Frankie took a cab back to the carnival grounds. It looked like a war zone. The Mechanic, who real name he finally found out was Earl, remained in the hospital. His injuries were significantly worse than Frankie’s. “Hardcore little fuck” was what Frankie called him after all this. He definitely had to go see him before he left.
The grounds crawled with cops; ambulances and coroner’s vehicles were parked near where the worst of the carnage had taken place. People walked all over, taking pictures and putting up yellow police tape. Frankie walked up to one of the cops, told him who he was, and said he needed to get his tractor. He was told to wait. He might have to wait until the scene was cleared. His tractor might be evidence. This is where Frankie tended to lose his mind. He didn’t get along with cops. He was trying to now, but there was no logic to the investigation. This crazy bitch killed a whole lot of people and he needed his truck to get the hell out of here. He stood there and waited, realizing he wanted no attention drawn to him or the truck. News crews were there too. Frankie heard the word “massacre.” He realized quickly he was not going anywhere for some time. Another cop arrived, with more authority, who asked Frankie a ton of questions.
Frankie told them he was going to get a room in the motel up the road and wait for them to release his truck. The cop seemed cool, like he understood, and tried to help. Frankie decided it was best to cooperate. He walked to the liquor store and bought supplies for what could be a long day or two or three. He asked the girl where he could go buy some clothes and asked for a cab. She offered to take him when she got off work, in about an hour. He’d become such a good customer, and they had kind of developed a friendship. Frankie liked the idea. Maybe this little layover wouldn’t be so bad.
The young liquor store cashier and Frankie ran around town, got him some clothes, and some beer and cigarettes. Frankie needed his Seconal, but they were in the truck. That was a minor concern. If the cops went through the tractor, they’d find his white crosses and reds—a minor drug charge, but this was South Carolina, 1982. He could end up on a chain gang.
They went back to the motel and Frankie got a room. He asked the girl, quite seriously, if she was over eighteen. She assured him she was twenty-one—a great reassurance.
The room was the standard sleazy motel in South Carolina. The guy at the front desk looked at Frankie out of the corner of his eye as he signed in. The office was so dank and dark Frankie thought he’d made it up. A small black-and-white TV now showed the local news, but he knew somehow, at some point during the day, it would be running soap operas. Really worn, old, ugly, cheap stained paneling surrounded him, mostly covered with pictures of people, mostly men, mostly old white men fishing. It seemed to Frankie that big fish really made old white men happy. The counter was greasy, and the carpet so stained that he actually worried something could crawl up his leg and bite him. He looked outside, through windows so dirty and stained that the world outside looked dismal and gray. Sadly, the world really was dismal and gray; the filthy windows just exaggerated it.
The room was better, but not much. Frankie and the girl sat down on the bed. Frankie poured some vodka into plastic cups, and he mixed the girl’s with orange juice. She leaned on his shoulder a bit, kind of getting comfortable. Frankie looked at her and leaned into to kiss her; he’d been interested in her since he first met her at the liquor store. He suddenly stopped. She was wearing a small cross around her neck. Somehow, suddenly, this small piece of jewelry stopped him in his tracks. He asked her about the cross; she said it was a gift from her mom, who was now dead. He asked her if she was a believer, a Christian. She said she did believe, very much and yes, she was a Christian.
Frankie asked her, “Then why are you here, getting drunk before you fuck me?”
His question shocked her and got her a little angry. “How can you ask that?”
Frankie replied he was not used to being with nice girls, girls of faith. He was more used to women like the now-dead Katrina: women who were a conduit to the other side, a darker place than he’d ever like her to see.
“I feel like I may pull a nice girl like you in with me, where I live, where I go—I don’t want to. I live in a place not unlike Hell. It’s gray and it always smells rancid. No one can be trusted. Everyone is always out to screw the next, but we are outlaws and we’ve learned to trust each other because we have no other choice. Those of us who throw off the trappings of religion and faith and dive into this underworld understand the thickness of thieves and outlaws.
