Thursday, February 27, 2014
Carl Pittman walked amongst the bathing glow of purple twilight. His gaze strayed skyward as the blinking stars began to canvas the darkening sky. It was a mild, mellow evening. Not a chill in the air.
Carl couldn’t contain his happiness this evening. His grin spread far and wide, the corners of his mouth caressing the dimples on his cheeks. And everyone that crossed paths with him that evening knew one thing to be true: Carl Pittman was in love.
It was written all over his sappy grin and puppy dog eyes. The word might as well have been branded across his forehead. Love.
Carl Pittman was in love with the prettiest girl in town.
And tonight was the night Carl was going to pop the big question.
Gary Sharpe was just about the lock up for the evening when the bell chimed and in walked a young man with blond hair and deep round dimples. He had the gaze of love and fearless determination in his eyes.
To Gary, there was nothing more beautiful than young love. It reminded him why he became a florist in the first place.
“What can I do for you?” Gary approached the grinning fool known as Carl Pittman.
“I need a bouquet of flowers for my girlfriend, Lynn.”
“What’s she like? Roses usually do the trick.”
“Nah,” Carl shook his head. “Roses are so cliché. I want something that screams romance. Something that will make her heart melt like butter.”
“I think I have just the thing… I just got some blue dahlias in the other day."
“Blue dahlias? I like the sound of those. Give me a dozen. And put it on my charge card."
Carl made two more stops that evening.
One stop to the market to grab a box of chocolate to go with the blue dahlias.
And one quick stop to the hardware store followed.
He used his credit card for both.
Carl didn’t have to buzz Lynn to let him in. He caught the door as one of her neighbors was leaving the building.
Lynn’s apartment was on the fourth floor. Carl nodded to the desk clerk, who looked perplexed as Carl walked to the elevator, flowers and chocolates in hand. Tucked inside his pocket was a small velvet box.
The box held an engagement ring that once belonged to his grandmother. Now the ring would be Lynn’s… if she said yes.
Carl tried using his key in the door, but it didn’t work. Probably because Lynn had the locks changed months ago.
He pounded his fist against the door, shouted her name again and again. His voice rose to a feverous pitch and just as he was about to slam his fist through the door, she opened up.
“Oh God… what are you doing here?”
“What do you mean? Why’d you change the locks?”
“Because of you. Look, come inside because I don’t want my neighbors hearing this again.”
Carl followed her in and she closed the door behind him. He set the flowers and chocolate aside and dropped down to one knee. As he reached into his pocket, her hand grasped his, urging it not to proceed.
“Carl, we went out for a few months. That was it. We broke up and then you started calling me nonstop, harassing me, showing up uninvited. That’s when I changed the locks. You were scaring me. I mean, you were practically stalking me. And now you show up here with flowers and candy, ready to propose.”
“I… I lo-lo-love you, Lynn.”
She withdrew her hand and he tossed the velvet box aside.
“I don’t love you. I’ll never love you. I hate you, Carl. I hate your stupid face. That goofy grin. And I hate those fucking dimples. You’re a freak and you need to get a life before I file a restraining order against you. You got that? Get it through your thick frigging skull.”
Carl reached back into his coat, revealing his last gift for Lynn. A pipe wrench.
With one crushing blow, the side of her head caved. But he didn’t stop there. He bashed her again, and again, swinging relentlessly. Blood splashed and fragments of skull flew with each maddening swing of the wrench.
“I loved you,” he whispered. “Why couldn’t you love me back?”
Christian Powell hadn’t seen daylight in as long as he could remember. Whiter than chalk dust, Christian wondered if there had ever been a day where he soaked up the sun and breathed fresh air.
Ruth Powell told him to think of it as a game. Just like hide and seek. Except this particular game consisted mostly of hiding.
The same went for Addie and myself. Mom named her Adelaide, but I always called her Addie. And she seemed to take to it more than her birth name. And she called me Dina, which is my name. But when she was younger she used to call me Dee-nee. That’s how she would pronounce it. God, she’s adorable.
It’s not easy being the youngest of three children. That’s why I always looked out for Addie. She was more my child than she was moms. Addie’s the youngest. I’m the middle. And Christian was the oldest.
A brooding child entering that awkward stage of adolescence, Christian’s objective was to defy our mothers every will and command. But she was adamant when it came to her rules.
The curtains stayed drawn, the doors and windows remained locked at all times. That was the way it had been since they had gotten to dad.
We all knew how father had met his fate, but we never spoke of it aloud. The V word was expressly forbidden in this house. In case you’re wondering, that V word is vampires.
Dad had gone out one night to gather supplies against his better judgment. He never made it back. The vampires snatched him in the night, drained him of every ounce of blood. At least that’s the story mom had scared the hell out of us with.
