My Name is Eri- Ch.8 "The End of the Line"

Aug 28th, 2015
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  2. Tubes of neosporin and of cortisone cream clattered all over a pharmacy store counter in a town whose name you didn't know. The cashier stared at the bruises looping around your neck and forearms instead of your eyes that looked both vacant and harrowed. His mouth hung partway open, uncertain if he should ask, “will that be all,” or “what the hell?”.
  4. You saved him some grief.
  6. “Me and the girl,” you said, licking a busted lip. “We get a little wild.”
  8. He nodded and made a quiet noise approximating, “yeah.”
  10. You told him to hang on for a second and limped away. Pool water ran down your jeans and the rim of your t-shirt in weak rivulets. Wet footprints and droplets trailed your path around the store.
  12. You tucked a cheap t-shirt beneath your arm. A cheap pair of jeans. Socks. God, you hated wet socks. You lumbered to the front and dropped the clothes on the counter. A jar of vaseline rattled to the floor.
  14. That was all, you told the cashier. He rang the order up, hand trembling on the counter the whole time. He mumbled the total and you pulled out a wet wallet and paid with a wet debit card.
  16. He handed over the bagged tubes and clothes. You walked to the door, paused, turned around and asked where to find the nearest motel.
  18. The cashier pointed and told you two blocks down, one block right. A half-heartfelt thanks escaped your mouth.
  20. He told you to take it easy, yeah?
  22. You managed three laughs before the throat pains turned them into coughs. The door slid open and you stepped into the night.
  24. Looking up showed nothing strange. Only moonlight and stars. Normal, non-shifting stars against the black and vaguely purple backdrop of the greater night sky. A few twinkled suspiciously. Shivers unsettled your bones and you looked back down, afraid that the air may explode again and threaten to swallow you and the world whole.
  26. The road passed underfoot. You walked between empty parking lots and quiet traffic lights that glowed their appropriate colors. Yet the nocturnal streets held more activity than normal. You passed several cars pulled onto the roadside. Their passengers stared upwards, eyes wide, some talked to each other, some talked to you, if only to conform they hadn't gone crazy on their own.
  28. Did you see that, they asked. Radios chattered almost to each other. What happened? Aliens? Northern lights, atmospheric something-or-other, weird huh? Did a war start? Did you see? We'll be right back with more tunes after the hour. Did you see?
  30. Yeah, you saw.
  32. Forget the sky, you only wanted to see the inside of your eyelids. The gutter never looked more inviting. The banged up juncture of your body yearned to roll into the ditch and be done for the rest of the year, but the final fumes of willpower saw your steps through the last few yards to the motel and its dimly lit sign.
  34. Thirty minutes later you locked the door to a room with weathered carpets and a faded vine-print comforter on the bed. The ac unit huffed out air fresh as damp towels. You threw the bag of clothes onto the bed more stiff than two whiskey shots. You walked past a tv with free HBO, a writing desk knicked with scratches and burn marks from cigarettes, and straight to the bathroom.
  36. At least no cockroaches scurried when you switched the light on. Yellow lines ran circles inside the tub. You turned on the water, hot as it could go. Steam billowed. You slumped to the tiled floor and leaned against the porcelain. The bag upended and spilled its contents all over the floor. A tube of cortisone cream rolled closest one to your hand, so you unscrewed the cap, held it over the rising water and squeezed until the bottle was empty. You dropped the tube to ground, grabbed a new one, and squeezed again.
  38. When you finished, the tile was mostly hidden by caps and crumpled tubes. The water gurgled, now a medicinal stew whose ascetic fumes made you lightheaded.
  40. One article at a time, your clothes slid off, wet and dry in patches. You rolled over the tub's rim and sent scalding water sopping onto the floor. Bare, abused skin hissed, but God, it felt good.
  42. Your eyes closed and your head dipped beneath the milky brew. Up you came and inhaled intoxicating steam through your mouth. Eyes stared ahead. Dim light from the room outside creeped through the crack in the door. Dirt, chlorine, and antiseptics mixed with a miserable fatigue you never knew existed. Primal relief flowed through your body.
