During my years at college I was introduced by a friend to Men At Arms by Terry Pratchett, and now looking back I can see how Pratchett was a big influence on my style, particularly the way in which his dialogue was structured to provide comic effect, as well as the way in which his storytelling was separated into small, interweaving sections (for example, check out Irrevenant Pt.1). During college this first manifest itself as some rather tawdry, comedic attacks on people who I didn’t like as everything within the narratives got destroyed, even the protagonist by part 3.
But spin on a couple of years and I was beginning to build up a style and a focus. This was the interim of years between college and university – although I actually had no interest in further education at the time – and through another friend I began to attend a writer’s circle in Woking.
With the structure of regularly having a deadline I began to write some shorts that would form the basis of my later writings.
One of the very first was the Cosmic Highway…..
Vanishing Point (1971) And The ‘Other’
I must have watched Vanishing Point dozens of times, and let’s say that back then more than a few of these were under certain herbal influence. During these somewhat psychedelic sessions movies became something almost shamanistic – I use what is a loaded term loosely here to denote movement from one reality to another – and there is a certain narrative structure to this movement that relates to Joseph Campbell et al.
While I certainly can ramble on at length about shamanism, and mythic structure in movies, that’s a post for another day. What is important here is that while watching a movie one becomes immersed in the experience – one transitions into the reality of the movie – and at the same time there is a movement within the movie where the hero goes from real to unreal (the ‘other’) and back to real.
In Vanishing Point the hero is blocked from his goal on the road and heads out into the desert where he meets a mad old man who is collecting snakes. Out of this sequence the hero then gets back on the road, armed with his mystical truth and ready to face the forces of oppression.
Whilst this was certainly one of the things that drove me (aha, pun) to the study of anthropology, it was more immediately tangible in stories such as The Cosmic Highway, not just because it had a Dodge Charger in it, but because it contained the fundamental element of movement between worlds, from the real to the ‘other’. Within this frame-work there is also the mysterious figure (the “shaman” or trickster) who is able to convey one back and forth between realities. In this respect the driver is just a reflection of later characters such as Crow (see Crumbs For Crow).
What I present here is the original short about a muscle car driving, inter-dimensional taxi driver. While I have edited it to smooth out the reading, I have otherwise refrained from altering it so as to give an example of the little stepping stones that make up a writer’s journey.
Eventually the character and the idea would be reworked and incorporated into a wider thematic of a privatised afterlife: the car is actually Chiron’s ferry in a different form, and the driver’s powers were gift to him by the ferryman after he was laid off by the new corporate management of the Underworld™.
The Cosmic Highway (story)
It’s early, or maybe late, depending on who you are in the cosmos.
For me it’s well into Limbo, that liminal time between realities, and my foot’s all the way down to the floor because right this moment I got troubles weighing heavy like a ten tonne weight across my shoulders. Call it a scoop I’m giving you now, so stick around and I’ll fill you in on the sequence of events, introductions first.
Most folk just call me Driver, plain and simple. But names aside, you can call me anything you like. All you gotta know is that I’m no ordinary joe, and this ain’t no ordinary taxi that I pilot. Sure, outside it looks normal enough, an Earthworld Dodge Charger from nineteen hundred and seventy, one of America’s gifts to the environmental lobby, from the era when they made ’em cool and fast for the sake of it. She’s mean and sleek with curves to die for, four wheels of supercharged lean-burn muscle dressed in the purest velvet midnight that blazes on through the stop signs of the imagination. Under the hood there’s more than horsepower too, but it isn’t the personal modifications alone that makes the difference.
No, what’s special is on the inside, or in other words me. I’m the one who’ll get either you or your package to the destination of choice. Anywhere you want in space or time, you name it; I’ll drive it there, and boy I’m telling you some have named stranger than the boggling mind can conceive. I don’t cruise the usual highways see? And I make handbrake turns around reality. You dig? Maybe not eh? Sometimes I ask questions, but I don’t remember no truths. If I decide to take the gig you pay my price and unlike the rest, I’m not into cash, cheques or credits cards. That kinda credit doesn’t cut any mustard in these parts.
And I know you’re still dyin’ to get a good look at my face right? Well, see I’m kinda edgy about that, and in all fairness these features could be one amongst hundreds that you see in your day. Easily vague, shadowy perhaps, wrapped in the blackest shades and instantly forgettable.
So, introductions aside, you must be getting hungry for the scoop right? You wouldn’t be here otherwise. Well, it all started a few hours back and I’m settling down in this cozy back-street place I know, the sort of one in any million ,low light joints where the barkeep flaps a beer sodden bar-towel with vague ineffectiveness at some fly that only he really sees and hears. In the corner some a shady blues three piece are taking the denizens down into twilight with a seedy rhythm.
