A. R. Braun

You Can’t Go Anywhere

I really thought I was ready.

The premier for my movie was set to play my hometown—after Cannes, Sundance and Toronto—and I insisted that everyone close to me come: my girlfriend, my parents and my homies. Which was going to be difficult, because most of us, outside of my parents, live in Hollywood these days. And right before I broke it to them, the news had reported on yet another movie-theater shooting.

I skulked around my parent’s living room, pausing to gaze at my reflection in a china cabinet. I frowned at my long face, my thin lips and delicate features. I considered my short black hair in a fauxhawk, my cobalt eyes and tanned skin, not to mention my crusty douche-bag mustache. I came off as looking about as greedy and as cheesy as possible. All that was needed to complete the profile were some huge gold chains around my neck. When did I become this guy? The entertainment biz, I tell ya, the ruination of persons.

So here I was, all the way home from Hollywood, and I still had to convince my folks to attend my premiere. Bracing myself for the inevitable backlash, I sighed and went back into the kitchen.

“It’s just not safe, Mickey,” my mother said, pursing her lips in that persnickety way old women have. “There’ve been many movie-theater shootings lately…”

“But you can’t live in fear,” I argued. “Besides, we live in Mowquakwa, Illinois, where nothing ever happens. C’mon, I’m into mixed martial arts. If we run into that, I’ll disarm the puke and call the cops.”

Bad things did happen here, though. Many were convinced Mowquakwa was cursed, built on an old Indian burial ground. I wasn’t about to remind them of that, however.

Dad nodded his gray head in my direction, coming back from the fridge with a beer. “She’s right, Mick,” he said. “It’s just not practical.”

I slapped him on the shoulder. “C’mon, I’m into karate, boxing and wrestling. I’ll protect you, Dad.” I threw some pretend punches at his face and gut, bobbing and weaving as he returned the gesture.

Willa came into the kitchen from the other room, where she’d been watching a fright flick with my homeboys. My girl—thirty, thin and vivacious—looked jailbait but blessedly wasn’t. She wore a collared shirt with popcorn, candy, and film reels on it, along with tight black jeans, and she filled out both like a champ. “C’mon, old people,” she said. “You can’t be fraidy cats. You need a little adventure in your lives!”

Going to a movie’s an adventure? I guess it is nowadays…

How the mighty have fallen.

But I know karate and shit!

Manny G. swaggered in, his Flexfit Cardinals hat on sideways, the stickers still on it. His hair underneath was dyed blond. He wore a silk shirt and trendy, baggy-ass jeans. “Hey gringos,” he said, “you tellin me ya don’t have the cojones to go see a stinkin movie?”

“Thanks, home skillet,” I laughed.

Z-Boz swaggered in after him, an African American in an Oakland Raiders jersey and snakeskin pants that made me look like an amateur baller in comparison. He also wore a black Cardinals hat like Manny G’s. “Yo, fam,” he said, “ya’ll need to get some mayonnaise!

I raised my hand in his direction. “Up-top!” I said.

He hissed like a snake. “Man, ain’t nobody do no ‘up-top’ no more, kid.”

Suddenly, a brilliant scheme found its way into my head. “Tell you what,” I said, turning back to my folks. “You two come with us, and I’ll quit smokin.”

My sainted mother placed her hand over her heart. “Oh, I do hate that habit. Does no good, just kills ya.”

Dad nudged her. “C’mon, Mother. It’s for a good cause.”

Mom touched her gray curls of as if keeping them in place, then wrung her hands in frustration. “I don’t know…”

“I’ll pony up some money for a charitable contribution,” I added. “What’s that club you’re in?”

“The Historical Society.”

“Yes! I’ll pump it up.” I gave Mom the puppy-dog eyes. “Please? Hey, I know Krav Maga, Kajukenbo, taekwondo, Okinawan karate, Shotokan karate, parkour and Kung Fu. I’ll be on that psycho before he can dye his hair Joker-orange!”

Standing behind them, Willa put her arms around my folks and pulled them both in for an embrace. “You seasoned veterans need to show us young people how to let our hair down and have a good time!”

“I feel ya, Willa.” Manny G. said, turning his hat the other way.

Yeeeaaah, son!” Z-Boz added.

“Aw, poo,” Mom said. “I guess we’ll give it a try.”

“If it helps, I’ll be packin, Mother,” Dad macked.

She turned to him with that tight-lipped frown and narrow eyes. “You leave that thing at home. You’ll probably shoot yourself in the foot.”

Fucking derringer.

“It’s just a pea shooter anyway,” I blurted without thinking. I can be a bit of a dick sometimes.

Mom smoothed her apron over her skirt, for she’d been baking like a Stepford. The rich scent of hot cookie dough was driving me mad. “All right, gang,” she said, “let’s get ready to go to the Bijou, then. Ooh! My cookies!” She took them out of the oven and set them atop the stove.

I found myself jumping up and down and whooping with Willa and my boys.

