When enough steps are taken, Sidney arrives at the dirt shoulder on the side of Sawblade Lane. Nobody’s there waiting for him.
“Huh, that’s weird,” he says, unlocking his phone and checking the time of the text message. “They should be he–”
A pair of bright headlights come around the turn and slow their approach as they pull across the left lane and into the dirt shoulder. A window and a door simultaneously open. Sidney approaches both and neither.
“What’s good, boys?” he asks the hood of Harry’s coupe.
“Hey Sidney,” says Keaton, coming around for a fist bump.
“What’s up, dude,” adds Harrington as he waits for Sidney to come around for a fist bump.
Sidney obliges both of them. “Yo, I got something for you guys.”
Harry doesn’t leave immediately, looking amused. Keaton stands in the glow of the headlights, hands in his pockets. Sidney goes to his sedan and tries to open the passenger door, but it’s locked. He fishes his keys out of his pocket, unlocks it, and takes the last two signed copies of The Face of Fear out of the box, walks halfway to Harry’s BMW, stops, walks back to his car to close the door, then starts back towards Harry’s car. Harry and Keaton share a quick look, but Sidney doesn’t see it happen.
“The promo copies of my book came today,” Sidney says, handing the bottom one to Keaton. “I got one for each of you guys, signed ‘em and everything.”
“Yooooo,” Harry says, looking through the pages briefly. “This is dope as fuck, Blake. Thank you!”
“No problem, ‘man,” Sidney says with a grand smile. “You seemed interested when I was telling you about it that day with the guy in the cloak, so I figured, why not?”
“Hey, I appreaciate it, man,” Harry says. “You got one for Victoria, right?”
Every fucking time. “Yes, I got one for my girlfriend, Harry. Gave it to her at the library earlier.”
“Good,” Harry says as though he was the girl’s father, which he is not. Not even remotely similar. “Just makin’ sure you’re treating her right, is all. She’s a special girl, that Victoria. Deserves only the best.”
“Don’t I know it,” Sidney says. “Well listen, ‘man, thanks a ton for dropping Keaton off. We’re go’n’a head back, you sure you don’t wan’a come?”
“Positive,” Harrington says, putting his car into reverse. “Thanks, though. And thanks again for the book! See you boys around.”
And just like that, Harrington is gone. Only one thought crosses Sidney’s mind: ‘Fuck Harrington Bogspekti.’
“Hey,” Keaton says. “This is really cool, Sidney.”
“Thanks, Que,” Sidney says. “You see the dedication?”
“Yeah, to Iuqon and Ram’rl. Very nice. Listen, before we go back, uh… don’t take this the wrong way, but you smoked some pot tonight, yeah?”
Sidney smiles sheepishly. “Yeah, when I first got back there. Is it that obvious?”
“Nah, but the smell is,” Keaton says. “No biggie. How am I go’n’a get home, though? I figured you’d drive me back when I had to go.”
“OH, oh uh… shit, I didn’t really think about that. Um… well you’re not try’n’a smoke, I assume?”
“Nah, not tonight.”
“Well here, then,” Sidney says, tossing his keys to Keaton. “I know you’re an avid walker these days, but you can still drive, right?”
“I can, but dude, you don–”
“Nah’nah’nah, it’s fine. I’m happy you came out tonight, it’ll be a lot better than sitting all alone around that fire,” Sidney insists. “Just pick me up in the morning. Hell, I’ll even drive you back home.”
Keaton shrugs. “Works for me. Le’me throw the book in the car so I don’t get it all woodsy.”
Keaton puts the fifth signed copy of The Face of Fear safely into the car, then locks the door.
They walk for about nineteen minutes without saying anything. It’s not an uncomfortable silence; these two are lifelong friends who have wandered the endless wood many a’time, both as Sidney Blake and Keaton Quinn and as Albey the Poet and Iuqon the Mage. They’re comrades, these young ‘mans, in this world and in the other.
“So I didn’t read it yet, obviously,” Keaton says suddenly, making Sidney jump, “but I was flipping through it and I have to say, ‘man, it looks really well done.”
“Thanks, dude,” Sidney says. “I worked my ass off on it, that’s for sure. Never put so much effort into something in my life.”
“It shows. I love the pictures of the runes, and how the chapters are broken up.”
