overfill their pockets with trail mix, beef jerky, loose beers, and cigarettes
before scampering to their stolen car. An hour passes on the road, spent in
see a red barn that looks like a painting against green shrubbery and its
surrounding tall grass. The barn's metal roof reflects the setting sun onto
their twenty-year-old jalopy, a car a few years older than them.
barn will do," the driver says. They pull into the crushed stone driveway,
and the driver buries the car deep in the weeds behind the barn. Sounds of
grass tugging at the undercarriage come to a halt. The car sputters and dies.
They struggle to open the doors, must force themselves out, and then trudge to
a small white door at the back of the barn. Hay abounds, and the three climb a
small ladder to the top of the mound and spread out with food and drink. The
dark-haired one pops open a beer can, stirring the other two and falling asleep
after guzzling it down.
door sliding below wakes the three, and they are on high alert until the voices
fade into the distance and become inaudible. "We need another car,"
the driver says. The other two nod, and the dark-haired one begins his descent,
complaining about the hay itching his back.
itches me too," Feral adds more matter of fact than intended. The driver
doesn't provide his opinion and slinks off to the car to fetch anything if
left. When he returns, they go to the road and walk alongside it until a man
waves from his car, which forces them to the creek in a hurry. They walk
barefoot across stone, grass, and mud; sooner than they suppose, they come upon
a woman unloading groceries into her house. Moments later, the woman pedals
away, and the boys descend upon her property.
inside and grab the keycard," the driver instructs. The other two boys
disappear, and before he can hack the control panel, he hears glass shatter and
rustling, and the pair come back with the keycard. The three pile into the
vehicle. The driver slides back the SUV's seat and then adjusts the rearview
mirror when it settles on the female cyclist. "Quiet, she's behind
us." The boys slink down in their seats but are still otherwise. The woman
walks past them, places her house key against the lock, and then enters and
closes the door behind her. The boy's breath rate increases, so the inner glass
becomes foggy. Moments later, she exits and locks the deadbolt from the
outside. She glances briefly at the car as she passes them and pedals away from
saw us," Feral concludes.
turn?" The driver asks.
back out, and Feral jumps from the car when they see her. She tries to pedal
away, but Feral overcomes her and stabs her as she pleads.
at all that ham juice," Dutch teases his bloodied friend as he enters the
need another vehicle," the driver mutters and zooms off.
speed down this road, take a left and then a right, and find over the next half
hour that the sum of their existence is a series of arbitrary left and right
turns. Forests, fields, and trailer homes line each side of the road. They
grunt at each other and point off to the sides at deer but otherwise see
SUV pulls even with an intersection that buttresses a highway. "But did
she know, know?" the driver asks the pair. Dutch turns around and looks to
Feral, who unequivocally nods yes, and then he turns back to the driver.
driver turns on the navigation system. He drags his finger across the screen
and observes a series of white lines intersecting green swatches of land.
“There's some kind of town
fifteen minutes to the northwest." He rubs his finger further past the
town, but the screen returns to empty green lands cut up with nameless roads,
so he gives up.
we look?" Dutch asks, holding up a wrapped phone. The question hangs for
an eternity, and then their prudence runs its course.
just have to be careful," Feral appends.
be better to drive on still," the driver suggests, but it's to no avail.
see no traffic and find parking between two similar vehicles in an open lot
overlooking a river. The three walk the main street and find closed storefronts
whose owners are nowhere in sight. There are no birds in the cloudless
sky." Why is it so dead?" Feral asks no one in particular. They
discover an electronics store with an open sign hanging on the door and dodge
into it. The bell rings upon entering.
the driver walks to the desk where an elderly man is working. "Where is
His hand rests
on his knife butt stuffed in the front of his trousers. The elderly man places
his spectacles on his nose and scrutinizes the three. He renders a wry smile
and turns his radio down.
everyone?" the elderly man snarks and returns to his device, which
consists of a few metal cogs and wires. Scanners and other electronic devices
crackle in the background. He cautiously stands up from his chair and enters the backroom
behind the curtain.
inquisitorial eyes follow him and then land on a desktop with a keyboard.
"Does this computer work?" Feral shouts to the elderly man and sits
down in the chair.
has an os," the elderly man yells from behind the curtain. He returns with
a flux tube and squeezes it onto the corner of the contraption. Soldering the
flux, he adjusts his light above.
social media first," the driver says to Feral. He checks all their posts,
feeds, and shorts but finds none of their posts. He then navigates to the live
feeds on various news outlets and scrolls through the many posts, but the live
landing on Mars seems to be the only thing people are talking about.
