Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bad Accident

I took a little drink and I'm feelin' right
I can fly right over everything, everything in sight
There's a slow-poking cat I'm gonna pass him on the right
Transfusion, transfusion
I'm a real gone paleface and that's no illusion
I'm never never never gonna speed again
Pass the claret to me, Barrett
                                                                                                                -- Nervous Norvus, Transfusion

Part I
After spending nearly three months at the Evergreen Hospital Detoxification Center in Grossknot, Connecticut, Louis Driscoll was finally driving home. The temptation to drink no longer smoldered inside him (mainly due to the wonderful medication they had him on) and he was eager (and a little afraid?) to begin the long process of rebuilding his shattered life. Nightmares of the accident had finally, thankfully ceased and Louis felt stronger and more confident than he had in many lost, booze-drenched years...

     The weeks spent at the hospital had been hard. The long nights of despair and suicidal hopelessness had threatened the foundation of his sanity. He relived the accident over and over in his mind (the screams, the sound of shattering glass, the smell of gasoline). The guilt and remorse made him feel as if he were being crushed to death. He suffered seizures, hyperventilated into collapse during panic attacks and woke up screaming with night terrors.

     But eventually (again, thanks largely to medication) things began to clear and lift for Louis. He'd escaped the burning conflagration his mind had ignited. Now he was driving home.      But to what?

     He still had three hours or so before he reached Vermont. He knew his return would be a lonely one. Linda had taken the kids and fled to California. Louis couldn’t blame her but the loss still felt like a deep wound in his chest.

     Louis crossed the Vermont border by late afternoon. His old sidekick, Depression, began to ride along with him. Being back in Vermont reminded him with bitter clarity of the life he’d had there and the tragedy that had occurred. Louis shook his head, trying to keep himself awake and focused on the road. He turned off the highway and started down a smooth narrow street that unspooled through a dense pine forest. When he came to a three-way fork, he struggled to remember the correct route. Unsure, he made a left turn.

     Louis had gone almost a mile when the road began to deteriorate, becoming pitted with potholes and loose stones. He slowed, searching for familiar landmarks. He found none. His memory had been too badly corroded by alcohol.

     The woods around him were thick and dark and the farther he drove the more decayed the pavement became.

     He began to grow hot and anxious and popped a Valium. This was wrong. Taking that left had been a mistake. He decided he’d turn around at the next accommodating soft shoulder.

     But when the condition of the road began to improve, he   shrugged. Oh well. Might as well keep going, he thought to himself. He accelerated, getting his speed up to almost 50. Veering to the right, he rounded a slight bend, cool air drying the sweat from his forehead. He didn’t see the small brown dog until it was too late.

     He felt a soft thud as its helpless body smacked the front bumper.

     “Oh fuck!”

     He screeched to a stop sucked in a long, tense breath, and then lunged from the car, wide eyes searching for the felled animal. He noticed a slow rivulet of blood trickling out from under the car. “Oh, God.” Louis cupped a hand to his mouth.

     Calm down calm down. It’s a dog, not a kid. Just a dog...

     He stooped and looked under the car. The dog was dead. Its neck had snapped. A bone protruded from just under its jaw. The flow of blood was leaking from the dog’s open mouth. Its pink tongue, looking impossibly long, lay on the pavement like a spent streamer.

     Louis straightened. He was sure his face had drained to a bloodless pallor. He walked, dazed, to the back of the car and opened the trunk. He removed an old wool blanket. Then he crouched by the car and grasped one of the dog’s front paws, holding his breath as he pulled the bloodied remains out from under the car.

     Moving with haste, Louis wrapped the dog in the blanket and placed it in the trunk. His hands were shaking. God, he wanted a drink. Just one goddamn drink.

     He started the car, got it moving again.

     He pulled over at the first house he came to - a large colonial that had seen better days. Long years of weather and neglect had reduced the brown paint to confetti-sized flakes. The windows were boarded up. The front yard was an overgrown field of weeds: cattails, goldenrod, thorny bushes and tall, heavy-headed mutant dandelions. Louis doubted anyone lived there. He picked up the wrapped dog and lurched across the yard anyway.

     He knocked on the warped, weather-beaten door, hoping now that no one was home. He shifted nervously from foot to foot, waiting. The weight of the dog seemed to grow heavier with each long second. Just as he was about to give up and turn back, he heard footsteps approaching. For one irrational second, Louis considered dropping the dog on the doorstep like an anonymous gift and running. He threw that idea away quickly.

