“You can’t sleep on your own. You can’t sleep on your own. I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep at all. I can’t be on my own. I can’t be on my own. You can’t be anything at all. I can’t sing anymore. I can’t sing anymore. I’m getting tired of all of these cliches.”—
I. August 24th, 1984: Just Outside Of Wichita, Kansas
Somewhere in that hole-in-the-wall diner, Keith was probably swallowing his third cup of black coffee, his head still fuzzy from the night before (a sold-out club; he botched the solo in “Amsterdam” but he killed it in “Turn Out.”) Coffee had always been his cure-all remedy on the road, his savior in a cracked mug. Donny was probably in the bathroom, his head hung over some graffiti addled toilet, puking both his demons and his toxins away. This was the life they chose.
Tyler Rhodes was smoking his second Marlboro Red by the jukebox, Bowie’s “Rock’N’Roll Suicide” filled the air. Susan, the waitress, stood next to him, also smoking her second Marlboro Red, and all Tyler could think of was the idea of destiny. Of all the shitty diners in all the world kind of destiny. Susan was tall and thin, if she lived in any other city she’d have been a model. Or an actress. Something else entirely. She was absolutely gorgeous and Tyler Rhodes was dumbfounded. He had never felt this way in all his life and he was the frontman for one of the most iconic pop bands of the 1980’s, Debaser. Tyler was used to getting any woman he wanted. Stray strands of her brunette hair crept out of her tight ponytail and stuck to her forehead. Smudged black eyeliner still painted across her eyes from the previous evening.
Susan parted her thin, pale magenta lips and exhaled a thick plume of cigarette smoke. Her periwinkle eyes fixed on Tyler’s emerald greens as Bowie belted out, “you’re not alone,” and, quite honestly, that’s exactly how Tyler Rhodes felt at this moment. Alone. Just another day of his life falling in love with a stranger he’d only known for five minutes.
“You just met me,” Susan said, her arms folded tightly across her chest.
“I know. It’s just,” Tyler’s voice was filled with desperation, “you travel across the entire country and, everywhere you go, everyone is climbing over one another trying to meet you. Trying to be you. Fake friendships built on sound and lust and money. Autographs, handshakes, and hugs. Everyone, the same monster.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t take them for granted?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t do a lot of things. None of this matters, you’re different. Or, at least, you seem different.”
“You’re hesitant to even talk to me,” Tyler said, exhaling another cloud of cigarette smoke. “That’s new to me. I can’t leave this at that.”
Susan loosened her arms from around her chest and took another drag from her Marlboro. She shut her eyes and tilted her head up towards the rafters of the diner’s ceiling. As she inhaled, the butt of the cigarette lit from ash grey to ember red and back to ash grey. Her left index finger and thumb clasped around the Marlboro’s filter and Tyler couldn’t take his eyes off her lime green fingernails as she removed the cigarette from her lips and exhaled another stream of smoke.
“Is this the speech you recite to all the waitresses around the world?” Susan asked.
“Only the ones in Wichita,” Tyler’s cheeks burnt a deep red blush.
“So, still a lot of women? I’m flattered.”
“Just grab a coffee with me. That’s all I ask.”
“Coffee is what I do for a living.”
“Alright. Then let’s go grab a drink somewhere. I’m sure there are some good bars here in Wichita.”
“I’m six months sober,” Susan said, reconstructing her prison of arms and elbows around her chest.
Donny stumbled across the vacant floor of the diner, dragging his tall, lanky body from red vinyl booth to red vinyl booth until he was standing next to Tyler and Susan. All limbs and length, Donny was Debaser’s bass guitarist. The band that had stolen the last five years of Tyler Rhodes’s life.
“The money’s gone,” Donny was panicking, sweat escaping from every single one of his pores.
“What money?” Tyler asked.
“The five grand from tour. It’s all gone.”
“Steven probably hid it in the van somewhere when you blacked out last night.”
“Steven passed out before I did last night. I put it all in that envelope marked “ours.” The one in the glove compartment, buried between the maps and brochures and registration papers. The empty envelope is still there.”
“You guys made five thousand dollars last night?” Susan asked.
“It wasn’t all from last night,” Tyler said. “It was our take from the last three months on the road. Playing shows, selling merch, meeting fans. Five grand to split between the five of us.”
“And now it’s all gone,” Donny screamed, his voice reeking of alcohol and pot. “ We’re fucked, Tyler.”
“Shit,” Tyler said. “You checked in all the guitar cases and under all the furniture in the van?”
