They say there’s proof in the blood, that something can be in it that you didn’t put there and there’s nothing you can do to change it. It’s not only part of your whole entire being, but it flows through every tiny piece of you, touching everything you are and always have been. You can lose a lot of blood before your body shuts down, but if you stay living, and your body makes more, whatever it was that was in it, people say it’s still there. That’s a fact. Incontrovertible.
I caused a car accident, and I did it on purpose. Suicidal tendencies, they call that. When you lose control over your day-to-day and end up swerving into traffic on US-45 just because you don’t feel like you can take just one more second of nothing. That’s something that’s in my blood. My daddy committed suicide. Hung himself at Christmas time. Mom found him dangling there in the basement, about fifteen feet below the tree. His head was all swole up. He tied that noose firm and tight, like a boy scout. Unwrapped presents separated from his bloated, purple face by a couple of planks of wood and some carpet. My grandfather too. Took his own head clean off with a shotgun blast. It was out in the old tool shed, where he used to work on the farm equipment. Hooked the trigger up to one of his small engines. He always was a tinkerer. My bloodline has a lot of suicide in it, is what I’m saying.
The picture in my head, when I swerved into the oncoming lane had me laying there on the pavement, broken in half, bleeding all that red, a source of a hundred little crimson streams, until that black night flowed into my eyes and closed them down for good. Maybe my head might come off. Decapitation sounded ironically beautiful, given how my paternal line seems to have a proclivity for head related trauma. But, that ain’t the way it happened.
See, I accidentally made a deal with the devil.
I hadn’t even been drinking. One beer. I had one beer, and I had it with a burrito so my stomach was plenty full to absorb the booze. My liver is in fighting shape, so this wasn’t a manifestation of the sauce. I was on the highway when I felt a prickle on the back of my neck, like someone drawing a magnet across my skin and making all the hair point toward the passenger seat.
When I glanced over, I saw the devil.
Cartoons got it right, though. Surprised me a little bit. Red skin, two horns, a long curling moustache like he wanted to tie me to some railroad tracks. His long tail stuck out from under his ass and ended with a spear tip. He smiled with these perfect, sharp teeth. Smelled a little bit like cinnamon.
“Nice night for a drive,” he says.
I don’t say anything right away, because my head is spinning too fast. I would have thought I’d panic at the sight of someone suddenly occupying my passenger seat while doing seventy down the highway, but my guts are more resilient than I expected, and it was more confusing than alarming. I just kind of nod, and he clicks his tongue and teeth together in a chummy kind of way.
“Aren’t you going a little fast?” he asks.
I just shrug. I ain’t got nothing to say to the devil.
“You mind if I turn on the radio?”
“Sure.” I nod. When the devil wants control of the radio, seems right to give it up. Devil’s probably got pretty good taste in music. Sure enough, he tunes it to some station I ain’t never heard, but the tunes are rockin’ and I find myself tapping my foot on the gas pedal.
“Thanks.” He settles himself down into the seat better, moves his tail aside. I suppose it’s like how sometimes you accidentally sit on your balls when you sit down wrong and need to adjust. It makes me glad I don’t have a spear sticking out of my butt.
We ride in silence for a minute, and I watch the sky grow from a medium to a dark blue, and then finally that midnight blue where you can just see a few orange clouds on the horizon, way far off. I clear my throat, casually as I can, and I ask what you’re supposed to ask.
“Am I gonna’ die?”
The devil chuckles. “You mean, in general? Or like, now?”
“You showed up in my car, so I just assume that means I’m gonna’ die. Or something.”
“Shit,” he says, making a sour face. “People always assume that. Maybe I just want some conversation. Maybe I want to make a new friend. Fucking judgemental pricks.”
“You just want to talk?”
“No,” he says, then with a grin, “I mean … that’s not the point, but no. I want to offer you a deal. That’s what I do. I wheel and deal. You dig?”
“Don’t want to make a deal.”
“Suit yourself.” The devil turned up the radio a few notches. Heavy metal thunder. It made my pedal foot heavy and I pushed down on the accelerator. The needle hovered up around eighty, and I was passing cars often enough where I had to pay more attention to the highway, which annoyed me. I’m not sure why that mattered. It wasn’t like I needed to worry about my passenger. He was the devil. Probably shake off a car crash like it was a skinned knee.
