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by Benjamin Parzybok
Description: An exuberant and hilarious debut in which an episode of furniture moving gone awry becomes an impromptu quest of self-discovery, secret histories, and unexpected revelations. Thom is a computer geek whose hacking of a certain Washington-based software giant has won him a little fame but few job prospects. Erik is a smalltime con man, a fast-talker who is never quite quick enough on his feet. Their roommate, Tree, is a confused clairvoyant whose dreams and prophecies may not be completely off base. After a freak accident fl oods their apartment, the three are evicted-but they have to take their couch with them. The real problem? The couch-huge and orange-won't let them put it down. Soon the three roommates are on a cross-country trek along back roads, byways, and rail lines, heading far out of Portland and deep into one very weird corner of the American dream.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: October 2008
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [439 KB]
Reading time: 282-395 min.
"A lot of people are looking for magic in the world today, but only Benjamin Parzybok thought to check the sofa, which is, I think, the place it's most likely to be found. Couch is a slacker epic: a gentle, funny book that ambles merrily from Coupland to Tolkien, and gives couch-surfing (among other things) a whole new meaning."--Paul LaFarge
"Occasionally laugh-out-loud funny...Parzybok's quirky humor recalls the flaws and successes of early Douglas Adams."--Publishers Weekly
Highway 30 was loud and unwelcoming, with cars blazing past, all exhaust and noise. Looking down from the Sauvie Island Bridge, they saw railroad tracks that followed alongside the road. The tracks seemed far more peaceful than the highway for couch-carrying, and a movement was made to do the trek on those. The couch felt light and easy, and Thom almost convinced himself that the weight issues of the previous day were imagined.
They pushed the couch down the weedy slope to the railroad tracks, and the three studied them, trying to determine how often trains passed. Erik laid his ear on the rail and declared, "Not a train in a hundred miles!"
The tracks were rusted, but a streak of polished metal gleamed through, tracing a silvery line into the distance.
Thom and Erik carried the couch, stumbling over the ties. Their ankles twisted and blisters that had started the day before began to bloom. Tree walked trying to balance on the rail or guide the couch. They spoke little, issuing only grunts and couch directions. Thom was lost in thought over the Sauvie Island house. Unresolved issues bubbled up in a stew of emotions.
After only an hour or two of walking on the uneven surface they were exhausted. They stopped to apply moleskin to their feet and to take lunch, setting the couch crosswise on the tracks and pulling out various items from their gear, spreading everything out in a disorganized radius.
"Well, this is fun," Erik said after the eating had slowed. Tree crammed more bread and jam into his mouth. All of them had been sweating through their winter clothes, and now the cold set in. The cloud cover was thick, with dark welts threatening at the edges. They rubbed their hands together to keep warm. Thom fought off sleep, comfortable on the couch. Ahead was a blackberry-bush corridor, a hallway of thorns with the rails down the center. It was an inviting green passageway, just large enough for a couch and those who might carry it, but an restricted one, the thorns dense and bristling on either side. Erik pulled out a cigarette and smoked slowly.
"Where'd you get that?" Thom said.
"Emergency gear." Erik held it at arm's length and studied it. "Gives you the impression you're warm even if you're not."
"You know, I think I'd like one."
Erik pulled a cigarette out, lit it from his own, and gave it to Thom.
"Yes sir," Thom exhaled. "Three boys lost in the Arctic."
"I wonder how many days it will take to get to Astoria," Tree said. He'd found a second small jar of blackberry jam and was spreading it thickly across a hunk of bread.
"Not more than another month or two," Thom tested to determine his roommates' knowledge of distance and endurance.
"Wow," Erik said, confirming Thom's suspicions.
"I'm joking. It probably won't be more than a week. It'll be hellish, though, if we walk on these damn tracks the whole way. We should build some kind of wheeled gizmo for the bottom of the couch."
"Yeah," Tree said, "let's do."
"This vacation is cheaper than I thought it was going to be." Erik pulled a wad of bills from his back pocket. "I've still got, like, fourteen dollars left."
"You're loaded," said Thom.
"I didn't have any dreams last night. It's the first night in a long time that I haven't had dreams."
"That's because a winter day at Sheilene's place is very much like a dream." Thom blew smoke. "I could go to sleep right now."
"How'd that go for you? I've been meaning to ask. I mean, first of all, why'd you leave her? She's, you know, she's a catch and all. Muscular." Erik raised his eyebrows suggestively.
"It was nice there," Tree said. "I wish we could have stayed longer."
"First of all, I didn't leave her. She kicked me out."
"She doesn't seem like that kind of person at all," Tree said.
Erik nodded. "What'd you do? Must have been something bad."
"Well, she didn't kick me out. More like she suggested I leave. I don't know, we just weren't getting along. We had different interests. I went in to work at a job I hated all day, didn't really have any interests other than computer stuff, and she ... I don't know. She wants a groovier guy, you know? She wants someone a little less of a nerd, someone less logical that can, I don't know, fill up the house more. She admires what I do and all, it's just that, I don't ... I'm half machine."
"Six Million Dollar Man," said Erik.
"Except not that much."
"The Thirty-Four Dollar and Ninety-Five Cents Man."
"Listen!" Tree yelled.
"To what?" Erik heard a bird chirp, the distant din of the highway.
"I don't ... Train!" Thom tried to yell, but his voice went suddenly hoarse. He leapt off the couch, stumbled to his knees on the uneven tracks, and lurched back to his feet. His giant body became a blur of motion. He started throwing everything they had left on the tracks to the side: bags and shoes and first aid kits and packs and tarps and food. Erik and Tree lifted the couch and each tried to push it the other way. Tree slipped and fell under the couch and then the train rounded the bend behind them.
"Get away!" Thom yelled. "Get away!" his voice came back.
The train let out a whistle that made his molars ache.
Tree stood up, disoriented, and Erik gave the couch a mighty shove that knocked Tree off his feet again and into the blackberry bushes and set the couch on the tracks at an angle. Thom realized there was no way to save the couch short of throwing it up onto the bank. Erik and Thom lay in the ditch. Thom looked up briefly to see the impact with the couch, and then it was gone. A blur of orange, a wooden concussion.
The train passed for what felt like hours. The wheels were just feet from their heads, flinging small rocks violently off into the ditch. When it passed, a ringing silence followed, a sound that was the absence of sound. The couch was nowhere in sight.
Thom and Erik stood up. It looked like their belongings had been air-dropped from five hundred feet. They helped Tree extract himself from the blackberry bushes.
"It's gone," Tree said.
"Well, that's that," Erik said, dusting his hands.
"There's got to be traces of it. It can't have just disappeared," Thom said. His body trembled from fear and vibration.
"It definitely disappeared." Erik gestured to where the couch wasn't. "There ain't nothing left. Think if one of us had been hit. We'd have been exploded into a million bits."
Thom brushed gravel from his face. "I don't think it was atomized. Either it was thrown into the blackberries or it's stuck to the front of the train."
They paused and considered the image of the couch snagged on the front of the train, fastened haphazardly by an armrest, one end dragging on the ground, being torn to shreds as it sped away from them.
"Nahhh," Tree said, clearly shaken. "Couldn't be."