The Continuing Adventures of Sparky & His Guardian Friggin Angel, Chapter Five

5 Golden Rings

Previously in The Continuing Adventures of Sparky & His Guardian Friggin Angel:

Our conjoined pair has entered a new world that spins with close encounters of the weird kind. From Connecticut to New York to the back of a bus, each day propels our self-deemed misfits into stranger territory and towards an acceptance that there is no “normal”. Now, disguised as women, having taken a bus south, their quest continues.

Sparky:

Off the bus. Midnight. Roanoke, VA. (Why Roanoke, Skylar??) Into a dive-y locals’ bar. Time to shed my drag queen disguise—at last. Beyond that is unplanned. But, since Skylar slipped us five twenties before he left the bus station in Sam’s car, I assume that after I lose the girly getup we’ll find a motel. Bed, shower, laundry. I’m exhausted, grubby. Sounds simple, right? Back in my usual duds—filthy hoodie, jeans, sneakers—we retrieve our stashed packs. Sleep. Simple—except, when I come out of the wretched restroom, Dwayne’s at the bar, draft in hand. Talking to someone. A rugged-looking guy.

Takes one second for Dwayne to spot me.

“Spark,” he yells, and it’s like Moses parting the sea.

The previous drunken roar dies. Silence. Broken by the slap-slap-slap of my sneakers across the roughhewn, beer-and-whatever-stained floorboards. But Dwayne Handy, no fan of silence, starts throwing words when I’m still a good fifteen feet from him: “Spark! I got suds!”

I nod, take the stool beside him.

“Hang on right there,” he tells me, not quietly.

Most of the place hangs on, waiting to see what’s next.

“New friend,” Dwayne shouts. He tugs me off the barstool and around him, until I stand inches from this “new friend”. Unruly curls, whiskers, flannel. Jeans grubbier than mine. “Jethro!”

“Dustin,” says the new guy.

“Hey,” Dwayne tells the new guy, “You’re Jethro to me. A story like that?” And to me: “This clown, he’s a true Clampett.”

Perhaps realizing that Dwayne is just a loudmouth, patrons resume their noisy crosstalk.

“Listen to this.” Dwayne’s eyes are wild and shot with veins: he’s been doing shots of something potent. Spending the money Skylar gave us; our only money.

“Well,” says the guy, Dustin or Jethro, though he looks nothing like the Jethro Bodine of Beverly Hillbillies fame, “it is sumtin’, I guess.”

“Funny as hell,” bellows Dwayne.

“See, my uncle—”

“Uncle Jed,” Dwayne says.

“My uncle Dean,” Dustin corrects, “got a Coca-Cola had a dead mouse sealed in it, one’a em old bottles they use’ta use? Now, he weren’t dumb enough to drink it but he got hisself a lawyer and sued Coca-Cola.” He smirks and I reassess: Dustin does look a bit like Jethro Bodine—if Jethro had worked in ditches for a month and had forgotten to shave. “Uncle Dean got a fatty payload. Now, we’s talkin’ forty years back, he ain’t even alive no more, but he bought up a bunch’a land, and the whole clan—nephews, nieces, cousins, aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers—ever’body just moved out there.”

“That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout,” shouts Dwayne, tossing back another shot.

Unsure of how to respond, feeling like an idiot, what with the way I’m just standing at this guy’s shoulder wearing a huge hood, stupid tired, I say, “Cool,” and I return to the barstool on the other side of Dwayne. Twin double shots of amber liquor have joined my frothy draft—down the hatch they go. Interrupting Dwayne, who’s again bullshitting with Jethro, I say, “We hafta go.”

“Go?”

“A hotel. I’m exhausted.”

“We’re goin’ to Jethro’s.”

Not surprised but irritated, I say, “No—”

Dwayne sings, stifling my protest: “And they loaded up the truck and moved to…where’s it at?”

“Don’t really got a name. I guess you’d call it Mooresville, on account’a Moore bein’ our name.” His elbows are splayed on the bar and his goofy gaze is on me. “You’s more’n welcome. We got extra houses’n all.”

“It’s friggin’ settled then!”

Bombs

Dwayne:

When Jethro says kinda a long drive he ain’t tryin’ for a tickle on the funny bone. When we roll in through that compound gate, dawn’s peekin’ a sleepy eye over the ridges that circle Coca-Cola Rancheria. Jethro kills his old Ford’s engine, a truck that’s like fifty damn years old, and mint.

