First, a confession: This project would not exist if it wasn’t for J Pope, the man, the myth, the social media shapechanger. The World’s End, at least for me and many others, is the spawning of the story blog. Since then, I’ve been a part of two of them and have spearheaded this thing. So, to Pope, we all owe him thanks.
Secondly, Pope is a more talented writer than he’ll ever let on. Case-in-point: he wrote the story you’re about to read in less than two hours. He writes with a distinct southern style, but embedded deep within is a heart, a bleeding pulse that draws the reader in, and leaves the reader in a state of wanting, not ready leave by the time you’re finished. I got that feeling reading Lessons in Life and Love, his rough novel that I still don’t have the heart to remove from my Kindle, long after finishing it. It’s my greatest hope that I see that book on shelves or available as an ebook.
Pope is constantly changing. Right now, he is Jayne West, which is like Kanye, but better and with way more smack talk. You can follow him on Twitter @the_j_hewitt.
The Dover Demon is an anomaly. It was sighted by a handful of people within a two day period in Dover, Massachusetts, in 1977. It has never been sighted again. Theories as to what it could be are many, the most obvious being of the Gray Alien species. Whatever it was, it’s now infused into this story!
Now, “Listen, Mr. DJ, and Keep Those Records Playing” by J Pope:
Sometimes, in the deep and dark wee hours of the morning, if you’re driving down Highway 43 (located somewhere between the end of the world and the middle of nowhere) and you pass by the sign that says, LAKE CATAMAGUA, 1 MILE, you can hear it–if you have one of those old radios where you constantly adjust a knob picking up some sort of staticy noise or noisy static. Suddenly, without warning, in a flash, and other words that mean exactly the same thing, it jumps out. A soothing voice there in the darkness, a somber and sweet tone that carries with you as you wind your ways down from New England down into Virginia and the start of the south.
“Welcome to the Full Moon Ballroom, where we’re playing the greatest hits from stacks and stacks of wax and taking your calls.”
The voice is deep, yet still bright, with a bit of history that you can always hear–a crackle in it that tells you that, man, that guy’s had it rough. He’s probably had his heart broke a time or two, maybe even thrown in a Kitchenaid mixer set on “Dissipate.” He’s probably been in a fight where he came out about as well as a snowball in H-E-double hockey sticks, and maybe even had a bottle broken across his head, causing him to wake up in a bathtub full of ice to find that one of his kidneys and a testicle or two had been surgically removed. Basically, that guy’s been there.
He’s had a dog die, maybe three or four. He’s had his family turn their back on him (probably from the time he got way too drunk at Uncle Clem’s funeral and started harassing the preacher about what he called “My Man JC”). He’s loved and lost and loved again then lost again but it’s okay because he put one of those things on it where if you clap it’ll beep so you can find it but he’s been clapping for nearly three hours and he ain’t heard a beep yet and did he remember to put new batteries in it?
Yup, he’s been there.
And that’s just his voice.
“That’s right, all you night owls, it’s me, the man they call Dover De Mon, playing the songs that will keep your eyes open and you in between the ditches for this whole drive.”
He almost giggles when he says his name, and you figure it’s probably because it’s such a stupid one–one of those names DJ’s used to have to pick when people listened to DJ’s.
See, for you younger kids who never knew MTV played music videos, there was a time when you listened to a radio station based on what DJ was playing the tunes. Now, with the satellite radio, you can hear two hundred songs without a single commercial (unless, of course, you count the two hundred and one reminders you’ll hear that satellite radio is commercial free). But some of us remember DJ’s.
And they all had rotten names–names like Rollin’ Clouds and Scat McCall and Ali Mony and other names that sounded like they were rejects from that old Carmen Sandiego game. They all were voices, which was good because some of them looked like absolute hell in real life, but their voice made us think of them as attractive and hurt people. The best ones were always hurt.
And Dover, he hurt. You could tell.
Some listeners, maybe some of them truck drivers hauling a load of potatoes up to Vermont for some sort of hippie festival to take place later that month, they would hear Dover and swear he was a big man, with muscles on top of muscles and a tattoo of a little woman named Lulabell on his right bicep, the hand he’d put over his heart when the National Anthem played to always remind him that she had been the one to burst his heart like a bomb in the air. Maybe a father driving his kids back down from a weekend in Rhode Island would come across it and hear the voice of someone who was tall but thin, having lost his way to drugs in the late eighties and spending most of the nineties with a needle in his arm, waving around to Phish music and proclaiming himself to be a Golden God of Grover’s Corners.
But my favorite was Jenny Klein who, when she heard the voice, she thought she had found the man of her dreams.