“You know that girl who killed all those people? I was with her, been sleeping with her until just recently. I was broken when I met her, but she pulled me down to new depths, deep into the belly of evil and darkness. It happened quickly. You’d never know what happened. I come from evil; my grandfather is an angry ghost, my grandma a witch. She was not evil, more of a white witch, but she can touch that other side. I’ve sought that place all my life. I’m frightened and repulsed by you and your faith; I don’t know your God and I have no desire to know him. I take comfort in the darkness. That is where I live.
“When I meet someone like you, I become exposed to your light. It frightens me and confuses me. I don’t want to bring you to my world, but I cannot live in yours. People like me devour and destroy people like you. Our darkness and chaos scares you and confuses you and when you are weak and detracted, we’ll pull you in to be one of us. It does not matter the goodness in your soul. I’ve got no soul; I’m an evil spirit. My darkness and evil will wash out your goodness and you’ll become like me.
“When I was younger, a boy, I used to visit the goodness. I could visit the light and linger there a minute. I could go to the church with the old lady and pretend to understand the joy they all seemed to share. I could go home at night to be alone in the darkness and think about the people in the light, their songs, the strange-smelling smoke, and the strange words. But my comfort was in the darkness, always will be in the silent, chilling darkness. I used to have moments where I could miss the light, autumn days, and colorful trees; turkeys and parades and days of thanksgiving, the colors of Christmas—the pretty green trees, the pure white snow, red poinsettias, and those songs.
One day, I realized it was all a lie. It was an illusion. It lied to me and pulled me into another lie, a collective lie that people tell themselves to create the illusion. People like you, create the illusion with your friends and huddle together—to keep the reality that I live at bay. Darkness, evil, they are the reality. I am the reality. This world, this universe, is built to destroy. People like you are the things this world feeds on, that I feed on. You are beautiful and fresh and hopeful and alive. Please don’t stay with me. I can’t destroy another life.”
She stood up, buttoned the last open button on her blouse, and without saying a word, walked to the door and left. All Frankie could think about was how badly he needed a Seconal. He spent the next two days in the motel, quite drunk, not eating, just drinking and smoking Marlboros and watching daytime TV. He felt like he was exiled from the world and left to this dark, moldy, stinking little corner of Hell. He called the police a few times, trying to find when he could get back to his truck.
He made an uncomfortable trip to the liquor store, where the girl was polite but cold. He considered making small talk again but finally abandoned the idea. A very real part of him was happy he had acted the way he did. Frankie realized he could not carry many more stones. Spending this time alone and drunk was quite terrifying. The voices were back and it took more and more alcohol to silence them. He needed Seconal, but he wasn’t about to go out looking in a strange town, especially not in a strange town loaded with cops, where many of those cops considered him a murder suspect. Vodka, bum wine, and beer would have to do.
He thought of Katrina often. Even though she had been insane and deadly and toxic and he was sure she would have killed him, there was something very real in his attraction to her. Perhaps because she was one of the few left who was more broken than he was, kind of a comrade in arms. She was like a poisonous snake, not to be trusted, broken, but she made him feel less lonely. She helped keep the voices at bay. When he was with her, he felt less insane. Maybe it was simply by comparison. If one associates with seriously insane people, he does end up looking like the sane one, if he is, in fact, at least marginally less insane. He did ponder, though, how broken he must be if he had to stand near someone like her to feel whole. These were things that ran through Frankie’s mind, at 3:00 a.m., drunk on bum wine.
The demon he saw occasionally out of the corner of his eye was becoming very real. He often sat with Frankie, silent, yet demanding. Frankie started to wake up vomiting more often. He was pretty sure it wasn’t a bug, since it started in July and it was now well into September. The sickness seemed to please the demon. When the demon spoke, it was in a deep, hollow, gravelly voice. Every word seemed to end with a hiss. At first, he thought the demon was a relic from the acid, but it had been weeks since he last took microdot, yet the demon was still there, getting stronger and more prominent.
