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Burning Down the House
A Danyael story
Start at the beginning of the Danyael series
I wish that I could say I drove aimless around in the pizza guy's car until I found myself at the Shark's house. I'm not sure at what point he'd gone from being the Boss to the Shark, but he had. I suppose it happened when I quit. I'd really like to be able to point to coincidence, or say it was subconscious, but it really wasn't. I knew where he lived because of a backyard BBQ I'd been invited to months before, and I drove straight there. There was no meandering involved.
What motivated me to drive there was anger, pure and simple. His smiles at work, self-satisfied and oblivious, haunted at my mind as I steered the car through the dark streets. I could imagine him sitting behind each and every one of the doors I'd marked. He'd come out the next morning, see the blood, and be irritated about someone marring his pristine middle-class Ken doll house. He wouldn't think about any deeper implications of the blood. He'd treat it the same as a buzzing fly to be waved away at a picnic, forgetting about it as soon as it was washed off. No message would, or COULD reach him through such methods. It would take something more direct and obvious. I wanted to pass on that message from the angel. I was sure the Shark was a sinner. I could read it in the way he smiled.
The car smelled like oil and melted cheese. The oil smell I remembered from the clunkers my father drove when I was growing up. Sometime in the past someone had spilled motor oil on the carpet, and from them on the car had smelled of greased steel and cold air. Mixing that with a career dedicated to delivering pizzas created a powerful toxin in the car that had me gagging. I'm sure that after driving it for months, the delivery guy had gotten accustomed to the smell, but it was enough to make me crank down the window. Immediately the car lost its heat and the numbness in my face started to return. I put the window back up, and then after another minute, put it back down. It was an old car without power windows, having just a simple crank on the side of the door. I drove that way, rolling the window up and down over and over; one hand on the steering wheel, the other on the window crank.
The angel rode hunched in the passenger seat. It couldn't have been comfortable. Its wings were pushed up over the shoulders of the seat and stretched out into the back of the car. They pressed against the ceiling. That actually made me notice that the upholstery on the roof of the car had been pulled off, leaving only a sticky cardboard looking surface. The angel's head was pushed forward by its wings, almost laying on the dash. For once though it wasn't mewling or moaning or making any strange noises. It rode silently. It had its hands pulled up into its lap, and I could see it dry washing them, Mr. Burns style. The dark tongue was out of its mouth and flicking around. It looked excited.
I should have stopped then. I really should have. Thinking back on it, I'm boggled how I didn't look at the angel and say to myself, "Hey now, this thing is getting off on getting me whipped up. Something is going on here." But, I didn't. The truth is, I got MORE excited looking at the thing. It is incredibly liberating being absolutely convinced that you are doing some kind of universal Right in the world. I just looked at the angel and got fired up and started bouncing up and down in my seat. I hadn't put my belt on, and the seat was cushy from years of replaced foam padding, so I shook the whole car as I lurched about. The angel in turn started moving its wings as if it was trying to flap them. I started laughing and the angel started hissing and sort of coughing back at me. I guess that was its laugh. The car bounced on down the road, both of us laughing and jerking around like maniacs.
This was really the point of no return for me. There are some things that happened later that seem like the obvious "cliff" I jumped off, but after a lot of thought, this is really it. The big events are never the fulcrum points for your life. It's the things that lead up to them, the warning signs that you ignore, or don't even see. Those things are the weight that piles up and tips you over the edge. If you ever reach a point where you are driving your car to your former boss's house to punish him for his sins, and are laughing and jumping up and down in the car, and that doesn't strike you as strange, it is already too late for you. What's strange is that when you hit this point, you don't even realize you've begun slipping. When the bottom drops out from under you, you're always caught by surprise, big O going on with your mouth, gasps of complete shock. In reality, if you could film yourself going downhill and watch it later, you'd be playing one of those characters you find so unbelievable in movies. "Oh, no one would do something like that. What an asshole." Yeah, what an asshole.
I didn't know precisely what I'd do when I reached the Shark's house. I just knew that I wanted him to reap what he'd sewn. He was the kind of guy that didn't mind feeding when blood was in the water, thus the nickname. I wanted to get some payback for all of the little people like me I was sure he'd crushed on his way up the rungs to middle-management. I wanted to get some payback for his douche bag fueled success, success I'd never even had the drive to look for. I was in a mood to see some Biblical justice, and I was going to get it come Hell or high water. I just didn't quite know what to expect.
