6 years ago
Monday, April 14, 2014
Bill Logan didn't smoke cigarettes; he drank Diet Coke. It was his canteen. He carried the plastic bottle around with him like a smoker carries smokes. He was the weirdest guy I knew because he didn't get high and he didn't drink and he didn't smoke though all his friends' world revolved around just that. He was the weirdest guy, because in our world of baggy clothes and chained wallets and mid-nineties acid-fueled vogue, he held fast to 1986 southern suburbia; to a bubble that encompassed the polar opposites of all that was around him.
And there was the ninja spy thing.
His code name was Nightshadow. He was fed missions in the mysterious way ninja spies are sent missions, and they were things he couldn't tell us about, of course, but here and there he would let it slip that they were mostly assassinations. In the greater Red Bank area. We would be sitting around watching TV or just getting high and Bill would get up and bounce into one of the back rooms like he just remembered something he had to do. (Mind you, Bill did not do any drugs. At all. Ever. I don't think he really even had any concept of what drugs did what. He once tried to commit suicide by swallowing half a bottle of Advil.) After a few minutes, he would come bounding back out, shirt tale flying in the breeze, Diet Coke bottle in hand, and as he slid the other hand into his sliver of pocket to pull out his keys he says, "I got to run out. Back later." and the door slammed and then the grind and roar of the car engine and the squeal of tires.
An hour later he would return and he wouldn't tell any of us where he had gone or what he had done.
No one really asked any questions about it. Just sort of accepted it. This whole Nightshadow thing was a thing, as far as any of us could tell, that Bill really believed, to the point of acting on, creating an entire history for. He wouldn't tell you outright, but it slipped out of him here and there like the secret truth slips from a person who has no reason to convince anyone else of its validity. I don't think any of us were prepared to try and talk him out of this fantasy world. In part because it was a tiny bit scary, but mostly because so what. If he wants to think he is a secret ninja spy named Nightshadow pulling off assassinations for the CIA, then let him.
He seemed harmless.
He was tall and skinny. Wiry wound tight and lanky. He loved fast cars and karate and acidwashed jeans. His shirt was always unbuttoned and he had one of those dented chests boys have when they can't put on weight. His hair was long and curly and dry and everywhere, but kept at bay with the black Slayer ball cap I don't ever remember seeing him without. It was parked backwards and set lightly on him like a crown. His jeans were tight and his puffy white Reeboks loose. Not always untied. He wore big, wire-framed glasses with the slightest tint the color of a bruised peach so his eyes were more of a shadow than really there. Small, murky divots in his skull to let a little light in. I don't think I ever saw his eyes. Couldn't tell you the color or the shape, only the way in which the shadow of them thinned when he smiled like he did, pursing his lips trying not to expose any teeth; the bruised peach shadow of them squinching into almond slivers.
In those days there was a lot of routine. A routine that revolved around getting high and not much else. Including working or paying rent. As a consequence, most of us virtually lived with Bill, which is to say with his grandmother, in the tiny two bedroom apartment they inhabited in the never-prosperous town of Red Bank, Tennessee. Not that his grandmother liked this arrangement, but none of us ever asked. I just sort of found myself in this situation on the few occasions that I was sober. It did not occur to me that it should be any thing else.
The old lady worked during the day, which worked well for the rest of us. We came home when she was gone, slept a few hours, got high, then were out the door by the time she got back. Stayed out all night, then venture back somewhere around sunrise. Day after day. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
At the time, I was living out of my car. If there was nothing going on I would simply park it in the lot behind the apartment building and get high and sleep. Turn on the radio and barely exist for hours on end. Like a proper vampire, I would never go to the apartment unless I was invited.
Most of the time, no one was there at night. We would switch out nights when Bill was home so we could sleep in the comfort of indoors, television, and a home-cooked meal. Otherwise it was my car, or the floor of someone else's bedroom or where ever we happened to pass out. Where ever Bill happened to get us. For he was the sober one, always ready to drive his little fast riceburner where ever the party might be. Smiling so he didn't show any teeth and blasting the radio and burning up the street on his prized Pirelli tires.
Now the story part of this story takes place during the summer, but I forget the year or the month or the day. Suffice to say it was generally hot outside.
When Bill knocked on the window to wake us up, it was dark. In those days that was my only real reference of time. Light and dark.
Jay and I were passed out in the front seats of the Datsun stationwagon that was my home. We had parked in the lot. We rolled up the windows and smoked a blunt and next thing I knew Bill was tapping at the passenger-side window. His face was distorted through the spectral droplets of condensation that had collected on the window, the amber streetlights behind him. I was still stoned. I knew I wasn't dreaming but I also knew I didn't know what the hell was going on. When Jay rolled down the window I thought it was a big mistake.
