Underneath this fantastic picture is about 80% of a short story I've been working on. The other 20% is the ending, and I'm leaving it out, either because I want to tantalize you or because it hasn't really been written yet. You decide, based on your knowledge of my work ethic!
She was a giant lizard and she was going to destroy Kalamazoo. That was what mattered.
“I am on a rampage,” she whispered to the terrified citizens as they begged for mercy at their windows. “And you’re gonna get rampaged.” What gruesome, unholy acts were to follow. Plucked from the buildings, their desperate pleas crescendoed into final shrieks of pure, shrill fright as she swallowed them whole. There was no fairness in this, no justice, and she knew that. But all this just made them more delicious. “You are only made more delicious, citizens of Kalamazoo,” she thought, “by the fact that you don’t deserve to be eaten by a giant lizard tonight.”
Then, there was the matter of the giant werewolf, also rampaging away. Sure, okay, go ahead: there was a whole town to tear asunder. But the werewolf had his own irksome habits.
“Going to get rampaged,” he echoed. He had been punching the windows out of an apartment building, and the structure began to collapse in on itself, reduced to rubble and human remains. “Going…to…get…rampaged? Subject-verb…agreement?”
“F…” she began. She abandoned the sentence as the civilians launched a counter-attack. Helicopters hovered above; bullets and grenades tore at her tight patchwork of scales. She managed to shimmy down the building before it collapsed.
“F…?” said the werewolf. He could be demanding like this.
“Fffff…” She grabbed at a helicopter. “…you,” she finished. “Ffff you,” she reiterated.
“Oh,” he said. He punched out the windows from a ground floor hotel room. “I see. F me.”
Like this was all so casual to him. Like this was some kind of casual. What had mattered was that she was a giant lizard and that she was going to destroy Kalamazoo, but he was really shaking shit up, making like it didn’t matter who destroyed Kalamazoo, making like it didn’t matter if Kalamazoo was even destroyed at all.
It had become clear that she must obliterate him. She tugged the joystick to the right, and the lizard pounded across the screen. “I’m on a rampage,” she said. “And you’re gonna get rampaged.”
They sat at the bar afterwards. Nicholas could not have made it more non-verbally clear that he was pissed at her. Rampage was an embarrassing game to lose, and Farley understood that she’d be mad too, if he had turned on her out of nowhere. Here was why: when one of the mutant characters was dealt that terminal blow, it would start to shudder and shake, snarling at the heavens in fury. The tables would turn on the monster so suddenly that you just had to pity it, even though it had rubble in its fists and human flesh on its breath. Gradually, the beast would shrink from a magnificent juggernaut of carnage and terror, trembling and gnashing its teeth, until it had finally devolved into a tiny, naked human. Its once ferocious temper and irrepressible urge to annihilate was now pitifully shackled in the same brand of body Farley herself inhabited, a body of large, logic-driven brains and soft, easily torn skin. Having transformed from destroyer to destroyed in about five to ten seconds, the human would be crippled with shame, and would sidestep off the screen, hiding its genitals with its hands. A human underneath it all the entire time, just like the rest of them.
God, she thought, he has got to be so mad. She was running out of chances. It was not the first – or fifth or fifteenth – time that he had accused her of deliberately sabotaging an arbitrary thing, “and for apparently no reason”, as he liked to emphasize. In this instance, two quarters had been squandered in this kitschy bar with its kitschy video games, just so her avatar could punch up his avatar, and his body language was now telling her “I found those actions immature and selfish”.
Maybe he thought that they were supposed to be on the same team. Idiocy, she thought. There are no teams in a fuck-shit-up game.
She wondered if she should feel embarrassed, sitting there next to this upset person, this amalgam of negative body language cues. This big signal to the world that she had really gone and fucked something up big time, people. She wondered if she should adjust her own body language, to acknowledge that she knew, in case anybody looked, and would that make it less embarrassing? Yes, I realize this person next to me is quite obviously upset. Yes, I see that one leg is crossed over the other, and that he is certainly hunched over in a strange upright fetal-ish position. Yes, I have noticed that he is also staring straight ahead, his eyes fixed somewhere along this long line of draft beer options. I know you have not noticed this and would never deign to care if you did, but I preemptively declare my awareness of such behaviors nonetheless.
