FALL OF WATER
There is only one memory I have from the time before I was blind.
It starts with me walking down a foggy path. Someone is ahead, a dark silhouette. I start to run, but the distance doesn’t change. Then there’s a sudden flash of lightning and she’s right there in front of me. Her hair is long and blonde with a wisp of pink down one side. A beauty mark perches on her pretty, roundish face, near the edge of her left cheek. She’s short, with small shoulders and arms, almost waifish.
“It’s hard for you to understand this now, honey,” she’s saying, “but in the future you won’t remember me. You’ll forget what I look like. Even my name.”
“But you’re Mom. How could I forget that?”
“You know my name. Use it.”
For some reason I have to whisper.
“Good. But that will be gone with everything else. It’s all part of the process.”
For some reason when she says this, there’s a tightening in my gut.
But she doesn’t answer. Instead she says, “You do have to remember two things.”
“Okay, so what are they?”
“The first is that your mother loves you so, so much.”
This just seems so obvious that my mind waves it away.
“And what’s the other?”
“That you have something vitally important to do.”
My gut ratchets up a notch.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m so sorry. There’s nothing in this world I want more than to tell you. But I can’t.”
* * *
The memory plays vaguely in the back of my mind on another scorching hot November morning. I’m taking my students out to the woods behind the high school. Our aim is to seek literary inspiration from something other than a computer screen.
I’d planned to stay on the path that snakes in and out around the trees until we all got tired, then make sure to turn back before we reached the river. But shit, we’re already there. As we approach the footbridge, the smell of the briny rushing water fills me with a spreading unease. I should be telling everyone to turn back.
Some kids run ahead, their footsteps pattering on the wooden bridge. One of my students is close by me, Brenda, she’d volunteered as my guide and my eyes. Panic is setting in. I haven’t been this close to the river for as long as I can remember.
Yet I’m driven forward, caught up in the momentum, unable to stop.
Now we’re a shouting, giggling mass of footsteps spilling out onto the narrow bridge. Kids are running, getting stupid, my control is slipping away.
A hundred feet below, the river rages.
There’s a sudden sharp pain in my head.
I let out a sickly sound, like a clubbed seal.
“Are you alright Mr. Symington?” Brenda asks, cautiously.
I aim something that I hope is a smile in her direction.
And then I feel the dense energy, the teeming swirl. It’s huge and hanging over the water not far away. At some point the temperature has gone down.
Fear wavers in Brenda’s tiny voice. “Mr. Symington, there’s a scary big black cloud out there...”
Then winds start howling. An object lands on my shoulder with a thud.
“Hey! Stop throwing stuff!” I bark, finally able to say something.
I pick it off my jacket. Something about its texture feels familiar, hard and a bit slimy. I hold it for everyone to see. “What is this?”
“Eww! It’s an eyeball!”
Suddenly, from a sky where it hasn’t rained in years, huge balls of hail pour down and clatter on the bridge like someone upended a truck full of ice cubes. The kids shout and push in panic, rushing back to safety.
I toss the eyeball, but continue to stand there at the guardrail, frozen in place as everyone rushes past.
I cave, put my foot up on the railing, stretch brittle muscles until I’m standing on top of it. All my fear is gone, despite the rushing whitewater and deadly rocks below.
I must be out of my fucking mind.
And then she’s there.
Her wide mouth and warm smile beckon as she hovers out over the water.
“Merilee,” I say.
It’s startling to hear the name spoken by my own voice outside of the dream.
“Welcome back, Blake” she says. “It’s time.”
THE MYRIAD ERA
Guy Walsh’s day began like every other one these past weeks, waking up on the living room couch of the house he half-owned. He brushed his teeth over the sink, poured a glass of orange juice, sniffed it, frowned, and dumped it down the drain. Then he grabbed the keys and headed to his car.
As he drove toward his destination, an unsettling feeling rolled around in his gut, one that he knew all too well.
The single-story building he approached in the center of town was brown and brick. A shingle out front had a bunch of names listed. He pulled the car into a mostly-empty side parking lot. Checking his phone he saw he was fifteen minutes early, so he packed a one-hitter and blew the smoke out the window.
Probably not a good idea, but he saw no other way of getting through this.
Ten-minutes later in the waiting room the receptionist called his name. He put down the faded copy of People and entered the office of Dr. Bledsoe.
“Mr. Walsh, nice to meet you,” the man said, offering a handshake.
Guy obliged, with minimal eye contact, and then the man motioned for him to take a seat. There was a desk in the far corner near the window, but the shrink didn’t use it, instead he lowered himself into a chair directly opposite from Guy across the narrow room, like a mirror image, and leaned back against the wall.
