|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
“Hello? Is anyone home?” Jack shouts into the closed front door of his Mother’s house through cupped hands. When nobody answers, Jack gets to knocking; this provides a fruitless three minutes of his backbone further misaligning ever so slightly under the weight of his overstuffed backpack. Just as he’s about to throw caution to the wind and use the spare key hidden under the doormat, a hand grabs Jack’s shoulder, causing him to involuntarily yelp and pee himself just a tiny bit. Really, it’s only a drop, promise. Isabelle spins Jack around and grabs both of his arms, holding him in place while she stares at him and tries to catch her breath.
“Dude” pant “you’re not gonna fuckin’” pant “you’re not gonna believe what I saw at school today!” pant
Jack, petrified by being in such close proximity to Isabelle’s soft hands, heart-shaped face, and ruby red lips, shakily says, “I uh, I, I, I, I could say the, um. The, the uh… the same thing to you! Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say.”
Isabelle’s eyes grow as wide as flying saucers. “No way… okay, you tell me first. If you saw what I saw, I’m literally gonna scream.”
“Well, okay. Don’t scream though, you might like. Attract the police or something, I don’t know.”
With one eyebrow raised, allowing the stylish arch she paid for at the salon to really emphasize her confusion over Jack’s Jackness, Isabelle finally catches her breath and stares at our nervous Nelly. “Are… you’re not being serious right now, are you?”
Jack can feel his cheeks spontaneously burst into flames, but it goes completely unnoticed, kind of like that crow this morning. “No uhh, I, hahahah, I was kidding. So, um. It was after track practice, I uh… I did my own run, so I got back alone. I was getting changed in the locker room when I heard this… this like…”
“Yeah,” Jack’s mouth says before his brain could send a proper signal. Knowing damn well he didn’t hear a mechanical sound, he then continues, “I mean, no, uh, what? Mechanical sound?”
“Like…” she trails off, looking around to make sure nobody can hear. “Is there anybody home?”
Jack looks inside through the multitude of stained glass panes which fill the spaces in the bendy wrought iron design in his front door’s window. The house is dark and, come to think of it, there are no cars in the driveway either. If it quacks like a duck, well…
“No uh, I don’t think so. Why?”
Isabelle pushes right past him, the aroma of her lavender lemon cotton candy Gavon perfume giving Jack’s nostrils something of an olfactory orgasm as she opens the front door of his house and lets herself in. She kicks off her shoes, the rubber soles adding to the dirty brownish-black stain on the wall above the plastic shoe tray that’s not quite big enough to fit three normal adult pairs of shoes and not quite small enough to fit two normal adult pairs of shoes. Looking around, Isabelle realizes she’s never been inside Jack’s house before, even though Tyler comes here some of the time. The foyer is a tiny tiled space with a half-staircase leading up to the main floor and a three-quarters-staircase leading into a dark basement. A gust of cold wind blows up the stairs and cuts a Fahrenheit off Isabelle’s body temperature.
“Jack, did you leave a window open downstairs or something?”
“What? Uh, I don’t think so. I mean, I usually leave one open in my bedroom, but I keep the door closed during th– wait, where are you going?”
Isabelle bounds up the half-staircase and the living room carpet grabs her socks, the various carpety fibres interlocking and meshing on a spiritual level with those of her fuzzy footwarmers. The scent of fermented grapes is afloat in the air – likely from those purple stains blotched all over the couches – the secondhand fumes potent enough to give the girl a head buzz just from respiring. Ignoring the ninety-inch television and the accompanying Dose sound system that takes up the rest of the wall space, Isabelle is drawn to the kitchen where she takes a seat at one of the stools tucked under the granite-topped island, dedicating at least five uninterrupted minutes to swiveling around and around on the cushion before she has to stop and regain control over her eyeballs. As she dizzily looks into the countertop, all the grays, browns, blues, scarlets, and blacks of the metamorphic slab swish and swirl together; it’s no wonder Sam said he could talk to aliens, he probably sees them climbing out of the countertop when he’s tripping.
Once the room stops spinning in two opposite directions at the same time, Isabelle looks through the doorless doorway and sees a whole lot of Jack’s house, but no Jack. She can’t see him, but Jack is just standing there in the front entranceway with a look of awe on his face as his brain tries to compute what exactly is going on here. It’s like he’s never seen a girl in his house before, or some depraved shit like that.
