If you sat down and really thought about it, how many days of your life can you actually remember? If you’re honest, if it even matters to you, you’d have to admit the answer is very few. And even those supposedly memorable days have been worn down to dim recollections, foggy flashes of cliché events like weddings, graduations, birthdays, funerals and miscellaneous holidays—basically, if you gave or received a card, you have a memory. It’s also quite likely that you’ve molded those memories more to your liking as life leaves you. And so when you do finally die, and your life flashes before your eyes, those flashes might be as fanciful as someone who would tell you “my life flashed before my eyes.” What’s even worse…something you really should consider…is the extreme likelihood that when you’re about to die, you won’t know it…and that your last thoughts might be as trivial as all those days you can’t remember.
I’ll never forget his silhouette. Even now, it feels stamped to my skull, ink tattooing bone behind forehead. Of course, I can’t remember for the life of me what I was doing driving down the road that night, Halloween, during a torrential downpour, but I do remember the moon—a massive, tawny globe, casting a creepy glow over the soaked sprawl of dead leaves blanketing either side of the street, with him in the middle—black, unmoving and umbrellaless, a lunar pupil.
His lack of foresight should have been a warning…well-adjusted people don’t walk around in the rain with no umbrella. They really don’t walk around in the rain at all. They take taxis to predetermined locations and breathlessly ask, “Can you believe this weather?” whenever they get there. Usually, someone will reply, “No…it’s crazy,” or, “No…it’s insane.” You could probably collect an endless highlight reel of this exact exchange across the globe as people come and go in hard rain. Many of these same people would be horrified at the thought of picking up a stranger walking along the side of the road at night. And yet, bringing attractive strangers home, from bars, for freaky-hot-naked sex is, while not necessarily encouraged, much more reasonable. Anyway, this guy had his hood pulled up over his head, which showed a certain level of awareness, and regret. I couldn’t leave him there. The moon projected a steady spotlight, signaling, lighting the stage for this fated interaction. No one on the road but us. All signs pointed in the same direction.
I eased my car to the side of the road, about ten or twenty yards ahead of him. I pushed the button for hazard lights and waited. I examined him through the rearview as he approached, getting closer with every pulse of red. Given the circumstances, it was difficult to be certain of anything, but he looked BIG and seemed in no rush at all to get out of the rain. When he did finally arrive at the passenger door he opened it without hesitation or any type of feeling out process. In one coordinated movement he landed in the passenger seat like a felled oak, the tires bounced to support him. I immediately discovered he’d been carrying a black leather duffel bag below the line of sight provided by the rearview mirror. He dropped that onto the floor between his feet, it landed with more force than anticipated.
I turned to look at him, but the hood from his jacket concealed his face. He just sat there, like he’d been expecting me. His oversized frame dominated the car interior. His left shoulder almost touched my right shoulder and wasn’t nearly contained by the backrest. I tried not to choke on the thick and musty aroma seeping from his soaked clothing. Clicking windshield wipers dutifully tracked the length of this strange and terrible silence.
“Anywhere, um, you’d like to go…in particular?” I asked.
Incredibly…after five more seconds…and eight wiper swipes…he took his left hand and casually waved forward in a way that suggested he’d been seriously debating if he should have me drive, or just sit with him in the car, unmoving, for eternity. The absolute lack of enthusiasm in his motion told me two things: first, that having me drive him somewhere, instead of remaining motionless, had barely won the debate. And second, that the decision was entirely up to him.
So I drove.
I drove up a hill, into the deluge, toward the pale, yellow orb overhead. If I could have wished for anything I would have wished that I never turned the radio off as I waited for him to enter the car. I figured he’d come in and say thanks so much and we’d comment on the terrible weather and exchange names and say what we all did for a living and he’d tell me where he was going and why he was walking there and why he had to go there now and without an umbrella and what was in his bag.
But he didn’t say anything. Not one word. He hadn’t even looked at me yet. I could have been toting an entire arsenal of weapons pointed at the side of his black hood and he’d have no clue.
