[Those of you familiar with my story, "The Backwoods Event" will recognize the beginning of this, but this is the original version, a version of which appeared in my undergrad portfolio.]
A Short Story By
Joe Camel, himself, and I, the Marlboro Man, lit up in quick succession with the built-in cigarette lighter of Joe Camel’s 1992 Ford Escort. Of course, Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man were just our aliases – our real names were Dave and Phil. For legal reasons, we have to go by those names for the rest of the story.
Neither of our backseat compatriots smoked yet, but we had already gotten Jay to drink, and almost Timmy too, so, we figured, it would only be a matter of time. We knew their curiosities had been piqued, even if they pretended otherwise.
Dave and I cracked open our windows and the heavy October air swirled into the milk-crate-with-wheels of a car. Dave had his heater blasting to try to make up the difference.
“Goddammit, do you guys have to, it’s fucking cold,” Timmy said, breaking his vow of chastity or silence or whatever.
“Yeah, what about our lungs,” Jay said, pinching his noise and waving his hand in front like a mime in an anti-smoking ad.
“It would be worse if we didn’t roll down the windows,” I said and turned the music up to drown out their protests. If they couldn’t beat us, they might join us, I thought, as my menthol-fresh essence trickled around the car, meshing with the crisp tobacco air from Dave’s end of the car, creating an overpowering net of influence over Jay and Timmy.
I had made a compilation, courtesy of Napster, of Marilyn Manson, Tool, Korn, Nine Inch Nails and Static-X songs. They were the poets and philosophers of our angst. “Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes” assaulted our ears as Dave and I filled our lungs and Jay and Timmy’s lungs with nicotine and dormant cancer.
“Violence for the people
They always eat the hand that bleeds
Violence for the people
Give the kids what they need…”
We sang along with Marilyn Manson, our Ohio-born brother, who spoke directly to us – well, all of us except for Timmy, who wasn’t allowed to like such sacrilegious noise. The car rocked up and down in motion to my air-guitaring, Jay’s headbanging, and Dave’s steering-wheel drumming.
The road continuously materialized in front of us in the headlights as we followed it on the winding, twisting journey through the dense old-forest growth of the rural Ohio countryside – the emptiness between each of the towns that our civilization seemed like it might succumb to at any time.
Dave, Timmy, Jay and I had grown up within five-miles of each other along the same stretch of a two-lane trucker’s highway, US 250, that ran North and South through the state and into West Virginia. In our 17 years of experience, we had found there was never much of anything to do, so, as we got older, we began to find ways to fight the incredible fog of boredom away from our brains.
Sometimes that led us to do things like Smokey the Bear, Captain Planet and Nancy Reagan crusaded against, but other times, like on that particular evening, we headed south from where we lived at the Northern tip of Ashland county – the steaming Hell-hole gaping pit of nothingness – down 250 to Ashland, the town, where there was sometimes something to do.
Most of the time we just drove around the streets, drag-racing and goofing off, jamming out to the soundtrack of our rebellion against boredom, but that night we intended to go to the crappy three-screen movie theater to see “Fight Club”, which had just come out.
Dave was the only one of us who had a driver’s license, so he drove us after our parents’ dropped us off at his house. They were all happy to get rid of us obnoxious little twerps, as much as possible, for as long as possible. It wouldn’t be long until we graduated, until they could be completely free of us.
I stared out the window, thrusting my imagination against the face of the unknown, the night sky and the blackened landscape, searching for the monsters and demons lurking just beyond my field of vision. I felt mostly sober, but the world was still vaguely surreal and unnaturally knowing. Dave and I smoked a bowl together before the others had gotten to Dave’s house – but that was hours before and Dave had seemed ready to drive when it was time to go.
From the thicket at the edge of the road just ahead of the car a mother opossum with its tiny rat-babies clinging to its back scurried out into the road and directly into our path. Dave slammed on the brakes; the creatures praised their metal god as their seven sets of yellow eyes widened. The Escort, the idol of their holy father, nearly went airborne as it took their sacrifice.
