In the middle of the summer-autumn chill, Jensen finds himself stepping off the bus with a battered duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Flickering street lights illuminate the sidewalk of the station and the squeaky clean windows surrounding the brick walls are pitch-black, but he can still make out the interior: a couple of smooth, leather couches, a snack vending machine, and a lavish, high-tech water fountain with a filtration system that blesses it or something. No sinners in this Catholic community.
It’s nicer than he remembers-there used be several ant trails that would lead to nowhere and dingy plastic chairs that had a fifty percent of falling if you sat down on them. Finally got some state funding for renovations he supposes.
The sun had fallen a few minutes ago, disappearing under the abandoned glass factory that stands on the hill where protestors once marched upon; the building will probably stand there in its rusty glory for the rest of eternity since there’s no point in getting rid of it now. Plus, they probably used all the money to upgrade the station like anybody is actually moving to or visiting this rust bucket of a town: Coal Springs.
Who names a town, Coal Springs?
He travels to the front, expecting bright headlights to blind his eyes, but all he receives is the cold wisp of silence and emptiness. Digging through his back jean pocket, he pulls out his phone to check the time.
It’s eleven and no parents in sight.
“Welcome back, Jensen,” he sighs, sliding his phone back in and trudging his way down the parking lot.
Better to start walking now than later.
The residential area lies just beyond the lot and the woodland park that’s been shut down due to ‘unsafe conditions’ which basically was the solution adults created to stop teens from smoking pot-it was ineffectual at the end, instead encouraging them to find sneakier ways to use the product. Jensen never enjoyed smoking-even though many students at his school did-as it created this foul smell and cough the worst storm ever. He’s fine with alcohol to drown his sorrow and stress.
Before the destruction, it was a pretty sweet park. He played here when he was young, climbing on the ginormous trees while he wore a Spiderman costume that he received for Christmas which was probably a bad idea on his parents’ part since he ended up getting a cold. Turns out that running around in cheap spandex during the winter time isn’t such a grand idea; unless your idea of a great time is being stuck in bed for a week with snot clogging your nose.
Leaves crack and crinkle as he travels through the uneven path, absorbing the familiar nature that he truly misses. It’s dark as the moon attempts to breach through redwood trees, only lighting through the holes in the branch’s colorful armor. There aren’t any critters roaming the ground as expected since it’s night time and they’re probably burrowed comfortably in their homes-like he would be if it weren’t for his negligent parents. He does spot a couple of owls hanging on the branches with wide, neon orange eyes that are creepy per say, not scary, however. He already knows that there aren’t any wolves or bears or a chupacabra-he tried searching for one with Jared and Sandy back in high school, camping together in a tiny tent they bought by scrapping together the limited money they acquired from odd jobs and pickpocketing, but never found any evidence-, so he has nothing to fear or hope for. That’s a bummer.
There are weirdly shaped branches and bushes that take the form of a person, reminding him of some cheesy horror film that make people laugh instead of scream. Jensen would whisper mocking remarks of the terrible acting or predict the next scene with snickers into Jared’s ears as they watched, stuffing nachos in their mouths because good movies are the ones that actually deserve popcorn.
Finally, he reaches the front of the park; an ancient playground stands there as the main attraction and, at the entrance, a fence decorated with barbed wire twirled around the top like icing on a cake. Fuck. The wire wasn’t here last time. Jensen can’t see how far the fencing actually goes down which means that trekking down to the end will take longer than he expected. It’s not extremely high, so he’ll be able to climb up there if he’s immune to sharp metals and, in this case, he isn’t.
Why the hell are there blockades only here? There wasn’t any back at the station.
Well, he does recall a sign with ‘No Trespassing’ in bright red planted and low, coppery chains hung across by two wooden poles behind it, but he’s never paid much mind to those types of things. Jensen would bend the rules until they snap in half back in the day; that flavor of rebellious, angsty teenager except for the eyeliner because he definitely wasn’t emo or goth.
Just wanted to have some fun.