As we reached the top of the hill a traffic light came into view. The red light alone flashed from each of the four faces, blinking like a lighthouse at the edge of hell. Behind the light, three houses stood on a hill, powered-out black, terrible and inanimate like the light itself, alternately alive in red intervals before vanishing black with a sickly consistent rhythm. The same cadence filled the car. A countdown. When the car stopped he would have to tell me how to proceed—left…right…straight? Somehow, I wasn’t exactly in a rush to get to the light, but I did. And when I did, he reached to pull back his hood. As the hood came down he turned toward me and that’s when I noticed for the first time the eye patch covering his left eye. His other eye was blue and so bright that it seemed to glow in the dark. As with everything, he took his time in directing me, maybe to give me a chance to look him over, maybe because he didn’t have anywhere to go. And so I looked him over. He looked weathered, as though he’d walked clear across Texas. His mostly bald head absorbing years of sun, wind and blowing sands that carved many pockmarks from his temples down to his neck, and outlined the tiny ears. Ears that did not make sense. Ears insufficient for walling in that dome.
“LEFT,” he yelled into my face.
I recoiled, frightened by the sudden volume.
“Sorry,” he said, “I’m almost deaf…I’ve trouble with…um…”
“Volume?” I asked.
“The appropriate, you know…”
He didn’t hear me. And couldn’t see me unless he turned his head a full ninety degrees.
“RIGHT…VOLUME,” he replied.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked.
“DO YOU MIND IF I SMOKE IN HERE?” he asked.
“NO…I CAN’T? OR NO YOU DON’T MIND?”
My throat was already getting tired. He was soaked all the way through, dripping wet, when he turned his whole head sideways to yell, I was pelted, in the face, by mixed particles of spit and rain. So I lit one of my own cigarettes and he got the point.
I took a left and drove some more.
Strangers smoking in silence, on the road to nowhere, bits of rain steadily sneaking through cracked windows, a flood upon armrests. I could feel the forceful nature with which he smoked. His chest huffed…and heaved. It took a while for the exhaust steaming from his mouth to exit the car. Each of his drags resulted in three to five seconds of blind driving, so when he flicked his cigarette out the window and yelled, “HERE,” I had no clue what he was talking about.
“AT THE SIGN.”
Once his final mushroom cloud cleared I could see the sign, “Candy 4 Cans,” which had on it an arrow—pointing at a supermarket. Why he didn’t just say, ‘Take me to the market up the road’ in the first place, I’ll never know. He didn’t have any trouble instructing exactly where I should park. He did not seem to even consider the possibility that this might be the end of the road for him. It would have been at least cordial to confirm with me that I’d wait, or ask, maybe, if I would like him to bring me something from inside the market. Instead, he grabbed his bag and exited the car. That’s when I first noticed the spectacular Tiger’s tail attached to his buttocks. I watched that tail swing gracefully back and forth as he walked toward the market.
All around the parking lot crazed citizens were doing everything they could to protect themselves from getting wet. The rain had really come as a shocker this time. I saw a sexy leather kitten with a plastic bag over her head, she pulled the handle holes tight below her chin, a portly Captain America jogging toward the store, wearing mismatched boots of red and blue, splashing in the water, holding his child overhead for cover, a glamorous Jessica Rabbit saw me staring and made a pretty pouty face, four strawberry cupcakes scampered along, distraught, clutching twelve packs in the air like championship trophies, I found Waldo, Wonder Woman, Batman, Beetlejuice, Scorpion, Spider-Man, seven stupid zombies and Superman, a skeleton, Luke Skywalker, a hotdog, four more zombies, a few Spice Girls, a bag of skittles, Hunter Thompson, David Bowie, Richard Nixon and OJ Simpson—hell-bent for shelter, reacting to water—the giver of life, as though it were Sodium cyanide.
