I hoped. I hoped. I hoped, like I always did.
I sat in a lotus position, my eyes forward, beside an old woman, beneath a clear, plastic bus-stop canopy that rain struck with menace. In front of us lay Dedication Avenue -- a four-lane wide roadway halved by a soil median enclosed by red, brick curbing. Planted in the soil were two towering rows of closely spaced palm that shivered and shed dead bark in the wind and downpour. Gray, concrete-framed beach shops with windows that displayed low prices in gaudy neon paints stopped our view of the eastern horizon.
I'd run into the booth to escape the sudden rain, and after I sat down, I looked directly at her and I said "Hello. Nice day to walk to work, huh?", but she just stared at the pavement. Soon, however, a curvy, cherry-red fifties-vintage pickup truck drove past, and its tires kicked up a tall, swaying skirt of spray. Maybe that was her cue. Maybe she figured at that moment, I was the only one who could see and hear her.
"I'm Henrietta. I used to fly planes you know," she whispered.
Her volume normalized and her tone smoothed. 'For the towing company. I'd circle cars when they were going one hundred miles per hour and then I'd set my helicopter right down in front of them, and make sure they just generally kept it on the level. I'd give them instructions on my bullhorn."
Henrietta's eyes were as green as the jungle, and while she spoke they didn't leave me. Her sterling white hair was cut butch and short. She wore a green, faded, heavy-cotton sweater; a winking, anthropomorphic cartoon alligator dressed in patched overalls grinned at me from the chest. Long ago he had burst into tiny, gummy flakes, and they now curled away from the old fabric at their ends. He held a bucket of shrimp upward and outward, as though in offering, and the shrimp grinned too.
"I like your sweater," I pinched the material near the lower hem. "Where'd you get it? I think I'd like one. Did you get it at a restaurant? You know, one that serves sea-food and such?"
She nodded her body vigorously to the affirmative, "I hope the driver doesn't come around the bend screeching along on just two wheels like he tends to do. He's always climbing mountains while trimming that mustache of his. God, it's so sweet!"
She shook her head from side to side, pursed her salt-ravaged lips, and crinkled the flaking bridge of her red, liver-spotted button nose, "Furthermore, how am I supposed to take up fencing when my yard is deteriorating so rapidly? Frankly, I'm appalled and disgusted by the levity in that room when news is brought of failing commodity markets. Those vultures!" She punched the side of the bus stop with an open palm; then dragged her flat-soled slip-ons out from beneath the bench, and their scuffing drove me mad. Their canvasses were smattered haphazardly with weary emerald sequins. I thought she might be a secret leprechaun.
I brought my hands to the knot of my damp maroon tie and snugged it. I offered Henrietta a hand, "Well, Henrietta, it's very nice to meet you. I hope you are saved. I hope you have accepted the light of Hoovington into your person, and-"
An immense roar cleaved the droning rain. My tongue tensed while I hoped it had nothing to do with me.
"STEVEN YOU FUCKING ASS! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!?" His voice boomed. From four miles away, it was still massive enough displace the complete contents of my skull. It projected a bottomless rage that made my stomach convulse. The palm trees creaked and trembled while his four webbed feet clobbered the earth. The acid in my gut inverted following each and every stamp. The rain began to thin, and a rough-edged, expanding patch of illumination set down upon the submerged, black surface of Dedication Avenue.
His rumbling gallop halted. He'd reached the town, and moved with greater prudence because he wanted to avoid causing costly structural damage. He had called several town meetings, where we discussed what could be done about his tendency to smash buildings. He'd made himself clear. "You all," he said, "You people just need to avoid pissing me off so severely when you piss me off. Then I won't fly off."
Now, Henrietta's irises filled in with a drained hue that matched her sweater. She backed into the corner of the booth, and brought her knees to her chest. I put my hand on her shin and gave her my full attention without looking at her face, "Now now, my child, still that shaking soul of yours. It is only our creator. This will be an excellent time to let him know that your faith is still unbreakable and pure."
She said nothing. Her gorgeous eyes began to leak.
