Monthly Archives: October 2011

I Am An Archipelago

I Am An Archipelago

By Joel Allyn

10/29/2011

4,700 words

A man finds himself on an island with a shifting landscape, perfect weather, and the physical embodiment of all his favorite memories just as he recalls them.

No man is an island

I am an archipelago. I would say I am an island but popular opinion states this cannot be so.

Upon further study of the environment I found that though my far-seeing place is removed from everything there are a few other islands, though their connection to my island was not at first apparent to me, or they may not have even been there at all. I am aware that island chains aren’t formed overnight, but time is funny there. One night I shaved my head and when I woke the next day my hair was at least three feet long.

Exactly how long I was there I can’t say – days, or years – but I know it was not forever. I remember knowing that there had been a time before the island – nee archipelago – and while I struggled to remember inane details like the year, age or my occupation, I had not forgotten the face of my father. I walked the place’s coastline countless times, always discovering new things upon each expedition. You see, my island shifts its landscape when my back is turned.

One day I woke to find a pier connected to the beach, on it was an entire carnival. Its manifestation came at a time early on when I had not yet become accustomed to the places fluctuations. I fought the curiosity pulling at me and resisted the urge to explore, until night fell. Once the lights of the giant Ferris wheel lit up and began oscillating they hypnotized me, and I was helpless to resist its allure. The pier groaned under my weight as I walked between the rows of empty booths. The place smelled of popcorn and cigarette smoke. I heard the faint whispers of people all around me, the occasional barker’s yell rising above the murmurs – though besides my creaking footfalls and the great wheel, the place remained motionless.

As I reached the wheel’s peak I realized, looking down on such a wondrous view, that though I heard whispers far away, there were no other people coming. I had not forgotten I was alone there, but I still had absurd expectations folks would’ve come out for the carnival. I found it sad that there was no one else, because they were missing out on this precious viewpoint of paradise, but I was exuberant in the knowledge that it was all for me. On that night at least, alone at the top of that Ferris wheel, I truly was an island.

 

One of the things I love about the place is all the banyan trees and bamboo which are never the same one day to the next, and not just because they grow so damn fast. The ever-shifting landscape lends elasticity to typically fixed vegetation. I walked north through the bamboo and banyan jungle one time for three days straight without stopping. When I exited the jungle on the other side of the island I turned around to find there were no more trees there, they had been replaced by a hundred foot waterfall running from a huge rock wall into an inviting crystal pool. I jumped in without hesitation and the water was perfect, of course it was. I swam for hours, or what felt like hours. I floated on my back with my ears underwater, hearing nothing but my breath. I stayed that way long enough to watch the sun set and the stars come out one by one.

I slept beside the waterfall and woke lying near a pool of lava which had recently hardened. I learned to be careful about where that volcano may move to, sometimes it disappeared entirely. But as long as I was careful I never worried that anything there would hurt me, nothing yet gave me reason to believe otherwise.

 

I wasn’t always alone there, on a few occasions I had visitors. This didn’t surprise me, if I could get there why then couldn’t others? The first one to show up was my sister – we sat on a hill overlooking a stretch of grassy beach and had a picnic. There was an oak tree big enough to give us shade, and we sat there barefoot in the grass eating and getting a little drunk. I couldn’t really understand her, her voice sounded like she was speaking through a pillow, so we mostly sat in silence. We understood each other well enough without words. When I blinked and found myself alone I thought then that her visit may have just been a dream. We’ve always helped each other out and so I feared it was probably just wishful thinking, a comforting mirage of sorts.

The next one I can recall was a girl I’d gone out with in high school, Jasmine or Jackie or something like that. She came out of the surf like something made fresh and new, and though she looked different she still smelled the same. I’ve never forgotten that smell, a strange mix of vanilla and citrus, and smells always take you right back, don’t they. We shared a joint she’d brought–and miraculously kept dry – just as we had when we were kids and would sneak out to meet up. Then we stuck to tradition and made love; first on the beach as the sun set, then later under the moon, and then under the sun again. We talked after and laughed together until nightfall, reminiscing over inside jokes and other forgettable nonsense important to no one else.

It’s funny the way memory works there, I still couldn’t remember the names of my brothers or even  my own middle name, but I could remember that simply biting my lower lip set this girl off and brought out that wonderful laugh I have since forgotten. We each enjoyed a cigarette in silence, and then she went off to ‘water the plants’, kissing me on the forehead as she went. While laying there in the warm sand I drifted off, and when I rose later I was on a grassy hill and it was raining, she was gone.

Both my mother and father showed up as well on separate occasions trying to get me to go with them. I found it strange when I saw my mother swimming to shore, and not just because she couldn’t swim but because she had died years before I ever reached the island. She looked as thin as she had when the cancer had finally taken her, so I scavenged around and fixed her something to eat. I joined her out of politeness but I didn’t eat much. I didn’t have much of an appetite there and ate only when I had a taste for something. When she asked me to play her some of her favorite songs I said I didn’t have a guitar with me, adding that I was sorry. She looked at me with her brows furrowed, the way she had done when I was a boy, telling her the bathrooms were clean when we both knew different. She asked what that was behind me then. I turned to find my first real guitar resting there in the sand as if I’d just laid her down not a moment before.  A beautiful solid top steel string acoustic, furnished by hand from a warm dark cherry wood, still smelling slightly of glue and sawdust as it had the day my mother and I split the damage at Chicago Music. When I picked it up and played ‘Moonlight Sonata’ for her the strings rang out strong, but delicate.  Besides requests for ‘Blackbird’, ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’, ‘Hotel California’ (which I had to refuse, I wouldn’t play the Eagles if it was her dying wish) and ‘anything by Dylan’ she didn’t say much. What little  she did say was confusing.

