Tales of the Madman Underground

BOOK: Tales of the Madman Underground
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Books by John Barnes
The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky
Sin of Origin
Orbital Resonance
Wartide
>
Battlecry
Union Fires
A Million Open Doors
Mother of Storms
Kaleidoscope Century
One for the Morning Glory
Encounter with Tiber
(with Buzz Aldrin)
Patton’s Spaceship
Washington’s Dirigible
Caesar’s Bicycle
Apostrophes and Apocalypses
(stories)
Earth Made of Glass
Finity
Candle
The Return
(with Buzz Aldrin)
The Merchants of Souls
The Duke of Uranium
The Sky So Big and Black
Princess of the Aerie
In the Hall of the Martian King
Gaudeamus
The Armies of Memory
Payback City
Tales of the Madman Underground
VIKING
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P
2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
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(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd.)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
First published in 2009 by Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 
Copyright © John Barnes, 2009
All rights reserved
 
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA IS AVAILABLE
eISBN : 978-1-101-08193-8
 
 
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
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This book is dedicated, with deep gratitude,
to two loyal friends, who insisted, for years,
that I ought to write it,
and then that I could write it,
until finally I did write it:
Ashley Grayson and Jes Tate.
. . . and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim had ever had in the world, and the
only
one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, between two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t.
 
—Mark Twain,
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
 
 
“God, you don’t want to stay with me,” he said to the girl. “Someday you’ll be in difficulty and need my help and I’d do to you exactly what I did to Leo; I’d let you sink without moving my right arm.”
“But your own life was at—”
“It always is,” he pointed out. “When you do anything. That’s the name of the comedy we’re stuck in.”
 
—Philip K. Dick,
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
PART ONE
(Wednesday, September 5, 1973)
1
The Year of Being Normal
I HAD DEVELOPED this theory all summer: if I could be perfectly, ideally, totally
normal
for the first day of my senior year, which was today, then I could do it for the first week, which was only Wednesday through Friday. And if I could be normal for that first short week, I could do it for the next long week. After that I’d just have to repeat the have-a-normal-week process seven more times. I’d worked that out on a calendar.
Far as I could remember, nobody ever got their ticket after about Halloween, unless they spazattacked in class.
My alarm went off at 7:15, and my eyes opened on the sun smearing across the yellowing roughcoat of my ceiling.
Get up and be normal. Just for today.
It was kind of like an idea that I’d gotten from my dad back when he was alive—“one day at a time.” Just this past summer I’d found out it wasn’t his idea, he got it from AA. Anyway, good idea or not, it was my theory, which was about to become my plan, and I was going to stick to it.
Like a coat of paint
—for Dad, everything that stuck, stuck to everything
like a coat of paint
.
Thinking about Dad was a bad way to start the plan, because it could make me blow acting normal all to hell, and nobody would understand, since he’d been dead for almost four years—four years exactly on October 17. Which I had noted would fall on Week Six of Operation Be Fucking Normal.
Don’t think about that.
I shoved that whole thought away like I shoved away the two hungry cats that jumped up onto the dining room table and headed for my bowl of raisin bran. Since I could tell Mom was still passed out solid, I didn’t worry about looking like I was being all gentle and caring with those nasty hairy fuckers; I just pushed them off the table.
No matter what you heard, they don’t always land on their four feet. Starlight did and stalked away with most of his dignity, but Prettyangel flopped on her back, and came up snarling.
“You’re supposed to be graceful, asshole,” I said, but the cat was already gone, charging into the living room. There was considerable yowling and screaming; with cats everywhere and all perpetually hungry and pissed off, any cat that moved fast was gonna get jumped.
I finished my cereal, dumped the milk down the sink to keep it away from the cats, and rinsed the bowl. They always fought over any food that was left out, even if it was just something to lick, and made an even bigger mess than Mom’s kitchen was naturally.
I spritzed my pits, splashed my hair, combed it out, and checked myself in the hallway mirror. T-shirt: red and gray, not white like a farm boy. Jeans: faded, moderate flare, Levi’s, not dirty and written on like a stoner, not chinos like a nerd, not polyester or big flared groovy-boy cords like a Christian jock. Tennis shoes: low-tops, scuffed but not too scuffed. Look groomed without looking like I had groomed. Normal normal normal.
I combed the hair out again, riffled it with my fingers. Straight, fine, mudcolored—it clung blandly to my skull like chocolate pudding running down a bowling ball.
Probably I was worrying way too much. Nobody normal was always trying to figure out the rules.
I shut the door to my room good and tight; I had my time planned kind of tight for that evening and didn’t want unexpected cat messes in my room. Sometimes when I came in late I didn’t have time to do cat turd patrol in the whole house, and just had to catch it the next morning, but I drew the line at cat shit in my room.
Especially ’cause one of those evil furry bastards liked to shit on my bed, and even Hairball, the big orange one that was kind of mine, would pee on my throw rugs if he could. I had the only room in the house where you didn’t need an ax to cut through the cat stench, and I was gonna keep it that way. The doorknob held when I tugged. Okay, if Mom didn’t open the door and forget to close it, I was catproof for the day.
I picked up the old coal shovel I had for the purpose and ran through; I’d gotten so good I could do this in less than five minutes, like the world champion Easter egg hunter except of course it was for cat turds. More piles than I could count, as always—I was never completely sure how many
cats
we had at any given second—because no matter how many litter pans I set out, the big cats always guarded them and the little cats ended up crapping in the corners.
Most of the cat pile was wormy; I didn’t look too close because I hated to see. Mom didn’t believe in fascist things like veterinarians, vaccinations, or spaying. When SkyMusic had gotten clawed up by a raccoon and been in godawful pain from his infected wounds, I’d broken down—I had sworn I’d never spend a dime on those cats but he was suffering so bad—and taken him to the vet myself, and Mom had screamed at me all that night about it, and taken SkyMusic’s painkillers for herself, and flushed his antibiotics down the toilet because all he needed were herbs and love. He went into a coma or something and died a couple days later; I remember crying the whole time I was burying SkyMusic (I gave him the spot by the lilac bush near where he used to hang out). Usually burying cats was just a job, something I did a couple times a month, but I could still get sad and pissed off and near tears when I thought about SkyMusic.
BOOK: Tales of the Madman Underground
2.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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