Talk Back If You Can

Hector’s eyes squinted at the bright blue light pouring out of his phone screen, and he found a text from Bethany.

“I don’t know what to do.” She said to him over miles of space and particles. He didn’t know how to respond. The two of them had only started speaking to each other because of a regretful incident where she caught him trying to break into her car. It was a really crappy old car, and Hector had almost gotten the door open when she sent her entire backpack hurdling into the side of his head. The bag was weighed down with so many books that the impact knocked him completely off his feet. It had been raining all day that day and when he stood back up off of the concrete his back was covered in wet grime from the parking lot. He tried to immediately explain himself, but a combination of embarrassment and head trauma prevented anything that sounded like words from leaving his mouth. Instead what came out sounded like a bad zombie impression, or the kind of mocking voice you do to someone when you’re trying to convey that they aren’t intelligent. That was the way Bethany took this and punched him in the shoulder which compared to her first blow wasn’t much of anything. The look that came with it however, hurt worse than the backpack. This was all especially weird for Bethany because up until this point she hadn’t known Hector to be a delinquent, or even for him to say or do anything at all. To her he was just a quiet boy that liked to sit off by himself and do whatever. That’s how she viewed him for the twelve years they had been in school together, and now without any warning here he was tampering with her personal shit.

“Are you actually that stupid, trying to car jack me in the school parking lot?” She squared up to him as if preparing to deliver a second blow.

“I’m not trying to make it seem like that’s what I’m doing, but I do feel obliged to point out that what it currently looks like I’m attempting is not, in fact, carjacking but actually just grand theft auto. It’s only a carjacking if you’re driving when I try to steal it. Which I’m not actually trying to do.” She didn’t appear to enjoy that answer and looked at him like he had just told her something completely absurd.

“Well if you’re not trying to steal the car why are you breaking into it?”

“I would also be careful with saying that because I haven’t actually broken anything.”

“You know what I mean.” She interrupted crossing her arms and scowling. Hector felt like running away at max speed but knew if he did it would make him look guilty and probably cause Bethany to think he was a weird jerk forever. He decided it would be better to just come clean and be a man about it, and slowly started opening and rummaging through his own backpack. He eventually pulled out a folder and then some papers and handed them to her.

“You weren’t in math and our homework isn’t from the book tonight, so I grabbed an extra copy of the worksheet for you. I mean, you know how Mrs. Barton gets about make up assignments and how if you aren’t in class it isn’t her responsibility to catch you up, like she isn’t the fucking teacher, sorry, I’m rambling.” He tried to walk away but she grabbed his arm and her hands were small, but they gripped tightly.

“If you were bringing me my homework why didn’t you just actually bring it to me, instead of breaking into my car and leaving it. What was your plan? That I would just find it and think that it wasn’t weird that it just magically appeared in my car? Plus, you could have just left it under the windshield wiper, in fact, that might have been a better idea since it would have been way easier for me to notice it.”

“I agree that I didn’t really think this out at all, but it was a little rainy today, so I wanted to put the worksheet in your car to make sure it didn’t get wet or anything.” She laughed at him. She never thought that Hector had the guts to do anything like this, and the idea of him trying to steal a car felt far-fetched to her. Him having a weird crush on her, or something, was far more likely.

“Next time you want to do something nice for me be up front about it. That way I can say thank you and we don’t have to have weird conversations like this one. Also, you know it’s not okay to break into people’s cars, ever, right? Even if it is with good intentions it’s a massive invasion of privacy.”

“You’re completely right this was way out of line. What’s worse is I didn’t even do it to seem cool, I just was really terrified at the idea of actually talking with you. This fear really didn’t wind up doing me any good though because here I am, now, talking to you under the worst circumstances possible.” Bethany looked at the nervous boy in front of her and saw someone that was in desperate need of friends. He was the kind of person that’s so lonely they don’t even know they’re lonely anymore. She had an uncle like that who just kept away from everyone, too afraid to open himself up. He never came to family functions and if he did he was silent or just responded to questions with one-word answers, sitting across the room from everyone.  She felt sorry for him, and she felt sorry for Hector. He did seem sorry for trying to break into the car and he apologized very humbly. She thought he was a more interesting person than most everyone else she had gotten used to talking to. If not actually objectively interesting than at least different enough from her status quo to warrant a kind response. She asked him for his phone and he handed it over nearly dropping it in the process. She texted herself from his phone and then after handing the phone back to him and not speaking took out hers and replied to it. The text sent from Hector’s phone said one word.

“Hector.” After this Bethany sent a kind of joking reply.

“Word.”

The second text Hector ever received from her had just arrived and was the one he was looking at in his room, and just when he was moving to unlock his phone to reply, it started to vibrate, a call was coming through from his older brother, Duncan. This made him roll his eyes. He answered the phone and Duncan seemed to be in a much better mood than when he normally called home.

Duncan was a Junior at a small college a few hours away where he lived the simple life of an architecture major. Fall break started the day before and he rolled into town that evening. Instead of heading straight home however, he decided it would be more worth his time to sample the offerings of downtown’s shittiest bar, Montgomery’s. He explained all this to Hector sounding pretty buzzed as he was doing it. Then he had a follow up question.

“Are Mom and Dad home right now?” Duncan asked. Hector’s eyes moved over all of the crevice’s in his dark room.

“Yeah, but they’re both sleeping. You should be able to sneak in later without them knowing.” He replied, feeling light wind blow through the screen of his open window.

“Good, good but there’s a small problem. I’m getting pretty hammered over here, isn’t that right folks?” Duncan held the phone up to the other characters at the bar he had been making conversation with throughout his visit, and they jokingly yelled, “yeah.” Like it was some kind of traditional sports cheer, or something. After a moment of awkward silence Hector spoke again.

“Okay, so why don’t you just call a taxi?” This made Duncan laugh obnoxiously.

