Tarantula

— Travis Hassenpflug

ABSALOM

“And please, a moment of silence in memory of today.” Simple as that, everyone around me inhales something solid, a piece of polished shrapnel. 7:59 A.M. I am seated and watching the lambs for the last time in my entire life. A sea of hollow heads bows all around as I stare forward.

“Let us never forget what happened on this day, and may we never forget the men and women of the United States military, and their great sacrifice defending us here at home.” A short, wide-eyed breath before I blink. The empty sea rises with a collective smile of extenuating purpose. I shift, contorting my spine.

“Ew Brick! Was that your neck?” Britney’s words spew from her, from a mile away. There is no time for a single sheep, so I meet her confusion with a growl. She returns to her natural state of fear and quiets her nonsense. I close back into the distance. She knows nothing of what is. She cowers like the rest of the herd, patiently waiting for their next order. I will stand.

“Now, on to the future,” the voice continues to pour hollowly into the cell. “For the seniors, there will be a mandatory assembly in the auditorium during the second half of first period. A bell will ring at 8:46, but it does not mean panic, it means only those select few are to rise and make their way to the assembly. The senior panoramic is today, so look sharp.” Sacarsio’s arachnid speech stretches through each cell. I scan where they have held me, the sheep surrounding me in their posture-deficient plastic encasements, their hands all at their genitals, too afraid to look up, playing with themselves or melting into a screen, the foul beasts. I adjust the collar of my jacket and cough as I unzip my backpack. Slowly reaching inside, the sound of the pills rattling in their container causes a few eyes to find me. A nation of addicts so they feel the need to tell me to slow down and cool off. They matter as much as Britney at this point, so I push deeper. I reach the bottom and can feel the steel of my becoming. Patiently I wait to awaken the dragon.

“–No one knows how to react with any poise these days,” Natasha sings. She is the last courageous person I have ever known. For her I clear a path. For her I make my march.

“Ok, that’s enough. Let’s get to the lesson.”

 

NATASHA

“And please, a moment of silence in memory of today.” Let’s roll, get it going here. 7:59 A.M. and the S.A.T. is already tattooing Alana’s board. She gets me. The whole world is worried about today, when I am fighting for tomorrow. How can anyone expect me to take a moment of silence? Dad has two advanced degrees and can’t get a job worth the price of admission. So what the fuck am I supposed to do? How can anyone be expected to be a functioning member of society, when the rules keep changing, let alone Absalom? Look at him. His eyes look to the floor more than I can stand for.

“Let us never forget–” I’m done here. Principal Sacarsio can say whatever she likes, but it is falling on deaf ears. I remember that day like it was yesterday, but that doesn’t mean I still have time to dedicate this far removed. If I can move on, we can all move on; it wasn’t something new just because it was new to us. Damn was that his back? He has to stop doing that in front of people.

“Ew Brick!” I look back and Britney is burning holes in Absalom. Cunt. I hate when people call him Brick. He is so beautiful when he is given a chance. Brilliant and hilarious when he opens up; but he keeps quiet under most circumstances. Naturally, kids isolated him. Once the fear starts, it is a tough cycle to break.

One time when we were little, when we first moved, like fourth grade, Jackson Narkey, Ivan Musan, and I think Landon Freeman tried to put him in the trash, and Absalom snapped. He howled like there was hell born in his bones, bit Freeman’s nose off, and just started swinging, didn’t stop until I got there. Dad says he burns hotter after Mom died than I do. That’s when Dr. Oleander came in, fucking quack. Drugs cannot cure everything.

“Now on to the future–” Shit, once again reminding me of the end of the world. Alana, I see you walking over to me, sure of every trotting movement. As she passes, she holds for a moment, her soft warm hand sliding over my shoulder. Every morning as she takes attendance during announcements, she makes her move, a subtle insinuation of affection. The speaker cracks off as Alana takes her place, pretending to look at everyone else but me.

