Into the Burbs
by Sean Hower
Part 1 appears in this issue.
“Can you give us some directions, Sir?” Frank said over Liz.
“No visitors are allowed after curfew,” he said, pointing to a placard beside the door. It listed a number of other rules one was expected to follow when entering the community. The list concluded with a byline from the Pleasant Escape Community Association.
“We’re not visitors,” Liz said. “We just want to get back to the interstate.”
“If you do not have a purpose for visiting Pleasant Escape Community I cannot allow you access. You will have to turn your vehicle around and leave at once.”
“We’re not visiting Pleasant Escape Community,” Liz said. “We just want some help getting back to the interstate.”
“Move along or I’ll have to contact the authorities,” the security guard said. “You’re in violation of city code one-one-five-eight-stroke-three, which authorizes me to report you as trespassers.”
“I just want directions,” Liz shouted. She couldn’t understand why this guy was being such an ass.
Frank gripped Liz’s shoulder. “Let’s just go,” he said. “I’ve stretched my legs enough.”
“Okay,” Liz said, feeling calmer. She was glad Frank was there to keep her level headed. “We’ll leave you to your coffee, pal.”
Joe popped up over the back of Liz’s seat, cramming his head between the interior wall of the car and the seat. “Coffee?” he said, taking in a deep whiff.
The security guard skipped back and took up a defensive posture that looked like something out of a 70’s cop show. Liz saw him start to reach for a weapon that obviously wasn’t there.
“Coffee?” Joe said again, reaching out the window. “Can you give a desperate man a break, and let me have a sip?”
“Joe, get back in your seat,” Frank said.
“What?” Joe said, pawing at the space between Liz’s seat and the side of the car. “I just want a little sniff, you know, just to take the edge off.”
“I don’t know what your problem is,” the security guard said, setting his hands at his side and puffing out his chest, “but you are advised to exit the grounds before I contact the police.”
Joe began worming his way through the space, reaching out. “No. No. No. No need for that friend,” he said, a sickeningly sweet tone coating his words. “I just want,” he said, taking in another deep smell, “I just want to smell it.”
Frank reached around back and grabbed onto Joe’s shirt collar. “Down, boy,” he said, pulling as hard as he could.
“Back off man,” Joe said, his sweet voice turning dark.
“That’s it, I’m contacting the police.” The security guard retreated into his booth and pressed a button behind the door.
“Shit,” Liz said, looking first to the security guard then to Joe. The thought of spending the night in jail shot a jolt of fear into her. “Joe, get a hold of yourself.” She snapped him in the nose as though he were an insolent puppy.
He yelped and collapsed back into his seat.
Liz put the car into reverse. She slammed down the accelerator, pealing out of the drive and into the street in a wide quarter turn. She popped the car into first and floored it.
“Oh my coffee,” Joe whimpered as they pulled away from the entry gate.
Liz just ignored him. She was more worried about what sounded like Sirens. That couldn’t be, she thought. They couldn’t be after them that quickly. Still, there was no reason to chance police involvement before last call could end the evening.
“Hold on,” Liz commanded.
She pushed down on the accelerator and the car lurched forward.
“Liz, chill,” Frank said, grabbing onto the ’Oh-Shit! Bar’ again.
A set of red and blue flashing lights came up quite a distance behind them. Then another set appeared. Then another. And another.
Liz blew through a four-way stop, and took a sharp left followed by another right. The lights were still behind them and they were getting closer.
Liz ran another four-way stop, and did a hard left. The tires squealed as everything in the car tumbled to the right.
“That sign said Hideaway Oaks Court!” Frank shouted, hunkering down deeper into the seat. “Does this thing have airbags?”
“What?” Liz shouted back, checking the rearview mirror to verify what Frank had said. She looked back in time to see the end of the road, an empty lot, and a dark, empty expanse racing towards them. She slammed on the brakes. The car ripped through the lot and for a moment was airborne. The ground came up at them. The front end of the car crumpled under the impact, the windshield shattered and debris exploded around them.