Mom found the body and gave him a proper burial. That was why mom never wanted us going outside. Day or night. The vampires were always lurking, dwelling, waiting for a fresh bite.
Mom was the only one brave enough to venture out once a week to gather food and supplies. Well, Christian had expressed interest in venturing out on his own, but mom wouldn’t take the risk.
Christian had grown suspicious of mom those last few months, questioning every motive. And also questioning the bittersweet fruit punch she served us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was never store-bought, always homemade.
Then, one day, it boiled over during breakfast. Christian was in a rotten mood and mom wasn’t having any of it. Addie cupped her teeny hinds over her delicate ears to shield them from the angry shouts.
“I won’t have you telling me what to do anymore,” was Christian’s final argument. “I’m a teenager. And with dad gone, I’m the man of this house. It’s time I start acting like it. And it’s time I show everyone there’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s no vampires, no monsters. It’s all in your sick mind.”
“Christian, please!” mom cried as Christian marched towards the front door. I heard the lock snap and the hinges creak as the door thrust open.
Christian stepped out onto the porch, and the warm pleasant sun grazed his face. “See!” He shouted from the porch. “Nothing to be afraid of. I don’t see any–” Christian’s word were cut off by a sudden bout of pain.
The sun was making him ill.
It was killing him.
The exposed skin of his arms and legs bubbled, cracked, and sizzled. Flames sprouted up from his chest and back and in seconds, every inch of his body was lit ablaze. He was a human fireball. His pale white skin transformed from raw-red to brown to charcoal black.
Smoke billowed to the sky, tainting the air with the stench of cooked flesh. The fire devoured him as he sank to one knee and with his final agonizing breath, disintegrated. His body reduced to a pile of smoldering ash.
Addie and I watched from the shadow of the door, my hand patting her back gently as if this gesture offered some form of consolation. It took a few seconds, but the tears came eventually. First for Addie, then for me.
I realized that day what Christian refused to accept. I realized that mom wasn’t crazy. Mom really was trying to protect us. And she didn’t lie about the vampires either. She just wasn’t honest about which side we were on.
Genre: Science Fiction
“What are those again, papa?” the boy asked, pointing to the flickering lights that seemed to float above them. He asked with the inquisitive temperament that only an overexcited child could possess. He was eager to learn from his father.
“Those are stars,” the man explained to his son again. “Little balls of light that fill up the entire galaxy.”
“And what’s that big ball of light in the distance?”
“That’s the sun, which is also a star if you can believe that.”
“And what’s that over there, papa?” The boy’s tiny finger extended towards a huge floating sphere that was a swirl of blue, white, and green.
“You’re too young to remember this, but that’s where you were born, son. That’s Earth. We all lived there at the one point. The whole colony did. You, me, your mother, Uncle Fred, your friend Jody. That was our home.”
“How come we don’t live there anymore, papa?”
“Because we took it all for granted. We polluted the atmosphere, poisoned the planet. And during the Big War, it all got blown to hell. Nuclear radiation covered ninety percent of the Earth. All survivors had to be evacuated.”
“So when can we return home, papa?”
“Never. Earth is gone. Yesterday’s news. This is our home now, son. But you know what?”
“No,” the boy said. “Tell me.”
“We don’t need the old world. We can survive here. We can make this work. As long as we believe. Believe.” He repeated the word a few more times before he trailed off, uncertain if he was trying to convince his son or himself.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
“Ned Stark is missing,” Jenna tells me over coffee.
“Who?” I ask, barely glancing up from the morning paper. Sad to say after twelve years of marriage, but the political cartoons capture my attention more than Jenna’s weak attempts at conversation.
“Ned Stark. He’s lived next-door for ten years.”
“Oh,” I mutter, uninterested. But I can see she’s trying here, so I humor her by continuing with, “is he the bald guy with the crooked nose?”
“Yup. But you forgot the gold tooth.”
That’s right. Ned Stark has this tawdry gold cap where one of his two front teeth should reside. An unsightly fellow, Ned has a face that some might argue not even a mother could love.
Ned is a bit of a gearhead from what I can recall about him. Cars are his only passion I’m familiar with. The faster, the louder, the better. On his days off, you can see him blowing through the neighborhood in a yellow turbo-charged Mustang.
That’s all I can say about old Ned. I’ve barely said more than ten words to the guy since we moved here. If you added up all our conversations, the time would amount to the length of a TV infomercial.
“What do you think happened to him?” I ask, continuing the conversation for Jenna’s sake.
“I don’t know,” she shrugs, sipping her decaf. “I feel awful for what he did to Mr. Bennett’s cat. Ran the poor thing down a week ago with that Mustang of his. He needs to learn a car is not a toy.”
