Rain stuck the windows as I sat in the café. This was going to be my final day in this city and while I was happy to be finally able to leave, a small part of me was going to miss this place.
Oh sure the roads were dark at night, the rent was a pain to deal with and of course the unmentionable problems that this city dealt with was a pain to deal with when they became your problem whether you liked it or not.
Of course the same could be said about any city that had more than one resident… I sort of hoped things weren’t as bad in other cities as they were with this one, but my friends claimed that every city pretty much ran into problems like these. The question was just a matter of how well they hid it and how prominent the threats had become.
Then they would fall back into joking about ‘Hey. At least the streets are clean and the trains run on time’ as if it was all one big joke.
“Are you sure about this? I mean it’s going to be a long trip.” Jack replied, breaking me from my thoughts as I looked over at him.
Jack was the person in charge of the café as in he was the literal owner of the place for better or for worse. Today was one of those better days since he didn’t have to deal with his more select clientele and nobody was banging on the door or trying to do something foolish. You’d think there was a limit to human stupidity, but there were some people who simply took that as a challenge to do better/worst.
I wasn’t one of those uniquely challenged people… I simply lacked genre awareness.
Jack who again was a nice person and this kind of had to be stressed that he was the type of nice person who would help somebody out if they were in trouble. Most people couldn’t look past the fact that he looked more like a heavyweight fighter in an illegal fighting ring.
So most people found it a bit of a surprise that he was the owner of the café and also knew his way around a kitchen along with one of those insanely complicated and expensive coffee makers that people seemed to love getting coffee from.
In short he was the type of person that was hard to forget while I was the exact opposite.
I was average in the painful way that meant there were a dozen other people who could fill my place should something happen to me… and the only unique thing about me wasn’t something you’d brag about either.
“I’ve been here long enough and it’ll probably be a good thing that I’m leaving.” I glanced at him as we both knew it “I mean we both knew this was going to be a temporary thing. I was just supposed to help pay for the rent until things got better.”
“I’m pretty sure Cassy was thinking of another apartment instead of well... you know.” Jack replied shaking his head as he started taking down some of the balloons “We never actually… thought that you’d leave. I mean leave, leave.”
Truth be told I had planned on leaving this place a lot sooner, but things always kept getting in the way. Sometimes it was just trying to get the money together for rent since sleeping in my car wasn’t a thrilling thought much less trying to scrape the money together to fix it when something broke.
Of course the few times it felt like I got rid of the little problems that kept me from leaving… life would throw a literal problem that had indeed literally kept me from leaving. Storms, flat tires, pissed off mafia members doing a drive by shooting.
You’d be surprised how creative life interred to the point that it had become a running gag or joke… that one day I was going to leave this place only for something to throw a wrench in the plan and forcing me to be stuck here with friends instead of trying to leave the city.
Now that it was officially happening… a few people were having a hard time believing it. Of course people still came to the farewell party because free food and booze was pretty good incentives for most people to attend.
“You know I’m always hiring. I mean the pay’s good, you’ll get a roof over your head and…” He tried to figure something else.
If this was a cartoon or a TV show then there would be the brief hiatus where you’d think I would be gone for good only to show up again at the start of the next season because something happened. Real Life wasn’t like TV as sometimes when somebody left… they actually left.
There was also a slight understanding that… leaving would be good for me. Sure it might be nice to stay longer, but we both knew the truth. It may have been delayed countless times, but this time I was bidding this city goodbye.
He shook his head in defeat “Well I think I might actually might miss you…” He paused before smirking “Despite the utter pain in the keister you’ve been Dais.”
The old nickname still annoyed me, but I could be the bigger man and let it slide this time. After all, I wouldn’t see him or anyone else from this town after today. We both knew the real reason why I was leaving.
Glancing back at the car I heard Jack say “Most people will expect you back by tomorrow… when they realize that you actually left…”
“They will probably think I’ll return by the end of the week.” I reminded him “Just another ‘false start’ before everyone pats my back and say ‘better luck next time’ as everything goes back to normal.”
“You know Cassy won’t like it…” Jack spoke under his breath “Especially not like this.”
