Fiction - The Gasman

The day the mountain moved, Tyler Dawson’s blood turned to diesel.

Fiction - The Gasman

Hey all, got something different this week.

But first: I wrote a review for PC Gamer! It’s for the metroidvania Ultros, and is maybe my first time doing a traditional game review? Exciting!

I’ve been busy with stuff (and I swear “busy with stuff” isn’t code for “playing Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth”……cough cough) and couldn’t get a post done for today, so instead I thought I’d take the opportunity to add something to the site I’ve been thinking about for a bit.

Like basically everyone who has a blog, I also like writing fiction. Shocking, I know!! And now that I’ve got my own site I can fully do what I want with, I thought it’d be cool to share some of them stories. It’s the duty of every critic to expose their bad attempts at the real thing, after all!

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a common event. I want Tsundoku Diving to be a place for sharing other’s cool art first and foremost. Heck, I might not even send an email for other stories when they’re uploaded (haven’t decided on that yet). Also, the plan is to have them on their own separate page so you don’t have to scroll past my nonsense when all you want is that sweet sweet Japanese media. Making them as unobtrusive as possible to reflect my shame, babyyyyy~

Anyway, here’s a lil penance for not getting anything done this week: a short story I wrote last year about family, mountains, and diesel. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.


The Gasman

The day the mountain moved, Tyler Dawson’s blood turned to diesel. It burned a hole in his heart and seared his guts brown. He found out early that morning when he cut his finger on an eggshell and a drop of blood fell into the frying pan with the yolk. Some chicken blood was stuck in there too, and for a moment he watched the two mix together. Then it all blew up in his face.

Things had a habit of doing that.

Not that anybody cared. The moment TV networks got news of the mountain’s disappearance, the streets of Clarence—once empty roads for dead-end lives—flew into a frenzy, packed to bursting with booths and stalls and handmade signs. Missing Mountain Madness! Mount Clarence Memorial Memorabilia! Keychains and keyrings, t-shirts and stickers and Classic Clarence Mountain fudge nobody’d ever heard of before. Come one, come all, see the miracle marvel that’s captured the nation! See the hole that was once a mountain! Nobody had time for a quiet man with weird blood working in some run-down garage.

But word must have gotten around somehow or another because before long his brother Michael, who he hadn’t heard from in years on account of the arrest, showed up on his doorstep with a proposition in hand.

“God, Ty, it sure is good to see you,” he said, inviting himself in. “Really, I mean it. I missed you, brother. Family was never meant to be kept apart for so long.”
Michael was charming and good with words and had a smile that could make anyone believe anything. He certainly made Tyler believe a lot. When they were young, Tyler followed his every move. Michael liked cars? So did Tyler. Michael snuck out to the mountain with some girl? Tyler snuck out alone. It didn’t matter what, Tyler was sure he could figure things out if he only followed his brother.

“Where have you been?” Tyler asked. “I was starting to think you were dead.”

Michael laughed.

“Maybe I am. Wouldn’t that be something. I’ve been back for a few weeks now. Would’ve come to see you earlier, but things have been real busy lately, what with this mountain business and all. Been selling these commemorative coins I make out of pennies, and you know? I think I’ve used up about every penny in the country.”

He helped himself to a beer in the fridge.

“Still can’t believe it, myself. Who could’ve ever imagined old Clarence would up and leave its children like that?”

Back when they were young, their mom liked to tell them a story about the town of Clarence and the mountain at its center. They’d heard it so many times either could recite the whole thing by heart, but they always listened anyway because they liked the way she told it.

“Once, a long time ago, longer than you can even imagine, all there was were the mountains and the earth and the sky. Our mountain, Mount Clarence, used to not have a name at all because nothing does, not really. That’s the natural state of things. But when the mountain looked around, it couldn’t help feeling a bit lonely. The sky had clouds; the earth, grass; other mountains had goats or crows or trees. But our mountain? Our mountain had nothing. So, one day they begged the sky, “Please, hit me. Hit me with that fearful lightning you use to hit the earth when you fight.” The sky felt sorry and obliged, striking it. The mountain’s body splintered and cracked—you ever notice the way the peak ain’t quite straight?—and ten thousand rocks and ten thousand pebbles broke from its body and tumbled out, and over ten thousand years it shaped those rocks until they looked just like we do now. Then it breathed a little of its life into each and every one. After that, it wasn’t lonely no more, and before you knew it, Mount Clarence had a name all its own.

“That’s why Clarence folk are so tough,” their mom always said. Then, with a laugh, “And so stubborn. We all got rocks for brains.”

After dinner, Michael let the can of beer he’d been drinking clink down to the table. It was his fourth for the night.

“Listen. I heard about you. Heard you’re special. Always knew you were, of course—don’t need nobody to tell me something as obvious as that—but you got to do something about it, man. You’re the best this family has ever had. Why keep letting that go to waste?”

