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Franny’s Adventure

Posted on Saturday, August 29, 2009 in adventure, Stories

The central figure of our tale is Franny Westinghouse—a lovely young actress who kicked off her film career at age 14 as the star of the 1961 low-budget film entitled The Cheeseburger Twins. The film was an instant hit, and made tons of money for its producer, Charles “Cubby” Lundquist, head of England’s Acme Studios.

Prior to her appearance in The Cheeseburger Twins, Franny had done several non-speaking roles in remakes of two American horror films—Revenge Of The Creature, and Tarantula. Both films were instant flops.

Franny had a curious combination of the child and the adult in her, which always kept her performances interesting. But there was another quality—something lurking underneath—a softness, a roundness, a freshness that simply made you have to watch her. It was almost as if she were bursting forth from underneath her skin. No matter who else was onscreen, your eyes would fix on Franny, and the other people in the scene would immediately fade into the background.

Not that Franny was a scene-stealer, nor that she employed any of the disgusting mechanisms—the overly cute demeanor or the tiresome show-offy manner employed by other child starlets like the hideous Shirley Temple. No, it was nothing like that. Franny simply occupied whatever space she was in with such a presence that she took over any scene in which she appeared. She did this quite effortlessly, which is, of course what made her so effective. It was magic—pure and simple. Nothing more, nothing less.

The making of The Cheeseburger Twins was really quite an effort for young Franny, who turned 15 while the film was in its second month of production (though it was allegedly set in England, the film was shot, primarily in the town of Yucaipa, California). In the film—which was about a set of twins lured into a life of prostitution by the owner of a string of whorehouses disguised as hamburger stands—Franny played both roles. That is, she played both twins—Nelda and Nancy.

In some instances, this involved the use of a double—a young actress named Sarah Domergue (who would, at the young age of 19, commit suicide by swallowing battery acid). Domergue, in fact, looked nothing like Franny, who was blue-eyed, smooth-skinned and naturally cheery. Domergue had one brown eye and one green eye…and even at 13, she was already sporting a nasty case of acne (which was to leave her skin badly pitted for the rest of her short life).

However, the body structure—lithe, long legged, just the hint of new, young breasts—of the two young girls was almost exactly alike.And when Domergue doffed her blond wig, she was a dead ringer for Franny.

Domergue was used only in limited scenes; for the bulk of the film, Westinghouse had to do separate takes for the part of each twin. Later, when the film was edited, the two parts would be put together via split screen, a technique which has since faded from popularity.

For these scenes, Franny would—in order to get the timing right—read her lines to a person off camera, who would then read back the line of whichever twin was not in the actual shot. Because the producers (a decidedly cheap bunch) had never assigned this task to a particular individual, every day the job was performed by a different person.

On some days it was the associate director—a snippy young pretty boy named Dirk Smedley (his friends called him “Duffy”). Smedley read his lines without enthusiasm or flavor, which infuriated young Franny. At other times the task was given to Otis Pettigrew—the set go-fer. Though he was in his mid-30s, Pettigrew looked closer to 50. He always sported a heavy three-day growth of beard. He also smelled very bad.

Franny—always the trooper—never once complained. She simply did take after take after take until she was satisfied she’d gotten things exactly right. Even at her young age, Franny was a perfectionist.

After completing The Cheeseburger Twins, Franny starred in 12 other low-budget films—everything from sci-fi, to horror, to a host of teen hot rod flicks. She also made a very bad record album featuring terrible re-makes of rock and roll hits of the day—like “Ballad Of A Teenage Queen” and “The Peppermint Twist.”

But by the time she was 16, Franny’s parents had divorced. She divided her time between a small flat in the town of Derbyshire, and her mother’s home, located in Reseda, California.

As was the case with many child stars, gradually there was less and less demand for Franny,  as younger, cuter girls took her place. Soon she was forced to resort to taking jobs in soft-core porn films. But Franny didn’t do that for long. She’d decided to pursue a career in animal husbandry, and soon enrolled at Pierce Junior College, in Woodland Hills California.

Franny seemed perfectly happy in her post-teenage life. She didn’t go the way of many child stars, falling into major depressions or contemplating suicide. She simply got on with her life.

