I am finishing up a promotional short entitled Magpie Time. Comic and screwball, Magpie Time is the culmination of work with Pat Roberts, Maggie Wheeler, Cori Stern and myself developing, designing and directing this four minute live action and animated short. An example of a series of progressive arts & craft programs for young people. Look for a link here soon.
I will be teaching senior studio in Animation at Woodbury University this fall.
A group show of paintings, drawings and other forms of art will be announced next month.
I’m publishing a short story here. This story started as a teen adventure but soon veered to a much darker resolution. I apologize to all my children’s book writing friends, this is not intended for anyone under eighteen years of age. If you are younger please close this entry.
A Night Out … July 30, 2008
“Are you gonna try tonight?” his sister whipped with a sarcastic smirk as she emerged from the bathroom. “Shut-up” slowly steamed from her brother’s glare. The last thing he needed was his sister to bust his plan open. “Deidre, Arnie, are you done with your homework?” Their dad called from the well of the stairs. Arnie clinched his teeth and held his stare in the dim light. “Yeah! Deidre responded first. “Arnell?” Pausing longer than he should before answering in calculated earnest- “Almost Dad”. “You’d better hurry it’s your bedtime.” Dad admonished. “Workin’ on it.” Arnie covered. “Remember to brush” was his last remark. Deidre and Arnie’s eyes fixed. “We will!” their amplified response. They turned away from each other and hurried to their separate rooms, each slamming a door. The perfect night was upon him and he didn’t need his smartass sister to ruin it. Relaxing against the door, he dismissed her remarks. His response was way cool. He hadn’t tipped his hand. This old house, buffeted by coastal gusts caused just the right creaks to conceal his movements. Tonight was the night. Patience, he thought.
The hood popped as a few sprinkles splattered across the dust-mottled windshield. What was under this hood? The engine had sputtered to a stop just after crossing the county line. No worries, he made sixty miles or so in this beater. He’d check out the engine. If it weren’t a simple fix he would abandon it as he had the two others. Cars were easy to come by, just as easy to leave in some ravine or mini-mall. The impending downpour complicated things. Someone might stop to offer assistance, check a license plate. A minute or two inspection under the hood revealed nothing; at least it sheltered him from the smattering of showers. No luck, his only light was an occasional lightning flash. His lighter dead, his craving told him he needed another smoke more than he needed this car. Staying off the grid was his talent. He scanned the darkness ahead and off to the south. Where to rest from this storm; pick up some smokes and a new ride?
Arnie minded his clock radio. Time passes so slow when you depend on its effects. He checked his pockets stuffed with the things he might need for sneaking out. This awareness made him resistant to drifting off. His concentration pushed the second hand around faster in his mind. Patience, he imagined himself a ninja, to slow his heart rate down. Top branches strummed against the shingles over his head. He calculated his parents had been in bed for almost forty minutes. He would allow at least ten more before his slow move off the bed and to the window. No problem if Deidre was still awake. Her room was at the other end of the hall and she often fell asleep with her music beating away between her earphones. His exit was in the opposite direction out his window and along a shingled eve just above his parents’ bathroom. He replayed his preparations and re-rethought his timing and exit.
High beams split the road a quarter mile back. His heart rate picked up it’s pace. He slowly made his way into the tall grass beside the road, back toward the direction of the on coming vehicle. He ducked through a barbed wire fence and headed out into the field. He knew he had to get beyond the distance of a patrols’ searchlight to be safe for now. He stayed as low as possible but moved fast enough to build a sweat in the muggy air. Just as the truck came parallel with him he slowed his pace realizing it was not a patrolman. The truck did not slow for the abandoned Nova, a good sign. After the truck dissolved from view he turned and trotted back to the car, grabbed his jacket and decided to check the trunk to see if there was anything of value. He felt oily rags, a useless spare, jumper cables and a tire iron. He stuck the iron in his belt and slammed the trunk. Surveying both sides of the road, he turned the wheels and slowly heaved the car out and across the road and into a gully where the taller grass would conceal it better. If the driver of the truck identified the abandoned Nova it would be harder to locate, buy him some time.