Hoovington came into view, rising over the avenue's hilled peak to our left. He stood fifty feet high while prone, and some of his scales were the width of boulders. He pranced stiff-jointed along our side of the street with his tail and snout pointed upward haughtily.
Hoovington didn't have the shape of a true alligator. Not really: it was almost as though the head, hide and tail of an alligator had been fitted to the bone and brawn of a baboon or some other squat-bodied primate. He could stand upright aided by the strength of his thick haunches for long periods of time, and this sometimes made him more intimidating and sometimes made him more lovable.
He halted about fifty paces to our left, and stared directly into our little bungalow. His eyes were black all over, but it was easy to tell when he was staring. Immediate response was of course necessary in these situations. I stepped out into the curbside inlet, into rain that had softened into a stationary mist. I fidgeted with the grub sized ruby ring on my middle finger while I tried not to look too scared.
"Steven," -- in conversational tones, his voice was dry, low and petal-thin, "Why, could you tell me why, why are you wasting your time on this crazy woman?" While speaking, he padded forward on ginger toes -- not tentatively, but as a predator. By the time he had finished his question his snout was just a body-length from my eyes. I responded in a voice soft with caution.
"Well sir, I just wanted to spread the –"
"I WILL TELL YOU WHAT TO SPREAD AND HOW TO SPREAD IT!!" Undiminished by distance, his high-decibel scream shook my bones to near-disintegration. A hot, fish-reeking wall of wind spewed forth from his gut and knocked me down while Henrietta shrieked. Moving myself to hands and knees, I vomited chunks of half-digested cocktail wiener.
"Get up, Steven."
I stood, withdrew a rose-pink, silk handkerchief from my breast pocket, wiped clean my mouth, nose, and unshaven neck, folded the handkerchief over the material, then clamped a fist over the package and held it.
"Steven, what happened to your predecessors?"
"You ate them, sir. You ate them without chewing." I knew he wasn"t going to kill me just then, but my hands wouldn"t calm down nonetheless.
"And which of my stomachs did I draw them into?"
"The second one. The stomach with the weakest acid, sir." My voice cracked a little.
"Sedition, Steven. Are you being seditious, Steven? I suspect it."
"Sir?" I blinked, clueless. My muscles became rigid.
"I hear you typing at night Steven, and I can't infer from the relative distance of each key which character you are typing at any given moment, as I can under ordinary circumstances. Well, I can divine the value of each keystroke, certainly. But taken together they are a mess -- a meaningless jumble. Are you typing in code, Steven? Are you plotting?"
I nearly laughed in relief, but held myself, "No! No sir! I've been using 'DVORAK'! I mean – I've been using a more ergonomic keyboard layout where the keys are arranged differently and that's why you don't know what's --- I'm sorry I didn't provide you with forewarning.' I bowed my head.
Hoovington looked past me into the booth, "Did you know that Henrietta here was once the leader of a resistance movement? They communicated and organized themselves using a complex system of blinks and smirks. I had certain glands in her brain removed."
"I did not know that, sir." I still looked down at the street. Behind me, Henrietta mewled and whimpered and sniffled.
"I can have certain glands of yours removed as well, Steven. I may or may not be talking about glands in your brain. I can have these glands removed faster than you can possibly imagine. I hope I make myself abundantly clear."
"Very," was all I could say. My feet and calves shivered.
Henrietta pointed at Hoovington and shrieked, "You're the fire! You're the Fire! You're the fire! Place more hands on the dais and we will have peace yet! It is justice that is the most benign of all sentiments--
"Shutup Henrietta." He said.
"—close down fanciful roads and byways like those! Death among and to and for all who deny the natural rights of the complacent four, they are the true warriors as I believe we are all-
"SHUTUP HENRIETTA! I AM TRYING TO HAVE A GODDAMNED CONVERSATION!"
All the color left Henrietta's face. She froze up. However, her memory was shorter than the time it took for Hoovington to turn back toward me and gather his thoughts.
At the precise moment he opened his jaws to speak she shouted, "It's not like we'll ever be able to sail past the rocks, off the ocean and into the sky! It's not as though the peat bogs could ever supplant our burning hearts! Hear it! Hear it? Let-
Hoovington groaned. He rolled over onto his back and lay there along the length of the street with his arms outspread.
