JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice:
I raised my feet and sat cross-legged in the passenger's seat of June's Honda Civic. We had just entered the expressway. It was ten in the evening.
"You two mind if I smoke?" June asked.
I signaled for him to go right ahead. Seated on the backseat, Emma waved for June saying it was fine.
June rolled down the window and, removing both hands from the wheel, took out a stick of cigarette and his lighter and quickly lit up the stick. He sucked in a lungful of smoke and placed one hand back on the wheel. The expressway stretched before us - on and on it went until it eventually got swallowed by the darkness. I rolled down the window on my side as well and the wind quickly caressed my face and tousled my hair. I breathed in the night. Behind us, Emma started to softly sing.
"Pass me the bottle."
Emma gave me a bottle wrapped in brown paper. I twisted the cap open and a strong smell drifted from the inside. It filled the car and mixed with the cigarette smoke. I lifted it to my lips and drank a mouthful. The liquid burned my throat as it slid down to my gut.
"Gah!" Tears had formed in my eyes. I handed the bottle back to a laughing Emma. "Definitely needs ice," I said.
June laughed, exhaled a thin stream of white smoke from his lips, and said: "We'll reach a gas station soon. Let's buy some there." He stepped on the gas and the car responded. Stars and towering street lights were left behind us as the Civic transformed into a white beast that roared and ran into the deep darkness of the night at a hundred and twenty kilometers per hour. I grabbed the bottle of vodka and took another swig. Tears swam in my eyes they coalesced with the stars.
We drove on.
The fast food restaurant was alive with bright, white lights and the sizzle of burgers on the stove. June and I fell in line and Emma went somewhere to buy ice.
“Do they know we’re on our way to see them?” I asked June. I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jeans as I contemplated whether to get the burgers and fries combo or the chicken and fries meal. It was a difficult choice.
“They know I’ll be there. They don’t know I’m bringing you two along though,” June answered.
We reached the cashier and the girl behind the counter asked us for our orders. June told her his and I told her mine. The girl smiled and, in a perky tone, told us how much we’d need to pay. We paid and I turned to June and said: “Just remembered. I forgot to bring my toothbrush. Meet you back here. Will head to where Emma is and buy myself one.”
June answered with a nod.
The convenience store was actually half store and half Delifrance. In a stereo hidden somewhere came the sound of some jazz song. It mixed well with the warm smell of freshly baked bread. I looked around and found Emma at the freezer where bags of ice were being stored.
I walked towards the aisle where the toiletries were and grabbed a toothbrush in random then I made my way to Emma.
“Where’s June?” She asked upon seeing me.
“Waiting for our food,” I answered. I took one of the two paper bags she carried and I lifted a bag of tube ice from the freezer. I took a peek inside the paper bag cradled to my chest and a smile broke from my lips. The bag contained packs of Cheetos and Lays. “I thought you were on a diet,” I said laughing.
“I won’t start 'til next week,” Emma answered as she walked to the counter. I followed.
From somewhere came the sound of raucous laughter. The jazz music that blanketed us came to its end. All was left was the warmness of freshly baked bread. We paid for our stuff and we walked out.
The First Story
I bit a mouthful of burger as June was telling us this horror story.
"...driving home from this concert up north. I was driving and my brother was riding shotgun. Behind us, my sister was asleep with her head resting on the window and seated behind her was our cousin, Michael. You've met him already, I think."
"Is this the bald one with the Super Mario tattoo on his back?" I asked.
June laughed and nodded his head. "Yep, that's him." He took a sip from his pineapple juice before resuming his story. "Anyway, there we were driving at around 2AM in the morning. The road was empty and the night had an orange glow to it. I remember Chuck Berry being played in the radio that night."
My eyes shifted to Emma for a brief moment. She was texting someone, probably her boyfriend.
"As I was driving down 27th, I looked in the rearview mirror and, well," June paused, his eyes down on the table, and a ghost of a smile passed over his lips. He looked at us and said: "I saw something. I saw something that made me break into a cold sweat. I saw a girl seated behind my sleeping sister. Her face was void of any emotion and she had this long black hair that covered half her face. Her left hand was slowly stroking my sister's hair. She lifted her right index finger and placed it in front of his lips. I quickly stopped the car and I turned around. There was no girl there. My brother and cousin were asking me what was wrong. My sister remained asleep. I told them I was fine and I continued driving. I never saw the girl again after that though."
