Chapter 18: Smiles and Pancakes
Roderick was extremely grateful to be taking a break.
Ian didn’t even bring up anything about spirits on their way out of town, and instead let him rock out to some of his favorite music. And when they reached the city limits, Ian didn’t stop there. He continued to drive for another thirty minutes outside of town until they finally found a Denny’s.
Now they were waiting for their food, sitting in a booth and arguing about which was better: Star Wars or Star Trek.
“But Ian-what about Yoda? You can’t deny his genius!!” Roderick exclaimed exuberantly. Ian rolled his eyes.
“Yes. Sure. Let me ask a old crazy little alien for advice compared to an analytical genius like Commander Spock. I think you overlook the clearly superior intellect that is obviously Star Trek.”
Roderick raised a brow.
“Star Wars is more popular.”
“No it isn’t!”
“Yes it is.”
“How dare you!”
“Hold on-just got a text-.”
Roderick paused their argument to check his phone. It was a text from Joey.
I’m sorry. But I can’t come back.
“Who was that from?” Ian asked, noticing his younger brother’s crestfallen face.
“It was from Joey. She’s not coming back.” Roderick said softly. This brought in a stiff silence which was interrupted by their waitress bringing them their food.
“Pancakes?” she asked, sounding bored and loudly chewing her gum, her large glasses magnifying half of her face.
“That’s me!” Roderick exclaimed, eager for the subject to change.
“And uh… the green pepper omelet?”
Ian quietly nodded as she set it down in front of him.
As she left, the two of them began to eat.
“Darth Vader is a stupid villain anyways.” Ian mumbled between bites.
“Um… what was that?” Roderick asked, pouring more syrup on his pancakes.
Ian simply stared at him, shoving more of his omelet in his mouth. Roderick narrowed his eyes and the two of them became engaged in a staring contest as they continued to eat their food. Ian suddenly blinked, causing Roderick to cheer.
“Dang it!” Ian pouted as his younger brother danced in his seat.
Despite all of this, Ian couldn’t help but think of their circumstances in Serenity Hill and they mysteries they had been left with regarding Joey. He poked at his omelet as Roderick finished up his pancake and dipped his bacon in the syrup.
“Thinking about Joey?” the younger brother asked quietly, savoring the bacon in his mouth. Ian slowly nodded.
“She seemed scared to me Roderick. And she’s always seemed so… well put together-even in Pinnacle Gulch. What in the world could scare her so bad?”
“I have no idea… But… do you really think we can finish this without her?” In response, Ian sighed.
“Well, we don’t have a choice. We’re going to have to… How are you by the way?”
Roderick smiled and gave a syrup thumbs up. Ian looked at him skeptically.
“No! I’m really doing pretty good!” Roderick assured. “This really helped. Thanks bro.” Ian smiled back just as their waitress came to check on them, a huge smile on her face.
“How are you boys doing?” she asked, no longer chewing gum, standing up straight.
“We’re doing pretty good thanks-.”
Roderick suddenly choked on his drink.
“Woah-are you ok their honey?” the waitress asked, batting her eyes.
Roderick coughed and pounded at his chest, and then gave her a huge smile back.
“I’m-good-water-just went down-the wrong way…” he managed, giving her a thumbs up. The lady shook her head, filled up his drink and then walked away. As soon as she was gone, the brothers looked at each other and then immediately started to look around the restaurant.
No words needed to be said.
Their waitress had changed all in the span of a few minutes.
And so had everyone else in the Denny’s.
Everyone seemed to be happily smiling and eating their food-even though it was late at night and there had been some very grumpy truckers in their previously. Now they were sitting at their tables happily with their scruffy beards and pancakes. Ian and Roderick looked at each other again and then forced themselves to smile.
“Um… Ian… we are thirty minutes outside of town…” Roderick whispered, trying to finish his food and smile at the same time.
“It… must be spreading or something…” Ian responded, struggling to keep the smile on his face. “Roderick… I don’t know if I can do this…”
“Just think of your precious Star Trek!”
“We need to get out of here that’s what we need to do-.” Ian whispered, looking around for their waitress so they could get their check. It was then that they realized that everyone was now staring at them, their eyes and smiles unnaturally wide. Roderick swallowed and gave a nervous little laugh and wave.
“Um… hey… could-could we maybe get out check? We’ve-we’ve got to go…”
“Going so soon?” their waitress asked, coming forward as people started to stand up. Ian and Roderick stood up as well, trying their best to give wide smiles and trying to inch a little towards the door. The waitress cocked her head and Ian broke.