“Did you hear that? He asked why I can’t get a cab or something. I know, he’s completely clueless. I told you I was gonna have to spell it out for him.” He said, still talking to the characters at the bar. “Listen man, I’m a poor college student and I’ve spent my, carefully budgeted, daily funds on alcohol already. Can you just jump in the van really quick and come pick me up in like an hour and a half?”

“No, I, fucking, can’t.” Hector said loud enough for the people on the stools next to Duncan to hear. “If I start that car Mom and Dad will wake up right away, and you can’t even get mad at me about that because you’re the one who trained them to sleep with their ears open.” Duncan didn’t respond right away, taking a second to think.

“Well, you could sneak out on foot, your room is far enough away from theirs. The walk shouldn’t be more than an hour and a half anyway. Just come walk down to Montgomery’s and then you can drive us both home.”

“Dude, that’s fucking, insane. I don’t have time to just get out of bed and come rescue you from your own pathetically stereotypical college vices.” Hector replied. “Besides can’t you just walk home, and I’ll drive us to get your car tomorrow?”

“I can’t work, fucking, cross walks in my current state. If I have to walk home unsupervised there’s no telling what hell, I’ll unleash. What if I pass out in the gutter and wind up dying of hypothermia or exposure or something? Imagine how guilty you’d feel if that happened.”

“I hate how you’re talking about this problem like it was somehow out of your control. Like you didn’t realize that going to Montgomery’s, without a definitive designated driver, wasn’t going to leave you in this situation.”

“Look man I don’t come into town that often so how about you do me this solid. I didn’t come home without a plan. I’m putting it into action right now. You’re my plan, so let’s make this happen. I’ll see you in an hour and a half?” Hector both hated and admired his brother for this type of fiasco. He was always simultaneously unprepared and completely equipped.

“Alright, I’ll come drive you home, but I swear to god if anything goes wrong you’ve got to take the blame.”

“You don’t have to worry about that.” Duncan replied. “I have the utmost faith in you, and let’s face it you’d much rather be doing this than sitting alone in your room on a Friday night. Call me if when you’re almost here or if you get lost or something. Hope you don’t get kidnapped and have your organs taken out.” With that Hector’s onerous brother hung up the phone and Hector let his fall from his hand. He rubbed his temples with his index fingers for a moment then rose, threw on one of his light jackets, gathered everything else he needed, and kicked the screen out of his window. Once outside he quickly and carefully popped it back into place then set out towards downtown and Montgomery’s.

It was a chilly Fall night, but not cold enough for anyone, let alone a binge drinking college student like Duncan, to die of anything like hypothermia or exposure. Hector was actually enjoying getting out and walking, as opposed to the way he usually spent his frequent sleepless nights, which was to lay in bed with his eyes open like he had been doing. He always had really severe insomnia, and it got worse during the times when he wasn’t feeling too good about himself. One summer when he was younger and was first learning how to fish from Duncan and their Father. He caught a small bass that was far too small to keep and eat, so they took the moment as the perfect opportunity to teach Hector how to remove a fish from the hook once it’s been caught. He remembered vividly how his father put the slimy wriggling young fish in his hand and showed him how to pull back the fins on its spine, so they wouldn’t stab him. Then they tried to talk Hector through the process of popping the fish hook out of the fish’s lip, and when the time came for Hector to actually give it a shot he felt confident. What happened though was not what was supposed to happen and when Hector pulled the hook, instead of it safely leaving the fish’s mouth, the entire bass’s head separated from the flesh of its body and all the bones in its tail came with it. Hector was so disturbed and surprised, by this degloving, that he immediately vomited. His dad wasn’t happy about it.

“Jesus Christ, Hector. We’re out here in a small contained boat. If you’re gonna throw up do it over the side like you’re a person with common sense, not on our feet like some retard.” His Father yelled, throwing the now lifeless tail end of the young bass back into the pond. Hector didn’t sleep properly for weeks after that, and ever since the incident with Bethany’s car he was having trouble with his dreams again. Thinking of Bethany made him remember her text, and as he crossed the outer edges of his neighborhood he pulled his phone out to talk back to her.

It had been a little while since he first looked at the text, and Hector was in real danger of becoming known as one of those people that takes forever to respond to even the simplest messages. He didn’t put much thought into his response strategically because he knew if he did it would have been hours before he came up with anything.

“What’s up?” He didn’t expect her to respond right away, but she did, which made him feel even more guilty for taking so long to reply.

“I’m so bored.” Her new text said. This was a relief to Hector who read the previous text as having a more existential context.

“Well it’s pretty late. Most people around here are asleep.” He replied making progress down a long sidewalk that led to the city. “Maybe the whole thing is set up so that people like us are supposed to feel bored at times like these. It makes it more likely that we’ll just give up and turn in early like the rest of them.”

Bethany received these texts standing on her back deck wearing nothing but her underwear beneath her Mom’s thick bath robe. Which she always wore around the house when her parents were out of town. It made her feel like she was in charge of things, since for most of her life the mere sight of that robe was usually an indication that she was about to be scolded or told what to do. In her house that robe was a symbol of authority, and leisure. It did a good job of keeping her warm while she stood out there by herself. She brought a box of cigars, that her father had forgotten about, out on the deck with her and used her teeth to remove the end of one. She liked the way they smelled before she lit them, it reminded her of candle stores and carpentry. She didn’t like to smoke them all the way through, she was usually content with just taking a few puffs here and there while she read or watched things from a distance.

“Why don’t we turn in early like the rest of them?” She texted back lighting and taking her first hit off the fresh cigar. Hector was glad she played along and didn’t think his musings were too bizarre to entertain.

“I would bet that it’s because we have things on our minds that won’t shut the fuck up.” He replied finally beginning to become surrounded by the lights and buildings of the outer city.