I didn’t bother to ask where she came from or how she’d found me, I only wanted to make her comfortable. She said I should go with her, but I told her I didn’t feel like leaving yet, and I especially didn’t want to go swimming into the ocean. Besides death, I had only a vague idea of what waited out there in the endless blue abyss. She said she understood, and that it took her a while to get up the nerve to swim to me in the first place, but it ended up not being so bad. She gave me a big hug and we kissed goodbye. She dived back into the clear water and faded slowly into the waves. I watched her go and as her form disappeared into the dark blue horizon I felt a sadness I had not gone with her into the unknown, but wherever she had come from, I knew I didn’t yet want to go there. I felt terrible, but still felt bad for not feeling worse. Like so many other times in my life I was not crying at a moment when I felt like I should be – like it was expected.

The night she left the stars sped up their movements for the first time, and I watched them grow curved tails above my head. Aurora borealis danced through the sky in a real life time lapse and the moon skittered its way across the heavens in only a couple of hours. In what should have been one night I witnessed two sunsets and three sunrises. I wonder now how I never guessed then what was going on. In retrospect, it seems so obvious.

 

When I woke one day to see father had shown up, I was a bit more concerned. I figured mom had spoken with him somehow and had sent a reinforcement to try to talk some sense into their foolish boy. The firmness I had come to expect was absent however, and when he spoke he was near tears. It was rather shocking to see him this way. I couldn’t really make out the words he was saying, it was as though he were speaking from far, far away. Though I would recognize that voice even as a faint whisper from beyond eternity. I’d like to say something sweet like ‘you never forget the voices that taught you to speak’ but in truth he’d always treated me like a dog, and a dog never forgets its master’s voice.

I got the gist of what he wanted. Like so many times before we didn’t want the same thing for me, and I couldn’t abide to lose this place just to make him happy. I was used to the disappointment that showed on his face when I declined his invitation. He turned from me without speaking. As he walked away down the beach he looked older to me, more fragile now, as if he had suffered some trauma which had aged him at least five, maybe ten years. Then again maybe it was just that place that made it seem that way, time is funny there.

Both of my brothers popped in as well, and we explored the jungle the way we had journeyed through the woods as boys. I heard their voices as whispers from time to time, but when they showed up they only shared stories with me from our youth and never asked a thing of me. I loved them for that. I knew they wanted me to come with them too, but they knew better than to ask.

 

I found a radio buried in the sand on one of my walks. When I tuned it I heard a cacophony of sounds that slowly became more focused, until eventually they formed notes, then melodies until the thing started playing one after another of my favorite songs – and commercial free! This truly is paradise, I thought. Yet I would be a liar if I said I didn’t wonder from time to time if I could leave. That is of course if I wanted to.

Not everything was perfect, exactly. Things were strange and not strange at all, familiar and unfamiliar and I loved that. Yet when I found a movie screen one night and watched a couple of my favorite films they were…off, somehow. Like something was missing. The same thing happened when I found the tablet. I saw a massive tortoise on the beach, and when I moved in to see it up close there was a black tablet sticking six inches straight out of the ground like a miniature 2001 monolith. I picked it up and it reminded me of The Book from that old Douglas Adams Galaxy series. As it lit up in my hands I half expected it to start telling me about a restaurant at the end of the universe, instead it had a list of all the books I love and had dearly missed since being there. Though as I read through Gatsby and Poe’s tales, King’s short stories and and even some childhood cornerstones they all seemed… a bit off. It’s hard to explain, they were all exactly how I remembered them, but that was what was wrong.

I realize now what it was. Whenever you revisit a movie or book you love and cherish, one of the best parts of the experience is not just the rediscovery but always finding that you remembered something wrong, that you missed or forgot some detail which then further enriches your appreciation for it. That was not the case on my island – they were all exactly as I remembered them. I started to worry if I could keep it all straight. I started to fear that if I remembered Moby Dick being blown up by an air tank in his mouth after he swallowed Jonah and Gepetto, then perhaps when I opened The Book it would show me just that. I was already having enough difficulty recalling specifics about my life, how the hell was I supposed to keep the whole of literature, film, and music straight? Luckily, soon after I found The Book, the dog I’d worshipped as a boy showed up. He served as a welcome distraction from my building stress and paranoia.  We had a great time playing together and for a while I was happy again, once again enjoying my private paradise without worry. When night fell he ran into the brush and left me alone there on the beach.

I waited for the next visitor to show up, but none ever came. Once again, for a while, I was an island.

 

Fell asleep one night watching a storm off in the distance, it was the first big one I’d seen there and it was massive. I awoke in the morning to a piercing scream. When I shot up and looked around I was alone but heard my sister’s voice, still part of the whispering chorus but much louder than normal. I struggled to make out what I could, but only got bits and pieces. Over the waves I managed to catch No…he’s…there…wait…time…please…Cyrus… I tuned it out and busied myself chopping up a tree for firewood.

I played the radio while I did this busy work, but the songs started to sound tinny to me and they were repeating far too often now. The original vast catalogue of my favorites had dwindled down to only a few songs I got stuck in my head from time to time. The ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight’ or ‘Bird is the Word’ variety or some other awful pop song that despite your best efforts you could never forget.  When The Eagles ‘Take it Easy’ came on I clicked off the damned thing and pitched it into the ocean. I had my guitar around here somewhere if I needed to hear music.

I saw that the volcano was higher than usual and decided to take the chance to hike up to its summit and see what I could see. Once up there I could observe all the smaller islands dotted around mine that make up the archipelago. From that height I saw that my island was shaped in a rough triangular form, the smaller islands formed a half circle surrounding one tip. The vision reminded me of a sun setting behind a pyramid, the skyward point cutting a pie slice into the massive star. On the opposite side of the island – what would be the base of the pyramid – I saw on what that day was a rocky shore, that there were several large stones jutting out of the water just beyond the beach. The stones, like the smaller islands seemed to form a shape, but instead of a circle they formed what appeared to be a figure eight or the symbol for infinity.  I heard a grinding noise like a jammed car transmission and underneath it a strange beeping noise that was getting louder and louder. I turned and saw the smaller islands started shifting their positions and I felt the still giant beneath my feet start to rumble. It felt like I was suddenly standing atop a massive subwoofer and just as I thought  I should hurry down from here, the shadows all over the island started sweeping from one side to the other.