Tyler tossed his cigarette, mostly just an ashy, burnt filter, to the linoleum floor, snubbing it out with the toe of his black combat boot.
“Don’t just throw that there,” Susan slapped Tyler’s arm. “Believe it or not, people do actually eat here.”
“Sorry. I’m just a bit preoccupied,” Tyler said, picking up the Marlboro’s yellow filter and tossing it into the red, plastic ashtray that sat on the dusty windowsill behind the jukebox, now playing The Who’s My Generation.
Debaser’s van was a brown and white Chevrolet Astrovan, stripped of all furnishings aside from the two front seats. A plush, purple suade sofa was fastened to the metal floor in the back of the van. Cheap carpeting, old blankets and sheets, and pillows covered the rest of the floor. Scattered around the van were old comic books; a beat up Gibson acoustic guitar; notebooks, pens, and pencils; a few old novels; a cooler filled with alcohol and food; and the unconscious body of Steven Dickens, Debaser’s drummer. Steven was spread out, half of his body hung out the back door of the van, his muscular hips and legs propping the doors open, the other half belly down across the various sheets and blankets and pillows. The van, as well as the trailer hitched behind it, was parked horizontally across three parking spaces in front of Bucky’s Diner in Wichita, Kansas (or, rather, just outside of Wichita, Kansas). Steven was covered in perspiration, blankets pushed into piles on both sides of his near lifeless body, his nose covered in dry blood.
Donny’s fists frantically pounded on the windshield, trying to cause as much ruckus as possible. Trying to pull Steven out of his comatose state. Tyler and Susan stood off to the side of the van, on a curb that separated Bucky’s Diner from North Broadway Street.
“Steven, you pathetic fucking junkie, wake up,” Donny yelled, slapping the floorboard next to Steven’s head. “Where’s our goddamned money?”
Donny’s fists connected with Steven’s spine, hard, causing Steven to slowly rouse back to life.
“What?” Steven asked as he rolled back onto his belly, burying his face into his stained pillow.
“Where’s our five thousand dollars, man?” Donny tossed the empty “ours” envelope onto Steven’s back.
Steven rolled onto his back and sat up, pulling his legs back into the van’s cabin and crossing them in front of him. He held the empty envelope in front of his eyes for a moment before handing it back to Donny.
“Who’s that with Tyler?” Steven asked, trailing his eyes across the parking lot toward Tyler and Susan who were still standing on the curb.
“Our waitress,” Donny pointed at the metal facade of the Diner, designed to emulate an old trailer diner of the fifties. Designed to induce a sickening nostalgia on people who drove by. “Where’s our money?”
“I don’t know, you’re the unofficial treasurer of the band.”
“And you’re the official druggie of the band who digs into our funds to find his next fix.”
“And you’re the coal calling the kettle black.”
“Fuck you. If it weren’t for your addictions, we’d still have 5,000 dollars.”
“You’re both disgusting,” Tyler said in his best superhero voice. “It doesn’t matter who lost it, we need to find this money.”
Tyler’s temples throbbed, a mixture of the bright Kansas sun and the record heat, as he rubbed them with his fingertips. A stench of week old body odor mixed with drugs and alcohol filled the van’s cabin. With all the windows up and when not in motion the van would be extremely humid and disgusting, causing any passengers to feel more than slightly feverish. Tyler dug his hands under and around everything in the van. Everything led to nothing. Everything led to panic. Tyler could feel his heart in his throat, pulsing harder and faster than he could ever remember it pulsing in his entire twenty-six years of life. Sweat clung to his brow. Absolute terror. Even with all of this, all Tyler could think of was destiny. The end.
“What’s going on?” Keith’s voice echoed across the parking lot.
“Your bandmates have lost five thousand dollars,” Susan said, sitting in a bed of grass a few yards away from the van.
“Yeah?” Keith asked as he and Carlton calmly walked across the hot parking lot until they were standing next to the van, their shadows stretched and cast over the entire scene.
“Our tour money is gone, we’re dead,” Donny tossed a pair of sheer, lacy blue panties from the back of the van to the driver’s seat.
“The money from the envelope?” Carlton asked.
“Yeah,” Tyler threw a paperback copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm onto the passenger’s seat.
“I took it,” Keith buried his right hand into the right pocket of his brown leather jacket and pulled out a rubber banded wad of twenties, tens, fives and ones.
“We didn’t want one of you to steal it or spend it,” Carlton laughed as Keith tossed the wad of cash to Tyler.
