The Floating Beast – Jon Berger
June 15, 2021
First hour was shop class. I’d come in every morning stoned. Our teacher was an alcoholic and an asshole and didn’t know anything.
No one was allowed to go in the shop today because someone got hurt yesterday from horsing around. Horsing around didn’t mean just hitting each other in the balls. Yesterday two kids got in a fight and one kid threw a hammer at the other kid and it hit him in the knee cap and fucked him up.
So for a week we all had to do book work and watch old VHS videos about applying bondo.
Today’s video was an old guy with a trucker hat and a beer belly explaining how to properly mix the bondo. We knew the next section was going to be about applying bondo, then waiting for bondo to dry. Then sanding bondo.
Ian and I sat in the back by the big window.
I was leaning back in my chair, arms folded, eyes closed. I was so stoned I was seeing spots. The lights were off. Ian was anxious, crouched over his desk picking at his fingernails.
Ian turned to me, “You ready to get out of here?”
“Yeah,” I said squeaking my eyes open.
Ian slowly leaned over and cranked open the big window. He lifted himself over the window ledge and slithered out like a big worm, plopping on the ground below. I sat there pretending not to notice while side-eyeing our hungover teacher. Usual mornings he was red faced and sweating with heavy breaths. His collared shirt looked like it was choking him.
I waited for his big red sweating head to bob as he struggled to stay awake. I closed my eyes and waited for the first snore.
He snored. It was deep and sounded like death. The class giggled and someone threw a wadded-up piece of paper at his face. I was already out of my chair and I hopped in the air, tucked my knees, ducked my head and seemed to float out the window, landing on my feet in the wet grass below.
Ian was already gone, at his house. I knew where the security cameras were and I knew the security guard was still at the front door of the school marking stragglers tardy.
It was a cold and sunny October morning, close to Halloween and I could feel the cold air shoot through the holes in my jeans as I walked.
I heard some quick footsteps coming up on me. Before I could turn around I felt a sharp pain on the side of my leg, a loud whack.
“Ah! What the fuck!” I jumped and turned to see what was behind me.
It was Brennan. He was holding a giant stick. Brennan was a guy who lived near the school. He wasn’t right, pale and skinny. I think he was in his thirties but it was hard to tell. He lived with his mom, always stood outside in his front yard to watch everyone come to school in the morning. Everyone knew to stay away from him. I forgot about him and didn’t notice him until it was too late.
Brennan reeled back and whacked me in the leg with the stick again. “Fuck, bro stop!”
Brennen hit me in the ass with the stick and started grunting. I ran but not before Brennen got me good on my ankle bone. I could hear his heavy breathing right behind me. I could feel the swoosh of the stick behind my head. Brennen chasing me down the middle of street screaming and swinging.
I was the fastest kid in town, but somehow Brennan still kept up.
Ian lived in a tiny house at the dead end of the street where the road turned dirt. He was in his driveway and saw me running from Brennan. He grabbed two rakes and started running down the middle of the street, arms extended like an anime character, a rake in each hand, screaming.
Ian tossed me one of the rakes, I caught it and turned around to face Brennen. He swung his giant stick like it was a broadsword. I blocked it but the stick snapped the plastic rake prongs. Brennen was drooling and his face was insane, his eyes bulged, his hair was sticking up all over. I couldn’t believe someone that skinny could be so strong. Ian swung his rack and it came down hard on the top of Brennen’s head. He dropped his stick and held the top of his head with both hands and made a cartoony sad face.
Brennen made a seething whistling sound out of his lips and he rubbed the top of his head in panic and then started big heaving sobs.
Me and Ian looked at each other, both our eyes asking what was going on.
Ian asked Brennen if he was alright. Brennen shook his head and cried more.
“Hey man, you can’t be attacking people like that.”
Brennen lifted his hands from his head and there was some blood smeared on his hands.
“Oh, fuck,” I said.
Brennen ran back to his house crying, leaving his stick in the street.
I turned at Ian who looked like he was going to puke.
“Ian, we need to get the fuck out of here.”
“What was that?! Like what the fuck, man?” Said Ian, still holding his rake in attack mode.
“I don’t know, the fucker just started chasing me and hitting me with that giant fucking stick.” I reached down and rubbed my ankle. I could tell it was going to bruise like a motherfucker.
“We gotta go in case the cops get called,” said Ian.
I sighed and slumped my shoulders, saying, “I just wanted to play video games today.”
“I know, me too, man. Me too,” said Ian.
We picked up the evidence in the street and went to The Beast sleeping in Ian’s front yard.
We bought The Beast for $50 from a group of crackheads hanging around in the mall parking lot on a hot summer night in August. We were out there trying to get Xanax but ended up buying a car. I’m not sure what kind of car it was. It was black but was so rusted out it had big holes in the floor boards and rocker panels. No power steering or power braking so you had to crank the wheel like it was a pirate ship and stand up on the brake pedal to stop. It rumbled and shook and leaked gas. It had a four banger and seemed to run fine. We liked to drunk drive it down old fire trails.
The Beast wasn’t starting.