I grab the dashboard with my hands and try to ride out the violent waves. The seatbelt tightened and slammed me back into the seat, causing the cigarette to pop out of my mouth with the force of my skull hitting the headrest. At the same time I felt Jay slam into the back of my seat, as he never wore a seatbelt – he was lucky the Escort was too small for him to be ejected. Timmy jerked in the same manner and moment that I did, and Dave, with his weight on the brakes and his body pressed to the pit of his seat, skidded the car to a halt.
No other traffic was coming from either direction so we took a moment to catch our breaths as our hearts beat along to the music. Dave turned the CD player off in a silent tribute to the lost souls.
“I can’t believe that just happened,” he said. Clutching his hand to his chest, he threw his cigarette out of the window. I recovered my butt from the floor, but the end of it had been put out by the water from the bottom of my Chuck Taylor All-stars. I tossed it out of the window and Dave and I looked at each other. Jay recovered almost immediately, but Timmy rubbed his forehead where it hit the back of Dave’s seat.
“Serve’s them right,” Jay said, looking back towards where the opossums must have been. “They nearly got me killed.”
“They did get killed,” Timmy said.
“You’re the one not wearing a seatbelt,” Dave said, looking back at Jay. “You should put one on before some other woodland creature kamikazes itself at us.”
“They’re just possums,” Jay said, rolling his eyes, putting a seatbelt on.
“Still, though, I feel bad,” Timmy said. If the rest of us weren’t here he would probably be crying.
“Let’s go, or we’re going to be late,” I said.
Feeling cheated out of enjoying the entire first one, I lit up another cigarette. I turned the CD player back on to the mechanical steamroller guitars and screaming that were the sonic interpretations of the weight that dragged at my soul…
While Timmy turned around in his seat, watching the road behind us, Jay glared out his window, and I focused on my cigarette, Dave took one last glance in the rearview mirror and drove off, shaking his head, lighting himself up another cigarette.
“Can I have one,” Timmy blurted out. Dave and I looked at each other – after we had recovered our disbelief Dave pulled a Camel and handed it back to him. It had been a long time coming, and we had finally done it. We basked in our victory, pulling the others one step further in the right direction. Timmy looked like a confessed murdering, condemning himself to death row, doing whatever he could to punish himself for his crime.
Jay rolled his eyes, shook his head, and then took a deep breath.
“Me too, I guess… But I’ll take one of yours,” He said, knocking the back of my seat.
“Sure,” I said, pulling one out of the pack that I had not put back in my pocket yet, and tossed it over my shoulder at him.
I turned up the Marilyn Manson and smiled, watching in the rearview mirror as Timmy and Jay light up with the car lighter, and then hacked and coughed until they got used to the poison in their lungs.
By the end of the movie, even Timmy had mostly forgotten about the opossums. Adrenaline pumped through our veins and awe ran through our brains as we left the theater. Our feet made a candy goo crunch on the carpet of the lobby of the theater as we headed towards the exit.
“Shotgun!” I said as I scrambled to beat Jay out of the door of the theater. He and I ran to Dave’s car, with Dave and Timmy trailing not far behind. Jay and I pushed at one another, and he tried to trip me as we fought for the passenger’s seat in Dave’s car. We ran into the side of the car, which rocked against our weight as we wrestled to get an advantage over each other. Jay smiled devilishly as he pulled me down to the ground of the parking lot; I grasped for the door handle. Dave and Timmy made it over to the other side of the car, and Dave lit up a cigarette before unlocking the doors. I threw my weight and knocked Jay off of me, kicking up with my foot, knocking him clear, and I scrambled my way into the car.
He pulled at my foot, but it was too late: I was in the seat. I swung the door shut, narrowly missing slamming his hand in the door.
“How am I supposed to get in, dumbass,” Jay said, his face red as he sat on the ground.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess you can just walk. It’s not that far.”
“Fuck off,” he said, “Just let me in the fucking car.”
“If I get up you’ll just sit here,” I said. “I want to hear you say it!”
“Just say it so we can go,” Dave said, rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, I’m starving,” Timmy said. “Stop being a sore loser.”
“Goddammit,” Jay said, standing up and brushing the small stones that had stuck pants when he had leapt after me. “Okay, you win, now let me in the fucking car…”
I pushed the seat back and sat down, shaking my head.