  44. How long could you stay there? One night? One week? As long as the world minded the Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the door, that's how long.
  46. Sleep didn't take you in the tub. No telling what kind of teeth you'd run into if it did.
  48. -
  50. The room's blinds were snapped tight. The muddy red curtains weighted down with whatever you could find provided a second layer . You tied a sheet around the frame and stopped any natural light from intruding.
  52. The room would've hosted near-complete darkness if you weren't hunched over on the edge of the bed with the tv remote in hand, flipping channels end over end, neither here or anywhere. Clipped voices spoke to a pair of ears that weren't paying much attention.
  54. “Astronomers around the country are baffled as to last nights events. No one conclusive explanation has been settled upon-”
  56. “Social media sites are experiencing massive slow downs as there's no shortage of people uploading videos and pictures of-”
  58. “-are still being tallied. Right now the -the sheer number of reported missing persons are far beyond record levels.”
  60. "suspect some kind of correlation between the storm and astronomical shi-"
  62. “Disturbing footage of the anomalous weather, viewer discretion is heavily advi-”
  64. “'Must not break in this moment of crisis,' said the mayor in his earlier address, but still visibly shaken.”
  66. “gripped in panic and fear-”
  68. “What some believe is an unidentified creature-”
  70. The tv blipped off at the press of your finger.
  72. -
  74. You put off leaving the room for food as long as you could. At least another day passed before you risked taking your fill of free donuts and coffee in the lobby and decided to take your meal outside. The glazed sugar and bitter caffeine hurt going down, and you struggled against hawking it back up after two swallows. You fought to stomach enough calories to see you through another day.
  76. You sipped from a paper cup.
  78. Clouds ambled overhead. Nothing felt wrong, nothing looked wrong. But you were too smart to fall for that trick. An invisible knife hovered just over the small of your back, pricking your flesh enough to itch. Any moment now the earth could heave and the sky and ground would twist into each other and never separate again.
  80. Cars passed back and forth on the road.
  82. You tossed the styrofoam cup to the parking lot pavement and walked. Earlier you got directions to the town library from someone in the lobby. Every step sent aches through your ankles and shins, but for the moment you'd rather focus on the pain instead of the vague oblivion of the room.
  84. Nothing happened during the walk. No car crashes or sudden thunderstorms. Every other step you looked over your shoulder. One step, two step, look behind you. No one there. You expected a shadow to sidle up behind you, draw sharp nails across your chest, slice open the skin and kiss the back of your neck while your intestines spilled on the ground and sweet nothings filled your ear.
  86. You scratched the back of your neck and broke into a near jog once the library came into view.
  88. You entered the library looking decidedly harried. The librarian, instead of saying, “Good afternoon,” or “How can I help you?” asked, “Do you need help?”
  90. Oh lady, you have no idea, you thought.
  92. You told her you were fine, thanks, then asked where to find the mythology section.
  94. Several minutes later you commanded a table all to yourself, its surface sprawled over with books. Opened pages showed humans, humans cowering, humans in the sky, humans with frightful heads, and frightful animals. Gods, goddesses, and beasts who stalked the shadows of legend for a long, long time.
  96. You started with one name: Eris. That was easy enough. What you read provided no assurance. She was a goddess who wandered the world, unassuming, quiet and in the corners, but grew until her head rose above heaven and reveled in havoc. A breeder of violence, strife, and cruel joy.
  98. Chaos. Strife. Trickery. These words popped up around the myths of the earth. You read of Huehuecoyotl, the ancient Aztec coyote with human limbs, ruler of music and mischief, and lustful beyond measure. Which was she closer to? Mohini, perhaps -the hindu sorceress of illusions and allure, and embodiment of Vishnu, destroyer of worlds? That was a fun pedigree. Maybe Arohirohi, mistress of mirages and heat. Was she Anansi, who played mortals, gods, and animals alike for suckers? Loki? Bugs Bunny?