A massive 747 airplane launched into the sky from a nearby airport. An aircraft, filled to the brim with people, eclipsing the moon as it ascends virtually unnoticed. There is an angry Chewbacca pushing its shopping cart at warp speed who is mystified by the onslaught of precipitation, but accepts modes of transport that fly out of sight. Here on the ground, my car was threatened on all sides by lunatic behavior. But the people sitting a bit uncomfortably, flying through space, to a destination possibly thousands of miles away, over entire oceans of water, are calm and cool. That, is the casual setting. I’ve seen pictures of them. Palms flat on pants, possibly bored. Cocktails and neck pillows and blankets and socks. I’ve heard of reclining chairs and personal television screens that play films still in theaters. What? They should be going buckwild. When that spaceship launches successfully into the sky everyone should unbuckle their safety belts and scream and dance to loud music and make love, baby, because that is not normal. I remember this feeling viscerally. Twisted thoughts started to pour over me like the storm. I’d never felt so abnormal in my whole life as I did waiting for the tiger-tailed pirate. I realized, as another zombie squad hotfooted through the lot, that it wasn’t even “normal” that I was alive. Alive…and overwhelmed by zombies and superheroes and flying modes of transportation, silent in the face of a future no one cares for but to complain. Before this Halloween voyage, I never thought much about waking up every morning. The fact that I was here, alive, was good enough. It seemed so obvious that as long as I stayed alive, life would turn out good, swell—isn’t that what happens? I assumed every morning that I would wake up, go to my job, eat and drink over the course of yet another pleasant day, and eventually enjoy a comfortable sleep. I assumed one day I would wake up and find love. I hoped to have enough money, sometime, to fly in the sky over an ocean and land in a hot place to chill. I never worried for one moment that I wouldn’t end up normal. It always seemed that as long as you are born and keep working that good things will happen. Like everyone else, I moved through the world fully confident that A+B equaled C. I never conceived of the possibility that that B might actually be an 8, or that C might stand for cemetery, or that the entire equation is arbitrary, or even worse, wrong. The craziest thing of all might be moving through the world in this way—under the guise of normality. If flying comfortably across the sky is considered normal, what could ever be extraordinary? You’d have to make it up. The only thing we can’t believe is hard rain.
I turned on the radio.
“This is a warning from the national weather service…”
I turned off the radio.
I got out of the car—I had to get out of the car. I must have been in there for a long time. I didn’t know about the wind. The wind was so strong it had a voice. Not like a sweet breeze, not whispers playing through eyelashes, this was a gale-force growl, “Go HOOOOOME.” It roared across the blacktop like the collected chorus of ghouls throughout history. Objects not normally designated for blowing in the wind were being tossed about effortlessly—a Poodle in a scarf inside a shopping cart jetted overhead and landed on the market roof, futilely howling for help. A box of vinyl records had been unleashed on the scene, from a neighboring establishment perhaps, the discs were slashing dangerously about the lot and joined by an increasing amount of discarded costume accessories—you can imagine all the hats and masks orbiting two storeys aboveground. For a moment I locked eyes with a plastic, disembodied Elvis, or, through the open holes where his eyes should have been, I witnessed a stampede of shoppers headed my way. They looked terrible and pained, eyelids wrenched beyond open disappeared into the skull’s hidden chambers, soaked faces twisted by the wind in a manner that recalled candy too sour for safety. I could see the eye patch hovering above them all. A slow-moving, self-assured Cyclops plodding upon massive, booted feet, stomping with an unnamable yet undeniable confidence in the midst of panicked freaks in disguises.
“GET IN THE CAR!” He shouted, loudly, too loudly. Was this his intended volume? I couldn’t be sure. If he meant to sound like that, the timbre of his voice thundered above the crowd and storm and conveyed a sense of urgency I didn’t think possible.
I got back in the car and waited. If the tiger-tailed pirate’s voice suggested urgency, his movements refuted it. That tail was a-swingin’ in the wind like an abandoned hammock in August. He moseyed his way to the car. He plopped into the passenger seat…and handed me a handwritten note: Take a right to exit the parking lot. Make a right at the first light and then your third left onto Locust Rd. Drive about six miles and wait for the signal.
I sat there staring at the note. The handwriting, cursive, was kind of beautiful—written in pencil with a steady hand. Though the words conveyed no tone, strictly instructional, the dark, unwavering lead path carried a sense of force. This note was not to be questioned. It left no room for interpretation. Although I had to wonder…he couldn’t have begun his walk from this destination. The signal? He’d written it—
Right. Engines were firing up all around us as records and masks constantly pelted my windshield. As I made my way out of the lot, I couldn’t avoid the sickening cold gaze of Michael Myers stuck behind one of my windshield wipers. His thin, unwashed, black hair, very wet, swished back and forth with the wipers and the wind. I felt like commenting on the unlikely arrival of our new companion, or at least asking the pirate if he could believe these weather conditions, but he just smoked cigarettes out the window, riding more like a prince than a fortunate hitchhiker.