“Try teaching that to any man,” I chuckle.
Shelly, our daughter, comes rushing into the kitchen, pinching her nose together with two fingers like a clothespin. “Dad, you need to check the bathroom, now.”
Never a day off for Gary Hoffman, I think. I excuse myself from the table and walk to the bathroom, where the pungent stench hits me like a kick in the teeth.
I already know what the problem is. The septic tank is backing up. I can see it bubbling up from the drain of the bathtub, as if the horrendous smell wasn’t any indication.
“What is it, Gar?” Jenna calls from the kitchen.
“The septic is full and it’s backing up into the downstairs bathtub,” I call back from the bathroom.
“That’s impossible. We had the cesspool drained six months ago. I marked it down on the calendar.”
She’s right. I remember calling the cesspool company and arguing with the guy for twenty minutes over the ridiculous six-hundred dollar fee. “I’ll check the septic tank before we call anybody. Maybe it’s just clogged or something.”
Outside, a cool pleasant breeze blows through my hair. It’s a gorgeous spring day, and as the birds fill the air with their chirps, the sun beams down in blinding rays. But after the miserable winter we had, I’ll take blinding sunlight and mellow breezes over mounds of snow any day of the week.
I lift the wood panel off the deck and use a crowbar to snag the handle of the cement cover of the septic tank. Hoisting it up, I can see the tank is not nearly full. Not even half full.
Something is blocking the pipes and causing the backup. It’s too big to be an animal.
As I lean closer to get a better look, my hand cupped over my nose and mouth, the sun exposes a small hunk of gold that sparkles in the light.
“Ned,” I try to say, but it escapes as a harsh whisper.
I hear footsteps and turn to see Jenna approaching. With all my strength, I lift and drop the cement cover back into place. “Are you ok?” she asks. “You look really pale. I hope you’re not getting sick on me. Did you figure out the problem?”
“I’m afraid so…”
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Amy Larson’s husband had not laid a hand on her in over six months. Not so much as a pat on the back or a kiss on the cheek. And though she took this lack of affection as a personal insult, she was relieved he hadn’t raised his hands to her either.
Six months ago, if Amy had so much as spilled a drop of water, Dennis would’ve blackened her eye faster than she could grab a towel to wipe it up.
But Dennis Larson was too preoccupied with Roscoe to even acknowledge his family’s existence beyond the dinner table. Amy would swear that her husband loved that dog more than he did his own wife and son.
Roscoe was a Saint Bernard that Dennis had rescued from the Greenville animal shelter; looked just like the dog from the Beethoven movies. The week he brought Roscoe home, Dennis spent over five hundred dollars on a doghouse, bed, food, and personalized collar.
While the family was scrounging and scraping to survive, Roscoe was treated like royalty. When they drove to the store or rode down to the beach for the day, Roscoe rode shotgun. While the family dined on macaroni and cheese, Roscoe chomped on raw sirloin. There was nothing too expensive for that adorable little mutt.
Dennis let Roscoe roam free whenever he pleased, which angered some of the neighbors. But they were too afraid of Dennis’s awful temper to speak up. When it rained, Roscoe would track mud in the living room and shake himself off, soaking the furniture or whoever was unfortunate enough to be standing in his way. Dennis found this to be adorable. Amy found it to be a pain in the ass seeing as she was the one expected to do the cleanup.
It was a grey December afternoon when Evan Larson strolled in early from school. His brown jacket was stained red, his knuckles skinned down to the bone. He had been in another fight. Ten years old and he was already taking on kids twice his size.
Evan used to stay up late to watch amateur boxing on the sports networks. He loved it so much that on his ninth birthday Dennis bought him gloves and a punching bag. He figured wailing on a heavy bag wouldn’t hurt anybody and might help work all the aggression out of his boy. But the bag didn’t quell Evan’s rage; it only seemed to feed it.
This recent incident involved a young boy named Ronnie Henderson who pegged Evan in the back of the head with a dodge ball during gym glass. Evan leapt over the dividing net and threw the first punch, which crushed poor Ronnie’s nose. Kids were going around school saying when it was over Ronnie’s face looked like raw hamburger meat, all mashed and bloody. The verdict was in on Evan: Permanent expulsion. The doors of Greenville Middle School were closed to him forever.
“What were you thinking?” Dennis shouted, his face turning beet red. Roscoe got so worked up over his master’s fury that he started barking along with Dennis’s screams. “Do you know how hard it’s going to be to find a new school? And what about the kid you sent to the hospital? His parents are probably going to sue us.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Evan shrugged it off, shaking his hands to alleviate the pain from his throbbing knuckles.
“You can’t go around beating people up. It won’t solve your problems.”
