The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 2)

Wilburn turned his attention to the store. It was right where he needed to be at the moment, he thought. He stood in front of the doors, and they instantly parted with a mechanical swish. He stepped inside. It smelled like a newly built house dipped in medicine. A yellow-white glow poured from the multitude of ceiling lights. It stung his eyes and bleached his skin. So unhealthy, he thought. So unnatural. And the incessant low buzzing was like orgiastic hornets trapped in a box. Although probably subtle to most, anyone with a sensitive soul and system could pick up on it.

The floors were like hospital tiles. The walls were painted wedding-gown white except for flowing bright yellow and red directional script to help dumb bunnies find the items they were looking for. The aisles were narrow and ran long toward the back of the store. Hypnotic electronica new age music played overhead. The shelves were perfectly neat and organized. There was not an empty space or single item askew.

He found the restroom in the back and used it. It was exceptionally clean. When he came back out, he noticed there was an elevated glassed-in counter in the far corner and there was a man just standing there staring at him, watching him, thick arms folded. He seemed oddly short, and he must have been standing on a stepstool, Wilburn assumed. The man had sun-worn brown skin and hair black as night that flowed down upon his shoulders. He wore a neatly pressed white dress shirt and over that a yellow vest with Pharm Farm stitched into it with red thread. There was a large microphone looking device in front of him – silver colored with an adjustable crane’s neck. The man suddenly leaned forward and spoke into it.

“Can I help you, sir?”

The voice was loud and distorted. He tapped at the microphone, stepped back a bit and tried again. “Can I help you sir?”

Wilburn’s nerves fluctuated inside his skin. He moved closer to the counter and looked at him. He was so strange looking.

 The clerk had a plastic nametag pinned onto the other side of the vest and it read: Uncas.

“Why is this place here?” Wilburn asked.

 And even though Wilburn was right there at the counter, the clerk once again leaned into the microphone when he spoke.

“Welcome to Pharm Farm, sir. Do you have a prescription that needs to be filled? Are you in pain? Do you feel sick to your stomach? Are you lonely? Do you have a broken heart?”

“I just want to know why this glittering box is here.”

“Sir?”

“In the middle of nowhere?”

“This is Pharm Farm, a modern leader in retail pharmaceuticals and everyday items that contribute to a happy and fulfilling life. We aim to meet all your needs — day and night, wherever that may be. My name is Uncas, by the way, and I’m a proud member of the Pharm Farm family. So again, how may I help you?”

Wilburn dug into his pack and pulled out an orange prescription bottle and slid it through a small opening. “I need more of these.”

Uncas picked up the bottle, read it over carefully and looked back at Wilburn.

“I can’t,” the strange man behind the counter said, pushing the mic out of his way, and he slid the bottle back through to him.

“Why not?”

“You are out of refills and a doctor must order more. I’m sorry.”

“But I need them.”

“And I need a longer pair of legs.”

“But it’s obvious I need them. I have the bottle. I can show you my ID if you don’t trust me.”

“It’s not a matter of trust sir, it’s a matter of cumbersome law and the fact that insurance companies dictate your healthcare. There is nothing I can do. You will have to contact your doctor’s office.”

“Look, I’m not from around here. You can’t just help me out?”

“I cannot just help you out, sir. I would lose my job. Perhaps you should have managed your prescriptions better before going on vacation. Have you heard of personal responsibility?”

“I’m not on vacation and my condition in this world is none of your business.” Wilburn looked around, lost, unsure what to do. “I’m sorry. I’m just frustrated with the system again.”

Uncas sighed and stepped away from behind the counter. A hidden door opened, and he came twaddling out. “Follow me.”

Wilburn followed behind the strange, little man to the supplement section. Uncas stood on his tiptoes and reached a small hand up and retrieved a bottle of Pharm Farm brand chamomile flower capsules from among a sea of other bottles and boxes. “Here. Try this. It’s not your prescription, but it could help you out until you can talk to your doctor.”

Wilburn looked the bottle over. “You want me to eat some flowers?”

“Chamomile is known to produce a soothing and calming effect.”

Wilburn was desperate. “Okay. I’ll try it. Thanks for your help.”

Uncas smiled up at him strangely. “Customer satisfaction is our number one priority here at Pharm Farm. It’s what our associates live for, it truly is. It’s all I think about when I go home.” Uncas sighed and rolled his eyes. “I can complete your transaction back here if you would like.”

“Do you know of a decent motel in the area?”