“That backpack must be pretty comfy dude,” The Girl In Jack’s House sings from her post. “You gonna come in and get me a drink so I don’t have to raid your fridge? I leave no survivors Jack; there’s a reason Tyler keeps his Creatures here.”
Jack doesn’t even blink. He’s unable to say a word or even send any electricity through his brain to fire any neurons; this total lack of synapses leaves the boy as still as a scarecrow moments before a tornado strikes, and his mind is the chaotic cyclone, lifting cows off the ground mid-chew and splattering grass-fed hamburger meat all over the remains of old man MacDonal’s rusty old red tractor. Jack’s literally had more dreams about this exact moment in the past thirty days than he’s won medals in the three years of his high school cross country career, and now he has to live the twisted version of it where he talks to Isabelle about his gross, sweaty coach.
“WHAT? HELLO!” Jack calls back, suddenly aware that he’s straight-up been standing there like a signpost for entire minutes now. “YEAH I CAN GET YOU SOMETHING, WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
“WATER WOULD BE FINE, OR SOMETHING SUGARY. I WANT TO GET HIGH BUT DRUGS ARE BAD, SOOOOOOO,” Isabelle says, giggling all the way. That giggle of hers, it could tickle a tater tot. Well, it certainly tickles Jack’s tater tot, and Jack hasn’t eaten any tater tots in weeks! Even if he Napoleoned a pocketful from the cafeteria all those weeks ago, they would surely be moldy by now, a decomposed mass of fungal fried potato bits that couldn’t even be called tater tots by an Irish potato sympathizer. And it would be especially strange if the tots were ticklish, considering how the average pocketful of taters is more inanimate than Bob The Fuckin’ Meteor.
“OKAY HOLD UP, LET ME TAKE MY SHOES OFF AND STUFF,” Jack ruckuses while frantically trying to remove the hindrances from his body so he can serve Isabelle a drink. “OKAY I’M COMING!”
“YEET! ALSO, WHY ARE WE STILL YELLING??” she asks.
Jack catches a glimpse of Isabelle flailing her arms in the air as he trudges up all four of the stairs. “I DON’T KNOH–I mean, I don’t know. Here, grab uh, grab a couple cups out of the um. Out of the cupboard. Over there in the corner,” as he points to no cabinet in particular.
Isabelle tries to figure out where Jack’s finger is pointing as he digs through the fridge with his other hand, but the specific cabinet in question could literally be any of them. It could be outside for all she knows; he’s actually kinda pointing towards the windows over the sink anyway. Does the Monta family keep a separate cache of cups outside, like, just in case someone breaks in and steals all their drinkware? That would be pretty silly if it were true; no, the cups must be inside. There are more cabinets in this kitchen than there are honeybees left living in the wild though, and Iz isn’t one to just dig through somebody else’s cabinetries. Refrigerators, yes, hell fuckin’ yes, with zero hesitation and even less regrets, but not cabinetries. Boundaries are an interesting concept.
“Uhm. Which cabinet?” Iz asks, her voice unconsciously raising in pitch like it does when she doesn’t know the answer to a question on a test and she asks the teacher for help.
“Never mind, Sam must have taken the pitcher upstairs.”
Jack sighs a loud, deliberate, and dramatic sigh in the fashion of a middle aged alcoholic who hates herself so much that she projects her subjective shortcomings (that wouldn’t come short if she would just put down the bottle) onto her children, parents, ex-husband, and every other living creature she happens to come across.
“I’ll just grab some bottles.”
“But… I wanted cold water, right-parenthesis colon,” Isabelle pouts.
A few minutes later, after Jack climbs down the ladder from the attic, Isabelle takes a cold, refreshing sip of chilled, filtered water, the unfiltered precursor coming straight out of one of the Quarryville aquifers. Then she drains the whole thing in one gulp, slamming the plastic mug upside-down on the counter like she just pounded a shot. Another!
“Hey why do you smell like weed?” she asks after smelling the air without making a sound. “You holdin’ out on me?”
Jack chokes on his water. Then, in an attempt to appear like he’s not choking, he continues to ferociously drink, making himself choke even harder. Our poor, foolish child is literally on the brink of drowning himself by the time he finishes his cup; his face is blue and his eyes are trying to decide if they should pop out or just retreat into his skull. All this struggling leaves the angel in human form sitting next to Jack looking mildly amused.
After catching his breath for three straight minutes and filling no less than four tissues with watery snot from his nose, Jack says, “No uh, no I just. The pitcher was in Sam’s bedroom, so…”
“So? What, you absorbed the smell from being in there for two seconds?? You’re totally holding out on me dude, lame.”
