The sunshine streets of Venice Beach are haunted by a shadow, working his way through all the females and high-priced goods he can lay his hands on. He's been lucky, so far. But too much of a good thing can make a man reckless. He becomes slapdash and lets down his guard. From an oddball arrest to explosive climax, Freak is an electrifying rollercoaster of a ride, featuring incredible escapes, a giddy manhunt, and a motion-picture style courtroom admission, wherein you'll meet the darkest spirit of a multitude of stifled dreams.
The vanity mirror's dozen rose bulbs flickered every time a neighbor switched on a major appliance. This flickering, barely perceptible under hard white light, was a dramatic event in Marilyn Purly's perfectly dark bedroom.
Her ceiling and walls were papered black, her furniture ebony-stained. Carpet, bedspread, pillowcase and sheets: all were dyed Midnight, the deepest black available. Floor-length black velvet curtains hung in her windows and doorway.
But for Purly, the little black room could never be dark enough. That reflection belonged to a golden touch-me-not goddess; on the inside sick and dying, on the surface uniquely and breathtakingly attractive. Purly's uniqueness, in heavily cosmeticized Southern California, came partly from being dam- aged goods, and partly from being an unadorned natural beauty surrounded by gaggles of underdressed posers. Through no fault of her own, this wounded nymph quality came off as a direct challenge to men, and as a slap in the face to women.
In one of nature's crueler little ironies, Marilyn Jayne Purly had been cursed with a pathological aversion to attention. She'd tried hoods and bonnets, scarves and veils, bangs and dark glasses; nothing could conceal her sexual charisma. Even the suffocating wraps she wore outdoors seemed only to cling and entice. Though countless young women would have killed for her looks, Purly's deepening depression inevitably drove her to the opposite idea. It took eleven suicide attempts and half a dozen complete nervous breakdowns, but in the end the most aggressive men withered and ran. Her fiercely protective land- lady took care of the rest.
The hospitals and courts agreed: whether institutional- ized or subsidized in the real world, Purly would not survive outside her bubble. Only a steady stream of S.S.I. checks kept her safely sealed in this crypt.
All her life she'd dreamt plain; Marilyn's make-believe self was a wisp of a woman, daintily dancing for gentlemen in denim. One, the nicest one, would sweep her off her feet to a land of coffee mugs and white picket fences. The mirror was her window into this secret world. Purly began reliving her tortured adolescence in that little window; initially as a distract- ion, then in direct competition with the fantasy. In time the deli- cate dream dissolved completely, leaving her addicted to a masochistic morning ritual.
Looking into that swirling glass pool was like watching a movie on a flat oval screen. She could see the halls, could hear the whistles and shouts, could almost smell the hormones as the boys of high school came stampeding; hurling themselves a- gainst her, squeezing frantically, blocking her progress as she struggled to make class. Right behind were the average girls, egging the bug-eyed boys on, slapping her too-pretty face until she ran the gauntlet screaming like a banshee. Alone in the dark, Purly still felt the boys' horny paws, still felt the normal girls beating her into hysterics.
Closing her eyes, she reached into her makeup box, picked out an unused razor blade, and guided it to her face. The jerking blade never touched flesh, but she felt every imaginary slice before lowering it to poise, for the thousandth time, above an upturned wrist.
Purly opened her eyes, neatly returned the blade, and for the thousandth time watched the ghosts of adolescence drift to the mirror's periphery.
Fresher, sharper images rose in their place. First up was her landlady's toad-like face, her fat eyes burning through the shadow of a straw hat's brim. Next appeared the probing face of a serious man, a kind of senior policeman. Lastly came the
crouching form of a muscular man facing away, the back of his jumpsuit lettered, enigmatically, HARBOR TV & VCR. These images also drifted and passed. The mirror clouded.
Out of the fog rose an angular face with gray, very pene- trating eyes. The eyes had a way of locking onto your move- ments without shifting, as on one of those imposing portraits with eyes that appear to pursue you regardless of where you stand. Immediately behind the face came a dully resonating sound, like a buoy's bell in choppy waters. The sound produced a conditioned response: Purly placed a hand in her makeup box and extracted a tiny vial of perfume. She twisted off the cap. The ringing grew insistent. She let a few drops fall into her cleavage before loosening the big satin bow on her sweet little babydoll.
Now the doorbell was clanging urgently in her skull. In a dream, she pushed herself to her feet, pulled aside the curtain, and staggered around the jamb. The bell had her by the pulse. She almost fainted when she reached the door.