A novel by EJ Spode.
Chapter 15: The Bittermilk Road
When I pulled into Dimebag’s place I was impressed to see that his driveway had already been cleared. It was good to know that he wasn’t a total slacker. I noticed that Climax’s car was there, which under ordinary circumstances would be a welcome piece of information, but in this case, with me on a mission to get to the Stockman, my attitude was more ambivalent.
Once again the dogs came out, followed by Debbie, who herded them into the nearby shed. She then led me back into Dimebag’s mancave, and excused herself, saying that she had chores to do. I doubted that was true, but whatever.
As soon as I got in the mancave, Dimebag and Climax were jumping up and down like puppies. They had big news to share with me, and they began fighting over who got to tell me first.
Dimebag started: “EJ, listen to this!”
“No, I wanna tell him.”
“Why do you get to tell him?”
“Cuz man, we bros.”
“Fuck that, man, he’s my bro too.”
“Yah but we be BROs!”
“That’s the same fucking thing, Climax. Bros are bros; there’s no such thing as bros and BROs. That’s the first fucking rule of bros.”
I interrupted their rich exchange of ideas. “Would someone just tell me, please?”
Dimebag played his trump card: “Dude it’s my head, I’m gonna tell him.”
“Fine,” Climax said, apparently yielding.
Dimebag: I’m gonna get trepanned
Climax: He’s gonna get trepanned
I looked at both of them for a minute, waiting for more. It didn’t come.
“OK, guys? I don’t know what that is.”
Dimebag, whose head was somehow involved, explained: “Trepanation, man. I am going to bore a hole in my head to raise my consciousness.
Climax added an informal gloss: “Yah he’s gonna be high 24/7.”
I looked at them. “OK. Let’s go back to the beginning. You are going to drill a hole in your head…”
Dimebag tilted his head from side to side in a way that was ambiguous between yes and no. “Well I could, but I’m gonna have a professional do it.”
“Yeah, in Mexico.”
“Yah, I found a doctor that will do it for 2K.”
“You are going to pay a Mexican doctor two thousand dollars US to drill a hole in your head.”
“OK Dimebag, I can tell you want to explain this, but honestly…”
“It’s like this, EJ: The human brain has outgrown its cranium. As a consequence blood doesn’t flow freely through our brains. This prevents us from achieving the level of consciousness we are capable of. It’s also why we need to use drugs – because our restrictive skulls are denying us the higher consciousness we evolved to need and enjoy.”
“Right, and Dimebag Bob is going to lead us into this new, higher consciousness.”
I was being sarcastic but Dimebag took it as a compliment.
“I wish I could take credit, EJ, but this is ancient knowledge – the Egyptians, the Incans – they all knew about this.”
“OK dude, “bro,” do you want my view on this?”
“Sure thing bro.”
“Just…no. Just fucking no. Please, do not drill a hole in your head… or have a Mexican doctor do it either.”
“Naw man, you should do it too!”
Dimebag’s inextinguishable enthusiasm drew Climax back into the conversation. “Hell yeah! We should all get it done!”
Dimebag appreciated the support: “That’s the spirit, Climax, let’s raise some consciousness around here!”
Mercifully, and not entirely surprisingly, Dimebag’s mention of higher consciousness derailed Climax onto another topic. “Speaking of which, man, EJ and I tripped on San Pedro the other day.”
Dimebag immediately followed Climax’s runaway thought train. “Seriously? How was it?”
“Dude it was righteous – I really squared shit away with the universe.”
“Cool, I haven’t had that shit in years. Can you get more?”
“No doubt bro, no doubt.”
I gave Climax my best evil eye, but he continued like he had missed it entirely.
“Here is the thing man, when you are right with the universe it all flows downhill, you know.”
“Straight up, bro.”
I had no idea what they were talking about, and said so. Dimebag drew on Bruce Lee to explain it.
