With hands full of trash bags, Troy wandered gloomily out the door to the bowling alley. He was not sure which was worse: being inside the disgustingly sooty walls of the pervert-infested redneck asylum or being leaked on through the ripped trash bags. The dilemma was a hopeless one, indeed. At that particular moment, however, he preferred the slimy company of the nasty off-white substance dripping on his foot and rolling off his shoe onto the black top. Beer mixed with ranch sauce? he wondered.
At any rate, he’d had it for the moment with the flannel-clad grizzly bear types playing canasta with triple-X playing cards and the gap-toothed pregnant mothers drinking and chain-smoking. Besides, the night was beautiful. As he stepped outside he could see that he would be enveloped from head to toe with thick mist. The low fog dimmed the light of the moon. Troy normally enjoyed the gentle moonlight illuminating his trek to the dumpster, but he would take this pleasant sensation of touch over the moon any day. While still walking forward, he closed his eyes and basked in the refreshing moisture. A light breeze picked up and wrapped him in a blanket of cool comfort.
He opened his eyes and was confronted with a gargantuan metal beast. It looked hungry with its mouth open waiting for yummy waste to fly in. Troy would not disappoint it. He forgot about the joys of wafting vapors and threw the grimy black bag in dumpster.
“Ugh,” he groaned audibly. He wiped the gunk from his hands onto his work jeans and began the trail of tears back to the bowling alley.
* * *
At three o’clock, the doors to Madison High School burst wide open. Teens of all shapes and sizes buzzed out of the packed corridors to escape the seven-dull-hours-a-day, five-torturous-days-a-week prison. They were greeted by a grim, overcast sky and a saddening promise for a rainy Friday afternoon and an early beginning of a winter night’s melancholy darkness. The life they postponed at eight and regained at three left their eyes ten steps out of the doorway. Suddenly the heavens opened and freezing, stinging sleet pierced the students’ skin. The dreariness of post-Christmas winter penetrated the skin and infected the kids’ hearts. Everyone felt a hopeless sorrow. That is, everyone except Jason Kirkpatrick.
Jason Kirkpatrick’s yellow Eddie Bauer backpack screamed panache. It shone through the gloomy crowd like a lightning bug’s excited flashing light cuts through the dark mystery of night. It seemed to emanate visual pheromones, drawing attention from all directions. It was the attributes such as said backpack coupled with his sly grin and light brown wavy hair that set him apart as a rose among thorns. His voice did not hurt his standing with the ladies either- it flowed gracefully and mellifluously, and never a harsh note left his throat. The pretty single girls (and sometimes even the not-so-single ones) spread his verbal honey on their lonely bread, savoring every last bite.
As Jason made his way through the crowd, his cheery aura spread to his peers. His charismatic presence seemed to put a light-hearted spin on the gloomy weather. His irreverent smirk made a mockery of the elements. He jogged quickly down the cracked cement steps to his lovely girlfriend, Tricia, who was sharing a bit of trivial gossip with her girlfriends on the way to her car. After the two shared a quick, warm embrace that induced a wishful sigh from a few on-looking girls not quite lucky enough to have Jason as their own, Jason smacked a peck on Tricia’s pleasantly puffy cheek and was off to St. Louis to pick up his father from the airport. Mr. Donald Kirkpatrick had been away for business in Chicago. He was a punctual sort of fellow who expected others to be the same and thus wouldn’t take kindly to Jason being any later than necessary. In thirty seconds flat, Madison High School was reluctantly bereft of its little ray of sunshine as Jason streaked west in his fire engine red ’04 Chevy Monte Carlo.
* * *
“Dead wood on 19,” piped a voice.
Troy looked up from his steaming cheese fries and moaned in agony. Again? God damn it. . Every time I try to try to escape this hellhole in a nice plate of fries I get called back to fetch a pin so an ungrateful, drunk bastard can hurl a smooth, wooden ball with acrylic finish at some rounded sticks. He stood up, wiping the messy mozzarella from his mouth and chin. You really can never have too many napkins.
It looks like a cloud drifted into the building, Troy thought with disgust. He waved his hands furiously to shoo away the carcinogenic cigarette smoke, but his efforts were of no avail. The smoke pried its way into his throat and sunk into his lungs. That’s another seven seconds off my life. Troy thought as he maneuvered over the ball chute like a balance beam. With a little shove, the misplaced pin was back in the pin setter with the rest of its little red-and-white buddies. Pin buddies. That’s an interesting thought. I wonder what they’d talk about. If I were a pin, how would I decide who I’d befriend? Are there positive and negative traits of a pin? I guess the more popular, preppy ones would be the pins most polished. The elite would be the black, heavy pins with glow-in-the-dark stripes that only get brought out on special occasions. It must be a thrilling existence living a whole life in this lovely establishment getting pummeled repeatedly for twelve hours on weekdays and sixteen hours on weekends. It’s a good thing inanimate objects can’t think, because otherwise they’d probably rebel against humans and have some sort of crazy revolution. Imagine being enslaved by a chalkboard eraser.
