Turnaround, TX Chapter One

April 20th, 2016

2:54 PM

… So God created Man in His own image; he created him in the image of God…

Genesis 1:27

The freckled woman sprinted up the dusty road from the car crash, forcing back the pounding in between her temples and behind her sinuses. She promised herself she’d stick to her plan, and it was her plan. No one else’s. But the last few nights she’d caught herself having fun. Fucking Christ, that man could party.

It’d be a busy fucking day. She’d need alka seltzer and aspirin alongside the arts and crafts supplies. She had a trap to set, beasts to slay, and a messiah to snare. And all that idiot needed to do was drink of his hangover. For now anyway. She picked up her hustle and worked her way through the plot one more time.

A radio played in South Texas. Or rather a busted old tape deck, as likely to eat cassettes as produce sound, spat out a recording of an interview taped in the Year of Our Lord 1992. Samuel Randolph conducted the interview. His guest, a Dr. Eugene Brooks, was a very well educated idiot. Both died long before the tape deck played in South Texas and neither of them are important to this story. Let’s listen anyway, shall we?

“Our listeners may find this fascinating,” Samuel said, loathing his existence with every word, “This mineral, an offshoot of pyrite, which has only ever been found in South-East Vietnam, you found this mineral in Tennessee not four years after Roswell!” Samuel sipped his coffee too close to the microphone, eliciting an alien crackle. If Samuel heard the distorted sound he would not have appreciated the irony.

“This movement of the elements has often been found in conjunction with supernatural or extraterrestrial events. Sam, I don’t have to tell you about the Peruvian monuments discovered in 1949.” Eugene’s laugh resembled a large balloon with a small mouth teased in the fingers of a child.

Few things annoyed Samuel Randolph more than guests presuming the informality of a nickname. Among the things that annoyed him more were cockroaches in his oatmeal, rush hour traffic, and Civil War enthusiasts. “Yes, of course, the Peruvian Cthulu. Who could forget.” He spoke the words as only a complete and total idiot might forget, while wondering if anyone familiar with the Peruvian Cthulu had ever seen a girl naked. “And your hypothesis is that this relates directly to the assassination of JFK?”

“Of course, and I’ll tell you- ”

Metal smashed the tape deck. The metal was a car jack. To date, it had never been used to lift a vehicle. It had been used to turn off mechanics that were far way or to harm persons more than one could reasonably expect to with bare hands. And quickly.

The user in this case was a man who appeared to be in his thirties. “A syphilitic thirty-three,” one client told our dubious hero, “that’s what you look like.” It was a fair assessment. Our hero’s hair reached past his waist if left to its own devices. His beard crossed his collar bone. He had nearly zero body fat which gave the impression, when naked, of a muscular form. In clothes he just looked anorexic.

He wore a beige overcoat befitting his profession, except that he’d misplaced the matching belt and replaced it with a crushed velvet rope repurposed from a bathrobe. A bathrobe he’d stolen from Hugh Hefner. Underneath was an A-shirt, or wife beater, and was once a pair of well-fitting black slacks. Now they were torn. He wore black leather loafers.

A minute after his assault on the radio, he swung the car jack again. He connected with the power button, silencing Samuel and Eugene. Their voices would not be heard again on Earth, though they resound in Hell even now. Don’t worry. They did not matter very much to themselves, and to this story even less.

An eastern wind pushed a loose leaf of newspaper against our hero’s cheek. Blood stuck the newspaper to the vinyl head rest of the driver’s seat of an ’87 Cadillac DeVille. The wind was not constant. It came in spurts and gusts. One moment the overwhelming desert heat pervaded, the next a blowing chill wiped it away. The irregular tempo of the newspaper bothered our hero. It tickled the skin two inches behind and below his ear lobe. He reached up with the car jack to scratch the spot and discovered that not only was the newspaper irritating, it covered a substantial bruise. The jolt of pain from scratching the bruise with hot metal brought him fully awake.

“Fuck me!” he cried. Jesus H. Christ, Private Investigator thought to himself, “Where in the tits am I now?”

