As Johnny took the last hit, a bright, crisp, crimson impression of orange leaves falling behind grey autumn moons filled his mind. This wasn’t a memory of his. Neither was it a memory painted for him by family members around the dinner table. For a second, he was confused. But that second quickly passed by. The silence of his thoughts was followed by a noiseless, murmuring buzz that told Johnny one thing: he was blissfully, irrevocably, stoned.
It was the end of August. The street around them was wet and glossy, as it had rained earlier that day. The sun slipped behind a sky split by shaded clouds moving towards a runaway horizon, and the moist air around them had turned refreshingly cold. It had taken the two brothers awhile, but they had finally burned through the entirety of their summer stash.
“You going to throw that away or what?” said Tommy, pointing a finger at the joint in Johnny’s hand.
“It’s dead,” said Johnny.
“Yeah, so you should throw it away.”
“But…I don’t want to hurt it.”
“You know you can’t hurt it, Johnny. You’re just stoned. Look—gimmie here.”
Tommy took the roach from Johnny’s fingertips, leaving a trail of smoke between them. The smoke wrapped around the joint’s papery ridges, and again, the same image of falling leaves and autumn moons echoed in Johnny’s mind. He had come to care for the joint. He named it Ricky.
“You okay there?” asked Tommy, smiling.
Johnny smiled. He was in The Good Place. He stood there staring at his new pet joint, which was held securely in his brother’s fingertips.
Tommy lifted the joint to Johnny’s face.
“Imma kill the roach now, okay?”
“Because it needs to be disposed of.”
Tommy sighed. He looked Johnny in the eyes.
“Imma kill the roach now, okay?”
“Okay,” said Johnny, nodding.
Tommy mimicked the nod in confirmation and let the joint slip out of his fingers. Johnny traced the falling joint with his eyes. To him, the joint fell an inch a minute. It was a tiny missile destined to collide with Bakers Street. The street fell behind the joint like the blurred focus of a camera. After what seemed like an hour, the joint landed on the street with a satisfying pat.
Tommy looked down and squished the roach with his red-velvet shoes. Johnny giggled. It was the first time he noticed how peculiar his brother’s fashion taste was. He stood there focusing on the shoe’s red laces. Then his focus shifted. He started to focus on the ground. Then, on the sidewalk. Then, on the houses. Then, on the sky, which was illuminated by what seemed to be an abnormal amount of stars. To Johnny, they were clumped up in just the right places, and he thought to himself that it was like a great, forever-expanding mural, painted on a purple canvas with the faces of millions of stars. The stars were dancing amongst themselves, preparing for their highschool’s biggest event of the year: prom, with the theme A Starry Night.
“Hey, Johnny, you okay there?” said Tommy. “You’re tearing up a bit.”
“The sky, Tommy. Look up at the sky.”
“I have Johnny, it looks good. But we need to get more weed. I’m not nearly as stoned as you are.”
Johnny looked down from the sky and brought himself to focus on Tommy. Tommy’s irises looked blacker in the night. His puffy, oaky-brown hair was falling like a half-curtain over his forehead. Tommy’s face was warm. It reminded Johnny that he was in his hometown.
“We’re going to go get some from Stanley, alright?” said Tommy, walking to his car.
“Get what?” said Johnny.
“Weed, Johnny. I already told you.”
“Oh. Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Isn’t there anywhere else we can go?” said Johnny, turning as Tommy walked passed him.
“He’s the only one awake around his time.”
“But he always charges more.”
“It’s the best we can do.”
There was a pause.
“Well, okay. Whatever you say, Tommy.”
Tommy had reached his car, a blood-red Camaro, and had opened his side door.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Then hurry your ass up!”
Johnny did as he was told. He walked up to the passenger’s side, and, for a second, a disturbing image flashed before his eyes. It seemed real, but Johnny knew it wasn’t. He could have sworn to have seen what looked like the body of another boy in the car, buckled in, laughing madly as the whole thing was set ablaze.
It’s just because I’m high, Johnny thought. He shuddered.
“Are you okay?” said Tommy.
“Yeah,” said Johnny. “I’m fire—fine! Totally, fine.”
He stepped into the passenger seat with haste. Tommy looked at him funny. Then, with a turn of his key, the car roared into life. Tommy revved the engine once, and peeled out of Bakers Street, leaving behind an earsplitting ruckus.
Johnny had forgotten how terrible of a driver his brother was. On a good day, when Tommy wasn’t stoned, or under some influence, they would only almost crash once. On bad days, however, Tommy was an overall nuisance on the street. Johnny knew it was a miracle that Tommy had gotten his driver’s license at all.
That night, from the moment they sped out of Bakers Street, Tommy had not gone under fifty miles-per-hour once. Johnny, being as stoned as he was, reasoned that the spirit of Speed Racer had possessed his brother, and was forcing him to drive with such recklessness. That, or, the street had gained an incredible amount of friction and was causing the car to be pushed faster, because of inertia. Either ways, Johnny swore more than once that night that they were going to die. Tommy had opened both widows, and the air was rushing in like a washing machine. Johnny’s black hair flowed behind him like sound. This, coupled with the Rubik’s cube sideshow of multicolored cars flying past them, made Johnny feel as if he was far past the last level of Galaga, or on a spaceship headed towards the Asteroid Belt between Jupiter and Mars. They reached Stanley’s street in record time.
As Tommy turned onto Stanley’s cement-cracked driveway, the powerful revving of the Camaro’s engine slowed to a purr.
