how you doin’? I’m Bobby.
They call me Bobby-The-Wallop. When you get to know me, you can call
that, too, if you want. It don’t bother
me none. I guess if you can hear this,
you must be in my head anyway. Don’t bust
my chops about it though. It’s not like
it’s my fault or nuthin’.
just don’t know me yet.
see that guy over there? Yeah, that’s
him. That’s Doctor Pettinger. Herbert
F. Pettinger the third, actually. He looks like he knows what he’s doin’,
he. He’s all smart and scientific.
Pretty snappy suit. Goes good with that winning smile.
if he’s right about everything he says he’s right about, then he don’t really
know me either. You know? Like
I friggin’ lost my marbles or somethin’. Holy virgin mother, is
this guy for
real? Don’t take my word for it,
pal. Hear for yourself.
“Now stay with me, Bobby,” Dr. Pettinger
encouraged. “I’m right here.
I want you to listen to me as carefully as
The doctor waved his hand rapidly until
he caught Bobby’s eyes.
“Right here,” he continued. “That’s right. Now listen.
Do you remember what happened at the restaurant?”
“You keep sayin’ that,” Bobby
replied. “It’s like I told you
before. I didn’t go to any god damn
Chinese restaurant. Okay? Enough
about it, already. Look, you want me to make up a story? I could prolly think up somethin’ good. What kinda
story you want, doc? Somethin’ sexual maybe?”
I knew that’d piss him off. God damn
doctors. You see the kind of shit he tries
to pull? Telling me for an hour I went
to a Chinese restaurant.
like he’s tryin’ to say somethin’ bad happened, but he won’t come out and say
it. I mean, do you trust people like
that? Yeah, well me neither.
ain’t seen Dr. Pettinger in a long time.
Maybe a year or so. I dunno,
maybe longer. Still looks the same. Blonde
hair starting to thin in the
front. A sorta gawky way of
walkin’. He’s got the kind of skin that
blotches, too. I mean how can you take a
guy with rosy blotches everywhere all that serious?
guy . . . see what he’s on about now?
Says it’s a relapse of my Schizophrenia Disorder. He’s telling
me I gotta restart the meds, and
then everything’s gonna clear up.
believe this crap? I mean, have you ever
tried all these antipsychotics? Those
little pills ain’t no joke, man. The
very last thing they do is make anything clear.
It’s like they push this shit just so you can actually go crazy. That’s
when you know they might actually get
he goes again. That doctor’s worse than
a damn pit bull whose got your neck. He
don’t let go for nothin’. It’s back to
that stupid restaurant. What happened at
the table? Did I know the man slumped
over on the floor?
fuckin’ man on the floor? This guy, he
don’t ever stop . . .
“No that’s it,”
Bobby declared. The thin waiter bowed
slightly and accepted the menus. “No,
wait.” The man reversed his gaze.
“Does that kung-pao come out spicy or
what?” The attendant assured him that
the flavor was actually quite mild.
“Yeah, that’s good then. Hey,
bring out some of them lemon slices you got, alright?” The server promised
him he would.
“Alright you guys,
check this out. This is what I was
tellin’ Vino about the other night.”
Vino nodded his
encouragement. He had heard an abridged
version and waited even more expectantly than his fellows for the full
monte. Thursday night at Pei Po along
the Bowery was always a spectacle, but when Bobby-The-Wallop got rolling on a
story – well, Vino knew as well as his friends that this was going to be a
The other young
men nodded that they too were ready.
Even Danny stopped staring at the girl two tables down. She was cute,
and Danny was notorious, but
Vino told him it was going to be worth it.
When Bobby had a dream, it was time to listen. They were invariably sensational.
“So here’s the
deal,” Bobby continued. “I’m on this
plane, right? And it’s one of them
little ones, you know like they only got two seats on the sides. A 737 maybe.
Whatever. So I get on the plane.
And I’m sittin’ there, and I’m sittin’. The waitress
chick comes out and does the
whole safety bit. And I’m waitin’ there
for them to get started, right, and so I start lookin’ around. You know,
it’s the first time I been on one
of these birdies since 9/11. I wasn’t
really thinkin’ nothin’, but I felt kinda weird, suspicious like. I
mean you gotta check around, right?”
As the waiter
returned with a huge tray, the rest of the table readily agreed it was indeed
best for one to check around. Bobby
caught the waiter staring at him twice.
It made him wonder if the food was clean. Why did he keep looking? Shifty bastard.