“But I’m noh–”
“Duuuuuuude,” Isabelle drags on, rolling her eyes so hard that someone, somewhere, suddenly starts tripping on ecstasy. “I was joooooking. So, what did you see at the school?”
‘Oh yeah, that’s why she came over here.’ “Oh uh, yeah. So I was getting um. Yanno. Changed, in the boy’s locker room, and like. I heard this uh. I don’t really… I guess it was like a whimper? A… what’s the name of that old band? Uhh… OH, I remember, hahah, yeah, I uh, I heard a wheezing noise. So I peek around the uh, the corner, looking into the coach’s office, uh, you know, the one next to the research lab?”
The barrage of uhs left Isabelle’s jaw hanging absentmindedly from the rest of her skull. Then, “Yeah Jack, I’m in the boy’s locker room all the time. I know it like the back of my hand.”
Jack feels a strange, distressed feeling in the pit of his stomach, like a flock of butterflies just hatched and immediately had grill marks singed into their wings by a swarm of spiteful dragonflies. “You… are? Why?”
Isabelle smirks, there’s a few places she could go here. “Because I give all the boy sprinters handies after practice. Duh.”
A small sinewy cluster of cells spontaneously forms inside of Jack’s left shoulder and begins to multiply, quickly evolving into a growth when Isabelle says the word handies.
“That’s why I know it like the back of my hand. Get it?”
The growth ferments faster than Montauk Syndrome after its host suffers a head injury and the bacteria gains passage into the brain, the cells multiplying and dividing until Jack’s new tumor is roughly the size of an egg (brown, not white). Fortunately, when the blood rushes away from Jack’s head and he falls out of his seat, he lands on his shoulder tumor and pops the lump, bursting it right back into potentiality. He doesn’t feel a thing.
“OH oh uhhh I-I mean I uhhhhhhhhh, I’m. I uh. I–”
“Jack,” Isabelle sighs, looking down to him with those twin lapis lazulis. He’s never realized how patient Isabelle’s eyes are before, how understanding. “I was kidding dude. That would be so gross. I’m not the head cheerleader, lol.”
The fact that Isabelle said the word lol helps Jack regain his footing more than the hand she offers him, but he takes it anyway. He also leaves her hand, ‘Her hand is so soft what the fuck,’ just slightly moist from his sweat, but that’ll go ignored for the moment.
As he takes his seat on the stool next to Isabelle, Jack continues. “Sorry, that was just uh… really funny. So anyway, I peek around the uh, the corner, and I see Coach Thenure, just like, just sitting there, like, studying a framed picture of someone, literally, like. Wheezing. Or, breathing really hard, I don’t know. So… so I walk up to see if he’s okay and it’s… well I don’t know how to say this, but…”
In the split second between Jack’s stumbling over the words but and he, Isabelle’s Grand Central Nervous Station sends out no less than twenty-four trains of thought in an attempt to guess whose essence was captured in the framed photograph that Coach Thenure was so distraught over. Could it be his wife who passed away? The gravestone of a stillborn baby? Maybe it’s a picture of himself when he was still in high school, before he assumed the weight of fifty emaciated African children. Maybe he isn’t crying, maybe he’s just excited; it could be a pet or something, maybe his dog. Or a cat… nah, definitely not a cat, Thenure doesn’t seem like a cat guy. It could be a picture of the cross country team from the year before Coach started coaching them, when they could hardly make it past the first level of the three-tier championship… no, that would be tear-jerking too. Maybe… oh god, she shudders as she thinks it but maybe it’s a picture that he secretly took of someone at the school, a faculty member or a… maybe even a student. What if it’s one of the girls on his track jumping team?
One of the trains, the one marked What if it’s a boy on the cross country team? crashes full-speed into a MacDonal’s-owned factory that takes spoiled milk products and turns them into sorry excuses for hamburger patties, the resulting spillage of chunky brownish-white cow product clogging up the entire railway system. The remaining sixteen trains are quickly called back to the station and an emergency team is sent to clean up the smelly lumps, the lumps so odiferous that they literally have visible stink lines floating skyward from the bubbling pores that keep opening and closing across the surface of their membranes. As the Portman-North Railroad’s clean-up crew smells the scene and begins vomiting uncontrollably, they curse every tornado that’s ever metaphorically existed.