“He never learns,” I said, looking over at Dave and Timmy. “I am the all singing, all dancing crap of the world…”
“Let’s start our own fight club,” Jay said, slamming the back of my seat with his fist. “You and me, Phil, face to face, later tonight… Then we’ll see how great you are.”
Into Taco Bell we went. We often ate there, sometimes more than once in a night. Our friend Kevin, who was generally the manager on duty at the time we generally went, met us at the counter.
"Hey, assholes," He said. Kevin had graduated a couple of years ahead of us, and, in spite of being a burnt out, somehow managed his shifts somewhat successfully. I guess it took a stoner to get other stoners motivated to work. "Come out and smoke with me, I'm takin' a break."
"Oh man!" Jay said. "I'm fuckin' hungry!"
"It'll taste even better five minutes from now," Kevin said, and we followed him back outside from where we had just come.
We followed him out behind the restaurant to where the corral for the dumpsters hid them from view from customers in the parking lot. Our Taco Bell was one of those old ones, without a drive though, where you could go inside and eat to like 3 in the morning, and employees always parked back by the dumpster corral, so we were relatively safe to go back there and smoke with some privacy.
We got out there and as Kevin pulled the joint he had already rolled, I told him about how he should go and see Fight Club himself.
"It's fuckin' rad, dude," I said. "I think you'd totally like it."
I watched as he searched around his pockets for a cigarette lighter, the joint plucked in his lips. I could see the puffy rings under his eyes, and how his eyes were already totally bloodshot.
"If I didn't have to work all fucking night, I might," he said. "I never fucking get a night off. My uncle is like the Adolf Hitler of the fake Mexican food industry."
His uncle owned the franchise, but Kevin could pretty much do whatever he wanted there. Things seemed to go more or less okay when he was there, and there was always a steady stream of business. He would probably one day manager the store; it wasn't a bad job for an ambitionless stoner.
"I fuckin' hate this place," he said, exhaling a cloud of purple-tinged smoke, which wafted like fresh perfume into my nostrils. He handed me the joint next. He always talked about how much he hated the job. We knew better, though. "Seriously, man, this place fucking blows. These kids are fuckin' draggin' me down..."
"These kids?" Dave said. "You're not even 21, dude."
I took a superman sized hit.
"Easy there, man, this is good shit, you're gonna' flip out in like two seconds," Kevin said to which I grinned, and then he turned back to Dave without missing a beat. "You know what I fuckin' mean, man... There is a big different between 16 and 20..."
"Four years," Timmy said.
"Thank you, Einstein," Kevin said. "You fucking asshole. Jesus Christ... You guys have to promise me something..."
"What's that," Dave said, just as he took a hit and inhaled, so that his words came out all smoky and distorted. He passed the joint to Timmy, who passed it off to Jay, who tried to match my hit tit-for-tat.
"You guys are going to fuckin' freak out," Kevin warned again. "You fucking amateurs... Seriously... What the fuck was I saying, man?"
He turned to Dave and started laughing. For a second he turned into Beavis and Dave into Butthead, but I blinked my eyes and he was back to normal again.
"I don't fuckin' know," Dave said. "You were bitching about your job or something..."
"Oh, yeah, that's right," Kevin said, holding the joint, which I snatched from his fingers 'cause he was takin' too long with it.
"It's going to go out," I said, but he ignored me, too focused on the bit of wisdom he was trying to tell us.
"Get the fuck out of this fucking town," Kevin said. "Don't make my mistake, man. Get the fuck out of here and don't look back. This place is a shithole. It's gonna' drag you down and sit on you, till you're all purple in the face and shit, and before you know it, two years will have passed and..."
"Jesus Christ," Dave said, taking another small hit before passing directly over to Jay. He looked at Kevin, shaking his head. "How much have you had to smoke today? You say that like we don't already fuckin' know."
"Yeah, man," I said. "Why the fuck would we stay?"
Jay nearly dropped the joint after he burned his fingers on the tip which had burned down to almost nothing.
"Fucking amateur," Kevin said, taking the roach, hitting off it, and then stamping it out. Luckily the police around Ashland weren't real receptive, or the garbage man, because the ground was littered with literally a million defeated joint ends. "Well boys, let's go get some Taco fucking Bell!"
