The following is an excerpt (Chapter 8) from the novel Disintegration by Richard Thomas, forthcoming from Random House Alibi on May 26.
Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, has called the book, “A dark existential thriller of unexpected twists, featuring a drowning man determined to pull the rest of the world under with him…a stunning and vital piece of work.”
Thomas’s short story “Jimmy Five Ways” was a winner in our Hard Boiled-Down Noir Fiction Contest in 2012.
I haven’t seen Vlad in three years. His face is a distant memory, and I fear I may transpose the faces of others onto his. He gave me the package and he gave me the keys. The few things I’d kept, after I sold the house, after I fled the suburbs for the anonymity of a small apartment in the city, they were in storage. A friend. I forget his name now. Bill or Brian or something. Doesn’t matter. Vlad lent me a van. Quick trust on that guy.
I don’t remember much from that trek.
I remember my friend, shaking this man’s hand, him hugging me, and I was clay. His face dragging on the ground, skin slack, heart on his sleeve, his business card thrust into my hand. I wiped my ass with it that very night. A word bounces around my empty skull on the highway drive back south. Severed. Before merging onto the highway, I pull into a tiny liquor store in the middle of the cornfields and buy a couple of forties. Budweiser. I polish one off every fifteen minutes. And every twenty minutes I pull over and vomit up white foam—in half-filled parking lots, scattering whatever drunks are near me; on the side of the road, my knees in the grit, black moons grinding their way into the denim patchwork that covers my stalks. And then I do it again.
By the time I get to the city, I am hammered.
For years I’ve held a resentment against the kind of asshole that speeds around you, cutting over to the merge lane, flying past, only to move back into traffic four cars ahead of you. I’d done enough commuting to create a long-standing resentment toward this particular breed of jerk. Nine times out of ten it was a BMW.
Today was not his day.
A dark blue burst of speed on my right side, and I see him cruise past, only to shove his way back in again down the road. A smile crosses my face. I set the forty down. Traffic surges ahead, and I move up the best I can. Swerving in and out, finding the gaps, I punch the pedal, pushing the trembling van forward.
I follow him for miles. He does it again and again. Riding up on some poor helpless sap’s ass, then gunning it to the right, punching it down the exit lane, only to cut back in again.
Working my way down the right lane, two cars get off at Fullerton, and he’s right in front of me. I can see the back of his shiny, coiffed hair bobbing up and down, moving right and left, tilting back as he laughs at the funniest joke in the world, chirping into his cellphone, living the life. I see an upcoming exit lane, and he’s going to do it again. This time, I’m right behind him, and he has no idea. Brake lights and rearview mirrors are for suckers.
My spine crackles with electricity. Palms sweaty, I wipe them on my pants. A twinge flutters in my stomach, and as he guns it wide, I floor it straight ahead. I find a gap in the middle lane, and cut over. He’s flying down the right lane, the exit lane, but he’s not exiting.
Two cars in front of me, one car, then I’m clear. I’m still on his left, in his blind spot, off the left rear quarter panel. We swerve over at the same time, me to the right, and him to the left. He sees me too late to do anything but look up. And in this game of chicken, I’m not backing off. In fact, I’m overcompensating, I keep going to the right, my face filled with white teeth, a grin as wide as my head.
We connect, metal on metal shrieking, sparks flying, and he tries to pull it to the right. I keep coming with him. My head is filled with cotton candy. I’m bending him over and fucking him in the ass. I’m salivating as I push his Berliner into the guardrail, his eyes wide, mouth agape and I’m laughing for the first time since . . .
Well . . .
Since it all happened.
I keep coming, I accelerate, and push against the front of his car until it wedges between the van and the metal rail. Rushing up to us is a triangle of metal that separates the exit from the highway, and we’re not going to stop in time. With a bone-rattling finality we hit.
I am rocked to the core of my frame. I glance over at him and he’s as pale as my inner thighs. Steam rises from the hood of his car, mangled metal pushing up into the air. His car slid up a bit past mine, and I get out of the van, covered in bits of broken glass and beer. Wandering over to him, my vision is a film of strawberry, the wind from the passing cars fluttering across my skin, horns and great groaning rushes of metal and air. His door is open and he’s trying to get out. He looks up at me, a gouge across his forehead, blood dripping down into his eyes. He can hardly see. I lean into the car.
“It’s okay man, just hold on, I gotcha.”
“What the fuck? . . . Oh man, my arm, I think it’s broken. . . . Oh, my baby, my car . . .”
I pull him out by the neck, the head, the shoulders.
“Ah shit, man that hurts, hold on. . . .”
I hold him up and when he raises his eyes I punch him in the face.
“You stupid motherfucker,” I say.
I hold his blue-striped button-down in my left fist and pummel him. Ramming my fist into his face, his nose cracks, great squirts of hot liquid hitting my chest, again and again, until his face is gone. He goes limp, and filled with glee I drop him in the dirt, a bundle of bent limbs. I lean over him and whisper.
“That’s for driving like a dick.”
I stand up and look around. It feels like twenty minutes, but it’s more like twenty seconds. I run back over to the van, jump in, and back it up just enough to get around his broken beauty and head off down the exit, clipping the right rear taillight for good measure.
Somehow the apartment appears. I park the van on a side street, the damaged side toward the sidewalk. I grab a screwdriver out of the back. Coated in sweat, eyes glazed over, I take off the license plates, and switch them with a white van up the street. Russo Flowers. And kick in his front left taillight. Funny how many white vans are out there just waiting to be used.
Stumbling into my new hideout, I collapse in the middle of the floor. I giggle uncontrollably and pass out in a puddle of my own urine. And sleep like a baby.
Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books—Disintegration and The Breaker (Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate, Herniated Roots, Staring Into the Abyss, Tribulations and The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). His over 100 stories in print include Cemetery Dance, PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad 2, and Shivers VI. Visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com for more information.