Barefoot and Penniless
Mary the virgin sets the tables
I was a waitress in a little café in a small town in California. I’d always wanted someone to come into town and take me away on the back of his big black motorcycle. Some wild man, some lawless man. I wouldn’t ask where he was going — he may not even know where he was going — we would just ride. Into the sunset, into the moonrise. Into a void that was only certain of its own evil, that wanted to swallow up all the efforts of man to know freedom, but we would come out the other side laughing, having kissed its darkness, and tasted its myth. All the way across California, he would carry me behind him, and we would ride next to things that were leaning out from the end of the world, leaning out to lick our freedom. And when things got rough, he would just say the word, and then the boys who rode alongside us would jump right out and the fight would begin. And nobody would recognize us anywhere we went, but they would recognize us intimately, because deep down, we would be what they’d always been afraid of. I’d always wanted to travel in the invisible footprints of renegade journeymen, card cheats, bank robbers. My parents would listen to traffic on the highway at night and wonder if that was me and my lover, on the back of our motorcycle, waiting for some piece of America to crash down over our fearless ride. And the ride would never end, the ride would wait for nothing, the ride would go on until even the devil fell down on his knees at the crossroads.
Old Man Kelsey reflects on troubled times
In the town where I lived, the roses grew. People got married, people grew old together, people died. People listened to music on the radio, or watched shows about detectives on TV, but no one ever ran away, or if they did, their name was erased in the sky, erased from the town history, erased and never spoken of. You could spend your whole life there, and always feel obligated to something. Maybe it was to the church. Maybe it was to a show on TV you watched every week. When I heard the engines of the motorcyclists, I knew it would be trouble. I watched them ride down the avenue all covered in dust and grease, like they’d come from a factory. We lived in such a quiet town, all we wanted was for it to stay quiet. Officer Brompton told them they could stay a while if they’d behave themselves, but I knew he was just bargaining with a pack of ghouls. They’ll tell you what you want to hear, then they’ll tie a rope around your legs and drag you through the dirt. They’re wild ones, they’re loyal to nothing but chaos. They came into the café and ordered beer, they got drunk and started to dance to the same tunes on the jukebox. They talked about the people they’d killed, the women they’d raped, the people they’d left barefoot and penniless. I just served them their drinks and let them dance until long after we usually closed. I thought they would kill me if I didn’t let them, I thought they would break all the windows in the café, I thought they would put their cigarettes out in my face. Each of those motorcyclists has made some pact with the devil. Who will lay flowers on their graves when they’re gone?
Charles the millionaire goes after revenge
Smoke should come from the end of a revolver, or the end of a hunting rifle. When my mansion burned down, my daughter and I were out shopping for shoes at the store in town. My wife was trapped inside. They got her out, but she died later from all the smoke she’d inhaled. My daughter was fourteen. We stayed together in the hotel downtown while they rebuilt our house. I believe it was during this time, when I saw her every morning brushing her hair in front of the mirror, that I fell in love with her. Of course, I knew this would never be forgiven. I could barely look at myself in the mirror without seeing something evil, without seeing a pale man reaching for something he didn’t understand. We moved back into our mansion after they’d rebuilt it, even better than before. I made my millions in the lumber industry. It was my father’s business. I was born into my millions, I’ve never had to experience destitution. My daughter will never have to experience destitution, unless she wills it on herself. With my wife gone, I started spending as much time as I could with my daughter. I took her to movies, I took her to the zoo. I took her out on my sailboat. I married again when my daughter went off to college, I married a twenty-two-year-old girl, a secretary from one of my acquaintance’s law firms. She liked it when I took her to movies. She liked it when I took her to the zoo. I would watch her every morning, brushing her hair in front of the mirror. When my daughter came home and met my new wife, they didn’t get along at first. I think my daughter suspected my new wife was a replacement for her, a surrogate. I think she understood what I couldn’t admit to myself. One day in the summer, I had to go overnight to San Francisco to attend some meetings. When I returned home, the house was empty and there were tire tracks all over the driveway. I called the police to find out what had happened and I was told that while I’d been gone a gang of motorcyclists had ridden into town and ridden off with my wife and my daughter. Sons of bitches, I said, and found out which way they’d gone. I loaded my revolver and got in my car and set off down the highway after them. In the next town, I found all their bikes parked along the thoroughfare. I went into the bar where they were all drinking. My wife and my daughter were in there with them, dancing, laughing. One of the motorcyclists stepped outside and I followed him. He lit a cigarette. As he smoked I stepped up behind him and put the gun to his head. What’s the problem, he said as he put his hands up. The girls are coming home with me, I said. I walked him into the bar and everyone stopped dancing to stare at us. Girls, I said. They came to me. I kept the gun pressed to the motorcyclist’s head. I pulled him out the door with me, kept the gun on him until we reached my car and my wife and my daughter were inside. Don’t shoot him, daddy, my daughter said. I pushed him away from me and got into the car. I drove us back to our house and sat both of the girls down on the couch to ask them what they’d been thinking riding off with a motorcycle gang. They both just stared at their feet and told me they were sorry. That night I didn’t sleep well. I dreamed ceaselessly of motorcyclists surrounding my house, their engines roaring in my ears. I went to the windows again and again to look and see if anyone was out there, but all I saw was an empty yard. In the distance I thought I could still hear the roars of engines. Perhaps it was only the sea.
