By Davy Carren
For Made Up Words
Alice pulled into the liquor store’s parking lot with a wheezy clang, crashing her banged-up ’72 Pontiac Firebird into a parking space’s cement block. The slate-gray jalopy sputtered and heaved as it skidded in and came to an abrupt stop, rebounded a bit from the collision, and made one last caterwauling moan before giving up its ghost and settling down to rest on the pavement between the two faded white lines. It was a hell of an entrance. The three guys in dirty jeans leaning against the liquor store’s front window, smoking cigarettes, and holding 44oz Big Gulps in their hands, were all mightily impressed. Alice got out of the car, slamming the door shut after her, and smiled at the three leaning, smoking, Big-Gulp-drinking gentleman as she hurriedly went by. The red and black spikes of her Mohawk looked polished and clean, and stood up about 6 inches off of her head. She’d used egg whites and gelatin to achieve just the right look, lacquered smooth and hard and bad-ass. The lock on the chain around her neck rattled as she walked, as did the chains on her skin-tight black bondage pants. All three guys looked at her ass and smiled.
The clerk at the liquor store knew Alice and said many kind things to her. Alice smiled at him through her black lipstick and laughed at his jokes. This was their conversation:
“Hey, it’s Spiky-Head Alice. Back again. I missed you. Where you been?”
“Hey Ronie. I don’t know, around. How ya doin’?”
“I’m good. You know me. I’m always good. The lights in here are so bright. I’m happy.”
“Nice. Hey, so, I’m kinda in a hurry.”
“Oh. You got nice plans. Nice places to go. I know. I’ve got it. Pack of Lucky Strike. Filter. See?”
“Wow. You’re good Ronie. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Okay. Out of ten. Ten. Yes. There you go my dear. Five dollars for you to spend as you wish. Hey, you! By the Slurpee machine! I see you! You can’t refill that here. No, no, my friend.”
“Okay Ronie. Seize ya later.”
“Have no sorrow, my lady, for to-morrow might never be here.”
“Alright. Sees ya.”
“Hey. Hey! I see you. You bastard. Come here!”
Alice swished through the front door and unwrapped the pack of Luckies as she took long strides towards the Pontiac. Her soft-featured face let slip a smile at the leaning guys again. They said hi and smiled back. She pulled at one of the cut-off sleeves of her black Cramps t-shirt: some nervous gesture of adjustment, overcompensating for a lack she’d previously wanted to be brave enough to show off. The long driver-side door fanned out and groaned as she pulled it open and deposited the thin slice of who she was inside.
The car was basically a piece of junk. It would’ve probably done better as scrap metal. Alice knew this, but she loved the damn thing. She’d practically grown up in it. It had belonged to her father and it was the first new car he’d ever purchased: his pride and joy. It was a bulky long-hooded muscle car with a 455 V8 engine, a big swoopy body and a tail fin fanning up from the back. It was the car she’d learned how to drive in, and she’d been through a lot together with it. It made her feel proud to still be driving it around. She sat down on the ripped-up leather seat, pushed in the car’s lighter button, slightly tapped the pack with the palm of her hand while holding it upside down, and snatched one of the unloosed cigarettes out with her teeth. After rolling down the window, which was quite an effort because it stuck a lot and was manual, she hooked her left arm outside and lit up her cigarette. Alice loved smoking. It was one of her favorite things in the world to be doing. It didn’t take long for her to start feeling buoyant and at ease, her whole demeanor almost immediately changing, becoming insouciant and lax and carefree in an instant. She turned the keys in the ignition and the car roared like a chained beast from a deep dark dungeon. Smoke spewed out of the exhaust pipe. She put it in reverse and gunned it out of the parking spot, skidding out wildly. The leaning guys cheered and raised their Big Gulps in the air. The car sped out into the street leaving a swarm of dust and twirling trash in its wake.