Looking up I saw the sun had started speeding up its trek across the sky. An absurd image bloomed in my mind of it wearing a number and running a marathon, quickening its stride from a slow walk to a steady jog. As I followed its progress, it sped up faster and faster and it was only then I noticed the great star was moving from west to east. It vanished with blinding quickness, and in the blink of an eye it was gone and the full moon was already a third of its journey across the sky. The speed of the orbiting spheres increased exponentially. I began to feel queasy and looked away. Behind the plethora of noises I heard the sound of my sister’s voice again, somehow both louder and more distant than before, a whisper both far away and right inside my head. Then her voice loud and clear boomed like a shotgun blast in my ear. Please Cyrus! Please.

The ground beneath me shook violently. I observed everywhere below me the trees, bamboo and rocks all fading to nothing, receding like a shrinking tide. Due to the sun’s speed their diminishing shadows whipped back and forth on the ground, resembling windshield wipers blurring side to side, side to side, side to side. It had been so foolish of me to go so high when I knew the impermanent state of my island. I repeated all the useless questions that came to mind. I had all I needed down below, why did I have to take this foolish chance, why did I follow such a careless compulsion?

The sun and shadows sped up their progress and now instead of dialing a dimmer switch somebody was just flicking the lights on and off, on and off, on and off, faster and faster and faster. I closed my eyes, I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I felt the sensation of being pulled in circles, as if I was standing in the middle of a merry-go-round while somebody whipped it around quicker and quicker, my balance being pulled in different directions every moment and my equilibrium starting to fail. My nausea increased and I began to feel a deep pain in my ribs along my left side. It felt like something was trying to rip me off my island, flick me off like some pesky insect. I bent to my knees and gripped the dark rock under my feet, squeezing hard, pleading with it not to leave me, not to vanish while I was so high up. It couldn’t hear me, couldn’t control itself, or was just indifferent. I felt myself being ripped from my island.

Right before the solid rock turned to air I looked out again, not above or below at the sickening shifts but out, and I remember thinking, the storm is back on the horizon again.

As I fell I grabbed at the air, hoping something would appear for me to latch on to, but all I felt was a tightening in my stomach and the pull of gravity’s cruel embrace. When I looked down to see how it would end for me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Since coming to my island I became accustomed to seeing all sorts of peculiar things, impossible things, but after a short adjustment period they never seemed odd to me. I understood you see. What I understood I didn’t exactly know nor did I try to articulate it – words would have cheapened it – but it was always there in the back of my mind reassuring me, and I understood. What made it easier to deal with is that most of the impossibilities occurred gradually, and if not they occurred behind my back, so it was simply like turning the wheel on a huge viewfinder. One image, pull the lever, a new image, a transition but a slow one and that was fine. This rapid pace of shifting scenes was just a sickening blur. I was falling towards a vat of bubbling lava, then a crystal clear pool, the next instant it was a bamboo forest, the next a mountain of sharp rocks, then grass, a tree, sand dunes, water, rocks, lava, a dark pit, a hot spring, a field of flowers, a batch of banyans…my island was fading away. I was losing it. I closed my eyes and waited.

It wouldn’t be like a dream, I knew that somehow. Whatever it was, it was not a dream. I wouldn’t be lucky enough to wake before I smacked into whatever the roulette island landscape landed on at the moment of my impact. I held my eyes closed tight and refused to give in to curiosity. As I descended, the pain in my ribs became unbearable and I felt more and more nauseous. On top of that, my legs now hurt and my left arm felt like it had been shattered. It took forever to finally hit, but of course time is funny there.

Right before I crashed into what ended up being a hard horizontal wall of water I remember two things. First, I had the most inappropriate – or perhaps most appropriate given my predicament – thought that the atoms which made me up were ancient, that I had possibly been a part of some long dead dinosaur, an exploding star, or even a drop of water. We are made of sand and it’s like a sand castle being washed away, the same granules are used the next day to build a new castle. I realized that no matter what, my atoms would go on without me and reform, and be a part of something else. It’s not reincarnation exactly, but I think it’s as close to eternal life as we can hope for. The other thing was hearing my sister’s voice boom again like she was right next to me, yelling in my ear. Wake Up!

I hit the water with a loud smack. I felt it mostly in my cheek.

 

Much later and right away, I opened my eyes again. That annoying beeping I’d heard was clear as a bell now, too clear. The island was gone. My sister was there, so were my brothers, even my father. I couldn’t help thinking and you were there, and you, and you. I tried to smile and a bolt of pain sliced through my head. They all looked at me, shocked. My sister was crying and hugged me so hard I let out a ragged, choked cry. My ribs were throbbing and my cheek was on fire. She pulled back and apologized, then said she was sorry for shaking me, and for smacking me.

The doctor was there and he asked what I remembered. I remembered the island of course, but for how long I wondered. I waved off their questions and asked for a pen and some paper. I had to hurry, I was afraid it would fade away forever like some dream – that perhaps it was already fading – and soon it would be less than a memory. It never did fade though; I can still remember all of it.

When I’d jotted enough of the details down to feel I could finish later I set the pad aside, turned my attention back to my patient audience, and asked how long. More had come back to me. I barely remembered the car hitting me, I just remember leaving the grocery store on my bike and pulling out into the bike lane and then…and then… well, then the island. Drunk driver of course, isn’t it always. They said the coma had only lasted a couple weeks, though they all look as though they’ve aged ten years in that short span. Time must be funny here.

I found out that, per my wishes – the same ones I still have – since I did not want to be left on life support beyond a three week period if it appeared I would not be returning, or not returning mentally intact, that they were on the verge of pulling the plug. My sister, – Marie, now that I can remember her name again – knew better than most what I wanted, but since there had been no severe brain damage in the accident she refused to accept that I was gone. She told me later that she knew I was in there somewhere. She hadn’t seen me in a dream or anything like that, she just knew.

“Had you been a vegetable, I would have been the first one in line to suggest yanking the power and tossing you to the nearest necrophiliac.” She said. “But they showed mental activity, a hell of lot of it. Apparently it was way more than normal. They just tossed around the word anomaly, and they wouldn’t even bother trying to understand or explain it. They all talked about options but nobody would do anything!”