Stanley was sitting on a ripped-up couch placed conveniently under the house’s wrecked veranda, slowly taking a deep drag of a joint. The light of Tommy’s Camaro caused him to squint. After realizing they weren’t cops, Stanley smiled.
“Sup, homies!” he said, standing up walking towards the car, the joint pressed between his pinky and his thumb. “What’s going on tonight?”
Tommy turned the key towards him, silencing the engine.
Johnny stayed put. He was thinking about velocity. He was also thinking of the fact that he was never truly fond of Stanley. He always thought he smelled of copper and sweat. But, Johnny knew that Stanley was a good friend of Tommy, which meant he was automatically one of his good friends too. Stanley came up to the driver’s seat, and the familiar, dirty smell wafted through the air, filling the car. Johnny cringed.
Stanley put the joint between his lips.
“Sup, homies. You here to buy some?”
“Yeah. What you got?” said Tommy.
“Well, I got a lot of shit here. Pineapple Express, OG Kush, Northern Lights Cannabis Indica, Maui Wowies, Moon Cakes, Sugar Spice, Sour Diesel, and my personal favorite, Alaskan Thunder Fuck.”
“Fuck yeah,” said Tommy. “Can we see it?”
“For sure, homie. Follow me.”
Tommy got out of the car. They dapped, and then gave each other a tight hug. Tommy looked back at Johnny, who felt stuck to his seat.
“How’s Johnny feeling?” asked Stanley.
“Not sure,” said Tommy. “He seems pretty high. I don’t think he should smoke anymore.”
“You should ask him if he wants to smoke more.”
Tommy looked behind his shoulder.
“Hey! You wanna smoke more?”
Johnny turned to look at Tommy. He had made a brilliant discovery.
“Tommy. Air is just a concept. It’s actually gravity linked in based-time with the velocity of the planet’s circadian cycles. The earth sleeps, Tommy. The earth sleeps.”
Stanley broke out in laughter.
“Oh shit!” he said. “He’s on a good one! A good one!”
He looked at Johnny.
“You’re smart kid. I like that. Keep going with that, it’ll take you places!”
Johnny looked at the dashboard of the Camaro.
“I need a second,” he said.
“Alright,” said Tommy. “Let’s go.”
“Hold up,” said Stanley, smiling. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a long blunt.
“I can’t let my best-friend just buy from me. Let’s smoke this while you, ahem, purview the merchandise.”
“Alright,” said Tommy. “What is it?”
“White Heaven, hybrid-sativa.”
“Alright,” said Tommy, nodding.
They lit it up.
Stanley passed the blunt to Tommy with the utmost care, as if it was a rare, fluffy purse-dog. Tommy took a deep hit. When he released it, the burnt smoke flowed behind him, filling the car. The smoke whirled around Johnny’s head. He was very confused. He kept thinking about air, and whether it had a logarithmic nature, or whether it was the true cause of death. He coughed.
Stanley and Tommy began to walked towards the house. In that moment, a surge went through Johnny’s body and he knew he had to go inside too.
“Hey guys!” Johnny said, opening the car door. “Wait up!”
“Ah, there you go,” said Stanley. “The kids alright.”
“You wanna smoke?” asked Tommy, loudly.
“Yeah!” said Johnny. He didn’t want to smoke, but something told him he needed to keep his brother company. If that meant smoking to do so, then he didn’t mind. One last joint wouldn’t kill him.
Walking briskly, Johnny caught up to the two of them. Stanley’s smell went right into Johnny’s eyes, and for a moment, he thought he felt them tear. Stanley pat him on the back.
“Right on, little man,” he said. “Right on.”
“Thanks,” he said.
“So! We going in or what?” asked Stanley. Tommy passed him the White Heaven, and Stanley took two small puffs before handing it to Johnny.
“Yeah, let’s go,” said Tommy.
“Alright, let’s go!” said Stanley.
They all walked up the porch stairs. Johnny walked between them, nervously. He kept the blunt in-between his fingers, anxious that it was burning up. Stanley got to the door and opened it. He held it open as Tommy walked in, and then Johnny. As Johnny walked in, in the trail of smoke that followed him, he looked at the ripped up couch. It was being partially blocked by Stanley’s body. But, for a second, he saw the same flame-boy he had seen earlier. Only this time, his mouth was stretched out, open, unlike Johnny had ever seen. He was screaming. Then he was gone.
Johnny walked through the door, into the house.
The first thing Johnny noticed, were the flies. They were everywhere. From the couches, to the flowers, flies and gnats kept floating about his airspace. He began to feel intrusive. These things don’t deserve to be here, he thought. These things don’t deserve to be here.
The first part of the house consisted of a long hall, which was decorated with pictures of family members. There was a second hallway extending from the left side of the main hallway. As Johnny walked by, it looked as if it extended forever. There were a few rooms in that hall, so Johnny looked away. He kept track of where Tommy was headed.
A few moments later, they arrived to a room that had a black, plastic four-legged table sitting beside a wall, and a couch stationed more towards the back. A place to kick-back, a place to do business.
Tommy walked towards the table, finding a seat at the right side. Stanley did the same, only with the left. Johnny was left dab-smack in the middle, seeing, for the first time, a drug deal. He was filled with intrigue.
“Alright, so,” Stanley said. “Let me get the product out, giv’me one sec—”
Stanley reached below the table, and pulled up a large, opaque container. Johnny could see the blurry outlines of mason jars within. Stanley put it on the table, and opened it. Immediately, a heavy smell permeated through the room. Johnny hadn’t ever smelled the stench of weed that much before. Johnny reasoned that it must have been hard to get. He wondered where Stanley had gotten it.