Silence drifted past us like a tumbleweed. Emma then broke into nervous laughter.
"That's bull," she said.
June shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "Say what you wanna say but I'm telling you, it really happened. I'm saw a girl."
"What car were you driving when that happened?" I asked.
"The same car we're using now," June answered.
Inara George's voice was haunting in its beauty as she sang 'Fools in Love'. It was my turn behind the wheel and June was seated beside me with a cigarette held between his fingers.
Fools in love, are there any creatures more pathetic?
Fools in love, never knowing when they lost the game.
Her voice was rain on the skin. It was the purple night sky. It was a blanket of silk that rested on top of us. I imagined musical notes being poured out of the car stereo and floating out and up into the night, swirling around tendrils of white smoke from June's cigarette.
Fools in love they think they're heroes,
Because they get to feel no pain.
I checked the rearview mirror and I saw Emma with staring outside. Her lips moved as she sang along. I looked beside me and I saw June looking at me. He had a small smile on his lips as if he knew a secret I didn't know. He shook his head, sucked his cigarette, and resumed looking out the window.
I say fools in love are zeroes.
I should know,
I should know...
I imagined what it would be like if...
An image flashed in my head. Me and Emma were in it.
I pushed out of my mind as Irana's song reached its melancholic end.
Because this fool's in love again.
I stepped on the gas and never looked back.
The Second Story
"Hey, June?" Emma's voice rose from the veil of silence that was draped over us.
"What's up?" June said.
"That story you told us about the girl in the rearview mirror, you weren't just messing with us, right?"
June laughed. "I promise you. It really did happen. But, can't blame you, it sounded unreal. Well, unless you believe in that kind of stuff. I don't. Up until now I can say I'm not a superstitious guy but that incident really happened to me."
"Hmm...it had me remembering this one time when I was on this trip by myself," Emma started saying.
"I was on this business trip alone and, obviously, I had a hotel room all to myself. I woke up one night, I think it was my third night there, and somehow, I don't know how, I knew it was three in the morning even without checking. I tried moving but I found myself unable to. I started to panic after a while. I couldn't move and when I tried screaming I found I couldn't produce any sound. Not a single syllable. I felt my heart pounding and pounding and the only sound I could hear was the sound of my blood in my ears. In the periphery of my vision, I--I wasn't sure, but I think I saw someone standing beside my bed. I couldn't move my head to get a better look and I don't think I wanted to have a better look. I just closed my eyes. I didn't know how much time passed but after what seemed to be forever I was able to move again. I was completely drenched in sweat. I rushed out of my bed and out of the room...in my pajamas." Emma smiled though it was evident on her face that she was a bit rattled.
"I think I saw a girl," Emma said.
"That's...weird," I said.
I slowed down the car as I made a left at the end of the street. I felt the eyes of June and Emma on me.
"Lately, I keep on waking up at exactly three in the morning."
The house was situated on top of a mountain overlooking the city. It was four stories high with a swimming pool on the third floor balcony. We arrived there at about quarter to three. The house was brightly lit and loud music spilled from the open windows.
"Here we are lady and gent," June flicked the cigarette butt he held into the darkness before he stepped out of the car.
I pulled up the handbrake and turned off the engine. I got out and tossed the car key to June. Emma stepped out and stretched out her arms.
"Looks like they're still very much awake," she said.
"You two go on ahead. I'll handle the bags," I suggested.
"Don't take too long," June patted me on the back. I watched as the two of them climbed up the long, winding stairs that led to the entrance.
The house was made of stone and it had a flat roof. Its walls were white and it loomed over me like some monster with its many bright, burning eyes. I reached into the backseat and, one by one, took out our bags. Before I headed to the stairs though, I thought I saw someone looking at me from my right, just beside the huge tree with wooden steps nailed on its thick trunk. I looked and saw no one there. I picked up the bags and I started making my way up the steps...
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JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.