“Watch where the hell you’s goin’ boy. You’s lucky I ain’t in no rush, or you’s be a dead white boy!” A middle aged black woman hollered. She passed by in her Lincoln Continental without a second glance.
She shouted at a young man, Caucasian, early twenties, a dark grey shirt, with khakis, and a hoodie tied around him, dangling in the middle of the road. Cars honked all around him; angry and rushed they swerved around the man with blank eyes. He stared. Dangling and staring, his thoughts akin to melting butter; The Decimation of human kind? How can I handle this? The scent of conch shells and the lands where seagulls thrive bellowed in his sinuses. John tasted the salinized water in his mouth like he first did when he almost drowned in its murky depths when he was seven. His wrists, raw to the touch as if shoved in the metal grooved circles of a sausage grinder.
His worn out feet carried his sluggish frame around in a circle, narrowly missing the cars speeding close. "The race is today." He opened his mouth, at any moment feeling a need to throw up. "Wow." He pulled tight on the sleeves of the cranberry heather French Terry Hoodie around his waist.
Honk! Honk! Honk!
The crowd cheered with screams of adoration: for me, for the Zerseck 6,000 Tri Universal; for hope. The preliminaries were a rage, like trying to harness the power of the Earth’s Sun while swimming the great rivers of Jander.
My trademark Fighter Pilot cap, a piece of Earth’s existence, of history itself held snug in my hyper-still hands. Perhaps it was the original cap the Red Baron donned thousands of years ago; a true relic. Was I so fortunate to possess it? No idea, but sure, yeah, that would be cooled. A serene salty air, like an ocean from a far away land conquered by mist inflamed my senses, as if I was close to the beach. Funny how our colloquiums have changed; what happened to awesome? Awedto is not the same Adaptive bullshit, that’s what it is.
I became a Zerseck Tri-Universal favorite among the race fans. Tradition does not die; I was the only real human based life form in this race, that idea; the last remaining pod in a hot dry dessert.
I never orchestrated a plan in any of the races I competed in, and that is why I became one of the top hopefuls. The underdog, spouted from soiled gums. Everything was a last minute call: vehicles, routes, tactics; all of them improvised with dangerous absurdity. It felt good to be loved.
His legs were bruised all over. It felt good to be loved The dangling man thought. He smelled of motor oil and dry blood as he walked, like a bird volunteering to be run over by a sedan--a cripple far gone--to the nearby newsstand to catch his breath.
The letters of the marquee weathered over the years. The elements were not to kind; high winds and storms came in faster and with more frequency. The Baker Newstand was as much a resident as the middle class struggling family down the street, and the options far greater for the overworked dad to keep him busy, too busy to argue with his wife. Shoddy repair attempts were made on the torn awning resting above, rich in green and oak, peppered with gray and soft tones of white. The white, from the glue, bled causing a molasses like gray to wisp through the tempered awning. Four wooden, chocolaty dark brown, large angled shelves measured six feet long. The angle raised the magazines and news programs, the daily ads and weekly deals, so any person size or shape saw what was available for their purchase no matter how they stood, eye gawking the selection.
Jerry Baker, of The Baker Newstand, a peculiar man: late fifties, rotund, and an example of why dentists are a blessing. His smile; no real teeth left in the most visible parts of Jerry’s mouth. Caps of shiny silver. Jerry played to his own beat. More than a handful of times his way got the best of him. The kind of sadness, painful and heavy, took hold of his body, down to the way he smiled. Eyeballed at six feet tall, give or take a couple inches. The yellow-white pull over sweater he wore stretched out due to his grown out belly. Sadness takes all forms, and Jerry drank away his pain. The factory days were done and Jerry was glad of it. Some days he wished for them back, but those days were fewer and fewer as Jerry grew old.