Driving the car like this — with her cigarette trailing ash and red sparks like a firework gone berserk outside the window — made Alice feel calm, steady, and in control of things. Moments were hers to have. None of the other bullshit of living day to day mattered now. It was just her, here, driving this wild beast up into the foothills, carving up the streets, spitting at mailboxes, screaming into the wind, turning the volume on the tape deck all the way up and pounding her fists on the car’s tattered ceiling.
Flicking the butt of the cigarette into the street, she rolled up the window and made her way into the winding streets of Barbarous Hills. It was an odd place, up here where they called outsiders Flatlanders, with its giant mansions and all kinds of dense foliage. The hills’ moniker most likely referred to something about the physical landscape and not the people who lived upon it. They were not barbarians by any means — nor were their servants for that matter. This was where the rich people lived in their own little jungle playland. Alice loved to drive its forever S-curving streets, those sinuous whipping turns that snapped your neck and played havoc with your sense of direction.
The seat-belt buckle was cold against her belly where her shirt rode up, and the thick strap rubbed against her neck as she jostled around with the sharp turns. On and on, around and around, she drove those crazy crooked swerving streets until she wasn’t even thinking about it, until she was just turning by instinct. She could’ve done it with her eyes closed. That gentle sway that each turn had that was unique yet easy to ride out, the sudden spinning whirl she’d give the long thin spokes of the steering wheel at the start, and then that steady pull that drew her in towards some unknowable middle, some place where things didn’t exist as they did anywhere else, a place of constant motion and some kind of giddy lifting of the spirits that went on and on in endless circling oblivion. The streets were always there, always the same, and they made things easy and somehow a little more real too. Her hands went from the wheel to the spokes and back again, her fingers gliding smoothly over the worn surface, sometimes only using her palms to turn and then with a twist of her wrist straightening back out again. She started saying, “I drive these streets. I drive these streets. I drive these streets.” She said it over and over again as she drove around and around the streets of Barbarous Hills.
Tonight was Alice’s 21st birthday. She’d skipped out on her own party, after chucking her full birthday-shot of whisky out of her mom’s kitchen window as the rest of the family who was gathered around for the celebration went silent, for once, and she made a quick exit through the garage with the Pontiac. She’d made a promise to herself to stop drinking alcohol if she ever made it to the legal drinking age, and so now her teetotaling days had officially begun. She’d never felt so “adult” in her whole life.
The Ramones’ Loudmouth was blasting out of a car’s speakers. Kids in leather jackets and tight, ripped-up black jeans were hanging around, smoking and drinking beer out of brown paper bags, lounging on the hoods of their cars, hanging off of tree branches, sitting around on the dirt, chasing each other around, making out, having wild fake fights, smoking dope, and laughing uncontrollably. Alice pulled up to the open space between the trees where the kids were all hanging around. The Pontiac kicked up a bunch of dust and a lot of the kids started jumping around and being over-dramatic and wailing and holding their shirts over their mouths and noses and screeching like monkeys and waving their arms high above their heads in mock surrender. Alice turned off the engine, rolled her window down, laid her seat back, and lit up another cigarette. One of the spikes of her Mohawk went through the hole in the headrest of her seat.
The music was thumping. Some guy had a whole amplification system rigged up in the back of his pick-up truck with giant twin speakers throwing music all over the mini-steppe. It was a little clearing in the forest, lost among the winding ways of Barbarous Hills, where some kids of a more recalcitrant nature got together on Friday nights to mingle. The spot was a secret among this clan. Though Alice didn’t think of herself as one of them, she felt a slight kinship with them, their happy-go-lucky, clownish, carpe diem behavior suited her. The driving guitars thrashed their way into her thoughts and unleashed a wild rivulet of adrenaline that, along with the cigarette, lifted her dreary head out of an oneiric fog and seemed to pulsate through her, sending her lips into a wide smile and her head rocking up and down enthusiastically to the beat. Kids were dancing around in the dust singing along. Alice started singing along as well. The music was blaring, so nobody could hear her in the car screaming out as loud as she could. A wave of tickling joy swept through her from her eyebrows down to her ankles. The song was over in less than two minutes. That was enough. Alice was happy. She smoked her cigarette and stared at the apple slice of moon that was slipping away into the tenebrous clouds above the trees.
