My invincible whip broke down Sunday; the alternator shit out and I
felt the soul leave the gas pedal in one tragic bloom. When I woke Laura
up she thought she was home, blonde hair distorted with sweat, wearing
that T-shirt she had with the anthropomorphized tire on it. We thought
last night at the Super 8 was gonna be the last stop in our summer
romance. But there we were, together, pushing my Buick into the
I smoked a menthol outside the Exxon. I could feel the heat
exhaustion. It had traced me through the summer with odd chills and
racing pulses. A doctor in Nashville said it was my hypothalamus, said
it lost its perspective on my body’s temperature.
Laura came out of the Exxon with a fresh pack and a lemonade. She passed
through the gas pumps like a specter, like rust through painted blue
steel. She showed me a brochure she found for a place called The Haunted
Cave. On the back, under a confederate flag, was a crude map, a diagram
that set the cave about ten miles out from us up state Highway 22. We
called it a temporary destination and left on foot.
It wasn’t long before the heat dipped and we felt the first drops of
frayed rain. We passed derelict properties, one-room trailers submerged
in planes of kudzu, Rottweilers chained to the broken frames of
trampolines and rusted menageries of threshers, car parts, tractors.
When the rain got harsh we ducked into a half-collapsed black barn,
hid in a storage room with horse tranquilizers and huge jars of
livestock antibiotics. At first we talked about the Haunted Cave. I said
I’d never seen a ghost and Laura said she saw them on television all
Laura left her tire shirt on, wet and clinging. She hung her shorts and
panties on the same rusted nail and lay down on the floor of the barn. I
focused on the strands of her hair carving damp arcs through dust. The
only thunder was distant and soon the rain let up on the roof, narrowed
itself into minor drips from broken rafters.
Between the UFO museum and a bed and breakfast we found a shop called
Blue Ridge Stone and Gem, which was meant to be a gateway of sorts to
The Haunted Cave. Laura zoned out with one hand in a bin of polished
pyrite, staring at the skylight through her aviators. I got some free
coffee from a push pot and evaluated a birthstone chart. I felt my
heartbeat in my fingertips; it rushed in and activated them, set my
focus in a strange spiral. It was August of course, the month Laura and I
were born, the last month, a month for peridots.
Laura put a geode on her Visa and we waited on the porch for a kid named
Leander to come take us to The Haunted Cave, both of us dirty and wet.
Laura watched the rain with her eyes half open, self-contained. Her
vanity was her central axis, every time she rotated around it she became
more beautiful, more effortless, less corporal.
Leander’s poncho was the color of a traffic cone, an emergency shade,
easy to follow through the rain. We climbed over lichen-capped rocks.
He was ahead of us mostly, sometimes too far, but he’d loop back and
we’d see him again in the green/gray haze. We tempted him to stop with a
cigarette and then kicked it under a coniferous tree. We asked Leander
if the cave was haunted and he said it was. We asked if it was really
haunted and he said that it really was. He put out his cigarette on the
sole of his shoe.
Leander waited outside while we were in the cave.
We spent about an hour and a half talking to a ghost with our backs
against the limestone wall. The ghost said that in death we can see our
reincarnations that are obscured in life. He said that he’d been a
soldier in Lee’s army of Northern Virginia, an astronaut that flew into
space on a silver ship and a soap opera actor who lived on in late night
reruns. I asked him what his names were and he said that names are
eclipsed by death.
Laura asked if he could see our past lives and he said that
reincarnations were refracted, uneven, that one man split into many and
that opening his ghostly aperture, even just enough for Laura and I,
could lead to a kaleidoscopic event where our overlaps became infinite
and impossible to trace.
Laura looked into her geode instead.
The ghost changed the topic; he asked us if we were together.
“In the summer sense,” I said.
Joe Worthen is a graduate candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His fiction can be found in Straight Teeth Zine and Menu 971.
See Joe’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.