Sunday, August 21, 2016

Frank Jagger THE SNOW MAN

Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


By R. Peterson

Throughout history, the human race has danced before,  sometimes during, but never after tragedy unless it is perceived to be minor. An orchestra reportedly played cheerfully on deck as the RMS Titanic slipped below the icy water of the north Atlantic in mid-April 1912; it was their last performance. America in the 1920’s was a roaring party, too amazed by a century born of stunning technology to stress about prohibition. People moved faster than ever before and they flew through the air and cavorted all night long in private clubs called Speakeasies. The Wall Street crash at the end of October 1929 was but a shot in the dark, meant to scare away the bears from a bull market. The music was still playing seven weeks later … you just had to know where to look – or listen. The banks all still had plenty of money … they just didn’t exactly have it in their vaults.

It was two nights before Christmas; or, if you wanna be a putz about it, the night before Christmas Eve. Homicide Detective Winze shoved me toward a chair that had been broken and put together a dozen times. He closed his door. His friends, and some of his enemies, refer to him as Dutch. I call him lots of things behind his back, but always Harvey to his face because, as I often remind him, it was the name of a favorite dog I lost right after I moved to Illinois. Harvey hates me … and the name his mother printed on his birth certificate. I was obviously in his cluttered downtown office, complete with a dried-out Christmas tree lurking in the corner, because he needed something.
“Not all the fish inside Under Your Hat ended up on ice yesterday,” Dutch informed me as he lit a cheap Autokraft Box cigar that smelled like a dog turd and then blew the harsh smoke in my face. “Victor Albert Di Pasqua was in the basement getting more hair tonic when the music started. He missed the Lake Michigan prom by thirty seconds.”
I didn’t know anyone had been killed in the mob-controlled barber shop, I only steal my neighbor’s newspaper on Mondays, but I wasn’t about to say so. Vick Itchy Fingers Di Pasqua was a free-lance hit man for Capone, Moran and a dozen other gangsters. The hair tonic was most likely one-hundred eighty proof gin smuggled in to the Windy City by snow plow from Canada. I’d been to the lousy clip and tire joint only once, three years ago, but didn’t go for getaway driver Ramone Brunetti’s extra wide white-wall shaves around the ears. Everyone knew the place was a front for the rackets. “You found Harvey!” I pretended to be overjoyed and pointed at the stogie in Dutch’s mouth. “Whenever me and the mutt would go for a walk,” I told the captain. “I’d always pick up and wrap his gutter torpedoes in yesterday’s copy of the Chicago Daily. I never did try to smoke them!”
Dutch smiled and placed the foul smelling cigar in an ashtray just before he hit me. Only one leg on the chair broke. One of the cops must be good with glue and screws. I hoped my dentist was. Another cop came in, dusted me off and apologized for the captain’s bad mood. Dutch quickly forgot about the whole altercation … I didn’t.
“Mr. Di Pasqua showed up at Under Your Hat for a business meeting yesterday morning just before nine,” Dutch went on. “Itchy said a bunch of neighborhood brats had rolled together a snowman right next to the barber shop entrance, although no one saw them do it. The snowman was right out of Adam magazine. The frozen Sheik had coal chunks for eyes, was wearing your grandpa’s black silk top hat and had one of your grandma’s dried garden carrots for a nose. Itchy and some of the boys were going back outside and knock the damn thing down when Ramone sent him to the basement for tonic. You can’t have a bunch of kids hanging around a grown-up business; it causes all kinds of problems. Itchy was just coming from the back-room when the funeral music started … bam bam bam. He claims he got a good look at the shooter just before he ducked back down the stairs and crawled into some furnace piping. Seeing all of his pals iced by a Johnny Thompson M1928 must have turned his brain to mush. One of my detectives found him down there hiding an hour after you left.” I started to protest that I hadn’t been anywhere near the dive in, wouldn’t be caught dead there, in fact, but Dutch waved me to silence and his next words stunned me to silence - “Itchy swears on his mother’s grave it was the kid’s snowman that did the killing!”
Since Itchy wasn’t born but hatched under a stone, there were so many things wrong with that sentence I didn’t know where to start … in fact no part of this fairy tale made sense … least of all, why Dutch felt the need to involve me … unless it was to point out the one fact that was as clear as the snout on his pig-like face. In a voice of clear reason, I stated slowly, as though talking to a child;
“If Itchy was hiding in the cellar all this time, who reported the murders?”
“You did,” Dutch’s tone suggested he wanted to hit me again. But then something about the way my mouth gaped pleased. He smiled like he’d just caught me in a whopper of a lie as he opened a notebook. “You told us all yesterday morning that you stopped by Under Your Hat just after nine for a shave and haircut!”

-------2-------

I figured it was a frame-up. I hadn’t talked to Dutch or any cop for over a month. Funny but I couldn’t remember right off where I was yesterday morning. I decided to play along; most frame-ups collapse with their own weight. “So do you have this Snowman locked up? I didn’t know the Chicago PD had a refrigerated cell. What if the suspect melts before you can drag him into court?”
“You know damn well it was snowing heavy when we arrived!” I could almost see the steam pour from Dutch’s ears.  “There was no snowman, no tracks, and we had to shovel slush from the street to roll the corner’s gurneys inside!” Dutch leaned across the table and grabbed me by the throat. He had big hands. “If I find out you know something you ain’t saying, I’ll have you sharing a crowbar hotel room with Peter Brandon Boils!”
Dutch didn’t scare me, but spending the night in that particular downtown jail cell did.  Pit Bull Boils was a monster handed, psychopathic, eastside, strike-breaking, gorilla, famous for wringing disgruntled union member necks like chickens. He enjoyed his profession and in between dames and jobs sometimes twisted a single head for a donut and a glass of beer.
I decided to come clean. “I don’t know anything about your snowman,” I told Dutch, “and I don’t remember anything about yesterday.” I was being honest.
Dutch probably would have knocked me around some more, but the precinct phones were ringing like a high priced tomato basket on two-for-one night. “I want you back first thing in the morning with your three friends Who, Where and Why,” he told me.
I decided to pay a visit to Linda Dice Clayton. She was still officially Machine Gun McGooganheimer’s five-syllable property, she would be forever, but even though she was still breathtaking, the hardest-moniker-to-pronounce gangster in Chicago had lost most of his interest after she’d become pregnant. I walked through the Grand Terrace Cafe where an entertainer I’d dated for a few months was singing a sexy version of Walk Right In by Cannon's Jug Stompers. Kit Malone had a voice like an angel and unfortunately a memory like a horse-track bookie. She was another story. I walked low in the crowd toward the stairs.
L.D. opened the apartment door above the lounge wearing a see-through French nightgown and an J’ai été en attente pour vous smile that vanished when she saw who was knocking. The still gorgeous former nightclub dancer slapped me hard. I could hear a baby crying in a back bedroom. “Going out for a pack of cigarettes!” she spat the words. “I waited for you to come back until the sun came up!”
I felt like I was losing my mind. For the life of me I couldn’t remember what I did the day before. One thing was certain. I wasn’t in this apartment with her. A night with L.D. was something a person never forgets. My head was swimming as she pulled me inside. I was pacing in front of a steam radiator as she got dressed and took care of her child. I reached in my jacket pocket and pulled out an empty pack of Chesterfields … I like ‘em … and they satisfy. “Got a cigarette?” I begged. She slapped me … again.