***

Franny looked into the mirror. She blinked her eyes. She blinked them again. Damn, this mirror was filthy! There were no tissues, so Franny rubbed the dirty film off the mirror with the sleeve of her blouse. There. Now she could see.

She looked at her face. It was odd—everytime she looked at herself she looked different. Who was this? Is this me?

Hullo, hullo?

The only thing that looked somewhat the same each time Franny observed herself was her lips. Yes, they were the same full lips that she’d always had. Franny ran her tongue across them…pursed them at herself. She tried to focus on her lips, but other parts of her face kept getting in the way. All she wanted the face in the mirror to do was to hold still for one or two seconds, so she could get a fix on it. Make some sense of it.

But it didn’t work.

First she’d look at the eyes—the wrinkles around them. Then the nose, cheeks, chin, etc. Franny regarded the thick mat of caked, brown hair on her head, splaying out in little bits at the sideburns. So much hair on the face! She’d had it when she’d been younger—this fine covering of ultra-light blonde hairs. But over the years they’d grown longer and darker.

My God, I actually have a beard! Franny thought.

Franny Westinghouse with a beard!

Franny moved in for a closer look.

“Dekudisha,” she said.

She said it again.

Franny didn’t know why she said dekudisha. but she knew shehad to say it. It didn’t mean anything—nonetheless she said it often.Franny often did this with words that may have sounded like nonsense to the average person. But saying the words—which would change whenever she felt the need—would put something into a certain shape inside her stomach. And as the shape formed, somehow, the events of the world would become—at least for a time—solid. It was only at these times that Franny felt completely “normal.” Most of the time, it seemed to her, everything was about to fly apart.

Franny stepped back in order to get a longer view. She was wearing only a thin brown shirt—one that she’d had on for days, and a pair of cheap cotton underwear which she’d purchased at Kresge’s dimestore. The top three buttons of the shirt were undone. Franny reached up and undid the bottom one, then opened the shirt to reveal her breasts.

Franny had never had large breasts, and thankfully so. Even now, they stood upright and firm. Her nipples were larger—or rather, they protruded more than they had during her girlhood. Back then, daddy had made her put tape across them. (Franny had insisted on not wearing a bra when that became the fashion during the late 60’s, so her rather large nipples would often show through her clothing). Daddy had always been somewhat of a prude, but this tape-over-the-nipple business was the final indignity.

Franny’s body was still long, lean, and fairly fat free. Only a few sections around the thighs and above the navel were mottled. Other than that, the body could have belonged to a 25-year old. Only her face seemed to have aged. And, unfortunately, it had aged poorly. Though she was thin, poor Franny (unless she kept her head perfectly straight) had at least three chins. And the skin around her neck was totally wattled. Hell, she looked like a damn turtle!

Franny struck one pose after another—but she couldn’t change the fact that she had the face of an old woman—a terrible, wrinkled old woman! (To be factual, it wasn’t that bad. She simply looked her age).

***

It was 1991, and Franny Westinghouse was 43—going on 44.  She hadn’t gone the way of many so-called child stars and faded into total oblivion. In fact, she still found guest roles on occasional TV shows. The last had been an episode of Murder She Wrote, in which she’d played a woman suspected of chopping up her cheating, lawyer husband with a rusty meat cleaver. At the conclusion, she’s found innocent (with the help of the ever ingenious Angela Lansbury).

Of course, in the 90’s, most people didn’t know who Franny Westinghouse was, nor that she’d once been a low-budget teen film star. To them, she was just some older actress—and a not very interesting one at that. Whatever charm Franny had exuded as a teenager had faded over the years. She wasn’t a terrible actress—she was just, well…mediocre. Nonetheless, with the help of her agent, a Jew named Lyle Beaudine (he’d changed his last name from Bodinski), Franny landed enough jobs to keep her working—at least moderately.

Given all this, the fact that Franny had chosen to move into theHotel Eddy—a rundown flophouse in the Tenderloin section of SanFrancisco—might have seemed strange…but in reality, it wasn’t. You see, Franny needed an adventure. That was all there was to it. She needed something that would totally disconnect her from the life that had led up to the present moment. Though when she looked at it, her life did seem all disconnected, there was a string that somehow held all the pieces together. Franny didn’t know what the string consisted of—but it was there, nonetheless.

