Greener than Green

by J. T. Townley

So I rang the bell, Chuck answered, and we stared at each other through the screen door.  You remember Chuck. He had a cold beer in his hand. He still wore his uniform, though untucked, shoeless, no gun. He grimaced at my companions, then said:

Gone over to the dark side?

Getting out the vote, says I. Can we count on you to go to the polls?

He took a swig, eyeing us the whole time. Damn straight.

Great to hear.

But not how you think.

I was already extending a Greener Than Green button, though Chuck hadn’t even cracked the screen. You’re not a Vic supporter?

He pursed his lips, squinting. Look at yourself, Harry. What would Brenda think?

I was doing well by doing good, Brenda. You woulda been so proud.

I mean, Jezus, says Chuck, you forsook your own kind to slave for a buncha damn Chewbacca-type fellas. With that shaggy hair and beard, you’re starting to favor them. What kinda example’s that set for the youth?

I stuck to the spiel I’d written and rehearsed. You won’t find a better candidate than Vic, says I. He’s got smarts. He’s got charisma. He’s got vision. And that’s what we need to make this city a greener place for everyone.

Chuck fingered a tear in his screen. You’re a traitor to your own kind, Harry. And, no offense, dumber than a box of rocks. No wonder Brenda ran out on you.

Everybody’s entitled to an opinion, Chuck. Can I leave you with a button or a sticker?

Keep your junk. My vote’s with the incumbent. He’s good people. For that matter, he’s people, not some creature that crawled outta the woods in the deep, dark night. We stick together, thick or thin, Harry. Remember that.

Okay, Chuck. Thanks for your time.

He slammed the door after us. He may or may not have been watching through the peephole as we planted a Greener Than Green placard in his yard.

*

Maybe everything was small-time, but I was still drowning. When Vic hired me on as campaign manager, I didn’t have a clue what all that meant. Save the raccoon ransacking my trash barrel, I’d barely seen another living creature in the weeks since you left, so I wasn’t gonna turn him down. Imagine somebody like that knocking on our door, Brenda, rousing me from a dreamless, drunken stupor in the middle of the afternoon. Squeezing all eight feet of himself into our parlor, treating me with friendliness, dignity, and respect, never mind my employment situation or connubial status. Told me all about the Greener Than Green movement—and talk about a silver tongue! When, a few days later, he tendered the offer, I put my hand in his enormous mitt and said: What have I got to lose?

*

The rally was my idea. I could picture the whole thing, with speeches and chanting and bucket-loads of fanfare. When I made the suggestion, Vic turned to his closest advisors, and they all gave him a silent head nod. It’s this thing they do. They’ll talk your ear off once they get going, but most of the time they keep real quiet. Might explain why we never had more than footprints and a few blurry photographs for evidence.

A rally, says Vic, emerald eyes smiling behind his little round wire specs. Great idea.

I dove into it headfirst. The whole thing taught me a lot about myself, such as I’m no great shakes at event planning. Could they make that whole cockamamie permit process more confusing? It took some doing, but I got us scheduled for the waterfront on the following Saturday afternoon.

We had to figure out details like transportation, supplies, possibly security. Somebody got a city map, and we unfolded it right across the conference table. We’re here, says I, pointing to our current location at the new Eastside Courtyard (not the old decrepit one downtown). Then I aimed my pencil at the waterfront: The rally’s here.

They all started jabbering at once. That’ll never work. Where are the trees? Too exposed. And so on and so forth.

I stood there, waylaid, scratching my bushy beard.

Sorry, Harry, says Vic. No can do.

So much for proactive. Isn’t that what you used to yak about, Brenda? Well, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

The Sasquatch are most comfortable among the Douglas firs and deer fern, so they pushed hard for Woodsy Park, more than five-thousand acres of urban forest. Took a while to explain to them why a rally out there wasn’t the best idea. Once we got that straightened out, we settled on Mount Urbana. Not only was it semi-wooded, it was also centrally located with parking, facilities, and a playground for the kiddies. Plus, it wasn’t two miles from the hotel—though we’d probably take the shuttle bus anyway. The permit process wasn’t any more fun the second time around, but I got her done. You may not remember, Brenda, but I can be a go-getter when I want to.

