140 mph and the twin-engines fail.
Drew kicks through the cabin window and climbs out on the starboard wing.
He balances in the breeze and tries to ride the crop-duster’s ghost whip through the sky.
I yank the throttle and metallic pops ensue.
The wind screams and abrades. I can feel my stomach turn as we plummet.
“Yee-haw,” Drew says. Air whistles through his nose.
The impact is brief and we bounce across the forest floor. The cabin crashes through a sea of sugar maples. Branches snap and bleed syrup.
Drew clips the tail of his coonskin in a rotating propeller.
I hear the blade slice the tailbone through, and I cringe when Drew squeals like a chophouse hog.
It is our only casualty.
I picture Sampson. I imagine the way he must have felt after the haircut that eventually killed him. Delilah, I think. Bitch. I get a sad sense of feeling unable to differentiate catastrophe from inevitability.
“Does it hurt,” I say.
“Did for a second,” Drew says.
We sit in our wreckage on the edge of a cliff above a small town.
"I smell maple syrup," I say.
"I'm kinda hungry," Drew says.
"I'll fucking eat anything,” he says.
"I’m really tired," I say.
“I could sleep too,” he says.
I lick some blood excreting from a scratch across my pectorals.
Drew pulls his banjo from his duffle bag and surveys for damage.
“Let’s find a place to crash,” he says.
We leave our bird in junk heap and walk in the direction of the town.
The air is sulfuric, grey, and very intoxicating.
"It stinks here," Drew says.
“It’s the river,” I say.
“I’m losing my appetite,” he says.
"We should hold our breath while we walk."
"Don't talk while we’re holding our breath," he says.
We hold our breaths until we both turn blue.
To alleviate the monotony of suffocation, we spray-paint two giant black eyes on the empty white wall of a rundown pharmacy.
I scrawl the message we R waTchiNG yOu under the spray-painted sockets. The ball bearing in the paint can rattles like a snake as I shake it.
I hear sirens whimper somewhere in the distance.
“Someone called the cops,” Drew says.
“I don’t think they’re for us,” I say.
“Fuck it let’s get lost,” he says, and we duck-out like we’ve done nothing wrong.
We walk past a lighthouse. The lighthouse pokes upright from an old and ratty grass island. A frozen river swells around the island. The current carries an iceberg and crushes it against the island’s rocky shore. The iceberg shatters into a thousand ice splinters. The splinters evaporate into thin air.
“I ain’t sleeping in there,” Drew says.
Some Canadian geese fly overhead. I picture them falling from the sky.
We walk until dark and stop at a motel parking lot.
The place appears deserted apart from two shadows on a balcony. The pair of silhouettes looms like naked pagans one-story up in the floodlit nightlight. One sits reposed, and the other stands upright.
I can see the seated figure belongs to a man. He is husky with a camouflage cape slung around his neck. His ribbed lover lingers in a cautious stance beside him, scantily clad in bra and panties. She hovers over the man’s head with a pair of silver shears and peers at us from her deck like a druid.
I can see she’s wearing a robot mask.
We draw near.
“What are ya‘ll doing?” the man asks.
“Our plane crashed,” I say. “Now we’re here.”
“Well,” he says. “Welcome to Saugerties,”
“Seems like a nice place,” Drew says.
“It’s like every other town in America,” he says. “You can see titties and eat hot wings just about wherever.”
“Is that what you two are doing?” I say.
“No,” he says. “I’m having my hair cut.” He strokes his beard several times and kind of cackles. When he blinks, I can see he has painted giant white eyes on the backsides of his eyelids.
It is about 3 a.m. and freezing. I tell Drew that I don’t know what to do. Drew unveils his banjo and offers to serenade the two with a genteel Confederate lullaby. He plucks a couple chords sarcastically.
They gladly accept and invite us up.
“Nice hair,” I say. “What’s your name?”
“When I was little I used to pull it out and eat it,” the man says. “The name’s Mark.”
He rises and disrobes from the camouflage cape. Underneath he is wearing a red Bobby Knight sweater. He hands the cape to the woman in the mask. She folds it into a tight triangle, holds it at her side and stands with it like the member of a color guard.
“The name’s Mark,” he says. “And this is my wife, Optimus Prime.”
He palms his buzzed head. It looks like the mauled rubber noggin of an abused baby doll.
Optimus Prime gestures with her hand and then reaches over to brush a clump of hair from Mark’s shoulder. He giggles and leads us into their room.
Two double beds lay unmade. The air smells of ash and deodorant.
The television broadcasts a closed-captioned teenage vampire show.
“I love this show,” Drew says.
“It gets worse and worse every year,” Mark says. He stretches and his arms look like wool chainsaws. He looks down at his wrist and pulls the sleeve up as if to check the time. As he does, I can see he is wearing two watches.
“Two watches?” I say.
“Military and regular time,” he says.