I nearly rolled my eyes as Cassy had already gone through a similar discussion with me except I managed to convince her why I was doing it. She wasn’t born in this city and she still had family out there… Jack on the other hand never really got along with his family and he was also born within this city to boot.
“You know looking back at where you came from always seems much more grand than what it actually was.” Jack spoke trying to pull his last trick “I mean… it won’t nearly be as interesting as this city.”
Closing my eyes I knew this was coming as… for all the hate and various problems that came with this crazy city… I’ll admit that it was always interesting… it felt like I was somebody instead of a random number… a statistic written on a sheet that would live, grow old, and die without ever seeming to make a difference.
Here I was somebody… grant it not everybody liked me and there were quite a few people who didn’t like me. I was also under no illusion that I could change anything here… but it felt like you could be more than what you actually were. That was the charm of this place… the senseless hope and optimism you felt living here!
It was like a gambler taking up the dice one more time.
And just as dangerous too.
A bitter smile came across my lips as the joke kind of stung a little in hindsight. Of course nobody knew who I was when I came here… and nobody cared who I was after I got stuck here. I was just another idiot shaking the dice and trying to see if they roll out box cars when everyone knew it probably would happen.
The funny thing was that meaningless past was only important to me… and yet that was the force that had driven me for so long.
Opening my eyes and glancing out the window I saw the tallest skyscraper off in the distance… it was hard not to see it if you knew where to look as the massive spire towered over the city. Jack saw where I was looking as he tried not to look, but he knew the reason for it… both of us knew the unspoken reason for why I was actually doing it this time.
“How did it go?” I asked trying to remember how the old song tune went “The Spire stands clawing up to the sky, trying to reach what it cannot find.”
“And down from the heavens come crashing its wrath for mankind has touched what it should not have seen.” Jack replied with a bitter smirk as he held his hand high like an opera singer “And with the sight now unseen, what lurks behind your mortal eyes unseen can now see thee.”
We both glanced at each other and laughed even if it was a bitter laugh as we spoke at once “Oh what fools we must be! To see what must not be seen, and call forth the curse, yet think it a blessing nonetheless! For all to see!”
He shook his head “You finally got it. Of course it’s when you are leaving that you finally sound like a regular resident here. It just… it just feels like I should be leaving while you’re the one that should stay. You fit here far better than I ever did.”
That got a laugh out of me as I looked straight at him “I’m sorry but who had a nearly fatal encounter with a hobo?”
I motioned around the empty cafe and shouted “Raise your hand if you were the idiot to make the mistake of not catching genre awareness!”
I raised my hand as he muttered under his breath, probably about me catching on later or how I would have realized the truth if I was a little bit more aware of my situation. Still the funny thing was that he did fit in with this city better than I did.
I stood out simply because I was still alive… sort of like a red shirt who by some odd twist of fate didn’t die at the end of an episode. That didn’t make the red shirt any better than the crew… but just the unique oddity of simply not dying when all the others did.
Grabbing my namesake red rain jacket I got up from my seat and walked over to the red car outside as the rain had finally stopped. They called me a red shirt and I wore it both in acceptance… and mocking them for failing to kill a basic red shirt!
Maybe I could have stayed longer… but this place just wasn’t for me. I mean I was thankful for the people here… correction… I was thankful for some of the people here, but it was time to go back home now or try my best to do so.
Getting into my car and turning on the ignition. The only thing that tried to stop me was seeing Jack came out with one last package “Well I tried. Here’s the final gift.”
Opening up the box was a small six shot revolver and a few bullets. It was an antique of a gun, but the message was kind of clear between the two of us. The only problem was which message he was trying to send me.
“Do you really think I’d need a gun?” I asked him out loud
He stared at me for a few seconds before rubbing his chin “Do you remember what happened when you first got here?”
I raised my hand without sulking… seriously if anyone claimed I did then they were lying. Anyone else would have… okay some people would have made the same mistake, but it didn’t answer the question on why he gave me this gift.
After all not many people give you a gun when you are leaving or getting ready to go back home. The fact that I only learned how to properly shoot and maintain a gun after I came here showed just how… less likely you were to get attacked back home than in this city.
“Just look at it this way.” He spoke with a grin “It’s something you can put on display at home and remember this place for all the good or ill. You were here and we won’t forget you even if you leave.”
