The next morning was pleasantly uneventful. Hashtag Barry woke up when his alarm sounded, closed his window, dressed himself, stomped down the hallway into the kitchen, poured himself cereal and milk, ate breakfast, placed his bowl into the sink, hung his backpack over his right shoulder, opened the front door, closed it, turned around, and walked to school.
He was left alone while he fetched the books he needed from his locker before first period. Study hall passed quietly; no one spit spitballs at his face, hurled insults at him, set gum or tacks on his seat, or really much of anything at all. I could get used to this, Hashtag thought, and then a pang of guilt washed over him as he remembered what had occurred for this peace to take place.
While he was being generally ignored, the other students were whispering. Rumors about Brad’s mysterious death spread more rapidly than when his eyes had been removed the week prior, and each rumor was more outlandish than the last.
“Complications from surgery, a kind benefactor putting him out of his misery, an evil nurse hell bent on murdering kids with disabilities, a serial killer on the loose, Hashtag Barry exacting his revenge!” Squeaky exclaimed.
Hashtag Barry shot him a glare.
“Hey man, you asked! I can’t help it if you’re suspect number…one, two,” Squeaky said as he counted on his fingers, “three, four...five! on the list.”
Hashtag held up a chicken finger and eyed it suspiciously, “Well, at least I’m below serial killer and evil nurse. I still can’t believe people think I’m capable of not only scooping out someone’s eyes, least of all Brad’s, stealing them, but then murdering him in his sleep too!”
“Come on,” Squeaky replied, “don’t sell yourself short! I’m sure if you really wanted to you could remove someone eyes and then murder them. I believe in you; you just need to believe in yourself.”
Hashtag groaned, dropped his food onto his plate, planted his face into his arms on the table, and mumbled, “Ugh, I hate everyone.”
Squeaky picked up a chicken finger, held it up high, and pontificated, “Hey, do you know why they call these things chicken fingers anyway? Chickens don’t actually have fingers, do they? And if they did they wouldn’t look like this, would they? What part of chicken is this?” He dipped it into barbecue sauce and inhaled it in two bites. “I mean, it’s not a wing, or drum, or breast, or nugget. So what is it?”
“I dunno,” Hashtag replied, his voice muffled by his arms, “probably just all the leftover parts.”
“What could possibly be left over after all of--” Squeaky stopped suddenly.
“Do you two mind if I sit with you?”
Squeaky stared at Hashtag. Hashtag raised his head and looked at Squeaky, then at Kelsey, then at Squeaky, then smashed his head into his arms again.
Kelsey sat down next to Squeaky, adjusted her sunglasses, and gestured toward Hashtag’s crumpled body, “What’s with him?”
Squeaky looked around, his forehead wrinkled, “Oh! You’re talking to me!? That was confusing because I thought you were talking to literally anyone else. He’s devastated that people keep spreading rumors that he removed Brad’s eyeballs and then murdered him in the hospital. Why are you talking to and sitting by us? No one talks to or sits by us. It’s like, I don’t know, a rule or something. Am I dreaming? No, if I were dreaming this food wouldn’t suck. What are you doing here again?”
Kelsey laughed softly and brushed her hair behind her ear, “Oh, the rest of the crew was giving me crap because I talked to you guys at the funeral. I figured that was childish and stupid, especially given the circumstances, so I’d ditch them for you two.”
“Well,” Squeaky said, aggressively rolling his eyes, “I’m so glad we can be used for your revenge.”
“Always assuming the negative,” she chided, picking up a chicken finger and giving it a once over.
“Wouldn’t you if you were,” Squeaky gestured widely, “us?”
“That’s probably true,” she replied with her mouth full, “but, I don’t know. You two don’t seem that bad.”
Hashtag made a loud noise from under his arms.
“What did he say?” Kelsey asked, looking at Squeaky, her nose scrunched up.
“I believe he said ‘thanks,’” Squeaky answered, “But if I heard correctly, it was also dripping with extreme sarcasm.”
Kelsey cast her head downward and spoke quietly, “I didn’t mean to… I, I just don’t feel like I can talk to those others about what happened. No one really knows how to talk about it. Carlos just keeps making jokes, Ryan isn’t really saying much of anything, and Alexis won’t leave her house. I didn’t know who else to talk to. You were nice...at the funeral. I thought maybe--”
Hashtag lifted his head and stared at his plate, “It’s okay Kelsey, we don’t know how to talk about it either, but you’re welcome to stay.”
The soft glow of the refrigerator illuminated Hashtag Barry’s body and cast weird shadows against the walls of the kitchen. Its door wide open, the refrigerator worked hard to keep pace against the warmth of the house; the hum of electricity lingered in the air, vibrations seeping into the floor.
Hashtag sat on the hard linoleum, cross legged, a pile of brussel sprouts, beets, and plums awkwardly overflowing in his lap. He reached his arm in and pulled out a head of lettuce and set it on top of the rest. It tumbled to the ground next to him. Then again, he shoved his arm inside the refrigerator and pulled out a head of broccoli, examined it, and threw it over his shoulder unceremoniously. Then again, a bottle of ketchup, tossed backward toward the sink. An apple, in his lap. A plastic bottle of soda, barely missing the window on the opposite wall. A nectarine, rested neatly amongst the rest of the fruit and vegetables. A glass bottle of beer--
“Hashtag!” his mom screamed out.
Hashtag stopped mid-throw and then cautiously twisted his neck until he was looking at her. He began to blink rapidly until a look of confusion spread across his face. He stared at her, then at the beer, then at the fruit and lettuce spread out around him, then at the fridge, then behind him, then at her again.
“Well,” he said finally, clearing his throat, “this is strange. Was I… sleeping?” He slowly put the beer bottle back in the fridge and began to pick up the rest of the food off of the floor.
“Oh, it’s okay, honey,” his mother said, relieved. She walked over to him and put her hand on his crooked shoulder. “Let’s do that later. For now, come drink some water and sit down at the table.”
Hashtag stood, nearly falling over, hobbled over to the kitchen island, and hopped up to the bar stool. “Was I… sleepwalking? And apparently… cleaning the fridge?” He took a sip of water from the glass his mom placed before him. “Have I ever done this before? I don’t ever remember sleepwalking. This feels strange and I don’t like it.”
She sighed and said quietly, “Yes, you have done this before, but not for a very long time, not since you were very little,” she extended her arm down toward the floor. “We used to find you in the kitchen or in the living room, usually just sitting or standing there, staring at the wall, mumbling to yourself. It really wasn’t that big of a deal until you started to get outside.”
Hashtag took another sip of water and she continued, “So, we started using new locks, higher up on the door so that you couldn’t reach them, but then you would escape through the window. We had to lower the storm windows to make it more difficult for you to remove the screen and slip away. Lord knows how you managed the jump down when you were so small.”
Hashtag looked confused, “Why was I going outside? How have you never told me about this before?”
“Well,” she replied, “you never really went much of anywhere. You’d be sitting on the front steps or standing in the backyard, just quietly mumbling to yourself, like you did inside. It only lasted for a few weeks, so we just never really thought to bring it up when you were older. I didn’t think it would happen again, but then I heard you, shuffling down the hallway like you were telling the house to keep quiet.”
Hashtag scrunched up his face and looked at her curiously.
“Oh, you know how you typically walk around the house. It’s like living with a jackhammer and you know it! But when you would sleepwalk, you always shuffled, almost silently, and your feet made this sound like you were trying to shush the house, shuush shuush, shuush shuush.”
Hashtag took another sip of water and a cold shiver permeated his body.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)