“It seems to work on mom,” Evan remarked. That snide comment sent Dennis sailing over the edge. Amy was preparing supper in the kitchen and heard the crinkle of leather as Dennis slid his belt from his jeans.
“Boy, I’m going to whip the skin off your ass.”
Amy turned her back in the kitchen, fearing that Dennis would belt her too if she interjected. As Dennis raised his belt, Evan planted his fist in his father’s gut. Roscoe jumped up and sunk his teeth in Evan’s forearm. Shaking Roscoe off, Evan swung again. This time Dennis was prepared and as he ducked, Evan’s tender knuckles smashed against the wall.
Dennis’s belt cut through the air and snapped across Evan’s back. Roscoe backed away as Dennis lashed his boy again and again until his son’s back was as raw as his knuckles.
“Now get your worthless ass upstairs, boy. If you thought that was bad, let’s see how you like going to bed without your supper.”
“You can’t starve me,” Evan protested.
“Like hell I can’t. Until we find you another school, you’re going on a mandatory hunger strike. Now move it!”
Defeated, Evan retreated from the living room without further resistance. Dennis kneeled down and petted Roscoe behind the ears; then fetched him a milk bone as if to say thanks for helping.
In the kitchen, Amy trembled like the last leaf on a dying tree. Dennis and her son had their disagreements in the past, but it never came to blows before. As many times as Dennis raised his hands to her, he never raised his hands to his boy.
Evan rearranged his room looking for a source of food. A stale bag of chips or stray candy bar he had brought up and forgotten about. A whole day and night without food and even the church shoes in his closet were starting to look appetizing.
Dennis retired that evening with a big smile plastered across his chubby face. His son had stepped out of line with him, and he had remedied the situation in his own savage way. Was it any wonder where Evan got his anger and violent tendencies from?
By midnight, Evan gave up hope of having supper and went to bed feeling both famished and defeated. He can’t starve me forever, Evan thought. Can he?
The following morning, Amy hesitantly brought up the idea of filling out applications for private school. The scowl on Dennis’s face was enough to nip that thought in the bud. She knew realistically that private school wasn’t a luxury they could afford. Not with the way Dennis was spoiling Roscoe.
Roscoe was beside his feet, chewing on stray strips of bacon that Dennis would pass him under the table. He turned his head and growled when Evan entered the kitchen, his flappy ears curved past the sides as he showed his teeth.
Evan’s skin was purple and welted. Dennis admired the bruises of his son the way an art connoisseur might admire a significant painting or priceless sculpture. He was disturbingly pleased with his handiwork.
Evan sat at the table and watched his father scarf down eggs, ham, sausage, and bacon. His stomach was rumbling, crying out for food. He’d have taken the scraps Roscoe was eating off the floor at this point. Halfway through breakfast he asked if he could be excused.
His father banished him with a dismissive nod. He marched up the stairs to his room while he rubbed at his tummy anxiously. Dennis Larson was a firm, strict man. But he could be a sensible man, too. And Evan was certain he’d break before it went too far.
He was starting to see red. He felt the rage boiling inside of him, ready to bubble its way to the surface and be unleashed. He wanted to punch holes in every wall of his room. He wanted to smash his computer and desk to pieces. He wanted to hurl his TV straight out the window.
And he didn’t have a clue as to why destroying his own possessions was even a thought. It just felt good to think about it, picture it mentally. It provided an odd release to his tension, an outlet for his aggression.
But what he really enjoyed visualizing was knocking his dads lights out. Giving him the thrashing of a lifetime. Bashing his face in like he had with Ronnie Henderson.
Above all else, the thing he envisioned the most was a steaming plate of food in front of him.
Another day passed and another day without so much as a crumb or speck of food for Evan to digest. He had been rejected or turned down by every public he had applied to. Once the school districts got wind of the Henderson incident, Evan was branded as a liability and finding a school that would accept him now didn’t seem probable.
The lack of food made him weak, exhausted. He spent most of the day curled up in bed sleeping. Waking only once when his mom barged in without knocking and removed a chunk of tinfoil from her pocket.
Wrapped inside was a ham sandwich on rye.
“Don’t say anything,” Amy whispered. “Just take it and don’t tell your father.”
Before Evan’s taste buds could gear up to devour this offering, Dennis barged in; his hands clenched in fists of wrath. Roscoe trotted in behind him, flashing his teeth again in Evan’s direction.
He stormed across the room, snatching the sandwich from Amy’s hand and stomping it into the carpet. His hand raised to the air and his palm came down across Amy’s jaw. She recoiled from the slap, both hands pressed against the stinging side of her face.
