Coltrane Excerpt: Five A.M.

{Preface: This story is the essence of Chekov’s razor. The author wrote this to help him understand the character Corey Dugan a little better. I’ve probably found four to five places where this piece could fit. In the end, however, I thought there were too many scenes, and this piece could only live as an except for those that wanted to understand the origins of the character.}

Preface: This was to be the introduction of the Corey Dugan character. Perhaps I needed this excerpt more than the novel did to understand Corey Dugan. I’ve probably found four to five places where this piece could fit. In the end, however, I thought there were too many scenes, and this piece could only live as an except for those that wanted to understand the methodology of the character.

Corey Dugan should not be walking the streets at five A.M at fourteen years of age. No kid should, no teenager should. His presence was an indictment of all of his institutions. Even he knew that on some level, but he did love the feel of five A.M. He loved what they called the aura of five A.M. His senses were more acute at five A.M. Five A.M. almost had a tangible quality to it. It made him feel more alive. Other, more responsible people didn’t just walk around at five A.M. Five A.M. was all his.

One could talk about anything they wanted at five A.M., and the subject matter had a substantial feel that no other hour could capture. When someone spoke of an idea at five A.M., the listener didn’t hear that idea, they felt it, and they watched the speaker’s lips move. A listener could understand why intonations were important to messaging at five A.M. And the eyes. Corey was disgusted with himself for never realizing how important the eyes were in conversations. They tell you everything you need to know about a speaker’s intentions. The eyes are where it’s at. They amplify words, they assist in the conveyance of a message, and they worked in conjunction with the face to expand emotion. It was this hyper-awareness that led Corey Dugan to believe he could breathe better at five A.M.

“It’s like being high,” Corey told a friend one day at lunch.

“High?” his listener asked. His listener was dubious.

“Yes, high.” Another failing of Corey’s institutions was that he knew enough about being high, at fourteen years of age to compare it to the feel of five A.M.

Sound appeared to have no echo at five A.M. It was as if the air was without molecules at five A.M. Time didn’t stand still at five A.M., but it appeared to move in strobe light progressions.

When the infrequent car drove by at five A.M., Corey assumed that his fourteen-year-old presence on the street was such a violation that he hid. The car violated the silence, the introspection, and the aura of five A.M.

The day was churning over at five A.M., and the Earth was preparing for the hustle and bustle of the day.

“We’re going to be dead at school Monday,” Corey’s buddy Boyd Thomas said when they crossed the bridge into Bar Harbor.

“Monday?” Corey responded, “That’s two days away.”

“I know,” Boyd said, “but I have a regimented sleeping pattern, and this is going to throw that whole routine in the shitter.”

“The hard don’t think sleeping patterns?” Corey said. “They just go about doing crazy stuff.”

“I’m useless if I don’t get my eight hours.”

“You get that from your grammy?” Corey asked. “Are you worried about the regularity of your bowels too?”

Boyd walked on without saying another word for a spell.

“I’m talk about knowing that nobody gives a crap about you Boyd,” Corey said. “Did you know that? Do you know that? I’m talking about that light blue Polo shirt you bought the other day. The one that you love. I’m talking about no one giving one dribbled crap about it. I’m talking about the way you style your hair, and finding out that no one cares. I’m talking about realizing that our whole lives are built on the fact that we’re being watched, evaluated, and scrutinized every day. I’m talking about that ‘make a strong first impression’ line being a lie. I’m talking about the lie going beyond the idea that most people don’t care. I’m saying that they don’t even notice … not to the point you think it matters. I’m saying when that big ball of turd rolls down the hill, who you think they’re going to talking about, a man that got his eight hours in, or a man who lived?”

“But you feel good when you’re dressed up,” Boyd said, “and that helps you make a strong first impression.”

“Fair enough,” Corey said, “but how many compliments did you receive for that shirt? Did that make you feel better? Did that make you think more people noticed it? And did you feel better thinking that everyone thought you had a beautiful, new shirt on?