"What the hell are y'all doing?" Bill asked and I'm pretty sure either Jay or I only grunted, and then he said, "Let's go for a ride."
I got in the front seat and Jay laid down in the back. The roaring of the engine and squealing of tires upset me. It had to be very late, but also I was used to it. That was just how Bill drove. He was also a big fan of the emergency break while going in reverse down an interstate onramp, but thats another story.
We were on the highway heading east. The engine was screaming and the lights whizzing by. I'm not sure if it was the two boys in the truck that started the race, or Bill, but I reckon that is of no real consequence.
It was a huge truck set so far up on its mud tires, Bill's tiny little hatchback could have just about fit under it. It was shiny and dent free and a very menacing shade of midnight purple. It even had smokestacks craning up from behind the cab that belched a black fog as the driver gunned the engine.
We were just about the only cars on the highway; careening along at eighty/ninety miles an hour. Both car and truck swerving back and forth. Engines revving. Black smoke. Grinding little riceburner. Jay wakes up and somehow he is just automatically laughing with me. Bill doesn't laugh. The closest he comes is a grin that mashes the round shadows of his eyes into the almond slivers. Laughing laughing. The boys in the truck laughing. Their chests puffing and their shoulders rising up and down like how cartoon men chuckle. Swerving close. One of us inching ahead and then the other. Hundred miles an hour at god-knows-what-time. It didn't occur to me to think better of the situation. To see it as dangerous in the least. I was still very stoned. But I guess the boys in the truck weren't. Or not enough. Or the way Bill swerved the little car against the truck so close I could have reached out and kissed the immaculate midnight purple paintjob. Their smiles and the jolts of laughter that fluffed their chests and caused their shoulders to bounce like cartoon chuckleheads, all of it became very rigid and pointed. They sat upright. The driver was paying more attention to the road. He was driving a lot straighter. And Bill just swerved on into the truck. It was only a trick of light and asshole-clenching fear that made it look like the side mirror crunched into the midnight purple paintjob. Even though the window was rolled up, I could hear the boys in the truck yell simultaneously, "Hey," and then one of them: "Motherfucker!" and then the driver is pointing at us, at me, looking me in the eye and I can see in his eyes a version of the fear I feel in mine.
"Alright, Bill, you're pissing them off."
Only the grin. The sliver of shadow for eyes.
"That's enough, man." Jay says from the back seat, and I agree, "Yeah."
Bill swerves again, and he is actually hissing behind the grin that is getting so big he has to fight it in order not to show his teeth.
The boys in the truck or both pointing and "motherfucker" and looking me in the eye and I just shrug like I have nothing to do with it because I have nothing to do with it, and the pointing turns to flipping me the bird and "I am gonna whip yr ass," but Bill isn't afraid of them or their truck and the threats just egg him on so he swerves again and thank God the boys in the truck take the Rossville Boulevard exit because Bill didn't cut back at the last minute like he had been.
It was Jay and I's turn for a "Motherfucker."
"Don't worry," Bill says. "I can catch up."
And right there in the middle of the highway he slams on the breaks and cuts the wheel hard. I grab the shitgrip and slam my eyes shut and clinch up my asshole like I do when he does the thing with the emergency break going backwards. All there is is the screech of scorched rubber and the globular flash and pass of spinning light against my closed eyelids and either Bill or Jay growl out an "oooooooh shiiiiiiit" that is cut short by the hard jostle and bounce of us hitting something or something hitting us and I know the feeling I felt next which is the feeling you get at the moment when the wreck you think is about to happen is actually happening and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels like silence. It feels like fate. Like letting go. But there is no breaking glass. There is no dizzying loss of which way is up. No incisive pain that swells then numbs then feels like the worlds deepest bruise.
I open my eyes and we are driving again. Somehow we are on Rossville Boulevard and Bill is pointing, "There they are. Told you I could catch up."
Somehow I missed the exit ramp. The merging onto the boulevard. All of it.
"Forget it, man," Jay says. "Its over. Slow down. Cops."
"Yeah," I agree.
Bill gets right up on the truck's ass doing 60/70 miles an hour. Every time Bill tries to get around, the truck swerves in and cuts him off. The boys don't stick out their arms to flip us off. They don't tap their breaks to back us off. I get the impression they are running for their lives.
"Come on, come on, come on," Bill hisses over and over trying to maneuver around the truck.
"Its cool, man," I say. "Just leave them alone." I am trying not to sound scared and stoned, but cool like I don't really care any more.
Bill stays right on them all the way down the boulevard, both of us blowing red lights, the swerving battle to get side by side. When the truck pulls off hard into a side road, even Bill is unwilling to try and follow.
Again, "Don't worry, I can catch up."
I think about saying no, but then Bill pulls to the right, too hard, and jumps a curb and then another and the jouncing pushes out exasperated breaths from both Jay and I that sound a lot like, "Jee-Zuss".