“Oh yeah, I call that subchapter form. Stephen King does it, but he usually just numbers ‘em.”
“I know, I remember,” Keaton says nostalgically. “I haven’t read the Dark Tower in a minute, but I remember. Love those books.”
“You and me both, broth’a,” Sidney agrees.
“Crazy how big of an impact they had on our lives,” Keaton muses. “Especially for you.”
“What’s that?” Sidney asks. “I can hardly hear you, dude.”
And it’s true, Sidney can hardly hear Keaton. Not much is audible over the crunching of the dead leaves, the blowing of the cold wind; the forest has a different energy to it at night, a certain kind of silence that amplifies all sounds in a way that just doesn’t happen when the sun is in the sky, and it’s quite loud, especially to Sidney’s high ears. Every single sound comes to him at once, not as though they’re all at the same volume but as though they’re playing on the same–
‘level of the Tower’
–level. It’s very… not disorientating, but just… a lot. It’s a lot, and Sidney is having a little trouble hearing right now. And that’s okay. Everything is as it should be.
“What?” Sidney says again, having no idea what Keaton said. “I’m sorry dude, there’s too much noise. Let’s just talk at the campfire.”
Keaton shrugs. Good enough for him. On the two walk in relative silence as the treks roll beneath their feet. Finally the young ‘mans come to The True Commons, a dark ring of stones with a smaller ring in the center.
“No campfire?” Keaton asks before stepping over the border ring of puddingstones.
“Not yet,” Sidney assures him as he fishes his lighter out of his pocket. “Figured I’d start it when you got here, didn’t want to leave it burning when I was gone.”
“I feel it,” Keaton says. “No chairs either, eh?”
“No sir,” Sidney says. “You can sit in the tent if you want, though. I don’t mind.”
“Nah, it’s cool,” he says as he sits cross-legged at the edge of the firepit and watches Sidney built a little tower of sticks and leaves. “I don’t mind roughin’ it for a little while.”
Sidney lights the fire and sits back, mesmerized momentarily by its glow. Then, “Hey uh, you hungry? I got some hotdogs, chips, a bit of candy. It’s all inside the tent, help yourself.”
“Nah it’s cool broth’a, Harry and I grabbed some Taco Bell on the way back to town. Thanks, though. You go ahead, I don’t mind.”
“Honestly, dude, I’m not even hungry,” Sidney says, then chortles. “Usually when I smoke up I get the munchies like a Mad Poet, but I’m not even peckish right now.”
“Damn, son,” Keaton says. “Maybe you’ll get hungry later on.”
“Yeah, mayhap,” Sidney agrees. “So, wait. You’re not hungry, not try’n’a smoke. Why’d you come out here, ‘man?”
Keaton laughs then. “You’re my best friend, Sidney, and you just published a novel. Your first novel, if I know you as well as I think I do. The first of many.”
“Got that right, brudda,” Sidney says. “Next one’s go’n’a be about that crazy guy I stabbed. Well, not literally about him, but the main character’s going to be based off him. I’m excited, I already have parts of the story worked out in my head.”
“That’s so cool,” Keaton gushes. “I really think it’s awesome that you’re doing this, Sidney. You got a great mind for it.”
“Awh, thanks Keaton,” Sidney smiles. “That means a lot.”
“I’m serious, ‘man,” Keaton lays on. “Like, ever since we were kids you were always so great at making up crazy stories and adventures for us. I’m really glad you put in the work to make it into a book. Feels like it all meant something, y’know?”
“Well it definitely all meant something before I wrote the novel,” Sidney says defensively. “The Hillside Commons was my childhood, dude. Our childhoods. That shit was special.”
“Yeah, yeah I know, I just mean… like, it feels like it all happened for a reason. Like, a higher reason than just some kinds having fun.”
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Sidney says. “I think I know what you mean,” ‘on more than one level of the Tower.’
“So tell me about the new Hillside Commons story, dude!” Keaton says excitedly. “I’m go’n’a read the book, I promise, but I want to hear about it from the horse’s mouth. Get yuckin’, punk.”