"Fuck," he lamented "You people are just immensely difficult sometimes."
"—forward and back, forward and forth—
I shouted over Henrietta, "Sometimes people are that way, Sir!"
"—from Devonshire. She was the prettiest, loveliest cat at the ball and she had upon her fine gilded whiskers. The snows were like the soft daughters of a more –
"Please, kill her," He clamped his left hand over his genital slit for comfort while he waved the backside of his right at Henrietta.
"—erstwhile, these missives be missives and quality be quality, but I know as well as anyone that the definite integral of a hyper plane"s centroid doubles back into time-
I had no choice. I drew the long-barreled, red-onyx-colored six-gun from the frilled black leather holster at my waist. I pointed the weapon in the general direction of Henrietta, and when she saw she closed her mouth. Her smoldering tropical eyes met my tearing hazels. For a moment, I couldn't blink or turn away. Her eyes were completely indifferent.
I asked of Hoovington, "Uh, God? Will this be a mercy killing or will it be retribution?"
"Oh, a mercy killing I suppose. She hasn't done anything particularly awful lately, aside from not shutting the fuck up, and she has been doing penance for a long time now—somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years, I guess."
I aimed for her eyeball and fired. I didn't look at what I'd done for very long. I turned as quickly as I could to face Hoovington and my arms fell limp at my sides. My gun dangled slackly from two fingers while I said with all the reverence I could force, "Your will."
Hoovington sat up and then brought himself back to four legs. He maneuvered his snout past me into the little bus-stop. He took Henrietta's body in his jaws, and withdrew her gently, as would a nesting mother. In a quick motion hardly visible, he snapped his jaws upward, sending her high into the air. He opened his maw wide and let her tumble whole into his gullet.
He brought his tail-tip to the ground, inches from my feet, creating a ramp.
He said, "Grab hold of my mighty tail, Steven, I would like to discuss some additions I've made to tonight's Corrections Festival, and I would like to discuss them with you in the privacy of my sacred marsh."
"Yes sir." I holstered my weapon, and clutched his elephantine scales.
I sat atop Hoovington's smooth yellow bellyhide. My legs were extended; I flexed the toes of my bare feet while the hot afternoon sun baked my hair and relaxed my skin. I felt comfortable, loved and whole, as I always did during my tender private meetings with Hoovington. My black snakeskin boots lay near my right hip and I picked at their ankles.
A pelican – a blinding white specter in the pearl-pure light of the sun -- circled overhead and honked and bleated. Hoovington didn't move to kill it outright, so I decided that the moment was right; I would ask him my burning question.
I spoke softly again, "Hoovington, um. What -- what happens to babies when they die? I'm concerned. I mean, they aren't in a position to accept your salvation, right?"
Hoovington brought a beach-ball-sized fingertip to my face, and when he stroked me I felt like I was cuddling with tree bark.
"Oh, Steven. You have such a heart, did you know?"
"Maybe, sir. I just wonder."
Hoovington moved his finger-tip to my shoulder, and he weighed me down just enough. "They're fine, Steven. They're fine. You're thinking about your little brother?"
"And the Hathoway kid."
There was a long pause. The pelican's cackle grew louder.
"What's it like, Hoovington? Being forever?"
"Sometimes Steven, I'll admit it, the pressure is enormous. Just enormous."
Hoovington let his left hand dart out at the bird. He closed his fist around the avian and crushed it. His eyes fixed on me the whole time. A tight stream of blood, feather and gristle ran in a linear fall from the bottom of his fist and came down on the toes of my boots.
The night was hot, and we all stewed in smelly perspiration, and mosquitoes swarmed us, and I stood atop the particleboard-reinforced palm-frond roof that topped my thatch hut. My erect arms and fingers clutched at the high heavens. The entire town had assembled on the beach sands and they were illuminated by blue torchlight. I"d rolled up the sleeves of my white oxford; all my pits were damp; wet, flailing, scattered strands of my hair hung over the headband of my ostrich-feather headdress and whipped at my forehead while I delivered the conclusion of my sermon to the throng.