He carried a newspaper bundle under his arm and dropped it with a soft groan as his eye caught the lumbering shadow of the young man; a wreckage in motion. The papers tumbled and one of the plastic tie wraps loosened; the headline ’Tigers Lose: Dodgers Sweep World Series’ in full display. History is made: November 7, 2010’.
"Christ Johnny, what the hell? What happened to your face?" Jerry did not realize whom he asked until Jerry spoke John’s name.
Jerry bit the side of his knuckles . John, over a few years evolved into more of an acquaintance to Jerry, trusting. Jerry offered some good words of advice for John now and then. Now and then when Jerry’s sadness did not kept him away from the sunshine.
Jerry pulled out an old chair, as old as the newsstand itself, and slid it under his friend. "Here, here." He sat him down carefully. Jerry did not want to freak out John.
John slid side to side, alternating between a slow and fast wavering of his frame. "The salt, t-t-the war, Huxl3y, Mezeger, Krun0nian oil rrrrrrrrHearldsbrow!"
"Christ kid. Has hell frozen over? You look like you seen some shit," Sentences exited Jerry’s mouth before he gauged their helpfulness, like a broken sprinkler, trying to maintain a grassy lawn. He laughed, his silvery mouth was the best thing he relied on to hide his worry.
A breeze blew by and the papers of the newsstand rustled like voices of concern, for John, their best customer. The newsstand dwindled in popularity past its prime. Times were developing, but only in the wrong direction. Everybody suffered, but the ones who felt it most were the self employed business owners. John bought a newspaper each day, and during the market crash of ’08, John found reason to buy a few more magazines throughout the week to counter the lack in Jerry’s business.
The wind was icy on Jerry’s lips.
John winced in pain.
Jerry went behind his newsstand, his preferred home, something was there to ease his friend’s pain. Johnny will be ok for a minute, right? Yes, he will Jerry searched his duffel bag, the remnants of Jerry’s work, away from the patron’s eyes. Judging eyes. Jerry’s anger, clouded by his concern, died out as he fished out a ice pack, odd-looking as if from the 1930’s, from inside his duffel. He bought a little portable cooler during his drinking days he carried everywhere. Beer was replaced with ice packs and water to stave off dehydration and keep his deli meat and avocado sandwiches, three of them all nice and fresh, holding an extra one for John. Jerry threw down the worn out leather ripped duffel to get back to John, gripping tight the ice pack in his calloused hands.
As Jerry returned to the front of the newsstand, still vacant with no customers, he pulled in a wallop of a breath; John fell off the chair causing his legs to contort in, appearing to Jerry, an uncomfortable position.
"Oh Christ..." Jerry said in silent observation, paralyzed, like all the times when he stared down the corridors of a mental hospital. Tears waited in Jerry’s eyes as he bent down to see John’s state, his friend who seconds ago was walking, in a way. John laid sprawled out as Jerry bent in close. Please Johnny, Jerry scratched his itchy temple, Please move, come on kid, come on Johnny Jerry studied John’s face, the smell of the ocean bloomed on Jerry’s palette, "Smells like Coney Island." Jerry tried to shake away the crashing of waves he heard all around as his hands reached down, grabbing for the ground. He needs you, protect him Jerry thought, the waves of an internal being splashing in his head.
John’s eyes were open, cold black divots, tiny holes, drilled in by unflinching fate. The held up tears inside Jerry descended. He put his hand to the kid’s neck. For Jerry, it was too much. Not now. Not again. He positioned two fingers on John’s throat. Pulse?
The Zerseck Tri-Universal had arrived, and right beside me was the only one I trusted to stand with me race after race; the silver teeth, a dentist’s nightmare, were always a dead giveaway.
Zal was the only help I wanted, his silvered mouth filtered more advice than I needed. Now sure, some racers used a pit crew, for lack of better terminology.