A serious man with everything to lose
I saw the warning signs on the highway. I was driving home from work, and fifty motorcyclists soared past me. I live in a house with a bomb shelter in the backyard. When I got home, there was an eerie stillness in the way my family was interacting. My wife had made steaks for dinner. I asked if she’d heard the engines. She said they’d passed this way about an hour ago. An hour later, I heard them again, getting nearer, and I took my family down into the shelter. I remember World War Two. I was only a boy then, and I lived in London. I remember the underground, I remember the thunder of the blitz above our heads. I came to America when the war was over, I studied at Stanford, I found my home in the suburbs. I found my paradise, a place where nothing ever happens. And then I heard the engines, I heard the barbarians on the march. Some of them wear Prussian war helmets. Some of them wear swastikas on their arms. My son wanted to see them, he wanted to see them with their painted faces, but I carried him down into the shelter. Don’t look into the sun. Don’t look into the eyes of the man who wishes to murder you. Don’t look into the eyes of the man you plan to murder, if you don’t want him to haunt you. Anyone can live like an animal, it doesn’t take a special skill, it just takes a certain kind of regressive personality, a certain disgust towards society and its tenets. I believe in society. I believe that society can always be rebuilt, no matter what there is attempting to tear it down. No matter what Berlin Wall, no matter what Blitzkrieg, no matter what Napoleon on horseback. My wife, my daughter, my son, and I stayed in that shelter for two days and when we came out there was little visible damage. The streets were covered in scorched rubber, but a cleanup crew was already at work. There are too few for them to make a real stand. They can bring terror, but can they spread it across the land? Sooner or later they’ll run out of gasoline. Sooner or later they’ll have too many holes in their shoes to go on, sooner or later their leather jackets will be nothing but scraps. All these men leaning out for what they conceive of as freedom while the rest of us are leaning into propriety. Society will set you free. It’s why we fought a war to defend it. The barbarians will search for their graves along the highway while the rest of us are in for the night watching the president talk on TV, while the rest of us are painting our fences, while the rest of us are watering our gardens, growing roses, growing lilies. Every now and then we’ll hear that roar across the our roads, the roads that couldn’t exist if it weren’t for civilized men. We’ll hear that roar that can mean nothing but pure loathing — loathing of our kind, of civilized mankind, of we who choose to live before we die. That roar that is the abyss. That roar that is not my fate.
A rebel without a cause swallows a sword
You either hear the call or you don’t, and I heard it. You tear off your clothes, throw down all your faith in heaven and hell, bloody your hands climbing the barbed wire fence, you say goddamn, I don’t know where I’m going and I feel fine. You can hear the beasts, the renegades, you can see their headlights in the distance, you can hear them all yawping, you wonder how much longer they can dance to the same tune. I heard the call, I saw the lights, I thought I would die. I thought I would have to go flying over the edge of a cliff to meet my destiny. I thought I would take colors in my hair and show all the lonesome mendicants the way to the Salvation Army. I would have killed a man for his money and bought a motorcycle with it, to prove myself, to prove that I had looked inside and realized there was more than a man in me, realized there was a giant, with giant footprints, stepping across the land, stepping on the rows of houses, stepping on their lawns, stepping on their rose gardens, washing my feet in their swimming pools. I heard the call, and I believed I could be invincible, even if I had to fly over the edge of a cliff, I could be invincible, I could live forever, and to hell with anything sentimental. I’ll dance to the same tune for a million years, and I’ll always trust the devil’s word before I trust a man’s. High school was a drag. The teachers weren’t cool, and everybody just wanted to be like somebody else. Tommy was walking and talking like James but James was walking and talking like Dan and Dan walked and talked like Nick. And I was just trying not to be too visible, because that’s all we were, reflections of one another, so when I heard the call, of course I sat up in my bed at night, of course I watched the headlights shoot like stars along the highway. And by the time it was time to go back to school in the morning, there was no trace of the motorcyclists, they’d gone without a trace, they’d gone to the next town along the coast, and I thought maybe my dream of killing a man to get a bike was only that, a dream, but it still seemed plausible as I walked to school. Later in the day, I punched some guy’s lights out over a girl named Jane. His buddies cornered me after school. I said I didn’t want to fight with them, I said my quarrel wasn’t with any of them, but one of them got out a knife and walked towards me, and just then we heard a hundred motorcycles screaming through town, like the night before, only this time maybe they were going to stay, and everyone ran to the street to see the brutes on their bikes, but all we could see were clouds of dust, and all we could smell was motor oil, and all we could hear was that tremendous roar. I don’t know what that roar means, but I will follow it. You either hear the call or you don’t, and I heard it.