And on the ride there: Ya got Spark, hood mashed to the passenger window, snortin’ through his air holes (all that’s left’a that once upon a time perfect sports star nose), and it’s no sweet sound. But it inspires me to tell Jethro Tull the Randall Prescott III turns to Sparkomatic story.

“Man,” goes Jethro Tull Clampett, clearly impressed in every facial way, his beard even growin’ more muskratty before my bleary eyes.

Happy to please, I dive into the torchin’a the Peace Officer palace story.

“No,” Jethro gasps beached-fish-like, almost steerin’ us into some Grand Canyon ravine.

The friggin’ Blue Ridge Mountains’s what he calls ‘em, minus the friggin’. Factomatic, Jethro ain’t big on cussin’. Talks like an inbred possum, sure, but it’s all PG. Don’t even need to add the -13 with this guy.

“A guy could die if a Clampett ain’t payin’ attention,” I says, dead man walkin’ serious. Still, I throw in your classic imp grin, mischievous wink and pirate laugh to let him know (or think) that I ain’t scared’a dyin’. Young or at all. Which may or may not be true. Cause who gives mortality a lot’a bean-sweat? Or morality. Not Dwayno. Cause contemplacatin’ that shit kills the buzz’a just sayin’ to fuck it. I mean, sayin’ fuck it and then worryin’? Fuck that.

After tellin’ Jethro about our Connecticut exploits, I filled him in on Sammy and the falsified IDs and how Skylar, the finger-fiddlin’ trans-pest-ite, played dress-up with us—to help us escape.

Shock made Jethro Tull’s face into a claymated mask that was red as mashed cherries.

But now, with JT’s truck motor switched off, Spark wakes up and we get out. It’s massive. An end’a the world boot camp.

Jethro T. Clampett leads our short parade outta the truck, into the crispy early a.m. air, across an endless stretch’a dewy grass, down a steep goddamn path, up homemade-lookin’ wood steps, on a homemade-lookin’ wooden porch, in a homemade-lookin’ wooden door, and announciates that this’s his house. It’s just a raw hunter’s cabin to me, but he seems prouder than a loser leavin’ the joint with the prize babe on his arm.

“Two bedrooms to pick from,” he says. Boots clomp him outta sight.

“Got a preference?” says Spark.

“How can I have a preference on somethin’ I ain’t even friggin’ seen?”

“Well. Goodnight, then,” says the burn victim.

I don’t answer, cause it ain’t night and I’m feelin’ bristly as a porcupine in an industrial clothes dryer set on high. Who knows why, but my usual handsome, dimpled grin, easygoin’, fun-lovin’ friggin’ nature’s on vacation. With nothin’ better to do, I flop on a big Jethro chair—

—and musta drifted off. Cause with zero warnin’ there’s a goddamn bug in my ear! Wiggly, wet, and the size of…a kid’s goddamn finger!

“Wet Willie! Ha-ha!” says a butt-ugly prick with a raspy nails-on-chalkboard voice. A bark like a seal that’s been samplin’ Drano or huffin’ abrasives.

I grab him by the ear and plan to pitch him cross inner Clampett space, when I spy a mob’a other little uglies’a various heights, gawkin’. Like Munchkins’a OZ camped out on the Deliverance set and sexpectorated a litter’a banjo pickin’, warp-headed mutants. And seein’ this snot-nose brood, each with his own wet willie extended, no doubt juiced to plant in my ears, nostrils, or wherever, I gasp. Damn right I fly to my feet. “What the—”

A huge TV, mounted on the wall like some da Vinci paintin’, catches my eye.

“Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har,” sings the seventy-two inch flat screen.

“Hey,” I say, “I love this friggin’ show!” Soon me and a dozen changlins’re cozied together on a hillbilly couch that’s made’a bent-up branches and’s piled high with grubbed-out but real comfy quilts and pillows, and I’m happy as I been in years. See, a friggin haunted house’a packed-away feelin’s, that aren’t really haunted but’re like friendly ghosts’re woke and tickin’ on my fantasies, and it’s like my past’s been facstimulated to Jethro’s livin’ room present. Cause—though they’re a helluva lot uglier than I was and most’re smaller—sittin’ like this, watchin’ the old shows with a pack’a inbred youngins, it’s like sittin’, watchin’ the old shows with myself, when I was, what? Twelve or thirteen, prob’ly.