I was driving in the first place because today had been the kind of day that took the needle in the haystack and jammed it into the back of that poor camel and broke it. Mixed metaphors, I know, but I wasn’t in my right mind. Suicidal thoughts and blood was pumping and squeezing through my brain, hugging the gray matter like a sleeping bag.
“I was thinking about doing it myself.”
The devil turned down the stereo a little and blinked at me. I could see the gleam of those front two fangs between his lips, which were curling up with a sly little smile. “Doing what?”
“Don’t be naive.” I was feeling bold now. This son-of-a-bitch invaded my personal space, and I was getting into a less welcoming mood by the second. Time alone was the prescription I’d wanted and hadn’t got, and small talk hurt my head. “You know what.”
The devil chuckled and shook his head. “No need to be rude. I just thought company might be welcome. I can go, if you’d prefer.” He hesitated for a moment, then pretended like he was going to grab the door handle and pull it open. He made a little sound like if he was rolling out the door and off over the shoulder and into the ditch. Smiled at me like we were road trip buddies and he’d made a joke. I wasn’t about to give him the validation.
“Yeah, I’d like it if you’d go. Kind of wanted to be alone. Thanks.”
The devil and I drove on, leaving exits in the rear view and getting back into the countryside between towns, settling into the dark. Headlights illuminated his shiny red face. I hated the way he was looking at me, giving me that side-eye and a cheeky little grin, showing no sign of vanishing like he’d showed up. I was conflicted, now. My brain said just do it, just drive into a ditch and let your car flip over sideways, smash you to pieces, snuff you out, but then this asshole had to show up and ruin the purity of my thought process, and now there was a part of me just as big that wanted to pull over at a rest stop and throw him the hell out of my car.
“I know what you’re thinking. It won’t work.”
I swerved slightly, coasting over the centerline just a foot or so, just enough to startle any other passenger, but the devil didn’t budge. I eyed the other side of the highway. It was that time of night when most of the traffic is big trucks, overnight busses, campers. Things that would eat my little car alive and leave it a sliced up cube of hot metal.
“You’d better go back where you came from. You don’t want to be here when I do it.”
“You’re not going to die, chum. What if your spine breaks into pieces? You ready to spend the rest of your long life confined to a wheelchair, getting fed through a tube? You want to blink once for yes, twice for no, when they ask you if you want more nutrition smoothie?”
The bastard had a point. My teeth ground inside my mouth.
I was about to say so, when he opened his mouth again. “I’ll make you a little wager. You win, I leave you alone.”
Finally, after all that came before, that was when the hairs on the back of my neck stood stick-straight.
Grandpa used to bet on horses. The family shrugged it off, pointing out his farm background, trying to make it about the animals, but underneath we knew it was about the thrill of winning something. He had a tired life, the kind where even the happiness had a layer of grit on top of it, and in those moments, when he would be holding a winning ticket and cash that in, it was easy to forget everything that was wrong and only concentrate on that one right thing.
Dad was like that too, only with him it was cards and slots. He was no addict, true, but vacations were to river boats, Reno or Atlantic City or any other place where he could feel like a big deal, if only for that singular moment where the dealer called him out on a win, or that damn slot machine kicked out a load of quarters all at once. Those moments of feeling like a winner are addictive as hell. It’s something passed down. That’s in my blood too. Thick and rich.
So, when the devil said he wanted to bet me, and there weren’t any fiddles in sight, my curiosity was piqued.
“What could you possibly want? My soul? It’s probably not worth it.”
The devil laughed, just then. It was a mean, small laugh, a bully chuckle, one that dripped with disdain. I almost went off the road right then, just out of rage, but he nudged me with an elbow and smiled. “I already get your soul, either way. Suicides go to hell. They’re mine, free and easy. I don’t even have to work for them, they just come my way.”
“So you just like betting for the hell of it?”
“Even God’s a betting man. Book of Job? He destroyed his own best servant just to win a hand against me. Come on, don’t be naive. This is far from my first rodeo, nor yours, I expect.”
“So you ain’t got nothing to gain.”
“I’m the devil, son! I just like fucking with people. That’s my job.”
We rode in silence for a minute.
Gambling is what got me here in the first place. My debts were up above my eyeballs, to the point where every time I opened them up in the morning, all I could see was a sea of problems. I was getting angry phone calls. My credit was shot to hell. What jobs I could keep didn’t pay nearly enough to make a dent in what I owed, and who I owed were some bad people. People who also understood a lot about blood, seeing how often they were apt to spill it.
