The Sky Was Dark Like It Was Going To Rain
for Elmore Leonard
The sky was dark like it was going to rain and it hadn’t rained for awhile when Leo put the book down that he’d intended on reading and mumbled something in Latin that he’d always thought to mean ‘shit’.
It was a horror story and Leo loved horror stories but this one had to start off with a description of the weather and, like Elmore Leonard, Leo never read things that started off with descriptions of the weather.
He sat in the Kia shaped hospital bed wondering what the hell he was supposed to do now. Outside in the hallway he could hear one of the 3rd shift nurses explaining to who-knows-who everything that she knew about Leo, how he’d been dropped off unconscious four days ago….smelling like blood and overly micro-waved Steak-ums… with an old library card plugging a well read bullet hole in his shoulder…..his clothes wrinkled in sweat and wet mud.
She went on about how he had no idea how he got here. How he wouldn’t eat his oatmeal and got angry real easy and how last night when he asked Dr. Ron if he could leave and Dr. Ron said ‘no’, somewhat emphatically, he’d called him a ‘modified cunt’. Wasn’t that terrible? To call a nice man like Dr. Ron a modified cunt?
She went on like this until she was satisfied her guest knew everything he needed to know relevant to the events that had happened before Leo’d tossed aside the horror book and sat there like he sat there, wondering what he was supposed to do:
The nurse and the mysterious stranger entered the room. Leo watched it happen and hit the morphine button twice. One time for each of them.
“You are unnecessary!” Leo said to the nurse, conscious of the fact that he’d just used up one of his ‘1 to 3 per 100,000 word’ exclamation points.
“Don’t mind him.” Nurse Prologue said. “He always yells that when I’m in here.”
“That’s because I know you.” Leo said. “You’re to be avoided. But I don’t know this guy. Who’s this?”
The man tried to smile and leaned over to shake hands.
He looked like what Lee Marvin’s face would’ve looked like if it’d been smushed together with Jason Priestley’s and he was wearing some sort of goddamn suit that had all these detail-specific labels sewn on it, describing the color…..what it was fucking made of….the origins of its first North American appearance……shit like that.
Leo had no room for this guy.
“You reek of description man. Get out.”
“Hold on now, I’m not here to make you angry Mr. Leo. We need to talk.” the guy said. But he didn’t just say it. He said it dramatically. Or desperately. And Leo hated that about him too.
Leo liked the room dark so he had the curtains closed and couldn’t see outside, but he could hear things. Things that a minute ago he couldn’t hear. Sounds like overly-accented strangers screaming and honed claws digging into brick.
“Do you hear that?” Leo said.
The stranger stopped trying to look like he was smiling for a minute and tried listening instead. Apparently he couldn’t do both at the same time.
“You’re crazy?” Leo said.”What’s your name again? I’m just going to call you Mr. Prick.”
“No need for that, let me introduce myself.” Mr. Prick said. “My name’s…”
“Shh. I’ve already named you.” Leo said. “That page has now past us. Move on.”
“My you’re feeling stronger today, aren’t you Leo. Barking orders like that” Nurse Prologue said.
Leo noticed for the first time that the Nurse had a nose that looked like cold sausage, but then he realized that it wasn’t her nose. It was an actual sausage. She was holding ground meat against the side of her face. Why would she do that?
“They’re not orders. They’re rules.” Leo said, and then caught himself thinking to himself “How do I know that?”.
“I wouldn’t just say he’s barking orders Ms. Prologue, I’d say he’s barking orders quite manically. Or maybe I wouldn’t even say it, maybe I’d just proclaim it…”
“Flamboyantly!?” Nurse Prologue said flamboyantly. Using up another goddamn exclamation mark.
“Precisely.” Mr Prick said. “Now why don’t you do me a favor and step outside and wait for me in that lovely 8×12 hallway with the purple wallpaper that was installed by a guy who once met the owner of Ikea, between the bronze/plastic framed paintings of odd people from the 1920’s practicing various forms of foreplay by a lake. I’d like to speak to Leo alone.”
The nurse left the room.
“Look,” Prick said. “I’m not really an overly described stranger. That’s just my disguise. Elmore Leonard’s dead. And without him the 10 Rules Of Writing are vulnerable. The monstrous shit that people tend to skip over and have therefore been cut out know this, and they’ve raised an army to take over everything, and goddamn it we need you Leo. You’re our only hope.”
“The Things That Were Left Out.”
“Yes.” Prick said. “The Things That Were Left Out want back in again. And they’re going to tear a goddamn hole in reality doing it.
“They’re outside right now, aren’t they. I can hear them.” Leo said. Everything was coming back to him. He remembered.