“…he was, like, looking at a picture of,” shudder “Mister Ghost, the athletic director. Just, just like, he was just holding it, maybe a foot from his face, maybe less, just staring at it, breathing hard and panting. There was fog on the, on the uh, on the glass, Iz, and I’m pretty sure Thenure’s like, tongue was sticking out too, but I’m not uh, I’m not one hundred percent sure of that.”
Isabelle opened her mouth to say something when Jack said Mister Ghost, but as he continued to speak, her upcoming words tanked, losing the majority of their market value. Suddenly, she’s not looking forward to her US History II class first thing tomorrow morning.
“Well that’s… huh. Not quite what I was expecting Jacky, not gonna lie.”
‘SHE GAVE ME A NICKNAME WHAAAAAAAT???????’ Jacky thinks to himself, saying, “Yeah,” snicker “pretty weird, right? He got really mad at me afterwards too, like he didn’t want me to see it. So like, what’d uh. What’d you see, Izzy?” before falling back inside of his skull and thinking, ‘Hell yeah, let’s try that one on for size,’ bringing things full circle in the best way fathomable.
Izzy raises her eyebrows and draws her head back an inch, astonished in a weird, not the good weird kind of way. “Well, right now I see my neighbor calling me by the same nickname my Dad does, which is a no-go.”
“But, I’ll still tell you what I saw. I’m… I can only tell one other human, and they…” as she looks down at the floor and tapers off. Then, looking Jack in the eyes, Iz continues with a near-grave intensity. “I can only tell one human, and they have to be the right one. Or else… or else something really bad is gonna happen. I’ll probably have to leave the state, like, that level of bad. So you better be the right one Jack. I’m gonna be pissed at you if you’re not.”
Jack didn’t hear a single word she said, his very soul sucked into the blue holes that are Isabelle’s crystalline eyes. He says nothing.
“Hello?!” she sasses.
“Waiwhat? Sorry, I uh… what were you saying?”
“Ughhh,” Isabelle gutturs. “Maybe this was a mistake, I don’t know…”
Jack notices his hand reach out and lightly clasp Isabelle’s upper arm in a show of solace. ‘Neat.’
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to zone out, I had a long day. You can tell me. I’m all ears,” Jack says earnestly, wiggling his ears ever so slightly, just like his Mom taught him.
Isabelle giggles. If Jack wasn’t so shocked by his own actions just now, he would probably really enjoy that giggle.
“All right… all right I’ll tell you. So, it was in the middle of fifth block, the classroom phone rings and The Krieg tells me that my car alarm is going off. She hands me a flower to give to somebody on the way there, too; that has nothing to do with what I saw, I just thought it was cute. I gave it to Ponsy, that one special ed kid who wears the hall monitor sash he made all by himself.”
‘Awh,’ Jack thinks to himself, imagining the smile on Ponsy’s face.
“He gave me a big hug, I died.”
Jack mentally growls at the Universe, wishing he was a special ed kid. Be careful what you wish for Jack, you’ll be special one day.
“Anyway, so I go into the parking lot and my car is fucking totaled. The roof is caved in, the hood is unhinged and there’s, like, a trail of smoke coming off it. I don’t even know what to think… but as I approach it, I can see this like… reflective thing laying on it, in the crater that is now both my roof and interior. My car is fucking totaled if I didn’t mention it, I had to call my brother for a ride home.”
‘Holy shit, did a meteor strike in the parking lot today? Why didn’t they make an announcement about it? Or… or maybe… did Isabelle see an extraterrestrial?’
“So I walk up to it, slowly, apprehensively, ready to snap a neck if I have to, and then I see this…”
She shakes her head and averts her gaze of disbelief to the floor. “Well at first, I thought it was a robot.”
“I started trying to talk to it, but then I realized my alarm was still going off, so I dug my keys out and killed it. When I looked back up, it was just a dude in a suit laying there, the robot was gone.”
“So I’m assuming the guy had power armor, like the Steel Man movies, and the armor looked like a dude wearing a business suit. The armor had a fedora piece to it Jack, it was so weird. And the dude inside it was wearing a fedora too, and– hey, where are you going??”
Jack, halfway to the stairs with his head hanging between his shoulders like a dog’s tail between its legs after the dog realizes his best friend in the whole wide world had been blaming the farts on him all his life, turns halfway around and says, “Look, I get it. I’m the weird kid who’s into superhero movies and conspiracy theories and stuff. I’m a geek and an ugly loser. And that’s wrong of me, I know. You don’t have to come to my house and elaborately make fun of me though, like… that’s just mean. Everyone else bullies me enough Iz, I don’t need it from you, too.”