See, back in the day, after window-exitin’ the foster care system, I went to my mom’s baby bro’s house over in Burlington, and Frankie was no baby at twenty-five, and though I hardly knew him and he hardly knew me, he friggin’ welcomed me like a bastard who’s reunionin’ with his daddy. His housemates were friggin’ welcomin’ too and soon we were one happy family. A party-hearty family, but hey. Seven older dudes and one younger me. And they friggin’ sat me the fuck down in front’a their vintage console TV, gave a movin’ box’a VHS tapes, and I watched those suckers for like three goddamn years straight.

Not that I was straight: My grinnin’ roomie dudes homeschooled me on bein’ baked as a batch’a the dude-made brownies (hash thrown in like chocolate chips) we were always munchin’. And as my brain cells fried, I learned all the old shows (cartoons, sitcoms, cop shows) and movies, same as other kids learned their ABCs, biology and basketball. If schools tested for knowledgability on old shows, movies, and gettin’ toasted, I would’a Aced the goddamn course.

And now, I’m here, snuggled with incest-created mini-Clampetts who’re like four to ten years—and it’s like curlin’ back in the womb. Cause these Clampett squirts, they got a big collection’a home-recorded oldies just like I had. So I’m friggin’ happy and close-fit warm, as we bicker over the next video tape—and even if it’s just for a while, these’re golden goddamn moments.

“See you met the nephews and nieces.”

I turn from that Herman Munster dude in an episode’a his other show, Car 54, Where Are You? to find Jethro in another flannel-and-jeans combo, his beard and hair messier than ever. In other words, seein’ him’s like seein’ a mirror—‘cept all’s I got’s rough-cut whiskers on head and jaw, since I hacked off my hair to avoid police-recognizin’, and I got him beat-complete in the good-looks department. Like no comparison, Granny. See, Jethro’s got too much’a the my mama’s my sister genes to look other than muta-related. But even with the handsome inbred outta the pool he crawled from, I’m glad to see him. Until:

Bombs

Sparky:

Another morning waking to Dwayne’s voice raised in distress, anger, or both.

“What in the blue fuckin’ blazes,” he bellows.

Since the long ride to wherever we are gave my body a chance to metabolize last night’s booze and I feel good, I decide to go witness Dwayne’s latest.

“Goddamn it,” Dwayne roars.

Peeking my hood around a corner, I see a circle of kids in the living room. Dwayne’s center stage, his flesh fireball red and his arms flailing as if his stupid little boat is sinking.

“Hey,” says Jethro, “what can I do?”

“Don’t you got some kinda…medicine?”

“You hardly got any hair,” Jethro says, like it’s the solution to a puzzle, and maybe it is, because Dwayne quiets. “But it don’t take much.”

I round the corner.

“Goddamn crabs,” Dwayne yells.

Jethro shakes his curly mop-top. “Ain’t crabs. It’s lice. Crabs nest in body hair.”

“Lice?” I say, suddenly itchy, thinking about where I slept. But since we’re talking about head lice and very few hairs grow from my scarred skull, I don’t panic.

“We try’ta stick’ta the olive oil treatments, but, since mostly we ain’t got much olive oil on hand, we use motor oil, us’ly old, but it’s don’t matter, damn nits never go away.” Jethro gives a shrug of resignation. “But it ain’t bad. Little itchy’s all.”

“You have lice.” It’s not a question. More an attempt at paraphrasing.

“Yuh.” Jethro sounds slightly ashamed, but amused, as if he’s been accused of farting.

“Fuck,” Dwayne says, but with a fraction of his previous fire.

Hair or no, my skin crawls with imagined biting bugs. I’m ready to go outside and roll in a patch of dirt, but maybe that’s where the lice originate.

“Where do they come from?”

“Damned if I know,” he says, his beard wagging. “Been here since I was born.”

Dwayne bangs out of the cabin, and through the window, I see him stomping up the hill, going back the way we came; I go after him.

“What ya doing?” I say, reaching the truck. He’s in the cab, rearview mirror twisted.

“Shavin’,” he growls. “No hair, no lice.”

“How we gonna get outta here?”

Dwayne shoots me a scalding look. His skull now resembles an egg. “Damn hillbilly kids.”

I don’t even ask, but it’s chilly and I hand Dwayne a spare sweatshirt.

From behind us Jethro says, “Might wanna lose the hood. Them critters like warm and that hood’ll keep ‘em cozier than any hair you mighta had.”

