All of us crammed into a metal coffin tossing around terrible jokes. "Why do people fear trees?" Silence answered the endearing child. "Because they bark." Laughter. More or less born from disbelief rather than the overall cleverness it. This is my life. Has been my life but probably won't be all of it. Don't get me wrong. I lack every sense of bitterness when I say that. I love this life. The sheer simplicity of it. The stark contrast between it and my days at the office but in many ways it feels like an act. On my part I mean. Sorry to confuse. I don't feel like I am invested. Wonder if any dads can relate to me? From time to time, as I am doing now, I stick my head back into the car and smile. I can't force myself to laugh. That would seem too fake.
"You know if cats," I say, long after the conversation moved on, challenging the young child, "hate dogs why go to something that barks?"
Was that right? I have to hit the right middle ground. I can see the eldest formulating something. I know what it is. I gave him a stern glance stopping him in his tracks. That's the last thing I need her hearing. Again back to the concept of contrast. Her young mind working at something so trivial while he wishes to wake her from that dream with poison. Boys. Never did like them too much. Guess that's why I tried so hard for a girl. My wife must've seen me because she's giving me a confused look.
"What did he do?" The words spoken by her eyes.
So simple. I like that. Not having to work. To have a place where I can relax. Having a dumb wife, a clueless son, and a precious daughter to make it all seem worth it. Mix in a drink every Friday with the same boorish folk and you have my idea of heaven. Granted I would trade for a hotter wife. A tad dumber but still hotter. I stick my head out of the window again. I must be a true dog because I can't get enough of the wind against my face.
"Hit the middle," I whisper to myself.
I stick out my tongue and pant a little. I hear a giggle makes its way from the back seat. Look at that the first genuine smile I've had in weeks. Feels good. Like a long lost friend. Oh he's gone. Fare well and wish you luck.
"Are we there yet," I hear my wife whine.
I am tempted to sigh. To groan. To yell. I stick my head back into the car, "Not sure. Check the map."
She does and soon I can see a frown on her face. That means she has no clue where we are. Better yet I forgot she can't read a newspaper much less a map. I take it from her much rougher than I would've liked to. I hand the map to my son. It sickens me to call him that. He takes it from rather reluctantly and is soon comforting my wife. Good, he knows not to talk me. I stick head back out the window. I pant again wondering just how dead this joke must be. I get a slight chuckle. Much fainter than last time. It just makes me happy to get some form of response.
We drive in relative silence for a bit when I see something that surprises me. A tunnel. I stop the car. The map failed to say anything about it. I had the whole route memorized. I reach back and waited for my dazed spawn to hand my the map. He does, after four years and Christmas party. I began to open it bit I couldn't help but sigh.
"Who grabbed the map?" I had to be sure. If it's my joy well all I can do is shrug. Well let me be honest, that comes after I yell at her mom for letting a child pick out a map in the first place.
A trembling hand raises up. That sounded very wrong. Trembling from embarrassment. I don't beat my kids with belts. I do it with words.
I sigh. It's hard not to, "I am going to hand this back to you and I want you to read, you know, r-e-a-d, the date on it back to me." My wife's giving me her "death stare". Trying to look tough. Cute. I act as if it gets to me. I stutter like a fool and lower my head, "just tell me the date."
I hand it back to him and in trembling voice fills the car, "1945."
I can't help but nod. Not in approval but in a sense of acceptance. I screwed up but hey I can always blame his mom. "Cher. Tell me didn't I ask you to grab the map." She gave a slight, heavy nod. No getting out of this was there.
"Yes but I saw this souvenir shop and the Jeffersons, oh the dear Jeffersons," she did that things where she places on hand on her chest and the other on mine, "how they help us with the garden especially the husband," now she's trying to change the topic, "you know last week he did such a good job on the hedges."
I grabbed her hand gently and pushed it away from her. She stopped, mouth half hinged and she was about to say another word, "I don't care." I make sure my delivery was blunt and cold. She gave a weak nod and turned her eyes towards the tunnel in front of us. Using one shaking hand she tucked her hair behind her ear. I gave a silent sigh and turned around, "son," that really burnt to say, "I want you to tell me, in as much detail as you can, where you got it."
"Well you see dad I wasn't expecting it to," I rose one hand to stop him. I shook my head and he nodded. He took a second to center himself, "I got it from this old guy. Francis or Fernando I think he said his name was. Promised me it for real cheap. Half of what new one cost," he paused for a second. Guess he knew he better explain himself. "Um...new as in what he does is that he buys them off of other guest and them sells them back. Said he was going to be truthful. He buys em for five but sells them back for ten," he gave a nervous and lopsided smile, "man needs to eat," he paused again. Was that a joke? He cleared his throat and continued, "anyway I was real smart. Made sure to check to see of it was legitimate and everything."
