The Strangeness of Threes

Written by: Lyle Deixler

 

Mallard “Malley” Banton climbed up the steel girders and support beams that covered the back of the drive-in theater’s huge movie screen. He brought a mannequin, strapped around his back by two belts, that had a noose tied around its neck. Malley’s older brother stole the mannequin from the department store he worked at.

As Malley got closer to the top of the movie screen he brushed his face against one of the girders. “Shit,” he muttered from the stinging pain. His face still bore two red lumps from the previous night when his father, an alcoholic who worked as a security guard at a warehouse, beat him up again.

Malley got to the top of the movie screen and peered over the edge. The light from the projector was blinding so he thrust forward his hand in front of his face and squinted to see better. He could see the many cars below, the snack bar and small, cinder block housing on its roof that enclosed the projector room.

Stupid fucks, he thought, looking down at all the cars. No good stupid fucks. Malley climbed a little higher so his chest was even with the top of the screen. He unbuckled one of the belts and let it fall to the ground. He clutched the mannequin with one hand under its armpit, pressed it against his body so it wouldn’t fall, unbuckled the other belt and let that one drop too. Then he threw the mannequin over the edge so it dangled in front of the movie screen.

Many people in their cars, and a lot sitting on hoods or in lawn chairs, screamed and jumped in fright. Quite a few thought they had just witnessed a murder or suicide. Soon some car horns sounded. The movie playing was “Raise the Titanic” and Malley had scared everyone more than any parts of the movie did. He heard a few people yell and as he held the rope he began to swing it back and forth. Malley smiled then laughed out loud as he watched a few cars begin to pull out of the lot.

“Here, take this. Smoke it!” Rob said as the roach burned his finger and he passed what was left of the joint to Martin. Rob then rubbed his hands together and slipped his fingers through his long, wavy brown hair, hair the girls in school loved, along with his muscular physique.

They stood in the patch of woods behind the drive-in. The two 15-year olds were best friends and played on their high school soccer team together. They rode their bicycles to the strip mall next to the drive-in and locked up their bikes on a rack.

“Dude,” Martin began, trying not to burn his fingers, “did you see Katherine today, when she left gym class still in her shorts?” He then gently slid the back of his hand across his cheek like he always did when his pimples itched.

“Uh huh. Sure did,” Rob replied. “Amazing.”

“She’s unreal.”

A squirrel then jumped from one tree to another in the branches overhead.

“What the hell was that?” Rob asked.

“Flying b-b-,” Martin tried to speak but started to cough. “Bigfoot.” He finished the sentence and coughed harder.

“B-b-bigfoot!” Rob said, laughing hysterically He then nodded toward the roach in Martin’s hand. “Anything left?”

“Nope. She’s dead.” Martin spit on it to make sure it was out and dropped it on the ground.

They then took their “disguises” out, bandanas from their back pockets, put them over their heads and tied them off in the back.

“So what movie’s playing again tonight?” Rob asked.

“Uhh, it’s, uhh, Raise the Chicken Bone!” Martin said. One of their code words for pot was chicken.

Rob laughed again and then said, “Oh yeah, Raise the Titanic.”

“You ready?” Martin asked.

“Yeah. But wait a minute. Which way’s the drive in?” Rob turned his head from side to side and looked in both directions.

“It’s away from the lights.” Martin turned to his right and pointed at the lights from the strip mall.

“Oh yeah,” Rob said.

“Dude, how many times have you done this?” Martin asked.

“That was good weed,” Rob replied.

“I know. Got it from Kazman. Jamaican sins.”

“You really think it’s from Jamaica with some sinsemilla in it?”

“Who the hell knows,” Martin said.

They walked to the edge of the woods. There was about a twenty- yard path in front of them and then the picket fence surrounding the drive-in.

“You ready?” Martin asked.

“Are you?” Rob shoved him backwards and darted out onto the path.

“Dick!” Martin said, and then followed him, running close behind.

Cow-cow, an overweight senior who stayed back twice in high school, worked at the drive-in and patrolled the perimeter, always looking for kids trying to sneak in. He was about 30 yards away when he heard Rob and Martin. “Hey, stop!” he called out, pointing his flashlight at them. Then he started to run, a clumsy, lumbering mass of flesh that didn’t have a chance at catching anyone.

“Dude, hurry!” Rob said to his best friend.

They leaped at the fence, grabbed the top and started to pull themselves over it.

“I think I’ll have some cheese,” Martin cried out in a high-pitched voice, trying to mask how he normally sounded, as he climbed over the fence. “My favorite kind, Laughing Cow!” Then he switched to a lower voice. “Moo, moo, moo!”

