Lay Auto—run by a slow-curve high school dropout-mastermind, a heavily degreed and even more heavily blue-eyed professor, and two fantasy enigma, at least at the outset, women—has created the first bio-garbage-consuming engine, and shady terrorists of uncertain danger linger on the fringes. As the Lay Auto team cruises the Kentucky streets for a test drive, they encounter a stray dog, literally crashing into it with no apparent detriment to the canine, although the story is set to roll with its new animal sidekick. Joe Taylor is a writer trapped inside his graphic novel without the ability to draw. Picture this: a graphic novel without graphics, a faux graphic novel. Sentences crack, fragmentary at times like a conglomerate of taglines. Scenes are a procession of cells that pop with a staccato vibrancy, emphasizing the surreal, framing the real. This could be the beginning of the over-promised end of the novel as we know it.


Chapter One

Faux Graphic Panels One through Seven:

Ending happily though frightfully

Lay Auto. In its created glory and pidgin French, a perfect — !!! — alternative-fuel vehicle with fuchsia fenders, jet-black body, and silver-starred boot. Far sleeker than its faux-competitor the gas-guzzling Corvette, which amazingly still oozes off assembly lines from aging and decrepit Detroit, it glides the streets of Lexington, KY. Even in this prototype phase, Lay Auto has caught the attention of desirous consumers — and un-desirous terrorists. Why? Glance under its jet-black bonnet: a two-cylinder and earth-friendly engine, capable of running on beets, scrabble-level tobacco, discarded textbooks or newspapers — even spent chewing gum. That’s why. But forget buzzing terrorists. Concentrate on the four owners who masterminded Lay Auto:
      First, Willy Turner, rejected as a high school dropout by every university in America except Kentucky, which graduated the hometown boy out of pity. Willy finally received his masters in Auto Engineering from FAST U, an online school variously located in Miami, Los Angeles, and Dallas. Willy’s long beard — I’d love to draw it for you, but I’ve been prohibited from including illustrations by my California Agent, a conservative fig if ever there was one. How can I write a graphic novel without graphics, I ask during endless electronic meetings. A fiber optic pause occurs, and I always imagine him bending, studying a speck intruding between tanned California toes and unisex California sandals. Iowa potato dust? Hawaiian volcanic ash? His silence serves as an answer, so perhaps I’m writing the first graphic novel without graphics? But let’s return to Willy, numero uno of the Pit Crew conglomerate who masterminded Lay Auto: It took Willy seven years to earn his masters in Auto Engineering, twenty-one to grow his beard. That’s all I dare reveal about his age, for poor Willy’s terrorifically reserved about accumulating years, which he envisions lumping his body like wayward dandelion seeds.
      The second owner is Dave Branden. Dave holds two Ph.D.s, one in chemical engineering from Florida State, one in computer science from MIT, plus a B. A. in theology from Duke, that last courtesy of the G. I. Bill. How I wish I could insert just one simple art-splash panel, for after mapping the intricate contours of Dave’s brain said panel would reveal his blue-blue eyes. Technicolor blue. Sapphire blue. Paul Newman, Harrison Ford, Django Reinhardt blue. Oceanic blue, baby blue. Deep-in-a-cave blindfish blue. Blue Curaçao blue. Sky-tumbling blue. Were Django Reinhardt’s eyes blue? Doubtful. He was a guitar-playing gypsy who managed to elude Nazis while strumming under their Aryan noses. Terra incognita brown would be my guess. Blue crab blue. Lovesick Blue. Blue Monday blue. By midday’s happy light blue.
      The third owner — lest you fear this will be an blowhard boy book, and since my California Agent, hereinafter referred to as CA, once during an early cyberspace conference lifted from his silent pedicure to electronically warn me that a balance of male and female must prevail in the illustrationless panels. (“Call Jane Austen for help,” he insisted on-screen. / “Jane Austen?” / “You know what I mean.”) I didn’t know, but I now do. And I can truthfully assure you: this third owner is most fully female. Her name? Mary Lou Nelson.
      Moreover, the fourth owner is also a female: Brenda Angela Browning. For a tee-tiny period she was known as Babs, but is mostly known as Bad because of her fiery red hair and temper. Bad, by the way, claims no relation to either the poet Browning or the weapons manufacturer. After introducing these third and fourth owners, I, testosterone slave as I was created, long to fill their illustrationless panels with boobs, scents, curves, roseate folds, and silken skin, for memory informs me that in high school I drew lovely and intricate porno cartoons in a musty locker room . . . well, let that go. As mentioned, CA the CA fig has nixed illustrations.
