Manhood and honor cast aside like the useless impediments they were….
“How long are we going to be stuck here? I think my head’s going to explode.”
Kurt Malaparte and Flora Windsor sat in his white F-150 truck among thousands of vehicles strung out for miles along County Route 359, a narrow, two lane rural road in upstate New York. In the distance, nestled between green hills, deep blue water gleamed in the late morning sun, Cooper Lake, their destination, site of the 2022 Jerry Garcia Good Vibes Birthday Bash Festival. Vehicles edged along bumper to bumper, a motley assortment, brightly painted hippy vans mingled with luxury Priuses, BMWs, and Teslas from Manhattan, band tour buses, even a few extravagantly festooned art cars. Kurt took his foot off the brake and let the truck edge ahead a few feet.
Flora leaned over and kissed him. “You know, Kurt, you’re being awfully nice. I mean, for you.”
Kurt laughed. “I know I’m an asshole, honey, but it’s your birthday. I don’t want to spoil it. I promise to behave.”
Flora shot him a sidelong, doubtful glance. “We’ll see. You promised to be good at the Sol Sun Fest too.”
“Was it my fault somebody got murdered? Really, Flor, sometimes you just don’t make sense.”
They bickered for another half hour.
“What’s that noise?”
“Assholes on motorcycles with the throttles open full.”
Four Harley-Davidsons roared past on the narrow right shoulder. Helmetless, dressed in dirty, cut off denim vests and black leather jackets, their long greasy hair streamed behind them. The vests’ top rocker read “Owl’s Eye” while the bottom one said “Anus Eaters” with an embroidered patch between them, a gaping brown and pink sphincter. Dressed in a black leather halter top and ripped jeans, a skinny woman riding tandem on the last motorcycle gave the finger as she passed with a gap-toothed grin.
“Bikers. Canucks too, the worst kind. It figures they’d show up.”
“Kurt, there’s only four of them. They should be easy enough to avoid.”
“There’ll be more. They always travel in packs. You know I hate guys like that and you know why too.”
Flora shuddered. “When I think what could have happened if you hadn’t come along that night.”
Kurt put his hand on Flora’s. “And I’m still here, Flor. I can’t tell you how lucky I was. There I was, just out to steal some drugs, and I end up finding the love of my life.”
Flora kissed him on the cheek. “I like to think I made an honest man out of you.”
They laughed. Before meeting Flora, Kurt had worked a lucrative scam posing as a park policeman at outdoor music festivals. He busted hippies smoking weed or doing other drugs and rousted them hard. After he confiscated their drugs, Kurt delivered a blistering rebuke that left them red eared with shame, grateful they got off easy and weren’t arrested, clueless an unscrupulous punk kid with prior Marine Corps experience had just robbed them blind.
The scam ended at the Moose Horn Fest when Kurt ran across two bikers who’d persuaded a naive Flora to go back into the woods to get high. When things inevitably turned ugly, Kurt intervened. He clubbed both men senseless with a nightstick, one possibly to death. They’d been an inseparable couple after that.
The line approached a broad, rolling field, pastureland set off by a white wooden fence, already more than half full, with only one gate. Long haired men and women in bright yellow safety vests checked passes at the gate and waved vehicles through. Traffic sped up slightly.
The kid eyed Kurt warily, triggered by his high and tight haircut and no-nonsense demeanor.
Flora smiled. “See, now we’re moving.”
Remaining hair gathered in a ponytail, an aged, knobby kneed man urgently waved them toward the gate. The ground was torn and broken from multiple vehicles’ passage. Kurt stopped at the gate. An earnest young man with black, shoulder length hair ran up. Kurt lowered the window.
“Hey, bro, sis. Welcome to the ’22 Jerry Garcia Good Vibes Festival. Mind if I see your passes?”
The kid eyed Kurt warily, triggered by his high and tight haircut and no-nonsense demeanor. Patchouli scented, clad in wild tie dye, Flora reached across Kurt and handed him their passes.
“Dude, here you go. We’re so glad to be here. What a beautiful day.”
Reassured, the kid scanned their passes with a reader that flashed green. “You’re clear to go.”