Arnie sensed a certain quiet downstairs. Just as the central air clicked on he made his first move. He lowered himself off the edge of the bed, feeling every step in his stocking feet. He knew where the creaks where in the floor. He had to shift his weight slowly. To the low bookcase under his window he cracked the top sash of the window, suddenly changing the pressure in the room and causing his door to snap against its’ jamb. He sat for at least a dozen heartbeats till the pressure equalized in the room and the door eased back. It was windier than he had realized. He squeezed the screen out and snatched it before it fell away, pulling it back into his room and resting it on his beanbag chair next to the bookcase. He was through the sash and out on the ledge of shingles. This was his boundary to cross. He had worked everything out till now. He had practiced and gotten this far before returning back to the safety of his bed undetected. Arnie eased the window shut and scanned the ground and roof ledge for the best possible drop. The central air shut down before he could make his move. His hands tightened on the window frame. He needed the hum of its fan to cover his descent. The tall trees on the edge of lot bobbed and weaved in the gale. Patience, the fan will kick on in about seven to ten minutes on a humid night like this. His grip started to cramp after a few minutes.
He kept parallel with the farm road he was on when the Nova sputtered out. He had traveled this road before in the back of a prison bus. He remembered there where crossroads every few miles some had lonely gas stations or minute marts, maybe a house or two back of them with an old hound yelping an alarm in these early hours. Some miles ahead he could see a single light. That reckoning helped speed his pace, he needed to score a smoke and another way out of this area. Break any arguable connections with the jacked Nova. The rain passed with the muggy breeze, not enough to soak into the soil or bog him down. The streetlight illuminated a small abandoned farm stand across from some sort of holding tank up on stilts close to the road. He rummaged in around and under the bins feeling for anything useful to eat or smoke. His effort turned up a stubby cigar butt. With no matches or lighter it was useless for his craving.
He forced himself to chew on it; the nicotine produced would help abate his urge. He searched behind the stand then noticed a familiar shape lying on its side in the shadows under the tank across the road. He fished out the bicycle and stood it on its deflated tires. It wasn’t the perfect mode of transportation but it would do. Using the tire iron, he pried the crusty old tires off and pedaled it on the rims. It was a harsh ride, worse for being a boy’s Stingray, his legs bowed as he pedaled south at the intersection.
Arnie could feel the bloom of sweat building in the center of his back. He heard the cushioned slide of a glass door then the neighbors’ dog started to yap. Signs, omens, and karma zipped through his mind. The air conditioner kicked in just as Arnie was considering turning back. A neighbor whispered a whistle and the dog retreated but not without throwing out one more gruff warning. Arnie redoubled his grip and started to inch along the shingled ledge. Between his legs he saw the light from his parents’ bathroom illuminate the shrubs and he rocked back to his previous position. Christ, what now? His mind muddled. A few feet below one of his parents were relieving themselves. Steady. Patience. After a few seconds the toilet flushed, the tap opened and shut and the light was out. He did not hesitate, the sound of the flush triggered his move it covered the few light steps back to his window. Arnie opened the sash enough to get a foothold and strained his calves to lift himself up to the roof over his bedroom. He laid flat on the shingles and caught his breath. A gust pushed the branches close to his head. He crouched and leaped in a fluid move and clung to the limb as the tree swung away from the roof. He imagined himself a capsule pulling away from the mother ship, the first phase of his getaway a success.
A guilty man made good time on a tireless bike…He smiled to himself pedaling with bowed legs and chewing on a rescued stogie. He didn’t spend much time worrying about his predicament. A memory of his sister hitching rides on the handlebars of a bike much like the one he was on when they were in elementary school lightened his mood. Sitting in the dip of those high-slung handle bars had a slang term he couldn’t remember. He had no way of telling the time on this moonless night. Before dawn he needed some things. Food, somewhere safe to sleep and some spending money would be good. It wasn’t difficult for him to think ahead, he seemed to be always plotting never resting. He would rest after being caught, if he got caught. Just as his legs began to cramp he sensed a dim glow off the road.
A town…an all night gas station…another empty farm stand…or just a random street light placed as a bogus beacon among the crops? He pedaled as fast as he could. The farm road curved a long slow arc that stretched out before him obscured the source of the light. As he slowed his marathon pace sweat bloomed on his forehead and back. The breeze turned the sweat into a chill. A chill he passed at the source of the light. Sparks rose up through the back side of a long meandering stand of poplars that cut through the neat the rows of farmland the far side of what he guessed where railroad tracks. He pedaled the bike around and stopped to listen. When the wind favored him, he heard hoops and hollers mixed with 70’s r & b.
