All contents copyright 2012 Jack Fairlane. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced for any purpose without permission of the author.
For all of you. You know who you are (and who you were).
So much time has passed since I began writing this book. The idea of a semi-autobiographical novel first entered my mind about a decade ago, more as just a faint creative impulse than anything else. But it would come to me again and again, like a recurring dream, and I eventually decided to act on it, and see where it led me.
The book began taking form in my imagination over the next few years. By April 2006 I had the story I wanted and began writing the first draft. About three months later Tornadoes was more or less complete.
Almost four years later (after a lot of stopping and starting) the whole thing was finally finished. The majority of the book was written during the summer and fall of 2009 when I was more or less immobilized with a back injury. I'd had about a third of the second draft completed at that point, so I just crammed through the rest until I felt like it was done. But it wasn't, really. It never will be. As a matter of fact to this day I'm still thinking about more things I could have added to it.
That sprawling, rambling quality is not accidental. I intended for this novel to be a long one. It's one of those stories that when you come to the end of it you should feel like you, the characters in the book, and the author have been on a journey together, and I believe it gets that idea across quite well. It's quite a remarkable journey really, for Dan, his family, and all their friends. It will be for you too.
A word of caution; Don't judge a book by its cover. There is graphic violence in this book, as well as a fair amount of …Adult content, some of which is fairly explicit. Overall I'd give it something like an NC-17 rating. Pretty sure there's nothing XXX rated left hiding in here anywhere, but I could be wrong. I haven't read the whole thing for a while. You have been warned.
An important note; by now I think everyone has gotten the idea that this novel is based somewhat upon my life, or at least on some of the events that occurred in it. And it is, somewhat. But most of what fills these pages is pure fantasy, some of it quite extravagant fantasy, and I never intended it to be anything other than that. It certainly isn't intended to represent anything resembling reality, or to be an accurate depiction of what really happened.
Basically it's just some fun old stories of mine dressed up in a bunch of bullshit. So sit back and enjoy them, cause they're good stories. I promise. J
Table of contents
Dan was dreaming.
In his dream he was standing in the middle of a busy street, with cars speeding by in all directions. The sun was blazing down from a bright blue sky, shining in his face and hurting his eyes no matter which way he turned.
He saw a church high on a hill, with a towering steeple soaring skyward towards brilliant white clouds that rushed by faster than they possibly could in real life.
Then Dan realized he wasn't alone. There were other people in the street with him. They wandered back and forth while the cars sped by, as if they were lost. "Where am I?" Dan shouted at them.
No one answered.
Then the blinding sun disappeared behind a cloud, and everything was plunged into darkness. Dan looked up at the pitch black sky. Thousands of stars shimmered and sparkled. All was quiet.
A voice from somewhere out of sight whispered softly into his ear.
It said one word
Dan opened his eyes and touched his face. It was hot and stinging. He had fallen asleep by the swimming pool and gotten sunburned. "Dan!"
"Que pasa, Dan!"
Dan sat up in his chair. Someone was shouting at him from across the courtyard.
"We're going to play some cards, Dan. You want in?"
It was Julio. Julio the maintenance man was sitting at the picnic table down by the playground, getting ready to start up a game of spades with a couple of his friends from up the street.
"No, I'll pass," Dan shouted back. "Thanks."
"Okay, fine." Julio laughed. "You're sunburned, man."
"Yeah," Dan replied, embarrassed. "I fell asleep."
"Let me know if you change your mind," Julio said. Then he turned away and started dealing cards to his friends. "All right," Dan answered.
Dan looked up at the sky. It was deep blue and endless. He leaned back in his chair and watched the afternoon sunlight sparkle and dance on the water, being careful not to doze off again.
There were a few other people lounging around the swimming pool. Some lazily tanned themselves on towels. Others relaxed in the shade of umbrella covered tables while their children splashed and played.
Sheila the manager was sitting in a plastic chair by the diving board, talking to one of her neighbors.