The buildings and the lights thin out as Bill is looking for a cross street. All around us is darker and darker. And then there are no street lights and no buildings at all. Only black fields and we decide we have wondered into Chickamauga Battlefield National Park. For whatever reason we have to have a conversation on whether we should turn around or not. But then the fog came in.
It was light at first. Just a mist we noticed as we decide whether we should turn around or keep on going, but then it thickens into a smoke that we cannot see through. It is right up on us. Right against the windows. With the headlights unable to penetrate, we are in a grey, illuminated shell of smoke that doesn't even extend to the end of the car's hood.
And just as mysteriously as it appeared, it dissolved, the grey mist, leaving us idling down a suburban street lined in houses and neatly-crimped lawns and vinyl siding and yard gnomes. Evenly-spaced trees. Smooth asphalt under the creeping wheels of Bill's car.
What isn't there is a single light. Only the car's headlights. There are no posts along the street. None of the houses, vaguely hidden behind manicured shrubbery and american flags and those ducks on sticks with four wings that are supposed to look like they are flapping when there is a wind, none have a light in inside. No blue hum of televisions. No lamps. No little pinpricks of green or red or blue coming from VCRs or alarm clocks or blenders or stoves. A town of sleeping, well-kept boxes with cold, black hearts.
I was the one who said it first.
"Where the fuck are we?"
Silence and slow breath was everyone's answer.
Bill maintained his composure in his slouch and the way he held onto the wheel with one hand and fiddled with the plastic Diet Coke bottle between his legs with the other. The way he let his mouth hang loose. The shadows he has instead of eyes. The slight tint in his glasses more sinister.
Jay peered out from the backseat, his stoned, unsure face between our shoulders, illuminated by the myriad lights wafting from the dashboard. I could hear him breathing in my left ear in rhythm with the idling pull of the engine's grind.
He was the second one to say it.
"Where the fuck are we?"
He was the first one to notice the sign. The minacious yellow diamond at the end of the square.
We came to an intersection and noticed, without words, that there weren't any street signs. Nothing designating where we had been or where we were going. No words. Only a collective sigh and the added charge in the car like when hope is dashed but you don't want to be the one to say it in case somebody else still has some untainted hope in them that will engender an idea of how to get the fuck out of what you have all found yourself in. The only new idea had was mine and it was the idea that the little square we were passing through, with diagonal parking spaces and windowed store fronts (no business names, mind you), and parking meters, and a wide, rhombus-shaped swath of asphalt all around us looked just like the town square in the movie Children of the Corn.
And I said, "Whoa, this looks just like Children of the Corn."
And Jay said, "Shit, look."
And he pointed to the minacious yellow diamond posted at the end of the square that read: LOOK OUT FOR CHILDREN
And Bill said, "Fuck!" and gunned the engine.
Burning rubber and the grind of the engine and we are thrown into the back of our seats and we are hoping to christ we do not see any fucking children.
Down another lightless street with crisp, black-hearted houses. No signs. No posts. Smooth asphalt under the tires. The cold, wafting light of the dashboard seems cruelly portentous. Soul-sucking. Horrorshow. Bill announces our uneasiness with the roar of the engine. Little riceburner unyielding at god-knows-what hour.
Across another unmarked intersection into another square and I see a light. It cuts through the cold dark from a brick alcove just ahead and I yell, "Stop!" and Bill slams on the breaks and Goddamnit! he does stop. It is all I can do to keep from eating dashboard with one hand and keep Jay from flying through the windshield with the other. Squeal of tires. "Jee-Zuss" breath. And Fuck. We are face-to-face with a Police Station with Police Cars parked out front and I am definitely not stoned any more.
The silence and the breaths in the car say, "What the fuck do we do?" and it says, "Where the fuck are we?"
I say, "Fuck it."
I open the door, and I do stop and I think twice about the thought I have, so I say it out loud in hopes that one of my friends will tell me the idea is stupid and don't do it.
"I'm going to go in there and ask for directions. I don't give a fuck."
Neither of them say anything until Jay says, "Yeah."
I have to psyche myself up as I am walking toward the light. Toward the building that says Police Station. It still have the screech of tires in my ears. The ass raising up and down the streets of this little where-the-fuck-ever town. I try to catalogue what drugs might be in the car. Do I look stoned?
I feed myself the necessary bullshit. I tell myself, these are police. They are public servants. We haven't done anything wrong. We are just lost. They will understand. They will help. They will be nice...
The first thing that went wrong is that I looked at one of the police cars, at the door where usually there is the badge and above it the word POLICE and below it the name of a city or county and somewhere around there TO PROTECT AND SERVE. I saw the badge and I saw the word POLICE, but nowhere was there the name of a city. Nowhere was there the name of a county. Just POLICE. No designation of who it might be protecting and serving. I looked back at the car and I could see the two faces of my friends in the cold dashboard light. They didn't look scary, though. They looked worried. They needed me to get help so I let the little bit of weirdness with the generic POLICE car pass.
