Chapter Three: Yada, Yada, Yada
“Do you know that seventy-seven percent of the people out there believe in the presence of a secret society called the Illuminati but only 65 percent believe in God?”
His thumb kept moving and his eyes stayed focused on the screen of his iPhone even as he tossed the random thought over to Brooke. Danny Chord usually had about fifty to choose from any given moment but this one seemed fascinating and worth sharing to the young woman sitting next to him.
“So you’re going to visit the Illuminati?” Brooke asked.
This made him stop and look at her. He wasn’t sure if she was joking—she didn’t sound like she was—and her face didn’t seem to be in the teasing mood either. One reason he really liked Brooke was because she couldn’t be sarcastic. He had enough of that for both of them.
She’s just angry that I’m leaving right after I came back in town.
“No, I’m not visiting any Illuminati even though that would be terribly amusing,” he told the restless beauty in front of him. “I’m just trying to prove my point.”
Her lips tightened for a moment. “I thought your point was to make people look stupid?”
She was trying to get his attention. Trying to get into a fight. He knew it and realized she was simply trying hard to lasso him back around.
“Well, no, I’m not trying to make people look stupid,” Danny said. “I’m trying to make stupid people look even more stupid.”
“So you’re going to find some random strangers in some little town to mock? Aren’t there enough politicians and famous people to go after?”
Danny wanted to scratch at his ears. Sometimes he hated the sound of her voice. It had a pinching-the-nose shut sort of tone, an only-child-syndrome sort of attitude. Sometimes Danny wanted to tell her just how awful she could sound, but a woman who looked like Brooke had surely never heard that sort of truth. Danny didn’t want to be the one who told her. At least not now.
“My goal as always is to shine a little light on the stupidity—and hypocrisy—of our world,” Danny told her as he still typed away at the text he was sending.
She shuffled on the couch trying to get his attention. He had work to do and didn’t want to be pulled away by neediness. He could see her playing with her long blonde locks from the corner of his eye.
“Isn’t the world a dark enough place without mocking those who actually believe in something?”
The text finally left his phone and he set it down to fully engage with her.
“I’ve said this before. The thing I hate are these people everywhere who see something bad and then suddenly act like there’s this visible breathing thing called evil that’s like some kind of cold front. Whether they think God’s judging us or that evil is inciting this. That kind of moronic discourse only serves to make the general public look more asinine and ignorant.”
“And that’s why you’re leaving?” she asked.
Now Brooke was giving him the wounded puppy look. It was probably her last ditch effort to make him stay. It wasn’t like she was suddenly so interested in having him around so she could pick his brain and hear his thoughts and laugh at his jokes. Most things, like this, went over her head. When they had started dating and then even when he moved in with her, Danny could tolerate this. But it was get tiring.
“I have a job to do,” he said, picking back up his phone because it had been about ten seconds since he checked it.
“You blog,” Brooke said with that contemptuous attitude he had fallen in love with but could sometimes really hate. “You type free thoughts and free form and free crap all day.”
“Advertisers like that free crap, thank you very much.”
She stretched out those never-ending long legs and it felt like she was trying to make a point.
Yeah, fine, you’re taller than me and better-looking but you’re still with me so there.
“I’m going to be so bored back here,” Brooke said.
“Read my last five blogs. Those won’t make you bored.”
Brooke looked like she’d rather put her pretty little head in a toilet. She just wrinkled her nose. “I’m getting lonely. Don’t go.”
He couldn’t think with her whining like this. That’s all it was, too. Whining. She did this when she was bored and not being attended to. He had his moments—he could attend with the best of them—but sometimes he simply wanted to share his thoughts on idiots barfing up the same old garbage every time some kind of natural disaster struck. There was a reason they were called natural. Natural people. Just like the natural tornado that struck the town in South Carolina.
“If you’re going to be so lonely you could come with me,” Danny said.
“To a place called Solitary? Uh, no thanks. Sounds like it’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“It’s western North Carolina.”
“The place where that tornado just hit.”
He shook his head and looked at her. He wondered if every blonde strand pulled out a brain cell. Such a thick head of hair on top of that pretty little face and body. But inside . . .
“There’s a reason one is called north and the other south. I’m going to the former.”
“Do you think people are more stupid in places they have accents?”
Danny just laughed. “Everybody had accents. They say we have them in Denver. So no, I don’t think that. But if you have a southern accent and think your town is possessed by the devil, then yeah, I think you’re pretty stupid.”
Brooke shot him her disgusted glance. “Do you even realize how smug you sound?”
