bad news from Auschwitz—I know that much history—and whoever did her like this, probably her own family, still in their skinhead-secured sanctum feeling smug and self-righteous about the deed. Rough justice meted out with ruthless impunity, wonder what they do to post-juvie offenders, and no social services or overreaching enforcement agencies to answer to. At least half of why they ran, that, lawless Aryan trash who answer only to some Anglo-sadist remake of the original Xian deity, a wrathful Old Testament redneck with a bushy beard and a sawn-off double-ought lightning rod. Yahweh re-envisioned as a race-baiting hate-monger, dumb, drunk, and hungry. BeefCo. even makes occasional runs up Heritage way, so the Ku Klux Klowns can help themselves to the bloody red feast that is just a wee part of their sacred entitlement. Glad this ain’t one of those gigs, hard to resist igniting the fuel tanks and running the whole flaming fleshload into their full-of-it midst. How’s this for some wrath of God, you race-baiting trailer trash halfwits? Such are my thoughts, brainbaked in the wasteland.
“Where ya headed?” I finally get to ask, whenever Andi wakes up, sometime around dusk, if the sky’s right, never mind my memory of events.
Wincing as she struggles to form words with her stuffed and puffy mouth. I indicate pen and paper, and in her delirium, even that proves a struggle.
“bIG Crak,” she manages to write.
“In thee Erth,” she adds.
“Forgive my idiocy. I ain’t read Revelations.”
Again, she looks slightly aghast, as if I’ve committed some heathenish act of treason. Scrunches up her brutalized features in concentration, at it with pen and paper again.
“mY frend Litl mAry tol mee. BIg kined ov hol. In thee grownd.”
Meteor Crater, all I can think of.
I scan the dashmap until I find it.
“Aha. You’re talkin’ the Grand Canyon.”
“The Big Crack, that’s what they call it. The Grand Canyon. It’s a National park. See?” I point it out on the screen. “Mighty goddamn big crack alright.”
Another quizzical look, kinda fearful, like she might bear witness to my almighty smiting at any moment.
“Oughta wire my jaw, huh?”
That gets a kind of smile, with accompanying wince. She gets a lightbulb look, scribbles more.
“Doe yew beeleev?”
She points at the roof of the cab, presumably beyond.
“Shit, I dunno. Not my area of expertise, really. Do I think there’s soemthin bigger’n all of this, all us, well, it sure seems that way sometimes. I mean, this mess couldn’t have just come from nothing. And I kinda hope it’s so. Do I think whatever it is gives shit one about our sorry asses? Doubt it. No more than we think about the fleas on a dog, probably less. Some people call it God, or Allah, or Jehova, or whatever. I call it Nature. The Universal Mind. Too big to figure it out in our measly little lifetimes. Too huge to even worry about.”
More than I’ve ever said out loud regarding my spiritual philosophy, and I can tell Andi isn’t quite following me. For a minute I’ve forgotten her age and the negligible educational standards of her homeplace. Although I’ve tried not to use too many of the Big Words.
“How bout you? You a believer? Must be. Gotta know God to wanna fuck him.”
She scowls at that, like a little kid who’s just had her first bite of spinach. Puts pen to pad in a quivery flurry.
“I don won du that.” Making an “eww gross” face for emphasis.
“Well, ‘Fuck God,’ right? Wha’d you mean?”
I smoke most of one of Cracker’s First Strikes while she composes her reply.
“Long story. Heritage people are chosen, right? Chosen for what? Where we live before was Ohio Canton. I had friends—lots! And Charlie my dog too. Daddy says all them people dead and gone to hell. To burn. Why? Not? Cause Daddy says they have bad thoughts and bad ways don’t love God don’t know him does Charlie I say he say no! Then when some people come and ask for food or water they get beat sometimes killed they burned the village with the dark people have a name for them I don’t think it’s nice Daddy did the burning to he says those people had the devil in them back but I don’t I think the devil with us!”
“I get ya. You don’t see why God would let all these shitty things go on and let his chosen few go off killing and hurting everyone that doesn’t fit within their narrow little Xian vision.”
She was even more confused. At that moment, I loved her, overcome with dumbstruck emotion in a way I never let myself get back home.
“You’re a smart little kid, Andi. What you’re talking about, they call it hypocrisy, babe. And it is fucking worldwide rampant. Human arrogance, manifest destiny, earthly dominion.”
