Zack Wentz

"Would you stop glaring at the side of my head?"

"What?" I said.

It was a hopeless situation from that point on.

I'm not sure where we picked her up. Somewhere we shouldn't have stopped. But now we had her. Or she had us, rather.

"Just stop," she said.

Everyone looked at me. Nobody wanted her to go off and I better not have done it.

"I wasn't."

"Yes, you were," she said.

Now I was.

I tried not to.

We were all concerned about the fate of the president. For that reason we were going. Had gone. Were tracking him. We moved presidentward like a carton of loaded cigarettes. We were all legally insane. We weren't getting any better. We all wanted the same thing.

Die, fucker.

My angle had to do with aliens. The president, or presidents, had been keeping us all in the dark regarding them for half a century. Maybe longer. The aliens had been with me since before I was born, had made my life a slow, aching hell, and this president was going to answer for it.

I was raised as a knife-thrower. My mother had done it and her mother as well. I could put a blade through a grape at thirty yards before I knew how to read. We traveled. There was no father involved and sometimes I wondered if Mother had maybe just pulled me out of the ground like a thin, white carrot. I never asked about a father. There was no father. No need. Only the knife. I had few priorities. Moving. Eating. Showering, on occasion. Getting better, but I honestly couldn't get much better. At throwing, anyway. You can only get so good.

It started with a little bit of blood on my pillow. I had a bloody nose and it hurt. My butt hurt too. My asshole. At first I ignored it, but it kept happening. Sometimes once or twice a week. Sometimes every morning for a month. I was scared. Finally I asked Mother, but instead of answering she started crying, blubbering. I could feel the hot, wet grief steaming off her face.

"Oh God," she said. "Those sons of bitches. Those motherfucking sons of bitches."

At that moment I learned it didn't matter how far we went and why we always had.

It came back to me in little pieces. Lights. Everything almost frozen. Large, beet-shaped heads hanging over me. Black glass eyes. Stuff going into me. Numbness. Fear. Dull fear. Mother and other people I knew being wandered in and out like zombies on invisible leashes. Sometimes there were men lurking about. Important looking men. Military men.

The sons of bitches.

The rest of us had other reasons: the president is an oil-swilling crook; the president is a dangerous religious fanatic; the president is destroying the planet; the president is killing off friends and family in the obscure countries we came from; the president is going to fucking blow us all up; etc. etc. It sounds so simple and innocent now. Some of us didn't know our reason, what we wanted, but we all knew we wanted things to be different, and he was the greatest variable.

So the guy just had to go, is what it boiled down to and what had brought us all together.

"We need to hide this paperwork if we're going to get into Canada," our driver said.

"Hey, we could hide it in your stuff," she said. About me. About my bag. To everyone else. "Nobody would ever find it in that mess."

"Ha ha ha," I said.

Someone touched my arm.

"Easy," they said.

But it wasn't.

The girl was a problem. The kind of problem with finely arched eyebrows, disturbingly stylish, short hair and a small, unquivering, boxlike pair of buttocks that somehow inspired salivating want in the less wary of both sexes, and she knew it.

She was my problem because she wanted everyone to want her. I was her problem because I wanted one thing, and it wasn't her. My only fantasies she figured into prominently had to do with disposing of her body.

"Get me an aspirin. Can anybody get me an aspirin?"

She was whining again.

Somebody in our troop was fucking her. That was the only explanation. She was fucking one of us and now she was fucking all of us. The whole operation. But now we had her on and to let her go would be suicide. She knew what we were all up to.

"Do you have any?" she asked me.

I shook my head.

"I thought I saw you taking some the other day," she said.

I ignored her.

"What, don't you need it in the mornings after partying with your little green men?"

My fingers tightened around the worn handle of my knife. I twisted around on the cramped bench seat, looking for expressions that indicated guilt. Nobody made any eye contact. Someone had told her. Why tell her? Why fucking tell her? Who was fucking her?

She settled back into her seat with a smug, wry smile cut across her face. Folded her legs up under herself. Closed her eyes.