-------3-------

            I spent the night trying to get back into L.D’s good graces. Early in the morning I got lucky: she didn’t kill me. She shoved me into the hallway with a handshake and a tin-can cup of cold Joe. The baby laughed. A retired garment worker named Judy Wong tended her six-month-old daughter Margene for six dollars a week. L.D. worked in a bank for thirty-five. The smell of Daniel Josier Eau de Parfum lingered in the air as I dragged down the stairs and was overpowered by the harsh smell of muggle smoke drifting toward a high ceiling. I hated being me as I stared at a candle-lit Arcadia mirror on one wall of the Grand Terrace Cafe.
A floor bass and a trumpet player were the only band members who refused to break up with the night. They played and softly sang Blind Blake’s Diddie Wa Diddie in the dark … I walked on over. There's a great big mystery … and it sure is worryin' me … it's Diddie Wa Diddie … it's Diddie Wa Diddie … I wish somebody would tell me what Diddie Wa Diddie means.
A black-as-a-crow musician pointed to a mouse skittering across the dance floor as he thumped an open D string. “Me and Satch we learned our notes in New Orleans and our manners in Atlanta,” he whispered in a voice filled with religion. “We don’t pack it up till the last paying customer leaves. Ain’t that right Pops?”
            “What did the rodent pay?” I asked as I watched the mouse vanish into a chewed hole in one of the stage baseboards.
Pops blew a finale note on his trumpet and smiled like thousands of sunrises to come as he picked up a marijuana cigarette burning in an ash-tray beneath a poster for Cab Calloway and dragged deeply. “Attention!” he laughed.
-------4-------
           
 It felt like a dream. I wanted to be sure who I was, where I was and what I was doing. I watched the famous negro musicians load up their gear … and then Frank Jagger went out into the snow covered streets of Chicago  looking for … satisfaction.
Nick Dunes, flashed a grin like a broken picket fence, as he stood halfway in the slushy street hawking an early morning edition of the Chicago Times. A half starved dog lingered next to him. The mutt looked like he’d take your arm off for an open can of Strongheart dog-food. “The Snowman strikes again!” Nick called to last minute shoppers jamming the sidewalks. They obviously hoped the cash they begged from the struggling banks would last until Santa’s sled arrived. “Nine Capone associates dead in hotel blaze!”
I tossed the kid a dime and asked for a paper. “What did you do with the last copy?” he scowled as he handed it over. “Use it to start another fire?”
            “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told him. The front page of the paper showed Alphonse Capone and some nervous business partners standing outside the Regal Hotel as the structure burned. At least three fire trucks were pictured trying to put out the blaze.
            “You bought the first copy when I cut the bundle,” Nick said. “I ain’t sayin’ nothing … but you start messing with the big guy you can buy your newspapers somewhere else!”
            “How long ago was I here?” I asked.
            “Geeze, you didn’t look drunk … you don’t know!” Nick shook his red hair. “About twenty minutes ago! You climbed in a hack and headed downtown.”
A cab was parked in front of a movie theatre across the street advertising Clara Bow in The Saturday Night Kid on the marquee. I was pretty sure it was the same one. The hacks in Chicago all have their territories just like everyone else. “I thought I just gave you a ride?” the cab driver looked at me like I was the actor from The Man from M.A.R.S.as he started his engine.
            “I forgot something,” I told him as I climbed in the back. The seat smelled faintly like Daniel Josier’s expensive perfume.
            “Was it your jet-pack,” he asked eyeing me suspiciously. “I drove right back here!”
            “Let’s do it all over,” I told him as I handed over a silver dollar. “Lately, I’ve been forgetting things.”

-------5-------

The cab-driver dropped me off at the same police station I’d been to the night before. Not right in front, but a half-block away. The street was crawling with cops, some were lying on the ground. Blood had turned the snow red in many places. More flashing lights were arriving all the time.
Detective Winze was standing next to a half dozen uniformed officers. He was giving a young cop, shivering like a cow in a meat locker, the third degree. “He was covered in snow,” the young officer insisted. “If it was some kind of mask … it was good!”
            “And he had a carrot for a nose?” Dutch’s voice was drawing attention but no smiles.
            “It was some kind of vegetable … orange.” The kid hung his head.
            “How many we got going to the morgue?” Dutch asked two attendants pushing a gurney through the snow.
“About sixteen,” a white-faced ambulance attendant stammered, “and twice that many going to the hospital.”
I tried to walk past without being noticed. Dutch saw me. “At least I know where you was this time,” he said. “we’ll finish after I clean up this mess.” I saw a cop covered with blood talking to some of the police who had just arrived. “There was no weapon,” he argued. “The monster just tore us apart!”
            “We got us a Jack Dempsey killer knocking off mobsters and now using his fists on cops!” One of the newly arrived officers complained to the others.
            “There was no fists!” The blood smeared cop sounded incredulous, like he couldn’t believe what he was actually about to say, but he said it anyway. “It was a snowman!”
           