This alerts me to the fact that Jethro is wise to my situation. Dwayne’s yakked about me again—this realization and my fear of lice infestation has me removing my sweatshirt, flinging it on the grass ten feet from where I stand.

Jethro stares at the discarded garment for a long minute.

I divert my eyes but know that his eyes are now on my hideousness.

“A wicked god causes things to make a man drink,” he says.

“Spark? You can’t imagine half the pain the kid endured.”

Jethro now looks at our shadows in the grass.

“Too many burn units and docs to count,” Dwayne continues. “Spark nearly died, plenty’a times. Had to keep zappin’ him with those all-clear paddles!”

I say nothing.

Dwayne knows my basic story, but few details, and I know trying to set the record straight would be wasted breath. Dwayne likes his version better than any horrid truth I suffered.

I say, “I survived.”

“Dang,” he answers. “But,” he adds, his expression sincere, “no need worryin’ on…that. We a scrambled lot ourselfs.” His beard wags. “You needn’t be hidin’ in hoods or stories round here. We love each other just how we is.” Goofy grin. “Lice’n all.”

“Lovin’ each other, huh? I knew I heard banjos twangin’.” Dwayne smiles, and before Jethro can wonder about his allusion: “Leads to a question I had all mornin’. First, how many live here?”

“Ah, youngins included, over forty. Maybe, well, I dunno.” Jethro’s face folds in thought.

“Any eligible Elly Mays swingin’ from the limbs’a your Clampett family tree?”

Jethro blinks, his expression dull.

“Sisters, cousins, hell, aunts, grannies—any free-spirited females?”

“Ohh,” says Jethro. “A restless hound’s in them jeans.”

“Restless and ready for duty.”

“Well, let’s us just take a walk. See what we see.”

Bombs

Dwayne:

Beaver Heaven’s what the sign at the entrance to this wonderland oughta say. Cause Clampett weed growin’s secondary to the crop’a big breasted Elly Mays. They eye me like I’m a prime cut (which I a’course am) and it’s unquestionable: These girls’re waitin’ for a stallion that ain’t their friggin’ brother or father or uncle or a goddamn cousin or son. Can’t be friggin’ choosy’a bonin’ partners in Inbred Land, but goddamn they must get tired’a kinfolk bedfellows. Cause don’t all roosters from the same line got the same cock-a-doodle-doos? Point’s, there’s some curious Elly Mays.

Jethro T. Clampett’s blabbin’ about trustworthiness and the loyalty tests we’ll hafta pass before blah-blah-blah, but listenin’s tough, when I’m imaginatin’ these Elly Mays stripped and stretched on emerald grass, girl fingers beckonin’. My fly’s close to burstin’.

But on and friggin’ on we hike. Acres’a damn woods and meadows.

“Go on without me,” I says

“Somethin’ wrong? We was gonna meet my pa next—”

“You go ahead. I’ll just enjoy…the nature.”

Jethro must’a caught a visual’a the same sister I seen followin’ us, skirtin’ the bush and tree line, cause he gives me a big gray-toothed grin, and even his beard looks happy when he says: “Happy hound doggin’.”

As him and Spark recede, I kick back on a patch’a hillbilly crab grass. It’s October but it’s sunny as a good old-fashion summer afternoon and I’m ready for a good old-fashion summer orgy. I’m just lyin’ there anticibatin’ when I spot a Clampett sister peekin’ though the foliage, and knowin’ she’s seein’ me seein’ her seein’ me and mine, well, my beanstalk grows.

But she’s sly, playin’ shy.

My jeans kicked off in a heated hurry, I’m bare below the belt and my fingers, toes, etc waggle to draw her outta hidin’—cause fantasies’re meant to be flipped—and she obligyrates, feet beatin’ a birds-and-bee-line for my at-attention rustic soldier, clothes flyin’ with her every stride. Muscled legs propellin’ her closer, closer…

Though details’a Elly May’s face’re obscured, she’s a fire-haired goddess.

And it’s off with my shirt.

We’re both naked as the day we were—

I spot the friggin’ teeth: bucked, crooked, grayer than Jethro’s. Eyes spread too far apart. And her nose…it’s small—it’s a goddamn baby’s nose for chrissakes.