My generation betrayed an interest in the stupid, however, so it wasn’t blackjack or craps that ruined me. At the core, the reality was, I would gamble on just about anything. Chance. Skill. Odds. When I was a kid, it was simple stuff, like the time Jimmy Peanuts (we called him this because he always had peanuts in his pocket) bet me I couldn’t jump up over a wall outside our Junior High school without killing myself. He put up a five-dollar bill, which seemed like the perfect amount of money to make me want to try. Jimmy assumed that I wasn’t athletic, just because I never played sports, or ran anywhere, or did anything regarding any physical strain outside of our mandatory physical education classes in school. He was right, but that fiver put the power under me and sure enough, I took that wall in one leap, planting only the one hand to help me solidify my landing. Both soles landed on the ground, and I walked away with Jimmy’s fiver, and a handful of his peanuts, just on principle.
Now, there were entire businesses built to take advantage of my particular proclivity. I’ve bet on everything from the name of the next royal baby, to what year we’ll find alien life. The short-term bets though, they began to add up really fast. Even the silly wagers, ones that go by such titles as “Which boy band member will leave for a solo career first?” are powered by people who employ muscle, and if you refuse to pay, or downright can’t, they will send someone over to where you live, or work, or drink, and that person will lean on you like a tree falling on a house.
Certain recent events had led out of my own house, down the drive and into my car, which then led onward to the highway, and to this moment, wherein I was speaking with this demon asshole about the very thing that got me into this situation. Everything felt very cyclical. A circulatory system of universal existential dread, and I was swimming along like an idiot through capillaries of my own regret.
“You had a think about it? Ready to hear my terms?”
“Sure.” I nodded.
“I can take care of your debts.”
“Is that what you think I want?”
No, it wasn’t. In a way, it was, but I was long past money. I was a plane, endlessly circling a runway without any room to land, watching the fuel tank tick toward empty. It was a pattern, written in red cells: I pay off the things I owe, and I’m back to square one, and I get myself in trouble again. I had never been able to have anything stable, because it always falls apart as soon as I find something to risk it on. This was not the first time I’d hit the bottom, and I was tired of riding the ebb and flow. Better to end it.
The devil must have seen the flash in my eyes, because just as I pulled the wheel to the left and the forces slammed his shoulder into my passenger door, over my own scream I heard him very clearly:
“Bet you can’t even do it right!”
“The hell I can’t!” I shouted, as I saw, for a brief moment, the headlights of an oncoming semi-truck. The last thing I felt was the devil’s hand grabbing mine, and there was a little squeeze. It was kind of nice, actually, like a lover might squeeze your hand as the two of you were just about to die together in a fiery car crash.
Only, that ain’t what happened.
So, I was back to driving along that lonesome highway, watching those orange clouds spread out over the horizon like butter melting on a piece of toast. My heart was beating so fast and so hard that I could feel it in my neck, thumping against my inner ear, making this big bass drum sound that vibrates my temples. I felt the sting of an oncoming headache, starting in a bar across my eyes and ascending up to the apex of a triangle right in the center of my forehead. I wondered who the hell was hyperventilating for a second, and then it slowly dawned on me that it was my own ragged breath.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a red figure next to me.
I have, never before in my life, blacked out. I imagine that this was what they mean when they say your life flashes before your eyes in the seconds before death. There’s a time shift that happens, and things get squiggly. Maybe I’d imagined turning the wheel, and the hallucination had been so vivid that I’d seen those headlights clear as day behind the dark of my eyelids.
That same imagined truck was rolling on up the highway, heading toward our theoretical point of impact. Same truck, I thought, like it had jumped out of my brain and hit the road. I already knew what I was going to do. I had already done it. It reminded me of the time when I was a kid, I’d had a pet cricket, who I’d kept in a jar. One morning, I woke up, and he had molted and shed his shell overnight. I saw my cricket looking like a corpse and I immediately started crying. I know it was only a cricket, but damn it, he was my cricket, and this was the first thing I’d ever seen dead. My grief was shattered when I happened to notice the actual cricket, not just his exoskeleton, crawl out from under some grass and twitch his antennae.