I loved her at that moment more than ever, and she’s the only one I ever told about the island. She is the only one, I think, who would ever believe such a thing. When I jokingly said, “I am an island” it was she who said, “Well from what you’ve d described, technically you’re an archipelago.”

 

It’s taken me a year of physical therapy to get up and walking on my own again, and even now I walk with a cane and a limp, but I can walk and that’s enough. I do miss the island sometimes and wonder if I’ll ever see it again. I think I might but I can’t be sure, I do hope so. Maybe next time I won’t be so scared of the ocean, and I’ll go for a swim.

While I’m around I’ve been enjoying all my favorite things, and they’re sweeter than ever. I am after all a cast away returned to the mainland, and such an event in one’s life allows you to indulge in life’s simple pleasures, and experience the nuances of every small joy. I’ve been listening to music nonstop and in addition to tearing through my ‘to read’ list I am rereading all my favorite books, zooming through The Dark Tower series right now and it’s better than I remember. Recently I checked Moby Dick, and was reassured to find Ishmael still kicking things off and Moby Dick not being taken out like a certain famous great white. Marie and I were lucky enough to catch a matinee showing of one of my favorite old Scorsese films last night and it was better than ever. It really is amazing how much you overlook or just plain forget about.

No matter how many times you’ve seen a thing, there’s always something you missed.

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TEEF (The Mangler)

Teef

The Mangler

By Joel Allyn

10/11/2011

7,000 words

The odd tooth-stealing rampage of Dale ‘The Mangler’ King is told by the writer who followed the case during its entirety; his goal besides selling a story is trying to explore what made such a madman tick. The more he learns, the more sympathetic he becomes and soon wonders if anything is just black and white, just good and evil.


Addiction is a funny thing; some people can be addicted to drugs and alcohol, caffeine or other conventional vices, while others can’t go a day without sex, and there’s a rare few with an insatiable blood lust. To the outsider the solution to addiction seems so simple; just stop doing it, whatever it may be, especially if it’s destroying your life. Yet to the serious addict, quitting their drug of choice is akin to torture or suicide. It is a notion that is consistently on their mind yet in no way seems to them a tangible goal. The monster described in papers as ‘The Mangler’ was just a man whose real name was Dale King, and at the root of it all he was just another addict.

The many Mangler profiles I’ve read have all reported conflicting accounts of King’s history, movements and motives. I’ve collected the most accurate info from each of these sources, in addition to my own personal research, and now his journal has been added. Dale King was, based on all available evidence nothing special. Just a disgruntled misanthrope with bad teeth and no insurance. I’ve gotten a more complete picture thanks to the recent, long-awaited release of the journal that was recovered from King’s residence. I’ll put down a couple highlights from the tome which contains a few diamonds buried in the collective rough of irrelevant lists, random ravings, and odd doodles throughout the entire two-hundred-plus page manuscript (or manifesto as the press labeled it). Put simply, the journal was the Holy Grail for me. I’ve been following the case since that first grizzly carving at the bus stop – at first hoping for nothing more than material for a half-decent article I could get published. I now allow myself to dream it may make great material for an entire book. Thanks to everything in the journal I now know Dale King’s odd behavior and crimes started long before the run of grizzly attacks and murders began.

My intent here is to put down the clearest and most accurate account of his early actions, and explore how a thirty-one years old dishwasher named Dale King became The Mangler.

 

Due to not being insured and being ignorant to other options Dale simply ignored the escalating pain in his teeth for years, using numbing gels and good old fashioned alcohol when he absolutely had to. One day the pain woke him up around four in the morning and had zero interest in letting him go back to bed. Despite a few shots of whiskey he swished around like Listerine followed by a liquid benzocaine chaser the pain refused to rest. If the pain wouldn’t sleep then neither could Dale, and so for three days he grew weaker as the pain grew ever stronger. When his cheek had swollen enough to look comical and puss started oozing from his gums he finally caved and called for an emergency visit to the closest dentist.

 

When he showed up for his appointment they took one quick look and were appalled at the state of Dale’s mouth. Before they would even lay hands on him again or shine the spotlight in his eye they explained the cost, and demanded a few dozen signatures.  None of the folks in scrubs had seemed too surprised to find that King was uninsured. They added up a total for the visit’s planned work, and then once he was cashed out they became a bit warmer. I spoke with some of the women working in the office at the time, who said at first they thought Dale looked as though he might rob the place, but that the second he had paid his bill for the visit he’d relaxed. Once he started talking to them they all took quite a liking to him, and couldn’t see why they’d ever thought otherwise. They even drew up a free estimate for all the work they’d recommend, for all the extractions, fillings, caps, root canals, whistles and bells Dale need only raise a measly thirty-five thousand dollars. The first visit however only set him back $230 for the extraction. He’d get dental credit later so the extractions would only be twenty-five bucks, making a visit and a prescription much cheaper and not as risky as a dealer. He left the dentist’s office drooling from the left side of his mouth, neither feeling nor noticing it at all, and looking as though he were doing a poor Quasimodo imitation.             He hobbled straight from his first appointment to the pharmacy. They’d written Dale three prescriptions: 750mg oxycodone for pain, amoxicillin for general antibiotic, and 800mg Ibuprofen to act as both a pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory. I only mention this superfluous detail because it is quite interesting to note that these high dosage pain pills were the first real drugs Dale King had ever consumed. Unless we’re counting aspirin, caffeine, or the rare drink, King was reportedly drug free, despite certain outrageous claims to the contrary. Dale’s mother never allowed her baby boy to be around any types of poison, and as an adult there is evidence that supports King sticking to his mom’s rules.

The pharmacist on duty that day was a kind old woman named Clara Anders. Dale reminded her of her youngest son, who’d himself come on hard times. When Clara started talking with Dale she discovered what he was being charged for appointments and drugs because he had no insurance. Following a short rant about how poor people always get charged more while the rich get it all for free, she took the time to help him fill out the applications for government insurance and Care Credit dental (both basic coverage for the poor)   so he’d be able to afford appointments and buy his meds at a tenth of the price.