“I’m walking into the city right now. You wouldn’t be able to tell by the way it sounds out here though. It’s almost completely silent. I don’t think I’ve seen one car the entire time I’ve been walking.”

“The South side is where everyone is usually still up and going, so I’ve heard anyway. Why exactly is it you’re strolling around town so late on a school night?” She asked slightly jealous he was out having an adventure while she just sat around. Hector took a moment and stopped in his tracks. He was about halfway across a bridge. He leaned against the railing and looked at the direction he was headed. There were still dozens of blocks between him and Montgomery’s and knowing that Duncan was drinking and having a good time while he trudged over there reminded him of their childhood. He wondered what his brother was doing. Duncan was always good at talking to just about anyone he met. He had this ability to fill silences that Hector himself got lost in. He had a feeling that those silences were as intentional as the boredom. The sky above him was completely jet black like oil on a garage floor, and Hector wished that Duncan was with him, so he could ask him what he should say to Bethany next. He supposed he could call him again, but odds were, he would be too drunk to offer any real help. Then again it might have been better that he was drunk.

Further along the path ahead of Hector, Duncan requested another tall glass of Montgomery’s cheapest beer. Tonight, that just happened to be some bitter stuff that Harry, the bartender, called Mulligan’s. Duncan had never heard of this particular brand before, but he asked and found out it was about ten percent alcohol and that was good enough for him.

Montgomery’s was a small place with wooden everything. The bar itself was old and turned a dark greenish brown from years of having poison spilled on it. The place was as busy as it ever got with all of its dedicated regulars in attendance. They were a group of depressive laborers whose jobs were the jobs of people with nowhere else to turn. That was the function of places like Montgomery’s they were meant to be sanctuaries for people stuck in their own disappointed heads. Duncan liked listening to the chitchat going on around the bar, and even though this was technically eaves dropping he didn’t feel guilty about it because public conversations were a pivotal part of the tavern experience.

There was an old man with white hair down to just above his shoulders sitting across from a much younger woman. She was wearing a t-shirt that had pictures of sharks on it and had the short sleeves rolled up. They were talking over glasses of white wine about a recent federal tax cut. The old man attested to the fact that the tax cut had saved him a bit of cash, but he wished the folks in Washington would have done something to cut spending along with it. The woman however, disagreed with his whole premise. She didn’t think that spending should be cut at all just that the funds already there should be re-allocated to more worthy programs, like free college or healthcare. She also thought the tax cut only benefitted the rich, and that taxes needed to be raised in order for them to pay what was fair. The old man thought that was a good-natured idea, if you took out the raising taxes part, but held fast that if the government didn’t get its spending and debt under control the whole country was on the road toward another recession or potentially even worse. The woman retorted by making it clear that she didn’t care for the old man’s twisted monopoly game and believed that people below the poverty line needed help before they did anything else to help get more money into the pockets of the wealthy.

Duncan didn’t have much of an opinion one way or another on either of these matters. He was still on his parent’s health insurance and he didn’t pay much in the way of taxes. For him the whole thing was a bunch of rhetoric about which shitty path was likely to turn out less shitty. They both seemed pretty well worn to him. He continued taking swigs from his glass and looking around the room. There were two tall girls playing darts over in the corner. They were both doing very poorly, and they talked about whether or not they were going to get breakfast in the morning or stop and get something on the way home. The girl on the left seemed much more interested in making these plans than the girl on the right, but that was likely the result of a difference in body mass, and thus blood alcohol level.

Duncan felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, still sitting on the stool and holding his beer, until he saw a scrawny guy with his arms crossed. The inquisitor also had long silver hair in a tight ponytail.

“Yeah?” Duncan said after the man didn’t break the silence.

“You’re wearing my jacket.” The man replied gesturing to the light gray coat Duncan had on and was one hundred percent positive belonged to him.

“I had the damn thing a few minutes ago, I know you took it off my chair while I was out pissing. Just admit you took it and were too much of a fuck up to get out of here once you did.” The man’s voice was broken up by shallow gags, and internal belches, and his logic matched the aesthetic. Duncan gave a quick look toward the bartender to see if he was seeing what was happening. Unfortunately, he must have run to the back for something because there wasn’t anyone behind the bar at the moment.

“I don’t know what gave you that idea, but I’ve been wearing this jacket since I came in here. It was given to me by my brother as a Christmas gift a couple years ago.”

“That’s no fucking good man. That’s my fucking jacket. Why the fuck do I always got to be the one to explain myself all the time. Have you ever had something that you held dear to you taken away? It’s fucking chilly out there tonight, man.” The man took a seat on an empty stool next to Duncan and stole a swig of beer out of a glass someone had forgotten about. Duncan didn’t know what to make of this guy. He seemed like he was having a rough time. Whatever was gnawing at him, must have been serious.

“Look man, I don’t know what happened to your coat, or even if you actually had one to begin with. This one though, it isn’t yours. I need you to understand that because in this country we have something called property rights and that means you can’t just walk up to someone and demand they turn over their jacket.”

“But that’s not your jacket though.” Duncan took a gulp of his beer and tried a new approach.

“I’m trying to do you a favor here. I’m gonna speak honestly to you for a second, and I need you to really do your best to listen to what I’m saying, okay?” The scrawny man looked like a car with the headlights on but no driver. Since he didn’t really see much of an alternative Duncan continued on anyway.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re really starting to come off like someone that’s losing control of their better judgment.”

“The only thing I’ve lost control of is my fucking jacket, now I’m tired of this shit.” The scrawny man grabbed for the fabric of Duncan’s collar, but Duncan got to his feet before he could get a hold of him. The man lost his balance and fell the rest of the way off of his stool. He landed hard on the wood floor, flat on his face. A trapezoidal blood splatter painted itself on the floor upon impact. The entire bar got quiet for the first time that night as everyone watched to see if the man was okay. At first, he didn’t move. Eventually Duncan gave him a light tap with his foot to try to move things along. The man rolled over onto his back and looked straight into the florescent lighting above them. He had a moustache of red that was stuck to space below his nostrils. The man’s eyes moved slowly to Duncan, and after a few more moments of silence the man finally spoke.