Big, dull, avocado and ugly, the Galaxy was parked at the bottom of the driveway. Dad was always the first one out for work in the morning. This company car was his ticket. He unzipped his pocket and pulled out the keys duplicated earlier in the week so no suspicion would be aroused. He slipped the key in the ignition and turned it enough to loosen the grip on the transmission and free up the steering wheel. He kept the door open enough to push off the ground and get this behemoth rolling back into the street. When he was a safe distance from the driveway he turned the key all the way lurching the Galaxy forward till he got control and was off. He could write a book on sneaking out, ninja-style.
The first stop would be rolling by his friends’ houses. Proof of who he was. He was superior. They where all talk and he was all action. Time to swing by the girls that couldn’t know how cool he was but should be impressed anyway. He had a sudden thought, could any of his buds be out tonight? No way, they didn’t have the balls. He sat up to look taller. He cruised Woody’s house. Did he make it out? Did he chicken out? He slowed by the empty bridge at the end of the block where they were supposed to rendezvous. After circling the block “Was that ten times, Come on Woody” did he get caught? Did he woose out? On his definitely last pass there he was springing from the shadows under the willows beside the bridge. Woody popped the passenger door and slid in. “Roll on, Dude…You been out long?” “Only about AN hour…what kept you?” Arnie demanded. “ My Mom wouldn’t go to sleep – dude.” “Bummer”, Arnie responded. “Where’d yah go?” Woody asked.
“Just cruisin’…went by Juanita’s, we made out and I felt her up,” Arnie boasted. “Bullshit!” dismissed Woody. “Let’s have some tunes!” Arnie proclaimed, changing the topic and cranking up the volume as part of owning the car, the road and night. “Where we goin?” Woody asked. “Wherever my man…wherever” Arnie snarled.
The narrow dirt trail had a gate across it hooked to a fence post with a chain. He decided to have a look. It wouldn’t do any harm. The party in the trees masked the opening of the gate. He left it open so he could retreat soon as he wanted without loosing much ground, it might be a voyeurs paradise. He pedaled to the metal ribs of a cattle catcher slanting up to the tracks and hid the bike on his side of the crossing.
The hoops were mixed with screams of laughter and liquored dares that he couldn’t quiet make out. As he peaked over the rise he could describe a light colored sedan and two pickup trucks parked down the slope of the narrow dirt trail his side of the trees. A favor he thought as he approached to see who was attending this shindig. The figures were hard to make out amongst the willowy branches and the popping firelight. They moved in pairs and fits. He could not tell exactly how big the party was. Everybody seemed to be involved in some sort of coupling, others where on the ground out of his sight.
He wanted to sit and take it in; he wanted to understand what he was seeing. One thing for sure, they were a rowdy drunk lot. He knew he had a short window. He counted at least six people he could see, there might have been more hidden by the trees or on the ground.
Arnie and Woody circled the neighborhood more than a few times. They passed the houses of every girl they would even consider. “Fuck Woody, looks like nothin’s happening tonight.” Arnie complained.
“Fuck yourself, Arn- there’s NEVER anything happening in this god forsaken burg”
“Wanna go out to the strip and see how this barrel rolls?” Woody perked.
“Wanna?” Arnie echoed. “Wanna fan this fart in your direction?” he giddily held up his left thigh and feigned a fanning motion.
“Augh…you dawg! Arnie winced as he rolled down the window and steered the dull green Galaxy out onto the highway heading for the strip.