  100. Or all of them? None? Maybe she came before them all, from somewhere unknown and held a terrible league all to herself. Maybe they learned from her. Maybe they huddled close in the place where gods gathered, gaping in awe after she showed up from whatever nexus of confusion and power that birthed her to toy with the world.
  102. The intersections and parallels of tricks, deceit, and otherworldly powers fit together like broken glass pieces. Your fingers followed the lines of the mosaic, haphazardly complete and hazardous to the touch. Every page read of warning, doom, and cruel lessons learned, if the fools were lucky. You thought about the pages and pictures spread before you.
  104. You thought about the sight of her laughing and the sight of her crying.
  106. You thought about the marks on your neck.
  108. You thought and thought.
  110. But you didn't know what to believe, other than what you experienced first-hand.
  112. One by one, you closed the books and stacked them neatly. You walked out the front door with a stone in your belly, and emptiness in your heart. On the manicured lawn of the library, you leaned against a tree and wondered what the hell you're supposed to do next.
  114. In a slow, blank-faced way, you realized you couldn't remember the last time you had a clear idea of what to do. Everything you've done the past few days have been off-the cuff impulses. Last-ditch efforts and bursts of desperation, panic, confusion, or horniness. You wouldn't feel more lost if you stood on a plank of wood in the middle of the sea.
  116. Steady heart beats followed steady heart beats. Drawn out blinks covered your eyes and you sighed.
  118. Slowly, your knees bent and your back scraped against the tree bark Your legs kicked forward and you pulled out your phone. A finger moved on the smooth surface by unconscious routine.
  120. The picture of your family filled the screen. You stared, mouth drawn tight.
  122. “How's it going, guys?”
  124. They stared outwards, smiling. White bands of sunshine reflected off the glass cover.
  126. “Rich, your hair looks like shit, did I ever tell you that?”
  128. He didn't respond, the prick.
  130. “Mag, I didn't give you a fifty dollar gift card that year to blow on bad CDs. Oh well. At least you did better than Maddie. I never knew someone could tear through half a Benjamin's worth of skittles so fast. Damn sugar ant.”
  132. Your sisters grinned, not having a single regret in their future spending choices.
  134. “How's it going, Mom? Yeah,” you bobbed the phone in hand. “It's been a rough few months, but, you know. I'm doing alright. Not sure what time zone I'm in right now, but other than that...”
  136. The wind blew through the leaves overhead. You waited until they quieted down.
  138. “I met a girl a few days ago,” you told her. “She's, uh...different. Real outgoing. Doesn't drink. She has nice curly hair. Turned into an animal...or, monster, I'm not too sure. Some crazy thing." You scratched your nose. "Is that normal? I know Mag and Mad can be total harpies now and again, but this is different. I think you'll like her, though.”
  140. “Hm? Yeah, I'm not sure when I can swing by. Maybe sooner, maybe later. I miss you guys, crazy as you all are. But you're all fine right?” You waited. “Good, yeah, that's good.”
  142. “Yes, yes, I know this shirt's crap, go screw a frog, Rich. It's a long story.”
  144. The phone shifted from one hand to the other.
  146. “I guess I'll go now. Talk to you later. Love you.”
  148. You turned off the screen, set the phone in the grass and let your arms sink by your side.
  150. Some minutes passed. Someone on the sidewalk passed. The false sense of normality lulled you. You considered walking back to the motel the second before the phone rang. You jumped because the damn thing hadn't made a peep these past several days.
  152. The caller ID displayed no number or name. Only the words, “its me.”
  154. You froze. The phone rang twice. Your hands refused to move. Voices in your head yelled left and right. Answer it, don't answer it, throw it into the street, run away screaming. What the hell are you doing? What does she want? Why is she calling you? She ran from you. Why would she call?