“So that’s what I
do,” he resumed. “I start checkin’ out
the people on the plane. First off, there
wasn’t that many. Most of the seats were
empty, and that got me to thinkin’. It’s
gotta cost plenty to put one of these babies in the air, so where the hell are
all the fuckin’ people at then?”
Bobby noticed his
friends’ guilty expressions. Some of the
customers nearby cast disapproving glances.
“What, a guy can’t
express himself in public no more?”
was loud enough so that more than just his friends could hear. He stared down
the few who seemed reluctant
to return to their meals. “Jesus
Christ!” he added with an incensed shrug.
It was his usual afterthought.
I lay down in my bed that night with the
weight of my own certain extinction pressing every bone and muscle into the
busted frame. I felt as tired as an atom
must feel inside the crush of a gas giant.
My room looked exactly the same, even if it had now become a Jupiter
capable of squeezing metal into shapeless clouds of elements. The impossible
now had a face and features –
As it turns out, the cold, stony fortress
of mortality has cracks behind the façade.
You won’t find anything in reality that would even come close to
preparing you for those cracks. You have
no idea. Nobody does. Nobody can,
no one except for me, that
is. I am the only one I ever met who
really and truly cheated death. Make no
mistake, death killed me sure enough, but the bitch of it is, I didn’t actually
die from it.
That probably doesn’t make very much
sense to you, and believe me I can appreciate your disbelief. I didn’t
understand it myself. I now know death is a lie.
There is no way around that. What I can’t tell you is why. Figuring that out was a big part of why I
needed that bed.
My body had healed up fine enough after
the incident on the plane, but everything still ached horribly. My mind had
become so overloaded that it,
too, ached horribly. You could check the
word “tired” in a thesaurus, but you won’t find anything that really compares. Even my hair was tired. And I do mean every single hair. What kind
of word describes that? If there is such
a word, I know it wouldn’t have been created by man. You can’t create
something you can’t imagine.
Shot in the chest, bleeding all over
myself, hanging by my fingertips above the greatest drop of all time, I knew I
should have died. My strength ebbed with
every heartbeat. My fingers had more in
common with ice than with fingers.
Everything dimmed and started turning black. I had no doubt at all that
I would die. My imagination admitted to it with perfect
certainty. It could conceive no
alternative. It was supposed to
happen. No one could have been more
shocked that it didn’t.
Because it didn’t, my understanding of
the laws of the universe, of physics, of reality itself would have to be
revised. If death doesn’t kill you, what
does anything else mean?
If I could cheat death, what else could I
do? I had no idea. The only truth
I could hang onto at that
moment was rest. The time my body needed
to regenerate would also be the time my mind needed to learn. If the rules of
life and death no longer
applied to me, I had to investigate, experiment, figure out exactly what those
new laws were.
It was obvious I had new and strange
powers, that I had crossed over some kind of threshold beyond the truths of
mere men. I closed my eyes, proving the
mysteries of what I might do, a growing form quiet and alone inside a cocoon of
That’s when I sensed it just beyond my
“Alright doc, then tell me this,” Bobby
insisted. “If the things I see ain’t
real, then how the hell am I supposed to know you are? And now you’re
telling me that I was at this
Chinese place. I don’t remember anything
like that. What you’re basically telling
me is that what I do see isn’t real and what I don’t see is.”
see that? I got Doctor P. on the ropes
with that one. Why the hell does he get
to decide what’s real anyway? Who died
and elected him fuckin’ Pope? You
see? Look at his ass now. He don’t
know what to say to that. Doctor Pit Bull got nothin’ to bite on this
time. And no jugular.
“Now Bobby, I want you to calm down and
try to focus on what I’m saying,” Doctor Pettinger counseled. “What
you’re going through right now is the
manifestation of a chemical imbalance in your brain.”
“Look, I heard all that chemical
mumbo-jumbo before, Doc. I think you’re
the one who’s got it backwards. You’re
the one who’s imbalanced.”
“Until we can get you stabilized, I want
you to think of what you’re experiencing as something like watching
television. As you know, there are an
awful lot of programs you could watch, but I want you to remember that you are
the one in control of the remote. The
thing is, Bobby, your T.V. has only one channel that’s real.
It’s this one, the place you’re at right
here, the conversation we’re having right now.
If you find yourself somewhere else, try to change the channel back to
this one, okay?”
so now my life’s a bunch of stupid T.V. shows?
Then that means I don’t have to watch the rest of the episode of “Doctor
Pit Bull”, right? This guy, he thinks
he’d be my favorite drama? Dramas suck
anyway. Boring shit.
“Bobby, stay with me now. Come on and try. Bobby?”
