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Collision and Contact

February 11, 2013

The car whipped around the bend in front of the frozen lake.  A steep slope down from the town’s only stoplight, the Dodge pressed into the graded bend.  All treacherous fifty-five degrees of it.  Cradled by a ten foot drop and about seventy yards of playground equipment, footpaths and some beach, then it’s just the cold, thirsty bitch of Maxinkuckee.  A wrought-iron fence, a 20 m.p.h. zone.  None of it would really help.  We’d been drinking between five and eight beers an hour, chased with Jameson’s and highly charged in-fighting, for the last four hours.  Nonetheless, Glen’s Dodge whipped ‘round the bend… right into a small patch of ice.   Precision correction that only manual steering can provide, the cassette in the dash rolling out Ummagumma’s flatulent psychedelia, Glen bellowing tangily in his momentary invincibility.  And then we slammed into the deer, two or three big, wet heavy thumps all at once.  Pushing the vehicle’s rear-end into the air almost as high as one of the tawny sand-bag beasts.  A near perfect illustration of inertia.  I spilled my drink as my forehead spider-webbed the windshield.

dodge in the snow

it’s all fun and games until someone gets… woah! [img: Marcus Collins, WISHtv]

It all started at the Central City Building twenty miles away in what is affectionately referred to as the County Seat.  A squat, baby-poop brick edifice just off the jailhouse, it houses every single office and department within the district.  There had been a zoning ordinance up for amendment concerning wind farms.  Drought-stricken land owners have been seeing rents decrease now that insurance claims have dried up, and the utility developers have been watching prices.  Some prospectors came through a couple years back.  Two viciously opposed factions of concerned citizens have been bloodying the country lanes ever since.  This afternoon’s meeting marked what both side had been hoping would be the death-knell for the others’ appeal.  The County Plans Commission ended up tabling the amendment due to riot.

I was attending in a journalistic capacity; I have been freelance at a couple of the daily papers that get thrown past the porchswings, stuffed into lonely roadside mailboxes, and stacked in the stagnant truckstops of the backwater hamlets that dot the farmlands around this county, itself a quilted lump of stolen Indian land snuggled down between interstates.  Glen is my appointed camera man, not on account of any apparent talent, but merely down to his possession of a serviceably professional-looking kit and a cleaner driving record than anyone else on the payroll.  His massive ‘80’s era Dodge picked me up about five.  When I jumped in, he motioned to the back seat, which was almost entirely taken up by one of those tape recorder rigs with the big reels, the olive-drab satchel, the microphone.  ‘She’s a beaut, ain’t she!’  ‘Tell me you didn’t pay money for that.’  He told me this would mitigate any untoward effects of the ridiculously strong marijuana we were about to smoke.  Quite a few submissions in the last six weeks have carried the mark of chemical amnesia.  ‘Pretty smart, right?  And not as heavy as she looks, either!’  ‘I know you certainly don’t give a shit.  You’ve got to be the laziest cunt alive.’  ‘Hey, green’s your colour, man,’ Glen said with a cough, and passed me the reeking joint as he put the Dodge into gear.

County Council meetings are usually a big thing around here.  The bowling alley has a cheap pitcher deal and half-price lanes going on the first Thursday of every month, but it’s not until eight o’clock.  Council meets the same Thursday at 6 P.M., and anyone who cares to talk can speak directly to the young stenographer with red painted nails, who takes down every word without breaking that smoldering gaze of hers.  The men wear their best western shirts and bola ties.  She was out with the flu this particular night, but the room was packed anyway, hundreds of yokels out of the farm towns and mud holes that comprise the county district.  The place was a sauna.  Glen and I were ridiculously high.  I couldn’t help menacing a few of them, making eye contact, accosting them, ‘you ain’t from around here!  Is you!’ pushing the microphone up into their face.  Glen would snap a few shots on the Canon.  If things got lopsided, he’d unsheath that massive Bowie knife of his and wait for the Sergeant at Arms to restore order.

When the gavel cracked the meeting roared straight into the jowels of hell.  The factions – one calling themselves Concerned Landowners, the other Citizens for Truth – wasted no time at all dumping reason and facts into the garbage.  One corpulent side blubbers the turbines are an eyesore, a threat to health and wildlife, and invite foreigners in to the county to ‘take our jobs.’  The other expectorates that federal tax breaks are going to expire soon, and now is not the time to be choosy.  Ad hominem attacks, appeals to ignorance and passion, and other rhetorical flourishes quickly prevailed.  Heading up either side were one of two brothers, Duggan and Jarvis Blaire.  The sons of a local tractor supply magnate, they have been estranged from each other for nearly two decades after various mutual allegations of bestiality, larceny and criminal trespass; a protracted squabble notably inclusive of arson and an appearance on Jerry Springer.  There in Room 2A of the Central City Building, whatever cooler heads might have been in attendance were not merely prevailed upon, they were cleanly caved in.