Now it was time to break the string.

Franny had been through three marriages (each time to men who’d abused her). She’d been a housewife, a schoolteacher, and a businesswoman.  She’d done her share of drugs, and had become an alcoholic (though she’d cleaned up after joining a 12-step program). She’d been through therapy—Freudian, Reichian, Gestalt—you name it. All typical stuff for a woman in her forties, right?

The way Franny came to be a resident of the Eddy Hotel was like this: Franny had been up in San Francisco one day to shoot a talk showabout (you guessed it) child stars who were “still in the business.” Afterthe taping, rather than take the limousine (which the production company had provided) back to her hotel, Franny decided to walk.

A half hour later, she found herself in the Tenderloin—an area of the city which catered primarily to prostitutes, drug addicts, bums and other undesirables. For some reason, Franny often liked to walk through such sections of town. She liked to imagine each of the people as children,then try to figure out by what path they had arrived at this particular point in their lives.

Franny stopped in front of the Hotel Eddy—a weather beaten old tenement which sat next to a liquor store—and peered inside. In the lobby, there were a dozen or so old people gathered around an old black and white television set.

Somehow the scene was comforting. And then suddenly it hit her. This is the beginning of my new adventure!

Franny went inside. The desk clerk was a mousy young girl with a hairlip. Her name—Franny was later to learn—was Melanie Weed. She had been born in Bakersfield to low-class parents. Her father, William “Benny”Weed, was presently serving a life sentence in Folsom for murder. Her mother had recently suicided. Melanie Weed was—despite the hairlip—somehow oddly pretty. In fact, Franny noticed a slight stirring in her loins as she observed the girl. Whether this was actually due to a physical attraction or was simply the excitement from beginning her new adventure, Franny didn’t know.

“How much for a room?” Franny asked.

The girl looked up from her movie magazine. “Eight bucks a night,” she answered in a dull monotone. Twelve ‘fyou wanna bath. Fifteen for your own TV.”

“How much for a week?” Franny queried.

“Don’t rent ’em by the week,” the girl said. “S’cheaper by the
month.”

Franny reached in her purse and pulled out a wad of cash. “I’d like to pay you for the month,” Franny said. “I want a bath. No TV.”

The girl took the money and pulled a key off the rack. “We don’t got no extra,” the girl said. “If you want one, you’ll haveta pay for it.”

“Thank you,” Franny said, taking the key.

Thus, Franny became a resident of the Hotel Eddy. Her plan during her stay was to…well to do nothing, actually. What she wanted to do was to stop the flow. Let everything fall apart. Whatever was left after the falling apart would be the actual facts—the stuff of everything. Only after this took place could Franny consider going on with her life.

Much of the time, Franny simply lay in her room and thought. Not thought actually—she just let things take shape in her mind. Sometimes a particular thought would completely take her over, and she woul simply go with it. Other times, the thoughts had no force or energy. She would let them float outside of her head, where they would bounce around on the ceiling.

After a time, Franny got to know some of the other inhabitants of the Eddy. They were a fairly interesting lot. In room 203—just down  the hall—was Trixie Bixel, an old crippled woman who went lickety-split around the place in her wheelchair. Trixie had once been a stripper. She’d also been a taxi dancer (in the old days, they were called “dime-a-dance-girls”) at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. After her accident, Trixie decided that she would  try to set a record by going across the U.S.—from New York to California—in her wheelchair.

Unfortunately, she only made it as far as New Orleans, where she was run over by a drunk in a pickup truck. After she recuperated, they shipped her out to California, where she’d lived with her sister-in-law, Flo (who’d recently died of a strange brain ailment). After this, Trixie became a resident of the Hotel Eddy.

In room 304 was a short, little man named Douglas Bendix. He was hideously ugly, with a sour red face covered with gigantic welts. He also had a hunchback. Bendix’ teeth were all black and rotted, and his breath was constantly putrid. Given that, Franny was amazed to find out that he was a male prostitute!

“Women like me!” he said, taking a pull on a bottle of Ripple. “I don’t know why—they just do!  On a good night I can make me a hunnert bucks …mebbe two!