He got up and looked out the window, one arm raised to rest on its frame. Tyler used to have a great view of the mountain from his apartment; it ate up the whole sky. Now there was only the horizon and a hole.

“We’re stronger than the mountain now, Ty. Have been for quite a while. We don’t need it no more.” His body stood like a giant obscured by moonlight. “So come on, make something with your talents. Work with me. Show Clarence what its children can do.”

How could Tyler say no?

The job Michael lined-up was simple: Tyler would give people the gas they need.
From sunup to sundown, he cut himself open and filled up empty tanks with his blood. Thanks to all the tourists, there was no end of stranded fools on the side of deserted streets. He’d drive on up to them, make a nice cut with his favorite pocketknife, and stuff a cheap plastic tube in. It hurt, and his arms got all bruised and scarred, but he liked the work fine. Michael handled all the really hard stuff—the phone calls and connections—and it wasn’t long before nearly all of Clarence knew about him and his gift. They started to be able to afford real equipment, and food they’d never dreamed of, and Michael started wearing nice new suits. Eventually people stopped calling him Tyler and called him Gasman instead.
“If you’re the Gasman, I guess that makes me the Jockey,” Michael said one night over baked potatoes and green beans. It had been a year since they’d started. Construction had begun on a racetrack where the mountain used to be—called it the Mount Clarence Raceway; everyone was sure it’d be the pride of the town.
Things were good.

Then one day, on the way back home from filling up for an old man (they stared with heavy eyes and asked if they could be the one to cut him), Tyler saw Michael walking downtown. He had his arm wrapped around a girl. When he came home that night full of smiles, Tyler mentioned it and Michael laughed, drinking another beer.

“This girl, Ty, this girl. She’s something else, I tell you what. A perfect little angel.”

“That’s great. I’m happy for you,” Tyler said, and meant it.

“Took her to the park today, had ourselves a little impromptu picnic, and do you know what she said? She called me a charmer, a real romantic. Imagine that: me, a romantic.”

He laughed.

“She looked pretty, Mike. How old is she?”

The laughter stopped quick.

“Hey now, hey. What’re you trying to say?”

“Nothing. You two are perfect. I’m just trying to look out for after last—”

“Don’t do that, Ty.” Michael’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Don’t be like the rest of them. We’re both men, ain’t we? You should understand that a man knows what he’s doing better than anybody.”

“I don’t think a man does what you did with that kid.”

“Jesus Christ,” Michael said, and slammed his drink down. The twinkle was gone from his eyes. “It was a seven-year difference. That’s hardly nothing. Shit, I was basically a kid myself, yeah?”

“She was fourteen.”

“And said she was eighteen. I mean, God, what do you want from me? Should I have asked to see her ID? Checked her damn birth certificate before talking to her? I’m not you, Ty, I trust people. I have faith.” He threw on his jacket, shoving his hands into the pockets. “And anyway, she said yes.”

Tyler felt ashamed. “Stop calling me that,” he muttered, quiet as a mouse. “It’s Gasman.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re the man, alright,” Michael said, and made a show of slamming the door behind him as he left.

Gasman didn’t see his brother for a while after that. By then the tourists had long gone, the streets returned to empty. Without Michael there to help, even the sons and daughters of Clarence didn’t call much, and the only people who did didn’t want their tank filled. They wanted something else.

The first was Madame Kadmina, who lived alone in a mansion and liked his blood a lot. On the first day, she pricked his finger with a sewing needle and sucked on it. On the fifth day, she hung him up from the ceiling in complex knots and had him bite the inside of his own cheek so he’d drool diesel down onto her. Even though they never talked much, when time was up, she always gave him a glass of milk and said thank you.

The Fetishist never said thank you. Like Gasman he loved cars, but in a different way. He had an old red Chevrolet he called Sheryl. He told Gasman him and that car were meant to be and that the sex was fantastic, but God oh God how he wanted to be closer. When he caught wind about Gasman, the jealousy just about burned him up inside. The Fetishist said he tried to drink from his girl, but it only made him shit and vomit blood and go blind in the right eye for a week, so he wanted Gasman to take his place and sleep with her while he watched. “Please,” he said, “it’s the closest I’ll ever be able to get.”

Then there was an artist called Musidora who used Gasman’s blood for their work. They used their own blood too, nice and thick, and when the two mixed on canvas, beautiful patterns emerged in crimson rainbows. They’d meet in an old warehouse and cut each other up in different ways—a knife, a fork, a piece of glass—and see how everything splattered. When they finished, Musidora would go to work the next day and bury their art under the concrete of the raceway they were helping to build.

The fourth person who called was Michael. It had been more than a month since he left. He was in jail, caught behind a burger joint with that girl he’d been seeing; some poor high school kid barely old enough to drive.

