Catching the Vapors (Part 1)

Catching the Vapors (Part 1)

FIRST came the terrible thunderstorm. It made sure to ravage every inch of the state of Washington for five weeks straight. In its wake, millions of dead trees lay down in a row like dominoes. But in the middle of everything, town square remained miraculously untouched. Still standing dead center was the heavy bronze statue of the man who founded our town, wide-brimmed hat and nasty little beard sticking straight down like an inverted cone. Bubert Thornton, looking still valiant as ever. Everyone took this as a sign of our community’s undying vigor, perseverance, and undefeated honor. Me, it just boiled my blood! How could everybody stand by and applaud at the demolition of the entire landscape? Celebrating everything we built, no time to mourn for what had been there for millions of years before us? These ruthless conquistadors, broken philosophers who idolized Juan de Sepulveda, sick people. Something about it didn’t sit right with me. 

Well, one day I was at the local CVS because I had to grab some ingredients for my St. Patrick’s day cannoli. There were two strange looking twins standing outside, watching me. I’d already been mugged once before and let’s just say I wasn’t going to take any chances.

“What exactly do you think you’re looking at?” I growled at the shorter one, the artificial blondie with the liberty spikes. He had very bad acne and very pretty eyes like two airplane windows. I said this in my officer voice, but he was unfazed. He just stared straight at me. Then my heart started picking up because usually the voice worked on everyone. 

Suddenly, the bigger one took a step towards me from the left and I instinctively made a knife hand, ready to karate chop if need be. This bigger one was even worse because he had on this set of garish silver rings and a big old shiner on his left eye. I knew I couldn’t take him mano a mano. Dude was probably twice my weight. I had a feeling this was a ‘you should see the other guy’ situation and I backed away slowly.

“Look, ladies,” I said, “I’m not looking for any trouble.” But they kept coming towards me. “I’m a pacifist,” I was like. Suddenly, sort of in an out-of-body motion, I turned and made a run for it into the store. Surely someone would listen to me if I reported these two gentlemen. Maybe I could even end up on one of those news reports as an almost-victim. But when I got inside, I couldn’t find anyone. Sure it was 9 PM, but usually there were at least a couple teenage schmucks inside watching skate videos or doing a poor aisle mopping job. I tell you, nobody. So I made my way through the store, through hundreds of bottles of various mustards and an even more obscene, pointedly American variety of apples.

I knew they were following me. Big boy was wearing combat boots and romped obnoxiously behind me, while the smaller one jingled softly as he slithered along. I tried not to panic. My first thought was to call Del. Del was the heir and conducive owner to a large dairy farm. She had a very big nose and very small eyebrows and she always knew what to do. She was sort of my only friend. She dropped out in 10th grade to work on the farm full-time and also pursue playing the oboe, which I thought was very beautiful but also ridiculous because she was horrible at it.

What she was really good at was using her brain lots, kind of like Einstein if he had a 1.8 GPA. If she didn’t know something, she’d make up an answer instead of Googling it. But usually she knew. And the best thing about hanging out with her is that I’ve never had to spend a dollar on a dairy product in my life.

She answered in one ring. 

“There are two bozos following me around this CVS  and I don’t know what to do.” After that, she didn’t ask any questions, she just said to get in front of a security camera and stay on the line until she got there. That was another awesome thing about Del, is that I knew she’d get there fast because she had a big rusty truck that she’d kick into overdrive and make it crack and rattle like frenzied lightning. I listened to her exactly and got to the front camera. I stopped there then and turned so it got my face, consequently turning to face the twins. We just blinked at each other, three yards between us. Then, a very skinny guy with a hard overbite came rolling the janitorial cart through the gap. His nametag said ‘Garrett.’

“Garrett! Where have you been?” I yelled louder than I wanted. “What?” he said, “I was mahpping the bathroom, Gahd!” His inflection reminded me of a lawnmower and then he coughed down the front of his shirt. He dragged his crusty shoes along the floor, SHH, SHH, SHHH and rolled the rickety cart along, RHHT, RHHT. It became eminently clear that one of the wheels did not work. Garrett took his perch behind the cash register and sighed loudly, slouching dramatically upon the exhale. Then, he laughed and it cut sharply through the air like a cat’s yowl.

