7-11 Convenience Store.
Monday evening . . .
I’m trying to decide what would sate my stomach grumbling. Ricky is two rows over, shuffling through cold medicines looking for something for his sniffles. Seems, after the whole Dr. Smith incident, he’s a little health paranoid right now. So, while I’m looking for something that falls between a Twinkie and a Ding-Dong, he’s trying to find the magical cure for creatures that come from the shadows.
I told him he should just get something from the hospital, but he’s a bit freaked out about being there, right now. Even told me he wanted to take a few days off. I guess my caseworker’s passing was less of a shock to me because I’d seen the spooks measuring him for his trip across the void, at our last meeting. That made it easier to accept.
Death Lite. Same great death, half the calories.
But for Ricky, most likely a more rational person than myself, he’s having a harder time with all of this. See, when this all started a few weeks back, he didn’t really have much invested in my little bug hunt. But as things began to get spooky—no pun intended—I think he realized that there was more to this than paranoid delusions and fugue states.
After Dr. Smith was ripped out of this world, and carted off into the whatever, Ricky had some pondering to do. And right now, I don’t think he wants to concentrate about anything other than keeping the spooks at bay. Really, he’s taking all of this pretty well.
“What’s better between Sudafed and ColdAway?” he says, as he reads the ingredients.
“How should I know, I’m still technically an infant,” I say looking at a clear plastic bag of Choco-Kakes, looking for an expiration date. I can’t find any numbers that make any sense. I don’t think there’s a born-on date, either. On the one hand, they look absolutely delicious. But then, there is no way of telling if they got here yesterday, or have been here since the 70s—constantly overlooked by the underachieving staff.
“I’m just saying,” Ricky says frustratingly, “. . . if you had to choose?”
I ask if he even has a cold.
“Not really, but I’ve been under-the-weather.”
I shrug, “Maybe you should just take the one with the most ingredients listed on the back. Look for the most variety in your pharmaceutical because maybe that will ward off the monsters.”
“That’s real funny, Jack. You sure are cavalier about death, lately. This shit is serious.”
“Lose your memory and wake-up to a world full of shadowy monsters and it opens your horizons” I explain. “I might have been a conservative Republican when I blinked out. But when I woke up, I was a liberal Democrat. Maybe even . . . gulp . . . a Libertarian?”
“So, you’d tax the spooks, then?”
That’s not what I meant with the analogy. “Anyway,” I tell him, he’ll get use to it, too. “Our adventure has only just begun. I still haven’t finished the book. Once I do, we’ll be in a much better position to deal with all of this. To make a difference.”
“A difference in what?”
I don’t know. I don’t even want to talk about any of this. I just want a sweet, delicious, yummy snack that’s packed with enough Trans-fat that my arteries make an audible wheezing sound.
Ricky approaches me with about seven different boxes of cold and allergy medicine. I see he chose the old, ′one of each′ approach. He nods, then looks at my snack choices.
“You’re going to kill yourself eating that shit. It turns your body into plastic.” He then taps on the deluxe box of Fluffy-Doves, “There’s more fat in one of those, than in five Snickers bars.”
So I should put this back and grab five Snickers bars I ask.
He reached over and grabbed my Fluffy-Doves, squishing them in his hand, sending pink cream-filling all over the place.
I look at him like he just killed one of my children.
“I just saved a day of your life,” he says.
Yeah, I reply, those really good times when I’m 96, on every type of medication, and my body’s falling apart like a cheap suit. Thanks for the favor.
We head to the counter to pay for our gobs full of snacks and medicines, and the cashier—a Mexican kid with a name tag that says, Victor—looks at us funny.
“You have drug problems?” Victor asks suspiciously as he slides the different packages over a small piece of glass near the register. His accent is thick and Latino. With each swipe we hear a beep, and the price on the screen facing us doubles, triples, exponentially climbing.
Ricky cocks his head to the side, staring at Victor narrowly, “What do you mean, drug problem?”
Victor points to the cold medicines, “The peoples who is usually buying these medicines, they make the Meth. You know, like for speed?”
Ricky laughs, “Oh, no, man. We’re not speed freaks.”
“That’s what a junkie would say,” Victor counters, looking at a printed list of things methamphetamine cooks might say to buy any drug that has ephedrine in it. This printed list is published by the DEA, and there’s probably a copy of it in every 7-11 on the planet.