He pointed to the field, unmarked by pylons or white stripes. Hundreds of cars, trucks, and minivans jockeyed for parking spots in a slow-motion melee that had already caused several fender benders.
“The stage is just over the hill. You can camp next to your truck.”
Kurt gunned the truck through the gate and turned hard right, parallel to the fence.
“Hey! You can’t go that way,” the kid shouted.
“Kurt! What the hell are you doing?”
He drove to the field’s far end. A fast running creek bordered the field. He headed straight toward it.
“You’ll get us both drowned.”
“Relax. I know a ford.”
Kurt shifted into AWD. He drove the truck up to a cataract, a rocky stretch of shallow water, and carefully drove the truck across the creek. They crested a slope onto an overgrown dirt road that led steadily if unevenly upward.
“This used to be a logging trail. We’ll camp on the hill.”
Flora looked askance at Kurt. “You’ve been here before, huh?”
“Sure, for the I Need A Miracle Fest in ‘18. I scored a half-key of coke and three pounds of weed.”
“I wish I knew why fate decreed I had to fall in love with a pirate.”
“A reformed one.”
They laughed again. Concealed amid thick trees, Kurt parked the truck on a small, level space, well above the Festival. A dilapidated shack stood between two trees, windows broken out, small trees grown through the roof, a ruin.
“Was that somebody’s cabin?”
Kurt nodded. “They had a guard back in the ‘50’s to stop poachers. Let’s set up camp.”
He popped the bubble tent, staked it down, and covered it with a canopy to keep off rain. Flora broke out sandwiches and a thermos of iced tea. They ate, vegan spinach pesto for Flora and ham and Swiss for Kurt. Comfortable after lunch, they sat in camp chairs and checked their phones.
Under a blue sky with a gentle, cool Canadian breeze, sunlight slanted through the tree branches as they smoked and drank until comfortably numb.
“Kurt, we’re so far up there’s no cell service.”
“Call your mother when we go to the Festival. They should have service there.” He smiled. “Let’s drink beer and get high first. You know, relax, like we’re on vacation?”
Kurt got two Genesee Cream Ales from a cooler. Flora filled a ceramic pipe with shredded, pale yellow buds. Under a blue sky with a gentle, cool Canadian breeze, sunlight slanted through the tree branches as they smoked and drank until comfortably numb. Kurt stowed their valuables away in the truck’s locker. They walked down to the campground holding hands.
“I feel like I’m floating.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
The winding trail led downhill. The trees were filled with birdsong. Kurt swatted a deerfly away that buzzed too near. Music could be faintly heard, stringed instruments strumming. They reached level ground and passed through a thick belt of trees onto a broad, grassy field, another pasture with the livestock removed, although still littered with cowflops.
Booths were set up in irregular rows, covered by white canopies. Vendors sold beer, wine, and food at inflated prices. Others peddled various hippie tchotchkes from lava lamps to batik sarongs to healing crystals. A stage stood at the field’s end. Workmen weighed down by tool belts frantically tightened bolts on the scaffolding while five stooped, elderly men played bluegrass unamplified on the stage.
A few dozen people danced in front of the stage. A woman ran around holding sparklers in her hands. The air was thick with incense and weed. The late afternoon sky was a deep electric blue.
Flora sighed. “Oh, Kurt, look at everyone enjoying themselves. This is going to be so much fun.”
Kurt arched a quizzical eyebrow. “I don’t know, honey. It looks kind of disorganized to me.”
“Now, Kurt, you promised not to be negative. How is the Festival disorganized?”
“One, it’s already supposed to have started, but they still don’t have the stage powered up or even fully assembled. Two, I count maybe ten port-a-potties for a crowd of at least three thousand people right now with lots more coming. Three, check your phone and see if there’s service here.”
Flora looked at her phone. “Gosh, Kurt, you’re right. I can’t call here either.”
“Yeah, I guessed that by all the other people staring at their phones. Flor, I don’t want to spoil your birthday, but this seems to be shaping up into kind of a Fyre Festival. I wonder how things could get any worse.”