“Fuck,” Donny sighed.
“Consider this my attempt at making up for any stress we may have caused,” Tyler handed Susan two hundred dollars from the bundle of cash.
“Is this the experience every girl gets when they first meet Tyler Rhodes?” Susan asked.
I don’t care, Wrecking Ball is a wonderful pop song. Super catchy and heartfelt. Miley’s vocal range is really showcased in this three minutes and forty three seconds. Superb, probably one of the best pop songs in the last ten years.
this is a short story i wrote back in may. i was really proud of it, still am, and i wanted to re-share it before i moved on to new work and new adventures. enjoy.
The room is cold as Peter walks the thirty foot ramp between the chapel entrance and the altar, this is his night but it isn’t about him. It’s about her. It’s always about her. Anna and her periwinkle eyes. Anna and her long, flowing white dress. Anna and her deep, red lips. This was never supposed to be about Peter Sharpling. Peter and his bloodied lips. Peter and his disheveled black tie and torn up suit. Peter Sharpling, the idiot.
Peter Sharpling was always the definition of a pacifist. Coward. Always the first one to walk the long way home in order to avoid conflict. His first, and only, fight was in sixth grade when some bully cornered him in the boy’s bathroom. What else was he supposed to do? Sit there and get the shit kicked out of him? Not defend himself? After that, Peter avoided anything and everything at all costs. He missed out on the most formative years of his life due to fear.
Peter Sharpling doesn’t deserve to be in this wedding. With Anna. Peter and his swollen, black and blue eyes. Peter Sharpling deserves to be somewhere else. Somewhere far, far away. Canada. Kansas. Kalamazoo. Peter and his cut up knuckles. Peter doesn’t deserve Anna.
Peter Sharpling is a loose cannon. All his life, bottling up every emotion and fear and thought. All his life, heartbreak after heartbreak, always afraid to talk about them. To do anything about them. It was only a matter of time before Peter exploded. Lashed out. It was only a matter of time before everything faded into a burning white ball of rage and anger. It was only a matter of time before Peter Sharpling, that devil in a suit, destroyed something. That selfish jerk.
Anna, standing in the bride’s room — in a circle of bridesmaids and mothers and nieces — more beautiful than ever in her all-white everything; of course she’d be startled when the door bursts open, almost exploding off its hinges to reveal her fiance, the shitbag Peter Sharpling, standing there, staring at her, in his eradicated suit, panting and sweating profusely. This was never supposed to be about Peter, but I guess we’ll go ahead and change the plan. We always do.
“What’s the matter?” Anna asked through the chaotic circle of her wedding party. Over shrieks and shrills given off by her bridesmaids, aimed at Peter.
“It’s a mess. A disaster,” that dickhole Peter said.
Peter and the giant gash across the entirety of his forehead, gushing blood all over Anna’s white dress. Always stealing focus.
“What happened to you?” Anna faked as much sincerity and heart as she could muster.
“It,” the idiot stuttered, “it, I. I don’t know. I blanked. I. Oh, god. Anna. Shit. Shit. Shit.”
Let’s just jump back a bit here.
The morning was chilly, a brisk wind blowing across the meadows of Redsky, New Jersey, as Peter went out for his ritualistic morning run. The cattails that line the water waving back and forth in the breeze. Peter’s heart was in his throat, he had wanted to marry Anna Sullivan for fifteen years, since he was eleven and she was ten, and finally he was going to do just that. Peter Sharpling was finally seeing all his dreams come true. He just bought his dream apartment in the city, was about to take the hand of the girl he’d longed for since he was a kid, and, unbeknownst to Anna, they were about to spend a week in Greece. Also unbeknownst to Anna, Peter had just accepted a promotion at his office, production manager. Everything was lining up perfectly. So perfectly that, while David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” played through his sky blue earbuds, he didn’t notice the highway ahead of him slowly disappearing, being replaced by more and more meadowland.
Peter kept running, unaware that the land ahead of him was slowly turning back to what it once was. Uncultivated, unharvested, unmolested. Natural beauty at its most terrifying. Peter ran and ran, his sweat bleeding out of every open pore. His heart pounding like a hammer against his ribcage. It wasn’t until Bowie belted out, “Beware of the Diamond Dogs,” that Peter’s gaze lifted from his feet to the vast empty meadows ahead of him. The land slowly expanding closer and closer towards him. Mother nature taking back what she created, one acre at a time.
Peter and his total lack of self-awareness.