“Now go to that day when you weren’t looking your best,” Corey continued. “Think about that insult. Someone saying that they thought you hadn’t slept all night, or that you must have slept in those clothes. Did you think everyone was laughing? I’m telling you that fewer people than you ever thought give a shit. I’m saying that they just want school to end, so they can go home and play Xbox.

“And I’m saying that you see all that at five A.M. You see it in what they call the mind’s eye,” Corey said with pride after having learned that term ‘the mind’s eye’ from some doped up hippie that stayed up till five A.M., on some other day. “You ever heard that term the mind’s eye? It’s about seeing is believing and having a spiritual experience with the eye.

“What’s the difference between sanity and insanity?” Corey asked with a tinge of excitement. “Some say that our brains are all chemical. You ever hear that? Yeah, if your brain produces too much of one chemical, you get angry, sad, happy, what have you. If your brain produces way too much of one of these chemicals, you could go insane. Others say it’s more about biology, but even in their arguments there is a fine line. If you trip on that line in the sidewalk, in just such a way, you could damage your pre-fontal cortex and end up killing everyone you see, because you will have a damaged moral center.”

There was an ever-present sense of conflict between these two boys that rose here. Corey was a philosopher, someone that concerned himself with larger ideas, and Boyd often accused him of overthinking matters.

Corey found that he was capable of handling that accusation, and the many other characterizations Boyd made of him, but he could not handle silence.

“Have you ever considered any of this?” Corey asked.

“I haven’t,” Boyd responded.

“You don’t concern yourself with anything large.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means,” Corey said with a sigh, “that your concern is exclusive to the here and now. Your concern is limited to what gets you from point A to point B, from 5:00 to 6:00, from one to two, from-”

“Got it,” Boyd interjected to stop the pattern.

“-You have to think of the larger aspects of life, like how do I get to a point where I’m insane, or better yet how do I prevent myself from going to that place.”

“Baby steps,” Boyd replied. “You call it the here and now, and all that point A to point B crap, but isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t it about these little things that get you from point A to point B without effort? You have to do the little things before you can do the big things.

“Like going to bed at a decent hour,” Boyd said. “I’m all about staying up late. Midnight is fun, and I love it, because I never get to do it. One A.M. is more exciting and two A.M. can be intoxicating, but five A.M. just kind of seems ridiculous. It’s no longer fun. The routine of going to bed at a decent hour seems like such a little thing, but I would think that you might, and I say might because I don’t know, but it seems like something that could drive a person insane.”

“Who thinks that way?”

“It’s just irregular,” Boyd said.

“Well I might be irregular then,” Corey said, “but I’m alive. All these regular people who sleep at a decent hour, most of them are dead. Dead in the brain and dead in the eyes.”

Boyd looked up at Corey for the first time in minutes.

“See, you ask who thinks this way. People that succeed think this way,” Boyd said. “People who succeed at big things think this way. Benjamin Franklin thought this way. Normal people think this way. They’re focused on baby steps more than most.”

Corey and Boyd moved onto other subjects during the five o’clock hour of that morning. They spoke about friends at school, their hard ass, Economics teacher, and a principle that wouldn’t lay off. Corey was participating in that conversation, but his mind was on that statement that Boyd had just made.

Baby steps, he repeated, getting from point A to point B in small steps. Boyd had the luxury of people helping him from point A to point B. He had solid parents, an uncle that he wouldn’t stop talking about, and a number of other people making influential scratches on his psychological piece of paper.

No one cared that Corey was out on the town at five A.M. A fourteen-year-old kid should not be out that this hour. Everyone knows that. A kid out at this hour spells trouble, and people should know that.

Boyd was out at this hour, because his parents had allowed him to spend the night at Corey’s. Boyd’s parents would’ve never allowed such a thing. Corey’s parents were cool. They smoked pot. They allowed them a couple of puffs. They listened to dangerous, cool music, and when other parents weren’t around they swore and allowed everyone to drink beer. Corey’s parents were the stuff.