With a deafeningly loud roar, dozens of motorcycles raced onto the field. Hooting and hollering, bikers thundered past the booths as bystanders hurried from their path. They pulled wheelies and stood on their seats, hunched over to hold the handlebars. A biker reached down and pulled a canopy pole out as he passed. The canopy collapsed onto the hot vegan sausage booth and caused a terrible mess, ruining the vendor’s business to howls of biker laughter.
“I guess I had to ask.”
Flora frowned, plainly disappointed. Kurt hugged her gently.
“Hey, babe, relax. They’ll get it together in the morning. For now, let’s get some ice and head back to the camp. We can chill by ourselves.”
She smiled and hugged him back. “That sounds like a good idea.”
They found a vendor who sold ice, kept in an insulated, refrigerated trailer powered by a built-in generator. Kurt bought forty pounds and put the ice in his backpack. They passed a booth where a large, drunk biker argued with the older, frail man behind the counter.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the Festival only allows us to sell two beers to a customer at a time.”
“Fuck your rules. I said six beers and that’s what you better give me. Now do I have to get some of my bros to help me tear this place apart, eh?”
Six-three and brim full of righteous indignation, the biker glared at the man. Kurt bristled and was about to set the backpack down, but Flora grabbed his wrist.
“No, Kurt,” she whispered. “Don’t.”
The vendor meekly filled six large plastic cups with pale yellow beer.
“That’ll be seventy-two dollars with tax, sir.”
The biker gathered up the beers. “I haven’t got any money.”
He walked away and left the man in sputtering, helpless rage. The biker laughed. Kurt scowled. His eyes narrowed. Aware these were bad signs, Flora pulled urgently at his elbow.
“You can’t help now. Leave it to the police. Come on, Kurt.”
They feasted with red wine under the moon as darkness steadily gathered. Faint sounds echoed from below, belligerent shouts, occasional female screams, punctuated by strains of music.
Kurt nodded. They hiked back up the trail. He drained the coolers and refilled them with ice. Toward evening, Kurt built a firepit and cooked a steak, potatoes, and vegetables over a grill. They feasted with red wine under the moon as darkness steadily gathered. Faint sounds echoed from below, belligerent shouts, occasional female screams, punctuated by strains of music.
“Like you said, Kurt, maybe things will settle down. I’m surprised nobody’s called the police.”
“That would ruin the Festival for sure. What’s to stop the cops from busting everybody in sight? With any luck, the bikers will get bored with this whole sketchy festival and leave. I think I’ll put this fire out. We may as well keep a cold camp.”
“Oh, don’t put it out, Kurt. I like the fire. It’s so romantic, up here in the trees, just you and me.”
Engines throbbed from nearby.
“Somebody’s coming. Hide in the cabin. I’ll talk to them.”
Flora hesitated momentarily, but Kurt pointed urgently toward the cabin. She ran over and concealed herself. Headlights glared like yellow eyes. Three motorcycles pulled into the camp, each straddled by a burly biker.
“How’s it going, eh?” the one in the lead said, beard hennaed bright red. “I thought I was the only one who knew about this old trail.”
They shut off their bikes and got off. Kurt continued to tend the fire.
“You picked a good place to camp.”
“Thanks. You guys want a beer?”
“Yeah, sure, dude. That’d be righteous, eh.”
Kurt stood up, got three Genessees from the cooler, and handed them to the bikers. They drank the beers in one go and tossed the cans over their shoulders.
“Thanks, dude. I’m Prez, head of the club. This is Sarge; our sergeant at arms, and that’s Tiny.”
“So just camping alone, eh?” Prez asked.
“Yeah. I like the peace and quiet.”
“We ain’t blind, asshole,” Sarge said. “We can see two cups and plates.”
“He’s got a bitch hid somewheres,” Tiny said. “I can smell her.”
Kurt regarded them calmly. “Believe what you like. Why don’t you guys leave now?”
“Oh, you hear that, boys?” Prez said. “He doesn’t like us. You don’t like me. Do you, eh?”
“No. Now get out of here.”
Tiny stuck a sawed-off shotgun in Kurt’s face.
“Why don’t you talk some more shit, tough guy? You feeling brave now, eh?”