-------6-------

Over the past forty-eight hours, the only time my mind had been entirely clear was when I’d been listening to the jazz musicians in the Grand Terrace Café. Or maybe my brain only appeared clear because theirs had been so foggy. I wanted to know what I’d done yesterday. That blank part of my memory worried me more than an effigy made of snow killing mobsters and cops.
I owed four hundred and nineteen bucks to a high-rolling bookie named John Storm on the west side. I scratched up twenty a week just to stay alive. He had an army of guys working off the interest on their debts by keeping track of other in-too-deep gambling deadbeats. If anybody knew my whereabouts all the time day or night it would be him.
            I waited for an hour and a half to get in to see him. A steady line of men and a half-dozen women filed in and then out of his office every three minutes. Most had a look of desperation and an unwavering burn your fingers with matches determination as they try to convince themselves that after this there would be absolutely no more gambling. Most would be pitching pennies in a back alley five minutes from now if they found a dime on the street or made a buck hooking freight monkeys on the docks. “Where was I yesterday?” I asked as I finally got into his office.
Any other mug would have jeered, “you serious, buster?” But nothing fazed this guy, ever. Storm rolled a high back chair over to a large filing cabinet. “What time?” he asked as he pulled out a thick file with my name on it.
            “All day,” I told him.
He laughed without humor. “Stay away from the chinks and their Fi-do-nie he advised. “It’s bad for your business … and mine.”
It wasn’t worth it trying to convince him that I didn’t smoke opium in Chinatown. My three minutes were almost up.
            “Joseph Callahan’s lab out on Parkland road,” he said. “9:14 AM until 7:36 PM.”
            “And the rest of the time?”
            “How the hell would I know,” he said. “I ain’t your baby sitter.”
I gave him the last twenty in my wallet. I had two fives left and a handful of ones.
            “I might have some work for you,” he said as he dropped the bill in a desk drawer next to what looked like a 357 magnum. I’d bet money the gun was loaded.
            “I don’t keep track of dead beats,” I told him.
            “I know,” he said. “My brother in law did some work for me occasionally mostly as a driver. My kid sister has cried herself to sleep every night since the cops found his body. I want to know who put him on ice. Bring me a who and how and your account goes clean.”
            “You’ve got an army of eyes and ears that cover this whole city,” I said. “Surely someone heard a shot?”
            “That’s the problem,’ he wasn’t plugged,” Storm said. “He was found in the center of the Illinois State Highway just north of Kankakee. His truck was upside down in a ditch. He was frozen as solid as a two-hundred pound ice-cube. His eyes were open. Whoever …whatever did this to him … I think it scared him to death!”

-------7-------

It cost me five bucks to rent a car, another five for gas. I was almost broke. No cab driver would venture into this part of Western Illinois. The locals, those that hadn’t moved away, called the wasteland Devil’s Field. Four thousand acres of long dead vegetation and stale seed that refused to grow. The Bureau of Land Management puts out hundreds of fires every year but not one flame fighter would venture into this part of the state even in daylight. The twisted remains of trees turned to charcoal lined both sides of a snow packed road like mourners at a funeral as night loomed. And as darkness fell, so did snowflakes, bigger than a man’s hand.
            I’ve only seen lightning during a snowstorm twice, never with such demented intensity. Million volt tridents of electrical mayhem arced directly overhead and turned white blankets of sky black. A crash brought down an ancient burned oak onto the drifted road and I plowed into a ditch. I would have stayed in the half buried car but I could see tiny lights on a hill. It had to be Callahan’s lab, I felt surer of that then I did my own name. The only problem was, no matter what Storm said, I’d never been here before.
The lights seemed less than a mile away,  I shivered with every step I took. And it was getting colder, even though the snow stopped falling after I began to walk. The sky had cleared twenty minutes later. It was slow going. The drifts of star reflecting snow came almost to my knees. A frozen river dusted with snow lay almost exactly halfway between my stuck rental car and the Callahan Research Center. I was just starting to cross the wind swept ice when I spotted the footprints. About nine inches across, they looked like they could have been made by a giant bear but without toes. I had a gun in my coat pocket but my fingers were so frozen I didn’t think I could pull a trigger.
            I was climbing the far bank when I heard a low thump, thump, thump coming from the direction of my abandoned rental car, growing louder as it approached me. What looked like swaying lamp light appeared from the direction of the lab. A far off voice shouted something. I could make out one word a frantic order to … run! Behind me, the cracking river ice sounded like a flock of sheep being slaughtered. Almost against my will, I turned to look back, and saw what my gibbering mind could only describe as a monster had started across the river – after me! Fear raced through my veins, my legs wanted to race too, but it was impossible to run in the deep snow. Even through my extra thick winter coat, I felt a blast of ice cold breath on my back and neck as I stumbled and turned at the last minute … and then I screamed.


TO BE CONTINUED …

Sunday, August 14, 2016

WOODLAND part 2

Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


By R. Peterson

Jeff and Tracy both turned and ran toward the GTO headlights still glowing on the side of the gravel road a hundred yards away. A distorted reflection of the hitchhiker they’d dumped in Vegas, swinging upside down and naked over a fire, flickered across the GTO’s burnished coachwork. Their feet moved in sluggish slow motion. An insectile buzzing came from inside the transparent dome partially buried in the forest floor behind, and the breathtakingly beautiful girls, all of them identical enough to be Sorcha’s fraternal twins, were closing fast. Long fingernails tore at the boy’s legs, feet and hair. “This is your home now, this is where you were meant to be,” a dozen sultry voices insisted. From behind came the screams of Bluecat as he once again passed through the flames. The headlamps of the GTO were very close now but it was too late. The smell of damp loam covered them as a dozen grasping hands caught and pulled them to the forest floor.
            “Wake up!” Tracy reached across and jerked the steering wheel just as a semi-tractor trailer roared past the careening GTO. The angry truck driver had obviously been trying to blow them off his oncoming lane with an air horn.
            “What the Hell?” Jeff gripped the wheel, jammed his foot on the brake and skidded to a stop his heart still pumping from … a dream? The stereo was blasting the Who’s song Going Mobile …when I'm drivin' free, the world's my home.
            “You’re wasted!” Tracy’s eyes showed white all around as he opened his door. “You better let me spell you off.”
Jeff staggered out of the car and lumbered to the other side, shaking his head and trying to come awake. His feet moved like they were still in the nightmare, slow and sluggish. “It was a horrible dream,” he told Tracy. “Sorcha and a bunch of girls who looked just like her were going to eat us.”
            “We all have to die sometime!” Tracy grinned as he started the car. “That doesn’t sound too bad.”
The thick forest rushing past on both sides of the road seemed to be crowding the two lane highway. Jeff felt exhausted, but way too scared to close his eyes. He didn’t want the strange visions to come again. He slid out the rolled-up plastic sandwich bag filled with weed they had hidden under the shifting console and rolled a lopsided joint with shaking fingers. The back of his neck throbbed where the fork shaped mark had appeared the day before. Jeff pushed in the cigarette lighter and then ejected Who’s Next and put in The Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers while he waited for the dash lighter to pop out. His ears were begging for something softer. Jeff lit the joint, inhaling deeply as he pressed the track button and cycled through the four songs playing at the same time.  He blew a cloud of smoke toward Tracy just as the highway left the forest and rounded a rocky cliff-side showing the moonlit Pacific Ocean to the left … things are not what they seem Please, Sister Morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams.