"The mystery of Hoovington is like the sea! It is forever and impossible to know all at once. We are charged to take those pieces we can grasp and explain, however, and hew a great world and a great inner warmth from them. Sometimes I feel as though he and we are two natural sponges being pressed together by some kind of powerful hydraulic machine, and our crinkles and ridges are massaging one another's crinkles and ridges in loving earnest. Yes?"
The Crowd chanted 'Yes!' four times, as was customary. They were loud and clear. They boomed and they meant it, but they were holding back. I was holding back. We were all like corked wine waiting to flow but nervous about the consequences.
'Those are the times that we must cherish! Those are the times that we must work to recreate on a daily basis. Yes!' I was telegraphing it. They called back, 'Yes!'
Once more for emphasis: "Yes!" They called back, 'Yes!' I was still telegraphing it, but then:
I'm sure that the universe is largely governed by switches. Cause and effect may play a role, but all chain reactions require a catalyst. Sometimes you just don't see things coming.
I felt it -- a conflux of all the shining, ruby-pink love the center of the universe had to offer: lightning; an especially enthusiastic blowjob from a girl just turned eighteen; geysers launching streams of holy manna into my gaping mouth-- crashing against my erotically waggling tongue like storm waves attacking a rock island; and a little powder blue bird on my shoulder singing a sweet, golden song just for me about life and all kinds of giddy joy. The stars pumped streams of white flame into my heart. My body swelled with heat and energy. My shoulders squared. I was a man happy to be caught in a spider web spun from the divine. Specifically, I was a man who had never thrown a baby off a high-rise roof under orders.
Will overtook me and made me a solid, opaque entity. I made my flat hands fists. I threw my head back and my neck bones crackled and fizzed under the force. I drew a deep breath that drove my diaphragm into my groin. I screamed! I screamed "YES!", and I let the single syllable soar and drive and bead and sustain and puncture the stratosphere with the force of a thousand Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. I stopped.
I panted. I stared the crowd down with wide eyes, like a slow tiger eyeing quarry. Being a spider with twenty thousand eyes, I saw each one of them. They were noiseless, breathless.
His eyes became steam: a tall, acne scarred kid, with too much gel in his hair, who wore a maroon and pink varsity jacket and a tiger skin loincloth; he spread his arms and showed his palms and screamed, "FUCK YES! YES! HOOVINGTON IS THE POWER THAT KEEPS US BURNING LIKE THE FIELDS OF THE UNITED STATES -- THAT WICKED LAND OF WOLVES AND COWARDS AND LIZARD-SKINNED CHILD MOLESTERS!"
I pointed my finger at him, "THAT'S FUCKING STRAIGHT HOMEBOY!"
That was it:
Explosion! Earthquake! Tsunami! The crowd fed on my power. We all began chanting at the same time and remained in perfect synch. We repeated "YES! YES!" with the zeal of children speaking for the first time. I stalked my roof. I stomped my left foot and clapped each time. My ankle stung. I drooled. Men screamed and let their tears come freely. Women tore at their hair, fell to the earth, and corkscrewed. A tubby grandmother spun so much that the hem of her dress rolled up to her chest. At no point did she move to cover herself. Stray gray sprouts of wiry hair unstuck themselves from her immense, prominent pubic nest and stole out from under the crotch of her white cotton panties. I saw it all close up, with a lover's eye view, because I just did.
Stumbling, I dashed to each of the six corners of the roof where one-inch mortars lay waiting in steel cannons. By the time I managed to light the fuse on the sixth, the first shot into the air. When the stalk of sparks burst into a wheel of blazing yellow petals high in the sky, the accompanying crack wasn't loud enough to out-shout the crowd.
Each successive explosion in the salvo only served to make them louder and more ravenous. Eight soft, round, wide-hipped soccer moms with short, bobbed haircuts took turns spanking a filthy homeless man. He had long, curly hair that was greasier than a buck rat; he wore nothing but a trench-coat and he was bent over on his knees; and he propped himself up with one hand while he stroked his exposed pink member. He screamed "Hoovington, you are a master who can do nothing but bless!"