“Damn, bro, that’s loud,” said Tommy.
“Yeah man! I told you. I got the best shit. The best shit of anyone around town. I got you homie, I. Got. You.”
“Choose whatever container you like. I’ll answer any questions you have. And please, take your time, we have all night.”
“Alright,” said Tommy. He reached into the container and pulled out a mason jar with a duct-tape label wording “Blue Dream.” Tommy opened it, and, putting it to his nostrils, took a deep whiff, letting the odor run through his nose.
“Damn, Stan. You don’t disappoint.”
“Never do, never will. You like it?”
“Yeah,” said Tommy. “This stuff is good.”
“That’s not even the best, man,” said Stanley. “That’s the one amateurs buy when they don’t have any clue what’s actually on. Here—”
Stanley reached into the container and pulled out another jar with a duct-tape label wording “XZ-4267.” Johnny looked at it with confusion. Before Stanley put the container down, however, he turned his gaze towards Johnny.
“Hey Johnny, pass the White Heaven, yeah? You’ve been babysitting it and haven’t even taken a single hit!”
“What?” said Johnny.
“Bro— the blunt!!” said Stanley.
Johnny had completely forgotten that he was holding a blunt in his hand. He was too absorbed in what was going on in front of him to even remember that he had hands, let alone something in them. He brought it up to his face, and gulped. It had burned all the way down to the middle. A long stem of ash extended from where the burn slowed to a halt.
“Dude!!” said Stanley, putting down the jar. “Dude, what the fuck bro!”
Tommy looked at Johnny, disappointment strewn all across his face. Johnny couldn’t do anything but stare at it, hoping somehow he could reverse time.
“Oh my god,” said Johnny. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry! Please—Please forgive me!”
“Forgive you?” said Stanley. “Who do I look like? God? Just pass the blunt, before it gets any worse.”
Johnny did as he was told. He passed the blunt over to Stanley, who snatched it from his hands. Johnny looked down at his lap. He kept apologizing in his head, unsure of what to do.
“He really is stoned, isn’t he?” said Stanley, looking at Tommy.
“Yeah. I told you he was,” said Tommy.
“Does he always get like this?”
“Then why is he like this tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
There was silence. Nobody moved. Stanley pulled the blunt up to his lips and took another hit. The smoke exited through his nostrils, and he exhaled with a large sigh.
“Alright, anyways,” he said. “Take a whiff of this, and tell me what you think. It’s some very potent shit, considered to be one of the best strains ever made by man.”
“Really?” said Johnny.
The room went silent again. Tommy turned to look at Johnny, again, and Johnny noticed that Stanley had looked down into his lap. He was grinning. Johnny realized that he had just spoken out of line. However, he felt the urge to continue.
“That’s hard to believe,” said Johnny. “If it’s the best strain, wouldn’t it be possible to also fuse it with another good strain, and therefore make it better? Like chilies? Also, wouldn’t it also be possible to get different forms of flower to make it better, to like graft, and to prune? I mean, I’ve once seen Tommy mix his weed with what he calls keef, and he’s gotten really stoned, more than other times.”
Stanley stopped grinning.
“But either ways, what the strain is doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s the result that really matters, I think. What matters is that when you smoke, you have filled your lungs with something other than oxygen, and are producing different psychological effects than what your limbic system naturally reproduces. Whether or not something is more poten—”
Stanley burst out laughing. Johnny stopped talking, and both he and Tommy looked over to him.
“Why are you laughing?” said Tommy.
“Dude, its because your brother talks so much.”
Johnny gulped again.
“He’s made some good points! Fusion is exactly how this strain came into existence. The thing that makes this a different type of fusion though, is the fact that this is not just fused with weed. It was fused to produce a kick.”
Johnny did not understand at all what that meant. He looked over to see if his brother knew what Stanley was talking about. Johnny immediately noticed the blank expression on Tommy’s face and became disturbed.
“A kick?” said Tommy.
“Yeah, a kick,” said Stanley. “Pardon the pun, but to put it bluntly—it’s laced.”
“Laced?!” said Johnny.
“Laced,” said Stanley.
Johnny immediately began recalling research he did on the internet. For years, on weekends, when his brother was out doing things he wouldn’t ever tell Johnny he did, he would stay up for hours on forums trying to figure out what types of risks came with all kinds of substances, knowing, intuitively, that all it takes is one instance to have everything turn upside down. He had heard that substances could be mixed, as he read many stories about people getting high on ecstasy and smoking marijuana to “come down.” Johnny, however, didn’t ever expect to be confronted with something laced ever in his life. Yet, there it was, and Johnny had no idea what to do with it.
“W-what’s it laced with?” said Johnny.
Stanley turned to Johnny and gave him a wicked smile.
“Acid?!” said Johnny slamming his hands on the table and standing up.
Stanley stood up immediately.
“Yeah, punk, acid. You got a problem with that?”
Stanley hulked over him.
“N-no,” said Johnny, sitting down. “S-sorry about that. I’m just high and, uh, I couldn’t control myself. My bad.”
Stanley stayed standing. He was looking down at Johnny with contempt. He stared at Johnny for five more seconds, before he turned forward, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Then he looked back at Johnny.
“Damn right you’re sorry,” said Stanley. “Damn right.”
Johnny looked down at his feet, determined not to speak the rest of the night. But in his mind, his thoughts were consuming him like wildfire. He didn’t know what type of situation he was in, and he was frightened. But he found that he was also surprisingly blissful. He wondered if he was tasting death.