How Zal came to be with a mouth full of silver teeth is still unclear. Those silver gum laden misfits garnered multiple stories about their origin. My favorite: a rogue Hellfire coming in contact with a hyper accelerated engine of a Talzdan Airwing, radiating liquefied shrapnel and molten Flex, leading to several killed crewman and others mortally wounded; the 2nd Battle of the Huxl3y systems. Zal was an Aviary Fighter during that war, yes, but I know him to embellish...one of my favorite things about the ol’ guy.
Unfortunately, the race also brought others: the opposition, a ragtime clan--some others you regret--Valerie IX and her husband Mox. They hovered down on one of those ridiculous pedal fly-bys to claim their spot, at the door of their crazy looped eyesore of a race car. Interlocking concentric circles, vertical and horizontal, which looked more like donut frenzy than functional transportation.
Mox came from the Nebul Region, roughly about 200 million light years away from Earth. A scientist turned geneticist; his research inseminated into birth of diabolical creation and grossly fundable war efforts. His recreated wife, was his shining hour. The first eight attempts to duplicate his wife Valerie were, surprisingly, unique in their own way; but only temporary solutions for the nympho’s loss. After several years of frustration and painful second guesses, Mox scorched away his failed attempts with Valerie IX, his cloned wife.
Oh boy, the smile on my face strained, a better actor than most, I excused the pain my mandible felt. Oh Mox, you clever scientific madman. He grated on my nerves.
"Ehhh, don’t worry about those two," Zal smirked, "Last thing I heard, she only has a three-year warranty, and we are way past that." His silver teeth opened full and wide as a stream of laughter, the choking kind, rattled up from his rib cage. "You get it? Oh man. Cause she’s a--"
My face said it all, a blank stare looking back at my friend, my rock.
"Manufactured...oh come on. Sometimes you’re just too damn serious." Zal, a grim dormant glow, a splash of dread on his face held him back.
The sky grew cold, and the crowd, subdued, seemed farther away, before Zal’s joke cracked to no applause. I closed my eyes to center myself.
John opened his eyes. Legs he barely recognized as awkwardly strode along the mosaic cracklings of the sidewalk underneath him. The sidewalk is familiar John watched as the lines cracked into desirable patterns. God my head is killing me. Easy...what day is it? Thursday? Maybe it’s--
He eyed a cracked time piece as the face reflected upward from his left wrist, a small hairline enough to grind time to a stop. The face of time watched him a as he saw the weight of drugged sleepiness in his hazel brown eyes. Almost two days? Perhaps one week? Minutes or hours since John’s time halted? November. He walked and the weight too tired to manage hung onto Jerry, tired and beaten up. John’s questions swayed in his noisy head. More than twenty-eight hours clogged in his head leaving warm images of a galactic war and the death of a planetary dignitary coming and going, and then gone. A clamor of worry and pain.
"Christ kid. You are a whole lot, a whole lot..." Jerry sidestepped as John pulled down his left shoulder. "You are heavy, you know that? I’m suppose’ to be heavy, look at me."Jerry bent over his waist, his arms on his kneecaps, and a red flush on his face.
John stood, mouth slightly askew. Jerry’s belly, collapsing and expanding made John queasy. How far did they walk? John’s head split open to a burdensome migraine. " I’m almost home." A vacancy, airy and childlike.
"Barely. Maybe you can carry me for a little bit?" Jerry scoffed.
John laughed away his remaining energy as he approached his apartment complex. "You...ok? How long did we...uhh," John sputtered, "That we was, you. You was...travel-ing? ing? Travel, where you..." He stood two of his right fingers on his left palm, alternating their placement, to indicate walking.
"Too long." Jerry heaved his frame up and scrunched down his worn out sweater. The color tone in Jerry’s face suggested seriousness. "But not too far for you Johnny."
John relaxed a bit as he looked back at the funny ol’ Jerry. John stretched out his arms; smelling the air, the sun felt good on his face. The air, a marine layer, like how it feels when driving closer to the shore blew early in the afternoon. People walked along the sidewalks, taking a second or two to grab a glance at him. John knew he must have appeared odd, opening his arms to the wonders of this Earth.