She guessed he was directing his rage-stare at the UFO Hefeweizen tap, with its retro tap design: a ring of light circumnavigating a rubbery-looking globe. “ON PLANET EARTH!” he might be saying in his head, in his oft-used 1930s radio actor impression. She scoffed aloud at it, even though his fondness for the impression was one of his more endearing qualities.
“What?” he said. He was alert and eager, finger on the trigger of whatever diatribe he had been rehearsing in his head. There was a new treatise just aching to be released, all about how her poor sportsmanship in arcade games betrayed tangled inner desires and complicated psychological inheritances. It wouldn’t be too bad to hear another one of those. It had always made her feel good when he stapled her behaviors to this dysfunction or that. It was a reminder that he was very deeply in love with a very mystical version of herself, created largely by him, and they could both forget that he was mostly ambivalent towards the other versions. “What? What was that about?” he repeated.
“That was,” she replied, “nothing. Some nothing.”
“What’s this?” he said again, and he played back a sneering version of her scoff. “'Pssh'! What’s 'pssh'?"
“It is just pssh.” It was a depressing thing to have to clarify.
“Oh,” he said. Nicholas could get so sarcastic sometimes, it was like it choked him. His “oh” at that point was so thick and indignant that it prevented him from saying anything else. He was just too worked up for regular speech. He went back to staring at the tap and after a few stray seconds, he said, “I didn’t know it was just 'pssh'.” He waited, but she did not comment on his comment regarding the “pssh”. So he thought up something really good.
“I’m going to play Asteroids,” he declared. “A one-player game.”
She thought maybe this is what alcoholic fathers feel like. She had no kids and no penis and she didn’t normally drink much, so there was a lot of guesswork behind this thought. But she had a nagging feeling that a) somebody depended on her, b) that she was disappointing that somebody and c) that the only answers were to confront it away from the bar or retreat from it at the bar. Confronting it seemed like all kinds of trouble. What was she going to do? Go up to him, with all those drinks in her, all those drinks making her guard completely down? Was that what she was supposed to do? No way. She was soft as marshmallow right then, and it was at those points that he mewed and cooed and made her feel all kinds of guilty for her alleged deliberate-sabotage-of-arbitrary-things. Just no way, all over the place. But then, the only thing left was retreat. Retreat, ignore, accept defeat. It seemed easy and attractive, and it was something with which she had considerable experience. But she just knew that it was not what a giant lizard would do, and God, did she ever identify strongly with the giant lizard.
Two options, confront or retreat, two options, fight or flight, just as if she were some kind of wild animal under attack. Fight or flight, as if she was some kind of wildebeest or antelope or ibex. What was the point of creating civilization if it all still boiled down to fight or flight? She shook her head, and thought, hey, what a waste of time this whole civilization project was, humanity. She would have to invent another option. There could not only be fight or flight. What about “freeze in terror”? Worked for those kids in Jurassic Park. What about “beg”? Worked for treat-hungry puppies everywhere. What about “create wacky diversion”? A classic.
Farley leaned onto the bar, her forehead resting in her left palm, and she began to imagine the stakes of their problem as a literal thing, as a hunk of clay that could be re-molded into a more convenient shape. Could she create some kind of situation here that would be analogous to say, handcrafting him a gift for a special occasion, even if he had requested a specific bought gift? If he asked her for the newest Mario Party, and even told her the place she could get it the cheapest and that he would really love it, could she still get away with crocheting him an octopus from purple yarn? His expectations would be disappointed, yes, but he would have to admit that she had put some thought, energy and time into it, even if it involved deferring some pretty explicit instructions. It was not what he wanted, but could he get mad at her over a yarn octopus? Wouldn’t that make him a monster? No, he would need to accept it and a period of normalcy would probably ensue. She could fall back on the cliché that it is the thought that counts – at least on this one occasion. She was aware that she couldn’t just keep giving him yarn octopi.
