Little weeds grew in between the tiles that made up the path to the street, and the wind blew against them in a way that made them look like they were waving at her. April sat on the stoop of her childhood house and watched those waving weeds like they were television, and occasionally heard something that irritated her in the conversations happening just behind her inside the house.
“He was a very respectful young man.” She heard someone say. The voice sounded like it belonged to their neighbor Mr. Taylor, and that made the comment one of the irritating ones. What made it irritating was the fact that Mr. Taylor had hardly said two words to Jeremy outside of neighborhood gatherings, or scolding him for letting their dog Gunther sniff too close to the edge of his lawn. There were a lot of people in the house right now who were like that. Uninterested in him while he was alive, but nothing other than caring and supportive now that he was gone.
After a while the guests all started to leave, and as they did no one said a single word to her, not even to ask her to move out of the way. They all just parted around her like a stream around a large rock and walked to their various cars, most of which had bumper stickers mentioning Jesus. After the final guest brushed by her and walked down the stairs her mom followed and took a seat beside her.
“Would you like some ice cream, or something, dear?” Her mother asked wrapping an arm around her, and giving her an awkward half-hug. April slid further to her side of the stoop and broke out of her Mom’s reach.
“That’s alright I’m probably just going to sit here for a while.” She looked back out at the weeds, but the wind had stopped. Her mom pulled a key out of her cardigan’s front pocket.
“I had the car put in your name. He didn’t explicitly leave it to you, but hell, he didn’t leave anything to anyone.”
“That’s what happens when you die before you write your will.” April replied shifting her gaze from the weeds to the blue Oldsmobile that used to belong to her grandfather, and then Jeremy. “Who drove it back here anyway?”
“Uncle Tim picked it up. He says it still drives just as well as when your grandpa bought it.” Her mom said extending out her hand with the key.
“You’re sure you don’t want to just sell it to offset the funeral costs? All of those veggie trays couldn’t have been cheap.”
“The church is raising money to help cover the funeral so don’t you worry about that, but you really should take the car. It wouldn’t be right to sell it. It’s been in the family for quite a long time, and could still be of use to you.”
“I live in New York city, mom. What the fuck do I need a car for? I’m not one of those people who enjoys sitting in traffic and getting sworn at by a bunch of, fucking, caffeine addicted taxi drivers. Not to mention the fact I’d have to start making insurance payments.” April’s mother sighed and placed the key on the concrete between them.
“It’s your car if you don’t want it then I guess you can sell it. Either way I think it would be good for you to drive it home.” Her mother stood up and walked back into the house. April picked up the key and followed.
“I live on the other side of the country, I don’t have the time, let alone, the desire to take such a trip. Plus, I already bought a plane ticket home for tomorrow. What would even compel you to suggest something like that?” April asked tailing her mom into the kitchen where Gunther was sleeping in the middle of the room.
“I just don’t want things to be the way they were after your father died.” Her mother replied turning on the sink and beginning to rinse off plates and glasses.
“Oh really, well how exactly were things after dad died because they didn’t feel any different to me?” Her mother shattered a glass in her hand and it started bleeding.
“Shit.” She said running the wound under the cold water. April quickly went and retrieved bandages from the closet in the hallway, and returned to see her mother sitting on the floor leaning back against the cabinets under the counter. She was crying and petting Gunther with her good hand. April sat down beside her and handed her the bandages, which she started wrapping around the cut.
“You didn’t talk to me for months.” Her mom said continuing to tend to her wound.
“I was really busy trying to find a new job, and I couldn’t always pay my phone bill, I told you this.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. Jeremy told me everything. He would call me after the long conversations you two would have and fill me in on how you were doing. So I don’t want to hear anymore of these lies that you didn’t have a phone to reach me with because you certainly called your brother enough.” She said, Gunther now trying to lick the tears off her face. She pushed him away so he resumed his previous position at the center of the room.
“What do you want me to say mom? You know we don’t get along. So I needed time before I could engage with you again, so what? Don’t I have the right to grieve the way I need to grieve?” April replied.
“What you did wasn’t grieving, all you did was run away from everything until you became numb to it, and I’m sorry, but you can not do that again because we are all that’s left of this family, and if you won’t talk to me than I might as well be dead too.” Her mom’s crying intensified, and this made Gunther visibly uncomfortable, April as well. The dog put its paws over its eyes.