He pushed the bottle at Franny. “Here ya want a pop, hon’?”

“No thanks,” Franny said, lighting up a Camel unfiltered. Franny liked listening to Bendix. even though she didn’t much care for him. The thought of actually having sex with him made her want to puke. The man was the ugliest thing she’d ever seen in her life!  Besides that, he stunk!

Franny’s favorite resident of the Eddy was Bedford Delmont—a graceful black gentleman of about 60. Belmont was a preacher. Every Sunday morning he held a service—right there in the lobby of the Eddy!

Delmont was not a bible thumper per se, but his sermons could get pretty fiery.

“WE BATTLE NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD, BUT AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS IN HIGH PLACES!” Delmont shouted at the top of his lungs.

Something about this got to Franny. She did, indeed, feel that she was always battling against something—an actual, tangible force—not just her stupid subconscious or her “past” (that’s what the shrinks always said).

Franny became fascinated by Delmont’s sermons. She even began reading the bible that she’d found in the desk next to her bed. She thought to herself: If  this Jesus stuff is really true, and God actually made us…then people today are no different from what they had been in the Bible Days. Everything is the same as it’s always been!

But it was hard to imagine the residents of the Hotel Eddy—or anybody for that matter—were figures with the force and power of the characters in the Bible. Most people seemed so flimsy. Somehow they were all just cheap versions of someone else. They lived and died, and it hardly mattered.

Franny especially liked reading the Old Testament. It made so much sense to her. God was so angry! But of course! After all, He created people—and they’d simply gone ahead and made a hideous mess of things.

And when it came time to pour out His wrath. God didn’t fool around. Why people always made all this noise about God being kind and good and loving, she simply didn’t understand. God was pissed! And He bloody well had a right to be!

“YOU MUST REPENT!” Delmont had shouted on a recent Sunday.  “YOU MUST GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES RIGHT NOW—NOT TOMORROW—AND ASK GOD TO FORGIVE YOUR SINS! AND YOU’D BETTER MEAN IT! BECAUSE GOD CAN SEE INTO YOUR HEART—AND IF YOU’RE NOT SINCERE, HE’LL KNOW IT!!”

This frightened Franny. She thought back over her life; she thought of all the things she’d done to make God angry. But no matter how much she tried, whenever she attempted to repent, she didn’t really mean it. She didn’t feel sorry for anything. That was the problem.

“How can I make it up to God?” she thought. “How. how, how?” But even as she said this, Franny felt no force behind the words. Hell—all this stuff about God could be just a lot of bullshit!

***

Franny had been in San Francisco for six months now. Nothing particular had happened. She’d just wandered around the city. One of her favorite places was the old Kresge’s five-and-dime, down on Market Street. It reminded Franny of her childhood. Everything seemed old. Even the items on the shelves looked like they’d been there since the ’40s.

Kresge’s was wonderful. There was a counter where you could get coffee for 10 cents a cup! Franny would order coffee and sit for hours in the dime store, letting the thought bubbles in her head go pop, pop, pop!

She’d wander up and down the aisles, looking at all the wonderful items—the soaps, bubbly shampoos, bathwaters, etc. She especially liked the Negro section of the store which sold items like Hair Sheen, Razor Bump, and assorted skin lightening creams.

Negroes are lucky! Franny thought to herself. Look at all the terrificitems they can buy!

Actually, to be completely honest, Franny often thought of herself as a Negro. Not that she thought she actually was one, but simply that she felt more black than she did white.

One night, in her wanderings around the city, Franny went to the Mitchell Brothers Theatre—a porno film house on Sixth Street, which was right around the comer from the Eddy. Besides films—which tended towards the ultra-kinky—to theatre also offered live sex shows.

Franny paid the $10 to see a film called Big Baby Man. Like most movies of this sort, the film—which was about a fat guy who sat around in diapers and liked to have women urinate on him—didn’t have much of a plot. After about ten minutes, Franny grew bored. She got up and went into the room where the live shows were held.

This too, was a pretty disappointing affair. On a stage lit by a dim, red bulb, a silicone-titted blond was shoving a dildo up the crotch of a red haired gal with snake tattoos all over her body. For some reason, the tattoo girl kept going Moo! Moo! Moo!,  as the other girl worked away with the dildo. Franny stifled a yawn. Pretty soon she got up and exited the theatre.