A bunch of hoodlums in black sweatshirts, black pants, and black boots, with black bandannas wrapped around their faces, came striding towards the Pontiac. Alice knew these kids. They were members of the PASS (Pleasant Anarchist-Socialist Society) collective — idealists with no ideas. They liked to go around turning over trashcans and putting roadkill in the dryers of unsuspecting people who left their garage doors open. Blake was the ad hoc leader of the bunch. He gave Alice their cryptic hand signal, an upside down peace sign with the index finger from the opposite hand held horizontally across the top of it to form a makeshift anarchy symbol, as he came up to the car.
She nodded to him from down below the door where she was lying with the seat all the way back, smoking. “Hey Blake. How’s the Anarchy going these days?”
“Alice? Hey. Are you down there? Did you fall down a rabbit hole?”
“Yeah. But I made it back. I took a potion and it made me turn into a sickly pale girl.”
“Yeah? Cool. Hey, you got any more of them smokes?”
“You mean these coffin nails? Here. Take a few. Take some for your friends, your family, your acquaintances and your boss’s secretary. Oh, but you don’t have a boss. I forgot. You’re an anarchist.”
“Um. Yeah. Socialist-Anarchist actually. That’s okay. I’ll just take one.”
“Nobody can smoke just one. Here take three. It’s a lucky number in many ancient cultures. I thought it was Anarchist-Socialist. What’s the difference?”
“Alice, you’re crazy. Thanks for the smokes. See ya around. We’re gonna be chopping up some firewood for when it gets cold later. We’re gonna have a bonfire. You should come by.”
“How social of you Blake. One for all and all for one. I’ll smell you guys out. Later crater.”
“Bye bye birdie.”
The others laughed a bit and followed behind Blake to go off and chop firewood in the forest. Alice wondered if they had axes or if they were going to try to use their Bowie knives. She laughed and put her cigarette out on her shoe. These kids were alright with her.
The Vibrators’ Into The Future was now resounding in the clearing. Alice got out of her car and started shimmying around a bit, her hips sliding back and forth as she glided around on the rocks and gravel and dirt. A group of kids were sitting in a circle on some logs and were taking turns drinking from a bottle of Wild Turkey 101. A few of them got up and started dancing, and soon they were all dancing and tossing themselves around and screaming along with the song. There was a great energy there with them, and Alice jumped right into their dance party, which made them hoot and holler all the more. Somebody handed her the whiskey bottle. She pretended to take a swig, everybody gave a wild crying congratulatory cheer, and she passed the bottle along. Alice sang with the rest of them when the chorus came. A wonderful feeling swelled in her. She jumped up in the air with her arms raised like a prizefighter posing for a pre-fight picture, with her fists clenched and her lips snarling a bit too. Everybody screamed, “Sex Kick!” as they did pseudo-karate kicks and spun around in circles. Alice spun and tumbled to the ground, and for some reason started in with another laughing fit. The kids got a little freaked out, but after the song ended they went back to sitting on the logs and passing the bottle around. The laughter lasted a few minutes, and then Alice got up, brushed herself off, smiled at the kids who all gave her much applause and flashed many hand signals and gave her a few high-pitched party screams, and she walked on away to check out the rest of the festivities.
Out towards the trees by the edge of the clearing two girls were sitting on a flat edge of a large rock. They were giggling and chanting inane things like, “Momsy, Popsy, Lopsy, Dropsy…Hopsy!” One of the girls had a large ring pierced through the septum of her short, thick nose. She reminded Alice of a baby bull. Alice whispered the name, “Orlando Cepada” for some reason. The other girl was very small, almost doll-like, and had a mass of tangled hair that was dyed at least four different colors. The girls were holding onto each other and were giggling at everything they said. She could smell pot smoke: a deep, unruly, pungent odor that reminded her of those scratch-and-sniff skunk playing cards she had as a kid. She smiled at the two giggling girls on the rock and went on into the night.
