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Twist: Chapter 22


  03:43:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2972 words  
Categories: Twist

Twist: Chapter 22

Timidly, I opened the front door. I checked the dented mailbox, and scoured the porch for a package. It hadn't come. But I wasn't sure what time it was- other than that I was getting hungry.

There still wasn't any power. That cut out anything that needed to be microwaved or heated. It did mean I should try and finish off anything that was going to go bad from the fridge. There was a half-eaten plastic jar of grapefruit, and a sack of carrots. I nibbled on them until I hoped I'd never have to eat anything else with vitamin c in it, ever again. I washed it down with chocolate milk- not that I though the combination would be anything other than disgusting, I just wanted to waste as little food as possible.

When I couldn't eat anymore, only partially because of how bad the flavors clashed, I put everything I hadn't finished back. The fridge was still retaining its temperature decently well, and if the power came back on in the next day or so, maybe some of it could be salvaged.

It was getting harder to even pretend to believe that kind of shit.

I checked the porch again for the starter. It was getting dark. Even this time of year, the mail never came after dark. But the postal service wasn't the only carrier in town. There was UPS, and Fed Ex, and DHL and I'm sure I have boxes lying around that had come from others, still. But so far as I could remember, none of them came this late.

But lateness wasn't really what concerned me anymore. It wasn't coming at all. I doubted that, even if I waited forever, it would ever come.

No, today I'd walked to the edges of the world as it existed, now. I didn't doubt that there was more, beyond that, but I'd sketched the boundaries of my own reality.

The more that thought sunk in- the more claustrophobic I felt- the more I felt like I needed to get out of town. Not the way people need adventure and excitement- the way they need oxygen and blood.

It felt desperate, and crazy- but I'd been doing crazy things for days, now- stealing the starter out of that car I'd passed almost seemed like the logical next step.

I didn't have a flashlight, so I knew I needed to act quickly. It was already starting to get darker out. I packed up that blue plastic tool case. I couldn't find the flathead; the last time I'd seen it was when I tried to fix the broken dial on the washing machine.

I grabbed a butter knife, instead, and wire frame hangers.

None of the houses near the car had their lights on. It meant it was darker still than it might have been, but hopefully also meant that I wasn't going to draw any attention. Or get arrested- though I had my doubts that the cops were any more keen to take someone else's calls.

I unwound the hanger. It hurt my fingers, but I was getting the fuck out of here, if I had to smash the window in the my bare hand.

Next, I managed to get enough give in the window with the butter knife, that I got the hanger inside. The lock had a dent for a thumb, which made it easy, relatively speaking, to hook with the hanger. The door opened.

I glanced around, first at the still-dark houses, then at the streets. I was alone, and for the first time in quite a while, that made me feel safer.

I popped open the trunk. I was through the worst of it. From this point on, the only people who wouldn't know I wasn't supposed to have my head under this hood were the car's owners.

There were a few flathead screws between me and walking home with the starter, but with a little extra effort, the butter knife got them out.

I was annoyed my phone was dead, because I would have taken a couple of pictures of the way the starter was hooked up. Instead I just stared at it for thirty seconds, trying to memorize it.

I took as many of the cables with me as I possibly could- I think surgeons call that in-situ- then I closed up the case. I felt bad, that whatever likely elderly person lived there was going to lose the use of their car. But I was fairly certain I was going to lose my goddamn mind- if I hadn't already.

I closed the car door gently, enough that the overhead light turned off; I didn't want to be as big a jerk as the people who broke into my car. Then I lowered the hood. I didn't press it down until it latched all the way- that would have made too much noise, but it was closed enough that it wouldn't go flying up if they got it on the freeway. I laughed at myself for that- how exactly were they going to get the car onto the freeway without first installing a new starter? But at least in principle I was trying to minimize the damage I did them.

I thought about writing them a note. But on the less-than-an-off-chance I was just crazy, it seemed like a bad idea. And I had brought neither pen nor paper with me, so it was moot.

The walk back to my car was nerve-wracking. I'd never stolen anything. I still felt bad about that one little lego piece I found on the playground in my elementary school and forgot to return to the classroom like I meant to- and I wasn't even the one who took it outside class in the first damn place.