It was dark when Franny got outside. There were a few hoots and howls from streetcorner people as she walked. Then, as she turned down Fell St, a black man materialized from the darkness of a corner stoop. A cigarette dangled from his lips.

“Got a light?” he said.

Franny knew she should have felt afraid, but she didn’t. She pulled a Bic lighter from her purse and snapped it open. In the light from the flame, she could see the man’s face. He was older—mid-50’s probably—but strangely good looking. Little sprouts of beard popped from his face. Franny noticed that the man’s beard hairs were very wide apart.

After he lit up his smoke, the man’s eyes held hers. There was something in them, though Franny couldn’t say what it was.

Franny looked away from the man’s gaze.

“Not safe for a lady walking in this part of town at night,” the man said in a soft voice.

“I suppose not.” Franny said. “My hotel’s not very far from here.”

She turned and began walking. The man fell into step beside her. Franny offered no protest.

“Name’s Homer—Homer McGriff, “ the man said. “I’m from Seattle.”

“Franny—Franny Westinghouse.”

The man didn’t react.

“You don’t mind if I walk with you, do you?” he said.

“No, It’s OK,”  Franny replied. Oddly, something about the big black man was comforting. Franny felt safe and secure in his presence.

When they got to the Eddy, Franny stopped. “Well, this is it,” she said.

The man just stood there looking at her. “I, uh…haven’t I seen you somewhere before? I dunno, I just feel like we’ve met somewhere.”

“No,” Franny said. “ I don’t think so.”

A moment of silence ensued.

“Well, Good night, Franny said.

“G’night.” McGriff said . Then he turned on his heel and faded intothe darkness.

***

That night Franny had a dream. She was in a city somewhere—she didn’t know where. It could have been any city really: the buildings were tall and the sky was overcast and brown.

Something about the light was foreboding—it brought everything too close together. Things seemed out of proportion.

Franny walked down into a subway stop to wait for the train. People weren’t speaking to one another. They all looked ill—their faces gaunt and pasty. In the dream, there was no language, and though nobody spoke— there was no need to.

In the subway, people took their seats. A lot of them looked familiar to Franny—as if she’d once known them—but she didn’t know from where. Some of them seemed to be people she’d once gone to school with, but now they were old—perhaps near death.

An old woman in the seat opposite Franny pulled up her skirt. She was wearing nothing underneath; she had a huge, swollen vagina. It had red sores on it.

The woman spread her legs and began stroking herself.

Nobody paid attention.

People got on and off the train. off. Finally, Franny got out at a stop and went up the stairs. It was just turning to dusk outside. She knew that she was no longer in the city. She was someplace else, someplace like a beach—The ground was covered with something strange, Franny’s feet made crack-cracking sounds as she walked.

After a time, Franny realized that the ground was covered with the bodies of dead fish. They stretched for miles and miles. Far out beyond them lay the ocean.

The stinking dead ocean.

Franny began to walk faster. Soon she was running.

Crack! Crack! Crack! went the sounds of Franny’s shoes as they scuttled over the bodies of the dead fish.

“Shutup, shutup shutup!” she cried as she ran.

Something was rumbling under the cruel dark sea.

Franny tripped and fell face down in a pile of stinking, dead fish.  Crack! went her skull.

“SHUTUP GODDAMNIT, OR I’LL BITE YOU!” she yelled.

Franny opened her mouth and took a big dead fish inside it. She bit as hard as she could. Black, blood spilled from the corners of her mouth.

When Franny awoke from the dream, she was covered with sweat. She went to the bathroom sink and gulped water until her stomach was bloated.

***

Franny would continue to see Homer McGriff. He’d pop up at odd times and what seemed like strange places. The two would have coffee, or sit in the five-and-dime on Market Street.

Once, McGriff took her to this old place in Chinatown where the waiter—a crazy old Chinese guy named Edsel Ford Wong—ran around and yelled at people and served them the wrong food.

McGriff never talked about himself. He wasn’t at all like the other people on the street. He was bright…obviously well read. He had quality about him—a gentleness—that caused Franny’s heart to go all soft inside.

