This story appears in American Nightmares, published by Kraken Press. Max Booth III's new novel, The Mind is a Razorblade, is now available.
It was almost 8:30 and John and Pete were ready to ride the boulevard. Frank wasn’t even sure he gave a shit. He told them to just go on without him. He wanted to stay home and get some sleep. He was tired, he told them. He was always so goddamn tired.
Pete stood outside, next to the bush, sticking his head through Frank’s window. “Oh come on, man, John’s waiting in the car. We need to get a move on. Come with us.”
“Why?” Frank remained lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, like its cracked paint might somehow possess the answer to life and all its mysteries. “Why are you so insistent that I come? You guys are just going to end up ditching me as soon as you get a chance to screw.”
Pete sighed. “Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? To have a little fun? We thought you’d want to, too.”
Frank laughed. “Is that what the point is, Pete? To have fun?”
Pete stayed silent for a moment, then shrugged. “What the hell else is there to do?”
“Jesus Christ,” John said, “I thought y’all had run off to fulfill your homosexual fantasies or somethin’.”
Climbing into the passenger side, Pete lightly punched John on the arm. “What, you get jealous?”
Frank slid in the backseat, closing the door as quietly as he could. A part of him was worried the sound might alert his father. Another part of him knew his father wouldn’t give a shit. “Don’t worry,” he said to John, “there’s room for three of us.”
John shook his head, revving the engine of his Ford. “Y’all’s just a bunch of Mickey Mouses, I swear to God.”
Sliding a cigarette in his mouth, Frank smirked. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
Pete laughed. “A minute ago you were about to kill yourself. Now you’re cracking jokes. I don’t get you, Frankie.”
“Neither do I,” Frank said. He struck the match to the tip of his cigarette and inhaled deeply.
John pulled out of the driveway. “I don’t know about you fellas, but I intend on getting very drunk tonight.”
Earlier that night, Frank’s father, Eugene, had wanted to watch Rawhide as they ate dinner, but the damn television set kept feeding them snow and it enraged a fury in the old man like no other.
“I spent nearly one hundred thirty goddamn dollars on this piece of junk—and for what? For nothin’! One hundred thirty dollars and all I get is big old box that shouts static nonsense at me. Work, goddammit!”
Eugene slapped the side of the television set over and over, but it just seemed to make the static that much worse. He tried adjusting the antennae, but nothing. After a while he gave up and sat on his recliner. He popped open a beer and chugged half the bottle in one gulp, then began digging into his bowl of stew.
Frank sat on the couch across the room, letting his own stew grow cold. His face was buried in his copy of Lord of the Flies and food was the farthest thing from his mind.
“Boy, what are you doing?” Eugene asked, almost in a growl.
“Reading.” Frank’s answer came in a mumble.
“You best eat.”
“I will in a minute. After this chapter.”
“Don’t you even give a damn that we can’t watch the TV?”
“Ungrateful little shit.”
“What’s so great about those little books you’re always reading, anyway?”
Frank sighed and closed Lord of the Flies around his index finger. He stared at his father a long while, thinking how best to answer him.
“They take me to a place far away from here,” he finally said.
Eugene leaned forward, scooting his dinner tray across the carpet. A chunk of his stew splashed out of his bowl.
“Now, wait a goddamn minute now, what exactly is so bad about here, huh? You have a problem with our house?”
Frank tossed the paperback on the couch and massaged his temple, groaning. He could feel a headache coming on. “It’s not just the house. It’s everything. The whole town. I can’t stand it anymore.”
“What on earth are you talking about? What’s wrong with this town?”
“I hate all the people here. I hate the houses. I hate the goddamn school. Since Ma died, there hasn’t been anything for me here. It’s like I belong elsewhere, always have.”
Eugene stood up, trembling with anger. His lip quivered and evolved into a snarl.
“You miserable, selfish little shit. I work every day just so you can have food to eat and a place to sleep, and you don’t appreciate a goddamn bit of it, do you?”
