Novel Excerpt: Berea, KY

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A rare day off, so I finally get to work on my novel.

The first appearance of Reverend What and Kumiko Yasinovskaya:

Paradise Motel, Berea, KY.

Reverend What, a diminutive man, crossed the threshold from his motel room to the outside world, dressed only in pink-striped pajamas and a jipi fedora, hand-woven by Mayans in the caves of the Yucatán peninsula. Osvaldo Pugliese’s Andrés Selpafloated from inside, a vinyl disk spinning on a mobile record player. He rolled a cigarette, lit it, and tossed the match, watching as a flat-bed tow truck bounced across the crumbling asphalt parking lot.

Beyond a thin trail of scrub pines, endless semis droned through the thick mid-summer air like bored cicadas.

“What’re we having for breakfast?” Kumiko Yasinovskaya, a towering woman, peered out from her room into the bright morning, squinting as she drew a short silk robe across her muscular body. She gathered her dark hair together and secured it at the back of her head. “It’s already hot.”

What looked up at her. “Is it?”

“Hey, you know you’re barefoot?”

He nodded at the truck. “I got you something.”

“It better be a bacon and egg biscuit.”

What drew slowly from his cigarette. “You know me well.”

The driver hopped from the cab and examined a clipboard. “A, uh Reverend…Wut?”

“What. And that looks to be a midnight blue 1974 Buick Electra 225.”

“Sure is. Just sign here and this baby’s all yours.”

“Thank you, my good man. And this is my driver, Ms. Yasinovskaya. The car is for her.”

Kumiko: “You put a bomb in my last car. You can’t expect me to just pretend that never happened.”

“Okay.” The driver glanced up at her and touched the bill of his cap. “It’s a pleasure. I hope this one works out for you.”

Kumiko: “It was a convertible. You’re replacing a 1960 Jaguar XK150 DHC with a Buick.”

What: “I’m replacing a pile of cinders with a Buick. Honestly, I thought perhaps you would scream when you saw it. You do realize the legroom this model offers? I’m giddy.”

The driver gazed down at him and nodded. “Yeah, it’s a big one.”

What passed the clipboard to the driver. “May I ask you a question, good sir?”

“Sure, I guess.”

“Are you a religious man?”

He looked over the paperwork and nodded. “I go to church every Sunday, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Kumiko is a zealot in her tradition. Do you know what a zealot is?”

The driver cleared his throat and scraped his boots across the gravel.

What gestured to her, drawing attention to the tight iron of her crossed arms and the golden flesh of her muscular legs. “Her will is singular, her mind immobile. She is not of your world, as you can see. Her father answered the call to a song he found in a rock, and flew the family to Odessa, Texas, but the plane crashed in the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Kumiko’s family died in that crash, and a delusional hermit who believed he was an ancient, mystical gunfighter raised her to be his successor. He felt led to do so by a dream that came to him the very night her family died.”

Kumiko sighed and rolled her eyes.

What: “The only reason she can drive a car is because her father taught her when she was six, before she began her training. She eats an inordinate amount of pork products because she believes this assimilates her into your culture. Yet, she can take a life as quickly and easily as you take a breath, and this is the natural order of her existence. She is and will ever be a tourist in your world of morals and laws. Hers is a binary existence, by which she possesses a solitary goal and any distraction from that goal is, from her perspective, evil by consequence.”

The man shifted from one foot to the other and back again. He lifted his cap to scratch his head, looking sheepishly up at Kumiko and her stone expression. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to say about that.”

Kumiko smiled. “I will watch this car burn. What do you say to that?”

The driver shrugged and took a step back. “Give me just a second. I’ll get her down for you and then you can do whatever you want.”

“I do apologize for the loss of your beloved vehicle, Kumiko, although I do not understand your attachment to material commodities. You are ever a mystery to me.”

Kumiko: “You know very well I eschew such mundane attachments. The simple truth is that I prefer the opportunity to choose what tools I entrust with my mission. The Jaguar was an impressive machine. It served me well, and it was familiar. You took it from me just as I was beginning to get comfortable with it, and now I must learn to trust a new tool. Given the circumstances, I prefer to destroy it because you offer it as a gift.”

What tossed the cigarette. “Yet, the end justifies the means, my dear, you know that better than anyone. One cannot trace what does not exist, and our travels must go unimpeded. I did not destroy your car; I discarded evidence.”

Kumiko: “Why did you say that to him? What did you want me to take from that little performance?”

Reverend What dug into his scraggly beard. “There was another incident during the night, and I have need of your assistance.”

Kumiko: “And you want me to kill this man?”

What: “If I let you kill him, will you drive me to Taylorsville?”

Kumiko sighed and lowered her arms. “No, but if you refer to me as your driver again, I’ll rip your throat out.”

“An occupational hazard, to be sure, traveling with an assassin.” Reverend What smiled broadly. “Very well, if the terms are agreeable, let us retrieve our bags and be on our way.”

Kumiko: “We have discussed no terms. What is a ‘Taylorsville’?”