Evan sat up in bed, defenseless. He couldn’t raise a hand to his father again without gaining further punishment. He couldn’t even chance speaking up for his mother. He just had to bite his tongue and pray silently for his father to disperse.
“Let this be a lesson to both of you. Don’t cross me again.”
Amy lied awake in bed, reading quietly. The palm of Dennis’s hand was imprinted across the side of her face, leaving one solid red streak that had begun to swell. She never once mentioned the incident. She didn’t even bother to ask Dennis why Roscoe wasn’t planted at the foot of the bed like usual. She just enjoyed the silence, took it as a brief reprieve from the misery that had become her life.
She was reading the latest copy of People, her one guilty pleasure. She relished in the celebrity gossip and the photos they threw in of shirtless hunks were just a bonus. She often fantasied about being married to the likes of George Clooney or Brad Pitt.
But this illusion was shattered anytime she glanced over at Dennis and saw his bloated beer belly and bulging chipmunk cheeks. The revolting sight made her want to throw up in her mouth a little, and made her question on a nightly basis what kind of man she had married. As if the constant abuse wasn’t enough to make her ask these valid questions.
Evan’s room was next-door to his parent’s bedroom. Dennis pressed his ear to the wall, expecting to hear his boy snoring away. Instead, he could hear Evan chewing softly, slowly. His taste buds savored every bite of the tender, succulent meat.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Dennis yelled, making Amy twitch slightly. “I think he’s eating in there. I’ll teach him, that little bastard. Where’s my belt?”
“What the heck could he be snacking on?” Amy wondered. “There are no leftovers. And there’s nothing else in the fridge. I haven’t been shopping since Sunday.”
Dennis Larson’s eyes widened. “Roscoe,” he whispered, and a single tear sprawled down his cheek.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
RIVER’S EDGE: A Film Review
Daniel Skye (Randy Benivegna)
Directed by Tim Hunter, River’s Edge is a gritty American classic that many have either forgotten or merely haven’t yet experienced. It is an astonishing portrait of the MTV Generation, a generation of youth afflicted by apathy and indifference.
Before I delve any deeper into the subject at hand, I should clarify this is not a movie for everyone, but it is a personal favorite of mine. I have viewed this film many times with different people. Some have loved it; others hated it, while other people have walked away with mixed feelings towards their first viewing. No matter how you feel, one thing is certain. If you watch it from beginning to end, it’s bound to leave an impression on you.
Made in 1986, the film slipped through the cracks commercially, receiving little attention upon its first release, despite positive reviews from critics, including the thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert. Only through the magic of technology has the film become available through the years on a larger platform. You can now rent it, purchase it on DVD, or catch it on Netflix Instant from time to time.
The film centers mainly around two hapless stoners named Matt and Layne, played by Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover respectively. When their friend “John” (Daniel Roebuck) shows up to school one day and casually confesses to the murder of his girlfriend, they naturally don’t believe him. So John offers to show them the body.
John’s real name is Samson Tollet, but they call him John because his last name sounds like “toilet.” For those of you that don’t get the joke, a john is slang for a toilet.
Dragging them up to the river’s edge, John nonchalantly directs them to the pale, naked body of Jamie (Danyi Deats). By their side are fellow friends Mike (Phillip Brock), Tony (Josh Richman), and Clarissa. Clarissa is played by the debuting Ione Skye, who later went on to star opposite John Cusack in the film Say Anything.
While some appear shocked at the sight of a lifeless Jamie, others appear as indifferent as John himself. Layne claims he cares about Jamie, but he cares about John too. And John is still alive. Therefore, Layne believes the group should do everything in their power to protect him and see that he doesn’t go down for this.
But John’s apathy and his reckless ways hinder every attempt of Layne’s to deal with the situation, leaving Layne to tend to most of it himself. Instead, Layne opts to leave John with Feck, so he can lay low while Layne sorts everything out.
Dennis Hopper plays the gun-toting Feck, an eccentric recluse who lives in hiding with a life-size blowup doll named Ellie. How the teens became aware of Feck is never made clear to the audience, but one thing is made clear. Feck is their main marijuana hookup.
John and Feck have something in common. Feck killed a girl too, as he doesn’t mind sharing with the teens. He was in love. And although his gun rarely leaves his side, he hasn’t fired it since that fateful night.
The situation is complicated by Matt’s troubled younger brother, Tim (Joshua John Miller), who saw John at the river, as well as Jamie’s body.
Layne moves Jamie’s body and the crime goes unreported for a brief period before someone finally grows a big enough conscience to step forward. Racing against the clock, Layne tries to figure out the rat and cover all their tracks; while John proves to be a handful for the oddball Feck. And Matt is tasked with looking after Clarissa, Layne’s girlfriend, as Layne handles business. And Matt does more than look after sweet Clarissa.
