Friday, September 10, 2010

Spanish Tony Revision

Dedicated to Lance "Monty" Wright

Marty loves rock and roll. His mother Beverly is a blue-collar girl from a small
town with a fetish for guitar players. She meets Marty's father one night at a concert and they have sex in an alley behind the bar. She writes down her phone number in lipstick on a bar napkin. He calls her a few nights later.

Marty is ten years old when his rock and roll parents divorce. He cheats on her, she cheats on him, he uses drugs, and she drinks every day. Little Marty is a pawn. She makes breathy late night phone calls and threatens to cut his throat if he brings any women around her son. He destroys furniture and screams that he will take Marty and disappear. His father gives up custody for smaller support payment and moves out of town. He does not tell his son and never sees him again. Beverly marries another guitar player within a year. Dwayne. He hates Marty from the start.

Marty listens to music every day. It makes his chest swell and his leg bounce. The tempos and melodies sink into him like hooks and carry him away to another place. Sometimes, when he sits in front of his cassette player, he forgets about his mother and the stepfather who hates him. Bone-white beams of light stream from the speakers and envelop his body with their electric pulse. His favorite song is "Rosanna" from the band Toto. He hears it for the first time and immediately wants to be a drummer. Beverly does not want to hear it. She expects that her son will be a strapping, blonde haired guitar player. No other instrument will do.

“Mom, what if I wanted to play drums?”

Beverly frowns. “That’s stupid, drummers aren't anything.” She pauses. “Well, what I mean is that they usually aren't famous ‘cause they’re at the back of the stage and they’re usually pretty stupid too. You don’t wanna be stupid, do you, Marty?”

Marty’s eyes widen. “No, mom.”

“Then quit saying stupid things.”

She wants a budding stud, but what she ends up with is a soft and myopic little boy. At least he has blonde hair. She makes him wear it long and strong-arms him over his weight.

“Marty, don’t you wanna be like other kids? You should do more.”

“Mom…” His voice is bursting with bruises.

“Mom what? Marty, you’re too fat. You need some exercise or somethin’. Don’t you wanna ever have a girlfriend?”

“Mom, I’ve had girlfriends!”

“Who? I think you’re lyin’. Girls don’t like fat boys, Marty. Don’t come cryin’ to me later.”

She hates his music and it gives her another reason to scold him. She knows better. He does not know what real music is.

“Marty, you’re listenin’ to Toto? I taught you better than that.”

“God, mom, I like this song!” he whines.

Beverly snorts loudly. “It’s a crappy pop song. You wanna listen to some shit like that instead of good rock like The Stones?”

“I think it’s kinda cool. I wish you liked it.”

“Not in your wildest dreams, buddy-o.” Her expression freezes. “Fine, listen to your pop bullshit. I’m disappointed, my own son, gettin’ into shit like this.”

She leaves the room and slams the door behind here. Marty sighs and pushes the rewind button on the cassette player. He lowers the volume to avoid riling his mother and listens to the song again. The rowdy strains of The Rolling Stones song "Start Me Up" swells from the next room. Marty hears his mother singing along with a thin, reedy voice.

He will quit listening to Toto and start listening to The Rolling Stones. He will love his mom’s music and it will make her love him. She will see that he could be cool and that she can be proud to call him her son. He thinks it will work. A warm cloud of gold climbs from his stomach and fills his shoulders with light.

He walks into the next room and finds her cleaning while the music plays. She is oblivious to her son's presence and waits until the song ends before noticing him. When she does, she stops and frowns.

“Done listenin’ to your music? Then go out and play or somethin’, you can’t hang out in here right now, I’m cleanin’.”

“No, mom, I was wonderin' if I could borrow a couple of your Rolling Stones tapes.”

Her back arches with surprise. “You wanna borrow some Stones?”

“Yeah. I think they're pretty cool.”

“Pretty cool? They’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world, honey.”

“They are? Cool.”

