The Unexpected Friend
by Arthur Jackson
This evening, like most of the evenings over the past five years, Sky is traveling an all too familiar route toward Orwell, Ohio. A nothing little town where one could spot as many Amish buggies as motor vehicles on the road. In that nothing town, like a lot of nothing towns in northeastern Ohio, there is a large factory.
And like most nothing people that live in northeastern Ohio, Sky is a factory worker. Living the American dream. For the third week in a row, her bosses are forcing her into yet another mandatory weekend.
She is ready for a day off. Needs it.
For the love of whatever god or devil might be looking out for the factory workers of Ohio, she is beyond ready for a night of camping and drinking. Deserves it.
Sky groans quietly, briefly, before deciding to suck it up.
“What was that?” a voice asks from the passenger seat.
Sky glances over to Bethany in the passenger seat. The fading sun pierces the windshield and casts a bar of light at the top of her head, which bears a slight resemblance to either a halo or a crown.
“Huh?” Sky replies.
“I did not,” Sky says and then giggles.
“You totally sighed just now,” Bethany assures, before giggling herself. “I’m just busting your balls. I get it. I feel the same. Another Saturday night in that hellhole is too freaking much.”
“I want to go camping so bad!” Sky states. “You camp?”
“Sleep on the ground?” Bethany replies. “Pass.”
“Trust me! You won’t mind the ground,” Sky clarifies, “because you will be way to drunk to feel anything by the time you are ready to pass out! You won’t be feeling nothing!”
“Truth,” Bethany replies. “I’ll still pass on that, though. I do wish we were going somewhere else, though. Bar. Club. Strip club. Key West, Florida. Anywhere but back to flippin’ work for the thousandth time. Blows. At least Steve is going to be the floor supervisor.”
Sky gives Bethany another swift glance, her eyes bugging out of her head. “Right! He is soooo sexy.”
“Yes, he is,” Bethany agrees. “He can supervise my floor, anytime. Along with my couch, my bed, and my shower... and my counter tops while he’s at it.”
Nodding along, Sky adds, “Yeah, Mr. Fine can even supervise the backseat of this car if he wants to.”
Bethany responds with another giggle before exploding into full roaring laughter, a roar Sky joins in on, making it hard for her to see the road through the flow of tears that are blurring her sight. “I might just have to carpool with you on that, too. You know? Bang. Bang. Bang.”
“Gross!” Bethany cries out. “You’re gonna have to wait your turn, nasty girl.”
Bethany is petite. Her skin is smooth and pale. Her dark black hair naturally forms into playful curls. Freckles are found in clusters all across the smooth skin of Bethany’s youthful face. In Sky’s opinion, Bethany resembles an old-time, classic style porcelain doll, similar to the type of doll that Sky’s Na-Na had in the guest bedroom.
Along with resembling a porcelain doll, Bethany also speaks with a squeaky voice.
The doll-like, almost childlike appearance gives the misleading illusion of Bethany being sweet, innocent, and perhaps a little naïve. Sky almost bought into the illusion, at first. Yet, after getting to know Bethany for no longer than a whopping five minutes, she recognized that the resemblance of being childlike and sweet went only skin deep. It is an unintentional mask that Bethany is forced to wear. Bethany is perverted, blunt, honest, loud, far from innocent, and absolutely hilarious. And after three months of carpooling, Sky is no longer a bit surprised by any of the dirty things that often spill from Bethany’s lips.
And it always makes the often grueling ride to work into something somewhat bearable.
“How did I ever get stuck riding with your bitch ass every single day?” Sky asks her passenger jokingly.
“Could be fate. Could be luck,” Bethany explains. “Or it could be a plot to abduct and sell your firm ass as a sex slave that has gone on waaaay too long. God only knows.”
“Truth!” Sky concedes. “Or it could be that your dumb ass truck broke down on your second day, and I took pity on your sorry ass, broke behind enough to swoop to the rescue. Because I am selfless and awesome like a superhero. Like I’m the Supergirl of northeastern Ohio. Or maybe Wonder Woman. Or some other awesome heroine who wears spandex outside no matter the season. Or something...”
Bethany nods. “Or something.”
“But luckily for you,” Sky adds, “you also just happen to live in the same town as me. And I just happen to go right by your apartment on my way. Or else you might have been screwed. I mean. I might be totally selfless and heroic but I really hate backtracking. You know?”
“Same,” Bethany replies.
“Hell yeah!” Sky suddenly blurts. “I love this song.” Quickly, she removes a hand from the wheel and jumps the volume on her Sirius radio up a few notches. The opening chords to Melissa have begun to play. Not only does she hum along with the sad, crying guitars but, at once, Sky launches into vocals and sings along with the first verse. “Crossroads... seem to come and go...”
Not long after upgrading her blue Honda’s standard stereo system to a satellite radio, Sky discovered a station titled Crossroads. It is a station entirely dedicated to The Allman Brothers and other similar classic rock bands. It was like winning the lottery.
Classic rock and roll, especially The Allman Brothers always reminds Sky of camping. Her childhood. And her father.
As the final notes of the song begin to play, Sky reaches to turn the music back down. She is suddenly halted by an unexpected explosion of terrible sound, an onslaught of vicious static that forces its way into the blue Honda by savagely erupting throughout the speakers all around the two women. The wicked detonation draws a startled shriek from Bethany and nearly causes Sky to remove both hands from the steering wheel in order to throw up a solid barrier between the harsh static and her fragile ears.