-------2-------

Tracy pulled onto a gravel road that led to a secluded beach area. “I think it’s better if we sleep on the sand rather than in a morgue,” he said referring to their near miss with the truck.
“People don’t sleep in morgues,” Jeff yawned. “They just act like they are dead.”
“And every performance worthy of an Oscar,” Tracy told him as he stopped the car.
A large wave rolled onto the rocky beach about every minute; Tracy and Jeff placed their sleeping bags a safe distance above the wet sand and receding foam.
            “Ever wonder if there is any intelligent life out there in the vastness of space?” Tracy asked as he folded a jacket to make a pillow.
            “If there is, it didn’t come from Earth,” Jeff said turning the dial on a transistor radio. “Think of all the politically retarded people who are voting for a crook like Nixon.”
            “If I ever saw a UFO, I’d walk right up to it.” Tracy told him.
The rock group America was singing A Horse with no Name.
            “There has to be at least a million other planets out there with intelligent life on them …” Jeff mused. And then he laughed. “Tracy Gold the other white meat! With that many life-forms, they can’t all be vegetarians.”
And the story it told of a river that flowed … made me sad to think it was dead …
They talked for almost an hour and then the conversation slowed. A full moon rose over the Pacific during a long silence and chased away all the lingering stars to the east. A gentle breeze tried to coax another laugh from the two almost men … but they were gone away to another world. The ocean is a desert with its life underground … and a perfect disguise above …

Long scissor-like appendages pulled Tracy from the sleeping bag and lifted him high into the air. He tried to scream but his voice-box was unplugged. A creature resembling a ten foot tall praying mantis, and moving with a lurching insectile gait, dragged him along the beach. Another hideous apparition carried Jeff as they traveled across the wet sand toward a house-sized blue-green glowing sphere just under the water a dozen yards out from a rocky cliff-side in the distance. There were others, many of them coming from all directions. Tracy heard a muffled scream and grinding metal as another of the monsters ripped away both sides from an overturned Chevelle Malibu next to the highway and pulled out two people. A door banged open and an elderly man sprinted from a beach bungalow, dressed only in striped pajamas, pursued by at least three of the creatures.
            A fire burned inside a circle of fallen boulders. Dozens of buzzing colossal sized monsters hunched in the surrounding gravel roasting fresh-caught meat on long metal forks over the flames. The goddess Sorcha stood on top a mountain-sized rock; apparently she was the only human not being prepared for a meal. “This really is the most amazing place in the world,” she told Tracy with a look of remorse, “but our food must always be clean.” Her voice became an insect like hum a buzzing sound that grew louder.
The two people from the demolished car were already being thrust into the water and scrubbed with needle-like appendages.
The cold water activated his vocal cords and Tracy managed a half bubbling scream through chattering teeth.

Jeff was laughing as he unzipped and crawled out of his wet sleeping bag. The wave of salt water that had rolled over them was receding leaving foam and clots of seaweed on the shore. “Being from Montana, we don’t think about things like high tide!” He lifted Tracy’s wet bag by the foot end and dumped him onto the sand. “Next time, I pick where we camp out!”
Tracy gathered his bag and the jacket he’d used for a pillow into a wet bundle and picked up the now buzzing radio. He shook his head as they stumbled toward higher ground trying to shake out the nightmare. A second wave washed over their ankles and sucked the sand between their toes as it receded. “Without that wet dream we might have slept forever!” It was mid-morning the sun was climbing the sky. The beach was empty there was no glowing sphere, no feast … and no fires.

-------3-------

The turnoff sign read: Woodland 3 miles. “You think Sorcha is going to be waiting with the keys to the city?”
            “Who cares?” Jeff told him. “I hope her home town at least has a Laundromat where we can wash and dry our sleeping bags.”
            “With four-hundred nineteen people, they’ll be lucky to have a cop!” Tracy pointed to the welcome to Woodland sign that appeared around a last curve. A single main street lined with two-story brick buildings obviously built in the twenties and thirties loomed before them. Traffic was light but the first car to pass going in the opposite direction was filled with girls. At least four eager faces turned and stared, most were smiling; several hands waved “You’re going the wrong way!” Jeff joked trying to grab the steering wheel.
Tracy swerved into the parking lot of a used car lot and was turning around when a convertible MG pulled beside them. Both girls inside the tiny sports car were smiling. “Is it true what they say about boys from Montana?” A girl with a gleaming Goldie Hawn Laugh In grin and short shaggy-cut hair asked.
            “You can torture me all day and all night, but I’ll never talk,” Jeff told her with a laugh.
            “What is it they say about us?” Tracy demanded.
Both girls were giggling. “That men are men … and the sheep are scared,” the other girl blurted.
            “That hurts,” Tracy said, dramatically clutching his heart. “I thought angels were supposed to be kind!”
            “So you think we’re angels?” The first one asked, smiling and fussing with her hair.
            “Is there a Laundromat in this town?” Jeff asked thinking about the wet sleeping bags.
            “Follow us,” the girls said.
The Wash and Dry stood across the street from Woody’s Drive-In. They decided to get something to eat while their clothes were being laundered. “Two double cheeseburgers, two large fries, Woody’s special all-meat burrito, a large Coke, a strawberry milkshake and two apple pies,” Tracy told the girl who roller-skated out to wait on them. He glanced at Jeff. “You want anything?” The girl giggled. “No I guess my friend ain’t hungry,” Tracy told her.
The two boys watched as the girl skated back to the building. There were several other cars in the lot, all of them full of females. “You notice anything weird about this town?” Tracy asked as he lit a cigarette.
            “All the girls look like they could be Sorcha’s sisters and there seems to be a serious shortage of guys in town,” Jeff told him.
            “Not that I’m complaining,” Tracy said. “It just seems a little off.”
            “There’s a whole universe beyond Cloverdale,” Jeff said. “Sometimes you really do find what you’re looking for.”
The girl on skates was back. “Sorcha decided to give you your food for free if you’ll roll us a couple of numbers,” she said. Tracy looked toward Woody’s building. A half dozen smiling and waving girls had their faces pressed against the large glass windows. Both boys recognized the hitchhiker they’d picked up in southern Utah by her smile.
Are there any parties going on in town,” he asked as he pulled the baggy from under the shifting console and began to roll the joints.
            “There’s always a party,” the girl said. “We get off at eleven.”