  156. You pressed the ignore button mid-ring.
  158. Warm blood filled your ears, pumped up there by your heart.
  160. The phone rang again. The ID read, “cmon guy.”
  162. Once more, you decided not to answer, but didn't press the ignore button. You just wanted her to leave you alone.
  164. The ringing halted. The missed call light blinked, almost an accusation. The shrill ring came one more time, but the ring held. The noise slowed down, jumped, and crinkled. Sleigh bells and whistles and beeps and whirrs built into the phone joined in. They mixed into one another, clipping and chirping into a coherent static.
  166. Eris's voice came from the speakers, cobbled together from ringtones and electronic hums.
  168. “Hey,” said her voice, filtered through a digital throat. “I'm not...” a buzzing void held for a moment. “You don't have to say anything. I won't ask you to forgive me because I'm not stupid enough to apologize. Let's pretend we respect each other that much.”
  170. Your hand closed and set against your chin.
  172. “But I-” static washed back and forth, “We both have a lot of thinking to do. I'd like to see you again. Talk, or, yell at each other some more. Something. But yeah, whenever. I know you feel like shit right now, but you'll shoulder through it.”
  174. The phone breathed. “Probably sounds dumb, right? Coming from me. I mean it though. So rest easy. I'll see you around later guy.'know. I don't know. Stay safe.”
  176. You smashed the phone against the tree trunk. The shiny screen ran in cracks and bleeding pixels. You slammed the phone one more time and took an unhealthy pleasure in the sharp crunch of plastic and glass. It spoke one more time.
  178. “...alright, then.” The static died.
  180. The librarian stared at you through the window, standing next to the tree, chest heaving with a broken phone in hand, and hoped very strongly you'd go away.
  182. Hot blood flooded your cheeks and your fingers hurt clenching that phone.
  184. Stay safe. You chased her around the world and got dumped at a municipal pool. Got thrown off a cliff. Two damned cliffs. Ran a gamut through a hurricane from hell. Damn near got stabbed, ran helter skelter through the streets while cars crashed left and right. She made you sing karaoke in public.
  186. Stay safe.
  188. She was the god damned devil.
  190. You huffed at the broken phone and felt guilty for the outburst's effects. You shoved the broken thing inside your pocket, unwilling to abandon it, otherwise you'd lose the picture within.
  192. With stormy determination, you stomped back into the library, much to the librarian's worry. You asked to use the computer, you needed to find the nearest bus station.
  194. The librarian was all to happy to help, eager to get you as far away as possible.
  196. -
  198. One more night passed with you sleeping in the motel. Or trying to sleep. You lay awake, staring at the ceiling with the tv off and air conditioner droning by the window. You told yourself it was smarter to sleep on things rather than risk a rash decision, but really only staving off the inevitable for a few more hours. Besides, check out time already passed. At least you could shave and have a real shower.
  200. You checked out of the motel without fuss, but not before snagging several more donuts than etiquette allowed. It took several hours of small-town transit maneuvers to arrive a station capable of trucking you in great leaps.
  202. You walked inside the terminal and realized many terminals looked the same.
  204. The woman running the desk asked where you'd like to go. You grabbed an innocuous pamphlet and pretended to read because you hadn't thought this far.
  206. Maybe you should find a boring town that had no risk of becoming bustling. Shack up there. Get a job and toil quietly, hoping the world wouldn't go topsy turvy too fast. Pretend everything's fine for as long as you could stand to be fooled.
  208. No. The momentum of the past week compelled you to move forward. Ride buses and trains to the far side of the country and not stop. Get a boat. Cross the ocean, then hustle to the other end of wherever you land. That could be your plan. The kitschy idea held an irrational appeal. You're a free man with no obligations or responsibilities, after all. Just run. Run and weave and doge and pray nothing ever catches up to you because boy, you're in so deep over your head you can't even see the sun.
  210. The woman tapped her fingers with strained patience.
  212. You asked for the furthest destination offered and bought a ticket. You'd figure the rest out once the wheels stopped turning.
