The cover for my new novella, Terminal Visit. Kindle version now available: http://amzn.to/kKsjrV
Nook coming soon.
The cover for my new novella, Terminal Visit. Kindle version now available: http://amzn.to/kKsjrV
Nook coming soon.
There was rain today. Brief and violent and then gone, leaving a damp heat in its track. My window is spattered with droplets of water. Watching them, I’m drawn to the way they move. They move like people: either stone still or unnervingly fast. And I have yet to judge correctly which way one will go when it decides to slide. Information moves the same way these days. At times I am amazed how quickly news travels and other times I am confounded by pockets of ignorance. So for those who live in such a pocket, I will tell what I know regarding the special nature of the folks at Apocalypse Motors. It was the simplest thing but it made all the difference.
The fogies had pictures. And they’d trade them just like food and water because very few of the cameras for making them survived. There are no pictures of me. No camera pictures anyway and I’ve never stood for a portrait. It’s possible someone’s drawn me from memory but I’ve not heard from such an admirer. I’ve meant to stand. From what I see in the mirror I’d make a fine image. I’m still tall and thin. Wiry is what they say which, for an old woman, is something to be said. At this age the prior wisdom says my bones should be breaking like so many brittle leaves but that’s yet to happen. My hair I keep shaved. It’s gone gray so that my head looks dusted in ash and my eyes are large and whitish blue.
We have fashion now, or notions of it. It travels like a fabric wave across the town, first one and then another, washing the genteel in its patterned influence. We’re not so ahead of the reaper that old fashions end up in the rubbish heap but we’re civilized enough that we’ve found the time to alter the old to suit the whims of the new. Yesterday’s style always visible in a turned up collar or the open flap of a jacket — discarded notions living as fossils in the coats of women and men. But occasionally the town still sees a real nomad who grew up without the concept of fashion nor the privilege to affect it. These are people of my generation and we’re getting old, passing into history like the fogies before us. The fogies, who at one time had fashion as well.
The one-eared man was a fogie, like my mother had been. And just like most of them, he lacked presence. Some part of him lived elsewhere. I don’t know why my thoughts keep turning to the one-eared man but I find myself thinking of him more and more these days. I even find myself thinking that killing him had been a mistake. Revenge killing was something of a fashion itself, after all, during my teens.
But that night on the mountain, enthralled by the far-off glow, I killed no one. The one-eared man descended the ridge and I followed. We stepped carefully, picking our way with hand and foot down the mountainside until our shoes once again sank into the flat sandy plain. And when I thought we’d stop we instead kept walking, following the beacon that flashed bright and low to the ground. By the time we’d crossed most of the plain between us and the sign, the morning had come stretching into view, and the desert emerged in the blue colors of a water it lacked. In the light, the sign became nothing more than a splotch on the horizon, neither inspiring nor easy to find.
About a mile out we paused and the one-eared man squatted on his heels and played his fingertips through the sand as he watched the compound of buildings ahead. After some time he turned back toward me. “I like you,” he said. “You don’t talk and you don’t lie.” He looked off across the plain that was just beginning to shimmer in the heat, only his eyes looking forward. “You ain’t once tried to be something I’d like.”
A vehicle for the apocalypse. Sips fuel (~250mpg). Still pedals when it’s out of fuel. Easy to repair. And easy to hide.
Pictured here somewhere in the Mojave desert.
The frame is completely custom made. More photos of the build here:
When I’m not writing things, I’m making things. Things out of steel and aluminum. Things that require horsepower and specialized lubricants to carve out. It’s the perfect research regimen for this Apocalypse Motors story. I shut the big door to my windowless single-car garage and fire up the kerosene heater. For a few hours at a time, I design and build parts for my weird vehicles.
For some reason, I like to imagine that outside, the world as I know it is gone, that some apocalypse has left me and my machines to exist in a world devoid of a populous. I actually really like the world outside, so this is an interesting phenomenon. Why does this terrible idea also hold so much appeal? I don’t know. But the Apocalypse Motors serial is my attempt to find an answer. If you’re here, I hope you enjoy reading my investigations.
practicalpedal’s photostream on Flickr.
We have electric light now. First in the streets — lamps on wooden poles making warm cones of the airborne dust and meant to draw people out into a night where once we displayed heads on poles for opposite effect — and then in our homes so that we might stay up to read if we prefer the less convivial forms of betterment. These are truly idyllic times and very few of us are bored by the tranquility. But oh the light. Brightness where nature decrees darkness. I am compelled by this terrible audacity.
I am neither convivial nor much of a reader, but the privilege to sit in my darkened room and look out on a row of street lamps is a thing of sadistic joy. The light is eaten by the blackness above as swiftly as it’s made. The joy in this akin to watching a crazy tear at his own skin, plucking piece by stringy piece until the blood pools out red and sudden.
