Chapter 8: Ghost Sniper
Gary, Indiana greeted Roy with a rancid industrial smell a few miles before he was even inside the city limits. He rolled up the window of his Jeep Wrangler, but that didn't help much. To make matters worse, the L.S.D. he'd dropped a hundred miles earlier started to kick into overdrive. It was a bush-league batch from a dealer who was a friend of a friend -- some guy called Farny. Real low-grade shit full of speed and rat poison and only God knows what else.
This particular trip was shaping up to be a real soul shredder, and he still had some hard miles to cover before he made it to Chicago. Chett had an apartment on the north side by Wrigley, and after the shit hit the fan in West Virginia, he had given Roy a standing invitation to crash with him and his girlfriend there. Of course, he hadn't talked to the guy in almost a year, but Chett's word was as good as gold.
Roy was at a standstill in a sea of taillights, and he was having trouble breathing. Every D.J. on every radio station in Indiana and Illinois couldn't stop shouting about how extreme he was. One guy called Bear had a guest who ate glass. "You can hear him eating the glass right now! This is the craziest thing I have ever seen," Bear reported.
Roy flipped to another station. There was a guy named Carl who had a sidekick named Drake who let a stripper named Bambi throw up on him. "She's throwing up on him right now! This is the wildest thing I've ever seen," Carl boasted. "Oh my God, it smells," Drake added. Bambi only giggled.
Big beads of sweat materialized on Roy's forehead and descended into his eyes. The foul industrial odor was still seeping into the car, and he closed off all the air vents. Roy thought he could see the source of the smell out there -- a yellowish-green cloud that washed over the Indiana Turnpike.
"Mustard Gas," he said out loud. The strange fog seemed to probe at the gridlocked cars with finger-like wisps as it tried to get to the people inside.
The car directly in front of him was a Subaru station wagon full of screaming kids. They were making faces at him, and the oldest, maybe eleven or twelve, was giving him the finger. The horrible cloud settled around the Subaru's tires for a moment and then swirled beneath the undercarriage before it found its way in through the tailpipe. Roy screamed when the gas filled the station wagon and the children frantically beat against the windows as their faces bubbled off, leaving behind slack-jawed skulls.
A sustained horn blast from an aggravated eighteen-wheeler pulsed across the turnpike, obliterating the toxic cloud instantly. Roy blinked his eyes. The poorly behaved children in the Subaru were laughing and pointing at him. To his relief, their faces were still intact. Now the youngest one, maybe five or six years old, was flipping him off too.
"Fucking cheap acid," Roy muttered, "I'm never fucking with this shit again."
Progress was excruciatingly slow. About an hour later he had managed to move five or six miles when the source of the congestion became evident. A construction crew had traffic down to one lane because they had to dig up the other two for some reason or another. Eventually, Roy passed the last of the orange barrels, and as soon as things got moving again, the Indiana Turnpike ended. Before long, he was in Illinois merging onto another nightmare called The Dan Ryan Expressway.
Downtown Chicago began to materialize off to his right -- the skyscrapers stood in the distance like colossal sentinels keeping watch over the city. Watching for what? It was an unnerving question, and he forced it from his mind.
It was only 3:00 P.M., but already the crushing Chicago traffic had seized the Dan Ryan. Roy was coated in a cold, chemical slime-sweat. It seemed as if the myriad of brake lights that stretched out before him were actually glowing red eyes piercing him, stealing secrets from his soul.
"Don't look at me!" he screamed. "Stop staring at me!" He shook his fists at the eyes to show he was serious, but their gaze held steady. "Is it a fucking staring contest you want?" Roy thundered, and he rolled down his window so the eyes could hear him better. "You got it. We'll see who blinks first."
There was an ember of sanity that still burned somewhere in the core of his mind, and that ember knew this was all just a bad side effect from the acid. But there was nothing it could do except hope that the mad storm would eventually blow itself out, while Roy's sole focus was to stare down the red demon eyes.
