Seventeen Views of Madness
by Don J. Webb
Bill Adams, a small time freelance writer, was commissioned to write a piece on madness. “This will be easy.” thought Adams, “I can do this in a single night.” So he began typing furiously. The title “Seventeen Views of Madness” appeared on his screen. Bill thought that would be a great title. He had no idea where the title came from, but that was always the source of his best stuff. His conscious mind could never have come up with “Camels and Chocolate: The New Arabia” or The Death of the Ferret, his award winning mystery novel. He just sat there and the words would come out.
Sarah Boyd, his next-door neighbor, was watching him with opera glasses. She knew he was writing about her. She had caught seventeen squirrels in the ten years that she had lived next to him. She liked to dress them up in little tutus. There was nothing wrong with that. She had released them into the nearby woods. She hoped that they would inspire the other squirrels to take up ballet. It was the least she could do for Mother Nature, but of course people like Bill couldn’t understand. He was going to ruin the project. It would take years. A hundred squirrels at least. She would have to stop him. She went out to her pick-up truck and took her daddy’s deer rifle out of the gun rack. It would be over soon.
Ron Carroll spotted the evil looking housewife in curlers getting a Very Big Gun from her pickup as he drove by in his VW Bug. It was a classic Bug; he had bought it in the Summer of Love. He had gone to San Francisco, where he had discovered many things including his gender preference. He had returned to Doublesign, Texas to take care of his aging dad, and decided that this little Texas burg was the place to fight the Gay Revolution. It had been hard in the first few years, but TV had made it an even fight, and his mind began to drift without the constant threat of the straight world. He had begun to read the Book of Revelation, the true text of the coming war with Wommyn. It was starting, today. He would speed home and make for his bunker — actually a regulation Texas tornado cellar. He would never leave it.
Sally Donnelly waited at a stop sign as the old VW cruised past. The driver, a wild-eyed man with silver in his long hair, looked like some sort of hippie. This was great. Her class in the Literature of the Sixties at the community college was her most challenging class. She had never written well, and after taking a creative writing class last summer from Bill Adams, Doublesign’s foremost novelist, she found that she could not write at all. But that hippie. The old hippie in the bug. He could do her paper on the “Hippie Attitude.” She turned her white SUV after him. She should follow him home and make him write the paper. She could offer him sex, and if that failed she could force him to write it at gunpoint. She really needed an “A.”
Erick Ericksson turned on his siren after the VW and the SUV sped past his patrol car. The old man in the VW looked terrified, the good-looking redhead in the SUV looked determined. But they were going over 60 in a 30 m.p.h. zone. It was his chance to achieve his life’s dream as a policeman — he could be on TV. He began calling the stations in Doublesign. He called them at least once a week. He invited them to every bust, every cat helped down from a tree, every vagrant pulled in. He had bought a little video camera to film himself. He made fake newscasts for his mom in Nebraska. This would be great. The town’s first high speed car chase.
Mary Folker hung up the phone. She was tired of listening to Officer Ericksson every day. She was tired of being polite. She walked to the break room. She accidentally nudged a fellow employee on her approach to the coffee machine. “Excuuse me!!” he said. She wasn’t going to be polite anymore. She put her quarters in, and when the cup of steaming black coffee came out, she flung it on him. “I’m not wearing that stupid dress to prom, mom,” she screamed. Then she decided to clean out her desk. It would just save a good deal of time.
Ralph Greer flinched when the receptionist flung her coffee on him. She yelled something about his dresses. He had no idea how she knew. He was deeply ashamed and began running for his car. He would have to leave Doublesign now. Move someplace like Thalia or Eternal or Comesee. He wasn’t gay or anything. It had happened under a full moon this spring. He was tripping on mushrooms in the woods when he saw a squirrel dancing in a pink tutu. It was so graceful, so alive. It was everything he wanted to be. So he dressed in beautiful women’s clothing and danced in the woods at night. But now it was all over. He began driving home.
Kelly Holloway was walking to the park, when she saw the man in the Taurus take his shirt off at the stoplight and put on a bra. It was just like her husband had been telling her for years. She was cracking up. She saw things. She had just hallucinated him screwing his secretary. God, he was justified in beating her. As she walked toward the lake, she began picking up stones to put in the pockets of her coat. She would not stop at the water’s edge.