Frank flinched, anticipating the inevitable blow. “It’s not that. I just...jeez, Dad, haven’t you ever wanted to be free? To explore the great beyond? I just want to see what else is out there, you know? And books help me do that, until I’m old enough to experience the real thing. That’s all I meant by it.”
“I see,” Eugene said, nodding. “So you’re already planning on leaving me.”
The sound of his father’s hand connecting with his cheek was loud and blunt. Frank’s head jerked to the left, his face bouncing off the top of the couch behind him.
“You’ll leave this household over my dead body.”
Eugene turned around and strode into the kitchen. Frank heard the fridge door open and close, followed by a beer bottle cap being pried off and flung on the counter.
He made sure he was in his room before his father had a chance to come back into the living room. He locked his bedroom door and lay on his bed, staring at his decomposing ceiling and wondering what the hell he was even doing in this world.
John was friends with the new guy working the evening shift at Bob’s Liquor. “Trust me, he’s cool. We just gotta slip him an extra five and he’ll forget to card us.”
“I only have a few bucks,” Frank said, “but you can have it, sure. Alcohol sounds very, very appealing right now.”
As John was inside dealing with his friend, Pete passed a magazine behind him, shaking it until Frank grabbed it.
“Check it out, man. My brother gave it to me today. Was waiting to show you until we had some light.”
Frank held the magazine close to the window in the backseat. The light from the liquor store sign out front reflected off the aged paper.
He found himself staring a woman with short, curly blonde hair. Her eyes were squinted shut and her mouth was wide open in a familiar smile that so many of his friends were obsessed with. Her left arm was raised over her head in mid-wave. She was wearing a black dress that dipped in the center, revealing more cleavage than the typical woman wore walking down the street.
At the top left of the cover, in red, it said PLAYBOY, and below that in smaller, black font: ENTERTAINMENT FOR MEN. Then, on the right side of the cover, next to the woman’s breasts, it read:
in any magazine
“Jesus.” Frank flipped open the magazine.
“Yup,” Pete said. “Very first issue. December 1953.”
“I can’t believe your brother had this.”
“His girlfriend found it. Told him to throw it away. Instead he let me have it.”
It wasn’t the first time Frank had seen a nude mag, but it was the first time he’d seen Marilyn’s infamous snapshot. People went crazy over this thing. It’s all they ever talked about. And now here it was, in his hands.
“Ain’t she a beaut?” Pete asked.
“What do you mean, you guess?”
Frank closed the magazine. Her nipples were already boring. “Well, she isn’t exactly real, you know?”
“What are you talking about? ‘Course she’s real. Did you not see those tits? You can’t get more real than that.”
John got into the driver’s seat, grinning from ear to ear. “Guess what I got?” he said, pulling out a bottle of Jim Beam from his jacket pocket.
Completely ignoring the bottle, Pete nodded toward the backseat. “Get this, Johnny. Frankie here says Marilyn Monroe ain’t real.”
John raised his brow and turned to Frank. “What do you mean, like she’s imaginary? Someone made her up?”
“Exactly,” Frank said. “Someone made her up.”
“We all did.”
John stared at him for a moment and then laughed. “You are one weird fuckin’ guy, Frankie.”
Frank couldn’t argue with that. “Just pass that bottle already. I can feel it calling to me.”
The bourbon was hot and strong. It warmed their stomachs and set their chests on fire. The Ford drove into the night.
They could see the Boulevard from atop the hill as they drove down to their destination. It was bright with lights and alive with the sounds of laughter and engines roaring.
The Boulevard was already packed. John turned off his headlights and flicked on his brake lights as they entered the stream of traffic.
“Oh yeah, baby,” Pete said, “tonight’s going to be something special, all right. I can just feel it.”
“It damn well better,” John said.
Frank took another swig of Jim Beam. His face was still hot from where his father had slapped him and the whiskey numbed the stinging.