-------4-------

The order was doubled when they got it. There was no way they could eat that much. They stored the rest in a cooler filled with ice and promised to be back when Woody’s closed. Two girls in a flat-bed farm truck pulled up next to them at the only stop-light. “You guys old enough to buy booze?” a pretty red-head asked.
            “Of course we are,” Tracy lied.
They followed the girls to a California State Liquor Dispensary just outside of town. “That crappy fake ID you use in Cloverdale probably won’t work in California,” Jeff told him.
            “I bet they don’t even ask for it, Mate!” Tracy tucked in his shirt and combed his hair back and under an Andy Capp hat he pulled from under the seat, before he went in the store. “My exquisite British accent gets them every time!”
            “Are you two chicks going to the big party the girls at Woody’s told us about?” Jeff asked as they waited for Tracy. He was taking an extra-long time.
            “Of course. We’re going with you,” the redhead said. “They were climbing into the GTO’s backseat when Tracy came out of the store smiling broadly. He looked at Jeff. “I told you I was born with overflowing charm,” he beamed as he passed the paper bag to the girls.
            Just then a woman walking past who looked old enough to be a great grandmother stopped and hugged Tracy seductively as he tried to open the car door. “Next time you want me to buy you boys some booze … or anything else, just come right out and say so,’ she cooed.
Jeff’s face was in his hands trying to hold back a laugh as Tracy slid into the passenger seat. “Didn’t I tell you this town was full of women?” Tracy blurted.

-------5-------

Tracy was filling his pressurized can with water when Jeff Bland, leaning out the passenger side of a Plymouth station wagon, careened across the Conoco parking lot and soaked him with an APW fire extinguisher. Girls from both cars opened fire and the service station asphalt was turning into a lake.
            “Haven’t you girls got anything better to do than try to drown two boys from the Big Sky State?” Tracy looked like he’d just climbed out of a swimming pool. He was obviously having the time of his life.
            “The real fun doesn’t start until it gets dark,” a pretty brunette in the car said. She looked at a red and golden glow sinking on the western horizon. “We have a band and three kegs. Everything starts in about an hour.”
“Tracy and I need to shower and change our clothes before the party,” Jeff said as he climbed into the GTO. “We’ll meet you gals at Woody’s in about forty five minutes.”
            “Need any help?” a female voice from the back of the station wagon asked followed by a chorus of laughter.
            “You girls are going to give me a heart attack!” Tracy moaned. “But what the hell? We all have to die sometime!”
Six girls climbed from the Pontiac leaving the boys alone for the first time since they arrived in the small town.

-------6-------


 “I’ve dreamed about this town all my life,” Jeff said as they unlocked room 419 at the forty-five-dollar-a-night Woodland Motel. He threw a suitcase onto one of the twin beds.
                        “I’ve only had one dream since we crossed the border into California,” Jeff said pushing the mattress to one side looking for cockroaches. His face looked uncertain as he remembered the nightmare where a screaming hitchhiker named Bluecat swung naked over a cooking fire.
            “I think that’s all I’ve had!” A smile slid off from Tracy’s face, the first time he’d looked solemn in hours. A vision of a glowing green globe just under the Pacific Ocean surface made him shiver. “I don’t think we’ve met one real guy since we’ve been in this town!”
            “There was that grease monkey at the service station who let us use his air compressor.” Jeff suggested.
            “Oh please,” Tracy told him. “He had the longest eyelashes and hadn’t shaved since … never and I swear I could spot a pair of boobs swinging under those baggy coveralls.”
            “But why the act? What could they possibly want?”
            “A good time?” Neither boy laughed.
“This is a lot of room for just a shower,” Jeff shook his head trying to change the subject. “I doubt if we’ll be sleeping here tonight!”
            “It’s time we grew up and put our fears behind us,” Tracy ordered as he held up a pair of tie dyed shirts. “Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia?” he asked with a real laugh.