Rob laughed as they both tumbled onto the ground, safely inside the lot.

Now as they stood in line at the snack bar Rob pointed to the mannequin hanging in front of the movie screen. “What the hell is that?”

“Holy shit,” Martin began. “It, it looks like, like, Abraham Lincoln!”

Rob burst out laughing. “Abraham Lincoln’s dangling!”

A man and his wife standing behind Rob and Martin both looked at them strangely. The rest of the people in the line also saw what was hanging on the screen and some gasped while others also pointed at it.

“Whoa man,” Rob said. “That’s fucked up.”

Soon people in the first few rows of the drive-in realized it was a dummy and not a real person hanging in front of them. They started to yell stuff like, “Hey asshole, cut it out!” and “Move you moron, I’m tryin’ to watch the movie!” Then they started to throw food and beer cans at the mannequin. People quickly got out of their cars to join the bombardment. Most of the items came nowhere close to hitting it. A shrimp egg roll hit the screen and the oriental delight splattered into a round splotch. A few beers were flung and cups of soda sprayed the screen as they struck it.

Someone then hit the mannequin with a beer can and the crowd cheered in approval.

Malley giggled insanely as he held the rope and swung it back and forth. Suddenly the mannequin broke at the neck and the body fell to the ground. The head continued to swing back and forth momentarily and then it fell out of the rope and also tumbled to earth.

Malley stopped giggling and whispered, “Oh shit.” Then he let go of the rope and climbed down the back of the screen as fast as he could. He banged his shins and knees painfully on the crossbeams as he lowered himself from girder to girder. Once at the bottom he darted into the patch of woods that sat between the drive-in and Highway 1. He quickly climbed over the picket fence and was home about five minutes later. Malley sat down on the stained, torn couch in the shabby living room with newspapers scattered on the floor. His mother was at a bar down the road and his father was at work. He turned on the TV and couldn’t wait for his brother to get home from his date so he could tell him what happened at the drive-in.

Three years later the drive-would be demolished. In its place rose the “Brunswick Fashion Center,” a strip mall with the same type of stores that already inhabited the other malls built just a few miles away.

The next weekend Rob, Martin and some of their other friends from the neighborhood played in the junkyard. While they called it the junkyard it was actually the remnants of about twenty houses the builder of their development bought and demolished to make way for the new homes. The builder was cheap and left the scattered heaps of debris lying around for a few years before putting the money into cleaning it all up.

There were rusty ovens scattered about, smashed-up wooden bureaus, piles of scrap wood and metal, heaps of bricks and pipes. Some of the piles were pushed together by a bulldozer and formed mountains of junk twenty to thirty feet high.

Ronnie, a skinny, hyper 13-year old, found a long bird feather and tucked it behind his ear. He ran along one of the paths between the mountains of junk dragging a baby carriage that was missing its wheels. He thought he was an Indian with the feather in his head. As he ran he smacked his hand against his mouth chanting rhythmically “oh wa oh wa oh wa oh wa.”

Rob and Martin walked down another path between all the junk. Martin stopped walking when he saw a large saucepot flipped over on the ground. He kneeled down and picked it up by the handle. Martin gasped in fright and jumped back. A huge bullfrog somehow got under the pot.

Rob started to crack up when he saw the frog and Martin’s reaction.

“How the hell did that get in there?” Martin asked. The two were stoned again.

“Dude, you cookin’ up frog legs for lunch or what?” Rob asked.

“No man,” Martin replied, laughing.

“Hey, what are you two faggots doing?” Kenny Toombs called out. The 16-year old was a star on the high school wrestling team. He stood on top of the tallest mountain of junk with Sarah, a crazy redhead from the neighborhood and his on-again, off-again girlfriend. She not only smoked pot but also liked cocaine and had a connection in nearby New Brunswick. Kenny rested his hand on a large wooden barrel he dragged up to the top of the junk mountain.

Ronnie heard Kenny, stopped his Indian routine and stood at the bottom of the pile. “Here ya’ go you fuckin’ baby,” he screeched up at Kenny, “I got ya’ a present!” He then threw the baby carriage up toward Kenny and Sarah but it came nowhere close to hitting them.

“You stupid piece of shit,” Kenny said to him. He then picked up a chunk of concrete and threw it at Ronnie. The 13-year old saw it coming and tried to duck out of the way. It landed squarely on his shoulder and put a tear in his Beatles tee shirt that had the faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo on it from the cover of the Let It Be album.

“Ow!” Ronnie cried out. He then saw the rip in his shirt. “You tore my shirt you scumbag. You fuckin’ scumbag!”