But if I ignore minuses and focus on pluses, like her flamin’ mane and perfect body, all’s off-the-charts fine. Which inspires the thought: Nothing could be finer than to be in her vagina! Nothing could be finer…over and over and over. I think it as her shadow covers me. I think it as her knees seize my sides. And I think it more enthusigasmically when she starts lap dancin’ me, and I can’t control it—the words shoot from my mouth: “Nothin could be finer than to be in her vagina…!”

Bombs

It’s black when my eyes open—I been blinded and I got one helluva headache. “Ohh.”

“Sorry about that,” she whispers.

I ain’t heard her say boo before, but I fuckin’ know it’s her alright—even blind with a split head.

“My daddy. Heard ya…singin’. Used his shovel.”

I realize my wrists and ankles’re tied. I’m blindfolded. “The fuck…?”

“Sshhh. I’ll cut you loose.” She does. The blindfold comes off. “Now git dressed, baby. Here’s your clothes. And the sex was…mmm.” She presses against me, hair everywhere. “Go on now. They got quads.” She presses something into my palm, folds my fingers. “That’ll help.”

My brain clangin’ like a church bell, she helps me up and outta the shed I been held in, and there, outlined in moonlight’re Sparky and Jethro. The red haired sister pushes me to ‘em.

“Get on,” Jethro says, and I do. “Hurry,” Jethro T tells me, as his sister-mother-daughter’s warm fingertips imprint my skin.

“Come for me someday,” she calls, and I almost choke on this double-edged sword’a thought—the comin’s sweet but the shovel and hogtyin’ sure as hell ain’t.

With me behind Jethro, straddlin’ the beast, engines ignite and we quad quick goddamn distance from certain hillbilly death sentence. I wave at the black nothin’ where Elly May was.

“Hang on,” Jethro tells me, jerkin’ us through gears, new terrain. Climbin’, dodgin’ trees. Backlit by Spark’s headlight.

My skull’s a cracked egg and each bounce’a the quad handballs my brain against its casin’—but what matters’s we’re escapin’. Bruised, concussionated, alive. The day’s best news. Bad news’s that I ain’t rodeo trained. A little trainin’ and I’d be home, home on deranged. But I ain’t, and the ebbin’ and flowin’, the twistin’ and curvin’, the goddamn mad-cow stampede’a belly-toss mound-jumpin’s got me ready to retch—all cause a Hillbilly Haven daddy clouted the sexcitement outta me. Eyes shut, I hang on.

Whatever Elly May planted in my fist’s squeezed tight. Prob’ly some old tooth or her dead dog’s withered paw, but who knows. I’m ripe for some finer—without a shovel gong at the end.

After years’a buckin’ and pitchin’ and caterwaulin’ in terror, engines quit revvin’ and only tick. A cacophony’a gnarly, snarly, unseen, blood-hungry nocturnes gets louder till it’s at full-tilted badass boogie. Off’a Jethro’s monster quad, my knees knock-knock-knockin’ at Rod Serlin’s famous friggin’ door, I’m picturin’ mountain lions, wolverines, and bears clawin’ old Dwayno (who I’m kinda fond’a) to filets. I see us freezin’, only not to death. In my mind’s crossed eyes, vultures, rats and possums munch our shriekin’ remains.

Jethro grippin’ onto my shoulder makes the world merry-go-round. Without the friggin’ merry.

“Y’okay?”

“You’re friggin’ kiddin’, right?”

“Took a wallop from Amos’ shovel. Can’t be so noisy, cause Amos, well, he’s a tad protective of his Suzie.” Quad headlights show Jethro makin’ his Clampett thinkin’ face. “She fifteen. Plenty old enough, but some daddies wanna keep daughters for ‘emselfs.” A pause. “We got our ways.”

“Where to now?” Spark says.

“Five miles, hit tar.” Jethro pauses. “Maybe seven.” He shrugs. “Then hitch a ride. But go. Now. It’s steep, so take the quad and this compass. Plus this flashlight to see the compass.” Light beams to life and Jethro’s bearded head’s bottom-lit into a shockin’ goddamn sight.

Bombs

Sparky:

We reach “tar” late. Dwayne dumped, I double back, park the quad, per Jethro’s request, wheres it won’t get seen. I redo the steep hike to find Dwayne on the mountain roadside. I sit beside him. In silence—because what words fit this?

Naming the knots in this string of fiascos is easy. Recent events, surreal and risen in bold relief, mimic the ridges around us—and come courtesy of my guardian friggin angel. We’re marooned, and being here, nowhere, with Dwayne: how do I articulate this rotten situation? Constructively?