“Quit hogging that shit, Frankie.” Pete reached behind him, snapping his fingers for the bottle. After gulping some of it down, he stuck his head out the window and howled at the moon.
John slapped him and took the bottle away. “Will you shut your trap before someone locks you back in the cage where you belong?”
Pete pointed at a plump girl walking out of a soda shop. “Hey, what about her?”
John laughed. “I said I wanted to get lucky tonight. Does that porker look like she’d make me lucky?”
“She’s kinda cute,” Pete said. “Huge tits.”
“Yeah, and a huge stomach. I want to catch something prime tonight. Something to be proud of.”
“He wants a Marilyn Monroe,” Frank whispered from the backseat.
John glanced at him in the rearview mirror and smirked. “Yeah, that’s right. I want me a Marilyn Monroe. Hell, I’d even settle for a nice juicy Jayne Mansfield.”
“But I thought Frankie said Marilyn Monroes don’t exist,” Pete said.
“Oh, they exist,” John said. “They exist by the handful. This ocean’s full, and we’re going to empty it.”
They found their Marilyns after another ten minutes of cruising. Two of them were standing on the corner, leaning against a streetlamp. They could have easily been on the cover of that Playboy.
John slowly came to a stop along the curb. Pete rolled his window down and stuck his head out. “You ladies looking for a ride tonight?”
“Depends,” one of the girls said. “We ain’t after any funny business or nothing.”
Pete cracked a laugh and smacked the side of the door. “Baby, I think you’ll find none of our business is funny. Hop on in and see for yourselves.”
The two Marilyns exchanged looks with each other and headed for the Ford. Frank scooted all the way against the left passenger door as they climbed in next to him. The abundant stench of cinnamon perfume infiltrated his nostrils full force.
“We’ve been standing around for at least twenty minutes now and you’re the first people to even try to pick us up,” one of the Marilyns said. “I was beginning to think everyone had gone completely blind or something.”
“That happens sometimes, you know,” John said as he turned a corner. “Guys see these girls that are so dang beautiful, they’d rather turn the other way and flat out ignore them than risk being rejected. Y’all’s just too gorgeous for everyone ‘round here.”
Both girls smiled and blushed right on cue.
“You really think we’re beautiful?” one of them asked.
Frank wanted to say, oh, give me a fucking break, but managed to keep his mouth shut.
“Beautiful?” John glanced over his shoulder at them a moment before returning to the road. “I’d classify you girls right up there with Marilyn Monroe. Y’all’s perfect.”
Their “awww”s and “really?”s followed like clockwork.
“Indeed, indeed,” John said. “This kind of stuff I take very seriously, I would not handle such a topic lightly. Y’all’s some Marilyn Monroes if I ever did see ‘em.”
Pete turned around, smiling at the girls. “Actually, you wanna hear something funny? We were just talking about ol’ Marilyn a little while ago, and Frank here—that’s him, next to you—he says she ain’t real. That we all just made her up. What do ya think of that?”
Frank tensed. “Pete, shut up.”
The girl closest to Frank gave him a puzzled look. “What do you mean? She’s in all those movies and magazines.”
The other girl said, “Oh, I just loved The Seven Year Itch.”
Pete laughed. “Hey, shame none of you girls don’t got a nice big skirt like that on. We could all go take a trip to the nearest air vent.”
John slugged him on the arm. “Don’t be a creep.”
“I don’t mean her entire existence is fictional.” Frank tried to scoot farther away from the girl next to him. Her perfume was unbearable. “I just meant, the way we all perceive her, no human being can possibly be like that. It’s unrealistic. It’s so fucking naïve and quixotic.”
“Frankie, language!” John shouted.
“What is...’quixotic’?” one of the Marilyns asked.
“Just ignore him,” Pete said. “He reads books.”
“Subterranean,” John said.
“Oh, okay.” The Marilyn nodded, as if that explained everything.