On Saturday morning, we hauled everything up to the park. We had a podium and microphone and sixty-seven folding chairs, all of which we’d pilfered from the Eastside Courtyard. We even lugged up two cases of green apple Fanta: they loved that stuff, Brenda. We (or I) got Joe’s to cater donuts and coffee. We (or I) tacked posters to spruce and fir. We (or I) set up a merch table with Greener Than Green t-shirts, caps, and stickers. Vic had the speech I’d written him on a couple of oversized index cards.

When the marine layer burned off, the air filled with the sweet scent of warm pine needles. There wasn’t exactly a flood of supporters, just a trickle of fitness fanatics who noticed our cluster of hairy (or furry) eight-foot tall bipeds and stopped to investigate. I’d contacted the various local clubs and interest groups with a stake in Vic’s electoral success. They were louder than they were numerous, and they gobbled up all the donuts, but I was glad they showed up.

I stood over to the side with Vic’s friends. With my shaggy hair (or fur) and brown cotton coveralls, I hoped to blend—though my height (six-one) and brown eyes were a dead giveaway. The Sasquatch followed Vic’s every move. I fingered my beard and marveled at the spectacle I’d somehow cobbled together.

Vic stuck to the script. It didn’t really matter what I wrote for him anyway, since he could make a grocery list sound inspiring. All the same, I expected the crowd to walk after the first five minutes: it was a beautiful morning, sun shining, birds chirping. Plus, there was the musk factor. It was a Sasquatch thing. At least the light breeze kept their odor from lingering.

By the time Vic wrapped up, those folding chairs were almost full. When he thanked the crowd for listening and pointed them to the merch table, the applause was raucous. After it died down, folks idled in small bunches or surged toward the t-shirts, caps, and stickers. Vic pumped the hands of a few brave souls who summoned the gumption to approach his eight-foot frame. I purveyed Greener Than Green swag, chest puffed with pride.

Then this silver-haired lady in white walking shoes wandered over. You, she hollered, pointing her walking cane at Vic. You’re that real estate guy.

Vic glanced up from his conversation with a gaggle of pierced-and-tattooed Sasquatch Society folks. I tapped a member of our entourage to take over for me, then moved swiftly among the empty chairs.

The woman shuffled toward the front. She was still wielding her cane like a rapier. You tried to gyp me.

Ma’am? I shouted from across several rows of chairs. May I be of service?

You sent your hairy goons around to intimidate me when I wouldn’t sell. I raised my kids in that house, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let you–

It’s okay, ma’am, I said, sliding between Vic and the woman.

I wanna know what that was about, she shouted.

I gave Andy, who I’d appointed head of security, largely owing to his enormous stature (nearly ten feet!), a sign, then guided her away from the podium. Right this way, ma’am. We’ll get you all fixed up.

Once I got her to the periphery, Andy and his security detail took over. I was just glad we managed to nip it in the bud, Brenda. Vic had his enormous fingers in lots of pies, including some sort of aggressive re-wilding program. I wasn’t involved and didn’t know all the details. All I knew was I liked Vic and his buddies, and the feeling was mutual. So I was gonna do right by them, come hell or high water.

*

By now I’d all but moved into the Eastside Courtyard. I was putting in some long hours, so all that driving back and forth just didn’t make sense—not to mention the wear-and-tear on my F- 250. I took a room on the top floor, where I’d get three or four hours of sack time each night. I swilled a cold one at the bar from time to time, but mostly, I was burning the midnight oil, Brenda. All your talk about slacker and sluggard, loafer and lazybones: you’d be eating your words now, if you hadn’t skipped town with that environmental attorney who slipped hundreds into your G-string. Don’t you know their job is bending the law for corporate polluters?

I couldn’t stay gone forever. I woke up one morning, stark naked and tangled up in the bedsheets. Bills, I muttered, yardwork. I shrugged into my coveralls and scratched my beard, tied my hair back and gargled some mouth wash. When I slid into the war room and gave Vic the heads-up, he tried to talk me out of it, but soon as he got busy, I slipped out the side exit and pointed my pickup toward home.

*

As I eased into the driveway, Chuck was giving me the eagle eye from his clattering John Deere. Soon he dismounted and sidled across my well-neglected lawn. Before I’d even killed the engine, he was already at my door, talking at me through the open window.