Harris sat in the dirt beside the road, and wondered how bad it would hurt if someone laid down on the hot concrete with no shirt on. An image of a man’s back with all the skin peeled off flashed in his mind. He hadn’t seen any cars pass for an hour, but wasn’t yet worried he’d have to walk. Harris leaned forward stretching his arms in front of him, and felt his back crack and loosen. He stood up and as he did, noticed a figure on top of the hill several yards away on the the other side of the road. Harris slowly sauntered over to this figure still listening for the hum of approaching cars. The figure looked like a short man and was wearing a paper bag with eye holes cut into it on his head as well as a buttoned up red flannel shirt, and jeans. He didn’t wear any shoes, and his feet were blue and scaly. That was what gave it away.
“What do you want Simon?” asked Harris snatching the bag off of the figure’s head. Simon grabbed the bag back from Harris’s hands, and covered his blue lizard face.
“I don’t want anything, chief. You just kind of seemed bored.” Simon replied in a voice that sounded similar to when an old lady clears her throat. Harris took a seat cross-legged on the ground. He pulled a container that looked like a fat black marker out of his jacket pocket, and took the cap off to reveal three perfectly rolled joints inside. He pulled one out and lit it. The exhaled smoke was white.
“Tell me something, Simon. Can things like you die?”
“Well yeah, of course we can. We’ll all die when you die, no doubt, but we could die earlier if you forget about us or something like that.” Simon replied. Taking the offered up joint from Harris’s hand. He then rolled up the bottom half of the paper bag, placed the joint between his lizard lips, and took a long drag.
“So if I got like neralized like in the Men in Black movies, and had my memories erased all of you would disappear?” Simon inhaled too hard, and started coughing which in turn caused his unusual reptilian eyes to water. After he composed himself he responded.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how it would work. Why are you asking this? Planning on getting rid of us?”
“I could maybe do without a few of you, but you knew that already.” The dry heat in the air was motionless, but a nice shade washed over where the two sat as a giant cloud moved in front of the sun, propelled by a breeze way to high up for them to feel. “Besides with them gone we can have more conversations like this.” Simon laughed an unintentionally sinister reptilian laugh.
“I guess it would, wouldn’t it? Don’t you think you should maybe try and make some real friends though? Isn’t that why you’re going to New York in the first place?” He pulled the paper bag back over the lower part of his face, and passed the joint back to Harris.
“Other people just don’t like me man. You know that.”
“Then maybe you need to take a look at yourself in the mirror and evaluate why that is.” Simon said leaning back on his hands and gazing up to check the giant cloud’s progress.
“Hey fuck you, man. If people don’t like me that’s their problem. Pretending to be someone I’m not is just gonna land me a bunch of fake friends that I actually hate, and eventually run away from.”
“So your solution is to just wander around and talk to your ego driven hallucinations for the rest of your life?” Simon shouted throwing a handful of sand directly at Harris, who responded by swinging his backpack straight into his attacker’s head.
“What the hell was that for?” Harris asked dusting himself off. Simon rubbed the side of his face where the bag hit, and crinkled the side of the paper bag.
“Because you’re being an asshole, that’s why. Look at you. You’re all alone in the middle of nowhere talking to your fucking self. I’m sorry, but any rational person could see that you’ve gone off the deep end a little bit, and this is a hallucination talking by the way. Not to mention a hallucination that’s half man, half lizard. I mean what the fuck even am I? Why would you imagine this?” Simon yelled pulling the paper bag from his head.
“I’m sorry alright. I didn’t ask to see things that aren’t there. I didn’t like raise my hand when the universe was deciding what fucked up thing was going to happen to who, and say I want to have vivid hallucinations that talk to me.”
“Well you might as well have because were here, and the most sensible among us don’t want to be. Do us a favor. Figure your shit out, and forget about us. All of us.” Simon put the bag back on his head and began to walk away.