Optimus Prime stands in the middle of the room. She moves both of her thumbs along the elastic cups of her gossamer brazier, wiggles, and then runs her other fingers through her flat black hair cascading from underneath her mask.
I can see she has a tattoo of a bean on either side of the arch in her spine as if to indicate the location of each kidney.
She curtsies and spins again.
“I feel like Nancy Kerrigan,” she says.
Drew flips every light switch on and off to see what each does.
“You two seem like a very open couple,” I say.
“Yeah,” Mark says. “We don’t fucking care.”
“Do you regularly host costume parties?” Drew asks.
“Yes we do,” Optimus Prime says. She adjusts the mask.
“Can we see what you look like?” I say.
“Alright,” she says.
She takes off the mask and drops it on the dresser.
Her face is pale, narrow as an arrowhead, and beautiful. She has an egg in the center of her forehead like a worn-down unicorn nub. Grey bags sag from her eyes. She blinks and her lashes look like heavy wet snowflakes.
“Her name is Cornelia,” Mark says.
Cornelia smiles and exposes her stained Robitussin teeth.
“Before my sex-change operation, it was Ben,” she says.
She collects a hotel coffee mug from the nightstand and begins whipping a batch of bleach. Everyone watches the concoction foam. She stops and sits Drew down on one of the beds, and then spreads the potion through his hair with her hands.
White lather drizzles down Drew’s neck.
Mark takes out his cell phone and starts recording a home video.
“I think this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he says. He swigs a Budweiser. Froth sticks to his beard. He blinks the giant white eyes painted on his eyelids and chuckles.
The surface of the motel room’s dresser contains the following items:
A pair of Everlast boxing gloves
A waxen bucket of hot wings
A rubber pair of black breasts
A chastity belt with crotched teeth
A deck of pornographic playing cards
A plastic Optimus Prime mask
I pickup the chastity belt and examine the cuspids for blood.
Drew’s hair begins to yellow and he is grinning like a pig in shit.
“What happened to your coonskin?” Mark says. He picks Drew’s cap up off the bed.
“I was riding on the wing of an airplane.”
“Uh huh,” he says, looking at both of us. “What do you plan on doing without your plane?”
I set the chastity belt down and grab a hot wing.
“We’re gonna follow the buffalo,” I say.
The television plays a commercial and moans a little.
“You guys can sleep here if you like,” Mark says. “But we have to be out by eight o’clock in the morning.”
“For what?” I say.
“We teach Sunday school,” he says.
“You teach Sunday school?”
“From 4th to 6th grade.”
“Do you think Drew and I could tag along?” I say.
“Have you accepted Jesus Christ in your name?”
“I do love Jesus,” I say. “But sometimes I wonder if he still loves me.”
Cornelia lies on the bed between Mark and Drew. She snatches Drew’s coonskin from Mark’s hand and twirls it around her finger like a Frisbee.
Drew makes a distressed animal sound through his jeans.
Cornelia spreads her legs out across a pile of cash and slips the Optimus Prime mask back over her head.
“Your wife is very attractive, Mark,” I say.
She rolls her hips to one side and we all admire her supple mezzanine.
“Thanks,” Mark says, “I know she appreciates that.”
“Tits like pesos,” Drew says.
“When you’re having sex, are you wearing the mask, or is she?” I say.
“It’s the only thing that gets her wet,” he says.
“It’s true,” she says.
The Emergency Broadcast System runs a test on the television.
“I’ve seen this episode,” Drew says.
“It gets worse and worse every year,” Mark says.
He lulls his head and picks his eye-boogers for a while.
“Life’s too short to let it get you down,” I say. “How old are you?”
“I just turned thirty,” he says. He stands up.
Drew scoots closer towards Cornelia. She flings his coonskin at the wall and curls up in his lap.
Mark sits beside me on the other bed. He leans against the wall. His face looks cold.
“You’re too young to look so defeated,” I say. “Like, what are your hopes and dreams?”
“I want to climb Mount Everest.”
“You’ll totally do it,” I say.
“That’s my goal,” he says.
“And you’ll totally do it.”
“I’m not even kidding,” he says. He closes his eyes and stares at me with the giant white eyes painted on his eyelids.
“I want to travel the world,” Cornelia says. “Go to Costa Rica, run down the beach, roll in the sand naked, and play in the ocean waves.”
That’s nice, I think.
“Are you both from Saugerties?” Drew asks.
“She’s actually a Hoosier,” Mark says. “But I’m from Poughkeepsie.”
The air conditioner murmurs and I yawn.
Drew runs his fingers through Cornelia’s hair and tunes the banjo with his free hand.
“Quit playing with your ukulele,” she says. “I’m trying to rest.”
She works her sunken hocks around awkwardly.
The sound of paper money crinkles on her bunk.
“Let’s all get some sleep,” I say.
I close my eyes and try to relax, but the room smells like fungus, and I worry about my lungs.
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