The Corner: Chapter Four

Chapter Four

I woke up that morning in my hallway. My pants were around my ankles and for a minute I thought I’d wet myself. I wasn’t mad or grossed out, just filled with the resigned disappointment you get when you realize you’re a grown adult that’s pissed on himself. There’s nothing you can do other than just look down and go “Well, I thought I was better than that. Guess not.” It’s a bizarre mix of humbling and liberating.

I realized that I hadn’t pissed myself and had a dim recollection of finally making my way home, loosening my pants and trying to walk my way out of them. Not a high degree of difficulty when you’re sober, but when you’re as drunk as I was it requires a level of dexterity only found in your Olympic athletes. What I’d mistaken for piss was in fact the moisture my pants and legs hand picked up from crawling around in the woods in the middle of the night.

I stepped out of my pants with an ease that would’ve put my drunken self to shame and looked around for the package I’d brought home last night. Rather, the package I hoped I’d remembered to bring home and not just leave in the woods. Or by the side of the road.

I didn’t get frantic when it wasn’t in the hallway. Nor when it wasn’t by the couch. Or in the kitchen. Or the bathroom. Okay, that’s a lie. Checking the bathroom was desperate, panicked mayhem. So was the tearing through piles of incredibly dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. I may have just been in my boxers and a t-shirt, but I was burning up with that sudden, frantic fever you get when things began to spiral out of control. I hadn’t felt this way, since . . . well, that just made things hotter.

I squatted down on a pile of clothes, trying to put myself back into that gibbering, gleeful drunken state I was in on the way home. It had been a while since I had felt that happy, and I had no idea what I would’ve done. Not remembering was new, and it filled me with a sick unease that it’d started just as I was setting everything in motion.

I looked up at the door across the hall from mine.

I wouldn’t have, would I? There couldn’t be enough liquor, could there be?

I got up and walked towards the door. I reached my hand out towards the knob, feeling my heart race so fast that I thought it would pop-goes-the-weasel right out of my chest the second I touched to doorknob.

My hand almost closed over it when I remembered.

I turned, wiping my hand on my shirt and heading down the hall and out of the house. Sure enough, the package was there, leaning against the side of the house next to the door. I’d put it there so I could fumble with my keys to get the door open. That was most likely a clever trap by one of my sober and most masochistic brain cells, since I didn’t lock my door anymore. Hell, it probably made me forget just to see if I was crazy enough to open the door to her room.

“Ha! Fuck you, brain!” I hollered, shaking the package triumphantly in the air.

There was a clatter on the pavement and I looked across the street to see Becky Reynolds standing and staring at me, the Barbie dream car still wobbling on the walk from where it had dropped out of her grasp. For some reason she seemed shocked to see a grown man shaking an overstuffed padded envelope in front of his face and screaming profanities at his own brain while in his underwear. Thankfully, the button on the fly of my boxers was closed so I didn’t add an anatomy lesson to the trauma.

Becky just stood there motionless and I waned to say something and try to explain why my brain should go fuck off, what that meant, and why some men make certain choices of undergarments, but I realized that was a pre-Corner instinct. The package in my hand and the conversation I had yesterday with good ‘ol Johnny Wicker meant those feelings should be long dead.

Becky solved the dilemma for me, turning and sprinting into the house. I was surprised she stopped to open the door and didn’t just leave a nine-year-old sized hole in the screen. I turned and headed back into the house, closing the door just as I heard her mother call after Becky to ask what was wrong.

The kid had been through a lot but fuck her, y’know? She still got to play in the yard.

I lost my interest in the package. I tossed it down on the couch and made myself some eggs.

Full and slightly less hostile, I opened the package. It improved my mood. Tremendously.

Inside were two cans of spray paint with neon yellow caps, a note, and what looked to be a couple of ounces of weed. I picked up the weed, opened the bag and inhaled deeply.

Glorious.

I picked up the cans of paint and shook them. Each one made an echoey sound of emptiness. This too put a smile on my face. I picked up the note and read its dirty handwritten scrawl.

Dude,

This was a GREAT fukkin idea! It was 2 fukin funny, and Marshall is going to SHIT HIS PANTS MAN! I first though U were pretty gay but MAN, this is going to go down in Histroy. I put in some chronic b cuz I should be paying YOU 4 these ideas. Let me know what’s next!

G-ROCK

Oh G-Rock, you came and you gave without taking.

The real bonus will be if you actually listened to what I had to say didn’t just do what comes naturally, which is being a fucking idiot. Or a fukkin (or fukin) idiot. Of course, I’m not going to turn down free weed. I may be depressed to the point of criminal sociopathy but I’m not a moron.