I gave a sarcastic nod if that's a thing, "so tell me. How what year is it?"
He lowered his head and started to play with his thumbs, "1985."
I gave another one of those sarcastic nods, "ah and please tell me if you really looked it over then how did you miss the big date?"
He gave a weak shrug. "Don't know," he was talking very softly, "it's the sticks. Figured the roads wouldn't change much," he gained a kick of energy like he stumbled on some amazing point that had to be said, "and why does it matter anyway? It's just a fu," he lowered his voice and head again, "stupid tunnel."
My third nod, "Ah, just a tunnel. Did you ever think of it like this. If a tunnel was added then what else was changed? Maybe it lead unto a different road than it used to."
"We can just head back."
I had to groan at that remark, "Do you know how much it cost to have this trip? We don't have the gas. It was enough to get us there. That's it. If we turn back only God know's how far we'll make it."
"Should've planned better," I hear my wife mutter.
That crawled under my skin. "How was I," I exploded, "I was loaded at work so I had to improvise. As far as I was able to take into account was how far this thing could get us on a full tank of gas but now that's shot."
I could tell that I was scaring my joy. I ran my hands through my hair an exhaled. I turned my eyes back to the road and planted my hands on the steering wheel.
"You know he's probably right. Not all that much can be different. On the bright side the tunnel has more space than this cramped car."
As I led them in I couldn't help but think just how much this was like a mouth. Like I was being swallowed. I wonder what was in its gut? Maybe I'll find another dad with a stupid son. We could get into long conversations about our mutual hate. He'll pop his trunk and pull out some fine scotch. We'll drink and be merry. His dumb wife will talk to my dumb wife about soaps or some boring T.V show. Maybe celebrity gossip. To make things worst the guy that sold him the map was some sort of cultist. A member of covenant that sent travelers into the mouth of the beast. Funny but not so much when I caught a whiff of the air. It was damp and humid. The smell was kind of that of dog's saliva. Odd. My one response.
I glanced at my wife though the corner of my eye. If she had seen me looking at her she would question. It would be embarrassing to mention my paranoia. She seemed unfazed. This is bad. It's my mind that's all. The air grew even thicker. Felt like I was crawling my way through a light swamp. How to describe it? A light fluid. Thick but not quite there yet. I had trouble breathing. In a fashion more frantic than I hoped I closed the window. Then she said it, the words I didn't want to hear. "You alright?"
"Yeah." It came out very frantic. So I nodded to confirm. A second answer. Not a good idea. She gave me a very concerned stare. There was also a sense of sternness as if asking what was it I couldn't confide in her.
She was now inspecting me. Wondering if her eyes were tricking her or if I was really trembling.
I gave a nervous and lopsided grin, "a hundred and some arbitrary number percent." I finished with a half finished, never truly conceived, laugh.
I could tell she didn't feel like digging into it.
I exhaled. I felt a weight leave my chest. I turned my eyes back unto the road. Simple. I like simple. Just drive straight and before you know it you'll be wherever this thing leads. Distract yourself. Simple, I like simple. Let's see the walls are stone bricks. Some are a dark grey the majority are a washed out version. Okay, simple. It's very dark. How far I can see extends as much as my headlights. See nothing. Simple just simple. The roads a soft pink. Wait pink? It's soft and the tires sink in a little. If I were I fool I would say that it was tasting it. It seemed to wrap around at times, on the sides, brushing the car. From the dark depths I can hear a faint hum. A groan? No that's not it. It sounds satisfied. Wait what's it? The tunnel? That can't be it's not alive.
"So yummy. I love tinned meats. So rare they are and so rare they can be."
"Who was that?" I keep my voice low. I don't want the others to hear me.
"It's me. I was taking a nap and this is what I find. The early bird gets the worm so the earliest bird must have them wonder into his mouth."
I lower my head until my chin almost touches the steering wheel. In a whisper, "is that you, the tunnel?"
The pink road swelled gently lifting the car. I nod.
"Tell me. I know we just met and all but I need you to do a favor."
"Swell. I have trouble opening cans so could you be a dear and do it for me?"
I nod and swing open the car door. The road rises up and licks my leg. I can feel its warm spit working its way through my pants.
"Yuck, not to offend you but you're not my type."
I feel so disappointed. Why? It's just a stupid tunnel and the way I a closing the door. So slow. So defeated.
"Tell me," his tone is quick. Somewhere between forgiving and greedy, "what else sits in the tin?"
"My wife," no response, "my eldest child," no response, "and my joy." A series of ripples gently lift and lower the car. I can hear panting coming from the depths.
"Oh yes oh yes. I'll take her."
But she's hard to get to. I can't reach her door.
