Wednesday, February 8, 2012

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

Our author 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 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 read our previous chapter, or go here to return to 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. “At last a novel we can believe in.” -- Harold Bloom, overheard at the lunch counter at Woolworth's.)

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