For a few uncomfortable moments there was only the sound of the wall clock ticking, and then Dr. Bledsoe broke the silence.
“So it seems you’re here about substance abuse issues. Have you sought any help with this before?”
Guy tried not to grimace. This was the fifth or so shrink he’d hit up in the last three weeks.
“I’ve…been to rehab. In the past.”
“And the substance?” The shrink’s pen was poised, as if this was just another fact to collect, not the lynchpin of how Guy had destroyed his life as well as everyone’s around him.
The shrink nodded as he scribbled.
“My wife is ready to throw me out. I sleep on the couch, live out of a suitcase.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
Guy let out a breath. They always asked the same damn questions. Okay, he was here. He’d play along.
“Like shit. Miserable. Hopeless, as if nothing really matters…”
“Have you had thoughts of harming yourself? Taking your own life or hurting others?”
The doctor blinked in innocent expectation. Hoo boy, the things Guy could tell this dude if he ever allowed himself to open up.
“What’s the opposite of suicidal, doc? My number one fear is death. I’m pretty sure this here is the only chance we get, so I’m not going to waste it.”
Guy ran a sweaty hand through his long brown gray-splotched hair. He’d gotten the buzz on hoping it might ease him into talking about the real problem, but now the weed was just feeding his fear and paranoia.
“And what about hurting others?”
“Of course not, I’m a gentle person.” Guy forced a smile and for a moment found himself stranded on it.
He’d indeed hurt someone, all those years ago. He’d done what he had to do.
It lived in the vague fringes of his memory, the guilt, and the utter, mind-bending terror.
There was no way he could ever even attempt to tell it to this or any other shrink, as much as his battered soul longed for absolution.
“So, how did this rift with your wife begin?”
Guy swallowed hard. How much did he want to reveal to this man?
“Well, I’m a rock musician. I was away most of this summer on tour. It had been a while since we’d hit the road, and for various reasons I found it difficult getting up there every night.”
“Something like that.” Guy chuckled nervously. “It, uh, kinda greased the skids I guess, got me back into the routine from the bad old days.”
The shrink crossed his arms with a wry expression.
“I could of course give you something safe and legal for that.”
“Well, thanks doc, but I’m afraid that’s water way under the bridge.”
The rest of the session limped along like that, the shrink probing ever deeper, his reluctant patient pushing him away.
When it was over, Guy shuffled sheepishly past the receptionist without making the next appointment as he’d promised, feeling like he wanted to vomit.
As soon as he was out the door, he cut into a run for the sanctuary of his car.
He’d managed not to reveal that Em had given him an ultimatum last week: find a therapist or sign up for some sort of rehab, any kind of serious commitment to get off the drugs, or he’d be out on his ass.
She’d given him till that night.
THE NOVEL THAT KILLED ME
You can’t sleep on a shuttle flight from Boston to New York.
You might experience something vaguely close, but it’s just a sad tease. You blink, and next thing you know a voice is saying put your tray tables in an upright position. So, you get off the plane, one hour and fifteen minutes later, in a worse state of delirium than you got on.
As I was about to learn, this was perfect for doing something utterly surreal, like appearing on a TV show in the middle of the day with everyone pretending it was midnight, while you pretended to be the author of a book you didn’t write.
Four o’clock in the morning. That was the time I had finally gotten to bed the night before. The alarm had gone off at six, which was when Tigris arose to get ready for work, and I always got up at 6:20 to have breakfast with her and Oscar, our son.
Soon as Tigris opened her eyes, she scratched at the stubble on my jaw and asked where I’d been the night before. Her touch usually comforted me, but not this time. I told her how much of a nervous wreck I was about the TV thing and how I couldn’t sleep, so I’d driven out to the reservoir for a run. That was my first lie of the day, a nice fairly harmless, almost quaint one to get warmed up for the many ugly and twisted ones to come.
THE BOOK OF ENEMY
When I was very young a part of me went missing.
A lot of years passed and a number of really incredible things happened before I finally realized it. In fact, were it not for an organization called Engine, I might have gone an entire lifetime without knowing.
Then again, Engine fucked me up but good, so these things do tend to balance each other out.
But there’s a lot more to it than that. This isn’t just about me. It’s about something so big and so terrifying that I struggle to find words for it. It has to do with why we’re all here, and what we’re really supposed to be doing with our lives. Engine was created to deal with this thing, but like I said, they have problems of their own.
Look, I know. Maybe you aren’t the sort of person who goes in for strange mindreading cults or outlandish concepts about the planet being alive, and actively trying to kill us. Believe me, I wasn’t either.
I didn’t ask to have a crazy story to tell.
If it’s going to make any sense though, I will have to begin it at a time before I knew about any of this, when powerful unseen forces were coming together at once, rushing towards a single point in space and time.
Just as with the universe itself, there was an accident.
THE RED RIVER VIRUS (published in The Huffington Post)
He doesn’t know how long it’s been since he first squeezed his eyelids shut to double the darkness. He’s been thinking about how the closing of eyes doesn’t close anything, just redirects the gaze inwards towards tiny drawn curtains of flesh and that this is what he will be forced to stare at until his stubborn brain gives in and shuts down awareness, and in that same thought he realizes that maybe what he’s actually fearing is oblivion itself, that this might be the final sleep of death, pulled under by the red river virus, and what excellent song lyrics those might be if he can survive and remember them. It doesn’t help that just before bed he’d taken a look at the infection moving from elbow to bicep, mercury rising up a flesh thermometer. It had marched right through his fading Motorhead tattoo like Hitler taking Poland, giving the gleaming skull and horns an angry glowing pink backdrop. He’d managed to get under the covers before Emily could glimpse it though, telling her only that he felt a little feverish. No way he’s going to any hospital, because man are they gonna ask questions. Anyway, if it’s really bad, he knows Emily will save him. She always has, always will...
The voice on the phone pulled me from a deep sleep.
“I hope I didn’t wake you.”
It couldn’t be.
“Wow. This is a surprise.”
It had been years, and it had ended ugly. Well, for me at least.
“We had some good times, didn’t we?”
There was something disturbing in his voice.
“I guess we did,” I said.
Was he being nostalgic, or was it something else?
“I hope you’re not calling ten years later to say you regret it.”
He let out his breath, which on my cellphone sounded like a flurry of static.
“I don’t like that word.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying…I fucked up. I mean; I’m fucked up.”
I couldn’t believe it. Everything I’d heard and seen had led me to believe he was living a charmed existence.
“Look, everybody loves you, man. I mean…you’re famous. You’re all over those TV commercials. Hell, after all this time you still look like Robert Plant.”
“And I bet you still look like, uh, that actor. Montgomery Clift.”
“You didn’t even know who he was until I told you.”
“Okay, but see? I remember those things.”
“Saw you just got married, too. It was all over the news. You had that shit-eating grin. I thought you looked happy.”
“Yeah, well that’s what everyone sees.”
There was a long pause, as if he was thinking something over. Then he said:
“Look, I’m still using, John. I have been all along. Only it’s gotten worse.”
Screaming Down the Highway
Music makes me see through walls. Gravity means nothing. I can lift up everyone around me. All things fall away, and a melody emerges.
Just minutes ago I was there, harvesting the moment; capping the creative spark. Now I’m back, piloting the van, playing it back in my mind as I drive. Gears grind up the ramp on this overcast afternoon. I’m suspended here, racing down the lane, with the ugly Boston sprawl far below. A gold Charger appears, trying to speed up and pass me, smug in its 84 horsepower buzz. It’s just like that Chuck Berry song, the one John Lennon borrowed for the beginning of “Come Together”, where flat top comes up behind, movin’ up slowly, so he puts his foot down and starts to roll, til he hears the cops coming, then he lets out his wings and becomes airborne. In Chuck Berry’s world he was always screaming down some highway, riding on a wild cloud of crazy electric energy. He discovered a strange life force off in another dimension and brought it back for all of us.
Sometimes, on a rare day, I’m allowed to have the tinniest echo of it for myself.
In 2007 this screenplay was optioned by the Lift Productions film company of Shreveport, Louisiana, who made "Factory Girl" and "Pride" but were subsequently raided by the FBI and shut down (although no wrongdoing was found). The screenplay is a thriller about a woman coming into contact with her filmmaker father who abandoned her as a child, and nobody turns out to be what they seem.
INT. CARLA AND MADELINE'S APARTMENT IN LOUISIANA - DAY
CARLA REDFERN, 28, blonde and attractive, wearing a
light sundress, sits at the kitchen table in front of a
large stack of mail. She begins to pick through it.
Piling up bills to one side, she comes to a handwritten
letter. Interested, she opens it and starts to read. Her
roomate MADELINE, 36, brunette with a few gray streaks,
New Orleans accent, strides in, wearing waitress
outfit,getting ready to leave.
Aren't you going to be just a
little bit late this morning,
(absorbed in letter)
Day off, remember?
I'm surprised you remember
anything after last night.
Pouring that director free
drinks like that. And did you
get an audition out of it?
Didn't think so.
Madeline notices that Carla isn't paying attention.
What's that, letter from home?
Carla is still engrossed in the letter.