What’d they do to you?

Who’s that? says I.

Them big Wookie sons-of-bitches.

I felt my face squinch up. That’s not the preferred—

They musta worked you over pretty good. He pretzeled his arms over his chest and watched something down the block I couldn’t see.

I’m not sure what we’re talking about, Chuck.

He shifted his weight, giving me a suspicious once-over. How’d they get to you?

They’re standup guys. They got a vision for a greener future.

Hogwash, says he. You better wise up. They’re buying the city right out from under us.

Do what?

They already got the Cost-U-Less, the Pump-’n’-Go, and Lou’s Liquors—not to mention lots of private homes.

I tried to open my door, but Chuck was in the way. You mind?

He stepped back into my mess of patchy weeds. Up the street, somebody’s sprinkler thumped and splatted.

They got the real estate companies, too.

What do you mean?

Chuck gave me a look like I was the world’s biggest imbecile. Now he pointed down the block. See for yourself, says he.

All I see’s a realtor setting up signs.

They brainwash you? Get you with their probes? Humiliate you with their unnatural sex acts?

I’m telling you, says I. They’re good people.

He gave me a disgusted snarl. People is exactly what they ain’t.

You know what I mean. They’re the kinda folks you can count on. Reliable. Dependable. Loyal. They’re smart and got good manners, too.

He shook his head and spat into the weeds, then swaggered back to his riding lawnmower.

*

We kept right on politicking through the early fall. What did I know? I was just making it up as I went along. We went door-to-door. We plastered posters hither and yon. We sold our campaign merchandise to whoever was buying—and that was damn near everybody. Those with the guts to say no to our furry (or hairy) faces were few and far between.

Somehow we never got any pushback about the campaign proper. Vic’s message was clean, clear, and simple: Serious problems require innovative solutions. Maybe his ideas were a little out there, even for me, and I never understood exactly how he planned to bring about those green solutions of his. Then there was the whole real estate side of things. Maybe I shoulda been paying closer attention, Brenda, because it was all happening right under my nose.

*

Not a week before voters went to the polls, the incumbent backed out. He gave the usual line about spending more time with his family, but I suspected something else was afoot. Don’t ask me what. It was just this feeling I had. Soon as I heard it on the TV, I busted into the war room to break the good news.

Congratulations, gents, says I. The deal’s sealed.

They gave each other shifty-eyed glances over their green apple Fantas. This was a private parlay, from the looks of things.

What deal’s that? says Vic.

Mayor Alcalde quit the race.

Is that right, says Vic, smiling around his bendy straw.

The others were grinning, too. I assumed they were pleased, Brenda, but it coulda meant anything. They were hard to read. Still, I did my best to savor the moment. As you well know, it’d been a long time since I’d had anything to celebrate.

*

And, by God, celebrations were in order. Just not for us. Maybe folks got confused? Because it was a landslide for the regular old Green Party. They won every seat: mayor, comptroller, auditor, and all four city commissioner positions. When you looked at the numbers, nobody else was even close. I’d busted my hump for Greener Than Green, and we still got skunked. How could this have happened?

Yet the Sasquatch were all laughing and grinning away, like losing the election had been their plan from the get-go. Made no sense to me. Sometimes I thought we had a lot in common, but other times I didn’t know the first thing about what made them tick. Anyway, I needed a drink, so I brought in a couple bottles of Asti Spumante I’d chilled in the bar walk-in for our inevitable victory. What the hell? It would only go to waste. I unpeeled the foil, untwisted the wire, and shoved that cork with both thumbs till it shot out with a loud pop and hit the ceiling panels. A strange, frozen feeling. I glanced up. Everyone stood tensed, arms wide, huge mitts cupped into claws. The champagne frothed and ran.

Easy gents, says I. It’s only bubbly.

Vic’s green eyes smiled behind his specs. He gave a subtle wave, and everyone relaxed.

I managed to salvage half that first bottle, though I still made a mess pouring it into flutes. I was gonna open another one, but they were already guzzling green apple Fanta like it was going out of style. I wasn’t sure it’d ever been in style. Anyway, I cracked open a cold bottle, joined the circle, and guzzled that sweet elixir right along with the rest of them. Tasted like battery acid and Easter eggs, but when in Rome, right? I couldn’t keep pace with them, Brenda, but I held a half-full bottle in my hand the whole time, grinning and laughing. It didn’t matter they mostly spoke their own language of grunts and growls. I knew I’d pick it up eventually. Point is, they treated me like one of their own, and that meant something.