McGriff always walked Franny back to her hotel—and he never once made an advance, or asked if he could come up to her room.

***

Franny felt like she’d been gone forever. Her old life didn’t feel like it belonged to her anymore. Occasionally, her agent would send her offers for this audition or that—but Franny didn’t want to do anything yet. She hadn’t figured things out, though underneath, she could feel things falling into place.

Sometimes she’d have a strange memory that would come back clear as day. One day she recalled that her father had attempted to have sex with her. She’d been about six. Franny could see the whole thing—her father’s big red monkey-penis popping up from his trousers as he came towards her.

“It’s OK, sweetie,” he said. “It’s just another way for daddy to show you how much he loves you.” Although he never actually penetrated her, he’d repeated the act on several occasions.

Somehow, the memory didn’t upset Franny. It simply filled up another space inside her.

Franny also remembered getting into a fight with a little boy with red hair who lived down the street from her. She was a tomboy, and much stronger than her opponent. Franny had smashed the boy’s head into the pavement several times before his mother whisked him away, shouting insults.

The memory pleased Franny. She could actually feel the boy’s head smacking into the ground. Whack! Whack! Whack! What a positively lovely sound!

Other strange people and incidents would pop into her mind—people she hadn’t thought of in years. Yet there they were! Magic.

One night, McGriff had walked Franny  to her front door. They stoodin the door stoop, not saying anything.

“Would you like to come up?” Franny asked.

McGriff said nothing. He held her eyes for a moment, thenfollowed her upstairs.

When they got in the room, Franny took off her clothes. McGriff sat in a chair opposite her. He said nothing, but he looked like hewas going to cry. She came to him then, and held his kinky head inher hands. Then she led him to the bed.

They made love wordlessly. He was very gentle, just as she had expected.

Soon McGriff was snoring beside her.

Franny couldn’t sleep. She lay in bed and stared out into the darkness. She couldn’t stop thinking about everything. Her thoughts came at random and scattered around in her mind—but it was different this time. It was not good at all.

Soon a terrible fear came over her.

How can I get God to forgive me? she kept thinking. She felt so dirty…so vile, that it seemed nothing could ever wash it off.

Franny got up and sat in the chair by the window. Outside thereshe heard a clatter of garbage cans.

Franny looked out. Two old winos were fighting in the alley below. After a bit of scuffling, one old guy knocked the other one to the ground. He laid a boot heel into the side of the head—then scuttled off into the darkness.

Franny felt dizzy. She picked up her bible and clutched it to her chest.

She looked over at McGriff, who was snoring lightly. Then all of a sudden it came to her. She realized the purpose that Homer McGriffhad in her life. Yes—it was clear as a bell. I must make a sacrifice! A sacrifice to God! Just like the people in the Old Testament! That’s what I’ll do!

Franny was, of course insane. She had halfway known it for years. Now she went to her purse, where she kept a long folding Swiss Armyknife. She took the knife out, pulled the blade open, then went and
sat on the bed next to McGriff.

“Dear God,” Franny said, “please forgive me for everything I’ve done. I offer this man up to you, this good, kind man—and I hope that you will be pleased with my offering.”.

McGriff stirred in his sleep. Franny raised the knife high over his chest and closed her eyes—

The next morning when Franny awoke, the clock on the dresser said 10:30. McGriff lay soundlessly next to her. He didn’t move. Franny got up and sat in the chair by the window, looking at him.

About ten minutes later, McGriff stirred. He rubbed his eyes,than sat up, propping himself on one elbow. “Monin’” he said.

Franny just sat on the chair and looked at him, saying nothing.

“What’s the matter,” McGriff said. Are you OK?”

Franny continued to stare.

“Get out of here,” she said flatly.

McGriff looked puzzled. “What?” he asked.

“I said, get out of here—you fucking, stinking, nigger ape!”

McGriff didn’t say anything. He just got up and put on his clothes. There were tears in his eyes.

When he was dressed, he looked over at Franny. She looked right through him.

McGriff opened the door and stepped into the hall without looking behind him.

After he was gone, Franny continued to sit in her chair by the openwindow. She felt dead inside.

“Dekudisha”.she whispered to herself.