Kenny picked up another piece of concrete and so did Sarah and they both threw them at Ronnie. He darted away from the bottom of the mountain and as he ran his shin caught a pipe sticking out of a smashed-up TV set on the ground and Ronnie tripped and fell. All the kids started to laugh at him.

Ronnie got up, went over to the next mountain of junk and picked up some rocks. “Shut up you scumbags!” He proceeded to throw the rocks but none came close to hitting anyone.

“Hey,” Kenny called down to Rob and Martin. “We all went over the falls and now it’s your guys turn.” Kenny smacked his hand twice on the barrel at his side. The previous night they had all watched a TV movie about a guy who made a souped-up, homemade barrel, crawled into it and went over the Niagara Falls and somehow survived.

When Ronnie found the barrel in the junkyard, before Rob and Martin showed up, he rolled it to the tallest mountain while yelling, “I’m going over the falls! I’m going over the falls!” He dragged it up to the top of the pile, crawled in and took the ride.

Kenny liked what he saw, took the barrel from Ronnie and also went down the mountain. Sarah then did the stunt.

“Whoa, cool,” Rob said. He went over to the junk pile and climbed up it.

Oh shit, Martin thought.

“Get in head first,” Kenny instructed Rob, “and put your hands and arms around your head, like this.” Kenny clasped his hands together behind his head and tightly squeezed his forearms against his temples.

Rob did as he was told and crawled into the barrel.

“Okay man, hold on!” Kenny then gave it a big push.

The barrel rolled down the pile quickly, bouncing up and down as it hit the debris jutting out from the side of the mountain. It then rolled for about twenty feet down the path at the bottom before coming to a stop.

Rob got out and was so dizzy he stumbled around like a drunk. Kenny’s safety tip didn’t help him much and he banged his head pretty good on the inside of the barrel. Rob raised one hand to rub where it hurt. The junkyard was spinning on him and he plopped down on his butt onto the ground.

Martin went over to him as Sarah, Kenny and Ronnie laughed when they saw Rob stumbling.

“How bad was it man?” Martin asked him.

Rob continued to rub his head. “A little bumpy but not too bad.”

“Did you get dizzy? I get dizzy real easy,” Martin said.

“Nah,” Rob replied, then he started to laugh. “Maybe, maybe a little.”

“Did you get dizzy?” Kenny called out, mocking Martin.

“Yeah, you dizzy wizzy pussy!” Ronnie chimed in.

“Shut up!” Martin snapped at Ronnie. “You little piece of shit shut up!” He knew he could talk to Ronnie like that, he was bigger than him. But he’d never say anything like that to Kenny.

“We all did it and now it’s your turn,” Kenny called down to him. “Get up here now.”

Uh-oh, Martin thought. He took the barrel and went over to the bottom of the mountain of junk. He looked up at Kenny and Sarah. Kenny stood up there, arms folded around his chest. Sarah smiled down at him with an obnoxious look on her face while thinking, you gonna do it or what?

Martin started to drag the barrel up to the top.

“Dizzy wizzy pussy!” Ronnie yelled again while standing over at the next huge pile.

“Fuck off,” Martin said to him. He then proceeded to slowly make his way up the mountain, his foot slipping occasionally on a loose piece of wood or debris.

Soon he was at the top. There wasn’t much room for three people as he stood next to Kenny and Sarah. Kenny took the barrel from him, put it on its side and held it in place. Then he pointed to its opening. “Get in. And hold your head like Rob did.”

Sarah continued to smile at him.

Martin kneeled down and crawled inside the barrel. This isn’t too bad, he thought.

Then without a warning Kenny gave the barrel a push. Martin’s elbows and knees quickly got banged up as the barrel hurtled downward and bounced up and down each time it hit a block of concrete or piece of wood sticking out from the side of the mountain of junk.

Okay, okay, he thought, heart pounding, head getting dizzier with each spin of the barrel.  Martin looked past his legs and out the barrel but his world was one big blur spinning around and around. He quickly closed his eyes and wished the ride was over. The barrel picked up speed. It jumped high into the air again as it hit a huge pipe. Martin thought he was going 100 miles per hour.

Kenny and Sarah decided to meet him at the bottom and quickly scrambled down the mountain.

Martin’s ride was almost over and he was rolling down the path. Please stop please stop please stop was all he could think. The barrel continued to roll for another 20 yards, still bouncing up and down as it went over the debris on the ground.

Then it stopped. His elbows were banged up and one knee was bleeding. Get out get out get out he thought as he pushed himself out of the barrel. Martin tried to stand up straight but couldn’t. He staggered around like Rob, like a drunk, arms thrust forward, feebly trying to balance himself.

Kenny and Sarah caught up to him. Ronnie and Rob joined them.