      So, the two female owners: One pair of hazel eyes (ever-shifting mysteries), one pair of blue eyes (see male’s eyeball description above, but add a flash of heat lightning); one worried and compassionate brow, one angry brow; an abundance of red hair, an abundance of brunette. Bad banged drums in a hard rock band but quit to nearly obtain a Ph.D. in math from the University of Florida, a degree she’s still working on, when not obsessed with Lay Auto. Mary Lou finished a Divinity degree at Duke, which is how she met Dave. Despite her being an heiress with a goodly amount of money, no American church will accept her, because she’s too nice (that also in spite of being an heiress with a goodly amount of money). Wait! Too nice for a church? Yes, have you looked at the Southern Baptist Conference? Mary Lou doesn’t hate kikes, mackerel-snappers, or queers. She doesn’t condemn divorced or unwed mothers. She doesn’t want to hunt down Moslems and slowly extract their infidel fingernails until they screech for saving Baptismal waters. . . .
      Here resides as good a place as any to insert an illustrationless panel:
      Lay Auto, filled with these four owners and running on two buckets of discarded KFC chicken skin and bones, has just slammed into a pop-up STOP sign that one earlier-mentioned terrorist group has inserted — without illustrations — in the middle of a Lexington, KY side street. Not to worry, children: Lay Auto’s spring-loaded, computer-controlled fuchsia bumpers easily handle this assault.
      Lay Auto, how we love thee! Hallelujah!
      “Friggin’ Arab terrorists!” Bad yells, pulling Mace from her orange canvas bag while powering down Lay’s window. Bad has always sat in the front seat ever since high school when a male maggot tried to navigate her privates in a back seat, using eight fingers, two thumbs, and a single bouncing lolly. She slugged him thrice and suggested he get out and navigate the stars instead.
      “Don’t rush to judgment,” Mary Lou fervently offers, leaning from behind.
      But Bad’s already taken aim.
      Her long-range Mace, demonstrating some miraculous law of science — Browning motion? — eases back into Lay Auto, though the bulk of its effusion temporarily blinds two dark terrorists who were approaching Lay with evil terroristical intent and evil weapons of mini-destruction.
      “No, I think they’re Caucasian,” Dave corrects even as Willy urges Lay Auto to escape-velocity by instructing the voice-activated computer, “Go fast!” Within twelve seconds, being earth-friendly and planned for a non-terrorific world, Lay Auto is pushing 28 m.p.h.
      Dave is correct about the skin color, for all four Pit Crew owners glance back to see two of the WASPishest-looking men ever to trod Mother Earth, complete with power-red ties and navy-blue polyester suits. The two are standing in the middle of Lexington’s Elm Street pitifully wiping their pitiless eyes from Bad’s Mace. So power-red are their ties that these two could be mistaken for a team of GOP lawyers in a desist action against distributing aid to homeless mothers and infants.
      “Please watch where you’re driving, Willy,” Dave observes from the back seat with out-of-character, nervous insistence. “There’s a dog ahead.”
      This warning comes too late, for Lay Auto hits the dog, which performs a flip to land on the hood. Seeing the dog’s open eyes, Willy gasps. Has the infrared accident avoidance system broken down? Did the pop-up stop sign malign it? He slams Lay Auto’s brakes, which work immediately — no contradiction in fast braking and earth friendliness. The car stops, even as Willy’s foot presses harder in a so-human attempt to reverse both time and a deed ill-done. Far, far  behind, the two WASPs have disappeared, perhaps lifted by a black helicopter, perhaps teleported by a spontaneous combustion beam. Near, near ahead, the dog lies atop the jet-black bonnet, a fluorescent tennis ball in its mouth, its eyes seemingly staring toward fast-approaching Canine Land, better known as Doggie Heaven.
      “Blessed Mother!” Mary Lou cries, extending her arms like an anguished Biblical prophet. Ah well gee you see, this is another reason churches won’t touch Mary Lou, for she insists a bit heavily upon the oppressed feminine side of X-ianity. O! I so wish I might sneak in one bitsy-itsy drawing or some funky Japanese animé art to offer verisimilitude to Mary Lou’s big, tearing, empathically hazel eyes as they watch the doggie begin thumping its tail in a death throe atop Lay Auto’s black bonnet. But no. Direct orders, copyright infringement, downright ill taste, you name it, CA’s on top of it, damn his avocado-grove hide.