“Aw fuck, my bad man. That jacket actually looks completely different from mine.” The bar broke back into its noisiness the second the man finished his sentence and Duncan finished his beer. He set the empty glass on the bar and waited for the bartender to come back.

Meanwhile Hector had just finished explaining his current mission to Bethany. Now she was telling him about her backyard and how her parents were in New Jersey visiting her Great Grandmother.

“Why didn’t you go with them?” Hector responded passing by a small convenience store where a couple of large men stood outside smoking.

“I’m pathologically afraid of airplanes.” She texted back right away before stabbing the cigar into an ash tray. Hector didn’t think that Bethany was capable of being afraid of anything. At school she came off as completely fearless and stood up to both teachers and students that he himself would have blindly submitted to.

He remembered a time when they had this substitute teacher, in math, who was blind. She even had this cool seeing eye dog named Humphry, he was some kind of black lab mix. Some of the more unscrupulous students in the room liked the idea of trying to get her to let class out early by messing with an alarm she set and had ticking on her desk. This plan was circulated at the beginning of the period through the mediums of group text, and small notes with crude drawings of genitals on them. One of these notes found its way into Hector’s hands who quickly read it and then passed it away like most everyone else. When the same note got over to Bethany however, she read it and then, with her teeth and right hand, tore it vertically down the center while making eye contact with the person who started it. after she finished this tearing she let the half that had been held by her mouth fall to the ground, and Hector could see that her lipstick left a red smudge on the corner of the paper.  While all this was happening, the substitute was at the board going over all of the previous night’s homework problems. Humphry lay calmly at the side of her desk panting with that ever-present smile dogs have.

In spite of Bethany’s protest the mob of math haters still proceeded with their plan anyway. One of the students sitting closest to Humphry was passed a doughnut that someone must have brought with them as a morning snack and tossed it over to the dog as a distraction. The lab of course took the bait, and this allowed another student in the front row to quietly rise from his seat and make his way over to the ticking timer on the teacher’s desk. This timer served as the substitute’s reminder of when the period was about to end. The plan was for a student to shorten that timer by a significant amount and then for another student to use his phone to play a school bell sound effect making the visually impaired educator think the period was over. Before the timer saboteur could do his job however, Bethany removed one of her shoes and just as the boy was about to grab the timer she threw it at him as hard as she could. It clipped him in the jaw which caused him to yell and blow his cover. Both the dog and teacher turned to him. Then she started asking all the worst possible questions. Bethany just smiled as the boy ratted out everyone and explained the plan to try and avoid any repercussions for himself. That was the kind of fearlessness Hector knew Bethany to possess so the idea that planes scared her was kind of demystifying.

“What made you afraid of planes?” Hector asked at the feet of numerous skyscrapers. Bethany didn’t know how to answer this. She gathered up all her stuff and finally moved back into the house. She walked down the hallway where many photos of her and her parents hung scattered across the walls. Some were of them on vacations, some were of them during important mile stones of their lives; such as her mother’s promotion at work, or her father’s first hole in one at the country club.  It was when she walked past a picture of herself dressed as death that she figured out what to say. She was dressed as death in the picture because the picture was from Halloween night when she was still just a little kid.

“Do you remember the night you and I first ever really talked to each other.” She asked him. Hector read this, thought for a moment, and couldn’t locate the memory.

“No, I don’t remember, why?”

“It was on Halloween when we were in fifth grade. Your brother was walking you around.” Hector thought back to this and as he recalled that was the year he went as an Ent from The Lord of The Rings. It was a crude costume that his Mom helped him make. It required that he tape a bunch of tree branches to a pair of pants and a shirt. They, also made a nifty mask out of paper Mache and taped even more foliage to that.

“You said you thought my scythe was cool, and I told you I liked your mask. Then I think Duncan made you move along to the next house. Anyway, that night was the first night I ever saw an episode of The Twilight Zone and it was the one with the Gremlin on the plane wing, and ever since then I’ve had this aversion to being on airplanes.” Hector couldn’t help but chuckle at this and was thankful Bethany couldn’t see it. He didn’t think less of her for having such an irrational fear, it was more the fact that it was such a random thing that caused it. His phone buzzed again before he had a chance to respond.

“I know that’s a pretty stupid reason, but it’s not that I think they’ll be some kind of monster on the plane, it’s more the claustrophobia that that particular episode highlights so well. Planes are extremely confining, and you have no idea who the fuck you’re on them with.” Hector understood this kind of paranoia very well. He had irrational fears too. He made up stories, or rather, something in his head made up stories about all of the worst possibilities that could come about in any given situation. Most of the time he knew these were just stories and extremely unlikely to actually come to pass. Other times though he found himself believing them. He believed one of these stories on the day that Bethany caught him breaking into her car. She didn’t judge him too hard then, so he tried to be very careful not to judge her.

The city at night looked the same as it always did to Hector. It was empty and lonely. There was a constant hum of streetlights which he supposed were there for people like him who had to make their way through this place on foot, and he didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the light they provided, but he was getting pretty sick of their sound.

