We All Fall Down
Paul van Wingerden
Chilled, mechanical air breathed on Reagan’s skin. Goosebumps rose up like an army to warm his skin. He perused the snacks in front of him, trying to find a mixture of labeled flavor and bag color that appealed to his eyes. The tile floor and glaring synthetic lights above transported him to a skewed reality while attendant behind the counter and its glass barrier watched them with dulled, emotionless eyes.
“Yoooooo!” Aaron called from the aisle beside Reagan, the voice shattering the cramped silence of the gas station. “They got the things!” His pale, freckled hand shot up from above the Tic-Tacs, waving a pack of generic, chocolate covered donuts, the crunching plastic grating to Reagan’s ears.
“Wow, I’ve never seen those before.” Reagan drawled, staring at the gleaming caramel eyes that had bobbed back above the rack of food. He snagged a pack of orange Tics-Tacs for Jarod, who was standing out by the pump. A gentle white light cast on his face from the phone in his hand.
“Asshole.” Aaron laughed, gliding up the aisle towards the register. His dull copper hair, shaved on the sides and combed on top, bobbed lightly with every step. Reagan snagged a bag of barbecue flavored baked Lays and moved up to the register with Aaron, who was eyeing the lottery tickets.
“You don’t need one,” Reagan said, adding the chips, candy, and bottles of water onto the counter beside Aaron’s pack of oily donuts.
“But what if I win?”
“You won’t. You’re more likely to get attacked by a shark, a bear, or get struck by lightning.”
“That’d be cool as shit!” Aaron said. “You know, minus the lightning.”
Reagan shook his head and slid the cashier his I.D. “Can I get a pack of L&M’s please? That’ll be the last thing.” She stared at him for a second, blew a gum bubble with a resounding pop, then picked up the I.D. She barely glanced at it then turned, grabbed the pack of cigarettes, and dropped them on the counter.
“19.59,” she said in a monotone voice.
Reagan inserted his debit card into the reader while Aaron fiddled with the rack of sunglasses, eyeing the pairs and looking for one that could compliment his black jeans and grey Cedar Point sweatshirt. Reagan stuck his hands into the front pockets of his own matching sweatshirt and fiddled with his fingers.
The reader beeped and showed that the card had been declined. Reagan pulled the card out and reinserted, thinking it was an error, but ended up with the same result.
“Try a different card I guess,” Aaron said. Reagan pulled his credit card and tried it, but it too was declined. The cashier was watching him with increasing impatience and Reagan’s confusion grew.
Why aren’t these working? he wondered. Aaron pulled out his wallet and tossed a twenty dollar bill on the counter and scooped the food into his arms.
“Keep the change!” he yelled over his shoulder, pushing through the door. Reagan followed him, yanking the sleeves of his sweatshirt down to brace against the cold.
Jarod was still by the car, the tall, tan, and lanky twenty-year-old leaning against the car, still engrossed by his phone. His stark white vans contrasted heavily against his skintight jeans and baggy, hand woven sweatshirt. As Aaron approached, he ran his fingers through his black, curly hair and removed the pump nozzle from the car. The putrid scent of gas hung in the air.
“The gift card’s out,” he rumbled with his deep, gravely voice.
“Sweet!” Aaron said, tossing the tic tacs and cigarettes to Jarod. “Let me see it.”
Jarod begrudgingly handed it over. Aaron flicked it with his wrist towards the trash before hopping into the front seat. The card bounced off of the can and rattled to the ground. Reagan put it in the trash before sliding into the driver’s seat while Jarod put the cap on the fuel tank. He popped a few of the orange sweets in his mouth and dropped into the backseat. Reagan buckled his seatbelt and took off.
They were on their way back from a weekend trip over their Christmas break to Cedar Point, which the three friends had wanted to take as a group for years. Aaron’s parents were very wealthy and had provided the tickets and a night in a hotel up in Ohio. Now, they were back in North Carolina and were very close to Charlotte, only thirty minutes from Aaron’s house. Although the weather had been freezing, they had loved it. Weather reports called for snow that night, so the three were in a rush to get back to Aaron’s house before it began.
“I call the aux,” Aaron said. He plugged his phone into the car without waiting for an answer and quickly found a song. The car quickly exploded with the quick drumming and scratchy vocals of the metal music Aaron was so fond of. Reagan rolled his eyes. Although he didn’t mind metal, he loved EDM.
“Holy shit!” Jarod nearly yelled, making Reagan jump. The car jerked to the side before he corrected the path.
“What the hell, dude?” Reagan said, his heart pounding. “What is it?”
“Yeah man, not cool,” Aaron said, pounding his hands on the dash of the car along with the drums.
“One sec. I need to finish reading this.” He delved back into his phone while Reagan focused on the road, pulling off of the interstate to reach the right exit.
Jarod put his phone down and fumbled with the pack of cigarettes, shakily managing to get one in his mouth. Reagan cracked the windows as his friend lit the cigarette, becoming very anxious. Jarod only smoked when he was really nervous or stressed. He’d run out when they had gone to Cedar Point because some of the rides had made him really nervous beforehand.
“Listen to this,” he said and then proceeded to read directly from his phone. “An anonymous group, known only by the self given title of ‘Libertorem ex Avaritia,’ which translates to ‘Liberators from Greed,” has committed one of the greatest acts of terrorism in recent times. A large scale hacking on multiple top banks across the country has wiped out all records and accounts, including FDICs and all other insurance policies. Any records of accounts are gone, even backups. Although they claim to be heroes, they’ve been labeled as ‘one of the greatest threats to American security.”
Jarod stopped and took a deep pull from his cigarette, the ashy end burning bright red. Aaron silenced the music and Reagan rolled the back window up, cutting off all noise but trapping the cigarette smoke.
“It goes on, but that’s the gist.”
“What does this mean?” Reagan asked, his stomach heavy and head light. His vision was swimming a bit, but he forced himself to focus on the road.
Jarod rolled the window down the toss the cigarette out the window and placed his head in his hands. “The banks, our money, everyone’s, are fucking gone.”
Spring, 2019 Issue