Hashtag Barry ran until his legs felt like wobbly mashed potatoes and his lungs burnt with the fire of stress and fear.
“Hashtag! Stop!” Squeaky called out from behind him.
“Seriously!” yelled Kelsey, “What the hell is going on?”
Hashtag ignored them both and pounded his feet against the ground, awkwardly hurtling his body forward until he nearly crashed into the middle of the busy intersection at the end of the long abandoned road. Horns blared and he stopped mid step, slowly raised his head for a brief moment, then glared at the ground, turned left, and kicked the first rock he encountered in a long arc toward the woods.
“Hashtag, dude, where are you going?” Squeaky asked, panting. “Stop for a second.” He placed his hand on Hashtag’s shoulder and Hashtag froze.
He looked at Squeaky. The sun was beginning to set and the orange and purple light reflected off of his thick glasses. “You heard the noise,” Hashtag replied, his voice shaking, “We needed to get away, fast.”
“Yeah, but what was it?” asked Kelsey, hunched over and catching her breath. “We heard it, but we didn’t see it. What did you see?”
Hashtag jerked his body free and began to walk away somberly. “I already told you I didn’t see anything! There wasn’t anything there. Just… there was just...”
“Just what!?” Squeaky cried. “There was just what?”
Hashtag turned toward both of them and raised his head. He stared directly into their eyes. “There was just… a feeling. The air was cold and full of electricity.” He tore his gaze from them. “I don’t know what that means; it’s stupid. I just know what it felt like and it felt like we should keep running.”
“Full of cold and electricity,” Kelsey repeated. She slowly stood straight up and began to follow Hashtag. “You know, I’ve heard that noise before too, in my nightmares. I’ve been trying my best to ignore the dreams because I figured that it was my brain trying to deal with the past few weeks, but maybe this is something else.”
“Something else how?” Squeaky asked sarcastically. “It was just a dream. It makes sense; everyone seems to have been under a lot of stress lately, so it’s not that strange that people would have bad dreams. It’s not that strange.”
“Then how do you explain this?” Hashtag asked, “What happened in that building?”
“What, that?” Squeaky dismissed, “What’s abnormal about the sound of someone or something of unknown origin shuffling toward us faster and faster in an abandoned building that both you and Kelsey have heard before and it gives you a creepy cold electrical feeling all over that makes you run farther than you have your entire life…” Squeaky sighed. “Ok, I guess that’s a little weird.”
“That’s right. Hashtag, you never told us,” Kelsey looked at him. “Where have you heard that noise before?”
Like you were telling the house to keep quiet, Hashtag thought and then said out loud, “In my dream the night he…” Hashtag paused and launched another rock into the air “...it was the night that he died. I was dreaming about him and I heard the noise get closer and closer in the dark. It was right there, in his room in the hospital, right in front of me. I could feel it. And then I woke up, my mom going on about an accident and how he was gone.”
Squeaky took off his glasses and began cleaning them, “So, maybe this does have something to do with Brad’s death after all.”
The world quieted around them as the sun set and they walked forward in silence, their thoughts full of the buzz of electricity and the icy cold lurching toward them.
The song didn’t make a lot of sense. She could only make out a few words here and there as the indistinct voice was carried around each corner of her house. One’s and two’s and some’s and none’s? she thought, what could that possibly have to do with colors?
It didn’t matter; she’d catch up to the voice around the next corner and then she would be able to hear it more clearly and know what it meant. But every time she reached a corner and turned toward the voice, it melted and shifted in the air and she found herself following it again.
She didn’t remember her house being so large and full of so many rooms, but this was definitely the living room she grew up in, and the last was definitely the bathroom in the house she lives in now, and then before that was her parents’ bedroom, and then before that was the first dining room she could recall. Mashed carrots and apples, the tiny spoon with the cartoon handle, the bib with the bright colors.
Red and blue, she thought and then turned another corner and opened the door and saw herself sleeping in her bed. She stepped toward her slumbering body and reached out her hand until she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rise. She leaned forward and whispered into her ear, her voice quavering rapidly, None is better than two. For if you have two then you have some, but if you have none than you can’t have some. And none is better than some. Red and blue and red and blue.
Kelsey shrieked and bolted upright. She rubbed her eyes and looked toward her door, staring at the dust suspended in the light of the streetlamp shining in through her open window. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled in seconds later carrying the pitter-patter of rain on the roof.
Hashtag stood in the corner, his eye keenly averted from making any eye contact whatsoever.
“What’s with him?” Kelsey nudged Squeaky with her elbow, “Doesn’t like the zoo?”
They and the rest of their class stood in the middle of the primate exhibit at the local zoo. The zoo boasted an impressive collection of various primates including gorillas, orangutans, spider monkeys, gibbons, and Squeaky’s favorite, the emperor tamarins.
Squeaky glanced at Hashtag, “Oh, he, um…he has had some unfortunate results with animals and he thinks it has something to do with him.”
“Unfortunate results?” Kelsey scrunched up her face at Squeaky.
“Well, uh, you see, ugh,” Squeaky faltered around the words, “sometimes animals have been known to… kill themselves when he looks at them…or so he thinks.”
Kelsey let out a guffaw, but then noticed Squeaky’s demeanor and covered her mouth, “Oh my god, you’re serious aren’t you? That’s insane.”
“Yeah I don’t know why he doesn’t get himself written out of these activities,” said Squeaky. “I suppose it might make him feel more singled out than he already does.”
Kelsey put on her sunglasses and looked over at Hashtag sympathetically. She tried to imagine a life where she was constantly ignored or the center of negative attention, but never anywhere in between.
“Uh, Kelsey?” Squeaky nudged her with his elbow, “are you seeing what I’m seeing?” He took off his glasses and began cleaning them instinctively.
“Do you mean the giant mean looking gorilla staring down Hashtag like he’s fresh meat?” Kelsey asked.
“Oh good it’s not just me,” he set his glasses back on his nose.
The silverback gorilla stood on all fours at the edge of the glass, his face molded with anger, glaring at Hashtag in the corner. Hashtag, with his eye cast downward, did not notice until the gorilla began to bang his right fist against the glass. All of the students began to gather and point and laugh or exclaim. Hashtag strained to keep looking away, but Squeaky and Kelsey both turned and watched as Hashtag raised his eye and met the gorilla’s gaze.
The gorilla stood on his back legs, picked up straw from the floor of the exhibit and threw it in Hashtag’s direction. He beat his chest and jumped sideways on all fours. Hashtag couldn’t look away. The silverback reached out and grabbed the leg of a smaller female gorilla, dragging her to the ground. Hashtag tried to look away but couldn’t.
She struggled but the silverback’s strength easily overcame her and his large fists pounded over and over until red oozed out of her head. Hashtag walked forward slowly. The silverback threw himself toward Hashtag, right hand leaving a bloody print soaking down the glass, nostrils flaring and steaming. He then raised his left hand and presented two eyeballs to Hashtag’s astonished face.
The other primates began to whoop and shout, dancing, throwing grass and dirt and feces. Students started screaming and crying, adding to the cacophony echoing down the halls.
Hashtag raised his left hand and placed his palm on the gorilla’s right. The silverback turned his gaze, dropped the female’s eyes, and slunk into the growing pool of blood, his back to Hashtag. The other primates fell silent immediately; their echoes faded quickly.
In the chaos and confusion of zookeepers and traumatized children, Hashtag slipped away into the corner where he collapsed and wrapped his arms around his knees and wept.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)