It took me a while, but I found an old pipe that hadn’t been used, or cleaned, since a little while after I opened the Pizza Barn. Because you know, I was a responsible business man then. Ironic, giving up weed to go into business mainly supported by stoned college kids. I packed it, smoked it, and I say god damn he could use a remedial English course, but ‘ol G-Rock was MENSA when it came to weed.

I sat on the couch pleasantly stoned for about a half hour, and then realized that if I didn’t hurry I’d probably miss all the excitement that the empty spray cans and semi-literate note of enthusiasm represented. This time, I remembered to put on some pants before heading outside.

I realized that I had to concentrate to keep myself from skipping in anticipation as I walked into town, but as I came around the corner that was the arbitrary start of the “downtown area” I found myself chuckling with an over inflated sense of pride and amusement.

Sprayed on the pavement in neon yellow letters was the word TERROR, in a similar hand of a note left in the woods. I turned and there on the side of the hardware store I was standing in front of was that same scrawling word.

TERROR.

I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. Standing at the door of the hardware store, looking at the big glass window that also had been TERRORized, was Al Pruitt. He was older than God and the shop’s owner, which was fitting seeing as how it was one of the oldest businesses in one of the oldest buildings in town. His flabby skin was etched with scowling disappointment.

“Goddamn disgrace is what it is,” he said to one of the people gathered in front of the store. “What the hell kinda childish idiot does something like this? Makes no goddamn sense!” People nodded emphatically in time with his swinging jowls. I stepped away before I could be drawn into the vortex of their disappointment in modern culture and when I turned to face the rest of the street I found myself elated.

TERROR was everywhere.

TERROR was on almost every store window on the street. TERROR was sprayed on the side of almost every building. TERROR sprawled out marvelously on the street and sidewalk. TERROR made its presence felt everywhere you looked with screaming yellow obnoxiousness.

There were about 30 people in various little clutches up and down the street. Of the almost two dozen stores that made up metropolitan Barnesville, they had all been victims of TERROR. I strolled up and down the street, trying to put an appropriate level of concern and dismay on my face as I surveyed G-Rock’s TERRORtastic handiwork.

The cozy country antique store. The video store. The supermarket, the internet café, the retro clothing store, the arts and crafts store. All TERROR. Even, it pained me to say, Sandy’s.

“Who would do something like this?”

“It’s just damn stupid if you ask me.”

“Those damn college kids, think they’re so fucking funny!”

“Terror? Is that a threat? Is it more of that political nonsense?”

For every two little clutches of confused old-timers there was a smaller group of younger kids, the teenagers and the twentysomethings, that shared my deep amusement in the whole thing. As I reached the center of town I noticed there were two areas untouched by the TERROR’s radioactive neon fingers. Central Bank was in one of the old town buildings, all gray stone and completely untouched.

Oh thank god for you G-Rock. Dumb as a post, obedient as a hound. The tiny park in front of the building was equally undisturbed as was the old cobblestone drive-thru where a rail-thin schoolmarm-eqsue woman sat, eyes narrowed and scanning the street as if the paint wielding maniacs would return and try to catch her unawares. I wouldn’t have been surprised is she had a loaded shotgun in her lap, cocked and read to show those damn punks what TERROR was all about.

Across the street from the bank was the record-slash-head shop, and it too had been spared. I could see from the street the rotund figure of the Good Chief Marshall wagging a finger at the bearded hippie that owned the store. I strolled in to take a closer look. After all, it wasn’t every day you got to see a peace officer wielding all the gravitas of Mayor McCheese.

“Jesus John, I don’t know how many other ways I can say it, man! I was home all night with my wife and my kids.”

“Don’t you swear at me, Farley! I can find out where you were! Don’t you think I can’t. I’m sure you find this whole thing downright amusing, don’t’cha?”

Farley tugged on his graying ponytail with a growing sense of annoyance. “Look man, you can give me all the grief you want, but I am clean here. I’m not the only place that wasn’t tagged and I don’t think you were over at the bank this morning trying to figure out where they were last night. This is still America.”

“Don’t you try to trot out the flag with me, boy!” The Good Chief jabbed a leathery thumb at the display of buttons next to the counter that had various anti-corporate, anti-military and otherwise anti-John Marshall sentiments on display.

“It’s a free country, man! I have a right to free speech!”

“Yeah, do you think that include spray painting the whole town?”

“This is bullshit and you know it!”