“It’s like a warm blanket people love to carry around with them. Usually I save my so-called smugness for my so-unappreciated blog.”
She shook her head and looked away. “Four-year-olds carry blankets around with them.”
“I’m not judging my audience. I can learn from everybody, even those closest to me.”
Her body cocked and looked ready to fire at him. Her lips tightened in unison with the glare.
“Since when did I become part of the punch line?” Brooke asked.
“I never said you were.”
“But this right here is obviously part of the joke. Part of your ongoing narrative to the world to show them how much more witty you happen to be.”
“I’m sorry I have a little more to offer.”
“But do you? Really?”
Brooke no longer sounded wounded or wanting. Now she was simply pissed.
“The very question makes you wonder and stay tuned,” he said without any hint of extra emotion.
“I’m not ‘staying tuned’ Danny. I’m not a listener or a follower or a fan. Do you understand that? I’m not a photo in a box ready to ‘like’ every single, stupid comment you say. I’m right here. In front of you. A human being, breathing. Trying to talk instead of commenting or retweeting or sharing or quoting.”
For the first time in a long time, Danny was impressed by the words he was listening to.
“That is the tragedy of real life,” he told Brooke with all sincerity. “That we can’t capture this moment and share it with others. Those were actually some profound thoughts.”
She shook her head. “Life is there to share, Danny. With each other. Not with the rest of the world.”
“Obviously I said something to irritate you.”
“Yes. You haven’t stopped saying irritating things since the day I met you.”
He laughed. “I thought you liked that.”
“I used to. Until I realized there was something wrong with all those endless amount of words.”
“They’re missing something at the core,” Brooke said.
“Is this editorial advice now?”
“No. It’s therapy. You don’t need a thesaurus, Danny. You need a heart.”
The cold wind made him clench his unzipped coat and crouch his head. Danny walked down the sidewalk that faced his apartment building and wondered how soon he’d move back in. He’d leased the new luxury pad less than a year ago. It was in the middle of Prospect neighborhood, close to Coors Field and Union Station. Living there had allowed him to meet and impress Brooke at a nearby bar one night. Little did he know at the time that he’d eventually move in with her. It wasn’t because Brooke’s place was nicer. It was more to keep her out of his life just in case.
Just in case she turns out to be boil-the-rabbit material.
He’d once used that term around her and the twenty-something didn’t get it. Danny understood. He was thirty-one years old but knew enough about pop culture to understand the reference from the ‘80’s film Fatal Attraction about a psycho lady. Danny was proud of his knowledge of films and music and books and anything else related to media from the last fifty years.
Brooke had stayed angry at him last night and had even decided to sleep in the guestroom. Her guest bedroom. He’d made one attempt to make up, but he seriously didn’t have the energy. Danny didn’t care. He honestly didn’t. This was why he’d moved in with her. Why he was going to lease the apartment again even if things were going along fine. There was a reason he wasn’t married by now. It was because women always, always turned into Brooke. Needy, wanting, griping babies.
His suitcase was packed for his trip and he was ready to go to the airport, but he remembered one thing he needed to pick up from his office. He still came in to work just like anybody else would. The difference was he was self-employed and his office was in his apartment.
Danny reached the fourth floor and unlocked his door. The silence that greeted him was actually soothing. He dropped his phone and keys on the island in the kitchen, then checked the fridge to see if there was any kind of food inside that could get funky while he was on his trip. Everything appeared just like it had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Brooke called him a neat freak and a germaphobe and someone with OCD. But coming from a chick who was clearly cuckoo, these insults didn’t mean much.
The inside of the refrigerator agreed with Brooke. His milk was in its regular place facing outward, the bottles of beer lined up with their labels all front and center. Lots of rows and items that seemed to fit side-by-side. He usually only ate lunch in this apartment, but still he needed to maintain order and cleanliness.
Brooke’s right but whatever.
There was a folder on the town he was heading to in North Carolina that he’d forgotten in his office. He didn’t have to come by and get it—most of the info he had could be found in links online and in information he’d already placed in a Word file called SOLITARY. Right now he was finding out facts and rumors and anything else that would be noteworthy to find. The folder contained articles he’d printed out and also random notes he’d either made or found, but most important was the photo inside. The picture of the retired sheriff who had been on record talking about the events that made national headlines in this town just a few years ago.
Before heading into his office down the hall, Danny picked up the framed photo of himself standing between his parents. The bald, round man with a big smile on one side and the petite, curly-haired woman with a look of pride on the other. It had been the day he’d signed his publishing deal for six figures. Two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars, actually. For two books, one that he was still currently working on. All because of his wonderfully witty blog Brooke never read.
