December 5, 2002

surrender: an excerpt

We woke up the next morning feeling numb and fresh and bolted from the campground before we could be shaken down for money. Later that morning the van started to smell like feet and bananas. Why did it smell like bananas? We hadn?t even been eating bananas.

By noon the smell reached critical mass so we pulled into a gas station to take a break. I opened all the windows and doors as Derek searched for some music, and after settling for some rhythmic static he jumped out of the van with the Frisbee. James was staring at the hearse across the parking lot, so when Derek flung the disc at him he got hit in the temple.

I went into the station to use the bathroom, and saw in the mirror that I had a fresh scab across my left cheek. It tingled. I took care of my business and as I was shaking off, a body grumbled out of the stall next to me and made for the sink. It moved as though its very existence was a terrible burden to be shouldered. I spun around and stole a glance at the man on my way out, but the moment my eyes slid over him he looked up from his hands.

It was the old man. He recognized me as an occupant of the hateful van and his face crinkled in scorn. I made for the door, sped through the station and was in the parking lot when a gnarled hand fell upon my shoulder. I tensed. Behind me a throat cleared violently.

“Hey boy,” it said. I didn’t respond. His presence made my skin feel oily, and I could feel his hand dripping down my arm and staining my soul. “So young, so fresh.” It took me awhile to realize the guttural noises were actually speech. “So cheeky. Think you know everything, eh?”

He raised a crooked finger towards Derek and James, who were crushing cans on their foreheads. The old man bent close to my ear and took in a wet breath. “Watch the company you keep, boy,” he hissed. “People are always watching and marking down in their books. You seem like a smart boy, right?” The old man tightened his grip on my shoulder. He leaned in front of me and exposed his yellow teeth. “Don’t let them open your veins.”