Dwayne took a shovel to the head.

After pacing circles, I say: “We have two options. One, since I doubt this road sees much traffic after dark, we start walking. Two, we build a fire. It’s getting cold. Only negative about a fire—Amos might see us.”

“Screw him. Spark, we’re a team, like Lewis and Clark.”

“Option one or two?”

“Two, a’course—us. You and friggin’ me. Batman and Robin, Spark. The dynamighty duo.”

“Okay. Two. Fire will keep us warm. Plus I’m tired. Or, there’s a third option: search for shelter. Out of this wind. Even with a fire it’ll be cold. Freezing.”

“Wait. Spark. You ain’t sayin’ we stumble back down that steep cliff?”

“Just thinking of options.”

“Thinkin’? You sure you weren’t bashed with a shovel? Cause what shelter, Spark?” Moonlight shows Dwayne looking this way and that. “You mean shiver under branches? Burrow in slimy leaves? Catch poison ivy, get bit by those Reclusive Spiders or Diamond Backs? Find a cave?

“Alright! You decide then. Where to? As lunatic ringleader of this traveling circus of mayhem, as my guardian friggin’ angel, tell me. Guide your charge. Based on your accrued survival skills—what do we do now?”

“Spark. Your scar tissue’s gotta be purple in that hood—a hood you at least got. It’s my shaved egg that’s feelin’ the bite’a this night! I mean, we only got what we got. Here. Not optimalonius Monk, but hey.” Wind whistles by. “Look, bein’ here—in Clampett land and on the side’a this mountaintop road—it’s my friggin’ fault. Okay? I admit it. Without me comin’ after you, tryin’ to bring you home safe, without me stickin’ by you, you wouldn’t be stranded in the Blue Ridge Mountains. So I’m friggin’ sorry, okay? Not for comin’. Sorry for bein’ playful.”

“Playful?” The rage I live with, a time bomb I’ve carried forever, a fire I started suppressing long before my life, hopes and dreams exploded into a mess of melted flesh—I feel it. Surging from my torso, jetting my limbs, collecting in my fingers and toes. Jaw tight, teeth grinding. This fiery force distorts shapes, blurs vision. It’s mighty, primal, reckless, a drive I’ve hidden—except on the field. In sports violence is expected, encouraged, rewarded. But this is no lacrosse field. My heels hammer the hardpan.

“Spark. Our best shot—stay put, bundle up, stoke a fire. We might just see mornin’.”

I pace. If I sweat, make my muscles burn, feel anything other than metallic rush, this will pass. Running is good. My limbs begin pumping. Sneakers tap pavement. And I fly. Following this steep grade. Up, down, up, up, turn around. As if injected with an antidote, I return to Dwayne’s bald moonlit head, calm.

“Wondered if you’d come back.” His voice is barely audible, and, when I say nothing, he adds, “I’m glad ya did.”

My last hoody flips from my pack, lands on his skinhead. “I’ll get firewood,” I say, and scouring the roadside, I come up with kindling. “I’ll look by the edge.”

“Unwise choice, Spark.”

“I’ve got a flashlight. It’ll be fine.”

Bombs

Dwayne:

I tell him don’t go, slow down. I say rocky roads turn to deadly drops—does he listen?

Okay, so I don’t say those exact words, but I do voice my opposition to the proposition. Unwise, I say. Why not just burn twigs? I say. Why tempt friggin’ fate? I say.

Warnin’s, however, won’t make a hillbilly yodel. And Spark’s worse, a stubborn SOB. Add in whatever feelin’s he harbors over the Amos shovel incidental, plus fatigue—and no happy ever after picture’s gettin’ painted.

But his foragin’-for-firewood departure gives me a chance to check out Suzie’s gift. Still balled in my fist. As previously stated, I ain’t expectin’ much—which makes the sight blindin’, and not cause it’s a flashlight or some hillbilly glow-stick. I’m blinded by my own friggin’ tears. I’m like a weepy grandma or some shit, what with the water works. Suzie’s gift’s unexpected. Kind. It’s rings. Five rings. I hold ‘em in the moonlight. I blink my eyes. Gold?

I hear the wailin’ and crashin’ through forest. Don’t need a translator to understand that friggin’ language. Spark’s gone over the edge. No metaphor. I hear: “Agh! Argh! Oh! Ow! Uhh!” And dead silence, which’s way worse.