Four years ago. A lot could change in four years. A father can die of a massive and sudden stroke. A mother can suddenly start to go senile. Your two biggest fans can suddenly be gone.
The sound of static suddenly caused him to look up. It came from down the hall where his bedroom and office were located. It reminded him for a moment of his parents’ old television that actually had the good old static on it anytime they messed up something with their all-in-one remote. Danny had not only written one of his favorite blogs about that damn remote but it kept coming up in other blogs as well. He told everybody that he knew beyond a shred of doubt that the remote control was possessed by a demon. The demon’s name was Gertrude and she was an angry demon who kept forgetting when she’d last haunted them.
Danny put the photo back in its exact place on the corner of the kitchen counter, then kept listening. A low ruffling fuzz of a sound that didn’t seem to go away.
He walked down the wood floor and heard the sound continue to get louder and louder.
It came from his office. As he opened the door which he always kept shut, the static stopped.
Danny felt a wave of cold come over him. He kept the temperature low in the apartment, but it never went off. At least it never should go off.
The two lamps in the office went on but didn’t reveal anything that might be crackling. Danny walked over to the desk in the middle of the room. A large monitor sat on the desk but it was black. He would bring his MacBook Pro in and connect the two. Danny swept the room with a glance but there was nothing unusual or on in the room.
A chill seemed to coat him like blast of wind during a blizzard. He shivered and couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that. Danny wasn’t the goosebumps sort of guy. Things didn’t get him all tingly-feeling. Déjà vu or inspiration or fear or anything.
So what’s wrong with me?
He found the folder on top of a series of them in the corner of his desk. All very neat and orderly in different colors. He picked it up.
A rattling sound ripped through the room. Then it turned into more of a buzzing, whirring sort of noise. Danny laughed and shook his head and then peered under his desk and then
He jerked and banged his foot sideways on the floor somehow in the most awkward sort of shocked jump mankind had ever seen. The folder went flying as Danny bolted away from his desk. The rattling continued.
All Danny could picture were the coiled layers and the black diamonds and the snake’s tongue.
A freaking rattlesnake’s under my desk.
The sound continued but Danny didn’t stay to continue listening to it. He clipped the side of the doorway as he got out of the room, then shut the door and almost felt his morning coffee rushing up through his throat and mouth. He felt dizzy and nauseous. His mind shook with thoughts as fast as the tail of the snake in his office.
How’d one of those get in there?
He thought of the neighbors who loathed him. Then of Brooke. Then of some of his biggest haters. But would somebody plant a snake in his office? Really? Especially that kind?
That was a black diamondback rattlesnake.
He breathed in and out and tried to slow down. The rattling started up again. Danny rushed back down the hall to grab his phone.
Do those things even live around here?
As he picked up his phone he yelled out a big fat curse to let the snake knew exactly what he thought. His heart was still thumping through his sweater. It was adrenaline, and he could literally taste it.
The voice on the other end didn’t answer so quickly. Maybe 911 was having a slow day.
“Yeah, I just found a rattlesnake—a real rattling rattlesnake—in my office. In my apartment. On the fourth floor.”
Just then a thought came to Danny’s mind. This was going to make a great post. A fabulous one. The kind that most people would think was made up. But nope.
This is real, folks. Yours truly almost died seconds ago. But I’m here to share the story and put a bit of comedy into it.
He’d have to wait a little while to find any humor in this. But it would come. The comedy would always arrive and Danny would always be left with the last laugh.
“So how big was it?”
The voice on the other end of the iPhone sounded shocked. Danny shifted in the padded chair in the crowded United terminal. He had spent the last ten minutes telling his college buddy Kevin the whole story about the snake. He didn’t have to make anything up, but Danny still loved heightening the drama with those inner observations of his. His friend didn’t believe him at first, and now was finally realizing just how crazy this situation sounded.
“It was wrapped around like a massive chocolate swirly cone hiding under my desk. It filled the entire space. I bet I couldn’t get both of my hands around its body if I tried.”
More laughter on the other end. “That’s insane. What did the cops say?”
“I had to call a guy who removes snakes. Like instead of The Horse Whisperer he’s The Snake Charmer. I mean—how does a guy like that stay employed? In Denver? You know?”
“That’s his only job?” Kevin asked.
It sounded like his friend was walking outside somewhere. Kevin was in the financial world and was always making deals and on the go and traveling. Danny didn’t know exactly what Kevin did in exact terms except that his friend made money. Lots of money. And like Danny, Kevin was single. Well, both had girlfriends and both seemed to have a fifty-fifty chance of making it.