I pulled the car up outside the house and idled in the street looking at it. It was a single story spread, one of those houses from the 70's built around the idea of large open spaces. It looked big from the street compared to the other houses on the block. I'm pretty sure that's why the Shark bought it. Just big enough to be the biggest house on the street. The car in the driveway just a little more expensive, the dishes just a little nicer, the furniture just a little more designer. Not because he actually cared about any of it, but just so that he could be a little bit better than everything around him.
I know the siding was dark brown, and brand new, since the Shark had been talking about it at work. The last time I'd been here it had been a dull and mottled purple. The Shark had ordered a special siding from some internet company and it backfired on him. It was supposed to be a maroon with purple undertones to match the skyline over the lake in the evening. Instead, the first time it rained, the entire thing just turned that plastic purple and bent plastic white. The paint runoff even killed his flower beds. This happened about a week before his big company BBQ party, so he didn't have time to fix it before we all came over. It was the talk of the lunchroom for a week at the Shark's expense.
Being back at that place awakened some dark and embarrassing memories for me. The Shark had been on the prowl at that BBQ. I suppose that he felt he needed to deflect attention from his striped purple house. I'd had the stomach flu for a few days leading up to the BBQ, but I knew that the Shark would never let me hear the end of it if I didn't attend. He cared more about that than he did about me showing up to work.
When I got there half the company was in his backyard drinking beer and talking. I figured that I'd stay for an hour or so and then go home. The Shark immediately pressed a beer into my hands thanked me for coming, and told me I "HAD" to try the beer. It was some designer imported lager or something, I don't really know. He stood there and watched me as I stammered and tried to make excuses not to drink it. I hated beer, but I knew that if I said that he'd make a spectacle of me. I could see the hunger in his eyes, looking for some kind of weakness that he could publicly exploit to make people laugh.
Finally I just gave up and drained the beer in one go, trying to bullet it down before I could taste it. It was a small can, so I managed to get almost all of it in one big swig. The Shark griped at me for not savoring it for the flavor. As far as I could tell, the flavor was urine that had been steeped in the belly of a dead elephant for a week.
I don't know what was actually IN the beer, but after about ten minutes, it started to do something . . . evil inside of me. I looked around for the bathroom, and finally found it in near the stairwell, only it was occupied. I stood outside and tried not to bounce from one foot to the other as I waited. I felt like my whole world shrunk down to me and that door, waiting for it to open. After another ten minutes, my brain gave up the ghost of having any control over my body, and I . . . .well. Yeah.
The worst part of this is, it happened just as the door opened, and who should come out but the Shark. I stood there looking at him, and then just said that I needed to leave, and walked quickly out of his house. I actually cried on the way home. I had to wash my seat off when I got home and cleaned myself up. By the time Monday rolled around, I had convinced myself that the Shark hadn't noticed anything wrong when I ran out. I was proven wrong when my named appeared on the work schedule as Shitpants McGee.
Most people would have quit right then, or tried to report the Shark to Management or something. Not me. I just weakly laughed with everyone else and shrugged. Then I hid in my cubicle and tried to control my voice through my phone calls. After about a month or so, my name got changed back and no one emailed me directions to various bathrooms around town anymore. I think it helped that the fancy beer had made half the party sick that night.
Sitting in that car, looking at the house with new siding . . . everything that I SHOULD have felt then started to boil up in me. I didn't know if public humiliation was a sin in the Bible, but it definitely was a sin in MY book. After about twenty minutes of staring, I pulled my car into his driveway. I actually stopped short of his fancy red sports car, a Maseratti or something I think, and then deliberately rolled into it, pushing it up the driveway into the garage door. It was surprisingly quiet. I turned the car off and hopped out. When I turned to let the angel out, it was already outside and standing. I hadn't even heard the door open and close. There was a bit of a wind, and as I was still wet from lying in the snow, I started to shiver.
Still not really knowing what to do, I walked up to a big picture window that looked into the Shark's living room. The shades were mostly drawn, but I could see light coming out from under them, and barely hear the sonic commotion of something on the television. I stepped quietly through the flower bed that ringed the house onto the front step and tried the door. It was locked, and made a little rattle when I turned it. I crouched down and peered through one of the diamond shaped windows that dotted the lightly stained faux wood. I couldn't see anything moving inside.