Sidney laughs. “All right, all right. So it starts right after the Battle at Jericho Tower, Albey the Mad Poet just buried Iuqon and Ram’rl in a clearing at the end of a path and he’s saying his goodbyes. He goes back to The Lodge, he’s totally devastated, and when he gets there he moves all of Ram’rl’s weapons and armor inside because, right before his friends died, they made him promise to protect The Lodge and all the power and secrets hidden within. The thing is, though, Iuqon the Mage never got to tell Albey what those secrets were; all Albey knows is he has to protect The Lodge from evil; in other words, from Gobon the In’Fluence, the wicked ‘man in white.”
“Oh shit,” Keaton bubbles.
“So the sun sets by the time Albey gets all the armor and weapons inside The Lodge, and instead of falling asleep on his bed – he doesn’t want to sleep deeply, just in case somebody (like Gobon) comes in the middle of the night searching for the secret he has to protect – he lays down on the cold floor, and that’s when he notices a trapdoor beneath Iuqon’s bed. So he moves the bed over, opens the trapdoor, and there’s a ladder going down a shaft. At the base of that shaft is Iuqon’s secret laboratory, and it’s full of mystical stuff: potions, books, enchanting tables and shit, it’s wild.”
“Shit yeah it is.”
“In the middle of the laboratory is a white pedestal with a glowing orb floating above it. Resting on that pedestal is a folded-up sheet of paper, a letter from Iuqon. Albey reads the letter and learns that this laboratory holds all the world’s knowledge, even that which hasn’t been discovered yet; that Gobon is the one who started the Plague of Decay that made the Rotting Ents, how he’s evil and not to be trusted, and a bunch of other stuff. On the back of the letter are seven runes, which are named after the seven days of the week in our world. Like Mon, Tues, Satur, that kind of thing, and they each describe a cosmic truth of reality. Satur is Death, for example. Thurs is Peace, uh, Mon is Chaos. So Albey copies the runes down so he can keep track of time, burns the letter (because Iuqon instructed him to do so in the letter) and then lays down on the floor of the secret basement laboratory to sleep off his misery.”
“Woah,” Keaton marvels, bringing a smile to Sidney’s face.
“And that’s the prolo–… the Exordium, I called it. There are seven middle chapters, each one a different day of the week, but they’re told out of order because storytelling, you feel me?”
“I feel you, dude. I’m fucking excited to read this, I lowkey feel like a celebrity. What happens on each day?”
Since he asks, Sidney tells Keaton the events of Sunday, a day of Life; Monday, a day of Chaos; Wednesday, a day of Balance; Saturday, a day of Death; Thursday, a day of Peace; Tuesday, a day of Order; and Friday, a day of War, specifically in that order, for that is how the book was written. He leaves out some of the story, chiefly the parts which refuse to come to his memory, and skims over the Envoi entirely, as he has no conception of what happens when The Dirtbiker arrives at the aftermath of the war against the bigfoots. Were Keaton sitting in a chair during all this he would not have been perched on the edge, nor would he be sat on the chair at all – the ‘man would have fallen clean off.
“Sidney…” Keaton says when his bottom jaw decides to leave the forest floor. “Dude, I, that’s… you’re fucking brilliant! How the hell did you come up with all of that?”
“Oh, come on,” Sidney says, cheesin’. “It’s not that great, it’s just a little story.”
“Dude, but like… it really is that great. I certainly think so, at least. You’re, you fuckin’…” He raises a fist. “I’m happy–… Albey, I’m fuckin’ honored to be your friend.”
Sidney bumps Keaton’s fist. “As am I to be yours, Keaton. But uh, it’s Sidney now. Albey… he used to be part of me, and he still definitely is, but… he lives in the book now, y’know? I’m more than happy to just be Sidney Blake.”
Keaton Quinn nods smilingly. “I get you. My best friend’s a fuckin’ storyteller, who would’a thought?”
“Not me,” his best friend tells him, “I’ll tell you that much. Never would have happened without you, y’know.”
“Naw, stop it dude,” Keaton waves.
“Seriously,” Sidney says. “You gave me the idea.”
“If I remember correctly,” Keaton remembers correctly, “you came up with the idea. I just told you how good of an idea it was.”
Is that how it went? Huh. Sidney can’t remember shit these days, this is a problem. “Well, regardless. You played a big part, ‘man. I’m going to pay you back for it one day.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Al–… Sidney Blake. You shall do no such thing; I only ask that you wait for me in the clearing at the end of the path. Can you do that for a fellow ‘man, comrade?”