“The law of thoughts counting is on my side,” she assured herself, and she began to fabricate some way to display some primo affection that would leave her entirely un-beholden to his idea of how things should go, his preference for clarity and definitiveness and other things that seemed to her much too brightly lit and sharp-edged.
He hadn’t abandoned Asteroids. She stood behind him for a moment, watching his primitive triangle-ship spin around, shooting the offending asteroids into bursts of diamond debris. She had to admit that he was pretty good at the one-player game, and she was reluctant to tap him on the shoulder. But when he turned, she saw that he didn’t look angry or hopelessly betrayed anymore. He just looked tired.
“I’m sorry I got mad,” he said immediately, just like that, as if there was no way he could stand the conversational foreplay. Said suddenly. She was reminded of how the word “ejaculation” hadn’t always been so pointedly semen-connotative, how it had once also meant “saying something abruptly” and still could, if you really wanted to suspend your disbelief. “It’s just a dumb game, anyway,” he sighed.
He wasn’t paying attention to Asteroids, and a particularly aggressive rock smashed his spaceship in a second. And so that was really how much he cared about a quarter.
“It’s not a dumb game,” she said. “As far as games go, I can think of dumber ones.”
He winced, and she realized that she had somehow managed to plant a razor in there, though she had actually been thinking of how much she had hated duck-duck-goose as a kid. Never a winner, just ducking and goosing until somebody says it’s over.
“That’s not right,” he said. “I’m not the only one.”
She had to change the subject. She could not bear to tell him that she had only been thinking of duck-duck-goose, and that before that, she had been thinking of verbal ejaculations. Ha ha, she would have to joke, I have the mind of a child. I am heartwarmingly innocent and endearing, remember? He would no longer find this behavior adorable. He would perceive it as one more deliberate-sabotage-of-an-arbitrary-thing. Yes, she reminded herself, I am truly running out of chances here.
“Come over here,” she said, and she pulled at his elbow. “I’ll show you not right.”
“Based on that,” he said, “my instinct is to resist.”
“No, I mean it. I’m going to do a romantic thing for you. I’m going to get the high score at Rampage. Right now. In your honor.”
“That sounds more like it’d be romantic for you.”
“That’s because you don’t know the whole plan. There’s going to be a surprise. Come on, I’ll fix it.” She nodded quietly, confirming to herself, to him, to the universe-at-large that there was a swell of logic explaining this third option that she had manufactured, which was neither confronting or retreating. It was diffusing, and she knew that’s what it was, and she knew that a giant lizard would probably confront a situation instead of diffuse it, but she didn’t think it was totally unheard of for a giant lizard to do the kind of thing that she was doing, and anyway, she’d already acknowledged that confronting it was just no way all over the place. “There’s a whole plan behind this,” she repeated to him, “and you will be romanced when the plan has unfolded before you.”
He blinked once, and then quietly said, “Maybe we should just go home.”
“No,” she insisted. “You’ll see what I mean once I win the whole thing. This,” she poked him in the chest with her forefinger and then pointed to herself, “will get better.”
He was able to express several emotions at once, with such flourish that she had thought at the beginning that it was acting. There was no reason for her to believe it wasn’t still, but she rationalized that it had been a long time now, and so she probably would’ve noticed inconsistencies. Three quick flashes rippled over his face, perfectly communicating his reluctance, his indignation, and his grudging acceptance in about two seconds. Acceptance cancelled out the previous two, as definitively as rock beats scissors, and that was that. She was going to get the high score at Rampage and he had just agreed to find that romantic.
There had been one time in which she had told him in clear, reasonable sentences what she felt and for how long and that she hoped it was all ditto on his end. It was one time only, and she had said all of it with great reluctance. Her instinct was to leave things murky, and it felt very uncomfortable to flip the switch, but she had done it because that had been another time in which she was painfully aware that she was running out of chances. So she had gone from murky to clear, using some kind of highly specialized feelings-filter.
