DOUBLE WIDEby Jim Parnell
Ghastly shapes loom in the mist as I approach the grey granite steps of the church. Be-beeping frogs peep counterpoint to the weird calls of night-birds and other, less savory beasts groaning and chuffing in the darkness. A steady drizzle seeps into my bones, and I pull the collar of my trenchcoat more tightly against my neck. A sudden sting pierces my foot and I curse. Glancing down, I goggle at a tiny fanged shape that flops off into the undergrowth, twittering and queeping.
"Dang stingbats is thick as blowflies tonight," a voice drawls from the wide porch in front. I squint my eyes trying to see, and I jump at the pop-fzzzz of a beer can opening, its report like a pistol shot in the gloom.
"Christ Bubba, why didn't you put a light on?"
In answer, he shakes a lightstick and holds it before his chest, a wide death-mask grin splitting his eerily lit features. "It's a little risky," he says. "They don't like light too much."
"Especially if it's lighting up your spooky mug," I agree with feeling.
He laughs and shakes up another lightstick. Handing it over, he motions for me to follow. He dives into the underbrush, straight toward the swamp and the snorting, belching creatures that lurk there. Out of the corner of my eyes I catch glimpses of black shapes gliding through the brush. Their unnatural shambling forms are etched by the lightsticks' greenish glow into fiendish chimera. I hurry faster, doing my best to become Bubba's shadow until he halts suddenly. I slam into him at a half-run.
"Damn, C.B., it's just them old Batrachs!" He sticks two fingers in his mouth and lets loose an ear-piercing blast. From the underbrush comes a gargling howl with wet, fleshy undertones. Bubba pulls a couple of six-packs of Bud from under his coat and drops it on the ground. He grins and says, "They asked me to make a beer run. C'mon, let's get out of here. Them boys is nasty drunks."
And we're off like a shot, pushing through the vegetation. Briars claw at my face, tearing great scratches. Roots trap my booted feet, trying their best to pull me into their clutches, but I pull free and at last we stumble into a clearing. Massive stone shapes stretch out under the icy glare of the stars, the cyclopean scale of their inclined planes and curves beggaring description.
Bubba stamps his feet to shake the muck off and pops another beer. "Going gets easier from here," he says. He strides off with me in pursuit. We pass under mighty arches made of stones weighing hundreds of tons apiece, yet not a gap is to be seen between them. We cross bridges a mile long, their paving stones forming monumental pictograms dozens of meters across.
I'm, like, really impressed. Bubba tugs my arm. I'm slowing him down.
At last we reach a cul de sac. The near walls tower overhead, and I see that they are of much poorer construction than that we had seen on the way in. The far end of the cul de sac is hidden in mist and a rumbling sound issues from its depths.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," I say.
Bubba laughs and says, "Don't worry. Nothing's going to eat you... I think."
Bubba starts forward and after a moment, I follow. We step into the mist, its clinging embrace thickening with every step. After a few moments I begin to notice a resistance to my forward motion, as if an unseen force were pushing back at me from the murk.
"Gettin' a little exercise?" Bubba asks.
"What the hell is it?" I say.
"Field lines -- the edge of reality. May as well stop here, we can't go no farther anyways. Look, C.B., up ahead. What do you see?"
I peer dismally into the Stygian dimnessity. Dimnessity? What kind of word is that? And then I see him.
A giant, sprawled out behind a computer keyboard. He's unshaven and wears glasses. He's staring straight at me but his eyes just miss that centered focus that defines eye-contact. I know he knows I'm here, and I know he knows I know. Gads! I'm getting stuck in a cognitive loop! The giant reaches over a hand. He grabs a monstrous mouse, which he shoves across a football-field sized mousepad. The cursor singes my eyebrows as it crosses my face.
-- Click! --
I peer dismally into the Stygian darkness. And then I see him.
A giant, seated behind a computer keyboard, his posture that of a crouching tiger. He's got a goatee, but is otherwise clean-shaven. His hawklike gaze speaks of extraordinary intelligence and keen insight. An air of confidence bordering on arrogance flashes from his eyes as they lock with mine. Then a sheepish look crosses his face. The giant grabs a huge mouse, which he pushes across a stadium sized mousepad. I duck before the cursor can take my head off.
-- Click! --
I peer dismally into the fog. And then I see him.
A giant, seated behind a computer keyboard. He's clean-shaven but looks very tired. Even so, his lopsided grin is infectious and without pretense. An air of benign amusement sparkles from his eyes as they lock with mine. He shifts his eyes to my right where Bubba stands. He nods and Bubba waves back. The giant grabs a 747 sized pen and scribbles on a sheet of paper the size of an aircraft carrier. He holds it up so we can see:
"Been fun, boys, but I've got
work to do. Y'all keep busy,
and thanks for all the fish!"
With that, the giant gives us the thumbs-up and reaches for the mouse. With a last lingering look, the giant's finger hovers over the button, then descends. There's a "click" and the giant disappears. So does the mist, popping my ears painfully.
I turn to Bubba and ask, "Who was that guy? What did he mean?"
It's the first and only time I've seen Bubba look like he's about to cry and it scares the living hell out of me. Then he sucks it all back in and glances sideways at me. He grins and pulls a couple of beers from somewhere within the depths of his coat. We pop the tabs and suck down the icy brew.
At last he says, "That was your Pappy, C.B. and mine, too. We'd best do what he says, just in case he decides to come check up on us. C'mon. We've got work to do, too."
And so Bubba strides off, unbroken, and as usual, I'm left behind with my jaw on the ground. I shake my head to clear it and I'm off, running to catch up and yelling,
"Hey Bubba! Wait up!"
Note from the author:In case you haven't figured it out yet, this episode signals, if not the end of Double Wide, at least the beginning of a long dry spell for Bubba and friends. With other projects to complete, and with so little time to complete them in, I would be doing them ol' boys a disservice by not giving them the attention they deserve. So I am putting them on the shelf for now.
I thank everybody for the support, especially Dan and Rob, as well as Iain and Daniel and Claude, and the folks who sent me "attaboy" mail, and even the ones who sent me that oh, so wonderful "you suck" mail (at least I reached them).
You can e-mail Jim Parnell at email@example.com
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