Daily Turmoil

“It’s the End of the World” (Standalone Short Fiction; Formerly Part of Novel.)

Skipping class on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, driving through town and over the bridge and into the backdrop of society on the same road running along the same stretch of river sitting in the backseat of Biff’s Land Rover drinking a twenty-four ounce can of some energy drink mixed with twelve-percent alcohol – a bit harsh on the throat but it sure packs a big punch with a quick burst of energy and intoxication after the first one and on to the second – on a blunt ride hitting corners at sixty miles an hour, trying to avoid crashing headfirst into that tree right up ahead which we gratefully do and that’s when Tim tells him to slow the fuck down and Biff, like a good little boy, complies leaving us all alive making me wonder why. “You’re beautiful,” Tim says as he passes the blunt back to me. “What?” I reply, loud and direct. He looks back at me again, says “I’m singing the fucking song man,” and I’m left with a sorry-ass “Oh.” Stoned and temporarily incapacitated, I put my head back in the plush leather seat and close my eyes, listening to the music and not the voices in my head.

When I open my eyes all I see are clouds of smoke courtesy of some giant rips Biff took from a small G-bong. Dan, sitting next to me in the back, has been ranting and raving for the past ten, fifteen minutes about the current state of our country’s political affairs – something he has always been passionate about. He must have run out of fuel because he suddenly stops and then Biff and Tim talk about a new TV show Californication which Tim tells me I need to check out, that it’s right up my alley. I tell him I’ll look into it and then Biff veers off the side of the road onto an abandoned river-lot not that far from the other one. Suddenly, I feel very sick.

“What are we stopping for?” I ask him. He opens the door, turns to me and says that he needs to take a piss, which apparently everybody thinks is a good idea and a moment later I’m sitting in the car alone. I look around the lot next to a couple other vacant ones – lots that’ll be empty until Spring rolls around. The house is small but the property big. I get out of the Rover and head towards the yard covered in leaves that crumple underneath my feet as I walk.

Biff finds a football next to the shed where he just took a piss and he, Tim and Dan toss it back and forth. “Heads up!” Tim yells and I instinctively catch the ball that, if I had acted a millisecond later, would’ve hit me straight in the face breaking my nose. “Thanks for the warning,” I say, tossing the ball back to him with a scowl on my face and a smirk on his. They continue to throw the ball and after a couple minutes of me staring at them in complete boredom, I look to the river and despite every instinct in me saying “DON’T!” I trot down the yard and onto the dock, old and rotten pieces of wood creaking beneath my feet. The dock is a solid twenty feet and at the end of it has a bench – much like this lake on a campground I went to with Bill, my cousin, when we were young. After a slow walk I put my hands in my pockets and zip up my hoodie, the wind coming off the water brisk, a bit icy.

The sky cloudy, the weather dreary – much like life itself. Such a dark, dismal existence. The countdown to the end of time, I think. And almost as if my thoughts were spoken out loud, The Three Stooges converge upon the dock talking about the end of the world. I sit there and listen to them, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer that Dan hands to me.

“It’s not unwise to think that this is the beginning of the end,” Dan says. “I mean, that’s all they talk about on the news. The Swine? Please, it’s a 21st Century version of The Black Plague … only this time I don’t know if we’ll all survive. Rebuild …” He looks up at the gloom overlooking us. “Economic downfall is inevitable, and the American voters can hope for brighter days all they want. Fucking Change? And the crazed idea that the black man’s gonna fix it all up, make everything better? Please, it’s all bullshit.” His cigarette ash grows longer than the filter before he tosses it in the slow-moving river, hissing as dies.

“The end,” Biff says. “Huh … isn’t that what the Mayans … the Mayan-Nostradamus thing? I think I saw something about that on the History channel.”