Outside there was a loud din—a terrible pounding. It was coming from the streets. After awhile, Franny recognized the noise as the strains of a Jimi Hendrix song—“Purple Haze.”

Franny got up and put on a shirt and jeans. She opened the door and went downstairs. When she passed the front desk, Mary Weedwas not there. An open copy of True Detective lay on the desk.

A few of the old people were sitting around the TV in the lobby watching reruns of I Love Lucy. Trixie was snoring in her wheelchair.Her head had fallen back, and her mouth was agape. As Franny passed her, Trixie emitted a long, creaky fart.

Franny went outside. The air was hot and sticky. The sky was overcast and brown. Franny walked down Fell St., next to the cable car tracks, following the sound of the music.

When she got to the corner of Fell and Market, Franny saw that acrowd had gathered. The crowd consisted primarily of assorted derelicts and street people. In the center of the throng, a very bad three-piece rock band were playing instrumental versions of 60′ songs. The guitar player—a dreadlocked black man—appeared to have only one nostril. He was playing very fast—but his playing didn’t mean anything.

People gathered around the band, jumping and dancing.

Hell—it was a party!

A drunk man stripped off his shirt. He had a perfectly white, probably once-muscular body—now gone soft, covered with tattoos. The tattoo man began to dance around, waving a bottle of beer. The beer was splattering people, but he didn’t notice. He would dance up to people and poke them in the chest, saying things like “Awwright!” or “Let’s party down, dude!” Then he’d dance away, like a fat, white fairy.

Then, what appeared to be a very old woman got in the center of the circle and began to dance wildly. Franny recognized her as the woman on the train from her dream. The old woman danced a terrible, evil dance. It was so hideous that Franny couldn’t bear to look at her. The old woman waved her hands over her head and laughed and spit on the ground. It was obscene. People were terrified of her.

Soon other people began dancing. The music grew more furious. Franny stood off to the side and watched the scene.

Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong! Suddenly she saw it. These really were the Bible people! That is—they were the same people that had always existed on the earth. They were creatures of God. Creatures gone astray. Creatures who—by their own choice—had been polluted and corrupted by all things vile and evil and rank. And now they danced—they danced the terrible Death Dance—as things fell apart around them.

Franny went weak in the knees. She wanted to yell. She wanted to cry. She wanted to shout, “Stop! For God’s sake—don’t you see?! You’ve got to stop before it’s too late!”

But Franny couldn’t say anything. Nothing would come out of her mouth. “Please God,” she said inside her own head. “Please—don’t let it be like this!”

Franny looked up at the sky. Things looked wrong. Something about the angles. Everything seemed crooked—off kilter. Not just that—things were too close.

The sky—brown and hideous now—seemed to actually touch the buildings, which now tilted to the sides. Something was going on behind the sky—a huge commotion The sky looked like it was about to crack open. Franny could almost see a war in the skies—with the Archangel Michael and his troops fighting a terrible battle with hordes of ferocious demons.

Then, Franny was overcome by a nameless fear. It was the worst  thing she’d ever felt in her life—a horrible, black fear that completely paralyzed her. She didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t the fear of death, or of torture, or of suffering or of anything she could name. No, it was much more than that—

With all the strength she could muster, Franny tried to latch onto something—an idea, a thought, anything—but she could not. Nothing was solid. Nothing would hold.

All of a sudden a terrible thundering began to well up from underneath the ground. It was horrible. People knew instantly and started running—but they didn’t know where to run.

A wail of sirens began to howl. The ground rattled and swayed.

Franny looked up. Buildings were swaying to and fro—almost in slow motion. Across the street she saw a Broadway department store shimmering and shaking. Then suddenly, it simply fell apart.

A gigantic crack opened wide across Market Street, splitting and twisting the old trolley car tracks. In the distance, another building crumpled—crashing to the ground.

Franny was frozen. Around her, people were running and screaming and clawing each other to pieces. She no longer heard the din of things falling apart around her. Something was enveloping her—something which pulled her with a terrible force into its cold, black center. As she fell into the thing, Franny cried out.

“DEKUDISHA! DEKUDISHA! DEKUDISHA!” she wailed.

Only this time, it didn’t work.

***

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