END OF THE LINE
excerpt from the Road to Astroworld
Pete had driven for miles in the same circle. His eyes burned like fire. He hadn’t slept. The cops were after him. He was like a rat in a maze. He needed to steal a car. He needed to eat. He needed to shit. But first he needed to ditch this piece of shit car. Stealing license plates was only going to take him so far. The radio kept spitting out the make and model and color of his car. 1976 Lincoln Continental Dark blue. License Plate number FGH 775. Right car wrong plates. It was an old Lincoln—a hand me down from his family’s Mortuary business which his Brother was running. It’s blue-black shell blended into the night. However, the morning sun was going to rise soon. A rat needed a place to lay low in daylight hours. Pete avoided lighted avenues and boulevards and drove down dark rutted roads. He wasn’t sure where he was going. Where could a hunted man go, he wondered? He saw scenes from the TV show Wild Kingdom and Pete imagined himself as an ape running with the hot gaping jaws of lions right behind him. He laughed at the thought of the ape’s blue and red ass. For a moment he had the crazy notion to paint his ass and run down the street naked. A helicopter buzzed over Pete’s car. Sweat dotted his forehead. He was a hunted man and delirious with fear. He peeped through his windshield like a man peering through a dirty pool of water. The helicopter buzzed away. Pete sighed. He pushed a button and the radio lit up. The news announced that the Leaky Eye had been identified as a forty-four year old Metro bus driver named Pete Chesterfield suspected in dozens of attacks on women. Button after button spat his name or something about his crime. He had attacked a little girl on his bus. He killed a young cheerleader in his home. He may be armed and is considered dangerous. Armed with what Pete wondered--a tire iron in the trunk?
A peculiar chill ran down his spine as he heard his name called over and over. “I’m famous,” he said to himself before red flashing lights ahead made him veer right down a dark street. He stopped and looked at the radio as it chattered about him, cut away to a song, and in a sultry voice extolled the pleasures of drinking Malt Liquor. He hit another button and there was another announcer speaking Spanish and through the chatter his name “Pete Chesterfield” oozed over the airwaves as if the announcer was singing it. Pete started his car as mournful Spanish guitars strummed. Up ahead a little whitish dog was in the street. Pete hated dogs. Even being a hunted man didn’t mute his rage of seeing a stray dog and wanting to kill it. Pete gunned the motor of his car. There was a terrible yelping and then a scream. Pete stopped and got out. He walked back and looked at the tangle of white fur and blood lying in the street. It reminded him of a body his Uncle had wrenched from a wrecked car. The body soot colored, had only part of a nose on what was left of its face and its brains seeped through a head of nappy hair.
“Look at it, boy. Death is an ugly son of a bitch,” his Uncle had hollered.
“Look at death,” Pete said looking down at the mess of animal. He didn’t notice her at first but a soft whimper caught his ear. He looked up and a white woman with short blond hair was crying on the sidewalk. An empty leash hung by her side. The chain twinkled under the moonlight. Her yellow housecoat bunched around her neck. Her knees stuck out like small yellowish potatoes. Pete’s eye itched and he stepped toward the woman working his mouth as if he was an actor in a silent movie. She stared at Pete. Her eyes sparkled with fear and rage. They looked like blue sapphires. She stood perfectly still as if she had been turned to a statue. Far off a siren wailed. The heat from the woman’s body warmed Pete’s face. The siren grew louder.
“You lucky bitch,” Pete said as he turned and trotted to his car. “You know I’m famous don’t you?” Pete shouted back at her as he slammed his door.
Pete found himself easing past a patch of weeds near the Bus Barn. He killed his headlights. From the distance he spied some of his fellow bus Drivers standing under bright fluorescent lights. In their whites shirts and black pants, the resembled large moths. Empty buses stood like large patient animals waiting to be told what to do. One bus was parked away from the others. It stood alone as if being punished. Plastic yellow tape draped across the bus’ front door as if it had won a prize ribbon. Pete knew it was police tape. He saw police cars parked next to the big opened door of the depot. He knew they had scoured the bus for evidence. He drove on past. All of the roads he took were dark and unfamiliar. His car’s lights dimmed as he drove. The motor in the old Lincoln was giving out. In a moment, the motor sputtered and the car stopped. He turned the key. The car lurched a couple of feet before it finally died. Pete looked at the dash. The temperature needle rose high above the H mark.
“End of the road, nigger,” Pete said to himself. He got out of the car and found himself walking in a ditch. Steel girders rose in the distance and some swayed. Pete wondered if he was near the docks. If he was, he could slip onto a boat that was sailing to Jamaica or better yet, Africa. He stilled his breathing and listened for water lapping and ship horns. All he heard was silence interrupted by a frog croaking. He crouched low in a ditch. It felt like he was in a grave. He got down on all fours and crawled away from his car. He crawled toward the steel girders. His hands and knees sunk in gooey mud. His eyes blazed with heat and he could barely see. He thought of the story of Christ healing the blind man by making a mud paste and rubbing it all over his eyes. Would cool sticky mud heal his eyes? And would that balm heal his heart? Pete grabbed fistfuls of mud and smacked his eyes. The mud was cool. He sat still and the cool mud seemed to help. He found a puddle of muddy water and washed his eyes. The stinging and burning was gone. He blinked three times at the moon.