Uncas ignored him while he slowly concentrated on ringing up the sale. “Sorry. I’m new to this,” he said as his short, thick and brown fingers punched at the register keys. “$15.43.”

“That’s pretty expensive.”

“Our prices are very competitive here at Pharm Farm. If you have legitimate proof of an unexpired lower price offered somewhere else, I would be happy to match it — after you have it professionally copied and notarized of course.”

“That seems like an obscenely huge hassle,” Wilburn complained.

“Of course, it is.”

“Would the clerk up front know about a motel?”

Uncas shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m getting around to that. Just wait. Modern white man so impatient.”

“I’m not impatient. I’m tired.”

“Go toward Giza, that’s the city here. The motel is called the Crane Valley something or another. It’s on the right. It will be the first motel you see. It’s one of those old ones. Not bad. It’s cheap, but decent. There’s a diner right next door. I’ve had to spend a few nights there myself because of my bitch of a wife.”

“You’re married?”

“You look so surprised.”

“It’s just that…”

“What? Because I’m a little person? Or because I’m an Indian?”

“No. Of course not. Isn’t it Native American?”

“To you, not to me. I can call myself whatever I want. I can call myself a little Indian all day long, but you can’t. I’m in charge of my title, not you or any other rapist of our culture. Sure, I’m a little person, but just as capable as you are. Probably more. Look at me, I’m employed. Hell, you probably don’t even have a job or a wife.”

“No. And I don’t have a car either.”

“I knew you were some kind of loser, but then how did you…?”

“Hey.” Then Wilburn struggled. “I don’t know.”

Uncas eyed him strangely and then submissively sighed. “I’m sorry. I should have not gone off on you. You are a guest of Pharm Farm. My district manager will probably beat the shit out of me if she gets wind of this.”

“I’m not going to say anything to anyone.”

Uncas gave him an appreciative smile. “Look. I’m about to go on break. You seem like a nice enough guy and being that I am a nice guy, I’ll drive you over to the hotel.”

“Wait. You can drive?”

Uncas shot him a stern look and then he grabbed the neck of the microphone at his station. “Hey Doug, I’m going to go on break.”  

Then another voice pierced the air.

“Hey Uncas, how many times have I told you not to use the mic system for personal business. Pick up the phone and call me if you’re going on break. It’s distracting to the customers and unprofessional.”

Uncas slapped a hand against his strangely large forehead and shook his face. He yanked the microphone toward him once more.

“Sorry Doug. It will never happen again.”

You can read the previous excerpt from this novel HERE.


Albuquerque French Fries

The mountains in Albuquerque are to the east. In most places I’ve lived, they were to the west. I always found that to be a bit strange, but maybe it’s not. But I was on the east side of Albuquerque, close to the mountains, when I was suddenly struck with an insatiable desire for French fries.

I stopped at some chain diner place and ordered not one, but two baskets of French fries and something to drink, a Coke maybe, I can’t remember, it being such an odd and weird time in this life.

I was in Albuquerque for no particular reason. I had been in some cheap corporate place of lodging the night before. I just remember staring out over the lights of the city; there had been a lot of blue, not amber so much, as I had expected — blue, desert lights — and I was hungry for action as I smoked cigarettes and drank bottled beer.

It was a mighty funny feeling not really knowing why I was in Albuquerque at that particular time. I just wanted to get away from the doldrums of it all, back in some place suspiciously called HOME, but not really being home at all, but even so, there had been no action to be found after all. It was just a bunch of lazy driving through another American charade parade. Honking and Howitzers, springboard diving into hard cement, cold dreams, loneliness… the constant… loneliness… strumming the walls of white-walled malls, walking among the living dolls swinging handled bags of Chinese crap as they smiled those fake plastic smiles to the point the heavy makeup nearly cracked and fell to the ground — and me, up and down escalators, elevators, in and out of parking spaces from another dimension, and there was the smell and the sun and all the Native American motif fizzing like digging it science-fiction sabers… And then a bookstore, where I could breathe, meld into words and covers, fondling spines as I walked the rows among the ink bleeders and readers, wives with glasses, wives with hair pulled back into a tight tail, with the kind of head that you could palm like a tender melon as she let loose in your very own lap — the luxury of Saturn’s dew and doom—  loving it, living it, bent to it, stardust whispers scraping across the firmament like the cloud-studded smile of a stranger now wiping at her mouth with a scratchy, white motel towel, high-heeled remnants of lipstick-stained cigarette butts in some cheap amber ashtray on the bedside table, the one right next to the three-quarter drained bottle of voodoo juice purchased at some Nob Hill poison joint.

