“It was called Eraserhead,” he sighed. “Major cult film. It was by the same guy who made Blue Velvet. You’ve seen Blue Velvet, right?” he said.
“Let it go,” he said, to himself as much as to her. “It was before your time.”
They strolled along the shambling fairway as the morning dew burned off.
“What kind of work did he do?” Dania said.
“Engineer, I’d guess,” Eli said. “All I really knew about him was he loved to party.”
Eli’s current slug-face, Old Sam, squatted, shimmering, in the tall grass off near the sidewalk. Dania’s, whom she named Grover, after a puppet in a kid’s show, had draped himself across the rusting playground equipment. He faded slowly in and out, eye clusters sucked into his head in deep slumber.
“I didn’t even know slug-faces partied,” Dania said.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Eli said. “Eraserhead would cram a dozen snot-heads into his little prefab, with twenty more outside. Everyone’s hooking up, breaking out the blue mist, the booze tubes.”
“Fun times,” Dania said grimly.
“For them, anyway,” Eli said. “They’d get blasted out of their slimy skulls. Then he’d drag me off my cushion into the middle of the crowd, burble their gloopy half-language at me, and force their nasty rotgut down my throat.”
“Oh, God no,” she said. “I can’t even smell that shit without gagging.”
“Tastes like gasoline and spoiled fish,” Eli said with a shiver. “I usually passed out. But one time, as he’s pouring that filth in my face, I remembered someone saying you can’t sing and drink at the same time. So, I started singing at the top of my lungs.”
“Did it make him stop?”
“Damned straight it did,” Eli said. “He flung that booze tube away, and he and his pus-sucking pals shut up and listened.”
She laughed. “What would anyone even sing to space aliens?”
“Old TV show themes, obviously,” Eli said. “Gilligan’s Island, Diff’rent Strokes. Green Acres.”
“Oh my God.” Dania laughed harder. “Those are TV shows? What century are you even from?”
“Laugh all you want,” Eli said, “but I was a scorching hit. They made their happy screeching sounds. Jumped around, flapped their stick arms. Splattered their excretions everywhere.”
“They’re so disgusting when they’re happy,” she said.
Eli agreed. “So long as they weren’t pouring their hideous hooch into my face holes,” he said, “I figured I was way ahead.”
“So, how long did you have to put up with the eraser guy?”
“Year and a half-ish,” Eli said. “It came to a screeching halt at what turned out to be his last bash, when one of his scummy slug bros handed me a guitar.”
“Let me guess,” she said. “You played Stairway to Heaven.”
Eli laughed, shook his head. “The thing was a mess,” he said. “Warped neck, three loose strings. Unplayable. Those drunken phlegm buckets had no idea what it was for anyway. They just wanted to see what I’d do with it.”
“I went full Pete Townshend,” Eli said. “Smashed it into the floor.” He pantomimed slo-mo in the hot sun, “Smash smash smash.”
“So, you really were trying to piss them off,” she said. “Sometimes you are completely out of your mind.”
“Drunk off my ass from slugface moonshine is what I was,” Eli said. “They loved my act. Started bringing me every piece of abandoned human crap they could lay their nubbly fingers on. TVs, chairs, electric fans, smash smash smash, dishes, bottles, bongs, smash, lamps, laptops, smash smash smash smash. The wreckage of human civilization piled up around me. Those slug-skinned sons of bitches couldn’t get enough of it.”
“So, where does the screeching halt come in?” Dania said.
“Almost there,” Eli said. “So, they drag me outside, and I’m like holy shit: two of those walking placentas are pushing a yellow Subaru WRX into the yard.”
“Oh, my God.”
“It’s dented to hell, the glass is mostly gone, tires are flat. But the door still opened and, surprise-surprise, I found the keys in the glove compartment.”
“Yeah, but no way is there any juice in the battery.”
“It was dead flat,” Eli said, “but I got those dripping blue waffles to push it fast enough that I could roll-start it. Little spitfire roared to life.”
She shoved him hard. “You’re a lying sack of shit.”
“It’s the God’s-honest truth,” Eli said. “I peeled out, mud and weeds spraying everywhere. Just hearing that engine wind out got me so pumped. First time in years that sound had been heard by anyone.”
“Wish I was there,” Dania said, quieter now.
“Me too,” Eli said. “Think of all the human development that went into that little twelve-by-six-by-four-and-a-half-foot space. The world as it used to be, our world, woke up for a few minutes. Like I’d raised a billion ghosts from the dead.”
