bag·man (băg’mәn) n., pl. –men (mĭn). 1. Slang.

dishonest official; a person who collects, carries, or distributes illegal payoff money.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bipolar Express, Chapter One

As promised, here's the first chapter of my SF/Pulp Noir BIPOLAR EXPRESS. Having realized nobody's going to read 80,000 words in a blog, I'll be giving everybody a chance to pick up a copy for their e-reader. Just doing one last edit, so you won't regret it.
Now welcome to the mind of Holt Dreivek. He's coming off a suicidal bender and falling into delirium. It's not nearly as much fun as it sounds.

Chapter 1
            I open my eyes.
Still alive. Wasn’t part of the plan.           
            I always hated mornings. Always some noise waking me up before I wanted to. Some responsibility to deal with. Pain in my feet. Ringing in my ears. I never liked birds waking me up. Their singing, it’s supposed to be all pretty and everything, but in truth it’s just them marking their territory. Like dogs pissing.
            Then there are the voices.
            I close my eyes in an effort to go to back to sleep. Make everything go away. It doesn’t.
            Not good. I’m in trouble.
            First rule is: Don’t move.
            Don’t move. If anybody’s really there—the voices—I don’t want them to know I’m here. I can’t see them. I never know who they are, or if they’re even really there. Hell, I don’t even know where I am.
It’s dark.
Dark but light breaks through in lines at the corners.
Hungry. I think. Until I smell the mildew and wet cardboard, and my stomach shrivels up around the inside of my spine.
            I’m not too wet. Must’ve made some effort to keep dry before I passed out. My eyes work. I have my glasses. Fingers? They hurt. That’s supposedly good. Where there’s pain there’s life and all that shit.
I must be full of life.
            Wish I wasn’t.
Tired. Tired of grasping. For life. Alcohol. Death. I’m tired. I Hurt.
Bad ringing in the ears. The high pitched whine, screaming head, split. Worse than usual, it subsides into the background, replaced by a constant hum. The constant hum, a musical drone—background noise for the oncoming delirium. The voices, music that follows you around. A choir, always hiding just out of view.
I used to turn around looking for them, like a chorus of angelic voiced demons was tailing me, singing my life’s psychotic soundtrack. Industrial wave meets wall of sound production. Radiators leaked voices instead of steam—telling me what to do but giving me no hope of ever doing it. And every time I turned around to spot them, they’d duck and hide behind the corners, just missing my stare. But I’d still hear them. Just out of sight. Singing.
            I need a drink. Or a hospital. Or both.
An unconscious part of me knows the hospital’s closed. I might stay crazy.
            I don’t want a drink. I need a drink.
            I lay there. Try to sleep. Don’t move. Pray for death.
            How long have I been here? Where’s here? Maybe the voices know.
            “If they’re there…” I tell myself again. Yeah, great, “If what I think I sense turns out to be real…”
            For the sake of argument, let’s say the voices are real. I’m real. And it’s really fucking cold.
Underneath me, it’s numb. Hard and colder. Concrete, with some musty carpet on top. Between me and that? Plastic. One of those plastic tarps or dropcloths. For me it’s a blanket. I’d wrapped the inside of a box with some dumpster scraps, and pulled it inside…what? A garage?
Face down in the corner. Guess I’d been damn near functional.
            Say they’re real. Don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t move. Try to stay out of your head. Life has a point. Life has a purpose. All those people, toiling, dying, plowing, slaving, bleeding. One family, entire generations never living past thirty, pushing rocks across some god forbidden plot of land for a thousand years.
Then dying. There’s a reason. Life has a purpose. Stay out of your head. All those people. All that pain. Don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t move. All the pain…
            Did I sleep? All pretty much the same.
            How long? The voices. Are they real?
            The tale of someone’s life begins before they’re born.
            Being born.
Inventory first. I’m in a box. Next to a brick wall. In a corner. Head facing west, I think (‘think,’ ha ha, that’s funny).
Last thing, I remember? The cardboard box.
I wrapped myself in a tarp. Or garbage bags. Inside a box. Under some snow. Big goose-down jacket from my other life. Long underwear. Fuzzy Russian hat, flaps on the side. Leather gloves. Stretch the stiff fingers. Gloves—warm, but not so stuffed you can’t use the fingers.
            Try to remember.