He leaned back into the soft earth. The road rose high in front of him. Pete sat for a long time. He wondered if there was some switch somewhere in the world that could turn off daylight and allow him to lie in the ditch forever—lie in the cool earth with his new eyes. He took off his clothes and rolled himself in the soft dirt. Anyone passing would have mistaken him for a bear rolling and scratching his back. A siren wailed off in the distance. He sighed, closed his eyes, and then opened them. When he opened the sky was purple as if dawn was about to break. He caught sight of the top of a huge silver and blue wheel across the road. Seats were suspended from the wheel. Pete looked at the Ferris wheel. It occurred to him that he had never ridden a Ferris wheel. No one had ever taken him to a circus or a carnival. As he was thinking this, he heard car doors slam far away. He peeped up out of the ditch and saw a swarm of policemen around his car. Their lights shined through his car. It glowed like the hollow carcass of a beast. Soon those lights would be shining all over his nakedness—soaking into his back, his thighs, and deep into his eyes heating up the deep pools of water that ran from them. Pete scooped out a large hole with his hands and buried his white shirt. He spied a culvert pipe that ran under the road from the ditch to the carnival graveyard on the other side. Pete put back on his pants and crept through the pipe. When he climbed out of the hole, he was on the grounds of the abandoned park. A Ferris wheel rose above him. Parts of it had fallen off and its steel girders littered the ground like bones. What was left looked like a half-moon on a stick.
He cocked his head and listened to hounds baying. He reached up and caught hold of an iron bar. He pulled himself up, and his feet found their way from girder to girder. A few seats were still left on the wheel. Pete settled in the highest seat beyond the reach of spotlights. From his perch he could see the lights from the police cars flashing red and blue. A pack of dogs strained at a chain as they sniffed around his car. He saw them licking the front bumper and a man jerk them away. Someone bent toward the car with a flashlight. Pete guessed the dog had found the blood of the mongrel he had run over. A helicopter hovered over the policemen’s heads. Its searchlight blazed a washtub-sized light toward the ditch. Soon the men were following the dog’s noses. Pete knew that in a matter of time the dogs would be clawing at his shirt. He stood and tested the beams that held the gondola. A fat one would need too much of the belt. One too small and weak might snap and send him tumbling onto the sharp rusty spikes below. He looked up and saw what looked like the end of an alligator’s tail. He reached up and grabbed the pipe. It was ridged with tiny spikes. The end of it was bolted to a larger beam with four screws with heads the size of a big toe. Pete took off his belt. In the distance he saw the cops waving something that looked like a white fag. They had found his shirt. The dogs had a fresh scent. The helicopter buzzed louder. The light’s beam danced over the abandoned rollercoaster tracks turning them into gold and brass bars like coffin handles. He knew it was only a matter of minutes before the light found him stuck amongst the beams like an insect. He took off his belt. Attached to the belt was the silver hole-punch used for punching the destinations on transfer tickets. He shoved it in his pocket. The belt was new and the scent of fresh leather hit his nostrils. It would hold tight and not snap. Pete sniffed at it for a moment before he looped the buckle end around his neck. He tied the other end around the beam. Because the belt was new he struggled with the knot. When it was secured, he looked down at his feet. He hadn’t paid any attention to the seat, but now he saw how wide it was. He jumped and leaped forward, but could not get his heels past the edge of the seat. He felt the heat of the lamp sweep across his face. Again he jumped and bucked. He raised one foot off the seat and then the other like a puppet dancing. He jumped with both feet in the air, but could not hold himself suspended. His feet thundered onto the metal chair. Suddenly his face burned hot. The light was unyielding and did not move as he turned his face left and right. They had found him. Hoots and shouts echoed from the helicopter’s crackling radio. He looked down. Red and blue lights swept over the amusement park. A voice called from the helicopter for him to raise his hands. Pete jumped again for the edge of the grate. The helicopter hovered close. The wind whipped his face and his trousers. Soon there were voices below and dogs baying at the bottom of the Ferris wheel. Flashlights below him flickered like candles.
“Sir, put your hands in the air!” The voice was nasally and sharp from the Helicopter. Sweat drenched his face. It burned his eyes. He absently reached in his pocket as if it was a summer day and he was searching for a tissue to wipe his brow. He caressed the metal punch. He pulled it out and aimed it like a gun. The voice shouted into a radio and the helicopter jumped away. In the dim light Pete saw the officers below scurrying behind whatever they could use for cover. Voices shouted through bullhorns for him to drop his weapon. He aimed the punch below. The next sound he heard was a loud ping next to his ear. Then a blast of fire tore into his throat. Pete gasped for air. Fiery knives pierced his body. He felt himself lurch forward. He stopped midway on buckled knees. The punch fell out of his hand. For a moment he thought it was music as it hit the metal bars below on its way to the ground. By the time the cops had shimmied up the grates and catwalks and shined their lights on him, his neck was stretched like a chicken’s. A grayish thick matter from his bulging eyes ran down his face and his pants had fallen around his knees.