“No, I’m pretty sure he gets rid of other animals too. I had to leave my key with a neighbor—one of the steroid guys in the building who wants to bench press me. He wasn’t happy.”
“You’re not that hard to bench press,” Kevin told him.
“If only you could see how much my mind weighs.”
“Why? ‘Cause it’s that dense?”
“If you only knew, brother,” Danny said, thinking how unclever Kevin could be. “I gotta go. I’ll send a pic if the snake patrol takes one like I asked them to.”
“You gonna post something about it on your blog?”
“That’s a dumb question.”
Moments later, while flipping through the different streams of information and communication happening on his iPhone, Danny read the awful news coming out New Mexico.
It’s crazy when a school shooting wasn’t the lead story in the news, but it turned out nature was becoming more deadly than psychotic students gunning down a few kids in the hallway of their school. Four to be precise. Four high school students, all claimed to be unknown to the shooter, were killed while another half dozen injured. A teacher was shot taking down the gunman, some sophomore whose name was being withheld.
Danny finished reading the report and then adjusted his glasses. He shook his head, staring back out to the strangers waiting to board the United Flight heading to Charlotte. The lead story was the tornado that had obliterated a good amount of Columbia, South Carolina. The death toll now stood at 146, a number that kept going up since the initial report. The pictures they were showing revealed nothing but rubble with people standing over them staring in shock. Tears, desperation, emptiness. Pictures that were as commonplace in the news these days as weather reports.
How about them, Danny? Got some funny quips about those people?
Oh how he hated hearing Brooke’s voice in his head. He needed to switch the channel from needy girlfriend station to something else.
The school shooting ran through his head again. As if the world didn’t have enough problems on its plate, something like this had to happen.
The classic song “Mad World” rang through his head. Not the original but the cover version by Michael Andrews. The lyrics were his personal motto in life. “I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad . . .” So many things—almost everything, in fact—could be viewed this way. He found people and situations and events funny and sad. He liked to find the funny in sad things and vice versa. Many, many times he liked to reveal the sad out of the funny. The world could have its amusement and Danny would be there to hold up a melancholy mirror. Then in the depths of sorrow he would strive to make some people laugh. Or maybe just chuckle.
Of course, an online chuckle could never be heard, but it could still be known and appreciated and tracked.
There’s no way to make a school shooting comical or ironic or anything but a complete horror-show.
The boarding began for his flight but he waited without a rush in his seat. As he checked email this strange thing slid up beside him. Shaking him suddenly.
Rattling his insides.
Danny suddenly wondered if this was a smart thing to do. Heading down to some supposedly haunted town just to highlight the stupidity of a sizable portion of America.
Remember your why, Danny boy.
The sarcastic inner voice lightened his mood. He loved quoting Oprah-isms or Ted Talk quotes to himself.
A brand is a voice and a product is a souvenir.
Yes, absolutely, of course.
The world didn’t want to know when it was going to end. It simply wanted to laugh before the end came. Well, half the world wanted to laugh. The other half wanted to pray. His audience were those howling in amusement right before all Hell broke loose. Or maybe right afterwards.
Danny Chord had written something like that somewhere on his blog. People loved it. The delirious, drunken fools. He seriously used to think that he would need to find another job when everything started happening a year ago, but that was when things started getting . . . interesting. It turned out that people desperately wanted an intelligent and belligerent look on the bleakness of life. So there he was, this short and scrawny soul poet. The savior of the cynical landscape. With a blog called JIVE TALKIN’. It was his job to try and help people through the misery of the everyday news. So he provided filler for fools.
They seriously could just not get enough.
So heading to Solitary and providing some amusing fodder and getting minds off tornadoes and school shootings while showing the paranoia that could turn an entire town into a morning headline. . . That was a good thing. A great thing, in fact.
Danny stood up and headed toward the plane.
As long as I don’t find anything rattling with fangs and black diamond scales sticking up ready to strike I’ll be fine.
The thought made him shiver. The famous Indiana Jones quote came to mind.
“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”
Surely it’d be too cold to find any of them in Solitary.
The girl stood in the middle of the street as if she was guarding the town.
He had taken I-85 for the hour-and-a-half drive to Solitary, listening to a podcast he’d downloaded on his phone before leaving. It was an hour-long discussion hosted by a couple of guys who claimed to be ghost hunters. Danny assumed they were part-time ghost hunters and full-time Walmart employees or something like that. They sounded to be in their late twenties. Probably single, living in a smelly apartment, staying up late playing video games and corresponding with similar nerds on social networks and secret chat rooms online. The reason he was interested in hearing this was because they were talking about urban legends in the Smoky Mountains and this included about twenty minutes on Solitary, North Carolina.
