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Empty Spaces
part 3
by J.(Channing)Wells


I'm losing control again. Fifteen seconds have passed, and the high-schoolers in front of me are beginning to look a bit uneasy. I can feel the thoughts flitting through their minds, wondering exactly how long it's going to be before Sparky the Firehouse Dalmatian here gets on with his song-and-dance number. The sweet, mousy little thing who is, ostensibly, in charge of this classroom on normal days, is beginning to give me A Look. Perhaps wondering if good ol' Bix is going to break down right here in front of everybody. Because everybody knows, of course, that you can't completely trust these SCABS people. One second they're going along fine, the next, _bam_, they're howling loonies.

I wished I could have told her that _normal_ folks are like that too. We all are. All that we need is to be tweaked in the proper places.

Now, perhaps, Mrs. Lemke is questioning the decision to include this guy in Career Day in the first place. Sure, he used to be a New York actor, with a handful of voice-over spots (obviously, the easiest type of job for him to get...) and one fairly major touring show experience under his belt, but surely we could have found _somebody_ with about the same credentials who was... well... _normal_... Just to avoid any potential problems, you understand, not because we _really_ think he's a plague-bearing psychotic circus freak...

Fifteen seconds. An eternity of silence.

Damn it, why did I have to think about Jenny? I should have _started_ in New York. That's the part I wanted to tap into. Not her. Not... the suicide... why did I have to think about her?

Because I always will. A day will not go by where I will not.

jenny jenny jenny jenny jenny jenny jenny jenny je-

I clench my eyes shut, as if to block out the pictures. As if every detail of the scene were not etched in diamond directly upon the surface of my occipital lobe. Drawing on my reserve power, I manage to eke out a few words.

"All right. Shylock."

Yes, they all think, you _told_ us that already, fifteen seconds ago. Can we please just get on with it?

"I'm trying," I desperately want to say back, "And I hope you rugrats _appreciate_ what I'm going through here... asking me to remember all this shit right here in front of everybody..."

All right, Bix. Stop it. Too late to turn back now.

A deep breath.

Here we go again...

* * *


Insert dramatic jazzy horn introduction here.

"Start Spreading the News..."

Bah bah bahbedah Bah...

"I'm (something something) Today..."

Bah bah bahbedah Bah...

"I Want to Be a Part of It... New York, New York..."

Huddled in a mass of blankets in the back of a Nissan hatchback, Michael Bix is singing at the top of his lungs and giving himself percussion accompaniment by tapping his foot-claws on the lined-glass rear window. The rear seat has been folded down, creating a large flat area that would be reasonably adequate for a six-foot tall bipedial Dalmatian to curl up in and sleep. Although the dealer probably never mentioned this bit of trivia to Jenny when she bought the car in the first place, this interesting fact has become important for the simple reason that a six-foot tall bipedial Dalmatian is currently attempting to do just that. And he's failing.

The noise of the machinery in the freight-yard nearby is deafening. For two hours every evening, some hideous mechanical nightmare goes on over there. Michael cannot think of any single manufactured product that would require processing at such a high noise-level, but he is not particularly interested in talking to the owners and asking them what the bloody fuck is making all the racket. He has a "Business Relationship" with the freight-yard...

"Erm. Hi. My name is Michael, and I was wondering..."

The foreman looks Michael up and down, props his feet up on his desk, and says, "You one of them, then."

Don't ask. Don't even try to clarify. Don't say, "One of whom, sir? Oh this? Yes. A-ha-ha. A "SCAB". Silly little thing, really, Why do you ask?" Just forge ahead.

"Erm, yes. I was wondering. I'm new in the city, and I was wondering if maybe... well... I need a place to store the car, until I find an apartment. You're... I mean... you're not _too_ far from the downtown, and I notice you have that big lot out nearby..."

"Fifty bucks. A month."

"I see. Um. How about if..."

"It's not negotiable."

"Right. Right."

"That's pretty damn cheap already, kid. You're not going to find any cheaper."

Bix knows that the man is right. Not this close to the city proper.