“Where are you going?” Harris asked
“Same place as you.” Simon replied. “By the way if you listen closely you’ll hear a car coming from that way.” Simon pointed a scaly blue finger to the west, and sure enough Harris could begin to hear the sound of an approaching engine. Harris took off back toward the road his backpack weighing him down, and interrupting his rhythm by bouncing around on his back. When he got to within a few yards of the road he looked to the west and could see a blue Oldsmobile heading his way. He stuck out his thumb and started taking small steps backwards. The sun was bright, and made him squint so hard he could barely see, but when he heard the sound of old breaks, and the faint mediocre roar of an Arcade Fire song, Harris knew he had a ride. He approached the now motionless Oldsmoblie, and was shocked to see the driver was a girl in her twenties. He half expected some kind old couple on their way back to Florida from vacation. She rolled her window down which let Harris get an even better look at her. She had short brown hair that was in a pony tail. Her t-shirt had a picture of Tommy Wiseau on it.
“Your shirt’s cool. I really like The Room too.” Harris said almost without thinking about it. An awkwardness crept into the space around them, and he knew it was his fault.
“So do you wanna get in?” She asked after a few seconds of silence. Harris nodded his head repeatedly.
“Yeah that’d be great my name’s Harris.” She leaned over to the passenger side door, and threw it open.
“I’m April.” She replied, and he jogged around the car to the other side where he came aboard, and the two of them headed off toward the Atlantic.
The car smelled like smoke, but not cigarettes. It was cleaner than that, like the smoke off of a campfire. Neither of them spoke, but from the few glances he took in her direction. Harris thought she looked like she was trying to. He was doing pretty much the same thing, only the pressure was more on him because he was the hitchhiker, and felt like he owed her an interesting anecdote, about his travels. This was difficult because the bulk of Harris’ nomadic activity was just him smoking weed along side various interstates with figments of his imagination.
Luckily for the both of them the road brought them something to talk about. While still trying to come up with something to say Harris caught a glimpse of a billboard in the distance. It was a billboard for a sex toy shop, and its main feature was a giant spinning arrow that a was placed over the crotch of a lingerie clad cartoon woman.
“What the fuck.” April mumbled eyes peering up from the steering wheel.
“Who even still goes to places like that?”
“I would go there. They might have some good videos.” Said Simon who had suddenly appeared in the back seat.
“Why bother, you have no way to watch them?” Harris asked only to immediately wish he hadn’t said anything.
“What are you talking about?” April asked looking back towards Simon and seeing nothing there. Harris suddenly realized he was looking back at him too.
“What were you looking at,” she asked before quickly turning back to the road.
“Oh shit, sorry it was nothing, I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Then who were you talking to?
“Just tell her you have tourretts that’ll weird her out enough to stop asking questions.” Simon called from the back chewing on the tip of his long scaly tail under his paper bag.
“I just say random stuff some times, you know, talk to myself. Everybody does that, right?” Harris asked his voice noticeably higher.
“Look man, if you’re gonna be weird this whole time how about I just drop you off and you can wait for someone to come along that has room for shit like this because right now I don’t.” April said looking back and forth between Harris and the road.
“Listen I’m really not one of those weird hitchhiker guys. In fact, that’s part of the problem. I mean I’m just sitting over here being crushed by the weight of my anxiety because I can’t think of a good road story to share with you, and its kind of your right to get one since you’re giving me a ride?” Harris said slowly trailing off nervously toward the end.
“What? Dude you’ve gotta stop thinking.. You don’t owe me any story or anything.”
“Come on, why on earth would a young woman like you, who’s traveling alone, pick up a hitch hiker if they didn’t want some kind of life changing sage advice?”
“Is that really how you hitchhikers feel? Is sage advice, like your job? Do you guys have training seminars on how to best inspire existentially confused travelers?” She laughed at this, and normally Harris didn’t like when people laughed at their own jokes, but when she did it he didn’t find it annoying at all.
“We don’t have seminars, no. Us bums aren’t very good at organizing events.” The cloth of the seats looked extra gray against the bright sun shining through all the glass on the car. Harris also found himself thinking about Simon, and how he all of a sudden wasn’t in the backseat anymore. This thought was then followed by a glimpse of something tall in the blurry photograph the scenery became through all that speed. This made Harris take special note of the speed. He looked sneakily at the speedometer and saw April was driving 85 miles per hour.
“You drive really fast.”