When he actually died three days later, I didn’t cry. I’d already used up all that sadness on the first death, so the second one, the real one, my mind already knew how to react, and kind of hand waved the whole thing away. Once the emotion had been processed, it was really not hard to put it back through the synapses and do it again. So being once again at the point of this mortal coil in which I would shuffle off, the fear and anxiety I’d felt before broke like a wave crashing against a beach, and I very calmly turned the wheel left as far as I could.
Tires whine and screech in the night. The headlights cut across my vehicle’s interior. I glance sideways, and the devil is sitting there, smiling quietly, as the car’s frame begins to crumple with a rending, tearing scream.
Pain. It hurts. I’ve stubbed a toe on the bottom of a bookcase. I’ve had appendicitis. I’ve broken my ankle in two places. I’ve been punched in the balls by what could only have been a psychotic homeless guy in a subway station, when I refused to listen to his story about how the government kidnapped his girlfriend.
This is a pain beyond anything I have ever experienced.
But, I slowly come to realize, the fact that I’m feeling pain means that I am, on some level conscious of said pain, which means that either A. This is all happening in the instant of my death, or B. The Devil was right all along, and I fucked this up.
I’m going to be crippled for life. I’m going to wish I was dead. I’m going to live out some fragile existence of pain and wetness and ugly thoughts until I finally locate some sympathetic nurse to smother me with a pillow.
But no, as the pain clears, and the haze in my eyes retreats to a manageable level, I become aware that once again I am cruising along in the driver’s seat. The devil is beside me, and he clicks his tongue like a scolding old lady.
“It’s going to hurt more each time.”
I don’t have much to say to that. I look over at him, and my raise my eyebrows, which he takes as a question I never asked.
“God damn it, you got something to do with this?”
“Sure, kind of. It’s not my fault though. We made a wager.”
I squinted, hard. “What the hell do you mean, we made a wager?”
“Just now, before you steered hard to port and got us smashed by a truck.”
“But, I didn’t get us smashed. It hurt like hell, but—wait …” I stared daggers at him. “Is this hell? Do you fuck with everyone like this? You must keep plenty busy if that’s the case. Are all the hells a highway or does everyone get their own, personal hell? Like is there one where I’d just be sitting at a desk all day working on spreadsheets while you sat there in the next chair annoying the hell out of me?”
“No, buddy, simmer down. You’re not dead. I only fuck with the living.”
“The living? Why?”
He giggled. “‘Cause the dead don’t cry.”
I was pissed now, and my fingers tensed up on the wheel until my knuckles were white. “Asshole.” The truck was coming toward us again, and I just about pulled the wheel toward the other lane, but I stopped myself. It hadn’t worked twice now, and there was little reason to think the third time would any kind of charm.
Instead, I whipped the steering wheel to the right. The car careened over the sideline and down into the ditch. The devil and I were both screaming—I couldn’t tell how much of that was adrenaline, fear, or excitement—when we took air off the other side and the car flipped. The world turned upside down. I felt my head crack against the roof of the car as we tumbled, and one of my arms bent back at an unnatural angle, my shoulder snapping like bubble wrap. The car rolled more than once, but I lost count around the time I lost consciousness. The last thought I remembered was that I was glad I’d changed it up. Making the devil holler wasn’t a bad bonus, either.
Everything was darkness.
Then, there was a pinprick of light, which exploded outward, coming at me just like the headlights and it slammed into me full force. Soon, the white light disintegrated, like sand falling out of a cracked hourglass, and I could see my knees, crammed in underneath the steering wheel, which was currently being gripped by hands that were almost certainly mine.
This time around, the pain seemed sharper, and I moaned and breathed sharp little breaths as the headache fell out my head, down my neck and into my chest, where it spread through my nerves like an electric bolt.
“Well, at least that was something different, I guess.”
“Don’t be rude.” The devil reached over and turned up the radio, tapping his foot on the passenger side floor mat. I looked down to see that he had some kind of hoof. Yep. Typical devil. “I love this song.” Humming. He could hit the notes. I don’t know why that surprised me so much.
“Listen, dude, I need some information here. Can you at least tell me what the deal is?”
The devil reached under the seat and adjusted it back so it was reclining a little. He breathed deeply as he settled in and relaxed. “You’re Groundhog Day-ing it, guy. You’re stuck in a loop until you get it right.”
“What do you mean, right?”
He shrugged those shiny red shoulders and smirked at me. “I don’t know. Something with a sense of ironic justice and cosmic import. Comical futility is only funny for the first couple of times around, then it just gets sad.”
