The People of Forever: Pit Stop

By Trevor Shikaze

 

They parked their van in the paved lot as the night hung heavy over nowhere and they clopped in their cowboy boots to the coffee place and they walked in and the place was the color of zombies. No one looked up from their soup or their cup or their donut when Mikey and Hieronymus made the door thing jingle. It was a time of night when no one looked up, a time of night coming on a time of day; the people in the place were focused solely on staying awake long enough to get wherever, and their tired brains took no interest in clopping boots or jingling door things or anything at all besides the task at hand, which was putting stuff into faces. The people in the place were like the very zombies that they were the color of, just fuel up and stagger on.

Mikey ordered a cruller and Hieronymus ordered soup, which he ordered primarily for the saltines in the plastic wrapper. He was fond of saltines. The men didn’t need to eat but they practiced certain habits of the fleetingly embodied, which they practiced out of habit rather than need. As they crisscrossed America or wherever searching for That Which They Needed, they practiced certain habits of Those Who Were Headed For Death. And it felt good to eat. It felt pointless and good, like all the habits they kept up.

Mikey carried his greasy paper bag and Hieronymus carried his plastic tray and they found a table for two and they sat. They did not notice the girl in the halter top with a sleeping baby in a buggy at the next table over, but she looked up from her texting machine and she noticed them. She was not the color of zombies. She was the color of alive, and she was open to distraction. In fact, she might have been looking for it.

“Nice boots,” said the girl.

Hieronymus saw that she was looking at his boots and he said, “Thanks.”

“Are you guys cowboys?”

Mikey didn’t seem to be in much of a talking mood so Hieronymus said, “No.” Then he thought about it and added, “We were one time, though.”

The girl checked her screen and said, “Huh.”

Hieronymus opened the plastic wrapper that contained his saltines and he removed his saltines. He dipped the corner of a saltine into the soup and he nibbled the corner off. The soup tasted like Campbell’s. It tasted like reconstituted Campbell’s. One day people in fallout shelters will only know this sort of taste, Hieronymus thought to himself.

“So, like,” said the girl at the next table, “what, like, are you guys? Like, what’s your thing? What’s your deal?”

Mikey silently chewed his cruller. Hieronymus looked from Mikey to the girl.

“Our deal?” said Hieronymus. He leaned back in his chair. “What do you mean?”

She shrugged. “Like, what do you do?”

“For work?”

“I guess. Or for fun.”

Hieronymus looked at Mikey, looked back at the girl. “We don’t work.” He looked at Mikey, who chewed his cruller and shrugged. Hieronymus said, “And we don’t have fun.”

“You never have fun?”

Hieronymus shook his head. “We haven’t had fun in—” He looked at Mikey, who raised his eyebrows and stared at the floor. Hieronymus said, “Probably in centuries.”

The girl poked at her screen and made a skeptical face. “Centuries?”

“Yeah,” said Hieronymus. “Centuries.”

Mikey shoved the last bit of his cruller into his mouth and said, “We’re immortals.”

The girl raised her big eyes to the ceiling and considered what she’d heard. She said, “That means you don’t die.”

Hieronymus turned to his saltines. Mikey, still chewing, said, “Yup.”

“Like,” said the girl, “ever?”

“Nope,” said Mikey.

“Huh,” said the girl. She checked her screen. “So then,” she said, “what do you do all day long?”

Hieronymus gave a loud sigh. Mikey said, “Mostly we just drive around.”

At that moment, the girl’s friend joined her at the table. The friend had evidently been in the washroom and was rubbing her hands as if to spread Purell on them.

“What’s all this?” said the friend.

“Tonya, these guys are immortal.”

Tonya glared at the men with no expression on her face.

“Oh,” she said. “Cool. You don’t die?”

“Nope,” said Mikey and Hieronymus at the same time.

“Never?” said Tonya.

“Never,” said Mikey.

“Not even if someone chops your head off?”

Mikey shook his head. “Not even then.”

“Wow,” said Tonya, who still wore no expression. She spoke flatly. “That’s awesome.”

Then she leaned over the table and whispered something to her friend, who crinkled her nose and said, “Ew, really?”

Tonya nodded to her friend, then she turned to the men.

“So, like, how long have you guys been alive?”

Mikey watched Hieronymus finish his last saltine and said to him, “How long’s it been?”

Hieronymus wiped his mouth with a paper napkin and checked his watch. He turned in his seat to face the girls.

“We’ve been immortals since around the birth of Christ.”

“Omigod,” said the first girl, whose name the men didn’t know. “Did you guys know Jesus?”

“No,” said Mikey. “We didn’t even hear about him until centuries later.”

“Omigod,” said Tonya. “Like, what famous people from history did you know? Did you know Joan of Arc? I love her.”

“No,” said Mikey, “we didn’t know her. We pretty much never knew anybody. Just because we’re immortal doesn’t mean we hung out with anyone famous or saw any big world events or anything.”