The idiot, instead of turning around and running back to the Sheraton the wedding party was staying at, he just stared into the wetlands. The cattails now swaying faster and faster, reacting to a wind that was building in intensity. Dust and dirt and water, all being kicked up and carried by the wind, minimizing Peter’s field of view. The dummy, after a minute of dumbfoundedness, finally turned around and started running back towards the hotel. The miles of open highway leading to the Sheraton, empty and disappearing. The clouds of sand, dust and water devouring more and more of Peter’s life.
Then everything disappeared. Blackness. Void.
Then Peter Sharpling was awake in an abandoned, desolate, demolished church. The floorboards and pews and altar; all the wood of everything, rotting and wet. Everything smelled ancient, the way an old library book smells when it’s opened for the first time in decades. Redsky had turned completely on its head in an instant.
Peter scanned the long dead room, cobwebs covering the wood beams that lined the high ceiling, searching for something that could give him any clue as to where he was. Why he was no longer in his running shorts, tank top and shoes and, rather, in a full suit.
Peter and his complete lack of self-awareness.
Peter Sharpling brought this on himself.
There was a girl in a blue sundress and yellow ballet flats sitting in one of the rotten pews, reading Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. She sat there, almost completely unaware of Peter’s presence. She remained silent and still; her only motions being when her big, blue oceans of eyes darted across the pages or her tiny, bony fingers flipped the pages. Page after page, minute after minute, The Girl In The Blue Dress ignored Peter’s existence. Did Peter even ever exist?
“It’s truly an incredible journey, isn’t it?” The girl asked, as if to an old friend.
“Me?” Peter asked, rummaging both his hands around his coat pockets.
“No, the cat.”
“Where am I?”
“You’re in The Void. Population, us.”
“How old are you?”
“By now, probably fifty-six. I know, I age extremely well.”
The girl, who appeared to be no older than twelve, flipped through the book, page after page, until she was at the end. She turned the book back to the front page and started over. We do nothing but repeat ourselves.
“Well, Miss,” that dumb idiot, Peter, said, “I have a wedding tonight. In Redsky, New Jersey. Not in The Void. How do I get back to Redsky?”
“It’s a cycle. We always repeat ourselves. We never learn. We never learn.”
Wind blew through every hole in the wooden wall and every crack in the faded, dirt-stained windows of the church, shaking cobwebs and dust loose from the rafters above. Peter and his size elevens, slowly approached The Girl In The Blue Dress, squinting to see through the dust in the air.
“Well, I wish I could help,” Peter said as he sat down next to the girl, “but my wife-to-be is probably worried sick about me.”
“There’s no escaping The Void. You just learn to live here.”
“I don’t believe that. Every place has an entrance and an exit.”
“How did you get here?”
“I,” Peter thought long and hard but, because he’s a huge dumb-dumb, he couldn’t think of anything. “I don’t know. I was running along the highway, along the meadow, and then I was here.”
“Entrances and exits aren’t as simple as entrances and exits. A portals only a portal if it actually leads you to where you want to go.”
“So, I’m trapped?”
“Think of it less as being trapped here and more as forced to live here.”
“In my case, they sound like two different ways of saying the same thing.”
Page after page until the book is finished, The Girl In The Blue Dress scans her eyes across every word. Absorbing everything.
“Can you shut that thing and help me out here,” the monster known as Peter screamed as he put his hands over the girl’s copy of Alice. “Please.”
The book hit the decomposed floorboards of the church with a loud thud.
“We always repeat ourselves,” The Girl In The Blue Dress said, reaching her tiny claw-like hands over to Peter’s veiny throat.
Peter and his stupid, skinny black tie and his stupid black suit and his stupid everything.
All ten of the girl’s fingers, ice cold and nails as sharp as a falcon’s talons, now pressing deeper and deeper into Peter Sharpling’s neck.
“No,” Peter squeezed out of his compressed throat. “Get off me, you witch.”
The Girl In The Blue Dress clutched her hands tighter across the bastard’s esophagus, her nails digging deep into his skin forcing blood to ripple out of him. The Monster struck The Girl In The Blue Dress, knocking all seventy-three pounds of her onto the dirty, dusty, putrescent floor like a sack of potatoes.
Peter Sharpling, the pacifist.
Peter Sharpling, the bottled up psycho.
Peter Sharpling, doomed.
“No matter where you go, you’re bound to wind up here, Peter Sharpling,” The Girl In The Blue Dress said from the ground, wiping blood from her mouth.
