Chasing Ghosts

(i started this story — as a screenplay — last century. since then i have played around with it when the mood struck me. i am in the process of converting it to prose…er…a novel? let’s find out! 
here are the first few pages of my novel in progress. i like the sound of that. novel in progress….)

There is something about being in a car that makes me think anything is possible. I could end up anywhere. The turn of the road. The horizon in the distance. That song on the radio. That one song and somehow I know everything will be okay.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been riding in this car. I mean days. How many days? Today it’s been six hours driving. But how many days? It feels like it’s been a lifetime. I watch the outside world fly past. The world. Blue sky. Trees. Hills. Bridges & rivers. Birds flying black against the setting sun. People in their yards. In their cars. Staring as they pass us by. What must I look like to them? An escaped mental patient? Wait, am I an escaped mental patient? What am I doing here? How did I get here?

He keeps rolling down his window. He knows what the wind does to my hair. It makes me look like I’m wearing a tornado on my head. I think he prefers that. Somehow it puts him in control. He likes being in control. And he likes to tell me how out of control I am.

I just push my sunglasses up so he can’t see my eyes. I just lay my head against the car window & don’t listen as he tells me again to fasten my seatbelt. It doesn’t matter what he says. What he does. What he thinks. I am in a car. Anything is possible.

***

When the world is still black and white, a six-year-old girl sits in the back seat of a car. It is a spacious, old fashioned, dark vinyl bench style car seat. The girl is sitting in the very middle of the seat — no seat belt in sight. She is cute, wearing a modest dress. She is wearing adult sized cat-eye sunglasses. She has curly, light brown hair that is blowing from a breeze from someone’s open car window.

The girl hums to herself and looks up and out towards a window of the car. She turns

her head and pushes the sunglasses up with the heel of one hand as she focuses on someone in the front seat. She speaks in a clear and matter-of-fact child’s voice. The girl says, “Am I dead?” She pauses and then asks again, “ Am I?”

***

We pull into the dusty parking lot of some side-of-the-road mom and pop business. I can see a cluster of leaning businesses, video rental, bait shop, groceries and beer. The sun beats down on the asphalt. The warm asphalt smell makes me think of roller coasters.

Guy says to me, “Do you want anything?” He pauses and exhales through his nose in that special irritated way he reserves for me, “Hello?”

He slams the door shut as he gets out from the driver’s seat. Harder than he probably had to. I watch as he walks away from the car and across the lot to the door of the mom and pop operation. He has on dirty Levis that sag a little in the ass and a wife-beater t-shirt, straw cowboy hat, and work boots. He’s the kind of guy a girl both longs after and knows better about. He turns heads, and mothers & fathers thank goodness he isn’t part of their daughter’s lives.

As he goes through the door, I can hear the tinkle of a bell. The bell reminds me of something that I can’t quite remember. I feel a certain tension for it. A moment later he comes back out the door, again with the accompaniment of the tinkling bell. He approaches the passenger side of the car. I can take in his slight build, his shaggy light, brown curls, and his painfully pretty face. He taps his knuckles against the glass of the window.

I can see myself as I start to roll the window down. I look almost just like him. Though I can’t believe I am as pretty as he is. My sunglasses hide my eyes, which aren’t as soul-crushing as his. I don’t have the bedroom eyes he has. He knows it. He uses those eyes against me.

I roll down the window just a couple inches.

He exaggerates as he leans it to the crack to say, “Do you have to pee?”

I just shake my head at him.

He shrugs…to who? To himself? For my benefit? Is someone else watching? He shrugs and walks around to get back in the car.

***

Two men in a room. It could be any crappy office room. They could be any men in crappy suits. One sits at a desk. One stands and leans. They stare at a file full of photos and documents. Two cups of coffee sit on the desk. One is in a Styrofoam cup. The other is in a white porcelain cup that looks as if it has seen a lot of the world in between washings.

Mason, standing, asks, “Do you want me to bring him in?”

Reilly twists his lips up in consternation. His eyes stay on the folder. “Has he asked for her again?”

“He hasn’t said anything for hours.”

“We should let him sit. Let him stew. I think he is close to breaking.”