“I understand the claustrophobia thing. It’s notoriously the worst thing about being on a plane even if you aren’t afraid of them. You can’t move at all without bumping into something or someone.” Bethany was relieved to see that he didn’t think she was too weird. She moved past the picture of death and entered her Father’s office taking a seat at his desk. She typed his password into his computer and started looking at his internet history. The pornography she found was pretty standard stuff, so she wasn’t worried, and there weren’t any emails in his inbox that screamed infidelity or involvement in anything nefarious. In a way she was kind of disappointed. Everything her parents did was by the book and boring. She wondered if the reason she never did anything wrong was because she didn’t know how to. No one ever really tried to teach her. She realized then that maybe that was the reason she gave Hector her number. He broke rules, but not because he wanted to take advantage of anyone. He was just trying to do a nice thing and didn’t have the skill set to do it any other way. Even now he was on his way to pick up his brother even though his parents would go ballistic if they found out.

“What are you doing now?” He asked while she stared at the list of her father’s work emails and golf newsletters.

Back at the bar Duncan and the man who lost his jacket continued to drink. He had found out that the man’s name was Orson and he was an amateur cage fighter. The two of them played pool together and Orson talked about some of the various fights he had been in over the years. He described one fight in particular where his opponent did a knee drop that was a little off target and wound up crushing his hand. Upon closer inspection Duncan did notice that Orson’s right-hand fingers bent in numerous wrong directions.

Duncan won a quick victory in their game of pool and the two of them moved back over to the bar where they each ordered another drink.

“I wish this fucking place had checkers. What the hell kind of bar doesn’t have checkers?” Orson said still looking gloomy over his lost coat.

“At least they have pretzels though, right. I know it’s hard to believe but back up at school none of the bars in town put out trays of pretzels like this. Which to be honest is basically heresy.” Duncan replied before picking up and shaking one of the pretzel trays.

“Do you ever think that maybe there’s another you out there somewhere, and he’s constantly calling out to you? Telling you that if you listen to him then you’ll get everything you ever wanted.” Duncan thought about this and kind of understood what he meant. Sometimes he did hear a voice that sounded similar to his own in the sense that it outlined all of things he should be doing, but for whatever reason couldn’t bring himself to begin. He told Orson this and Orson went on to explain that he thought that those voices had to be coming from their future selves.

“You mean, we have time traveling voices in our heads?”

“Precisely, how do you think anything moves forward all of these answers humanity has found had to have come from somewhere. How else would people like the Wright brothers figure shit out like flight when humans had never flown before?”

“Weren’t they like, extremely skilled mechanics?” Orson scoffed at this and downed a large sip of his beer.

“If all it took was being a skilled mechanic to push the paradigm forward. Then every fucking Jiffy Lube would have ten, fucking, Nichola Teslas working there. I’m telling you all that separates geniuses from everyone else is their willingness to listen to that voice.”

“Isn’t that an even simpler explanation than the skilled mechanic one. Listening to a voice is easy it’s not really something that’s reliable right, and is it really a good idea for people to trust every single inclination they have?” Orson took a pretzel and held its edges between his Thumb and opposite crooked index finger then spun it on the counter like it was a coin. It spun in a weird pattern that created strange shapes in the motion blur.

“I think the problem with that take on this, is that you’re suggesting it’s easy to listen to that voice.” Orson said gently slamming his hand down on the spinning pretzel and crushing it.

Hector was getting closer to Montgomery’s now, and was actually starting to see signs of life. A group of women, that looked to him to be in their twenties, walked parallel with him on the street opposite him. He listened to their conversation while he waited for Bethany to respond and it mostly seemed to be about children. From what they were saying he learned that they were all studying at the city college to become Kindergarten teachers. They apparently didn’t have Fall break until the following week which was different than Duncan’s college. One of the girls who wore a very bright silver sequence dress talked about how earlier that day at her student teaching placement she had a kid write his name on the bathroom wall in feces. Another in their group tried to top that story with one that involved one of her students using another’s hair to choke themselves. This was an image Hector had trouble picturing, and just as his mental projector got close; a dark figure moved out of an alley in front of him.

It looked over at the girls walking ahead of them on the other sidewalk then turned to face Hector. It walked under the street light between them to reveal that the figure was a tall man wearing at least three separate jackets on his shoulders. The man looked down at Hector and chuckled.

“Snuck out after bed time, huh? Where is it you’re headed?” As he said this he leaned against the street light and crossed his arms. Hector didn’t trust this guy a bit. He didn’t like the way his teeth looked. They were jagged and crossed each other in the front. Their positions looked almost painful.

“I’m just walking down to the bar to drive my brother home, so he doesn’t kill himself. You know how it is. He’s actually expecting me any second, so I’m just gonna keep going if you don’t mind.” Hector kept walking forward past the strange man, but he followed, and his dark black shoes were loud against the sidewalk.

“How old are you exactly? You look a bit young to be a college student.” The man walked with his hands in his pockets and kept his head pointed slightly above straight ahead. Hector felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, but for some reason he didn’t reach for it, not wanting to draw the man’s attention.

“I’m a senior in high school Hector responded trying not to make the situation any more awkward than it already was, but also seriously hinting that he wanted the conversation to be over.” The man picked up on this and laughed.

“What, you don’t like company on your late-night walks?” The man twisted his upper body like a tree in a rainstorm and looked over at Hector who was getting tired of the games.

“Hey, can you fuck off? I don’t have time for your bullshit.” Hector yelled to the tall man’s surprise. A sudden dampened ringing sound came from the man’s direction and he moved in front of Hector now holding a fairly large knife. Hector stopped so fast he almost fell forward. “Wait what the fuck?” He yelled.

“Do you know why your parents always made you come home when it got dark out? Why they grounded you when you didn’t get in at the time they asked you to? Or even why they told you not to talk to strangers? Well, now I think you know why.” He pointed the knife at the center of Hectors chest and told him to give him everything in his pockets. Hector complied considering there wasn’t any other choice. He handed over his phone his wallet and his keys. The tall man put all these things into his outer jacket’s pocket and then demanded that Hector surrender his jacket as well. Hector removed his jacket handed it over, and the man put it on over the rest of his collection then began jogging away. Before he got too far Hector called after him.