As John and Feck abnormally bond over beer and bullets, Layne is picked up by the police and questioned about the murder of Jamie. Meanwhile as Matt and Clarissa wake early morning in the park all cuddled together in a sleeping bag, they hear a gunshot that echoes through the area.
Shocking, daring, and often unsettling, River’s Edge is a film that you will sit and contemplate long after the credits are rolling. Neal Jimenez wrote the script (and named most of the characters after his high school buddies) based partially on true events. For the sake of protecting the victims, I won’t list names but the story is out there for those who want to know. Looking past this fact, Neal managed to make his script stand out and really captured the teenagers’ lack of concern, passion, and enthusiasm for life. As well as their reckless, drug and alcohol fueled ways.
Now, onto the performances. If I can speak freely, I’ve never been a huge Keanu Reeves fan. I just don’t get the appeal. But to each his own I suppose. However, I enjoyed his role in this film. His relationship with Tim, his mom, and sister alone is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Not to mention some of the ridiculous things he says to his mother: “Got any extra pot?” Ione Skye was beautiful and handled her first role well. It’s a shame she never went on to do more.
Dennis Hopper and Crispin Glover were the two main standouts here though. As far as Glover’s performance goes, you’ll either hate his character or love it. I fall in the latter category and rather enjoyed his jerky, tweaked out portrayal of Layne. Although it’s never shown in the film, it’s implied that Layne is a speed freak, which explains a lot of the things he says or does. I was born in 1987, but I’ve talked to a few people that grew up in the 80’s and saw this film and they said his portrayal was quite accurate. As a fan of Glover, I’d say this is one of his best roles.
Hopper channeled the darkness he showed in films like Blue Velvet to play the tormented, misunderstood Feck. It would be years later that he’d go on to play a different psychopath in Speed, also alongside Keanu Reeves. But in this film, Hopper nails his role perfectly. He almost seems to understand Feck more than the characters or the audience ever will. And that’s not only a little unnerving, it’s also the mark of a great actor.
On a scale of one to ten, I give River’s Edge an eight. Depending on how you look at it, River’s Edge can be an American classic or an American nightmare. The only way to find out is to see it and judge for yourself. Fans of the band Slayer will be in for a treat as well because half the soundtrack is comprised of Slayer songs.
TRAVELER OF THE NIGHT
Keith Snyder breathed heavily as he pulled off the exit ramp of Sunrise Highway, on the verge of another panic attack. It felt as if all the air was being pulled from his lungs.
It was Exit 32 he had drove off and the sign read Braxton, a town Keith had passed a few times on the road before.
Keith was a traveling salesman, and like most traveling salesmen, his car and the road were his two main companions. Traveling salesmen are a dying breed, but Keith is one of the few that keeps the trade alive.
As he drove slowly down the deserted one-lane road, he managed to regulate his breathing and gain the air back in his lungs. But the sensation of overwhelming anxiety still lingered.
As he neared the service station, it dawned on him how badly he needed to take a piss. Keith had been driving five hours since he left the convention in Westlake, only stopping once for gas.
The sudden urge to relieve himself put a momentary pause on his anxiety attack and sent him reeling into the lot of the service station.
The restroom door was on the right side of the station and thankfully didn’t require a key. He dashed inside and didn’t think twice of the rancid condition or smell. The sweet relief was almost on par with sex. But the foul ambience of the facility left much to be desired. The graffiti plastered all over the walls was the least of its flaws. Though at the particular moment, Keith honestly didn’t care if he was pissing in a litter box.
Upon exiting the restroom, his breathing had returned to normal and coffee was the next thing on his mind. He figured he could use a cup for the road. He still had another two hours on the road before he reached Ocean City and he needed something to keep him alert behind the wheel.
But his anxiety flared up again in the store when he saw confrontation brewing between the clerk and a fellow customer. The clerk was an older gentleman, squinty eyed and thin as plywood. The customer was a young man with short blond hair in a black tank top and camouflage pants, who was arguing with the clerk over a forty ounce of King Cobra. A shiny gold medallion jiggled around his neck as he slammed his fist emphatically on the counter. The medallion of Saint Christopher as Keith learned from the engraving.
“I don’t give a fuck about you or your laws,” the young man screamed. “Just take the fucking money and give me the beer.”
“It’s against the law for me to sell you this without proper ID.”
“I fucking left it at home. How many times do I need to tell you that?”
“Then go home, get it, come back here and I’ll sell you the beer.”
“You’re really testing my patience, old man.”
“And you’re really wasting my time, young man. Now beat it before I call the cops.”
The young man balled up his fist, pulled his arm back… and then let it drop to his side. He slapped his palm on the counter once more and stormed off, brushing shoulders with Keith on the way out.