That actually got a chuckle out of me as this was the bit I was going to miss. People may be jerks… they may be annoying… but there are always good people out there who can help you make the best out of a bad situation.
“Oh and just to be clear… Cassy likes you instead of me.” I informed the now dumbstruck Jack before pulling away leaving him with the final bombshell for why I was going.
Oh sure the apartment was nice and we split the bill three ways… but Cassy liked Jack and I didn’t want to be the third wheel in the apartment. Jack did like her of course, but he thought he didn’t stand a shot and wanted to keep their friendship rather than risk it on trying to get a date.
Now that he knew… he had no excuse not to ask her out and it was nice watching him walk back into the café trying to figure out how to ask her out… and questioning if I was just messing with him for one last time. The promise of course would be that he’d come after me if I was lying.
I opened up my phone and decided to save us both the trouble “Hey Cassy just wanted to know I’m leaving.”
“Do you have it?” She spoke in a hushed tone
Glancing at the backpack resting underneath the passenger seat confirmed it was still there. It felt foolish just leaving it in my car where anyone could simply break in and steal it… but sometimes the best defense for something important was… simply not letting anyone else know about it.
“Yes, but I just informed Jack about the other reason why I decided to leave.” I informed her.
“You mean Akara?” She asked with a hint of dread
“No I mean about how you like him and him liking you!” I informed her only to hear her start to panic a little in the ‘my crush knows about my crush’ type of panic you saw only on the foolishly naive “So neither of you have an excuse now that I’m out of the apartment. Have fun!”
I hung up the phone as that was a load off my back. It was better this way… and I’ll admit that at that moment it would have been nice if she liked me instead of him, but genre blind I may be… watching two people have a crush on each other and not saying it because they didn’t want to harm their friendship?
That got dull real quick.
Driving along the highway felt odd. The biggest part was that it should have stopped raining a few hours ago, but if anything the weather just seemed to keep getting worse. It also didn’t help that I only had so many CDs that I could listen to keep my mind preoccupied with the endless highway… and the tiny little doubts that continued to creep back into my mind due to a lack of the wide vast highway being… empty.
‘Should I have stayed the night and left during the morning when the weather was better?’
“No because you already told those two idiots and you know they would have found some excuse to ignore it if they had an entire day to figure it out.” I muttered out loud “Better just to let them know and not have enough time to weasel out of it.”
The rain continued to pour down as there weren’t any useful road signs to tell me where I was going or how far I had left to go. At this point even another passing car would have been nice if only to confirm that I wasn’t the only person on the highway.
Of course thinking about it only brought on the other doubts that were lingering in the back of my head now that I couldn’t easily shove them away like all the others especially when the thought weighed so heavily on my mind now that I was finally going home.
“Will they recognize me?” I muttered to myself “I mean it’s been a while.”
The obvious answer should have been yes, but doubt was a funny thing.
It made you question if that bump in the night was a pinecone hitting the roof or somebody who had broken into the apartment. It was the question that made you hesitate as those simple doubts were the most effective because… in the dark and left to the twisted thoughts of your own mind… you could see how the worst fear could be possible because while unlikely it was… you still feared that it was possible.
Half a dozen reasons fled past my mind as each one was sadly plausible… even then the basic doubts and fears flooded my mind.
Where would I live? What would I do? Was there a job I could get quickly or was I going to have to sleep in my car and try rolling the dice to get a job just to afford an apartment to sleep in until I could find a better one?
Once again the temptation to simply turn back came to the back of my mind as it would be easy to simply call. Jack would joke about it as let me spend the night at his apartment. Cassy would tease me though also remind me why I wanted to go since she knew I’d try and leave someday… and then of course where the other people… some were alright, some weren’t, but… it wouldn’t be home.
That was the simple answer as despite how much I did enjoy it… I didn’t.
It was just a place that I was good at, but one I didn’t really fit in, understand, or care to understand. Maybe it was my fault or maybe it was the city… but taking a trip to try and get back home was going to be my plan even if it sounded foolish to everyone else.