Jack starts walking again, getting down a whole two stairs before Isabelle starts grabbing after him.
“What? Jack no,” she chases, attempting to latch on to the top handle of his backpack only for her hand to pass through the frayed strands of ripped nylon. “Stop dude, I’m not making fun of you. This literally happened. They towed my car away but I took pictures, I can show you!”
Jack turns around and looks up at Isabelle, his facial expression unlike anything she’s ever received for being honest. “No, you heard that I have a crush on you and now you’re burning the bridge. This isn’t the first time this has happened Isabelle, you… I just…” he trails off, hanging his head in the all too familiar miasma of shame that’s spilling from his ear canals. A sigh, “I gotta go do homework.”
Just then, the front door flies open and the scent of a thousand elated skunks mixed with lemons and blackish-red liquorish wafts into the abode, followed by none other than Sam Monta, his pockets bulging on account of the bulbous bags of Cannabis buds he just finished procuring from his Canna-guy Harley Wolffe. Jack uses the distraction to run the rest of the way downstairs, hiding his face from the sunlight pouring in behind Sam and slamming the basement door shut behind him as he makes a strategic retreat into his bedroom. He then slams that door too, for good measure.
Isabelle, sharing Sam’s bewildered stare, walks slowly up the stairs and goes to collect her things. Then she remembers she didn’t bring anything over and, after asking Sam if he would teach her a magic trick and getting denied, she goes home. As she walks up the concrete slabs that stair the way from her driveway to her parents’ front door, the weight of the tracker bug heavy on her shoulders, Isabelle finds herself capable of thinking only one, single thing: ‘Since when did he have a crush on me?’
From his bedroom, Jack can hear Sam rummaging around through the food closet upstairs, probably pilfering all their Mom’s potato and pita bread chips or digging through the recycling bin and taking old water bottles just so he can refill them from that dumb filter pitcher that he insisted on their Mom buying. Well the joke’s on Sam today, the pitcher is in the kitchen now.
You know, at the time, Jack told Sam that if he wanted one so bad then he should buy it with his own money, but Sam convinced their Mother otherwise. ‘Oh everybody’s gonna use it, why should I be the one to buy it? It’s only like five bucks anyway. Yeah well, the woman lives off our child support, she can’t work because of her ruined hips. Buy your own shit, asshole,’ Jack thinks to himself as the thumps of footsteps rumble over his head.
“Whaddup Jack!” Sam shouts down the stairwell, getting the usual silence in reply. With a skip in his step he pulls down the latch and glides up the attic ladder, flies through his dusty, carpeted room, and after slinging the water pitcher back into his minifridge, sets foot on the splintery plywood subfloor beneath his desk in the dormer. He then opens the only drawer on his toddler-sized desk, takes the miniature shovel out of his cup with the dinosaurs on it that he keeps all his pens in, and gets to work digging out his pipe collection. Once Sam’s through the crust layer of blank looseleaf, the mantle layer of old college papers, and the core layer of packets of rolling papers, Sam puts the tip of the shovel into a slot in the bottom of the drawer and lifts, opening the secret compartment that nobody else can ever find for some reason. A purple light wired to turn on when the door opens shines from the depths of his secret compartment, projecting a soothing lavender psychedelic reflection across Sam’s ceiling.
From above, the collection looks like a frozen grape whirlpool; the dozens of glass spoon pipes, steamrollers, one hitters, bubblers, Shorlucks, chillums, chubblers, and bongs glisten like amethysts under the violet glow. Sam takes his time choosing, mentally taking himself back to the last time he smoked from each bowl as he looks them over before finally deciding on Starry Night, the large blue corncob-style piece adorned with lighter blue swirls reminiscent of the stars in that one painting by Vinny Van Goghing’Gone. One bowlpack can fit enough herb to send eight humans to the moon and back, four if Sam is in the circle. Some call him addicted, but they don’t know him very well; he’s just got a mighty appetite in constant need of satisfying.
