Darth Vader hiccups once, just once, but it is enough to startle them. They turn to their old companion, who sleeps soundly next to them, and silently begs them to wake up. What were they supposed to do? They had no money, and they’ve never been this far before. The farmlands gave way to the mountains, whose rocky walls surrounded them from all sides, trapping them like a rabbit.
A sign on their right indicated there is something ahead; a square with a squiggly line- a nozzle perhaps- followed by another square with more squiggly lines. What did they mean? Whatever they were, it must lead to somewhere good. Flakes of snow began to dance and swirl, softly, lightly; they were saving their grand performance for later, but they knew they shouldn’t stick around for it. They pull off the ramp and slide into the parking lot as Darth Vader gives another hiccup, slowing despite how hard they press onto the pedal.
They sigh. There was a three story hotel on the left, it’s brick chimney pumping out smoke, and a gas station on the right. They poke their old companion, but they don’t move. They are as still as a pile of rocks.
They sit back in the driver’s seat, their neck cracking as they stretch it left, right, left again. Then they reach into the glove compartment, searching for something, anything, to write on. More postcards. Perfect. As they snatch one up, they steal a glance at the old companion. There is something familiar behind the ragged lines scratching a haggard face beaten and bruised by the years, the short, choppy grey tufts fall in a style they used to have in their younger years, before they were forced to adapt to what she wanted. They could have sworn they were looking into a mirror, a strange, crude mirror that didn’t belong in a house otherwise designed of fine, neat marble and straight, even edges. They shake their head, laughing. Then, because their companion has been nearly comatosed, they lean over, their hand hovering over the chest. The breathes came steadily.
Sighing, they return to the postcard, writing their own story that has been itching to escape.
Up, down, down, up. The trail was a roller coaster, full of dips and hills, sharp turns and switchbacks. Still, I run, my heart pounding loudly against my chest. Thump, thump. Thump, thump.
The word bounced with each step, following me like a dog. I quicken my pace, thinking if I could outrun it, it would stop following me.
Tricia Weylan was queer. They announced it, bit by bit, handing it out like meals; for breakfast, call me ‘they’; for lunch I am ditching the skirt and barely dress code approved blouse in favor of cargo shorts and a button down; for dinner I’ve cut away my hair, the waves uncurling and falling flat against my neck; and for dessert you can call me Trax.
Harder and harder I run, the dry air scratching my throat and the heat flaying my skin until it was crispy. Sweat trickled, then dripped, before finally rushing like a waterfall, drenching me head to foot.
Here comes a hill.
The words were tossed like knives, although they never struck, at least not Trax. They sailed through the air, looking to slice and cut and draw blood. But their shield was thick, and I could not help wondering how they got one.
“The world is a beach, Michael. And you will find beautiful shells mixed with the seaweed and plastic bottles. Tread carefully, especially around those shells that when you pick up are actually broken. Nothing is more disappointing, more deceitful, than combing through the shells and having to throw them back into the sea, the only place that will keep them.”
My legs begged to stop, to turn around and walk back with new air replenishing my lungs, however I cannot. He was there.
Up and down, down and up. I run until I am lost.
Queer. Queer. Queer.
Trax wore it proudly while I was too afraid, and I took it off, burying it in a hole in which it strove to dig itself out of. I buried it with the flower dresses, the nail polish, the stilettos.
“What the hell?” was what he finally said as he stood staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. The silence split us, dividing us to two separate rooms: one where I had lain out all of her stuff, and one that was plain and unadorned, devoid of any emotion he did not allow himself to feel.
Down up, up down. My legs broke free of the training wheels and run with alarming speed. I nearly float; the wind caught me at my back and pushed me along, hoping I would spread my wings and fly. The pounding in my heart, however, would not let me.
I did not see his fist coming. It hit me on the side of the head, knocking me down and leaving me sprawled on the floor, her pearls still around my neck. He grabbed them, pulling me to my feet while squeezing the breath from me.
My breathing quickens, the short burst exhaling hard as I continue to run.
His fist connected with my skull again, this time leaving behind something sticky.
“You are not a broken shell!” the words were harsh, grating, and striking me just as hard as his fist. “You do not belong in the sea! You are a man, so be a man!”
Tears stung my eyes as my legs finally come to a stop in front of a quiet intersection with a lone car waiting patiently for the light to change. Once it did, the car drove off, and I followed it into a small town in which the streetlamps nearly blinded me. Darkness was settling in, making itself comfortable in an armchair and propping its legs up on the footrest.
You are not a broken shell.
Everything inside of me was spent, the wiring cut, and the electricity gone. All I wanted was a bed. Where would I find one? Where could I go? I was lost. I was always lost.
Exiting a door, the shadow walked toward me; a stranger, too, trying to get back to wherever it was they came from. As they get closer, the light threw back the shadow and I recognized who they were.
They did not see my fist coming.
I swallow; I swallow everything and keep it inside, feeding the volcano until it was ready to burst.
Up, down, down, up. My fists continue to assail the face that can walk so freely, the face that wasn’t afraid and didn’t have to hide.
It was not fair.
“You are a broken shell. You belong in the sea!” I shouted at Trax Weylan, my voice sharp and grating, wanting desperately to cut, to strike, to draw blood. “ You are not a man so stop acting like one!”