I bounced his words back and forth and around my skull, trying to make sense of things. This wasn’t what I’d expected when I finally found the courage, or the cowardice, or fill in your preferred emotional state here, to kill myself. It became a math equation: I tried A twice, and I tried B, and if neither of those worked and both were equal to finding myself back on this twisted highway sitting next to the devil, so I needed to try a C, or a D, or all the damn letters in the alphabet until something worked. The pain and irritation were both increasing, and I shuddered to think where the upper limit on either one might end.
A thought occurred to me.
“You said we made a bet? I didn’t make no bet with you.”
“Sure you did!” He clapped me on the shoulder like we were old friends. His palm was hot like a sunny sidewalk, and I shrugged away.
“No, I fucking didn’t. There’s no contract or anything. You just showed up in my car, unannounced, like a jackass, and now you’re telling me we made a bet? Bullshit.”
“Oh, you think there’s got to be some kind of scroll, don’t you. Signed in blood and all that. Something written in Latin on a piece of human skin. Or maybe you’re supposed to suck my cock or kiss my ass or something, right? Ain’t that what they say on the documentaries about me? I can tell you, that’s garbage. I said I bet you couldn’t do it right, you countered with a different viewpoint, we touched our palms together, which is close enough to a handshake for me, and now here you are. Tell me that’s not the case? Nope. You’re in it, pal.”
I nodded. “All right.” My brow furrowed, and I resolved myself to figure my way out of this. I was not laboring under the idea that I was any less a man than my father or his father before him, and both of those sad sacks were able to finish the job. It should be the easiest thing in the world. People do it by accident all the time. I was determined to find the key, and then choke on it.
My next run through, I steered off the side of the road in the opposite direction, like before, only this time I had the presence of mind to unbuckle my seatbelt and sort of launched myself with my glutes. I careened around the inside of the car like a pinball on fire, feeling concussions bloom as my eyes rolled back into my skull. I could have sworn I somehow saw my own brain in the instant before I blacked out and everything flattened into a shade of gray.
Until the color returned to the world, along with an intense laser focus burning where my third eye would be, if I believed in chakras.
I pulled off the road in every direction possible, jumping ditches, smashing into different cars, trying to spin out. At one point, I kept driving until I found a bridge, with this asshole devil fucking with me the whole time, just sitting and laughing and playing with the radio. Fucking devil.
After about a dozen runs at suicide, two things happened.
Number one, the pain had reached a level that was pretty much indescribable. Imagine a really hot chili pepper, like a ghost pepper or one of those Trinidad scorpion things, or even a Carolina reaper maybe. The kind of pepper that can bring a grown ass man to his knees, crying tears of regret and wanting to vomit, but knowing that if he does, it’s going to hurt even more. Now, take that pepper, and stick it in your urethra. If you’re still conscious after imagining that, take your pee-hole and stick it in the dead center of your brain. That’s what it felt like every time I came back after about a dozen attempts at getting death “right,” whatever the hell that means. Like someone had ripped out my spine and shoved it back in upside down. Like my nerves were filled with gasoline and set ablaze.
The second thing was, I started to feel a little guilty.
More than half the time, I was taking someone with me to the grave, some poor innocent person just driving along, minding their own business, when out of nowhere this suicidal asshole comes careening into their lane and leaves nothing of them on the pavement but a smear of apple butter. That’s not fair. That’s not going to earn anyone any karma.
“Hey, what ‘cha thinkin’ about?” This devil is still making small talk. Like we’re friends hanging out on the riverbank with a couple of beers. I guess he ain’t got anything better to do. So I indulge him.
“Puzzling it out. Feels like you gave me a way out somewhere, I just have to see it.”
“Well,” says the devil, “I have been known to leave a little hole here and there, something to make the game fun. You know what they say, whenever I close a door, I open a window.”
“I thought that was God?”
“Whatever.” He shrugged and threw his hooves up on the dashboard. His feet smelled like burnt black pepper. I had to wonder why the devil smelled so spicy. Maybe they have lots of celebrity chefs in hell. I imagine the devil is a snacker.
It occurred to me then that he couldn’t possibly be this bored, and his schedule couldn’t be this open. I know we’re all looped up in time and maybe on a cosmic time scale, this moment isn’t much to be concerned with, but wouldn’t you get bored sitting in a car that kept crashing after the first couple times?