Now, you couldn’t blame Jenny for being lonely. She lived right off that highway, right next to the end of the world and two doors down from the middle of nowhere. She worked two hours away, in a department store, as a fragrance girl (which is a profession that, by and large, requires someone who doesn’t mind to be thought of as the worst person in the world). Many times a day she’d approach unsuspecting shoppers and, with a smile and a quick hello, douse them in the most horrid, funk smelling spray that would instantly irritate eyes and offend noses nearly the whole mall around.
Every night when she got in her car, she stank of nearly twenty different perfumes, which produced an odor not unlike what would happen if a bag of potpourri ate onions and flowers and scented candles and promptly threw it all up. She would stop for a bite to eat, then begin the drive home, sometimes not making it in till one or two in the morning, a good couple of hours in that car with all the windows down in the month of January because she couldn’t live with the stink anymore. She’d get home, shower like fifteen times, then cry herself to sleep.
And then she caught the Full Moon Ballroom. And she heard that voice.
She didn’t even picture a person–no, to her, Dover was just a completely disembodied voice that existed only in that room in those early hours. But it was the voice that called to her, the timbre of it that let her know that he too had been called names and accosted by little old ladies who (as they repeated incessantly) had only come in for that sale on shoes but the store doesn’t carry narrow sizes and now they’ve got that gunk sprayed all over them and who is going to pay for the dry cleaning?
I never knew why Jenny would think he’d had that kind of experience because, when you think about it, it is one that’s pretty defined to the fragrance girl lifestyle. But she did.
Also–if he didn’t have a body, how the hell would he have pulled off that job and I’m just thinking this through too much so let’s get back to the story.
Anyway, she’d started calling in to the show for a couple of years, always requesting one of those sorts of songs you want to listen to when your life is crap and you spend all day hosing down old ladies with swill in a special bottle, telling Dover her troubles over and over and over again. And he’d always respond, telling her that it wasn’t so bad, that a new day would come and she’d have something in her life that would make those hours she spent driving to a job she absolutely loathed worth while. She’d find love.
And, as strange as it sounds, over the course of a couple of years, she started to believe that voice with no body. She started to sense she would find love–actually, she began to believe that she had found it. She was in love. With Dover.
Still, she never went to find him, until that one day she sprayed down the new wife of her second ex-husband with a perfume that had some teenage pop/country star’s name attached to it (who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that fifteen dollar a bottle nastiness). She didn’t know it was the new wife until she spritzed and the lady recoiled, calling her husband. And then she saw Greg standing there, looking like he had the day they divorced (Jenny had been married three times in her life, and each one ended for the exact same reason: her exes were all assholes). He cut her a sneer as if she had done it on purpose, then walked over and bought his cute little wife (who now smelled of toxic waste and badly burned Indian food) a bottle of the most expensive perfume they had.
And Jenny decided she had to meet Dover that night.
In those dark hours, well before the crack of dawn, she found herself driving down strange roads until she found it, the little station out in the woods, nearly an hour away from her house, where the Full Moon Ballroom broadcast. She took a moment to steel her nerves, then she walked into the front door, down the hall till she saw a door with a light above it, indicating the microphone was live (she had learned this from reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati). As soon as the red light was off, she pushed open the door.
“Dover, you don’t know me in person, but I’m Jenny from off the Highway, and I call into your show all the time and I have to say I love you. I don’t know you, but I can tell from your voice that you know how crappy this world can be to us, to the people that are understated and not outstanding, and that we together could maybe be happy for once in our miserable lives and I just want to know if you feel the same way.”
As soon as she finished, she opened her eyes, ready to finally see what the voice was like.
There, sitting on the desk by the microphone, he was–looking like a long gray dog in the body with a melon shaped head and huge black eyes. He stuck out a long limb, with a hand that had only three fingers on it.
“You know, I’ve got the wrong Dover. I’m sorry.” She said, and she turned around and walked out, wondering exactly what the hell it was she saw.
So, what happened next? Funny you should ask. Jenny stopped hating her job, realizing that no matter how much people hated her for spraying them down with toilet water, it couldn’t be as bad as being whatever the hell Dover was. And then, she started doing so well, she got promoted. All the way up to Store Manager. Which she promptly lost when it came out that she had begun sleeping with the janitor who cleaned the building after everyone had left and that had done some particularly nasty things in the unmentionables department, but her and the janitor got married and she started working with him and actually enjoyed that a lot more.
Till he was arrested for cooking meth in their basement. But for a while there, she had a love that gave her a reason to go to work.
And as for Dover, you can still hear him, still blasting out those tunes to keep you immune from Mr. Sandman’s sleepy stuff. All you got to do is start fiddling with the radio when you see that sign for Lake Catamagua, listening for the static and the snow to suddenly drop, and you’ll hear him. You’ll hear his deep and dark and bright and blue voice, his lyrical rhythm and intonation taking each word on a ride. And you’ll know that the voice on the end is attached to some mutant looking alien body.
Because, like I said before, he’s been there.