Gary from Indiana was way outta his league by then. Poor and busted again. He had an old car that looked the part and a handful of little foam footballs in the backseat. He even gave one of them away once without his autograph on it. A shame. Still he drove on through the mountains toward Tennessee. He had a case of exotic perfume that he swiped from the Burgundy Motel in Plainsworth the day before and he could damn well use the money.
By the time Gary got to Tennessee he was out of footballs and hungry. He had a trap in the trunk and caught a raccoon with it before sunup. The pelt and guts were worth $26.50 and he bought three nights in half a house trailer down by the river and still had $4.75 left over. Gary slept till dusk and woke up starvin’. He knocked on the door of the other half of the place and when no one came he went in and stole a whole raw catfish and some bread to make a sandwich. He hid the case of exotic perfume under the bed to wait until tomorrow.
Donny was one of those guys who went to the gym. He didn’t go there to workout necessarily, but he did like to stand around the locker room naked, maybe just wearing matching tube socks in Green Bay Packer colors, and talk to the guys, maybe stand by the blow dryer and show off a little bit. It was his excuse to get out and to fool himself that he was working-out somehow. Nobody ever really spoke to Donny in the locker room except to say fag or queer. It was usually really nobody’s fault. Donny kept warm beer in his locker.
When Gary went to the free clinic he had to wait. For a pretty long time. His stomach was killing him. He started to look around. There wasn’t much to read unless you liked pamphlets. And boy oh boy there were lots of those. Urinary tract infections, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts, tooth decay and heart disease, cigarettes and blood platelets, perfume and cigarettes, ringworm, HIV, the dangers of dating older guys, dating older guys who might be HIV positive, they covered the most horrific ailments to be found by mankind. Then they called Gary’s number.
Donny was watching TV at four o’clock in the morning in his little room at the Bennington Motel when an infomercial about girls with acne came on for a whole half hour. I’d like a girl like that, Donny thought, but I wouldn’t know what to do with her slipper kiss.
Looks like October, feels like March. In the middle of February. It was so early it was still dark but the doctor was smiling. Gary told him about the catfish he’d eaten and how he was now poisoned. The doctor smiled some more and gave Gary some Tums and sent him on his way. Gary drove his old car back toward the trailer and thought about what he should do with all that exotic perfume. His guts were on fire and he saw a light so he stopped at this little bar for a drink. Gary spent two dollars of the $4.75 he had left on a tall glass of ice cold draft beer. Donny walked in at precisely 6:23 AM and sat down next to Gary. He ordered a can of oyster juice with a side of horseradish and a vodka chaser. “How ya doin’,” he said to Gary.
“That’s gotta hurt,” said Gary.
“Nah,” said Donny, “but it is an acquired taste, I’ll admit.” The tired bartender watched as the tired early risers filed in and ordered their morning drinks. Donny said, “how’d ya like to be them?” He pushed the dark hair from his face. Gary said. “No way man.” They sipped their drinks in silence. Then Gary said,” I got a big case of exotic perfume that I’m willing to sell for cheap.” Donny shot his vodka and put down a dollar for a tip. “Let’s go,” he said. Donny had a dream, to be the best he could be, and not be like everyone else. It hadn’t quite come through yet, but he was a bettin’ man and he’d been bettin’ on this you’d better believe it. One chance in Hell.
By the time Gary and Donny got back to the trailer the little family from the other half sat outside their half of it staring at their campfire. “Someone stole our catfish” the littlest girl explained. “and now we’ve nothing for our supper tonight.”
“Fuck,” said Gary.
Donny said, “Go in and get the godddamn exotic perfume.” Gary got the case from beneath the bed. Donny said open it up and let’s have a look. Gary opened the case on the steps of his half of the trailer. The little family looked on from their fire with a certain hunger in their eyes.
“I should give them a bottle. For the catfish that’s killin’ me,” Gary reasoned. He twisted his moustache. “They could sell it maybe...”
“Hey you dumbass,” Donny said as he held one of the little sparkling bottles of bubbles. “This ain’t perfume. These are potions. Witches potions.”