This, I say to them, is the War on Drugs I keep reading about. I guess it has finally made it to the checkout counter.
Ricky says that the Drug War is only really profitable to the drug dealers, and the government agencies that enforce it. Everybody else seems to take it right up the tailpipe. His exact words were, “. . . since the Government’s apparently bankrupt, that’s just the kind of shit they’d try to pull.”
And me, I’m still trying to figure out why cold pills are illegal in quantity.
Victor looks down at the DEA’s rebuttal list, then to us, the list, us. I’m sure there’s a big bold phone number at the bottom of the sheet. “You can only have two boxes, or I have to call the Federales.”
The veins on Ricky’s neck are visibly throbbing. “One,” Ricky said sternly, “. . . we don’t have Fede-rales, here. Two, we’re not junkies or meth-heads, or anything like that. Three, none of these are controlled substances. If they were, you’d have to have them in a protected case where people couldn’t just go through grabbing whatever they wanted. I work at a hospital, Vic-tor. I know this shit.”
Victor grits his teeth, “Two boxes . . . on-ly!”
Sensing this silliness spiraling out of control, I say, “Look, I’ll take two, and he’ll take two. That way, everybody is happy. And nobody needs the Federales.”
Neither of them speaks. I have become the arbitrator in all this. Ricky raises his eyebrows, glaring at the young Hispanic clerk as if to say, your move.
Victor nods slowly, as he starts to scan in the other boxes. More beeps and the dollar amount escalates to something that rivals the national debt.
With a plastic smile, Ricky asks, “Can we have more than two of the snack cakes, or are those on the banned list, too?”
I elbow Ricky in the ribs and apologize to Victor. I then tell Ricky to give me the money and go outside to the truck and wait. He reluctantly does so. A girl behind me is waiting patiently for her turn, so I give him the down payment on a new Porsche, collect about 13 cents change, and take my plastic bag full of frustration and future indictments.
As I head toward the door I hear a girl’s voice behind me, “Hal . . . Hal Falter . . . is that you?” I look around and there’s nobody else there she could be talking to. I wonder if that’s me she’s talking to, so I turn around.
Excuse me, I say.
She’s short, with long curly auburn hair and rosy cheeks. She has a kind face, and smile. Her clothes are modest: a pair of jeans and a green blouse. She looks like somebody I might know.
“Is it you?” she says, squinting at me. “It’s been nearly twenty years. You look a lot different.”
People change a lot in twenty years. I feel my heart rate beating a million beats a second. What if this girl knew me? Knows me? This could be the break I need to get my old life back. All my questions might get answered because of this one, chance encounter.
And I’m thinking, hey, the universe might work this way. I saw death earlier, but my old life, perhaps it is about to be reborn.
Then she smiles awkwardly, “You’re not Hal, are you.”
I might be.
“No, no,” she says. “Hal moved away a long time ago. And besides, you’re too polite to be Hal Falter. He was kind of a . . .”
Kind of a what? I say, stepping closer.
“He was a bit of a womanizer,” she said. And then she looked at my eyes, “And Hal had bluish eyes. You could almost be him. His twin.”
“I’m sorry, you just looked like a ghost from my past,” she said as she opened her purse to pay. Victor was so caught up in this little soap opera that he hadn’t started ringing-up her groceries.
“I get that a lot, I say to her. The ghost thing, I mean.
Even though this woman says I’m not who she thought I might be, I keep repeating the name, Hal Falter, over and over in my head as I make my way out.
As the doors open the difference in pressure from outside the 7-11 hits me like a punch in the gut. It’s gotten even colder.
I wave goodbye to the woman and head out towards Ricky’s black gas-guzzler, and make my way around to the passenger side, being blasted by chilling wind. The weather here in Texas seems as unpredictable as the netherworld.
I get in and turn to Ricky, I need you to look-up a name on your Internet for me. He asks, “Why.”
I might be a guy named Hal Falter, I say.
He shrugs, “Well, there shouldn’t be more than about two-thousand, Hal Falters on the Web. Can you narrow it down a bit?”
Yeah, I say. He’s missing. He’s got my physical description—well, plus or minus the eye color. And he might have a history of mental illness.
“Is this just the sugar talking?”
Probably, I admit.