“Can’t I at least keep my phone? I’m kind of in the middle of a conversation with someone.” The tall man stopped then walked slowly back over to him with a curious look in his eye. He took the phone out of his pocket and unlocked it, Hector didn’t have a password.

“Who is this conversation with?” Ah, Bethany, so it’s a girl. Is this a romantic pursuit?” Hector scoffed at this.

“No, we’re just kind of talking about stuff. I did her a favor and now she wants to be friends, I guess. This is our first real conversation.”

“How is it going? Are you guys finding out you have stuff in common?” Hector didn’t know how to answer that. They kind of had some things in common, but they weren’t normal everyday things like being fans of the same sports teams, or something. The man scrolled through all the text messages and read them. Occasionally nodding his head or giving a puzzled squint or brow furrow.

“I don’t like that episode of The Twilight Zone either.” Said the man handing the phone back over to Hector.

“So, you’re letting me keep it?” Hector asked anticipating having to run and watching for him to draw his knife.

“Yeah it’s not a very new phone anyway so I’d only be able to hock it for like ten bucks. Consider it your first time mugging discount.” Hector found himself feeling slightly less contempt for the tall man. He at least had some honor within that heartless criminal façade.

“It’s pretty cold out. Do you think I could have my jacket and keys and wallet back too? You can keep the cash.” Hector asked pushing his luck.

“No, fuck you.” Without another word the man sprinted back into the alley he came out from disappearing into the dark.

Just as this happened Bethany made her way out her front door and walked up to the large tree that grew in her front yard. She had a bottle of wine in her hand that she had taken from her father’s office. It had one of those metal corks in it since her father had already, it seemed, gotten into the bottle. She pulled it out with ease and began taking large sips. She took a seat beneath the tree and let her back rest against the trunk. The stars were visible through the branches above her and she took inventory of them one by one. This all reminded her of the first time she ever tasted wine. She was thirteen and it was in the summer when her parents and her had driven to New Mexico to spend the summer in her aunt’s timeshare. There weren’t many others there her age except for this girl named Gwen who lived in a trailer park nearby the ranch where the timeshare was. Bethany remembered Gwen being really cool and being obsessed with Hockey. She was a real athletic type, and invited Bethany to join her and her friends in various sporting activities they organized in their neighborhood. Bethany wasn’t great at most sports, but she did learn that she had a knack for Ping-Pong and Tennis. So good, Gwen never beat her when they played at the local park’s courts or the beat-up table in Gwen’s friend’s garage. She took another drink of the wine and remembered feeling sad when the summer ended, and she had to leave.

Her phone made a weird sound that startled her when it vibrated in the grass beside her. She looked at the text.

“I just got mugged by some jerk with a knife.” It said. The alcohol moving through Bethany’s brain made it hard to fully process that sentence, and instead she just decided to ask what she really wanted to know.

“What made you decide to do a favor for me?” Her working theory was still that he had a weird crush on her, but she still didn’t feel like it was all that simple. Something brought Hector out of his isolation and it had something to do with her. It was a long while before she got a text back almost a full half hour, then he finally replied.

“The favor was a lie.” Bethany stood up from the ground and walked out into the middle of the street in front of her house. Another text came in right as she was about to look away from the screen.

“I wanted to drive your car into the school.” Another arrived just as she finished reading. “I wanted to kill everyone.” She dropped the empty bottle and it broke loudly against the pavement.

Duncan was now unequivocally drunk, and so was the rest of those present at Montgomery’s. Orson convinced him that they should work their way up from the cheap tame stuff to the cheap hard stuff and that’s what they did. A couple of seven-dollar bottles of vodka later they were both standing unsteadily at the foosball table. They argued repeatedly over the rules regarding if it was legal to just rapidly spin the middle row of players while the ball was being dropped. Duncan was convinced that it was illegal to do such a thing and was not the way the game was intended to be played. Orson believed the opposite and refused to change.

Eventually the too stopped playing slightly frustrated at the other’s stubbornness, but that faded quickly since they were both extremely intoxicated. The rest of Montgomery’s patrons had moved all of the tables in the bar against the walls and ordered the chairs into an awkward semi-circle where the regulars all sat and exchanged long winded drinking stories with each other. Duncan suggested to Orson that they get fresh drinks and join in the circle with the others. Orson agreed and the two proceeded to do so. When they sat down an older woman in the group had just finished talking and noticed them. She asked them if they had any interesting anecdotes to share and the now drunk Duncan was overflowing with confidence.

He told them about the time he and his friends at school skipped class one Wednesday and took several coolers of beer to the middle of campus and just sat around in lawn chairs. Other students that were walking by stopped and asked what they were doing and if they didn’t have anything crucial going on in class that day they would also skip and stay to hang out. After a few hours their small group had turned into a small crowd. Then campus police showed up, but they were prepared, according to Duncan his friend Steve had a Mega phone and used it to give a long speech that rallied the crowd against the police and caused their mob to grow larger. Soon after the police backed down, and it got later in the day, more people started showing up with more coolers and more alcohol. Even a few professors got in on the party and stopped by to have a few drinks and socialize. Clouds of cannabis smoke eventually started appearing and this caused campus police to play their only remaining card which was to call in the city police, which they did causing a full-blown riot the likes of which the University had never seen. As Duncan finished describing this climactic moment in the story he saw the door to Montgomery’s open and his younger brother Hector walk in.

“Hey it’s Hector everybody.” Duncan yelled as the rest of the crowd of drunks cheered and started in on a slurred bar song. Hector looked embarrassed by this and did his best to avoid eye contact with anyone besides Duncan. He eventually made it over to him and told him that it was time to go and they had to pay his tab now. After a few minutes of standard drunk arguing Duncan agreed to pay his tab and leave the bar if they could give Orson a ride home. Seeing no other options Hector relented and the three of them went to the bar to close their respective tabs then made their way back out into the cold night.