"Right. Okay. But it's not going to be long-term, see. I just need it until I find an apartment."

The foreman gives a faint smirk that, in retrospect, has far more meaning to Michael then it does at this time. "Right. Then you just pay me the fifty bucks for this month. And we'll see, after that."

"There was something else. Until I find a place... I need somewhere to sleep. Would you mind if, maybe, I spent a few nights in the lot? Just until I-"

"Kid, you can run your own fucking grocery store outta your goddamn car for all I care. S'long as I get my fifty bucks."

"Thanks. I mean that."

"Yeah, sure, kid. Now get the fuck outta here. You're making me nervous."


Four months later, Bix's fifty-dollar-a-month automobile storage fee has become his fifty-dollar-a-month rent. No. A sleeping fee. "Rent" would imply that he _lives_ in the car. He doesn't. He _sleeps_ there. His days are spent in their entirety hopping from audition to audition, waiting in the endless cattle-call lines, scanning the free copy of the Times in the library for any new notices and generally keeping himself off the streets as much as possible. Showers and toiletries are taken care of by sneaking into the dressing-rooms just prior to auditions. Laundry at the coin-op. Meals are taken at any number of cheap cafeterias and diners around the city and only his pride keeps him from going to the soup kitchens. And although the most technically- demanding theatrical job he's ever gotten is a voice-over for a toothpaste commercial, he _is_ an actor.

The machines grind away into the night. Michael Bix raises his voice in joyous, desperate defiance against the horrors of the outside world.

"Neeeeew Yoooooooooooooooork!"

* * *

A tense, expectant pause. Michael stands on stage, casually dressed in a freshly-washed sweat-suit, the color carefully chosen to complement his striking black-and-white markings. Sweat-suits are fine. Never dress for the part. Show up in whatever makes _you_ feel comfortable. The audition is for _you_.


The audition is for any one of thousands upon thousands of half-mad genius directors in the greater New York City area with a story to tell and the budget to tell it with, one of whom is currently seated in the middle of the dark auditorium where Bix has just finished his audition piece.

Bix stands in the midst of the otherwise empty theatre. Tools are scattered about and the great bulk of assorted scenery bits still in their horridly embryonic less-than-half-complete phase lurk ominously in the shadows. There is the sense of potentiality and new birth in the air. The Empty Space. A space which has _been_, in the past, everything from Main Street U.S.A. to a Victorian sitting room to a surreal landscape on the threshold of a dream. A space that will continue to be all these places from here to eternity, forever and ever, amen.

The theatre is magic. And Bix is merely a component.

He comes to the New York Stage with a vast arsenal of tools and techniques which he carries slung about his person like futuristic weapons of death out of a bad science fiction movie. The Alexander Technique. The Feldenkrais Technique. Yoga. Shiatsu. Traditional Massage. Acupressure. All designed to help keep him and his voice in tip-top performance condition. Skill. Talent. Raw Charisma. Dashing Good Looks, for crissake! What more could you ask for...

Bix projects a calmness he does not feel towards the unseen and vaguely menacing figure in the darkness of the house. Tries to read his thoughts. C'mon, guy. Be adventurous. Consider, for a moment, the potential benefits that might accrue from having a Dalmatian in the cast. I look _great_ in costume... or out of it, for crissakes. I come in my own fucking costume. What's the matter, you not looking for the polka-dot motif for this show? Come on, you bastard, say something...

"All right! Thank you very much for coming in."

Bix sags inside. He knows the tone of voice. Desperation wells up inside of him... he _wanted_ this show... this could have been his break... it even _felt_ right...

He goes out on a limb.

"If I could try... reading... from the script... the role of the Poet, maybe...?"

"Actually, I think you're fine. Thank you, mister Bix."

Michael adopts his best patent-leather-black-shoe smile. "All right. Thanks for your time."

"No, thank _you_." A pause. The figure shouts to an unseen aide. "Liz, you want to call the next one in here?" His attention returns to Michael. A bit more forcefully, he says, "Thank you."