I was shaking.

And, for a split second, the driver patted her on the knee. Two little pats. I saw it.


He's the one, I thought.

We needed the driver.

A billion shades of red, orange, yellow, brown and green. Colors you can't even think of that don't have names. The trees flashed by as we ripped down the highways, setting pavement on fire.

It was beautiful.

"Nice Fall out here," someone said, as we started to pull over to relieve ourselves.

"Call it autumn," someone else said. "Don't call it Fall. Just call it autumn."

Maybe it was me.

At the rest stop a fat man propositioned me by the lavatory.

"Hey, baby. You could make serious money with that ass. Wanna meet me inside?"

He had longish, curly hair. A bald spot. His face was red and puffy, like he drank a lot and the whiskey just accumulated under his skin to be let out drip by drip through his gaping pores. I wanted to let it all out at once.

"It'd be your ass, fatty," I said.

The sides of his mouth dropped as if they were suddenly weighted. It was like a cartoon frown. I could almost hear the sound effect: a loopy, descending slide whistle.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.

"You don't want to find out," I said.

And I didn't kill him. I didn't kill him. I didn't kill him.

My neck hurt really bad. My stomach was empty. My ass throbbed and I knew they had taken me the night before. Right out of the fucking van while it was moving through the dark, and then they put me right back. I wanted to cry.

"What's wrong?" someone said.

I shook my head.

"You wouldn't understand."

They stared at me for a while, and then shrugged.

"I guess not," they said.

I was the knife-thrower. The assassin. I was the only one capable of putting a spike through the eye of the devil. I was the one we needed. Nobody was fucking me. Nobody wanted to fuck me. I was as good as dead, so the whole idea was to get me from point A to point B. The miles were like minutes. Like pieces of eggshell being chipped away from the inside. We flew toward destiny like an angel on wheels. It was the end of the world, or so I comforted myself with that idea. I could get close. My knives were non-metallic and not visible to X-rays. They were sharp enough to penetrate blocks of concrete. They would slide through the president's skull as if it were warm margarine. Nobody would be able to stop me. I was a vital part of nature. Nature's revenge. Nature killing itself. Our lives burning like sticks of incense. We were beautifully doomed. Every breath to be decoded like some kind of cosmic shorthand. I knelt in a partly frozen creek trickling through my mind. Spooned the water over my parts with blue hands. I was getting clean. Getting ready. I was an orphan of God.

Someone jabbed me with a towel.

"Hey, sit on this."

I looked at them, the seat under me.

A puddle of blood under my ass, shaped like a heart.

I was on my back on a table. The table. No, I thought. Yes, they thought back. There were four of them, hovering around, poking me with things like antique fountain pens that had been modified into glowing cattle prods. I couldn't move. Do not be afraid, they thought. I wasn't afraid. I wasn't anything. They flipped me over and something went up my ass and burned in a faint way. Where I'm going you won't be able to touch me, I thought at them. No answer. All I could hear was the squeaking of my clenched teeth. Until she came into the room. It was her. It was her. It was her. That's what you think, she thought.

We were all scared now, getting close. Of what we were doing. Of what we had done. Of what would happen. Of each other. Of every one. Of every thing.

"We're going all the way across the country, these strange circuitous routes, to do one thing, and we're almost there. We've got to stop this evil and we can't get caught," the driver said.

I listened. She was in the front seat next to him. Sleeping. Mouth hanging open. String of drool. I could smell her breath. Recognized it.

"Somebody might have gotten a bit carried away and sliced some lardass back in Kansas."

I nodded.

"I just heard it on the scanner and they're looking for who did it. I know it was . . . one of us."

One of us. Like there was anyone else.

"Dear God," he said. "We have to try to control ourselves a little bit. Show some restraint. Show some good judgment. We can't fucking get caught. This means everything. We cannot fucking get caught."

I looked at my fingers. Played a little bending game with them that had to do with music. It wouldn't come out even.

"I know," I said, quietly.

But we would.