“Oh fuck off,” Tim says. “When was the last time you watched the History channel? No fucking way.” The veins in Tim’s neck look as if they’re going to pop, his forehead perspiring and the skin of his face is tight as if he’d gotten a facelift – those perfect white teeth clenched together with the muscles in his cheeks stretching his features back. How Tim could go from 0 – 60 in less than five seconds has always amused me. Tim Ruthers, Clinical Badass. One fight he was in with a dude 6’3 or taller, a jacked-up linebacker for RBU’s sorry-ass football team coming in at no less than 280 pounds, ended in black eyes and acute renal failure after Tim (an average 5’10, 5’11 and 160 pounds) connected with a series of harsh blows to the abdomen after initially surprising the linebacker with a head-butt hard enough to break his nose and blacken his eyes. That was when we were just Sophomores. Since then, I’ve been able to read his anger quite well and though it looks as if he is heated enough to knock Biff out for no real reason, I know it’s just Tim being Tim. “Biff,” he continues “watching the fucking History channel.” He takes a cigarette from Dan who lights it. “Unbelievable,” he says, laughing.

“It’s no bullshit,” Biff defends. “I read all about it.”

Ohhh, and now you’re reading.” Tim winds up and throws the football as far as he can into the river. “Somebody please tell him to shut the fuck up.”

“Whatever,” Biff says with puppy-dog eyes while he does what he does best: rolls a joint.

“Nostradamus has nothing to do with the Mayans,” Dan says. “And I’m not sure if it was the Mayans that predicted this either.”

“Oh, who gives a fuck?” Tim says, and then the four of us all get quiet as we pass the joint back and forth watching ripples in the river, the surrounding trees casting long shadows on the water.

Nobody says anything for some time until, finally, Dan sighs and starts walking back to the car, Tim and Biff in tow, and after looking at the water for another moment – at one point I think I hear the faint voice of a young girl screaming “Help!” – I retreat back to the Rover and on the way home, ironically that song by REM (or is it REO? I’m not sure) “End of the World” plays on the radio and perhaps it’s a calling, a sign – maybe this is the end of the world; or is it just life and the way shit is?

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Daily Turmoil

Less than Thirty (Prologue for next book)

It was published by St. Martin’s Press in late 2013 although it failed to garner anything more than a handful of negative reviews until mid-2014 when the planned shipment of 50,000 copies of mass market paperback were cancelled due to the poor sales of its initial hardcover run. As per my contract I kept my measly ten grand advance and instead of readying for the book tour in the summer, I continued work on my sophomore effort – knowing it was my last chance (the publishing industry is much different than it used to be; decades ago publishers had their writer’s backs and stayed with them, fought for them – they were a team) – to make an impression on the world. I’d been working on the second one since early 2011, while I was still looking for a publisher for my debut, and after overcoming a six-month bout of writer’s block I figured it all out, dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s then shipped out to Sonny Meghan (my editor at St. Martin’s). The summer’s sun shined bright and I decided to take a break from it all, stop worrying about the incoming criticism from Sonny and all the other bigwigs at the publisher and leave Manhattan for a few weeks.

I spent the fourth of July weekend in Atlantic City staying in a free suite at Bailey’s playing the poor man’s Blackjack table drinking complimentary White Russians and basking on the beach wearing a pair of swim trunks from Banana Republic and knockoff Versace sunglasses I bought on the boardwalk trying to tan and reading the newest issue of GQ. During Happy Hour at the beachside bar I met a pretty little college thing who bought me two shots of Fireball liquor, and an hour later we were in my suite fucking in the big bathroom while housekeeping cleaned the bedroom.

The sex was good and I sure as hell needed it – for some reason I’d forgotten how important mid-afternoon pleasures can be. Afterwards, I laid back on the freshly-made bed and watched what’s-her-name scramble about looking for her panties and once she found them and dressed, she held out her hand for a tip. I laughed, suggested dinner and a T-Pain concert that night. Fortunately for me I didn’t lose it all downstairs, so when her pimp (6’5, black and wearing a mean old grin) showed up out of nowhere and I realized the fun was over and it was time to pay for the games, I was able to wrangle up enough cash and chips to settle my debt with a meager black eye and only one broken rib – oh-so lucky.