Martin continued to stumble around. The other kids pointed and laughed at him.

Then Martin tumbled to the ground and fell onto his side.

Rob reached him first. “Are you okay man?”

Martin ignored him. He lay still on the ground.

Kenny, Sarah and Ronnie approached him.

“Dude, you okay?” Kenny asked.

Martin moaned and pushed himself up to his knees. He then opened his mouth and vomited, a massive outpouring of the four slices of pizza he had for lunch. Martin aimed it perfectly, turned to his left and made sure he hit Ronnie after spraying Kenny and Sarah.

The three of them tumbled backwards, trying to get away from.

“Aww you dick!” Kenny yelled at him.

“Gross!” Sarah cried out.

“You fuckin’ scumbag!” Ronnie said.

Martin fell forward onto his hands and threw up again.

His targets began to wipe off the barf from their clothes the best they could with their hands.

Rob was laughing so hard he fell backwards onto his ass.

Three years later the junkyard would be bulldozed and razed to make way for another strip mall that had the same types of stores as all the other strip malls in the area.

The Hatchet Man was jamming. He stood with his back to the dish washing machine and couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore. His face was covered with sweat, his eyes closed, legs were spread apart and his head thrown back as he wailed a mean air guitar. His fingers on one hand pressed imaginary strings while his other hand, at his waist, picked away furiously at an equally made up fantasy of talent and rock stardom.

The Hatchet Man raised his picking finger away from his waist to slip his fingers through his black, greasy hair and push some of it out of his face. He then resumed his wicked solo.

The beat up radio on the shelf next to him was covered with stains of spaghetti sauce, egg and grease. It played an old Led Zeppelin cassette, Houses of the Holy. The Hatchet Man jammed along with one of his all-time heroes, Jimmy Page, as the opening strains of Dancing Days blared through cheap speakers.

His audience was the silver metal shelves that surrounded him and were filled with dirty dishes, glasses stuffed with wet napkins and spoons covered in mustard. Too many dishes for him to care about. He just wanted the dinner rush to be over so he could go out to the garbage room, pound a beer and get stoned with some of the cooks who also partied.

“Hey Ray we need more parfait glasses. I don’t have anything to put my desserts in,” said Kelly, a waitress and pretty blonde from Minnesota, as she walked into the dishwashing area.

“Yeah yeah just a sec,” Ray replied, not bothering to open his eyes but making the effort to raise his picking hand and signal one moment to her, jutting his pointer finger up in the air quickly then resuming his solo.

“We need those glasses now Ray. This is bullshit! Turn off the radio and do some work. I’m going to find Lee.”

She stormed away just as Martin walked past her. After finishing college he moved to Colorado to ski bum for a year. He saw Ray jamming and shouted out, “Go Hatchet baby do it!”

Ray kept his eyes closed and upon hearing the encouragement moved his fingers faster.

Martin went over to one of the large sinks. It was filled with lukewarm water and bags of defrosting chicken breasts. He reached in, squeezed a few and quickly realized how solid they still were. “Shit,” he muttered and went back to the line and his place at the grill.

Tami came through the swinging doors from the floor of the restaurant and into the server’s area. She had long, reddish-brown hair and narrow eyes. Tami taught aerobics in the summer and waited tables in the mountains in the winter to get in as much skiing as possible.

The three cooks on the line stopped what they were doing to get a good look at her like they always did when she was around.

“Hey Tami,” Martin called to her as he peered between the row of meal tickets that hung in front of him, “after work lets say you and me cruise down to Denver and get a late dinner at the Palace Arms.” It was a running joke between the two. Martin always asked her out at least once during their shift.

“Let’s say you make sure my steak isn’t overcooked and we have enough pasta for one more kid’s meal.” She smiled at him, her killer, beautiful smile.

“Okay, I guess,” Martin replied, pretending to be sad and dejected. Let’s say I run my tongue over every millimeter of your incredible, perfect body, he thought. Then he smiled back at her.

Lee, one of the managers, walked quickly as he went into the dish station, reached up to the radio and hit stop on the cassette player.

“Stop screwing around and get my wait staff dessert glasses now!” he yelled.

“Hey man,” Ray began, “that was the first I heard of them needin’ some. They’re runnin’ right now.” The Hatchet Man then pointed to the dish machine.

“Goddamn idiot,” Lee said loudly as he left to hurry back to the floor of the busy restaurant.

Three weeks later the Hatchet Man, Martin and Tim, one of their fellow cooks, hiked up the Continental Divide to do some out of bounds skiing. Tim was tall and lanky and grew up in Wyoming. He attended a cooking school in Denver and worked at the resort as part of his education.