And I ate those French fries slow and alone, looking out the bug greasy window at the traffic all piled up and trying desperately to move. All them peoples frantically working away their lives just to live for a couple days a week, a couple weeks a year — “you’re all fucking slaves to the system” I said to the fries and then I knew the batty waitress was going to call the cops on me, so I left her a nice big, fat tip and told her “I was never here, you didn’t see nothing,” and then I ran out the door and I started to drive again.

I rattled around Q-Town, aimlessly, again, searching for meaning, searching for enlightenment so often talked about — where was it? I ended up near the Sunport. I just parked somewhere under the sun and just watched planes come and go, people come and go, everyone in such a damn hurry to get to nowhere, in such a hurry to just wait, to be strip searched, to be violated in a windowless room. It was hot, I rolled down the windows, I sucked on oil cans of Australian limeade, that’s Australian for lemonade, good drink, and I wondered, what’s Australian for Albuquerque? There were no super fresh and hip boomerangs or two-step your dead snakes lumbering along Indian School Road… And that’s where I almost bought a condominium, townhouse maybe, but it made me think too much of childhood and milk and that made me sad. I suppose, childhood’s end right out there tip-toeing on the double yellow line as mad dashers come whizzing by that do not mention your soul in those radio prayers bleeping forth from plush dash… Awe, money man and your senseless soul, look at the trees once in a while, get out of this neon cave and get lost for once in your fucking digitized life, smoke a little sky, eat a little dirt, breathe in the sun and let the sunflowers puke forth. Man, you are becoming machine. You are being eaten alive by throngs of numbers, nonsense, nocturnal Novocain in the batty cave.

774 Central Refreshment House — more juice required. Cocoa Puffs and milk and Milky Way wayward hanging out by the sea of Sandia. Drunk on 233 Insomnia Street with some invisible chick named Glory, Glory Hollywood Boom Boom in a blue dress and tattooed bed sheets all covered in shiny pistols and white daisies. She wonders why I sit there, on the edge of the bed, shirtless, my back curved like a bell jar, staring out the window, the widow ghost traces my scars with cold fingertips, like a map of downtown Boston, they run down and all around, some mad parade of direction all haywire, I have some seizure via Heaven’s reach, she tries to calm me with something on fire, it’s getting yellow outside, there is maybe crying inside, but not out here, not where shit is real and man be cold, and the record needle digs into the vinyl and Native American mystic music comes pouring out like I was liquid in some wigwam in the parking lot of the neon green Gallup pharmacy where the witch doctors freeze you up before you take that freedom walk, that vision quest that leaves your eyes white and wide as you kick at dead America with the toe of your most trusted boot and simply look away.


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The Machine Man in the Wheat

It was on a Tuesday when the sun became different.

I remember it clearly because Tuesdays I visit with the doctor because I have a hard time walking in a straight line.

“You’re difficult to conform,” he says.

He also thinks he is smarter than me, but I know better. The questions he asks don’t seem very bright to me. He lacks, say, electricity. So like I was saying, as far as the sun goes, I had come home and went to the back of the house and drew the long green drapes away from the large window there. I looked out and there was a bright spot on the fence where the sun was shining and it drew me in, the color of it, like golden metal pressed up tight. It was a cold color, flat, indecent yet proper. And so I looked up and even the whole sky itself looked different. There was a deeper blue confusion about it. The clouds seemed edgy. There was turmoil in the air amid the subtle change.

The house is hidden in the hills surrounding a city. It’s an urban estate of modern aesthetics – tall glass, sharp edges, white and clean as snow and just as cold and empty and lonely, especially in the shadows. The furniture sits rigid and straight. Everything is strictly kept in its place. My home looks as if it has never been lived in.

I have seven bedrooms and don’t sleep in any of them. I have four bathrooms and use only one. My kitchen is always clean. It hums in the dead of day, the big metal appliances stewing in their pipes and electrical cords. There is a window over the sink and I can look out into my yard – a trapezoidal patch of bright green grass surrounded by jungle. A small pool sits empty. There’s some lawn furniture but it’s all scattered about now because of the strong breezes we’ve had lately. The yard is as deserted as my home.

I sat a drink down on a glass end table and the subtle sound of it echoed through the room. Then the telephone rang. It was Fred. I knew this because he was the only one whoever called.