“Well were on a backroad in the dessert I figure, if there was ever a place to speed.” She let the sentence kind of end there and vanish into the ambience of the engine and all the dust they kicked up behind them. “Has anyone ever told you you’re weird before?” She asked shifting in her seat, but keeping her eyes locked dead on the road. Harris thought about this question for a moment. He could remember the idea of being called weird, but as for a specific moment when it actually happened, well he was kind of at a loss.
“You know I don’t think anyone has. Why, do you think I’m weird?” He immediately regretted asking that the second it left his mouth.
“Yeah I think, after what I’ve seen in these first few minutes, you’re weird. I haven’t decided what kind of weird yet.”
“There are different types of weirds?”
“Of course there are. There’s creepy weird, familiar weird, unexpected weird, and all kinds of variations.”
“Well if I can at least avoid creepy weird I’ll feel like this hitchhike was a success.”
“You know what just occurred to me?”
“I don’t know where you’re even headed.
“I’m going to New York.”
“New York, huh.” She fell silent.
“Is something wrong?” He asked.
“You, didn’t know that’s where I was going too, right?”
“I don’t see how I could’ve known that.”
She leaned forward leaving her chin just about an inch from the steering wheel, and squinted her eyes at the road ahead. “You’re welcome to just ride the whole way if you want to.” She said suddenly stretching back to her previous position.
“You’re sure you don’t mind; I understand if you don’t wanna take me the whole way.” Harris didn’t like conversations like this. They reminded him of conversations he used to have with his teachers in school.
“It’s not really any trouble, plus now I’ll have someone to be bored with, for the remaining hours.” April said keeping her eyes trained on the lines of the road.
“Well if you’re okay with it I’m okay with it.” Harris said looking out the window and seeing a distant field filled with scarecrows that vanished after a moment of being seen. “Listen, there’s something you need to know about me if I’m gonna ride with you to New York, and I want you to understand that I completely get it if after hearing this you don’t wanna take me anymore.”
“Jeeze, what is it? Are you a fugitive or something?” April asked now glancing away from the road.
“No I’m not a fugitive. The truth is that I have a condition that makes me suffer from very realistic, and talkative hallucinations.”
April didn’t seem taken aback, all she did was squint her eyebrows and start asking questions. “What kinds of things do you see?”
“Well they’re mostly, kind of, humanoid animal people that just show up and talk to me.”
“What kinds of things do you talk about?”
“That depends on the one that shows up. For instance, I have one girl that I see sometimes, her name is Trudy, and she looks like a talking lazy boy recliner. Now, I know that example doesn’t really match the animal thing, but she’s kind of an outlier. Anyway, with her I usually talk about things that have died.”
“That’s kind of grim. So are they like just general things that have died, or specific things?” She asked brushing her hair behind her right ear, and continuing to speed down the road.
“It can be both, but in most cases I only end up seeing her when I see something that has died. Like a dead dear on the side of the road, or something. I’ve also seen her in a number of cemeteries. I know this may feel like I’m avoiding your questions, but I have to ask. Is this too weird?” Harris clenched his teeth, and felt his toes curl up in his shoes.
“No I actually think it’s really interesting.” April replied with a soft chuckle. This made Harris’s shoulders fall back to a normal height, and he continued with his explanation.
“Good I’m glad it’s kind of fifty-fifty with people when I start talking about this stuff.”
“I used to study psychology before I dropped out of college so stuff like this, is kind of what I geek out about.”
“You’re a college drop out too? Nice, I used to be a business major. What made you want to quit?”
“Just the usual stuff. I didn’t really want to do it in the first place, and after a semester I began to realize it was my parents that pushed me into trying to get a degree. Then after my Dad died it kind of sealed the deal. As interested as I am in psychology it wasn’t something I wanted to actually do with my life.” Harris leaned against the door and copied April’s gaze through the windshield.
“I understand what you mean completely, but not so much the parent thing. Mine never really gave a shit about me. When I was growing up they would pay for everything I needed, but would go out of their way to avoid talking with me.”
“That’s actually really shitty. Isn’t that just straight-up neglect?”
“Yeah it was, but I didn’t want to complain to anyone about it. It’s not like things were that bad. I don’t know why I thought I could impress them by going to business school. I was never good at keeping my grades up. It did eventually work out for me though because I failed so spectacularly fast I got half my money back.” April laughed at this, and Harris was really starting to like the sound of that laugh.
