“Who wants to play some quarters?” Quarters was Kenny’s favorite game. A glass was placed into the middle of the table, and each of us took turns trying to bounce quarters into the glass. Whoever successfully got a quarter in the glass, picked someone to take a shot of liquor or a drink of beer. If you were picked to drink, you could take one bounce, if you made the quarter, then you could pass your drink to someone else. Kenny had perfect technique. He made every quarter he bounced, and never had to drink when he didn’t want to. It was his favorite game. Every time we played it, every one but Kenny was piss drunk.
“Dude, Kenny, everyone knows you’re the quarters savant. Only reason you want to play is because you never have to drink.” Steven crossed the room to join the rest of us at the metal, fold out, kitchen table. The table and four chairs were all collapsible. There was nothing of weight or permanence in the trailer.
“How about Kings?” Daniel offered as a substitute. The rest of us nodded in agreement.
“I’ll get the cards.” Kenny’s chair groaned as his weight shifted to standing.
“I’ve never played kings.” I stood to go make myself a drink, “how do we play.”
“I’ll teach you,” Daniel grabbed a soda from the cooler near the table. He popped it open, drank some, and then poured a bit of liquor into the top. “It’s not bad once you know what all of the cards do.
Each of us grabbed a drink while Kenny shuffled the cards. He put an empty glass in the center of the table and surrounded the empty glass with the face down playing cards. The whole arrangement looked like some alcoholic edible arrangement. “Draw,” He pointed to Steven.
“I got a King!” Steven shrieked with excitement.
Kenny smiled, “That means that you pour out some of your drink into the cup of death.”
“The cup of death, I like the sound of that.” Steven poured a bit of his drink into the center cup.
“What’re you drinkin’ there Stevie?” Daniel asked.
“Well good sir, I have a mix of Jagermeister and Red Bull.” The foam from Steven’s drink was still lowering in the cup of death.
“So whoever draws the fourth king has to chug the cup of death.” Daniel spun his glass around on the table top.
“Oh, Jesus.” I hoped that I never had to taste the cup of death.
“Alright, now it’s my turn.” Daniel reached forward and flipped a card it was a ten. “Ten is categories. So, what you do is I’ll pick a category. Let’s do Muscle Cars. We go around and name muscle cars until someone can’t name one.”
“Whoever can’t think of one has to drink.” Kenny clarified. “Daniel goes first.”
“Firebird.” He started.
“Mustang.” Kenny went next.
“Camaro.” I said.
“Umm.” Steven was drawing a blank.
“Really? There’s like a million more.” Daniel laughed.
“Goddamnit, I know.” Steven was snapping his fingers in an effort to jog his memory. It wasn’t working. “Fuck.” Steven took a drink.
“My turn,” Kenny flipped an Ace. “Oh shit boys,” he clapped his hands. “Waterfall.”
“I don’t know I like the sound of that.” I chuckled.
“You hold your drink up, we all toast and then you have to drink until either you finish your drink or the person before you in the order stops.” Daniel explained.
“So the person before me is Kenny?” I clarified.
“Right, so I can’t stop drinking until he does. Or I finish my drink.” I looked down at my tall Jack and Coke.
Kenny noticed my trepidation. “You might as well just plan on finishing it Stevie.”
“Damn. I made it strong too.” I whined.
“Bet you won’t make that mistake again.” Stevie picked up his beer.
“Wow Stevie, you graduated to beer. What happened to your wine coolers?” Steven drank wine coolers for a while, and despite our best efforts to shame him out of it, he resisted because he just “liked the way they tasted.”
“We’ll see whose a pussy later whenever you’re heaving your guts.” Steven laughed.
“Shut up the both of you, let’s drink.” Kenny held his can out, and we each clacked our glasses and cans with his. Everyone put their glasses to their lips in unison, and each of us were looking at one another over the rim of our drinks, waiting for the moment when we could decide to punish our friends or save ourselves.
I kept my eyes on Kenny. He comfortably chugged his glass, and he didn’t look to slow down at all. I could hear glugging, gulping, and the occasional cough. Since Kenny drew the ace, he set the pace for everyone else. If Kenny finished his drink, I had to finish mine. If I finished my drink, then Steven had to finish his. If Steven finished his, then Daniel had to finish his.