Thinking such thoughts is the way Troy passed the time at Bowl Plaza. The characters at the bowling alley were certainly unique and lively, but in the same token they depressed him. For Troy, enduring an eight hour shift that began at six at night and ended at two in the morning required escaping mentally despite being surrounded by unsavory although consequently interesting characters.
* * *
He stopped his frantic run for a moment to catch his breath. He figured that he’d lost the cops by then, after having gone through dozens of twists and turns through alleys, a shopping mall, and even through a church during a wedding.
He allowed himself a sly half grin, remembering the priceless expression on the mother of the bride’s face as he dashed through the chapel, arms bloodied and face caked with soot. The cops had fired gunshots at him that whizzed just to the left of him into a replica of Jesus hanging on the cross.
Sometimes “Barbwire” Bill Woods (nicknamed for his trademark baseball bat wrapped with a cut-out square piece of barbwire fencing) wondered whether he was in the business of crime more for the money or for the thrill of the chase. He could have retired after making his first few millions, or at least looked into organized crime or maybe hiring some henchmen to do the dirty work. Yet for some reason he couldn’t stay away from the front line of the war between good and evil for more than a couple months. Each job was a new, more profitable challenge. “Barbwire” Bill would not let himself get washed up.
Judging by the sun it was about two o’clock. Some serious-looking storm clouds were sweeping in from the west. Like mountains in the sky, Bill thought. Getting ready to rain God’s tears on this pitiful world.
Bill crossed his heart and ran on. He heard no sirens, but one could never be too safe.
* * *
With a flick of his long blondish brown hair to rid his sweaty face of the itchy mop, Troy seated himself behind the bowling alley’s bar. The next unsavory job before him: clean an untidy stack of cheery red plastic ash trays. Without wasting much time, Troy began the menial chore, taking care to not put in too much elbow grease as if that would settle the score against the world that had wronged him. Suddenly a whiplash of his wash rag sent ashes into Troy’s nose. Troy immediately pictured a small black tumor in his lungs growing and growing until he had a baseball sized fist of cancer pressing up against his rib cage. Tony halted his work for a brief moment to allow for the inevitable shudder of disgust and eerie spine tingling to pass.
As he continued the task at hand, he noticed something of interest on one of the hanging bar TVs. “A St. Louis man robs a bank at gunpoint, then escapes on foot through a church,” Troy overheard. Troy set down his ash trays.
“Hey Jim,” Troy called to the bartender.
“JIM!” Troy repeated to the poor half-deaf man.
Jim looked over at Troy.
“Would you mind turning this up?”
Jim lifted his lazy gaze to the screen. His eyes widened. He shook his head, his lips pressed against each other in shame.
“You didn’t hear about this? It’s that same damn fool that beat two nuns and a pregnant mother with an aluminum bat covered with barbwire on his way out of a convenience store stick-up. What’s this world coming—”
“That’s insane!” Troy interrupted. A fascinated smile began to spread on his face.
Beating nuns and pregnant mothers sounded more to Troy like something out of MAD TV than an event that could actually happen. It’s amazing how most things that sound really funny are actually morbid when done in real life. God must be a weird sort of guy to make people laugh at the same things they think are detestable.
At that moment Jason Kirkpatrick entered the bowling alley. It was not one his usual haunts due to its general lack of cleanliness in building and customers. His friends, however, had decided that bowling was the activity of choice for the dismal night.
Troy watched him enter with his preppy clique with a marked interest. Don’t usually see tan clean-shaven kids with cropped, gelled hair sporting latest fashions from Abercrombie and Fitch in this place. They must have already drunk all their parents’ booze and wrecked all their fathers’ Lexuses. Troy smirked as he made his way to the counter to provide the fine gentlemen with the highest quality Ronald McDonald shoes Madison Bowling Plaza had to offer.
“Hey. We’d like two lanes and shoes for six people, please,” Jason said, bearing his trademark innocent picture perfect ivory grin.
“Sure thing,” replied Tom, the assistant manager with a practiced fake zeal.
As Tom calculated the cost, Troy gazed at the three girls accompanying Jason and his two friends. He’d take any one of them, even if they were the most hopeless of conformists and presented the most flat of personalities. Their faces were without blemish, perfectly moisturized and groomed to perfection.