The bulk of the ’87 Cadillac DeVille wrapped itself around a large wooden post. Most wooden posts would not remain standing after the implied crash. This wooden post was ten inches by ten inches and extended seven feet into the earth. Nailed to this post a sign read, “Turnaround, TX,” and below that “Population 379.” One could see that it had read 378 not long ago. An enterprising man who went by the moniker Red had scratched out part of the eight to save money on paint. He had also forgotten the paint on the day a child was born in town. He is much more important to this story than the deceased Samuel and Eugene. The engine of the Cadillac muttered and died.

“Son of a bitch.” Our hero examined his person. Aware that none of his injuries were permanent, as nothing on earth permanently harmed him so far as he knew, injuries still hurt. The bruise on the back of his head extended down around his neck. A ridge along the bruise proved to be a recently formed scab. Nine hours previous that scab gushed hot and holy blood. There had been a similar wound on Jesus’s forehead but, being the Son of God, it healed in the sun. Experience taught him that direct sunlight was the foremost accelerant to his immortality. This irritated the former messiah, and contributed to his lifestyle as a night owl.

The worst injury by far was where his femur jutted through flesh. His nostrils flared. The bone glinted, marrow seeped out. Jesus sighed. He muttered a little prayer to himself, literally, and opened the glove department. “Well played, old man Christ.” He pulled out a half full pint of Solichnaya vodka. The bottle was warm, hot, over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. He drank until a quarter remained. A pair of pink sunglasses hung from the rear-view mirror, the color most commonly associated with breast cancer awareness. He placed them over his eyes and sat very still as the liquor coursed through his system.

Our hero remembered a dive bar in Baltimore City, The Seventh Shot. He entered the building intending to get very drunk. It was, after all, a day in the week ending in “y.” He encountered a tattooed young man. The young man remarked on Jesus’s resemblance to himself. They shared three grams of cocaine in the restroom. Far more than the young man planned to snort in twenty minutes.

Jesus told the young man that he was, in fact, Jesus and that it was not a fun thing to be. The young man nodded sympathetically and provided our hero with an experimental hallucinogen. Something with a bunch of “b”s, “c”s, and numbers in the title.

One hour later our hero seized a bottle of Grey Goose from a bartender and drained it. He recalled applause from other patrons, aggressive disappointment from the bartender, and a man wearing a very appropriate T-shirt stenciled “Security,” and then Eugene and Samuel’s recorded conversation. He guessed that about four days were missing. He was still plenty drunk, and knew that the intervening memories would return over time.

The sun move a few degrees around the earth, or so it seemed. Our hero took a small sip from his Stolichnaya and slipped the bottle into his overcoat pocket. He reached down with both hands and felt his femur. It had been worse. He once fucked Genghis Khan’s first wife. Had that been a beating. The bones sought to reconnect. He lit a cigarette and held it between his teeth. He placed both thumbs on the protruding framework of him. He pushed down and in.

His flesh made a dull sucking sound as the bone pushed back into the muscle. They clicked against each other and then a softer click beneath the rushing blood as the bones met and instantly fused. It hurt. Jesus passed out.

He awoke when the cigarette hanging from his lip dropped and burned a pockmark in his skin. He shook his head. He lifted the cigarette back to his mouth. He felt better already, though few smokes were left in his pack. In the backseat of the Cadillac DeVille he discovered a pair of crutches. Two different heights, but they wouldn’t be necessary all that long. With many a grunt and profanity, he pulled himself out through the window. He stabilized with the longer crutch. He limped up the highway into Turnaround, TX.

One hell of a bender, he thought. Thirteen hundred miles and a perfectly good Caddy ruined. He’d stolen it, but still. No way this was a case.

Jesus’s broken leg all but mended by the time he reached the Corner Gas. He discarded the crutches next to a smoking bucket of cigarette butts. He would limp for hours. Hs believed his father wanted him mobile but not happy and designed his immortality to match; there weren’t hard and fast rejuvenation except that life never ceased to annoy him.

A small automated bell announced his presence. A girl’s voice said, “Be right with you!”

