by CG Thompson

Standing on the deck where he was electrocuted two years ago, Cory says, ‘I’m no longer defined by parking my car in other people’s yards.’

It’s then that I know the friendship is over, that what people say about high school friends going separate ways is true.

‘Whatever,’ I say. 

Senior year, we celebrated graduation by heading for the beach in the middle of the night. We ran out of gas, glided into a stranger’s yard, fell asleep with the car doors open. We were awakened before dawn, police flashlights lurking like a hovering spacecraft. ‘War of the Worlds,’ Cory had said.

‘I’m having my tats removed,’ he says now. ‘Investment banks frown on them.’

‘Got it,’ I say. I try to reconcile holes-in-the-jeans, slacker Cory with this chino-wearing, buzz-cut guy.

‘It’s all random,’ Travis mumbles. He’s standing beside me, as lost as I am. Cory is talking in a radio-announcer’s voice and holding his head back so he can look down on us, even though we’re all the same height.

‘Excuse me,’ Cory says. ‘There are people I need to see.’

‘Are we not people?’ Travis asks. He looks at his beer like he’s never seen it before. Earlier, Cory asked him to put out his cigarette – Cory the two-pack-a-day smoker from high school.

‘I’m not that guy anymore,’ he’d said.

‘He’s a pod,’ Travis says. He’s talking about aliens stealing human bodies and creating emotionless beings in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The three of us used to work at the same movie-rental place, until it went out of business. We liked old-school horror and science-fiction.

I finish my beer and toss it in the container marked RECYCLABLES, GLASS. Too bad there’s not a RECYCLABLES, PLASTIC, a better description of Cory’s new friends.

‘Where did he find these people?’ Travis asks. He puts a cigarette in his mouth.

This party, if you can call it that, is a nightmare where everyone is gathered in tight groups, emitting no light. I’m not sure why Cory invited us, except to show how well he’s doing. Out of college in three years, starting an MBA program in the fall.

A girl saunters by, consulting her iPhone. She has the studied walk of someone who’s on her way up. I knew girls like that in high school, never liked them. Cory felt the same way. Now he plans to be a millionaire within the next ten years. Maybe he’ll marry one of these girls, sturdy prenup in place.

‘Dude’s too good for his past,’ Travis says. He lights the cigarette, takes a puff, drops it, watches for a moment before stepping on it.

Beside us, a guy in expensive shoes is toeing at a knothole on the deck and talking about derivatives and financial instruments. I want to ask if a financial instrument looks like a saxophone or more like a drum kit.

‘How would you interpret this party if it were a movie?’ I ask Travis.

‘Well, the acting sucks.’

Cory is leaning on the railing and gesturing with his wine glass, looking like he’s giving a speech. He’s had his teeth whitened.

‘I need another beer,’ I say.

Travis and I head to the kitchen, where he leaves his empty in the sink, and I dig through the cooler. Everything is imported.

When I close the lid, Travis sits on it and says, ‘The party’s a metaphor for leaving old friends behind and becoming totally shallow.’ 

I study the plates on the counter and pick up something that might be cheese. ‘The Matrix,’ I say, remembering Cypher, the villain who eats a steak despite knowing it’s computer-generated, that the whole world is a computer simulation.

‘Too new, but it’ll work.’ Travis eyes his beer suspiciously.

For a moment, a calm falls over the room. I recognize it from high school, when the three of us would feel we’d made sense of things. Travis shakes another cigarette from the pack, unrolls it, dusts tobacco onto the cooler.

‘Wonder what his friends would think if they knew Cory electrocuted himself on purpose?’ I ask.

‘They’d be shocked, shocked. Then they’d take their expensive wine and designer clothes to higher ground.’

‘Not to suggest they’re shallow.’

‘Not to.’

Cory wasn’t trying to kill himself, but did a good imitation, rewiring his amplifier so it wasn’t grounded, taking it onto the deck in a storm, plugging in his guitar. His wanted to scare his girlfriend, who’d broken up with him. He told the doctors it was an accident so they wouldn’t send him to the psych ward.

‘It was just like The Thing,’ he said in the hospital.

‘Yeah, just like it,’ Travis agreed. ‘Except we’re not in the Arctic, you’re not from another planet, and the military isn’t trying to kill you.’

‘Do these people ever eat?’ Travis asks.  He glances around the empty kitchen then stands and plants his bottle in the guacamole.

‘I can’t believe you did that.’

He shrugs as we step outside and see Cory with his arm around a girl who’s almost as tall as he is. She’s thin in a deliberate way, and her perfectly blonde hair looks like it was cut five minutes ago. It’s hard to believe she has any imagination, other than dreaming up ways to make money.

‘I‘m thinking no Beer Pong tonight,’ Travis says.

‘I’m thinking a boob job and lots of time in tanning booths.’

‘Who, Cory?’ Travis lights a cigarette, as if to summon him, which it does. Cory whispers something to the girl then heads toward us.

Pas de fumer.’

Travis leans against the brick facade. ‘But there should be smoking in this film. You were in a movie once. Except the power went to your head.’

‘Douchebag.’

‘Pod.’

‘Some friendly advice? In the real world, movie references don’t get you very far. Neither do T-shirts, shorts, and flip flops.’ Cory pronounces neither with a long i.

‘You were the director, too. The soundstage was over there.’

‘Travis,’ I warn. The calm was long ago.

‘What was over there?’ The girl has materialized at Cory’s side.

‘Nothing,’ I say. ‘Old movie.’

She‘s not listening. She doesn’t look at me, exhales a bored ‘Oh.’

‘The extras were just leaving,’ Cory says.

‘Watch the skies,’ Travis tells him.

C.G. Thompson was a runner-up for the 2017 Barry Hannah Prize in Fiction and has fiction upcoming in Prime Number Magazine. Her short stories and poems have appeared in Yalobusha Review, North Carolina Literary Review, Main Street Rag, Boston Literary Magazine, and Redheaded Stepchild, among others.