The last time I left my lovely little packing crate. The snow had built up outside. I stayed under the ledge of the stairs. Cast iron. The stairs ran up to the back of a closed apartment complex. Using the stairs as a shelter. So the top of my box wouldn’t cave in.
Snow. Flurries. Flurries weighed the box down, packed me under the thing. When I got out, I had an igloo.
            I must have pulled the box inside…? Not a garage. An apartment! This apartment, it was empty. The last thing I remember…?
There was booze in the fridge, or in the cabinet. My little plastic and cardboard house falls apart behind me.
Always remembered the booze. Not that I know exactly where it is, but I remember it’s there.
Damnit. Just a little just a little just a drop. Tongue twists down the neck of the bottle. Last drop.
Not enough burn.
I’ve got the shakes. Bad.
There are some chips and canned stuff in the cabinet. I think I looted a store. Everybody was.
I should eat. But I won’t. Not yet.
            I can still hear people talking outside the window (if words mean anything). I could poke my head out. And if the people I think are there, are there? I may have a chance to see them before they see me. And kick the shit out of me.
            On the other hand, if I can safely search the area and don’t see anybody—but still hear the sounds—I can assume I’m going through withdrawal and the sounds are just aural hallucinations.
Or, Christmas carolers spying through the snow in camo-gear are calling me names, taunting me with every shameful secret. My every failure. Every bad relationship. Somehow they found out. And they’ll be blasting every embarrassing detail of my life. Out of this awe-inspiring sound system (that I won’t be able to see either) for the whole neighborhood to hear.
I remember when that happened before (or didn’t). I actually called the cops and told them somebody was driving around the neighborhood in one of those election-type radio-station vans with the big megaphone on top—even though I hadn’t seen it, I just knew that was what they were using (never mind that nobody’s used that kind of truck in a century)—broadcasting songs and making fun of me for the whole neighborhood to hear. The 911 operator was polite. Or just maybe confused enough, to tell me they’d get right on it and see what they could do.
I kept hearing that shit for two days. Finally—on the third day—I was convinced they were broadcasting at my apartment. Trying to blast me out with noise. UN/ ATF/ torture tactics. It never occurred to me that the people I knew were watching me—the ones telling everybody about me—would have to be able to fly to see inside the apartment since I lived on the third floor. Even after I reasoned that out, I still ran from window to window trying to see if one of them (the ones out to get me) had found a tree tall enough, or had maybe mounted a scaffold by one of the windows, so they could peek in when I wasn’t looking.
            When you explain to somebody else what went on during a psychotic episode, it’s usually pretty funny. But when you’re the one that has that perception…
Well it’s real. That’s why the shrinks have you write it out if they think you’re delusional—they hope you’ll figure it out for yourself.
             I keep telling myself what’s happening right now as it happens. Kind of thinking out loud in an effort to notice if something doesn’t sound quite right. Hard to do when everything feels wrong. But if it sounds wrong, maybe I’ll notice and realize I’m delirious. Pretty reasonable for a crazy guy, huh?
            On the other hand I may never notice it and end up like one of those poor, frozen, homeless slobs on the corner. Talking to myself for the rest of my life. The upside? I don’t think those guys live too long.
            Cold water down my neck. Mixes with salt. Dry sweat. Makes something sticky. Either that or the cold sweats again. I should be out of sweat.
I try the door. The weight of the snow, wedged against the outside, blocks it. Substantial.
            Don’t shake. Don’t shake…panic…
            Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! I wish I was dead! Cold. Real cold. But I won’t shake. Scared. But I don’t.
For a while.
It’s that D.T.’s delirium-fear-panic. And I know it, but I’m shaking. Stop.
Don’t give in to your brain. It’s part of the disease. Hold out. Don’t give in. Listen.
            Muffled words leak through the frost and windows along with condensation, drops of water. Muffled words, but not the phaser, electronic muddle—the trademark of the D.T. soundtrack. Nothing clear. These words. Could be. I listen.
            “Wesley, my man, you are a god.” Sarcastic but caring. Not mean.
            “Whoo!” The answer. Statement, not a question. Not like ‘Who.’
