I sat hunched over at my kitchen table, staring at an empty bowl of black bean soup, clicking my heels in step with the beat from a Neil Young song against the shabby floorboards when a Molotov cocktail sailed behind me through an open window whose pane I had lifted earlier to let in the breeze, setting my ramshackle kitchen and casting a black shadow that could rival those of the sheepish cave dwellers in Plato’s allegory of the cave. I guess you could consider me something of a cave dweller.
My patrimony had yet to be handed down but in death my heir would not inherit an iota of whatever sliver of beneficence they felt was deserved through nothing but birth. I had retired to this cabin, my late father’s, a sheepish anchorite who installed oak paneling throughout the house as if preparing his dwelling a museum exhibit. Built around the turn of the century a hundred miles out from Windy Gorge, North Carolina years before, I had been alternatively enjoying and loathing my destitution near a mountain bog at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains for over a decade. I had never planned to leave. Until tonight.
I didn’t hear the bottle, brimming with fire from a rag soaked in gasoline sticking out the end, shatter against the kitchen cabinets and litter the floor with splotches of oil and shards of broken glass—and that was before Hell’s light brought life to a dark kitchen in a dead house situated on land bought by Rostrum Robotics to set up another manufacturing plant.
The strap of my headphones sat squarely over the top of my shaven skull, the earpieces ensconced at the terminus of my ear canal, cancelling out all noise. The flames nearly scorched my back clean of its deeply tanned flesh. I gripped the underside of the table and flipped it over and trundled forward into the living room. Reached for my twelve gauge in a closet the size of a phone booth and kicked my front door open with such ferocity it leaped off its hinges. The door splintered the bastard’s forehead who presumably had thrown the improvised incendiary device as I unloaded a burst of shells into his chest just above the naval of his exposed abdomen. No shirt on this winner. Just a wiry frame the circumference of a pencil, youthful and young and dumb and full of audacity.
I had gripped my Remington 870 like some 1920’s prohibition spawned thug; holding it out with my right forefinger in the trigger guard and my left palm just under tubular magazine of the barrel. The 12-gauge shotshells stretched the poor sap’s insides as if they had been elastic detachments, taped haphazardly enough to make him seem just an effigy of a man and his obsidian colored blood erupted through muscle fibers.
A polar moon stark white against a starless, pitiless sky, imbued the rivulets of his blood with a glossy sheen. It seeped down through the battered planks of my long, wide porch. Chimes hung from the eaves were rustling as though singing a elegiac serenade for this poor young sap’s requiem.
The irony of it all? Before all this amateur bullshit, I had a six-shooter waiting on my kitchen table, eager for my hand to raise the barrel to my temple and my calloused fingers to pull its trigger when Neil Young was finished exhorting an old man to take a look at his life. My life had now taken on a new meaning in the aftermath of the rapturous afterglow dancing like impish marionettes behind me. Let the rapture so spoken of in Christian myth pass unremitting judgment on those barbarous beasts so convinced an old man like me wasn’t worth a damn. God help them all.
All that I was able to take with me was my Remington and some shells, for to go back in that conflagration and retrieve money or other valuables would be suicide. There goes that irony again. Suicide by fire or by a one man firing squad? The smoke was unfurling up toward the sparkled firmament. My house would soon be burned asunder. I skipped over to a twenty-year old Ford F-150, nearly two hundred thousand miles just one testament to its mortal machinery. I was not going to test it, and I don’t even remember the last time I had filled it up. Instead I bounded across stretches of flame azalea and mountain laurel, hosts of insects swarming me like heavy fumes of the furies. The night was cloudless and the stars secure in their molten energies; festooned in the firmament and imparting an excitable majesty that never failed to remind me of the small joys in my depressing life.
After I had negotiated a steep hill, coming out onto a stony precipice some one hundred meters north of my engulfed abode, I smiled sadly. Above my thick brows a film of sweat was beginning to cake. My cold eyes were fixated on the flames as if they were under some unearthly volition incomprehensible to my cognizance, entranced by the exothermic undulations burning from across that vast complex of earth and obliterating the house my forefathers built on unoccupied territory they had staked out for themselves as self-determined settlers. There was an attached watermill at the shoulder of the creek, its circular movements long since abandoned. Some nights I heard an indefinable essence out there, phantasmal energies riding the boards, girdling it like a maiden’s corset, the wispy sprites gliding the mill’s downward movement and churning the black creek’s brackish water.
My existence was born again under a zodiacal light in the false dawn, where I now stood at a cavernous threshold to a Byzantine hinterland. ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ Pat Henry exhorted up northeast in Richmond, Virginia. If my mind serves me well at this advanced age, I’d say that freewheeling son of bitch traced out that baroque adage sometime in early April, the month of my birth. The ram was digging its heels from somewhere deep inside me, fiending for a chance at Death who was now stalking my house and on a razor-sharp lookout for me, but I chose liberty. And now I am become indigent. Fuckin’ Oppenheimer.