He didn’t see anymore scarecrows, but as time passed on the space outside Harris’s window became littered with apparitions from his mind. He saw groups of large ants tunneling through sand dunes, and giant worms pop in an out of the ground like in the movie Dune. Sunlight refracted and casted distinct beams, like in a laser show, which stretched like prison stripes across the sky. He nervously cleared his throat and tried to look forward and block them out of his thoughts. It didn’t work very well, and actually trying not to think about all the stuff going on outside made it all the louder.
“Are you seeing something right now?” April asked picking up on the weirdness Harris let seep into the car.
“Yeah.” Harris mumbled back still focusing on the road in front of them, and blocking out everything happening to his left.
“Which one of them is it?”
“It’s mostly just random weird stuff like giant ants right now, that happens sometimes too. I don’t always just see the ones that talk to me. Others just kind of happen in the background and make it hard to focus.” Harris felt cold and crossed his arms in front of his chest for warmth.
“My brother was killed by a giant moth.” April said from seemingly no starting point.
“What?” Harris asked focus now broke and his eyes looking at her driving the same rapid pace through the desert.
“You told me something very personal, and difficult about yourself with this whole hallucinations thing. It wouldn’t be fair if I held my stuff back.”
“That’s not true. This isn’t a game where it needs to be fair. You’re giving me a ride and I provided some, need to know, information to you. If you don’t want to talk about this, you don’t have to.”
“Well obviously I want to since I brought it up.” Her voice had the ring of nervous sarcasm, and Harris wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t like stories that were too sad. He was very empathetic, and things like that weighed on him. “It was a stone moth.” She continued. “Like a literal moth statue made of stone, it was about the size of a basket ball, and it fell off a shelf in the warehouse he worked at. His co-workers said he just stepped off to the side to tie his shoe and out of nowhere this worthless knic-knac just decides to fall and crush his head.” Now her voice was more serious, and quiet, but it didn’t have a lot of feeling to it. It was almost like she was willing herself to be robotic. Harris understood that kind of thing.
“How old was he?” Harris asked.
“He was twenty-nine. Four years older than me. I think about all the things he used to do, and how his eyes moved around in his head. He really was someone unique. No one else understood him at all not even me.”
“So how close were you exactly?” Harris asked furrowing his brow and shifting his torso to face her and lean in to better listen.
“We weren’t very close at all until I moved away to New York. For fun one week I was bored so I decided to write him a letter. At that point I had never really sent a letter to anyone, but I ended up liking it. I thought it was fun. He must have too because he always responded really fast. That’s basically how we wound up becoming close. We were essentially pen pals for three years.”
“That’s gotta be interesting to kind of re-meet someone you’ve known your whole life.”
“I don’t think I’d consider it a re-meeting. So much as it was an evaluation of our childhoods that became a friendship that wasn’t there when we were younger.” April replied flipping on her headlights as the sun went down.
As she did this, the old battery in her brother’s hand-me-down engine, sparked and ignited some old oil her uncle spilled on the engine block. The car exploded.
Harris opened his eyes, and saw he was in a cemetery. The sky above him was all blue except for a bloated gray cloud that covered the sun. There was a woman on her knees crying silently in her hands. She seemed familiar to him.
“Hey chief, so I guess I was wrong.” Harris turned to his left to see Simon there holding a lit joint. The bag on his head was rolled up to just below his nose leaving his eyes covered, and exposing his two rows of sharp yellow teeth.
“Wrong about what?” Harris replied not knowing where else to start.
“It looks like you dying still wasn’t enough to get rid of me.” Harris felt like he needed to vomit and he started dry heaving but nothing came up. “If you’re wondering why you can’t throw up it’s because you aren’t in your human body anymore.”
“I don’t understand.” Harris said, regaining a small amount of composure.
“Just look at that head stone.” Simon replied taking another hit from the joint. Harris looked at the head stone in front of the crying woman, and saw the name, April Pierson.
“Wasn’t April the girl who picked me up?”
“Yes that’s her mom right there. The car blew up and you both died.” Simon replied.
“Well if this is where she is where am I?