Corey’s little secret that he didn’t share with anyone was that he didn’t want his parents to be the stuff. He didn’t want cool parents. “You can’t always get what you want,” his dad said of other issues, “and most of the times, you want what you can’t have.” In a way he couldn’t explain, even to himself, he wanted hardass parents who taught him the baby steps principle Boyd’s parents obviously taught Boyd.

When one of his friends caught his mom walking around the house in her underwear, he wouldn’t admit how ashamed of that he was. He told her to stop doing that. She never did. “It’s my house, and I’ll do what I want,” she said.

A man in a Budweiser shirt walked through the mustard colored haze the Sun cast at five A.M. The mustard colored Sun cast no shadow at five A.M. Someone shut a car door somewhere in the distance, it bounced off so many buildings that Corey wasn’t sure where how far off in the distance it was. Together the two of them broke the silence and solitude of five A.M.

Corey froze. They know, he thought. He didn’t know what they knew, but he figured they did. He didn’t do anything that he could remember, but he was sleep deprived and fourteen. He figured it was plausible that he did something he didn’t remember.

The man in the Budweiser shirt was likely a little drunk from the night before. His facial hair wasn’t haggard, but Corey could tell he hadn’t shaved in about a week. It was also obvious that no female influenced his apparel, as he wore clothes of comfort as opposed to comporting his choices to any style. Their city was one of the hottest in the country. Other locales had higher temperatures, but they didn’t have the humidity their city did. Most people dress according to temperature, and most know that there is a difference between the temperatures and the heat index. They call it “the real feel” in some cities. Few, if any, outside the city Corey called home most of his life dress according to the “real feel” of the day. Grown men, such as this Bud man, walk down the street with no sleeves, khaki shorts and mandles. They show as much as their poor skin as possible to keep cool.

This poorly dressed man began laughing at his own jokes. Corey peered through the mustard colored haze of the day to confirm his suspiciouns, and he was right. The man was laughing. There was no one else around. Yet, Bud man obviously didn’t mind. He thought he was living in the privacy of five A.M.

A car drove through the mustard yellow haze. Corey watched it pass by in strobe light progressions. He imagined it exploding once it passed out of perspective.

Corey turned back to the Bud man walking on the opposite, he watched as the man continued to talk to himself. He watched the man’s mouth move. He wondered, again, if all the talking and presumed laughter, was an optical illusion brought on by the other illusions that led Corey to think everyone was moving in strobe light progressions.

The Bud man reach up and touched his face. He was itching his nose. Corey watched it in real time, he replayed it in his mind, and he watched it again. He remembered the man itching his nose while he was doing it. Corey thought he predicted that the man would itch his nose, seconds before the man did it, but he couldn’t remember. While sorting through all that Corey couldn’t remember if the Bud man actually itched his nose, or if he imagined it.    

A car drove through the mustard yellow haze. Corey watched it pass by in strobe light progressions. He imagined it exploding once it passed out of perspective. He wondered if they saw him. He wondered if they suspected anything. He didn’t do anything wrong, but what if he did? Who would know? Would anyone know about anything that happened at five A.M. Would anyone care? He watched the Bud man with a mischievous smile, as the man continued to walk on the opposite side of the street. Corey thumbed the button on his knife holster.

Boyd will know, Corey thought, Boyd will never forget it. No matter what hour of the morning it was, Boyd would talk about the incident. It would probably affect their friendship forever more. Corey loathed the fact that he cared so much what others thought of him. He told people he didn’t care, but that was a ruse. He cared. With Boyd, Corey found it difficult to conceal his concern. Boyd was the cool kid who had it all. Boyd was the one that everyone went to with a story. Boyd was the one that people wanted to be around. When Boyd laughed at one of your jokes, they were funny. For reasons Corey could not comprehend, Boyd liked him. Boyd liked hanging out with him. Boyd thought Corey was nuts, and nuts was funny and cool when you were fourteen.