I crossed a snaky river bordered by wet leaves that were dripping with salt rain about a quarter mile from my squatted position atop the promontory overlooking that fiery exercise. My shotgun was loaded and chambered and I made sure to pack some extra shells in a sheepskin pouch swashbuckling amoralists from my youthful imagination had carried, the pouches weighed down by gold doubloons after enjoining its previous owner with nothing.
My ultimate goal was to become an evolved overlord; discharge indigency and pathetic exile like spent shell casings and shake off the flames. Tall task for someone with nothing but a Remington to his blemished and cooked name. It would take time. I’ve faced larger obstacles. I was going to exhume the buried vestiges of my former life, when I had been exalted among men and women alike and stood as suzerain of a feudal kingdom and vassals paid tribute for my protection.
Yet, now I had nothing. Nothing in the bank and everything I owned gone with the rickety house that was a home for ghosts and I wouldn’t survive long in this remote wilderness without money or ammunition. Windy Gorge was about ten miles south and the trek would strain every muscle in my body and push my mind, already prone to fits of lunacy, to the brink. I scaled down the precipice and was able to hike more readily across some low-lying hills blanketed by velvet rhododendron, all the whole subsuming the unmistakable and airy majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains until I could see a road that cut south into the heart of Windy Gorge. Suffice to say, I didn’t own a phone, and I was only able to listen to Neil Young because I owned an old CD that was a gift from my son. The son that more than likely sent one of his cronies to kill me in the manner of a Soviet pauper. The son I would bore my eyes into when I hold his beating, bloody heart in the palm of my hand. How’s that for an Oedipal urge?
Windy Gorge held the esteem of a picturesque, wealthy little city with an upscale medium income the likes of which I would have counted as pennies at my highest days of fortune. Now, I would fit in as well as a Hasidic Jew stroking a prodigious beard would fit sitting at the head of table of Nazi stormtroopers. The bite in the air night previous had not proved auspicious. Camps of coyotes had circled me through dawn, wagging their filthy tails and howling like unseen specters in cemetery gates. I wasn’t worried if they would attack me. They simply infected me with a witchlike premonition, curdling my thick blood and separating my sturdy constitution from the usual fears which any man would feel alone and far away from pleasing tourist destinations and trails. Coyotes understand the Neoplatonic hierarchy that is the Great Chain of Being and their spurned and dwarfish place in it. How obscenely anthropomorphic of an idea of how the elements that constitute life on earth are ordered. Ordained by God? No. Ordained by man and his egocentric proclivity for dominion and despotism over the land.
The coming of dawn lit the horizon in crimson and gold and I measured my barefoot, calloused steps prudently, evading the earth’s evolutionary dangers concealed in the underbrush of a spruce-fir forest. I finally reached a fork stuck in a gravel bed road. I would reckon to say it’d been over fourteen hours since I ate. I looked back at the roadside from which I had emerged, zeroing in on an evergreen cove forest I’d passed through at base of a jagged hill, the top of which stood a spruce-fir forest which formed a natural boundary to the dreamworld Hades shrouded me in, the river and the watermill of my ashen home a Romantic rendition of Greek myth’s unifying forces. Biting chills swirled about me, the weather a baleful iniquity unrivaled in its inherent facility to divest men of initiative.
If I trundled into town like an old mule on his last leg, swinging a canvass bag weighed down by a Remington, my presence would be a noticeable indentation on the folk’s moneyed piece of mind, and the villain’s journey I had embarked upon would cease as quickly as it began. I wouldn’t linger in Windy Gorge for long; only long enough to seize some plunder, procure some supplies, and visit some old friends who were no longer friends at all, for they had descended to the level of cowardly inferiors, fat on callous rapacity. I refused to probe the depths of the thickets with them; it was antithetical to my honorable nature.
I picked up a crumpled newspaper by the roadside, probably thrown out of a passing trailer truck carrying wares for the high and mighty to feast upon, intoxicated by their wealth, cherishing their foothold at the intersection of law and order. I giggled to myself at the top story. Yes, I giggled, because it was as ticklish to my disdain for humanity as if a whore stuck jelly up my unshaven anus. It was the story of a hotel’s inception, and of its bountiful benefactor Yardley Williams. His name to me was lower than excrement, and his affable picture lit and crazed and fueled my inner fire of hatred so violently I could feel my field of vision’s edge begin to close in on itself, on the verge of descending down a polychromatic tunnel into a den of looters, vagrants, misers, drug pushers, rapists, and murderers.
I picked up a clump of dirt and forced it into my soulless blue eyes, shutting the windows to my soul and gorging them with silt. Reality rushed back to me. My past rushed back to me. The man who I was as a youth faced me, now long since dead. He came into his own over twenty-five years ago and I can still feel his essence writhing around under my alabaster skin. I ended up trying to cave his head in with a shovel. He was a wiry, vicious, beastly man who read poetry to himself and repeated esoteric phrases, chanting them as if deep in the throes of a seance.