She had thought this would sate him, but her frankness had only awoken a deep hunger in him for repeated frankness. It was exactly like crack. Sort of. It was, at least, consumptive, and he had been in some kind of withdrawal ever since, and sometimes she could see a hollowed out look in his eyes that was just begging her for the next big fat hit of frankness. He craved reassurance that the things he saw in the world were the same things she saw. He wanted it explicitly stated: this was important business to him. And now, it was simply his assumption that it was all true. She had nodded too many times when he ended his sentences with “y’know?”, not recognizing this deepened many false impressions. Now, he wanted a definitive blast of frankness, and she was running, running, running low on chances to avoid it. And that’s why she was standing before an arcade game, about to try to get the high score, a high score now imbued with all kinds of meaning, because that was just about all the frank she could muster.
She took over the controls and inserted the quarter and chose Lizzie the giant lizard. She had never neglected to pick Lizzie, and failed to understand why other characters were even allowed to exist in the game. Experimentation should be unnecessary in cases involving giant lizards.
Rampage worked on a circuit tour: the characters were dropped into a random city and then rampaged and rampaged and rampaged until nothing but some pathetic heaps of brick remained. At the top of the screen was a tally of the damages, but otherwise, there was really no special trick. It was just fuck shit up in Chicago, done, fuck shit up in Tampa, done, fuck shit up in Kalamazoo, done, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. 128 towns in line to be destroyed, so to actually beat the whole game of Rampage would take longer than her attention span would allow, and it had never been her goal. Winning was only staying alive longer than anyone else had; winning was outlasting; winning was avoiding the humiliating degeneration from giant lizard into naked human for as long as she possibly could. Besides, even if you beat the whole game, you would know that you were only one quarter away from discovering that somehow, these assholes had rebuilt their world all over again, like they never expected a giant lizard to strike twice.
Detroit popped up on the screen, and she was momentarily disappointed by the fact that somebody else had gone and had the pleasure of destroying the earlier Kalamazoo. Momentarily. After all, she was a giant lizard and she was going to destroy Detroit. That was now what mattered.
Lizzie the giant lizard ate and ate and ate humans. She fell off buildings, her hands over her eyes, but quickly recovered, punching helicopters into little balls of flame. Haha! Farley had been to Detroit a couple times, and tried to imagine it, boxed in the way it was on the screen. She would pluck the GM Renaissance Center from its base like it was a dandelion. She would eat automotive workers; she would eat them straight out of their cars. She would take such an enormous dump in Lake Michigan that there would be a tidal wave.
And then Peoria fell.
And then Gary and Chicago and Toledo. And then Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Chattanooga. Gainesville, Baton Rouge, Amarillo, St. Louis and Milwaukee, maimed, destroyed, trampled. Flagstaff, Phoenix, Boise, Reno, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacremento, eviscerated, demolished, crushed. She was on a rampage and these little bitches of cities were getting rampaged.
Farley stood there, toes curled in her sneakers and butt muscles flexed in anxious concentration, for a long, long time. Rampage was one of the harder games, and this bar’s clientele knew it, and soon Nicholas was not the only person watching the carnage unfold over her shoulder. A little half-moon of people had formed around them, cheering as she toppled city after city. She felt like the cat’s goddamn pajamas. She felt like the bee’s fucking knees. And the best part was, the plan was working. Nicholas’ indignation, his obvious disappointment in her, his awareness that this girl was running low on chances, had been wiped clean away like spilt beer on a bar. His anger was nothing but a brownish yellow spot on a napkin somewhere. Eventually, it was going to get chucked in a laundry machine and doused in hot water and soap with all the other stupid, dirty napkins, and that would be the last of that, and good fucking riddance.
And then, Kalamazoo reappeared on the screen. Portland fell, and there was a brand, new Kalamazoo just waiting to get it. A bunch of Kalamazooans that never thought a giant lizard might strike twice. And she cracked her knuckles, wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans and got ready to rampage that town down into the ground harder, faster and meaner than any town had ever been rampaged.
Nicholas kissed her ear and whispered something dirty to her about his boner. Her winning streak was so phenomenal that it had caused an erection. He had gone from flinching at her touch to barely preventing himself from pulling her jeans down to her knees and fucking her right there against the arcade machine. That made her unbelievable. Magical. It made her 100% Lizzie the giant lizard.
What happened next happened fast. Fast, fast. She had barely climbed onto her first building when George the werewolf, played by the game of Rampage itself, abandoned his hitherto completely useless rampaging and turned to face Lizzie. And Farley just knew that something was off. She knew this was trouble. The werewolf strode across the screen. Paused. Punched Lizzie square in the stomach.
Her audience gasped in perfect unison, like her own little Greek chorus.
It was like the monsters had memories, like the werewolf had suddenly recalled how this was the same lizard that had punched him out, the same lizard that had reduced him to nothing more than shame and nakedness. Like the avatars had detached themselves from the controls and were intent on hashing it out in there without Farley, like a break with god, like they’d gained independence. Lizzie bravely tried to defend herself but this was a werewolf out for blood. Farley found herself begging him, please, I thought we were on the same team. And he answered IDIOCY. There are no teams in a fuck-shit-up game.
“Lizards don’t just give up without a fight,” she said, and there was laughter amongst her chorus, and she wanted to shriek at them “What do you think this is, some kind of game?!”. It was not. Hadn’t she imbued this with meaning? Wasn’t Nicholas’ boner, amongst many other things of his, dependent on this? Wasn’t this one of her last, last chances? Farley knew it was fight or flight, no third option to fall back on this time, and fuck you, George the werewolf, Lizzie is choosing fight. Lizzie and Farley are choosing fucking FIGHT. She jerked the joystick to the right once more, the lizard charged the werewolf, and a for-real battle-cry escaped her lips. Hector at the Gates of Troy to face Achilles, the Count of Monte Cristo returning to Marseilles to wreak his vengeance, Han Solo rejoining the alliance at the penultimate moment, they were all her. Her chorus mimicked her war-cry, all of them giggling and lighthearted, except Farley herself, except Lizzie and Farley, who really meant it.
“I am on a rampage, wolf!” she yelled. “And you are going to get rampaged.”
She shuddered, and shook her proud, scaly head, as if to deny that it had happened. She shuddered a second time, and seemed to lean out towards the screen, towards Farley, and she felt a pit tangle into existence in her stomach. It was obviously an appeal. There was guilt, confusion and then a calm dread like an ice cube sliding down her spine as Lizzie began to devolve, and devolve, and devolve. This giant, beautiful lizard collapsing in on herself, shrinking with every shake and tremble, until suddenly, at the bottom of the screen, was a little naked human. Overcome with shame and guilt, the epitome of everything vulnerable, the tiny nude sidestepped from the Kalamazoo landscape. Meek, cowardly, tits hidden behind her hair and clasped hands covering her dumb, non-lizard pussy, she disappeared from the screen. Out of chances, game over, and that was the end of that.
Farley blinked. Her eyes were wet. But the game still had one blow left to deal, and this time, it was aimed at Farley alone. There was no monster there to cushion the coup de grâce for her, no alter-ego left she could escape into. As if the cruel severing of the umbilical cord between herself and Lizzie was not insult enough, the list of initialed scores revealed that she had missed the high score by less than twenty points. Some jerk named JIF was still the reigning champion of Rampage, and it was all because she had failed to destroy Kalamazoo. It was all because there were no teams in a fuck-shit-up game, apparently. When she turned to Nicholas, her fickle little Greek chorus had already dispersed. JIF-supporting bastards.
Nicholas opened his mouth but she interrupted him. “This was the surprise,” she said, and she carefully wrote in his initials underneath JIF’s. “That was going to be my big, romantic gesture of the night. But I guess it means so much bull-crud now, since all I did was make you second to some asshole named JIF”.
“Well,” he said. Fuck, she thought, he’s going to reason with me. She could pretty much hear the tick, tock, tick of his firm, unflappable logic in the face of the horrendous injustice that had just occurred.
“Well…” she echoed.
“Well, you were on a rampage,” he continued. “Is it really so surprising that you were the one that got rampaged?”