"…And that guy over in 107 was complaining about mold under his carpet."
"Uh huh," the neighbor answered. She thumbed to the next page of the trashy romance novel she was holding on her lap and adjusted one of the straps of her bright pink bikini.
Dan watched the sweat on her face shine in the sun. She was blonde, tanned, and much younger and a lot prettier than Sheila.
"It was just regular old crappy mold," Shelia continued. "Nothing dangerous."
The girl looked up for a second. She studied her reflection in Sheila's mirrored sunglasses.
"And you know what?" said Sheila. "I was just telling the landlord we needed new carpets a week ago. See? That's what I get for looking out for everybody!
Sheila fanned herself with a People magazine and took a long thirsty drink from her water bottle.
"Sorry I'm getting so worked up," she said to the girl in the bikini. "This place is just too much sometimes."
"Yep," the girl agreed, thinking to herself that Sheila could be too much sometimes too.
She noticed Dan watching her so she looked up from her book and smiled at him. Dan was surprised and kind of startled, but he hesitated only a moment before smiling back.
"He was telling me I needed to call out an inspector." The woman in the pink bikini yawned and looked back down at her book. "That sucks, Sheila," she said quietly.
"You're telling me. I should have told him to inspect my ass."
A rusty old Chevy rumbled into the parking lot of the apartment complex. The driver parked, got out and opened her trunk. A big, burly man in a dirty white t shirt and coveralls climbed out of the passenger side and joined her at the back of the car. He was wearing a trucker cap that with the brim pulled low over his eyes, and he was visibly drunk, or under the influence of something.
"Don't break the eggs this time James," the big man's wife said to him as he started clumsily grabbing at the grocery sacks inside the trunk with his fat, gnarly fingers. Her voice was oddly quiet, and her tone was out of place.
But her husband didn't seem to notice. James cocked his head and gave her an ugly look over his shoulder. His beady, bloodshot eyes glittered in the shade.
"Those stupid kids didn't bag 'em right," he grumbled.
James turned around and started up the sidewalk, burdened with groceries. His wife picked up the last couple of bags, shut the trunk and followed him.
"You dropped them on the kitchen floor and stepped on them," she said.
"Shut your mouth, Carol," James answered.
Carol didn't reply. She looked over towards the pool for a second, then turned away and kept walking. She followed James down the sidewalk and up the steps to their apartment building without saying another word.
Dan got up from his chair. He stared at the sparkling water for a few moments. Then he carefully climbed into the pool.
He stayed in the shallow end. Dan had never learned how to swim much better than a weak dog paddle, and his poor swimming had always embarrassed him. The kids playing around him screamed and thrashed and splashed, drenching Dan with cold water and sending shivers running up and down his body.
Dan picked up an orange foam football floating nearby and threw it across the pool.
"Heads up, Andy!"
The ball landed with a gentle splash, sending droplets of water lit with shimmering sunlight flying everywhere.
"Daddy! You're in the water!"
Andy picked up the ball and sent it zipping back to his father, with considerable speed and accuracy for an eight year old boy. Dan caught the football clumsily as it bounced off his chest and then fumbled it away into the pool.
"It's cool dad," Said Andy with a smile (The most wonderful smile Dan had ever seen.) "Nobody's perfect."
"Thanks, kiddo," Dan replied. "Well, I guess it's about time for us to go in now. Your mom is back."
"I know. I didn't get to play for very long."
"Don't worry, we'll go swimming again soon. We've got all summer."
"I know. I love the summer. Don't you, dad?"
"Yeah, I do. I sure do, kiddo."
Andy and Dan got out of the pool, picked up their towels and went inside, trailing drops of water down the hallway of the apartment building. Dan took his eyeglasses out of his swimsuit pocket, wiped them off, and put them on as they arrived at Carol's doorstep.
He put his ear close to the door and listened. Andy was perplexed.
"Dad, what are you doing?"
Carol and Jim were arguing. They were almost always arguing about something. At least according to Andy.