“Take your time,” Jesus said. He walked aimlessly up the convenience aisles. He selected a small bag of sourdough pretzels that would fit into his overcoat pocket. And a bag of skittles. He contemplated a forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor but decided against it. There was bound to be a bar in a town like Turnaround, TX. He chose a small can of Red Bull. Oddly enough, taurine aided his immortality, though not nearly as much as sunlight. Jesus assumed this had something to do with his friendship to Lucifer Morningstar.

A courtesy card lay open on the counter by the mints and taped nest to it a post-it read, “For Bernard Turnip, feel better!!!” Hand drawn hearts and stars decorated the post-it. Little room remained on the card for signatures. Jesus chuckled. Likely the ailing Bernard Turpin would appreciate well wishes from Jesus, but would read it as hubris and mockery.

“Sorry for the wait. Inventory.”

The Corner Gas clerk smiled a broad smile. Her lips were painted maroon, accentuating ampleness. She wore a product that propped up her hair. She shaved the sides herself. She had full but not enormous breasts under her lime green tank top. Her shorts were very short; she cut them so that the tuck of her buttocks was one and on half inches below the frayed denim. Her midriff showed a glamourous medallion dangling from her severed umbilical cord. She had studs in both ears, one each, and a thin golden hoop in her nose. Her eyes did not look at all as if she was from Turnaround, TX.

The corners of her mouth turned down as she observed the Son of God. While his injuries healed quickly, the blood stains on his clothes and the blood smears on his skin remained. Jesus was used to such examinations. His alcoholism lead inevitably to massive injurty. He tired of explaining and found that, as one does with small children, it was best to pretend as if nothing had happened and move forward.

“Inventory. Am I right?” The statement meant nothing. Jesus had never taken a store’s inventory before. He removed his pink sunglasses. “Pack of Winstons. Full flavored. And a bic.”

The young woman’s name tag read, ‘I’m Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ McGovern and you’re beautiful!” She reached up and collected the cigarettes without looking away. “They’re a buck seventy-five cheaper if you get two of them and what the hell happened to you?”

“Car accident. I’ll do two. Without being asked, his mind constructed an image of her looking up at him over her shoulder while she bent at a ninety-degree angle. And a ball gag, but in his mouth not hers. Theoretical sounds accompanied the thought. Jesus’s body was forbidden from reproducing but that hadn’t dulled his appreciation for trying. After two thousand years, he liked to spice it up. “Do you guys take plastic?” He bet she could whup living hell out of his ass. Or choke him right out. Another benefit of immortality? The literal death orgasm.

“I’ll call Petey, he’s a deputy, he’ll take you to the hospital.” Lizzie was not as distressed were likely to be when confronted with a drunk covered in blood. Her hips gyrated when she reached for the phone. Was she also aroused?

“Really. Don’t.” Jesus tossed his debit card onto the counter. It deflected off the courtesy card. “Someone is picking me up any second now, I just needed some smokes and snacks for the drive.”

She took this explanation for the lie it was. She strode up to the cash register with pouting lips, not deigning to make eye contact with our hobo hero. “You look like a bad guy in a Mad Max movie,” she said.

“You look like a pinup girl from the forties.”

Lizzie smirked. “I need to see some ID.”

Jesus groaned. He knew what was coming. He passed her a Maryland driver’s license.

She frowned at the ID, and then at the debit card. She looked him in the eye. ”You should know that I’m pretty cool but people around here don’t put up with this shit.”

“My dad’s idea of laugh riot comedy.” This was true. God made it impossible for Jesus to legally change his name. Every time he tried to send paperwork through the bureaucratic channels something went wrong. The extent of this had cost one census taker his life, though who’s to say that the man hadn’t been saved from another tragic demise for the sake of the hold up. They say drowning is peaceful at the end. “Just run the fucking car.”

“Don’t get lippy.” She twisted on leg to rest her weight on the other and tilted her head. “You’re him aren’t you.”

The Son of God often told people the truth of his background. People often believed him. They rarely accepted this terrible reality as fact without prodding. Jesus shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Do you have the scars?”

Jesus ran his fingers through his crusted hair. Lizzie waited.

“That’s none of your fucking business,” Jesus said. “Run the card or don’t.”

She stared. Jesus thrust the snack and smokes into his pockets.

“Fine, bitch. Be that way.”

