Excerpts From The Walking Man – by Wright Forbucks
From Chapter One:
A year into my quadriplegia, the highlight of my non-recovery occurred when my parents made arrangements for me to deliver a “thank you—hey, I can still talk” speech during halftime of Apple High School’s homecoming football game. Dad told me my mother felt “highly obligated” to acknowledge the outpouring of sympathy the family had received from the townsfolk in response to my tragic condition. He also mentioned family finances and that Apple Motors, our town’s sole car dealer, was “sponsoring” my appearance.
I was driven to Rickford’s Field, the town’s football stadium, in an ambulance. My driver was a local stoner named Jimmy Something-or-other. I’d met him before. He was the brother of one of my brother Hal’s friends. During the ride to my big event, Jimmy told me his life story. He had dropped out of Apple High School because he couldn’t handle the “pressure.” He became a volunteer ambulance driver because his goal in life was to be an EMT so he could pursue his love of carnage.
A mile away from Rickford’s Field, twenty bikers—members of Hardcore, Apple’s distinctly non-notorious riding club—pulled in front of my ambulance to provide a loud and puttering escort to the football field, where a thousand even noisier fans were waiting to hear my “acceptance” speech. After a couple slow laps around the track, the Hardcore boys popped synchronized wheelies then sped away, enabling the Apple High School Marching Band to accompany me to the center of the football field, where they played Aerosmith’s Walk This Way while Jimmy Something-or-other pulled me out of his ambulance.
To start the festivities, the Mayor of Apple introduced me to the sell-out crowd, lavishing such words as “hero” and “inspirational” upon me. When the Mayor ran out of hot air, a slew of local dignitaries presented me with gift baskets and celebrated my courage with brief yet resonating speeches. Finally, after the Apple High cheerleaders commemorated my quadriplegia by lying motionless on the sidelines of the football field, pompoms down, the owner of Apple Motors presented me with a key to a new Honda Civic.
Now, how fucked-up was that?
When it was my turn to speak, it became apparent to all present that the event’s organizers had neglected to procure an adjustable microphone stand. The oversight obligated Jimmy Something-or-other to raise the head of my gurney so I could make a discernible thank you speech.
Jimmy was thoroughly unqualified to flip burgers, and so had little chance of adjusting my complex stretcher properly; amid mounting pressure for me to speak, Jimmy panicked and slammed one of his Frankenstein boots into my gurney’s adjustment levers. This simultaneously elevated my head and lowered my feet, causing me to promptly sit up, before sliding out of my gurney. I landed face down on the fifty-yard maker with an inelastic thud, hitting the ground like a bag of Jell-O that’d been dropped from an airplane.
You could have heard a pin drop.
From Chapter Three
The first black fly landed on the tip of my nose. She waited awhile before biting me, perhaps anticipating a swat. I still had feeling in my nose so the bite hurt, and it was insanely itchy. After the chomp, the fly exited the window, only to return with her extended family. For the next two hours, several hundred lady members of the Shyshire black fly community bit me several million times. When Nurse Judy returned from the party, I was not a recognizable human being. I was a mound of swollen flesh. The black flies had bitten every part of my body, including my eyelids and tongue. I thought Arthur had killed me and he would have if some asshole hadn’t invented Benadryl.
Arthur blamed the young volunteer for the incident, so he got off without indictment. I spent two days in intensive care at UMass Medical in Worcester, Massachusetts, before making a complete recovery. Upon returning to my room, Arthur was waiting.
“Itchy?” he asked.
“Well played, Master.”
“Truce?” he suggested.
“Master, only one of us is getting out of this thing, alive.”
“May the better quadriplegic win.”
From Chapter Five
The Halloween Party
On the day of the big party, the northeaster from the prior day had sucked every water molecule out of the sky, leaving behind nothing but crystal clearness; an October evening for the record books. Folks eagle-eyed and educated could see Saturn without the aid of a telescope, and the lights of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, were visible though they were over fifty miles away.
Maria arrived in Room 302 two hours before the party to get me ready. She was in costume. Maria’s Bride of Frankenstein outfit led me to believe there is a level of beauty that cannot be attributed to testosterone or symmetry. It made me realize there’s an indescribable quality of radiance that few people have that is captivating in a dangerous way—for it forever displaces all thoughts of all others and leaves a man subject to a life of want.
I’m not sure how she did it, but Maria made me look like a Hollywood-quality Frankenstein. She glued two bolts to opposite sides of my neck that looked real despite being composed of Styrofoam, and she made an incredible Frankenstein wig that perfectly fit my head; à la Boris Karloff, it included a bloody forehead scar, a Neanderthal brow, and forehead staples to prevent brain leakage. To round out my outfit, I wore a black T-shirt and a black linen jacket. I was fairly certain that at an average quadriplegic Halloween party, my costume would have stolen the show, but nobody could focus on me due to the presence of my beautiful bride.
Maria wore a low cut white gown that appeared to have been fashioned from a silk bed sheet. Her lips were glossed red. She’d taken her natural black hair and somehow teased it into a vertical shrub that was highlighted by two white implants. Huge, gold loop earrings hung from each ear. There was green eyeliner and fake lashes, long enough to swat a black fly.
Maria’s outfit was perfectly hideous, but what made it stunning was the constant state of good humor it imparted. Maria knew how to laugh at herself and throughout the party she howled with delight as members of the Leicester County Hospital community complimented the Frankensteins on their stunning good looks. I’ll never forget catching Maria’s smiles from the corner of my eye as she introduced me to her admirers, which included every man in Shyshire who had a pulse.
“Please allow me to introduce my husband,” Maria would say.
In turn, I would growl and groan, more Quasimodo than Frankenstein.
“Don’t mind him,” Maria would add. “He’s made from spare parts and he has two assholes.”
From Chapter Six:
Johnny Bash was a year younger than Maria, so he was a first semester college freshman. In high school, Johnny Bash was the quarterback of the Shyshire Eagles. He was a local legend. He held the school record for passing and total yards. Need I say more? The guy was a stud. His mere presence made manly men wish they were gay, and with a wink, he could cause even the most prudish woman to rush to the nearest tattoo parlor to get a butt butterfly that bore his name.
From Chapter Nine
My hopes were formally crushed when Smitty and I travelled to Boston to receive our first lab report. Smitty had arranged the visit, telling Juliette Dritch he was taking me to the Freedom Trail. The scientist who presented the results was named Seymour Giffs.
For an ultra-nerd, Seymour came across as surprisingly normal. There was no sign of Asperger’s. There was a Red Sox pennant on his wall. And his desk had pictures of his wife and kiddies.
Seymour informed me, without an ounce of emotion, that Betty was a massive protein that contained over twenty tangled polypeptide chains.
“Is that bad?” I asked.
“Not good,” Seymour told me. “Only God could figure out how this baby works.”
Eager to promote his superiority, the confident imaging scientist then entered lecture mode, telling me a variety of fun facts about proteins, including the wondrous functions they perform within the human body.
“Most proteins are fairly simple,” Seymour said. “They contain just a few polypeptide chains which are strings of amino acids. Your renegade protein is composed of twenty plus polypeptide chains. It’s a complex lady and it seems to have formed an “irreversible” bond with the nerve cell receptors on your muscles.”
“Irreversible.” I coughed.
“Sorry,” Seymour said. “Perhaps some other protein exists that could cause this beast to migrate, but if there is such a substance, the odds of finding it would be long.”
“Like a thousand to one.”
“More like a billion to one,” Seymour Giffs, Ph.D., predicted.