The car stopped.
The red and blue lights sped by. Soon the sound of the sirens were replaced with Joe moaning, “Coffee.”
“Everyone okay?” Liz asked, fighting back the urge to vomit. She felt like someone had plugged her into a wall outlet.
“You’re a fucking nut case,” Frank said. He hit Liz square on her shoulder. “I suppose I deserve that,” Liz said like a wilted child. His disapproval hurt more than anything. “What about you, bean-boy?”
“All I want is--“
“Coffee,” the others finished.
“Let’s take a look at the damage,” Liz said to Frank.
The two got out of the car. They looked at it, then at each other. The thing was trashed. It would cost a fortune to get it towed. Liz suddenly remembered they had no idea where they were. Frank apparently had the same realization. They both looked around to get their bearings.
They were in a stream bed that was banked high on both sides. The two of them went around to the back of the car and followed the trench that the car had scoured out from its impact. When they reached the beginning of the scar, they looked around again. There was an embankment at least eight feet high and then the court Liz had driven down.
“We’re lucky we didn’t get killed,” Frank said looking right at Liz. “That’s a pretty serious drop.”
“All I wanted was a Cape Cod after a rough week,” Liz said, throwing up her arms with dramatic flair. “Now my baby is shit and we’re stuck in some ditch.”
“We should try one of those houses to see if someone will let us call for help.”
“You think?” Liz said sharply, injecting as much sarcasm as she could muster. She went around to the front driver side of the car and grabbed her purse, then headed to the embankment. She began to pull herself up determined to win against this night.
“What about Joe?” Frank said.
“He’ll be fine,” Liz said. “Besides, we need someone to stay behind and watch the car.”
Frank looked back at the car. “Um, I’m not sure about this. Joe isn’t in any state of mind to be left alone. You know what happened last time he was like this.”
Liz’s jaw dropped in exaggerated shock. “So you just leave the girl to tromp off by herself? Joe will be fine.”
“Hey Liz, come on, we can’t leave him behind.”
Liz continued to struggle up the embankment. “Look Frank. I’ve had a long week. Your mighty technology ate my future, my car is crapped, and my period is going to start any time now. All I want to do is get out of here so we can make last call. Is that too much to ask? I mean it’s his fault we’re in this mess anyway. If he hadn’t attacked that guard like some caffeine zombie I’d be kicking back at Dante’s right now having a Cape Cod and checking out the guys. As it stands, I wouldn’t call this the perfect Friday night. So just give it a break and do what I say because you’re just incapable of running this show.”
She instantly regretted the barrage and flinched with the expectation of a return volley. There was no way Frank would let her get away with that. She turned to face him, bracing for the counterattack.
Frank simply stared at her with a mix of disbelief and what looked like disgust. She could tell he wanted to say something, something that would surely send them both into a hurtful verbal battle, but he refrained. “Okay, Liz,” he said with a chilling calm. “Let’s do it your way.” He turned back to the car. “We’re going to get help, Joe,” he shouted.
A moan oozed out of the car.
Frank sighed, shaking his head. He turned back to Liz and started up after her. The embankment was a wall of mud and gravel that crumbled with each step they took. It was some time before the two of them reached the top. They took a moment to catch their breath then set off towards the first house in the court.
They knocked on the door and waited.
“What is it?” a man’s voice drifted through the door.
“Sorry to bother you so late, sir,” Liz said at the door, “but we’ve had a little accident and I was wondering if we could use your phone to call for help.”
“Who are you? I don’t recognize you.”
Frank pointed to the peephole in the door.
Leaning towards it, Liz put on her best smile. “I’m Liz, and this is Frank.”
“You’re not from around here,” the voice said.
“No, we were on our way to Old Town and got lost, Sir.”
There was a pause, and Liz thought she heard shuffling inside the house. When she heard the scrape of a chain lock, her hopes rose and she smiled at Frank with relief.