Frankie could see him, feel him, touch, smell him, and talk to him. He smelled foul and full of decay. At first they would talk in the darkness of the motel room, sitting among the garbage cans that overflowed with empty booze bottles, the unmade bed, the dirty clothes piled up high in the corner, and the ever-present TV blaring unwatchable noise. The demon seemed very at-home here. Whenever Frankie entertained any thought that could resemble good judgment or wisdom or self-control, the demon would turn his greasy, dark, scaly head and stare him down, call him a gutless pussy, and hand him a drink. The demon was less visible during the day, but at night he was in his full raging fury and glory.
Frankie would sit back and let the demon run everything. He assured Frankie that they were together for all eternity from here on in. Frankie shrugged this news off, seemingly not caring one way or the other. At the time, Frankie had no idea what the demon had in store for him. The demon wears us down; like water on a stone, it’s unnoticeable, imperceptible, just a perpetual abrasion. I remember looking at stones in a river one time, marveling at how smooth they were, and thinking that I could come back in ten years or a hundred years and the stone would look almost the same; the changes were there, but subtle, constant, relentless.
That’s how the demon takes over. It’s not a big event, or some epic shocking declaration; it’s slow and subtle and unperceivable. A person could never name the moment or day, or even the year he took ownership. It slowly happened over time. In all honesty, he owned that person from the first day, but he let the person think he was still in control.
Frankie lived with the illusion of control until this time in the motel, while he waited to be set free to go, waited for arrest, waited to die. After meeting Katrina, he knew things were no longer in his hands. It was an ordinary day, a reckoning. And again, it was not the day anyone said, “Demon, take control now.” It was just that day, that moment, when he no longer cared. When he realized he was incapable of any form of control, he simply surrendered the illusion and let someone, something else drive.
He stayed in the hotel three more days. Finally, a knock came on the door, from two cops and a detective. One cop was the same one who tried to help him the night of the killings. Frankie let them in and all three looked around the room in amazement, almost as if the state of the room itself might actually be a crime. There must have been a dozen empty vodka bottles on the floor. Empty Night Train, Mad Dog 20/20 bottles, bottles from all the top-shelf bum wines, and beer cans carpeted the room. Dirty clothes were strewn all over, almost hiding a lone empty pizza box. The one cop asked if he, in fact, had bothered to eat at all this week.
Frankie cleared off a spot on the bed and offered them a place to sit; they politely declined. The detective started to speak. “The investigation is winding down. We found a small amount of illegal substances and an illegal handgun in the sleeper of your truck. We found the same in the horror chamber. I’m sure you are going to say they were the girl’s, so we’ve taken them and marked them as evidence. You are free to go, but I really hope you plan to sober up before you get in that truck to drive.”
Frankie heard none of this. He looked at the demon sitting on the corner of the bed, stared in his eyes, and silently begged him to be quiet and go unnoticed. At one point, Frankie actually said aloud, “Please be fucking quiet until these guys leave.” The cops looked at each other but ignored the comment. They handed Frankie back his keys and turned and left. Now Frankie needed to get cleaned up, do some laundry, and get the hell out of this ugly little town.
He decided to spend one last night in the dirty, moldy room with the demon. Frankie laid in bed and thought about home. He missed everyone: Cora, the bar, Alexandrine. He missed Betty a little too. He thought about Pam and Billy. He wished he wasn’t such a train wreck. He wished he could go home, get a job in the factory, marry a nice girl, sit it Turf’s and get drunk every day and spend his days as fast as he could, like a fool and his money, and die a peaceful, meaningless death; just run out this story and be done with it. He tried to rest, but the demon wanted a drink. He drank. He drank the rest of the night. Thoughts of going home were replaced quickly by an unidentified fear. The fear was always there, right with him; the fear had been there longer than the demon.
He first met the demon at fourteen. He robbed a gas station, just him and Sammy messing around. Sammy stole a case of beer while Frankie pulled a fake gun on the guy at the cash register, who could not have cared less what they took. To Frankie and Sammy, it was the stuff of an epic heist. To the guy at the register, it didn’t matter; he got paid by the hour. They took the money and ran out of the store, screaming in victory. Frankie wanted to rob a liquor store. Sammy talked him out of it somewhat, but Frankie insisted. They walked to a small store, fairly isolated, where an old man sat behind a counter. The old man looked at Frankie and knew he wasn’t legal age. Frankie sensed he was going to be told to leave. He grabbed the first thing he could and ran out the door.