“aHAHAHAHA! Nice outfits, Spirit Halloween! What’re you s’posed to be? Ah, lemme guess… Devon Sawa, ‘SLC Punk!’”

I turned to Garrett while he kept screaming, bearing his buck teeth like a hippo waiting for a watermelon.

“Garrett, shut up.” But the twins actually smiled at this. They looked at each other, matching sinister grins, and Garrett and I looked at each other too. Garret mouthed, If they pull anything, we RUN, and his horse teeth stuck out over his lip while his wire frames slipped down his face. I nodded, but when we turned back to the twins, they were already fishing a balled-up paper out of Biggie’s beat up canvas bag. They set the ball down silently and backed away from it. Then, in the gentlest and oddly sweetest way, they smiled, gesturing at me, then the ball, then me. Then, they left.

“See, this is why I believe in universal healthcare. So punks like that can always have access to therapy and medication. Always,” Garrett scoffed.

I walked over slowly and picked up the ball, uncrumpling it and smoothing it out in front of me. Garrett peered over my shoulder and read it aloud. It was a piece of notebook paper and scrawled in blue pen. In Garrett’s voice, it said: SECRET MEETING- RED BLOSSOM TEA HOUSE. ST. PATRICK’S…9PM. DON’T BE LATE. BURN AFTER READING.

“What?” Garrett was like. “I thought that tea house shut down, like, in 1997.”

“Burn after reading,” I repeated.

“Well, don’t burn it, let me take a picture er something ferst,” he started, but I yelled in protest and my eyes darted to the lighter lying on the checkout counter. In one sweeping motion, I swiped it and flicked it on, catching the paper instantly. I dropped the scrap and stomped it out. 

“No pictures.” Garrett scoffed defiantly.

Just then, Del pulled up in her big janky ride. She ran inside and exhaled in relief when she saw me. Stumbling towards us, she was out of breath and asking, in increments, where the other bozo was. I told her that Garrett wasn’t one of them, and that they’d already left. Before she could even get her heart rate down, Garrett took the liberty to explain everything.

“Basically,” I interrupted as he began the bit where he exaggerated the twins’ terrifying nature, “I need a ride to Red Blossom Tea House tomorrow night. I feel like I need to go, and I don’t wanna go alone.” Garrett frowned. “Oh, and I guess T. Rex is coming too. He already saw the invitation.”


I tossed and turned the entire night thinking about the paper. When Del came to grab me at dawn to help her milk the cows, I was still exhausted. I almost fell asleep at the teet. Del finished the job for me and let me roll over and take a nap really quick on the hay. After the work was done, she prodded me awake and we hiked up to the house. The sun bled out from behind thick charcoal sky. It was almost 10:00.

When we got in, Del’s Grammy Mandy was cussing to herself and counting her fingers and toes. We got out the stuff and started the cannoli when she began.

“This Earth will soon come to a violent end! God will return and make followers of you all, and make beggars of the heathens!”

Del put a bowl of pudding in front of Grammy and she scarfed it down wildly, only pacified for twenty seconds, before continuing.

“One day, the sun will nix its duty to rise and the world will run cold! We will look up and feel hot blood rain down upon our faces, and this will be of the loins of the Earth Mother! Then, behold, sinners, behold the end! Regret the times you’ve sucked the marrow out of her bones and repent the second you let go of her hand and left her alone on her deathbed! Nobody was there to brush her eyes closed after she passed over! She now knows the daggers of eternal loneliness, just as you will know! She now knows the dark symphony of silence in eternal sleep! And now! And now, you will never sleep again!”

“Finish your pudding, Grammy,” Del said softly. I thought to myself, how strange, and I continued whipping the cream. Del and I worked on the cannolis for the whole afternoon and the entire time, I kept wondering if Grammy had been taking her meds at all. But for that remainder, Grammy was still and silent, watching me with her only eye, her pigeon pupil, blinking only a few times and never looking away.