“Of course,” Sidney says justly, puffing out his chest. “From Poet to Mage, I shall wait for thee in the clearing at the end of the path, comrade.”
“Molotov,” Keaton says. They both burst out laughing.
The fire dwindles as time goes on, and Sidney piles on firewood. They talk, they laugh, they reminisce about good ol’ times well spent and memories shared. The pile of firewood gets smaller and smaller, and before Sidney knows it, he’s scraping the forest floor.
“Shit, ‘man,” Sidney says. “We’re all out of tinder.”
“Ah, really? Honestly, ‘man, it’s just as well. It’s gettin’ pretty late, I think I’m about ready to head back.
“Yeah?” Sidney says, not… not disappointed. “A’ight, no worries. Thanks for stayin’ as late as you did.”
“No problem, dude,” Keaton says, offering Sidney a hand up. He takes it. “Thanks for inviting me, and thank you for the autographed book! You’re go’n’a go far in this life, Sidney. I honestly believe that.”
“Come on, cut that shit out,” Sidney demands.
“No, I’m serious Sidney,” as they take their phones out and engage the flashlights. “I’m’a be honest with you… when you first came back from college with all that weed and shit, I was nervous for you.”
“Yeah, ‘man. Not many of us Loggers get to leave town and go to college, and the ones who do rarely come back. Everyone else… well, this town is like a vortex, ‘man. It has a bad habit of swallowing folks whole, and not everybody finds a way to make it through the belly of the beast. I was afraid you would end up… well, I didn’t know how you were go’n’a end up, Sidney. I didn’t think you would end up a failure or anything, but I just didn’t know where you were go’n’a go. But you found your way though, ‘man. No, not even that – you made your own way. And it’s fucking cool that you did.”
Welp. Sidney doesn’t know what to say about that. “I… thank you, Keaton. That really… fuck, dude. That means the fuckin’ world to me that you said that.”
“Well I mean it, ‘man.” Keaton stretches his arms out then, and Sidney does the same. They hug like true friends often should but so rarely do, but doesn’t that make it all the more warmer? Yes, I believe it does. “Oh, I don’t know why I’m thinking of this now, but didn’t you meet a publisher a while back?”
“Yeah,” Sidney tells him as they start down the game trail. “Dude by the name of Mister Kyng. He operates a publishing racket called The Human Company.”
“Tee’acHe’Cee,” Keaton notes.
“Hell yeah,” Sidney agrees. “We talked on the phone a couple days ago, I’m go’n’a send him a copy of The Face of Fear tomorrow after I get home. Got it all signed and everything.”
“That’s fuckin’ lit,” Keaton says, trying to walk quietly so Sidney can hear him. “How is it go’n’a work?”
“Well, Kyng said… he said a lot, honestly. He gave me this whole spiel – it wasn’t really a spiel, I don’t mean to make it sound annoying or anything – about how fiction writing is, like, really important for humanity. He said fiction books help us get in touch with ourselves and with each other in a unique way that nothing else is capable of doing. He thinks if more folks read and wrote fiction then the world would be a better place for everybody, ‘man and beast alike, so he gets in contact with as many fiction writers as he can, folks who do it on their own, y’know? Folks who aren’t just looking for a quick buck – and he signs them to his company, pretty much. He has a store out in Colorado, I think, although I never caught wind of it when I was over there, but yeah. He has his own printing press and an online store and he pretty much gets writers to write books and then he sells ‘em, prints ‘em to order, and gets the writers to sign a bunch of copies so he can sell those, too. Even gives all the books an International Book Standardization Number, which is his version of the I’eSs’Bee’ehN. It’s honestly a dope-ass fuckin’ business, I’m really excited to be part of it.
“If he likes my book,” Sidney adds, not wanting to get too ahead of himself. “There’s no guarantee, like, while everybody should write fiction, not everybody should make books. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I think I get what you’re saying,” Keaton chuckles. “I think he’s definitely going to like your book, though. You have the passion, dude. You does the shit. You got nothin’ to worry about.”
“I sure hope so, ‘man,” Sidney says, looking up into the bottomless black sky scattered with bright white starlight. “I sure hope so.”
This has been the fifth 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~