If you missed the beginning of Hashtag Barry's story, you can check out Part 1 and Part 2.
And now, we are pleased to present Part 3...
More animals had now hurled themselves to their untimely death than Hashtag Barry could count on one hand, even his right hand, and that had a bonus finger, at least that’s what his mom called it. That’s what she called something when it was extra: a bonus, an advantage. But for every bonus, Hashtag felt like he had an even greater disadvantage looming elsewhere.
Two toes on his left foot, but only one eye. Six fingers on his right hand, but both hands were abnormally small. A third nipple, but only one lung. Thinning hair on his head, but he only grew sparse patches of facial hair all over his cheeks. Actually, he wasn’t really sure how that last one could have been misconstrued as anything but unfortunate, and yet when his mother had said it, she was so convincing he nearly believed her.
To date, Hashtag Barry personally witnessed the demise of multiple squirrels, a stray cat, a neighbor's dog, a flock of birds, and when he was much younger, in a feat of abnormal determination, a goldfish managed to fling itself out of its fish tank and down onto the living room carpet where it writhed, its mouth and eyes opening and closing and opening and closing, staring at the child’s bemused face. That was the Barry family’s first of only a very few attempts at raising a pet. Once a hamster inexplicably managed to hang itself from the top of a spinning wheel, legs twitching and dangling in the air, Hashtag’s dad put his proverbial foot down.
As far as he could remember, his father had been kind about it, denying all plausible connection between Hashtag’s appearance and the animals’ quick and unfortunate deaths. At that time, though, Hashtag didn’t fully understand that he was different from others; he did not have a sense of his own self. It was not until school began that he came to understand how different he truly was and how cruel others could be.
The next day, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, Hashtag Barry and Squeaky sat on top of a red grated metallic picnic table, carelessly set up in a worn and pothole ridden parking lot, yellow paint long missing. Electricity buzzed and hummed above them as wires were strewn from one pole to the next. Behind them, a bumpy road laid between rows upon rows of shops and convenience stores and fast food restaurants. In front of them, beyond the rusted out car of the only employee presently working the ice cream shop, a line of trees separated them from a winding river below. Next to the table where they sat, a trash can overflowed with wet cigarettes, discarded wax wrappings, and wooden sticks.
“Oh my god I love mint chocolate chip!” Squeaky declared, annunciating in such a way that it all sounded like one long word, hoisting up his two scoop waffle cone into the air as though he were claiming a trophy.
“Do you have to do that every time?” Hashtag asked meekly.
“I do not do that every time,” Squeaky retorted, and then added, “And maybe if you got something a little more exciting from time to time, Mr. Vanilla, you’d be stoked about your ice cream cone as much as I am.”
Hashtag looked quizzically at his one scoop of plain vanilla resting quietly upon a cake cone, and then looked at Squeaky and then back at his ice cream cone and said “But I like vanilla.”
“Sure, sure” said Squeaky, “everyone likes vanilla but does anyone truly love vanilla?” He waved his ice cream cone around like he were conducting an orchestra before chomping down on the top scoop with a wide open mouth.
Hashtag recoiled, “I’m not sure anyone loves ice cream in the way that you do. And I’m not sure anyone… eats ice cream like you do.”
“There you go again!” Squeaky said with a mouthful, flecks of green and chocolate flying every which way, “always criticizing my eating habits. I’ll have you know,” he continued, not stopping to swallow, “that this is the best, most efficient way to eat ice cream without letting it melt while mitigating brain free--” he stopped suddenly.
“Brain freeze?” Hashtag laughed at him, “Seriously you think you’ve found some magical way to not get brain freeze every time we--” and then Hashtag stopped as well.
Squeaky began to laugh uncontrollably, “Oh my god, you guys, did you all get those at the dollar store across the street?”
Between Hashtag and Squeaky and the tree line, four sets of sunglasses awkwardly perched upon four uncomfortable faces, arms folded, standing shoulder to shoulder in the parking lot.
“Uh,” Carlos stepped forward, “yes, yes we did. We just wanted to have a, uh, face to face conversation with Cyclops over here.” He raised a shaky finger and pointed at Hashtag.
“Cyclops?” Hashtag’s scrunched up his nose looked at Squeaky, “Is that a new one? I haven’t heard that one, have you heard that one?”
Squeaky shrugged his shoulders, took a giant bite out of his ice cream cone and said, “And what could you possibly want to say to us that you haven’t said before? Any other new nicknames? You got one for me? Any other insults? Want to point out some glaring flaw we must have overlooked when we were busy being ourselves?”
Kelsey nervously adjusted her sunglasses and pushed her hair behind her right ear, “Uh, Brad, uh,” she stammered, “He wanted to…”
“Oh, Brad, huh?” mocked Squeaky, “How is old Butt Chin Brad?”
Hashtag whirled around and grabbed Squeaky by the shoulder, nearly toppling them both off of the picnic table and whispered harshly, “Dude!”
Squeaky gave him a sidelong glance, eyes mischievously glowing, “Shhhh! Just go with it…”
Alexis shifted her feet and spoke quietly, “He’s actually out of ICU and recovering right now.”
“Oh!” said Squeaky, visibly deflating, “oh, that’s… that’s actually really good.” He despondently licked his ice cream cone. “I’m glad he’s doing better, I mean, I never really liked him but that doesn’t mean that he should suffer more than he already has I wasn’t even sure if he was going to…”
“Has he spoken at all?” interrupted Hashtag. “Did he say who did it?” He stuck his cone in each of their faces, wagging it back and forth.
“Umm, no,” replied Ryan suspiciously, pushing Hashtag’s arm out of the way, “but he… he said he wanted to apologize.”
“He what now?” Squeaky blinked in disbelief.
“He wanted to apologize,” Carlos continued for Ryan, “he wanted to apologize for, well, you know,” Carlos gestured generally at both of them, “everything.”
Hashtag’s vanilla ice cream fell onto his shoe, cake cone and all.
Later that night Hashtag Barry dreamed of Brad in his hospital bed and gown, arms strung up with tubes of liquid coming and going and the constant beep and hum of electrical instruments hovering above his body. The windows were open and the curtains blew in warm wind, carrying a voice upon its wings.
Through these hands your words control the dust and with this voice you too will speak the sound of thunder. For once it has fallen, no one will look away.
The colors began to recede from the room, draining into the hallway and away down the corridor of flickering lights. Shuush shuush, shuush shuush, from the darkness Hashtag heard two feet shuffling toward him. Shuush shuush, shuush shuush, the air began to freeze and fight against the wind. Shuush shuush, shuush shuush, the lights went out one by one until only the instruments and their electrical glow remained. Shuush shuush, shuush shuush, the sound stopped.
Hashtag could feel the presence of someone or something else in the room, the hairs on his arms and cheeks and head vibrating with an unnatural hum. He wanted to run, but knew the exit was blocked and he was up too many floors to use the window. Kreeeen, a chair was being pushed out of the way. Shuush shuush, it was moving closer. Hashtag closed his eye and covered his face. Knock! Knock! Knock knock! He peaked through two fingers and peered into the darkness but only heard a voice ringing out:
“Honey, are you awake? Hashtag? Oh honey, something awful has happened. Your friend Brad, the one who had the accident. The one who was in the hospital. He didn’t make it. Honey, are you in there? I need to talk to you. Something happened and he didn’t make it. It’s just awful.”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)