-------7-------

            Jeff was driving. Tracy rummaged through the box of eight track tapes. He stared at the cover featuring the band members wearing orange make-up and body stockings on the label to appear as if they were posing in the nude, then put Three Dog Night’s It Ain’t Easy into the player. Widow carry on 'til the band is gone …Widow carry on 'til the band is gone … blasted from the speakers.
Sorcha smiled and waved as she came out of Woody’s with a group of girls. “This will be a night you’ll never forget!” she yelled. The lights of the drive in went out the same time the parking lot came to life.
The GTO was the last of nine cars heading into the deep woods. The reverberated rumble of a heavily amplified rock band tuning-up could be heard in the distance. Tracy turned down the stereo and rolled down his window to listen. “Something is not right here,” he said.
            “The band sounds excellent,” Jeff said. “They’re live so they are not going to sound exactly like a recording.”
            “That’s the problem,” Tracy said. “They sound exactly like the recording.” He turned up the volume on the stereo a new song had just begun to play:  Want some whiskey in your water?
Sugar in your tea? The band in the woods was playing the same notes at the same time and singing the exact same lines.
            “So we got a band that lip synchs to recordings. These things happen!” Jeff said.
            “It’s not lip synching,” Tracy insisted. “He pulled the tape from the stereo and waited for a full twenty seconds. The band in the woods continued to play as he lit a cigarette with shaking fingers. They were close enough to see the stage … see the drummer strike the drums … see the pounding guitars … and the roaring fire. He reinserted the tape and then adjusted the loudness so the band outside and the recording in the car were both playing at equal volume. This is the craziest party that could ever be; don’t turn on the lights 'cause I don't want to see… The band in the woods was playing the same notes at the same time and singing the exact same lines.
            “Turn around!” Tracy begged. “Let’s get the Hell out of here!”
            “Are you crazy?” Jeff was staring at the girls already moving toward the car. “There must be a hundred beauty queens at this party!”
            “Whoever they are, they can’t make males and they don’t know anything about music,” Tracy insisted.
            “They? Who are you talking about?’ At least three girls were reaching for the door handle. Jeff smiled as he undid his seat belt.
Tracy reached across the seat and pushed down both his and Jeff’s door locks. “Look at the band … look damn close,” Tracy insisted.
The band was the standard motley group of ragged musicians except for one thing … they were all female!
Jeff started the car as a dozen fists with painted fingernails began to pound at the windows. Sorcha flung herself across the hood of the car, hanging onto the windshield wipers. “You’re not leaving already,” she said. It was not a question.
            Her mouth opened wide and a long green tongue, forked at the end, slithered across the windshield dripping yellow foam that hissed a cloud of orange steam when it contacted painted metal. Mama told me not to come! The furious pounding of the drums outside sounded remarkably like an extension speaker. Her eyes grew large and reptilian as she stared through the glass.
With a bang the side window shattered. Jeff jammed the transmission into first gear and spun the car in a circle. The girl playing bass swung her instrument at the skidding car and broke off the radio antenna leaving a foot long gash in the hood just as the stage collapsed.
Exotically beautiful faces were already changing as growing appendages reached in through the broken windows. Youth and innocence were replaced with insect-like shells and dozens of eyes totally lacking the concept of empathy.
            “Gaaaaahhhh!” Jeff stomped his foot on the gas pedal as a pair of scissor-like pinchers dug into his throat. The air inside the car smelled like a leaking truck battery. Tracy beat at the monster with his fists. The Pontiac’s heavy bumper bounced off a tree and then picked up speed. The volume on the stereo got jarred up all the way. I think I'm almost chokin' from the smell of stale perfume … Jeff jerked the wheel from side to side as he tore through a patch of wild raspberries and made it back onto the dirt road. The creature made a cry like fingernails dragging across a rusty oil drum as it lost its grip on the driver’s throat and tumbled with a buzzing shriek and a thump under the back wheels.
            The crowd of transforming girls was already receding in the distance.
Less than two minutes later they were back on Pacific highway 101 headed north. The ground beneath the car rumbled and shook making the forest vegetation lining the scenic coastal route dance to the music. That ain’t the way to have fun … A glowing green and orange globe rose into the sky behind them. Both boys held their breath. Seconds later, the otherworldly ball of pulsing light flashed brilliant as it streaked across the sky growing smaller until it became one of the stars. The stereo was still playing although Tracy had turned down the volume. “Shut it off!” Jeff’s open mouth was gasping for oxygen as he pointed to the stereo.

Tracy ejected the cartridge and after staring at it for a moment tossed it into the trees flying past. It was beginning to rain. A broken wiper streaked the windshield. The water suddenly came down like a waterfall. “Some nights just aren’t that great,” he said as he rolled up his window.

THE END ???
           



Sunday, August 7, 2016

WOODLAND

Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


WOODLAND
By R. Peterson

It was the summer of 1972. Jeff Bland counted out fifteen twenties from his wallet and added it to the three-hundred dollars Tracy Gold had already given him. He placed it in the bottom layer of the largest suitcase before he placed it in the trunk next to sleeping bags, an acoustic guitar, and a case of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine purchased with a fake I.D. “We’ll use that money for all our expenses while we’re traveling,” Tracy explained, “and we’ll divide what’s left over when we get back.”
Jeff snorted. “We’re going on a road trip! “Those girls along the pacific coast are as wild and as wicked as they come, and they get even more dangerous the farther north you go.” He closed the truck lid. “We’ll be lucky if we make it back with the shirts on our back let alone any change!”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Tracy’s legs shook Elvis-like with exaggerated fear, “being sexually assaulted by a gang of hippie chicks that only want to use us and throw us away after the first night!” They both laughed as they climbed into the 1967 Pontiac GTO.
KRNR 107.7 FM just outside of Cloverdale was ending Don McLean’s American Pie as they headed south. Tracy tapped the Hurst shifter, keeping beat with his fingers as he ran through the “H” pattern. A strong breeze flowed through the car’s open windows and tangled their long hair in the tie-dyed shirts hanging behind them. An overplayed radio commercial now crooned “It’s the Pepsi generation coming at you going strong …” Jeff closed his eyes momentarily and smiled as he lit a cigarette and sorted through a box of eight-track tapes. At six in the morning, traffic was almost non-existent on the highways of south western Montana. “This has to be a sign from above,” he said as he looked at the cover of Who’s Next. The band had apparently just finished urinating on a concrete piling that somehow resembled an outhouse. “This is going to be ten days and nights we will never forget.”
            “You got that right!”
Soon both twenty-year olds were singing along with the blasting Panasonic car stereo playing the song Going Mobile as they crossed the border into Idaho. “I don't care about pollution
I'm an air-conditioned gypsy …