The parking lot was small and completely full of cars that would likely still be there the next day. The trio approached Duncan’s car and Hector turned to his brother and asked him for his keys. Duncan did a couple awkward pats over his various pockets and looked worried.

“I think I might have locked my keys in the car.” He said still rummaging through his empty pockets. “This isn’t that bad though don’t you still have your key from when we used to share the car?”
“I got, fucking, mugged tonight thanks to you and the guy took my keys, so no.” Hector replied pounding his fist against the roof of the beat-up Ford Taurus. “The asshole even stole my jacket.” This sentence seemed to completely sober Orson up, and he walked over to Hector and grabbed him by the shirt.

“Where did you see this man?” He asked with the look of obsession in his eyes.

“I don’t know like twelve blocks back that way.” Hector pointed in the direction from which he had come, and Orson released him. He then walked over to Duncan.

“I have to leave now there’s something I’ve got to take care of. Get home safe it was good meeting you.”

“Likewise, man. I’m sorry your fingers are so fucked up, or whatever.” Duncan replied, and then Orson took off at full speed like an Olympic sprinter in the direction Hector pointed toward. The two brothers stood silently as they watched the silver haired man disappear into the distance.

After they could no longer see Orson, Hector pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around a closed fist.

“What the fuck are you doing man you’re gonna get pneumonia.” Duncan said leaning against the trunk of the car to steady himself.

“Just shut the fuck up okay. I don’t have time to wait for triple A. I messed something up tonight that I have to make right before morning or I’ll go fucking insane.” Duncan was concerned for his brother after hearing this. He had never seen him like that before.

Hector delivered several heavy punches to the old car’s window and it refused to break. He could feel bruises forming on his hand, and knew it was bound to swell up. Seeing his brother’s frustration Duncan finally spoke.

“Does this have something to do with a girl?” Hector stopped punching the window for a second and leaned against the cold door.

“Not in the romantic sense, but yeah I upset a girl tonight because I lied to her. I lied to her, to her face, and then I confessed over text like a fucking coward.”

“Not a good move bro.”

“Yeah, I fucking realize that, thank you. I tried to explain everything to her, but now she won’t text back.” Without saying anything else right away Duncan took the shirt from Hector’s hand and wrapped it around his own. Once it was in place he pressed his fist into the window firmly and took a deep breath. Then almost faster than Hector could see Duncan performed a drunken haymaker on the glass and it shattered into hundreds of crystals that littered the ground. After doing this he quickly handed Hector his shirt back and he put it on so as not to freeze to death.

“I think you should leave that girl alone for tonight. You have to let people process their anger and showing up like a fucking character in a romantic comedy is just gonna make you look like a total asshole that doesn’t actually care about what she wants.”

“You don’t get it Duncan. I’ve got crucial shit I’ve got to explain to her or she’ll get the complete wrong idea about me.”

“You can’t dictate what other people do and do not think about you, Hector. That’s not how real life works.”

“Well you don’t live here anymore and I’m doing you a favor, so you can’t tell me what to do.” Hector got into the driver seat and pulled the door closed with a slam sending the remaining glass falling from the window frame. “Get in the fucking car or I’ll tell mom and dad about all of this. Duncan was too drunk to continue arguing at this point and just wanted to sit down and blast the car’s heat on himself. So, he did and the two of them drove off into the city.

Bethany still sat under the tree in her front yard but had since made a trip inside to replace the empty bottle she broke with one that was still intact and full. She couldn’t help but imagine everything that would have happened if she hadn’t caught Hector at her car. She could almost see the news coverage of the tragedy and all of the kids at school crying and bleeding in the courtyard. She didn’t have a guess for how many he would have been able to run down but knew that even if he only managed to get just one the whole world would have been set on fire. It almost made her afraid to return to school knowing that one of her classmates was so close to doing something so awful. What scared her the most though was the fact that Hector only stopped because she talked to him. The weird crush she thought he probably had on her was a lot weirder than she first understood. The lies he told her were so convincing the whole shy kid act he had going. It fooled her completely and probably fooled everyone around him too. It occurred to her that she might be the only person to know the real Hector in the entire world. This was a fact that scared her worse than the rest. She didn’t ask for this baggage. She didn’t ask for this responsibility, and she didn’t know what to do about it. A long time passed as she sat beneath that tree, and her thoughts distracted her from the still full bottle of open red wine that sat beside her. Her trance wasn’t broken until a pair of headlights floated above the incline at the end of her street and she could see a car heading right for her. A feeling behind her sternum wanted her to believe it was Hector and she was almost positive it was correct. It was an old Ford Taurus and it rolled slowly to the curb in front of her house. It parked there, but it was still too dark to see who was sitting in the driver’s seat. A figure emerged from the driver side of the vehicle and when they set foot on her lawn they triggered the motion sensor lights on her front porch. This new light showed the driver to be Hector just like she figured it would be.

“Please leave right now.” She said loudly in a voice that was more nervous sounding than she wanted it to be.

“I just want to explain what happened.”

“I think you explained it pretty clearly. Not only did you lie to my face, but you wanted to use my car to kill people?” Bethany brandished the bottle of wine in Hector’s direction. “What the fuck is your problem?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you that’s why I came here.” Hector pleaded moving slightly closer only to have Bethany retreat further away. “Look I’m paranoid sometimes okay. The intensity varies from week to week, but last week it was the worst it ever was. It was like I could hear everyone saying things about me, whispering about how they all hated me.”

“I’m gonna stop you right there.” Bethany said still inching toward her front door. “You realize I’m a person, right? I’m not just a girl that’s caught up in your story and your obsessions. I have my own shit going on right now, and I don’t have time for yours.”

“Then why did you give me your number and text me?” Bethany scoffed at this.