Frank sighed and thought about strangling his friends in the front seat. “John, pull over. I want to get out.”
John swerved to the curb and stopped. “Have it your way, then.”
Pete glanced back at Frank. “We just wanted to help you have fun for once.”
“Well, it obviously isn’t working.” Frank stepped out of the car.
He could hear John saying, “Sorry, girls, he does this every time we try to take him cruising with us. He’s a real ‘pooper,” before he slammed on the gas and sped away, leaving Frank standing on the curb alone.
Frank stared at the Jim Beam still in his hand and started walking back home.
Another night wasted in Nowheresville.
The bourbon served as his companion. It warmed him in the night as he walked down the Boulevard. He passed lines upon lines of cars revving their engines. People shouted at him as he walked by. Their words were numb and nonsensical. The liquor made him forget where he was and how unhappy he was there. Forget books. This was the only thing he really needed.
“Hey, mister, where you walkin’ to in such a hurry?”
Frank stopped. The voice was loud enough to get his attention, sweet enough to make him care. He turned with blurry vision to a Mustang parked at the curb.
A blonde sat behind the wheel, smiling at him. “You look lost, mister.”
“Aren’t we all?” he slurred.
“No, I think I know where I’m going. What about you?”
“I’m going home.”
“You need a ride?” she asked.
“Why would you give me a ride?”
She shrugged. “Maybe I’m lonely. Maybe I want to share that bottle in your hand. Maybe a little of both.”
Frank tried to think about it but he was having too much trouble standing in place. He opened the car door and fell into the passenger seat, passing the bourbon to the blonde. “Help yourself.”
“Why, thank you,” she said. “Now, do you really want to go home or do you want to go someplace more private?”
Frank leaned against the seat, closing his eyes. “Whatever you want, Marilyn. Whatever you want.”
“Why do you keep calling me that? My name isn’t Marilyn.”
“Yes it is. You’re all Marilyns. I can touch you and my hand will fall straight through your body. Watch.”
Frank reached across and placed his hand on her shoulder. Her skin felt like heaven. A part of him instantly hated her. Another part hated himself for liking how she felt.
“It’s not going through me,” Marilyn said.
“No. No, I guess it isn’t.”
They were parked off in the forest, a half mile or so away from the road. The Jim Beam bottle was almost empty.
“Tell me something about you,” Marilyn said. She finished off the bourbon and tossed it out the window of her car.
“What do you want to know?”
“I don’t care. Something interesting.” She grabbed his hand and guided it on her bare thigh.
“My mother died two years ago,” Frank said, caressing her skin.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“My father killed her.”
“Oh my God.” Her muscles tensed. He continued to rub her. “Is he in prison now?”
“No, nobody else knows about it. He doesn’t even know I know.”
“What happened?” She pushed his hand away from her thigh.
“He was drunk. She said something he didn’t like. He lost his temper. Made it look like she fell down the stairs.”
“If he knew I know, he would kill me too,” Frank said. “I hate him. I hate this town. I need to get out of here. All these murderers and Marilyns and drunks. My mother didn’t deserve to die.”
“You poor baby.” Marilyn leaned closer and wrapped her arms around him, letting him rest his head on her breasts. He told himself not to cry in front of her but then he realized he already was.
“Wait, hold on,” she said, pushing him away. “My hair is getting messed up.” She leaned forward, peering into the rearview mirror. “Good God, will you look at this? I spent hours fixing this up.”
Frank sat up, wiping the tears and alcohol from his face. He watched the girl screw around with her hair.
“I’m sitting here crying after telling you about my mother, and you’re concerned about your hair?”
“Relax, Daddy-O, it’s not like that,” Marilyn said. “I’m sorry about your mother, it’s truly horrible. But you have no idea how long I spent on this.”
It was like Frank’s father was possessing him. He lost control and before he knew what he was doing, the back of his hand was smacking against her cheek.