Lizzie swiped the debit card. She held out the receipt, card and a ball point pen in soft, round fingers. Jesus reached to take them. With a slight twitch, Lizzie dropped the pen. They both went for it and Jesus winced as one of Lizzie’s rings sliced the back of his hand. The cut came just short of the telltale lacerations that mirrored on both sides of both hands. Some things shouldn’t heal.

“What the hell!”

“Oops. Clumsy me.” Lizzie glanced at a trace amount of blood on the inside of her middle finger. “Have a lovely day.”

“Suck a dick.” The little automated bell chimed Jesus’s exit. He noticed Lizzie licking her finger. She shuddered.

Jesus turned off the highway and across a bridge. A flume, or manmade river, cut through town to stop flooding during that one month when it used to rain. Now the bridge merely hung over a dusty ditch spotted with beer bottles and potato chip wrappers. The whole town was dusty. Jesus kept waiting for a tumbleweed to roll by. Or Wile E. Coyote to roll by with a nice sized crate labeled ACME. A couple wooden signs in the air with something latin written on them. Jesus decided to leave Turnaround, TX as soon as possible. Get back home.

Case or no, this place gave him the heebie jeebies. He preferred cities. These bumfuck types held a social contract that was entirely different. They brushed off shit that’d get you shot back in Baltimore. Stepping on someone’s new Timberlands for example. But unless you were up on Fox News’ latest crusade you always risked crossing a line that had a torch wielding mob on the other side.

Money was no issue. It was merely a matter of finding a trucker and offering him an unseemly sum of cash to let Jesus ride in the cab. He’d discovered that for the right price he could purchase not only a ride but silence on the journey.

On three occasions a trucker had attempted something untoward while Jesus slept. On four occasions a trucker had attempted to rob him. In the cases of sexual incursion, Jesus beat the professional motorists until they were forever incapable of sexual congress. He inspected closely to be sure of this in each case. The robberies he allowed to occur. His finances were a complex manner that did not merit combat. In one instance, he never noticed that thievery took place. That guy had fantastic heroin.

While every man has their price, even a large sum of money requires conversation if you offer it while covered in blood. For a smooth transaction, he needed new garments. The hole in his pants from where the bone poked through was not large. The blood stains were indistinguishable from any other. He merely resembled a messy eater. The overcoat could not be saved, nor the A-shirt.

Back in Baltimore, the city Christ called home, he doubted anyone would’ve cared about his appearance. Another beat and bloodied bum was sad, sure, but could still catch a hack downtown. Just throw up fingers and show the cash. By the way, for our less urban readers a hack can refer to a professional taxi driver. In Baltimore a hack’s an entrepreneur with a ratty car and a healthy ambition. Not since Camelot had Jesus loved a city as much as Baltimore. Couldn’t put his finger on why. Maybe because God seemed so very far away.

This wasn’t Baltimore. This was God’s country. You could tell by all the crucifixes in the windows, the goldfish on Ford bumpers. The trucks. Not all pickup truck owners are Christians, but any town that disdains sedans likely has more churches than liquor stores. The irony was not lost on Jesus. These were his people, in theory. Yet when faced with the reality of their vagrant lord, they tended to run back inside their double wide trailers and grab the hunting rifle. Sic dogs on the savior.

A General Store franchise operated on Main Street. Brown aluminum siding that identified as Lincoln logs. Another significant difference from Baltimore; in bumfuck Texas rural was a selling point while back East it made a man look over his shoulder for tiki torches and white hoods. The business as more than a simple grocery store. Here one could acquire culinary necessities alongside other basics like propane, ammunition, and clothes. Jesus pushed open the door, greeted by an identical bell to the gas station.

The majority of grocery stores hold to a uniform aesthetic and on the surface this one did not break from that pattern. The aisles were in perfect order, if a little more empty than your standard Safeway. The lights were fluorescent. There was practically no odor despite being surrounded by food. Signs at the end of each aisle declared the wares one would find.