“Hell if I know I’m you remember. My guess is your body probably got mostly destroyed in the explosion and they couldn’t identify you”
“So what, they just threw me out? Why would I wake up here? What the fuck is going on, Simon?” Harris went to get the attention of the crying woman but when he went to tap her on the shoulder his hand passed through her like she was a projection.
“I wouldn’t blame yourself for this, Harris, it was all this lady’s fault. She thought sending her daughter on a mandatory road trip would help make her less sad about her brother being gone, and it turned out to be the biggest mistake of her life.”
“That doesn’t actually make me feel any better at all.” Harris yelled swinging his right fist violently towards Simon. His hand passed through him just like it did April’s mom.
“Wait so I can’t touch you know?” Harris screamed in his frightened confusion. Simon put his hand on Harris’s shoulder. It doesn’t look like you can, but if you’ll look down to your right you’ll see something interesting.”
“You can touch me.” Harris replied looking down at the scaly lizard hand on his shoulder.
“That’s correct.” Simon stabbed his other hand through Harris’s sternum, and out his back. He screamed for a second and then it was cut off with a bloody cough. “You see.” Simon continued. “The rules appear to be the more you die the more real we all get.” Harris could no longer answer or think, all he could do was watch his blood pour down the lizard man’s plaid sleeve.
Harris’s eyes would open again, and then again each time he would be somewhere else, and see more of his past hallucinations and they would all join in to help kill him again and again until eventually Harris didn’t reappear anymore. They killed him until he was gone.
Simon always felt bad about what he did to Harris, but he did it to ensure his existence, and that was something he could live with. In his later years after spending many decades as a drifter, and what some may call a sage. Simon lay under the vast night sky in a sleeping bag out in the woods looking up at the stars, and maybe it wasn’t real, but to him it looked like Harris’s, and April’s faces were in those stars smiling down at him. He would see them soon, and eventually all of the rest of Harris’s other hallucinations would join them too, as they continued to live and die out. They looked happy up there in the sky almost like they could not only forgive him, but everything else that cheated them out of what so many others got to waste. Maybe it was the part of him that was still a hallucination, but Simon feared that those faces up there in the sky were just in his old, and dying mind. But then again based on what he knew, the more someone dies the realer the things they saw became. That seemed reasonable to him since it was the reason he got this far. If he could be real, why couldn’t those faces be real? Maybe this was the moment he got to give back everything he stole from them. Simon stopped himself before he got too hopeful. He knew he was about to die; he didn’t want to lie anymore even to himself.
Simon died before he ever figured out if those faces in the sky were real, but they made him feel less alone in his final moments, which was probably far more than he deserved. His last thought was recalling the memory of the first time a person, besides Harris, noticed him. It was April’s mother. After killing Harris, he immediately materialized in the cemetery, all of Harris’s other killings took place elsewhere. April’s mom must have heard this because she turned around and spoke to him.
“Who are you?” she asked eyes red and puffy from crying. Simon felt like running but couldn’t. “Are you hurt?” she continued pointing at his arm that was soaked with Harris’s blood.
Simon finally found the strength to speak. “I was there when your daughter died.”
“You were?” She replied unintentionally shouting. “What did it look like?” What a weird fucking question, Simon thought.
“Like fire mostly.” He replied not knowing any other way to describe it.
“That’s not your blood isn’t it.” Harris looked down at his shoulder and sighed.
“No, no it is not.” He replied.
“Are you going to kill me?” Harris thought about it for a second and realized he was probably going to have to.
“You’re a demon aren’t you. This is my punishment for sending her away in that goddamn car.”
“I’m actually just a lizard guy and unfortunately you’re not as important as you think you are.” It was at this point that April’s mom noticed Harris’s feet and screamed.
“Just do it all ready, I’m done with all this shit anyway my family is gone there’s nothing left for me here.”
“Okay.” Harris replied. He slit her throat with the claw on his index finger and after getting a fair amount of blood squirted on him he spun her ragged corpse around and the rest of the blood spilled directly onto April’s tombstone.
That tombstone was the last thing Simon remembered as he died. Nothing else happened after that, and nobody believed the group of kids that came home from playing in the woods one night, claiming to have seen a dead alien in a sleeping bag, lifeless eyes still glued to the stars.