A series of enormous explosions rocked the grounds and Jeremiah hit the deck, pieces of glass and other debris raining down upon him, pattering his shoulders. Thump! Ka-thump! Thump!
Now it is too late to turn back, he thought to himself, and wondered if Satyena, wherever she was, were laboring under the same yoke: the yoke of wanting to destroy a thing while at the same time yearning (paradoxically) for its embrace. Then he was up and running, running for the base of the cliff, wanting to look back and yet too terrified to do so, a Bible quote from one of Kill-sin’s sermons echoing in his ear: But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Jonesing for a drive-in theater and a hotrod El Camino?
It’s the dawn of the 1970s and everything is changing. The war in Vietnam is winding down. So is the Apollo Space Program. The tiny northwestern city of Spokane is about to host a World’s Fair. But the Watergate Hearings and the re-entry of Skylab and the eruption of Mount Saint Helens are coming…as are killer bees and Ronald Reagan.
Enter ‘The Kid,’ a panic-prone, hyper-imaginative boy whose life changes drastically when his father brings home an astronaut-white El Camino. As the car’s deep-seated rumbling becomes a catalyst for the Kid’s curiosity, his ailing, over-protective mother finds herself fending off questions she doesn’t want to answer. But her attempt to redirect him on his birthday only arms him with the tool he needs to penetrate deeper—a pair of novelty X-Ray Specs—and as the Camino muscles them through a decade of economic and cultural turmoil, the Kid comes to believe he can see through metal, clothing, skin—to the center of the universe itself, where he imagines something monstrous growing, spreading, reaching across time and space to threaten his very world.
Using the iconography of 20th century trash Americana—drive-in monster movies, cancelled TV shows, vintage comic books—Spitzer has written an unconventional memoir which recalls J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood and Youth. More than a literal character, ‘The Kid’ is both the child and the adult. By eschewing the technique of traditional autobiography, Spitzer creates a spherical narrative in which the past lives on in an eternal present while retrospection penetrates the edges. X-Ray Rider is not so much a memoir as it is a retro prequel to a postmodern life—a cinematized “reboot” of what Stephen King calls the “fogged out landscape” of youth.
She supposed it was what they—or at least Sting of The Police—would have called synchronicity: that twangy guitar and soft-pedaled keyboard emanating so clearly from the RV’s speakers as she ascended the vehicle’s aluminum ladder. All she knew was that the song matched her mood perfectly, absurdly, as Karen Carpenter sang, Such a feeling’s comin’ over me / There is wonder in most everything I see …
She gained the RV’s roof and looked around: at the motor homes being corralled in the parking lot of Bluebeard’s Cove, at the velociraptors gathered like spectators outside the fence, at the brontosaurus mulling its cypress leaves nearby and the pterodactyls circling in the blood-red sky and the volcano spewing lava not thirty miles away. Not a cloud in the sky / Got the sun in my eyes / And I / Won’t be surprised if it’s a dream …
He went into the kitchen and poured her a glass of water. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
“I’m not hungry,” she said. She seated herself slowly, tentatively. “Two, maybe three days. Ever since Sister Samain wrested control of the coven from the Council. Thank you …” She took the glass from Jeremiah, still looking at the paintings. “They’re all done by the same hand, aren’t they?”
He took off his wide-brimmed hat and studied them. “The same eye. Sometimes Jasper’s hand shakes uncontrollably and I have to steady it with my own. Other times I am his hand, and he tells me what to do.” He laughed a little. “He says that I am an artist, just as he. But even I know it’s the eye that sees, not the hands.”
She continued staring at them. “No, I don’t think that’s true. These pictures have lines of grace … look, see how the fingers are elongated, and tend to curve up or down depending on the position of the body. They dance upon the canvas … surely you can see that. I think you paint them together, Jeremiah.”
He swung the strap of the respirator over his head and set it on a mantle. “I’m just his hands.” He moved to leave the room again.
“Just? But hands are for feeling,” she said.
He paused at the entrance to the hall. “And they’re for killing, too.” Then he disappeared into the dark.
And she thought, It’s the heart that kills, Jeremiah. The hard one by slaying others … and the soft by slaying itself. Then she pushed it from her mind.
He hadn’t run far when he came across the first body, as well as the first raptor (the body laying slit open from throat to crotch while the raptor devoured its unspooled intestines), and Red squeezed off a round, blowing a hole in its head which shot a stream of dark blood no less than six feet before the beast dropped like a sandbag and Red circled around to find the others—but mostly to find Charlotte.
He heard her shout above the engine of one of the rides. “Red! I’m over here! The Scrambler!”
He scanned the amusements quickly and saw her long, brown hair blowing from one of the ride’s carriages: she had activated the thing and sought refuge on it, and was now being swung and whipped about dizzyingly even as a trio of cavern raptors tried to attack. He ran to the fence which encircled the attraction and quickly chambered a round, but found it difficult to target any animals as they scrambled to dodge the carriages, darting this way and that with frantic precision even as they persisted in the assault.
They were the kind of musical notes men and woman once swayed to—even worshiped to—or so Jasper had told him, ground from an instrument called an “organ”—which had once been common, or so he’d said, but had vanished from the face of the world. So, too, were there cymbals, which echoed throughout the crew compartment of the War Wagon like tinsel—if tinsel could be said to have a sound—and mingled with the steely whispers of their muskets and tanks and other gear as the truck rocked and their harnesses held them fast.
“When a maaan loves a woman,” sang a hearty and soulful voice both inside and outside the compartment, and Jeremiah knew they were close, else the driver wouldn’t have cued the music, and when he scanned the other Witch Doctors, strapped in six to a bench in the wagon’s cramped confines, he knew that they knew it too. What was more, he knew that, however fearsome they looked in their black jumpsuits and white flame-retardant vests, their goggled respirators, their buckled hats—they were frightened, too.
Corbin snatched the rifle off his shoulder in a flash and everyone ducked—but he was pointing it at the ceiling, not the Chairman. “Shhh,” he said, and cocked his head. “Just listen.”
Charlotte did so, her ears still ringing. Slowly it became manifest: the sound of cavern raptors barking amidst the catacombs, barking and seeming to answer themselves, and something else, which answered them all. The Cat. The smilodon. The saber-toothed tiger which bore little in common with any of its modern-day ancestors nor any of its prehistoric ones, for it was the size of a small bus. And beyond that … another. Something closer in tone to the raptors and yet altogether different. Something bigger, more robust. Something none of them had ever heard before.
“You all need to understand something,” he said finally, slowly re-slinging his gun, “and that is that before I found this place I was precinct commander of an entire police force dedicated to combating these … things. And if there’s one thing we learned …” He paused, smiling a little to himself. “‘We.’ He seemed to dismiss the thought. “If there’s one thing we learned before our unit was torn to pieces … one thing they learned, my men, before being bitten in half, beheaded, slit open by sickle-claws so that their intestines unspooled across the city streets like sausage links … is that these things are not animals.” He smiled to himself again as though reliving a lifetime’s worth of humbling nightmares. “No, an animal is something comprehensible, even relatable. An animal is something flesh and blood same as you or me, with the same needs, the same hunger, the same will to survive. But these things, these so-called dinosaurs and prehistoric cats, they’re not animals, not the way we understand them. They’re weapons. They have purpose. Intent. They’ve been infused with it somehow. Someone, something, has weaponized them against us.” He nodded slowly, distantly. “Those lights in the sky, I think. And I can promise you this … they will not go away.” The haunting smile returned as he shook his head. “They won’t give up, you understand. And they won’t stop until every man, woman, and child in this compound has been torn apart and devoured.”