I wrap the rings, shove ‘em in my pocket, thinkin’: Oh fuck. And then: How’m I gonna find him when I’m all concussed and swell-headed? But no time for musin’. No rescue techniques up my tattered sleeve, and despite a head injury that makes formin’ simple thoughts complicated, I bolt in the guesstimated direction’a Spark’s fall.

Scurryin’ at the edge’a “the drop” that Stevie Ray mighta been referencin’ in his song, that’s me. Brain bashed dizzy, peerin’ down, at nada. Black’s never sunk to such ugly lows. If not for the 40-watt moonlight, I’d be Robert Plantin’ the Sparky-Takes-a-Fall chorus. For serious though—my giggle bone ain’t tickled. I might even—cause’a brain-break—be leakin’ tears. Yodelin’: “Spark-eee! Spark-eee!”

I don’t know where the kid went off, how far he fell. My short-circuited mental factorin’ keeps reachin’ the same solution. Who survives a pitch off a Blue Ridge friggin’ peak?

But this’s no time for me to be thinkin’ the worst. What would I do without my ugly-beautiful scar-tissue-headed sidekick? Go home? Alone? I really screwed this one up. A guardian friggin’ angel’s job’s keepin’ his charge safe—alive. Panicky, I’m goin’: “Spark-eeeee!”

Could be it’s Clarence—the classic guardian angel fuckup, who appeared in my dream sayin’ Go find Sparky—sayin’ it again, or it might be my super-honed trackin’ skills that had me findin’ the AWOL kid in the first place, but outta the corner’a my vision, I see it—a dot’a light. Way below. It registers: Jethro’s flashlight’s spotlightin’ Spark’s beautiful blue extra-large hood!

“Hey! Spark! Ya doin’ good?” I holler at the fallen star’s light.

No answer (that I hear). But he is a stubborn human French fry.

“I’m comin’ down,” I yell—and then the actual-brutality hits. Me? Shimmy down a mountain? Dwayno don’t balk at danger, but this’s a steep goddamn shimmy. Still, Spark may be critical-hurt in that hood and as his guardian friggin’ angel I gotta do it. Cause when I ask myself what’d Clarence do, the answer’s unavoidable as his white nightie: He saved George Bailey. He jumped off a bridge into icy water. I gotta take this plunge. What’s different’s mine’s into the Blue Ridge abyss. Without another thought, I start my ass-ski into the black.

Now I’m pedal-to-the-metal bawlin’—and not just due to sharp sticks and rocks and not cause’a nearly pitchin’ into the deep inky unknown seven hundred times—just a mess’a blood, snot, and tears when I reach him. I nudge him soft-like so’s not to rupture a part that’s vergin’ on rupturin’ and I whisper into his mucked-up (dirt? blood? brains?) hood.

“Spark.”

There’s hoots and crunchin’ brush and a sound like a woman’s friggin’ screamin’, but nothin’ from Spark.

Figurin’ a blown eardrum’s the least’a his worries, I holler. I wanna yank that friggin’ head cloak clear’a his scarred-past-recognition mug, but fear stops me—they always say (on TV, in movies) don’t move a victim in case his spine’s snapped. A thought rises through the muddle: the dude’s faceless! Why add paralysism to the burn-victim insults he already gets from a vicious world?

It’s cold—like Jack-Nicholson-froze-into-a-gargoyle-faced-corpse-in-the-maze-in-The-Shinin’ cold, or Chris-McCandlestick-(or-whatever)-that-was-convincin’ly-portrayed-by-Emile-Hirsch-in-Into-the-Wild-Alaskan cold—and since fire’s a no-go cause’a the pine needles and trees and due to my not thinkin’ to bring matches on my rescue mission, what I do is curl my body to his, like we’re spoonin’, and bury us in decayin’ nature. At some point, I sleep.

Bombs

“Dwayne.”

A whisper. My just-waked brain reassembles enough to know the voice’s comin’ from a hoodie cave that only Sparky’s head can fill. And somethin’s wrapped round my noggin. Famous Amos’ blindfold? No. It’s Spark’s other hood. I yank it off, boltin’ upright.

“Spark, you alive?”

Turns out he is and he’s just got scratches, lumps, dry blood. Afternoon’s dawned when we flop our sore butts on solid topside and I inquire on his health status.

Spark lies facin’ skyward. “Gimmee a few.” And a few he gets—a few friggin’ hours.