“I’m sorry, brother. You know I meant to call earlier and make amends, right? Things got a little out of hand is all. Though I guess you don’t need me to tell you that.”

“I know.” Gasman gripped the phone tight. Through it, his brother sounded like a stranger. “Why’d you have to do it, Mike? Why’d you have to go have your fun like that?”

“Fun?” His voice got loud over the receiver. “Now look here, I’m serious about this girl. I’m planning on marrying her. We’re going to start a family and live the rest of our lives together. I’m just waiting to save up a bit more. Got to get her a good ring, right? And the honeymoon she deserves. And we can’t exactly be tied up unless we can afford a house for the little ones, now can we. All this law shit—it’s bogus. Only law that really matters is the law of love. All I need is a bit more time. I’m sure her parents will agree once I talk some sense into them.”

Gasman was tired. He looked out his window, once a clear view of the horizon, now nothing but metal.

“You’re a liar, Mike.”

“I swear on God and heaven: I’m the most honest man you’ll ever know.”

Gasman bailed him out. He had to. It cost most all the money he had left. When they got home, Michael drank himself sick. He started saying the same things he had almost two years ago. “We don’t need it no more. We’re strong. That’s why you got to do something, Ty. You’re too big for Clarence.” Gasman only said, “I know,” and guided him over to the sofa. Before he went to sleep, Michael whispered to him, those beautiful eyes full of tears.

“Gasman. Hey, Gasman. Fill me.”

He was gone the next day. Gasman never saw him again.

Without any money, he had to go back to working at the garage. The only person who called anymore was Madame Kadmina, who he met on weekends. She’d blindfold him and bite him until he bled and while she did, he thought of the mountain. Time passed; life returned.

That spring came news and a letter. The Mount Clarence Raceway was almost finished, and an inaugural race would be held, filled with the best racers in the country. There’d be an exhibition race, too—representatives of Clarence getting first run of the track as a symbol of the town’s indomitable spirit. There were whispers it was going to air on national TV.

As for the letter? It was from a loan agency. Michael had died, overdosed on something or other three states down. Gasman found out later that the cops had been looking for him for a while, said he was wanted for three counts of rape and two of fraud. He’d racked up a lot of debts in his last months and the only person left to pay them was Gasman.

He told the madame about all of this that Sunday while she wrapped him up in thick, coarse rope. He told her about Michael and money and the story his mom liked to tell. He told her he didn’t know what to do; she told him to listen to his brother. He knew she was right.

Their last day together and she was a mess. When he said he was quitting and becoming a racer, she cried and groveled and said she didn’t mean this, not this.
“Please stay,” she begged. “I’ll pay for everything. Don’t leave me.”

But the Gasman stood firm, so she asked to be bled on one last time.

When he left, she said thank you like she always did: lying on the floor, covered in him, and for the first and last time, he said it back.

On the big day, the whole country showed up to Mount Clarence Raceway, stands crammed with people until it was impossible to say where one body ended and another began. Energy and money filled the air; beat-up trucks and news vans rushed the asphalt. Clarence was alive once again.

For Gasman, sitting at the starting line with some other twenty-odd hopefuls, the world had never seemed quieter. Cars and sky filled his sight while he waited for the sound of the gun. That morning, he heard the girl Michael’d been with had gotten pregnant and chose to have the child. She named it Beau. It was a nice name. He hoped the kid would grow up strong.

Bang.

The gas flowed. His body shook. There was no question: he was born for racing. Even without his condition he would have made for a fine racer, but with it? He was incredible. Nobody knew that he’d hooked himself up with tubes to the belly, arms and legs so that he never had to refuel and his car was always as light as could be.

But it wasn’t enough. Others still passed; he still followed. That’s how it always was, since before he was even born. An entire life spent staring at mountains. It all made him so embarrassed he could cry.

He pushed harder, made the pedal go as far as it could, made the car scream. He felt light-headed but didn’t pay it any mind. He had to go faster.

His foot pressed down on the pedal so hard it slipped right through the metal and into the floor. Cars started whizzing by like gnats; crowds blurred up into oceans. Faster, faster. He could feel the wind rattle, feel paint and scrap peel. Faster. His hands gripped the wheel so much the leather wrapped around his knuckles; gravity hit so heavy his head was eaten by the seat.

Engine or brain, there was no difference. Chassis or bone, it was all the same to him.

He went so fast that all the cheers in the world couldn’t keep up; so fast that he outran every car, every racer, every memory. He was sure: even the mountain couldn’t outrun him, not anymore. He was the Gasman, born in Clarence, and Clarence people are tougher than the toughest rock. And as he passed the final car and crossed the checkered line, he laughed and shouted to the wind: “I did it, Mike. I did it, you son-of-a-bitch, I did it.”

When the car stopped three days and two nights later, there was nobody inside. Its engine was burned to a crisp, tires worn to the bone.