Spring 2011, Volume 10

Fiction by John O'Kane

Novel Excerpt from The Easy Rider Fan Club


The white stretch limo backs slowly out of the garage, comes to a stop and is quickly encircled by a crowd of men and women who are mostly unrecognizable in the dark. The driver hits the horn several times, pushing the vehicle incrementally forward with each burst of sound. But the group, now chanting something indecipherable, fails to budge. The driver opens his window.

“Get otta here now, or I’ll run ya down!!!” he screams. It’s partially successful. A few break ranks and slither toward the wall. The limo keeps lurching forward and finally the rest fall away. It lays a victory patch, sending dust and gravel into their faces. Wyatt, who’d been standing just outside the encircled limo, is pushed toward the dumpster by the group’s movement, but manages to lunge toward the trail traced by the speeding vehicle, his eyes appearing to vault his body forward. He stops in his tracks and stutters:

"Billy, you didn't blow it...you…couldn't have…you were too cool, man!"

As the limo speeds by it grazes the grocery cart full of Willow's crushed cans and mangled minutiae, leaving her pinned beneath it. Lionel runs over to assist her as the dust settles.

"He must see us," Lionel picks up the refrain, "all those windows up there…I waved at him yesterday…he was up there in that little window, had his cowboy hat on….know he saw me.”

“He wouldn’t look at you,” Heather interjects, “you know nothing about him!!”

Wyatt moves away from the collision and settles against the wall, observing the group in an apparent trance, inwardly smirking about their conversation.  

Willow remains motionless.

“I’ll go get help…Medic’s over on Electric in the alley behind the clinic…he’ll know,” Engy mumbles from the fringe.

Wyatt cringes at the sound of Medic’s name, killing the messenger with secret metaphors. He wiggles his feet along the wall, eyeless, as if he’s trying to blend into it, disappear into the elements. He’d learned, ever since arriving on the street several months earlier, that survival depends on one’s ability to hide and surface when necessary. Not an easy task to know the forces that control you on such short notice. The learning curve was more like a jagged, erratic maze, flush with setbacks and reversals. But true survival required a cram-course in evolution to remake yourself at the drop of a dumpster lid, and be seen or unseen when conditions required it. Mojave reptiles had millennia to be colorfully one with their surrounding flora. You had days, sometimes microseconds, to adapt to the hues of your unnatural vegetation. Otherwise you could become extinct, victim of a perverse progress that rewards not the fit, but a subterranean wit that might let the unfit tear you a new asshole at the blink of an eye.

Wyatt was far from a vanishing species at this point. He was always learning new things, like how to sleep when awake, or how to stay alert when the various slumbers of the daily cycle overtook him. A full stretch of restful sleep was a luxury, and not usually desired. There were moments when he was truly unconscious, an inert piece of meat ready for the kill. He needed to adapt to a higher level of street being; never allow this to happen when he was around people. Enemies were everywhere, in the different groups around town, and of course those outsiders dedicated to making him and others extinct.

Last week he was hangin over at the Dog Park off Westminster, sprawled on the bank just down from the Blue Bus bench with Alan and Jane, flickering in and out of a restful and demonless sleep, wombing his way back and down with every gasp of savored energy. As the early morning September cool shock broke through the veil of warmth at that dreaded exit moment, there were the pied eyes of Clara from over on Clubhouse, vigilant as ever in making her rounds to assure everyone that the dike of dissolution has been fingered one more time in paradise.

"Why don't you go back to that shelter…I told you last week people come here, they need safe access to the park or they'll leave the area..and you'll spook their dogs!"

Several months of street life left him mostly timid in the face of verbal aggressions, but because of the better than average late morning repose he was ready for bear.

"I'll be doggone…don't you have any respect for your own neighbors?"

Though high on himself for his quick response, he was damaged from this rude awakening. That vision he had yesterday camped on the Boardwalk sucking in all the noise and incense near the Titanic as those pretty people paraded by, morphed into lots of bulging shapes. He just couldn't get his flow back. So he spent the next several hours glaring at all the odd shapes, those devil heads on posts, the rolling waves, that goofy guy on skates blurring by with his electric guitar, and all those birds that made him feel small somehow. He even started to relive the gawks from the crowd, and the refusals of eye contact he could forget when under. And of course fancying ways to boobytrap Clara!

Medic rounds the corner from Hampton ready with remedies to bring Willow back to the pack, an old master at it by now. At first glance it doesn’t seem like he’s exactly a member of the helping professions, and not just because he’s black-bagless. He’s hobbling at a pretty good clip, while gesturing and uttering something inchoate at the same time.

Medic’s moniker is a story in itself, getting it from Nam. He was left for hamburger on hill number something or other. No one knows for sure. The digits were always getting transposed or deleted on his paper work. And every time he trekked to the Vets Hospital off Wilshire back in the early days after his discharge he’d come back with a new ailment or a worse prognosis about his current state. So in frustration he started learning how to examine and medicate himself, finally putting up his imaginary shingle.

