I was twenty miles out from Nowhere when I strangled the kid. He wasn’t much of a weight, so I dragged him far from the car, and buried him under all the rocks I could find. Couldn’t see him from the road. Least that’s what I’d bet on.
The kind of kill that buys you time. The kind of grave that ticks like a loud clock.
How much time would I need? I’d seen the sign posts. Nowhere was twenty miles ahead. Peculiar sign, I’d thought. The kid had laughed when I said it. Turned out Nowhere was a town, population two hundred and twelve.
Nowhere. Well, I’ve been heading there all my life. If my luck had to run out anywhere, I guess it should be there. I guess that fit.
I liked the idea there were connections, running through your whole life, adding meaning to everything that befell you, and every place you befell. Nice idea. A delusion, but nice.
I got into the kid’s car and quickly swiped his crap from the dashboard. There was a photo of a girl, about twenty. I glanced at it. Sister? Wife? How old had the kid been? Old enough. Old enough to be and old enough to die.
Sighing, I pocketed the picture, a little tired of myself, truth be told. But it’s not my fault. Each death is down to the weak one that died. As God as my witness- a man couldn’t call it any other way.
I turned the key and made the engine purr.
Then I drove to Nowhere.
What would I need? Gas. Food. Water. Map. Maybe a knife. The kid had throttled easy, but I couldn’t rely on muscle to keep me ahead. My eyes darted to the rear view mirror. No cars. No sirens. Nothing but sand and dust, swaying in a heat haze.
They must be on to me.
My heart quickened. There was fear- oh yeah- but something more. This was life. This was energy. How did other people live? With their routine passions, muted lives filled with dull colours that were always kept inside the lines. They were so numb it was appalling. So many people ordered the coffin early, that’s how I saw it. The wife, the kids, the wallpaper, the lawnmower. All ordered from a glossy catalogue that smelled like a dead man had gagged on every page. Every piece of their lives just another nail driven in.
People were insane.
I turned the radio on. The music was young and stupid. No messages or ideas. Just idiot beats. I listened to people talking for a while, all stressed by their inactions, all afraid of the society they kept. Eventually I found static between channels and left it there. Bliss.
It was dusk when Nowhere came into view. I drove slow, skipped the first motel, and parked at the second. I could see a light on in the office. The vacancy sign glowered red and angry.
I got out the car, and as the door slammed shut, I paused and stared at my hands. They had delivered the kid from this world. His pulse was still there, a little after-image or echo. I felt light headed.
The girl in the photograph-
I shook my head and walked to the office. But the thought was there. I was in Nowhere. But the girl, boy, wherever she was it was somewhere.
Hesitating briefly, I bought a room for the night and signed the book as Manson Doe. I looked down at the name, I’d used it on and off over the years, it had tugged a smile at my lips when little else could. Sometimes though, I couldn’t even remember the name I’d come into the world with. Nameless creature. The black ink was a black mirror. I shook the thoughts away and thanked the yawning guy at the desk. He didn’t even look at me.
I found my room and lay in the dark, thinking of the boy in the desert, the girl in the photograph. She was a cascade of kisses. Her eyes were stars that came out in the day. His first crush. Childhood sweethearts. They thought it all made sense to them already. Probably carved their intentions into some poor tree somewhere. They were rendered worthless with love. God almighty how I envied them.
Sleep came for me. A bluff of basic images. I saw the boy, my hands around his throat. It was all so obvious. I got bored halfway through the dream, got up and let him live. His relief and his thanks were sickening. Get up, I thought to him, get up and attack me, brain me with a rock. Go back to your girl a hero.
Dumb bastard just lay there.
Eventually the girl was there too. She might have said something, I wasn’t sure. I thought she pitied me, or him. I woke just as the dream got real. We were lying in the desert, her body across mine. Her hair was in my mouth, and I was breathing her in. She was lovely. Fresh. I could have laid there an eternity, so long as I could sit it all out with her.
Pathetic, but so it goes.
I woke, but didn't move. It was all meaningless, I was another loser all lucked out on an empty bed. I laughed; it was easier than letting the silence do its thing.
There were no sirens. Nothing in Nowhere; that’s how it had always been, I guessed.
I made a plan for the morning and followed it through. Showered. Got dressed. Got out. Assembled my supplies, kept my head down and stayed out of sight. I was polite and I was boring. No one looked at me twice. A girl behind one till smiled, and for a second-
No. Bite down. Don’t give her the power over you. I picked up my shopping and told myself GET OUT.
I sat in some shade and relaxed. A woman can run through your blood like a current. Then sometimes a look in your eyes gave you away. I’d seen enough reactions to tell me that.
A woman could undo you quicker than you could undo yourself. Best to think- there are many women, they are waiting, and bloody roses are best picked when feeling romantic.
That made it easier to bear.
I got a drink out of the bag and opened it, drinking washed the fever away. I tried not to feel weak.
Hell, nobody’s perfect.
Elvis had a foot fetish, but he wouldn’t go down on a woman. Useless man. Aint no song or dance making up for a life wasted. Women venerated these idiot men, chewed them up and spit them out. Made legends out of fools, making the rest of us something less... The whole world was a nightmare.