She stared at him with her eyes bulging out of their sockets, mouth hanging open but no words spilling out.
“You bitch,” Frank muttered. “All of you goddamn Marilyns are the same. Nothing matters but your hair and your nails and your tits and your ridiculous dresses. I am so sick of all of you.”
“Get the hell out of my car,” Marilyn said.
Frank tore the keys from the ignition and threw them out of the window. He snarled at her and watched as she began panting with fear.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
The girl screamed and swiped her nails across his face, leaving long, bloody scratches. She scrambled out of her car just as Frank dove for her. She ran off deeper into the forest.
He crawled out of the car, fell in the dirt, and climbed to his feet. His face dripped of blood and his vision was spinning. The alcohol and rage inside him turned his reality inside out. Nothing mattered more than making this girl scream as loudly as possible.
Frank caught sight of her again further into the woods. He was out of breath but too pissed off to rest. She was much quicker than he was, but also utterly lost.
“Where are you going?” he screamed at her, and she squealed at the sound of his voice. “Stop running. You’re just going to keep getting more lost. Just stop already.”
“Go to hell!” Marilyn screamed back as she ran.
I’m already there, Frank thought, and continued with the chase.
He found her again standing by the lake, peering down the small cliff leading into the water. He stopped a few feet away from her, panting. She looked at him, then back toward the water.
“What are you going to do, jump in?” Frank asked. “Swim away?”
“If I have to.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Leave me alone then.”
“You scratched me,” Frank said.
“You slapped me.”
“You deserved it.”
“Some women let men slap them around,” Marilyn said. “I am not one of those women.”
“Sure you are,” Frank said, almost in a growl. “Watch.”
He stepped forward. She screamed and jumped into the lake. He peered over the cliff and watched her body splash into the water. For a few moments she was gone, and he figured she wasn’t going to be coming back up any time soon.
Then her head popped back up, gasping, and her arms began thrashing around frantically.
Frank considered jumping down into the lake to finish the job before she got away, but stopped cold when he saw something strange wrapped around her neck.
Is that a snake?
“Help!” Marilyn screamed from the water. “Oh my God, please, help me, get it off of me!”
He realized she hadn’t moved from the spot she emerged from. Despite her body splashing wildly, she was not progressing anywhere. Something had a hold of her and it was not letting her go.
Then it pulled her back into the water, and the night was still.
“Holy shit,” Frank said. He sat down at the edge of the cliff and glued his eyes below. The moon shone a nice reflective sheet over the lake, giving enough light to spot a cloud of misty red suddenly pollute the hitherto midnight blue of the water.
Something monstrous was down there. He ached to know what it was.
He curled up on his side, eyes still on the bubbling, red lake, and eventually fell asleep.
He awoke above the lake. Levitating.
He was about five feet above the water. His limbs were stretched out as far as they could go, standing in a vertical position, restrained by invisible chains.
He wasn’t alone, either. Levitating in front of him was a woman stripped of all clothing. Not the Marilyn from before; this woman was different somehow. More real. Her hair was long and red and ran all the way down to the bottom of her feet. She didn’t have on lipstick or any other type of makeup. She was natural. The expression on her face was not judgmental or one-dimensional or anything like the girls he was used to.
But her eyes...her eyes were definitely the strangest feature about her.
They were black.
He was dreaming. There was simply no other plausible explanation.
“What...what’s happening?” He tried swimming in the air but it was pointless. He was stuck here. At least, until he woke up.
The black-eyed woman floating in front of him smiled. Her lips slightly parted and a stream of green light shot out, shining against Frank’s chest. The light was warm and intoxicating. It gave his energy a boost and cleared his thoughts of all drunken ramblings.
“What is this?”
Instead of responding, the woman lifted her head, letting the green light travel up his chest and toward his face. Frank screamed as it shot into his mouth. The inside of his head lit up like an alien jack-o-lantern. As the strange woman floated closer to him, the light became hotter and more intense. The need to escape was obliterated from his mind. The pain was a blissful pain. Whatever this was, he never wanted it to stop.