I almost felt sorry for the guy. The only reason Farley’s store wasn’t tagged was same reason the bank wasn’t: security cameras. In the whole, trusting, “nothing bad happens in middle America” town, the bank was the only building with security cameras. While I was no expert, I knew enough that the security camera in the ATM directly across the street from the store might pick up anyone who was spraying it or the street outside. Better safe than sorry, and it was a delightful added bonus that the one non-tagged store was the one that offended the Good Chief’s high moral sensibilities.

After all, everyone knew no good and upstanding citizen would dare mock that good ‘ol US of A. Why anyone who did that may as well be an enemy of freedom. A TERRORist, if you will.

“Chief! Chief!” One of the freshly minted local cops skidded to a halt in the doorway of the record shop. “Channel 8 is here. And someone said that they heard Channel 10 was on the way.”

John Marshall snapped shut his little black notebook of law enforcement cues and hints. “Damn media vultures.”

“Careful there, Good Chief, you almost let a cuss word slip there.”

He turned and scowled at me, and Farley broke into a wide grin. Okay, apparently I was stoned just enough that I couldn’t keep my inner monologue as inner as it should have been. “You better watch it . . . you.” The Good Chief said, jamming his notebook into his shirt pocket. I grinned as he walked past, his eyes scouring me up and down, face screwed up as he tried to power his giant stone gears of thought. In my own little THC haze I just thought his face was funny, and then I realized what it meant.

He had forgotten me.

It had been a little over a year and a half, but he had somehow managed to forget me. Probably her too. The corner had come and gone, he’d gotten on the fucking news and swore to bring killers to justice, and then sat on his grimy little hands forgetting all about it. There may have been a small chance that I’d feel sorry about what I was doing but that annoyed-quizical “I know I’ve seen this guy before but I can’t place it” look annihilated that.

He was going to get exactly what he deserved.

“That was priceless, man,” Farley said, strolling over. “It’s good to see you though, dude. I haven’t seen you in like, forever.”

“Fuck off.” I brushed passed him and followed after Good Chief Forgetful. How hard was it? Even a burnout loser know-nothing like Farley could recognize . . . well, another burnout loser, but still. I was on the chamber of commerce for fuck’s sake. We had met at least two or three times, in a small town where you see most everyone at least once a week. But no, the Good Chief had more important things to do. Like be on the news and swear to God.

Well, we’ll see how he liked being on the news now.

The addition of G-Rock’s little bonus made me forget about how I had planned to call the news myself, but it’s nice to know that some things unfolded as they should, regardless of my helping hands.

“One side, man.”

There was a clatter of wheels on pavement and I stepped aside just as a lanky, disheveled skateboarder rolled past me. He sported a black hooded sweatshirt adorned with colorfully anecdotal patches telling people to fuck off and a grey knit cap pulled down just enough so that the curly edges of an early stage mullet peeked out of the bottom. He was trailed by two other skaters, and the three of them looked like they just came off the line at the disaffected recent high school grads factory.

Up ahead the Good Chief was pleading, and loosing, with the ethnic field correspondent to pack up and go, explaining that there was no story here, we do this every other week. She wasn’t buying it, her keen reporters instincts telling her that there was a story and she was going to get to the bottom of it. The camera guy was standing and getting reaction shots of the town in utter shock and confusion when the skateboarders rolled by, hooting and clapping.

“Yeah!”

“This is kick ass, man!”

“You wanna inner-veiw me, I’ve been terrorized!”

“Hey!” Shouted the Good Chief. “Get those skateboards off the sidewalk and get out of here!”

The lead boarder popped his board up in the air and landed down on the pavement, the other two behind him following suit. The three weaved around the group of police officers and reporters like pack animals, and the leader looked back at the Good Chief with a buck-toothed grin.

“See you later, pop.”

The Good Chief scowled and turned red as the reporter asked who those young men were. I resisted the urge to pop my head into the little group and say, “Excuse me, my good representative of the Fifth Estate. I’m sure you know our friend here, Barnesville Police Chief John Marshall, but perhaps you did not know, as he seldom makes it aware, the leader of those young band of ne’er-do-wells was none other than the Good Chief’s own flesh and blood. The apple of his eye. Young Gregory Marshall.

“Known, in some circles, as G-Rock.”

Chapter Five

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About The Author

Thacher Cleveland

Thacher E. Cleveland is a contributing writer & columnist for PanelsOnPages.com, co-host of the Super-Fly Comics & Games PodCast, novelist & comic creator. Originally from New Jersey and previously from Yellow Springs, Ohio, he currently lives in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@demonweasel), tumblr, his personal website and even on Google+

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11 2011

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