“Hey, so, did you end up seeing her the other night?” Kendra whispers, jabbing me in the back with a pen. I roll my eyes and take a breath, because I know I have to say something. I have no time for this trivial shit. The surface of my generation erupts with this garbage; but I know, with the cosmos at our fingertips, we can change things for the better.

“Yes,” I whisper back.

“And? Did you hook up?” Kendra asks, and a few heads turn to me, including Alana’s. Her eyes lock in on me before she invisibly shakes herself back into reality. I love how she does that. She is not afraid, but she is aware, and there is a difference.

“God damn it, this is why I can never tell you anything. No one knows how to react with any poise these days,” I say. A few whispers flutter around the classroom, but I turned eighteen a week ago so fuck them.

“Ok, that’s enough. Let’s get to the lesson. December 29th, 1890, can anyone tell me what happened on this day?” Alana begins her lesson, yet another dive into the history of inhumanity as Absalom likes to say. I look over my shoulder. He is staring at something on Darby’s phone. His eyes flicker at the images on the screen and I already know he is watching one of those conspiracy videos.

Neither one of us told any of the kids here how we lost our Mom. I never felt the need to relive that day, when I can still smell the smoke in the air. He was obsessed with watching it after, said he found Mom, and that she chose to fall before she would burn. I just wondered how she could ever stop trying to find safety, how close to hell do you have to be before you choose the fall?

“I can’t believe it’s been ten years,” he whispers.

 

ABSALOM

“Can anyone tell me what happened on this day?” God, if they only knew. Alana Spinner, winner, winner, chicken dinner, sinner and shit-grinner—beautiful as the day she was born. She thought I couldn’t see her, brushing against my sister as if it were as simple as good morning. I could feel the heat. Natasha will need someone like Alana, someone rebellious and prideful to push her through the flames. She could never fully see me though. Command the room Alana, you are safe but the bell will ring soon. I know what you and my sister have planned during the assembly; thank you and you’re welcome.

“Hey Brick,” Darby whispers. “Brick, you gonna do it? Not like they ever knew either of us anyways.”

I snap a glance at him that shuts him the fuck up, but as I turn away I realize he was talking about our plan to ditch the panorama. “Yea, I’ll see you on the other side,” I whisper and reset my posture. Sorry Darby, I cannot take you with me.

“Check it out, did you ever see this?” Darby whispers, holding out his screen. “Shit is wild.”

The towers stand tall against the blue morning sky of the city, a breath away from catastrophe. Every unknowing citizen beginning his or her rise into the truth of the day, unaware that within a blink of an eye, a silent projectile of kidnapped humanity and steel will crash into them. And like that, a blink, it is almost majestic right before it actually happens. Just before the absolute moment of collision there is a moment of peace. Then an explosion of fire as consciousness changed forever.

I laugh with a bull’s breath and look at the time. “I can’t believe it’s been ten years,” I whisper. 8:40 A.M. I raise my hand.

“Women and children slaughtered in cold blood for the sake of—Yes, Absalom?” The whole class turns to me.

“I left my inhaler in my truck,” I smile.

“Is it an emergency?” She snips.

“It will be.” I can already see their lurching eyes and twisting flesh as they find me, so I stand.

“Just go Mr. Bickle. Here, take the pass,” she sighs with her hand stretching the baton out to me. Slowly, I walk toward her, my eyes never leaving hers. As I grab it from her she freezes, holding it tightly. “Do not be late to the assembly,” muffling her snarl with a smile, she looks past me. I don’t even have to turn. I know who she is looking at.

“I will be there Alana,” I say with a smirk.

I don’t know why, but I have to look back for a moment. Crownless heads trapped in desks, a sea of detainees, but I find Natasha centered in the eye of the storm, smiling up at me. Kendra yapping at her about Alana, I’m sure, but she is looking at me and I can see in the corners of her eyes that she knows.

People think that twins have to be born at the same time; that the binary nature of growing in a womb together is some how broken otherwise. I was born seven days before. Those seven days will have been the longest I have ever been away from her until now, so I stare into her knowing eyes. I smile with the hope that she will give me a final glimpse of something beautiful, but she has already become a ghost. For that, and only that, am I regretful.

I make it to my truck as the bell tolls. The seniors pour from their cells like roaches from the light, giving me just enough time to prepare for departure. I take out my Smith and Wesson Model 29 I had been bringing to class, feeling the cold weighted steel before holstering it at my ribs. Two 9mm Glocks at my hips, Granddad’s M1 Garand from when he was at the frozen Chosin, and a sawed off double barrel for good measure. Granddad taught me how to shoot before he died, true and straight as an unswerving arrow, inflexible and free.

I can almost hear them take their seats as I open my laptop. Finally all those years doing lighting for Natasha’s plays pays off, everything barreling to this point. The cracking of authority warming up a microphone and silencing the herd causes me to laugh as I lower the screen behind Sacarsio. I can hear the muffled gossip of confusion as the film begins to roll. I can hear the silent prayer for peace before implosion. This is when I begin my march.

Each time my boot touches pavement I hear the explosion of reaction to the Boeing 757 kissing the north tower before skipping back in time. I step calmly into the auditorium, every eye glued to the circling past. The explosion of reaction echoes once more—again and again, a never-ending cypher of peaceful silence and sudden fear. I take a long deep breath, filling every inch of my lungs as I take aim at the masses.

 

ALANA

“Is it an emergency?” I ask with a brittle piece of concern in my voice.

“It will be,” Absalom responds quicker than usual. I can see his bones shift as everyone stares at him.

How can it be that these two beautiful young people exist as a reflection of one another? Her eyes thankfully fixed to mine. His scornfully crashing back and forth.

“Just go Mr. Bickle. Here, take the pass.” I reach to him and I can see with every single step he takes that he is a fake. I know I am not supposed to say that but for the love of God, there can only be hope if the truth is brought to the surface. “Do not be late for the assembly.”

“I wouldn’t dare, Alana.”

He has never called me that before. It slithered from him almost. Even as he disappears from the classroom, I cannot shrug it. But the lesson must go on, so I smile and I do my very best to bring some sort of light into these future rulers of the world.

The bell rings and most of the children immediately stand, as they always do, waiting for the next moment with the breath before. Natasha slowly prepares to leave. She doesn’t move an inch once we are alone. I stand and slowly walk toward her.

“When I found out what happened to you kids, when you showed me, I guess I started to see him differently,” I say as I get close enough for her to take my hand. She shakes her head like a thought she had fought for so long had finally cornered her. She takes a deep breath and looks up with eyes fighting tears.

“It’s funny how trauma can change a person. It shatters differently for everyone, I guess.” She looks to the ground but her voice remains confident. I hear the rattle of something in her though. Something in her voice lashes in the same way Absalom’s did. “But that day though, the fear it created. The way it bled into the generations. We were children and we had to watch on a million screens, as the world began to burn.” I try to grab onto her somehow, but I only breathe heavier. “Many swallowed it and just burned, but some of us, we embraced it and made it ours. The chaos of it is, neither one seems to notice the other exists.” I flinch as she finds my gaze. “He lied to you Alana.”

“You are scaring me love,” I whisper, as a tear rolls down my cheek, leaving a clean trail as it falls.

“Good,” she states, taking a breath with it.

“What are you saying?” I don’t mean to, but I beg.

“He can breathe just fine.” Her eyes are dry as bones.

 


 

Travis Hassenpflug was born in Long Beach, California and raised in the greater Los Angeles area. He graduated from the Cal State Long Beach Film School with a focus in screenwriting. With every journey to a new part of the world, Travis finds that each moment, encounter, and life is a story. He hopes to tell as many as he can before his story is finished.