“So!!” said Stanley, breaking the silence. “You wanna do this or what?”
He was looking at Tommy.
Tommy had been aloof the entire time. Johnny had noticed this throughout the confrontation. It made him think. It was not that he didn’t care, which was Johnny’s first instinct. Neither was it the fact that he was scared of Stanley as well, since Tommy wasn’t scared of anything. Rather, what Johnny came to decipher, was that Tommy is a person who only acts. This made Johnny reflect. It made him think of the baseball games Tommy played in, and how cool and collected he was, never breaking concentration from what mattered the most: winning. It also made him think about the fights he had with his parents, and how Tommy wouldn’t ever concede, but proved himself right every-time. He remembered all the interactions he had with his friends, whom didn’t fear him, but respected him simply because Tommy was the person who would do what others wouldn’t. Then it struck him: Tommy only acted when the moment was right. At that thought, he looked up.
“The jay?” said Tommy.
“Yeah, the jay!” said Stanley.
Tommy stood silent for a second, then sat back and crossed his arms.
“Nah,” he said. He went silent again.
Some seconds passed. Stanley began to look at Tommy with bewilderment. Then, he chuckled.
“Wow, you got me good. You’re a funny one, Tommy.”
Tommy said nothing.
“‘Nah’? What do you mean by ‘nah’?”
“I mean nah,” said Tommy. “I don’t do that shit.”
Stanley scoffed. Johnny looked back down. Then Stanley got up.
“Alright then!” he said. “No worries! It’s all good!”
Tommy and Johnny both looked up at Stanley. Johnny noticed that he began to smell more and more like copper the more the situation unfolded. With the smell in the air, and the flies buzzing around, the situation was becoming increasingly bizarre.
“It’s allllllll goooooood!!!!!!!” said Stanley. He turned away from the table and walked into what seemed to be the kitchen. Tommy stayed exactly where he was, as did Johnny. Johnny looked over to his brother, and noticed that he still had a cool, calm, and collected demeanor, which both comforted him, and scared him all that much more. He took the opportunity to kick Tommy under the table, to try to get his attention. He needed to know what was going on.
Tommy didn’t react. Johnny tried kicking one more time, but this time Tommy kicked back. Johnny knew that when his brother hit back, it was time to stop. Moreso, Johnny also knew that when his brother acted, he was no longer in control. He felt a deep discomfort well-up from within him, unsure of how the situation was going to transpire. It was up to Tommy to help them get out of it. He stared down at his lap, and after a couple of minutes, Stanley was coming back with a bowl of watermelon slices.
“Hey Johnny,” said Stanley. “You like watermelon?”
Johnny looked up.
“Not really,” he said. “I only like to eat them when I can’t really eat anything else.”
“What do you mean, ‘Not really. I only like to eat them when I can’t really eat anything else,’?” said Stanley.
“Er,” said Johnny. “What I mean is like…”
Johnny furrowed his brows and looked below, but this time, not into his lap. He was trying to trace the emotions within him to try to produce a response for Stanley that wouldn’t be too alarming, but wouldn’t be too casual either. He continued.
“Like, when my stomach closes, and I can’t eat. I like to eat watermelon because a large portion of it is water, and it soothes my digestive system whenever it’s feeling bad.”
“Ah, okay,” said Stanley. “Whenever your digestive system is feeling bad. You know, I got some stuff for that!”
Johnny looked at Stanley with pursed lips.
“You got stuff for that?”
“Yeah!” said Stanley. “Here, give me a sec—”
Stanley went rifling through the opaque container, and after some deliberation, he brought out what seemed to be a blue pencil box, like those Johnny used in elementary. Stanley opened it, stared at the contents. For a moment, Johnny felt as if the contents were stared back at him. Stanley smiled. Then he turned to look at Johnny.
“Alright, here we are man. Your life, is about to change. What we got here is a classic,” said Stanley.
Stanley kept staring at Johnny with a strange smile on his face.
“Well…” said Johnny. What is it?”
“Let me show you.”
With that, Stanley reached into the container and pulled out a brown square. Johnny immediately knew what it was.
“A brownie,” said Johnny.
Stanley threw his head upwards, laughing.
“Oh shit!!! Tommy! Tommy!! Your brother knows his shit!! Damn, maybe he’s actually been the one running around causing all this trouble man! Who knows what kind of shit your brother’s gotten himself into! He’s a card!!”
Tommy didn’t react. Johnny wondered if he was truly even there. He knew that Tommy got silent sometimes when he smoked, so Johnny didn’t doubt that was what might have happened. But a part of him did doubt. He wasn’t able to lie to himself, not with that much adrenaline and confusion swirling inside of him. He was unsure of what to do.
Stanley motioned the brownie towards Johnny.
“Come on, little man. Try it,” he said.
“Uh—” started Johnny.
“Come on! Just try it, little man. Just trust me. It’ll change. Your. Life.”
“But don’t brownies usually take a couple hours to hit?” said Johnny. The moment he asked that, he saw a glaze come over Stanley’s eyes. He knew at that moment that if he didn’t think carefully about his next words, they were going to be in deep trouble.
“Well, yeah,” said Stanley. “They do.”
“But not these. These hit. They hit quick.”
Johnny gulped again.
“Are they laced?” said Johnny.
“Nah, man,” said Stanley. “They’re not laced. They’re just really good.”
Johnny knew he was lying. He had to think of something quick. Then it hit him.