The final figure is disputed by all but even the most modest amateur figures put his final operation total to be just over four hundred extractions. However the official count released to the public was a mere thirty-eight, clearly the truth lies somewhere between the two lies. Though whether it was less than four dozen or more than four-hundred I still feel a shiver when I imagine even once taking a tooth out of another’s gums, pushing it into my own, breaking skin, then pushing harder to make sure it’s in just well enough to be ripped out again by a man with a prescription pad. To do that once would do irrevocable damage, but to repeat such a vile act – no matter how few/many times – would destroy a mind, and yet…

 

Dale King had arranged for his evening dish shift to be covered for a few days, and during that time he recovered from the tremendous amount of pain with plenty of rest and a steady diet of the pain pills. According to his journal entries, King felt it was an instant love affair. The drugs made him feel as though he were ‘floating, everything finally makes sense, it’s like it all slowed down while I sped up, I can see it all clearly now’. He also recorded that he was no longer just sleeping, he was actually resting and would wake feeling invigorated and recharged in the morning.

The following is one of the earliest entries – though slightly edited – in the publicly available journal of Dale ‘The Mangler’ King.

[Beginning and end of all excerpt passage will be marked by an asterisk*]

*Had to finally go to the dentist today, face looked like a damn cartoon, and after I paid up front for the tooth pulling they numbed me up and popped it out real quick. All the girls at that place are gorgeous, I think that’s smart. I coulda usually done that myself though. Only reason I even went was cause it’s a back one and I can’t never grip the back guys well enough with the pliers. I’ve tried but it’s like trying to lick your own elbow. Only reason I mention a word of this is cause the doc, who’s actually alright, numbed me up extra when I flinched at first. Hurt like hell still but I didn’t have to say nothing, he’s good. But yeah, he gave me three, count em brother, THREE pill papers. So they pack my mouth with bandage wrap and off my numb ass went to get the magic pills.

      Cool lady named Sarah or Clara helped me out and got me a deal on everything, was real cool, but then suddenly started warning me how much drugs my body can handle. But anyways these things are great! I took one a while before I started writing and I only wonder one thing, where have these things been all my life?! Fuck man, I needed this over there. So worth losing a tooth, can’t wait til I can afford next one, thanks to Clara should be soon.

                                                                                                      -Dale*

As I look over most of the entries in this part of the journal I can’t help but feel that Dale was really just a lonely and easily excitable guy who was having fun experimenting with drugs later than most. Soon though, the dentist caught on that Dale was in at every opportunity to get another extraction, and King was a little too happy to feel the pinch of the needle full of Novocain and strangely overjoyed when handed his prescriptions. It didn’t take having a doctorate to see the clear signs of an escalating drug addiction. He liked Dale but had no choice, so he became the first of many dentists to refuse to take any future visits from Mr. King. Of course by the time of the first dentist’s moral awakening King had already gone through twelve tooth extraction surgeries in just under six months, and had stocked up a cache of pain pills.

 

From then on Dale’s writings became more and more erratic. He was working as much overtime as was allowed, just to be able to support this new expense. He was also aware, of course, that his own teeth (which did all need yanking anyway) would not last forever, and that eventually he would have to either A) stop enjoying his cheap newfound ambrosia, B) try again to find somebody else to buy it from, or C) find more teeth somehow, which is insane. He mulled the options over for a time, then tried them in succession; failing at the first two and succeeding at the last.

By the time Dale first attempted to go cold turkey he was no longer even able to say ‘teeth’ properly, when he spoke the word it came out ‘teef’. Though that would be one of the lesser concerns of one with nearly no teeth left. He was reported by those that lived to have grunted the word over and over during the attacks, most times not making any other sounds at all.  At five a.m., after his first fifty-five miserable, sleepless, drug free hours in over a year, our Mr. King grabbed one of the six ‘emergency’ pills and popped one.

After thirty minutes he took another, and then fell into a restless sleep.

While there was still a few remaining teeth, King started planning for the future and tried for the last time to find a dealer. He knew the city had them everywhere and had taken a chance and actually succeeded in buying a few times. But he had also been arrested once for buying from a cop, and then was nearly arrested a second time for the same offense. He only avoided the second arrest thanks to his quick thinking and quicker feet. The officer flashed his badge and started to say something, but Dale just took off with the drugs. The stunned cop chased of course, but didn’t stand much of a chance. The man’s tremendous weight had in fact been the deciding factor that led Dale to chance buying off the guy, against his better judgment. Once in jail seemed to be more than enough for him, so he made sure no matter what that he never ended up there again. So due to the risk a dealer became out of the question.

Having exhausted options A and B, and failing to devise an alternative option, he was left with figuring out how anybody but the tooth fairy could go about collecting teeth. He cried on the bathroom floor with his last tooth still in his mouth swearing to every god he could think of that if they just gave him the strength to get through a week and keep just one tooth that he would do the rest on his own and never even dream of doing drugs again, and would stop wasting his life. He tried to go cold turkey before and after having that last tooth pulled, but found that despite what some may teach you about rock bottom, you can’t ever truly hope to quit until you want to.

Dale King didn’t want to.

 

He broke into an elderly man’s home and took his dentures. That first home procedure was the worst of any of them. He’d actually attempted to glue the dentures in and went to the dentist, they fooled exactly no one. He then learned all their was to know about tooth placement and all the different kinds of teeth we have, he learned the difference between the mandible (bottom) and the maxillary (top) for one, which was good since he’d gone in to the dentist’s office with them switched. He foolishly even tried after the rebuff of the fake teeth to insert a single fake tooth and pass it off. Dentures do not have the four prongs that real teeth use to cling inside the gums, so he pushed a flat piece of acrylic into his gums, and the whole ordeal was a total waste of time anyway. The dentist who’d removed his last natural tooth – and who had dealt with the ridiculous show of the dentures – liked Dale and had agreed to see him again only because Dale said it was an emergency. The man not only didn’t believe he had somehow missed the existence of a tooth, but once he saw instantly that the ‘new’ tooth was a fake he finally banned King.

