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Fiction by Ryan Bender-Murphy

The City

The highway was full that day — you could see a line of cars stretching for miles in both of its lanes — but because everyone was driving at the same speed, there wasn’t any traffic. Still, Brett wanted to get to the city as quickly as possible, so he told me to keep an eye out for any cops. Just like with any other highway, the gaps between the cars were large enough so that Brett could whip diagonally from the right lane to the left lane and back again, steadily advancing through the columns of steel. However, as he maneuvered like this for hours, speeding through the middle of grassy plains, not once did I see any cops. Gradually, then, I started to stare into the windows of other vehicles, watching people as we passed them by and listening to Brett as he talked about the city.

There is a large bed there,” he said. And on the bed are ten ties. The first three ties are solid colors: red, yellow, and blue. The fourth tie is pink with white polka dots. The fifth tie is striped orange and purple. Are you listening?”

Yes,” I replied, pressing my forehead against the passenger-door window.

Repeat the ties back to me,” Brett said sternly.

Red, yellow, blue, white polka dot, and striped orange and purple,” I said, my breath fogging the glass.

The sixth tie is checkered black and white,” Brett continued. The seventh tie is checkered red and white. The eighth tie is blue, black, and purple plaid. Did you hear that?”

Yes,” I replied.

What is the seventh tie?” Brett asked.

Red –” I began to answer.

– No,” he interjected.

– and white, checkered,” I added.

The ninth tie,” he went on, is a geometric pattern of golden stars in blue blocks. The tenth tie is navy blue with pink and white flowers. Do you know how to tie a tie?”

Not from memory,” I admitted.

Your dad never taught you?” Brett clarified.

My dad stood behind me in the bathroom and tied it himself.”

There was a long pause. The bed,” Brett started up, has five pillows . . .”

I leaned my head against the glass, casually peering at the cars around us. After a few minutes, I noticed a green sedan in which five people sat. All five of these people were wearing white bibs, and in the backseat, three of them were holding a five-foot party sub, eating it from the two ends and in the middle. Once they ate enough to break the sandwich into pieces, they shared the remainders with the driver and the front passenger.

What is the thread count of the third pillow?” Brett asked.

There’s a cop,” I said abruptly.

Huh?” he replied. Where?”

I counted back until the cars became vague metal. Eight behind us to the right,” I told him.

Brett checked the rearview mirror. I don’t see anything.”

Must be a blind spot,” I suggested. Then, I said, Go slow for a while, until some other sucker gets nailed.”

Right . . . ,” Brett replied.

For the first time, we stayed in the same lane, near the same cars. To our right was the green sedan.

Within ten minutes, the party sub was gone. Afterwards, everyone took off their bibs and began to dance. The three in the back wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders and swayed back and forth. The two in the front banged their heads, whipping their long, curly hair all over the place. The driver also drummed the steering wheel.

While I looked, the one closest to me in the backseat saw me staring and waved. I waved back. We both then smiled.

I think the coast is clear,” Brett said, breaking the silence. He then shifted lanes, overtaking the green sedan. When I looked back, I briefly saw all five banging their heads, their thick hair flying everywhere. Then Brett shifted diagonally away. And he did so several more times, until I could barely make out the green sedan behind us. Eventually, it was only a green blur on the highway. And then it was gone.

The salmon is fresh in the fridge,” Brett said out of nowhere. It is caught in a net and then shipped on ice. It is fileted and then shipped on ice. Have you ever eaten fresh salmon?”

I didn’t say anything, which led to a long period of silence. During this time, the cars began to slow down.

What is this?” Brett asked.

Traffic began to crawl, and soon, it came to a halt.

What in the ever-living-Hell is this?” Brett asked again.

I pulled up the map on my phone. The highway was crimson red. Miles ahead, there was a major crash, so all of the lanes were closed. I informed Brett of the news. We won’t be able to get into the city if we arrive after sundown,” he said. Gangs patrol the bridge.”

I thought lovers kiss on the bridge under the moonlight,” I replied.

Brett looked at me and laughed, blowing air through his nose. That’s a good one . . .”

We sat in the car without moving an inch for well over an hour. At some point, I had to go to the bathroom.

Don’t be long,” Brett warned.

Of course,” I reassured him.

Most people by now were standing next to their cars, and kids were playing in the grass near the highway. I quickly whizzed in some bushes and strolled amongst the cars, doing so long enough to recognize the green blur. I walked towards it, and when the blur became a sedan, I glanced over my shoulder. Brett’s car looked like a white dot now.

The green sedan’s windows were down — it was very nice outside — so I could hear the five people laughing over the engines idling around me. I approached the window of the passenger who had waved to me — he was a man with immaculate braces.

Where are you going?” I asked him.

To the city,” he said.

The city?” I made certain.

Yes,” he replied, smiling. It’s that time, for all of us.”

I nodded. It’s the same for me and my best . . .” I paused. After a thought, I asked, Can we meet up when we get there?”

Sure, of course,” the man said. Here’s my phone.”

Once he handed me his phone, I immediately added my number. Then I sent myself a text: Hello!”

You can message me on the way there,” the man told me.

I will!” I replied, and because I thought I saw the white dot disappear, I quickly said goodbye and raced back to Brett’s car.

Took you long enough,” Brett said when I got back.

I didn’t reply. I was too focused on thinking up a funny message to send the man. As I typed out and deleted draft after draft, I noticed that the car started moving again.

Going to have to make up for lost time,” I vaguely heard Brett say.

Soon we were flying across the highway. In fact, as I was writing out my initial message, I could feel my body pressing back into the seat, as if we were blasting off into space. It felt like this for a while. Then, all of a sudden, I heard sirens wail.

God damnit!” Brett yelled. What is this?” I checked the side mirror and saw a cop speeding right behind us. Before I said anything, Brett added, You were supposed to keep an eye out!”

While Brett went through the whole song and dance with the cop, lucky not to be arrested right then and there, I finally sent my message to the man. Then I waited for his response. However, before we started off again, Brett said, I think you should drive the rest of the way.”

What?” I asked, surprised. Why?”

I’m already in deep shit as it is,” he explained. And we can’t risk any more delays.”

Oh,” I replied.

The journey took us a few extra hours with me at the wheel, and the entire time I kept wondering if the man had replied to my message. But there was no way that I could look at my phone, not without risking our lives, so I tried to hold off as long as I could. However, once the gleaming lights of the city were in view, I knew that I had to ask Brett to check for me.

You should be focusing on the road,” was his initial response. But, after I badgered him enough, he said, Fine.”

I will tell you what to write back,” I explained while Brett read the thread. He was quiet for a long time. We were crossing over the bridge now.

He didn’t respond,” Brett suddenly said.

What? That can’t be true,” I replied.

He wrote, Hello!’ And then you wrote a block of text about rocking out. That’s all there is.”

No,” I said, you’re messing with me. Let me –”

Gunshots popped off in rapid succession, and shadowy figures started surrounding the car. Soon I could make out ten people, and all of them were wielding elaborate rifles.

Hand over cash, cards, and anything of value — like that phone there!” one of them shouted, though I couldn’t tell exactly who. They were all wearing the same thing. The only difference between them, really, was the color of their ties.

Ryan Bender-Murphy

IG: @ryan.bender.murphy

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