Garbage Bag Johnny
“What the FUCK?!”
MGM Grand Hotel – The 28th Floor
Garbage Bag Johnny’s Suite (DOC-Approved Housing for Nova)
April 9, 2022
Nova holds his arms out incredulously, his back to the series of single-pane glass windows that look out across the afternoon sun over Sin City.
“You left, bro?!” he exclaims. “You-you left for…for…” (shuddering) “…nevermind. You left!”
Garbage Bag Johnny, recently returned home in last night’s bathrobe after the proverbial walk of shame, lounges in a papasan chair, his barely-shielded junk leaving little to the imagination. He waves a hand in front of his face, trying to block out the sun. His pupils are the size of dinner plates. He shrugs.
“Relax, man. The Bruvs already bounced, and I had a date. I made a calculated decision.”
“WE LOST!” Nova shouts. “I don’t know why I care, it was a fucking boulder-pushing competition, I don’t even know how we got here, but we’re here, and I do care, because I fucking. Hate. Losing. And you bailed on the team, Johnny!”
Nova looks around at the ceiling. “You disabled the smoke alarms, right?”
GBJ snorts. “Of course.”
Nova lights a cigarette and takes a deep drag. “All we do around here is lose, Johnny. I think you’ll agree it’s been a pretty rough hang so far.”
GBJ raises a clarifying finger. “Technically, we didn’t so much lose as just not win.”
“THAT’S WHAT LOSING MEANS!” Nova screams before closing his eyes and drawing a hand to his chest in an effort to center himself. He ashes his cigarette in one of GBJ’s empty martini glasses.
“Easy on the volume, dude. My head is pounding.” Johnny lights his own cigarette and returns to shielding his eyes. “Anyway, these are elimination challenges. You don’t need to win as long as you don’t go home. Haven’t you ever watched reality TV?”
“Like PBS?” Nova asks, taking a drag.
“Not quite.” GBJ ashes his cigarette on the floor. “But we’re gonna fuckin’ RUIN the next one, bud. That’s how these things work.”
Nova cocks an eyebrow, staring quizzically at his friend. “Yeah?”
“Oh yeah!” GBJ answers, rolling gracelessly off the papasan chair, his bathrobe swirling around his wiry frame like a blooming tea in boiling water opening romantically to reveal a nutsack bruised by an evening spent in one of Dante’s psychedelic circles of hell.
Nova winces, shielding his eyes.
“I’ve got a plan,” GBJ says, pointing at his brain before redirecting his finger towards the green blinking light on Nova’s ankle bracelet. “That said, it does require a field trip, so what the fuck are we going to do about that thing?”
Nova takes another long drag and looks down at the bracelet. “Y’know, P&P has been giving me more and more of a leash recently, expanding the geographical coverage of this thing. It’s weird, they typically give you privileges when you aren’t getting in trouble. I got jammed up with that fucking reporter in the parking garage, locked up overnight, wound up in that crazy-ass meeting with my new P.O. – I told you what I saw – and ever since then, it’s like…”
Nova snuffs his cigarette in an empty whiskey tumbler.
“…like they keep backing off.”
He gazes out the large windows of the suite at the emerging day as the memory of the previous evening floods in.
Nova flicks on overhead lights to the hotel suite and tosses his gym bag of gear from Culture Shock onto the first available chair. He looks around the suite, seeing no signs of life, and shakes his head.
“Whatever. Have a good night, Johnny.”
He flops into the papasan chair and pulls a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket. Reaching over to the suite’s landline (no, for real), he grabs the receiver and punches in the number on the paper. It rings and then connects.
“Yeah,” Nova says, “this is Caesar Vega, I was given this number and instructed to call in after the show tonight.”
“Yes,” the voice says, “Nova…thank you. You’ve been moved to phone reporting.”
“Huh?” Nova shakes his head.
“And your GPS restrictions have been relaxed.”
Nova shuffles for a cigarette and puts one to his lips. “Why?”
“We want to focus on what’s important about your supervision.”
Suddenly Nova’s mind is filled with the image of a mouth on the other end of the phone. He freezes.
“We’re very excited about initiating your treatment program.”
Nova can see the mouth twisting into a grin, his own hanging open, the cigarette on his lips falling unlit into his lap.
“We’re very…enthusiastic about the prospects for your success.”