The angel crouched behind me on the steps, leaning its mass over me and hooking its chin on my shoulder. The wings spread across me like a dirty blanket and shielded me from the light wind. Crouching there on the steps I felt warm and sheltered, peering through the foggy glass. Even the old man smell didn't bother me. I was bolstered by a flood of confidence, and the angel softly cooed in my ear. My heart started beating faster. That seems like such an odd action-hero thing to say, but it really did start to beat faster. I actually thought I might have a heart attack or something at the time. I punched the door mat a few times to psych myself up, and then took a step back, pushing the angel back off the stoop. It spread its wings for balance and lurched on its skinny legs before sinking back down. Then I took a stutter step forward and kicked the door.
Not like the movies. Not at all. Not even like TV. The front of my foot went through one of the diamond windows and broke the glass. A chunk of the glass went through the side of my shoe and sliced me pretty bad. I yelled pretty loud at that. I hopped on my other foot, but my shoe was caught in the frame, and I couldn't get it out without cutting myself. My arms waved around in the air like a windmill, and I finally grabbed my knee and used the foot caught in the door for support. I tried pushing at the door to get out, and ended up twisting around so that I was facing toward the street and had my leg bent up behind me. I smashed the door a few times with the heel of my hand in frustration. The whole thing must have made an awful racket. The breaking of glass, me yelling, hitting the door. I'm surprised it took the Shark as long as it did to come see what was going on.
When he opened the door I was forced to twist back around and hop a few steps forward. He stood there in a bathrobe gaping at me. That might be the first time I've actually seen someone gaping. There really wasn't anything for me to say, so I stood there, trying to look like I didn't have my foot stuck in his door. "Wha . . . .Shitpants, what the hell are you doing?!" Yeah, he still called me that sometimes.
Without waiting for an answer, he leaned over and shoved my foot out of the broken window. It wasn't a "help you out" kind of move, it was an angry "get the out of my door" kind of whack to the bottom of my foot. It hurt quite a bit, but I didn't want to scream in front of him so I bit my lip. Well, I tried, I think I yelped a bit anyway. I put my foot down and was able to put my weight on it, but it still hurt like Hell. The Shark looked at me again and repeated, louder this time, "What in the hell do you think you're doing?" He put his hands on his hips and leaned forward, an aggressive look on his face.
I felt all of the wind roll out of me in a flood. It felt like liquid rushing out of my body, from my head down through the soles of my feet. I felt it leak out of the cut in my foot, leaving me empty and weak and scared. Standing there facing the Shark in person was more than I could bear. My stomach clenched, and I could feel goose bumps raise up on my skin. I started to stammer for a minute, trying to spit out some excuse about tripping, but I pretty much just blubbered my words a bit. I looked everywhere but at him. He leaned forward, face red, and said, "Shitpants, I am going to kick your ass."
I could feel the bottoms of my eyes burning and itching as tears started to form. My whole body was aching for me to lunge away from the Shark, off of the steps, and to run as fast as I could down the street. I shuffled back and tensed, and was about to spring when I heard the sound of wings rustling behind me. With the sound, all of the anger and frustration and humiliation I had been building came rushing back. My psyche bounced like a guitar string, humming up and down with an explosive tension - emotions swinging up and down. I stiffened my back and stood up straight, looking the Shark right in the eye. I'm not sure what he saw there, but he leaned back a bit, and spoke again quickly. "Hey now, Shitpants, let's. . ." That's all the further I let him get.
The bleeding foot took on a life of its own and repeated its previous journey. This time, however, it wasn't greeted by breaking glass, but rather the soft landing of the Shark's family jewels. When I kicked him he went up onto his tiptoes for a second and his face was effused with a look of utmost wonder and questioning. He was like a small child seeing something as large as a whale for the first time; his view of the world had expanded to encompass something it had never conceived before. In his wildest dreams, the Shark never envisioned Shitpants McGee knocking his tender bits up into his skull, where they rattled around and pushed every other thought out of his brain. He bent over and puked on my leg.