The Sergeant at Arms called in a brace of bailiffs and still only barely got the place under control.  For our part, Glen and I just kept our backs to each other, pointing the recording equipment at whatever moved, kicking at lungers and staring down the rest.  This is democracy, the rule of the mob, in all its beautiful, violent, instantly reactive truth.  The hastily pronounced motions, seconded with a raspy blood bubble and some spat-out teeth, to adjourn.  The gavel clacked.  Of course they would have to clack the gavel again.  Everyone not being apprehended by law enforcement felt entitled to a deep, heavy drink.  Mullets and steel-toed boots went down the block to the lanes.  Those with active bans from the alley had to make do with the cash and carry or follow us to the watering hole adjoining the City Building.

Yes, there is a bar next to the jailhouse.  Why the fuck not.  It’s there mostly to loosen up the clerks and pages and paralegals and government accountants and other such ‘professional’ clock punchers, overworked and kept just under the threshold for 401k contribution, so that none of them become spree-shooters.  Any weekday afternoon you can catch a few handfuls of unattractively drunk civil servants trying to bang the stenographer, the comptroller’s assistant, the barmaid’s kid sister who’s a nurse’s assistant but just can’t seem to pass the boards to become registered.  We piled in tonight mainly because most of the real trouble-makers had been arrested at the Plans Commission riot for violating concealed-carry without a permit.  Also, it was next door.  Also, being paid by the word for copy, I was desperate for a longer story.

Fortuitously, the reel-to-reel recorder was still going, and was listening in on sundry conversations.  Later, after the accident, I would sit transcribing the lunacy, wondering at it all.  What passes for civilisation some places.  If God speaks through the Word, the harrowed utterance and shaped breath of Us, His Exalted Beasts, then here is some of the undistilled truth:

 

7:35 P.M.

 

‘Explain to me again why these injun tribes are getting checks for $500?’

‘…per household.’

‘Whatever.  It just don’t make sense…  they signed these treaties to leave, they went to the new land, and then some shithead politician in the State House wants to gain a seat in the 7th District and cuts a deal?  Aren’t the injuns just getting screwed over for being screwed over?!’

‘Well, they’re being paid a token value, not land or time, you know…’

‘As a token of what?’

‘You see, those first ones, them short-pants-and-pantyhose politicians, what they had the injuns sign…  that didn’t mean it was a law…  it also didn’t mean that no price had to be upheld forever an’ ever, plus interest and amen, either.  What they shook on was a deal.’

‘Right, and them wig-wearers’ word was bullshit.’

‘Right.  But the law now is like, you know, talk is cheap an’ all that.’

‘So this settlement  the taxpayers are shelling out for…’

‘… is a token way of saying “we’re sorry,” without paying for what we were sorry for doing.’

‘Thas’gotta’be worth a more than five bills.’

”Well, that’s one opinion, and it’s your round, Ansel.  I’m’a take a leak.’

 

9:03 P.M.

 

‘Tommy, this is about fucked – we wanted the windmills ‘cause what the Rural Electric Co-op would save buying local, all the jobs, all the shit the counties around us have been getting out of their fucking deals… we let these assholes push us around on this amendment, we’ll be a little square hole in the middle of a money field.’

‘Look at the thing, read it.  It allows the companies.  Just with the setbacks and rules and whatnot.  These rednecks are still voters, Duke.  You got to let them feel like they had themselves a good fight about it!’

‘A mile setback from a lake?  You can’t take a piss without hitting a goddamn lake around here!  We put it through with these rules on and no company’ll have any fuckin’ room to build anywhere and, well … and nothing for us!’

‘’Come on, man.  Thems want to do it can still pay to do it.  Breaking rules is all about paying, Duke, you know that – ‘member that extension you wanted on the house, what didn’t get the go-ahead from your subdivision association, and you built it anyway and paid the fine?’

‘Yeah, but, I didn’t have any other house to build it on.’

‘… and what with all the time we put in showing them company folks around to the land holders and the bosses at the State Farm ‘surance, they feel right at home here, Dookie.  Trust me.’

‘I don’t trust no people like you, Thomas Aquinas Fuller, and that’s why I kept what I done got so far.’

‘Well.  Fuck you, too, then, and beer that hand up.’

 

10:30 P.M.

 

‘I’m telling you, the fucking sheriff took that!  He wants you to go and try to get it back so he ken arrest yee!’

‘Bullpussy, that’s theft.  I’ll call the state police on the fucker.  I’ll get him to come to the next county, where he’s out of jurisdiction!  Are you sure you ain’t lying to me – I won’t care by this point.  I just need to know so’s I can get started on a new one.’

‘I swear I ain’t lying!  I didn’t take it.  You just need to have another look for it.  I’m sure you probably just put it somewhere while you was drunk.’

‘I thought you said it was definitely the pig what took it?’

‘Yeah, or the sheriff.’

 

10:42 P.M.

 

Feels a bit like reading tea leaves or the bloody, warm entrails the mystics used to augur the fate of men and nations.  Lamentably, it’s all in hindsight.