Dan eavesdropped for a few seconds, but couldn't make out their conversation. So he stepped back and rang the doorbell.
"Hold on, I'm coming," he heard Carol say. "Just wait a second, I'll be right there."
He could tell by the sound of Carol's footsteps that she was wearing the big foam flip flop sandals she would always slip into after she kicked off her shoes. And Dan was guessing she had probably changed into her favorite comfy tee shirt too, a faded tie dye that was too big for her slim body, but still made her look good in all the right places.
Carol opened the door. Dan was startled for a moment. She looked just the way he had imagined she would. "Come on in, kids," she said. Dan resisted the urge to smile.
"Did you have fun swimming, honey?" she said to Andy.
"Yeah," Andy answered. "I always have fun with dad."
"Well, your dad's always fun to be around," Carol said, half jokingly. She gave Dan a pleasant look so he would know she was just kidding.
But she didn't have to, because Dan already knew.
"Now go and get out of your swimsuit. I'm going to start making dinner soon." Carol poked Andy's thin chest with her finger. "You need to start eating more, you skinny little bird."
"Tweet, tweet, tweet."
"Go on. You're dripping everywhere."
Andy flapped his arms and made more goofy bird noises as he ran to the bathroom. Dan was still standing in the doorway.
"You can come in too, Dan." Carol told him.
"I've got to get going."
"Oh, my, look at your sunburn. Does it hurt?"
"Come in for just a second, Dan, please. I need to talk to you about something."
"Well make it quick then, I have a busy schedule," Dan joked at his own expense.
Carol laughed. "Oh I'm sure you do, mister excitement. Now get in here."
Dan came in and followed Carol to the kitchenette. Bags of groceries cluttered the floor. James was sitting at the table drinking a beer.
"What's up?" he asked Dan, gas escaping from his guts.
"Not much really," Dan answered. "What's up with you?"
"Gonna watch some baseball here in a minute. You ready for the college world series Dan?"
It was a dumb question. James knew Dan wasn't into sports at all.
"Oh, I might take Andy to watch a game or two. I don't follow sports that much myself."
"What? You don't like sports?"
"Damn, no wonder you don't have any friends, Dan."
Jim got up from the kitchen table and slapped Dan on the shoulder, shaking his entire body.
"Just a little joke."
"No problem," Dan mumbled, just a little pissed off.
"And where are you going?" Carol said to Jim as he sat down in his recliner in the living room and turned on the TV.
"I could use some help in here if you don't mind."
"Oh, screw you, James. Dan, do you want to help me put some of this stuff away?"
Dan's guard went up. He sensed trouble coming.
"You know Carol, I'm really not sure about your boy there," said Jim as he slouched back in his chair, which groaned in protest. "It's kinda, well, weird for a guy not to like sports, if you ask me."
Carol wasn't amused, and was growing more annoyed by the second. "If you were to ask me I'd say you ought to get back in here and help me put away all these groceries."
Jim laughed. "If you were to ask me I'd say hell no."
"Thanks a lot."
"Sure, baby. And when you get done with those groceries you can come back in here and pick up all these toys on the floor. I've about had it with your brat leaving his shit layin around."
Carol flung a bag of groceries down on the kitchen floor, making Dan jump. He distinctly heard the sound of eggs breaking.
"And I've about had it with your stupid fucking mouth, asshole!" Carol screamed.
"Yeah and I've about had it with your ugly fuckin' face, bitch." Jim retorted, sounding mildly annoyed. He didn't get up from his chair. He didn't even bother to turn around.
A thunderbolt of anger shot through Dan. His blood was boiling in an instant.
He stormed past Carol and started into the living room. Carol was in front of him immediately, desperately pushing him back.
"No! Dan, don't!"
Dan got past Carol and kept going.
"Dan!" Carol screamed. "Stop right now!"
Now Jim was getting up from his chair. He turned around and slowly stood up. Jim was six foot one and a good three hundred pounds.
"You better listen to the little lady, four eyes," he said, his voice low and menacing. "You could get hurt acting crazy like that."