He breathed a heavy sigh of relief as his anxiety gradually dissipated. His tired brown eyes scanned the store for a coffee machine and found none. He approached the counter, the clerk still fuming from his encounter with the young blond man.
“I need forty dollars in pump number three,” Keith told the clerk. “And you got any coffee?”
“We don’t sell coffee,” the clerk said. “But I’ve got a pot brewing in the back. I can pour you a cup for the road. Two dollar service charge of course.”
“That would be fine,” Keith nodded as he pulled two twenties and two singles from his wallet. He looked down at the scuffed up counter and saw the forty of King Cobra. “I’ll take this too.”
The clerk just shook his head at first, the look of disapproval clear even behind those squinty eyes. “You don’t want to do that, mister. That boy is trouble. Comes around here every week trying to buy beer and cigarettes. Never has any ID on him. And the money he has is no good. Probably takes it straight from his mom’s purse while she’s sleeping.”
“I know how to deal with people like that,” Keith assured him.
With some minor hesitation, the clerk charged him for the gas and the beer. Then he pocketed the two extra dollars and poured Keith some coffee in a Styrofoam cup. As he turned to leave, the clerk gave him a look as if to say “good luck.”
The young blond man was leaned up against the side of the station, his hands balled into tight fists. Keith approached with caution and held the forty out for him to accept, almost as if he was presenting it as some sort of peace offering.
His fingers uncurled and he accepted the beer with a look that bared a hint of gratitude. He clenched the cap between his teeth and popped it off with ease. He took a few gulps and offered Keith a swig.
“None for me,” Keith declined. “I’m driving.” He pointed to the beat-up station wagon parked beside pump number three.
“You got a smoke?”
“I don’t smoke neither.”
“You a Mormon or something?”
“Nah, just health conscious I suppose. What’s your name?”
“Tate,” the young man replied. “You?”
“Well, Keith, you feel like giving me a lift?”
“Just up the road a bit.”
He assessed the kid was no threat, just a fellow weary traveler of the night. Though it wasn’t quite night yet. But the sun was fading fast below the horizon and it was growing darker with each fleeting minute.
“Sure,” Keith said and led them both to the car. He fueled up and they were on the road, Keith sipping his coffee and Tate quaffing his beer.
Keith had cranked the heat up, and when he did, caught Tate staring at the hair on his knuckles. Keith never married, but several of his girlfriends had compared him to a gorilla in the past.
Curls of dark chest hair poked out from the neck of his sweater. He was a tad self-conscious about it and was glad Tate didn’t draw more attention to it.
“You don’t look like a local,” Tate observed. “What brings you out here?”
“I’m a traveling salesman. Bateman Pharmaceuticals.”
“Cool… got any good dope?” Keith chuckled instead of answering, but Tate seemed to realize he was chuckling out of apprehension. He was starting to think maybe the squinty eyed clerk that vaguely reminded him of Popeye was right. Maybe this kid was trouble after all.
Night was creeping up on them fast, and this thought frightened him more than what this young man might be thinking. Keith kept track of the days on his calendar and knew what that night was going to bring.
A full moon. Keith was the superstitious type, and superstition only added to his levels of anxiety. He saw full moons as a bad omen, but to a man like Keith everything was a bad omen in the right context.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Tate said firmly, finishing his beer and tossing it out the window he had rolled down. “Got any good dope?”
“Just a few sample kits and pamphlets.”
“Where?” Tate asked, his hand sliding inside his coat.
Keith nodded with his head back towards the trunk of the station wagon. Tate drew his hand from his coat and Keith felt the cold barrel of the gun press against his cheek. “Pull this piece of shit over.”
Keith steered off to the shoulder and tapped the brakes. The station wagon came to a dead stop and Keith carefully turned the car off the dropped the key into one of the empty cup holders. Then he rested his hands on the steering wheel, not wanting to accidently make any sudden movements that would set this kid off.
Don’t give him a reason to use that gun, Keith thought. Just give him what he wants and he’ll be gone.
“Take whatever you want. Money’s in my wallet. Pharmaceutical cases are in the trunk, along with my luggage. Help yourself to whatever you please, just don’t hurt me.”
His anxiety was off the charts now. Keith was breathing rapidly, all the air pumping out from his lungs. White spots floated in his line of vision, and it felt like someone was putting all their weight on his chest and throat. He was suffocating from the inside.
The sky darkened and the moon started to show through dark banks of clouds. Keith’s whole body twitched involuntarily in his seat and Tate cocked the hammer of the gun.
“Don’t make another sudden move like that or I’ll unload this gun in your face.” He tried to sound tough, but his voice was cracking a bit. The kid was an amateur, but he still had the gun and Keith did not.
