“Where you kids headed?”
Sam looked through the open window of the Buick idling in the KMart parking lot. The man leaned over the passenger seat, patting and smoothing a greasy widow's peak. He had a wide, fat face covered in a scrubby beard, eyes shaded behind yellow tinted sunglasses even though the sun had set an hour ago.
“We’re uh, heading up to Cincy. For a show,” she said.
The man’s eyes scanned Sam up and down, then he jerked his head to the side to look at her brother. Tim stood underneath a big fluorescent light on the edge of the KMart parking lot, trying to look cool in his leather jacket. Dozens of metal spikes and rivets covered the shoulders and lapels of her brother’s leather jacket. Sam thought Tim tried too hard, but he was good company, and she felt safer hitching with her brother. Neither of them could afford a car, and their mother would kill them if they knew how they got back and forth to Cincinatti.
“Punk rock, huh?”
“Yeah, how could you tell?” said Tim. He pulled deep on his cigarette, stifled a cough, then flicked the butt into a puddle. Sam rolled her eyes, but the fat man in the old car laughed.
“Giving me the business already, huh,” he said. “I like you, kid. Hop in.”
He pushed the door open, then swept a pile of trash off the seat and onto the floor.
“We’re going to see The Bloats, at Bogarts,” said Sam. “How far can you take us?”
“Well, heck,” he said. “That’s on my way. I can take you all the way there.”
“Bitchin,” said Tim. He slid into the back of the car, then sprawled out. He liked to take up space. The passenger seat sagged under Sam’s weight, and she had to lift the door with both hands to shut it.
“Name’s Bucklew,” said the fat man. “Dennis Bucklew, at your service.”
“I’m Sam, and that’s my brother, Tim,” she said. “Thanks for the ride.”
“No problem,” said Bucklew. He snapped his fingers and a small, yellowed card appeared between his thumb and forefinger. “My card.”
DENNIS BUCKLEW, MD
“MD?” said Sam.
Bucklew threw the car into gear and laughed, a single, braying honk.
“Yeah,” he said. “Stands for “Multi-dimensional”. Mostly means I’m good at a lot of things, and I think it’s funny. Anyway, let’s get a move on.”
He pressed on the gas, and the car spun around in the loose gravel. Soon they were on the interstate, headed north, toward Cincinatti.
Tim and Bucklew got along great. The two quickly discovered a mutual interest interest in 1970s horror movies, and passed the first twenty minutes or so of their trip north discussing the finer points of slasher films. Sam busied herself checking her phone and keeping an eye out for mile marker signs.
Her brother sat in the middle of the seat and leaned forward between the headrests in the front, chatting with Bucklew about little known Italian movies.
“Only 124 miles to go,” Sam said to herself.
Bucklew seemed to grow more distracted the longer he and Tim spoke about movies, and checked the rearview often. He slowed, allowing a white station wagon to pass them. He moistened his lips and adjusted his sunglasses.
“You kids want to see something cool?”
“Fuck yeah,” said Tim, without giving Sam a chance to respond. He pounded the back of her headrest.
Bucklew reached under the dashboard, fiddling with something Sam couldn’t see, and then the world stretched and ran behind the windshield, like taffy. Her eyelids fluttered rapidly as she felt a sensation of doubling, of having been shuffled, of remembering things that had never happened. The car lurched forward, and Bucklew laughed and laughed as his nose bled.
Finally, he withdrew his hand, and the world outside the car slowed and solidified. Bucklew wiped his nose with a stained handkerchief he took out of a pocket.
“What the fuck was that?” asked Sam. Her head pounded, as they passed another mile marker. 93 miles to Cincinatti.
“Just a little something extra,” said Bucklew. “Helps me get around faster than other couriers. Faster than Amazon, even.” He grinned and tipped his cigar out the window. He wore a Russian style cap, despite the late summer heat, and his eyes were bloodshot.
“That was fucking awesome,” said Tim. He pounded the back of Sam’s headrest again and she turned around, ready to tell him to cut it out, and he was different. Still her brother, but rounder in the face. Chubbier. And he wasn’t wearing his leather jacket, but a filthy denim vest covered with patches.
“Do it again,” said Tim.
“Oh, don’t worry,” said Bucklew. “I’ll need to. Still gotta pick up my cargo.”
Sam rubbed at her eyes, trying to ease a fluttering sensation behind them. Her nails were different. Longer, and painted black. She always thought she hated painting her nails.
Bucklew did his traveling trick a few more times. More than three, not more than seven. His nose bled more each time, until finally he just stuffed the rag into his right nostril and left it hanging there.
Somewhere in the middle, there was something else in the car with them. Something in the trunk, something bright and heavy. Tim turned, fiddling with the seat release behind Bucklew.
“Don’t open that, kiddo,” said Bucklew. “Not gonna tell you twice.”
Tim’s hand fell away from the seam between the backseat and the trunk. Something moved behind the seat, and yellow light bled between the seam. Tim winced in the dark car, and threw his arm over it to block the light.
Sam changed, and her brother changed. They shuffled through permutations, through different takes on Sam and Tim. Now Tim was older, now Sam had short, spiky blond hair. Now she wore Tim’s prized leather jacket, because he’d lost it to her in a drinking game.
By the time they passed mile marker 12, her stomach ached bad enough that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to make it to the show.
“Can you stop?” she asked, and didn’t recognize her own voice. It was higher pitched, nasal, unfamiliar.
“That was the last time,” he said. “Already got my cargo, just need to get you to your show now.”
Another thump came from the trunk, and Sam turned around once to say something to Tim, only to find the backseat empty.
“Where’s my brother?” she asked. That strange doubling sensation was back. Memories of an annoying younger brother, trying too hard to fit in with her friends, too concerned about looking the part of a punk rocker to really pay attention to the music overlaid with memories of a solitary childhood, growing up the only child of a single mother.
“Brother?” said Bucklew. He sucked on his cigar, blowing blue smoke out the side of his mouth and into the night air. His Buick idled outside of Bogarts. “I didn’t pick up any brother, kiddo. Just you.”
He reached across the seat and opened the door.
“Here you go,” he said. “Enjoy your Bloats.”
Sam closed her eyes as a crawling sensation behind her forehead spread toward the back of her head. She blinked her eyes rapidly, seeing her brother at Christmas, fighting with her mother, shopping for vinyl with her at a shop downtown, and then gone. She stepped out of the car onto the sidewalk outside of the bar, and shut the door behind her.
“Thanks for the ride, Mr. Bucklew,” she said. Sam rubbed her forehead with the palm of her hand, not quite sure why her head hurt so bad.
“Any time, kiddo,” he said. “You remember my card, if you ever need something delivered.”
“You got that right,” he said, and laughed that loud, braying honk. Bucklew shifted into gear and sped off, his old car full of yellow light and belching smoke all over the kids gathering outside, eager for the show to begin.