The first indication of abnormality was the floor. It was rough concrete. There were cracks and lumps and loose gravel. The grocery carts, what few were in use, clanged and clicker-clacked off the imperfections. Once a red hue akin to the American flag, the only evidence of color was where the painters had sprayed or dripped on the wall. Now the floor looked lik an artful depiction of dirt, but much harder. When one stepped one expected the soft give of soil, so the first few steps jarred the spine and knees.

Looking up, one saw a vaulted ceiling. It towered above like the apex of a cathedral. The brown wooden slats were hard to see through the lights. Strands of bark hung down, like bats roosting. Jesus was sure he saw a cat on a crossbeam but when he looked closer he saw nothing at all.

On the back wall bold white letters were transcribed over an olive-green backdrop. “Turnaround or You’ll Miss the Savings!” Over transcription shone a golden star,with slender tines. The flourescents failed to light the star; it loomed rather than shone over customers.

Jesus thought that if the young men from the Lord of the Flies designed a Hall of Justice, It would be this building. Following that, if their British nannies had crash landed just after, they’d force practicality in just this fashion.

He moved towards the minimal clothing selection. A woman planted herself in his path. She crossed her arms.

“Can I help you.”

Her grey hair hung to her neck. Not uniform grey. Streaks of varying light and dark and white and brown and silver. They hadn’t been colored by a stylist, nor had the sun caught each at a different angle over time. She simply had an array of age. Her teeth, yellowed, were similarly diverse of shade. She dressed plainly in a peasant’s shirt and jeans. If she did not draw attention to herself, she was just another mother or grandmother. Upon sighting a stranger, a trouble maker, in her territory, she reacted instinctively as a feral matriarch.

“I need a shirt,” Jesus said. Lizzie took him off guard. This old broad wouldn’t shake him. “You got shirts in this joint?”

“I heard you crashed your car.”

“Well good the fuck for you. I’m a size extra-large, you want to move?”

“No, you are not. You’re too scrawny for an extra-large.”

“You want me showing off my belly button?”

“You might as well wear a trash bag as a size extra-large. You’ll look ridiculous.”

“Right now I’d rather not look like Freddy Krueger’s hairier cousin.”

“Hah.” Her frown loosened. “I’m Dorothy.” She offered her hand.

“Nice to meet you Dorothy.” He shook and moved to circumvent her.

“And you are?” She side-stepped, cutting Jesus off and nearly elbow checking him into a trail mix display.

“Dorothy, sweet heart, if you know about the wreck you know good and well who the fuck I am. So let’s scoot right on past the jokes and the questions. You don’t know a crack I haven’t heard and you won’t believe any of my answers.”

“How long will you be staying in Turnaround, TX?”

“Not one second longer than I have to. Why, you want to grab a drink after shift? You’re not bad looking for an antique.” Jesus looked pointedly at her breasts. “Decent tits for a pudgy girl.”

She blinked. Jesus didn’t think it was his identity she questioned. Dorothy seemed to be doubting that who he was mattered.

“If you totaled your car you won’t be able to leave town for at least three days.”

“You sure about that?”

“Not unless you steal a car.” She chuckled and it was a challenge. “I wouldn’t recommend that.”

“Fine. Whatever. Can I get a damn shirt? Please?”

She shrugged. Her face said, “I tried to warn you,” but Jesus hadn’t heard a warning anywhere in their conversation. She turned and led him to a rack of short sleeved button up shirts. “You can have one of these on the house. Lord knows where your money came from.” She laughed at her own joke. “Take your pick.”

“Holy hell?” All the shirts were 100% cotton. The fashion was colloquially known as “Hawaiian,” in that they were cut for wider men and vibrantly colorful. Instead of depicting exotic flowers or palm trees or birds, the image was a desert with the horizon crossing just south of the nipples. Dirty shrubs and a vulture. “Has anybody ever bought one of these ever?”

“Bernard Turnip painted the design. He’s dying.”

“Good. I’ll buy something else, that is a piece of fucking garbage.”

Dorothy put her finger tips on the Son of God’s chest. “You take one of those and you get out of my shop.” She hadn’t raised her volume. Her tone did jump in pitch and quivered. The vibration resonated in her touch.

Jesus ground his teeth. His nose crinkled. He imagined taking a nearby display stand full of post cards and smashing in Dorothy’s yellow teeth. He enjoyed this image. He smiled. “Then may I get a new beater for underneath?”