Here came the flood. All the unbidden high dollar college scholarshit, the unformed notions gleaned from half-read books. My past playing footsy and grab-ass with the new ruined loser me and this poor kid’s sincerely struggling synapses, popgun epiphanies firecracking in her revelation headset.
“You’re right! You’re right! Don’t you get it? They lied to you! Not Fuck God. Fuck Daddy. In his big fat fortified whitebread ass, fuck him! Fuck him and all his Bible-bashing proto-Nazi uberminions!”
My words a cascading ack-ack-ack barrage of venom and righteous fury, worthy of the most evangelistic dogma, a drive-by crucifixion perpetrated with a verbal nailgun. Years of apathy-dampened hate-filled fervor bubbling to the surface, mindlessly misdirected at this helpless daughter who I suddenly loved and only wanted to help.
She was sobbing, hands trembling as she pushed the nib so hard into the pad that it punctured the sheet and the pen spurted , leaving an inky stigmata.
“I no I no I no I want to find the Big Crack where my friend went and throw myself in like her who want a world like this who want a world at all….”
And there at the edge of the Safety Belt, at the crossroads of nowhere and wherever, I braked the truck to a shuddery shrieking halt so sudden it got all the leftover cows going up back, mooing and lowing and stampeding in place. And I grabbed that sad and fractured little girl in my arms and kissed her misshaven head, no doubt another symbol of her undeserved punishment, and I cried with her, cried for her, and Grammy Plowshare and the Cracker Mac Daddy and all the damned and doomed and dangling action figures swingin’ from their nylon nooses all around us and for everything they meant to a dead man I hardly knew and it felt so miserably wretchedly fucking good that for just one moment awash in the poison-painted late afternoon Safety Belt sky I felt like maybe God finally really had reached down and smacked the back of my head the way my own Dad used to whenever I spouted something vulgar or just plain dumb, like, wake up, asshole, this ain’t just about you. For a moment only, though. Then I pulled my shitpile back together and got wiseass all over again.
Had to go into the mainframe to reroute the itinerary, convince the truck’s computer brain that there was a damn expedient reason to cut South. Lucky for me, Cracker still had the manual. Unplugged the schedulator, to make it shut up more than anything. Two major violations, already a flashfax would be beaming over to payroll, and I didn’t give shit one. I was quit as they come, and they could hunt my raggedy red half-breed ass to the farthest reaches of this “massive bastard planet,” far as I was concerned, looking for what I took off em, and they probably would. That’s Monolith’s style, after all, and I hear they’re used to be something called the Mafia that did biz the same way, only those guys had colorful names and distinctive faces. No matter. At that moment of stunning universal clarity, when my decision got made, whether by me or for me, I wasn’t so sure I wouldn’t just throw my own ass off the lip of that monster crevasse right behind little Miss Monument. Now I have a better idea.
When I went into the glovebox for the manual, I found something, an object buried in amidst the chargeless batteries and spent shell casings and empty ammo clips and the archaic paper maps and scraps of tissue and ignored Regional Defense citations and all the irrelevant detritus of Cracker’s happy mad road life. Another figure, if you didn’t guess, unmarred, unscarred, not a match burn or twisted plastic limb. All done up in cowboy camo, some little demolition dude, tricked out for some personal Armageddon, grinning wicked. After I let the cows go, which took some doing, dumb, reluctant beasts, fated for the food table either or, I hung the uncanny plastic likeness in a place of honor, in the midst of his warrior pantheon. Couldn’t bring myself to bloody him up, tweak him into some fractured lifeless version of the man, rather remember him the way he was, vital, fiery, all piss and blastahol. Hope he don’t mind.
The vast chasm is just across the way form here, filled with orange and purple and all the other colors of the morning sun. Now all I have to do is convince Andi that there’s a better way to get to the bottom of that Big Crack than going over the side. Not easier, not as fast for sure, but much more of a view, or at least more time to take it all in. I hope she’ll go along with it. We’ve made it this far.
I seem to remember hearing that there’s Indians living down there, or used to be. If they’re still around, if the Crack in the earth hasn’t swallowed them up. I don’t know if they’re my people, can’t remember, or if they’re some old enemy tribe, from back when those things used to matter. Whoever, whatever is down there, at the absolute bottom of the world, I only hope they’re willing to teach me something more than what I already think I know.