As night fell, the moon shined bright. A full moon. The hunter’s moon.
His face shifted and swelled, pushing outwards and taking the form of a hideous wet snout. His flesh pulsed and bubbled as his body swelled to twice his size of a normal man. The hair of his chest, arms, and knuckles increased, continuing to sprout until his entire body was enveloped in a shroud of fur. His yellow eyes glowed as bright as the moon itself. Tate fired three deafening shots, but the beast persisted. As its snout closed in on Tate’s face, all the screaming blond kid could see were two rows of jagged white fangs.
By the time Keith pulled into Ocean City, Tate was gone. All that remained of him was the shiny Saint Christopher medallion that gleamed in the sunlight as it hung from Keith’s rearview mirror. His sweater and slacks were torn and tattered, barely clinging to his body.
He had a vague recollection of stopping for gas and picking up a lone hitchhiker, but that was all he could remember other than waking up on the side of the road in Braxton.
His wallet and pharmaceutical cases were still in attendance. And the medallion was just sitting on the front seat, the passenger door ajar. As he leaned over to close the door and see if the car would start, he tasted something bitter and metallic clinging to the back of his throat. It tasted like blood.
And this fact would haunt him on the two hour ride that morning from Braxton to Ocean City.
Despite the events that transpired that previous evening, nothing would change for Keith. He’d return home, be back on the road in a few days. The memory of his transformation and the events that ensued would remain a mystery.
And his anxiety would continue to dominate him… at least until the next full moon.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Dedicated to my Grandpa – R.I.P. Anthony Locascio
When Justin Swanson thought of that word, he didn’t think of an actor or a baseball player or a rock star. He thought of his grandpa, Rick.
An electrician, Rick made enough money to retire by the age of fifty. And he was diagnosed with lung cancer at sixty. He spent the last five years of his life fighting the battle bravely. And though the effort was futile, Rick refused to lie down and throw in the towel. He had his family, and they were worth fighting for.
But even the best fighters will tell you that you’re bound to lose one round. And after years of chemo and radiation and dialysis, Rick finally lost the fight.
Justin cried for weeks after the funeral. He cried at home, cried at work, cried while he was sitting alone in his car. Justin’s father had abandoned him and his mother after his birth, so losing his grandpa was like losing a best friend, a father, and a grandfather all in one harsh instance.
He was broken up, but he took solace in the fact that his grandpa wasn’t suffering anymore. He could finally rest in peace.
And when the time came to sell the house, Justin was charged with the task of clearing out his grandpa’s belongings.
He started with the clothing, creating two separate piles; one for regular clothing and one for vintage. He figured he could sell the vintage items to an antique clothing shop. The thought didn’t make him happy, but it was better than just throwing them away and the money would help with his college tuition.
In the living room, he tried to estimate the value of his grandpa’s television. It was one of those old box sets with four legs that you never see anymore. He couldn’t put a price on it, but he assumed the antique shop might be interested.
Crammed in the corner, he saw his grandpa’s favorite chair. A creaky wooden rocking chair that he had carved himself. There was even a date carved into the back–1973.
He stood, admiring his grandpa’s handiwork and a tear sprawled down his cheek. “Pull it together, Justin,” he said aloud. “Grandpa would want you to be strong.”
A cold air circulated, filling the room. Justin stared down at his exposed arms as the skin bubbled and turned to gooseflesh. Chills ran up and down his body, and he could feel the tiny little hairs rising on the back of his neck.
Out of the corner of his eye, the chair began to rock.
His body quivered at the sight of the chair rocking gently back and forth, the legs creaking with each motion.
RUN, was his first thought. Except he was frozen, his legs sunk into the burgundy carpet like it was made of quicksand. He couldn’t move a muscle. The lamp at the end table beside the rocking chair switched on and the light flickered under the dusty lampshade.
But then the light sizzled and faded. The cold air cleared out and the steady rocking came to a halt.
“Grandpa?” Justin asked, even though nobody was there to answer. But although his grandpa was not there physically, Justin could feel his spirit present. “It was you, wasn’t it?” A smile spread across his whitened face. “You’re still here with me.”
And that realization brought about a great sigh of relief. “Just don’t scare me like that again,” he said, and smiled.
Grandpa Rick was not really gone. He was still very much with Justin. And he always would be in spirit.
Justin finished cleaning out his house and the Swanson family listed it the following week. He sold the TV and the vintage clothing, along with his grandpa’s record collection he found stashed away in the garage. It was more than enough to pay for his college tuition. But there was one item he couldn’t bear to part with. And it still sits in the corner of his room, rocking gently from time to time, just to let Justin know he’s never truly alone.