As Medic puts on the afterburners it seems he might do a cartwheel into the garbage-collage heaped up adjacent to the dumpster, but manages to land without incident. He reaches Willow, who by now is up and moving around, and consoles her, giving her a sort of quick frisk of all the vital parts. He backs away, as if the exam was a success, and stares at her. She stares back, trying to form a syllable, but grabs her cart and moves to the fringe where a few are sorting through their dumpster-quarry.

Medic turns to Wyatt and shakes him, like he’s putting him through a quick, down-home exorcism. “Come on weekend wacko….at your ole tricks again?”

Wyatt opens his eyes wide but doesn’t appear to be seeing anything. He then lets his head drop down onto his chest and closes his eyes. Medic smirks.

“Why don’t you go off to one of your uptown hideaways, honky?....that hooker over in the art lofts, she’s your style, you flunkie…..you hear me!”

Suddenly at a loss for words, Medic jerks to his left as a car enters the alley and speeds toward them, following its movements as it vanishes around the bend. He then looks around. “Let’s carry him over to Hampton and be rid of him!”

No one moves. Wyatt snaps out of it and makes a getaway. Medic, as if insulted, becomes agitated and heads after Wyatt, flailing his arms. After nearly reaching Indiana, and secure under a glowing street light, Wyatt turns back toward Medic with barely subdued fury.

“Your day’s comin!!!!”

As his words fade Medic picks up a rock, turns his glance ever so carefully up toward the second story for moral support from the cowboy hat, and pitches it at Wyatt. It misses his head by inches, skipping across the street into the door of a speeding Mercedes.

Wyatt stumbles onto Indiana and gets moving pretty good, looking back only after he makes it to Hampton and is sure that Medic isn’t following him. He keeps running wildly toward the beach, wondering if Rhiannon and her friends still have that crash pad over on Navy.


Wyatt crosses Pacific at an angle onto the sidewalk next to the rear of Davey Jones Liquor Locker, jutting left through its parking area as Larry speeds toward him in his wheelchair, chased away from the dumpster by Mr. Brown from the senior residence across the alley. His golden years are devoted to sprucing up the community.

He meets the wrathful eyes and screaming voice of Larry’s pursuer and relies on some of his best footwork since college basketball days to get out of the way in time. Doing a 180, he recovers his balance to meet Rhiannon’s startled peek through the burglar bars of their cottage adjacent to the parking area. She opens the door and pulls him inside to a refuge of incense and clutter that, curiously, makes him feel a bit lonely for his roots.

Once inside he takes a deep breath and turns to the window facing east, afraid to look through the bars right away. He needs a moment’s respite. Mr. Brown is certainly no big deal. He’s just working through a few demons, finding a way to pass through the portals of old age. Larry, a good sort, was just the momentary butt of Mr. Brown’s perverted fantasies. It’s Medic he’s afraid of. Did he know this was one of his retreats?

He looks through the bars, relishing his safety, but sees no one. In fact there’s a curious stillness that makes him suspicious. This area off Pacific is usually pandemonium into the wee hours. He turns around and away from the window, seeing Rhiannon and what looks like two other occupants watching him carefully, like they couldn’t decide whether to empathize with his situation or band together and force him out the door. Their looks lock for several seconds. Then suddenly, as if there was never an issue, Rhiannon flashes a smile.

“What’s happening? Where’ve you been? Is someone chasing you?...haven’t seen you…since Teresa’s over on Dudley, last year on the 4th or…”

“…been all over…lost that gig at the studio and stayed with Venus for a while…member her?...had that pad over in Thornton Towers, view of the ocean…great place!...was just getting it together and….well, she got this sudden urge to leave town, something about wanting to reconnect with her college boyfriend back in Poughkeepsie...couldn’t believe it…what a crazy bitch!...tried to talk her out of it but she started goin down the beach to this seer, as she called him…was actually a tarot junkie with soulful eyes who could connect anything you got…and she had a lot of everything too, just hanging there ready for something, or somebody…he addicted her to perversions…she just flipped!...and she wasn’t gonna make it in movies anyhow, hated waitin tables at the Bistro…but I couldn’t hook up with someone else in a pad, had no cash for a down so…ended up crashin in Weasel’s RV until one night the cops broke in and took him off in cuffs…got loaded and just stored my stuff at Jane’s and slept on the beach…loved it for a bit til these scary dudes and chicks arrived and…well, been movin around ever since, finding worlds I never knew existed…long way from New Haven!”

Rhiannon looks at him speechless, like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing and hearing. He was so different from the person she’d known less than a year ago. He talked strange, in the speech familiar around the beach, but his vowels were in slow-motion. His sentences and phrases were jerky and faded quickly, like he’d run out of energy to finish them. When you hang with the same tribe for so long, guess you start speaking the same way, she muses. His eyes were large and translucent, with no depth. His coloring was flat, the skin smudgy and flaccid. His clothes were soiled, as if he’d been wearing them for some time.

While she registers these impressions, Wyatt becomes self-conscious and tries to access her thoughts. What a difference now between their two worlds, he reflects. She’ll never understand things that’ve happened to him over the past months.