Little did I know it would be a premature celebration.

***

If I could’ve seen myself entering the movie theater with my arm around Willa and my boys flanking us, my parents—the stragglers—bringing up the rear, I probably would’ve grinned ear to ear. It was to be a celebration of my labor of love, our hands full of popcorn, soda—spiked with peach Schnapps, my girl’s demand—Jujubes, Sour Patch Kids, Raisinets, M&Ms, Goobers, Lemon Heads, Milk Duds, Dots, Junior Mints, Trolli Sour Bites, and Cherry Twizzlers.

“You kids are going to go into anaphylactic shock with all that sugar,” Mom said.

“No, that’s an allergic reaction,” came Willa’s response.

Holding her close, my shorty’s scent was enchanting. She’d put on Kim Kardashian perfume just for the occasion—Gold.

The Pied Piper of the rats, I led my posse up to front-row and center. The screen, huge and inviting, hadn’t been lit up just yet, but the wan bulbs around the stage gleamed like Christmas lights. This evening was like Christmas to me, but little did I know, it was soon to be more like Christmasland in NOS4A2.

I took a load off, and for a few vivacious moments, Willa perched on my lap with her soft, firm behind. Va va voom. She giggled and sat down next to me. My boys took their seats to my left. My folks took the row behind us, showing their age as they groaned into their seats.

“Got the life! Victor gets the spoils,” I  said, tossing candy out to my homies.

My girl and I went at the treats like starving dogs, the candy and popcorn delectable, ambrosia—the sugar made me dizzy, joy fireworking all up in my brain.

Man, I’m such a lightweight…

No anaphylactic shock, but the sudden sugar overdose damn-near numbed my tongue.

Mom leaned forward and placed an arthritic claw on my shoulder. “Fancy place, Mickey. You must be doing pretty well for yourself.”

“Bangin like a baller,” I laughed.

My dad’s hand fell firm upon my other shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Son.”

I craned my head and said, “You haven’t even seen the movie yet!”

That’s when I got a creepy feeling I was being watched. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of some shadowy figure, but by the time I’d turned my head, it had already vanished into the darkness. The fire door was left swinging, however. Someone had placed a brick to keep it open.

Clearly, some hater must’ve thought they were getting a free movie.

Which meant they were ripping me off.

Needless to say, I wasn’t havin none of that. I rose and headed straight for the door.

Cavalierly, Willa rose and ran off ahead of me.

“Whachoo doin, girl?” I snapped.

“I got you!” she said, smiling back over her shoulder.

“Nah, I got this…”

But she’d already closed the door before I could catch up to her.

Heading back to our seats, my homies were laughing and pointing at me.

Manny G. said, “Man, I’m gaggin. She had to handle yo shit!”

Damn, son, you be doggin,” Z-Boz added.

I shot them both my best look of death through tightly narrowed eyes. “At least I got a girl, poindexters…”

My parents, easily amused, smiled as they looked back at forth between me and my homeboys. They could’ve been at a tennis match.

“You tell ‘em, Son.” My dad bade me into a fist-bump.

Who was I to deny him? “Thanks, Daddo.”

“We just playin,” Manny G. chuckled.

“I feel ya,” Z-Boz said. “Strong shorties be hot.”

“Watch it,” I said, “That’s my girl you talkin bout.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the audience was finally showing up, a compliment to me of course. On top of the world, I snickered as the lights went down and the huge screen came to life, rolling out the coming attractions.

Nothin can touch me.

***

And then, all at once, I really had to question that thought.

Blasting through the fire door came a fiend like the devil himself, all done up in white makeup with black smeared around his eyes and mouth. He was dressed just like the Penguin from Batman Returns, complete with top hat and black coat.

He held a shotgun in his hands, a pistol strapped prominently to his side.

Wise folk say your life flashes before your eyes when confronted by death, but this fool’s sure didn’t. Pure rage consumed me, not only because he was about to ruin my hometown premiere, but also because he aimed to shoot us up as well. So, like any good Dean Koontz fan, I took his advice and ran into what scared me. This clearly caught him off guard, but before I could grab him, he jumped back and leveled the shotgun at my head.

Aw shit…

Acting on reflex, I pulled an Okinawan karate move, swiftly stepping to my left and slapping the gun to the other side. But before I could follow up by kicking it out of his hands, he pivoted away and dodged my foot with ease.

“Satan told me you’d try that…” he wheezed.

Blam! He shot me in the leg.

A sharp ringing erupted in my ears, everything else fading into background noise by comparison.

I cried out—my voice embarrassingly high-pitched—and collapsed onto the floor. The pain exquisite, the whole rotten event instantly transforming into an open house in Hell.

He snickered in a tinny little voice, the Penguin’s laugh exactly. Rushing back over to me, he roughly hauled me up to my feet.

“Prepare to die…” he rasped in my ear, drawing his pistol and holding it to my forehead.

“How the Hell you supposed to prepare for that?” I whined, trying to sound all tough (I didn’t).