     The door opened with a long shriek of rusted hinges on rotted wood.

     A pale, very old face appeared from behind the door, squinting at the sunlight. “Yes?” the old woman said. “What is it?”

     Louis tried to pull his thoughts together. His brain felt anesthetized. “Sorry to bother you, ma’am. Uh, there’s been an accident...”

     “Accident?” Her voice was as thin and tight as a violin string.

     “Yes, ma’am. A dog got hit by a car,” Louis said, keeping himself out of the equation. “Is it yours?”

     The old woman blinked and looked at the grisly package Louis held. Then she looked up at him, offered a toothless smile and said, “Come in. Please.”

     Louis followed her inside.

     The house was dark and Louis was blind upon entering. The old woman led him down a short hallway. When his vision returned he was quietly amazed by what he saw. The place was packed with antiques, old furniture, stacks of newspapers and junk and books and knickknacks and Louis didn’t know anything about antiques but guessed that the house contained a small fortune. The old woman led him into a large living room and sat down. She nodded to Louis and made a down-waving motion with her hands. “Sit.”

     Ah shit, what a mistake. The urge to flee hit him again. “Uh, I can’t stay really, and um,” He lifted the dog toward her as if to say, What do you want me to do with this?

     “Put the dog down and sit.” Her voice was old but commanding.

     Louis placed the dog on the floor, noting with mute disgust that blood had seeped through the blanket and stained the front of his shirt.

     The old woman smiled at him. Louis forced a return smile and then sat in the rocking chair opposite her. She looked at him for a quiet while and then said, “Can I get you something? A drink perhaps?”

     “N-no thank you. As I said, I can’t stay. About the dog, I’m really sorry. I didn’t even see it until it was too...”

     She cut off his confession. “Never mind the dog. I can have it buried. I am not alone here.”

     As if to confirm her statement, something thudded from upstairs.

     Louis stood up. “Great! Well, okay. I uh, guess I’ll be going then. Thank you very much.”

     “Please sit down,” she told him.

     Louis sat back down, resigned to his fate.

     The sound of trotting sneakers and a young girl bounded into the room. Louis smiled and stood up.

     She was beautiful. Her hair was black as ebony, pulled back in a loose, messy ponytail. She wore blue jeans with holes in the knees and a faded flannel shirt. House-chore clothes.

     The old woman said, “This is my granddaughter, Leila.”

     Leila smiled shyly and extended her hand. Louis took it. It was warm. “Nice to meet you, Leila. My name’s Louis.”

     The old woman said, “Leila can’t talk. She’s mute.”

     Louis was about to say something (what, he didn’t know) but before he could speak, Leila darted from the room as if frightened.

     Louis turned to the old woman. She grinned at him. They’re crazy, he thought. He felt a dizzy spell coming on. He almost felt drunk. Something thudded again upstairs. A fat orange cat with matted fur slinked into the room. It approached the blanket-shrouded dog, sniffed it, and then began to lick at the drying blood.

     New panic started to thrum within him. “I h-have to go, ma’am. I-I really have to go,” Louis stammered, searching for words. He felt dizzy and sick. “And I’m really sorry about your dog. There was really nothing I could do.”

     The old woman rose shakily to her feet. “Well, if you insist. Come by and visit us again if you’ve a mind to, we love company. And don’t feel bad about the dog. It isn’t even ours.” She smiled, showing slick, red gums.

     Louis ran from the house with his pulse pounding in his ears.

     He scrambled across the field and back to his car. Soon he was jolting and bouncing over potholes and rocks and then he was back at the fork. This time he followed the middle road, reaching his hometown shortly before dusk.

Part II

That night, Louis sat in the living room of his house. Without Linda and the kids the house felt lonely and dead. The odd, traumatizing events of the day began to dissipate but he couldn’t escape the feelings of despair and dread that sat on his heart.

     He turned on the television for distraction, absently flipping channels. His mouth felt dry and tasted like poison. He wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water. Looking for a glass, he opened the cupboard over the stove and almost fainted at what he saw.

     Two unopened bottles of Canadian Regal whiskey stared down at him.

     “Damn her,” he muttered.

     He closed the cabinet and ran a shaking hand through his hair. “I am NOT going to drink!” he told himself.

     By ten o’clock he was blind drunk.

