“Yo, Carl,” Sidney says into his phone.
“Wha’d’up dude?” Carl says back, the sound of his voice scratchy.
“You at the school? I got somethin’ for ya.”
“Yeah, for about five more minutes,” Carl garbles. “Cross country team got past the state sectional meet last week, so the Aye’Dee asked me to go with ‘em to the groups meet to take pictures and shit. Bus is leaving in a few whether I’m on it or not.”
“Are you on it now?” Sidney asks, not pretending to know what any of that jargon meant. “Sounds like you’re in a blizzard, dude.”
“Nah, I’m in the locker room,” Carl says into his shoulder. “They have more fuckin’ supplies for this running team than for the entire fuckin’ football team at this school, I swear to Christ.”
“A’ight, well I’m pullin’ down Weaseldrift right now, I should be there in a hot second.”
“Word. Bus’ll be parked in the front of the school, I’ll stand outside. What, uh… what’cha got for me, Sidney?”
“You’ll see, buddy! In a minute.”
“A’ight,” followed by what sounds like a bludgeoning, followed by a click.
Not paying attention to any of the ridiculous names of the streets of Dantez Furnace, Sidney travels through the labyrinth one road at a time until he’s at the heart of the middle-class neighborhood. Stewart O. Bashby High School towers like a mausoleum of red bricks except much, much larger, which it has to be; a lot of dreams and potential winners come here to die and lose and sometimes get pregnant.
‘It’s not a high school like many others,’ Sidney thinks fondly as he pulls into the crumbly black parking lot. ‘A fuckin’ teacher married one of the girls in my class a month after graduation, for Christ’s sake. I mean, good for Bennat, but, like…’
Sidney shudders then, he shudders plenty hard enough to knock the thought clear out of his head. He takes a deep breath, lifts the third signed copy of The Face of Fear out of the box, and gets out of the car. The bus is there in front of the school’s front entranceway, just like Carl said it would be. He can see Carl leaning against the big concrete sign scrollin’ away on his cell phone. Dude looks like a student, oof. Big oof.
Sidney looks left across the parking lot. Right across the parking lot. The lot seems to be clear, but he can never be too careful.
‘In and out,’ Sidney thinks to himself. ‘Nice and easy, no need for any bullshit. Give him the book and get the fuck back to the car.’
Sidney starts to walk across the parking lot. Stationed along the far sides of the ruined asphalt are lines of identical white SUVs with windows tinted blacker than their rubber tires and no license plates. As Sidney approaches the front of the high school, each one of these SUVs’ headlights turn on to glare at him.
‘Don’t look scared,’ Sidney reminds himself. ‘They can smell fear, just keep going.’
Sidney keeps walking, acting like he’s supposed to be here. The security guards in the white SUVs watch him keenly, emptying the slug shells out of their school-supplied automatic shotguns in favor for the buckshot they reserve for school shooters. The ones they want to get up close to, that is, so they can see the look in their eyes as the light fades away.
“Ay,” Sidney says, stepping up onto the curb.
“Yo, boi,” Carl says, raising a hand for a brohug. Sidney accepts. “What’cha got for me, Sidney?”
Sidney shows him the signed book. Carl, eyes glimmering like his massive smile, takes it reverently with both hands.
“Holy shit, is this it??” he says, opening to the cover page. “Oh my god, you even signed it just for me!”
“Damn right I did!” Sidney assures him, trying not to look over his shoulder at the white SUVs as they begin to exfil their parking spaces. “That’s it, dude. The Hillside Commons is officially a thing.”
“This is so fucking cool, Sidney,” Carl says, flipping through the pages. “Is Ram’rl in here?”
“You’re goddamn right he is! It takes place right after the Battle at Jericho Tower–”
“But Ram’rl and Iuqon both died at the Battle,” Carl says, sadness flowing from his lips.
“They did,” Sidney says, nodding with condolence. “But, the book is dedicated to both of them, and they managed to find their way into the story.”
“Yeah?” Carl says, turning back to the front. “Oh shit, would y’look at that! To Iuqon the Mage, to Ram’rl the Unfallen. May you both rest in grandest Peace. Hey, why is the Pee in Peace capitalized?”
“It’s part of the story, you’ll see.”