Turning, Jensen’s eyes search the area for something that he could use to climb over without, you know, getting killed. There’s a pair of dusty pastel swings held precariously by chains that have seen brighter days, a bagged up wooden structure with stairs and plastic slides and metal railings that will definitely break under his weight, and three wooden poles stuck to ground evenly apart as the largest stood near an overlaying limb of a tree. He notices cables above him through those branches, running to the other side where another tree stood. Jensen could work with that.
Tugging off his duffle bag, he chucks it over the fence, landing with a thunk on the other side. Then he switches his attention to the playground, grinding his feet into the ground and bending one knee like he did in track all those years ago as he goes into a sprint. Once he was close enough to the first pole, Jensen jumps, landing for a moment to balance before leaping over to the next and the next, reaching his arms out to grab the incoming branch. Jensen’s grip is firm while he attempts to balance himself, the swinging on the heavy bough causing leaves to shake as they detach from the motherboard, rustling as they do. Pulling himself upward, he sits on the unstable wood to calm himself for a moment; his heart races a thousand beats a minute and he’s all warm and tingly from the adrenaline. He composes himself through deep, heavy breaths for the next step.
Grabbing on the wires, he lifts himself until his sneakers balance in the exact middle of it. Jensen, shaky and slow, starts turning; his arms spread out wide, shifting until his feet point beyond the fence. Legs beginning working themselves forward as feet align themselves one in front of the other like he did as a kid because, apparently, his parents didn’t watch over him properly.
It’s strange because he’s absolutely relaxed as he balances on a fucking wire when there isn’t any type of mat or soft surface under him. Man, he should be hysterical right now, he’s been hysterical for a while. Maybe, it’s the fact that he’s back home now. Back to something he’s familiar with.
In the end, he doesn’t die from falling into a barbed wire or electric shocks-imagine that on his gravestone, death by tightroping a telephone wire; well, that’d actually be kind of cool as if he were a magician performing a miraculous trick, but then it all went wrong. At least he’d be remembered on the internet for a solid day. He wonders if Jared or Sandy or, even, Danneel would come to his funeral. Cry over him with alligator tears.
Not a pleasant thought to have when he isn’t completely finished performing this grand stunt.
As soon as he descends from the tree, there are flashing lights that cause weird blotches of color to appear in his eyes. They becoming brighter by the second as what appears to be a vehicle and-Oh shit. Lights remain on when the car stops, a red and blue siren jutting out from the top. Car doors swing open, revealing the driver inside.
“Officer Morgan,” Jensen chuckles nervously, staving away from the approaching man by snatching his duffel bag and swinging it over his shoulder. “What brings you here?”
“Well, I was doing my rounds and I just so happened to see a 21-year-old tightroping across a telephone wire above the abandoned park,” Morgan replies; the smirk adds more wrinkles on his pale skin as the dark bristles stretch wider. His attire only consists of the color blue-even the stupid cap-, reminding Jensen that even though he’s the guy who taught him how to ride a bike and catch a ball, he’s still a cop. Which means that Jensen’s utterly fucked.
Sighing, Morgan simply states, “I’ll give you a warning this time since you just got back, but the next time I catch you, I won’t have a choice in the matter. We clear?”
Jensen nods curtly as the smirk reappears.
“Good, now get in the damn car, kid.”
They pull up to Jensen’s in no time at all. He’s glad that the ride was silent because, after sitting on a urinal and dipper smelling buses for more than twelve hours and hiking through the woods with a duffel carrying almost everything in his college dorm, he could sleep for a week. No longer. Never wake up. That sounds good.
“See you later,” Morgan says, gazing at him through the mirror, both of them irradiated by yellows from the street lamps. “Hope you don’t end up back in my car any time soon.”
It’s a kind jab that holds more of a parental vibe than a keeper of the law which makes Jensen relax. Although, his lessons had included being kept in a holding cell that one time when Jensen got caught for vandalizing property. Saddest part about staying at the police station overnight is what came afterward when he went back to the crime scene to saw that someone else had completed the drawing of the half-done skull for him, decorating it with intricate flowers made by petite brushes and suave technique wrapping around the bone as if life had grown from the dead. Sure sounds romantic, but Jensen thought the piece was one of his best yet and he wanted to finish it himself. He spent a ridiculous amount of time complaining about it to his friends at school. He wonders if it’s still standing.
