by Jordan Abel
By the time the acid took hold, we were halfway to Edmonton. Tommy rode shotgun, a cigarette dangling from his dry lips, and Bear scrunched in the back seat, shifting constantly. Johansson, our first year roommate, had called us on his cell a few hours ago, breathing heavily, saying that he needed to get out, that everything had gone wrong.
“Talk to me, Joe,” I had said.
“Stay back, you fuckers! Stay back!”
“What the fuck, Joe? Is this a joke?”
We burned through the prairie night–ours eyes twisted; our skulls hollowed. Tommy flicked his cigarette out the window and lit another one. Tommy and Johansson had been the closest out of all of us, but that wasn’t saying much. They had gone to the same high school and were on the same hockey team at one point, but they didn’t really hang out until we all lived together. Other than that, none of us had really heard all that much from Johansson for three years.
“One more time,” Bear said. “Exactly what did he say?”
“I don’t know, Bear. He told someone to stay back and then there was some yelling, some crashing–some craziness ensuing,” I said.
Bear chuckled and shook his head. “Fuck me.”
Tommy twisted back to look at Bear. “Dudes, I just realized something. Something very important.” Tommy had been quiet since we got the phone call, but he sounded mellow now, relaxed.
“It’s all going to be okay,” Tommy said.
“This is what you realized?” Bear said.
Tommy raised an eyebrow and slowly tapped his nose.
“Where were you an hour ago?” Bear said.
“In another world, my friend. In another world.”
We had been out camping when Johansson called us. I was maintaining the fire, strategically balancing the logs so that they formed a pyramid, and Tommy was lounging on the folding chair, a bottle of tequila glued to his hand. We had just been chilling, waiting for Bear to get back from the river with dinner, when my cell phone rang.
“I’m starved,” Tommy said. “We should have stopped at that Dairy Queen.”
“We have those fish I caught,” Bear said.
“Dude, I could die if I eat raw fish from the river.”
“I eat them all the time.”
“Dude, you’re a bear.”
Bear always had a hard time fitting in, but that’s why we loved him. In first year, Bear polished off a keg in our living room and stumbled out drunkenly into the quad. We heard in the newspaper the next day that Campus Security had found Bear passed out behind the student’s union building. The newspaper also said that Bear had been found lying in a mound of McDonald’s take out bags.
“What about sushi?”
“What about sushi, Bear? I’m not going to eat your raw fish.”
“It’s good for you. Nutrients, proteins. It’s delicious.”
“Shut the fuck up, Bear.”
“Don’t make me maul you, guy.”
“Please, Bear” I said. “Don’t make me take out the trank gun again.” I lifted my hand off the wheel and felt the tranquilizer gun secured in my hip holster.
“Such a big man with your scary tranquilizers,” Bear said. “Why don’t you trank this guy.” Bear pushed Tommy’s shoulder.
“That’s a good idea,” Tommy said. He popped open the glove compartment and found the carton of tranquilizer darts. He snapped one of the white tubes in half and poured it into his mouth.
“Jesus!” I said, snatching the box from Tommy. “That shit is expensive.”
“Be cool, be cool,” Tommy said, pulling out three cigarettes, and placing one in my mouth. He lit the cigarette for me and then handed one to Bear. He lit his own cigarette and put his palms up. “Let’s all just take a deep breath.”
When we arrived in Edmonton, my world had become blistered by neon and Tommy’s face shifted and contorted, undulating like water with a deep current. I pulled the Civic into the deserted parking lot by the movie theatre and stepped out to stretch. Bear pushed his way out of the tiny back seat and got down on all fours, pressing his claws into the pavement. His fur was surprisingly clean for being out in the woods for a week. I checked my phone and called Johansson, but it went straight to his recording.
“Voicemail,” I said.
“Figures,” Tommy said, stumbling out of the car.
“Yeah. I guess we’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way.” I slid my hand into my back pocket and pulled out my wallet. I had five bucks and a Starbucks gift card.
“Hey, Bear, does your dad still have that collection of shotguns?”
Bear stood up on his hind legs and said, “you mean the ones that murdered and oppressed my ancestors?”
“The very same.”
“Of course, they’re in a glass case above the fire place–a constant reminder of every bears struggle against humanity and their cruel oppression.”
“Neat,” Tommy said.
Bear’s house was in Riverbend, a once posh community that has since become old and wrinkled. We pulled up in front of Bear’s sprawling family home and quietly made our way inside. Everything in Bear’s house was bigger and the floor was covered by chunks of wood and claw gouges. Bear led us to the living room and carefully unlocked the cabinet. We each took a gun and Bear grabbed a box of shells from the book shelf on the other side of the room.
Outside, Bear said, “fucking rights.”
“Is anyone else still really high?” I said.
“You better believe it,” Tommy said, sliding back into his seat.
The sky contracted and expanded like a breathing organism and I felt its breath, its blinding exhalations. When I got back into the car, I could see the road in front of us bubbling up and bursting in tiny pops. I handed my melting shotgun to Tommy and twisted around to see Bear. His fur wriggled and floated like he was underwater and his tiny, black eyes had grown to the size of apples. When he smiled at me, his jagged teeth had smiles of their own.
I shifted the Civic into drive and we took off down the quiet, bubbling street towards Johansson’s pad. He still lived in the same place that he got after he was kicked out of school. I had been there once or twice and I remembered it because it was the one across from the community centre.
I slowly emerged from the Civic and approached his front door. Every little detail seemed to shift. I reached for the doorknob and found myself with my palm on the door bell. I readjusted my hand and turned the knob. I held my shotgun in one hand, letting the barrel point down towards the floor.
The front door was open and all the lights were off. I flicked on the light next to the door, but nothing happened. Tommy stayed close behind me and Bear stood by the car. We had all silently agreed that he would be much too big to move around Johansson’s place. I made my way down the dark, blue hallway towards his bedroom. There was no one in sight, but there looked like there were clumps of black dirt all of over the floor. When we got to his room, I flicked on the light, but again, nothing happened. I took my cell phone out of my pocket and held it out in front of me, illuminating the carpet.
There was brown dirt ground into the fine white carpet and there appeared to be several pairs of footprints. The dirt shifted and liquefied, and I pressed my eyes shut for a moment to calm myself. Johansson was not here. I felt my shoulders slump and I turned around. Tommy was still in the hallway, pointing towards the basement door. I had forgotten that Johansson had a basement, and, now that Tommy pointed it out, I realized that we needed to go down there.
Tommy went first, shotgun aimed, slowly stepping down the dark basement stairs. As soon as I set foot on the stairs I could smell the sweet, pungent aroma of weed. There were four stainless steel tables covered with dirt and thermal lamps hanging from above. We scanned the room but didn’t see anyone. I made my way over to the window that had been covered over with tin foil. I stood in a daze for a moment, trying to figure out why Johansson never told us he had a grown op.
I held my phone out in front of me and looked under the tables. I glanced up and Tommy was standing next to a wooden door with a glimpse of light escaping from underneath. He nodded and I held up my shotgun. He held out his hand and quickly opened the door.
“What the fuck!” I said. “What the hell are you doing down here, man?”
Johansson was crouched in the corner clutching an uprooted marijuana plant. The window in this room wasn’t covered over and moonlight streamed in.
“I thought you were them!” he said. “They robbed me! They took my finger!”
Johansson held up his hand and the bloody stump where his ring finger used to be.
“Jesus,” I said.
“Yeah, tell me about,” he said.
Tommy slammed his shotgun against the wall. “What the fuck, man? You’ve been holding out on us this entire time. I thought we were friends.”
“We can go get it back,” Johansson said, wincing as he stood up. “Let’s go right now. Let’s go get my weed back from–”
Tommy grabbed the tranquilizer gun from my holster and shot Johansson in the neck. He raised the gun to his lips, blew, and attempted to get the gun back in my holster.
I snatched the gun from him and replaced it myself. I shook my head and said “dude, why?”
“He was annoying me,” Tommy said. “I had to do something.” He leaned over and snatched the marijuana plant from Johansson’s limp fingers. “And, now we have weed.”
Bear leaned against the car, waiting for us. I carried the plant with me and Tommy followed me out. I collected our guns and tossed them in the Civic’s hatchback. We waited silently in the car for a couple of seconds before anyone said anything.
“So, what the fuck happened?” Bear said.
I tossed the plant back to Bear.
“Huh,” Bear said. “Well, that’s all I need to know.”
“Exactly,” Tommy said. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from years of alcohol and drug abuse, it’s that free drugs are only free if you drive quickly and don’t ask any questions.”
“I’m in tune with that sentiment,” Bear said.
The sun was beginning to rise and the brilliant pink and yellow rays were like fire against the blank sides of the university buildings. I breathed in deeply and could smell the welcoming marijuana, wafting through the air from the back seat.
“Well,” I said. “Anyone want some breakfast?”
We drove to the Denny’s close to my place and slowly emerged from the Civic. I was sore and tired, and the sky’s breath had become calm and quiet. We wandered into the restaurant and let the waitress find us a table big enough for Bear and Tommy and myself. She sat us at a round table away from the rest of the people eating breakfast and we all ordered coffee.
Bear was facing the window, looking away from all the other patrons, but Tommy and I could see them clearly. There was a pair of guys wearing dark red flannel jackets in a booth not far away from us, staring over their shoulders at us, laughing and talking.
“What the hell is that about,” Tommy said.
“I don’t know. Nothing to worry about,” I said.
“What’s going on?” Bear said, turning around.
The flannel guys pointed over at us and Bear turned back around, the fur on the back of his neck beginning to stand up.
“Whoa, whoa,” I said. “Take it easy, big guy. Nothing to worry about here.”
Our breakfast arrived and Tommy said, “it’s all good, Bearsy. Just eat your back bacon and we’ll go smoke the refer.”
Bear lowered his shoulders and began to eat.
“Sweet zombie Jesus,” Bear said as he pushed away his empty plate. “That was amazing.”
“And you wanted me to eat raw fish,” Tommy said, wiping his mouth.
The sun had risen and flooded the restaurant with light. The waitress walked to each window and pulled down the blinds. The guys in red flannel were still turning around to check out our table.
“Well, shit boys,” Tommy said. “Let’s go smoke that herb.”
We paid the bill and filed out of the restaurant. I hopped into the car and Tommy jumped in too. I started up the engine and we waited for Bear to get in, but he was turned around looking back towards the entrance. I rolled down my window and yelled, “Bear! We’re going!”
I heard a muffled reply and stuck my head out of the window to get a better look. The two guys in flannel jackets had come out of the restaurant and Bear was standing snout to face with them. I turned off the car and got out.
“Hey, door mat,” one of them said. “Your mom’s head looks great on my wall.”
“Yeah,” said the other, “I’m going to wear your skin for increased warmth during the winter!”
“That could have been funnier,” one of them said.
“Shut up, Fred.”
Bear’s hair stood up straight and he shook with rage.
“Easy, Bear,” I said. “Easy.”
Bear snarled at me and slammed me into the side of the car. He seethed with rage and started to charge at the two men in flannel.
“Fuck! Run!” The men bolted as I tried to pick myself up off the ground. Bear ran until he swiped and clawed open one of their backs. Bear bit his neck and tore the flesh off his back.
The other man in flannel stopped in his tracks and stared back, stunned and frozen. Bear glanced up, his eyes frenzied, his mouth dripping with blood and red flannel.
“Jesus, Bear,” I said, pulling the tranquilizer out. “One is enough.”
Tommy got out of the car and lit a cigarette. “Come on, Bearsy. Let’s just go hit up the gravity bong. It’s all good, bro.”
Bear snarled and I noticed that all the people in the restaurant were pressed against the window, taking pictures with their phones and gasping. Their mouths moved silently behind the glass. I aimed the trank gun at Bear and waited as he circled.
“He’s gone mad with bear rage again,” Tommy said.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” I said. “Can I get a drag off of your smoke.”
“You can have one,” he said, offering me the pack.
“I don’t want a full one, I just want a drag.”
“Come on,” he said. “You know you want a whole smoke.”
Bear growled and said, “I am in blood stepped so far–”
“Shit,” I said. “Really, Bear? Shakespeare?”
“– that should I wade no more–”
I plucked the cigarette from Tommy’s hands and took a drag.
“–returning would be as tedious as going over.”
“Have it your way,” I said, taking the shot.
Jordan Abel has a degree in English and has spent the last couple of years trying to find himself. He spends his spare time listening to vinyl records and drinking cheap beer. His writing can be found in Existere and Legacy.