There were no handles on the doors in front of them, so Rolly just flattened a palm against the glass and gave it an experimental push. The door started to move, but before it could open he removed his hand and wiped it on his pants. “Feels greasy,” he said. Lips sneering in distaste he did it again, and pushed until the door swung all the way out. There was no resistance.
They took their first foray into this odd dreamscape in lockstep, he clutching the strap of the duffel slung over his shoulder, her wielding the large flashlight like a club.
The fog was thicker than it had seemed from inside. While it was still moving, it was also leaving little gobs and globules of itself strung from storefronts and clogging gutters. As they took slow, small steps, their eyes roved constantly, up down and sideways.
“There’s nobody here but us chickens,” Rolly said quietly.
“You shouldn’t say that,” Mara whispered back.
“Baby, we can’t lie to ourselves. Until we see something to the contrary, we have to assume we’re running solo on this.”
“No, I know. I meant the chicken thing.”
“I shouldn’t say the chicken thing?”
“Yes, you shouldn’t say the chicken thing. It was part of a racist joke in the 1900’s, and the saying just stuck.”
“How the hell do you know that?”
“I Googled it one time. What? I was curious where it came from, that’s what Google’s for.”
“I love you, Mara.”
“I know baby, I love you too.”
They’d come to a corner, a corner that should ostensibly have been the corner of Fitch and Franklin, but most definitely was not that corner any longer. Mara stopped walking and stood, rocking back and forth from heel to toe, and really looked around. There was an unseemly, unfinished quality to everything that she saw. It all appeared to be the idea of what it was supposed to look like, as opposed to the thing itself.
There were no details. The buildings that looked like stores had no signs, and you couldn’t see anything through the front windows, just a flat black reflection. She walked towards one, leaning closer and closer, waiting for her reflection to appear but it never did. She pressed a fingertip against it and noticed the same greasy feeling Rolly had complained of. It felt warm, though, which for some reason tripped her out even more than the lack of a reflection did.
She walked back to Rolly, where he was gazing off down the side street. “There’s not even any front doors on the houses. It’s like a little kid’s drawing. A disturbed little kid. Hey, like a disturbed little kid who would hum in someone’s fuckin ear while they were sleeping!” He seemed to feel he had had some sort of revelation. “What if all of this is her?”
“Well, yeah, I guess I just thought it sounded like a girl. Didn’t you?”
“Could’ve been, sure. For awhile they sound a lot alike though.” She rummaged in her pocket, pulled out a couple nickels and a hair elastic. Keeping a coin and shoving the rest of it back, she tossed it up and down a few times and then winged it right where a convergence of foggy particles were congealed. A tendril shot out and grabbed it, immediately flowing back into the main body of condensation.
“Holy SHIT, Rol! Did you see that?” She turned towards him, scared, excited, too full to be called anything but manic, possibly bordering on lunacy. “I thought it would bounce off, maybe, or, or, I don’t know, I wanted something to make a fucking noise, there’s no fucking noise, but it fucking caught the nickel, it caught it…” She trailed off because her mouth couldn’t catch up with her brain, which was okay because her brain was rapidly shutting down.
He gripped her hand, partly for comfort and partly because the terror of being so far out of anything remotely resembling a comfort zone was starting to strangle his will to keep exploring. “I gotta say there’s a part of me wishing we’d stayed inside, at least for a little bit longer.”
“Yeah, well, there was no point. Murdered in there, disemboweled out here, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure but every choice sucks balls.”
He genuinely laughed at that, but let it trail off because the sound just sort of dried up even as it appeared. Then she felt him freeze in place.
He rolled his eyes like a spooked horse, gesticulating wildly at something behind her without even moving, and she turned quickly.
There was a house on the corner now, where moments ago a blank storefront had stood. This house not only had a front door, it had a front porch and the front porch had a swing. The swing swung back and forth, a brittle ‘crick’ of the chain at each push, and each push came from beat up sneakers wrapped around little feet attached to skinny legs belonging to the startlingly gamine girl who sat on it.
She dragged her toes across the porch and slowed, slowed, slowed to a stop. She looked right at them, face splitting into a wicked grin.
“Laa, lalala, lala, laaaa….” she hummed.
Author’s note – when I first jokingly thought about titling this post tonight, I did Google the origin of the saying ‘Nobody here but us chickens’ because I had no idea where it came from. I can’t guarantee that what I read is the last word of its origins, but it did say that it’s earliest known usage was as the punch-line of a racist joke in 1902. So, I left it in there, because it’s interesting as it’s not what I would have assumed it was and now I won’t it use anymore because it’s rude. TRIVIA!