It was just before nightfall. The garage was open, alive with light and movement.
“Hey, come help me before you go,” Ghoul said. “I’ve got like six more of these boxes and I don’t know if my back can handle much more.”
I was leaving for work, surprisingly early for a change. Habitual tardiness was my norm, so why break it? But why not, I thought. Why not help the guy out. Ghoul dipped outside, stuck in a permanent yet impressive limbo lean while I loaded the rest of the unlabeled boxes into his car.
“What’s in the boxes?” I asked.
Ghoul returned slightly straighter than before with a patriotic top hat nestled on his dome.
“Supplies for the big show tonight!” That was my cue to leave. “Don’t you want to know what’s in the boxes?”
“Nope,” I yelled as I ran to my car.
My logic had been simple, reassuring: if I didn’t see or hear or smell any of Ghoul’s ridiculous antics, then there was a chance I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Sometimes I did, though, and those incidents were manageable after the fact.
But that night (July Fifth if you must know) was a time when I couldn’t avoid Ghoul or his absurdities.
I was on a break, taking a stroll around the hospital when Ghoul called.
“Meet me at Big Carlton’s,” he requested.
“No way, man. I am a little busy tonight and I can’t be sidetracked, sorry.”
That wasn’t a lie. Two bodies were waiting when I arrived to work; accidental deaths from a boat jousting match. It was tedious, trying to discern how the hell they really died.
“Come on, dude. Just take your lunch early.”
“I… I really shouldn’t,” my voice waivered, weakness showing. I was such a push-over. “I don’t want to fall behind.”
“You gotta be a part of this Sam. This is for our undying love for our country… for our America!”
“Alright, alright. I need to be back as soon as I can, so please, promise that you will make this quick, okay?”
“I promise that you’ll have an experience of unequal proportions,” he said.
I took his vague words and left immediately for Big Carlton’s Market. Knowlton was placid then, exhausted from smothering tourism. Only met a few souls on the roads, none of which were cops. And it was still early, maybe half-past ten eleven.
Big Carlton’s Market was as I guessed it to be: vacated, except for Ghoul, who was waiting at the front of the store.
“Just in time,” he said as I was getting out. “I am sooooo ready for this.”
Ghoul was in an Uncle Sam costume; wild goatee not included. He had a small case that made a thud when he plopped upon the hood of my car. The fasteners of the case clicked and Ghoul pulled the top open.
“Sam, I love this country. I love the freedom I have to do what I want, when I want; as long as it is somewhat friendly to the law, that is. And since it is perfectly legal to have my own fireworks show, I am going to do that. Because that’s what this country is all about: bending the rules ever so slightly with a convenient excuse to back it up. So, if anyone asks, Big Carlton gave us permission to do the fireworks here.”
His fingers screwed a wireless antenna on the side of the case. A red light flashed. Ghoul thumbed a few switches and all systems were go.
“Holy shit man. Do you even know how to use this thing? How many fireworks are going to go off? I need to get out of here, I don’t want anything to do with this.”
Ghoul pushed the first button. Nothing.
“Huh… maybe I didn’t do this—
An explosion of chemistry erupted from the parking lot. I looked up to the sky, anticipating an immense display of colors and sounds to rival my highest expectations. And I scanned around, to the low horizon of starlight, finding that majestic radiance across the parking lot as it burned right through the roof of Downtown Hobby and Games.
“Ghoul… what have you done?”
He didn’t respond, wasn’t even near. Ghoul was off, sprinting towards the fire.
“Come on Sam!” he yelled. “There could be people trapped inside.”
My good god he was right, I thought. The owner of Downtown Hobby and Games lived above the shop with his family. I hauled-ass to Ghoul, who was already at the front of store, searching for a way in.
“How do you get upstairs?” I bellowed, frantically.
“No idea, do you see any doors around the side?”
I pulled around the corner. There was no light between the buildings so I brushed with my hands down the wood siding. No doors nor exits. Then I heard a crash, like someone throwing rocks through a window.
“I found the door, it’s inside the shop.”
Ghoul cleared jutting glass shards from our entry point in the storefront window. I saw the door, over behind the counter. Smoke filled the picture window at the top, and I knew time was running out.
“Call 911, man. I’m going in,” I pushed him aside. “Then you need to get out of here.”
“No way, Sam. We’re doing this together.”
There was no arguing. We charged to the door. It was unlocked, and I swung it open. Smoke rushed the storefront, clawing at my eyes and lungs with dirty scratches that burned so bad. I gagged and coughed and finally ripped my shirt off, covering my mouth as I began climb up the stairs.
Then everything went dark, and hot. I thought I was dead. But a pillar of light twinkled, then grew around me.
“He’s waking up,” said a distant voice.
“Thought we lost him,” said another, but closer.
When I came to, I was in the back of an ambulance, surrounded by a throng of emergency workers.
“What… the hell,” I stammered, then a horrid realization slapped my heart until it ached. “Are they okay? Please tell me they’re okay? And my friend! Where is he?”
One of the ambulance workers knew me from the morgue. She was a sweet lady with a delicate approach to news.
“The family made it,” she said, then leaned in, whispering that she was so sorry.
“That’s the best news, ever,” I exhaled such relief.
Yeah, that came out bad, but it didn’t matter; I was just going to put Ghoul back together anyhow.
© Copyright John Potts Jr. 2016 – 2017. All rights reserved.