Terror at Ten Pin Lanes
As a man of science, gastronomy, art and literature, not to mention my erotic janitorial accomplishments, you can understand how I am brimming with ideas but have far too many projects to actually complete anything. But then again, I think there is much to be said for the uncompleted task as it leaves an air of mystery and keeps boredom from setting in, for both the artist and the reader or viewer of the work. Take for instance the many novels I have reviewed that I've never read. The fact is, after one or two pages, you've really absorbed the best parts of the book and to slog on ad nauseam is to do a great injustice to both the novelist and your brain. Best to quit while both you and the author are ahead and not get bogged down in those long middle sections and endings that always disappoint. Sometimes having the attention span of a gnat helps you keep one step ahead of the snap of the hungry frog's tongue and ending up as the after-scent of an amphibian's odorous burp. If you catch my drift.
On that note I've created this new section in my report wherein I discuss, briefly, an idea for a novel I'll never write accompanied by a cover drawing for the never-to-be-published book and in some cases, even an excerpt. So, for this first installment I humbly submit my blockbuster novel, bound to be enjoyed by young adult and mature readers alike and that I tentatively title, Terror At Ten Pin Lanes. Of course the book will never be finished let alone bound, so this whole point is moot.
Chapter One - Aztec Party Hats
It’s odd when you look back from where you are and can’t remember the path you took to get there in the first place. Maybe that’s why people just fall into things and when you ask them how they came to be what they are or where they ended up they just shrug their shoulders and say they were just lucky or unlucky but things just kind of fell into place or happened a certain way. Take me for example. All of thirteen years old and already I’m on the sacrificial virgins list, just because my dad’s bowling alley is going tits up, as the boys at my school like to say. Or better yet, take Al Kugelman a.k.a. the Aztec deity, and the cause of all my problems. I mean who would’ve thought that this elderly man living at the end of our street would suddenly be transformed into an Aztec god while he was standing at the kitchen sink peeling some hard-boiled eggs one day. Or at least that’s the way he tells it but really, when my dad presses him on the details on this remarkable transformation, though it did nothing for his bald spot or comb-over or disgusting varicose veins that stand out like throbbing blue worms when he wears shorts on hot summer days, Al has trouble remembering anything. He remembers the eggs and he remembers some sort of blinding light bathing him in an intense heat and then bingo, he woke up in his La-Z-Boy recliner chair wearing nothing but this magnificent feathered headdress and a loincloth.He walked out of his house dressed like this and Mrs. Kulpinski, next door, almost had a heart attack while she was watering her rose bushes. Al Kugelman is not the kind of man you want to see in a bathing suit let alone a loin cloth but she did admit the feathered headdress made him look dignified.
At first everyone just thought he’d had a stroke seeing as he was speaking some kind of language that wasn’t recognizable as anything but gibberish so we all figured he’d just forgotten how to talk. Which is what happens with a stroke, apparently. My grandmother, Nana Euclid had one and mom had to sit with her for six months looking at alphabet books for babies, sounding out the letters and trying to put them together into simple words. Like cat and rat and dog and nut. She finally did get most of her speech back except sometimes she sounded like she was trying to talk underwater or with too much food in her mouth and her left eye got lazy and would look out at something else even when she was staring straight into your face. Which is actually something I admired because then you’ve got your vision in two different places, like those chameleons that can rotate each of their eyes separately and then no predator can sneak up on you. And believe me, they’re plenty of predators out there waiting for you, even in tenth grade. I mean besides all the evil guys and kidnappers that your parents are always warning you about or you see on TV, it’s the ones closer to home like Lester Springmeyer, that kid two blocks away whose always showing me his weenie or Mandy Glower, popular at school even though she’s dosed to the gills on Ritalin and has the attention span of a Smart Phone and uses that phone to spread terrible made-up rumors about people she hates and of course Al Kugelman, octogenarian and Aztec god to boot, sticking me there on his sacrificial list because my dad said it was okay if it would help save his bowling alley, that you have to worry about. I’m not too happy with my dad right now and my mom put up quite a stink but Al promised that the sacrifice was years away, not really until I was an adult because he’s backlogged with sacrificial virgins currently (they’re trucking them in from all parts of the country, the demand for Al’s services are that great plus Al has a rule that no one can be sacrificed until they’re of voting age so the victims awaiting sacrifice are piling up), and by that time dad figures, once his business is back in business again he can find a way to buy Al off. But I don’t think Aztec gods can be bought off so easily, especially when you’ve signed some parchment in blood and I know dad did this because after he got back from Al’s late one night from a supposed poker game he was swearing and yelling at mom about where she kept the Band-aids. Blood may be thicker than water but it certainly isn’t as thick as the air at our house after mom got wind of the deal dad cut with Al the Aztec god.
I was in my bedroom that night when dad got home, but I was still awake even though it was well past 11 and a school night. So I heard everything.
“What’s going on, Henry? Why are you bleeding? I thought it was just a friendly poker game.”
“It was, Mel. I just cut myself, I was trying to cut a piece of salami, the knife slipped and I cut myself. Now where are the goddamn Band-aids?”
“On your forearm? You’re cutting salami and that’s where the knife hits? I mean I understand a finger, a knuckle, but who cuts a piece of salami and the knife slips all they way up their forearm. You didn’t make some kind of deal with that old goat, did you?”