A couple I'd married myself lay on their sides in a sixty-nine position and bit each other"s thighs until blood was drawn. Mayor Rick Mahoud in his top hat and goat leggings cut gash after gash into his forearms with a fishing knife and flung his bleeding at all nearby; they all licked it and drank it whenever they could.
All this until I flattened my palms and lowered my arms to hush them. They knew what this meant. They gradually silenced as they gradually saw -- until they made no noise and didn"t move.
I said nothing for thirty seconds. Anticipation simmered.
I began. "Of course, some of work harder at forging a deeper bond with Hoovington than others!--"
The tea-kettle shrieked; it boiled over: A cacophony of hearty whoops sounded beneath my booming voice. I increased my volume.
"--A few individuals displayed such exemplary goodness this month that they are due for no corrections whatsoever! Those individuals are:"
I paused. I pulled a piece of folded eggshell-white cardstock from my breast pocket. I opened it. I read.
"Shirley Meyer, Sylvia Morgan, Alice Dineen, and Brad Hines!"
The crowd displayed hushed reverence -- with precision, order, and timing, they parted at center, creating a wide clearing. Three pleasantly rounded, fresh-eyed young girls walked this path's distance to the base of my hut, one by one, in the order that I'd called their names. All three wore knee-length summer dresses and sandals that showed off painted white toe-nails; they were life:
Shirley was a blonde, with eyes like blue, burning meteors. Her hips sashayed like cat-tails caught in a hurricane. Her dress was red, with white cross-hatching. But Sylvia was a redhead. Her eyes reminded me of Henrietta's. Sylvia's eyes were less weathered by pain, however, and therefore they did not glow as much. Her dress was solid sea-foam blue from hem to neckline, and she didn't remind me of a leprechaun. And Alice was possibly the blackest girl I'd ever seen. If she were nude, her obsidian skin would have left her invisible in the night. Fortunately, her dress was a hot shade of alabaster, and so we were all able to see her slithering, serpentine form traverse the sands with a grace rarely seen.
Brad came last. His broad-shoulders spanned at least five feet. His thick black hair still grew in full at the temples. His L-shaped jaw-line formed a right angle matched only once before in the imaginings of Euclid. He wore grey suit slacks, no shoes and no shirt. He clenched his bronze, hairless pectorals.
"Alright guys!" I clapped my hands together once for emphasis while addressing the honest, beaming foursome. "Get your feather suits on! Get yourselves down to the marsh! Tonight you will be pleasing our Lord's mythic groin!"
The girls shrieked in clear joy. The hugged one another and exchanged pecks to cheeks while they lifted the soles of their sandals toward their fine derrieres.
Brad fell to his to his knees, balled his fists at his sides, and looked upward toward the same sky that had this night shown me the true nature of religiously motivated slayings, "FOR YOU MOMMA!"
I hopped up and down; I made sure to scream louder at Brad than Brad screamed at his departed mother, "FUCK YES FOR YOU MOMMA!" I leapt high and when I landed my foot crashed through a weak-point in the pressboard. I lost my balance, fell forward and landed hard on my palms on the palm.
I stared at an unoccupied patch of sand, and either the sand was spinning or I was. I felt asthmatic. I didn't upon didn't want it to end. But one thing I've always known is that moments always end and great moments always end quickly.
I pulled my foot from the hole -- tearing up my slacks and cutting up my shin. I stood straight and tall. I moved my fists back into the air, tensed my body for a moment, and then let it come again. I screamed louder than I'd ever; no words, just the raw passion of a true spirit -- in pain, in pleasure, in rapture. Surely I could be heard in distant counties. I screamed until I coughed up blood; from that night onward, my voice would be raspy and ragged.
Something left me and a stirring settled in my charred, stinging heart. I'd been cleaned out completely: I couldn't help what I'd done, I couldn't help what I would do, and I"d die alone wondering what it would have been like to have been forever.
Taller than a building-- maybe not me. But sometimes switches are switched, and I feel taller than I am.