Chapter 1: The Phone Interview
Right now, beneath your feet, there lives an enormous and very old creature. I say “lives,” but that word might not be appropriate for a being so alien that using the word “biology” to describe it would be embarrassing. If you ever tried to understand this creature your mind would splinter into shards of madness from the immense, incomprehensible complexity. Or, more likely, you’d get bored very quickly and move on to something else. Boredom: one of the great human survival instincts.
You’ll never see this creature, but It is there. A great mass of fibrous tendrils and hexagonal eyeballs that stretch out along Its length. Its skin, in those parts of It that are covered in skin, is the sickly yellow-white of mozzarella cheese left out in the acid rain, then baked into an abomination of a pizza. What passes for nerve tissue juts out of its body at various points, where it blends seamlessly with the dirt and clay and concrete. That’s how It perceives. No one knows what Its eyes are for.
Everywhere you step It is there. Just below. Sometimes a few feet, sometimes only the width of a men’s magazine cover beneath you. It sounds terrifying, and perhaps it is. But no more terrifying than the millions of things currently living and breeding and trying to microscopically one-up each other on your eyeballs. You’ll never understand them, either.
Sometimes, at night, Its finger-tendrils crawl up through the floorboards of your bedroom, in between the molecules that make up your through your boxspring, and your mattress, and your Power Ranger sheets, and slip right into your brain. There, it plucks out the nastiest and most thorny of your nightmares, and draws them back down to Itself, where it throws them back Its mouths like so many pork rinds. That’s where those nightmares go. That’s why they don’t drive you insane. Awfully considerate, really.
Don’t think about this too long. Don’t look for it, or contemplate it deeply in that moment each night where you are not sure if you are asleep or awake. If you do, you’ll start to see it. You’ll start to feel it. And that would be a damn shame. Because the thing is this creature doesn’t exist. How could it? That would be ludicrous. It doesn’t exist, but you should still be grateful for it.
Because the stark reality is that the city you live in is, in actuality, and irradiated wasteland. And nearly everything around you–the donut shop where the pink-haired baker gives you free donuts, the street you walk to get to the pink-haired donut shop, the shrubbery that isn’t pink but still reminds you of that hair because it’s on the way and you sometimes walk there during sunset—all of that is merely a figment of this creature’s imagination. Something else you should try not to think about.
My name is Darius Rucker, and for the last few years this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. During those stretches of time when I just deliver refrigerators and electronics equipment for local business and people who get free stuff off of Craigslist I can almost pretend none of it matters. That the fact that they aren’t real means they can’t affect me, or the people I care about. Decker thinks that’s hilarious.
By the way, if my name seems vaguely familiar it isn’t because you’ve heard of me, or because we’ve met, or anything. It happens all the time. Just last week I was driving home from Cracker Barrel—don’t judge me—when I saw blue and red flashing lights in my rearview.
“Fuck,” I said, because I’m not very creative. I pulled over and rolled down the window. It’s a hand crank. A police officer walked up to the side of my car. He wore a perfectly normal local police uniform, but his hat and his swagger gave off an air like he considered it a waste that he wasn’t in Texas chasing down bad guys with Chuck Norris. The kind of guy who you know owns at least three string ties.
“Hello, officer,” I said.
“Son, do you know why I pulled you over?” Jeez. I recognized him. Officer Justin Handy. No, his last name wasn’t really handy, but I couldn’t remember it.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I was trying to obey all of the traffic laws.” Jesus. Shut up, Darius. I was glad Axon wasn’t active just then.
“It’s about your left brake light,” he said.
“Is there something wrong with it?” I pretended I didn’t already know. “Is it out or something?”
“No, it ain’t out.” He adjusted the brim of his hat for emphasis. “It’s just that, is there some reason the light is green?”
“Or why it’d be making that ungodly howling sound? Sounds like somebody stepped on a couple of gophers. Never heard anything like it.”
“Um…I don’t know why that’d be,” I said. “I’ll be sure to get that looked at as soon as possible.”
He looked at me coolly. “Take out your licence and registration, please.”
I tried hard not to audibly sigh. It didn’t work. I pulled the documents out of the glove compartment and handed them over.
“Darius Rucker,” he said as he took them. “Now where do I know that name from?”
“We went to highschool together,” I said. “I was in al the school plays. I played Othello.”
“Naw, that aint it. I’d remember that.”
“You’ve also pulled me over before,” I said. I didn’t add, “for this exact issue.”
“Is that so?” he said. “Naw, must’ve been some other officer of the law. I never forget a perp’s face. Wait, I got it. Isn’t that the name of some singer? From that old band what only wanted to be with you? Hootie something.”
I sighed again. “Blowfish,” I said.
“Hootie and the Blowfish.”
“That’s it!” he sounded excited. “You even look like him, too. Only if he were, you know, an Arab.”
He pronounced it as if, in addition to being of Middle Eastern decent, I also captain a whaling boat. I’m not, by the way, an actual A-rab. My mother is Pakistani by way of the U.K and my father was Persian. He changed his last name to “Rucker” when he moved to the US. He thought it made him sound tough. Someone always getting into a ruckus. I don’t think he predicted any blowfish.
“Well don’t that just beat the Pope’s ass all the way to hell,” said Officer Handy.
“I guess,” I said.
“Well, Hootie,” he said. “Why don’t I just let you off with a warning this time. You’d best get that looked at as soon as possible. I won’t be so easy on you next time.”
Yes, you will.
“Thank you, officer,” I said. “That’s very generous of you.”
He nodded, and went on his way. It’s a stupid name, but it does have its benefits.