Screaming Candle

The Strange – Episode 22 – In the Weeds – Part 1

Dan led the way as he and Goldberg wandered through the woods behind one of the newer dorms.  The natural environment made even the unreal heat and humidity tolerable.  Civilization had not yet reached this part of campus. It made a kind of sense because this is the edge of civilization where the fraternities lie and people hack sack.

“It’s fucked up.  I can’t get a signal in the house, but my phone works just fine out here.”  Dan flashed Goldberg his phone which looked like a cross between a deck of cards and a jellybean.

“You should turn that thing off on principle,” Goldberg said. “We’re here on purpose to get lost.”

“Ah yeah.  Memories of freshman year.  What?  Has it really been this long? years?” Finding a grassy place near a shallow pond, they sat and Dan got out a doobie.

“Yep, I can’t believe we’re still here.”

“Well I can’t believe you won the damned lottery and moving out.  Lost my job and my roommate all in one day!”

Goldberg pushed the grass away from the hem of his shorts.  “Who said I was moving anywhere?  And are you going to light that thing or just play with it?”

Dan looked slightly hurt.  “I’m fixing it.”

“You make joints like… I don’t know… a grandma or something.”

Flame sparked from Dan’s lighter and he said, “How do you know grandma is a spaz?  Maybe she’s a reefer freak and has had decades of practice.”

“You’ve obviously never met *my* grandma.” Goldberg grabbed the newly lit joint from Dan and toked.

Dan blew out his smoke and said, “You forget, I *have* met your grandma.  Nice lady.  So, you’re rich now, huh.”

“I guess so,” Goldberg croaked, holding in his smoke.

“Bummer.  I mean, it’s great for you and all, I guess.  But I suppose you won’t be hanging out anymore.”

With a huge cloud, he said, “What makes you say that?”

“Well.  You’ve got Bank now.  Everyone knows you have Bank.  That makes you different, a target.”  He took another toke.  “Don’t get me wrong, you’re still nerd boy to me.”

Goldberg took the joint back and said, “Thanks.  Hey, why are we still passing this thing like it’s gold if I’m so ‘bank’ why don’t we both just have our own, like cigarettes.”

“Waste not want not, dude.  Anyway, to other people, you’ll instantly be ‘that guy’ and either they will want to manipulate you for your cash or prove their street cred by dissing you or something.  Money does fucked up things to people, dude.”

“But I will still be hanging out,” Goldberg said, trying to mask the question.

“Oh sure.  But it will be uncomfortable.  Gradually you will find some place that is comfortable, but it won’t be with us lowlifes and working stiffs.  Nah, you will find people who also have money and so aren’t afraid of someone who has money or have something to prove to them and you’ll go golfing or some shit.  Whatever rich people do.”

Goldberg took a huge toke off the joint and then handed it back to Dan.  Still holding his breath he croaked, “I fucking hate golf.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because you’re a spaz.”

He blew out white smoke and said, “And I liked hanging out.”

“Yeah, well, you will be missed.”

Dan took a drag and stared off into the distance.  The humming insects mourned the loss of Goldberg.

“But that’s just bullshit, man!  I’m still the same guy I was yesterday!”

“It’s the nature of change, dude.”  He blew out and added, “You win the big game and all of a sudden you are getting your ass blown up in a house.  You already got yourself a freeloader.”

“What, Molly?”

“Yeah.  You see, this shit happens quick.”

“She’s hardly a hanger on,”  He said, taking the dwindling joint and trying not to whine.  Goldberg looked at it, letting the words and his feelings swarm around, mix within his power and his developing buzz.  “And anyway, you are clearly fucking with me.  I see how people might now look at me different and all, but it’s not like I got canned or anything!  I still have my job and all.”

“Thanks for reminding me, dick.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry.  But you see!  How is me having cash any different than your losing your job?  They are both changes in state!”

“You know what, Joy’s right.  You suck with people.”

Goldberg took his toke and handed the joint over.  “Ah, and Joy.  Now there’s a good piece of luck.”

“Well you’ve been getting lucky all over the place, haven’t you?”

With a thought, the power within Goldberg swarmed up to tie all the recent occurrences together and was displeased by the match.  “On second thought, Joy was not luck.  That was my own innate charm.”

“I stand by my previous statement. you suck with people.”

“Yeah well…”  he let the comment die.  The vision from the power within him showed him the probable movements of the long blades of grass along the water’s edge.  “Look, aside from higher quality weed, I’m not inclined to change my state because of money of all things, nor am I playing fucking golf.  Sure I may make some upgrades here and there, but on the whole, I’m not intending to change a thing.  I like my life.  I liked it fine yesterday and it’s still fine today.”  He took a huge toke on the joint and handed it off.  “I am not going to change!”

“Cool.  You still need a roommate?”

“Sure, know anyone who isn’t an asshole?”  Goldberg smiled.

“You really are a jackass, dude, and I get first pick at the bedrooms this time.”

“We gotta find digs first.  Now are you going to hit that or are you just going to bogart all day.”