“You better move along,” the voice said.
Liz’s relief vanished and was first replaced by disappointment then anger.
“Please, Sir,” she said with the same sweet tone Joe had used on the security guard. It was taking all of her concentration to restrain herself. “I’ve got money.” She started to open her purse up.
“There’s nothing here for you,” the voice said in a rush. “Now. Now move along before I have to call the police.”
Liz wanted to kick down the door but turned and stomped off in a huff instead.
“What the hell is wrong with these people?” she said as Frank came up alongside her.
“It kind of makes sense, Liz,” Frank said. “I mean it’s late. We probably look like a couple of troublemakers. The next house will be nicer.”
But it wasn’t. Nor was the next house. Nor the next. They were greeted with the same cold welcome. Liz couldn’t understand it. She wanted to get mad, but instead started to feel isolated, and that scared her. She sat down to try to work out everything that had happened that night. It just didn’t make any sense.
“Well,” Frank said, pulling Liz out of her thoughts. “Let’s go back to Joe. We’ve been at this for a while and its got to be getting close to morning. Maybe then we can figure out where we are and how to get out.”
Liz agreed, so they got up and retraced their way to the car. They passed Willow Lane, Lanely Willow Road, White Willow Street, and a host of others, but they couldn’t find Hideaway Oaks Court.
“Okay,” Liz said, glancing around. An unbroken line of homes stretched out to the right and left. “I’m not liking this.”
“Me neither,” Frank said. “We should have found our way back by now.”
“Look, I’ll go straight this way,” she pointed to the left, “and go as far as I can without taking any other roads. You go the other way and do the same. Then we can come back here,” she pointed to a green electrical box that stood on part of someone’s front lawn, “and put our heads together.”
“How are we going to find it again?”
He was right, Liz thought. But then she hit upon a brilliant idea. She took out a lipstick from her purse and drew a smiley face on the box. “There,” she said, quite satisfied with herself. It was the only thing that had gone right all night.
“Sounds good,” Frank said. “Maybe we’ll meet someone along the way who’ll help.”
“Maybe,” Liz said, but deep inside she held no hope for it. She was starting to feel like the night would indeed win. “Well, be careful.”
She looked at Frank and suddenly felt as though he was going away on a long trip and he wouldn’t be returning. “Just go in a straight line and come right back. Right?”
“Yeah,” Frank said, his tone clearly telling her he thought she was acting weird.
Liz hugged him. She felt safe and secure. She really liked Frank.
“And don’t do anything stupid, techie-boy,” she said with a strained giggled.
Liz broke away and started off. She kept looking back to make sure Frank was okay until he was too far away to see. She followed the road as it curved and twisted, passing dozens of intersections. After what seemed like an hour, she stopped and looked as far ahead as she could. The street continued in an unchanging line off into the horizon. “This place sucks,” she said. Deciding that her plan was a failure, she turned around.
She walked for at least another hour but she couldn’t find the electrical box. She continued on until she heard birds beginning their morning songs. Still, she had not found her way back to the meeting point. She never came across Joe either.
“What is this place?” she shouted. Her voiced echoed along the street in both directions. “Where are my friends?”
* * *
Every afternoon, Mrs. Gardner went down to the curb to get the mail. She always took this opportunity to see if any of her neighbors had started new home improvement projects or had bought a new car. When she saw the figure shuffling down the street towards her, she grabbed her mail and jogged back up her walk to her front door. There, she ducked inside, and closed the door just enough to hide herself but not so far as to block her view of the sidewalk. She watched suspiciously as the figure hobbled by her home, mumbling to itself about someone named Frank.
“What is it, now,” Mr. Gardner said.
“It’s that... that person,” Mrs. Gardner said. “Someone really should do something about her.”
When the figure was out of sight, Mrs. Gardner closed the door and went about the rest of her day.
Copyright © 2004 by Sean Hower