They first hitchhiked to the top of Loveland Pass atop the Divide. They were going to ski Dave’s Wave, an open run above the trees then head over to Comanche Basin, the closest ski resort to Dave’s Wave.

The three trekked along a narrow traverse. Above and to their left were jagged mountain ridges, immediately to their right were steep snowfields. It was a sunny, beautiful spring day. They were close to 13,000-feet above sea level, above the tree line where there wasn’t enough oxygen for trees to grow.

Tim was in excellent shape and about thirty yards ahead of Martin and the Hatchet Man.

Martin lagged behind and the Hatchet Man was about 20 feet in front of him. Martin’s pot-racked lungs heaved and each step in his heavy ski boots was painfully slow. He held his skis over one shoulder. Almost there, almost there he told himself, trying to put his mind in survival mode. Gotta make it, no other choice. He had done this only once before, about a month ago.

Martin finally made it to as close to the top as they could reach, about fifty yards shy of the peak. The Hatchet Man and Tim were relaxing, sitting in the snow, backs against the steep mountainside, legs stretched out before them.

“Now we gotta ski?” Martin asked as he took his skis off his shoulder and dropped to the snow.

“What’s the matter?” Tim asked, smiling beneath his goggles, “a little out of shape there?”

“No man,” Martin began, still breathing heavily, “feel fine. Let’s go jogging.”

After letting Martin rest for about ten minutes the three stepped into their skis.

Tim was the most experienced backcountry skier and had done it a lot in Wyoming. “Okay I’ll go first, then Hatchet Man, then you Martin. And watch your left, don’t go over that ridge. Stay away from it.”

To their left was a cornice, an elevated ridge of snow that ran the length of the snowfield and hung over part of the mountainside. It was naturally formed from the topography since one part of the slope was higher than the other. At its highest point the cornice rose to about 15 feet above the rest of the mountainside.

The Hatchet Man and Tim skied effortlessly down the slope but Martin struggled. The snow was partially frozen and with each turn sometimes his skis sank into the snow and sometimes they rode on top of it. When they sank in he had to use all his leg strength to keep the skis in control and try to get into the powder rhythm, which he found difficult to do after the arduous hike.

The Hatchet Man and Tim quickly got ahead of Martin by about thirty yards. They both made sharp turns while Martin made wide, sweeping turns in an attempt to stay in control and not go barreling down the mountain.

Even though his legs ached and he had some difficulty with the conditions Martin was exhilarated. There were no other skiers, except for the Hatchet Man and Tim, in sight. No chair lifts, no people, no lodges. Just snow, mountains, rocks and trees.

The Hatchet Man and Tim stopped to wait for Martin.

Soon he caught up to them. “This is fuckin’ amazin’, unreal!”

“Not too bad,” Tim replied, smiling. The Hatchet Man nodded his head in agreement.

“Oh man I can’t leave this shit. I’m crazy to head back east,” Martin told them. The season was winding down and he had only planned to stay for one year.

“So don’t go. Stay for another season,” Tim said.

“That’s not a bad idea but my parents would kill me.”

“Forget your parents. Just ski man!” The Hatchet Man told him.

“Yeah, easy for you to say,” Martin replied.

They skied about another thirty yards then stopped again for a breather.

“I’m thinkin’ about stayin’. Seriously thinkin’ about stayin’. I can’t leave this,” Martin said.

“Then don’t,” Tim told him again.

They skied down another twenty yards then stopped near where the trees started to grow.

“This is incredible. I’m stayin’!” Martin cried out.

“That’s the Divide,” Tim said. “You mean it?”

“Hell yeah!”

“Cool, glad to hear it.” Tim raised his ski poles, nodded at Martin to do the same and banged his poles against Martin’s. The Hatchet Man joined them.

They continued skiing and as they got lower the trees appeared, small ones at first that were spread apart and they were able to ski through them. Then the trees grew bigger and denser and they had to stop.

Tim pointed with his ski pole to the nearby cornice. The raised edge of snow was about 15 feet higher than the rest of the mountainside. Tim skied close to it but stopped about twenty feet away from the edge and drop-off. The Hatchet Man and Martin stayed about five to ten feet behind him. “Okay I’ll go first,” Tim said. “Wait until I’m over and skied away from the edge before following me.”

Tim pushed himself with his poles and went over the cornice. Immediately after going over it all the snow below his skis dropped out from beneath him as the avalanche started.

“Move back! Move back!” The Hatchet Man shouted to Martin. They started to push back with their poles but it was too late. The snow also fell from under their skis and swept them down the mountainside along with Tim. It was three days before their bodies were found.

 

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