To endure those hours, I lose the sweatshirt, ‘cept the hood which becomes a hat-cape that keeps my egg from fryin’. I get limber by trudgin’ this way then that, my sneaker soccerin’ stones and my sore finger stabbin’ my sorer skull. After a million hours’a that, I lie by Spark.

“Dwayne…”

My eyes pop open.

“I gotta ask. Why’d you come? Really?”

“Spark. I’m your—”

“Stop. Okay? Just stop.”

“Hey, it’s friggin’ true.” A hawk screeches, and I figure it might be Clarence incognito, sayin’ Be honest, Dwayno. A new guardian friggin’ angel mission—honesty. I breathe in Blue Ridge rocky mountain high-altitude air. “Okay. Spark. Just hear me out, alright?”

I try to think. Not easy after recent calamities. Why’d I come? Hm. The rent did need payin’ and the landlord was callin’ and Spark was missin’, along with his burn victim check, but a ratty pad, nothin’ in my name—I coulda just walked anywheres.

Then I remember sittin’ in Spark’s torn-up, fake-leather recliner, the dead quiet’a bein’ left alone ringin’ like an alarm, and I know: If I stayed, all I’d’a been’s alone. I had nowhere to go. No one that’d open the door. Alone. Like I been since Mom died and Dad wigged and Uncle Frankie got capped by a druggie. Bein’ alone now, it’d kill me. Cause things changed. Me, for example. And alone had grown bigger, meaner, lonelier, since Spark let me in his door. His good-looks roasted like a marshmallow held too long over a campfire, and he might’a lost his nose, ears and blonde rock star hair, his jock friends, parents and pom-pom wavin’ sex-kitten Lori Anne, and he was a prick before he got pranked, but that was Randy. Sparky’s my friend. and that’s why I came.

But how’s a guy say that shit without soundin’…soft? Havin’ no real answer, I just spit words: “Everybody needs a friend. And you and me, we’re friends. Right?”

The kid’s elbow-propped in a near-sittin’ position. Hood half-off. Blue eyes on me. “Dwayne. After the last couple of days, we’d better be.” He laughs a little but with only scar tissue showin’ bein’ sure whether it’s sarcasm or sincerity’s impossible.

I plow ahead: “So comin’ after you, doin’ this Kung Fu forever-walk with you, it, well, it gives me a goddamn reason!” Reason echoes between mountains.

Bombs

Sparky:

I don’t remember my fall or much of the rescue, and as the mental fog dissipates, the pain I feel balloons—unpleasant but tolerable—and I know: My guardian friggin’ angel came through; he saved me.

Dwayne’s talk I remember: his sober demeanor as he confesses his motivation, his honesty about why he came after me—me, a guy who, before my fiery makeover, might have spit on him—if I had seen him worth my saliva. Dwayne said he saw me as a friend and that was reason enough. I listened to his guardian friggin’ angel spiel—as if he’s Clarence and I’m George Bailey. As if.

We wait hours before a sedan brakes. A middle-aged man with wire glasses, a well-kept grin and calm eyes waves us over. I’ve never been so happy to leave a place.

“Been waiting awhile?” the driver says.

Dwayne’s up front: “Friggin’ kid pitched off a cliff last night. Fell a vertical quarter mile. Got us both beat to hell, cause I monkeyed down and packed us in rot so’s we didn’t freeze.”

“That right?” says the man. “And your friend…?”

I can tell the guy wants to know what lurks inside my dirty hood.

“See this?” Dwayne says, ignoring the guy, pointing at the purple lump on the back of his head. “Hillbillies attacked us. I got a shovel to the bean. All told, we coulda friggin’ died.”

Exhaustion hits me; it’s hard to stay with the conversation. Dwayne’s drone soothes me “See, the kid…burned, bad…actually died…paddle-electrocuted back to life…dozens’a times…no face in the hood…” Familiarity equals safety equals sleep.

Marc D. ReganAbout the author: In a previous life Marc D. Regan zigzagged the U.S. in search of reason. He then fell in with a collective of musical misfits that blew up P.A.s and created soundtracks in various basements. Today, he lives and writes fiction in remote northern California. His work (writing and two-dimensional art) has appeared in Microfiction Monday Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine and other publications. His story “Appearances” was included in Bird’s Thumb Magazine’s February 2015 issue. He has been a Finalist for Glimmer Train contests, twice. The chapter above was initially published in aaduna, Volume 5, No. 1.

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