February 02, 2015
....so get to Amazon quick and buy yourself a copy of this indecently underpriced science fiction epic!
after all, what can you even buy for less than a buck these days? A vital question dealt with in the book itself by a the protagonist Glenn Rose, freezing to death after getting his fingers trapped in a vending machine at a closed gas station on the western plains:
The snow was falling in a thick kaleidoscope now. The night looked like a television screen of his life, crawling with static as transmission shut down. He prayed out loud for a car to pass by, for some sensible motorist to see his headlights.
He drew himself up into a ball in the snow. His brain tried to shut out what was happening. Around him, the world showed every sign of going on without him. He sobbed to himself, "Mum, please help me, please Mum. Please. God, oh god."
For an oddly detached moment he wondered about the mechanics of the end: would his life just slip out of him, a stranger leaving quietly by the backdoor? Would he notice anything at the last instant? All those years, the thoughts and longings, compressed into a modest exit into the dark. The
thought seemed bland but softly attractive now, a fresh idea he had never toyed with before. Just go.
Sniveling and wrapped in his own thoughts, he didn't register the approach of the four-by-four as it scrunched across the snow, headlights mingling with those of his own car. It was only the beeping of an alarm, telling the driver that a door was open while the headlights were still on, that slowly brought Glenn back to the world that he was still a part of.
He looked up, but was blinded by the glare. A woman's caustic laugh came out of the fountain of light.
"Boy, what the hell happened to you?"
He twisted his stiff neck to the sound of her voice. The presence of another human, the return of life, pushed the snivelling child back to its rightful place. His socially interactive autopilot hesitantly re-asserted itself.
"I... I got my hand caught. In the drinks machine." He sniffed at the absurdity of it all, realizing he had jumped the narrow but bottomless chasm between disaster and farce. "Didn't have enough change to get the bloody thing to open again. Thought I was gonna to freeze to death."
She laughed. "That'd be a fucked-up way to go."
“Yeah, I know,” he said, slobber-laughing with her. "Have you got a nickel?"
"Yeah, this fucked-up machine opens for a dollar in change. I got three quarters and two dimes, just need another five cents to get it to open." His voice sounded like a bad actor faking a head-cold, his frozen lips barely moving.
"Is that all it takes to get you out of there?" In the halo of light he made out movement as she rummaged her pocket for change.
He couldn't see her face, but he could make out a hood around her head. "Wait a minute, I'll check in the car."
She disappeared inside her vehicle. As he waited, he once again felt the biting cold that he had forgotten even as he gave in to it. He knew he'd lost all sense of time, lost his capacity to do anything but stumble into the arms of any willing savior, but she did seem to be taking an inordinately long time looking for the change.
The headlights of her car went out. He heard her footsteps in the snow, brisk and businesslike.
Then the headlights of his own car also died. Abruptly, everything was dark.
She scrunched back over the snow to where he was squatting like a leashed dog outside a supermarket.
"You're damn lucky I came by," she said. "Nobody else drives the road this late at night, specially not in this weather. Jesus."
"I know," he said, squinting to try to make out her face, his retinas flooded with the vanished radiance of headlights. "I think you saved my life."
"Saved your life for five cents," she said, laughing low again. "How about that? Man, you can't even get a candy bar for that."
"I know," he said. "Listen, I'm so cold. Could you give me the nickel please?"
"I don't know what you could buy for a nickel," she went on, oblivious to his plea. "Not even a stick of gum, even if they sold it individually. Apart from that, I guess penny chews would be the only things you could still get these days for five cents."
"Please, can you hurry up and get me out of here. I think I've broken my fingers and I can't feel my hand. I think I might have frostbite. I’m not even sure the machine will release me once I put the money in. Might have to call the fire department to cut me out."
"And your life, of course," she went on, ignoring what he had just said. She had an eastern accent, enunciated her words clearly. "Your life right now has the value of a penny chew, I guess, in strictly market terms." She held out her hand and touched his cheek. He flinched away at the unexpected contact, but his chilled flesh instantly missed the soft warmth of her palm.
"You know, the Chinese say that if you save a life, you're responsible for it all of your own life." She let out a soft whistle. "Which would mean if you went out and killed someone, I'd be responsible."
Glenn listened, confused and increasingly angry.
"I don't care about the Chinese. I'm not going to kill anyone. I was just driving out west, heading for California."
“You know, I don't really give a shit about what the Chinese say either." She laughed. "But, before I invest my nickel in your chances of living a full and healthy life, there's a little favor I need to ask of you."
"Yeah, whatever. Please, just give me..."
"You see, my brother is in serious trouble. Dire need, just like yourself. And I think you might be just the person I need to help save him."
"What? How can I save him? What's wrong with him?" The words were a barely coherent slur by now. Some last flicker of consciousness rebelled against the injustice of setting conditions on the threshold of such a simple act of salvation.
"Just take it from me, he's in trouble. Mortal danger. And if you help me, just for six months, I think we can save him."
"I'm not asking for you to do anything dangerous or heroic or anything like that. Or illegal, don’t worry. Just come and live with me up on my farm for six months, board and lodging provided. I'll even pay you for your time, don't worry. Pay you extremely well, in fact, even though I would be saving your life. More money than you could dream of, probably."
Even in his befuddled state, the use of the conditional tense set an alarm bell ringing in his head.
"But ... I've got things to do. I've got... I've got a life to go back to." He wasn't sure exactly what life that was: shifting tectonic plates of vague possibility colliding in an unformed future, throwing out tiny islands of reality upon which he hopped his random course.
"Not without my nickel you don't," said the woman. "What's your name?"
The name seemed to make her pause for a moment, like it had disturbed a train of thought.
She turned it over once in her mouth, then collected herself again.
"Glenn. And tell me… how old are you, Glenn?"
"Twenty-nine, huh?" She reached in her pocket and pulled out a small knife, its wooden handle no longer than her palm. She hooked a thumbnail into the groove of the blade and unsheathed it, then put it in the snow in front of him. He stared at it.
"Well, I'd say that being a well-fed young Englishman with good schooling, a free medical health service and a reasonable diet you should be looking at a life expectancy of say, 72 years, the onset of mad cow disease or a grouse shooting accident notwithstanding. And providing, of
course, that you can pluck up the balls to cut your fingers off of that vending machine and drive the 70 miles in a blizzard to Holsten City hospital without bleeding or freezing to death. Now, out of the statistically probable 43 years remaining to you if I save your life with my nickel, I'm
sure you could see your way clear to sparing me six measly little months. A hundred and eighty days."
Glenn stared at the blade. The possibility of picking it up and robbing her of her nickel flashed through his congealed mind. But chances were she'd be too quick, would just up and leave him here to freeze to death. The alternative was to cut his own fingers off. Even in his half-frozen
state, the idea made him queasy.
"What the fuck … This is too fucking weird."
"Hey Glenn," she said softly, taking hold of his chin between her warm thumb and forefinger and lifting his face to hers, still hidden in the depths of her hood. "This is America, home of weird shit. But listen, this is just for starters. Come with me and I'll show you real weird. I'll show you never-been-seen-before weird shit. God-come down-from-the-mountaintop weird. I mean it. You'll see things you never even dreamed were possible. Magic, Glenn.”
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