  214. After she handed the ticket over, you stalked the front end of the terminal and passed several hours in the kind of monotony that invited second-guess.
  216. This was a bad idea, forwards and backwards, you thought over and over. You had a plastic bag in hand and a great many worries in your head. Getting your life back on some kind of track required a little more than that, but bull-headed forwardness may get a some respectable mileage.
  218. An unoccupied bench sat against the wall. You sat down and fingered your ticket.
  220. The black and blue ink printed on thin cardboard read -Passenger. Standard. Bus Number C22-105. Departure Time: 4:00 P.M. Destination: some place you didn't really care about.
  222. The ticket slid in your hand. Another lay beneath it, printed in red and yellow ink.
  224. Passenger. Standard. Bus number ERI-000. Departure Time: 4:00 P.M. Destination: The End of the Line.
  226. The trembling tips of your fingers put the ticket down on the empty space beside you. You stood, put your hands in your pocket, shut your eyes and exhaled very, very slowly. Part of you wanted to tear the ticket apart and kick the shreddings.
  228. This is it, you thought instead. This is your life now. There's a force in the world that will no longer allow you to run away from your problems properly.
  230. The station's speakers tolled. “Bus Number C22-105 now arriving at the terminal. Departure time is four o'clock. Thirty minutes until departure. Bus Number C22-105 leaving at four o'clock, thank you.”
  232. Not a lot of time to consider your options. The luxury of dwelling was denied.
  234. You rolled the pamphlet up, stuck it in your mouth and bit down, almost finding its bitter wax coating refreshing.
  236. Other passengers whose faces you didn't discern headed through the loading gate.
  238. Thoughts raced. You could get on good ol' C22-105 right now. Bite your tongue and march straight through the door and plant your rear on a lumpy seat. That'd be the end of things, right? Settled once and for all? She'd have to catch the meaning and leave you alone. You could squeeze out the rest of your life in peace.
  240. The thought rattled hollow inside your head. How much time would pass before she instigated another bout of creative expression? You could only imagine the breed of insanity she'd whip up next time. Scratch that, you could not imagine it, and sent your stomach falling.
  242. The twisted, strained pipes in your mind said you were partly to blame for the things that happened and you will be held accountable for whatever happened next. Guilt did its best to twist your elbow.
  244. But there was another voice, one that echoed deeper and made you stare long and hard at the red and yellow ticket.
  246. You considered the horrible portrait made by the interlocked myths and omens at the library. But you couldn't believe she was a cobbled caricature mutated over millennia by people whispering stories to each other with only campfires or dim lamps to light the night.
  248. She was more than a myth, or a boogie monster, or an indecipherable, possibly malignant deity to you. You knew her as a person, living and breathing. She wasn't Eris, or Huehuecoyotl, Mohini, Arohirohi, or any of those crazy things. Not to you. Her name was Erica.
  250. She beat you senseless. She cackled while she held a match against the sky. She broke a lock. She shared a purple cow.
  252. Despite everything, the pain in your body, anger in your chest, and urge to sock her in the jaw, she was your friend, however briefly.
  254. You strode through the gate.
  256. C22-105 waited, doors open.
  258. ERI-000 pulled up behind it to no announcement. The doors opened and no one exited. You saw no driver through the glass windows. No one else on the platform seemed to notice the phantom bus.
  260. If you got on that bus, you expected no answers, no peace, or anything that made sense. The only promise the ticket in your hand held was the chance to see to her one more time.
  262. You crumpled the ticket you bought. Heavy steps echoed as you entered ERI-000. The seats sat empty of restless passengers. No luggage, no driver. Otherwise the inside looked the same as any other bus. You sat down on a blue fabric seat midway down the aisle. No one else entered.
  264. C22-105 drove off to somewhere sane. You chose otherwise. The doors to your bus closed with a soft sigh. The engine groaned and its heavy tires pushed against the concrete, beginning your journey to the end of the line and whatever lay beyond.
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