“We took off fine, and everything was
alright with that part. The thing is,
there was a few of these Muzzlens on board.
I had my eye on them, at least what I could see from the seat.”
“You mean Muslims,” Danny corrected. The interruption drew a blank stare. “Muslims,”
he repeated. “That’s what they’re called.”
“Danny, shut the hell up. Whatever.
It was a bunch of them Bin Laden mother fuckers, alright?”
“Anyway, sure enough they hijacked the
god damn plane. They had a gun. I
couldn’t see all of what happened ‘cause
they was all up in the front. They got
it off a guy, so I guess he was one of them Air Marshals or somethin’, so
that’s why he had the gun, right?
And then I heard this shot. They got the Air Marshal right in
kisser. Man he went down hard.
I seen one of them drag him to the side.
Some of the people started yelling. And there might have been like ten or fifteen
passengers altogether. The one guy, I
guess he was the leader, told everyone to stay in their seats and keep quiet. Or
else they’d start shooting.
He had the waitress lady up against the
cockpit door with a plastic knife at her throat.”
“You mean stewardess,” Danny interrupted.
“God damn it Danny, you so much as say
another god damn word while I’m tellin’ this, and you’re goin’ down, straight
down to the bottom. Plunk with the
Of course it was alright.
“So yeah, he had this plastic knife at
her throat, and I looked behind, and one of them Arabian bastards was at the
back holding out his plastic knife, too.”
By now, everyone at the table was wrapped
up in the story. The waiter arrived with
a huge platter and started setting down the dishes. He left a bowl of fortune
cookies and bowed
politely. Bobby never took his eyes off
him until he passed through the double doors into the kitchen.
He absently grabbed a cookie and broke
off a large piece. It grew stale even in
the wetness of his mouth as he read the fortune: “IF THERE WERE GODS,
HOW COULD I ENDURE NOT
With sinking awareness, he realized the
thin, little waiter knew his secret.
* click *
I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was
there. It was coming for me, and I had
to get out. It was true that I had
survived the impossible, but the prickling sensation that moved in waves up and
down my spine served as an acute and unmistakable warning. This time the danger
was a death that would
most certainly kill.
The white crests and caps of those
prickly waves foamed bubbly fears beneath which loomed the dark weight of a
whole ocean meant to destroy me. Every
second that passed metamorphosed a once mundane bedroom into a prison or
horror. My soft bed became a steely
bench. Family pictures transformed into
cryptic graffiti. My door – the only way
out – changed itself almost instantly into iron bars. The thing outside,
the executioner, had the
key to my cell. It was approaching
without sound, ready to bear me forth to the gates of perdition.
Weak beyond any earthly fatigue, I
struggled just to sit up. It was a
hopelessly sluggish process, a feeble effort in the face of a confident,
I needed more time to recover. My desperation was almost tragic. Just a little more time,
just a little more
rest, and I would realize my power. I
would become invincible if I could only pass over the threshold. I would become
The door pushed open with an ethereal intent
no human hand could have imitated. Its
movement betrayed a hard malevolence, and even the creak of the hinge added to
its plaintive call.
If no man had ever harnessed this kind of
power, surely none had faced such fear.
I desperately wanted to escape, but instinct kept my mind on the opening
door like weapon focus.
The completion of its widening arc
revealed a creature of unimaginable blackness, a weightless spirit with jagged
appendages that flowed gently in the soft breeze of some other world. It hovered
with an absolute grace that
forbade the very thought of absolution.
As it approached, slowly and with a
confident finality, I recognized in its hollow, onyx eyes a master, a killer of
immense evil – a wraith.
Suddenly the bedroom window seemed like
the most important thing in all the universe.
The only hope of salvation lay on the other side of it, in the chance of
It must have read my mind because when I
backed away toward the window, the wraith spoke. How are
The words came out in a deep, throaty
bass that lingered for a few seconds in sounds that spoke to my nerves, slowing
my body until I couldn’t move. The pace
of its approach remained inexorable and blocked out the bright light of men.
“Here,” Doctor Pettinger persisted. “That’s right,” he added softly.
“How are you feeling now?” He was observing Bobby’s
pupils and eye movements
in the bright light of his ophthalmoscope to gauge the effects of the
medication. A frown of concern reflected
damn drugs. God damn light. He’s
tryin’ to kill me, and I can’t hardly
move. He’s tryin’ to blind me.
I gotta get the hell outta here – now. But I can’t move. Jesus Christ I can’t hardly breathe.
Get offah me!
Lemme go! Oh, please let me go .
“You need to remain calm, Bobby, or I’ll
have to have you restrained. I can
accept that you might believe
yourself to be a god, but it just isn’t true.