He frowned and furrowed his brow, the eyes of the Devil staring deep into mine. “Say your prayers, stupid!”

Seeing my opportunity, that’s when I attempted a Krav Maga move. Lifting my hands in a gesture of surrender, begging him not to shoot, I went to kick him in the nuts while simultaneously crouching down away from the gun. Pretty smart, right?

And yet, once again, he dodged with the grace of a dancer and re-holstered his pistol. With a mocking sneer, he leveled the shotgun back at me.

“You gotta be kiddin me!” I cried.

I’d seen YouTube videos that said gun-disarming didn’t work, and I hadn’t believed it. If it was good enough for Black Scout Survival, it was good enough for me. But, balefully, they’d been right all along.

“Where my homies at?” I screamed in panic. “Cap this fool already!”

“Shut your cocksucker!”

Blam! He shot me in the other leg. I gritted my teeth in agony, writhing in a pool of my own blood.

Finally, the previews came to an abrupt stop and the house lights came up. All I could hear was the screaming of my fam and crew. I rolled onto my side so I could see the catastrophe unfolding before me, live-wiring my brain with a sense of terror and doom.

He’s gonna murder everyone I love!

Meanwhile, my homeboys had drawn their own weapons, but why were they just standing there shaking and not firing? That’s when I knew they were all talk, the fuckin cowards.

“Bust a cap in his ass or you’re dead to me!” I yowled in pain.

But the Penguin was a sharpshooter, shooting both pistols out of their hands just as my boys had finally found their nuts.

That’s when Willa came charging at him from the side. To do what? Some wrestling takedown move? Hurling herself feet first, she was poised to connect a perfect dropkick, and then…

Blam! He spun around and shot her right in the crotch. Blood sprayed out of the back of her skin-tight jeans as she flopped onto the floor. Then he shot her in the tits. Blam! Blam! Instantly deflated.

“No!” I cried out in anguish.

The love of my life! Dead?

Curling up in a ball on the floor, all I could do was pinch myself.

This has gotta be a fucking nightmare!

Meanwhile, everyone else with half a brain had already fled the theater, but my folks had only just begun to rise shakily from their seats, as if suddenly stricken with Parkinson’s.

Blam! He blew the top of Mom’s head clean off, leaving her bottom lip quavering, her tongue lolling around in search of the roof of her mouth. Instinctively, Dad turned to dive into the row behind them to scoop up the top half of her head, just like a male Jackie Kennedy.

“Mom! No!” I cupped my hands tightly over my ears, but still this wasn’t enough to drown out the deafening gun blasts echoing within my skull.

Blam! Hitting him in mid-air, the Penguin shot Dad square in the ass, sending him sprawling into the aisle.

“Dad! No! Oh God, oh Jesus Christ…” I trembled all over and pissed and shit my pants, this black comedy of errors finally taking its toll on my sanity.

In a last ditch effort to take him down, my homies screamed at the top of their lungs and bum-rushed the Penguin. Before their could tackle him though, he blasted Manny G.’s left leg off at the knee. My homeboy went down like a sack of onions.

“Tweedledee and Tweedledumb…” the Penguin mused, laughing in that tinny voice.

Swiftly tucking the shotgun under his arm, he whipped out a machete from under his coat. Then, just as Z-Boz lunged, he cold stabbed his ass in all the Van Damme pressure points: his forehead, high on his left shoulder, lower on his right shoulder, lower on the left and into his heart, and into both of his sides of his abdomen. Z-Boz closed his eyes and sank to his knees just in time to get his head sliced off for good measure.

All my loved ones, dead.

I’d lost the plot.

And I’m next, I knew. And I’m not saved. I’m going straight to Hell.

Lord knew my parents had taken me to church as a child and had been on me to go back ever since, but I wanted horror, the handiwork of the devil, the job of the damned! Shoot, I had a franchise, son!

At least I was bleeding to death, a precious small mercy. My vision was going dark around the edges. Yet I knew I wouldn’t die just yet.

Pulling out my own hair and keening like a banshee, I screamed my guts out as a conflagration set my brain aflame. The breakdown was like spiders crawling out through my ears. All of my loved ones were dead, and demons were going to fuck my straight ass with no Vaseline in damnation, for all eternity. I just knew it.

That’s when the police entered the theater, guns drawn, screaming at the Penguin, “Down on the ground! Right now!”

Instead, he turned on his heel and stared deep into my eyes, grinning with yellowed snaggleteeth as he stuck the pistol under his chin. Took the coward’s way out. Blam! Bloody gray matter blasted out through the top of his head.

Fuck the Joker. By the time the EMTs reached me, I was cackling like the goddamned Mad Hatter.

And I couldn’t stop.

Saw bugs as big as cars on the walls. Shrieked with more laughter. Whipped out my cock and smeared shit all over my own face.

Some fates were worse than death. Worse than even Hell. Where would I go from here?

YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE

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