 

I don’t know that King ever recognized his luck. Besides being able to evade capture for twenty-six months while in one metropolis, not a one of the dentists he’d so clearly used had called the police on him. Hell, one of them even wrote him a pity script as he dismissed him, making Dale first promise he would get some help and get cleaned up. Everybody I spoke with who got to see King firsthand or speak with him – those who weren’t attacked – seemed to like the guy.

There were still several paths available to King at that point. Toothless and pilled-up as he was he still had choices, and the choice he made was to become what folks know as The Mangler. I cannot say whether King got into an argument as he waited for a bus that night, or if he crept up like a predator before he struck, I just don’t know. My initial thoughts were that he simply snapped and carved up the first stranger unfortunate enough to be in his path. Knowing what I do now, I tend to think it must have either been a disagreement or attempted robbery that turned ugly fast. After things went bad I think Dale figured, why waste a good opportunity? Dale always carried a pocket knife that had a blade the length of his palm, with a U.S. ARMY tank stamp in the steel. After he’d gutted the man, he wiped the innards off the blade, turning it from crimson to chrome, and then he removed the man’s two front teeth. As I believe I’ve stated already, I believe that to do that to another human would make it quite difficult to go on functioning as one had before. Yet it must not have been too hard for King. He was back in a dentist’s chair upstate not a month later, with another stranger’s tooth needing to be extracted.

Less than two weeks later he was back again.

Had someone suggested to me that an addiction to oxycodone could lead a person to go on a killing spree in desperation to support their habit, I would recommend a lengthy stay in a padded room or at the least an MRI. Though I should say ‘mutilation spree’, being more accurate, as only a third of those who were confirmed as victims of The Mangler were actually killed. The rest were only a little…well, mangled. Horribly disfigured in some cases, short a few teeth in all cases, but alive. I surmise King was either always a monster or never one at all. I was always more interested in how Dale saw himself. Luckily, I got the chance to find out. When they finally apprehended him, King was taken to a location less than three miles from the hotel where I sit writing this now.

The man is simply fascinating. In King’s own words, all he ever wanted was a few ‘teef’, and he claimed he would never have hurt any of them had they let him take what he needed and just stayed still and quiet. It seemed the best chance of surviving an attack by The Mangler was the same as being attacked by a bear, just play possum. Would the unfortunate third of the victims still be alive had they heeded this advice? I suppose we’ll never know.

Dale truly wrote as he spoke, and around the time of his first kill he started writing ‘teef’ instead of ‘teeth’ in the pages of his journal. More than just reflecting his pronunciation, the word seemed to obtain talismanic status. He carried it with him as a protector on his descent into madness. The following excerpt is thought to be around the time his first few victims were discovered.

*I try and try and try and try man, but they gotta make it SO hard. I NEVER would have hurt nobody, I did enough of that over there. What else was I sposed to do huh? I was gonna stop too boy once last one was gone cause I’ll tell you something man ALL DEALERS ARE COPS All of them! I figure some must just be allowed to keep dealing so the others can keep luring in the junkies, meet their arrest goals and shit. They think I don’t know and we don’t know but if you just stop and think, then you realize man that’s all really just about power and they know we have it but they want to make sure that you think they have it so you don’t use it ya know. So like I said though I was out of teef and so I knew I was fucked. Just chillin to myself when that faggot at the bus stop came at me HE CAME AT ME! Can you believe that shit? So I stuck him! I mean what else was I sposed to do ya know? So then I was freaking real bad but I saw the faggot’s teef were just poking out and it was like they was looking at me, and I got it then! He didn’t need em no more and I did so I took Old Silver wiped off the guts and started carving those two big front ones out just hoping the whole time whatever new doc I found next couldn’t tell they weren’t mine. I mean who knows if they could tell the difference between the false and the real maybe they could tell the difference between a live tooth and a dead one, I think I’ve even heard folks say that they have a dead tooth. Right when I started on his gums the dead man shot up so I had to crack his head against the sidewalk and finished up quick. Last time I ever grabbed the front ones too boy first timer mistake. The damn gums up front way too thin but they worked. I just gargled some whiskey then slapped some of that nummin jell on and shoved em in with my palm. They still only went so far though so I hammered the fuckers the rest of the way up WHOOEE! Now that shit hurt. Back teef I grabbed time after didn’t hurt half so bad going in. and that hammer was fine for the front ones but even though the back ones hurt less going in and you just gotta carve out  a little hole and the tooth does the rest you cant hammer em so easy way in the back so what you gotta do was put the hammer in sideways and pull down on the handle so the son of a bitch shoots up and knocks it in but you gotta be careful not do it too hard cause I got a tooth in and hit it too hard and it broke apart that’s why I always grab at least 2 and 3 if I got time but no more. And I do feel bad but way I figure is that these people everywhere got so much they don’t need when theres needy folks everywhere around them and thirty or whatever teef is way more than they need to get by so I’ll take some cause I got none thank you very much time for fun. But I wont lie now its gotten pretty fun, like being on patrol again almost on the good days. And I wont brag but ive learned man yes I have. Got my own little special method now boy. That little knife is good and always has been good to me but Old Silver made a real fucking mess first time so I got this machete I tried few times too but she was the one that killed em most times not me, been 4 gone and 3 from her. Then I found this big hunting knife and shes a real beaut boy, solid like Silver but damn near the size of the machete. Thing slides right into the gum like hot knife threw butter and just pops dem teef right out so easy sounding like a damn cork coming loose or something, music to my ears. Now I just walk in to the new doc’s with some new teef and some sore gums then walk out with really sore gums and a few new pill papers. Thought maybe Clara would sneak me some or sell on side at least but she has been funny about me, she stares at my gums all the time now and seems weird or something, I dropped my keys last time and she fucking screamed. Man I been up all night need to get at least 2 hours before work, these things sposed to make you tired it says but just makes things slow down for and I see it all. Time to pop and drop. Night

                                                                              – Dale*

 

None of his entries are dated but they’re all written as if they were letters to a friend going so far as signing all of them with his first name. It clearly served as King’s only friend, confidant, and portable confessional. There was enough in the book to have King charged with several assaults and  a few murders. When he bothered to write about these things at all he wrote in extreme detail, leaving no doubt to which bodies were being referenced. Jack Collins was the man found behind the grocery store. Red Sampognaro was found frozen solid under a bridge. And Phillip Austen’s gums were annihilated and his face was so disfigured – what skin remained hanging off in strips and ribbons gingerly placed back to make an impressionistic version of the man’s face – that his wife Kate refused to identify the body and claims Phil is missing to this day. Better than the alternative I suppose.