Glen and I were playing nine-ball and the umpteenth pitcher of the house cheapest was on it’s very last sudsy leg.  There’s a torrent of racist jokes from someone at a booth.  Just as I’m sighting up a shot in the middle of run on the table, this stout lady with short gray hair sneaks up and claps me on the side of my head in a not exactly timid manner.  ‘You them reporters, eh, you them?’ she squacks at me as I swivel around.  ‘I’m Captain Rita.  Ex-Navy.  I’ll break your fucking arm with your own pool cue if you don’t listen to me right now, you snot-nosed faggot.’  Glen recognises her.  Says she drives around in a giant diesel pick-up with a snow blade attached to the front.  ‘You city slickers?’ she asks.  ‘We’re just local boys,’ I reply.  ‘Glen here even works… over at the Medellin cabinet factory.’  ‘Well,’ her tone drops, taking me into some kind of yokel confidence, leaning in: ‘I got an angle on this whole thing you ain’t going to hear about in no fancy City Building.’  She looks back and forth, her candor verging on comical, and continues.  ‘Them boys that Duggan runs, they don’t give a shit about no water fowl or migratory patterns.  What they is, is they’re spooks, military boys, every one of them – and they’s hiding something in that lake.’  Glen pipes up and says, ‘what, like UFOs?’  Silence.  Gives us a glowering squint as she takes a few slow steps backwards, and then goes about face and hustles away in her clomping rain boots.

For a second I think that we have blown her off, ready to go on with the game.  Then she’s back all at once with a tray of shots and a couple fresh pitchers.  One she pokes a long straw into, the other she sits right on the felt.  Glen and I look at each other.  We look back at the Captain, who sucks at the pitcher with a dour face for a full minute.  There is a slurping sound just audible on the tape.  And it is here that she lets loose this hushed, frenzied steam of paranoid vomit: ‘… the reason them kooks didn’t want no digging around the lake,’ and now in a slurred stage whisper, ‘is because of them aliens.’  I don’t know whether to laugh or run away or both.  I get a little chill as she continues.

‘Started when they shot Kennedy.  Found out about all this technology him and his brother was using against the commies, came from Mars or whatever.  From the UFO they found.  They had to put somewhere.  Them ships are under the lakes – and the bodies!  There’s a bunch of sailing wrecks down there from the old days, and mixed in between them are the UFOs the government don’t want nobody to find with those goo-goo maps or whatever.  Obama comes in himself every three weeks to check on the new death ray that’s going to win this war against the towel-heads.  Yep, and that’s why all the countries hate the US, ‘cause of them UFOs under the lake.’

Utter.  Incredulity.  In a daze, I call a safety meeting.  Glen and I walk through the dirty slush to the dumpsters around the back of the bar.  Silently light up another joint.  ‘It can’t hurt to at least check up on a lead.’  I can’t believe what I’m hearing myself say.  Glen looks at me for a moment, then hands me the Bowie knife.  Says he’s got another in the glove box in the Dodge, says the Captain is probably harmless, but you know.  Better safe than sorry.  Wade back around to the front of the bar.  Now Rita has Duke with her – remember Duke?  He’s going to point out the best spot.  Of course.  We’re all going to get in the car and rush down south.  Impetuous drunkards.  And Captain Rita says she gets to choose the music.  Of course.  Chooses Pink Floyd’s least enjoyable album, and puts on the least understandable half of it.  We all have a moan.  This is where the reel-to-reel cuts out.  Then it was just the ride down frozen State Road Whatever.

Rita and Duke.  Me and Glen.  The deer.  Smashed dead.  Stagger through the snow.  Bleeding.

She’s halfway down the snowy verge, facing the edge of the lake.  One hand up like a hunting dog.

And then I saw it, too.

‘There!  Look there!  The light pillars coming out of the lake – it’s the way the ships communicate with the other, up in space!  It’s like a homing signal, even though them aliens have been dead for years, the ship is still looking for them!  I told ya!  I told ya!’  I look back at the wreck.  Duke hangs halfway out one of the back windows, his hand still closed around a can of domestic.  He’s gesturing at the lake with it.  ‘There’s a more … better view … around the other side …’

Up at the front, it’s a mess of twitching bodies.  One under each front wheel.  Glen is knelt down in the road cradling a smoking, huffing bulk of stiff hair, blood flowing over him from the broken thing, trying to dial 911 on the touchscreen of his phone with his nose.  ‘This one’s still alive,’ he’s screaming.  I can’t find my breath to answer.  Those two crazy fuckers are right – there are lights shining up out of the lake, beams straight into the night sky, significance unknown, source unknown, recipients … beyond our group of barely compos mentis drunks and a pile of corpses, unknown.

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3 Comments
  1. This could be one of your best stories Greg!
    You do need to look at trimming the fat and clarifying the dialogue though. Less is more. But that opening is a punch in the nut, and i like it.

  2. Less is more: that’s what your mother tells the punters.

    Cleaned the dialogue up, I thank you for your input.

  3. well, there’s the update – forgot to post it. Dialogue = Cleaned

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