I couldn't remember how to walk like someone who wasn't concealing a stolen car part in their jacket. But I didn't get passed by a car- or a person- let alone either with a police association.

It was easy enough putting the second starter into my car, since my original was still in place- so it wasn't hard to disconnect a wire from the one, and immediately hook it into the new starter.

It made the going faster, which was good, because it was now completely dark. I had the perched on the engine block, but it only provided so much light.

I was fading quickly. My long walk had all but finished me, and more than once I teetered, and had to catch myself on the edge of the car.

I was nearly done when my candle hissed and went out. I hadn't felt a breeze, and my skin crawled as I imagined one of those things hovering behind me, having blown my candle out. But I was alone, alone save for a big, fat blob of rain that shot down the back of my shirt. I shivered.

The rain woke me up enough to finish, but the second I closed up the plastic case, the rain started to pound down on my with a strange urgency. I decided to leave in the morning, after I'd had some rest, and hopefully after the weather calmed just a bit.

I was so tired I passed out in my clothes.

Overnight, the rain was joined by a vengeful wind, and shortly after by thunder and lightning. I wondered if it made sense to worry about a lightning strike on the house, but it was cold without the heater- and I wasn't getting out of bed.

I slept badly, but that seemed like a given, anymore; the tiny part of me that still believed I was getting out of town was bemused that even sleeping on the lumpy, uneven and cold ground I was going to be better rested than here. But the important thing was I slept. I was at least well rested enough to drive without trying to merge into a trees-only lane.

As soon as there was a hint of light peeking through the bedroom curtain, I got up.

I packed the supplies I knew I'd need, matches, an extra pair of socks, those kinds of things. A lot of the food had probably already turned with the power out, and it had been long enough since I'd been to the store that it was slim pickings in the kitchen- the smell of rot had already settled in. But I figured if I got out- when, I tried to tell myself- I'd be able to get groceries at a convenience store someplace where they still had people to run them.

I kept most of my camping gear in the trunk. That always pissed Hanah off. She likened it to keeping a packed suitcase. I tried to reason that it was more like keeping a bathing suit in your briefcase- just in case you happened upon a spot to swim. But it made her feel insecure, that I was going to up stakes and leave- which was strange, in that it was my camping gear that had stakes in it.

I was anxious, so I didn't try to eat anything. Just right now, a gas station taquito sounded like Heaven- which was maybe the craziest thought I'd ever had.

I didn't bother looking for new clothes- I didn't care that I was slathered in motor oil. I tied my shoes, spread some deodorant on and went outside.

I was still bleary-eyed, still waiting for all the sleep to leave my eyes, but something about the view from the porch felt wrong. The porch had four large faux columns- not like Roman- but big, box, mostly concrete. I seemed to recall that they weren't load-bearing, but they obscured a lot of the view- most of it, really, if you counted what was obscured by the willow.

Only, the sightline usually blocked by the willow wasn't. I could clearly see the neighbor's car and house diagonally across the street.

The willow had fallen over in the storm the previous night. And I knew, even from the porch, where it had fallen. ?No, goddamnit,? I muttered, as I ran down the porch steps.

The full force of the willow had smashed down on my car, smashing the top in to a point where I knew I'd never get inside it again. ?Fuck,? I muttered. The tree was just tall enough, from where it had fallen, to crush my car, but there was no overhang. I could tell I wasn't even going to be able to get into the trunk without a chainsaw.

I sighed, and dropped my back of supplies where I stood. ?I'm going back to bed,? I muttered.

I was startled by a presence inside the house. ?Some things you expect to be there forever, you know?? Gram asked, staring past me, at the fallen tree.

It was an odd sentiment, coming from my dead grandmother. ?I know,? I said, softly.

?That tree was here since before I bought the house,? she said.

?I'm maybe a little more concerned in where it fall, rather than that it did.?

?You should have more respect for the dead.?

?Maybe if they were more willing not to fall on my car, or follow me around naked.? I immediately regretted saying it.

?I understand,? she said. ?You're frustrated. I'd feel about the same, in your shoes.?

?I think I'm just tired. I'm going to try and get a little more sleep.?

?Want me to come with you??

?Somehow, I think I sleep better without my naked grandmother spooning me.?