Feral begins typing addresses directly into the browser, only coming up to
inform the driver of the negative.
driver stares down the elderly man and exits the store; he peruses the empty
street; no cars are driving around or parked on the road. He paces the empty
sidewalk and feels the wind blowing through the loose fence separating the
river from the town. He gazes around once more before returning to the store.
that old group account," the driver says to Feral, who is still behind the
computer typing. They click on a photo of Feral, Dutch, and Red standing on a rock cliff
looking pensive over a gorge. He grabs the mouse from Feral and scrolls down
the photograph's comment section. A weeks-old comment from Jazzstars53 reads,
"why are you doing this? Pls stop." Then the bell rings above the
door, and Dutch exits. The driver grabs the unwrapped phone behind them and
realizes it's unplugged. The elderly man laughs at this and retreats into the
curtain behind them.
at all?" Feral says weakly.
“Get up." The driver grabs
Feral, who is frozen. His chair stops as if caught on something, so the he lets
go. The driver gets one step away from the door before the shockwaves send him
flying through the window and into the darkness enveloping him.
smoke and ash paper, fire licks the edges of the
windows, and debris cascades in the wake of smoke billowing from the store. A
flaming shoe burns before him and begins diminishing by the moment. "I am
so sorry, man. I should have just said something when I suspected." Dutch
continues to drag the driver from the carnage. Someone is shouting commands,
but they cannot locate who it is amongst the smoke and rubble. Looking towards
the distant corner, they see a figure dart behind the building and peer back at
them before slinking away permanently.
with a bullhorn shouts, "Just give up."
am sorry, driver. About Red, Feral,
everything and everyone." Bullets kick up dirt in front of them, and
leaves and branches fall on them from the trees above. A guy crouching atop one
of the adjacent buildings seems fixed on them. The store is one big flaming
hole flanked by empty facades of the other storefronts. Taking fire from
everywhere, they crawl into a slight dip in the fence and find cover.
spied a hole in the fence earlier." The driver flicks his head in the
direction of the hole. "Follow me into it." The driver stands up
wobbly and soon feels burning from a bullet slamming into his side. He drops as
if someone had kicked out his legs. Rolling towards the fence, the driver grabs
the wire and drunkenly pulls himself forward. He slips, recomposes, and feels
the wetness of blood seep into his crotch and legs. The opening presents itself
just as another shot nicks him in the neck and then he hears screaming as he
and Dutch free-fall down the hill.
limbs flail and slam into the brush, stones, and tall grass, and the ancient
branches stab at them until they face plant into the cold stream below.
tumbles them with an uncommon ferocity allowing them only intermittent breaths
that they struggle for. Their wading seems endless, and they lose each other
but find another again as if by miracle. It's dusk again before they come
entirely out of the water.
am dying," the driver confesses while watching Dutch limp and retie his
bandana around his calf. His wincing does something to the driver that is
visible to both of them.
for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man."
if these matches will light." Dutch strikes another match and drops it
onto bark shavings, freshly scraped by his knife. It sparks and spits a little,
and Dutch kneels down in discomfort and blows lightly on the immature flame. It
goes out before catching hold.
regrets." The driver stares at Dutch, struggling to rustle another match
from the end of his knife. The driver reaches into his pocket for the phone he
had grabbed and notices the screen is black; he boots it on with the hope it
will work. Dutch protests; the driver waves him off. "It's all good,
brother; just one more post about our adventure." He doesn't inform Dutch
of their frozen accounts or reposts removed for violating various content policies.
He had understood this was a possibility and therefore had pushed videos of
their adventures to the dark web hoping their legend would live on.
maybe have one more in us." Dutch starts lighting shavings and blowing on
the sparks once again. The driver finds the phone on in his hand through no
effort of his own. Ten percent battery remains. He hesitates over the social
media applications, opens the camera, and starts recording. He focuses the
camera on Dutch, who seems to have gotten the fire going.
do you want to say?" Dutch stares at the fire, transfixed and
contemplative, and walks over to the driver to grab the phone.
you scared to die?" he asks his supine friend.
the driver retorts but then relents. "A little bit. Death feels smoother
than I thought it would. It's like I'm on this stream carrying me to some place
it knows. All I have to do is just let it take me." He adjusts the shirt
sticking out of the back side of the bullet hole. He meets Dutch's eyes across
the low fire. "What about you, friend?"
this is about what I thought," Dutch says in a selfie and then hands the
camera to the driver, who takes over filming. "I didn't think we would
last this long, though." The boys start laughing. Clutching their
stomachs, they continue laughing through their pain and better judgments. The
battery goes down to one percent before the driver turns the camera off and
uploads the video, just as the phone powers down forever. The driver hands the
phone back to Dutch.
it worth keeping on us?" Dutch asks, "Not just for tracking?"