I had just buried the needle and taken a flying leap off the side of an overpass into a tanker truck full of chemicals. The caustic acid bath was no fun, but I barely remembered it after the explosion pretty much tore me to pieces. Of course, I was right back in the driver’s seat, muttering under my breath, moments later. My head was in so much pain, it was almost numb, like those stories about people who freeze to death in the arctic and get found with all their clothes taken off, because they got so incredibly cold, their body malfunctioned and made them think they were burning up. Before this, I wouldn’t have bet that you could actually loop pain around and come back through the other side into a comfortably numb state, at least not without drugs, but here I was.
This lucid moment gave me a surprising bit of clarity. It hit me like a shiv between the lobes.
“We’ve been driving for a while. Getting cold feet? Or are you finally starting to understand that you can’t get it done?”
I stared at the devil with a raised eyebrow. “Nah, just thinking things through.”
“Good. I knew I’d get through that thick skull one of these go arounds. You had me losing hope. I’m supposed to be mankind’s advocate, you know. The light bringer and shit. Spreading knowledge. Had me thinking I wasn’t really doing my job, there.”
“Mmm hmm,” I muttered, settling my eyes on the horizon. I drove on until night was unmistakable, black as pitch with only a few stars and occasional headlights cutting through. We’d cut the high beams and pass on by. I had a new plan.
I took my cell phone out of my pocket as I took the off-ramp and circled my way around the cloverleaf. An eerie sense of calm was inside me now, very different from the manic sort of anxiety I’d been chewing on for most of my road trip to hell. The devil looked quizzical, when he realized I was changing directions and getting back on US-45 going back the other way.
“Who you calling?”
“Shhh.” It felt good to shush the devil. I was about to say something about rudeness, when there was a click and the other end picked up.
“Hello? What do you want?”
I paused for a moment to swallow. My throat felt like it had been scraped dry with a razor blade. “I wanted to talk.”
“Don’t have any reason to talk. You got my money or not?”
I hadn’t really factored in how hearing Mister Cotto’s voice would make me feel. I had avoided him successfully for over two weeks, and here I was calling his number like an insurance salesman in the middle of the night. My tongue stuck out and wet my lips, unsticking them just enough so I could speak. “I’m coming over. I’ve got it.”
Now, it was his turn to pause. “What? You can’t come over. I don’t want you coming here.”
“I want to bring it to you, directly.”
“God damn it, I don’t like it when you shitheels come to my house.”
“I know, but I’m not at home, and I … just hold on, I’ll be there soon, I promise.”
“It’s the middle of the fucking night—”
“I want to pay up. It won’t take but a minute, I’m sorry. I’m coming over.”
“God damn it, I told you—”
I hung up before he could finish protesting.
My forehead broke out in a sweat and I squeezed my eyes shut for a second. Mister Cotto was a local bookie. Not a big shot or anything, but dangerous enough to cause me some stress. More dangerous than me, at any rate. I’d been avoiding him because I owed too much, and he’d made it clear he was tired of waiting. I knew people who’d been visited by Mister Cotto and his friends, and they weren’t the same after. Maybe they walked funny now. Maybe they had a hollow look in their eyes. Maybe some guy we were used to seeing around the bar suddenly didn’t show up anymore and had left town without a word. Bad things happened to people who owed Cotto their savings, and I didn’t have any of that left. My couch cushions were emptied out.
Sometimes you can feel the minute that your fuse is up. Then, the explosion. I felt that spark disappear just long enough ago to be scared. So that’s why contacting Mister Cotto was a last-ditch effort to take care of things.
We drove for miles in silence. I could tell the devil was trying to figure out what I was up to, but he didn’t ask, and to his credit, he didn’t talk much. Just fiddled with the radio.
The subdivision Cotto lived in was nice, suburban, kind of upper-middle class with a lot of ranch style homes. As soon as I pulled into his neighborhood, the devil frowned. “What’s up, buddy? You chicken out?”
“Nah, just have to man up. Do what’s right.”
The devil spit on my floor mat and grunted. “Right. Shit, what’s right anyway? Morality is so much more complicated than people think. Like the whole thing where suicides go to hell. You think I want a bunch of sad sack emotional motherfuckers walking around my house, whining and complaining about how sad they are, and how the world was the problem, and society, and blah blah blah? Show some damn spine.”