The story that they spoke about matched the information Danny had found about the town. It was located in western North Carolina, not far from Asheville. A simple and quiet town of about 1,700 people, though reports stated a lot of them had moved out since all the happenings a few years ago.
The exit off the highway was so nondescript he almost passed it by. It took him only a few moments to get to the main street in Solitary, the one where this odd little girl was now standing. Danny slowed his car to a stop a dozen yards away from her. She had dark hair falling just below her ears and wide eyes hovering like twin moons. She wore a thick, pink winter coat with a hood she wasn’t using and matching pink polka dot snow boots even though there wasn’t any snow to be seen. The eight or nine-year-old stood straight as if she was a soldier at attention, her arms at her sides unmoving.
Danny rolled down his window letting in the cold air. “Hey do you mind? Watch out.”
He didn’t like kids. Anybody under the age of about sixteen or fifteen . . . No thanks. They all annoyed him. Junior high kids with all their confusion. Someone like this—maybe in second or third grade—with all their high-volume energy. Babies with all their smelly diapers and drool. Danny’s older sister had a couple of boys and visiting them always confirmed his vow of never repeating in her shoes.
Finding the right woman is one thing. But having children with her?
The girl didn’t move, so he honked the horn of the rental car. It came out with a loud blare, but the girl still didn’t move. She looked strange, as if she was hypnotized.
Of course there’s going to be a girl standing in the street waiting. Bet her name is Regan.
Danny began to let the car coast while veering away from the girl. Last thing he needed was to show up in the news after hitting some kid. He pulled up beside her and stopped the car again.
“You waiting for somebody?” he asked.
She was cute. Those dark brown eyes, the little nose, the round cheeks. But she’d be a lot more cute if she smiled. Or even looked halfway awake.
Her voice wasn’t cute. It was flat and lifeless.
“You know it’s bad to stand in the middle of the street? Especially when a car is coming?”
“I’m not stupid,” she said.
Ah we got a pulse.
The street behind her that led into the small town that could be taken in with one glance looked completely empty. Danny assumed it wasn’t dangerous standing in the middle of a road nobody drove on.
“You the only one in town?” he asked.
She shook her head.
What is this girl’s deal? The weirdo look. Those wide eyes.
Danny really thought someone was playing with him. That someone knew he was coming and was messing with his mind. He glanced all around the vehicle to see if there was anybody else hiding, maybe recording this.
“Is this a practical joke?” he asked. “Did someone put you up to this?”
She stepped closer to the window and leaned her head toward him. “It’s coming.”
His body suddenly felt coated in goosebumps, a bit like it had been back in his apartment right before finding the rattlesnake. The famous scene from Poltergeist came to mind when the young girl walked up to the glowing static-filled television in the middle of the night and then announced to her parents “They’re here.” Except in this case, the girl didn’t sound so sweet. This one spoke without any hint of emotion.
“What’s coming? The babysitter who’s looking for you?”
No smile in response. Nothing. Just those eyes. Like a skeleton staring back with those dark holes.
“The snow,” the girl said.
“It’s supposed to snow?”
Danny had only seen brief weather reports. They said that they might be getting some freezing rain tomorrow evening. But he hadn’t seen the five-day forecast.
“Is that why you’re wearing those cool snow boots?” Danny said.
He was trying to sound like an adult now, being nice to the girl. Trying to get her to at least act human.
“You’re going to be stuck here,” she said.
Danny gave her a nod. He was bored by this conversation. And a little bothered, too. Any second now, the girl might break out into some thick-throated mwahaha.
“Well, just tell me there’s a pub down this street then. If I’m going to be stuck here, at least I can stay warm.”
She obviously didn’t get the joke, not that the girl would have laughed anyway. Danny wondered if she could even use her arms since they still just hung there unmoving.
“You okay?” Danny asked her.
“We’re all going to be stuck. With nowhere to go.”
He gave her an alrighty-then sort of grin and then proceeded to drive away from her. It clearly had to be a prank someone was pulling. Which was fine. It was fabulous, in fact. Whoever pulled it might have a similar sense of humor. Whoever got this girl to say and act like that might also enjoy ripping the “story” of the town to shreds.
It took ten seconds to get to the row of older buildings on one side of the road. On the other side he could see train tracks. Three cars were parked in the twenty-something spots lining the stores. There was a general store, some kind of trinkets/gifts store, a clothing store, then a building with a makeshift sign above it that simply said PUB.
Maybe the owner is trying to be ironic.