Not much longer my phone rang. It was the publisher, not Sonny – just a generic-sounding voice who in less than twenty seconds told me about all the miraculous work I’ve been doing, that I was much appreciated but (there’s always a but), that St. Martin’s was going in a different direction and I just didn’t fit into their new corporate ideals. What the fuck? But it was what it was and what could I, Christian Kane, failed journalist and poor novelist, do about it? The answer: not a damn thing.

I mean, who am I really?

Christian Kane, the once-hyped “new kid on the block” of the literary scene by The New York Times as they put it after they’d gotten an advanced copy of my underwhelming-selling-debut? (Yes, you read that right – even a positive review from The New York Times didn’t help the book.) Or was I Christian Kane, son, who put his mother in a nursing home at only age 50 and who lives some two-hundred miles away just so I can use it as an excuse not to visit? Or, better yet, am I Christian Kane, the “recovering addict” who put down the China-White just to pick up the “other” white – again?

Who the fuck am I? Who the fuck are any of us really? And, shit, does it make any difference anyway?

 

Daily Turmoil

Island (Flash Fiction)

It’s the smell of stale cigarette smoke and the lingering presence of pot in the air that first wakes me up. The sun that creeps through a crevice in the curtains maybe a close second. Two near-empty bottles of vodka and a litter of beer cans line the floors, tables and the trash cans overflow with spilled ashtrays and bloodied tissue paper – empty baggies that once contained more than a nights supply. To the left of the couch two naked kids are splayed out on the floor. The boy’s face is in the girl’s vagina and his ass appears black and blue all over sprinkled with some blood on top – which I could only assume is a messy menstruation cycle gone horribly wrong. Look around the room and see a splash of dark paint covering the walls. This’ll come off the credit card, I think. After I tug at myself for a while and realize I’m not coming anytime soon I get up and walk to the curtains and swing them open watching morning waves crash while I smoke a cigarette and let my erection disappear. A breezy fall wind from the tornado set to touch upon the island later today steers me back inside and I walk past the motionless kids and into the bedroom where I partake in last night’s leftover blow and then look to the bed to see the love of my life but she isn’t peacefully sleeping. She’s not even here. Memories more mixed than a jigsaw puzzle slowly unfold and the vault that contains yesterday’s snapshots creeps open.

Back in Junior High I missed curfew when my six-dollar Wal-Mart watch failed to conform to society’s bi-annual time switch. Seventy lashes courteous of good ole’ Dad and his rusty old belt taught me never to trust clocks again so I watch impatiently and unconvinced as the digital switches over to the next hour. Sit, chill, wait … nothing. I fumble for a smoke, light up and watch the empty bedroom cloud over. One minute switches to the next and I’m glad that Dad educated me on the importance of time in this world. The ash grows larger than the cig and I end up ditching it inside her half-empty Snapple bottle. By the time the telephone rings I’m too overcome with anxiety, unable to get a grip and compose myself and I end up taking a spill and smack my head against the nightstand, further distancing myself from this Hell we call life.

Shrouded in darkness, confused, head pulsing. Ring…ring…ring. Every three seconds, one seemingly louder than the next. Finally I snatch up the receiver and after a moment of hesitation, say “Hello?”

Nothing.

“Hello?” the voice says over a static line hard to hear – the result of a bad connection. “Morning sir,” the voice continues, this time a bit clearer. “This is your 9 A.M. wakeup call. As you know, checkout’s at 11. Y’all be cautious getting off this island sir. Storm’s s‘pose to be movin‘in real thick right ‘round noon.”

I manage a weak thanks before the line goes dead and I’m left lying on the floor, the fog from outside manifesting itself inside – all further judgment is hopeless. And then I remember my love: dirty blonde hair wavering in the wind wearing her high-school cheerleader hoodie and her glasses – the non-prescription-slashawrist-emo-screamin’-shits). Her lips: a voluptuous pink, tweaked and smirking. Her eyes: a traffic signal saying floor it fella’. The green-light, the go-ahead. But proceed with caution because as much as I’d love to say it all started just a few days ago, whatever nerve that triggers that primal instinct to carry out the madness in me – in all of us really – began long before the Internet-crazed, sex-starved, fucked-up nature of this shit-filled dump.