“Because I thought you had just done something nice for me, but you didn’t, you’re just a liar. I’m sorry if you have issues that you can’t always handle, but if you truly have those issues you need to get real help. I’m not the person that has the answers to your problems; you may think I am, but that’s just because I paid attention to you. Now I’ll tell you again, please leave.”

Duncan stumbled out of the passenger side of the car and walked over to his brother.

“Come on man, it’s like I told you. We’ve gotta let her go inside now.” He said placing his hands on Hector’s shoulders. Hector shook them off but followed his brother back toward the car.

“I’m sorry.” Hector said looking at Bethany standing in a pool of porchlight. Then he got back in the driver’s seat and they drove away.

Orson was back near the center of downtown, and after about an hour of searching he finally found the man he was looking for. The man stood under a street light and was wearing several layers of jackets that seemed to be of a variety of sizes. He approached the man and calmly asked him where he got all the jackets from and the man responded by unsheathing a large knife and pointing it at him. Orson couldn’t help but to start laughing hysterically at the man which made the knife wielder’s confidence waver.

“You know something mister, I think you just might have found the one person crazier than you are.” Orson said before putting the man in a lightning fast headlock that he learned to execute in his cage fighting days. The jacket thief responded by stabbing Orson directly in the center of his chest. Unfortunately for him it stuck there, and he could not get the knife to come back out. Orson didn’t even flinch, and he wrestled the man to the ground. Once he had him in position he rose back to his feet and delivered a knee drop directly to the jacket thief’s throat, collapsing his wind pipe. It was the same knee drop technique that destroyed Orson’s hand years ago. After delivering the final blow Orson pulled the layers of jackets off of the man’s shoulders as he choked to death. He then carried the jackets to a nearby bench, sat down, then looked up at the sky which was half night and half day as the sun was coming up in the east. He felt the knife in his chest and knew the second he pulled it out he would die, so he waited until the sunrise was over, then headed for the hospital. As he walked though it got harder and harder to hold on.

After the sun completely rose Bethany awoke suddenly and found she had fallen asleep on her living room couch. The bottle of wine was still full on the coffee table. She took a hot shower and made herself a small breakfast of toast and eggs then walked back out into her front yard. There she noticed the shards of broken glass in the street, so she went and got a broom to clean them up. After she finished with that she sat back down beneath the tree. She started thinking about New Mexico again and it gave her an idea. She was only moderately hung over and she figured she could stop and get coffee on the way. The car Hector tried to steal sat lifeless in the driveway until she fished her key fob out of her pocket and hit the unlock button which brought it back from the dead. Without going back to lock the door or leave a note she climbed aboard her vehicle and set out to where she actually wanted to be. The whole plan appeared in her head like she had been working on it for years and maybe she had. Maybe it was always there for her. She wouldn’t stay in New Mexico forever just long enough to give her parents a small scare and let them know she wasn’t a goody two shoes anymore. She forgot about Hector on that highway between where she was and where she was going, and the only thing she was afraid of was that her friends didn’t remember her. That didn’t stop her though, not for a second.

Duncan woke up at around the same time as Bethany, but he was much more hung over. He was still in the passenger seat of his car and Hector was still driving. The wind through the broken window was frustratingly loud. Duncan yelled over this noise and asked Hector to pull over which he did. Once the car was stopped and it was quiet enough to speak Duncan began his questioning.

“Where the fuck are we?” he asked. Hector looked over at him and he could see that his eyes were red from lack of sleep.

“I just was driving around for a while I couldn’t bring myself to take us home.” He stopped for a minute then spoke again. “Duncan, I almost did a really bad thing. I was, one hundred percent, about to try and destroy everything there was around me and I would have if it wasn’t for that girl you saw last night.”

“It didn’t seem like that’s what she thought.” Duncan replied placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“I know. I realize that logic is probably just in my head, but. That feeling I felt that day when I wanted to tear it all down. I still feel it in me. It’s always there trying to escape, and I don’t know what to do about it.” Tears started to fall from Hector’s eyes, and the two sat in silence for a few minutes until Duncan finally spoke.

“Do you remember Grandpa at all? I know he died when you were really little, so it might be hard.”

“No, I don’t think I could even picture what he looked like. Why?”

“He told me something before he died that I’ve never forgotten about. He told me there are two paths we can take in life, the path of creation or the path of destruction, and it was up to us to figure out and fight for which side we believed in. Now, I know you feel what you say you’re feeling, but that doesn’t have to be the side you choose. Everyone has their own pain, and it can make you want to do horrible stuff. You’ve just got to hold on to what you really believe.”

“I don’t know if I can do that though, Duncan. I feel so much contempt for everyone around me; they’re all selfish pieces of shit that exclude and alienate, and never see any repercussions.”

“I know you’re angry and you can be angry, tons of very creative people have channeled their anger into something positive and you can too. You just have to put that anger towards something you like.”

“I know you’re right Duncan. It’s just really been tough without you around all the time. I didn’t realize how much you really did keep me in line.”

“You don’t need me man. If anything, I need you. How else would I get home from the bar?” They both laughed, and Hector wiped his eyes.

“Are you cool to drive now I’m pretty beat?”

“Yeah, I should be fine I’m not drunk anymore so much as I’m hung over.”

“Wanna drive us home quickly before mom and dad wake up?”

“Luckily it’s Saturday so we’ve got a bit of time. I bet Mom will make us breakfast when she sees that I’m home from school.”

The two brothers switched seats and Duncan drove them home where Hector was successfully able to sneak back into his room before his parents noticed. He decided he would catch a quick nap before his mom inevitably woke him up because Duncan was home. As he lay down to sleep however, he couldn’t help but pull out his phone and stare deeply into the black screen. He wanted desperately for a text from Bethany to appear, but none did. All he could see was himself.

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