so invasive, bro." The boys start laughing again. “I don’t want some old fuck
flipping through our phone." Recovering from his laughing fit, Dutch
stands tall, cocks his arm back, spins around in a bit of dance, and throws the
phone into the water. He then offers the driver some trail mix as he stokes the
fire. The driver shakes him off. Dutch removes his bandages and lays them on
rocks to dry. His wound is shiny and wax-like in the light of the flame. He
feeds the fire with some driftwood. And somewhere between night and day, he
he awakes, he sees the driver staring at him. He's not blinking. "Are you
alive?" He pauses knowingly. "Before I put you in the stream, I want
you to know that I am only taking your shirt off as a bandage for my wound. And
your pants to replace my holy ones." He undresses the driver down to his
underwear and contemplates the driver's knife. It feels weighty in his palm
before he drops it into the river and watches it sink to the bottom. Dutch
slings his dead friend over his shoulders but hesitates to throw him in;
finally, he slips in the water with the driver's hardened body and rides him
along the gentle current into the daylight somewhere in the distance.
hops the rail and finds himself among daily commuters riding the train. He
spies a man reading a print-style newspaper. The front page displays a
photograph of a group of space travelers under a white pop-up tent hanging out
on Mars. "Can I read that after you, mister?"
That something, huh," the suit-wearing man says, pointing at the
photograph. "A helluva trip just for a picnic!" He laughs.
Dutch returns, thumbing the loops in his pants. He soon forgets the guy and
everything else in the world ticks by one telephone poll after another.
exits the train knowing the papers contain no mentions of their adventures, and
walks into a vintage clothing store off 42nd street. He's cold, so he buys two
sweatshirts, insulated underwear, warm socks, jeans, high-top sneakers, a
winter cap, and bandanas for his week-old flesh wound. He places the
merchandise down on the counter more from knowledge of stories than habit. The
girls behind the counter laugh.
this store fucking awesome?" One says as she ecstatically scans each item
with her gun. He stoically nods, but a smile does escape his lips.
I put these on here?" he asks, holding up the clothing.
so twentieth-century," she laughs. "It's like everyone's natural
instinct after they purchase clothing. Everyone does it."
walks around aimlessly within the city's maze and under an overcast of
anonymity. He tries a fried fish sandwich containing onions and berries and
drinks an alcoholic beverage that he's only read about on his phone. When the
day falls, he sleeps in a homeless encampment under the metropolis’ overpass.
day, he decides to walk to the river and, upon reaching it, becomes so
overwhelmed with memories of their adventure that he breaks down and cries for
hours. Thoughts of Feral and Red
bombard him, and the driver's dead face haunts him to the end of each cry of
absolution. "Your ghost must be on the river today, buddy," he
becomes lost on the way back to his cardboard box. And no matter what route he
takes, he stares at the signs wondering why he can’t find the way. Then hears a
"psst." He looks around but notices only posters and
under-construction signs, so he ambles forth.
psst. Darkboy2071. Over here." He freezes, still unsure of the source.
"Psst. Darkboy2071. Walk to the fliered wall." Dutch complies and
notices a small hand reaching out to him behind the boarded-off doors. "We
thought that was you." Dutch grabs the extended hand, pulling him inside
the enclosed building. There is a group of people inside the enclosure on their
devices, busily typing and chatting amongst themselves about posting content to
different media platforms.
Persean hero has arrived!" The smallish man announces to the group of
people. He begins applauding, which pulls the other people away from their
devices. The people surround him and grab at his hands, shirt, and pants—some pinch his skin as if to
take a literal piece. "Can we see it? " one of them pokes his leg
where a scar now exists.
a true hunter," someone around states.
can't believe it's you!" a petite girl exclaims, wiping tears from her big
dark eyes while holding onto his arm.
going on?" Dutch asks the surrounding crowd, too tired to speculate.
what's going on! Don't you know you're the one?!"
shakes his head no and stares at the crowd of Uploaders encircling him like a
dream he envisioned long ago.
freakin love episode 27, where you chase down the Official through the field.
The way he begs as you cut him with your knife...chills," the girl makes
googly eyes at him. The people murmur, and some agree that 27 was one of the
better episodes of the 'Adventures of They.'
34, and the driver death episode are the most viewed videos on the
platform," the smallish man states. "But truthfully, they are all so
good it's been a privilege to post them."
takes a deep breath; he hearkens back to the beginning of all this with him
staring out at the stars amongst the silent rustling of Red, Feral,
and the driver. The
scenes become so overwhelming that he runs from the crowd before they can see
him cry. The last thing he hears before exiting into the unknown future
is—"67 gut jobs has gotta be a record!"