Kenny slammed his empty glass on the table. “Finish it, Mikey.”
I continued drinking. The carbonation from the Coke burned my throat, and as I neared the bottom of the glass, the sweet Coke was replaced with the sharp bite of bourbon. My head would be swimming soon enough. I slammed my glass on the table, and looked at Kenny in triumph. “Finish it Stevie.”
Steven crunched the beer can in his hand and threw it across the room. The can sprayed a little beer on the floor as it made its flight. He let out a long belch. “Finish it Daniel.”
Daniel lowered his drink, took a breath and then finished it. He slammed his cup on the table, and someone banged on the front door. We all jumped out of our skin. My stomach churned and roiled, filled to bursting with soda and booze. I belched into my hand in panic. A little vomit rose to the back of my throat. The beating on the door resumed. Light from a flashlight peaked through the window above the kitchen sink.
“Fuck.” Kenny jumped up out of his chair. Daniel and I shoved bottles and empty cups into every available hiding place. The pounding returned once more, and the doorknob shook.
“Ok. We got it all put away.” I whispered to Kenny.
“Stevie, Mikey, and Dan, go, hide in the bedroom.” Kenny moved toward the door and waited for everyone who was under age to be safely out of sight.
Del and Gray stayed in the living room. Staring absent-mindedly into the glow of television. I piled in the bedroom with the others. I lowered myself to the floor and peaked under. I could make out Kenny’s feet and shadow. He stood at the door. Del whispered a reminder not to let the cops in “unless they got a warrant.”
Gray reminded Kenny as well, that “everyone out here is legal. No harm in having a party if everyone is legal.”
I heard Kenny take several deep breaths before he slid back the bolt on the door and threw it open. The room was silent.
“Hmmm.” Kenny mumbled. “No one here.”
“Think they left?” Del wondered.
“It weren’t the cops then.” Gray noted, “They don’t just stop in and leave.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya’ll.” Kenny sounded a little farther away, “No one’s out here.”
Steven tapped me on the shoulder. I waved his hand away, keeping my face against the bottom of the door, but he persisted, tapping me harder. I turned and he pointed to the open door to Daniel’s bathroom. Dull yellow light flickered around the edges of the windows. The outline of a hand fumbled, feeling for the edge of the window, working at opening it.
I nearly screamed.
Steven held a single finger up to his face to keep up all quiet. He whispered in my ear, “cops can’t just break into your house can they?”
“Not supposed to be able to without a warrant, right?”
“What do we do?”
I crawled across the floor and pulled the bathroom door closed without a sound. The hands were still fumbling around the window, but they seemed more sure in their movements.
Kenny opened the door to the bedroom and the bright light from the living room nearly blinded me. His voice boomed, “Ya’ll comin’ out or what?”
Daniel waved his hands and hushed him, “there’s someone trying to get in the bathroom.”
“What?” Kenny whispered back. “Hell with this.” Kenny trudged loudly from the bedroom. The rest of us followed behind. Kenny disappeared back the opposite hallway, and he wasn’t long in returning with the billy club he kept under his bed. “I’m going out there.” He pointed to Del and Gray. “Grab something heavy and get off your asses.”
Kenny threw the door open and we followed him out into the darkness. We all decided, without speaking, to let Kenny take the lead. He walked on his toes, sneaking around the trailer toward the back where we saw reflected light from the mystery invader’s flashlight.
Kenny crouched low, and tiptoed, creeping. He burst around the corner all at once, the short club raised. There was a burst of shouting and general commotion. Del and Gray followed Kenny around the corner and doubled over in laughter. “Jesus Christ Jeb, we thought you was the cops,” Gray laughed and wheezed and coughed.
“Well, ya’ll had the porch light out. I knocked on the door. No one came out. So I started bangin’ on it. It got quiet, so I was trying to see inside with my flashlight.”
The rest of us drifted around the corner out into the yard. Kenny pointed, “It’s a good thing Jeb wasn’t some burglar come to kill us, ya bunch of cowards.”
“I knew it was Jeb the whole time.” Steven put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath.
“So did I. I’ll kill any man says I was scared. I definitely didn’t piss in my pants a little.” I put an arm around Steven’s shoulders.