Goldberg and Dan fogged their brains while the heat baked them even in the shade.  Unnoticed, Dan’s phone happily continued to report in to the network.  Every few seconds, it gave its position relative to the nearest cell phone tower, its GPS hit and its status as ready to take a call.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So, Joy, why do you teach English?”

Joy dropped the paper she was reading to regard Molly.  She had, for the first time today, a bright questioning look of true curiosity.  For a moment, she had the weird feeling that she was baby-sitting and that Molly was the annoying toddler that was walking in on her making out with her boyfriend.

She blinked away the vision and concentrated on answering the question.  “I suppose it’s for the love of words.  There is so much power in communication, which means the study of English.  Even when we are talking to one another it’s by using the same constructs critical to written communication.”

Molly blinked.  “Yeah, but what power do words have?  I mean, yeah, you can report news or make a speech or something, but it’s not like creative writing actually helps to do anything practical.”

“That is a supposition and you are supposing that all one learns in creative writing is how to write personal essays and stories, the verbal equivalent of mere trinkets and baubles.”  Her face opened, but her eyes remained hooded.  “Now, I agree with you on that.  The personal essay is the literary equivalent of junk food, easily produced, just as readily consumed and completely devoid of nourishment.  Valueless tripe in the form of social networking.”  She tilted her head.  “I think I might have picked that up from Stephen King or someone a little better known and practiced than myself.  Anyway, stories wind up being just that little bit better than the personal essay in that at least the author makes the attempt to build his world rather than ranting about whatever it is that has gotten their undies to ride up.”

Molly let out a giggle at this comment as Joy pressed on.

“But consider this.  Creative writing encourages the author to become more practiced at lies.  What is the value to society of our ability to lie?”

Molly recoiled.  “None.  Lies are bad!”

“Oh really?”  Joy’s lips curled into an evil smile.  “Anyone ever told you ‘It’ll be alright.  Those people who were mean to you, they suck.  They will get what’s coming to them eventually.'”

“Sure.”

“And that made you feel better, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Well, they were full of crap.  It was a lie.  Now does knowing that make you feel worse, having been separated from the situation?”

Molly looked around the room and frowned.  “No, I don’t think so.”

“Because with the distance you can look at the thing with more objectivity.  That little piece of bullshit wasn’t such a big deal.  You got momentary comfort and were able to get on with your life and gain that distance that made things not quite so bad.”

“I still say lies are bad.  It hides what is actually true.”

“Well then consider this, which is the most interesting part of written language.   Someone tells you a long, large story about something dangerous, say a war or something heartbreaking like losing a child.  In the hands of a skilled liar, you feel every emotion, every pain and horror.  It makes you think of your own mortality.  Makes you examine how you would react and tells you things about yourself you wouldn’t have known had you not experienced that stress.  But the great thing is, once you close the cover on the book, or page, or turn off the TV and get out of your seat at the theater, you are safe and sound, returned to your carefully planned life.”

Mouth agape, Molly sat hanging on Joy’s words.

“That right there is the power of English.  That is the result of creative writing.  It allows you to actually live another life.”

“And that’s why you teach English?”

“That’s why I started.  Now it’s for the salary and the benefits.  I mean, hell.  You should see the number of days off I get!  Plus, my students are a hoot, even if they can’t write for a damn when they come in and aren’t much better going out.”

“That seems pretty cynical.”

Joy waved her hand.  “Cost of getting older. It’s ether this or get a real job and let true cynicism seep in.  At least this way I’ve got time to write when I choose.”

“So, you’ve written books?”

“I wrote one.  Everyone hatted it.  Even as I was working on the sequel, everyone said I should be working on chick lit because ‘genre fiction is the realm of pimply-faced youth and nerds that haven’t left their mother’s basements.’  I can’t stand Chick lit.  Strong and bitchy or weak and weepy, the heroine is always a thinly veiled approximation of the writer, oftentimes a writer themselves, and a weird wish fulfillment manuscript in long form.  Now I do literary reviews and editing professionally and try not to be bitter about it.”  She went back to her reading and said, “Those who can’t do, teach.  Besides, writing is a time-consuming pain in my sweet backside.  Doesn’t pay anything either.  I’d be better off working at Blunderbuss, slinging espresso.”

Molly nodded.  “You are really not helping me with my search for a major.”

“Thank my inner muse, Molly.  He’s a mean jackass.”

She winced.  “I noticed.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sahara leaned over the table, and rested her chin on the cool surface.  The Cap of the pen she had brought with her was square and she now stared at how the pen stood on end.  Her mind was blank.  That didn’t mean, however, that it was empty.  She picked up the pen and wrote in her notebook.

“Paul Gauchaux – kid with too many characters in his name to have only two syllables and too many words in his assignment that didn’t fit. He should get a C for completing the letter of the assignment in an absence of spirit.”