By the time we turned onto Locust road, all other vehicles had disappeared and the storm had subsided. I rolled the window down, lit up, and listened to the tires purr along saturated pavement. Driveways had become an infrequent occurrence. Streetlights were a thing of the past. There was nothing but the car’s headlights, Myers, the pirate and I, cruising incognito, blending with the sable nature of Locust road.
“Turn at the hammer,” he said, flat and quiet, like making a note-to-self.
Unsure how to respond, I nodded. Before I could complete my evaluation on what instructional road signs “The Hammer” might be slang for, I saw it—a mailbox, in the shape of a giant hammer, where the head opens up to receive mail.
So I turned and drove up what I assumed to be his driveway. Tires crackled along the gravel path. But this wasn’t that shabby gravel, the car did not bounce and bottom out but instead rolled smoothly, delighting upon the soft, consistent terrain, the product of millions of gentle pebbles laid together. The manicured drive demanded the respect of patient navigation. The car’s beams did not penetrate much in any direction, but from what I could tell this pebbled path had been curated to allow guests ample time to admire the surrounding landscape. The car was flanked on either side by never-ending rows of kaleidoscopic shrubbery, pruned to perfection, perfuming through our open windows. And though they couldn’t quite be seen, one got the sense that ageless oaks snoozed somewhere beyond the shrubs with their branches reaching out to create a leafy canopy. All these thousand leafs issued gentle droplets that landed and ran down the windshield, each weaving a unique path like all the infinite rivers squirming erratic blue across paper maps. The branches and shrubs eventually subsided to reveal two still ponds. The crisp, post-storm atmosphere clashed with the warm water to create a dense fog that surrounded the car. A bright yellow light radiated from an unidentifiable source somewhere behind the fog.
The car stopped and for some reason I felt like I should shut the engine off. It was like we were sitting in a cloud—the front and side views were uniform, pale gray, you’d go snow-blind trying to focus on any one thing. Nothing to be heard but the leftover rain dripping and dripping into the ponds, the little individual pellets rendered unidentifiable in the pond’s comparative vastness, a terrible harmony. All the tranquil, peaceful nothingness infected my mind’s ability to think anything. It raced in a million directions searching for some bit of interest. No weather to wonder about, no masked, agitated people to critique, just this silent stranger sitting like a depressed mannequin, leaving me to myself—fog blocking light and dark and nothing. An empty brain floating in prenatal liquid, a consciousness in search of signifier. I wanted him to reach for the bag and he did. I wanted him to pull a weapon. “What’s in there?” I asked. I closed my eyes, the ultimate anticipation. I hoped that some kind of interesting life would flash before me, quickly, a bountiful, meaningful existence summed up in these final milliseconds…but no, it went wild with everything, a psychedelic panorama that blended into nothing soup, the most impressive organ on earth, a singular gift rivaling the universe itself, unable to arrive at anything spectacular in the most important instant, another cloud, this bulbous hoax, the physical manifestation of emptiness. What a fucking day.
“What a day,” I said, opening my eyes.
He pulled back from the bag, lowered his hood and turned to look at me, holding something in his hand. With his free hand he removed his eye patch to reveal a second, beautiful, glowing, blue eye.
He smiled a kind smile. Warm.
He handed me a candy bar and left as casually as he arrived.
The candy bar was a Whatchamacallit.
Bobby Williams is a man without a plan. A quiet observer running afoul of fate, twister of words, whimsical bungler with dreams of peace and love, a futile fool. Author of a fucking odd first novel, “Two is for You,” always available from Open Books Open Books and also from the Amazon. He wants you to know that he cares deeply about stuff, about this.
If you liked Bobby’s writing check him out on Social Media
My Twitter is @chuchfire I don’t exactly use Twitter correctly, but I do Tweet some Tweets sometimes.
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