To us, he sounded like Spartacus trying to rally the other slaves into rebellion. We followed him like we were about to go face a Roman Legion, back around the building, through the front doors, past some startled old people who got out of the way before we stormed over them, and into line. Kevin went behind the counter and shoved the cashier out of the way.
"What could I get you boys today, it's on me," he said. He turned to the cashier. "Go help them bust this food out..."
The cashier quietly strolled back, washed her hands, and put rubber gloves on, and waited to make our food with the others.
"Hey, Gina," I waved to her. She was in my economics class. "I love you, you know!"
She smiled and looked away. I had been wearing her down for months. I hoped I could get her to sleep with me before the year was out. I didn't want to go to college a virgin.
Ahead of me Dave and Jay ordered, Timmy waited behind me, with a growing number of other impatient people, including the old people, who had that "I would call the cops on you if i could" look in their eyes. Luckily for us cellphones wouldn't be all that common for another few years yet, at least not around Ashland.
As I looked back, the restaurant wasn't filled with people at all. Sitting in booths, chatting, waiting behind us in line, scowling, walking in and out of the door were a bunch of giant opossums. I turned back around, and everyone ahead of me was still normal. Kevin wasn't kidding, I thought, this is good shit... We would find out later from Kevin, whose dealer tried to call him, but couldn't reach him since he was at work, that the pot we had smoked was in fact laced with PCP. Kevin smiled at me, his smiled wavered and snaked across his face, and when he opened his mouth it seemed like a deep dark cavern of emptiness.
"Dude," he said, his popping out of his mouth like bubbles, "Are you fucking going to order at once. I turned around, and realized that all of the possums were staring at me, blinking, waiting for me to order.
"Well," they said, all in sync, "Get on with it."
"Uhhh..." I said, the beadiness and blackness of the possums' eyes causing me to shudder. "I'll take a chalupa..."
"Okay," floated out of Kevin's mouth and popped on the ceiling.
Timmy moved me over to stand beside Jay and Dave, who wiggled and wobbled about like they were made of rubber.
"That's fucked up," Jay said, his words attacking me like a mini air fleet from the hanger on his tongue. "Your head looks like a pumpkin!"
Suddenly and without warning, time sped up, and when it went back to normal, I was sitting in the backseat of Dave's car, with Timmy driving, Dave sitting beside me behind his normal spot, and Jay in the passenger's seat, snarfing down his Taco Bell, like a wild animal stripping away flesh from a fresh carcass.
Dave had already eaten his food, and seemed to have turn into a statue, staring out the window. I realized my Taco Bell sat, scalding on my lap. Later, from Timmy, we would find out that Kevin just suddenly flipped us out, and made us all leave as soon as our food came up. Apparently the restaurant was also completely empty, except for a couple of old people, who were too old and senile to notice our distorted states of mind. I guess PCP can have that effect.
"Didn't you think they were going to get us, man," I said, addressing no one in particular.
Timmy smiled and looked at me in the rearview mirror.
The fucking possums, man," I said.
Jay stopped feeding, jerked his head up and stared at me, blood seeming to drip from his jowls.
Dave slowly turned his head around, his eyes wide and trembling.
"I didn't mean it," he whispered. "You gotta' let me go... My parents will worry... Seriously, it was an accident..."
Then he started shouting, fighting against the seatbelt and rocking the back of Jay's seat.
"I'M SORRY! THEY RAN OUT IN FRONT OF ME! IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!"
Jay started laughing and then swung around and punched Dave in the face, right in the eye. Dave curled up into a ball, squeezing as far into the corner of the seat as he could get...
"I'm sorry..." he mouthed.
"Don't worry," Jay said, looking at Timmy. "I took care of it."
I looked down at his lap at his food, and his Taco Bell was in fact a half-eaten opossum carcass... Then I threw up all over myself.
The world blurred around me and faded in and out of blackness. I could taste the sour half-chewed chalupa chunks and threw up again, this time on the floor.
"I took care of it," Jay said.
Timmy looked back at me in the rear-view mirror and over at Jay and smiled.
"Best anti-drug ad, ever."