Corey looked for Boyd. He spent so much time studying the mustard yellow haze, the Bud man, and the yellow haze’s effects on the man that Corey forgot he was out here walking with someone. Boyd was still walking beside Corey, talking. Corey worked through the mustard colored haze to hear that he was still complaining.

“-That my muscles hurt,” he said.

“What’s that?”

 “I said I’m so tired that my legs hurt and my arms even hurt.

“So, let’s just turn around and-” Boyd began. “Wait, what are you doing?”

Corey flinched, as if caught in the act. He looked and saw what Boyd saw the mustard colored haze of five A.M. Corey was holding his knife by the tip, waving it back and forth over his head.  

“Watch this!” Corey said.

“Wait, what? No, Corey,” he said, as Corey narrowed his eyes to see through the haze and perform an act he practiced many times in his basement. Before Boyd could say another word, or Corey could fully collect what he was doing, the knife left his hand. The strobe light effect was more pronounced with the flight of the knife, as it reflected the Sun at times. At times, that strobe light effect was so beautiful it was almost hypnotic. It cut through the mustard colored silence of five A.M., flowing end over end  

It was a hell of a shot, and Corey knew the moment it left his hand that it would be close. His excitement grew as it neared. He leaned a little to the left, to give it the smidgen of the body English he thought it needed.

It all occurred in the space of two seconds, but Corey would later be able to recall his thoughts throughout. It was five A.M., and he felt so deprived that he felt stoned.

The knife stuck in a man’s head. Corey thought he heard it enter, but he probably didn’t. When he thought about it later, he assumed it was his imagination. It was a perfect shot. Corey threw that knife a thousand times into a thousand different objects, but he never had such a perfect shot before. The beautiful handle fluttered in the Sun when it hit, and he imagined that it made the sound of aluminum when its fluttered.

The man in the Budweiser shirt’s arms weaved back and forth with his stride. Perhaps it was the hour, the mustard tinged shadows, or the aura that appeared to rise off every living being at this hour, but Corey swore the man’s arms flailed like a power walker’s.

Corey jumped straight up in the air. It scared him and adrenalized him at the same time. “Holy shit!” he whispered.

As the man weaved on a step backwards, Corey and Boyd Thomas stood frozen by the spectacle. The man appeared dead set on maintaining his pace, but for every step he took forward he took a step back. It appeared that he didn’t understand why he couldn’t keep going forward. He didn’t reach for the knife. He didn’t even appear to break the train of thought of getting to the corner of the street. What his mind desired, his body couldn’t back up. His steps were circling before landing at a point, and he looked to his feet with the presumed question: what are you doing? That lean brought him forward, and he began to slump in a manner he couldn’t stop, until he was lying down on his face.

“What the hell?” Boyd whispered to break the mustard yellow silence that surrounded the wobbling man. Boyd took two steps sideways, then in the opposite direction of the man. He scanned their surroundings. “Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” Corey said. He, too, was torn regarding the direction to which they should flee.

What were you thinking?” Boyd whisper yelled. “Corey? For God’s sakes!”

“I wasn’t,” Corey said. He was frantic. He thought of jail time. He thought of the trial. He thought of having no future at fourteen years of age. “Thinking.”

“You damn right you weren’t thinking,” Boyd said. “Throwing a knife at a man’s head? What did you think would happen?”

“I wanted to see,” Corey paused, “what it felt like to throw a knife at a man.”

They shared a blank stare.

“Well, I didn’t think it would hit him,” Corey said to fill the blank.

Another blank stare occurred. Boyd’s power grew in that one.

“What are the chances,” Corey said, “that a guy throws a knife and it sinks home in a man’s head like that?”