Small things, microscopic things, began to settle onto his corneas, but still, he refused to blink. The tiny things came into sharper focus as they glided across the thin film of moisture that coated his eyeballs. They were little geometric shapes: squares, circles, and triangles with transparent bodies. He could see their squishy internal organs beating, breathing, and digesting. One rectangle looked like it was pregnant with an octagon. An obtuse triangle was spraying excrement out of an orifice.
Roy shut his eyes and squeezed down with as much force as he could muster in an attempt to crush the little parasites out of existence. Maybe it was an instant, or maybe it was an eon, but eventually, he opened his eyes again. Mercifully, the little geometric creatures were gone.
Roy blinked his eyes a few more times and looked at the big buildings that loomed in the distance. He realized he was peering through the windows of the skyscrapers with telescopic vision. White collar robots droned away at their desks, shuffling papers mindlessly about. One man was watching internet porn but switched the screen to an Excel spreadsheet when his boss approached. Two women were conversing inanely next to the water cooler, and a balding man purposely dropped his pen so he could bend over and steal a glance up their skirts.
Roy angled his head a bit more so he could see all the way to the top of the building. There were big machines up there -- the workhorses that processed huge quantities of air for the building's HVAC systems, networks of cables and antennas for communications, and pipes of all different sizes. He saw two men up there, and he assumed they were maintenance workers. But one of the guys had a set of binoculars, and he was staring right back at Roy. That was disconcerting enough, but then the other guy opened up something that looked like a guitar case and pulled out a rifle.
Jesus, Roy thought to himself, is he gonna start shooting people? Just then, the guy raised the rifle to his shoulder, and the barrel swung around so that Roy was staring right into the business end of the muzzle.
"Oh, shit," Roy wheezed as he hit the gas and blinked his eyes furiously, trying to switch from telescopic vision back to standard. Suddenly, the passenger side window exploded into perfect randomness, and hot lead zipped beneath his nose close enough to singe the stray hairs that protruded beyond his nostrils. The round exited through the open driver's side window and punched a fist-sized hole into the concrete retaining wall on his left.
"Oh shit, oh crap, oh shit," was all Roy could say. He stole a glance back up at the crazed men, and the one guy put down the binoculars and held up a cue card. It read, "That was a warning shot. Turn yourself in to the police, or next time we won't miss."
Roy blinked furiously until he regained his normal eyesight. He floored it and cut the wheel hard. The Jeep lurched onto the shoulder, and he blew by traffic, searching frantically for a way off the Dan Ryan. After a few miles of sheer lunacy, he jumped across four lanes and exited somewhere around midtown. All he could think was that he had to find Chett in a hurry.
A phone directory that looked about as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls was chained to a pay phone just outside a 7-Eleven. Chett, of course, was on the lam just like everybody else, and his name wouldn't be listed. But Chett's girlfriend was Nancy Darrow -- Roy had made a point of remembering that name. There was a listing for Nancy Darrow on 126 ½ West Newport Avenue. Roy fumbled with some loose change and dialed the number, but the answering machine picked up. Dammit. He slammed the phone back into the cradle and walked into the 7-Eleven.
"Do you know how to get to West Newport Avenue?" Roy asked the guy who operated the cash register from behind three inches of Lexan. The guy seemed preoccupied with a magazine about motorcycles.
"Yep," he said without looking up from the page. Roy waited a few seconds for Cash Register Guy to elaborate, but he never did. Now he was really starting to tweak -- that acid he took had way too much speed in it. The cheetah on the front of a Cheetos bag was talking. "Are you hungry?" Chester Cheetah asked. Roy almost answered, but caught himself just in time.
"You need something, Chief?" Cash Register Guy asked.
"No," Roy began again, "I was just looking for directions to West Newport Avenue."
Cash Register Guy exhaled as if he were being asked to name and spell all fifty states in alphabetical order, and say their capital cities and state birds. Finally, reluctantly, Cash Register Guy told him how to get there.