Alice walked along the edge of the clearing, smoking another cigarette, feeling pretty good about things, about it being her 21st birthday, about not knowing where the hell she was going, but knowing, like in the Paul Simon song, she was on her way. At the other side of the clearing, down a pretty steep slope, were some small bushes and weeds with a bunch of trash littered around in them, and a little ways past that was a cliff edge that revealed quite a grand view of the city with all of its houses sleeping down below under the orange-yellow electric lights winking around them. Alice scrambled her way down there, almost losing her footing a few times, getting a few rocks caught in her Vans and sliding down a few feet on her butt through some flowering broom shrubs and ragweed. Her hands got a little chaffed and red from where she tried to steady herself, but she was okay. She rose up and wiped herself off for the second time that night.
The noise died down out here, and the night became quiet and felt unflappably hushed, lonely, desolate, and surcharged with meaning. Alice walked to the edge of the cliff and looked out. All those houses down there each flanked by tiny rectangles of lawn, with identical driveways cutout of the front yard, all those streets running at perfect 90 degree angles, a rigid and expertly composed grid pattern that went on and on under the sodium pools of the streetlights’ thousands of flickering halos, until it was cut off by the darkness of Stiletto Bay. She stood there, so far away and removed from it all, thinking about all kinds of things, about the way the flags on the top of The Straffing Building had of flapping in the high desert winds, and the specific sound that they made if you got close enough and there wasn’t any traffic on the street. The thick fabric wrinkling and crackling over and over reminded her of the ocean in a storm, furling and unfurling, ebb and flow, constantly changing but always staying the same. The sound it made was a discombobulated natter, and she stopped trying to make sense of it.
Some kids came down and started making noise in the bushes, pissing like wild alley cats and talking rot. Alice wanted them to go, to get away, to get out of her moment. It was her moment. What the hell did they think they were doing in her moment? Who the hell did they think they were? “Idiots,” she breathed out with a sigh, too low for them to hear. It seemed every time things were just starting to feel copacetic, and all was right with the world, somebody had to come along and ruin it.
Alice, rather suddenly, made a snap decision, as was her wont at such times, to leave the cliff edge and walk back to her car. She climbed back up the hill, padding up as fast as she could past the kids in the bushes, digging her thin-soled tattered Vans into the crooked footholds and small rocks jutting out of the sloping hillside, which was a lot harder to climb up than it was to go down, and slipped a few times but made it up pretty much unscathed. Putting her head down, she hoofed it, with much celerity and not much sightseeing, all the way back to her car.
Alice drove out into and then out of Barbarous Hills. She drove through the dark night, her headlights illuminating the yellow stripe running down the middle of the highway, its dotted lines like coruscating diamonds flashing in an unbroken chain before her as the car swallowed them underneath. It reminded her of playing Pac-Man, eating all of the yellow dots as fast as she could, trying not to let the ghosts catch up to her, to consume her with a mighty chomp, to make her disappear forever from the maze.
The highway lights were like fireflies leading her onward. The Pontiac bellowed and yowled as Alice slammed the pedal and pushed the grizzled gray beast up past ninety and then one-hundred, the speedometer’s dial inching its way around towards the red digits at the far right. She’d never driven this fast, and though it was exhilarating, there was also something disappointing about it, like no matter how fast she went it would never seem like it was enough. She could feel the engine chugging and cranking away like mad under the hood. The seat backs were vibrating, and the gearshift was darting around like a joystick during a game on the highest level of Asteroids. Alice clenched her teeth and pushed down on the gas as hard as she could. Because this part of the highway was a long straightaway, lasting for about ten miles or so, and also because it was pretty much deserted at this time of night, she was able to maintain her race-car speed for a long time. The wind hadn’t picked up much yet, and she felt like she was the only thing existing in the universe, almost flying away she was burning up the road so quickly on this desolate highway late on a winter night, on her birthday, going nowhere as fast as she possibly could.