“You must have seen some world events,” said the girl whose name they didn’t know.

“Pretty much not,” said Hieronymus. “We’re just normal guys. I mean, we’ve seen historical stuff happen on TV—like JFK, and the Moon landing.”

“What about September Eleventh?” said Tonya.

The men exchanged a confused look.

“You girls must have seen September Eleventh,” said Mikey at last.

“We were, like, four,” said the girl whose name they didn’t know.

Hieronymus pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh, Christ,” he said. “Has it been that long? Jesus Christ.”

“We’re old, buddy,” said Mikey to Hieronymus. “Like, really old.”

“So,” said Tonya, “is it just the two of you or is there more immortals?”

Mikey shook his head. “Just the two of us.”

“Well . . .” said Hieronymus, and everyone looked at him. He toyed with his spoon for a minute, then he said, “There is the prophecy, Mikey.”

Mikey said nothing. The girls looked from Mikey to Hieronymus, from Hieronymus to Mikey.

“What prophecy?” said Tonya.

Hieronymus scratched his ear. “There’s an old prophecy that says that one day we’ll meet immortal wives.”

“Yeah,” said Mikey, who’d begun to shred a paper napkin in his hands, “except that we’ve been driving around the world ever since they invented cars, and before that we rode around on horses, and we’ve been everywhere and we’ve never met these wives or even had any hint that they might exist, and to be honest I sort of think that that prophecy guy might have been full of shit.”

Hieronymus just stared at his soup, pursed his lips, and nodded slowly. Tonya leaned over the table again and whispered something to her friend.

“Oh, yeah,” said the friend, “we should probably get going.”

“Yeah,” said Tonya. “Well, anyway, cool meeting you guys.”

“Okay,” said Hieronymus.

“Good to meet ya,” said Mikey, and he flashed his winning smile.

The girls got up and pushed their baby buggy off. Mikey eyed Hieronymus’s soup.

“That any good?” said Mikey.

Hieronymus shrugged. “Tastes like Campbell’s.” He pushed the bowl toward Mikey. “Want it?”

“Naw. I’m done.” Mikey yawned and stretched. “Should we go?”

Hieronymus nodded and they stood. They clopped in their cowboy boots to the door, stepped out into the cool night air. Only then did Hieronymus notice how poorly Mikey had parked the van, all askew as if nothing mattered, which it probably didn’t. Hieronymus was about to mention the poor parking job when a whistling sound caught his attention, and he turned his head slightly to the left, and then his head came off. Mikey’s head came off too as the girls slashed the night air with whistling katanas. The girl whose name Mikey and Hieronymus didn’t know had cut off Hieronymus’s head and stopped there, but Tonya continued to butcher Mikey even after he’d fallen. His arms and legs flew all over the place.

“Tonya!” said the other girl. “Tonya, chill!”

Tonya stopped hacking. She looked at her friend with a blood-splashed smile and said, “That was awesome.”

Her friend nodded and smiled back. “That was pretty awesome,” she said. “I gotta admit.”

Panting from adrenaline, the girls stood over the steaming corpses. Suddenly a look of horror crossed Tonya’s face.

“Omigod. They’re not getting up.” Her mouth began to tremble. She stepped out of the spreading pool of blood. “You don’t think—I mean—we didn’t just—”

“No, look!” said the other girl. She pointed at the pile of Mikey. “Look! He’s moving!”

And he was. A severed hand flexed its fingers. A boot kicked and flopped around like a fish in the bottom of a canoe. Hieronymus’s head groaned.

“God,” said Hieronymus. “Oh, god.”

“Goddamn it,” said Mikey.

The girl whose name they didn’t know dropped her sword and covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh, shit,” she said, “are you guys okay?”

Hieronymus’s body groped blindly for his head. “Do we look okay?” he groaned.

“Oh, shit,” said Tonya. “You guys feel pain?”

The other girl, who had begun to sniffle, said, “We totally didn’t think you guys felt pain!”

“No, we feel pain,” said Hieronymus, whose body had found his head and was fumbling to put it on. “We just never die.”

“Omigod,” said Tonya. “We are so sorry. Can we help?”

“No, it’s okay,” said Hieronymus. He’d reattached his head properly and was nudging Mikey’s parts around with the toe of his boot. “It’s cool.”

“Soreeeee,” said the girls.

“It’s cool. It happens.”

Hieronymus put Mikey together and the severed pieces joined up. The girls continued to apologize, and the men said it was okay, but the girls continued to apologize, and soon the men were just shrugging and backing away. They backed away to their van and got in.

“Who parked this thing?” said Mikey.

Hieronymus rolled his eyes.

The people of forever drove off into the night, leaving the girls with their katanas alone in the lot, spattered with blood, watching the van’s tail lights fade. Whoever’s baby it was squawked from the buggy, which they’d parked a few yards away. Tonya wiped at the blood on her face.

“That was pretty awesome though,” she said.

“Yeah,” her friend agreed. “Totally.”

But no one ever believed their story.