At first, Roy was skeptical. He wondered if Cash Register Guy had purposely fucked up the directions. Dickheads like him do that sometimes. They're angry at the world because they ended up with crappy jobs and crappy lives, and their only recourse was to give out bogus directions to strangers. And then Roy wondered if he was just being paranoid. He decided he'd try to follow the guy's directions, after all.
It took a while. Roy missed a few turns because the whole time he was scanning the streets and the rooftops for the snipers. He took some deep breaths and tried to reassure himself that everything was gonna be okay, but he could feel that last ember of sanity start to fizzle and fade as the mad rains flooded his mind. "I just need to find Chett. If I can find Chett, everything will be fine. No problems. Nada." He talked to himself like that as he kept one eye out for snipers, and the other eye out for West Newport Avenue.
Roy eventually found the street, but there was still the problem of finding a parking space. Parking in Chicago is rarely easy. It's kind of like fishing. Sure, there's some skill involved, but when it comes down to it, you just need some dumb luck. He drove around the block several times like a circling vulture waiting for a sick moose to keel over. A couple of hot chicks got into a sporty looking Lexus, and he swooped into the spot as soon as they zoomed away.
Now all he needed was to find house number 126 ½. He thought about how crowded the world must be when they have to start sandwiching fractions of an address in between whole addresses. It made him nauseous. He pressed the buzzer for 126 ½.
"Who is it?" a woman's voice said through the speaker.
"Ah, yeah. Hi. My name's Roy. I'm Chett's buddy."
"Oh, you're Chett's friend," the woman said pleasantly.
"Yep, best buddies."
"Well, why don't you go fuck yourself," she suggested in that same pleasant tone.
"Uh, pardon me?"
"That's right," she continued. "Go buy a big, vibrating dildo and ram it right up your ass with no lube."
"Look, I'm sorry if this is a bad time, but I'm from out of town, and I was hoping to see Chett. Is he there?"
"I kicked that loser out two months ago," she said, and the pleasant tone drained out of her voice. "He couldn't keep a job, he couldn't help out around the house, and all he could do was get drunk and fuck fat skanks in my bed while I was at work trying to earn a living for the two of us."
"Oh," Roy said flatly. The mad rains were coming down harder now ... a lot harder. It was orange rain filling his head -- insanity. Soon the orange insanity would be leaking out of his ears, out of his nose. "Oh Jesus, this is bad. This is way bad," Roy mumbled as he tried to pull it together. He just needed to keep the dialogue open long enough to get Chett's new address. That's all. No problem. Nada.
"Sorry it didn't work out," he said weakly, "but anyway, I really need to get in touch with Chett. Do you have his new address or phone number?"
"The best way to get in touch with Chett is to stick that big, un-lubed dildo up your ass, and click your heels together three times while professing what a loser you are. Now go away."
"Wait," Roy protested.
"Leave me alone, asshole!"
The speed from the acid was finally starting to lose its steam and exhaustion hit Roy like a battering ram. He could only think to mash his hand against all of the door buzzers and hope somebody would let him inside. After a long time, he gave up and started back for his car. That's when he saw two silhouettes lurking on the rooftop of an apartment building only a half-block away.
Roy threw his hands into the air and screamed, "Wait! Don't! Don't shoot me. I'll confess. I'll confess every fucking thing." There was a pay phone on the corner. He walked to it, dialed 911, and rambled on about snipers, and a dead security guard, and trying to save the planet. The dispatcher decided it was best to send out a squad car.
When the cops arrived, Roy sat on the curb and confessed everything on the spot just like the bad guys at the end of every Scooby Doo episode. He waived his Miranda Rights, named names, remembered dates. He explained the philosophies that governed The Curators of Earth organization and their plan to burn the dragline excavator in West Virginia. He recounted the shooting of the security guard in tremendous detail, including what brand of ammunition Sarah had used. He even confessed to using a cheat sheet during an eighth-grade social studies test.
When Roy had finally purged everything, they loaded him into the back of the squad car where sleep overtook him. Mercifully, he didn't dream.