“Keep the change!” he exclaimed, throwing money at her and running towards the door with Roderick right behind him. A couple of smiling truckers blocked the way as everyone came closer.
“What’s wrong?” a customer asked, jerkily moving his head. “Aren’t you happy?”
“Aren’t you happy?” everyone said in unison in a monotone voice. Ian and Roderick backed up into the register counter, trying to figure out what to do.
“Uh-uh-you guys want to hear a joke?” Ian suddenly asked, earning a look from Roderick that read “what are you doing” even with a smile. The crowd waited expectantly.
“I have my Grandma on speed dial. I call it Insta-gram.”
The people in the Denny’s roared with laughter, and the two brothers took this as their chance to run for it. By the time the people stopped laughing, they were already to their car.
“I’M DRIVING!” Roderick exclaimed, shoving past his brother and grabbing the keys as the customers started to follow them outside. “I AM NOT GOING TO DEAL WITH YOUR SAFE DRIVING RIGHT NOW.”
Ian didn’t argue and locked the doors as soon as they were inside. Roderick started the car and then they both jumped as someone plastered their smiling face on the window.
“GET US OUT OF HERE RODERICK!!”
Roderick did not have to be told twice as he screeched out of the parking lot and drove off into the night.
It took a few minutes for them to cool down.
“Ok-WHAT THE FRICKIN FRACK?” Roderick yelled, clutching the steering wheel. Ian had a hand on his chest, trying to control his breathing.
“This-may-be-worse than we thought…” he breathed, trying to get the smiling faces out of his mind’s eye. “Are-are you ok?”
Roderick took a moment to think about that, and then swallowed.
“Y-yeah. I-I actually think I am. You?”
“Nope. I’m horrified that I used such a heinous joke.”
Roderick snorted, and Ian couldn’t help but smile. The whole Denny’s ordeal would have been completely different if either one of them had to go through it alone, but they had each other, and that made a big difference.
“We can-listen to some classical music if you want.” Roderick said a little shakily. “I think I need something to calm my nerves.”
Several minutes later, they were passing the Serenity Hill sign, and for some reason, it almost seemed welcoming. It was nice to know that they were going to house safe away from all of the smiling horrors-with people they knew. The two of them couldn’t help but eagerly await the moment they could crash on couch and floor.
However, that fantasy vanished as soon as they drove up to the smoking remains of the house. Ian’s mouth dropped open in shock, and Roderick stared wide eyed at what used to be their safe house.
“Brian!!!” Roderick suddenly exclaimed, jumping out of the car in a panic. Ian jumped out with him, hoping they wouldn’t find the charred remains of their comrades.
“Jordyn! Brian!!” Ian yelled, following Roderick into the ashes. His younger brother was in tears as they started to search the rubble.
“Ian-Ian do you think-do you think-?” Roderick cried, grief strickenly searching for his best friend. His older brother looked around.
“No Roderick. Look. Brian’s van is gone. I don’t think he was here when it happened.”
Roderick sniffled and kicked some of the coals.
“What about Jordyn and Cameron?”
Ian’s stomach churned. Even though he kind of hated Cameron, the idea that he could be dead still twisted his insides. The silence let him realize that there was a car still running. Silently, the two of them walked over to Jordyn’s car, which indeed was on and still running, the driver’s side door still wide open. Ian ducked down and looked inside, and then slowly pulled out Joey’s journal. Then he silently turned off the car. The two brothers stood in silence for a couple of minutes, staring at the burned house.
“What do you think happened?” Roderick finally asked. Ian took in a deep breath.
“The genie? Elizabeth? Something else? I don’t know. But I don’t think the others were entirely taken off guard. Someone tried to escape with Jordyn’s car, and Brian’s van is gone, so…”
Roderick nodded, clenching his hands into fists to stop them from shaking. Ian looked down at the journal and then opened it to the part about imaginary friends. After scanning a few pages, he stopped on a few scribblings.
“Happy memories. It says here you can hide with significant happy memories. Remember how I told you Joey fought some of those parasite zombies back in Pinnacle Gulch using cinnamon?”
“I say we ward off our car and sleep there for the night. We’re going to need our rest if we’re going to find the others. Do we have anything in our car we can use?”
“Let me check.”
The two of them began to search their things to see if anything could work. Finally, Roderick found the thing to do the trick.
It just so happened that a few weeks ago, the two of them had gotten in a prank war against each other, in which Roderick covered all of Ian’s stuff with Star Wars posters and paraphernalia and Ian covered all of Roderick’s stuff with Star Trek.
And there just so happened to be a couple of posters in the trunk…
That night, the two of them slept as soundly as they could in their locked car, the posters taped up in their windows.