“Dude, it’s like Bruce Lee said, you want to be like water. You flow around shit; you take any shape. Eventually you find your proper place. Back in the ocean.”
I was skeptical. “Ocean. We are a thousand miles from the ocean. You mean like the Yankton Reservoir?”
“Well yeah, if that is your right place. It’s all about harmony.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “San Pedro didn’t tell me to go with the flow; it told me if I wanted to get back with Penny I am going to have to turn the world upside down.”
They both sat quietly while we passed the joint around.
Finally, Climax spoke. “Well, it could be that love is overrated.”
Dimebag nodded. “It’s some alien shit forealz. Plus, you know, turning the world upside down is a lot of work.”
Climax nodded. “Word. And think of the collateral damage.”
I had thought about that, and I said so. “The Universe sent Penny to me and told me to protect her. There are lots of shitty worlds in the Universe. Maybe Penny is more important than this shitty world, and maybe the world needs to be turned upside down anyway. And anyway, about water, if you two had ever been near water you wouldn’t be so full of shit. Have you ever seen a tidal wave or a broken damn or a flash flood? Water will fuck some shit up – it will flatten your house like a fucking Twinkie. Don’t tell me how zen water is. Water is an unstoppable killer when it wants to be.”
Dimebag hit an El and then addressed me. “Dude, are you ok?”
“Why would I not be ok?”
“I dunno, you seem kind of agro…”
“Fuck yes I’m agro. Maybe the world needs some agro about now.”
There was a pause while Dimebag and Climax worked on the El, discretely exchanging glances. Finally, Dimebag broke the silence.
“Yeah….I sort of doubt that, EJ,… but whatevs; it’s all good.”
Climax nodded and passed me the joint. This was their signal for me to chill the fuck out. I leaned back. There would be no moving them off of their 1960s hippy vibe.
After an ensuing stoner conversation about the various varieties of Doritos (they both insisted that Kryptonite Doritos were the best) and the discovery of a petrified dinosaur on a local farm, Dimebag announced that he had a present for us.
“Dudes, check this, I’ve got some opium for you.”
Climax was ecstatic. “No shit! Dimebag you are a prince among men.”
“Hell yeah I am, but you guys are princes among princes.” Dimebag continued. “Now here’s the thing, guys. This shit is forealz. Do not fire it up until you are home safe and in for the night because it will knock you on your ass.”
“Sure thing, Dimebag.” Climax said that as earnestly as any human could, but I had the sense that the advice hadn’t taken. Then Climax threw me a curve.
“EJ, I’m leaving my car here for Debbie cuz her car is in the shop. Can you give me a ride into town?”
Now there was a serious question as to whether I was ever going to make it to the Stockman if Climax rode with me, but he had cleverly set the whole thing up like it was all a favor for Debbie, so there really wasn’t much I could do in the way of saying “no.”
We got in my dad’s Jeep and headed back towards town, but of course before we were even at the end of Dimebag’s driveway, Climax had taken out the opium, stuck some in his hash pipe, and was firing it up.
“Jesus fuck Climax, did you not hear a word that Dimebag said?”
“Dude, calm down, it’s only opium. Shit is baby food to us.”
“Seriously, Climax, this advice is coming from Dimebag, who is the iron man of substance abuse.”
“Naw, Dimebag is a pussy.” Climax said this just before he started hitting on the pipe. I had to admit the opium had a nice aroma to it.
“Dimebag is not a fucking pussy; would you just listen to what you are saying? He’s going to drill a hole in his head so he can be high 24/7!”
Climax let out some smoke. “Dude, do you want some or not?”
So for the next three country miles we smoked the opium, with Climax humming some tune by Metallica – I think it was Vulturus — and me silently stewing.
Then another mile passed.
And then we were stoned out of our minds.
It occurred to me that I should maybe slow down, but the problem was I had no idea if I was going too slow or too fast. I looked at the speedometer, which showed some number value but I had no idea how to interpret it.
“Dude, am I going too fast? Slow?”
