Tuesday, January 20, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 114: regrets?

Larry Winchester, never one to leave a plot strand loose for more than a month or two, now returns to Captain Alexis Pym (USN), last seen descending the steep slope of Dead Horse Mesa in a jeep with the air force officers Col. Masterson and Lt. Perkins (see Episode 107), on a night in early September, 1969, in the desert near a former A-bomb testing site not too far from a town called Disdain, in the great state of New Mexico, "the land of enchantment"...

(Click here to see our previous chapter, or go here to see the beginning of this novel, recently short-listed for the Sandoz Award for Mind-Expanding Fiction.)

Pym stood straining on tiptoe on the hood of the jeep. He didn’t know it but the jeep was sitting on the cab of the deceased Thorndyke family’s truck. With his head tilted back the sand was just up to his lower lip. He had been standing here buried up to his mouth in the loose but heavy sand for what seemed like an hour (but which he realized was probably more like ten minutes) when the motorcycles and the truck appeared. He had watched as the motorcyclists shot out the truck’s tires and then proceeded to circle the truck, shouting and shooting into the air and behaving like savages. He had not even attempted to yell for help. They would not have heard him over the din and even if they had they would not have helped him. They would have laughed at him.

But then the one big squat fellow went flying into the air with his bike and then down, to disappear into this strange sand, the same sand that had swallowed up Masterson and what’s-his-name, Perkins.

Masterson and Perkins had panicked when the jeep began to sink into the sand, they leapt out of the jeep and tried to slog and thrash their way to solid ground. And cautious Pym, cool Pym, had watched the two men sink, thrashing, grunting, yelling, then screaming, and then silence as their heads sank under, only their grasping clawing hands visible, and then nothing, the starlit sand settling, smooth and impassive as the surface of a quiet lake.

Pym on the other hand had climbed onto the hood of the jeep as it sank, prudently deeming it best to see how the other two fared before doing anything else. And he and the jeep had slowly but surely sank. Oddly enough he hadn’t panicked. He had felt only a corresponding sinking feeling in his chest, a certain sadness. Some regrets. A few massive regrets. Like having been a sort of worm all his life, a weasel at best. Like never having enjoyed a sexual act with another person as much as his most cursory solitary masturbation. He regretted now not having eaten more pork chops, more mashed potatoes with lots of gravy, not having gotten drunk more often.

And he realized now, yes, he had long been in a sort of love with Dick Ridpath. All these years. And now, of course, Ridpath would triumph in the end, whereas he, Pym, would slowly suffocate in this pitiless sand amid his own quite self-piteous and weaselly regrets.

When first he had heard the motorcycle and truck engines he had thought, Well, maybe there’s still a chance. To live. To drink fine wines and eat succulent pork chops. To hire beautiful and expensive and sensitive call girls with his children’s college funds. To find Ridpath, and, and to say, I am not a worm, sir, I am not a weasel, no, sir, I am every bit as good as you, sir, Mr. Ridpath!

But then he saw that ragtag cavalcade of armed motorcyclists and the old flatbed truck and he realized that he was apparently going to die tonight after all, a worm and a weasel to the end, with Ridpath somewhere unknowingly triumphant, with a martini in his hand and a bon mot on his lips.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a purportedly complete listing of links to all other extant chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™ “A novel we can believe in.” -- Harold Bloom.)


Unknown said...

Pym is strange. His particular evil--I think it's evil--feels more shadowy than slippery. I hope he doesn't die here because I haven't figured him out yet.

Dan Leo said...

Fear not, Kathleen -- I think that Larry (especially after consigning Col. Masterson and Lt. Perkins to such ignominious off-screen demises) is not quite ready to have Pym quit the stage.

Unknown said...

Just goes to show it pays to keep your cool at all times.

Anonymous said...

".. in an infernal alliance of tedium and madness?

I froze in my hunched and crabbed position. Two or three people on barstools were staring at me, but what did I care?

But then I saw Miss Evans’s eyes grow suddenly wide, and she launched off down the other side of the bar. And, like Quasimodo pursued by the Parisian rabble, "

A fine chunk of words!!

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Doc!

(For the confused, the good Dr.'s comment is for "Railroad Train to Heaven", Part 120: