Authors: Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Banch stumbled to her feet and coughed. “That’s how it is? Really? Well then, come and get some, dog-dicks!”
The Assembly broke into a mischievous stride, adoring every step they took. A rage filled growl followed at Jared’s back as he dropped down to the other side of the fence.
Banch looked through the chain link with beleaguered eyes. “Run fast. NOW!”
He put his head down and sprinted. Half way across the alley a sound lifted around him like an indescribable color, the hard essence of everything substantial, ripping and pulling away from its housing of physical material, and bubbling, frothing—hissing—the breaking of waves on the rocky foundation of time and space. It was implausible, dreamlike, and breathtaking, all of those things, and Jared didn’t have a moment to even fear for his life. His head turned ever so slightly and he saw particles flowing straight for him. The chain link fence stretched and dissected into silver strings and shrapnel that heated and cooled in micro-eclipses, and Banch’s body bonded with those pieces at the speed of a thunderclap, which trapped Jared and absorbed him inside it. But there was no darkness in the next moment, not even when he’d become disembodied, and the city passed beneath, buildings, roads, people, plants, bugs, dust, particles, atoms, elections, the whole of everything passing by—THEN a tremendous tightening of the establishment of all matter made the infinite expansion solid all at once and inside his chest something gyrated and whirled, a rollercoaster heart in a bone cage.
Slowly, the thing among the matter was less than a concept.
It was a man again.
His clothes smelled singed and he felt unusually hungry. He couldn’t address such bodily impulses though, not in the parking lot of Sprout’s grocery store, not with Banch collapsed at his feet, blood streaming from her eyes, ears, and mouth, red tendrils trailing out to meet a small puddle a couple feet away.
Jared took his cell phone out and dialed Kaitlin. His heart leapt when she answered on the second ring.
“Hey, are you done with the audition?” he breathed.
“Yeah, it sucked big time! And—”
“I need your help. Please, you need to come right now. I’m at Sprouts by your place. Are you close? Can you get here fast? How far are you?”
“A few miles away. Jared, what’s the deal now?”
Banch’s chest hitched and a blood bubble burst at her nostrils.
“It’s not about me this time,” he told Kaitlin, and hung up.
When Jared was eighteen years old…
He carried a spare battery for his cell phone because he’d send Kaitlin hundreds of text messages every day. She answered each one with wit and care, normally within a minute or two of receiving them. Jared needed advice about pretty much everything and she was more than happy to provide that; she’d saved him countless times, from school to friends to family to all things life related. Had their friendship not gone where it had, Jared’s mother would have most likely been the recipient of those endless texts, and seeing as his hanging around the office had already gotten her into hot water, that would have made things even tenser at home. Jared’s father actually hid from him to avoid such encounters, but his mother couldn’t bring herself to do that, and thus got the brunt of it—until Kaitlin. With her there were never any blow-ups or frustrated gnashing of teeth for all Jared’s neediness. She dealt with him, always steady, always calm. That put her far up in everybody’s book, but when she and Jared kissed one night after watching
Big Trouble in Little China
, their favorite John Carpenter movie, that’s when he decided on a list of his favorite people, Kaitlin burst off the page, right from the top.
The kiss sent his boy-heart into motion. He knew things would build, more physical, more emotional, more everything, and he was ready for all of that. He couldn’t be a burden on his parents forever—he needed someone like Kaitlin, an able body who actually thrived on walking him through his unreasonable reservations and irresolution. She was his hand-holder, his guide, his soul mate, as far as he was concerned.
The absolute perfect woman for Jared Kare.
For a long while, since before he could remember, he’d thought he’d share a big moment with his ideal girl: they’d hold each other and stare out into the golden distance, into something so much bigger than both of them, and Jared could let out a sigh, not from his mouth, but from his entire heart and soul, and he would say, carefully but without reservation, “I’m finally content.”