Bix's smile, much to its credit, lasts all the way to the door.

* * *

Winter comes, in earnest. The blankets cease to be enough. Bix occasionally starts the car and flicks on the heater, and the world momentarily becomes sane again. But, because of the financial fears of rising gas prices as the holidays approach and the real physical danger of accidentally falling asleep and never waking up in the morning on account of that wonderful little Carbon Monoxide thing, he dares not do this for too long. And in the night, in the creative dementia of half-sleep, he imagines that the white flakes that fall from the coal-black clouds are the spots of some strange photo-negative version of himself that lives somewhere beyond the sky... and that inverse Bix is shaking, shaking himself until the white spots fly from his coat and fall to the earth below, leaving him a perfectly clean, coal-black dog all alone and invisible against the dark midnight sky...

* * *


Bix has _determined_ that the day will not pass without celebration of some kind. But the prospects of an extravagant holiday dinner are beyond his meager means.

Bix decides to build a fire. A nice, jolly-old damn-fine old fire, just like back home. Excepting, of course, the fact that instead of a nice warm blaze burning in the hearth with little Michael and his loving parents looking on, it looks like it's going to be a pitiful little affair in a beaten-down area of mucky three-week-old half-melted snow in the lot next to the freight yard... and no-one else there...

Fuck it. A fire it is.

Bix shells out some money for a plastic-wrapped bundle of logs before he considers that, without a grate for proper ventilation, he can't just put newspaper up to a three-inch thick log and expect it to take. Two years of Boy Scout memories from his youth begin filtering back up through his subconscious mind, and an entire epiphany is expressed in a single word.


And this is the reason that Bix is wandering through Central Park, looking for dead branches. The occasional rabbit appears, far off, nosing for vegetation in the melting snow. Here also is an ornamental duck-pond, kept warm and thus inhabited by the graces of the city. Bix idly watches the animals and ponders his life. Wondering what he's doing here. No. Correction. Wondering what the _fuck_ he's doing here. Freezing his butt off, living out of his car, hungry, tired on account of never being able to get a damned decent night sleep with all the noise from the fucking freight-yard. All of this would be bearable if, big if, he were _working_. But he's not. As it is, the commercials come only frequently enough to allow him to pay his sleeping fee and squeeze by on a damned uncomfortable lifestyle. Merry fucking Christmas.

There aren't too many branches lying about... but there are enough. Nearly satisfied with his take, but with little else in his life, Bix rounds a corner in a path and stops short.

A statue.

A proud-looking dog of the Husky variety standing in regal posture, cast in metal, placed on a pedestal. It is a remarkable statue, and in the dim haze of the morning and Bix's constant, nagging hunger, it appears almost godlike, the idol of some ancient canine deity. Some rational part of Bix's mind remembers having heard of this statue, constructed to commemorate a brave Alaskan sled-dog whose leadership and courage saved an entire village through timely delivery of much-needed medication when all other routes failed. Bix knows this. But still, Bix feels himself drawn towards it, in a strange near-religious stupor. He does not resist the compulsion.

Bix stands a long moment in the shadow of this monument. And then, his body acting completely on the orders of something other than his rational mind, Michael Bix sheds his heavy woolen coat. His shirt. His trousers. His boots. A slim, furred, black-and-white spotted humanoid shape stands naked in the snow. Waits. And raises both arms in a gesture of ecstatic glory.

And then...

whats that?



Tiny little. Little running thing. Run run run run run...






whats that?

More smell.

Water smell. Bird smell.

Still Hungry.



Somewhere in a dark basement, far lost in time, in the light of a hand lantern, a crude, vaguely dog-shaped shadow circles menacingly around an equally crude-looking duck.


"Num, num." the dog-shaped shadow seems satisfied with its kill. From the darkness come lip-smacking noises that go on for a long time.

* * *

It ends up being a good fire after all. And Michael Bix eats of his Christmas dinner. Canned corn, heated in the can. Pre-packaged pudding cups. And one real honest-to-goodness real-live goddamn roasted duck.

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