I am not a kung fu action star. I will be the first to tell you that my skill at combat is somewhere around the same level of a fat third grader wrestling for his fourth helping of chocolate cake. But, the Shark was bent over in front of my grabbing at his privates, and it seemed obvious what to do next. I grabbed the sides of his head and kneed the top of his skull. He staggered backwards into his house and slammed into an entryway wall, knocking down some framed Japanese kanji, and then sat down. He stared at me in shock, lurching back and forth, clutching at both his junk and his head. I jumped through the door and kicked him again, right in the face this time. He yelled and his head went back and made a big dent in the drywall. Blood gushed out of his mouth. I started screaming at him. "How do you like it now? How do you like it when someone kicks you in the face? How do you like it?!"
The Shark rolled to the side and started scurrying on his hands and knees back into his living room. I followed and kicked him in the ass as hard as I could. The pain in my foot was gone now. I wasn't feeling anything except elation and anger. He went down on face and starting crying and sobbing. "Why are you here? What are you doing this for? Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me."
I looked around the room. It was a large spread; sunken living room with adjoined kitchen. The place was spotless. A fire crackled in the fireplace, adding a surreal sense of cheeriness to the room. A huge plasma TV was mounted on the front wall. Frozen on it was the image of two well muscled men getting to know each other . . .uh, Biblically I guess I'll put it. The Shark pulled himself up against the wall under the TV and looked at me broken mouthed and bleeding. Tears rolled down his face. I could see that I'd broken some of his teeth with my foot.
I yelled at him, "Why am I here? Why am I doing this?" I ran over to the fireplace and grabbed the big poker out of the rack. It had a very satisfying weight in my hands, a heft that gave me the idea that I could really make some changes in the world with it. I could make an impression. "I'm NOT doing this! You're doing this! You did this! You abuse people and take advantage of them. I thought that was bad, that you thought of people as dollar signs to be gobbled up! I thought you were bad, but I didn't see this coming!" I pointed at the TV screen. The Shark looked at me in confusion and pain, his mouth hanging open. Actually, he had almost the same expression on his face as one of the guys on the screen. "Sin! Sin! It's against God!" I really have no idea why I started freaking out at the gay porn. I hadn't ever thought twice about people sleeping with the same sex before. But, I was on an Old Testament mission, and it seemed like the thing to do. I took a few hops across the room and smashed the TV with the poker.
I expected the screen to explode with fire and electric sparks. Instead it just caved in and there was a big plastic CRUNCH sound. What I didn't expect was for it to fall off of the wall and come down on top of the Shark's head. It smacked the top of his skull with a kind of hollow thump and drove him forward to the carpet, then crashed down behind him and flopped on top of his body. I stood there staring in surprise for a minute. The Shark didn't move. The poker was still in my hand, so I poked him with the end of it a few times. He lay there limp. I could see that he was still breathing, but he seemed to be unconscious. I'd never seen anyone get knocked out before. When he got hit I saw his eyes roll up into his head, and he just went boneless and limp. It was like watching ragdoll physics in motion. Clunk.
I scratched my head and looked at him, then around at the room. I was still angry, and my main outlet was now beyond caring. The drywall looked inviting, so I knocked some holes in it with the poker, but it didn't seem like enough. The fervor that I was in demanded more. I made a quick decision and walked over to the fireplace, then used the poker to drag a few flaming logs out and onto the carpet. The carpet under them melted, but didn't catch fire. A maniacal laugh sprang to my lips, and was echoed behind me by the angel, who started hissing "Pillar of salt, pillar of salt!" over and over. I lined up next to one of the logs like I was taking a golf shot, wiggled my butt a few times, and then used the poker to smack the flaming thing over to the drywall. The wall almost immediately caught fire, and I watched laughing as the flame raced up toward the ceiling. It spread a LOT faster than I thought it would, and the air really started to get choked with smoke.
I trotted over to the Shark and swung the poker up to rest over my shoulder casually. His robe had come open, and I could see that he'd pissed all over himself and the carpet. I started laughing harder and grabbed the collar of his robe. It's hard for me to get my mind around, but I somehow dragged him out of the house with one hand. I let his head bounce down his front step, and then dropped him on the front lawn. The poker sang in my hand as I twirled it over and over and strolled back to the pizza man's car. I opened the passenger door and bowed with a flourish to the angel as it climbed back into the car. When I bowed I could see feathers matted and stuck to the ceiling where the upholstery should have been. I guess they'd been pulled off on our ride over, but the angel hadn't complained about it at all.
The flames and smoke of the fire rose into the night sky behind me as I drove away. Finally I was a winner.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009