And if you don’t start cooperating, I can’t help you.”
. Can’t move . . . can’t breathe . . . foggy . . . light’s making me numb . . .
Can’t let him get to me . . .
Nurse! Get in here, now! Nur—”
The rabid clutch of a panicked hand cut
“And trust me,” he continued, “there’s
way in hell I was gonna let that 9/11 shit happen to me. Better to go down swingin’,
I say. So I walked up to the front all casual like,
and the guy, the leader, he kept yellin’ for me to go back. When he pointed
his gun at me, I ran at him
fast as I could.”
All eyes at the table were on Bobby. He was really getting into it now, and his
intensity made his friends feel he was somewhere else, somewhere far away.
“That turban-wearin’, flea-infested
son-of-a-bitch shot me two times before I got within ten feet. One of the windows
shattered, and all the
pressure got sucked out. It’s crazy, but
I got sucked out too and grabbed onto the wing.
The noise was so loud out there, I couldn’t hardly hear it.”
Bobby had become so animated that he
didn’t notice the looks of incredulity on his companions’ faces. For
a moment, he almost forgot about the
waiter and his planted message.
“Who the hell knows how I kept my hands
on the edge of that wing way up in the sky.
My fingers iced up so bad I couldn’t even feel ‘em. I felt
the blood comin’ outta me, and I
thought I was gonna die. I shudda, you
know, but something happened. Somehow, I
was getting stronger and not weaker, stronger than any man could possibly
be. You know, it was like death, it
couldn’t even touch me. I squeezed that
metal so hard, I knew I was invincible.
That’s when I crawled back into that god damn plane and all hell broke
The wings of the floating chimera rose up
and took hold of my neck from both sides.
Its grip pressed methodically harder and harder, and I felt a racing
panic. I was something I had no right to
be. I had found something meant to stay
perfectly and forever shrouded, and though I still held a human form, I
perceived that I, too, must be a burgeoning wraith.
My foe pressed tighter.
It was a vise crushing me in its iron
clamp. I finally had the presence of
mind to make a stand. The petrifying effect
of its offended voice apparently had a limited duration, but the choking grasp
If I could only get away, survive this
initial encounter, regain my strength and learn the ways of my new nature –
just this one chance, and not even a wraith would be able to defeat me. I guess
we both knew that.
I took a full swing at it, and my arm passed
right through the head. Its grip never
* click *
. . . That’s right, doc. You
ain’t goin’ nowhere. Hey your eyes look sorta bugged out. Kind of bulging with the pupils dilated, I’d
“You alright, Doctor P—?” Bobby asked
savagely. The torment of a lost soul
drove its ceaseless confusion in ten points of piercing determination about the
neck. “Now stay with me,
I’m right here. Listen careful.”
feet began to kick aimlessly about on the floor.
* click click
“That’s right, I
killed every single one of those bastards.
They never stood a chance, not with the power I had. I tore them apart. The guy that shot me? I crushed his
windpipe while he stared into
The waiter arrived
with the check appearing a little self-conscious.
“Kinda like this,”
Bobby demonstrated as he grabbed the man’s arm and pulled him down to the
table. He clutched his throat and held
on tight. Vino laughed, and everyone
thought it was a prank until they heard the cartilage snap.
* click click
The dark phantom
was irresistible, merciless in its determination. A warm, faint blackness crept
into my view
from the peripheries. So I was to be
denied my chance at becoming a god after all.
* click click
“Still nothin’ to
say, doc?” he mocked over the lifeless body.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a latent recidivism of antisocial
symptomatology. Perhaps you need some
more pharmacological intervention.”
* click * *
Danny grabbed for
Bobby’s arm, but it was too late. A
woman nearby screamed at the top of her lungs.
* click click
The wraith let out a shrill cry of ecstasy.
* click cry *
orderlies crashed into the room and tackled the patient. The nurse who followed
them in let out a wail
* click click
As the woman
shrieked, all eyes in the restaurant turned to the murderer.
* click *
The unnatural song
of a demigod lashed out in triumph.
* click lash * *
The sounds of gory
instruments whined in a symphony of progressions in time and space, exposing
and penetrating and stripping bare the mind of the damned.
J. Scott Hardin is Senior Editor at The
Houston Literary Review and a regular contributor with Ragazine.
His work has appeared at Journal of Truth and Consequence, Bards and Sages
Quarterly, Final Draft, Gutter Eloquence Magazine, Danse Macabre and
elsewhere. Readers are invited to see more at www.jscotthardin.com/.