Dan stood his ground with his fists balled, trembling with rage. He gave James a look that would kill if looks could. Unfortunately for Dan they didn't.
"We'll see," said Dan, in a voice that was on the verge of tears, and anything but menacing.
Jim let out a derisive snort, turned around and sat back down, unimpressed. His recliner groaned and creaked in agony again..
"Yeah, we'll see you get your fucking ass kicked, boy," he mumbled, just loud enough for Dan to hear.
Dan stood motionless in the living room, staring at the back of Jim's head. His ears were singing, and he could feel heat rising from his scalp.
But there was a squirming, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, and his knees were shaking.
"Dan," said Carol flatly, "Go home. I'll handle this."
Dan turned around and left quickly, angrily slamming the door shut behind him.
But Carol had forgotten something. "Oh, Dan!" she called.
"Dan, hold on a second!"
Carol followed Dan outside. She rushed down the steps and almost had to run to catch up with him as he hurried down the sidewalk towards his car.
"Hold on, Dan. Dan, wait!"
"I'm sorry. You're still coming to get Andy tomorrow, aren't you?"
"Of course I am."
"So what are you guys doing?"
"I'm taking off work early and then we're going to the zoo with Aunt Colleen. She's flying in from Sacramento to visit with mom and dad for a while."
"Hippy dippy old Aunt Colleen?"
Carol laughed. "Oh, that should be great. The zoo was always fun, wasn't it?"
Dan definitely felt tears coming. It made him angry again.
"It still is," he said, forcing them away.
Carol gave him a look. "What do you mean?"
"I mean we'll get along just fine without you."
"That hurts, Dan."
"You're the one who wanted to leave me to be with that asshole."
Carol and Dan stared at each other for a few moments without saying anything. The kids in the pool were still splashing and carrying on. Cars passed on the street beyond the parking lot. A gust of warm summer breeze made the leaves on the trees rustle and sigh.
"He's not always an asshole, Dan. I know that's hard to believe, but he isn't. And you weren't always that great, either. Remember?"
Dan turned away and stared at the weathered brick wall of the apartment building.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't remember."
Carol's voice softened. "Dan..."
"No, Carol. It…It was…"
Dan struggled, grasping for the words that would untangle the twisted knot of emotions in his heart. But he couldn't find them.
"Don't beat yourself up over it," said Carol. "You can't change it now."
"No, I can't. I'll never be able to."
"Look Dan, I'm sorry I brought it up. But It's all in the past now. And as far as I'm concerned, from now on that's where it will stay. Please don't worry about it anymore."
Dan looked past Carol at the courtyard. The people around the pool were gathering up their towels and their suntan lotion and their children and going inside. Sheila was still gabbing to her friend in the pink bathing suit as she followed her through the gate that led out of the swimming area.
The water was still sparkling beautifully in the fading sunlight.
"Okay. I won't then."
"Good. You shouldn't. I don't want you to."
Carol moved a wisp of wavy black hair away from her face and smiled. Dan tried very hard not to smile back at her.
"And Dan, I'm sorry for everything that I did, too. Some of it was me, you know."
Dan was more than a little surprised. He couldn't think of a single time during all of the years he had known Carol when she had told him that she was sorry for anything.
She winked at him. "Not much of it, but some."
Dan looked into Carol's eyes. They were a beautiful light gray color, like misty clouds in a rainy springtime sky.
"It wasn't all your fault, Dan."
Dan decided not to risk spoiling the moment by saying something stupid, and just moved on.
"Apology accepted," he told Carol. He was surprised at how good it sounded.
"Likewise. So what time tomorrow then?"
"I'll be over about ten."
"Okay. See you."
Carol turned and went back up the sidewalk. Dan thought he saw her smile at him again as she went back up the steps, just as he was turning around to leave.
He smiled back.
Dan drove home, the conversation he'd had with Carol on his mind. He thought it had seemed somewhat encouraging. Maybe.