Her lips connected with his, and the world around them exploded.
One word entered his mind. It was not a thought of his own, but one of the woman kissing him:
An image followed the word. An image of a woman with curly blonde hair wearing a low-cut dress. The woman was smiling and emphasizing her dimples to the stars. Most people would have called her beautiful. Young and vibrant with life. She was America. She was Everything. She was Marilyn.
“MORE,” the floating goddess whispered inside his mind.
She wanted more.
When he awoke, the sun was out. He was laying half in the lake and half in the dirt, only a few miles from where he’d originally fallen asleep. His clothes were drenched and he was positive he would be sick with a cold for sleeping all night in the water.
He got up and began the long walk home. When he walked into the door, the clock on the wall read 4:25. The whole day was basically gone. He’d long missed school. His father would be walking in the door any minute now.
The man was going to be in a rage. There was no doubt about it. He’d snuck out last night and ditched school today. The beating would be grave.
It wasn’t until he thought of the pain that he thought of the lake and the levitating woman. Until this moment, it had completely faded from his memory.
Suddenly it was all he could think about.
The way her lips had felt.
How hot that green light had been.
The image of Marilyn Monroe—Jerkoff Queen of the Great USA—burning into his brain.
Frank’s balance began giving out. He rushed into the kitchen, grabbed one of his father’s beers from the fridge, and sat down at the table. He popped the lid off with the corner of the table and tossed it carelessly behind him, then gulped down the liquid as if he was dying of thirst.
He didn’t wonder where the woman in the lake had come from. Nor did he care about how she could float. She existed and she wanted him and that was all that mattered. He found himself happily trapped in a dream that he never wanted to wake up from.
But he had to keep this goddess happy. She wanted more Marilyns. More beauty. Innocence. Like the girl she’d drowned (consumed?) in the lake. His goddess craved them. It turned her on, which turned him on.
He kept thinking about the way those tentacles had strangled the Marilyn and pulled her into the water and before long it gave him the worst hard-on of his life.
He needed to see the goddess again. The craving was so strong he thought he’d explode. But first, he had to bring her more of what she requested.
It wouldn’t be difficult. Nothing would ever be difficult again, now that he’d kissed the green light and tasted the almighty heavens.
The front door swung open. His father made it five steps into the living room before he saw Frank sitting in the kitchen, finishing off his beer.
“So you finally decided to show your face around here,” Eugene said.
Frank nodded. “I got thirsty.”
“You know what happens next, right?”
“I believe I do.”
Later that night, Frank took his father’s car out and rode the Boulevard.
His father wouldn’t be needing the car anymore. He wouldn’t be needing anything.
Frank turned his headlights off and flicked his brake lights on. The streets were roaring with engines and testosterone. The sidewalks were littered with breasts and wet teenage dreams.
The lady in the lake was waiting for him. He knew that with absolute certainty.
“Soon,” he whispered inside the car. “Soon. You will feed. I promise.”
He saw a Marilyn taking drags from a cigarette at the end of the street corner. He pulled to the curb and rolled the passenger window down, sticking his head out.
She peered down at him and he smiled.
“Hey there, darling, you looking for a ride?”
“Depends. Where’s this ride going?”
The lake goddess pounded in his skull like drums. Over and over.
(MORE. MORE. MORE. MORE. MORE. MORE.)
Frank winced, shook off the pain and managed another grin. “This ride?”
“Well, Marilyn, this ride’s going to heaven.”
Max Booth III is the author of Toxicity and The Mind is a Razorblade. He’s the Editor-in-Chief of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and an ongoing columnist at Litreactor.com. He works as a hotel night auditor in a small town outside San Antonio, TX. Follow him on Twitter @GiveMeYourTeeth and visit him at www.talesfromthebooth.com.