            “Open night, dude. No rules. Tonight we party like kings of old. Ceasar, Midas, Ozymandias, king of kings—”
            Ozymandius? I remember. I liked that poem. Way back before. Whoever’s talking is educated. Better read than most. Around here at least. At least the ones I meet (if they’re real).
            “—not knowing what the future brings, because now is always, and then we’ll figure out what to do.” Huh?
            And then the sound of breaking glass.
            “Whoooo!” Loud and happy.
            Two drunks.
Okay, so one of them’s an English Lit major but it’s two happy drunks. And if they’re happy they have to… Well, they have to be morons, don’t they?
Happy don’t last too long out here. Happy gets taken advantage of. Unless they’re complete psychopaths themselves. If they are—going out and talking to them wouldn’t be too cool an idea.
The sound of breaking glass again, and I pray they’re just drunk, busting bottles, because maybe they’ll just wander off or pass out and if they pass out, maybe I can get some liquor off them. Ward off the D.T.’s. Steal it while they sleep. Or maybe they’ll offer me some. Then the whole maniac-psychopath thing crosses my mind again, and I can just picture them torturing me for laughs.
Fuck that.
Or maybe they aren’t there at all. I’ve had the D.T.’s before. Seen and heard everything—full blown psychosis. Hallucinations. Delusions. Hospitals. Drugs. Restraints. Everything.
What’s real?
I fall back down on the floor. I still don’t remember coming inside. I want to cry, but I can’t.
“God?” Pray for death. The last freedom. Peace.
            Then I notice the choir music again, kind of humming in the background.
            Great. The D.T.’s.
Did I mention I used to walk around thinking these people were following me, singing? One time, way back when, I actually thought going crazy would bring me peace. You know, like the guys you see in old media? In a straitjacket, sitting in the corner, laughing deliriously.
            In real life I can feel the spinal fluid pressing up into the back of my brain.
And I can’t breathe.
            I wake up. Or I’m still dreaming.
It’s that dream where I wake up and everything else has been a dream. My wife’s still alive and not rotting from the cancer, but she’s had to go to work, and I’m alone. But I still suspect I’m dreaming, so I go to the window shade to open it and make sure I’m not.
When I flip back the shade. There’s Hell. You know, gray, dead soil. Black skies, except for fires off in distant, blacker mountains. The smell of decaying flesh—that sweet, unforgettable stank. Dank. Air you couldn’t burn the mold out of. Gray. Hooded, formless figures, dragging wooden bring-out-your-dead carts of hopeless knows what; the wheels not working but grinding the ground up like a cadaver. Instinct. Extinct. Hate. Fear. Lust. Violence. Random.  More fear. And then you realize you’re dreaming, and that you’re a part—the designer—of all this. More fear.
            Back on earth. I push through the door, away from the wall, screaming. And feel the ice cutting under my fingernails, tearing them to the quick. Then I remember I have gloves on. I can’t breathe. My brick wall finally opens up. I walk into the ice and snow. My igloo outside the door.
The frosty walls close in. I push my way out. Ice and snow collapse. I’m buried in an avalanche. A wall.
Maybe this gang, these people, will kill me. Maybe my mind will. Buried in the snow. I try not breathing. Hoping I die. It doesn’t work. Never does.
Pushing back against brick, I break through the snowdrift.
            Scuttle out of my tomb, scattering ice, frost, and somebody’s blood. Scrabble on the ground, like crawling in epileptic seizures. I rattle away from the wall. Part of a trash bag still clings to my head. A screaming monk in his green plastic hood, writhing on busted glass, alley concrete.
Scared. But crazy past scared.
Nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose, I tell myself. Nothing more pathetic either.
            “Holt, is that you?”
That voice. I know that voice. Part of my past.
Hey, I know these guys.
Somehow, I stand up. And stand up straight.
I look a two-man hallucination in the face.
And I pass out.




  1. And we're off! I've been looking forward to this and I'm liking the vibe. Carry on, sir!

  2. Holy crap, this is scary stuff! This is quite a "punch in the face." Very powerful writing. I came close to this ages ago, and how I didn't go all the way is a wonder, and now I really thank God I didn't go there. This is damn compelling, Chris. I will read more, definitely. It's grim, but it's real. There's pain in the writing, a feeling of despair, and yet there's a glimmer of hope. I agree with Bob . . . carry on, indeed!

  3. Thanks gang. Now it gets weird.