Skittering back on all fours he first moved to the back tires of the sedan, he felt for the stems on the back tires and released all the air. He felt around for a hood release and slowly squeezed it up holding the hood down so as not to let it pop. He reached in and yanked wires then quickly lowered the hood till it looked in place. He repeated this action on the next pick up. With each vehicle he looked inside to see if there where any contents that he could help himself to, nada. At the last pickup he tried the door and found it unlocked, his luck had changed. He stretched tall on the running board and peered over the top of the cab to the bonfire to check on the party. He could hear them daring each other to perform sexual feats. Reaching under the dash, he felt for the right wires. He eased the parking brake off, disengaged the clutch and started rolling back till just before the incline of the tracks when he popped the clutch. The engine backfired; damn kids with their souped up trucks. He gunned the pick up in reverse riding up over the tracks; he could see confusion in the firelight. He knew they wouldn’t want to stop, then they might be not too drunk too have heard him at all. Them getting dressed would buy him time. The pick up bounced through the dust swerved onto the paved road and grinded into a forward gear. He was at least mile away when he remembered to flick on the lights, adrenaline still pumping. Those kids would learn a lesson in hedonism tonight. Sodom and Gomorrah, he’d love to have some of that but a lighter on the dash and a half smoked joint fished out of the ash tray would do for tonight. As he drew the first toke he noticed something fast approaching in the jangling loose side mirror. The tingling in his neck sat him up as his foot dug into the gas pedal.
The vehicle approaching had the momentum; it swerved back and forth erratically as it gained on him. Now he could make out the looping shape of a dune buggy with at least three people on board. Where was that when he jacked the pickup? He glanced at the gas gauge and tightened his grip on the wheel. He heard the first pop as he focused his attention on the road ahead. Shooting at their own truck? Oh yeah, alcohol, he reminded himself. He regretted his own buzz lost as he shifted into a lower gear to get some acceleration. “Punks”, he swore as a second shot flashed, the buggy’s’ progress slowed by his trucks acceleration.
The strip was a couple of miles out on farm road 278, a straightaway a little over a quarter mile long starting at the intersection of Plano road. A lone blinking red signal hung over the intersection marred by burned rubber tracks laid down over the years. This is where the action was if there were to be action. The locals called it Turkey Creek, though no one could ever find any evidence of a creek or turkeys. The blinking signal light doubled as starting gun. Usually a couple of neutral judges hung out at the end of a quarter mile run marked by a white spray painted arrow in the middle of the road.
Arnie and Woody were rockin’ out to “Heartbreaker” as the Galaxy approached the intersection. “G-F-R suck!” Woody proclaimed as he hit a button on the dash flipping the station to a syrupy slow country refrain. “Only queers like country music” Arnie shot back as he fiddled to relocate the station. “You gonna race this slow turd?” Woody laughed. “This slow turd is packin’ a four twenty nine, dickweed” Arnie bragged. “No shit Sherlock” Woody spouted as he scanned the approaching intersection for prospects. “Well, let’s put this bad boy through its paces then.”
Even though his speed had picked up, the dune buggy was slowly gaining on him.
He couldn’t remember where this road led or how far the nearest town was. The chance of out running them was shortened by the second. His eyes darted around the cab for any assistance. That was when he felt the bulge of the tire iron forgotten in his adrenalin-fueled theft. He fished it out from behind him and felt it’s weight.
The buggy was now only a car length behind and gaining. His eyes speeding from mirror to rearview mirror trying to gauge the buggy’s approach. The sweat of the early evening was back.
The Galaxy reluctantly rolled to a stop north of the lone signal light swaying in the gust, the desperate strip trailed off into the pitch. “Boy, what a fuckin’ night to make the great escape, eh?” Woody spewed. “It’s slow as sex in church.” Arnie. After a dry pause laughter arose from their trembling bodies. He pounded the stirring wheel; Woody kicking the dash till the glove compartment sprung open disgorging its contents into his lap. “Whoa…look…Look!” Woody wiggled a pack of condoms up pinched in his fingers. “I see you’re a Trojan…man.” tossing them into the dark of Arnie’s lap. They writhed and lost their breath laughing. The crinkled expression on Woody’s face went starkly black and white painted by the approaching headlights. It was the flashes and then pops heard approaching that got the boys attention. “Is that a backfire?” Arnie sat up. The next shot came within a beat of the lyrics over the radio, “You’re bringing me down.” The headlights froze Arnie and Woody.
As the dune buggy advanced on him he noticed the approaching signal light. The fields in every direction came into alignment. He recognized the light and this crossroad. This was the drag strip of his youth. Arnie remembered Woody, the Galaxy, the night he was a ninja. As the buggy pulled along side the pick up, Arnie flung the tire iron out into the path of the open dune buggy, downshifted and lay on the gas.
A Night Out by Ric Heitzman