Jerry exposed his shiny teeth, trying to catch his breath.
John’s upper lip thirsted for water. "Well, I gotta get home. I am dead tired." Poor choice of words. At least they were words, and not incoherent ramblings. "I got work tomorrow."
"Since when do you work on Saturday?" Jerry said.
"I don’t work on Saturday." John took a quick glance at his watch, still showing the same time since he last checked. "Whoa, my watch; it stopped. What day is it Mr. Baker?" He asked, unsure whether or not it was a question or an admission of uncertainty.
"Now you know I don’t like being called that mister shit Johnny. Jerry, come on." Jerry sighed and approached John. He put his arm around him.
John shook, a twitch in his left eye. John and Jerry walked, one step at a time, to John’s apartment complex with no amenities, a real cheap hovel. The next step above a dump. As they rounded the corner, John smelled the quirks of his street: Italian cooking, freshly baked breads, fumes and exhaust.
John lived in the Fourtin Leisure Estates, a block from a quaint bakery. Best scones for miles. Home. The neighborhood had its problems, not unlike most: disputes, foreclosures...and unfair heartache and struggles. Sanitation was decent, for the most part, and the kids running about had some sort of head on their shoulders; running into the streets meant a dangerous game, especially when the Fallen Wanderers were around. What began as a band of silly druggies and lowlifes, all on their motorcycles with their wannabe bad ass flak jackets extended into concern, an continuing problem for John’s neighborhood. The Fallen Wanderers were no joke, not any more since their new crown prince born. A couple people ended up in missing persons as six bikers evolved into an army led by one.
Nine years ago marks the first wave of destruction. There were no ships, no real discernible way of getting here, also, they were not already here, waiting for the best opportunity to wage their one sided war. This new entity of intestinal fear and hate distilled from the blackest of souls. A destruction living off the bodiless creation of fear from the masses and the individual.
These fear mongers have a name, or at least we gave them one. An obscenity of God and all creations; the only way through the gateway between this life and what is to come after can only be met...hence the expression. Maker. Meet your maker. The expression was drained of levity by a breed, a swarming pack, unstoppable. One measly little ocean desert orb? Just an appetizer. My tongue burns with rage contemplating saying their name.
Sand covered puny little runts, no more than 120 lbs, the first; trial runs. The next were a little more reptilian, slimy, with tales and prehensile toes. Some roamed with claws grown from elongated phalanges, razor sharp like the quill of an Earth porcupine, taller ones which barely knew how to open their eyes- -one commonality between all of them:
My heart beat, faster, faster, and faster. I felt for my chest. A storm formed in my gullet as a chill ravaged my core.
"Best of the good fortune of this glorious Zerseck Univ my Stalwart Chum!" Melodious, sung like a choir of cybernetic angels, Mylan defied possibility...a globular mess, pleasantly kind. Intense when challenged. Gelatin? Close, a misty gelatin. "Till then, it has been the year long. The fashion of well is present on your visage." Mylan continued in an astute ultramarine.
"Ah, Mylan Kresge, tis good fortune to see you professor!" I replied.
"Jovial tidings I grant, but I see now something is amiss. Your countenance. Bookish? Nay, plum-tuckered-out sire." Mylan uttered with style while blinking green and ivory.
Mylan Kresge chose his words, the ones he enjoyed. He knew many languages, some long buried amongst the stars. It all stemmed from a mechanical attachment located in the higher cortex, a living brain. A small diode led down to a vocal- transistor of sorts, where his musical speech echoed. Who would have thought the English Language, as Mylan states: ’Language of your English men and lady kind is the song of my people dear and noble ice dweller, hoo boy’. I paraphrase of course.