I’m blowin’ a smoke ring, contemplating this and that, when all of a sudden there’s this guy stooping over me, and I’m tellin’ you he’s got the mysterious robed stranger thing down to perfection, the whole deal with the weird eyes, deep hood and menacing voice. He’s laying out the gig, whisperin’ the details in these hushed tones, what and where and when. No problem, but I’m tellin’ him to beat it. I’m really not in the mood for a weird one tonight. Naturally he’s got it covered, knows just the thing to make the fish bite the bait. An original, very rare and served with a garnish of assurances. My instincts are spelling danger in big red letters, but I turn a blind eye.
I deal and hit the road as soon as soon as I’ve taken another swift drink, my fare on the seat beside me riding shotgun. He fits nicely in his box and I feel sort of honoured, although secretly I’m glad to say that he’s seen better days. There ain’t a soul around these ways who hasn’t heard about this dude and the heavy baggage he’d been swinging. A real unsavoury, into the sort of thing that you don’t ask too many questions over. See, you never know who’s listening at the door, so most folk here nod in silent agreement that they’d all rather be keeping their eyeballs. Still, judging by the sneak peek I took of him I’d say that those days are well and truly over. I’m doubting that he’ll be taking part in any more clandestine ceremonies, other than perhaps as a candle holder.
So, everything’s cool for about the first hour, the deserted highway scenario mixing with the heavy fog shroud while the radios playing some smooth road tunes as we eat up the miles. We’re making with the good time between Limbo and the There and Then and I’m making the mistake of thinking that this gig isn’t gonna be such a weird one and how I’m gonna get a nice Mogadorian breakfast when all of a sudden it’s the fright of the night and the guy next to me is awake and really rowdy, asking in shades of a blue tongue where in the Hell he is and what in the Hell’s going on.
“I thought you were dead!” I intone with exasperation. It’s an understatement to say that I’m less than impressed by this revelation.
“Dead? Ha!” his voice is heavy with the contemptuous tones as he starts down the whole beyond Death routine like all these cultist nut jobs do. “I am He that Death cannot bind, He who is beyond the Veil of Mortality, the eternal servant of Lashu Froom!”
I cut in before he gets further into the powertrip about how everyone’s gonna be bowing before him.
“Yeah yeah yeah, that’s why you’re here and some other guys wearin’ your fancy robes and getting it on in the inner sanctums with the sacrificial virgins right?”
That strikes a nerve I can tell you and the tense silence that follows can only be described as ominous. I take to considering how risky it might be to mock this particularly afflicted individual, but then I say to myself no one gets shirty with me, not when I’m behind the wheel. His next sentence has the leaden effects of doom down to a tee that breaks the atmosphere like a walnut under a hammer.
“Your impertinence is noted foolish one. Know that soon I shall reclaim my rightful place as the Right Hand of Lashu Froom and upon my return you shall be the second voice raised in the exultations of agony, singing my eternal praises from the torture chambers of Eleria!”
“Uh-huh. Same old same old then? You probably don’t even let me die right?” Man, I really could have done without this tonight.
“You’re getting the idea I see. Prolonged suffering, endless torment and merciless torture awaits!”
I yawn, putting as much indifference into it as I can. This riles him even more and he’d be spitting if he had any saliva.
“Maybe you didn’t notice,” I say cooly, “but you’re not exactly in the best position to be dealing out threats. Your box fits you real good doesn’t it?” Now that’s got him seething.
“They shall flail the skin from your body! They shall draw the marrow from your bones! They shall…….”
It goes on like this for some time. When he’s quite finished his frenzied little routine I respond with the usual calmness. “Don’t you think this hideous torture bit is getting a little dated now? I mean, have you ever been to Earth? Man, it’s quite literally been done to death. You should keep up with the times.” An eruption of static punctuates the moment and I’m twirling the dial. Ther’s a burst of Reggie Dixon and I shudder before continuing, “There are worse things in Heaven and Earth Horatio……”
“And you shall know them! You shall be hunted down to the ends of time itself if need be!”
I don’t reply and that’s when I glance in the rear view mirror. A sight most unwanted grabs my attention. Curses.
“Something awry?” he inquires after a painful pause and I feel the smugness radiating from the box beside me as I imagine the expression on his desiccated face.
“Nope,” the word comes out wrong and he’s just loving the fact that my cool is well and truly blown! Thoughts of the eternal torments spring up fresh in my mind with a new, urgent vigour I find most unpalatable. Oh man, what a night. I’m wishing that I’d taken note of what my instincts had to say. Like I said, I could have done without a weird one. In response I make my foot more intimate with the accelerator.
“Ha ha, do you know who follows us foolish one?” he says, laying on the mocking tones like sickly thick syrup.
“I could probably take a wild guess. Something along the lines of the dread servants of the almighty Lashu Froom?”
“Yes! he cried, the box actually jolting with the ferocity of his exclamation.. “They are my eternal hordes! The decreed sent none other than Lashu Froom himself to retrieve me and return me to my rightful position!”
“Eternal servants huh?” I muse aloud, scratching the rough stubble at the end of my chin as I ponder whether it’s not too late make some sort of apology…..
Last Word: Over To You Super Soul
Well, that’s all for today folks. Feel free to leave me a comment or ask me a question.
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