Prez smiled, a predatory flash of teeth. He called out into the woods. “You see that, sweetheart? Your boyfriend’s in trouble, eh.”
“Come out or I blow his head off!” Tiny roared.
“No,” Kurt said. “Run.”
Tiny smacked Kurt with the shotgun. The blow sent him reeling.
“He’ll get worse, honey, if you don’t come out. You don’t want to see that, eh?”
Flora ran from the cabin. She threw herself at Prez, clawing at his face with her nails.
Prez laughed and grabbed her wrists. Sarge grabbed an arm. They held her stretched between them, writhing and kicking.
Prez leered at Kurt. “Make sure you watch it all, dude. Or Tiny will whack you again, eh.”
Too fast for the eye to follow, Kurt’s right arm snaked upward in a straight line.
Tiny stepped closer, so near the shotgun barrels pressed tight against Kurt’s forehead. He pulled a hammer back.
“Don’t move, motherfucker.”
Too fast for the eye to follow, Kurt’s right arm snaked upward in a straight line. Kurt caught Tiny dead on the point of his chin with the heel of his open palm. The blow dislocated Tiny’s jaw, snapped it in two.
Instantly incapacitated, Tiny hit the ground. Kurt grabbed the shotgun. He pointed it one handed and fired.
Buckshot pellets riddled Sarge’s legs. He screamed and fell also. Flora tore herself free from the startled Prez and ran to Kurt.
“Get behind me.”
Kurt aimed the shotgun at Prez. “One barrel left, Prez. You want it, eh?”
Prez raised open hands before him in placation, face white, eyes wide. “Hey, look, sorry, dude, sorry. We were just playing a practical joke, eh, and things sort of got out of hand, you know. Look, I got some good meth and some weed I can let you have. For free, eh?”
Kurt stomped over to Prez. “Don’t think you get off that easy, asshole.”
He hit him on the head with the shotgun. Prez staggered. He raised his arms over his head to ward off another blow. Kurt shoved Prez with the stock.
“Like I said, leave.”
“How the fuck do you expect me to ride?” Sarge cried.
He pointed to his bleeding legs.
“Your problem. And I don’t give a shit about your bro’s jaw either. He can go with you or I’ll fix him myself. Understand? Prez, help them onto their bikes.”
Prez pulled Sarge off the ground. Sarge groaned with every step as he staggered over to his bike. Tiny was next, reduced to pitiful whimpers, lower jaw hung at a grotesque angle. They started their bikes. The bikers resentfully glared at Kurt as they pulled away.
“This ain’t over, citizen,” Prez shouted over his shoulder. “We know who you are, eh.”
“Come back if you want more. Adios, motherfucker.”
Their headlights picked out the trail until they went over a rise and were gone from sight. Trembling, Flora embraced Kurt tightly. He held her close with his free arm, but kept his eyes on the trail.
“Oh my God, Kurt. They really wanted to hurt us. And Kurt, you fought them off, but I’m still so scared.”
“I know, Flor. You did good. Don’t worry; it’s OK now. We need to go.”
“But you’re hurt. That asshole hit you. Let me tend to that first.”
“It’s not important now. They’ll be back, like Prez said, and bring their bros too. We better go. Come on, help me. Think you’re up to it?”
Flora pulled herself together with a visible effort and nodded. Kurt kissed her lightly on the lips.
“Get everything packed while I put out the fire and take down the tent.”
They worked by flashlights clipped to caps. After they loaded the truck, they got into the cab.
“Can’t I at least put a bandage on that, Kurt?”
“Later. I can get a concussion scan too. For now, we need to leave pronto.”
He started up the truck.
“Aren’t you going to turn the lights on?”
“Not for a while. The moonlight’s good and I remember the trail.”
Kurt slowly drove down the narrow trail that wound over and through the wooded hills.
“Why don’t we go back the way we came?”
“They might wait at the ford for us. This leads to 359, about five miles away from Cooper Lake. From there, it’s back to NYC and civilization.”
“And you know this how, Kurt?”
“I got away the last time this way.”
Despite her recent terror, Flora laughed. “My pirate.”