What King’s journal has done for me personally is supplied most of the missing puzzle pieces. I was able to double-check my meticulously detailed timeline against the journal and was quite pleased that the two lined up near flawlessly, including a multitude of attacks the police had previously denied were related.

I wasn’t sure why he’d never take more than a few teeth from each of his victims. I thought that perhaps he felt pity, knowing what having no teeth was like. How people stared, or looked away. Or maybe it just took too much time and he didn’t want to risk being caught or killing the victim. What I never suspected was the plain answer King provided in a journal entry.

*I WISH sometimes I could just pop em all out at once from one old timer and just lay low for a bit with a pile of pills but I ain’t pushing my luck. I aint got caught yet so my rule must be workin well so far so I aint gonna break it. Just like the old soldier rule, they said never more than three smokes on a match.*

So a misinterpretation of the old superstitious military belief that more than two smokes on a single match was bad luck (it was originally to keep any observing snipers from getting a fix on and picking off the smoking soldiers) led to many people being mauled, instead of perhaps only an unfortunate few losing all their teeth.

We must keep in mind that as crazy as he may sound, King managed to remain at large for over two years, and was smart enough not to shit where he ate, so to speak. His habit became to collect here and there, and then afterward take a nice long drive for a quickie extraction outside city limits. The main thing any of his many living victims could recall, when pressed, was ‘a dark haired man with a big knife, and no teeth, who kept grunting ‘teef’’ as he savaged them. After that description hit the papers he took to wearing that first pair of dentures he’d lifted from the old man. He started to feel people noticing his naked gums quite a bit more. They, coupled with his dark hair, felt like ‘traitors screaming my sins for all to hear’, according to King himself in his manic memoir. He just wanted to keep himself, to himself. Once he had what he needed, that is.

I was allowed to view and make copies of The Mangler’s diary, and I have been over King’s writings again and again. I wanted to get more of a feel for the man and, as I’ve stated, just hoped to catch so much as a glance at what drives a man mad. Or, as so many have claimed, how a madman is able to hide in plain sight.

The conclusion I have come to is an unsettling one, and is sure to be unpopular: If King is truly a monster then on some level we all are. Perhaps the only significant difference is that most of us do a better job at hiding our inner beast, and some not that much better. I don’t mean to suggest that we are all killers, but I suspect the monster King unleashed – first in the pages of his journal, then later on the streets – is similar enough to the one the rest of us keep locked up in the basements of our minds. Most of us just do a better job at hiding it.

 

Dale ‘The Mangler’ King’s series of attacks ceased on a cool October evening when one of his potential victims named Hugo Lawson shot him during the assault. While cutting through an alley on his normal route home from the night shift tending bar, Hugo heard something behind him and turned to find ‘the Mangler’ less than three feet behind him, clutching a massive knife. It had become Dale’s habit to try whenever possible to use the heavy handle on the blade to incapacitate his victims with a swift hard blow to the head, it didn’t always work but it worked enough of the time. Unfortunately he couldn’t always sneak up undetected, so sometimes he was forced to use the pointy end. What else was he supposed to do?

He went at Lawson with the blade and the man pulled a pop gun and squeezed off a quick shot that went into King’s abdomen. The wound was far from fatal but served as a distraction for Lawson – he got to his feet and took flight. At the moment Lawson exited the alley a squad car happened by. He stepped in front of the cruiser, then started pounding on the hood , shouting and pointing at the shape now fleeing down the alley. The two cops in the car took off after the shape, one on foot and the other still in the vehicle.

Had someone been taking bets on the outcome of the race I would have laid all I had on ‘The Mangler’ being apprehended within the hour, and I would have lost every penny. Despite the efforts of a full search team and time sealing off a perimeter of eight city blocks, King managed to avoid capture, for a time. He showed up at St. Joseph’s medical center fifteen miles east of where he’d been shot. They must have pumped him full of a lovely combination of drugs because in no time at all he started going on and on, spitting out little anecdotes as if he were performing a standup routine. They all loved the joke about the old man and the little boy hunting ducks with duct tape, and they busted a gut over the one about the grasshopper named Gary. Once he got going, everybody was laughing right along with the severely impaired and bleeding Dale King, right up until he got into the good old story about what a mess he’d made once trying to pry out some teef with a machete. How he’d had to cut out the tongue, and he asked them what else was he sposed to do?

Dale went on but the three women in scrubs who had been laughing a moment before had all fallen silent. One was standing with her hands clasped over her mouth, just below her wide, watering eyes. The second was just staring at him, and the third girl was no longer in the room at all, she’d gone to call the police. Dale passed out laughing.

When he woke later he found he was handcuffed to his bed.

 

After he was taken into custody I had the privilege of making my subject’s acquaintance. Since our meeting I have found that I now feel quite different about the whole bloody mess, and I’ve started questioning my initial opinion of the man himself. Now I do not mean to say I defend any of the heinous actions perpetrated by Mr. King, but I can admit that I sympathize with him more than I would have  thought possible. I feel almost sorry for him. We have  always found solace by pointing the finger at ‘the other’, and picking out all the ways these terrible monsters are so different from the good people we consider ourselves to be, but it is never so simple. I cannot help but wonder if Dale King had been given the help he so sorely needed, if he could have received therapy covered under government healthcare, how many people would have been spared traumatic assaults or would still be alive today? Although that, I fear, is a whole other conversation, and in this specific case is no longer applicable, as we are now beyond that point of no return.