Tricia, Jason’s girlfriend of two months, stood out the most. Her pleasant permanent tan and dark flowing hair astounded Troy. To Troy she was like a goddess or a reincarnated Arabian princess- dark and mysterious, oozing with sex appeal. Troy could imagine eunuchs serving her freshly pealed grapes from an ornate gold tray. They’d had their testicles cut off just so they could allow her to grace their presence. Troy wasn’t sure if he’d make the same sacrifice, but he might shear off his hair as a symbol of relinquishing his rebellion against society.
“Troy. Hey Troy. Hello?” Tom waved his hand in front of Troy’s star-struck eyes.
“Eh?” Troy answered, lifting his gaze from Tricia to his boss.
“We need six pairs of shoes. Two men’s twelve, one men’s eleven, two women’s seven, and a women’s six and a half… Did you get all that?” Tom asked with some concern.
“Yeahhh…” Troy replied, only half aware of where he was, his mind still encapsulated by Tricia’s beauty.
Troy smacked himself abruptly in the face and snapped out of his trance. Tricia snickered playfully at this odd behavior, causing Troy to blush and look away her and stumble on an errant bowling ball. This only caused more giggling and more blushing, and by the time Troy finally issued the bowling shoes, Tom was worriedly questioning Troy’s sanity.
“Are you alright?”
I’ll be alright as long as I can see her three-stepping her way to the foul line and into my heart, Troy thought.
“Oh, yeah. My mind was on… Something else.”
Derrick the lanky mechanic wobbled his way to the bar as Troy went back to cleaning ash trays.
“Nice going, chief,” Derrick chortled. “You’re a real Cassanova, you know that? With smooth moves like the Fonz.”
“I’m graceful as a swan, I know,” Troy sneered sarcastically.
“Into those towelhead chicks, huh?”
“What? You racist bastard. It’s the twenty-first century. Dating outside your race isn’t rejecting a social more anymore.”
“A social what? Moh-ray?” Derrick mimicked slowly without comprehension.
“Nothing of your concern, Derrick. I forgot that as soon as I walk into this place I’m surrounded by 1982. You can’t find this high of a mullet concentration outside of a Lynard Skynard concert anywhere else but here.”
Then a car launched through the alley’s brick walls and landed with a deafening shattering of glass and crumpling of steel at the end of the lane, jolting the ten pins into the pit. The TV screen above lane ten flashed the word “STRIKE” in bold, red letters.
* * *
Stacy plopped down to her lovely plate of fish nuggets and enchiladas.
“Shh,” she whispered peacefully, patting the wailing infant rested on her pot belly. This was her moment of Zen- just her and her grease-spattered entree. When she was finished she could face the world of crying babies and drunken husbands, but right then she was at one with herself.
She could hear a faint rumbling that seemed to be getting closer and closer. Stacy disregarded the noise. Questioning out-of-place sounds could continue later. A mere second later she realized the sound was getting yet louder, and adding to it was the shrill howling of police car sirens. She frowned. “What is th-”
Her moment of Zen concluded quickly. It was punctuated by a pile of bricks and a dozen shards of glass that showered her table. The purring that became more fierce and loud, she discovered, originated from an accelerating car that would soon blast through the wall three feet high from the ground.
The bowling alley fell silent. For a moment, time ceased to exist. Troy blinked his eyes in amazement. Derrick just stood perfectly motionless with his, still leaning on the bar. As his lower jaw dropped, the car door opened. A dusty gun was in the wrecked man’s hand.
“Ohhh Gawwwd,” the man moaned. The windshield shattered on contact with the wall and shards of glass streaked into his face, causing dozens of lacerations. The unsightly character tried in vain to come to his feet, but he fell back down every time.
State police erupted into the room through the windows. Women and children began screaming as the police started shouting and ordering the civilians to move. The entire bowling alley mewled with hopeless hysteria. They asked themselves what had just happened, but had not enough concentration to come up with the answers.
“PUT YOUR HANDS UP YOU FILTHY SONOVA BITCH!” yelled one cop. The others around him followed suit and began barking orders at the bloody mess struggling to get to his feet.
“OK, OK,” the man said, wiping the blood and slobber from his drenched chin. It was to no avail since his sleeve was equally doused with blood.
“DROP THE GUN RIGHT NOW!”
He finally lifted himself up from the ground by using one planted knee as leverage. He didn’t, however, drop the gun.
“I SAID DROP THE GUN!”
“What- this?” the man said with a quick jerk of his head to point to his pistol.
“YEAH, DROP IT! DROP IT AND KICK IT THIS WAY! NOW, GOD DAMN IT!”
“Your harsh tone isn’t gonna get you anywhere,” the man replied with a goofy grin.
The police were quickly losing their patience.