What: “I imagine it is a place possessing an abundance of pork and chicken products, if the uniformity of factory farms within its borders is any indication. Does that suffice to convince you?”

Kumiko gazed down on him. “One condition.”

Reverend What winced, produced a dented flask from his shirt pocket and swallowed with a grimace. “You want to know why I called you a ‘zealot’ in front of a complete stranger, drawing undue attention to both of us and putting his life at risk.”

Kumiko waved her hand. “I don’t care about that, you weave tales as naturally as drawing a breath; and if I were to kill him, I would do so and be done with it. No, I want to know why you went to Arkansas last week and left me alone in this damnable place.”

What: “You are undoubtedly the first person in history to lament being left out of a trip to Arkansas.”

Kumiko: “You cannot choose me as your companion only when it’s convenient for you. We are partners or we are enemies. I can allow for no other options.”

The driver unhooked the car and the flatbed slowly moved back to its original position.

What: “Aristotle said that if we declare all opinions opposed to ours as false in relation to our own, we must then admit that an infinite number of true and false opinions must also exist. A closed system cannot hope to encompass all possible wisdom, so dogmatic perspectives inherently imply an infinite number of other perspectives. That man lacks the capacity for self-reflection, and so his mind is encapsulated in a perfect, unified world, protected from the inconsistency of cumbersome experiences. Yet, his closed system also protects him from other perspectives, which can be a sort of blessing.” He looked up at Kumiko. [humans exist only in fantasy. that may seem to be a harsh word, but it is closer to reality than to say it is a narrative. certainly there’s truth in the adage that every individual is the hero at the center of life’s story, but the very idea that a story can tie together the disparate experiences of a life and give it meaning is a complete farce. and humans embrace that absurdity. They cling to it. and when they come up against a fantasy that appears contrary to their own, they would rather fight than let any semblance of the real force cracks in the veneer of their illusory world view. And if you understand this, you can forgive all of human behavior. They are asleep and dreaming, and will protect that dream from the waking world at all costs. Better to let them sleep and dream.]

Kumiko: “Are you talking about him or me?”

What sighed and drew from his cigarette. “In truth, I envy your certainty, Kumiko. And believe me when I say I did not abandon you. I went alone to Nazareth, Arkansas in order to protect you and your conviction. Doubt is a worm that eats away at identity, and no one is more prone to self-destruction than the dogmatist who suddenly learns to doubt her worldview. Let the sleeping giant lie, and all that.”

The driver clapped his hands together loudly and smiled at each of them in turn. “Well, here’s your key. Which one of you wants it?”

Kumiko: “What’s your name?”

“It’s John, ma’am. Nothing special.” He offered the key to her.

Kumiko did not accept it. “Are you happy, John?”

John shrugged. “I couldn’t ask for much. Got a roof over my head, a good wife, my kids love me. Sure, I could drive myself crazy thinking about what might’ve been or what I could be doing better, but that ain’t no way to live, now is it?”

Kumiko took the key. “No, it is not. Go and live a good life, John. Death has no power over one who does not fear the life he has been given.”

The driver laughed and shook his head. “I hope you don’t mind if I tell my wife about you, she’ll never believe me. You two are a couple of characters!”

Reverend What bent the rim of his hat and smiled. “You are correct, sir. No one will ever believe you. Good day to you. And good life.”

John waved and jumped back into his truck.

“I think I see what you mean,” Kumiko said. “Certainly he possesses a certain enviable bliss.” She looked down at him and crossed her arms. “But you will not assume to know my mind, Reverend What. Regardless of my training and my vows, my life is mine to live, and my choices mine to make. You will tell me about Arkansas. And someday, I will know what happened to you in Belżec.” She smiled and patted him hard against his back, pushing him off the concrete stoop into the broken asphalt of the parking lot. “Whether you like it or not, my little friend. We are partners, after all.”

Reverend What stepped back onto the concrete slab and wiped the gravel off his bare feet. “Kumiko, my penchant for secrets is precautionary. I bear the burden of knowledge so you don’t have to.”

Kumiko: “What I will know is my decision to make, not yours.”

What: “It’s not much of a choice, truth to tell. Once you know something, it changes you, and you cannot unknowit, after all.” He returned the flask to his shirt pocket and rubbed his hands together. “But you are not wrong. We are partners, just as you say. I will tell you about Arkansas if you truly wish it.”

Kumiko laughed. “Really? With so little fight? If you weren’t so impossibly short, I’d swear you were an imposter. Did a jinn come in the night and pilfer your silly hat?”

Reverend What turned to his room, waving his hand. “The surest path through a labyrinth is a straight line, my dear. This morning, I need a driver more than I need my secrets. After all, the gas pedal is quite beyond my ability to reach it.” He paused at the threshold and slowly rolled another cigarette. “In any event, perhaps if I can convince you to share a bit of my pessimism, you would not care so much about my comings and goings.”

Kumiko shrugged. “Don’t act like I won any victories. The way you tell stories, I might rather be murdered with a spoon; certainly it would take less time, and may prove far less painful.”

What turned and blew a cloud of smoke. “When time is all we have, death is a blessing in any form.”

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