Part III

Louis Driscoll sat slumped in his chair, barely able to keep his blurred gaze focused on the TV. He felt bad. And alone. He tried to think of someone he could call, a friend from the past but there was no one. His turbulent, destructive drinking had destroyed his friendships and his family. Lost every goddamn friend he’d had.

     A voice, as thin as a stem whispered, Come by and visit us again if you’ve a mind to. We love company...

     He smiled. “Yeah, sure lady. I’ll do that real soon.” He was about to laugh but stopped when he remembered the girl. Leila.

     He tried to picture her. All he remembered was that she was beautiful.

     He drank another few gulps of whiskey, tensing as it blazed down his throat, forcing his protesting stomach to hold it down.

     That was the last thing he’d remember about that night.

        Part IV    

Louis woke up with a head full of nails. His mouth tasted like he’d been sucking on a mothball like a lozenge. “Ooooomigod...” he groaned.

     After three months of sobriety, Louis found himself dealing with a record-breaking hangover. He kept his eyes shut. His body ached; his hair felt wet and sticky. Puked on myself, he thought. Right back where I started...

     He opened his eyes and the world slowly chrystalized.

     He was not at home.

     What the fuck...

     He realized with a shock that he was lying on the floor of the ramshackle house of the old woman.

     “Well, it’s about time you got up, sleepyhead.”

     Louis squinted in the direction of the voice. The old woman was standing over him, smiling. Louis rubbed his temples. This is crazy. This is absolutely nuts.

     “How did I get here?” he asked.

     “Don’t you remember?”


     “You did seem a little tipsy last night.”

     Tipsy? “Yeah, a little.” His head throbbed. Jesus, he’d had lots of blackouts in his day but this was too much. This was ridiculous.

     “I was delighted you decided to call on Leila.”

     “Call on Leila?” Oh no...

     “Yes. Don’t tell me you don’t remember.”

     Louis sat up and shrugged. “I’m sorry.”

     The old woman scowled at him. “Don’t you dare let on to Leila that you don’t remember last night! I mean it! It would break her dear heart!”

     As if on cue, Leila entered the room. She waved to Louis, sending him a frost-melting smile. Louis stood up on shaky legs and waved back.

     “I’ll leave you two young people alone.” The old woman left the room.

     Louis felt strange. His vision kept falling in and out of focus. None of this make sense.

     Leila moved toward him, still smiling.

   Even with this Godzilla of a hangover, Louis found her beauty astounding. Her eyes were dark and clear and seemed to stare straight into him. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. Louis hugged her back, his mind racing. How the hell was he going to extricate himself from this drunken mess?

     The sound of heavy clumping footsteps approached. Leila broke the embrace, kissed him softly on the lips and ran from the room.

     Louis’s legs were weak but he managed to remain standing, waiting to confront whatever was coming.

     A huge man entered the room. He was at least seven feet tall and five-hundred pounds. His filthy, unshaven face looked dimly at Louis. Louis returned a nervous smile. The man held a shovel caked with moist, red clay. “I jes’ buried yer dog, mister,” he said.

     Louis stood dumbfounded.

     The giant dropped the shovel to the floor as if to demonstrate that the chore had indeed been done.

     “Thank you,” Louis said, because what else?

     “Oh, sure,” said the man, wiping his nose with his sleeve.

     Louis looked into the man’s black, pitted eyes for a second and then the giant turned and plodded away.

     Louis exhaled and thought, I have to get the hell out of here.

     The old woman returned holding a steaming teacup. “I brought you some tea,” she said. “I thought it might perk you up.”

     Louis took the cup gratefully. It was hot but he drank it in two quick sips, trying to erase the taste of fetid hangover from his mouth.

     “Set down a while, Louis. You look dead on your feet.”

     “Thank you.” Louis turned and dropped into a rocking chair. He felt strengthened by the tea. He closed his eyes. “You know my name, ma’am, but I don’t know your...” He opened them again.

     The old woman was gone. Leila returned to the room. He stood up, wondering what had happened between them last night. The panic he’d felt before, and the urge to flee, were gone, replaced with curiosity and something else.

     Leila leaned into him and their mouths met softly. Louis did not back away. He opened his mouth a little and found her receptive to his tongue. He kissed her deeply.

     But something was not right. Something felt really, really wrong...

     Oh. Wait...No...  

     He realized she had no tongue. He felt nothing but a stringy stump of flesh. He tore himself away and stared at her startled face. “What’s wrong with you?” he said. He could feel her saliva drying on his lips and felt shamefully disgusted.