Mason lifts the stained cup to his lips. He drinks thoughtfully. He sets the cup down. “I don’t know,” he finally says. “Some fresh air might make him more agreeable. He might like a shower and — “

“Why don’t we throw him a fucking party while we’re at it,” growls Reilly as he is forced to look up from the folder. “I often wonder if you have the stomach for this, Mason. Johnson warned me about you. I vouched for you. Don’t make me regret that.”

Mason seems to be swallowing down his manhood as he responds, “Yessir.”

Reilly stands, tosses his half-full cup of coffee at the trashcan, and sneers, “Let me know right away if anything changes. Don’t talk to anyone but me!

Another pause as Mason shifts on his weight from one leg to the other, clenching, “Yessir,” he manages to answer.

Reilly stares him down before stalking out of the room.

***

We sit in a booth in some dingy, small town diner. A waitress brings our order as we sit in silence. She glances from one to the other of us. I think she wants to say something, but Guy has a pretty fussy look on his face. She’s a good waitress. She leaves our food and skedaddles. A burger with fries, two eggs over easy and toast, and a side salad with French dressing are sit in front of Guy. He is already sucking on the straw to a large chocolate milkshake with whipped topping and sprinkles. The waitress leaves me a BLT with a side of fruit cocktail.

Realizing she has left without kissing his ass, Guy yells after her, “Hey! Can I get a Coke!” Then he starts wolfing down his burger.

“Her name isn’t ‘Hey.’”

“What is her name, Smartie.”

I give him my “haha” face. “Her name is Irene.”

“Irene, huh?”

I say it quietly to myself. I know he hears, but he doesn’t say anything when I say, “And my name is Colleen.” I notice that our names rhyme, me and Irene, but I don’t point that out to him. I pick up the top of my sandwich to put mustard on it.

“What is that?” Guy asks in a way that makes me not want to answer.

I brace myself, “It’s a BLT.”

“Where’s the bacon?”

“I didn’t want bacon.”

“So then why would you order a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich?”

The waitress returns and drops off Guy’s Coke. She looks at me, not him, when she asks, “Is everything okay?”

“There isn’t any bacon on her BLT.”

I glare at Guy and then offer a smile to Irene. “Thank you. Everything is terrific.”

Guy ignores me and says to our waitress, “Irene, what did you do with the bacon from her BLT? Who gets it? Am I still getting charged for that bacon?”

Irene turns and walks away without answering. Like I said, she’s a good waitress. A smart one.

Guy eats the other half of his burger in one bite and says with a mouthful of kind of chewed meat, “I don’t like her.”

“She can tell you’re not going to tip her.

“What? I don’t look like a high roller?”

I shrug. “Whether you roll or not has nothing to do with it. You’re a narcissistic sadist. And narcissistic sadists don’t usually tip well.”

“Sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me. You don’t think a guy will tip well so you act all snooty to him. I suppose I could stiff her…if that’s what she wants.” Just like a narcissistic sadist to not even acknowledge I’ve called him a narcissistic sadist.

“She only gets paid like two bucks an hour. She lives off of her tips. Not that you care.”

“What? Are you an advocate for waitresses now…or maybe you are a waitress yourself?”

“I’m just saying you shouldn’t punish her for the system she works in.”

Guy sits back, looking down his nose at me. “One, Colleen, I’m not punishing her for the system she works in. I’m punishing her for being a snooty bitch. And two. You are a waitress, aren’t you?” He pauses here, trying not to grin. He is enjoying this too much. Narcissistic sadist. He pauses to punish me before he asks, “Do you wear a nametag? Do you keep pens in your hair and sweaty dollars down your cleavage?” Another sadistic pause before he goes in for the kill. “Does your mother know?”

I don’t answer him. It wouldn’t do any good.

“That’s okay, sis. We all have to slum it sooner or later. Nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not ashamed of anything. And you know what. Not that it will shut you up or anything. But I really don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

Guy has done everything but lick his plate clean. He’s looking all pleased with himself. “Buck up, baby. I’m all you got right now. Looks like it’s my way or the highway.”

“I’ll take the highway.”

“Funny,” he says as he stands up. “Let’s get rolling.”

I don’t jump when he says jump. I don’t move at all. He doesn’t like it when things don’t go how he wants them to. He wants to make his grand exit, and I’m fucking that up for him. I don’t know what I’m doing. I just hate him right now. It won’t do any good. He will win, but I can at least piss him off. Still.

