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. Strapped around his back, by two belts, was a mannequin. His older brother, Pete, had stolen the mannequin from the department store he worked at.

     Malley got to the top of the movie screen and peered over the edge. He squinted from the blinding projector light and thrust his hand forward in front of his face to try and block it. He could see the many cars below and the snack bar at the back of the lot. On the roof of the snack bar was a cinder block housing that enclosed the small 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 held 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, tightly clutching the rope that dangled from the noose around the mannequin’s neck, he threw it over the edge so the mannequin hung in front of the movie screen.

     Some of the people in their cars, and several sitting on hoods or in lawn chairs, screamed and jumped in fright. Then people started beeping their car horns. 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. They stood in a patch of woods behind the drive-in. Rob rubbed his hands together and slipped his fingers through his long, wavy brown hair, hair the girls in their high school loved, along with his muscular physique.

     “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,” Martin added, then took another hit off the roach.

     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 then coughed harder.

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

     “Nope. She’s dead.” Martin let some saliva slide out of his mouth and onto the roach to make sure it was out and dropped it on the ground.

     They then took out their “disguises”, 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.

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

    Rob laughed again.

    “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 sens.”

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

     “Who the hell knows,” Martin said.

     They walked to the edge of the woods. There was about a ten-yard wide 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 at their high school, worked at the drive-in and patrolled the perimeter. He was about 20 yards away when he heard Rob and Martin. “Hey stop!” he called out, pointing his flashlight at them. He started to run, a clumsy, lumbering mass of flesh that didn’t have a chance at catching anyone.

     “Dude, hurry!” Rob said to Martin.

     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 drive-in’s lot.

    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 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 when they first saw it 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.

    “Hey asshole cut it out!” Someone yelled.

     “Move it you moron, we’re tryin’ to watch the movie!” Another person shouted.

    People then started to throw food and beer cans at the mannequin. Some of the movie goers quickly got out of their cars to join the bombardment. Most of the items came nowhere close to hitting the mannequin. A shrimp egg roll hit the screen and the deep-fried treat 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.” He let go of the rope and climbed down the back of the screen as fast as he could. Malley 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 Route 1. He quickly climbed over the picket fence and ran home, which was only about five minutes away.

    Malley sat down on the stained, torn couch and pushed some newspapers off of it and onto the floor. His mother was at a bar down the road and his father was at his security guard job. 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-in would be demolished. In its place rose the Brunswick Fashion Center, a strip mall with similar stores that already inhabited the other malls nearby.

    Skinny Ronnie found a long bird feather and tucked it behind his ear. He ran along one of the paths between the mountains of debris in the “junkyard”, the remnant of some old, demolished houses the builder of the development hadn’t cleared away yet to make way for the new homes.

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

    As Skinny Ronnie ran he dragged behind him a baby carriage that was missing its wheels. He pretended to be an Indian with the feather in his head and as he ran he smacked his hand against his mouth while 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 sauce pot flipped over on the ground. He kneeled down, picked it up by the handle then gasped in fright and jumped back. A huge bullfrog had somehow made its way under the pot.

    “Dude!” Rob said, laughing and pointing at Martin.

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

    “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 17-year old wore a tank top and cut off jeans and was a star on their high school wrestling team. He stood on top of the tallest mountain of junk with Sarah, his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Kenny rested his hand on a large wooden barrel he dragged up to the top of the junk mountain.

    Skinny Ronnie heard Kenny, stopped his Indian routine and stood at the bottom of the pile. “Here ya’ go you 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 dumb fuck,” Kenny yelled down to him. He quickly picked up a chunk of concrete and threw it at him. 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 favorite tee shirt that had the image of the band Kiss, in full makeup and costumes, standing on a pile of rocks from the album cover Destroyer.

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

    Kenny picked up another piece of concrete and so did Sarah and they both threw them at him. 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 and Skinny Ronnie tripped and fell. All the kids started to laugh at him.

    Skinny 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 seen a TV movie about a guy who made a souped-up, homemade barrel, crawled into it and went over Niagara Falls and survived.

    When Skinny 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 Skinny Ronnie and also went down the mountain. Sarah went next.

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

    Uh oh, 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 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 thirty 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 rubbed his head where it hurt, the junkyard started to spin on him and he plopped down onto his butt.

    Martin went over to him as Sarah, Kenny and Skinny 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!” Skinny Ronnie chimed in.

    “Shut up!” Martin snapped at Skinny Ronnie. “You little piece of shit shut up!” He knew he could talk to Skinny 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.”

    Oh shit, Martin thought. He took the barrel and went over to the bottom of the mountain of junk. Martin looked up at Kenny and Sarah.

    Kenny stood there, arms folded across his chest. Sarah smiled down at him with both thumbs slipped through belt loops on her cut offs. “You gonna do it or what?” She asked.

    Martin started to climb up the mountain while dragging the barrel behind him.

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

    Martin turned back toward him and said, “Fuck off.” 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 and it hurtled down the pile. Martin’s elbows and knees quickly got banged up as the barrel 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 out past his legs and his world was one big blur spinning around and around. As the barrel picked up speed he closed his eyes and wished the ride was over. The barrel 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.