I had to pull more strings than a harp possesses in order to get the two of us alone in a room, and even then wouldn’t have stood a chance had it not been for my brother in law who works as head of security. I was patted down four times and was made to sign a pile of papers rivaling a phone book before I was finally seated across from King. The infamous Mangler was not what I had expected, and I immediately had great difficulty reconciling the man I spoke with that day with the savage who cut out folks’ molars while grunting ‘teef’ like some holy chant. Dale was surprisingly candid and completely lucid, despite the cocktail of drugs they had told me he was on. He broke the ice before I could by telling a few jokes which I couldn’t help but laugh at, and with that simple act he succeeded in putting me at ease despite my insistence to try and keep my guard up. I could see he was wild with excitement, his eyes were flashing like lightning in a bottle. He had been told about me and said he understood I was his biggest fan. I wanted to protest but thought better of it and just nodded and smiled in response. I can admit now that in a weird sort of way he was right, there is at least certainly nobody who knows more about Dale King than yours truly, which was a part of the reason they let me in to speak with him.

Again I know what he did was wrong, but his sheer unflinching determination is astounding. I for one can admit that, if not deserving of emulation, he is at least worthy of begrudging admiration. I do not believe I could have ever forced myself to do the things he did, could you? I never felt this way until after our meeting. I went there hating the man and left wanting to hate him, but unable to help myself from actually liking him, perhaps even understanding him. I remember exactly when my change of heart occurred as well. It happened just after I explained that I was doing a piece not just on ‘The Mangler’ but the man behind the acts that had captivated a state’s attention. He smiled at me, and in that instant I was no longer frightened. As I looked into his eyes ‘The Mangler’ just melted away and I saw only amicable Dale King before me. It was truly odd but in that moment I had no concerns over my story, I just wanted to help the guy.

He said he liked me, that I got him, and he promised to share ‘all the dirty deets’. Although we only had thirty minutes, he told me more in that time than I ever wanted to know. It’s been over a month now since that meeting and I still can’t hear the sound of a popping cork without picturing a large knife extracting teef. This unfortunately happens most when I am out at a bar, or worse a restaurant, which does not usually help matters, with everyone slurping down food and carving – nee mangling – their dead flesh to suck down more.

I truly felt that Dale and I had developed a rapport and so felt no qualms about giving him my address. I thought that way he would at least have someone to correspond with while in prison.  I was also motivated by the thought of the jackpot it would be to have ‘The Mangler’ as a direct source. I never saw any prospect of danger in the act, as he would undoubtedly be behind bars until his death. I am sure it sounds like simple naiveté, but I swear to you I looked into his eyes that afternoon and I saw no monster lurking there. All I saw was an eccentric man consumed with sadness and fear, sustained by an undercurrent of excitement, and below all that even a simple kindness.

Aside for those wild eyes he remained stoic. He explained how he didn’t want to hurt any of them and only wanted their teef, and if they’d just held still and stayed quiet everything would have been fine. He talked of how he was considerate enough to clean his blade each time ‘so nobody caught nothin’. He seemed deeply upset over those who had killed and  seemed to blame a lack of compassion stating, “If I had had a doctor friend who could have just prescribed me some good stuff I wouldn’t had hurt nobody.” He also suggested that he would have been fine had he been born with a hundred teeth.

I have written to him several times but haven’t seen or heard from him directly since our first rendezvous, I get regular reports through the grapevine but can only hope he is all right.

 

As I was gearing up to tackle Dale King’s adolescence and military life I received a phone call from my main pipeline where they were holding King. He sounded frantic and was off the line before I had the chance to ask any questions, but I heard enough to gather that they’d gone to check on King this morning and found his cell open and empty as Jesus Christ’s tomb, save for two guards both with their eyes gouged out.

“And that was this morning man. We’ve been looking for him all fucking day since and nothing! It’s as if he just up and vanished like a god damn fart in the wind,” he said. “He’s been dead silent in his cell all month, and besides some grumblings about ‘teef and journal’ I mean not one fucking peep. Then out of nowhere this shit, POW! Anyway I got to go, we’ll be sending a few guys by and just wanted to give you a heads up, just in case. See ya man.”

He clicked off and I stood there for a second, not exactly sure how I felt about Dale getting away. I wasn’t worried, that was for sure, I doubt they even let him keep my address or the man would written by now. It was strange and I feel awful admitting it, but I was actually a little glad. Not for the guards’ deaths, but because now just as the tale was to finish, the story goes on and gets better. The tale grew in the telling. ‘The Mangler’ saga has after all been a huge part of my life and I was a disappointed with such a mediocre finale, the capture of a sick man in a hospital. That was not the way these stories were supposed to finish out.

I had planned to get into the man’s childhood as well the history of the head wound that got him discharged, but now I’m sure that I will be busy tomorrow. So I will get some rest and return as the tale unfolds. I expect the headlines in the morning will all read ‘Mangler Escaped!’ and they’ll need the ‘Mangler’ expert on the news, and when my phone rings I’ll be glad to fill that role again. The only thing I am rather sad about is that I will never get to see Dale again, but-

Somebody is already at the door, must be the cops to warn me.

 

      Man they took my damn notebook, guards didn’t even know where they put it, and I asked hard boy. So I’m taking the writers its real nice and so is this pen. He was the easiest ever too man, felt real good. Tried talking all nice to me at first and even let me in and even when I first cut him he just stood there all still and quiet. I just needed wheels and cash too I was hoping he wouldn’t have been here but he was and I got nowhere else to go , he said he’d help me but that was bullshit I know so what else was I sposed to do huh? Had to use a fucking letter opener on him, sloppy work man. Decided starting now Im taking em all from now on too cause that no more than 3 rule didn’t do shit for me, that’s just bullshit like almost everything else they said over there. After the fuckin letter opener snapped in his top jaw I couldn’t find a good blade and had to use a damn butter knife, man I miss Old Silver. Writer man never moved much at all just cried a little when I took the first handful or so. I took two more then he screamed so I stuck him in the throat but he still never moved man, fucking crazy and three teef later I noticed he wasn’t even breathin no more. Hes got a nice place here and after I hammer in a couple big back ones Im gonna shower, fucking blood everywhere really sloppy work. Feelin good and actually found a bunch of my pills in writer man’s bathroom and some damn good whiskey to wash em down. Feeling good man, feeling real REAL good. I got a pocketful of pills and teeth and now a new car! Feeling GREAT! Talk soon

                                                                                                                  -Dale