“This is not the time or the place, Collie. Let’s go.” He reaches down and grabs me by the arm to pull me out of the booth. I watch as some of the others turn to gawk. This makes it worse for me. Worse for everyone, probably. Sometimes I don’t care. But I probably should.

Irene tries to come to my rescue…or maybe she’s realized Guy is trying to leave without paying. “Hey!” she calls out. Then over her shoulder towards the kitchen, “Clay! Get out here!”

Hey and Clay rhyme too, I think as I let Guy push me out the front door.

“Just a minute, Irene,” Guy hollers back at her. Then, to me, with his bedroom eyes turned to snake eyes, he says, “You wait in the car. I mean it. Don’t fuck yourself here. Get. To. The. Car.”

He leaves me standing in the parking lot. I can see shadows past where the sun reflects on the glass windows. I hear angry voices. I almost go back in. But I can’t do it. I find myself walking to the car, closing my ears to the sounds. Closing my brain to the thoughts that pummel me from all directions.

***

We don’t talk to each other for at least an hour. I don’t know if I’m not talking to him or if he’s not talking to me. But there are no rollers coming after his hard-to-miss sky blue ’65 Chevy Impala. So maybe the sun will still set and will still rise again tomorrow, and we will keep on keeping on. Or maybe not. Maybe he left no survivors. Maybe that’s why we’re not running from the cops. Or maybe I’m dead too. Maybe this is some fucked up purgatory where I just ride shotgun as he makes telephone poles fly past in a blur of nothing.

I start to dig around in this big yellow canvas bag of stuff. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but it is something to do. While I’m digging aimlessly, my mind jumps all around and I hear myself whisper, “What’d you do back there?”

“Back where?” he asks without looking over at me.

“Back at the diner,” I whisper into my bag.

“Do you really want to know?”

I stare out my window. I don’t answer him. I don’t know how. I don’t know what I want to know and what I want to forget.

When he speaks to me again, he uses a softer voice. If I didn’t know any better, I would fall in love with him all over again, just hearing that voice that I haven’t heard for so long. Good thing I know better.

Guy says, in that soft voice, the voice that echoes his infamous bedroom eyes, he says, “Remember that time on the lake? When you got the fishing hook stuck in your lip? Remember that? You didn’t even cry.” I can hear his smile. Then I can’t hear it anymore. “Whatever happened to the kid who thought it was a hoot when she had a hook hanging out of her face?” I can smell the Zippo before he even lights the cigarette he slid between his lips as he said this. The sound. The smell. The instant craving for a drag.

I roll my window down. “How can you even remember all that? It hurts my head to try and remember anything from back then.” I realize I have tucked my lips up inside my mouth and am biting on them, trying not to want some of his cigarette. Trying not to ask him for a drag of his cigarette.

“You remember…you wouldn’t forget something like that. You just think it’s easier to play dumb than to admit you’ve lost your way.”

“What would you know about it?”

Guy shrugs, “I know plenty.”

“You don’t know anything.”

He looks at me all side-eyed. “You’d be surprised at what all I know about, sis.” He takes a drag off of his Lucky Strike without even taking it out of his mouth. He thinks that makes him look cool. He thinks that I think that looks cool. Okay, maybe I think that looks cool. But I don’t want him to know.

I try not to look his way. I look out my window. “Do you know where my father is?”

Guy snorts, “Yes.”

This catches me off-guard. I was bluffing. He can’t know…can he? “Oh yeah? So…so where is he then?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“I’m not talking about Harry…I mean my real father.”

The fucker snorts again, “I know what you mean. I still can’t tell you.”

“You’re full of shit, Guy.”

Maybe he’s got Parkinson’s or something because there he goes shrugging again. “It’s all the same to me. But I’ll tell you what…if you really want to see him again, you stick with me on this and don’t cause any trouble and I promise you I’ll take you to see him.”

“ I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t care if you do or you don’t.”

“Well, I don’t.”

And there is that shrug again.

I try not to talk to him. I manage to stay quiet for almost two minutes. Then I hear myself asking, “Not that I care or even think you really know, but let’s just say you do know…then, if you do know…i mean, tell me, at least…is he okay? Is he safe?”

“He’s fine, Collie.” Then he adds, an afterthought, or something to make me worry more? “Sam is the least of your troubles right now.”