Sam lays everything out in front of him: the bags of Cannabis, which will be emptied into the jars after (and only after) the Bud-Breaking Ritual; the jars, including an old Smuckleberry jam jar with a picture of a spectacled bear on it that Sam uses as his travel jar; the lighter and hemp wick, so he doesn’t need to breathe in the ass-dirty butane; the grinder, to avoid getting into the caveman-esque shit of breaking the buds down by hand, and; Starry Night. Sam pops the top off his aluminum grinder and stuffs it like a Jamaican cigarette, hardly able to even close the thing with all those sticky-fresh nuggies grinding up the gears. Sam focuses his strength to the point where the rest of the world disappears and he sort of blacks out, his spirit becoming one with the motion of twisting the cap of the grinder. Finally, after an unknowable amount of time, the Cannabis is ground to a fluffy pile of flakes and Sam returns to the Earthly plane. He unscrews the little metal contraption and takes a whiff – ah, the smell of freshly ground bud. Nothing quite beats it.
As he’s scooping his herbs into the bowl, Sam chances a glance out his window and, ‘Fuck, mah’s home.’
Good thing he never sat down.
In the house beneath him, what sounds like a stampede of crazed lemmings storms past three-quarters of a staircase and makes a beeline for the garage. Sam just shakes his head, packing down the shake in his bowl to that perfect density where one can easily pull smoke through the cracks, but one won’t cough-eject the mass if one overzealously huffs it rather than inhaling it. During the pour-pack-pour-s’more process, the lemming makes three trips between the garage and the kitchen, his footsteps gaining decibels like a suicidal turtle loses the distance between herself and the middle of the road; deliberately, and with a purpose.
Not wanting a fight to erupt, Sam pauses his ritual and joins his family downrungs, making sure to close the ladder behind him so they don’t have to perceive his hobby. He finds his younger brother, whose head engulfed in a visibly neurotic black cloud, frantically marching back and forth between the island and the pantry, the island and the fridge, the island and the basement; Sam asks if there are any groceries left in the car and, as his brother doesn’t answer him, he hears a set of shoed footsteps clack against tile, spin around, and slowly go back down the basement stairs.
“Well?” Sam asks, genuinely wanting to help out but sounding like a pissy teenage girl with resting bitch face syndrome.
Jack stops what he’s doing, fans the nonexistent cloud away, and then scowls at Sam, audibly sniffing the air. “Hmph. Not sure there’s much you can do. Yanno, since you’re fried right now.”
“Dude, I haven’t even smoked yet.”
“OR!” Jack rebuts, “You smoked so much that you forgot that you smoked. Just like you forgot that you came to the assembly today!”
“Jack, how many times do I have to tell you, I–”
Their conversation comes to an unceremonious halt as a large mass begins to climb the stairs. Not a large mass, rather a small mass carrying a disproportionately large mass, like a pack mule carrying a human’s entire catalog of camping supplies up a narrow mountain path leading to the cauldron of a volcano. As the donkey comes up to the top, she looks down into the festering molten lava deep below the surface and smiles a knowing, toothy smile.
Daisy Monta, all parts of her body visually obstructed by the frankly ridiculous number of black “grocery” bags she’s loaded onto her being, hobbles across the plywood towards the island.
Sam steps out of the way, not wanting to be steamrolled, and his mother gruntsighs as she drops everything on the counter at once, shattering every single one of the six “eggs” in the “cartons” that the slow excuse for a bagger packed into the bag containing the two “gallons of milk” that were sold in wine bottles for some reason. Daisy steps back, cracks and straightens her spine, and then audibly sniffs the air with more virile than Jack could ever dream of putting into the action before thanking Jack for actually helping her and telling Sam that…
“You fucking reek of fucking pohtt.”
“Hi mom, how was your day today?” Sam asks, holding his arms out for a hug.
“Well, I didn’t spend it fucked up on pohtt, so it wasn’t too bad. Tried to run this morning, I almost fell over in the street. I’m not sure what gave out first, my hips or my legs,” she scolds, looking directly in Sam’s eyes to let him know that it was all his fault.
Sam puts his arms back down. “I didn’t even smoke today mah, don’t listen to Jack. I don’t kn–”
“Really? You didn’t smoke, today, really, well that’s just great. Just like you got the fucking haircut I told you to get last month, just like you didn’t drop out of college like a fucking idiot. Just like you never do anything I fucking tell you to!”
“…I don’t know why Jack is so sure I smoked Cannabis today, you’d think he smoked it with me,” said with a numb face.
Jack storms over to Sam and puts a whole three inches of space between their faces. “Don’t you fucking lie to Mom. You were at the school today, you jus–” Jack says, cutting himself off to turn to his Mom.