“Lemme get you a couple of tapes.”

She leaves the room. She called me honey! She never does that! She returns with two cassette tapes and a paperback book in her hands. She keeps her grip on them when Marty reaches out to take them.

“Don’t lose this stuff. Lose it and your ass is mine.”

“I won’t lose any of it, mom.”

Her eyes focus on him and her eyebrow arches. "Let me tell you about this book. It's called Up and Down with The Rolling Stones. A guy named Spanish Tony wrote it about the guitarist Keith Richards. It tells a lot about the band. Read it and tell me what you think."

"Okay, mom."

He takes the book and cassettes from her, walks into his bedroom, and puts the tape in. The blue razor slashes of the song "Brown Sugar" rip open a jagged scar on his brain. It is too raw and the steamy volume of the music fazes him. He will pretend to like it though. He will act as if it is the greatest music he has ever heard. He will read this book and act as if he loves every word. He will do it all and she will love him in the end.

He reads the book on the school bus over the next few days. It is largely about drugs and sex. It depicts a world utterly alien to Marty's experience and is slightly repellant. He finishes the book just before he gets home in the afternoon. In a hurry to get off the bus, he stuffs the book into his back pocket and rushes off the bus. No one is home. Marty watches television for a hour before his mom comes home.

“Hi, mom. I finished that book on the way home from school today!”

She sits down and runs her fingers through her hair. She looks down at the floor and a heavy sigh causes her body to convulse. She lights a cigarette and puffs on it with frequent jerks of her hand.

“Really? That’s quick. What’d ya think of it?”

“I loved it! It was fun to read. Especially those stories about Keith and all his guns!”

She smiles. “Yeah, lots of rock stars carry guns. They probably should considerin’ what happened to John Lennon.”

“What happened to John Lennon?”

“He was shot by a crazy fan. You really liked the book?”

“Yeah, mom, it was cool!”

She smiles again. “That’s great! Come here and give me a hug!”

He is propelling headlong into a dream and rushes towards his mother. He gives her a long, tight hug and drives his head into her chest. When he looks up and sees her smiling at him, it knocks the air out of him.

“Okay, honey, where's the book?"

He reaches towards his back pocket and finds nothing. A heavy fist pounds inside his chest. I lost it! He cannot look at his mother and stares at the floor. The carpet collapses and an inky cavity yawns at his feet.

"I... don't know, mom. I don't know. I had it in my back pocket..."


“I think I lost it, mom.”

“How? Where? Jesus fucking Christ…”

“I finished readin’ it on the bus this afternoon and when I got off, I stuck it in my backpack and ran off the bus in a hurry so I could come in and tell you…”

“That’s it, right there! You didn’t make sure you had the book really inside the backpack and it felt out alongside the road!”

Marty was on the verge of tears. “I think so… mom.”

“DON’T YOU MOM ME, MOTHERFUCKER! DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT BOOK WAS TO FIND?” She takes a deep breath and her eyes narrow. “No, ‘course you don’t. You wouldn’t know. Everything’s about you and nothin’ else.”

“It’s not true! It was an accident and I’m sorry!”

“Everythin’ is an accident with you. Just accident all around. When you gonna take some responsibility for yourself? You ain’t gonna be a kid forever.” She glared at him intensely. “I thought you were my friend. Guess I was wrong. You’re just my kid.”

A salty stream of tears makes his eyes sticky and he rocks back and forth on his toes. “Mom, that… that’s not true. I’m your friend. I love you.”

Beverly is unmoved by his tears. She snorts and waves her hand backward. “Save it. I don’t wanna hear it. You know, you’re like Spanish Tony. Keith trusted him with his secrets and he wrote a book. I trusted you with my copy of the book and you disappointed me. Get outta here. I wanna be alone. Go to your room."