If I had to a put finger on it, I’d say it was about sixty degrees out. Windy Gorge was above all a mountain village, the nearby Appalachian trail offering for hikers a host of scenic, sweeping vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains along with the Walter Harris Gorge hundreds of feet down the Derrick Williams Trail. Yardley Williams was that bastard’s grandson, a former mayor and all time gutless drug baron who peddled Fentanyl analogues and good old-fashioned Methamphetamine across the Eastern seaboard. If any of it was sold in Windy Gorge, I’d be mighty fucking surprised.
I can’t express the absolute beauty surrounding Windy Gorge. It honestly is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, the crimson dusk every night putting to sleep a woodland getaway of country inns and rolling hills of green and orange.
I hid in the underbrush on the shoulder of the road. The sun was beginning to stake its claim for the day, and I could see a beige Chevy SUV rumbling toward me with not a care in the world. I crept out and walked to the center of the blacktop, my Remington held out like an appendage. The Chevy began to pick up speed and I saw that it was planning to simply avoid me and get out of dodge, so I blew out its tires and watched it spin out of control, eventually coming to a stop. Although I couldn’t use it to drive into Windy Gorge, I could pretend it had broken down by the side of the road and lure an unsuspecting family of tourists out of their car to help me out. First, I had to deal with the dispossessed bag of bones drenched in whisky in front of me.
“You alive?” I yelled, walking toward the Chevy, aiming the shotgun at the back of the driver’s head who did not attempt to turn his head. If he was already dead, there’d be a problem. “I said, you in there somewhere?” In an ungainly manner the driver fell out of his seat with the driver’s side door wide open and was heaped by gravity onto the concrete. He was mumbling something but I couldn’t make it out.
“Hey, your soul stricken from you?” I asked, grinning to myself. I could see he was a much older man than I, long white hair like Rip Van Winkle waving in front of his wrinkled face, hands and knees scraping the rocky asphalt, spewing up phlegm and blood. The side of his small skull was painted in blood. He looked up at me, almost shyly, afraid but unwary and unknowing of what to say. In that lamentable pose he seemed as insolvent as me.
“My god. My fucking god,” he choked out.
“Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna kill ya,” I said evenly. “Just hang out there and get your bearings.”
“I think you’ve already killed me,” he said distantly. His face stared at the road and he rolled onto his side, arms splayed out and legs crossed in a Christly pose. Birds were trafficking the air about us; the sun was beginning to sizzle everything insubstantial; the regrettable fate of this harried and bloodied mess of a man, with caved in sockets and a cracked smile of incredulity unnerving me.
“Listen,” I began good naturedly. “I don’t wanna hurt you any more than I have to. The way I see it, you’ve been hurt enough to my satisfaction. See, I wanted you to just stop so I could jack your Chevy and roll on into Windy Gorge, but you just had play speed racer and I had to punish you for it. Now, next car that ain’t a cop drives up, I’m going to make stop to ostensibly help me with my Chevy.”
“Your Chevy?” he asked, sitting up and feeling the side of his head, his face pinched and the denim trousers he had on ripped apart at the knees. Only now did I notice what he was wearing: a maroon cardigan, denim trousers, and shined cowboy boots. Though old, he seemed sharp as a razor blade and well proportioned. I wondered why.
“Yes, my Chevy. I have appropriated it from you. What’s your name?”
He looked about for any sign of help but shook his head dejectedly. “Benny,” he said.
“Got a surname, Benny?”
“Your surname is fuck off?”
“Nah. Benny fuck yourself. Satisfied?”
I smiled, relaxing at Benny’s affronted attitude. For all I knew, he was me transported from the future. He even kind of resembled me.
“Well, Benny, let me level with you. You’re going to do exactly what I say or I’m gonna split you open with buckshot. So, let’s be friends for the next hour or so, shall we?”
He scoffed and nodded, taking in the ridiculous scene. I sidled up next to him and crouched down next to him.
“Can I help you up?” I asked.
“Might as well, motherfucker.”
I stepped in front of him, carefully placed my Remington on the road, and lifted him up with two hands. I couldn’t believe I made that mistake. As soon as I brought him up he leapt at me and clamped his nails into the sides of my neck and began to suffocate me. I tried to scurry backward and find some way to get us both off balance, so I could get him the fuck off me, but the old sack of shit was strong as all hell. The leaves of evergreens blew fiercely above me and the sun’s radiant glow, a white ball of fire above Benny’s head, materialized his features ever more minutely, uncovering for my viewing pleasure a network of crags and fissures and saggy skin.
I backed up against one of the trees and brought my knee up into Benny’s taut stomach. The force of his grip released fractionally, enabling me to throw away one of his hands from my neck. I then shot my palm up into his nostrils with gusto, the concussive blow spiriting him away in front of me and striking the consciousness from him. I ran past his stiff body, face up again with his eyes shut as if laid in a casket, and grabbed my Remington, swiveling around to see if he had regained himself and was ready for round three. He didn’t move. I looked to either side of the road and, wouldn’t you have it, saw something heading toward me, southbound and in the direction of Windy Gorge.