      While Willy ponders the misfired accident-avoidance system, the dog bangs its tail ever more emphatically. THUMP! THUMP! The brown tail beats against Lay Auto’s earth-friendly jet-black bonnet. By the bye, Willy, nominal leader of the Pit Crew, read loads of James Bond novels in his youth, hence the Brit appellations that arise concerning Lay Auto’s more private parts. Character enhancement, verisimilitude — I must insert both in this graphic novel without graphics whene’er I can. To further enhance Willy’s character, picture his brows still crinkling over the accident-avoidance system until he remembers that he’d manually overridden it upon entering Lexington three days before, as a test to his childhood memories. (What he doesn’t know is that Bad and Dave flipped it back on, for Willy is one daydreaming, dumble-down driver. So why didn’t the system save the doggy? Why? Ah well gee. Because I, Lay Auto, in emerging sentient wisdom, foresaw fate’s fine fingers writhing, wriggling, weaving, warping, waiting, wafting, waving and walloping, in the form of this tennis-ball-bearing mutt. That’s why.) 
      THUMP! THUMP! Again, with the dog’s brown tail on the bonnet. There, don’t capital letters work as handsomely as graphic panels? And brand name references, wouldn’t they serve a similar purpose? A fluorescent green Wilson tennis ball. A fluorescent green WILSON tennis ball? O, woe, I self-delude. What could ever top a whiz-bang graphic?
      Mary Lou gets out of the car. She reaches for the dog, but Dave grabs her arm in male amplitude, warning that one should let not only sleeping but also dying dogs lie.
      “Funny, though,” Willy comments, for he too now stands on Elm Street. “I don’t smell any blood.” Willy’s nose is infamous. It’s one thing that Bad respects about him. She can almost, at times, overlook his maleness because of his infamous, sniffing nose. A nose is a nose is a nose, and by any other name, would be a Romeo, Bad sometimes chides herself, when her anti-male hormones aren’t pumping angry crimson blood through her arteries with systolic/diastolic frenzy.
      Indeed, Willy’s nose discerns correctly: there is no blood. The dog, a miracle in its own right, had jumped onto the bonnet of the 28 m.p.h. moving Lay Auto before being hitten. (Language note: to counter TV, Ebonics, and the general rut-rot of contemporary American lingo, I will on occasion revert to a pidgin Middle or otherwise archaic English to arouse curiosity. So, run, Jimmy, run. Run, Teresa, run. Buy an Oxford English Dictionary to accompany this graphic novel without graphics. And no, Oxford University Press offered no kickback for this plug. Don’t be cynical!)
      The dog, I say, over a horizontal distance of six and one half feet, and a vertical distance of three feet four inches, had jumped onto Lay Auto’s black bonnet at a propulsion rate of 27.9 m.p.h. Readers fond of word problems might pause and triangulate how long it took said dog to land atop the bonnet, considering Lay Auto’s speed of 28 m.p.h. Workspace follows:
      In shorter time than one might untangle a word problem, Mary Lou has ungripped her arm from Dave’s male amplitude and has reached to pet this brown dog with its thump-thumping tail. The dog nudges her with the fluorescent green tennis ball (WILSON!) and snorts to jump spryly onto four paws.
      “Arf! Arf!” Or, giving another nod to verisimilitude, “Marf! Marf!” since the fluorescent green tennis ball remains gripped in pearly canine teeth.
      “Aw, doggie. Are you hurt? Do you like us?  Is that why you jumped on Lay Auto?”
      “Marf! Marf!”
      So now, it appears, they are five.
      Or is that eight? For three dark figures watch ominously from an empty storefront that once sold used books. The owner didn’t even bother to liquidate the stock, but simply left its glue, ink, and paper to burrowing mice and, now, to burrowing terrorists. Had Dave only turned to look at 7:30 o’clock behind, he could have confirmed that these three figures, unlike the two who disappeared upon rubbing their Mace-filled eyes, were indeed dark and Arabic. And Willy, had he not been sniffing for blood, could have smelled biblical cubed cubits of crude oil still attaining to the hair and clothes of the trio. Bad, she was too PO’ed at getting a dose of her own Mace in her eyes to care, and Mary Lou, she was too busy oozing Darwin’s milk for a fellow species-mate. “Doggie, poor doggie, are you sure you’re all right?” The tail-thumping dog, it should be noted, did espy the terrorists, but kept its growl to its own self.

book text © Joe Taylor

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