Chasing the Ethereal, Part Two: Dimming Twilight
by Shaun Terry
Justin sat on the cobalt blue couch in Edwin’s living room, a spartan space with cheap, kitschy ornaments and hardwood floors. Jennifer, a 22-year-old Vanderbilt student, plopped down beside Justin and smiled, as she pulled out her Apple laptop and sank into the forgiving cushions. Grinning mischievously, Jennifer informed Justin: “I saw Lexie yesterday.”
“Aw, sheeyit,” Justin replied.
“Justin, how old are you?”
“Old enough to know the difference, young enough to do it, anyway. I trust in the wisdom of Aaliyah: ‘Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.’”
“Well, you ain’t gotta tell me. Anyway, my daddy always said ‘If there’s grass.’ I think that makes him a pedophile asshole, but I don’t think he’s really a pedophile. He’s def’nitely a asshole. Anyway, it don’t matter. I ain’t never gonna talk to that girl.”
“I’m gonna see her tomorrow. You could come.”
“Aw, hale nah, girl.” Justin’s big, brown, chafed hand slid back and forth across his knee. “This shit might all be made up, anyhow, you know? We might all be stuck in the Matrix.”
“You love that movie, don’t you? But what’re you talking about? What does that have to do with Lexie?”
“Got shit to do with Lexie. I’m just sayin’. I lost my toothbrush this mornin’.”
Jennifer had hair light enough for a Nordic to envy, a slender, heart-shaped face and a thin frame. She was pretty, but Justin figured that she looked a little too pretty, a little too pure. Not my style, he’d thought. Thin, discrete lines appeared between her generic, symmetrical facial features. “Justin…”
“Okay, I was just thinkin’. You know how, sometimes, when some weird shit happens, you have one of those dumbass thoughts like maybe everything’s fake or somethin’? Like, what if this is all a dream or somethin’, you know? You know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!”
“Yeah, I used to have dreams like that.”
“Well, I lost my toothbrush this mornin’, and the thing is I ain’t taken a toothbrush outta my bathroom in I-don’t-know-how-long. And don’t nobody go in there, neither. I mean, I ain’t had any lady over in there in a few weeks, anyway, ‘less I gave her the boot, and no one else would be in there. Not even my daddy.”
“So what do you think happened?”
“Girl, that’s what I’m tryin’ to tell you! I got no idea! It don’t make no sense, huh?”
Jennifer smiled and shook her head.
Justin got up from the couch and stood a few feet in front of Jennifer, facing her. The pupils in her smallish light blue eyes doubled in diameter. “What if you’re a robot, Jen? Or a alien? You could be some deadly Kung Fu monster from outer space. How would I know? I’m gettin’ real suspicious, Jen!” Justin’s arms were spread wide as he gesticulated with refreshed vigor.
Jennifer laughed and said, “You’re crazy, Justin!”
“Maybe this is your fault. Maybe it’s you. Maybe I’m part of your imagination and I’m just a puppet here for your entertainment. Maybe that’s how powerful you are, especially since you’re gettin’ all As over there at that good-ass school. When’s the last time you got a B, Jen? Huh?”
“Oh, it’s been years. That’s why I haven’t had any of these crazy dreams: I’ve been too busy getting As.”
Justin laughed loudly before his face settled into a crooked smile. Jennifer thought he was charming for a silly country boy.
That night, Justin went downtown with his high school friend, Paul. Paul was quiet and observant. He was taller than Justin, but generally seemed less dynamic. As he looked out at the phenomena around him, Paul’s inner world constantly churned in secret.
The two young men danced to trance and techno music and they drank down as much alcohol as they normally would. As often happened after absorbing the drinks, lights, sound, movements, and energy, they decided to go to Waffle House at the end of the night for greasy food as a final indulgence of the evening.
Paul turned the keys forward in the ignition, before he looked both ways down Woodland Street and compelled his long, fifty-year old car to glide humbly toward the highway. The snappy drums and buzzing melodies of loud Southern hip-hop washed out from Paul’s speakers to envelope Paul’s and Justin’s bodies, like sea foam over turtles on a warm shoreline. Justin’s eyes closed, sending him to the fantasyscape of worlds that were secret even to him. Paul turned his head to observe Justin’s closed, drooping face. Figures. That boy can’t hold his liquor.
Suddenly, Paul heard the thudding of his tires quickly rolling unevenly over the warning strip and then the curb. Paul threw his hands, making a cross above his head as the chrome bumper of his car absorbed a thousand dents and scratches against a tall, sturdy oak. As the steering wheel resisted the corporal encroachment, Paul’s chest collapsed into his torso like a heavy balloon gradually giving back its air. The crown of Justin’s head and left shoulder shot out of the safe, enclosed space of the automobile like cannon fodder and made their way outside to the unabated gold and white light that hung in the street’s atmosphere. The windshield had given partial birth to Justin, and he simply hung in space as though life itself had been paused, although this was not exactly the case for Justin. His brain had bounced back and forth inside his head like a pinball. Blood gently slid over his face and torso. His collarbone and ribs penetrated his lungs, reshaping the pinkish bags and poking holes of various shapes and sizes into the spongy matter.
Paul’s and Justin’s souls seeped from their pores like vapor, rejoining their families, their friends, elephants in Nepal, grub worms in Peru, the edge of the wispy atmosphere that separates Earth from endless vacuum and the greater universe.
The car burst into flames. The two young men had died long before the police had been able to arrive at the scene.
Family was informed. They informed friends. Friends got on social media, texted, and called more friends to relay the bad news. Most people who knew Justin required consolation in those predawn hours.