His thoughts freeze as one of the other occupants emerges from the darkness into full view, an androgynous, bald Krishna beauty whose features are mesmerizing. It was like her senses were pumping energy into all the right power sources, leaving an impression that she could speak and do virtually anything pure, and with complete and confident abandon. Wyatt extricates himself from her gaze just in time to see someone else come through the backroom door, as if they were oblivious to the surroundings.

“What’s your sign?” this apparition asks, throwing Wyatt off kilter. He’s tempted to give just any sign in defiant reaction, nauseous from all the astrology wackos thick as thieves on the beach, always trying to commune with you through some celestial data base.

“What’s yours?”

“Pisces!...want some gogi juice?”

Wyatt’s now speechless. What’s that, he wonders, an elixir to make you feel immune from life, spared the natural corrections that keep us keen on it, the marriage with mortality that pumps you up?

The source of the offer is a female, about 30, who is topless and apparently out of her mind on something. She’s incredibly thin with extra large breasts. In the light projection on the wall these cylindrical shadows are a disproportionate size of the body.

 “What’s it taste like?...maybe I’ll pass, but thanks anyway!...my digestive system has been on the fritz the past few days.”

Before he can ask her name the Krishna beauty moves into full light, hugging the princess, and in a flash it seems she’s a male. They mumble something that Wyatt can’t understand. Unable to control himself, he reaches for her breasts, but then quickly withdraws his hand. There’s something about this environment that makes him suddenly tired, confused about where he is. He just wants to slip away into oblivion, be left alone to his thoughts, be cerebral, pull back from this temptation and reflect, a very strange sensation in this garden of fleshly delights.
He wants to leave and head back to the street for some sanity. Predictability. He’d avoided Rhiannon’s scene anyway even before he hit the street. It always left him with a funny taste in his mouth, like he couldn’t control his actions and might end up in some vast unknown, never finding his way back. As everyone retreats to the attic, all giggles, leaving him to stare out the window at passing traffic, he makes his getaway.


“Seen Willow?” Wyatt asks a shadow coming toward him on Paloma Ave. It seems like Esther who hangs over on Westminster. He’d spent time with her during his first few weeks on the street. It’s the eyes, silverish saucers erupting through the streak of moonlight passing through the condo boxes before him. The silence is unbearable. Didn’t she remember him? She backs away in passing, as if she’s threatened. It has to be her. He becomes self-conscious, realizes his movements are tentative, his gait jerky. Like when a crime victim’s trauma repels assistance from onlookers, the shock suggesting to the beholder that anything might happen, perhaps she senses he’s off and ready to explode at any moment.

He slouches toward the Boardwalk, inhaling the sea breezes, getting delirious as he crosses Speedway into the mid-evening mix, a few dinner-doting couples on carefree struts, raucous youth dashing from place to place in search of kicks. The area’s transitioning from tit-for-tat splurges and frivolous exchanges to black market transactions, fantasies to barter for, priceless offerings for immediate trade. Darkened shapes are beginning to lurch and slither from the direction of the even darker void, the edge of respectability, civilization. Citizens of the beach strip, guardians of the border, lords of the tamped sand who answer to the rhythm of the tide, the pull of the moon, whatever gets them to the light. They thrive on its artificial illumination.

Wyatt moves left down the Boardwalk, weaving through the concourse with a slight limp. He sees a liquor store, bolts left and goes inside.

“Hey man, seen?…can I get…member me, I was here last week with Willow when…”

“…get otta here, don’t want trouble…you always…what’s your problem?”

“…not causin problems…just wanna…you got the wrong person…was just looking for someone, honest!”

He’s the only one in the store. He’s tempted to let him have it. This rent-a-clerk!! He must stay awake at night thinking about how to get us, he thinks.

“…so someplace else!”

“Give me a beef jerky and I’ll…”

“…go now, or I…”

He lurches from his perch behind the counter toward Wyatt, like he’s coming straight at him, ignoring all physical barriers. He stops, reaches into a drawer and brings up a small handgun, placing it on the counter. He stares at Wyatt with black beady eyes that appear to be getting smaller and smaller. Wyatt looks down at the gun on the counter, mesmerized by its shape, its sheen, sensing that he has to act or he’ll be the victim.

In an instant he loses it and dives straight for him, preventing him from using the gun, which goes flying off into an isle between the porn mags and dog food. His hands are firmly around his throat. He stares into his eyes, now beginning to dilate, feeling a rush from realizing that just a little more pressure and this cockroach can no longer harass. He squeezes and squeezes until he feels comfortable with the power to decide his fate, when a woman appears in the doorway. She just stands there, saying nothing, looking directly into his eyes. It’s like she’d come to observe his behavior, stand by him, protect him. Was it his guardian angel? Her look is a power that weakens him.  

He pulls away from his near victim, looks around to see if anyone else has entered the store, and hobbles onto the Boardwalk and into the night. He stops at Speedway and Breeze, hiding behind the dumpster to see if the woman follows.



BIO:  John O'Kane edits AMASS magazine and teaches writing at the University of California, Irvine. He has published fiction, poetry, essays and criticism. His book of creative nonfiction, Venice, CA: A City-State of Mind, is forthcoming this Spring.