-------2-------
It started to drizzle five hours later as they passed through Parowan, Utah, and by the time they reached Cedar City it was a cloudburst. Jeff, who was now driving, hunched forward and peered out the windshield even with the GTO wipers on high speed. “Someone should be building an ark,” Tracy said as he tried to look out the side window.
“I think we’re about to find out if this goat floats!” Jeff told him slowing to a crawl as vague images crowded both sides of the highway up ahead.
In less than an instant the rain stopped and the vague images became at least a dozen cars parked alongside the road. A crowd of excited people walked past Jeff and Tracy as they parked and climbed out of their car. A dark line in the two lane highway separated very heavy rain and clear skies like a waterfall. What was obviously a Japanese tourist family stood on one side of the line and thrust their arms into the pouring rain while an excited older female holding a Polaroid camera took snapshots “風がないとまっすぐに落ちて大雨!” the man chattered.
“It’s just a cloud burst directly overhead and no wind,” a fat man wearing a golfing hat pointed to the sky and explained to the crowd and a gaping portly woman who was obviously his wife. “I saw the same thing once in Virginia. Half a field of tobacco plants flooded and washed down the rows while one side dried-up and blew away.”
People were getting in their cars and leaving as other travelers stopped to witness the strange phenomena. Tracy saw her first, a second later so did Jeff. She had long sun bleached blonde hair with a handful of wildflowers stuck behind her left ear and wore a pair of hole-in-the-knees Levis and leather sandals under a Bowie 1972 World Tour tee-shirt. She was shaking her head at two middle-age women who were obviously offering her a ride. She smiled and picked up a heavy backpack when she saw Tracy. “You two going to LA?” She walked toward the GTO as if she already knew the answer.
Both boys gasped. She was even more beautiful up close. Her large emerald green eyes seemed lit from within and her baby smooth skin glowed without any blemish. The song Venus by the group Shocking Blue began to play inside Jeff’s head. “I’m no goddess on a mountain top,” she told him with a grin as if she could read his mind. “My name is Sorcha.”
“Sorcha what?” Tracy asked.
“Just Sorcha,” she said and then, “well?”
“We’re going everywhere,” Jeff told her raising his hands in the air in a kind of surrender.
The radiant beauty opened the passenger door and pushed the seat forward. “I hope you got room for two,” She said as she pushed her back-pack through the opening. “Bluecat! Looks like we scored a ride!” she yelled to the crowd watching the rain fall. Jeff and Tracy heard the buzzing of flies swarming over a filthy army duffle bag before he appeared. Greasy black hair tangled around a bearded face sprinkled with acne. “Far out!” he told Tracy as they reluctantly crammed his bag into the over-packed trunk and he climbed in the back seat with the angel.

-------3-------

 “A very small town in South Western Oregon…” Sorcha started to answer when Tracy asked her where she was from.
“I’m from Detroit,” Bluecat butted in. “We build the cars the rest of you drive.”
“So you work at General Motors?” Tracy knew if Bluecat answered yes he had to be lying.
“No way!” Bluecat said. “I’m a singer. I’ve fronted for half the best rock bands in Chicago. I turned down Led Zepplin right before they picked up Plant.”
Jeff unrolled his window. The guy smelled like he hadn’t took a bath in over a year. “Care to sing us a little something?”
            “No can do,” Bluecat told him. “I’ve pulled a muscle in my larynx. The doctors say I have to stop performing for at least a month. Half of the rock shows in the Midwest have been canceled because of my condition.”
Sorcha had been hand rolling a cigarette in the back seat. Sweet smelling acrid air filled the car as she lit the joint.
            “You want the windows down so the smoke don’t harm your throat?” Tracy asked him.
            “That’s okay,” Bluecat said snatching the cigarette from Sorcha and inhaling deeply. He held it without passing it on. “The doctors all say smoking dope is the best way to get my voice back in shape.”
Jeff groaned from the front seat. Sorcha leaned forward. Her breath ticked the tiny hairs on his neck and made ecstatic goose-bumps appear up and down his arms. “There is a reason for everything,” she whispered.
            “So have you two known each other long?” Tracy asked while looking in the rear-view mirror.
            “Only about an hour,” Sorcha said. “We met back at the waterfall.”
Bluecat didn’t say anything. He’d taken another huge hit off the cigarette and his bloodshot eyes bulged from his head like a frog.
Sorcha pulled a harmonica from her jeans pocket and alternately played and sang with a clear beautiful voice almost every song the two Montana boys had ever heard. Jeff was filled with ecstatic bliss and sinking frustration at the same time. She was magical and mesmerizing. They couldn’t take their eyes off from her.
“You ain’t bad looking,” Bluecat snorted, licking his lips as he looked at Sorcha’s long legs. “But you sing them songs all wrong!” He opened another bottle and drank almost half in six sloppy swallows. “I only wish I could show you the right way to do them.” Strawberry wine tricked down his beard he dashed the sticky liquid away and it pooled on the car seat.

-------4-------

Jeff and Tracy had made plans in advance to stay with a friend in Las Vegas. Sorcha insisted she had to be moving on. No amount of pleading could get her to change her mind. “Let the bitch go,” Bluecat suggested. “It’s getting crowded back here!” They dropped her off reluctantly near a freeway on-ramp. “If you’re ever in Oregon stop by Woodland,” she kissed Tracy and then leaned in and kissed Jeff as she retrieved her backpack. “It’s the most amazing place in the world!”
            “We’ll find it!’ Jeff promised. A dull pain started in his throat and ran to the bottom of his feet as they watched her climb into the first semi-tractor trailer rig that came along.
            “Where can we drop you?” Tracy asked as soon as the beauty vanished in a cloud of diesel smoke.
            “I plan on riding with you guys all the way,” Bluecat told them. “Unless you want to spring for an airline ticket, first class of course. I was robbed back in Salt Lake. I’ve never met two more caring and generous dudes in my whole life! There will be tons of free concert tickets in it for you guys!” His glowing smile showed two rows of rotted and missing teeth.
Tracy and Jeff drove in silence toward their friend’s house. “How about fetching another bottle of wine from the back!” Bluecat bellowed. “Damned if it ain’t hot as Hell outside!”
Rhett Horman was surprised when the three showed up at his rich uncle’s house. “Who’s your friend?” he asked right off. Tracy took him aside and explained Bluecat was a hitchhiker they needed to get rid of but they were too kindhearted to dump him.
Bluecat strutted around the living room recklessly handling obviously expensive decorative art pieces and compared them negatively to his mansion back in Chicago.
            “I thought you were from Detroit?” Jeff said.
            “Detroit, Chicago … I’ve got pads all over the US,” Bluecat told him. There was something sneaky about the guy, Tracy watched him closely.
Rhett had the GTO keys in his hand. “Where are we going?” Jeff asked as they all climbed in the car.
            “You’ll see,” Rhett told him as he started the engine.
            “Did that bitch stamp you guys?” Bluecat asked as they drove through a Las Vegas residential area. It was getting dark. The radio was playing “Back Stabbers by the O’Jays.
            “What are you talking about?” Tracy sat beside him with his head hanging out a window in the back seat.
            “She left this mark on my arm when she touched me. I know it wasn’t there before!” Bluecat rolled up his shirt sleeve. The mark, just below the elbow, resembled a small red ink tattoo or blood blister of a “W” with the center leg extended below so that it looked like a trident … or a pitchfork.
            “Not that I know of,” Tracy said sadly. “Almost wishing she had given him something. He still could not get the goddess on the mountain top out of his mind.
Rhett stopped the car next to a high wire fence baseball backstop in a now dark city park got out and opened the trunk.
            “Hey! What the F**k!” Bluecat pushed the seat forward smashing Jeff against the dash and forcing the door open as Rhett flung the duffle bag over the high fence.
            “This is where you’re spending the night,” Rhett told him as he wiped his fingers on a clump of grass. Bluecat was halfway up the fence when Rhett climbed back in the car and they roared away.
Jeff turned off the radio and put in an eight-track tape. The Who blasted out Won’t Get Fooled Again as they laughed in relief and headed for the lights of the Las Vegas strip.