“Well, I’m not sure about the brownie,” said Johnny. “But I am curious about that White Heaven. I know I didn’t take a hit when I was holding it, but I wanna try it now, if that’s okay. I don’t think I’ve ever tried sativa.”
“Oh shit, really?” said Stanley. “Well, why the fuck not? Go for it little man!”
With that, Stanley put the brownie down and handed him the blunt. Johnny held it in-between his fingers, and put it up to his lips.
“Uh…can I get a light?” said Johnny.
“‘Can I get a light?’,” said Stanley. “No fucking shit Sherlock. Here.”
Stanley pulled out what looked to be a Zippo lighter he had in his pocket. He put it up to the White Heaven and lit up the blunt Johnny had in-between his lips. In doing so, smoke rushed into Johnny’s mouth, and Johnny inhaled the smoke because he had to. Stanley kept lighting the blunt, causing the smoke to turn harsher. Something within Johnny allowed him to keep intaking the smoke, until Stanley stopped with the blunt a quarter of the way done. Johnny held in the smoke. Once he couldn’t hold it anymore, he blew it out, releasing a small cloud. There was too much smoke within him. He started to cough.
“Oh shit!!!” said Stanley. “That was a big ass fucking hit!”
“Yeah,” said Tommy. “Are you okay?”
Johnny was unable to answer because he was coughing. At first it hurt. Eventually, each cough got him higher and higher. He felt his head get dizzy for a second. Then, a feeling of unparalleled peace came over him. He finished coughing. Then he let out a sigh.
“Damn,” said Johnny. “They don’t call it White Heaven for nothing, huh? Woah—”
“Fuck yeah man!!” said Stanley. “They call it White Heaven because it’s the closet you’ll ever get!!”
“The closest you’ll ever get…” repeated Johnny, looking up at the ceiling. The popcorn details on the roof caught his attention, and immediately everything began to blur and speed up, like it was being forwarded on VCR. But just as quickly as it started, the feeling began to stop. Johnny felt as if he could see every single detail in the world. It was in that moment that he noticed something peculiar: while there was a flood of flies swarming around the airspace of the house, located right above him, was what looked like a small, hovering bee. Johnny wasn’t sure if the bee had noticed him, but Johnny definitely noticed it. He started to fall into a trance. In the bee, he saw himself. Just as he thought those words, the bee fell, landing on Johnny’s forehead. It was dead. Johnny was unable to move. He stared up in amazement.
“Yo, what the fuck is that? Is that a bee?!” said Stanley.
Nobody said anything. Johnny kept looking upward.
“Yo, that is a bee! What the fuck?”
Johnny tilted his head downward and the bee fell to the floor. It fell slowly, quietly. The bee landed on the floor without even as much as a sound.
“Bro!! That’s some crazy shit. I haven’t ever seen anything like that happen man, like, seriously! Spooky bro, spooky.”
Tommy looked at Johnny.
“Was that actually a bee?”
Johnny looked up and stared at his brother.
“Yeah,” he said. “That was a bee.”
Tommy nodded. Then, he stood up.
“Alright, Stan. I think its time for us to head out. I’m not interested anything you’re selling, but here’s fifty dollars for what we smoked tonight. We’ll see you later.”
Stanley slammed his hands to the table and got up.
“WHAT?!” said Stanley.
Johnny looked up at Stanley with his eyes wide open. The dread suddenly turned to panic, and he turned to look at Tommy to see if there was any way to remedy the situation. He read Tommy’s expression and he was communicating one thing: they were only going to get out of the situation if they got up, and actually left. It dawned on Johnny how impossible that might be. At that thought, the room was filled with the stench of copper, heavy enough to make even Tommy scrunch his nose in confusion. Johnny noticed that some flies had died, but he didn’t dare say anything.
“You can’t leave yet!! What do you mean by, ‘Alright, Stan. I think its time for us to head out. I’m not interested in anything you’re selling, but here’s fifty-dollars for what we smoked tonight. We’ll see you later.’?” said Stanley. “What do you mean by that?!”
“That,” said Tommy.
A demented look came over Stanley’s face.
“‘That,’? What do you mean by ‘That,’?”
Tommy took a deep breath.
“We’ll see you later. Johnny, come on,” said Tommy motioning Johnny to come closer to him. Tommy began walking, and Johnny followed behind him. He was in stone-cold focus, knowing that any mistake would be his last. The boldness of his brother stunned him. Yet, he followed.
Johnny, at this point, felt like paper-mache. Everything around him was hot, and heavy, and humid, and slow. He felt like he was in a dream, being led by some unknown force towards a destination he wasn’t sure he wanted to go. With the incident that had just occurred behind him, he wasn’t sure whether to look back, or to move ahead. Deep inside his heart, he knew: the decision wasn’t his to make.
So he walked behind Tommy. Tommy didn’t show any signs of panic. They rushed out the door, and once the door opened, Johnny realized just how overwhelming the smell of copper had become. It felt as if he could see it manifesting in front of him. He knew that something wasn’t right. Something was happening. Something bad.
He couldn’t help but laugh.
A laugh bubbled up within him, and with his eyes forming a loud smile, he rang out, “HAHAHAHAHA!”
At that point, Tommy grabbed Johnny by the wrist and kept him moving forward. Johnny’s mind was scattered.
What was that bee? he thought.
How was the moon?
Was that just weed?
Was it just June?
He surrendered himself. Tommy, grabbing his wrist, rushed to his Camaro. Everything was moving slowly. To Johnny, it felt as if the reality in front of him was made of film. He was watching it go by, and his high wasn’t making it any easier. He felt as if he was wafting through fire. He zoned out for a bit, letting the surroundings whisper their secrets to the tracing lights. All at once, he realized he was standing next to the red of his brother’s Camaro.