Digging her hands into the steering wheel, watching the speedometer crank up past 110, then 120, the windows rattling, things banging around in the glove compartment, the shoe box of cassette tapes on the floor thrashing around and sliding under the passenger seat, her body shaking madly up and down with the staccato rhythm of the pulsating seat beneath her, she screamed. Then she slowed a little, rolled down the window, and screamed some more, making a yodeling-like sound into the pounding wind that crashed against her face, forcing her to cock her head to the side as if somebody had slapped her. She was laughing and screaming and soon she could feel tears streaming down her face as the wind picked them up and spilled them all over the place, and she wasn’t paying any attention to the road, but her hands were gripping that steering wheel so tight, such a solid grip, that the car was holding its lane still, though her Mohawk was getting blown to all hell. She felt whipped and beaten. When she glanced back at the road the car was, incredibly, still going in a straight line, though a bit slower now. Alice rolled the window back up and turned on the radio. In a raspy sort of whisper she said, “The stars are on my side.”
The Pontiac screeched like a terrified girl in a horror movie as its headlights cut a swath through the blackness. Alice had pulled off the highway and steered her way down a few ill-lit streets that she’d never driven on before. She was out in the country among the tall wild grasses, the cornfields, the small coteries of cows sleeping on the verdant sides of rolling hills; and the stars were marvelous out here, seeming to blanket the wide sweep of sky with their ubiquitous spangling, those sidereal manifestations of boundless hope springing eternal for all to see. Leaning forward in her seat, her face over the steering wheel and almost smeared against the front windshield, Alice could see them up there watching over her. It gave her great comfort.
She stopped the Pontiac in the gravel on the side of a frontage road running alongside a barren field that was surrounded by a chain-link fence. A few birds that had alit on part of the fence were shooed away by the car’s cacophonous engine, and they swarmed in the air, circling and frenetically torpedoing around, the flitting motion of their distant shapes like writhing worms, their white wing bottoms like an incessant barrage of flashbulbs popping against the night’s black screen. Alice thought of tildes sloppily painted with Wite-Out onto a sheet of black construction paper, and she thought, There’s just a seagull in my head with a broken wing.
The wind was picking up, sending hyperborean slivers of jet-streaming air all through the countryside. Alice got out of the Pontiac and walked over to the fence, her shoes crushing against the gravel, making a crepitation that reminded her of the sound old film makes at the end of the spool in a projector. Feeling for her Mohawk spikes, she realized that the wind had knocked them sideways, and a few were lying like limp noodles over the side of her head. The front spike was completely frazzled and had split down the middle. She pictured her hair as having a kind of Alfalfa look. It didn’t matter.
She walked to the chain-link fence. The fence was pulling away from the top of the posts in a few places, the wire rings snapped or bending, and it was hanging away like a long wave about to break on the shore. Into a few of the fence’s diamonds she hooked her long fingers, pulling slightly, and the fence bowed and stretched towards her. She pulled harder, using her other hand too, and held tight to the fence as it swayed down towards the ground; and she hooked her feet in a few of the notches on the bottom, and soon she was almost completely horizontal there hanging onto the fence, just a few feet from the ground, as the fence strained to stay attached to the poles with Alice’s weight threatening to capsize it.
The fence bounced up and down, and Alice began to rock with its motion — up and down, up and down. It was like being on a swing or a seesaw, having this sense of balance and timing and this unusual weightlessness seizing her, like she was caught in the middle of the air never to come down again, just hanging there in abeyance, a place that was beyond any thoughts of tenses or conceptions of space. She rocked back and forth and the fence buckled some, but held her. Her motion became steady as she slowed down to a nice rhythmic pace. The blood rushed to her head as she came closer to the ground on the downswing, and then the fence would lift her back up just as hard as she had pulled it down. Little by little she came closer to the ground, to completely pulling the fence down off of the posts, and she could see the poles bending from the tops, carrying her. Her hands were stinging, but she hung on, and soon leveled herself out, stopped pulling, and laid her head back as far as it would go, looking at the world upside down — the stars below her in the sky that was a deep black ocean, and the hills and the rocks and the Pontiac and the wild grass up above where the sky should be. She hung there suspended like that, an arm’s length from the dirt, and laughed in a way she hadn’t laughed since she was a little girl. It was the kind of laugh kids make on merry-go-rounds and when they’re tumbling down hills or going higher than they’ve ever gone before on a swing. Or when their father is spinning them around upside down, holding onto them by their feet, and the whole world seems like a big old circus tent for them to get lost in and never be found. It was a laugh that came from some generous place deep in the belly: a natural, uncontrollable expending of the most basic and beautiful pieces of the human spirit, and it was untainted by any malignancies of the world. It was a laugh that reminded one of how wonderful of a thing it was to be alive.