     Leila began to stammer wordlessly, her face contorted with an expression of sudden loss. She burst into tears and ran from the room. Louis felt shatterbrained. This wasn’t a house; it was a lunatic asylum!

     He was about to bolt from the room when the old woman and the giant man reappeared. “So, Mr. Driscoll, you’ve discovered Leila’s little secret.” The old woman seemed gleeful. The giant man stared dumbly ahead.

     “What’s wrong with her?” Louis asked.

     Something thudded from upstairs again. The old woman said, “Leila belongs to us.”

     “What do you mean belongs to you?”

    “Yes, belongs. As in we own her. And we were forced to cut her tongue from her head. She must remain silent. That’s important.” She shook her head. “I can see by your face that you don’t understand. Don’t worry. You will.”

     Louis’s head began to pound like a machine. “Jesus...”

     The upstairs thud landed again and the old woman looked up and yelled, “Shut up Isaac! You old fool!”

     Louis lurched for the doorway, shoving the old woman aside. The giant man blocked him. He grabbed Louis by the throat and threw him to the floor. “Cain’t leave till Grandma says so,” he said.

     “And he won’t be leaving, Jacob,” said the old woman, climbing back into a standing position. “He’s staying with us from now on.”

     Louis grabbed the heavy iron shovel from the floor and before Jacob could react, Louis smashed it into the side of his head. Jacob fell to the floor with a heavy, lumbering thump.

     Louis dropped the shovel and raced deeper into the house. It seemed much larger now. Surprised rats scampered out of his path.

     He found Leila crouched in a corner, sobbing. He squatted beside her. “Leila, come on. Now’s your chance!”

     Leila turned her red, tearstained face to him. All she could do was shake her head, No.

     Louis heard Jacob’s heavy boots thundering down the hall. He kissed Leila and ran from the room.

     He fled down another hall, through a dust-covered dining room set for a lavish meal never served. This part of the house was dark and Louis had to strain to see. When he finally reached the front door, he pulled it open and sprinted into the blinding sunlight of the overgrown yard.

     As he ran toward the road he could hear the old woman shouting behind him. Louis could barely breathe; his laboring lungs crackled with fluid. He stopped dead in his tracks, trying to comprehend the insanity in front of him.

     His car was completely demolished, crashed against an oak tree. The front end was crumpled into the shattered windshield. Spatters of blood had splashed across the torn metal and glass.

     What the fuck happened?

     Sudden memory hit him like an attack. He brought a shaking hand to his head. His hair was pasted to his scalp in a grisly shampoo of blood. His fingertips grazed a hole in his skull.

     God, am I dying?

     He collapsed into the bushes.

     When consciousness returned, Louis found himself, not surprisingly, back in the old woman’s house. He’d been propped up in a dust-ruffled easy chair.

     He realized his pain had vanished. He no longer felt sick.

     He no longer felt afraid.

     Other people had gathered around him. The old woman, Jacob and Leila - her face red and wet with fresh sorrow – were joined by seven or eight others.

     Words spilling naturally, Louis asked the only question important to him, “Am I dead?”

     This provoked a polite round of laughter from the group.

     A thin man dressed in Victorian clothes said, “I suppose you could call it that. Although real death, glorious God’s death has eluded us. And you.”

     “What are we? Are we ghosts, then?”

     More laughter. “Who knows? All we know is that Leila over there is different from us. She has substance and – for lack of a preferable word – a soul. She’ll join as soon as she dies.”

     “But we have to keep her quiet until then,” said a rat-like man with manic, yellow eyes.

     “Welcome to the family,” said the old woman.

     Just then, the small brown dog Louis had killed walked into the room. It licked Louis’s hand with a cold tongue and whined. Louis scratched it behind the ears. Its head wobbled on its broken neck.

      Louis smiled. He felt good. Warm. Like he had finally arrived home.

     The group noticed his improved mood and began to laugh and chat. The room relaxed.

     Louis looked at Leila. She looked so sad.

     A thin man with a long gray beard strolled into the room. “Hey everybody! Looks like I’m missing the party!” And with that, his head rolled from his neck and thumped to the floor. A glistening white bone protruded from the raw red meat of his neck.

     “Isaac, will you keep that damn thing on!” the old woman scolded him.

     As Isaac’s headless body searched blindly for its head, everyone in the room laughed.

     Louis’s was the loudest laugh of all.

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