-------5-------

            Jeff and Tracy left Las Vegas late the next morning and headed for LA. Rhett had taken the pair to every swank gambling casino in town and had insisted on driving up to the front door and utilizing valet parking. Their six hundred dollar travel money was depleted by about a third when they crossed the Nevada border into California.
Disneyland seemed to have shrunk in size since they were children. “I was only three foot tall then,” Tracy joked. A large crowd gathered in the Haunted Mansion as the room stretched as it descended, showing gruesome additions to the portraits on the walls. Tracy gasped just before the lights dimmed. A girl who looked enough like Sorcha to be her twin sister, only a little taller and with different colored hair had been talking to two sailors. He and Jeff looked everywhere but did not see her again on the tour. “It’s your imagination,” Jeff told him. “You fell hard and now you see love everywhere.”
Tracy had his chance to laugh when Jeff claimed to have seen her twin while on a tour of Universal Studios. “It makes sense,” Jeff protested. “Anyone that dazzling has to be a movie star!”
The temperature was in the upper 90’s they stopped at Arroyo Burro Beach in Santa Barbara to swim in the ocean. Jeff was the first to find the mark on Tracy’s neck just below his collar line, closer inspection revealed he had one of his own. “What the hell?” Tracy looked at the tiny red blemish in the restroom mirror. “We both have the tiny pitchfork symbol that Bluecat had on his arm.”
“Sorcha left us with more than a memory of her good looks,” Jeff agreed. “I don’t know if this is some kind of tattoo or an infection, but it seems harmless.”
The sunset was magnificent but both guys were looking along the coast to the north. “You get the feeling like we should be moving on?” Tracy asked.
            “Yeah,” Jeff said. “This is supposed to be a popular beach and there’s bound to be tons of girls on the sand tomorrow, but I feel like moving.”
            “Me too,” Jeff agreed, “and there is only one direction pulling me and that’s north.”
It was after midnight when Pacific Coast Highway 101 crossed the California border into Oregon. The Who’s Next eight track had played through at least five times. A dense forest crowded both sides of the road as coastal ferns danced away from the headlights. It had been almost a half hour since they had seen another vehicle going in either direction. Just after they crossed the Rogue River at Gold Beach falling rocks on the highway forced them to take a detour inland. The gravel road was rough and in places turning to dirt but Jeff didn’t slow down. Out in the woods Or in the city It's all the same to me …
Around a sharp curve and over a bump that caused them to bang their arms on the headliner, Jeff suddenly slid to a stop. A girl who had been sitting smack in the center of the road stood up. He pale face washed out in the high-beams. “I almost ran over you!” Jeff stammered as he climbed out of the car shutting off the engine but leaving the headlights on. Tracy got out on the other side.
            “I knew you wouldn’t,” the girl said. “We’ve been expecting you.”
            “Who is we?” Tracy asked.
The woods were suddenly filled with glowing eyes and the dark silhouettes of young women moving toward the road. Jeff and Tracy both gasped, each girl could be a fraternal twin to the others.
            “We are the daughters of Raupe,” a familiar voice said. Sorcha stepped from the shadows still wearing the same battered jeans and Bowie tee-shirt.
            “I must be dreaming,” Jeff smiled as he closed his eyes.
            “You marked us so that we would find our way here!” Tracy’s statement was more of an observation than an accusation.
            “Everyone needs a beacon to guide them home,” Sorcha said, taking each young man by the arm and leading him into the woods. “This is where you were always meant to be.”
            “Who is Raupe?” Jeff asked as she led them through the woods, at least twenty nearly identical girls followed. His voice contained a note of jealousy even to his own ears. Several of the tree branches contained various articles of discarded men’s clothing.
            “He is our father and he sent us out into this world to bring you here,” she said, “you and others.”
A glow appeared in a clearing up ahead followed by a shriek. A naked Bluecat swung upside down from a long rope hung over a crackling fire. Patches of his oily hair had caught fire and burned away leaving charred flesh and bone. Each time he passed through the flames he screamed in agony. A semi-transparent globe, as big as a house, half buried in the forest detritus and surround by piles of white bones, pulsed with unearthly green light on the far side. “Raupe likes his meat slow-cooked all the way through,” The girl who had been in the road told them gesturing toward the sphere. A strange creature with at least a dozen legs appeared as a moving silhouette inside the transparent material. “I think our main course needs a little more flavor,” Sorcha suggested.
One of the girls doused Bluecat with apple wine as he swung to her side of the circle. The dripping alcohol made the flames sputter and crackle.
“We washed him in the river at least a dozen times,” Sorcha shook her head as she pointed to Bluecat. “To acquire food that dirty is quite disgusting,” she told them. “You two are much cleaner and better!” She smiled as she licked her lips.

TO BE CONTINUED …


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