"No worries just run it into my cheek. I can pull her out then."
But's she's my joy.
"You don't mean that? At the expense of the other two?"
Oh yes them. My wife must be wondering. No she's a asleep and conveniently so do the other two. Odd but simple.
But I still can't.
"Oh come on."
The air thickening further and my window starts to fog. He's breathing very heavily. The pink road is now caressing the car. In some sense violating it. I feel uncomfortable.
"Mister road can you please not. You are being very rude."
He stopped talking. Silence swallows me. What was I doing? No seriously? I run one hand though my hair keep the other fixed on the steering wheel. I glance back at my joy. She's asleep. So cute. Makes it all worth it in the end. I, on instinct, check the gas. Still serviceable. I am trying to pace myself. I feel like I've woken up from a dream. I feel groggy. Nauseous. The walls are turning pink. Fleshy and alive. There's a gentle ripple moving through them. Nay, it's a pulse, a sign of life. There's a thick green gas building around me. That's why I feel sick. So sleepy.
A sight chuckle crawls its way from the depths, "sorry. So sorry. I must apologize for before hand my worm. So precious you are for coming here but I need your joy. Please just a taste. You can hold her tightly as you pass her over my tongue. One, single, lick."
I shook my head. I can't.
"Really," it's polite, almost accepting. It went silent.
I had to pace myself. I checked the gas, my family, the time. My breathing was heavy and my chest hurt. A lot actually. I can hardly breath. I clenched my chest.
One last time it rang from the darkness. The voice of my friend, "This pains me." It was in a tone similar to the last time. Polite, poise, blunt and most of all cold.
It got darker. Just slightly. I noticed that my finger tips seemed to vanish a little. My wife started to move.
I smiled formed on my face, "Hun."
She didn't reply.
Nothing. She moved oddly as if on string. Her head flopped from one shoulder to the next.
She turned her head towards me. Well more like tilted. Her eyes and mouth were stitched shut. She sat still and mumbled some words.
"I don't understand you."
She gave a loose nod. She wrapped her slender index finger around one of the stitches by the corner of her mouth and started to pull on it. She gave a slight, muffled scream as it tore out her stuffing. Bits of cotton drifted through the air and found themselves on my lap. Stuffing? Odd. I thought humans bled. She continued to go at it. She clasped her other hand around wrist and tugged. The came out one after the other and stopped at about half way.
"Make me stop."
Who was that?
"I don't feel like talking and neither does Constable."
She stopped and straightened herself. She placed her hands on her lap. Are you okay? I had to be concerned for her. That must've hurt or was it good? It could be. Oh so what's she doing now?
She rose her right hand and appeared to be looking at it. She drove her finger into her left eye and started to scoop it out. The motion she made was almost like scratching. An annoying itch in the back of her socket. Stuffing flew everywhere as she tore the cloth sack out. She let it fall to the floor and started to work on the other one. She lost my interest so I returned to gazing at the beautiful pink road.
It got darker. Just slightly. My vision extended to as far as my wrist. Now that I thought about my hand and the road seemed to be darkening at two different rates. Funny. She had just finished.
I turned to her, "Better?"
She gave a loose nod.
She had cute buttons much better than her eyes. I had a genuine smile. So rare. I started to hum. I couldn't help it the song by the Daisies is infectious. The Daisies? Silly question they've always been growing...out of...my hood? Hm? Funny don't remember that always being there.
It got darker. Just slightly. Now I can't see anything below my elbows. I feel funny. I bet it's that green gas. Evil freak. That's right.
It got darker.
It got darker.
It got darker.
My son's starting to move. He also tore out his eyes just like his mother. I still don't approve of him but I like his buttons. I should try.
It got darker.
It got darker.
It got darker.
That's one out. Hm? What's this red stuff. Seems important. I am getting dizzy. Better put it back.
It got darker.
It got darker.
It went dark.
All of us crammed into a metal coffin tossing around terrible jokes. "Why do people fear trees?" Silence answer the endearing teen. "Because they bark." Laughter. Why does this seem so familiar?
"I can't believe that they made it this far."
The sound of a respirator cuts through the darkness. Boots, thick boots make their way to me. I can sense someone standing over me.
"Got here too late?"
I hear a dry laugh, "You can say that alright."
"Anyone made it?"
"This little girl. Covered in bite marks though."
My joy. I need to move. I need to say something.
"You sure because I don't feel like crawling back in here."
"Jesus Christ I am."
I need to move.
"Hold up we have another." He sounded reluctant, as if annoyed he just lost at something.
"Sure we should take him," he sounded disgusted.
"You're the one who wanted to play hero."
"But come one what's there to save?"
"Great point. Couldn't scrape him for flesh if we tried."