“Ya’ll were lucky I was here to protect you.” Del smiled.
Daniel pulled a cigarette from his pack and lit it. We each followed his lead and stood around talking and blowing smoke into the air. One by one we crushed our cigarettes under our feet and walked back inside.
Jeb joined our game of kings, and we each pounded drink after drink until the world started to spin. I rubbed my face, the nerves were numb. It felt fuzzy.
Steven and Daniel disappeared to the bedroom to smoke weed in the bathroom and blow the smoke into the vent.
Del and Gray sat on the couch in the living room, slackjawed and staring into the glow of the television. Alicia had been sleeping in the back room since before Jeb arrived. How she ever rested with all of the commotion I’ll never know, but the moment she disappeared into the bedroom, the indoor smoking embargo was lifted. We opened all the windows and started the ceiling fans.
When Steven and Daniel emerged from the bedroom, the smell of marijuana wafted from the throughout the rest of the house. The two of them giggled and shared a bag of chips, which Steven dropped on the floor to swat at some of the bugs that had gathered around the various lights and lamps that lit the tiny trailer’s living room. “Look at all these damn bugs in here,” Steven flailed wildly around, swatting at the swirling insects. “Something’s gotta be done about this,” he shrieked, “and I’m just the man for the job.”
Steven nearly sprinted to the bedroom, and he slammed the door behind. The sounds of opening and closing drawers rapped and thudded on the other side of the wall.
“What do you think he’s doing in there?” Kenny asked the group.
“Hard to tell.” Gray answered without turning his head.
“Probably grinding up another bowl.” Daniel giggled and crunched another hand full of chips.
The bedroom door flew open with force and Steven jumped out of the darkness. He had an old red T-shirt wrapped around his head. Bath towels with knots tied in the end were hanging from his sides as extensions of his hands. He had taken his shirt off and tied a large Dale Earnhardt towel around his neck to serve as a cape.
“I’m Bug Man, and it’s time to go on bug patrol.” Steven said in triumph. “I will put an end to the buggy menace.” Steven flung the knotted towels around his head like a helicopter, occasionally stopping to fling one out in a whipping motion. He stepped into the middle of the swarm, and the bugs swirled and broke around the towels.
“I don’t know I’m seeing right now,” Daniel chuckled. “But I like it.” He absent-mindedly shoved another handful of chips into his face. Steven moved toward the open window by the couch where Del and Gray sat. Steven stepped up to the couch and then shoved Del and Gray aside. “Excuse me citizen, but I have to save the day.”
“What the fuck’re you doin’?” Gray groaned to shift his weight to the side to make room for Steven, who stepped up onto the couch to swat at bugs near the ceiling, bumping his head and losing his makeshift hat in the process. “Oh you’re a biggin” Steven swiped at a small helgrammite that had somehow found its way inside unnoticed. The bug’s size and shape was unsettling, two large wings, a skinny body, and large antennae and pincers protruding from the head. If I’d of seem it sooner, I would’ve refused to be in the house until it was dead. “Don’t worry citizens, I’ll destroy this invader.” Steven whipped the towel at the helgrammite, and it flew from where it rested on the wall toward Steven’s face. At the last possible second, the helgrammite swerved and brushed the Steven’s cheek.
The mighty bug hunter dropped, screaming into Gray’s lap, a look of pure terror in his eyes.
“Goddamnit Stevie” Gray pushed Stevie roughly onto the ground. “You’re killin’ my buzz with your dumb shit.”
“It’s in my ear!” Steven released a piercing shriek and clawed at the side of his head. “It’s in my ear. It’s gonna eat my brains. It knows I killed it’s friends.”
Kenny ran across the room, suddenly concerned about the noise. “Shut the fuck up,” he hissed and pulled Steven’s hand away. “I’ll get it out, but shut up. Alicia is scarier than any bug if you wake her up.”
Steven lay still and gritted his teeth with the effort while Kenny pulled out his keychain flashlight to shine in Steven’s ear. Kenny took his pinky and shoved it deep in Steven’s ear. When he pulled it loose, Steven stopped squirming and sat up. Kenny held his pinky up to Steven’s face. “There’s what stopped the mighty bug man in his tracks. A gnat.”