I wasn’t always like this. I’m riddled with these odd little tumours, each growing between happier thoughts, pushing them apart. Some days I can’t remember who got the last smile, or what they did to get it.
I finished the drink, then walked back to the motel.
The kid’s car was where I’d left it, but some guy was walking around it. He looked confused. I guess he recognized it, and was wondering what on earth the kid was doing at the motel. It wouldn’t be long before he was asking the guy behind the desk, “The kid who came in with that beat up Ford, where’s he at?”
“Kid? No sir, this was no kid. Man walked like a rattled snake, had Death on his heels and eyes that were running out of road.”
Yeah. The clock was ticking down.
The man walked away from the car, scratching his head. I waited until he turned a corner, then I ran over, opened the boot and threw my supplies in. I got behind the wheel, urged the engine on and then pulled out fast.
There was no way they didn’t hear it.
I was back on the road. To dust and a yawning grave.
Inevitably, I thought again of the girl. Living her life out in Nowhere. The only guy she loved was lying under a pile of rocks. She was bigger than this town, and her heart was bigger than him. You could tell all that from the one picture. Her smile was inviting, and her body wasn’t arguing.
Perfection. Found in Nowhere. What sort of Goddamn hell was that?
Pulling over, I rummaged around for the photo. I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be moving on. Through and out of Nowhere, straight through the next crapper of a town and on. On until everyone had forgotten me. On until I’d forgotten where I started.
On, until I found a place where a grave could retch a man into a cleaner life.
But no, I needed to look at her. Weakness. I couldn’t stand it, but I couldn’t stand all this running, running alone, forever. Maybe I could tell her I knew where the kid was, get her in the car- hell, it was his car. She wasn’t stupid. I stared at her photo, laughing loud at the stupidity of it all. Her face was plain and open, nothing special, except for the hope she exuded, the undoubting gaze. There were five freckles on her nose, I counted them over and over. I was going to go mad in this small town, just cause of her. Of how close she was.
What was it they said about madness, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?
Yeah, like I thought this one would love me. Like she wouldn’t be screaming in the boot. Like she’d think I was special.
So, in the end, I decided to stop thinking, and let other functions take over. Guess I was tired of arguing with myself. It’s not like I’d ever win.
I drove around, showed the photo to a few people. One recognized her. “Oh, that’s Alice, do you know her?”
“Sure do, ma’am. Got a delivery for her.”
I got the address and started to drive. It was all so easy. The man upstairs couldn’t blame me for what happened next, no one could. Was it my fault, really? It’s not like I wanted to hurt her, I just didn’t want her to keep hurting me.
I pulled up outside a small white-walled house and walked up her neat driveway. It was too early for this, I needed darkness, but it was like I could hear the clock ticking. I needed to get in and get out. I wondered exactly how to play it as I rung the bell. The knife was in my pocket. It felt good and loyal, sharp as an act of devotion.
An elderly woman answered, she seemed strangely familiar. She just looked at me, smiling faintly, politely. “Yes?”
I shut my eyes. Not wife or sister. Mother. This was a diseased world. All promises were just demons with tricks. All was a waking lie. A trap to tease you into betraying yourself. This had been proven over and over and-
I opened my eyes, wearily. Alice was just staring at me. She went to grey pretty damn fast. The eyes had lost their shine, but the smile- faint though it was- still had that wicked lure. I hated her so much.
But then I saw it. She had lived her whole life here in Nowhere. While I- Manson Doe, my own child, creature of my own invention- had delivered myself to her worthless door.
Part of me wanted to cut her open, right down the centre, then crawl inside. I could redecorate her house and turn it into a womb. I could have lived there, happily. Oh, it would all make sense, then.
“Nowhere,” I said to her.
“I’m sorry? Are you looking for someone?”
“Directions, ma’am, I need to leave Nowhere.”
She looked confused, then pointed up the road. “You just drive on.”
“You just drive on,” I echoed, “is that it?”
“Son, what more could there be?”
I smiled at her, she relaxed a little and smiled back. “You are a lie,” I told her, “your lie is out there, walking around, killing men dead.”
She couldn’t answer that. I was only a little disappointed when she shut the door in my face.
I stood there a little while, thinking about it all. Obscurely, I thought of the seconds on a clock. Not the minutes or the hours, but the small thin seconds, divided and ignored.
In the distance, sirens.
I smiled and got back to the car. I looked at her photo, ripped it up and devoured it, to spare those yet to come. Then I pulled out and felt the engine roar. You just drive on, she’d said. I guess I could do that. But the idea of the road, that it JUST GOES ON, and never ended, that finished me.
I changed gears and was gone. Suddenly I felt a wonderful calm, a sense of purpose and peace. I knew I was never going to stop, was never getting out of this car again. My feet would never abase the world again. I was letting go. I would drive until I hit something, someone, drive until a final collision brought an absolute end.
I was in control of this.
Enlightened now, I thought again of those seconds on the clock, and it struck me, knowing you will die was a lot like living forever.
And to think, I found that in Nowhere.