“Hello.”

“I’m always amazed that the telephones still work.”

“I’m glad for it. At least I can call my doctor.”

“Not feeling very well? Is it the crooked walking again?” he asked.

“Yes. He doesn’t know what to do about it.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. Would you like me to come by tonight?”

“No. I’m just going to stand here and not move for a while.”

I hung up. Fred hung up. I knew this because he was the only one whoever hung up on me. Fred used to be an accountant of some sort, maybe a lawyer too. But not anymore. I used to be a geology professor. But not anymore. There are many things that are no longer the same. I used to have a wife and twin daughters. But not anymore. I used to park a car in my garage. But not anymore. Walking is all we can do now. If I need something from the city, I have to walk. I walk to the doctor, the grocery, the bar. I even walk to the post office and occasionally send a letter to someone I don’t even know – but no one gets mail anymore.

Sometimes I walk to the city with Fred. I really don’t want to because I don’t like him that much even though we consider each other to be friends. I would even say he is kind of boring, but not boring in the way of going to sleep, rather, boring in a way that makes me want to avoid him at all costs because I have better things to do. And the things he talks about are so pointless. It almost makes my stomach hurt when he starts in on how poorly the sidewalks were made.

“Just look it all the cracks,” he always points out, his long arm nearly touching the ground.

“There have been a lot of earthquakes,” I tell him.

“Even so, they should make better sidewalks.”

“They did their best,” I remind him. “The world was a mess.”

Fred picked up a small stone and threw it. It hit a light post. The sound echoed down the street.

“It’s still a mess, Frank. C’mon, you’re hip to it. You know it will never get better than this.”

I stopped and looked at him. I blew into my hands to warm them.

“Damn it’s cold. I thought we lived in California.”

There weren’t too many people at the grocery store. There were never too many people anywhere. I liked it like that, even though the place reminded me of a morgue with sparse shelves.

Fred strolled off to the produce department, but there wasn’t much there. The stores are never stocked that well anymore. I followed him over and together we looked at a handful of oranges as if we were visiting a zoo for fruit.

“They don’t look very fresh, do they?” Fred said, cocking his head and studying the oranges with a bent eye.

“They never are,” I listlessly noted. “I’m going over to the pharmacy.”

“More pills?”

“Yes, more pills.”

“All right then, I’m going over to the meat department,” Fred said. “I want to look at a piece of chicken.”

I walked down the main aisle in the front toward the pharmacy. I knocked on the glass.

“Hey. I need to get my pills,” I said to someone, somewhere.

There was some sort of person fidgeting around in the darkened back. I had to wait. We still always have to wait.

“Your name?” he asked when he came to the window – a little man in a white lab coat all alone with the medicine and a broken heart.

“Frank Buck. Why do you always have to ask? You know who I am.”

He blinked his eyes and barely smiled.

“It’s just procedure sir. It’s company policy. It’s a corporate rule and I cannot break it under any circumstances.” He looked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone else nearby. “My life depends upon it.”

The corporations still have all the power.

“All right. I guess you can’t break the rules. I understand. You need this job. Not everyone has a job anymore.”

“Did you know that being a pharmacist is the best job a person can have these days?” he boasted.

“I believe it. You’ve got 14 bottles for me, right?”

“Yes. Any questions?”

“Do I ever have any questions? Does it even matter if I have any questions?”

“Sorry. I have to ask. They’re watching me. They’re listening to me, too.”

“Sounds like you’re trapped.”

“I am,” he tried to whisper through the glass, and I only turned once to look back at the poor old soul as I walked away. 

“Do you think we should buy that last piece of chicken?” Fred asked me in the Something Resembling Meat department. “We could have a fry out.”

I peered into the glass case at the lone piece of raw chicken breast sitting dead and gross in a bloody wet tray beneath a bluish-green light. I stepped behind the counter and slid a door open and flipped the piece of chicken over.

“It doesn’t look too pale,” I said.

Fred was hungry and wanted the chicken.

“Go ahead and wrap it up. I’ll pay for it.”

I wrapped up the hunk of chicken like I worked there or something and we made our way toward the front of the store and through the sliding doors. Something scanned us from above as we walked out.

“When they come for the money, we’ll tell them the chicken was mine,” Fred said to me.

“Absolutely.”


The chicken sizzled on the charcoal grill I had out back. Fred and I went to the yard and plucked two toppled chairs out of the lawn. We set them up on the patio. We lit some torches. I poured Fred a strong drink. He watched me suspiciously as I withdrew a cigarette from my pack and stuck it in my mouth.