“It wasn’t the big one?” Steven whimpered.
“Nope. Not bigger than the head of a pin.” Kenny laughed.
“For God sake,” Del shook his head.
Daniel poured the crumbs from the empty bag of chips into his mouth and then groaned. “Shit, you guys. We’re out of snacks.”
I stood up in triumph “I know just the man for the job! Bob Sheetz.”
“You don’t mean…” Daniel laughed.
“Oh I do. Bob Sheetz of the Sheetz line of convenience stores.” I replied.
“Do you mean the same Sheetz that sells chili dogs?” Steven jumped up from the floor.
“Two for a dollar.” I nodded. “I’m going to finish this drink first, though.” I took deep pulls from my glass and droplets spilled from the sides of my mouth. I slammed the empty glass down and stood up. “Let’s go!”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Daniel held his hands up. “We can’t drive.”
I looked around, and it was clear no one, including me, was fit to drive. My face was numb and my eyes rested comfortably half open. Daniel was slouched in the corner. Del and Gray were rooted to the couch. Kenny was the most sober, but he was still thoroughly trashed. Steven still had his cape tied around his neck.
“We’ll just have to walk them.”
“Comeon, it’s not that far.” The glow of the Sheetz store was visible over the tree line. “We just gotta walk through the graveyard down to the highway. Or we can cut through the trees.”
“Fuck that man, I don’t wanna walk on dead people.” Steven whined.
“You’re not walking on dead people Steven, Jesus.”
“Yeah Steven don’t you want chili dogs?”
Steven nodded, slowly like a child who just got his way after a tantrum.
“Well sack up then. What happened to the mighty bug man?”
“Well all the bugs are outside. Do you want revenge?”
“Hell yeah, I want revenge.”
“Well then let’s go!”
Daniel and Steven staggered to the door. “Are you guys comin’?” I looked at Del, Gray, Jeb and Kevin each in turn. Del stood and cracked his back, “I think we are gonna hit the road. Come on Gray.” Del pawed at his brother who stretched his arms above his head and let out a loud yawn.
“I think I’m gonna head out too fellars. It’s been great throwin’ a few back, but I gotta work in the morning.” Jeb always had to work in the morning.
Gray smacked his lips a bit and then let Del pull him up from the couch. Kenny walked over and looked in Del’s eyes. “You all good to drive?”
“We didn’t drink nothing. We’ll blow clean if we get stopped.” Del answered.
“I drank plenty, but this ain’t my first rodeo.” Jeb twirled his keys on the end of his finger.
Kenny nodded to Jeb, a silent admission that Jeb could handle his own liquor, and a silent recognition that Jeb would never snitch if he were to get pulled over. Kenny turned a suspicious side eye at Del and Gray though, “You guys didn’t drink?”
“Nope.” Del affirmed. “Let’s go Gray.” Jeb followed Del and Gray out the door and Kenny walked behind the trio out into the dim porch light. Kenny always watched people leave. It was just another extension of his strange vision of himself as the father figure for our group of misfits; I guess he wanted to make sure Del and Gray at least got out of the drive way safely.
I grabbed my jacket and shoes from the floor near the door. “Alright, let’s go.” Daniel and Steven followed my lead, drunkenly squeezing into their shoes and struggling to their coat on right side out and right side up. It took Steven three tries before he had it right.
Kenny stood near the door chuckling, “you sure ya’ll are up for this?”
“We got this.” My head was swimming in booze. The room tilted under my feet. I noticed that, when I laughed a big belly laugh, I leaned back way farther than I should’ve, and I nearly lost my balance each time I bent over to pick something up from the floor. But I felt confident that we could make the trip across the graveyard and through the woods. I had a brief vision of myself as the mighty hunter, navigating by the stars and returning to camp with a meal for those who were not brave enough to hunt themselves. I made a drink for the road, mixing Coke and a little rum in an empty plastic water bottle. Daniel and Steven took a drink for the road as well, agreeing that walking would probably kill our buzz.
“Want anything Kenny?” Daniel asked before stepping through the open door.
Kenny shook his head, “I’m goin’ to bed. Hopefully Alicia slept through all that bullshit.”