“Too fast. Am I going too fast?”
“Dude, what happened to the road?”
“The road is all bittermilk.”
“It’s called butter milk not bitter milk.”
“No man, it’s definitely bittermilk.”
“Fuck, you’re right…. The road is all fucked up.”
And then I was back in the ditch. Going into the ditch sort of cleared my head slightly, or at least enough so that I was capable of rage.
“Goddamnit Climax I told you not to burn that opium ‘til we got home!”
“Well…sure… but you smoked it.”
“That’s cuz of your fucking peer pressure.”
“What peer pressure? I didn’t make you do shit.”
“You called me a pussy.”
“Cuz you ARE a pussy, but I said Dimebag was a pussy anyway.”
“Whatever, you are fucking up my life bigtime. Jeezuz fuck why do I even hang out with you.”
“Is that a question?”
me: Fuck you.
Climax: Fuck you.
I opened my car door and stepped out of the car and into a drift. It swallowed my left leg and then the ground turned to bittermilk beneath me and I faceplanted in a drift. I climbed back up on my knees but was hit with a wave of nausea. Whatever, I had to stand up, which I did, and then I went immediately back to my knees and puked my guts out. All those pancakes and waffles and steaks and eggs and bacon and sausages and coffee and bourbon. I just kept puking like it was never going to end.
Do you know that euphemism for puking – “the Technicolor yawn”? That’s how it started — in gaudy Wizzard of Oz Technicolor vomit. But as I kept purging I could have sworn it was animated vomit – Fantasia Technicolor vomit. And as the animated Technicolor vomit hit the snow, steam rose up and the vomit began to burn a whole deep in to the ground, and as I looked in I saw a Technicolor Dante-esque hellscape, and I rocked back to avoid falling into the hideous hellhole I had created with my puke.
The last few rounds of dry heaves had a slight aftertaste of cinnamon. Fucking sticky buns giving up the ghost. I rolled onto my side, exhausted.
I could hear Climax from the car. “Dude, you ok?”
Barely able to speak, I managed to mutter “Fuck you.”
I got up on my hands and knees and dry heaved some more.
After sitting on my fours in the snow for a bit I started to feel a little better, so I rocked back onto my ass and sat there staring into the sun. It was goddamn bright.
I don’t think Climax had completely processed what was going on. “Dude.”
“I think we’re in the ditch.”
I kept staring at the sun. Maybe it would make me go blind, but on the other hand maybe it would clear my head before I went blind.
People say a lot of shit about the sun and what it supposedly looks like. They say it’s a big orange ball of fire, or if they are great wordsmiths like David Foster Wallace, they talk about how it is “swollen and perfectly round, and large, radiating knives of light.” Well, I agree that that’s how the sun looks when you just take quick glances at it. But if you really look at it – I mean stare at it – you see something else altogether. Now I’ll grant you it isn’t easy to stare at the sun. The pain is tremendous at first, but if you can endure the pain you’ll find that as your pupils shrink to a point the sun disappears and you begin to see things as they are. You see that the sky isn’t blue; it isn’t any color – it is just a great mist of nothing. The illusion of blue burns away. The sun loses its definition too; you realize it isn’t round at all. It’s just this great invisible source of energy that is confronting you with the reality surrounding you. And then you realize that you are part of that reality and the sun is confronting you with the reality of who and what you are and that’s when you realize that the pain you felt earlier was not physical pain at all; it was the emotional pain of having to look an unforgiving truth teller in the eyes.
After a few more minutes of sungazing and deep thoughts I got up on my feet and turned to face the car. I leaned on the car and stuck my head in the driver’s side door to see what Climax was doing. Of course he had fired up another bowl.
“What the fuck Climax put that pipe down.”
“Sure…whatever.” Climax was so high he couldn’t even manage to ignore my orders.