A shot sounded in the distance. At first Alice thought it might be a firecracker, or a car backfiring. But then she realized that she was way out away from civilization, out in the boonies, and nobody would be out here — well, except her. A few more shots fired out, louder this time, as if they were closer, or were being fired from a larger gun. She guessed it was a rifle. Probably just an air rifle. But who would be out shooting pellets at this hour? In this cold wind? It didn’t make sense. Some kid with a BB gun? Highly unlikely. Not out here. Not with this freezing wind whipping around like sharp icicles daggering into your skin.
Alice let go of the fence. She saw a light just over the hill. A flashlight. A stream of yellow that licked the ground as it wavered and crept over the grass. Fear grabbed a hold of her. She felt naked, ridiculous, alone. The Pontiac was only about 20 yards away, and she started walking hurriedly back to it, hugging her shoulders and looking out at the flashlight’s beam that seemed to be getting very close to shining on her. It was like a spotlight was trying to find her during a prison break, and she ducked down slightly as the beam slashed out towards her, getting on her knees and crawling on the gravel, and the beam swam through things casting strange shadows in the field behind the chain-link fence.
A stentorian voice made a barking noise that made her flesh crawl. The flashlight broke off and shone somewhere else for a moment, and she made a mad crawling dash for the Pontiac. The light slapped against the car again. She ducked down and crouched behind the side of the hood, on the opposite side from where the light was coming. Why wasn’t the voice saying anything? What was that horrible sound that it was making? She looked up and saw the light streaking through the passenger window, shooting out in a vicious stream filled with dust particles attacking each other. The light was all she could see. It was all over the place now, swiveling from right to left and up and down, revealing rocks that were like tumors sprouting from the land, and large divots pock-marking the rutty road, and the sagging chain-link fence that was almost completely pulled from its posts around the spot where Alice had been hanging. She kept her head low and tried to breathe as quietly as she could, trying to wish the light away. The voice barked some more, very loudly, and she could hear the reedy sound of heavy breaths clawing ever closer.
Footsteps were crunching along in the gravel. They were coming around the back of the car.
Why doesn’t the voice speak? What is this thing? There is nothing to do but to just sit here and wait. Everything is going to be alright. Everything will be fine. It is all some mix up. Some farmer out chasing his…his what? What the hell is going on here? Who is this person? What do they want? What the hell do they…? None of this makes any goddamn sense. I wish I were back home. I wish I never would have gotten into this damn car. I wish I were eating a doughnut and smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of hot black coffee at the counter of an all-night diner. I am alone. It is so cold and I am so alone.
She tried the handle of the door. It was locked.
The wind hummed and chimed through the fields and spilled over the hills in blustery squalls, an inimical swelling that seemed like it would tear up the land, churn it around, twist telephone poles to the ground, and blow away all the life that dared live on the surface of the earth. The wind ripped and shredded all in its path and wrapped things up in ice. She could hear it closing in. She could sense its ire, its hell-bent rage and fury at all in its path, its sleet-like tentacles slinging around and nipping everything with their gelid sting.
The way she screamed was submerged, underwater, without sound — and then an elusive place where she couldn’t quite put herself opened up.
“Take these shoes and be somebody already.”
“Let’s not get this over with.”
“Not an option, Pancakes.”
“I’ll fly away. I will.”
“There. There. There…”
Everything was still and absurdly silent. She held her breath. She put the palms of her hands up against her cheeks. She clicked her Vans together softly at the heels. She closed her eyes. Nothing mattered.
Everything was okay.