Sometimes Dan would try to get himself mad at Carol, so that he wouldn't miss her so much. But it usually didn't do much good. Dan could never stay angry at Carol for very long.
He always ended up thinking about how much he still loved her.
As Dan drove his rusty old Mazda down the long, winding hillside that led to his apartment he pretended he was racing a Lamborghini Diablo down a steep mountain road somewhere in Europe. He sped downhill recklessly, taking the turns sharp and fast. Then his tires slipped on some gravel and he began to skid sideways. Dan quickly slowed down and brought the car back under control, feeling rather foolish.
Dan arrived home, parked the Mazda in his garage and went downstairs to his apartment. He unlocked the door and walked inside, went to the kitchen and got a diet Pepsi from the refrigerator.
He stood with the fridge door open for a minute, staring at the pretty young Chinese woman on the Hong Kong Cafe calendar hanging on his kitchen wall.
"You're looking lovely this evening, as always," he said to her.
"Why thank you, Mister Dan," she answered in his imagination. "You looking good too. As always!"
Dan's calendar girl was standing on the sidewalk of a busy intersection somewhere in the far east. It was evening, and the bright city lights and cars and neon signs in glowing Chinese characters lit up the streets behind her.
Her pretty smile graced the summer months of June, July, and August.
"You're always so very handsome," she flattered Dan, in his imagination of course. "Did you have a good day?"
"Well, I got to see my son," Dan answered out loud. "That made up for everything else that happened."
"What you do?"
"We went swimming again."
"Oh, yes. You have sunburn."
"Yeah, I know."
"Don't worry Dan, you have a good day tomorrow. You'll see, everything be okay."
"I hope so."
Dan made himself a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich on white bread with some potato chips and took it into his living room on a paper plate. He sat down on the couch and stared glumly at the old electric typewriter sitting on a desk in the corner by the window.
Dan had been writing, just as a kind of hobby, since high school. Over the past year or so he had made several tries at getting a novel started. Unfortunately every one of them had ended up being fruitless. No matter how hard Dan tried he was never able to come up with anything more than a few short pages of boring dribble. He could just never think of anything interesting to write. The overflowing wastebasket on the floor next to his typewriter mocked him silently.
"What's the matter, Dan? Can't you think of anything good?" it seemed to say to him. "Feed me, Dan, feed me! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
"Oh, shut up," Dan snapped at the wastebasket.
After digging around in the couch cushions for a minute Dan found his remote control and turned on the TV. The news was just coming on. Dan reached over to the table at the end of his couch, picked up the receiver of his phone, and tried to untangle its snarled, bunched up cord.
Dan gave up and just picked the rest of the phone up from the table and sat it beside him on the couch as he checked his messages.
"Dan, this is your mother," the first message began. Dan smiled and took a bite of his sandwich.
"I've got just a couple of things. Don't forget you're taking Aunt Colleen to the zoo with Andy after she gets into town. Oh. And your father was wondering if you would help us organize rotary fliers. Colleen misses you very much. See you. I love you. Bye."
Dan erased the message. He thought About Andy looking up at him from the pool and reminding him that nobody was perfect.
Dan loved his son dearly, more than anyone or anything else in the world.
The next message was from Mr. Desdegarian, Dan's boss at the chemical plant where he worked as a lab assistant in the quality assurance department.
"Hello, Dan. Desdegarian. I just wanted to touch base with you on a couple of things. Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I've approved your half-day for tomorrow, so that's good. But the bad news is that, well I'm going to have to ask you to come in next Saturday and work late. And I'm going to need you to come in every Saturday for the next three weeks after that to help with the new testing procedures. And work late. But not this Saturday, you can have this one off like you usually do. If Bellingham doesn't need you for something important."
Dan stared at the TV glumly. He hated working on Saturdays. But at least he would still have this one off.
"So, don't forget. Next Saturday. Not this one. That's all. Goodb-."
Dan erased Desdegarians' message and played the next one. He looked at the number, puzzled. It was a long distance call from San Francisco.