Danny didn’t think that was case, however. The sign looked like it had been painted over an older one. In the lists of restaurants and bars in the town, the only one listed had been Brennan’s Grill and Tavern. Maybe the owners had been among those who decided to ditch the town after all the troubles happened years ago.
As he climbed out of the car, Danny looked back down the road where the girl had been standing. She was gone.
A cold gust prompted him to head inside the pub. For a second as he pushed the door forward, Danny wondered if it would stay shut. But it let him in.
His work was about to begin.
Actually, it began the moment I saw the creepy girl in the middle of the road.
The great thing was that he was already formulating the sort of story or stories he would be writing about this. The Exorcist girl was a fabulous way to get a reader’s attention.
It’s the end of the world as we know it. And an eight-year old girl is the one announcing it.
Just when you thought it was safe to go into a pub, out steps Nosferatu.
Danny had to chuckle when the guy walked toward his booth. No, he wasn’t old and bald and white and didn’t resemble some walking-dead vampire. The Hispanic carrying a wide smile and even wider belly approached with the attitude of a longtime friend. He seemed to be bobbing along toward Danny’s table rather than walking.
“What’s going on?” the man asked as he stood by Danny’s booth.
There wasn’t another soul that could be seen or heard in this restaurant.
“Busy day?” Danny asked as he took the small menu the guy handed him.
The server laughed with a low and muted chuckle. “You know it. Every day is Groundhog Day.”
“You don’t have a southern accent,” Danny said, stating the obvious.
“I don’t quite look southern either, do I? Born in Mexico. Raised in Arizona.”
Danny spotted the splint on three of the man’s fingers. “Get in a fight?”
His friendly face didn’t change. He just gave Danny a nod. “It happens. You thirsty?”
“Yes. And curious. What’s up with the girl in the middle of the road? Pink snowcoat and boots.”
“We send her to freak out people visiting for the first time.”
For a second Danny actually believed him since he said this in such a deadpan, matter-of-fact way.
“No. That’s Roxy. An odd duck in an odd family.”
“Funny,” Danny said giving him the menu. “Give me a Heineken.”
“Does mocking customers help business?”
The server just gave him a shrug. “Look—I’m guessing that you didn’t just wander into Solitary. You a reporter?”
“Not quite,” Danny said.
“We get a lot of those. It’s been less frequent but still. Lots come in here. Then there are the ghosthunters.”
“Do I look like one of those?”
The big guy just studied him for a moment. His cheeks looked like croissants.
“No,” the guy said with a laugh. “I look more like one than you do. You’ve got this hipster look about you. So definitely not law enforcement or anything like that.”
“Definitely,” Danny said.
“I bet you got something to do with media.”
Danny gave him a nod. “I bet you got some beer.”
The big fella laughed again and trotted away for a few moments. Danny checked his phone and then started typing a new note for himself.
PUB—Tuco in the house. Witty guy. Not from around here. Very relaxed. What’s his story?
The server came back carrying two beers, then stuffed himself on the other side of the booth and set the bottle in front of Danny.
“This isn’t a Heineken,” Danny said.
The guy just nodded. “You don’t want a Heineken. You know that Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other city in the US?”
“That’s nice,” Danny said. “But I actually did want a Heineken.”
“That’s a Gateway Kolsch. Brewery is French Broad. As in the French Broad river. I have their IPA. Awesome stuff. If you don’t like it the beer’s on me.”
There was no reason to be a jerk to this guy. Danny knew he’d love the beer even before his first sip. He enjoyed trying new things, especially ones that added color to his life (AKA his posts about them). It was just he absolutely hated someone telling him what to do or how to act or what to drink.
“You always sit with your customers and drink on the clock?”
Another low chuckle. “Customers are rare. Especially ones I don’t know. And I’m always on the clock. Or never. I own the place.”
“Is that a good or a bad thing?”
“Both. Mostly just bad. Name’s Vicente but everybody around here calls me Vincent. Or Veensaynt.”
Danny shook his hand. “I’m Danny.”
“I was going to call this place Vicente’s something, or somehow work my name into the title. But never bothered getting around it.”
“How long have you lived around here?”
“See–I told you you’re a reporter.”
Danny took another sip of his beer and shifted on the vinyl seat. “I write a blog. I’m an online personality.”
“A blog, huh? News blog or something like that?”
Vincent didn’t look like the sort to be a regular blog reader.
You racist pig.
He could hear a random voice of an Internet troll speaking in his ear.
So just ‘cause he’s Mexican means he doesn’t read blogs right? Just ‘cause your short and puny means you never get laid, right?