The second thing that went wrong, and after this it is all very rushed and terrible and quite possibly the most frightened I have ever been so forgive me if it is hard to understand what I say. The second thing is I went to the door, under the light, and I pulled on the door but it was locked. I pulled again to make sure and it was still locked so I looked in and inside was all darkness. I could see the faint trace of a hallway and I remember seeing a plant like an aloe or a fern in the faint reaches of the darkness, but nothing else. I thought, "This is a police station. There HAS to be someone here. Someone has to man the phones." So I knock on the door. Nothing. I knock again and then I can feel the tingle run over my face and down my throat and down that weird part of your back that is connected to your asshole that is like an exposed, sparking conduit for fear. I feel this because I know I am about to bang the shit out of this door and yell like a madman and demand a fucking cop come out there and help me right fucking now.
Well, I didn't get a chance to yell anything, because in that ridiculously timed moment as my fist is gathering speed and is fully dedicated to banging the shit out of the door but hasn't quite made contact, is still within the grace that lies before the point of no return, the light goes out.
The fucking light goes out.
Generic police car. No signs. No lights. A consuming grey mist.
LOOK OUT FOR CHILDREN.
A ran back to the car and I jumped in and I slammed the door and Bill says, "Fuck this! I'll get us somebody."
He slammed down the gas pedal before he released the clutch so when he released the clutch the wheels spun out a banshee scream of burning rubber. Grinding riceburner engine. Thrown into the back of our seats. The tiny car launches across the asphalt and shoves "Jee-Zuss" breath out of our chests as it hops the curb into the parking lot of the police station and Bill throws the wheel hard right and burning rubber and back to second gear and, at god-knows-what-hour, freshly completely un-fucking-stoned, we are actually doing donuts in front of the police station We are almost slamming into generic police cars. We are screaming at the top of our lungs because holy fucking shit and the terror of weirdness has become the terror of imminent destruction and imminent incarceration and as if he knows exactly what he is doing Bill straightens the wheel, burning rubber, grinding engine, "Jee-Zuss" breath, up and over another curb and down a black-hearted house street and he slams the car into fourth and he says, "Come and get it."
He actually fucking says that.
Down the street.
Breath that has escaped death.
It takes three or four unmarked, lightless blocks for us to even realize we are not being chased. Darkness ahead. Darkness behind. All that furious fucking ridiculous deadly chaos did NOTHING!
"Just fucking go," I said, and, "Go straight. We have to run into something. We'll end up somewhere."
As much as you may be thinking it, I am not making any of this up. Its exactly as I remember it. I feel like I need to tell you that I am not making it up, because when I tell you what happened next you will think I am full of shit.
The mist. The thick, grey fog. It settled on us again. Right up on the window and the headlights couldn't penetrate it. Couldn't even see past the car hood. Only silence and breath, because what the fuck are you going to say? Slow breath and dashboard light. Jay right between our shoulders. Bill and his slouch and one hand on his Diet Coke bottle.
And just as before, the fog lifted and then in two blocks, we were at the intersection with Rossville Boulevard.
The weirdest thing that ever happened to me happened with the weirdest guy I ever knew.
We told the story for weeks until all of our friends had heard it. But I don't think Bill ever told it. He smiled so that he didn't show his teeth. The small round shadows where his eyes were supposed to be squinted into thin almond shadows. He nodded his head. But it was always Jay and I doing the telling, taking turns and changing it around and swearing it was all true.
As usually happens, we faded out of each other's lives. There was a real bad scene one night at Bill's grandmother's apartment where we were all sitting around getting high and something happened in the back room and Bill is punching holes in the walls and throwing furniture and his grandmother gets pushed to the ground and his sister gets hit and the police show up and we all disband. That was about the last time I saw Bill.
The last time I see him is months or years later at my friend John's house. I had heard about the car wreck. I had heard that the homeless lady had been hit and that she had died and Bill had been in jail for a while. When I saw him at John's he was playing the police evidence video from the wreck where they were documenting the damage to his car. He kept replaying the part that showed the busted windshield, because along the edges of the body-sized hole in it, just along the jagged edge of the shattered safety-glass, you could see bloody strands of hair caught in the cracks in the glass.
I stayed long enough to get the dope I had come to buy, and left, and never saw Bill again, had never heard about him until I heard that once he got out of jail after being acquitted of murder, because the lady he killed was homeless and there was no one pressing charges and she had been jaywalking, he had married a stripper with some wildly ridiculous stripper name that I've forgot and moved to Atlanta and lived happily ever after.
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