Kurt laughed too. “OK. Let me concentrate on driving.”
There was a steady, loud mechanical hum, the throb of engines idling for too long. They reached the trail’s end.
He switched on the lights and accelerated slightly. A doe leaped past, dappled fur bright in the headlights.
“That was close.”
They descended winding switchbacks, the view blocked by thick trees. There was a steady, loud mechanical hum, the throb of engines idling for too long. They reached the trail’s end.
Despite the late hour, 359 was jammed with traffic, only now headed in the opposite direction, southward, back to NYC and other points. Disappointed and disgusted by the Festival’s dismal performance, festgoers had voted with their wheels and were leaving en masse. High powered litigators were already dictating petitions for class action suits over their phones as their Bentleys and BMWs inched forward. Kurt aggressively pushed into the traffic, ignoring honked horns and outstretched middle fingers.
“Is this how you behaved in the Marines?”
“No wonder you were always in trouble.”
Traffic crept along. A Ferrari raced past in the wrong lane.
“Asshole. So much for a fast getaway. I wonder how long we’ll be stuck.”
“Look at the bright side, Kurt. We’re just stuck in traffic, not dead or raped. All we have to do is wait until the traffic clears up when we reach 59.”
Motorcycles thundered in the distance.
“Crouch down, under the dash.”
They wriggled low in the cab. Harleys raced past, each rider intent on the way ahead, aware a slight wrong turn could send him and his bike tumbling into the woods. A last bike rumbled past. The rider turned to spot the truck, hennaed beard flared by a feral snarl.
There was a loud squeal of brakes. Gunshots went off, a MAC-10’s distinctive, heavy rumble.
“They’re coming back.”
Kurt handed the shotgun to Flora. “There’s one charge left. Stay under the dash no matter what. I’ll handle this.”
Flora held the shotgun tight. Kurt clenched her free hand. He put the truck into park, stepped out, and stood behind the open door. Hogs rumbled again, but headed their way this time, an ominous growl that portended only trouble and blood.
Calm, cool, and collected, Kurt waited. The engines ceased. Two dozen bikers surrounded the truck, armed with clubs and pistols, Prez in the lead, a heavy MAC-10 in his beefy, tattooed arms.
“Dude, you put two of our bros in hospital, medevaced out on a helicopter. My sergeant at arms and my best friend, Tiny. We owe you heavy payback, motherfucker.”
“Fuck you, Prez.”
Kurt lifted an earth toned Beretta M9A3 pistol. He fired twice. Both 35mm rounds hit Prez in the forehead. He fell dead to the ground.
BBBBDDDDAAAAAAAMMMM. BBBBBDDDAAAMMMM. BBBBDDDAAAMMM.
A firefight erupted. Unused to armed combat’s stress, bikers shot at Kurt with pistols and shotguns, their aim wild, uncertain. Kurt crouched behind the car door for cover. He picked his targets carefully, made sure to give each man a good lead, and shot them one by one.
When half a dozen men lay dead or seriously wounded on the asphalt, the others lost heart and ran back to their motorcycles. Manhood and honor cast aside like the useless impediments they were, they raced back to Canada, headed to the relative sanctuary of Owl’s Eye, in flight from the relentless, ferocious savagery of a pissed off Kurt Malaparte.
Terrified by the gunfire, people jumped out of their vehicles and fled to the fields, sure they were about to be massacred. A biker flopped on the road like a freshly caught fish. Police sirens howled faintly in the distance.
Flora got out of the car. “You didn’t tell me you brought a gun, Kurt.”
“Yeah, because I knew you’d freak out. I’ve got a permit.”
She surveyed the carnage. “We’ll have a hard time talking our way out of this one, Kurt.”
“I know. Maybe we better stop going to these peace and love fests.”
Flora sighed, but hugged him tightly. “I guess you’re right.”
Mark Mellon‘s work has appeared in the Chamber Magazine, Tigershark, Tall Tale TV, and Into The Ruins. His novella, Escape From Byzantium, won the 2010 Independent Publisher Silver Prize for SF/Fantasy. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association. www.mellonwritesagain.com