|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Existence Is Weird
“Welp, uh, to be totally honest, I didn’t think I’d get this far,” Chuck stammers, madly searching the pockets of his blazer in hopes that he packed a happystick and forgot about it. He did, of course, but he doesn’t light her up. Doesn’t even remove her from his pocket. Jackson Monta doesn’t like drugs, and that should be respected.
“Oh… well uh, I’m leaving now. So, like…”
“That you are!” Chuck says before walking away to think for a moment. Luckily, there are more goodbyes to be said.
Nobody really knows what to say, though. What a fuckin’ week this has been! Some things happened, noises were mouthed, chaos rained down from the sky like a storm of hellfire, pulverizing and scorching the land like a blazing inferno of doom… but hey, at least everybody got their ice cream.
When? Oh, before they all piled into the bedroom inside the Dirt Eater Mk I that was converted into a chairless BioBot station. You know, the one the Capes set up for Jack to use whenever he wants?
“I’ll go first,” Karen volunteers. She walks right up to Jack, lightly punches him on the shoulder, and says, “The first time I met you, I wanted nothing to do with you. Since then, I didn’t get to know you at all, and will likely never see you again. I’m sorry for any trauma that Chuck and… Sigmund, forced you to suffer through. Go get ‘em, slugger!”
As she walks away, she adds, “And happy early birthday! Don’t ask me why I know, I just know everybody’s birthday. Byeeeee.”
Karen gets into the elevator and immediately proceeds to the forty-first floor to finish printing the rest of the copies of her first ever published poetry collection, Karen’s Pages II: Spot Redux.
“Jack,” Tiny Tim says, stepping up to bat. “I’m sure I’ll see you again soon. I do live in the woods right behind your house, after all.”
“Yeah, but I don’t go hiking.”
“Yeah… well, it was a pleasure meeting you!”
Tim begins to throw hand signs like a wildman, then he vanishes into thin air. He reappears atop Mount Drase and approaches the old man’s cabin, but for some odd reason, the old man doesn’t answer when he knocks.
“Jack,” Jolon says, one of his large purple hands extended. “The series of events that included our meeting were very interesting.” The two shake hands. “I will likely have my invasion ship out of your front yard by the end of the weekend. Thank you for guiding us in the hike to search for the anomaly.”
“But we never found it, Chairseat, sir.”
“Don’t call me that. You’re a human, my political position has no bearing on you. And you’re right, we didn’t… but perhaps that means it wasn’t meant to be found. Perhaps we found something greater instead.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Erm… if I tell you, you’ll never figure it out for yourself…?”
“Oh okay, that makes sense.”
Jolon, after a mental phew, walks out of the bedroom and sits on the couch, hoping that the zombie video game he and Sigmund were wrecking earlier has a single player mode.
Next up is Sigmund. He walks over, his nasty plastic lab coat squeaking all the way, and gives Jack a warm hug. Too warm, in fact, as Jack starts sweating. He almost pulls away, but… this is Terry, after all. Or at least, the mind behind Terry.
“I’d like to apologize if your TerryTeamTwenty contest winning experience hasn’t been the greatest experience ever… things got, how do I put this intelligently… way fucking out of hand. And I don’t curse much, that’s how you know things got out of hand.”
“It’s all right Sigmund, seriously. I had a great time with you guys. The only thing that bugged me was that you waited until the last second to tell me I’m basically Steel Man in this Botdy. I would have had so much fun messing around with this thing.”
“Well, it’s funny you mention that. I was planning on leaving the pocket dim– universe, open underneath your bedroom, the one with the BioBot station in it. You know, as a little present for you, since you put up with us all week. And for your birthday, of course,” said with a grand smile that couldn’t be contained even if it remotely wanted to be. “It’s all yours, use it whenever you want.”
“REALLY?!!?” Jack squeals, attacking Sigmund with another hug. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou THANK YOU!! Oh my god, we can all hang out all the time now! We can keep being friends!”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far – we all have lives Jack, and you’re still young. You still have to grow up and find yourself, and hey, maybe the BioBot will help with that. Or maybe you’ll let the power go to your head and it’ll turn you into a villain that Chuck will have to fight to the death one day, who knows. Either way, you’re quite welcome!” Sigmund says as he attempts to peel the teenager off him. “It actually wasn’t my idea, though.”
Sigmund then pats Jack on the head like a puppy and walks out of the room.
“Then who’s…” Jack dumbly asks himself as he looks over at Chuck, hands in his pockets, leaning against the wall.