“I definitely will,” Carl says as he swings his shoestring bag off his shoulder and drops the book in. “I’m’a read this at the groups meet. Not like I’ll have anything else to do; who wants to sit around and watch kids run, right?”
“Not me,” Sidney agrees wholeheartedly, struggling to keep calm. The white SUVs are swarming the parking lot, driving little circles.
“So how do Ram’rl and Iuqon get into the story?” Carl asks, paying no mind to the high school’s security force because his days of being harassed by them ended after his second year of employment did the same. “They don’t come back as zombies, right?”
“No, they definitely do not,” Sidney assures him. “Albey sees them in a vision. Well, a couple visions.”
“Visions?” Carl asks. “Like flashbacks?”
“No, Albey meditates and goes to…”
Sidney trails off. There was a name for it, he knows there was… where the fuck does Albey meet back up with his dead friends?
“Sidney?” Carl asks, a bit worried. “You good, ‘man?”
“What?” Sidney says, snapping out of it. “Yeh–… uh, yeah. Sorry, memory’s been all sorts of fucked up lately.”
“Probably all that grass your pale ass is smokin’,” Carl says with a knowing smile.
“I haven’t even been smoking lately, that’s the thing,” Sidney tells him. “Speakin’a’which, I’m going to camp out at The True Commons tonight. Go’n’a get some hotdogs and chips and stuff, maybe do a little smokin’. You wan’a join me? I’m go’n’a ask Keaton, too, see if we can get The Triad back together for old times’ sake.”
Carl smiles excitedly and starts to say yes, but then falters. “Shit, dude, I don’t think I can. I’m supposed to be back here early tomorrow, only half the team is going to the meet today. Other half gets to run in the morning.”
“Five’thirty, if you’d believe that shit.”
As it turns out, Sidney would believe that shit. “God damn, yeah you’re definitely not camping tonight then.”
“I’m sorry, Sidney,” Carl says with grave and true disappointment. “I would come if I could.”
“I know, broth’a,” Sidney says, clapping Carl lightly on the back. “Don’t even worry about it, it’s not like this is the only time I’m ever go’n’a go camping out there. You’ll come next time.”
“Damn right I will!” Carl says.
There’s a guttural Ahem from the bus then. A large and grotesque ‘man with splotchy skin and sweat staining its armpits and leaking crescents beneath its man-tits is standing on the bottom step of the bus with its arms folded. The bus is leaning slightly towards the curb.
“Shit, I got’a go.” They brohug once more. “Thanks again for the book, dude. This is really fucking cool.”
“Anytime,” Sidney says. “Hit me up, we’ll get a hike in!”
“For sure!” Carl assures him as he climbs up into the bus. “I’ll be around on Sunday, expect a text!”
Sidney watches the roving SUVs part a gap for the school bus to drive through. This might be Sidney’s only chance of escaping alive; holding his breath as to not breathe in the black clouds pluming from the bus’s rusty exhaust pipe, Sidney runs behind it and then dives for his car, gasping for air as he lands against the boot. Quickly he climbs into his car and locks the door behind him. Three of the SUVs hatch armed security guards as he’s pulling out of the parking lot. Sidney honks the horn at them as he turns the corner and puts Stewart O. Bashby High School out of his sight, mayhap for the last time if he has any lu–… if ka works in his favor.
As he’s coming up Weaseldrift Drive, Sidney’s breathing returns to baseline.
“Well that was fucking stressful,” Sidney admits to himself, then chuckles. “Fuck that school. I don’t know how the hell Carl deals with working there. My dad, either.”
In truth, Sidney doesn’t understand how Tori works at the library, nor does he understand how anybody works a normal job in this tar pit of a town. Anywhere, really. The very thought of it irks him, sends shivers down his spine, literally makes his nerves hurt.
“But I might not need to worry about that,” he reminds himself as he slows to a stop at the cusp of Mane Road, “because I very well could have a deal with Mister Kyng’s publishing company.”
He looks both ways. Not a single car seems to consider stopping for him to pull out.
“Holy shit, this is real. I might actually have a publishing deal.”
Three books down, two left to go, and one car finally finds enough goodness in the heart of its miserable driver to stall and allow Sidney to pull onto Mane Road. Like he did in his writing of The Face of Fear, Sidney seizes the opportunity.
This has been the third subchapter of the last chapter of Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
The Hillside Commons has a Facebook page. Here’s that.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~