Mylan, a scholarly linguist, also dabbled in aeronautical engineering. A mechanical green thumb. Mylan’s hands-down-best invention? His fully operational Zepp, a Zepplin as he coined it, the damn flying machine, Mylan’s Zepp had the space to house enough tenants to fill a small moon. Universally impossible, a small museum more than a simple blimp. The Zepp’s main ballroom fared in size to a Fortballs field, taking about three hours to travel on foot from one end to the other.
Mylan held great joy in the talent of possessing multiple forms. If Mylan came across an object, person, or other in his jolly gruesid or a druid’s gruesome adventures, he could mimic them, and he often did. My friend. A frenetic gelatin alive with colors; fiber optic cables, though invisible, come to mind.
Picture it: a fluid anamorphic being, the features of a turquoise painted Abraham Lincoln singing with Numeric diction, at sixes and sevens only a perfect fourth away.
"THE RACE IS ABOUT TO BEGIN!!"
Rang from the heavenly body of the unseen and self- indulgent Announcer. Those who came close to seeing the Announcer did not live long enough to report: details, juicy tidbits, diagrams; perhaps the Announcer is the savior we all feared. Shy, well, that was an understatement. Maniac. He even sounded fucking nuts.
Seems the gamete is here for the Zerseck Tri-Universal, all my fellow competitors vying for historical immortality.
"There he is." I leered at a ferry, fifteen firecrackers on each side of His Royal Highness’ Macy’s parade float that spun at a frantic speed, rigged fireworks pointed in 45 degree angles from their center wheel spokes. "Unlike King Drumholt to be late to the party."
King Drumholt abstained from arbitrary social conversation. Within the competition nestled a quiet dignity; a sportsman tradition involved breaking bread, zifon, or exchange customs, and drink the waters of Jander as they formed their own waves contained by the elongated glassware they were served in.
"Ah, His Royal Highness is probably rummaging for a face to brace the race. Applause, applause. Three to boot. Throw those shackles of oppressors against the acolytes of rhyme. Or, what by the devil, a mask to bask, with the...bullocks!"
"I shall old friend. I shall?" I understood what Mylan was saying--Probably not, but for explanation on his linguistic fallacy and impending corrections took time.
"Buckle up, and keep your opposing clawed digits at the wheel’s mercy. Phalanges? Such an odd noun, in those fanciful... Ah yes, vehicles. The better men, they shall be the vixtor?" Mylan said, befuddled, as he evaporated toward his ship.
"See you at the finish line!" I yelled, growing hoarse among the deafening spectators. Mylan and I both exchanged an upward thumb, a sign of hopefulness and camaraderie, with a questioning glare.
"You going to say goodbye Zal, wish me luck? Anything of the sort?" Zal asked, jokingly. He walked back over and passed by Mylan. Zal allowed for an ultra brief greeting with Mylan, so as to not revive another discussion. Zal and Mylan loved to debate.
"You think I need luck?" I smiled as the importance of the next week came down. "Wish me luck Zal."
"Good luck, hey, come here." Zal came in for a big hug, slammed his gut into mine and pulled his hands away quick as he walked away. "Now, first stop is over at Mezeger Automotives, ok? Got a lil’, call it a gift for you over there. Don’t forget, you know where it is?"
"Over by the financial district, yeah." My jacket carried a little heavier. What did he leave you? "Huh?" I was ready to kick off this race. I reached inside my jacket and pulled out a strawberic rhubarb cookie, "How did you pull this one off?" I tossed the cookie in the air.
"I worked my magic. 3,000 klens! I haggled him down to 300, only the best." He clicked his silver teeth together with a grin, "You see, when you get to my age, you either end up making favors to people, or you just wait as the favors people made up to you pour on in. Mezeger Automotives, don’t forget!" Zal turned around to scamper off.
A liveliness brewed inside the crowd, and it became a no holds bar as the Loulanode Twins arrived on the scene. The sheer beauty of them walked right by me. Siamese with one grey body sprouted with mauve tail feathers, two necks leading up to two faces. One, a fawned over male, and the other, an innocent female. Steps, long and wistful. Their legs, multihued sand sculptures, each color neatly layered on top of the other.