As the devil was finishing his little rant, I turned the corner into the cul-de-sac where Cotto’s house was. I could see that imposing fortress of a house right at the end of the block. Looked like the sprinklers were on, running all night to make for a nice, green lawn. I thought about all the gambling money that had helped pay to waste all that water.
I hadn’t been sure of my plan, exactly. Spontaneous bad ideas are also something that’s in my blood, as evidenced by the long line of bad ends up the branches in my family tree. But, as I mentioned before, my family has always been gamblers. Even a losing gambler doesn’t lose every time. Otherwise, he’d have never been hooked in the first place. Always looking for a payoff, one big score to make it worthwhile, before you bet it all and lose it again.
I’d been due for a change of luck, and when I saw the winning ticket in front of me, I couldn’t believe it. Cotto was standing in his driveway, holding a baseball bat, looking agitated. His wrinkled old dick was visible through the flap in his bathrobe, and he looked pissed enough to make his eyes glow red. Obviously, he meant for me to take him seriously when he told me he didn’t want me coming by, even with the money I owed him.
No theatrics. I didn’t rev the engine or anything like you’d see in a movie. I just stamped down the gas pedal and beared down on the wheel.
“What the fuck are you doing?” The devil sounded almost a little alarmed this time around, but mostly just curious.
“You want cosmic irony? A show of spine? That’s the motherfucker who drove me here. I’m about to drive him somewhere.”
I’ll never forget Cotto’s face when the headlights lit it up. He looked confused for a second, then scared out of his mind, and finally there was this pitiable look that just sort of said he knew he’d fucked up somewhere along the line. I thought about my grandfather, leaving my grandmother alone on the farm, and my daddy ruining the hell out of Christmas, and I thought about all those innocent people that kept dying as collateral damage as I tried, over and over again, to fix my mistakes.
But I hadn’t been fixing my mistakes. I hadn’t been doing it right.
I was going to do it right.
My car hit Cotto doing over sixty miles per hour. The interesting statistic about that is, pedestrians can often survive an impact from a car going thirty or under. At thirty, the fatality rate is only around four percent. Going around forty miles per hour, the pedestrian has about a half and half chance of becoming a corpse. That’s true. Then it shoots up like crazy after that. By the time you hit sixty-plus, you’re in the killing zone.
Cotto’s body crashed into my windshield and broke, spraying glass all over the inside of the car as I plowed into his garage and through the doors, crumpling my front end to scrap and smashing me forward and through the already crystallizing window. Our bodies did a sort of dance together, impacting and cracking skulls, snapping bones, and allowing our organs to spatter across the insides of our rapidly splintering ribs.
“Two-for-one? Good deal, I’ll take it.” In those moments of death, everything felt slowed down and washed out, like an old movie played at half speed. But I felt that handshake, even as I flew through the air and my arms went numb from the nerves frying.
If I’d had a moment to stop everything, if I could have done like in the movies and had a beautiful exit line, I’d have told Cotto “I’ll see you in hell.” It would have been funny, because I’d have meant it literally, which he wouldn’t have known right away until he saw me there grinning in a boiling pond of magma.
Of course, then I remembered that the devil said it’s more complicated than that. Maybe he only likes to torture the boring and the stupid. Which one am I? That’s complicated too, the answer to that.
All I know is, I’m not reliving anything anymore. The loop is broken. The cycle of suicides, the bloodline, it’s all wrapped up in a neat little package.
And, I ain’t been back since.
About the Author
Michael Allen Rose is an author, musician, and performance artist based in Chicago, Illinois. His published books include Embry: Hard Boiled (bizarro noir), Party Wolves in My Skull (cartoonish comedy), and Boiled Americans, an experimental and surreal exploration of gun violence. Having studied theatre in the frozen wastes of North Dakota, his plays have been produced in major cities such as New York, Chicago, Portland, and Denver. He hosts the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown at Portland Oregon’s “Bizarro Con” each year, and he also spent time in the conservatory program of Chicago’s famed Second City and on stage as a burlesque performer. He releases industrial and experimental music under the pseudonym Flood Damage. His short stories can be found in such publications and anthologies as The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Kizuna: Stories for Japan, Fireside Popsicles, Bizarro Bizarro, and Mighty in Sorrow: A Literary Tribute to David Tibet. He really likes cats, and enjoys good tea and good beer.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Zero Saints. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias
Image: DodgertonSkillhause, morguefile.com