“Get in!!” Tommy said.
“Ok,” said Johnny. He tried to move, but found that he was unable to. He became afraid.
“Tommy,” Johnny said.
“Johnny!” said Tommy. “Get in!!”
“I can’t move.”
“I. Can’t. Move.”
Johnny felt Tommy grab him by the shoulders, moving him aside to open the car door. When Tommy opened the car door, Johnny felt him grab him by the shoulders again, pushing him inside the car, into the passenger seat. Tommy hopped on, and put Johnny’s legs crossing his lap.
Johnny saw Tommy fumbling with his keys, and then with a rev, the engine roared into life. But in that moment, light flared across the neighborhood, exposing the entire cul-de-sac. The lights turned red, and then blue. Johnny then heard a loud voice shout, “FREEZE! WE’VE GOT YOU SURROUNDED! STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE WITH YOUR HANDS UP OR WE WILL FIRE!!”
Johnny thought his heart stopped. He looked at Tommy, and saw that Tommy did not have an expression. He was certain tonight was going to be his last. At the turn of that thought, however, there was a loud slam. Stanley had come out.
Johnny realized at this point he needed to regain his ability to move. He wriggled his big toe, just like in the movies. Miraculously, it worked. In an instant he was able to regain control of his body, so he took the opportunity to sit himself up. The sting of copper filled the air. He turned to look at Stanley.
Stanley had come out smoking a joint. He was looking into lights unfazed, his brown, spiky hair illuminated like a halo pointing in all directions. Johnny couldn’t do anything but witness.
From the rear-view mirror, Johnny saw a man with a sleek black uniform, and a shiny badge on his chest, step out of the car. He had pasty-blonde hair that was slicked back. He wore an intense mustache on his face. He had an intimidating demeanor. Johnny, noticed, however, that he was also wearing sunglasses, which didn’t make sense to him, since it was night. He also noticed that he had his hand placed to his side, floating over an open holster.
“PUT YOUR HANDS UP!!!” the cop yelled into the street. His voice was raspy, and booming. It seemed as if he had forgotten about Johnny, and Tommy sitting inside his brother’s red Camaro, so Johnny was given a second to think. He started to think about how to get out of this mess.
The first thing he thought about was how useless he and his brother were. At this point, all control had been lost. He rationalized that they might have been in on a sting operation against Stanley, who hand’t been much good to just about anybody for as long as he had been around. He always sold weed, yes, but who knows what else he did in there. He suddenly equivocated Stanley’s house with the witch’s gingerbread house. With that, his mind was flooded with images of candy, of structures, of things he had never seen. He wondered if all of Stanley’s weed was tainted. Then he realized what Stanley was smoking. He looked upward.
Stanley put his hand down for a second, keeping it lit in-between his pinky and his forefinger. By the look on Stanley’s face, Johnny knew he was devising a sinister plan. The anxiety this caused within him made him bite his tongue. Despite his best wishes, Stanley took a step forward on his porch.
The cop reached into his holster and pulled out his gun. He pointed it in Stanley’s direction.
“I SAID ‘PUT YOUR HANDS UP!!!’” he said, prodding his gun towards Stanley.
Stanley lifted the joint and put it in-between his lips. He took a long, slow, drag. The end of the joint burned like the ignition of a fuse. An image of a dragon suddenly flashed through Johnny’s mind, and for a split second, he saw Stanley crashed in fire, no skin, just body, his hands placed over his mouth. The night began to suffocate him.
Stanley released the thick smoke into the air.
“Fuck you, pig.”
There was a moment of silence. Then the cop spoke.
“What did you just say?” said the cop.
“Let me repeat myself,” said Stanley, clearing his throat. “Fuck. You. Pig!”
What happened next seemed to have happened in hyper-motion. After letting out his insult, Stanley threw his head and arms into the air and began to laugh manically into space. His eyes seemed to be bulging out of his sockets, and what seemed like thick veins were strewn all across his face. His entire image was distorted. Johnny hadn’t ever heard a laugh like that before, and he hoped he wouldn’t ever have to again. Then the smell of copper became so strong, even the cop needed to step back.
“I’m FREE!” said Stanley. “I’m Finally FREE!!”
His laugh turned into a scream.
Stanley had begun to foam at the mouth. That’s when Johnny saw him reach down into one of his pockets, to pull out what looked like a gun. Suddenly there was two yellow flashes, followed by two yellow pops. Two bullet-holes appeared squarely on Stanley’s chest. Johnny’s eyes stretched out with utmost horror. Stanley was lying on the floor, two red-dime sized bullet-holes punctured into his chest. His face was stuck in an inaudible yell.
The image seared into Johnny’s brain. He had heard stories of people getting shot by cops, but never once did he imagine being witness to the actual thing. It was something that was supposed to be fiction. Something that was supposed to be urban legend. It was something talked about on online blogs, or on the news, but it was never suppose to be tangible. Johnny thought about the ginger-bread house. Then he looked over at Tommy, and saw that he had fallen asleep.
While that scared Johnny, what happened next shocked him. He saw the cop walk up to Stanley’s body, and with a deep breath, shot him two more times in the head.
“Can’t be too sure with these fuckers,” the cop said. “Can’t be too sure with any of these fuckers at all!”
Suddenly, he began to pant. Johnny tried, but failed to look away. He deduced that either the cop was blood-thirsty, since he had just killed someone in-cold blood. He couldn’t believe Tommy was asleep. Johnny shook him to wake him up.