Nova’s eyes go wide as fangs emerge from the teeth of the grin, a black forked tongue flitting between them. He drops the receiver, shaking uncontrollably for a moment before feeling spreads back into his limbs and he looks around the otherwise empty suite.
He picks up his cigarette.
“They just seem really into this treatment program, this MESSIAH shit,” Nova says, his vision focusing back on the present. “Like…they could give a fuck what else I’m up to.”
GBJ is sprawled out on the bed now. “Yeah bro, that’s totally weird, but if it’ll get you on a plane, no sense in questioning it. I’m just going to take a power nap, and we’ll get going.”
35,000 Feet In The Air
April 10, 2022
“Wake the fuck up, dude.” I felt a push against my shoulder. “You keep falling asleep and leaning on me. And you smell awful.”
I blinked until my vision unblurred and assessed the situation. I was sitting next to Nova on a plane. None of it was unexpected, but I was right there about to hit that deep sleep sweet spot, and was still processing the shock of being jostled back to consciousness.
“You slept for like sixteen hours before we left,” Nova pondered, “How can you still be tired?”
“I don’t know.” I looked for the flight attendant call button. I needed a goddamn drink. “Flying always puts me to sleep.”
Despite the marvel of humanity figuring things out enough to send thousands upon thousands of people each day hurling through the air all around the world at rapid speeds without a good chunk of them dying, flying was a pretty boring ordeal. I hated being smushed up against people in tight seats with nothing better to do.
“Well,” Nova replied with a slight shrug, “maybe you could stay awake by explaining literally fuckin’ anything about what we’re doing?”
I jonesed for a post-flight smoke. My eyelids were getting hea-
“Hey! Nope! Stay with me!” Nova was snapping and slapping at my cheeks.
“I’m up!” I raised my arms in defense. “Jesus, are you going to do that every time I blink?”
“If I have to,” Nova said, leaning perilously close to his friend’s musky aura, “Johnny. What. Is. THE PLAN?”
“Two words:” I paused and grinned for effect. “Jet pack.”
It was the late aughts. I was just gaining some traction in the business in a mid-sized promotion called the Atlantic Wrestling Club, a joint run by an unfortunately nicknamed guy named David “Pearl” Harber. He was basically a younger, decidedly more British version of Steven Caldera, and for some reason, he took a real shine to me. I started off on a hot streak and in no time, I was the Club’s champion.
As a man who came from great wealth across the pond, I was somewhat of a novelty to him. He got a big kick out of the way I lived, just the grittiness and general nihilism of my whole situation. He lived it vicariously through me on nights out, when he’d get me punch drunk and then marvel at the trouble I’d get myself into.
However, you could say it went both ways. I’d never had a taste of the good life, and he was there to bankroll it. I wasn’t eating in fancy restaurants or anything like that where things like formalwear or decorum were involved, but if I had an idea that would prove amusingly dangerous, he’d spare no expense to make it happen.
At that time, the Martin Jetpack was only a prototype. You could put 100 large down to secure one, but the line wasn’t consumer ready. Somehow, through his connections, he was able to get one of the prototypes so I could use it to glide around in some kind of cockamamie battle royale idea he had. Nobody ever asked for it back, so I just held onto it.
The jetpacks never made it to market. I heard some Chinese company eventually bought them a few years ago and shut down operations not too long after that. That’s just how it works. What goes up must come down. Even though Martin’s not flying anymore, the dream lives on. Other companies take the mantle and try to build a jetpack that’ll really take off. Such is life. Maybe such was our lives.
“Isn’t that just one word?” Nova said, scratching his head.
Silver Honda Accord
Erivaldo drove as aggressively as he could down the highway in the light afternoon traffic. The inside of his car was cleaner than I’d ever seen. It was so clean I felt uncomfortable being there, like I was in a mobile hospital but with more Latin pop music.
“Here’s what I don’t understand.” Nova seemed irritated. Perhaps it was jealousy over my luscious hair. Perhaps he wasn’t enjoying the Latin pop. “We’ve got six guys on our team. Wouldn’t it make sense to have six jetpacks? Unless you have another date. Then we may only need five.”
“I actually do have another date, but it’s more of a Netflix and chill thing than a dinner, so it won’t start until later.”
Nova nodded. “Just making sure. If we lose, I want it to be because we suck, not because one of us bailed.”