“He’s not an old goat, Mel. He’s an Aztec god and he can make things happen. Like getting the bowling alley back on track, bringing in some business.”
“I knew it. You signed a pact in blood with that old pervert. You promised him our daughter, didn’t you?”
“Mel, look at it this way. He’s backlogged on sacrificial virgins right now. I mean you could fill a warehouse with them. He told me he probably wouldn’t get around to sacrificing Dusty until seven or eight years from now. And by that time really, what’re the chances she’ll still be a virgin. Off to college, all that jazz, really we’d be closing our eyes and pretending we’re blind if we didn’t recognize what’s really going on. Which then instantly stops her from being sacrificial material. So, bingo, the bowling alley is saved and Dusty continues on her way, graduates, meets a nice guy, gets married and then one day she and hubby and the grandkids inherit the business. Or if Al is still dead set on sacrificing her, by that time with the bowling alley doing well I’m sure I could pay him off with a nice chunk of money. I mean he’s an Aztec god and everything but even an Aztec god needs some rec-room renovations or a new water heater or something.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not the fact that my dad offered me up for sacrifice but that he actually expected me to take over the bowling alley one day. Since I was a toddler it seemed my dad was forever putting me to work there. When I was crawling he would attach dusting pads to my knees and have me go up and down the lanes removing dirt and polishing the wood. I thought it was a game. As I got older he put me in charge of spraying the bowling shoes with disinfectant and that’s about when my disgust for bowling and the various vile odors of human feet really swayed me towards becoming anything but the owner of a bowling alley. As far as I was concerned virgin sacrifice would be a piece of cake compared to deordorizing shoes and helping old people with gargoyle toes try to find the right size shoes for their gnarled feet. Or worse yet, having to attend to the bowling shoe needs of my classmates’ stinky feet. Humiliating was not even close to the shame I felt but it all went right over my dad’s toupee as he thought he was teaching me solid life lessons and business values that would see me through to my old age. Either way I had no intention of being sacrificed, by my family or an Aztec deity but if gods were anything like humans, especially of the adult variety, I’d have them both eating out of the palm of my hand in no time. With a little mall money to spend too.
It was that night really, overhearing my parents arguing, that I made up my mind to do something about this whole mess. First things first, I was going to have a talk with Kugelman and get the lowdown on this whole Aztec god business. I knew him of course as the old guy down the street and one of dad’s poker playing cronies but since his transformation, he didn’t really say hello to me or mom anymore when we passed him on the sidewalk, maybe because he secretly knew my sacrifice was looming and he felt guilty about it. Or maybe Aztec gods didn’t talk to mere mortals like us except to give us sacrificial instructions on our day of reckoning.
Speaking of days of reckoning, Kugelman was very private about his whole sacrificial process. The way I read about it, the Aztecs liked to make a big show out of their days of sacrifice, attended by thousands, bodies being carted up and down the steps of the huge temple pyramids, lots of feasting, like a trip to Disneyland but with lots of blood and no mouse. But Kugelman was really secretive about the whole thing and never invited anyone to watch. It all took place out back of Yeager’s Muffler and Brake Shop where there was an overgrown and unused field behind a beaten-up chain link fence. In the middle of the field was a Quonset hut and that’s where Al Kugelman set up his sacrificial altar. The door was padlocked and occasionally customers at Yeager’s waiting for their mufflers or brakes to be fixed would catch a glimpse of old Kugelman, done up in his colorful feathered headdress, loincloth and fuzzy slippers, ducking inside and closing the door quickly behind him. Nobody ever saw a sacrificial victim being taken inside and even when Mr. Blanchard, a retired army colonel and the leader of the town’s boy scout troop, set up a twenty-four hour surveillance on the Quonset hut, nothing out of the ordinary was seen except of course Kugelman in his crazy get-up going in and out of the hut a couple of times. And not a drop of blood to be seen, which is pretty strange when you’re sacrificing people for a living. The town council managed to persuade Mr. Blanchard to call off his surveillance because they were afraid of angering the Aztec god, especially after he’d just promised them a new baseball diamond and bleachers for the Little League team.
So, one Saturday morning I begged off bowling alley duty with the excuse that I was going to go downtown and have a look at my dad’s competition. See if I could come back with some ideas to make dad’s business more successful. Dad’s bowling alley was in a rundown building with musty carpeting and lanes that were warping over time. The gumball and candy machines had the same stuff in them from the 1950’s when the place was first built. At the time it was high tech. Now Galaxy Lanes had opened downtown with glow-in-the-dark bowling, state-of-the-art score keeping computers, a snack bar that served gourmet pizza and fancy coffee and even a singles mingle bowling night where you could meet that special someone while knocking down pins. The fact was it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see where dad’s alley had gone wrong and Galaxy Lanes was succeeding. But it would take money to update or a miracle to bring people in, both of which would take an Aztec god to make it happen as far as my dad was concerned. And an Aztec god demanded a sacrifice and so off I went to meet the man or god who held the key to my fate.
It was a beautiful spring day, warmer than usual as I pedaled my bike down the street. Between the chirping birds, fluffy white clouds, buzzing bees and blooming shrubbery the promise of summer was only a stones-throw away.