“Tommy!” Johnny said, shaking his shoulders. “Tommy, we have to get the hell out of here!”
Tommy opened his eyes.
“I feel like I’m on a carnival ride,” he said.
“I feel like I’m on a carnival ride.”
“Tommy! This isn’t funny, asshole! We have to get out of here!!”
“Because if we don’t get out of here, that cop will shoot us too! I think he’s forgotten about us, and I don’t know about you, but I do not want to die today. I have a lot more years to live! I do not want to die today!!” said Johnny.
Tommy looked at Johnny’s chin.
“You’re moving like sand,” he said. Then he laughed. “We’ll be fine, Johnny. We’ll be fine.”
“You’re useless!” said Johnny. At that moment the cop’s attention turned from Stanley’s corpse, to them. He wiped the bottom of his nose, and pointed the gun to them. The red and blue lights kept pervading the neighborhood. Johnny thought they were goners. But then the cop pointed above them and let out one loud bang, which caused Tommy to stop laughing. Johnny saw Tommy turning to look at the cop, before he realized that the cop was walking towards them. He heard a loud crunch, and in his heart he knew he had just heard the sound of boots walking over skull. The cop spit.
“ALRIGHT YOU TWO FUCKS, PUT YOUR FUCKING HANDS UP NOW!!”
Johnny did as he was told. But Tommy didn’t move.
The cop got closer. He jabbed the gun at Tommy.
“I TOLD YOU: PUT YOUR HANDS UP!!”
Tommy ignored him and looked forward.
“I know where it is.”
Johnny had no idea what his brother was talking about.
“What!?” said the cop.
“I know…where it is,” said Tommy.
“You’re lyin’,” said the cop. He put the muzzle of the gun on the window of the driver’s side of the car. “I don’t like liars.”
Tommy rolled the car window down. The cop immediately took the chance and put the muzzle to his head. Tommy did not move.
“I hate liars, you know that? I hate ‘em with all my guts. I’ve killed many, many, many liars before and I know that I will kill many, many, many liars after. So if you’re lyin’ to me? You know what’s comin’!!”
Tommy turned his head quickly, which Johnny thought sealed his doom. But nothing happened.
“I’m not a liar,” said Tommy.
There was a moment of frosty silence. Johnny perceived that the cop was examining Tommy. He couldn’t see his eyes behind his glasses, but after a few moments, the cop pulled the muzzle away. Still pointing the gun in their direction, he took a few steps back.
“Step out of your car,” the cop said.
Johnny saw Tommy do as he was told. Tommy moved his hands away from the steering wheel, and used his left hand to open the car door. He then put his left foot out, and turned his hips towards the opening. With his right hand, he fully opened the door. When this happened, a loud, white light engulfed the car, and Johnny was sure that they were dead. Johnny turned to face the light. When his eyes became adjusted, however, he saw that the cop had turned on a flashlight. He had turned on a flashlight on him.
“YOU ALSO! GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE CAR!!”
Again, Johnny did as he was told. With careless abandon, he pulled at the door’s handle, and kicked it open. He fell out of the side of his brother’s Camaro. He quickly collected himself, and stood up. Unfortunately, he was facing the wrong direction. He turned around. He turned around to see Tommy standing up as well, with his arms high in the sky. The cop hadn’t moved an inch.
“Show me where it is,” the cop said. “No bullshit.”
“Okay,” said Tommy. He began to move forward, which caused the cop to move back. The cop used this maneuver to get behind them, which allowed him to freely point his gun at the backside of Tommy’s head. Once he secured that position, he turned the gun to Johnny. The cop motioned his gun next to Tommy’s side.
Again, Johnny did as he was told. He moved across the front of his brother’s Camaro, slowly. He was hoping to make eye contact with his brother, but he saw that his brother had a look of steel-faced concentration, which made him feel alone. Nevertheless, he stood next to Tommy. He stood quietly. That’s when his thoughts began to invade his mind like hornets.
Johnny kept thinking about Stanley’s face. He kept thinking about air. He kept thinking about the boy he saw catch fire inside of Tommy’s Camaro, on the porch, and all the flames caught on Stanley. He kept thinking about the falling orange leaves, and the gray-autumn moons that had defined the night before they decided to go looking for more weed.
All at once, the earth felt too big, and Johnny felt too small. His stomach began to cramp. Invisible tears began to well from behind his eyes. He felt choked with regret. His hands went limp. He didn’t know what was going to happen. In a moment of panic, Johnny closed his eyes, and checked out. The next thing he knew was that he was inside Sergio’s house.
When Johnny came to, he was sitting underneath what seemed to be a cracked window-pane. Tommy was sitting next to him with his knees hugged up to his chest. Johnny had his neck tilted to the left, so when he regained consciousness, he was staring at Tommy.
Tommy had a menacing stare etched into his eyes. He was whispering something. The sound caught up to Johnny, and, being stoned out of his mind, he kept trying to register Tommy’s words in his mind. He soon found that Tommy was repeating the same phrase, over and over again. That’s when Johnny looked forward and his blood turned to stone. With his belly on the floor, the police officer lay there in a pool of his own blood, two bullet holes in his back. He was dead. Johnny had dissociated through it all. He couldn’t help but scream.
Tommy punched Johnny across the face, causing Johnny to fall onto the floor in silence.
“Shut up, motherfucker! Shut up!” said Tommy. “Just shut the fuck up for once, just shut the fuck up!”
“Did…Is he…?” said Johnny.