Ian was prying a crushed sparkplug open with a flathead.
The Beast was out of gas so I got the push mower out the garage and lifted it up and set it on the trunk of the car. I ran a hose from the mower to the gas tank. It was two-stroke gas in the mower but it would work for what we needed it for. I sucked on the hose until the oily gas hit my lips and then I plunged the hose into the gas tank while gagging and spitting out the gas in my mouth.
I rolled the mower off the trunk with a crash and dragged it back into the garage.
I filled up my Jansport bookbag with our stash of booze and drugs hidden in a hole in the drywall.
I came out the garage and asked Ian if he had that sparkplug in yet.
“Alright, let’s get this bitch rolling,” I said.
The Beast needed a rolling start so Ian put it in neutral and stood outside the open driver’s door and pushed and I pushed from the back.
We got it rolling down the street good enough so Ian jumped in and started it up. The exhaust was loud as fuck, puffing blue smoke out the tailpipe.
I ran alongside and jumped in the passenger street and we were off to the gas station.
We coasted into the gas station. It sat at the edge of town. No prepay. Farm fields and back roads beyond for us to disappear into.
I got out of The Beast and started pumping gas with the car still running, the backseat window open. I pumped the gas until it overflowed and spilled down.
I dropped the gas nozzle and dived in the back seat while Ian hit the gas. The car was slow, rumbling and creaking and smoking up momentum.
The clerk came out pointing and yelling at us.
Ian turned down the first back road out of town.
The Beast was shaking and the bald tires swerving over loose gravel like a giant boat in a storm. There was a blanket in the back seat. Under the blanket was something long, hard and cold. I propped up and pulled the blanket away to see a single-shot 20 gauge beneath me.
I cracked the barrel open seeing it was loaded. There were yellow shells laying among the mess of the backseat.
“Bro, you got a shotgun back here.”
“Sweet,” said Ian as he started to stand up on the brakes to slow The Beast down.
I climbed up to the front seat with the gun, opened a beer and lit a bowl.
“Yo,” I pointed at a deer crossing sign.
Ian angled the car towards the sign and I leaned out the window and brought the hammer back on the shotgun and fired, blowing a bunch of tiny holes in the sign. I cracked the barrel open and the smoking shell ejected out. I loaded it back up and handed the gun to Ian. He leaned out the driver side while I held the steering wheel for him. Ian blew apart a yield sign at the cross roads.
We traded the shotgun on and off for a while, shot some mailboxes, drinking beer and hitting the bowl. We drove out to the shoe tree. A big tree that everyone tied their shoes together and tossed them over its branches. We got out and shot apart some shoes.
We stopped at a party store at the crossroad of 4 farm fields. The store was a big old farm house that the owner lived in. We bought sandwiches and chips and candy and ate them in the parking lot.
Ian’s phone dinged and he dug it out his pocket and handed it to me, “Chelsea texted you, and there’s are party at Davey’s tonight,” he said while chewing his sandwich.
I took the phone.
I didn’t have a phone. I saw Davey’s group text about the party and saw Chelsea’s text telling Ian to give me the phone.
The thing about Chelsea is when we all started high school she transferred to a different school in the city. She still lived in town with her asshole parents and still came to parties and hungout with everyone in the flats. But now she was 17 and starting college in the winter semester at a University downstate.
For the past couple years, we kinda dated, but mostly just hungout and fucked and got fucked up together at parties. I knew that’s all it could ever be and it was ending soon.
I texted her back telling her about the party and she said she’d be there and she was bringing friends X, Y and Z from the smart kid school. I couldn’t keep track of her friends because I only met them when I was fucked up.
“She coming to the party?” asked Ian.
“Yeah,” I said.
“She bringing friends?”
“Says she is.”
“She still doing that early college shit?” Ian lit a cigarette.
“Yeah, man. She’s leaving after Christmas.”
“Well fuck, let’s go hangout with them right now, like pregame with her friends,” said Ian.
“Dude … its noon. They’re still in school,” I laughed.
“Oh, yeah that’s right. Fuck, I’m stoned.” Ian took a drink of his beer.
I was feeling the weed and beer hit me.
“So, what the fuck we gonna do before the party?”
“The tracks,” I said. I knew the tracks would bring me back from the soupy head rush and the pissed off feeling of Chelsea leaving.
“I don’t know, we almost didn’t make it last time,” said Ian.
“You got a better idea?”
Ian shrugged, finished his food and then cranked the wheel out the parking lot and went down the road.
My ankle throbbed.
The rail road tracks looked like a giant speed bump. We idled at a dead stop a half mile out. The road was potholed and bumpy from bad winters.
The trick to jumping the tracks was taking your seatbelt off and going 100 mph. The goal was zero gravity.
Ian hit the gas, The Beast started to rumble and pick up speed. I stared down the tracks ahead like I wanted them to finally kill me.
I exhaled cigarette smoke and sank into my seat, closing my eyes right before we hit the tracks and I felt the tingle in my spine like it got pulled out from under me. The Beast uplifted and launched. My chin dipped and my heart sank into my stomach. I was falling up. My back pressed against the ceiling of the car, my knees above my head. I opened my eyes to see my blown-out shoes in front of my face. Shotgun shells, wrappers and beer cans floating. A frozen moment outside of everything else.