“Stop. Yes, it was my idea; I am the imaginative powerhouse around here, after all. Please, hold your applause, I know that I’m awesome. Spectacular, even.”
Chuck walks over and sits on the bed with AdultJack, patting the sheets next to him. AdultJack sits down next to Chuck.
“Well kid, I guess this is it. Can’t imagine that I’ll be seeing you again, unless it’s in BioBot form. You can use it whenever you want, but remember: it’s powered by eL-eSs-Dee. It’s got some juice in it back at your place, but it won’t last forever. In fact, I’m surpri–”
AdultJack slumps over and tumbles down to the floor. Chuck just sits there in silence for a few minutes, keeping his eyes trained on the Bot. Waiting. Hoping. Waiting some more once the hope high wears off; they say hope is a powerful drug, and fuck are they right. Chuck hopes to himself that he’ll get to meet the mysterious they one day, if there even is a they, then he takes out his joint, lights it with his fingertip, and walks out of the room without saying another word.
Across The Dam
Jack, on the other hand, damn near has a conniption when he wakes up in the darkness that is his pocket-Universe. He tries to reactivate the BioBot to say goodbye to Chuck but his attempts don’t really amount to much, considering how he has no idea how to turn the thing on. Oh well; all’s well that ends well, I suppose. Now… how the hell is Jack going to get back into his room?
“Uh, hello?” Jack calls out, alone in the darkness, getting silence in return. “HELLO?! MOM!? SAM?! ANYBODY!?”
Luckily for Jack, at the very moment that Chuck didn’t get to say goodbye to him, Sam broke into Jack’s room in search of his Cannabis. He was just about to lift the top off the storage ottoman, because, ‘Where the hell else would Jack keep the stuff?’ when he hears his brother calling out to him.
“Jack? Where are you, dude?”
Sam, entirely unaware of the pocket-universe, has no idea what down here could possibly mean. His brain has been frazzled as fuck ever since he stopped smoking, the mental fog seems to have only gotten worse with his sobriety. How’s that for some irony?
Eventually Sam puts two and two together and gets four, the same number of rungs on the little ladder that he finds underneath Jack’s bed.
‘Well that’s all well and good, but what am I going to do with a ladder?’
“Sam, are you still there?! I’m down here, under the… where the freakin’, um… where the bunker was!”
Sam, still on his hands and knees, starts feeling around the floor of Jack’s room.
“There doesn’t seem to be a hole in the– oh, okay, the carpet’s a hologram of some sort. Cool.”
Sam lowers the stepladder down and Jack climbs out all by himself, only using Sam’s strength to pull him up a little bit.
“So uh… wanna explain that to me?”
“Sure,” Jack says, confident. “There’s a pocket-universe down there that Sigmund and Chuck left for me so I can take control of a robot. Well… it’s sort of a robot, and it’s also sort of alive, kinda, and like, not… technological, you know what I mean? The point is, I can be Steel Man whenever I want and it’s freakin’ awesome. Oh, and I need some eL-eSs-Dee.”
Sam, after a slack-jawed moment, says, “Fine, don’t tell me.”
“I’m serious! I need you to get me some eL-eSs-Dee so I can– Sam, where are you going?”
Sam, halfway out his brother’s bedroom door, turns and says, “For a walk, probably across the dam,” even though he was planning on taking a quick hike to The Commons to smoke the bowl’s worth of herb left in his grinder. “Wanna come?”
“Oh, uh… I don’t know, I mean, I have a bunch of homework I gotta do, index cards to catch up on, I have a lot… but… you know what? Tomorrow’s my birthday, I don’t wanna do my schoolwork. Yeah, let’s go for a walk.”
They embark on a walk. On the way out the door, Jack notices that Mom’s car is missing.
“Hey, where’d Mom go?”
“To grandpa’s house,” Sam says with heavy air quotes. “Don’t you remember all that shit this morning?”
Jack, in fact, had completely forgotten about all that shit this morning. When the fate of the Universe, nay, the planet rests on the shoulders of some dude who you barely know but still feel a deep connection with for some reason, it tends to distract you from petty family matters. Jack wouldn’t say that though, it would come off as douchey.
“Honestly no, I had a really long-ass day in New Manhattan with Chuck and them.”
Sam raises an eyebrow, curious. “I thought you said they all left last night?”
“Well, yeah, but the whole Steel Man thing. I wasn’t lying, the thing is powered by eL-eSs-Dee and I need some.”
“Huh,” Sam huhs, “no shit. A’ight, I’ll see what I can do for ya, man. Everybody’s still out of town, so I don’t have the connects I usually have, but uh, you know what they say. Water if g–… uh, it’ll happen if it’s gonna happen. By the way, do you have any idea when that spaceship’s gonna be gone?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jack says as they walk into the craft’s shadow. He says nothing else after that.
“Sooo… are you gonna tell me, or…?”
Jack snickers. “Yeah lahmayo, it should be gone by the end of the weekend. By Monday everything’s gonna be back to normal.”
“Cool, cool…” Sam says as he kicks a stray chip of concrete that broke off the dam. “Maybe Tyler will actually answer my texts when things are back to this normal nonsense you speak of.”
“You guys haven’t been talking?”
“Nah. He’s probably just busy though, friends don’t always talk every day. I don’t see you calling Dakota every night to wish him sweet dreams.”
“You got me there,” Jack laughs, stealing the rock and kicking it over the edge of the bridge. “But me and Dakota see each other every day at school and practice and stuff, and we hang out pretty often. Do the sleepover thing. I almost never see Tyler at our place anymore.”
“Well yeah, but… I don’t know, he’s a pretty busy dude. He’s uh, got… stuff… going on, I suppose.”
“Does he though?” Jack asks, his voice rising in pitch near the end.
The sun is beginning to set over the treeswept horizon across the lake, casting beautiful hues of scarlet, orange, and yellow over the surface of the Skunksville Reservoir. The Wolffe’s boat is washed up on the rocky shore, still upside down, the waves licking at the soggy thing. The craft’s in a state of total disrepair, Mikey Wolffe will never take that boat fishing in Skunksville again. It looks like all Monarks fall eventually, after all.
“Yeah, I mean… well, he’s not working anywhere, I don’t think, but he’s probably got stuff going on at home. Maybe he’s getting into art or something, I don’t know.”
“I don’t either bro, but I always see clouds of smoke drifting out of his windows in the mornings.” Jack doesn’t actually see this, but it’s believable enough to pass as the truth. “Like, do you ever guys, I mean, blahhhh I can’t talk. Do you guys ever just hang out to hang out anymore? Like, without smoking your weeds?”
“Well… no, but like… do you and Dakota ever hang out and not run? Kuz the runner’s high is just like the Ca–”
“YEAH yeah, I know, it’s just like the cannabis high.” Little c; he’s not quite there yet, but it’s a start. “And yes we do, pretty often. Like I just said. We like, never go running together outside of school. We don’t even talk about running unless we’re complaining about it at practice.”
“Huh…” Sam says, looking at his feet. This is taking a turn he wasn’t exactly looking for, maybe he should have just gone hiking.
“What about Harley?” Jack asks. “Do you guys ever hang out?”
“Nah, not really. She’s not one to text or anything though, she kinda, how do I put this… she dances to the music playing in her head, you feel? She always comes through when I text her though, even when it’s not to buy Cannabis.”
“Well that’s good. Why don’t you try hanging out with her? She probably likes you, dude.”
Sam’s cheeks get rosy. “What? What, what makes you say, what makes you even think… what?!” Sam’s beginning to stammer, time for a counterstrike. “I could so say the same about you and Tyler’s sister, wasn’t she at the house this week?”
Hit, left cheek.
“Why don’t you ever text her, the girl clearly has a crush on you. And I heard you say you liked her too, so don’t even.”
Hit, right cheek. Sam sunk Jack’s
ego patrol boat.
The Monta brothers walk in silence to the parking lot at the end of the dam. Not an uncomfortable silence, not even a slight hint of awkwardity afloat in the air. Just… a silence, an extended moment shared between two humans that love each other, even if neither can quite understand that the feeling is reciprocated.
Save for the garbage scattered all over the pavement, the parking lot’s totally deserted, as is the rest of the town. A ghostly wind whistles through the trees. At the exact moment Sam begins to muse about how trippy it is to be the only two humans in the entire town of Treering, he hears the distant whine of a car hitting a long and gradual hill.
“Yo, look,” Jack says as he points his finger down the county road. Ah, so the whine has a source – a car, a sportscar in fact. It looks just like their Mom’s car too… actually, it is their Mom’s car. But who’s that in the passenger seat? Daisy doesn’t have friends, she doesn’t go anywhere besides her parents’ house and the liquor store; she doesn’t really associate much with other humans. But here she comes, barreling up the road with some guy; he’s bald, wearing a wife beater with a huge stain under one of the armpits. It’s… no way, it can’t possibly fucking be him.