Mark Isaacs didn’t see Kelly, but he did see that his rock sculpture had been ruined. He had been creating a huge sculpture all through Doublesign. It was a very subtle sculpture. No humans noticed it. It wasn’t for them. It was for the Space Brothers. They could detect subtle patterns because unlike humans they had two right brains. He was sending them a special message “Beam me up now!!” Someone had taken one of the stones. It was a sign. They were coming to get him soon. This was great! He pedaled his old ten-speed toward the pyramid he had built on the edge of town. Inside its cardboard walls, they would find him.
Jenny Koenig eyed the rabbits with hunger. They had run out of a pile of cardboard on the vacant lot. Some old man on a bicycle had scared them. She began running after them. Jenny was almost perfectly beautiful. She weighed 67 pounds. Still a little too big, but getting there. She was on a special high protein diet. She only ate animals she could catch. She bounded after the bunnies. She scooped one up, her sharp incisors biting its neck. The warm life-giving blood made her drunk like cheap wine.
Jack Lowston heard someone singing outside his office. It wasn’t a tune that he knew. The lyrics were about becoming very beautiful. It made Jack very mad. Beauty had hurt him. Back in High School, He had won a date with the head cheerleader. It had been some stupid lottery. After he had bought her lobster and steak, she told him that no beautiful person would ever love him. He had never dated in the 33 years since. The song brought it all back to him. He called up the high school and demanded to speak to the head cheerleader. He was going to tell her that her parents had died in an auto accident.
Rose Marston walked through the halls of Sam Houston High. She had to take a message to the head of the cheerleading squad to call a Mr. Lowston. Very important. As she walked, she realized that never in her 17 years had anyone ever called her and said they had an important message. The cheerleader was probably getting a scholarship of something. “I wish I was a cheerleader.” Rose said for the one-millionth time. If we could’ve watched Rose’s brain with a CAT scan we have seen a chemical flooding at this instant. Rose re-programmed. She walked to the pay phone and called Mr. Lowston. She was after all the head cheerleader. She always had been. She played with her invisible pom-poms as she waited for him to pick up.
Bruce Nyland dropped the hot wire in disgust. He had been rewiring the massively old switching system outside of the high school for hours. He hadn’t realized that he had grabbed up a hot line. Someone must have picked it up inside of the school. It was hard, working on these old systems. It had been much harder after the phone company had fired him two years ago. They had actually said that he was “too dedicated.” Despite them, he was going to make the phone system work in this town or die trying. He looked around. No phone company trucks had driven by. He was still safe.
Susan Oltorf wondered why the man working at the big green box full of wires kept looking around. He must be scared of something. Susan was often scared. Ever since they had been after her. But she had learned that you must fight the fear. Fear is the mind-killer. She had read that once in a paperback book she had found with a picture of a great worm on the cover. Someone had left that on her corner on purpose. She had allies, and she must tell the man that he had allies too.
Stuart Pynchon almost hit the bag lady’s shopping cart as she pushed across the street. That was bad. Every day he wondered if he had killed someone. He would check the front of his car ten, maybe twenty times, a night. He never knew for sure if he had killed somebody. He would go to officer Ericksson’s apartment at least once a week and confess to having killed someone. Sometimes officer Ericksson would make a little movie of him confessing. He was scared of killing someone all the time. Stuart was shaking so bad that he was unable to brake as Ron Carroll’s VW bug plowed into his station wagon, followed by a white SUV followed by officer Ericksson’s patrol car. Ironically only Stuart died.
Martha Quinlan swerved around the multi-car accident. She had to get to Bill Adams’s house. She had taken a nap after lunch — something she never did. And she dreamed. She dreamed that she was supposed to go to Bill Adams house and tell him about the “Seventeenth view of madness.” She didn’t know what that meant. But the dream had seemed very important. She would at least tell him the dream. Maybe he could use it in an article. As she turned onto his block, she saw his neighbor dressed in a bright orange housedress carrying a rifle, knocking on his door. Bill opened the door and the woman shot him in the head. Martha just drove on. She would never be able to tell Bill her dream.
Copyright © 2005 by Don J. Webb