Gary looked at the labels. They were written upside-down and backwards. “I thought it was some sorta French,” Gary explained. Donny flipped the black case around and read the various labels. “Plague, Lovesnorts, Ima-bima-bee, Precious-nice, Babble, a dozen or more in all. On the back of each ornate and elaborate bottle was a yellowed paper label with tiny handwriting. Donny inspected the one he held, Zombie Dance it was called, holding the tiny bottle with his fingers. It was round and curved and flowing without shape yet somehow square where it should be with dozens of glass spines jutting sharply from the surface. He squinted to read the label.
“It’s the directions,” they both said.
“You take our fish?” the apparent father asked quietly a few safe paces from Donny and Gary. Gary turned to look at the guy.
“Well, to be honest, yes sir I did and if it makes you feel any better, the damn thing nearly poisoned me.”
“Well mister, I got to feed my family.”
“Here. Take one of these bottles of perfume. You can sell it in town. Or somethin’.
“Oh well...” the little man sighed, “What they smell like?” Without really looking he plucked the one called
Plague from the silk case, pulled out the glass stopper and took a whiff. He dropped to the ground, dead.
“What’d ya let him go and do that for?” Donny hissed. “That was the “Plague” one for Christ’s sake.”
“Whoa—that shit really works,” Gary said. “We better scram-olla.” The little family ran to their poppa and each fell dead from the lingering poison. Gary and Donny tore off in the ’73 Pontiac leaving the family and the fire and the trailer door swinging wide open. But Donny had the case of potions resting on his quivering thighs. Blue smoke rattled from the motor as the duo sped the thirty-six miles to Kentucky. Three miles on the other side they pulled into a gas station with four little log cabins arranged neatly about the grounds—and Donny offered to pay for a night so they could figger out what to do with this chance of a lifetime setting in his lap.
“We could rule the world,” Donny laughed looking at the bottles lying on the twin bed of cabin one. “Look at this one, Fear and Flightless. ‘Put a drop in the sleeping ear, your foe cannot run, but he surely will fear...you.’ Looks like some one wrote in the ‘you.’”
“So what good is that?” asked Gary.
“Think, man, think!” Donny picked his nose. “If people fear you but can’t run from you, you can control them. Like Hitler.”
“Man I don’t wanna be Hitler. I wanna play football again.” Gary picked his nose as well.
“Who said you gotta be Hitler? Here’s another one. ‘Run and Jump’—the spell reads, ‘Take a drop with a spoon of honey, your feats of strength will make you money.’”
Gary plucked the ball-shaped bottle from Donny’s hand. “It’s almost empty. Lots of people must like this one.”
“Yeah, probably a lot of pro athletes...Probably paid a lot for a drop of this too. Try it.”
"I’m not tryin’ it. Besides, we ain’t got no honey.”
“That’s just ‘cause it probably tastes bad. Here...”
Donny dripped a drop on Gary’s fingertip and he licked it off. Nothing happened. Not right then, anyway. But when Donny woke up from his nap, Gary was not in the log cabin. Donny opened the door to the pouring rain and a flash went past. Then it flashed past again. Donny watched as Gary ran about the grounds leaping and jumping and running really fast. He looked exhausted.
“I been...doin’this...for a while...” Gary wheezed with each pass, “And I can’t stop...”
“Yeah, but your getting in great shape!” Donny hollered encouragingly. He shut the door and looked at the potions. This shit really does work, he thought. “Jesus.”
When Gary wound down some time later he vomited and passed out on his bed in the cabin. When Donny couldn’t rouse him in the early morning, he decided it was a good time to split up. He left sleeping Gary the rest of the bottle of Run and Jump and threw ten bucks on the bed. Then he took the case and Gary’s keys and shut the cabin door behind him.
The Pontiac smoked and chugged up the mountain road and Donny turned the radio up way loud. He never saw the witch until she landed on the hood with the weight of three days of hatred and a toothy snarl of delight. The car flattened to the road as the huge creature smashed through the windshield with one giant black talon and pulled Donny’s head out by the roots, much like pulling the stopper from a bottle. The witch popped it into her mouth like a peanut and screamed and spit. Then she hooked a red claw through the handle of the case of potions and flew off as the old car caught fire.
Gary limped along the mountain road sore and stiff and angry. He had ten bucks, a few drops of potion, no car, no footballs, and a long way to go. He walked with his thumb out in case some one might pick him up. Gary looked to the sky when he heard the wind of beating wings and never, ever looked at the sky again.