“I don’t know if there’s a listing of odds on such a thing,” Boyd returned with disgust in his voice, “but I’m sure those odds increase the minute a guy releases that knife.”

Corey could feel his face redden. It was abject fear. He wished he could turn the clock back to two minutes ago, but he couldn’t. He wished that that knife had flown over the man’s head, and the man would turn around and say ‘what the hell kid?!’

Boyd appeared scared and sad and horrified at the same time, but they weren’t true emotions. They appeared fake to Corey, as if he was trying out those expressions on his face. Boyd looked from the man to Corey and back to the man with those expressions strengthening in flashes, similar to the flashes of the Sun on the knife. Boyd was too young and too naïve to know how to express himself. He learned expressions watching videos of actors portraying such images in movies, and he didn’t know how to do it in a convincing manner at Five A.M.

Then he started crying. It was so fake that Corey wanted to call him out on what a terrible actor he was, but he didn’t. He felt sorry for the boy, and his sheltered world that didn’t teach him how to express himself properly.

“Let’s go!” Corey whispered. “Let’s get the out of here while the street is still empty.”

“Crap!” said a voice. Boyd and Corey scanned the mustard yellow street for the voice that lacked echo. Corey’s pulse rate increased to the point that he could feel his heartbeat. “What the hell?” they heard. It was the Bud man with the blade sticking out of his head. The hour of the morning had a surreal quality about it that felt natural, but watching that man right himself to a sitting position was so creepy that Corey almost wet himself. It was the point at which the Stephen King novels hit their pace, when the deceased rose in a manner so routine that it was creepy.

Two young kids gallivanting about the town looking for trouble, until they find it. The monster would call them Jonesy, or some other name that King believed endeared you to the monster in an odd manner, and he would walk to them with the introduction of the 50’s or 60’s rock song that King would include in a repetitive manner for the rest of the book.

“We have to get the knife out,” Corey said.

“That will kill him,” Boyd said. “That knife might be the one thing keeping him alive right now.”

“What?” Corey said.

“I saw that on a medical show,” Boyd said. “That my mom watches.”

“Right now, we have a senseless, anonymous act,” Corey said. “If we leave that knife in him, we’ll have a senseless act committed by Corey Dugan, and my life will be over as we know it. I got my fingerprints all over that thing Boyd.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Corey, but I won’t be joining you,” Boyd said. They shared a stare for a half a second. Boyd began to step away, his eyes on Corey throughout, until he reached the corner. He turned that corner and took whatever vestige of friendship they still had with him.

“You boys are in some hot shit,” the man in the Budweiser shirt said as felt the knife sticking out of his head. He did a pat around the knife, as he continued to watch Corey cross the street toward him.

Corey could smell the booze on the man as he came up on him. Even though he presumably stopped drinking hours ago, he still reeked of alcohol. Corey assumed the man spent the night at someone else’s house, and he was returning home when Corey spotted him walking through the mustard haze at five A.M. Corey assumed no one would miss this man for hours, if not days. Corey assumed the Bud man lived alone in some squalid apartment, and no one would notice he was gone until Monday when the man failed to show for work.   

The smell informed Corey that the Bud man was probably still so loaded that he didn’t feel pain. He also thought that the man’s status would taint any future testimonies the man gave about what happened and who did it to him. Everything he said would be viewed with a heavy dose of skepticism by law enforcement officials.  

“I am sorry about all this,” Corey said.

“Frankly, I don’t care if you’re sorry,” the man said looking up at Corey with disdain. “Sorry is if you accidentally bumped into me or something. You don’t tell a guy you’re sorry for chucking a knife at his head.”

Corey didn’t know if it was the alcohol, the injury, or some sort of combination of the two, but the Bud man couldn’t get up no matter how hard he tried. He attempted to swivel right then left to upright himself, but he kept rolling back. He kept groaning. “Could you please help me up here?” the man said. “The least you could do is …”

“All right, all right,” Corey said holding the man’s back, as he swiveled left and right.