And Peter Sharpling ran. He ran and he ran and he ran until there was nothing else to do but ran. Through fields of dead sugarcane, the rugged stalks cutting through his suit and his skin. He ran and he ran, his lungs burning a fire he’d never felt before. He ran and he ran, no noticing the rusted stop sign planted in the middle of the sugar field. Not until his face collided with the metal octagon, being eaten away by iron oxides.
All of everything, erased.
This was never supposed to be about him but we’ve already spent so much time on him.
We always repeat ourselves.
Peter Sharpling and his cut and throbbing forehead, lying face up in a field of sugarcane. The sign above him saying exactly what he wish would happen to this nightmare.
In the distance, the husk of a skyscraper sits silhouetted by the setting sun behind it, a murder of crows or ravens or some other evil bird flying around its decrepit spire. This is where cities go to die. The Void.
Peter Sharpling, the dumb idiot. The asshole. The dickbag. He got up and he ran. He ignored the inevitable threat of tetanus. Sweat and blood and dirt covering every inch of his tattered body. Peter Sharpling ran and ran toward the tall, dark, dead tower. Toward the birds. Toward the only life he could see in this God forsaken place.
There was a tractor trailer, abandoned, flipped over on a long stretch of potholed highway. The trailer acted as a centerpiece for a long-since-deserted makeshift camp of other abandoned vehicles, fastened together with whatever wood, sheet metal and other supplies that whoever could find.
Where did these things go?
Peter ran and ran, until he tripped into a pothole, landing face first. When he ran his fingers over his lip, he pulled away to see his fingertips were stained a deep crimson. He was cut all over, blood mixing with sweat mixing with dirt, he needed help. He needed out.
Peter Sharpling, ever the attention hog.
Peter Sharpling, always making stories up as a way to garner attention.
Peter Sharpling, the monster.
The base of the tower was a plaza, marred by debris from the spire that loomed above it. All marble and empty pools where fountains used to be, Peter limped his way slowly through the demolished urban court, towards the hole in the facade. The makeshift entrance.
Candles lit the entirety of the lobby, melted wax and flickering flames everywhere. A stairwell sat off to the east of the building, climbing all eighty-two floors, and Peter slowly worked his way up each and every step. The sky outside getting darker and darker. The number of birds growing and growing. The wind picking up.
This place, Peter thought to himself, is pure evil.
As Peter stepped out from the dark, unlit stairwell into the lobby of the 82nd floor, he felt something. Something familiar. It crept like a cold chill up his spine, covering his body with goosebumps. He felt at home. Peaceful. At ease. A bright, fluorescent light lit up a door window a few meters from Peter, the shadow of a man stood in the light.
Peter Sharpling and his pacifist’s fists knocked on the door and the man’s shadow stirred within. Peter could hear a shuffling of feet inside, he could see the man going from corner to corner of the room, he could smell something burning.
“Hello,” I yelled as the fluorescent light in the window died out, being replaced by the bright orange and yellow of open fire. “Are you alright?”
I, Peter Sharpling, always so worried about myself that I’m incapable of seeing what is right there.
We’re doomed to repeat ourselves.
As my fists rapped on the door another couple times, the door became hot to the touch. The shadow man was no longer anywhere to be seen.
I’m such an idiot.
I’m such a monster.
I hit a child. Sure, she said she was fifty-six, but she was a twelve year old. There was no way she was any older than fourteen. I hit her, knocking her to the ground in a cold thud. I hit a child. I…
A lick of a flame burst out the glass window on the door, knocking me back a few steps into the hall. At the edge of the corridor, a disintigrated hole on the wall, a murder of crows sat perched, regurgitating worms into one another’s mouths. A voice came from, I don’t know, somewhere, told me to run. To jump. So I did. I ran to the edge, looking over the dark plaza below. The sugar fields. The church, way off in the distance. The turned over vehicles. Acres and acres of earth, kidnapped and doomed to spend eternity in The Void.
So Peter Sharpling, the dumb idiot, the stupid shithole, he ran down the corridor and jumped to the ground below.
Then he woke up in the groom’s waiting room, being fanned by his best man. Still bloodied. Still bruised. Still tore apart. Then he ran here, as quickly as possible. Now I’m here.
I, Peter Sharpling, am incredibly sorry. This was never supposed to be about me but, I guess, it truly was. It always was. I’m sorry. Me and my dumb face and feet and body, all disgusting. Bleeding all over you, Anna, whom I don’t deserve. I’m a monster. I’m awful. I’m sorry.