I walked over to ‘em slow, crackin’ my knuckles. Just as they were headin’ past me, I put my hand on the first kid’s shoulder, and the other two crashed right into him like James Dean and his Porsche.
“Thank you for the nice song. By the way, you guys beat up my friends.”
As the leader of Ellay’s infamous Bla-Bla gang, so named ‘cause we do our talkin’ before we do our fightin’, I gotta look out for my buddies.
I leaned in real close. “Who’s the boss?”
“Tony Danza?” asked the nerd.
“Bruce Springsteen?” said that punk in the baseball cap.
“You got smog in your noggins?! I said, who’s the leader?!”
The kid in front pointed at himself. “That would be me.”
“You the square who beat up my buddies?”
“More like they tried to beat US up,” said the paper shaker in the back. I almost felt bad for her that I was about to feed her boyfriend a knuckle sandwich.
“You’re cruisin’ for a bruizin’,” I said. “I’m gonna teach you a lesson!”
The kid grabbed his boomerang. I whipped out my switchblade. It was a standoff, like those western flicks.
“What’re you gonna do with that baby’s toy,” I asked, “fun me to death?”
“It’s not the boomerang you have to worry about,” he said. Then he started wavin’ his other hand around like a spaz. Suddenly, I was blinded! I felt a sharp pain in my hand. My blade flew under the stage.
“Bye bye, Birdie!” said the kid.
“All right, cool it!” I yelled. “Looks like it’s a draw.”
“That’s the most one-sided draw I’ve ever seen,” said the nerd. I looked at him all mean-like, and he backed off.
I slicked my hair back in place. As a leader, I always have to look good, you dig?
“You guys are cool,” I said. “Take a seat.” I offered to buy ‘em a drink, but the nerd said he was afraid of the heat.
I told ‘em how, when I was little, somethin’ nasty came down from Mt. Itoi one night and offed my old man. I haven’t had many happy days since.
“I’ve been lookin’ for a couple of tough guys like you. That’s why I started the Bla-Blas, but nobody could do what you can do… uh, what’s your name again?”
“That’s Loid, she’s Ana. And you can call me Ninten.”
“Ninten? What kind of goof name is that?”
“Fine, call me Ken, whatever. Just tell us what you want.”
I took a deep breath. “Umm. I seek vengeance for my parents. To the mountains!”
Ana shook her head. “I really don’t see how that’s going to help us. We still don’t know the rest of your song, Ninten. And my mother…”
Then she looked at me. I was keepin’ cool, real frosty like. But she could tell I was upset.
“Teddy, revenge isn’t the answer. The Almighty Father says- “
“Where was the Almighty Father when my dad was gettin’ wasted?”
“Teddy, my mother has been missing for the past month. It’s been really, really hard. I can’t imagine would it would be like to have lost a parent when I was really young. But I still don’t think revenge is the answer.”
“Your mom? What happened to her?” I asked.
She shook her head. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. “
“It’s the spacemen, isn’t it?” Ana thought I was makin’ fun of her, but I told her about how the whole city had seen strange lights over Mt. Itoi. I never believed in that drive-in, sci-fi malarkey before, but seein’ those lights, I got a real weird feeling. While we were lookin’ at them, I felt like they were lookin’ at us, too.
“If you don’t want me out for revenge, fine. But how about I help you find your mom, so you don’t have to go through what I did.”
Ninten glanced at Ana. She nodded.
“Then it’s settled!” I said. “Let’s climb Mt. Itoi.” Loid started to stand up with the rest of us, but I pushed him back into his seat.
“Hey nerd, you’re not exactly Charles Atlus, are you? Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here? I’ll take care of your buddies for a while.”
Loid nodded. I don’t think he likes me much, but it’s for his own good. This isn’t gonna be easy, and the kid’s about as strong as Mickey Mouse on a week-long bender.
When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the Live House, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and our trip up the mountains.
“I’ll be glad to get away from Ellay,” Ana said. “I’m not used to all these buildings, and these cars… and the smog!
After an hour or two, we found ourselves on the outskirts of town. The only street left was a dead end.
Ninten crinkled up his eyes. “Where’s the path we’re supposed to follow? Where’re the roads?”
“Roads?” I pointed towards the swamp. “Where we’re goin’, we don’t need roads.”
Steppin’ through a cluster of trees, it came into view. For the first time, Ninten and Ana took a good long look at Mt. Itoi. Near the base, you can see how huge it really is. Unreal!
Dark clouds filled the sky. It wasn’t like rain. It felt different; strange. If it weren’t for my dad and Ana’s mom, I’d have burned rubber right outta town.
We saw a building out in the middle of Nowheresville, and the sign said it was a drug store.
Ana shrugged. “A drug store? All the way out here?”
None of us would admit it, but we were all scared out of our gourds. A trip to CVS sounded really good.
A small bell rang as we stepped through the door. I put my hands on the counter. “What’s buzzin’, cousin?”
“What can I sell you?” asked the clerk. He kept his back to us. Something didn’t smell right, but I had gotten pretty dinged up on the way and needed some healin’.
“One Life-Up Cream, I guess.”
“Okay, so one pound of marijuana. That’ll be, like, $56, man.”
Ninten threw his hands up in surprise. Or maybe it was disgust. I couldn’t tell. “How do you keep finding us?!”
The clerk spun around with a crazy smile. It was some freaky dude with long red hair and a peace symbol on his chest.
“Great, it’s a beatnik,” I said. “Hey nosebleed, why don’t you go back to Hipsterville and read Jack Kerouac with your lame friends?”
“Chill out, man. I’m just pulling your leg.”
“We know this guy, Teddy,” said Ninten, rubbin’ his eyes. “He’s weird but he’s not dangerous.”
The beatnik tossed some Life-Up Cream over the counter. I caught it with one hand.
“It’s on the house, man.”
The sun had nearly set, and the beatnik offered to let us stay the night. I’m not sure I trusted him, but out there, we didn’t have much of a choice. It was tough fallin’ asleep. But when I did, it took Ninten and Ana 10 minutes to shake me awake.
By then, the beatnik had already split.
By mid-morning, we had made it to the base of Mt. Itoi. I couldn’t get a foot hold. It was too steep to climb.
“Looks like we’re out of luck, Chuck.”
“Maybe not!” Ana yelled. She had found the entrance to some kind of kooky cave.
Ninten stared for a few seconds. “Seems legit.”
We were beat up pretty bad by the time we got out of that grody cave. Ninten had shattered his boomerang in a fight with some kind of spaceman straight out of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and switched to his baseball bat.
Ana was unconscious after getting hit in the head. She was still breathing, but Ninten and I were starting to panic.
And the only way left for us to go was up.
Somehow we lugged Ana up two sets of ropes. Somebody had to live around here – that’s what kept us goin’. It felt like hours before we were on flat ground again.
Then we saw that house in the distance.
As we rushed to the door, Ninten collapsed.
All photography by Matt.
All photography by Matt.