?Prude,? she said. But I don't think she wanted to come with me. She was transfixed by the tree. I guess that made some sense; she'd been around the tree more than twice as long as I had, and for her, it represented a different, better time. For me, it represented an inescapable present- the end of any hope for a future.

I was in enough of a mood that I didn't sleep well, though I was perhaps less dour when I woke up.

I needed to hear someone- anyone- any voice that I wasn't 85% sure was coming from my own head. But my phone was dead.

I was pretty sure I'd seen a phone booth at the gas station a little past my work. At some point. Crap. Living in the same neighborhood for three decades meant that I remembered seeing lots of phone booths- but not if I'd seen any of them recently.

But it seemed worth the walk. So I gathered up a handful of change from the counter. I found a slightly less stained shirt, this time, though I couldn't stop staring at the pasta sauce on the shirt from before.

I realized it had been a couple of days since I'd gotten anything done at work. And maybe they had their power back- they were far enough away it was possible they were on a different transformer.

I walked the usual few blocks over, then headed south several more blocks. The further I got, the less anything was familiar. I should have been there, and yet, I couldn't have felt less there than if I hit the Mexican border.

I found the gas station, a few blocks down. There wasn't a phone anymore, but there was still a square scar in the pavement where it had been. I realized the main reason I wanted to go into the office was the vague hope that someone else would be there- someone who could tell me I'm not crazy- or who could at least confirm that I am.

But maybe there was someone at the gas station- or at least a paper to tell me the last time there had been.

My hopes were dashed even before I hit the door. The lights inside weren't on, it was just the glow of a television showing the last winning lotto numbers- but it was faced away from me, and its reflection off the fridge cases too faint to read, so I couldn't even try to get any information out of that.

My stomach growled. It was getting to be about lunchtime. I couldn't remember if I had any more granola bars in my desk- not that it mattered, since I couldn't find it. There was food inside the gas station, candy bars and onion ring chips. It wasn't a feast, but it might mean surviving a few more days- if you could count spending most of your time on a toilet that wouldn't flush, just praying that you didn't fill it while you were on it because the shower also didn't work.

I looked around for something heavy- a rock or anything, really, just strong enough to break through the window. The parking lot was clean. Oh well, I was going to have to move up from petty auto-parts theft to breaking and entering some other time. I decided to try to walk up to the store.

I passed the strip mall, though it was now just empty lots and empty windows. All three shops had closed down in rapid succession. If that hadn't become the norm, it might have worried me.

But I was beginning to understand the rules of the world, and the fact that logic and reason weren't among them.

As an example. I didn't expect to find the store anymore. It wasn't like I'd get to the parking lot, and it would be gone, or that a thick, impenetrable layer of fog would somehow prevent me from moving forward. It was subtler than that. I would simply get lost along the way, and find myself someplace else, with virtually no idea of how A linked to D.

It would have been comforting, if I let it- understanding for the first time how things would play out. But there was an unmistakable malevolence to it- not that there was necessarily some thing orchestrating my circumstances, but that whatever was the root cause didn't have my best interests in mind.

I passed the old school, once a school for the blind, I think, then a high school, then an arts school. Or maybe it hadn't been any of those things- I couldn't quite remember. The fog collected around it, and combined with the distinct gray of the sky, to lend the building a menacing aura. There was a sign, in front, that would have cleared up at least some of my confusion, but I didn't dare get close enough to read it.

It didn't surprise me when I somehow didn't make it to the store. I really had tried, not to let my mind wander, not to sniff any roses, or otherwise let down my guard. But I was beginning to suspect that my guard wasn't to be trusted- and who's watching the watchmen?

At first I viewed it as a diversion, something to take my mind off the very real possibility that I was going to starve in this odd little island the fog had carved out for me.

I passed a little old lady's home, with a brick walkway. I could tell one of the bricks was loose on sight. I used my car key to pry it up, then slipped it in my pocket.

I walked funnier, with the brick rubbing against my leg, and it quickly started to chafe. It wasn't long before my hip started to ache, too.

My plan, ill-conceived though it almost certainly was, was to make my way back to the gas station, break in the window, and take what I could. It sounded like subsistence, of terrible, and pointless kind. But I wasn't ready to just accept that I was trapped here, to accept that there was nothing to do but lay down and die.

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