“He just, like, showed up out of nowhere and ruined the DOPE assembly Mom. He backtalked to the Principal, wasted the time of a bunch of the school’s security force, and then he SMOKED A BLOONT ON THE STAGE. IN FRONT OF EVERYONE!!!” Jack says, the say evolving into a yell after being traded away to another trainer while holding common sense.
Sam spins Jack back around to face him. “First off, it’s called a blunt. Second, look at my fuckin’ eyes dude! Plaster white! Smell my breath!”
“Pfft!” their Mom sprays. “No need for that, I can smell the skunk on you.” sigh of all sighs “When are you going to wake the fuck up, kid?”
Sam cocks his head sideways. “Excuse me? When am I going to wake up? You’re th–”
“Yeah Sam, when are you going to wake the fuck up?” Jack repeats, giving his Mom a supportive pat on the back.
“You guys are the fucking humans that are afraid of a plant, I mean Jesus Ache, humans hav–”
“DON’T you FUCKING DARE use that language towards your Mother, young man!”
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Sam questions, wishing he had just stayed in the attic.
“You know what?” Daisy says, looking up at the ceiling, shaking her head and waving her arms as if to direct the attention of an almighty being to her current situation. “I don’t need to take this, get out Sam. Just get the fuck out!”
Sam just stands there, the fermented fruity smell leaking from the splattered “egg yolks” making him nauseous. He doesn’t say anything; he can’t even breathe, the scorching hot soot and toxic debris which resulted from the lava plume has completely overtaken the oxygen in the air. He’s suffocating.
“Yeah Sam, why don’t you just fucking leave? I think me and Mom have the groceries covered here. It’s not like you ever help us anyway.”
That’s all Sam says, just one little word, before storming uprung to grab Starry Night, a lighter, and the pistol that he keeps stashed in a second secret compartment between his desk and the wall. He puts the Cannabis equipment in his pockets but holds the gun out in the open for all to see.
As he’s walking past his family, who are buried from the neck up in black shopping bags, Sam says, “And I’ll take my fucking gun with me, too.”
A panic sweeps over Daisy, her already spinning brain kicking into maximum overdrive.
“Gun? Sam, what gun?! SAM!”
Sam slams the sliding glass door and takes off through the back yard into the woods, hurdling over the fire pit like it was nothing. Jack starts to chase him but it’s too late; as far as road racing goes, Jack can outpace Sam without breaking a sweat. Once they hit the woods though, something changes inside of Sam, he just opens up. By the time Jack reaches the tree line, Sam’s completely out of sight, swallowed up by the leafy embrace of the Quarryville forest, the very forest from which a loud WHOOP resounded while they were all fighting a few moments ago. Had they not been yelling at one another they would have heard it, but lo, they were, and so they did not, and so the Quarryville bigfoot will continue to go undiscovered.
Daisy, having trouble standing up straight on the back porch, starts to cry. Jack goes back and hugs her. The pair of them proceed to cry into each other, wishing things didn’t have to be like this.
“Why do things have to fucking be like this?” Sam asks aloud to nobody in particular as he crosses over the second of two streams which flow over the trail that eventually leads to Bored Mountain. “Why do they have to do this to me every day? Why can’t I just fucking live my fucking life the way I fucking want to? FUCK!” he squalls, burning his own throat whilst choking on the rage.
Without realizing, Sam zigs off the trail where he normally only has the option of zagging, the symphony of screaming inside his head blocking all conscious facets of his perception. He keeps this up as he ascends the mountain, yelling at himself until he’s so out of breath he has to sit down and rest before he can start yelling again. Or maybe he’s yelling at whatever deity Daisy was signaling earlier; it has to be somebody’s fault, right? Life can’t just be like this, this, this endless series of fights that lead into more fights… can it? No, no! Families are supposed to be close, they’re supposed to be a tight-knit unit, they’re supposed to always look out for each other no matter what; members of a family should always have each other’s backs. A family’s love is supposed to be unconditional. No matter what somebody does, their family is supposed to love them. So why doesn’t my family luh– wait, where the hell am I?’
Sam looks down and sees a gigantic arrow-shaped rock pointing towards a distinct lack of trees. In his rage-induced blindness, Sam seems to have breached a clearing, a sprawling meadow with a cabin jutting out of its far side, the house looking very out of place all the way up here on the top of this unfamiliar mountain… what?
That’s, this is all impossible, Sam spends all his time back in these woods. The number of maps, forget about the survival tips and the stories and the landmarks, just the maps he’s drawn detailing the trails running through these woods take up more pages in his field guide than most novellas even have pages. There are only four mountains out here, always have been, always will be: Bored, Bare, BuckDeer, and Windbeam, and none of them have a cabin on the top.