Marty back-peddles into his bedroom. The click when Beverly slams the door shut sounds like a cracking whip. He turns around slowly and lunges towards the cassette tape player. The sound of "Rosanna" playing once again helps him stop shaking and slows his steady tears. He is an orphan and the facts of his birth are incidental. There are no toys here or posters on the wall. There are no pictures or bright colors. There is only a stereo playing a pop song, a small bed, and a bicycle with a flat tire and missing chain. There is only a little boy alone in his room staring out the window at his back yard. He presses his fingers against the glass and cries.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Hounds - September 2010 Revision

The hounds snap at his heels. Their jagged, fungus-green teeth jut far outside their mouths and throbbing internal organs cling to their distended bodies. They claw at his body and pursue him in long gallops under a stormy, purple sky. One hound wounds a leg and a bubbling stew of vodka and blood erupts from the gash. The pain cuts and burns like flaming glass, but he cannot stumble. They never tire, but if he falters or slows, they will eat his flesh. He cannot keep going much longer.

He wakes up. His wide eyes stare upwards as he gasps for air. An opaque twilight fills the tent and a foul odor fills the air. He convulses and feels a cold layer of sweat covering his body. His rapid heartbeat rattles his chest and his head feels like a rough, heavy hand is pressing down on his skull. He senses someone near and rolls his head to look around. His friend Walter huddles in a corner of the tent.

"Fuckin' Christ, you scared the shit out of me, Johnny! What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Walter is in his late forties. Ancient acne scars dot his face and his long arms are loose, fleshy spools of rope. The gray hair matted to his head looks like a sticky smear of paint.

Johnny runs his hand over his face and sighs. "Sorry, man. Nightmare."

"I'll fuckin' say. You thrashed around like crazy." He pauses. "I'm glad it happened though. I had a nightmare too and you woke me up."

"Any of that bottle left? I need a drink. I'm shakin' already."

Walter reaches into a nearby backpack and pulls out a half gallon of vodka. This is the solvent of choice, the poison that scours away the battery of their birth. Johnny unscrews the lid with shaking hands and raises the bottle to his lips. He swallows three mouthfuls before he feels his body relax.

"You got any tobacco left?" Johnny asks.

"Yeah. Want me to roll it?"

"If you would. I'd just fuck up the paper."

They smoke silently. They tumble in a toxic abyss, head over feet, and their dizzy descent brings them to the brink of death. Johnny is pale and puffy. Deep grooves of shadow surround eyes like ditches and his bald head glistens with sweat. Walter's stomach is bloated and distended. Alcohol squeezes its way out of every pore of his body and smells like rotten cabbage.

"What kinda nightmare did you have?" Walter asks.

"It was fuckin' bad. These hounds were chasing me and biting me. They were turned all inside out and I saw their insides. They were like demons."

"Damn. I hadda nightmare too."

"What was it?"

"I was in a house of bones. Faces and claws were comin' out of the walls and faces talked to me."

"What did they say?"

"They said I was scum and deserved to die. They said they'd get me soon."

Walter says nothing. They live in the woods near a railroad switchyard and the whine of a train whistle punctuates their silence. The living room lights of distant houses tatter the dark around them.

"I heard voices too." Johnny says.

"You too?"

"Yeah. The hounds talked to me."

"What did they say?"

"They said we were gonna die."

The chill covers Walter's body. It is unsettling to have been a part of Johnny's nightmare. He takes another long drink and passes the bottle to Johnny.

"That all we got left?" Johnny asks.

Walter frowns. "Yeah, but we got some money left from yesterday."

"Enough for another one?"

"Yeah, I think so. What time ya got?"

"I don't know, man. Let me find my watch."

Walter looks through his backpack and sighs deeply. "I can't find my watch."

"Well, it ain't been that long since the sun went down. I think it's eight or somethin'. Plenty of time still. I don't think we've been passed out long."

"I know we need more. That's all I know."

"Yeah. I don't feel right." Johnny says.

"Let me roll a couple more cigarettes for the walk."