Danny knew the first rule was to avoid engaging the online trolls. Or the ones rambling in his head.
“It’s more of a pop culture sort of blog,” Danny said. “I kinda make fun of everything. Ever watch Seinfeld?”
“Of course. But only when they’re speaking Spanish. Otherwise I’m lost.”
Danny couldn’t help but laugh. “You have to put things in bubbles these days. In boxes. So people know Seinfeld, of course. He mocks everybody but he does it in a questioning, harmless way. It sounds harmless but it’s really a complete mockery of everything.”
“A professional mocker?” Vincent asked. “Does it pay well?”
“Probably better than owning Pub.”
Vincent raised his beer and tapped Danny’s bottle for a toast. “Clever. But not funny.”
“I wasn’t mocking. Just being honest.”
“So are you planning on writing some kind of piece on Solitary?”
Danny looked at the splint on the man’s hand again and wondered if and when he would ask about it. “I’m hoping to write several pieces on the town. We’ll see. Willing to help out?”
There wasn’t any kind of response on Vincent’s face. Not thinning eyes and suspicious glance that might have been expected. No ounce of resistance. Just a shrug and a nod.
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll tell you everything I’ve told others. I don’t have a lot to share. I wasn’t around when all that craziness went down.”
“Could you at least point me to some who were?”
“Yeah, sure. But you have to meet here with them. That a deal?”
Now it was Danny who tapped the guy’s bottle. “Hey—good businessman.”
“Nah. I did buy this place from the previous owner thinking that the town would become some kind of tourist spot of sorts. After all the publicity and such. But it’s just faded away mostly. Like a lot of the folks living around here.”
Go ahead and ask.
“Do you believe all the reports and rumors about what happened in the town several years ago?”
Another nonchalant shrug. Vincent might have held a lot of traits but urgency and energy weren’t two of them.
“Yeah. I guess. The pastor who died. Old man Kinner died too. Those weren’t rumors.”
“But the occult practices. The rituals. Reports of teenagers being sacrificed.”
“Pretty wild stuff, huh?” Vincent snorted and shook his head. “I still don’t know. I mean, I know the pastor and old guy were sick freaks. But I don’t believe in any of that other stuff. I think some around here did. They’re gone. The guy named Staunch—the businessman living around here involved with those guys—he’s still in some prison. People always ask the same sort of things, people like you. But I don’t know. I didn’t see any teenagers sacrificed. I have yet to see any demons haunting this place. There are lots of ghosts around here, but they’re just some of the people who’ve lived here a long time, people who are just walking shells trying to escape some of the shit they saw around here.”
“I imagine those are the kind who visit you quite frequently?”
“Yep. Thought I’d open some kind of bar-grill sort of establishment. Didn’t realize I’d be opening some kind of nursing home instead. You want another beer? ‘Cause I do.”
Not even an hour into this visit, Danny knew he already had an ally.
He was going to love to unpack the dirty laundry of this town. Then go all Seinfeld over it.
Danny shut off his phone, ignoring Brooke’s tenth text of the night. A few were angry, then hurt, then apologetic, and now scared. He just felt done. It was too much. Brooke was too much. He was glad to be away from her and already dreaded heading back home. Danny knew he’d eventually need to be honest and tell her they were done.
Inside the small and cozy room of the B&B, Danny reached for his laptop and then sat back on the cushioned armchair in the corner. The lady who owned this was a sweet woman in her eighties maybe. She gave him a brief tour and then said he was the only one staying there. He had his pick of three rooms so he chose this one. It wasn’t the biggest but it had windows looking out onto the main street in Solitary. Danny figured he might be able to spot some local weirdos wandering down the street tomorrow.
He went through the familiar checklist of sites online. Nothing in his email looked promising. He checked Twitter and shared a couple more things. Recently he had crossed the 100K mark of followers. Danny used to follow everybody but a couple of years ago narrowed it down to about 250. Mostly famous people, some who followed him and some not. Some of his diehard fans were also on his list. He would tweet at least a dozen times a day. His last tweet had been an hour ago, taking a picture of one of the three French Broad beers he’d enjoyed.
The rest of the social networks followed, then he proceeded to go to his blog and read some of the comments on earlier posts.
“A horse has more common sense than you do, jackass.”
That was from HughFlight45.
Glad he keeps reading my stupid blogs.
HughFlight45 was one of the trolls.
“Keep the laughs coming.”
A newcomer. Always nice to see.
“This is by far the best post you’ve ever done.”