"Hey Zal, come here. So, what do you know about the new guys?" I ripped at one of my side cuticles.
A strange silicone based life form, utterly black from his torso up, the rest spewed with dark red, and slick with a Ferix iron oxide, the result of Krun0nian oil, walked past, following the Twins.
"Oh, that’s Orlin Wasgin. He’s a young little scamp. Think he has a thing for The Twins, hey to each, to his own. He’s one of ours. Milky Way. One of Neptune’s moons I heard." Zal said.
"Nerid?" My eyes squinted. I put up my hand to cover my face from the returning sun, a sun which fought hard to overpass the clouds it was outnumbered by.
"I don’t know, you think I know that glisht." Zal rubbed his dirt-oiled hands together.
I turned up my nose, "Do you have to use that?"
"What, you prefer shit over glisht?" Zal laughed, a little bit more silver to blind me.
"Yeah, it’s adaptive bullshit. Shit works, it’s shit. What the hell is glisht, how does glisht...I don’t understand our universe sometimes Zal. I don’t get it." I pointed my hand quickly over--
a cloaked figure with obscenely long hands, cloaked in black, with almost a black smoke to it as it drifted away from all the others, a spot of light as the figure turned its head. "And know anything of this Razp."
"It’s name is Razp." Zal said.
"Thanks Zal." I sighed, always got to be a smart ass, don’t you Zal? Zal Teurlojanrey, a Kasgin, piloted a Talzdan Airwing. A Talzdan Airwing, yellow, war-havock sprayed, with the jaws of a hantrial, a domineering space-shark, during the 1st and 2nd Battles of the Huxl3y Systems "Yea, I already knew that."
"He’s no stranger to disqualification. A couple Zersecks back, probably, after the Maker glisht. Cloaks never raced." Zal dropped his volume, secretively.
I buzzed my lips like a horse who had his fill of carrot, with slot machine flipped eyes.
"What? I like it, I am going to use glisht you stubborn Linvlock. You keep isolating yourself, and you will get sucked up by this world. So, yea, the ORL busted him--bribery with malicious intent. Paying one racer to throw the race, but in a way, sabotage another. Luckily he did not count on the racer he bribed to tell the Officials of the Racing League."
"Yes Zal, I know about the ORL. How did I not hear about this, Razp I mean?" I asked.
"Things became very hush hush after those green eyed demon callers. You ask me, they turned our world to shit, there, you happy." Zal gave a nasty smile.
I first saw Zal’s spurn of a grin when I ate my own words on how I acquired a vehicle when I first got picked up by Zal, my first amateur run--"But the Three-Lily, they only gave us a look at the main show." I glanced at the city buildings near the starting line.
"Sometimes, not knowing is more humane. Ugh, can’t say I know Razp’s transport, I assume, he’s a reckless like you, and just goes off the seat of his pants." Zal straightened his ol’ grease-falcon, a grease monkey who flew, his jerins around his ankles. Slim cut overalls. "I have to get back to the garage."
"Here." I broke the cookie in half and held out one of them to Zal.
"No, I couldn’t. You have it." He rubbed his hands on his jerins. "I know you’ll do or say something to make sure I take it, so...I’ll just do that." Zal grabbed the cookie, "Thanks."
"Sure thing buddy. Thank you again." I gave him a strong hug, one that meant something.
Zal left as the sounds grew wild.
I tapped my right forefinger on my head and yelled across to Zal over the noise, "Zal, already planning for the next Zerseck." I broke off a piece of my cookie and watched the old mechanic leave.
Mylan scooted his way along past the other racers, and stopped his jaunt back to his flyer before making one more pristine welcome. As I bit into the warm soft delight of self replicated strawberry and rhubarb, too far away to hear and with one-hundred percent see their interaction, I recognized who Mylan greeted, the retired Olympian...Hollene.