For seconds that seem like hours, the sharp clamor slices and cuts at Sky’s brain as she fights to connect clear but scattered thoughts. Somehow, she manages to beat the onslaught and piece together one clear and obvious question.
Just when Sky is certain that the bones of her skull are about to shatter against the white noise that beats against them, the static stops as suddenly as it erupted. She finally manages to let loose a lungful of air, unsure at what point she begam to hold her breath.
“Are satellite radios even able to get static?” Sky asks, for some reason.
The silence that follows the onslaught is like a glimpse of Heaven. But it is as short-lived as the static has been. Sky honestly and logically expects her radio to return to normal and loud music to resume at once. But that does not happen. Music isn’t what follows in the wake of the explosive noise, but something that confuses Sky even more than the explosion of white noise.
A man. A single, resounding voice.
Urgent words, like thundering gunshots, begin to bombard the speakers around the two women at a rapid pace, one after another. Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Please don’t turn me off,” the man insists. Pleads. “Please. You need to listen to me.”
Within those rapid words, Sky can easily identify a mixture of both stress and desperation. She brings the volume of the voice down to a reasonable tone but, for some reason, does not switch stations or turn the radio off.
She then glances at Bethany, wondering if her passenger is feeling the same type of confusion. The two girls have reached the point of their drive when commonly the day is over and the sun is gone. Not a single sliver of a celestial bonfire remained. Also, a few minutes before, they began traveling through the emptiness and farmlands of Amish Country, away from the bright stores and gas stations of towns like Warren or Champion Heights.
Apart from the occasional street light that might whip by, the small digital lights emitting from the radio and dashboard are the only things by which to see. Yet, even in the dimly lit interior of her blue Honda, Bethany’s expression is crystal clear and mirrors Sky’s own bewildered look.
Fully meeting Sky’s gaze, Bethany asks, “Is he a DJ?”
“Sirius radio wouldn’t have a DJ,” Sky reminds Bethany. “Remember? It only has music. That’s why I have to pay $10 a month.”
“Who is he then?”
“I have no clue,” Sky admits, while the single voice continues to overflow the blue Honda.
“It hasn’t begun yet,” the man says. “The invasion has. But not the war. Not the takeover. Not yet. We still have time. But not much, I’m afraid.”
The frantic man goes on. “I need to be quick. As children we were taught, all of us, to be wary of strangers. Don’t talk to them. They will hurt us. Wrong! We have been wrong the whole time. We have been afraid of the wrong people. It won’t be strangers that get us.”
“What a psycho,” Bethany states aloud, before asking Sky to change the station.
“Invasion never happens like in movies.”
“Right,” Sky agrees. “I don’t know why people buy into this conspiracy crap.”
“There won’t be any grand invading force.”
“Yeah,” Bethany replies, “what a loser.”
“That is not how it will happen.”
“Please turn off this garbage,” Bethany begs yet again, gradually growing more and more aggressive each time she does. “It’s giving me a headache!”
Sky continues to ignore her requests as the man drones onward.
“It will not come in the form of an approaching army at our gates, because the enemy will not be using brute, blunt force. They are smarter than that. And the invasion is already happening. Look all around you. The nice new couple that recently moved into the neighborhood two houses down from you. The new handsome or cute employee at your job. The beautiful girl at the local Shop ’n Save that begins to flirt back. The unexpected friend.”
New couple. Cute employee. What? What does that even mean? Sky wonders. An unexpected friend? Most friends are unexpected up to a point. That could mean anything. Anyone. Unexpected friend? It could even mean someone like... Bethany?
The single voice continues: “I am not crazy. The invasion has already begun. It’s too late to go back and stop it now. The clock is winding down but it has not reached zero hour yet.
“Right under our noses, in plain sight, the enemies have been making their moves. Slowly sliding their pieces into place over the past... I’m not entirely sure how long. Too long. And they are not only infiltrating places of power, they are also casually inserting themselves into the lives of everyday people. Like you. Into your neighborhoods. Into your jobs. Into your inner circles.
“In time, they will be everywhere. And when the time comes to strike, there will be no stopping them. It’s a drawn-out strategy from a very patient foe. They are very slowly tightening their grasp around us; we would remain blind and oblivious to the fact the enemy has grabbed onto to us until our life is suddenly squeezed away.”
“I’ll just turn it off, myself!” Bethany exclaims and reaches for the radio’s power button.
“And it would have worked, too.”
Out of mindless reaction, Sky slaps Bethany’s hand away, drawing a startled cry of outrage. “What is your problem?!”
“What the hell is your problem?!” Bethany cries out, pulling back her hand.
“Why do you want me to turn it off so bad?” Sky demands. “You are acting weird! Why can’t you just chill out?”
The voice continues: “But their entire plan hinges on one thing, the ability to move unseen until everything is in place and ready.”
Sky then repeats a previously mumbled question. “Are satellite radios even able to get static? I mean. It comes from... space.” But that isn’t the only thing that had been bothering her for the past... however long. It is the beginning. But not the ending.
What is nagging at me? Sky wonders. There is something obvious that she is missing. But what is it?
“But they slipped up,” the strange man assures.
With his next words, Sky witnesses the man’s voice taking on a new quality, a new tone, one seeming to ride the edge of pure insanity.
“And now I can see them.”
Copyright © 2019 by Arthur Jackson