It was summer in the wine country, in the cleft of a hilly vale steeped in green heat. I had a noseful of dust, pollen and sex. Our sticky bodies separated slowly as we sat back in the remains of our picnic, the white cloth dirty and disheveled. Carcasses of roast game hens and rinds of soft cheeses were strewn about. The dry, greedy earth had drunk most of the vintage from a toppled bottle, and what remained we quickly swallowed.
As they approached the site of the company picnic, Dewey and his parents saw a crowd of weird-looking people standing along the roadside waving picket signs. Dewey’s father muttered, “God damn” under his breath.
“Roll up your window, Dewey,” said his mother.
“Who are they?” Dewey asked, putting up the rear window of the station wagon.
“Anarchists,” his father said. “They’d like to see us all turned into animals — and worse.”
Donny gets to work with the quick-setting cement; it will probably have hardened before most of the blood has congealed in the chest’s cavities. The brass lion’s feet on the antique bathtub gleam from his attentive polishing, as does the porcelain interior, scoured so many times with Bon Ami that the scratch marks of steel-wool pads appear in places. Shiny black plastic-wrapped parcels almost fill the basin.
Through the light which shines in natural things, one mounts up to the life which presides over them.
Creaking, the heavy door swung open, and I stepped into the darkened cell. The old gatekeeper waited at my back. Two hundred years ago he would have been a jailer, and this might have been my cell. I straightened up slowly, uncertain of the ceiling height, and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dimness. I had an electric lantern with me, but I wanted my first impressions of the cell to match those of its last tenant. What had he felt as the door closed behind him and the key turned in the lock? In the end, had his eyes turned huge and sightless from staring into shadows? Had he seen the pyre to which they led him after so many years in the dark? Or had that final dawn burned out his eyes, even before the flames of the auto-da-fe came leaping from below?
“Ah, good, here come the cops to arrest some more mutants,” said Raleigh’s boss, Pete. “Can’t have them just lounging around, living off the fat of the land, snacking on the core of our civilization.”
Raleigh finished counting verdigrised pennies into the grimy hand of a man who wore a heavy overcoat and woolen muffler despite the August heat, then he handed over the brown bag full of Copenhagen slicks. His eyes followed the man out into the heat-warped glare of the street. In the flickering intervals between speeding cars, he could see that the tiny park across the street was full of cops.
It was the year 1969. In the van, Jeff was broasting alive, and his tongue had turned to pumice, but he hardly felt the July heat. The freeway shimmered as if it were aflame, and where the illusion was strongest the boy imagined he could see through cement to the surface of Earth’s moon. Somewhere high above Burbank’s smoggy gray sky, the lunar excursion module crouched like a spider on stilts. Down here, lanes merged and diverged, cars sped from near to far away in seconds, and two ladies in black changed a tire on a black T-Bird by the side of the road. Up there, astronauts waited to walk.
“Too much ichor,” said red-faced Jack Magnusson, scowling into a playbook. “The whole tragedy is sopping in it. Blood, blood, blood. No, it won’t do for a student production. We’re not educating little vampires here.”
Bad news for the janitor; good luck for Dr. Malikudzu. Sometime in the middle of the night-shift, after a fight with Max the supervisor over who was to empty biohazard bins in the animal experimentation labs, young Mr. Coover let go his already slender grip on discretion and began unadvisedly opening random drawers in the offices of the principal investigators. He had seen too many bad things peeking at him emptily from the plastic shrouded hollows of the laboratory bins; he wanted to know what got into the heads of these doctors to make them go after living meat the way they did. Drawer after drawer yielded nothing but paper and paperclips, the occasional stash of change for the vending machines, stale fragments of pastry. But finally, in the office of one Dr. Malikudzu, he came upon a cache of tiny liquor bottles, of the sort distributed by airlines. With a grin he settled back in the squeaky office chair, unscrewed the cap on a vodka bottle, and tipped the contents down his throat, never noticing that the paper seal on the neck of the bottle had already been broken.
Mama had been good all day, but at suppertime she went mad again and spoiled everything. It was the chicken that did it this time, the good chicken Pop had killed that afternoon by stepping on its head with his boot heel and yanking up on the talons, everything happening in slow motion under the August sun, as if the whole world wanted Jory to see exactly how it was done: the sound of the spine pulling apart, and the taffy-stretched squawk, the slow drizzle of blood on the green grass where the dead cock flapped and twitched among the hens while their heads gawked and eyes and beaks gaped as wide as they would go in the bottom of the bucket that Pop gave Jory to dump in the crick. They hadn’t gone out to kill the rooster, but it’d given Pop a few good scratches when he went in the coop for a couple-three hens, and Pop had just gone crazy himself right then and swore like hell, grabbed that cock and stepped down . . .
Milt Random had put a few beers under his belt, sitting alone in his dark little apartment, when he noticed that the grains of his wooden coffee table were subtly rearranging themselves. Blinking through his alcoholic haze, Milt cleared away the magazines and ashtrays that littered the table, and peered closely at the scarred surface:
RANDOM Read More