I shuddered with the same joy that night while following the one-eared man over the ridge. Down in the valley the red and white neon sign of Apocalypse Motors flashed its brilliant message to nocturnal travelers. In its glow I saw the black outline of the one-eared man. The hard-edged outline of the mother-killer. In this new light I felt, felt in my little bones, a truth. You, mother-killer. You too are small.
I followed the man across the desert, five steps behind as if I were some kind of human trailer. My clearest memory of that day is of squinting in an effort to see the string that surely tied me to this man who killed my mother. Even at that young age I knew the insistent bondage of necessity. We all, I think, are bound by shadow tethers which pull us along even as we scream inside ourselves that these footfalls are not ours — that we go not of our own volition. And yet these strings we own. Of this there can be no doubt. I always look for mine. You can’t cut what you can’t see.
We angled away from the road, each step shrinking the asphalt’s unfocused air until even that soft scratch disappeared. My mother had always stayed close. For as long a I could remember, the road had been within sight.
Our footfalls wore away the day and then into night as the sky grew red and the brush black. And when I thought the man would stop he instead kept walking and I followed, always five steps behind. The sky turned to black and merged with the ground and the brush so that I followed the man by the bright sound of his boots crunching over the dried mud of the plain we crossed. It occurred to me that now would be the time to run. I could lose this man in the darkness. But then what? He had direction at least. And I knew, even at four, that such a trait was more than most folks had back then.
At some point in the night we crossed the plain and began an ascent into the mountains. The warm night air grew colder and our pace slowed until finally we crested a ridge and I saw in the valley below a neon sign, brilliant in its glow. I couldn’t read then but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that beautiful light. A thing I’d never seen before — the glinting knife of wonder and awe — something sharp enough, perhaps, to cut an invisible tether.
Life has value.
Mine was worth one dilapidated motorcycle, at least it was to the man who swapped me for it. How that man came by a tradable girl of four years, is a narrative that must be extracted from the haze of time — pulled out of the wordless memory like boots from mud. There is the woman with hair a-frizz and filthy so that when she lays down in the dirt she resembles a twiggy plant. A hard plant that spits and curses and whimpers a mewling plea depending on the circumstance and need. When she gets up she insists I follow. This is the only evidence I have that this angry stick is my mother. There is the man who killed her. She’d used the wrong angle on that one. He is tall and thin, like her, and just as filthy. His face is scarred and his left ear has been cut off. The small hole of his ear canal looks like something a spider would live in. The kind of thing you avoid laying down near. My mother whimpered when she should have cursed and the one-eared man beat her head in with a rock he’d had to hold with both of his thin hands. Her forehead caved in like the barrel of a withered cactus. Nothing leaked out. Just as dry on the inside, I remember thinking, though my thoughts were more feeling that word.
The man said he’d done me a favor. He dropped the rock on his foot and kicked at it before he walked off, puffs of dust erupting from his footfalls. But then he stopped, dust settling on his boots, and turned back toward me. You, he said. Git over here. You might be worth something.
Not everyone was in on the joke at Apocalypse Motors. The joke being the sign. The name. I was one of those. For the fogies the name seemed to invoke some whimsical sadness. You could see it in the wrinkling at the corners of their mouths when they’d say the tagline: transportation for the end times. They couldn’t say it without their faces being blown into an odd shape by some tragically humorous wind. Of course I understand it now, or at least know of something similar. But years ago when they took me in and put me to work scrounging parts from the big pile out back, I was given only hints of their emptiness, translated through this peculiar expression. The smile of something had and something lost. But what did I know. For me, the Apocalypse was just another old song that no one sang anymore. Not that I didn’t have a song to sing. My song is the post apocalypse, the nomadic era, and I sing it well. It’s still mine even though newer, more refined, melodies have come along.
I’m preoccupied with the notion that we are born into circumstance, and that the benchmark of our lives is forever set to this arbitrary measure. At some hazy point, everything becomes comparison to this. This morning, as I rode across town to buy water, a young man from the new constabulary pulled me over with his loud siren. Ma’am, he said. Can I see your operator’s license? I couldn’t help but flash a smile at him, one shaped, I’m sure of it, by a whimsical sadness.
Never did see the need for one, I told him.
He must have felt a chill from the tragic wind, because he let me go with a shake of his head. Life has value, he said. Try not to run anybody down. He kept his goggles up and watched me ride away, waving as I rounded the corner.
The time will come when a shake of the head will excuse no one. Glad to say I’ll be long dead when that day comes. The fogies had no right to expect things to turn out so well. But they expected it nonetheless. For that I thank them.