We came down hard. The tires squawked. My ass went numb. Ian lost control and we flew off the road and into a farm field. Ian stomped back on the gas so The Beast didn’t sink in the mud. Black horrible mud was shooting through the rust holes in the floor. The mud splattered the inside of the car, cold globs spraying up our jeans and hitting us in the face.
There was a patch of pine trees in the middle of the field. I pointed like it was an island and we were on a sinking boat. The Beast bogged in the mud until we came up on the hard ground of where the trees grew. The forest floor all brown dead pine needles. A dark canopy that hid us. Deer and turkey ran from the patch of trees across the nothing field. The whitetails bouncing.
The Beast stalled. My hands were shaking, I got my pack of smokes and fished two out and passed one to Ian. I was wide awake now, my heart thudding, everything lit up. We struggled to light our cigarettes then sat silently coming down from the best drug.
The Beast was steaming under the hood and it was making a gurgling sound from somewhere underneath. I could hear liquid spilling out. Eventually we got out and looked under the car and neon green antifreeze was leaking and soaking into the dead pine needles. The Beast’s dash started dinging.
I popped the hood and angry stream blew into the air.
“I think she’s fucked,” said Ian.
I dropped the hood with a clunk.
The front driver side tire had popped and The Beast looked like it was slouching and dying.
“How far are we from Davey’s?” I asked Ian.
“Mhm, I think three farm fields,” Ian said studying the clouds.
The fields are gridded up into one square mile each, separated by roads.
“It’s still too light out to be walking through the middle of these fields with a shotgun,” I said.
We sat in the car drinking. We took some Adderall. Ian played on his phone.
I crushed up some Xanax and rolled it into a blunt.
We got out of The Beast at dusk. I had the Jansport of drugs and booze and Ian had the shotgun. We said our goodbyes to The Beast, blew it some kisses then left it there alone to rot in secret.
Our shoes got caked in the clay mud. We jumped icy cold ditches.
My ankle was hurting, it was clicking when I walked and felt detached. We smoked some of the Xanax blunt during the journey. This made my ankle not hurt anymore, it only felt like a warm sensation after that.
We could see the couch fire in the darkness like a north star. As we got closer, we heard yelling, laughter and death metal.
There was a group of guys arguing by the couch fire as we walked out of the endlessly dark field and into the grassy backyard.
The heat felt good.
A fight broke out and guys started swinging at each other, the thud of fist hitting faces. One guy dropped and more guys jumped into the brawl. Some trying to break it up others trying to keep the fight going.
A guy standing off to the side pointed and laughed at us, “holy shit, that kid’s got a gun.”
Ian turned to me, he had the gun in his hand, “I’m gonna lock this up in Davey’s room.”
“Good idea,” I said laughing but I wasn’t sure why I was laughing because I was just fucked up.
Chelsea’s text said she was in the garage.
We walked around to the front of the house, people in the driveway, the garage door up, the band playing near the back, the singer screaming like a dying animal into the mic, the cord wrapped around his arm like a dead black worm, no shirt, tats everywhere. The walls covered in graffiti with holes punched in them. Some kids in the garage were doing a red rover mosh pit where they link arms and other kids go berserk trying to break through it.
There she was, Chelsea was sitting in a big lazy boy chair with one of her friends. The chair was half in the garage and half in the driveway, right outside of the mosh pit. Chelsea and her friend were passing a fifth of vodka back and forth and she was smoking a clove. She was laughing. Her hair was a black with blue strands.
Ian walked into the house to put the gun away.
I went over to Chelsea and her friend and said what’s up.
They paused and looked at me. Chelsea covered her mouth and they both burst out laughing at me because I was covered in mud, shivering, limping and fucked up.
I lit a cigarette with a muddy hand.
“What happened to you?” she said.
I exhaled smoke and explained how The Beast had broken down in a field and we had to walk here.
“Is The Beast dead?”
“Yeah, I think it’s dead.”
“Awe, sorry,” she said with a frowny face.
I shrugged, “It’s probably for the best.”
We had to shout because of all the deathcore.
Her friend got up and left. I wedged into the chair with her. She was stoned as fuck. Her eyes squinty red. The older guys at these parties liked seeing how stoned they could get younger girls.
Chelsea sat on my lap and started licking her hands like a cat, rubbing specks of mud off my face. I put my arms around her. She didn’t care about getting my mud on her clothes. Her mouth was dry so she switched to dabbing her sleeve in vodka to wipe away the smeared mud on my face. We talked about our day while she did this. I didn’t have much I wanted to say. It was becoming more like that. She couldn’t wait to start college. She wanted to study everything. She rattled off subjects I never heard of. She was reading a new book. I didn’t know what any of it meant. These things felt like a fairytale land I’d never find the portal to.
She cupped my clean face in her warm hands and looked down at me with big bright eyes. Her nails in my hair.
She said my whole body was cold.
I said I couldn’t tell.
She said, “I know you can’t.”