“I mean help me up,” the man said. “Get in front of me and pull me up for God’s sake kid.”

“All right,” Corey said frozen in place by indecision. “Why don’t we just get this out of you first,” he said with a tone he hoped clarified the situation for both of them. “Then we’ll get you standing.”

“You can’t,” the guy said. “Like your friend said, it would open the wound. I’m going to need a surgeon here, and even then … you’re going to have to call me an ambulance.”

“I’m sorry about all this. I am. I mean it.”  Corey said.

He gripped the knife and put an initial pull on it. The man began screaming:

“No, no, no!” he said. “Get your hands off of me.”

The Bud man was punching backwards at Corey, and his first few blows connected. Corey adjusted his hold. He managed to keep his hands on the knife while maintaining a distance that kept him from getting hit, but he wasn’t able to get achieve the angle that would allow him to pull on the knife with force. He tried holding the knife in such a way that he hoped the Bud man’s counter force would work against the Bud man to remove the knife, but that wasn’t working.

The Bud man began attempting to roll away, but Corey had such a firm hold on the knife that the man couldn’t achieve enough motion. He attempted to swivel in his seat to make it as hard for Corey as possible. Corey swiveled with the man. The man tried punching backwards again, then he felt for Corey’s face, he began scrunching whatever parts of Corey’s face he could find. He felt for Corey’s eyes. Corey swatted him away each time, but each time he had to regain his grip on the knife.

Either the knife was in so deep that it took all of Corey’s strength, or some sort of suction kept the knife in. It’s not suction, he thought.

“Help!” the man cried. “Somebody! This kid’s trying to kill me.”

“I can’t go to jail for life over something like this,” Corey said swatting the man’s hands while swiveling with the seated man.

“Don’t!” the Bud man said. “Please God, kid. I won’t tell anyone about this. Just leave me here and run away. I don’t know you, and I probably wouldn’t be able to recognize you anyway.” When those pleas didn’t work, the Bud man attempted to whack at Corey with his forearms. He was wriggling and tilting and swaying to prevent Corey from getting a good hold. Other than that, the guy couldn’t move. It all threw his balance off, and he ended up flat on his back. Corey backed away to allow the man to fall.

Corey made a move on the Budweiser man that appeared Greco-Roman. He had the man’s arms pinned beneath his knees, as he gained a perfect grip on the knife. It took all of his strength to remove the knife, but he was able to counter whatever force prevented its removal. There was no sound to the knife’s removal, even in the mustard yellow, silence. There wasn’t even that much blood. Corey thought there would be a lot of blood following the knife’s removal, but there wasn’t. He didn’t attribute that to the hour, the mustard haze, or anything else but that he just didn’t hit an area where a lot of blood would pour out.

Corey tried to be cold and calculating. He tried to make this just another moment, on another Saturday, that could be dismissed with the rest. He couldn’t.

“Not at my age,” Corey said. The man began screaming when he saw the size of the knife. “You’re old, and you’ve lived a full life. You ended up as a drunk. I’m not ending up that way my man.”

The Bud man tried to get to his feet again to presumably chase after Corey, but he couldn’t. The man was so frustrated that he was crying and slobbering all over the sidewalk. “Don’t leave me here!” he shouted. “Don’t leave me here alone. Don’t leave me alone to die here kid.”

He did, and he tried to be unmoved by it. He didn’t know the guy. Why should he be concerned? Yet, he couldn’t just walk away unmoved. He couldn’t begin running into the mustard yellow day that left no echoes. He couldn’t stop crying as he began thinking the guy might have been a pretty good uncle, a good son, or a good brother. He also couldn’t help thinking about how the man came to grips with the fact that the life he lived to that point was now over. His sympathies were limited, however, by the fact that if he didn’t get away as fast as he could his life, as he knew it, would be over, and he didn’t think one simple mistake should end that life.

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