Sam slides the gun into the back of his jeans and slowly walks up to the door of the cabin. It’s a rickety old construct, nothing more than wood held together with metal nails, but it has a certain air about it, a certain timeless kind of presence. He looks out to the pinking horizon – he can see the peaks of the other mountains, his mountains. How is it that he’s never been up here before?
As Sam is about to knock on the door, it’s opened by a bald old man in desperate need of a new robe. Sam catches a firefly in his gaping mouth and chokes on it, coughing up a fit while the old man smiles a knowing smile.
“Hello there son, welcome home.”
Sam continues his choking fit, punching himself in the chest in an attempt to dislodge the firefly that’s leaking a butt’s worth of surprisingly tangerine-flavored luciferin into his throat.
“Well, to my home, anyway. It’s been quite a long while since I’ve had a visitor. Please, come in when you can breathe again,” the old man offers as he disappears into his wooden cave.
Sam, once he regains control of his esophagus, does just that. The inside of the cabin is very cozy, very humble. There’s a couple chairs around a wooden table, some empty flower pots, and three doors leading to who knows where. He peeks into the rightmost door and finds what appears to be a small bedroom, the mattress bulging with thatch and grasses that Sam guesses the old man picked from the meadow outside. He thinks, ‘This room could really use a nightstand,’ to himself before closing the door and going out the opened middle door. Sam finds himself on a path leading to the middle of a world-class garden, the likes of which he could never even dream of cultivating himself. There are trees, bushes and vines dangling with fruit, patches of vegetables, herbs, flowers; the loving touch of nature clearly knows no bounds here. ‘Where the hell am I right now?’
“My garden,” the old man begins, drawing Sam’s attention to a patch of wineberry bushes that are surprisingly busheling with fruit so early in the year, “do you like it? I’ve been working on it for quite some time now. It’s not much but it’s honest work, and I do so enjoy the fruits of my labor.”
The old man takes a single berry out of the handful he’s gathered and pops it between his gums, the smile on his face alone tantalizing Sam.
He slowly waddles up to Sam, as old folk do, and holds out his berried hand. “Want to try some? They’re really quite delicious.”
Sam doesn’t move a muscle. He looks at the berries in the old man’s hand, the drupelets glowing a soft scarlet in the sunlight. “Uh, no, thanks. I’m confused, where are we? What is this place? I hike back in these woods all the time, and I’ve never once–”
“Been here? Well I know that, otherwise I think I would have recognized you!” The old man chuckles and, after eating the rest of his handful in one bite, takes Sam’s hand and leads him to the rock circle in the middle of the garden. The old man sits down and, after some beckoning, Sam does the same.
“Would you like to join me in my evening meditation? I like to sit and be mindful after I eat, it helps me savor the flavor, if you don’t mind the rhyme.”
Sam has absolutely no idea what’s going on right now. He got into a big blowout with his family, essentially waving a suicide threat in the face of his younger brother and single mother before sprinting off into the woods, his woods, and now he’s up atop a mountain that decided to spring up overnight, about to meditate with a strange old man who’s probably lived here for longer than Sam’s been alive. Despite all this fuckery, Sam smiles.
“Sure, I would love to.”
Sam takes Starry Night out of his pocket, the bowl miraculously still packed after the mad journey, and goes about fishing his lighter out of his other pocket. When he finds it, he places the mouthpiece to his lips and flicks the lighter, bringing the flame close to the herbs. Then, he lets the fire go out and lowers the pipe from his face. “I should have asked, do you want to smoke some Cannabis? It’s a hell of a meditation aid.”
The old man chuckles that trademarked old man chuckle and shakes his head. “I bet it is. No, thank you though; it is very kind of you to offer.”
There’s a first time for everything, right?
“Oh, uh, no problem! Do you mind if I do though? I don’t want to upset you or anything.”
The old man chuckles, “Please, go right ahead.”
Sam’s heart radiates heat throughout his entire body. He could cry, he could hug the old man. He could kiss him on his wrinkly old forehead. Instead, though, Sam brings the pipe to his lips once more and flicks his Qic, sparking the bowl and decidedly paying no mind to the dirty butane he’s inhaling along with the various cannabinoids his plant friend produced for him. As he soaks up the high, Sam closes his eyes and drifts into a peaceful state of mindfulness.