Their black bodies strain through the humid nighttime air. Their tent is in a tiny clearing and a small footpath leads to the railroad tracks. The only sound they hear is the soft crackle of dry foliage under their feet.

Johnny's breathing is frantic. "We missed the trail! I can't see anything!"

"It's okay, we'll make it. I ain't very steady though."

"Me too. Just take it slow, okay?"

They walk into trees, stumble over fallen limbs, and step into hidden holes. The vines and overgrowth alike smack their faces. Johnny thinks about his dream and a cold fist clutches his body.

"I'm scared, man. Ain't no light at all." he says.

"I know. There's no light anywhere."

Johnny stops and his head twists from side to side. "Walter, did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"That sound! Shhh! I think something's following us."

"I don't hear anything."

Johnny sighs and shakes his head slowly. "Let's sit down for a minute. I can't think straight."

"No problem."

They sit down and take another drink. A hot blast of nausea wracks his body. He hands the bottle back to Walter and lays back on the ground.

"I feel sick and see things movin' all around me. I feel like I can't breathe sometimes."

"Man, we've been drinkin' everyday for a week. I don't even know what day of the week it is."

"I've been seein' things every day lately. Insects as big as fists, weird colors."

"We're gonna be okay, man. You just need another drink and it'll make you feel better."

"The whole fuckin' world's gone rotten." Johnny says.

They quietly pass the alcohol back and forth. A black, scalding cloud blooms from the bottle but the men do not see it. Its oily gurgle clots their minds, peels away muscle and fries their nervous system. Nothing escapes its gelatinous reach.

"Maybe we should go back to the tent and lay down. We can worry 'bout getting a bottle later. I don't think it's more than nine o'clock, so we got six more hours before the store closes." Walter says.

"I need to lay down. I can't think straight and I'm scared."

"We ain't got nothin' to be scared of, Johnny. It's all in your head."

"Let's go back to the tent, man, okay?"

They are carried back to their tent on a covert breeze that causes the tree limbs to rustle and clash. Milky pinholes of light from lightning bugs wheel all around them. Johnny is having trouble catching his breath and his steps are small and poorly timed.

"There's somethin' out there, Walter. I can hear it." Johnny hisses.

Walter stops and turns to Johnny in the darkness. "There's nothin' out there, Johnny. You're hearing things."


Walter lays his hands lightly on Johnny's chest. "Man, it's going to be okay, we just gotta get back to the tent."

Johnny sighs deeply. "I gotta sit down."

He collapses onto the ground and hunts for the bottle. The longer it takes to find the bottle, the more frantic he becomes. When he finds it, he jerks the bottle out, unscrews the lid, and gulps down a rattling mouthful of vodka. A few seconds pass and Johnny's body begins to shudder.


Walter clutches him in a tight embrace, but cannot subdue Johnny's shaking. Johnny grabs him on each side and pushes him away. Walter lands hard against a tree and watches Johnny's shadow vanish into the darkness. All he can hear is the sound of Johnny crashing through the wilderness followed by an alarming silence.

"Johnny, come back!"

Walter struggles to his feet and starts running after him. Johnny is crouched behind a hawthorn bush and can hear Walter coming. The hounds are here and, if they find him, he will fight. They will not get him without a fight. He knows that Walter is helping them. He is leading him into a trap. Johnny's eyes skim the dark in search of his attackers.

"Johnny, let me help you, man! Where are you?" Walter cries out.

Walter is only a few feet away. Johnny reaches into his pocket and touches his knife. The blade pops out with a soft click. He will kill Walter and the hounds. He sees Walter a few inches away and leaps out from behind the bush. He plunges the knife deep into Walter's back again and again.

"Johnny, no!" Walter screams.

Walter tumbles over and lands on his back. Johnny jumps on top of him and grabs a handful of his hair. With a quick slice, he slits Walter's throat from ear to ear.

"You won't bring them to me, you bastard! You're trying to kill me!"

Then, out of the darkness, the hounds came for him.