“Yes,” said Tommy.
“Did you…was it…” said Johnny, but he trailed off. He started trying to piece together the situation with what little he had to go on. He was now also afraid of his brother, since it was evident to Johnny, that it was him who killed the cop, and that he had struck him across the face. It felt as if he was playing a classic game of cops-and-robbers. Then he remembered one crucial piece of information: that they were in Stanley’s house. He decided to lay on the floor while his brother did his thing.
“Johnny…” he said. “Johnny…what are we going to do?”
Johnny frowned. “I have no idea.”
“What do you mean you have no idea?! You always have an idea!!”
Johnny didn’t move an inch. He had an idea, but he couldn’t say it just yet. He had to do something he had never been able to do: see Tommy’s plan. He had to do it at a distance. Johnny was sure that any sudden movement would make his brother explode. So he stayed silent.
“JOHNNY!! TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!”
“I don’t know, Tommy! I don’t know.”
He then let out a bloodcurdling scream. The red and blue lights flashed throughout the neighborhood, flooding the house, causing the blood of the cop to shimmer on the wooden floor. Johnny quickly took account of the situation outside: outside, Stanley’s corpse was laying on the ground, executed, and unrecognizable. One way or another, Tommy had managed to kill the cop. He was in Sergio’s house. Then he remembered his brother mentioning, ‘it’.
He decided to ask.
“Tommy,” said Johnny. “Tommy…what was ‘it’?”
Tommy stayed silent.
“Tommy!!” said Johnny. “What. Was. ‘It’?”
“Johnny,” said Tommy. “Johnny…”
“What? Tommy! What the hell just happened?!”
“Johnny,” said Tommy. “Do you believe in the soul?”
Johnny couldn’t take anymore. He couldn’t believe that those words came out of his brother’s mouth. Tommy? Talking about souls? He felt an intense heat rise up within him, and before he knew it, he struck his brother across the face. Tommy didn’t flinch one bit.
“SOULS, TOMMY? SOULS?!”
“See, I knew I couldn’t tell you. I knew you would freak out. Immature, Johnny, just like always.”
“Tommy!” said Johnny, his body wound up in case Tommy retaliated.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you anyways, Johnny. You wouldn’t believe.”
Johnny heard sirens in the distance. Someone must have seen. Someone must have caught it on tape. Someone must have been looking. Someone had to be looking. But who was behind it all? asked Johnny. Who was behind it all?
“‘It’ was a soul. I was referring to a soul. The cop came here in the search of Stanley’s soul, and I managed to stop him,” said Tommy. “You see that Stanley outside? He wasn’t real. He was just part of the dream, part of the plan. You do realize there’s a plan, right?”
“I can’t see it,” said Johnny.
“Figures. Here, come, follow me. Don’t worry about the cop. Don’t worry about the blood. None of it is real.”
Johnny became numb. He was convinced his brother was going through an episode of psychosis. Whatever the case, he noticed that his brother had stood up, and had begun to walk towards what seemed to be Stanley’s kitchen. Johnny managed to gather the strength to stand, and to follow.
When Tommy reached the cop, he nonchalantly stepped over him, his belly now drenched in the leak of his blood. His glasses had fallen off and his blue eyes were open, as if wondering, how could this happen to me? Johnny choked down vomit. He closed his eyes, and stepped over the cop as well.
“Tommy,” said Johnny. “What happened?”
Tommy didn’t say anything.
“Tommy,” said Johnny again. “What. Happened?”
Then, in a low grumble, Tommy said, “I happened.”
“What?” said Johnny.
“I happened!! It was me!! I killed the cop! I saw that you were not there, and I had to hold your hand to help you in. So I grabbed your hand and the fucking cop started calling us names! He started calling us faggots, and saying we were going to hell for our perverse and disgusting sins, and that no one was going to save us from the hell he was going to put us through! Then he pointed his gun at you and I just could not take it anymore, Johnny!! I couldn’t take it anymore! He told us to move forward, and I did, grabbing your hand all the way. When I reached inside, I told him ‘it’ was in the kitchen, and just like that it was as if he had completely forgot who he was, and ran while crouched over to the kitchen like freaking Gollum. And I knew that it was then that I had to act. I just had to. I know Stanley’s house better than Stanley because a lot of the times when he was off doing drug dealings, I would come here to get away from the house, to smoke weed, and to hang out with my girlfriends. I searched and knew every nook and cranny of this house, and I knew that Stanley kept pistols hidden all over the place. So I set you down, and I stood up, and while his back was towards me, I shot him Johnny. I shot him two times. I wanted to shoot him more. I wanted to shoot him for what he had done, and for the names he called us, and for the way he threatened you. But I knew this: that he was after a soul, because he didn’t have one. He lost it by killing other’s long ago. He let demons get inside him, just like Stanley did. But Stan is lucky in the sense that I was there for him, and I was able to keep him safe. And so just listen to me Johnny when I tell you that this happened, because it had to happen. Everything that will happen after this, has to happen because it has to happen. And know this: I love you, Johnny. I did this all for you.”
Tommy reached underneath the kitchen sink and pulled out what seemed to be a small metal cashier-box. He opened it. Johnny looked inside.
Inside was a single cross-joint, dab-smack in the middle of the box. Johnny looked up and stared Tommy directly in his face, wondering what was going through his mind. Tommy lifted up the cross-joint, and put the metal box down. He began to smile stupidly. A furious humming began to fill Johnny’s ears.
“Johnny…Want to smoke?” Tommy asked.
For the first time, he did not respond.