“I thought you quit those damn things.”

“I did, but why bother now?”

“I suppose you’re right. Not much to live for anymore is there?” Fred agreed.

“I don’t like to talk about it. Why is it we always end up talking about it such horrible things?”

“I don’t know,” Fred wondered. “What else is there to talk about?”

“Tell me about your dreams.”

Fred thought for a moment.

“I don’t dream anymore.”

“I know. I don’t either. Why is that?”

“I suppose it has something to do with that brain evolution stuff they’re all talking about. You know… What they say about us being able to survive when the others didn’t. They say we don’t need dreams anymore.”

“Leaves the night awfully blank though, doesn’t it?” I said with a downcast head, sad about it.

“Yes,” Fred moaned with a slight nod of his head. “I don’t sleep as much as I used to… Wait. I think the chicken is burning. Flip it over.”

I got up and flipped the meat and there were deep dark burn marks on the side already cooked.

“It might be a bit well done by the time I’m finished with it,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Fred said with a quick laugh. “Chicken is chicken and I’ll take it any way I can.”

The doorbell rang. I went through the house and opened the front door. Two officers from the Debt Police were standing there in a cloud of threatening menace. They had come to collect the money for the chicken and the pills.

“Wow,” I said. “It’s been only two hours or so and you’re already here. I swear, it seems you guys get here faster and faster every time.”

“Just give us the money, sir,” one of the officers said. “We don’t have time for idle chit chat.”

I stuck my hands in my pockets and dug around.

“Is there a problem, sir?” the other office asked as he stepped forward a bit. “Do you have the money? Yes or no?”

“I know I have it somewhere,” I said as I began to panic. “It’s in the house somewhere. But look here, that man outside, he has the money. The chicken was his idea. It was all his idea.”

The officers pushed beside me and well into the house. They went out onto the patio and Fred quickly stood up. I went to help him.

“This guy says the chicken was all your idea. Is it your chicken?” one of the officers wanted to know.

Fred shakily adjusted the eyeglasses on his face.

“Yes. I was the one who wanted the chicken. He just walked to the store with me to get his medicine. I told him I’d pay for the chicken.”

“Then give us the money,” the other officer demanded.

Fred nervously dug into his front pants pocket and pulled out some dirty cash. He flipped through the bills with his fingers.

“How much is it again?”

“Fifty-five dollars for the chicken and four-hundred and twelve for the pills,” one of the officers snapped.

Fred glanced over at me. “I’ll take care of it all,” he said, and handed them five 100-dollar bills.

“The rest is your tip,” Fred said.

One of the officers made a disappointed face. “Not much of a tip,” he said.

“But thanks,” said the other. “We’ll be going now. Make sure to lock all your doors and windows and load your guns. There are lots of creeps out there milling about in the night.”

We watched as the officers quickly moved back through the house and out the front door. I sank down in my patio chair, sighed and looked at Fred.

“Where do you get all that money?” I asked him. “You’re not a pharmacist or a cop.”

“I saved my money,” Fred said. “As I worked and lived my life I also saved money… For the times like these that I always knew were coming. I funded my survival.”

“Do you have a lot left?”

“No. The Men of the Wars took most of it.”

I glanced inside at the banner on the wall. It was the banner we all had now – and in big capital letters of red, white and blue, it read: True Freedom Has a Price Tag — and there was a big green Uncle Sam with devil eyes on the banner, and he had his big fists in the air, and he was clutching money in one and a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes in the other. And in smaller capital letters near the bottom, it read: In Greed We Trust and In God We Wonder.

I didn’t really like the banner, but we didn’t have a choice anymore.

After the chicken, some more drinks and a cold handshake, I said goodnight to Fred and closed the door behind him. I locked it just as the officers advised. It was a big cold deadbolt and it made me feel safer even though I knew deep down inside it didn’t really matter anymore.

I walked crooked through the rest of the house turning down lights and making sure the other doors and windows were all locked up tight. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror and my face looked old. I ran some water in a glass and washed down a handful of pills. I flicked off the light and quietly closed the door. I turned on the ceiling fan that runs right over my bed and sat in a chair by the window. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. What good is sleep without dreams? I looked out the window but all I saw was dark punctured by a few painful points of light. It was my personal jungle surrounding me. I liked it like that. I didn’t want to know everything about the world on fire out there.

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