Dorothy sniffed. She removed her hand and the two breathed easier. She grabbed a baby blue A-shirt that said “Princess” in a font suited for baseball uniforms. She held it out with a medium sized “Hawaiian” shirt. “Have a blessed day.”

“Not one in two thousand years. Cunt.”

Jesus changed in the parking lot. In a silly way he cut quite the figure, though hardly owning up to the title of Princess. They would’ve thrown a fit in the Charm City Court. Princess Rose enjoyed the greatest love of any woman in Court, and Jesus wasn’t exactly popular. They couldn’t crucify him like the good old days, but there’d be no end to the hate mail.

He tied his hair back into a bun with a few strings torn from his old shirt. Jesus liked that long hair was fashionable for men again. He discovered in 210 AD that one aspect of his immortality was to be stuck with the exact same length as when he crawled out of the cave. Properly dressed, or at least less like an Walking Dead extra, he limped towards a neon sign. Neon meant liquor.

Coincedentally, three miles south of town in an abandoned limestone quarry there were no neon lights and hence no liquor. Don’t be concerned; there wasn’t any running electricity either. Instead there stood an eight-foot-tall wooden figurine on a four-foot-tall gallows.

The freckled woman crafted the figurine’s skeleton from her collection of holy relics. A centuries old hobby put to use. Most of them lacked credibility; the femur of St. Peter was comically inaccurate. Any of the apostle’s friends could have told you that he was much too short to match. These fictions provided their on value by the value they’d accumulated. Faith is funny that way. A few genuine articles seeped through. The skull, Gandhi’s, she’d acquired at great cost and threat to personal safety.

The skin came from Alexandria. The original. Papyrus scrolls that detailed the aqueduct systems of Ancient Rome. The text referred to the manner in which the Empire removed waste. An Egyptian guide to Italian shit. The freckled woman only translated the text in 1798 with the help of the Rosetta Stone before she sold it to Bouchard. She hoped that the antiquity would elevate the skin from a fecal manifesto to something more prestigious. Many aspects of the trap she set were less than precise and based purely on hope. Hope never led the freckled woman too far astray.

She pasted patches of hair to the papyrus. These qualified under the most scrutinizing Christian doctrine as holy. She took them from the head of our dubious hero, the one she called Christ. He grew them back nearly instantly and they’d spent a night drinking Franzia, much to Jesus’s dismay, and shaving his head under a willow tree, much to his amusement. The freckled woman’s plan suggested she keep him drunk enough to ensure a black out; it would never do to have him remember the details of their time together. She needn’t have bothered plotting that part. When Jesus goes on a bender he does so with all the might of a crusade.

The freckled woman slapped the last hank of hair from her duffel bag onto the figurine’s groin. She debated for the last time whether to screw a candle stick from 1700s Translyvania in place of a cock. She decided against. While the Son of God possessed many strengths, a large penis was not one of them. She put a braid in its place with a pink thumbtack.

“Why pink?” the old woman asked.

“Because,” the freckled woman said, “It would drive him batshit.” She put her hands on her hips and marveled at her work. It wasn’t a pretty statue. A gangly sasquatch. Didn’t matter. Her marveling put the magic to work. The freckled woman turned the nozzle on a plastic tub for dispersing insecticide. The contents came straight from one of the wells of life. She hosed down the figurine and muttered blessings in a dozen languages, some long forgotten by man. She glared over her shoulder. “Don’t you have work to do?”

The old woman bowed. “Yes, madam.” She scurried up and out of the stone quarry.

The freckled woman shook her head. They were a sweet bunch, the women of Turnaround, TX. Silly, but sweet. She sprayed the braid between the statue’s legs. Jesus would have found the tavern by then. He was a predictable messiah.

Raw stone, sand and dust everywhere. Fucking Texas. The freckled woman hated to be so far from home. She’d often wondered why so much of her life revolved around the Charm City Court. It wasn’t the only city laden with those things vanillas can’t quite notice. It wasn’t even an impressive Court. It drew the downtrodden.

Next Chapter: Chevrolet in Flames Chapter One