“WE’RE NOT KIDDING, BILL.”
Troy realized instantly that the messy crimson specimen before him was Barbwire Bill, the man whose history he’d learned only moments before. Troy’s fascination resumed. He glanced over at Jason to see how the stylish stud would tae the happening. Not too well, apparently. Jason went from being the cool young yuppie without a care in the word to a large baby shivering and holding Tricia for protection.
“Not feeling so hot are you now, huh, punk,” Troy muttered bitterly beneath his breath.
“THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE, BILL. DROP THE GUN.”
“My mommy told me not to talk to strangers,” Bill replied coolly. He cracked a devilish half-grin; his near-death experience had not altered his calm composure. “Let’s introduce ourselves. My name’s Barbwire Bill. How ’bout you, copper?”
The policeman had officially had enough. He flicked off the safety of his gun. It was his last move. He felt a warmth in his chest. He had no time to look down to see his vital organs splatter to the ground before his eyes rolled back into his head. In two seconds flat Bill had unleashed five shots that felled each of the five officers attempting to arrest him.
This is like something out of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Troy mused. I didn’t think anyone could really shoot that fast.
By this time, everyone but Troy, who sat in blank, hypnotized stupor, had vacated the premises. Bill stashed the weapon back in his tight jeans pocket. In doing so, he noticed Troy. The two stared eye to eye for what seemed an eternity. Bill’s cloudy gray eyes fixed themselves on Troy’s blue, inquisitive irises. He’s like a tiger trapped a zoo whose birth and adolescence were spent in the wild savannahs in Africa. He knows of a life besides this pent-up dull existence. He’d experienced the thrill of the hunt and will not give it up to conform to his new world’s standards.
Bill wretched and coughed. He was not sure what to make of the boy, much less what to do next in his weakened condition. Reinforcements could flood the room within the next five minutes.
“Listen, son. I don’t have time for a staring match. You either drive me the hell out of this bloodbath or I cap you and the next batch of cops that mosey on in here, bright eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to shoot ol’ Barbwire Bill into a bloody pulp. You wouldn’t want to be the cause of any more bloodshed, now would you, boy?”
Troy felt himself to make sure he was there. Is this really happening? Or is this just another weird dream caused by my acne medication? Troy decided that the dust from disintegrated bricks and plaster whirling through the air and the pungent reek of dead men’s feces were a lot more real than his recent dreams about monkeys tickling him with cats’ tails while his mother shamed him for not setting every clock in the house to elephant:30.
“Wow. . . OK. . . My car is just outside this door. The police station is only a mile from here, so we have to hurry if you want to spare yourself from ‘capping’ any ‘coppers’ who happen to ‘mosey on in.’”
Bill was dumbstruck by the boy’s mocking tone. While not quite sure what to make of Troy, he decided that setting him straight would have to be a priority to address at a later date. At that particular moment, his survival was more important. He picked up his moneybags and jetted out of the building with Troy.
What am I doing? Troy thought as he started his car’s engine. This is insane. This is the most interesting thing that has ever happened to me. Right now. Open your eyes Troy, because this is God’s answer to a million nights of sleepless prayer. I whine and complain to God that I’m utterly bored with my workaday pedestrian life in the suburbs, and I ask for a signal. . . And this is His response?
“DRIVE, BOY!” Bill screamed as he spotted a solid line of Crown Victorias rushing toward the bowling alley through the side mirror.
Troy put the pedal to the metal. A shiver of exhilaration ran down his spine. Every nerve ending in his body fired, causing a sensation similar to a first kiss but amplified times twenty. Maybe this is God’s answer.
The aging ’93 Chevy Cavalier station wagon accelerated at a rate it had never before experienced. Its walls rattled, the sound of the road rushing underneath audible at all times. The engine roared like a hungry lion howling into the night sky before biting into its freshly-caught prey.
The engine was a lion and so were the men inside the car. One had long ago realized that fact, but the other was still in the process of discovering the revelation that would simplify his life. He would struggle to fit the confining mold set before him no longer.
The car screeched to a halt forty minutes later in as many miles away from the bowling alley. A large abandoned warehouse stood before them. The ancient tattered building didn’t exactly promise comfort or warmth, but it did appear to be a fairly decent hiding place. It was a place where the two could collect themselves that night and the next morning and determine their next plan of action.
And collect themselves, they did. Troy pondered the events of the night while lying silently on an old fire blanket Bill found.
So much for that preppy guy’s unwavering confidence. So much for Mr. Golden-Boy-Size-Twelve-Shoe-My-Dad-Gives- Everything-Without-Me-Earning-Anything’s carefree smile.
With that freeing thought, Troy peacefully floated off into ten hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep.