|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Matter|
Third Time’s The Charm
Cool Night Air
A couple months ago, Hoontr vanished from Emilee and Juliana’s life. Juli had been put to bed, and Em’ and Hoont’ were laying on a blanket they spread over the crusty shingles of Emilee’s parents’ roof, looking at the stars and talking about the origins of Existence. But it was late; the sun would be coming up relatively soon, and a hungry baby takes energy to tend to.
“I’ll come inside in a few,” he said, distracted. “The sky’s just so clear tonight, I need to enjoy it for a bit longer.”
She expected nothing less, giving him a kiss before she climbed down the roof and slipped into the house through the open window. After a few minutes of being alone, Hoontr slid a lighter and a thin marijuana cigarette out of the left pocket of his pajamas.
The inhale was smooth, the cool night air turned pleasantly temperate as it mixed with the smoke and filled his lungs. The key in the lock, and like clockwork, the gears turned; the entire skyscape seemed to expand, the infinitely small sliver of space above him, or rather before him, morphed from a flat void into a three-dimensional chasm of stars and nebulae. He could see shapes, structures, what looked like entire cliff faces suspended in darkness; patterns literally came alive as his pupils dilated to astronomical levels. All was still for a moment, the slight wheezing of his lungs the only vibration in the otherwise immobilized air. Then, a shooting star lit up the vista, and behind it, a sparkling trail of orange fire and purple dust quickly dissipated behind the glowing silver body it followed.
Then, curiously, the shooting star stopped shooting. It seemed to get stuck in the sky.
Hoontr looked at his burning joint and wondered what the heck his guy cut the bud with this time; he’d never hallucinated like that before. As he contemplated the flicking of the remaining marijuana off the roof though, the star began to soar again, then disappeared over the horizon, tail and all. Hoontr swallowed nervously and looked around, as if there was somebody else on the roof to confirm what he had just seen, but there was nobody. He shrugged it off and continued to smoke, burning his lefty down to the index card roach. The night air grew still once more, the crickets stopped chirping, and Hoontr found himself alone with the stars.
Hours passed by, or maybe minutes, it was impossibly hard to tell. The sky seemed lighter; dawn was making its unavoidable approach and the stars were growing slightly dimmer. It was time for bed. He moved to get up, then paused when the air around him stirred; there was some sort of commotion off in the distance. A low rumbling, the sound of… oscillation, something large slicing and cutting through the delicate early-morning atmosphere, and it seemed to be rapidly approaching. He climbed down to the window to go inside but stopped himself, or rather, something stopped him. An unseen force called to Hoontr, drawing him down from the roof.
Suddenly he found himself in the middle of the driveway, still wearing his fuzzy plaid pajama pants and a tattered white tee. That’s when the helicopters flew overhead, chasing a silver ball of light. Hoontr absentmindedly pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of the orb, or whatever the hell it was, and continued to stand there in bewilderment. Moments later, an SUV pulled into the driveway. A short, taut man with a buzzcut, sunglasses, and a dark suit got out of the car, and…
“Nah, we missed him. Try the other one.”
“… and… that’s all I remember. I swear!”
That’s what he told Emilee five weeks later when he pulled up in her parent’s driveway, still clad in the same sleeping clothes he was wearing the night he disappeared. He was telling the truth, she knew he was, but she was mad anyway. The poor girl felt hurt; this wasn’t the first time she’d been abandoned. Plus, Juliana’s father left days after she was born, and now the little one doesn’t even recognize him under the light of the blue moon that marks his visits.
But unlike Jhonni, Hoontr actually came back, and that’s all that really mattered. Juli forgave him immediately, and even though it took a few days, Emilee followed suit. About a week later, though, they almost lost him again.
The daytrip to the zoo was Emilee’s idea. She grew up around various animals, had all kinds of pets from ducks to pythons, dogs to foxes, parakeets to tarantulas ,and everything in between; more than anything else in life, she wanted to share this fascination with the natural world with her daughter. Hoontr wasn’t much of a fan of zoos, but how could he object?
It just happened to be the zoo’s free admission day when they went, too. They hadn’t planned it that way, it just kind of happened, giving Hoontr ample ammunition to make predestination jokes so Emilee could have something to roll her eyes at. Oddly enough the place wasn’t packed, either; there was hardly more than thirty other guests in the entire complex, so all the animals were out and about, utterly animated with virile and spunk.
They started by the big cats. Mountain lions, Bengal tigers, lions, jaguars, even a snow leopard exhibit. From there they moved on to the monkey arena – Juliana was a big fan of the monkeys, seeing how she is one – and then they migrated to the African Savannah exhibit. Our troupe climbed on top of a grand pavilion, an elevated boardwalk that platforms over a vast open grassland, and found a nice open spot to lean on the railing. There were flocks of flamingos, packs of antelope and gazelles alike, a couple elephants wandering about – it looked like it came straight out of a child’s video game. As the family was gazing out from the railing, Juli up on Hoontr’s shoulders, a giraffe walked up. And she looked hungry.
Noticing a candy machine filled with animal feed out the corner of his eye, Hoontr passed the baby off to Emilee and dug out a handful of coins. He put the shiny metal disks into the slot, turned the rusty crank, and returned to his girls (the giraffe included) with a handful of corn nibblets. Juliana took as much as her little hands could handle and held them up to be sacrificed to Missus Giraffe – she accepted the offering. In fact, she accepted it so much that she wrapped her tongue all the way around Juliana’s arm and slurped the corn from her grasp.
When the baby stopped squealing with a combination of delight and disgust, the three began the hunt for the rarest thing one can visit in a zoo: a public bathroom.
Following a good-humored trip to the little girl’s room, they moved on to the reptile hut. It was more of a manor than a hut; the structure boasted nearly ten thousand square feet of various reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates large enough to give anybody a case of the creepy-crawlies. Making their way from the turtles to the alligators to the snakes to the scorpions, they spent time with every living being in that house, no matter how unsettling.
Except for the creepy guy in the overcoat that followed them from the bathroom. They avoided him like the fucking plague.
Juliana wanted to spend the rest of time in the scaly emporium, showing zero interest in the zoo’s literal tens of other species; the girl refused to leave at first, forcing her mom and (possibly) stepdad (if things go well) to chase her around the room for an hour. It took a promise of ice cream and a new princess costume to get her out of there; though young, the girl knew how to get her way.
On the drive home, with a cone in his hand, the lactose intolerant Hoontr started to feel a bit strange. He was bloated, physically and emotionally, and it made for a very quiet car ride.
When they got back to Emilee’s parents’ house, Em grabbed the baby and quickly dipped inside. Hoontr got roughly halfway across the driveway before the hallucinations started. Then, he collapsed.
“That should have done it… why won’t he wake?”
Deep In The Forest
Emilee came back outside and saw Hoontr on the ground, causing her to panic. He woke up and found a small metal dart in the back of his neck, which was definitely odd. On a hunch he took the dart out back and burned it, the fumes reeking of burning plastic.
“That’s… I think someone spiked me with Dee-eM-Tee…”
The next day, the trio embarked on a camping trip deep in the forest.
And that’s where they’ve been for the past few days, living off the land. They picked berries and found a paw paw grove, took the baby up a mountain, fed some ducks, cooked hot dogs over a fire… after the baby went to sleep, Hoontr and Emilee even snuck off to christen the pond they’d play in together as kids. But now things have calmed down and they’re sitting by the fire, musing over each other’s opinions of the existence of God (or god).
Until the sky lights up.
It’s blinding at first, but soon their eyes make out the disk. Emilee is afraid but Hoontr takes her hand and quells her fear. He’s seen this before, he knows what it is. He doesn’t know what it is, as in, he can’t put words to it, but at the same time, he knows exactly what it is. Two beams of light shine down from the craft, and within them, two beings descend to the Earth. They’re dressed in brilliant white robes with violet trimmings and, aside from the purple hue of their skin and their towering height, they appear fairly human. For a moment, time seems to be frozen in place; nobody even breathes.
Then, the beings take down their hoods. One is female with long, sleek silver hair, and the other is male with flowing silver locks and an aura, a certain energy about him that even the humans can feel. The male steps forward and turns to Emilee.
They lock eyes and he says, “Greetings. I am called Ace, and my associate is called Fleurna. We are members of… well, all you really need to know is that we’re aliens that travel through a handful of Multiverses, among other pockets of Existence. And your boy there? We uh, we kind of need him back.”
The humans look at each other and share a moment of utter confusion mixed with indescribable horror. How do the freaking aliens speak English?!
“Ahem,” says Ace with a hint of impatience in his voice. “We came looking for him a while back, but we couldn’t find him. We even tried to steal him once, but…” He looks through Emilee, eyes widening at what he sees. “But I suppose Bill didn’t mix the Dee-eM-Tee right, I’ll have to give him some flack for that.”
Woken by the foreign voice, Juliana emerges from her tent. Sensing how scared her guardians are, she locks eyes with Ace and charges towards him. Fleurna leaps into action, scooping Juliana up mid-step and proceeding to tickle and coddle her into submission. She then kisses the baby’s head and gently rocks her to sleep before handing her off to Emilee.
“She’s a brave little warrior Miss, you’re doing a great job as a parent,” before turning to Hoontr. She says nothing to him, simply staring through him with a patient smile before returning to her light.
“So, as I was saying,” Ace cuts in, “he’s with us. We lost him here a long time ago and we’ve spent a lot of resources trying to find him. It’s nothing prophetic or anything, we just… how do I explain this? Uh… we like his hair. Plus, he’s… yanno… the god of weed. So uh, yeah. He’s coming with us.”
Hoontr shakes his head, his mane expanding and contracting with the swivel. “No, no this is… this can’t be real. I’ve always lived here, I was born in this town! What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense, I don’t unders–”
“Of course you don’t understand!” Ace booms with a less than understanding smile on his face. “That would be far too easy for us. Go on now, say your goodbyes while you have the chance. I’d like to point out the fact that we have the ability to traverse Existence itself, meaning we can force you into our spacecraft without batting an eye.” He pauses, letting his words sink in. “I’m being nice here, guy, but the clock’s ticking.”
Hoontr is shaking, nay, trembling. Totally speechless and mind devoid of thought, he embraces Emilee in a hug. Softly, as not to wake the baby, he whispers, “I… I guess it was fun while it lasted. I… be safe Em. Take good care of her, I know you will. Maybe I’ll see you again one day, I…”
Tears are forming in Hoontr’s eyes, it’s getting difficult for him to speak.
Ace takes Hoontr’s hand and walks him towards the light. “Listen,” he says, back turned to the humans, “if you both truly want to see each other again, you will. Without a doubt. But if there are any doubts, you won’t. That’s just how life works. Anyway…”
They’re standing in the light now, everybody but Emilee and her child. “Thank you for taking care of him. Goodbye!”
Fleurna takes Hoontr’s other hand and the three simultaneously float off the ground, rising towards the craft. A single tear runs down Hoontr’s cheek and falls, soaking into the dirt when it lands. Then, the craft disappears.
The fire has died down. A gentle plume of smoke wafts up from the empty pit. Emilee, standing alone in the nocturnal forest with her sleeping baby in her arms, hears a voice in the distance. It’s Jhonni, her baby’s father, accompanied by Emilee’s parents. Jhonni drops his flashlight and runs to Emilee, taking her in his arms. He explains that they’ve been out looking for her, Hoontr, and the baby all day, and they just happened to find her right now. What a coincidence!
Jhonni takes the baby and Emilee’s parents wrap her in a group hug before asking her where Hoontr is.
Emilee, with a heavy sigh, says…
The Spirit Of The Plant
“Finally, he’s going back. That was… what even was that woman? What happened in there?”
“I do not know, Bill. You’re sure you prepped the Dee–“
“Yes, I’m sure. I don’t make mistakes, not with the crystals. Zax smoked me up anyway, the spirit of the plant guided me.”
“Huh… welp. Third time’s the charm then, shit almost never fails.”
“I guess…” as he looks over to a sleeping Fleurna, waiting with bated breath for her to wake. “What if he doesn’t find the cabin again?”
“Hm… give him some weed, he’ll find his way.”