Kaitlin and Jared went to the beach one cool summer night to make-out. She’d been acting strange the last few dates but agreed to go, so he was certain she wasn’t seeing another guy. And how could she? He possessed so much of her time it would be impossible. He told her he’d bought condoms and she’d replied in a text,
” So he was ready to make love for the first time and gaze into that future with all the wonder he’d expected.
So there they were, on his grandma’s old patchwork quilt (one of dozens), the invisible but powerful waves crashing around in the dusky, liquid static evening, and the moon a radiant blossom in space, his pants off, her pants off, their kissing becoming a manic lip-dance of the lover’s tribe and he was so ready to at last be a man and make Kaitlin a woman. He took out the condom and ripped open the packaging and withdrew it with expert grace (he’d practiced with four others that morning). He began to roll it over himself, when he heard a voice above the waves.
She was crying.
“Yes?” he whispered, despite the ocean’s insistent thunder. “Are you not ready? We don’t have to. I can wait until whenever.”
Kaitlin hastily dragged over her jeans and Jared moved away, giving her space. He felt weird being exposed so he tossed the condom into the sand and got dressed too. Kaitlin attempted to say something but couldn’t. Instead she held him and wept for a long time. He took her home and they said very little else that night and much of the next day.
They went to their favorite 50’s place, Dean’s Dinin,’ and had an in-depth conversation about how
wasn’t actually that bad of a film, considering it tried to satire the first film, even if clumsily so. Then a silence ensued after the chuckles died down. Thankfully, or regretfully, Jared couldn’t remember which, Kaitlin started talking.
“About the other night.”
“You don’t have to explain it if you don’t want to,” he said.
She reached across the table and took his hand. He instantly felt warm from his heart out to his extremities, his head, everywhere. He wanted it to be perfect for her—she’d been so good to him; she was his savior, and she deserved all the perseverance and preservation of dignity he could offer.
“I love you, Jared,” she said.
His smile couldn’t have stretched any farther across his face.
“But I’m not
love with you,” she continued. “I’ve been figuring some stuff out.”
His stomach twisted, caught in corrosive barbed wire. “Stuff? What stuff? What do you mean?”
“I liked how your lips felt. I liked kissing you, for a while, but—”
He leaned over his half-eaten Elvis-size chili burger. “Yes, and?”
“I think I… like girls.”
“Don’t be mad. Jared, I care about you so much. Please don’t be mad. You’re like a brother to me.”
The arsenic word touched his lips. “Brother?”
“Please. This was so hard to say. You’re my best friend. Don’t hate me. I love you.”
“Don’t say that… don’t. But wait, you touched me and kissed…” he lowered his voice, “down there. I thought, I mean—I don’t know what I mean.”
“I wanted to see for sure. I really didn’t want it to be this way. I
to like you in that way. If I could take a pill or get hypnotized or sell my soul, I would, just because you’re the greatest friend I’ve ever had. It would be perfect but I’m just me. And I realize it more every day. I can’t keep it from you any longer. I know this isn’t fair. I know I led you on. But please forgive me. I’m not lying when I say I love you. You are the most important person in my entire life.”
Jared would have left at that point. He was embarrassed, angry, crestfallen, and jealous of anyone Kaitlin might romantically love in place of him. He’d never learned to drive though, and was too frightened he’d accidently get hit if he walked home across the freeway overpass. He didn’t trust himself, and in the diner that night, he hated that self-mistrust more than ever. Since he could go nowhere, since he had imposed his own imprisonment in this awful moment, he sat quietly and ate his chili burger, ignoring the sour retort of his stomach.
Luckily for him, Kaitlin refused to go away. She was his lifelong friend, whether he wanted her to hold that position anymore or not. He learned however that he not only wanted it, but needed it. Her guilt or maybe her genuine love kept her in his text messages for every long day and night leading out of the world of children into the realm of ever-after.
* * *
Kaitlin grunted when Banch sagged under their hold. Jared felt the banshee losing unconsciousness again, becoming heavier around his shoulders. “I don’t understand why we can’t just
this chick to my place.”
“Banch, you gotta help here,” Jared said. “We aren’t far.”
She mumbled and started shuffling her feet forward again.
“Jared, who is she? Why aren’t you saying anything?” Kaitlin yanked keys out of her jeans and jangled them until she found the one for her apartment door. “She your new girlfriend?”
“Okay, so yeah. What the hell is she dressed in? She looks like you picked her up at a comic book convention. Her hair is pretty punk rock though. Wonder what she uses to make those purple and blue streaks look so metallic. It’s very cool.”
“She’s foreign. Europe, somewhere.”
“Europe somewhere? What details! You two must have really hit it off.”
“Your sarcasm isn’t needed.”
“None intended. So does the Princess of Transylvania only ride in horse drawn carriages or something?”
“She’s frightened of cars.”
“And shoes too?”
He had completely forgotten about Banch’s bare feet and was at a loss of words at first. “It’s… cultural I guess.”
“Did you check if she bit her tongue?”
“During the seizure.”
“Oh yeah, I don’t think so.”
“Has this happened before?” They reached the front door and Kaitlin stuck out the key. “Does she take meds?”
“Don’t—I mean, no, no she doesn’t. Look Kait, we won’t be very long here. I just had nowhere else to turn.”
“For her sake, I’m happy I beat the traffic.” Kaitlin pushed open the door. The wall to wall bookshelves in the small living room had script pages taped up. Warm sunshine filtered through the far window’s white drapes and gave the pages a glow as they fluttered from the ceiling fan. The apartment smelled faintly of weed. Kaitlin always took a drag before auditions.
They passed the short hall with the framed
Big Trouble in Little China
posters. A vintage
Escape from New York
hung in her bedroom in a more expensive frame her father bought her last Christmas.
They guided Banch over to the eggshell leather couch and laid her down.
“Want to put her legs up?”
“No!” Jared hollered and then caught himself. “That is, no, that’ll be fine. She’s fine how she is.”
Kaitlin bit her lip as she studied him. “Some weird shit going on here, buster. Need to come clean about something to this old girl?”
“I met her online. I don’t know her very well. That okay?”
again?” Kaitlin tossed her keys on the glass coffee table with a loud clatter. “Holy wow. Jared Kare. You go. Even banged up, she’s pretty damned hot, if you don’t mind me saying so. I guess there are all kinds online these days. You totally scored, well except for the epilepsy thing.”
He glared at her, but Kaitlin only shrugged. It wasn’t in her nature to ever apologize for sticking her foot in her mouth.
“I need some water,” he said with a sigh.
“No, I’ll get it.” He started toward the kitchen.
“Impressive! You didn’t give me the whole ‘
I don’t know where you keep the glasses
“I still don’t know.” Jared opened several cupboards before finding the tumblers. “But I found one.”
Kaitlin switched on the TV and put the volume low. “Did you hear about these Russian terrorists?”
“Really? You’re kidding right?”
“I’ve had my hands full.”
“It happened not far from here. Bunch of people hacked up with machetes. I heard it on the radio. God, when you first called all frantic I thought you might be caught up in that somehow.”
Jared filled his tumbler to the point of spilling over. He walked back into the living room and a news report was on TV. A blonde field reporter with bad liver-spotted skin pointed at the laundromat. The footage cut to an alley filled with bodies under sheets, crime scene tape, and law enforcement people scribbling onto notepads. A bulging-eyed old man standing across the street gestured there as he was interviewed. He was shaking his head, not knowing what to think.
“That’s near our primary care clinic, isn’t it? Holy shit.” Kaitlin got closer to the TV as though a better vantage would confirm her suspicions. She looked over her shoulder. “You had an appointment there today.”
“No, it’s next week.”
“I made the appointment for you, dude. It was today. I made you put it in your phone.”
“Oh yeah, my phone’s been acting weird.”
“That’s not the only thing.” Kaitlin laced her arms together, eying him critically. Banch made a noise and began to stir.
“What am I doing in Kaitlin’s apartment?” the banshee murmured.
Kaitlin’s head canted. “Wait, how did she—”