Maybe it would give me perspective on what I was leaving behind or maybe returning home would be better for me because of my experiences in the city making me appreciate where I grew up a bit more. It was a nice thought to think about in trying to create a positive spin on what felt like an insane idea.
Glancing at my phone the answer was obvious “But if I don’t... I know I will regret it.”
Living with the nagging thought of what if was bad enough… The side stop I was going to have to make just proved to be a convenient excuse. Somebody had to leave that stupid city to deal with that wretched package… and there were quite a few people who weren’t happy with me. Leaving even if just for a while would do me some good and hopefully make them forget about me if I wanted to return on my own terms.
The storm grew worse as the wind picked up howling against the car as I saw a flash of thunder in the distance. Still no signs… no spots to turn off the road and see if I could find a gas station or rest stop. Frowning I could see my own fuel tank that had been full near the start of the day getting near one fourth of a tank. Unless I wanted to get stuck without any gas I needed to find a pit stop or someplace to buy some fuel.
“What’s the first thing you are going to say?” I felt myself asking
The simple question that brought dread to my existence… the other questions like food, money, rent… all if it died in the face of the single and possibly only question that mattered. They would ask questions and it was hard not to expect them.
‘Where have you been? What were you doing? Why did they tell us…’
“Motel!” I snapped in fury “Where is a bloody motel!”
My fingers tapped the driver’s wheel as I tried to turn on the radio only to get static. The one time I wanted to listen to whatever might be on the radio was the time that it wouldn’t be working of course.
So I tried to rehearse what I was going to say in order to ignore the nagging questions in my head “I’m sorry? Hey brother… how has it been? Surprised to see me?”
Scratching my head I thought about my family. My old friends… the various questions that would be asked… How was I supposed to introduce myself… or reintroduce myself?
‘Why can’t I say something better? It should be easy! I just need to say something that doesn’t feel like awkward small talk!’ I nearly screamed in the back of my mind as for some reason the words failed to come through.
Heck I was having mixed feelings about trying to work up the courage to talk to them or if I even should. They hadn’t been a part of my life for a while and I hadn’t been a part of their life either. Would it be better to try and interact now… or just leave things as they were?
Getting so caught up in my thoughts I nearly missed the sign to a turn off point on the highway as I took a right. There weren’t any lights of civilization shining through the storm as it only grew heavier. The lights from my own car barely seemed to brighten my surroundings or the road as the rain intensified sounding like I was driving through a hail storm rather than a rain storm.
Another flash of lightning cracked through the sky nearly making me jump in my seat as it had been close… far too close for my liking as I tried to slow down finding where the stupid street lights were or any stores.
After a couple more minutes and flashes of lightning did I finally find a place to stop at as it looked like a motel… well an old one.
The sign stood out in the distance as the lights flickered revealing the first true sign that people might be nearby. That I wasn’t stuck on an endless highway with no exit in sigh.
The plan was simple as all that I needed to do was simply drive up to the motel, spend the night and wait until the storm died down a little before getting some directions to a gas station. From there everything should solve itself on it’s own.
A good plan in theory, but the sign directing me to the main office building gave me pause. Most places like this kept the checkout room near or connected to the string of cheap rooms to spend the night in. What made this different was that the sign pointed towards stairs leading up a hill towards a rather creepy two story house.
It was the type of house that screamed ‘psychotic serial killer living here with their dead mother’ if I had to describe it, but… beggars can’t be choosers… Maybe I could just ask for directions to the nearest gas station and sleep in the car?
Another crack of lightning tore through the skies as the winds howled louder reminding me that sleeping in a car tonight might not be the best choice right now. Besides… there were other vehicles nearby so I wouldn’t be the only person here.
Though just to be safe I pulled out the revolver and loaded it.
Okay I know it sounds a bit paranoid to bring a loaded gun with me to rent a room at a motel… but to be fair I was the luckless soul driving to this creepy looking place trying to spend the night because of a bad storm. If this was a movie the audience would be screaming at me for not turning back since they knew a monster lived inside the home.
Bringing a gun was just to make me feel better and a bit stupid when it revealed that it was just one of those random homes refurnished into an office building. At the very least if there was a horrible horrific serial killer or monster inside the place it would have to get past six rounds fired from a Colt Python revolver.