“Thanks for the ride,” Jensen replies with a small smile when he nudges the door open, clutching to the duffel, and shuffles out of the vehicle. Shutting the door, the car moves off the driveway and onto the clear road, zooming away to the rumbling and muffled sounds of classic rock music.
The silence is blaring while a breeze falls upon him, regretting the short-sleeved, button-down; in baby blue because, according to Sandy, it really brings out the green in his eyes. She’d thrown out all his old wardrobe when he told them about his departure-both Jared and Sandy were ecstatic, opposite to his initial expectation-with the description that he ‘looked like an edgy teen that only shopped at thrift stores or Hot Topic’, so he doesn’t have much to wear other than those. He still got to keep a no-sign necklace around his neck (“It’s your trademark,” Sandy told him with glee after loading him with tons of shopping bags and ushering him into the next store.)
Jensen saunter up the cement walkway, where leaves from the big, burly tree in front of his house-he looked at it every day from his window, named him Steve the Tree when he was small-marked trail. His home is homey to say. Two stories with an attic. Two bedrooms and one bath. Parents sleeping in the first and Grandpa would stay on the second-died when he was a freshman-which left him the attic; it’s insulated, so he won’t freeze to death during the winters. Honestly, it’s a paper cut out of the houses in this neighborhood-just two blocks down and to the right, on Heather street, there’s exact replica; although they still carry old Christmas light across the top border of the garage, so they’re not exactly the same after all. There’s also the chipped paint near the doorbell and the eerie, porcelain gnome with cracks running through every feature next to their ‘Welcome’ floor mat where the house key is hidden under.
Slipping the key out from underneath the inanimate gnome, Jensen unlocks the door to catch his dad, mindlessly sitting in front of the TV, hypnotized by the blue light. But as the door creak, it seizes his attention. Eye going wide his dad says, “Oh shit” when Jensen peers inside; he’s slightly pissed after he remembers what led up to this point.
“I thought you were coming-Oh, that’s right,” his dad apologizes, lifting himself off the couch to meet him. “Sorry, Jensen. Your mother and I thought you were arriving tomorrow.”
“Well, I didn’t”
There’s an awkward pause between them and Jensen wants to go to bed.
“Hey, you wanna restart and pretend that you guys actually did pick me up,” he suggests, exerting a nonchalant, playful attitude to ignore the sleepiness behind it.
“Okay, let’s do that.” His dad walks back and plops down on the couch again with an easy smile, acting skills locked and loaded from an extinct dream of becoming an actor. Nobody makes enough money to get out of Coal Springs, so yearned careers shrivel up until they can no longer be pursued. “That was sure a long ride home. Glad we picked you up on time though. Want to watch some TV with me?”
“Nah, I’m kind of tired. Gonna head to bed now,” Jensen plays along, accompanied by a sheepish smile. “Thanks, dad”
“No problem, son.” His attention returns to the television, sucking him into the void of trash comedy with a snigger here and there. Jensen ascends the stairway to his room, tons of photographs lined across the walls with memories: baby pictures to his parent’s marriage to his first race. And on the second floor is a family photo of seven year old him, dad and mom with smoother skins and happier grins, and grandpa who looks exactly the same from how Jensen remembers him.
It’s not the good times, but it isn’t the worst times either. Then again, they don’t have great times in this household where they’re never under this roof all at once.
Advancing the last fleet, he finally arrives at his room.
Everything is just as he left it. Shabby sheets scattered across the metal wire bed in a tangled mess. Rock band and video game posters plastered on the walls on top of each other since there isn’t much space of these walls. Singular window with a bench covered in pillows to rest on. Guitar in the back corner. Exactly like a teenagers room.
The smell of dust invades his nostrils. It’s good to be home.
Dumping his duffel on the floor in front of the full-length mirror, he flops down onto his bed, squirming in the sheets for a comfortable position, and promptly passes out.