Tales from the Station #2
The rain picked up and made long streaks on the windshield, streetlights and neon signs reflecting off each droplet like little stars, not that any resident of the city had seen the stars lately. The weather had turned last week and oscillated between overcast and cold rain exclusively. The heater wheezed demurely on the dashboard, marked with the occasional click that worried the driver until he wasn’t looking at it, but it kept its occupants warm and secure.
The girl in the passenger seat was asleep, her chest rising and falling three times with every click of the heater. The boy looked over at her and smiled, turning back to the road and singing along softly with the radio.
Three hoods like mushroom caps bobbed at the pedestrian crossing, the flash of the sign turning the cabin a dull topaz. The boy slowed the car until the music was louder than the engine.
The girl opened her eyes once at the lull, closed them for another few breaths, and opened them again.
Jess was very attractive, she thought. He had that oddball, Soul Asylum, grunge look to him that she absolutely adored. His hair was a mess of waves that hung down past his shoulders, and a lanky frame that he consistently covered with blue jeans and flannel, which really set the look over the top if she was honest. He was interesting and complicated and had opinions, but used them at conjunctions when he asked her opinions. He wrote music, but didn’t make her listen to it, and liked to drive around at night and listen to the radio with the windows down like she did. Sometimes they would look for a restaurant, sometimes they would talk about the songs, and sometimes she slept, especially when it rained.
“Morning, Nina,” he said. She also loved his voice. It was melodic but not whiney, and resonant but not too deep.
“Hi,” she smiled at him.
She shook her head and stretched, pushing her back off the seat with her shoulders. “Where are we?”
“Just off Ponce,”
“Damn,” she said, looking out at the lights. Ancient theaters and shops gave way to rambling houses that eventually fell away into the verdant darkness of Piedmont Park. They were pretty far from her apartment in Fayetteville, and she mentioned as much.
“Is that okay?” he asked, glancing at her from the corner of his eye.
“Fine. If you’re okay driving,”
Jess leaned over and kissed the top of her head. Nina smiled.
A sudden pain shot through her abdomen, and she shifted in her seat. He looked over with a creased forehead and tapped the glovebox.
“Take a few of those,”
They were green and oblong. It looked like some kind of crushed leaf inside. They stuck in her mouth, but she rinsed a couple down with a bottle of flat Coke she found in the back seat and sighed. Within minutes her aches were almost gone.
“What witch doctor’d you get those from?” she chuckled.
“Friend of mine from Tech sells them at farmer’s markets. He says it's a big secret pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to blah blah blah,” he snorted.
“Well tell him I’ll buy a case. Oh, I love this one!” She leaned forward and turned up the speaker as a jarring guitar lick filled the car. Neither of them had a very strong voice, but neither of them cared. It was one of those songs that could have gone on for twenty more minutes, so when it ended, silence fell.
She looked over at him. In the light, his eyes looked yellow, coins reflecting and warbling as they stopped at a light. It was a freaky illusion that frightened her for a moment, so she turned to look back out the window.
The coins twinkled back in the reflection.
“Are you wearing contacts?” she asked, facing him. The light was green, but his eyes weren’t, and he wasn’t stepping on the gas. They seemed to glow in their sockets. “Stop it, you’re freaking me out.”
Nina’s gut was telling her something, and her gut’s gut was telling her to listen. The release of the door handle was whole and satisfying, like popping the lid off a soda bottle. As she did, a disturbing metamorphosis emerged from the top of Jess’ head. Two stalks curved and split from his hair.
She rolled out of the car and banged her shoulder against the curb, cursing it. The rain had slackened up to a drizzle, but the sidewalks remained desolate and quiet, broken only by the whirr of the interstate crossing above them.
Jess stared at her for what felt like minutes, before putting the car in park and opening his door.
“Get in the car, Nina,”
Turning on her heel, she hit another unexpected obstacle that took the wind out of her and sent her rolling into the trees. Jess stood at the guardrail, twitching very slightly before jumping the rail and strolling down the hill.
Typical, she thought as she darted into the hardwoods and manicured wildflowers. Perfect guys with shoulder-long hair, pretty faces, good hearts, and exciting minds weren’t real. Monsters that roofied girls with organic, farmer’s market supplements and majored in English with a concentration in Comparative Literature were very, very real.
She found the lowest branch of an oak beside the lake and tried to springboard off the trunk, but the bark was wet and her sneaker slipped. The second try was a charm as she scrambled up the limbs, scraping her arms and getting damp leaves in her hair.
Jess was right below her now, not looking very much like Jess at all. His clothes were the same, but he was covered in coarse, light brown fur. His ears stuck out from his head at perpendicular angles like calla lilies, and his nose was like a chunk of coal.
As she dropped from the tree and onto his shoulders, grappling to knock him down and get back to the car, there was a little part in her brain, a hope, that this was some inconceivable misunderstanding.
There must be some string theory explanation with derivatives and integrals and Greek letters. It was like swiping her hand at a wall and catching the electrons just right as her arm passed through wood and sheetrock—a one-in-a-million shot to allow the universe to tip just so in her favor. In a moment his eyes would turn brown, the antlers would recede, his neck would stop elongating and bending, and they’d go find an all-night malt shop.
Maybe there was an alternate universe where that did happen.
But no one knows.