This was one of many notes she had written down since retrieving her coffee.  People she’d never met and assignments she’d never laid eyes on.  It was as if writing it down was a way to make real something that was clearly false, like she was writing fiction, Joy’s usual shtick.  From her more sociological point of view, her native point of view, she appreciated the irony that in this aspect, she now knew what it was like to be Joy.

She sipped down her drink as Luxury Automobile continued to play over the crowd.  He was quite good.  She’d seen him around town plenty of times, but this is the only time she’d ever actually listened to him play.  He had a voice that was like a honey lemon drop and he used it to punch out notes and words from the air.  His guitar work was loose and fluid, not always on the beat, but close enough and more in tune with the phrasing of the song.  It was above standard busk fare, and well done.  By the look of him, Sarah guessed he didn’t have much else to do but practice.

Her phone buzzed against her thigh, giving her the false feeling of heat.  She left the pen to stand on end and fished in her pocket.  “Hey baby!  Aren’t you supposed to be…”

Her face flashed concern.  “The hospital?  Are you…?”

“Oh Teague, that’s awful. …  No, of course I’m not still … ok, maybe I’m a little mad about this morning still, but what … So what does that mean?”

She stared off into the cafe for a long moment listening to Teague.  “So you’re waiting.  Look, don’t just sit and stew about this.  Why don’t I come over there and we can walk down to meet Joy for lunch, you can still go right?…  And what did I tell you about stewing?  Your dorm room among the jocks is the last place you need to be right now.”

The phone chattered and she smiled.  “Of course I’m smarter than you baby, that’s because I’m awesome.  I’ll be there and maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll set up another surprise for you!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You are shitting me.  This is the car?”  The three men looked down at the tiny car that was as wide as it was long, and it wasn’t very wide.  It was white and shiney with red accents, making it look like a child’s toy.

“Yep.  And actually it’s brand spanking new.  Prob’ly not more than three months old by now.”

“It being new isn’t the point.”

Delgado cupped his hand on the window and inspected the interior.  Looking at the two over the car’s red and white top he said, “You know, Belatran, I don’t think I can fit in that thing.  I mean, really.”

“Oh them seats go all the way back.”

Belatran fixed the man with a hard look.  “Where’s the trunk?”

“Yeah man,” he shook his head. “There ain’t no trunk.”

“What’s my other option?”

“Ain’t none.  Walkin I guess.  You want a car from us, this is it.  And we’re the one car place that didn’t shut fer the summer.”

“What the hell!”  Beletran shook the printed receipt in his fist.  “Why did the web site say I could have a car?”

“You can.  Tomorrow.  We don’t do no nine hour turn around here during the summer.  Nobody here!  We get those things in as a special request and have them driven up from Orlando.  Shoot, you are lucky I’m here myself!  No flights in today.  We were closed.  I was just using the tools in the garage and heard you ring the bell.”

“So, this is your car?”

“Oh hell no.  Owners kid’s. Mine’s the fastback GTO in the garage.  Kid was grounded for smoking weed so it’s been put in the lot to keep it away from him.”

“Awesome.  So how do you work this go cart?”

“Well, it has an electric motor and a gas backup if you run out of juice.  You can just plug it into a wall.  Charges up overnight or run it and it charges in… well… It charges.  Not sure how well it does though.  It’s pretty new.”

Delgado sat in the passengers’ seat and pushed the seat all the way back.  “Woah.  This thing is freaking weird.”

“It’s this or walk?”

“I could call you a cab.  Damned few of those though.  It’s summer and…”

“… Nobody here.”  Belatran took a last look at the baking and empty parking lot and asked, “You take a check?”

“Nope.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Mr. Aye quietly stalked through the woods, looking for his prey.  He was uncomfortable in the glare and brightness of the day, but at least here, there were no other people.  Or cats.  He held up the GPS locator that was tuned to the phone’s number and scanned the tame wilderness while occasionally looking at the map.

He neared a clearing and squatted in a thick of reeds at the edge.  He found he was looking at Goldberg’s exposed back some thirty meters distant from a slight side angle, Mr. Aye listened for any distraction at all and found none.

With only the slightest click he freed his semi-automatic pistol from his shoulder holster and leveled it.  There was nothing at all that would stop him now.

“Dude!” Carl did his best quiet-walk up to Mr. Aye’s perch.

The large man put his hand back, giving the sign for him to freeze and shut up, but Carl ignored it and crouched in the blind.

“Dude, you took the wrong gun.  Here’s the dart gun.  Capture.  We are supposed to capture him.”

The white of Mr. Aye’s eyes were blood red and fixed on him.  Anger poured out of that stare and into Carl’s soul making him say, “Dude?”

“Right.  Capture.”  Mr. Aye put the gun away.  “Now if you are done fucking up my stalk?”

The young thug’s eyes flicked through the scraggly brush and saw Goldberg and Dan toking on the small stream’s bank.  “Oh yeah,” he whispered.  “I’ll wait at the car.”

Mr. Aye nodded and aimed the tranquilizer pistol at the two.  Two shots one second. Goldberg first, then his loser friend.

The Strange – Episode 23 – In the Weeds – Part 2