I got back in the car and shut the car door. I didn’t want to freeze to death. On the other hand, I didn’t want carbon monoxide poisoning, so I rolled the car window down. I wasn’t sure, but I thought the car was probably still running. None of the whatchamagizmos and numberneedlethingys on the dash made a lick of sense to me. Climax turned on the radio. It seemed to be a report on the price of farm commodities but neither of us had the wherewithal to change the station.
After about twenty minutes of strangely soothing farm reports about spot prices for barrows and gilts and heifers and sowbellies, my head started to clear a bit.
“Dude, we have to get help before it gets dark.”
“We have to find a farm…er.”
“Are you even going to help?”
“Dude, what you want me to do?”
“Well, you could start by apologizing for putting us in this mess, and then you go get a farmer to pull us out of the ditch.”
“Why am I apologizing? You’re the fucker that was driving.”
“Oh fuck you.”
“Fuck you back.”
We sat for a minute and then I gave in.
“OK, let’s go together.”
Climax and I climbed out of the car and up trudged down the road to the nearest farmhouse driveway. It looked familiar.
“Fuck, this is the Larson farm.”
“Larson? Don’t know him.”
“This is the fucker that pulled me out of the ditch last night.”
“Yeah… I guess so. We got along pretty good. He’s a good guy.”
“I’m freezing my nuts off.”
Just then the stupid collie and black lab started tearing at us. Climax seemed more or less delighted by this and went to his knees and started playing with the lab. I think the collie remembered me and came up to me and started sniffing my hand again. But while we were making friends with the dogs, Daddy Larson came out of the house with a seriously confused face on.
“Yeah, hi Mr. Larson.”
“EJ, what are you doing back here?”
“Well funny thing about that…it’s the craziest thing…we were on our way back from Bob’s and we went in the ditch again.”
“EJ was driving.” That was Climax’s unhelpful contribution.
Daddy Larson was staring me like he was going to kill me.
“Is there any chance you can help us out again? I’m really sorry. We’ll pay you for your trouble, really, we’re really sorry.”
Climax chimed in again for no apparent reason. “Yeah, sorry dude.”
I stared at Climax with my best shut-the-fuck-up look. I wasn’t sure if he picked up the message.
Daddy Larson, now staring at me with pure rage, finally spoke. “I’ll get the tractor.” And he spun and walked back to the house – I guess to get the keys to the tractor. And then Climax decided to speak to him again.
“Dude, can I use your bathroom?”
“NO!” Daddy Larson shouted as he slammed the door to his house behind him. I was pretty sure I saw actual steam coming out of his ears.
“Whoa, I thought you said this dude was chill.”
“Shut up, Climax.”
“I’m gonna go take a leak behind that shed.”
Daddy Larson got his Massey Ferguson tractor and pulled my car out of the ditch again, more or less yanking the car out in an unnecessarily aggressive way. He unhooked the log chains quickly, hung them on his tractor and was off without saying good-bye.
“Well, anyway, he was nice enough this morning.”
Climax nodded. “Dude, are you hungry?”
“Yeah.” And why wouldn’t I be hungry? I had totally lost my entire breakfast. “We can eat in town.”
“No fuck that, let’s go to the Rocket sisters place.”
We got in the car and I started it and headed back in the direction of town. The car was pulling to the left something awful, and I had the sense that the alignment was all kinds of fucked up from the car being yanked out of the ditch in a not very friendly way.
“What are the Rocket Sisters?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Image: Jana Astanov.
Chapter 1: Giants in the Earth:
Chapter 2: The Welcome Inn:
Chapter 3: Dimebag Bob’s:
Chapter 4: The Trojan Horse:
Chapter 5: The Turtle Diaries:
Chapter 6: The Cartagena Diaries
Chapter 7: Penny
Chapter 8: San Pedro
Chapter 9: Triggered
Chapter 10: Letters and Dreams
Chapter 11: Helena and Steady Eddie
Chapter 12: Circe
Chapter 13: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Chapter 14: The Sleepover
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 5th, 2017.