He met Sammy, who had waited outside, and they ran like hell down the street. Sammy said, “Let’s go see the duck,” and they ran off in that direction, heading to their favorite spot to hide out from the world, Hillside Cemetery. They opened the ancient, heavy, rusted, creaking steel gates, then closed the gates behind them, slowly and carefully, almost ceremoniously. Sammy firmly believed that was the only way to keep the spirits inside. He always opened and closed the gates with great intent and importance. Sammy always said the ghosts congregated by the gates, waiting for them to open so they could escape.
The cemetery was perfect. Huge old maple and oak trees lined the perimeter and continued way up on the hill. In the moonlight, the place looked truly haunted. The wind always felt colder in this place, especially as it blew in from the north. On this chilly autumn night, it blew dead leaves all around; swirling in circles and back and forth, the leaves made a frightening noise as they skittered across the gravel road that circled the headstones and the now dry grass, almost like cold and confused locusts. The young robbers made their way up the hill to sit and party with “The Duck,” a Mr. Royal H. Duck. Frankie found The Duck years ago on a day when he skipped school. The cops were looking for him, the school had reported him missing and he went there to hide.
He didn’t know about Sammy’s open and closed gate rule at the time. Frankie was sure he’d allowed a few ghosts to escape that day. He looked down at the headstone and read the name. He imagined how much crap the guy must have taken for that name and decided he needed to befriend him, alive or dead. Later that day after school, as soon as he saw him, he immediately told Sammy about his find. Frankie and Sammy spent their moments in need of escape: from parents, other gangs of kids who wanted to beat them up, cops, school officers—the list was quite long and impressive. Sitting with Royal, Frankie really believed Royal appreciated the company. That night, as he and Sammy got drunk on the stolen bottle of Scotch and beer, Frankie felt, for the first time, an awesome and surrounding peace.
The demon walked up to him that night. Silently; he walked right past Sammy and, without Frankie’s knowledge, wrapped his arms around the boy. Frankie would spend a lot of time and money and energy and years trying to get back to that magical moment. He never found it again. His life changed at exactly that moment. Everything that hurt or made no sense or confused or angered him disappeared that night, almost like magic. Frankie almost instinctively knew he had to be drunk, or somehow impaired, all day, every day, from that day forward. The demon smiled. In those early days, he took away all Frankie’s fears and judgment, all his inability to not measure up.
Frankie’s father had died young. His death helped to perpetuate the myth of the father, the legend that seemed to grow with each passing day, each passing story. Somehow a nice and decent guy was relegated to near sainthood.
Frankie was born a problem, a situation to deal with, an angry child who grew into an angry young man in a world where he could not reconcile his time or place. At the end of the day, he was just happy to have most of his activities and crimes go undetected. He spent his life, from early on, simply trying to live unnoticed, under everyone’s radar. He needed to be on the outside of every situation, an amused observer, never ever connected directly.
Life to Frankie was a confusing play that he watched in silence, always trying to figure out his next move, his next angle. His inability to never live up to the legend of the father caused him to come to an early and logical conclusion: if you cannot live up to the legend, take your own path in the opposite direction.
Frankie took a blood oath with Sammy that night, cut fingers joined at the slice and blood shared. He was going to be everything his father could not be, the dark angel the father often dreamed of being but was never allowed to explore. The demon smiled that night in the cemetery. Today, less than ten years later, in a hell-hole motel, drunk and dirty, sitting in a chair, probably infested with bedbugs, in three-day-old underwear, the alliance with the demon had lost some of its luster. A rare self-inventory: failed relationships, rapidly failing health, dwindling sanity, murders, a life on the run; these were sources of great joy to the demon and things Frankie fought hard to ignore. Tomorrow, he would clean up, eat something, pack up, and head south.
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