“On that note, though, I might need the room if you know what I mean.” I pointed out a crooked, knuckly finger on one hand and poked it into and out from a hole I had formed by enclosing the tips of my thumb and index finger into a circular shape. “It’s cool if you want to watch.”
Nova leaned his head towards his passenger-side window and cupped a hand over his mouth, his stomach heaving. “Hard pass,” he managed to croak out.
“How about you, Erivaldo?”
“Sorry, sir. What was that?”
“Do you want to watch me and my ladyfriend giving each other the business?”
“Oh, no thank you, sir.” He kept his eyes on the road. “I’m just here to drive.”
“You leave Erivaldo out of…whatever the fuck is going on there.” Nova’s voice redirected me away from the front of the car. “Anyway, we were talking jetpack strategy.”
“Yeah, so one guy jetpacks up, grabs the bag, slides down the slide, and we switch the jetpack to the next guy.”
Nova nodded. “That’s actually pretty go-”
“Or no, wait.” I held a shushing, still-knucky finger up in front of Nova’s face. He grimaced as if he could smell the imaginary stank of hot and heavy junk sweat. “We don’t waste time passing off the jetpack. We give the jetpack to the strongest guy, and he takes turns flying our two or three best sliders to the top. That way, we don’t need a couple guys to be the jetpack pit crew. It’s a little riskier, but we could probably shave off a few seconds per pass if we get it right.”
“Do you think it’s worth it?” Nova asked.
“If we nail it.” I tried to do mental math, but the effort itself was mental math. I couldn’t remember how to construct an equation, but I hoped I looked like that’s what I was doing. “I wouldn’t want to switch strategies halfway through, so I was going to say that we could switch to the jetpack pass if we weren’t exactly acing the timing of the single flier strategy, but I think that could just cause a lot more confusion. I don’t know. What do you think, Erivaldo?”
“What was that, sir?”
“Don’t worry about it, Erivaldo.” Nova shifted his body towards the center of the seat to create a barricade between myself and the driver. “Just ignore him. He’s an idiot. Can I smoke in here?”
Nova lit a cigarette as Erivaldo rolled down the left passenger-side window for him. “Whatever they pay you to deal with assholes like us, Erivaldo, it’s not enough.”
“Hold on,” I interjected, “maybe he has some ideas.” I tilted around Nova. “Alright, Erivaldo. I’ve got a team of six guys. We need to climb up a tall staircase, one at a time, grab a bag of puzzle pieces, and then slide back down. We have one jetpack, which we can trade off between dudes, but keep in mind that the jetpack weighs, like, four hundred pounds. Or, we can have one guy wear the jetpack, carry one guy up to the top, and fly to the bottom to grab the next guy, thus eliminating the time it would take to take off the jetpack and get it situated on another dude. Which one do you think is better?”
Erivaldo seemed confused by the question.
“Really, Erivaldo, just ignore him,” Nova said, rolling his eyes.
“Sirs.” Erivaldo cleared his throat. “I think it depends on whether or not the excess weight of a carried passenger affects the maximum speed of the jetpack and whether or not it slows you down more than it would to just transfer the jetpack.”
Nova and I looked at each other and I could tell he was onboard with an unspoken agreement to just let Erivaldo drive.
64 Self Storage
Outskirts of Sycamore, IL
It only felt vaguely familiar to me, and I’m sure most of that was that self storage facilities don’t tend to lend themselves to artistic license. So, it was a big old rectangle of a building split into squares just wider and deeper than the paint-chipped, orange garage doors fronting each unit. There wasn’t much around it. It was still a few miles from the incorporated part of town, and the place was mostly surrounded by farmland. It was too early for anything to grow, and it felt like there wasn’t nobody else in the world but us.
“So you have no idea which unit is yours?” Despite a cigarette, Nova’s patience hadn’t returned. It was over an hour on the road on top of the flight, and the Uber was really expensive.
“They all look pretty similar to me.”
“They have numbers! That’s the whole point of the numbers! The only point of the numbers!”
I stopped to light my cigarette as we walked past orange door after orange door, trying to remember which one I’d been renting all these years.
“I think it was close to the end of a row.”
I handed Nova my cigarette as I tried another one of the locks. No dice.
“You sure that this is even the right facility?” he asked.
It’d been about fifteen years since I’d been here (or somewhere vaguely similar), but there was still a good eleven year gap that was just a blank in my brain, so it felt more like four years to me. Even four years is a long time, though–long enough for all but the most general themes to chip off like orange paint and get swept off in the winds of time. In short, I wasn’t sure at all. My key didn’t work on the next door.