Daisy drifts around the turn and burns rubber across the bridge, laying on the horn as she passes underneath the ship. She didn’t even notice her kids, mostly because they ducked behind some bushes.
“Sam, who was that guy?”
“Uh… I think that was our dad, Jack.”
“Oh… oh. What the… why?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
When silence befalls the valley once more, they both stare out over the water for a few minutes, watching the colors from the sunset melt away into the murky brownness of the Skunskville reservoir, where many fish but none catch.
“Wanna head home?” Sam asks, not really wanting to himself but wanting to discontinue his getting eaten alive by Treering’s killer mosquitoes even more.
“Sure. I think I can explain the whole dad thing though.”
“Oh yeah? Hit me.”
Jack readies himself, he’s been wanting to say this shit all week. “If I’ve learned one thing from the shitstorm that was my experience with Cape Enterprises, Uncorporated, it’s this: Existence is weird.”
“HAH!” Sam cackles, his voice crackling like Jack’s still does sometimes, although he’d never admit it. “Truuuuue that, little bro.”
They give each other a knuckle-bump and start walking back.
“Hey, so uh,” Jack asks, trying to reanimate a deaded corpse of a conversation. “How did you and Tyler become friends in the first place?”
“Hm? Whaddya mean, he’s our neighbor.”
“Yeah, but like, I never saw him over at our place before my freshman year. Which was your senior year, if you forgot.”
“My memory’s not that bad, jeez dude,” Sam defends, actually forgetting he and Jack were in school together at one point.
“I know, I know. But uh, he’s lived across the street from us for like… ever. How did you guys become friends?”
“Um. Well, we had a gym class together our senior year. I had seen him around, at National Honor Society meetings and stuff like that, an–”
“You were in ehN-acHe-eSs?”
“Yes, I was. I’m smart, dude. That’s why Ace liked me so much.”
“Oh I know you’re smart; I still haven’t been able to figure out how you did those magic tricks.”
“Okay, fine, I’ll bite. What fuckin’ magic tricks? Everybody and their godmother keeps asking me to show them magic tricks, like, what’s up with that? I can’t even do any.”
Jack just shakes his head. “Never mind dude. So what were you saying?”
“Oh, right. So I had seen him around school and whatnot but never really talked to him much. Never had a reason to, I guess. We had gym class together senior year and I saw him tryna talk to this really cute girl and he was striking out, like, bad. So I walked over and said, Yo, Tyler. We’re next door neighbors. Let’s be best friends, and he was like, Okay dude, whatever. And uh, yeah. That was that. We chilled senior year, then started smoking together the summer after we graduated, and yeah.”
“Huh… that kind of reminds me of how Mom said her and dad met.”
“Yeah, except me and Tyler’s friendship wasn’t kicked off by a drunken dare.”
“Yeah, except that.”
Another silence. Then, “I don’t know dude. Maybe we weren’t good friends. Whatever, like you said. Existence is weird.”
“True. I love you bro.”
Well that came out of nowhere. “I love you too, Jack. Thanks.”
‘Why’d he thank me? Aren’t families supposed to just love each other? I feel like a dick now.’
They walk back home in silence, enjoying the twilight’s onset. When they finally do get to their house, the Monta brothers see their Mom’s car was haphazardly parked halfway onto the lawn, the front door of the house was left widely ajar, and at least two of the house’s windows are broken, one of which leads into the powder room, the other into the living room.
“So uh…” Jack says, realizing why Sam is always so dodgey when it comes to their dad. “I left my window open, I’m just gonna climb in through the back and go to sleep. I have an early meet in the morning.”
“Word, mind if I sleep in your room tonight? I would, uh, rather avoid interacting with the happy couple, if at all possible.”
“Um… yeah kinda,” Jack says, thinking of his bottle of lotion. He means, the jars of Cannabis that would be really easy for Sam to get at if he slept right next to where they were expertly hidden. “You can climb in through my window though.”
“Nah it’s cool,” Sam declines, more partial to climbing the wall between them than jumping through a square hoop. “I have to shut the front door anyway. Goodnight Jack.”
“Oh, uh, okay. Goodnight Sam.”
Jack watches Sam walk up the soggy front lawn with a hunch in his back. He closes the door loudly behind him, and a few shards of glass fall out of the smashed window. “Did I… was that my fault?” Jack wonders aloud. Then, “Nah, couldn’t be. He’s probably just bugged about dad or going through withdrawal or something. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.” Then, Jack walks around back, climbs through his window, closes it, and locks it up.