*

Later, this banging kicked up out front. Nobody paid the clamor much attention, but I couldn’t seem to ignore it. I ambled across the empty lobby and peeked at the front entrance. Beyond two sets of automatic sliding doors, both of them locked tight, a mob had gathered. Their hollering was an angry ruckus, Brenda. They were armed, too, though mainly with rakes, hoes, and shovels, along with pool cues and the odd pitchfork. Hammers of all stripes, claw, ball-peen, and sledge. The only firearms were strapped to the hips of the uniformed cops at the head of the crowd. Chuck was right up front.

I froze, waited, then started to slink away. A metallic thunk against the glass, then Chuck’s muted voice:

Don’t you walk away from me, Harry.

I peered back over my shoulder. Somehow, he’d made it into the entryway, glaring at me through the second set of automatic sliding doors. I exaggerated a shrug and mouthed, Sorry.

Chuck thumped on the glass some more. He was using the butt of his Smith & Wesson. We know everything, Harry. The buyouts, the demolitions. They gotta answer for what they done.

I took a few cautious steps toward the entrance. The crowd had begun to push in behind Chuck.

They didn’t do anything wrong, says I.

Like hell.

Serious problems require innovative solutions.

Horsefeathers, says he. You been hoodwinked, Harry.

The crowd swelled. People beat on the glass with nunchucks and golf clubs. But you threw in with them Wookies, so now it’s time to pay the piper.

Any comeback I mighta hurled wasn’t forthcoming. I stared at the swelling crowd, lockjawed, wondering what exactly Vic’d done to raise such ire.

Chuck pointed his pistol at me through the glass.

Go away, says I, swatting at the air.

He shook his head. Let us in, Harry. Show us you’re with the good guys, and maybe we’ll go easy on you.

This is private property, and you’re trespassing.

You gonna call the cops? says Chuck, sneering. Newsflash: we’re already here.

*

Once I gave Vic the lowdown, he followed me out into the lobby. Chuck and his cronies had scared up a crowbar, and they were doing a number on those automatic sliding doors. Vic spoke a few grunts and growls, and everyone poured out of the business center, spreading across the lobby in what mighta been a strategic fashion.

Gentlemen, says Vic. What seems to be the problem?

I’ll tell you what the problem is, Chewie.

Chuck’s cronies got a kick out of that.

You and your Wookie pals are trying to destroy our fair city.

Don’t listen to them, says I. They’re a buncha bigots.

Vic said something else without taking his eyes off Chuck. A few Sasquatch slipped out one side exit, a few more slipped out the other.

Chuck beat on the glass again, this time so hard it cracked and spidered. You listening to me, Bigfoot bastard?

No need to destroy my door, says Vic. Give us a minute, and we’d be happy to let you in.

When I glanced over, he nodded, so I flipped the switch, then clattered my key into the lock and turned. As the doors sighed open, I ducked behind a load-bearing pillar. I had no interest in a ball-peen hammer to the head.

The vigilantes poured into the lobby, cops drawing pistols, citizens brandishing makeshift weapons. The Sasquatch danced subtly in place, shaking out their muscles. From behind my pillar, I kept my eyes wide open.

Welcome, says Vic.

Look who’s all high and mighty, says Chuck with a sneer. This hotel don’t even belong to you.

We purchased the place fair and square. The previous owners retired to San Diego.

The previous owners are dear friends you hornswoggled, same as you done to lots of other folks around town.

Vic forced a smile. Everything was above board, says he.

Bamboozled us left and right, says Chuck. Fed us all kinda malarkey about toxic waste this and radon that. You even stoked up fears about subduction zones and the Big One. Plus, you’re all nine-foot monsters. Hard to say no when you could break our necks with one hand.

I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding, says Vic. We just want to make this a greener city.

By running us off and razing our homes?