“You’ve tried, like, eight doors though,” Nova said, his eyes wandering down the long row of identical units.
The ninth didn’t work either. Neither did the tenth. But the eleventh…
…also didn’t work.
The key slid in all the way, and I just about shot my wad. Nova heard the click of the padlock opening, and his demeanor turned on a dime.
“Holy shit! You did it!” He patted me on the shoulder. “You fucking did it!”
“WE did it.” I stood up and bro-hugged Nova. “Are you ready?”
He nodded, and we both knelt down to grab the handles of the big orange door. We counted to two (three would have been too painful) and rolled the door up in perfect synchronization. I squinted. It didn’t look like I remembered. The machine was in a pile on the ground. One of the ducted fans was cracked off completely. The other one was still connected to the wearable architecture, but it looked badly dented. Rust adorned the handles and propellers.
“Ummm…” Nova turned to me, “Johnny…I’m not a jetpackologist, or anything…but that thing looks fucked.”
I was as surprised as he was. Then I remembered, albeit spottily.
I had just won the top strap in AWC, and I was absolutely shitfaced. I was strapped into the Martin, and I’d gotten in the air, and I shouldn’t have been up there. I wasn’t too high up in the air, just kind of floating about twenty feet over city traffic, vomiting beneath me. There was a lot of vomit.
I tried to land so I could stop throwing up my guts, but I approached the descent a bit lopsided and ended up crawling away from the wreckage, unscathed for the most part.
“I think I might’ve crashed it.”
Nova didn’t say anything. He stood there for a moment, hands on his hips, nodding slowly. Then he just walked into the storage unit, briefly looked over the wreckage, and then kicked the stray ducted fan as hard as he could. It made a big sound, but didn’t move. He made a big sound, too, and grabbed his toe, hopping around on one foot.
MGM Grand Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
April 20, 2022
The door to the stairwell of the MGM Grand’s 28th floor explodes open, and Nova tumbles through, stopping to hunch over, his hands on his knees as he gasps for breath. Slowly he’s able to take a few steps forward, bracing himself against the wall as he looks up towards the entrance to the suite he shares with his tag-team partner.
“Shit,” Nova laughs, wiping a hand over his forehead, “you beat me again!”
In the hallway outside the suite door, Garbage Bag Johnny sits on the floor, his head leaned back against the wall, his own chest still heaving with breaths. He smiles and flashes rock ‘n roll devll horns.
Nova makes his way down the hallway and slides down to a seated position next to his friend. “You can do the whole run without breaks now, can’t you?”
GBJ nods, thick strands of sweaty black hair draped over his face, fluttering outward with each exhale.
Nova leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes. “Fuckin’ A, Johnny…this would have been easier with a jetpack.”
“I was really excited about that,” GBJ says quietly, leaning his head forward.
“I know you were,” Nova replies.
GBJ looks up. “Even just searching for it, y’know? Made me feel the way I felt back in those days, like anything is possible and we can just fucking do it.”
“We weren’t searching for a jetpack, Johnny,” Nova says, “we were searching for a time machine.”
He runs a hand through the wiry gray-blonde hair encircling his scalp. “But we don’t have one. What we have in front of us is a shit-ton of stairs…and there are no shortcuts.”
He puts a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You and I are have to gonna climb these fuckers the old-fashioned way.”
GBJ climbs slowly to his feet with a grunt. “You’re right. So I guess we better get back to it.”
Nova follows suit, stretching his arms over his head once he’s on his feet. “Alright, alright. One more run…then I’m making us some fucking pancakes.”
GBJ nods and then takes off at a sprint down the hallway, flinging open the door to the stairwell and disappearing inside.
Nova grins, and follows him.
The elevator door on the 28th floor opens. Two old men wearing futuristic, silvery jumpsuits and AR visors hobble out. One presses a button on the side of his visor and scans across the floor.
“I’m not seeing them on this floor either,” says the first one.
“You sure this is even the right hotel?”
“Pretty sure.” He trails off. “Who were we looking for again?”
“Us, you nincompoop!” The second one is visibly irritated, perhaps jealous of his compatriot’s full head of flowing, white hair.
“But we’re right here.”
The two old men look at each other and shrug.
“Fuck it, then. Let’s call it a day and go find a restaurant with an Early Bird Special.”