One of his longterm fans. He had written a funny piece on why women are right 98 percent of the time. Danny didn’t actually believe this, of course. Most guys were horny tools. That he knew. But a lot of women were entitled brats who loved working out and then walking around showing off in their leggings. No wonder guys were horny tools. Men got it wrong so often and no longer seemed to care anymore. Women knew the odds of them being right so they no longer questioned whether they were. Danny . . . well, he knew that he had more female fans, and he knew that he could mock his male fans simply because they’d agree with him.
I should write something about how to know when a relationship’s over.
Not feeling an ounce of guilt when not returning a call or a text. That’s a big one. Or feeling an overwhelming sense of freedom the moment you step out of their apartment. But those were obvious. He needed to find the utter stupidity of relationships and then highlight them in his wonderful little way.
Danny thought of the Mexican back at the bar. Vince. A good guy. Danny had a headache now after the potent beers and nothing to eat with them. But the conversation had been worth it. He shifted from thinking about writing about a girl to writing about this town.
Where do I start?
Who were these people in this town and why in the world did they think like they did? Vince just shrugged off these rumors. Really? Either he didn’t believe in the whole occult-ritualistic-death-practices or he actually was still involved with them. What if he believed? Why in the world would he still stay around then? To lose money on a pub?
The questions started at this place. Danny’s gift was figuring out a way to point out the stupidity and still sound like he cared. Even a bit. But like he told Vince, that was the beauty of Seinfeld, right? He didn’t want to act like he knew more than others but that was the honest truth. The vast majority of people–Danny had it at about 87.94 percent—were really, truthfully dumb. He loved that word because he could use other, creative ones, but dumb was just another four-letter word. It sounded a bit like bull or dull or oops or anything so ordinary and so blah.
There’s another one.
So many people out there today lived four-letter-lives. The kind you could sum up with a single word. So sad and yet, so funny. They had no idea how pathetic things were but they had their moonshine or their gin and juice so thank God and Hallelujah.
Uh oh racist alert.
Every week, maybe even everyday, Danny would get some of the most ridiculous comments on any one of his online avenues. Bigot and Nazi and hater and liar and so many others. Lots and lots of them. They felt like badges on his Boy Scout uniform. Look, mom, I got another one! The anger from the audience only incited more words and more commentary on the people shouting out loud.
For a second he felt his eyes closing and not opening. He knew he should get some rest.
His phone buzzed with another incoming text. Danny didn’t want to even look at it. Tomorrow he’d answer them.
Tomorrow he’d figure out something more to say to Brooke. Then he’d figure out how to start to make fun of this little town in the middle of nowhere, and really in a sense make fun of all those doomsday prophets who actually believed in things like Heaven and Hell and the end of the world.
Want to see the end of the world? Then go to the bathroom and look in the mirror, buddy.
Danny wasn’t a mean person. Just an honest one. And the world today needed honesty. That and a few laughs.
Wrap me in always, and drag me in with maybes
Moving, Danny never feels out of breath. His legs never ache, his body never stops. All along pedaling so fast, pedaling and pedaling more. Following the girl into the sunset, over the sidewalks, onto the trail leading into the woods and across the wooden bridge.
Laughing, Danny stares ahead at her head looking back for the moment. The jump, the inevitable tumble into the leaves. Staring into dusk and watching it blanket them with its shadow.
Your innocence is all I have
Talking. Listening mostly. Listening to her. Listening to someone, to some dream.
Summertime sensations swirling around.
The secrets of your dreams
Danny never plans to tell, never plans to let anybody know, this sharp and precious little secret.
Everyday. This habit and this wonder and this reality. So young with sixth grade on the horizon. So ready to grow up and get the hell out of there.
But youth is wasted on the young
All along, this glimmer never known before now.
We’re forever frozen, forever beautiful
Like her. This blood-red colored gemstone.
Night has come. Again, and again, and again, and again.
The night has come to hold us young
But always and ever, Danny ends up waking up, old again, alone again, remembering again.
The ache still in his side like always. Remembering back to those golden days when he was eleven years old and believed in anything.
For a second he wonders where he is, then realizes it’s a quaint little room in a cute little house in the middle of a creepy little town.
He sighs then crawls out from the covers, feeling little himself. As he pulls the blankets back, he hears something thud on the wooden floor underneath him. He looks over and then notices the flat oval-shaped object. Danny bends over and picks it up.
It’s a rock. A flat grey stone. Quite smooth.
Where’d that thing come from?
It had been at the base of his bed. He hadn’t noticed it last night.
How’d I sleep all night without noticing it?
With another tired sigh, he places the rock on the nearby desk and then decides to try and find some coffee.