    The barrel soon hit the path at the bottom of the mountain of junk and kept rolling. Please stop please stop please stop was all Martin could think. The barrel continued to roll for another 25 feet or so, bouncing up and down again 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 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. Skinny 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 and lay still on the ground.

    Kenny, Sarah and Skinny 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 Skinny Ronnie after spraying Kenny and Sarah.

    The three of them jumped back, trying to get away from him as fast as they could.

    “Aww you dick!” Kenny yelled at him.

    “Gross!” Sarah cried out.

    “You fuckin’ scumbag!” Skinny Ronnie said.

    Martin fell forward onto his hands and threw up again.

    Sarah saw a pile of folders and papers, grabbed a folder, spread it open and used it to wipe off as much of the barf from her legs as she could. Kenny and Skinny Ronnie also used some papers and folders to try and clean themselves up.

    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 the Lakeside Plaza, a strip mall that had the same types of stores as all the other strip malls in the area.

    The Hatchet Man was jamming. He couldn’t stand the sight of the dish washing machine anymore so he stood with his back to it and faced his audience, the silver, metal shelves filled with dirty dishes, glasses stuffed with wet napkins and spoons covered in mustard.

    His face was a sweaty mess, his eyes were closed and his head thrown back. The Hatchet Man’s legs were spread apart as his fingers on one hand pressed imaginary guitar strings while his other hand, down at his waist, picked away furiously at an equally made up fantasy of talent and rock stardom.

    The beat up radio on the shelf next to him was covered with stains of spaghetti sauce, egg and melted cheese. It played a Led Zeppelin CD, 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.

    “Hey Ray we need more parfait glasses. I don’t have anything to put my desserts in,” said Kelly as she walked into the dishwashing station. When she saw his eyes were closed the buxom girl quickly adjusted her bra.

     “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 wicked solo.

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

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

    Ray kept his eyes closed and upon hearing the encouragement nodded his head quickly up and down in agreement and 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, her long, braided, reddish-brown hair bouncing off her back as she walked fast.

    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 Mile High Grill.” 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 with her pretty, narrow eyes, high cheekbones and killer smile.

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

    Lee walked quickly as he went into the dish station, reached up to the radio and hit stop on the CD 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 as he left to hurry back to the floor of the busy restaurant.

    Three weeks later Martin lagged behind the Hatchet Man and Tim, one of their fellow cooks, as they hiked up the Continental Divide. They had first hitchhiked to the top of Loveland Pass and were going to do some out of bounds skiing on part of the mountain the locals dubbed Dave’s Wave.

    The three trekked along a narrow traverse. Martin held his skis over one shoulder and each step in his heavy ski boots was painfully slow the higher he got up on the mountain. Almost there, almost there, he thought. Survival mode. You can make it. No other choice, he told himself.

    Martin looked up to his left and saw the jagged, mountaintop ridges. Nice, he thought. Beautiful. But fuck when is this hike over? Immediately to his right were steep snowfields.

    When Martin finally caught up to the Hatchet Man and Tim they were both relaxing, sitting in the snow, backs against the steep mountainside, legs stretched out before them. They had reached as high as they could go and were about 30 yards shy of the peak.

    “What are you guys made out of?” Martin asked, breathing heavily in the thin air, shoving his skis in the snow tails first so they wouldn’t slide down the mountain. Then he sat down next to them.

    “Draft beer and peanuts,” the Hatchet Man replied.

    “And tequila,” Tim added with a smile.

    Martin looked down the steep slope before them. “Now we gotta ski?” he asked.

    “A little out of shape there?” Tim said to him.

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

    They rested for another fifteen minutes then stepped into their skis.

    “Me and the Hatchet Man have been up here a few times,” Tim began, looking at Martin. “So I’ll go first. Then Hatchet Man then you. And just watch your left, don’t go over that edge.” He pointed with one of his ski poles to the elevated ridge of snow that ran the length of the snowfield and hung about fifteen feet over part 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, which he found difficult to do after the tough 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 ski slow and not go barreling down the mountain.

     Not bad, Martin thought, you got it. Ski like this you got it.

    They were above the tree line, where there wasn’t enough oxygen for trees to grow. Martin looked around at the snowfield and occasional, exposed boulder and could then see the short, stumpy trees and bigger ones about seventy five yards below. Look at this, he thought, out of bounds on the Divide. No chairlifts, no lodges, just snow!

    The Hatchet Man and Tim stopped to wait for Martin.

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

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

    “Oh man I can’t leave. 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 five yards and stopped near where the trees started to grow.

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

    “You mean it?” Tim asked.

    “Hell yeah!”

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

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

    “We have to go over that now,” Tim pointed with his ski pole to the ridge off to their left. “The trees in front of us are too thick.”

   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 drop-off. The Hatchet Man and Martin stayed about 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. And go one at a time.”

    Tim pushed himself forward 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.


Showing Prudence for a Fake ID | The Macedonian Trapeze Artist | The Strangeness of Threes