The crowd surged. A jumpy cop’s pistol fired. The bullet didn’t hit anyone, but that was all it took. The Sasquatch are quicker than they look and just as powerful. They can hurl a good-sized man twenty yards with one hand. They can drop an attacker to the floor with a single swat. They can snap all manner of makeshift weapons, from shovels to pool cues, like so many chopsticks. They’d already flanked Chuck’s mob, so when the vigilantes tried to flee, they were hemmed in. A couple more shots popped off. I crouched behind my pillar. Everything was a brown blur, the air rank with musk and a wet coppery stench.

The whole thing was over in two shakes, Brenda. When I peered out, Chuck and his posse sprawled all over the lobby. Vic growled a command, and the Sasquatch piled up the bodies behind the front desk. They wiped their mitts on plush hotel towels, then began filing upstairs. Gape- mouthed, I hustled over to lock the door, then fell in right behind them.

For obvious reasons, we waited until way past nightfall. A police cruiser pulled through the circle drive more than once, search light ablaze. At one point, cops got out and shined their flashlights into the lobby, leaning against the glass and cupping their hands around their eyes. We watched it all on the security monitors. The lobby carpet was dark enough to hide the blood stains.

One of us disabled the fire alarms. Others poured unleaded from a gas can down every hall. Vic threw open a utility closet behind the front desk: inside, dozens of Fanta bottles half-filled with clear liquid, a cloth fuse dangling from each lip.

Are those what I think they are? says I.

Vic just grinned.

The Sasquatch gathered the bottles, two in each hand, and we filed out the back and congregated by the dumpsters. Vic gazed at us, one by one, his green eyes glimmering behind his specs. Then he lit a strike-anywhere and flipped it into the hallway. The carpets and wallpaper, upholstery and drapes and bedding went up in flames before we’d slipped across the parking lot.

*

It was a wild night, Brenda. Vic and the Sasquatch had acquired properties, commercial and residential both, in every quadrant of the city, and we went around in the hotel shuttle, hurling Molotov cocktails at them. Some had already been demolished, nothing but empty slabs and mounds of dirt, but the structures still standing went up in a whoosh of flames. We made quick work of it. Soon more than half the city was on fire. It was one helluva re-wilding strategy—though we never would get around to the follow-up tree planting.

We escaped into Woodsy Park. I let them out at the trailhead, then drove the van down the hill a ways and left it beside the road. When I was a safe distance, I chucked a loaded Fanta bottle at it, then hotfooted back to the park.

I figured all the fires down in the city might light my way, but it was pitch black in the woods. I squinted and blinked, to no avail. It wasn’t easy finding my way in the dark. I crept along the rocky trail, stumbling into trees, tripping over ferns. Vic? says I. Vic? I couldn’t hear anything but the sound of my own footfalls and blood throbbing at my temples. It’s Harry, says I. Where are you?

By now, I was sure they’d left me for dead, Brenda. I was their patsy, their fall guy, their scapegoat. They’d used me, then thrown me out with yesterday’s trash. How could I have been so stupid?

I stopped in the thick blackness and felt sorry for myself. Maybe I sobbed a little, I don’t know. My vision blurred with tears for a moment, but when I blinked them away, I saw something new: little green specks of light, like fireflies. They were eyes, Brenda, wide and emerald. They musta been downwind because I didn’t smell a thing. I groped my way towards them, stumbling more than once. Not two seconds after I caught a whiff of their musk, Vic patted my shoulder, and I joined their circle, squatting and exchanging silent glances. That went on for a spell. When the time was right, Vic stood, and we all disappeared into the night.

So when you come home, Brenda, things won’t look the same. Our house is nothing but charred two-by-fours and a vacant slab. If the pickup’s still in the hotel lot, it’s all yours: the way we travel, I won’t be needing it. As for me, there’s no cause for concern. Though I never woulda guessed it, living out in the backcountry suits me fine. I’ve picked up some of their lingo, too, though nobody talks much. I’ve even developed a taste for green apple Fanta, so I’ve come to enjoy our occasional nighttime raids on small-town quickie marts. So maybe it took a while, but I found some friends—or they found me. What I’m saying is, you can rest easy, Brenda. Maybe it’s hard to believe, but I’m alright now.

 

J. T. Townley has published in Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, and many other magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from the University of Oxford. To learn more, visit jttownley.com.

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction

One response to “Greener than Green

  1. Dave Kibler

    Very entertaining. Well done. D. Kibler

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