All this week, SF Signal is running an excerpt from The Tel Aviv Dossier by Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv.
THE FIREMAN’S GOSPEL,
PART II (ELI-APOCRYPHAL?)
So there I was, driving the Hawk down Ibn Gvirol street, a semiconscious fireman in the passenger seat and a rather too conscious one somewhere in the back, where I couldn’t see him because the right-wing mirror had just been broken by a flying bicycle, rider included. There was a terrific wind, and action all around us, just the way I always imagined it should be. Just the way I wanted it to be. Even better. In some places it looked as if gravity was somehow reversed, cars and trees and people floating up, slowly at first, then accelerating, finally vanishing in some kind of turbulence overshadowing the street. Far in the south, a huge black vertical cloud was visible, and I saw parts of buildings swinging around over that area of the city, as if caught by an invisible carousel. Similar clouds were visible in the east and west, though only just. Around us, people were flying.
“What happened?” Kuti said, waking. “Where are we going?” I didn’t answer. I was smiling like crazy.
“Eli, come on. And where’s Avi?”
“He’s in the back,” I said. I didn’t bother even to try to check. Either he was still there, or he wasn’t.
“In the . . . oh my God, what the hell is that?” Kuti shouted, and I looked to the right and saw something beautiful: a yacht, huge, flying low and upside down, the stub of its mast digging into the street, rushing straight at us. There were people caught in the remains of its rigging
I said “Wow!” and then it hit us, full force, smashing against the right side of the hawk, making us swerve wildly. After the big crash I felt two minor ones, probably the trailing people. Then I saw the main ladder, which should have been strongly tied to the body of the truck, flying above us right into the side of a building.
Kuti shouted something, but I didn’t listen. Somehow we managed not to overturn, and instead did a full circle around our rear-end, sweeping cars over the sidewalks on both sides of the street. The noise was fantastic. Kuti shouted again. I smiled and pressed on the gas pedal.
That was the point at which I understood that everything was different now, that the old rules were gone. That I could actually be myself, and not have to pretend to care.
“What are you doing?” Kuti shouted. “Where are we going? Where’s Avi?”
“We’re having the time of our lives,” I said. “We’re going to have some more of it. And Avi is, in all probability, squashed by the Flying Dutchman back there.”
“Oh my God! Was he in the rear position? Oh my God! Oh my . . .”
“Everybody dies,” I said. It’s my favourite R.E.M. misquote, but it doesn’t work too good in Hebrew. In Hebrew it sounds just like “Everybody is dead”-which suits me fine, but nobody else, it seems-and the original meaning is lost. Kuti stared at me, shocked by this even more than by everything else. I always thought he was a bit strange.
The Hawk, despite all its weight, including three tonnes of water and I forget how many tonnes of motor and ladders and equipment, not to mention a considerable amount of naval craft remains, moved very fast and very lightly on its wheels. I drove it at full speed through a red traffic light, which looked as if it was struggling to stay connected to the ground. By then we were already near the municipality building, where Prime Minister Rabin had been murdered. The little memorial corner was still there, but numerous parts of the municipality building were gone, as if blown away by an invisible daikaiju not too keen on paying property tax. The road got a little bumpy-some water pipes broke and started spraying water all around it-but the street was clear of cars by now, as most of them were hovering at various heights above it. The roofs of the buildings were being ripped off and tossed here and there. We passed by one of the local McDonald’s, which was in ruins, making me particularly happy. Some things should never be called hamburgers. All around and above us windows were breaking, and all sorts of things were being pulled out of them: furniture and animals and people. Everything was flying up. People were flying up. People, like superheroes, free in the air.
For a moment I thought I might enjoy flying myself. Then I saw what happened to those who got too high.
Eventually, all of them got too high.
There was red rain.
It was great to see.
If you looked high enough, there were more reasons to think of hamburgers.
“Kuti,” I said, “how about if we stop and grab something to eat?” But Kuti passed out again.
After we passed the point in which Ibn Gvirol becomes Yehuda Halevi street, things went a little slower. The street was narrower, and some cars, instead of flying right up, drifted to the sides of the road and got stuck on walls and in windows, like giant beetles poisoned and put in a collection made of concrete. Pieces fell off them back to the street: mostly doors, but also tires and trunk covers and several whole engines. I drove over all that, but it was getting difficult.
There was no rain here, and it was relatively quiet, though the wind was still quite strong. When I quickly glanced back, I saw several buildings crumble and disintegrate. Before us there was the giant cloud that covered the south part of the city, near Jaffa. Far east and west, other, similar clouds overshadowed the city and the sea. Maybe this place, here in the middle, is like the eye of the storm, I thought. Or maybe it isn’t, and whatever this whole thing is, it’s going to end soon. But no-I am an optimist by nature. I couldn’t bring myself to believe that all this would end so shortly after it began. Not when I was having all this fun.
Kuti woke up again.
“Where are . . .” he said, and then he saw.
“What are . . .” he said, but then probably thought better of it. “Why are . . .” he said, but halfheartedly.
Then he said, “Stop the truck!”
“No way,” I said, and then saw why he said it. In front of us, a pile of rubble which looked like a giant grey turd, but was in fact the remains of a three-storey building, was spread over the road. There was no way that a vehicle the size and weight of the Hawk could cross it.
I said, “We’re going to cross it.”
“You’re crazy!” Kuti said, as I stopped and then put the Hawk into reverse, building some distance between us and the rubble. There was a more-or-less complete collapsed wall lying ahead, like a naturally occurring rump. “Don’t do that, don’t-!” he added, as I deliberately hit another building, so that most of the yacht went off the Hawk, as well as some ladders and probably the remains of Avi, if anything was left of him. “Let me off! Let me out of here!” he said, as I revved the engine, putting the RPM meter in the red. But by the time he managed to open the door it was too late. I released the brakes, and the Hawk dashed forward, accelerated like no Hawk before it ever had, ran over the collapsed wall and arced through the air. Kuti tried to hold onto my arm but I pushed his hand away from me and he flew out of the cabin and into the sky.
It was rather like that scene in E.T., with the bicycle over the moon, only it was a fire truck and there was no moon. It seemed to last forever. It definitely lasted more than the time it should take any fire truck to return to the ground.
The same couldn’t be said for Kuti, though. Again, there was a bit of red rain.
When we got back to the ground, I noticed that the rear part of the Hawk was on fire.
I really couldn’t have asked for more.
[Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt!]