“Yep. You were on a secret mission to find Elmore’s last manuscript. The sacred first and a half draft of Pronto said this manuscript had the power to hold the bastards back until we figure out what to do next. But then you know, ‘next’ got fucked up and you got shot and couldn’t remember shit and it took me four days to find you and in between the now and then man, all hell’s broke loose. All, you know, suddenly and….. Shit.”
“What the fuck did you just say?” Leo said. He remembered Mr. Prick now. He was a damn fine writer. One who respected the 10 Laws. Someone who’d rather write Russian tampon commercials for a living then say something lame like “All Hell broke loose.” out loud.
“Oh no.” Prick said. “They got em. The 10 Laws must’ve collapsed. Time line’s torn. Bad writing’s rewriting reality. Jordon Doe has the upper foot now! Soon we’ll all be fucked up and rewritten too because hell man we’re all infected.”
“That’s The Walking Dead your thinking of.” Leo said. “They’re all infected. Or George Romero’s zombie universe that he created 35 years before that. Everybody in that was infected too.”
“I know what I’m thinking of but whatever. We don’t have time to argue. Let’s End-Of-The-World agree to disagree. Things things gonna get us all eventually. That’s what I’m saying. Just promise if I start overly explaining hallways again for real this time you’ll put a bullet in me.”
“You were pretending before?” Leo said.
“I was before but I’m not now. Get it? It’s getting to me like it’s already gotten to most everyone else everywhere. I was acting badly-written so I wouldn’t draw attention from the body snatched minions of The Things That Were Left Out that are walking around out there.”
“That’s smart. You were good. I really wanted to hit you.” Leo said. “So it’s that bad?”
“Leo, you’re nurse is a fucking Prologue?! Yes. It’s that bad.”
“You just used another exclamation mark.” Leo said.
“I didn’t mean too!” Prick screamed.
“You did it again man. And I’m pretty sure you just modified.”
“Shit Leo! It’s got me! Shoot me in the fucking face!” Prick said, and then he handed him a gun.
Leo admired Prick and understood the severity of the situation so skipped past the whole part where he could be crying out stuff like ‘No’ and ‘It’s not fair’ or ‘There’s got to be another way’ and went straight to the face shooting. The bastards had got him. There was no saving Prick now.
“Which side of the face?” Leo said. “The Lee Marvin side of the Jason Priestley side?”
“What do you mean ‘What side’?” Prick whined. “My face isn’t cut between the two symmetrically. It looks like what the two faces might look like if they was all mushed together.”
“Not anymore it don’t.” Leo said.
Prick screamed, which Leo took to mean “You choose!” so he did. The Jason Priestley side of his head exploding like rice pudding that had never been born.
Leo took a moment to pay his respects and then, after blockading his hospital room door, walked over to the window and tossed the curtains to the side and then he stood there watching as the citizens of a brand new world made out of bad writing ran around pissing all over each other and worse.
A small horde made its way up to his hospital room window and they stared in. He felt himself go waxy, like his insides were being rewritten in crayon. Not Crayola’s either. The kind that come with kids meals at cheap Mexican restaurants.
As the window cracked Leo caught a glimpse of someone he thought he might know. Like they’d hung out a few times and such. But there was something different about her now. Back then her eyes had been normal and now they’d been replaced by a couple of improperly completed Rubix Cubes. And her breasts had developed this weird overbite. And she was wearing a t-shirt that said “Ben Affleck’s My Batman” and her tongue was flopped out like Miley Cyrus, like she’d gone and gotten herself infected a few weeks ago when shit like that had taken over the news.
Sad. Well written people are not fans of Ben Affleck. She was infected.
“Et tu, Popeye?” Leo said, as the window crashed in and her fangs sunk deep inside his chest. “Hey. Wait. Don’t you go to Naropa?”
Leo went down as a thousand blobs made out of The Unnecessary devoured his eye line, every goddamn one of them overdoing their accents. Regional dialogues raped like a popular foreign movie title pronounced at a family BBQ by former president George W Bush.
As the bad writing took over Leo’s entire body felt like it’d been left in a blender. And then everybody started doing cocaine and somebody said, ‘Hey let’s blow the blender.”. And then the blender lost its mind, as Leo’s every atom was invaded with a poorly-written-brand-new game plan. Everything meant to be exciting, but in the new world of The Things That Were Left Out ‘exciting’ just meant more explosions. Everything intended to be romantic, but came off as slightly gay for George Clooney. Everything meant to be funny, but ending up like every other Adam Sandler movie ever made…comedy throwing up grass in the front yard while Selma Hayek stood off to the side pretending to have fun.
(written not so long after Elmore’s death)