He saw Dania’s expression change. Realized he’d put her into a dark place. He hadn’t meant to, and sure as hell didn’t want to follow her there. After stumbling onto that one bright memory, Eli badly wanted Dania to join him in it. He drew nearer to her. Made her look him in the eye.
“I cranked that car all across the fields,” he said quietly, pantomiming the steering wheel action. “I did donuts. I did drifts—”
“I am so freaking jealous of you right now,” Dania said, biting her lip. “Why didn’t you just drive away? Keep going until the gas ran out?”
“I pulled away a hundred yards, turned around, and sat there,” Eli said, “thinking exactly that. Thinking how easy it would be to blow out of that place. Become a stray. Hunt jackrabbits. Scrounge the fallow gardens.”
“So, why didn’t you?” she said.
“Just watching those drunk chunderbacks over there, standing around outside Eraserhead’s prefab, making their screechy cheering noises like I’d become their little pet hero,” Eli said, “other ideas came to mind.”
“No,” Dania said. “You didn’t.”
“I was drunk out of my skull,” Eli said. “I didn’t give a damn about my life anymore. Those slime-sucking pustuloids had taken everything. Wife, kids, home. Career. Future. Turned me into a goddamned lapdog. I said, I’m gonna give these jizzmatic slug-fuckers a show they’ll never forget.”
“I revved that engine up so high, I swear to God, I thought it would explode.”
“Goosed it up to its absolute highest and dropped the clutch.”
“I shot ahead.”
Eli pantomimed torque.
“It’s roaring like a trapped panther, headed faster and faster toward that slug-faced crowd, running up through the gears.”
It was like being there again, sitting in the driver’s seat, one hand locked to the wheel, the other on the gear shift. Watching through drunken-slit eyes as the snot-headed partiers panic, flailing their stick arms, screeching.
“But…they didn’t flatten you!” Dania said.
Slug-faces had an uncanny way of killing a threat before it came anywhere near them. Theory was they could see around time, lived partly in a fifth dimension, which also explained the way they faded in and out, and why taking over the Earth without weapons or battle craft had been as easy for them as chasing squirrels off a picnic table.
“I can only guess they were too shit-faced drunk to defend themselves,” Eli said.
She gasped. “How many’d you kill?”
The memory had him grinning. Watching them slam into each other, scrambling to get out of the way like giant, terrified chickens.
“Well?” Dania said, gripping his arm the way he’d gripped the wheel. “Come on! How many pus-bags did you kill?”
He watched the impact, real as the moment it happened.
Found it hard to answer.
Finally just came out with it, his grin fading.
Dania’s exasperated roar flushed the pigeons from the trees. “You choked!” she screamed, once she was finally able to speak at all. “I can’t believe you choked!”
“They jumped aside,” Eli said. “I was too drunk to react.”
“What a waste,” Dania said. “You had the perfect chance.”
“I blew through Eraserhead’s prefab like it was made out of cardboard. Furniture, walls, everything flew. Made a goddamned mess of the place.”
“Who gives a shit about wreckage?” she said, spit flying. “The universe handed you a weapon. You had one job: use it to murder as many of those smegma-sucking slug-fucking placenta-faced bastards as you possibly could.”
Eli tried shrugging it off, but was finding it difficult.
“So that’s how it all ended,” she said, after she’d calmed down a bit.
“I started driving back for another pass,” he said, “but they’d scattered by then, and the car sputtered out. I staggered into the weeds, found my cushion laying there in the ruins, and flopped onto it. Blacked out.”
“They didn’t hammer the living crap out of you?” she said.
Eli still found that fact surprising. Privately, he wondered if maybe the disgusting things had fallen in love with their little pet entertainer.
“Next morning, the partiers were gone,” he said. “The car, too. Never saw Eraserhead again. I’m stumbling off toward the woods, bleary-eyed, hungover, when one of the partiers pops in, grabs my neck, and dumps me off at Old Sam’s. And that’s how—”
He was cut off by the feeling of Dania’s mouth sucking his stubbly chin.
“Jesus, if I’d known failure was such a turn-on—”
“Let’s call it desperation,” she said. She bit him, gently.
“Probably not much time before they haul us back,” Eli said.
“Better get a move on then.”
A few minutes later, Dania said, “I’m picturing you plowing through those slug-faced bastards. I’m watching them die, hearing their screams. Die, pus-bags. Die, you assholes. Oh God, Eli, you should have just done it.”
“I know,” Eli said, “I know. I know I know I know I…knoooow.”
Copyright © 2023 Bill Gusky