“What does that mean? Guy…what does that mean?”

Guy frowns. He still doesn’t look at me. “Let’s talk about something else.”

I find myself talking to the window. I don’t want to look at him. He won’t look at me. He says this stupid shit and acts all cloak and dagger. This is stupid. So I talk to my window. I’m not talking to him. I mutter, “You show up out of nowhere…. I thought you’d died a long time ago…. But, no. You just show up. And now here I am…but of course I don’t know where I am…or why…and I’ve probably been fired. But that’s all just that. You shrug, and that’s the end of the story.”

“What? You mean you had a job? You?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why’d I say that? God, I can be stupid.

But that makes him look over. I see his movement reflected in my window. He sees me now. Or, at least, he’s willing to admit I exist.

“They let you work at that place? What were you doing?” Guy waits for an answer but he doesn’t get one. “Oh, yeah, right. The waitress gig.” I can feel his eyes now. They are all sparkly with the animation of his sadistic narcissism. I can feel his amusement crawling on me like some demented spider. “You ever get your ass grabbed by some love-struck ol’ redneck? I saw that in a movie once, y’know. Then the waitress chick dumped hot coffee on him. Right in his lap. That ever happen to you? You ever had to pour hot coffee some love-struck ol’ boy? I bet you got them all hot in your little apron. Your hair pulled up, but falling back down. Sweaty curls as you hustled your ass off.” I feel Guy’s hand brush back my hair from my face. I jump a little. He pulls back.

I shoot him a pissed off look, “Mama always said you had too much imagination for your own good.”

He scoffs at this, “What would mama know about imagination?”

I roll my eyes at him and sink down in my seat. I do my best to mimic him. “Forget it. I’ve probably said too much already.”

“Don’t be cute.”

Guy doesn’t say anything else. My head tells me I should just drop it and stop talking, but my mouth, as usual, doesn’t listen. “He didn’t do what they said he did.”

“Who?”

“Daddy — Sam — he was set up. He told me so.”

Guy, who has switched from shrugging to scoffing, says, “Yeah, convicts never lie.”

“Don’t call him that.”

“What should I call him then? He is a convict, sis…whether he did it or not.”

I can’t stand it. He thinks he’s so fucking smart. Sadistic fuck. Naraccistic fuck. All I can do is grab onto my door handle and scream. I didn’t know I was going to scream. But now I hear me, screaming. “Stop the car and let me out! Stop it! Stop it!” Why can’t he just stop it?

“Knock it off, Collie.”

I feel the pull of the door as I actually open it a crack. It’s pulling hard with the speed of the car. Am I going to jump? Would I really do that? Then what? Roll, I guess? Try not to die?

I start counting in my head. One unicycle…two unicycle…three unicycle…. Wait — what number do I jump at? What am I counting for?

Then I feel him get a handful of my hair.

Ouch! Fuck you freak! Let go!” I shriek. I hate getting my hair pulled. He’s holding me back by my hair. The fuck!

He looks at me. Still going 70 miles per hour down the road, he doesn’t slow down, just looks at me, his teeth all clenched and his arm wrist deep in my hair.

Knock it off, Collie.” He gives me a yank and being that I am still holding the door, it gets pulled shut as I fall across the seat. He lets go of my hair. Doing so he gives me a light smack on the chin, almost affectionate. I think he feels bad about pulling my hair. He knows I hate having my hair pulled. When he talks to me his voice is calm. Sweet even. “That’s not funny. You want to get us both killed? Fuck. I forgot how melodramatic you can be. You and your damn daddy.”

“You hurt me,” I say like some damned idiot. I’m caught off-guard by his being nice. Why is he being nice? How can he go from rabid to relaxed just like that? Is he even human?

“It was for your own good. It would’ve hurt you a lot more if you’d hit the pavement.”

“I was going to roll,” I say like it’s the most normal thing to say right then. Dur, right? I mean, I had a plan. I was going to roll. I shake my head at myself and ask, “What do you need me for? Just tell me. The suspense is killing me. Where are we going? Why didn’t you just let me be?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“ I — can’t — tell — you.”

I sigh — not melodramatic — I mean, he’s the melodramatic one. Melodramatic fuck. I mumble, to my window again. Not him. “Fine…. Be a big buttwipe.”

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