The caller was saying something to somebody in the background as the message started.
"(Crunch, crunch), I just need to use it for a minute, dude (crunch crunch crackle). For real. Just two minutes, dude, okay (crunch crunch swallow)? Cool."
Dan knew who it was immediately. He recognized the chewing.
"Hey Dan, it's Milo. What's up, man (Crunch crackle)? Haven't seen you for a while, dude (crackle crackle crunch chomp). Check this out. I'm gonna be back in Omaha again soon. I'm coming in sometime next week, or maybe next month, I don't know. I'm hitch hiking again, so it could take a while (gulp gulp gulp gulp….). But I'll definitely be out there this summer for sure, dude."
Milo May was an old friend of Dan's, a wandering free spirit who made his living working all kinds of unusual, off the wall jobs. If it was very strange, slightly dangerous, and involved a lot of traveling Milo had probably done it or was getting ready to. Milo's long and bizarre resume included (among many other things) being employed as a carnival worker, a repo man, a snake handler, a door-to-door cutlery salesman, and a prop manager on an adult movie set. He also made money on the side petitioning for various fringy, unattainable political causes.
Over the last few years Milo had been traveling extensively, all over the united states and occasionally overseas. He had been pulling double duty, working as a stagehand in the service of a troupe of performance artists and as a roadie for an underground rock band.
But no matter how far and wide Milo would roam he always managed to make his way back to Omaha occasionally to visit his family and friends, including Dan.
Dan hadn't seen Milo for almost two years. The last time he'd talked to him on the phone Milo had been getting ready to split from his gig with the rock band and take off on a side trip through the southwest with a travelling caravan of ex-sideshow freaks who were putting on an outdoor circus show involving dangerous pyrotechnic stunts and battling remote control robots.
"I'll call you again when I get into town (crunch crunch crunch ) man. Let's jam, dude."
Milo was always eating or drinking something on the run, usually gum, sugary snacks or candy washed down with a heavily caffeinated pop or an energy drink. And since Milo was almost always on the run to or from somewhere it could be difficult to figure out what he was talking about sometimes. Dan had gotten used to listening to Milo with his mouth full years ago however, and he could usually interpret most of whatever it was he was saying. This was no small accomplishment, given as Milo often was to telling complex and fascinating stories while masticating endlessly.
There were no more messages. Dan watched the news.
The College World Series was coming again, and this season was getting off to a more eventful start than most. There had been a few shoving matches between people trying to buy tickets over the last few days, and a scalper had been assaulted and robbed.
"And now- here's our weather."
Dan finished his sandwich. He rushed into the kitchen, took another diet Pepsi from the fridge and then hurried back to his couch.
Over the past week or so Dan had been developing an odd and rather intense infatuation with the new channel seven meteorologist. He watched the pretty, cheerful weather girl attentively as she paced back and forth across his television screen, turning occasionally to point at the weather map behind her.
Every time she would look into the camera Dan would get the arousing yet slightly creepy feeling that she was speaking directly to him, and him alone.
"It's going to get hot again next week," she said breathily, tossing her hair and smiling at Dan. Just at him.
"Some of those highs, if they pan out, will be record setting."
For some strange reason she always reminded Dan of someone else. But he could never quite figure out who it was.
An actress from an old TV show, maybe? Or a forgotten crush from high school? Someone who's picture he had seen in the paper? Dan couldn't figure out why she looked so familiar.
Dan had briefly considered trying to contact her somehow. Maybe sending her a fan letter or something like that. But after thinking it over for a little while he decided it probably wouldn't be a good idea.
"And it looks like we're going to be having clear skies and high temps in the metro for at least the next two weeks. It's going to be beautiful heading into to the summer."
Dan yawned. His eyelids started to get heavy. He lay down on the couch and began to fall asleep, listening to the soft, soothing voice from the TV as he dozed off.
"We'll be back after a word from our sponsors. When we return we'll let you in on something fascinating that's happening in the night sky. Don't go away."