Chapter XLII

It was vacuum packed and frozen, but even with the thin layer of covering the plastic Ash could see inside. He examined the package, trying his hardest to keep his meager breakfast down as the read the description on the package: chitterlings.

     Pig guts.

     “Disgusting,” he said. He turned toward Steven, still several feet behind him, tossing package after package of prepackaged deli meat into the cart. “Do people really eat these?”

     “What, never had a sausage before?” Steven asked with a smile. He pushed the cart just past Ash, stopping as soon as they met eye-to-eye. “That’s basically what they use to case them. The good sausage anyway.”

     The hybrid shrugged, and laid the package back down in the freezer. “I’m more of a beef frank guy,” he said, scouring labels boxes for something a bit more palatable.

     Roderigo stepped between them. “If they’re not wrapped in that, they’ll be wrapped in sheep intestine,” he said, placing several cans of tuna and salmon into the cart. “And the cheap stuff will just be wrapped in cellulose.”

     “Those I don’t mind,” Ash replied. He wondered why–he’d never eaten pork in his life, so maybe his lack of familiarity with the meat made it seem more disgusting than it should be. He pushed it out of his mind, instead lifting a package of freshly cut, pink meat. He studied it intensely, runninger along the thick bone in the center, careful not to puncture the plastic with his nail. “Pork chops,” he said, tossing them into the cart. He grabbed a few more packages from the top of the pile. “Can’t wait to find out what they taste like.”

     Steven couldn’t help but feel a bit worried. Recent events aside, Ash was very observant of his faith. He’d been raised in a family that was very religious, and the furthest he’d strayed from his faith had been marrying Anne, something that wasn’t all that rare. He felt it was unhealthy for Ash to abandon a lifetime’s worth of customs so quickly. After all, even though Steven hadn’t been religious for years, he still celebrated Christmas and Easter. You just don’t walk away from your past like that.

     “You can get trichinosis from pork,” Steven said. He wasn’t sure why he said it; as much as Ash’s behavior was worrying him, there was no reason to discourage him from trying something new.

     “Only in under-cooked meat,” Roderigo said, “and it’s far more common in home-raised pork than the commercial product.”

     “Thanks, Seaman Buzzkill.”

     Ash chuckled. “Some say trichinosis is the reason why pork is non-kosher,” he said. He pulled the list from his pocket, and checked a few things off. “Then again, at the time the laws were written no one had a clue how illness worked, so that’s probably bunk.” He paused for a moment to scan the list. “We need milk, eggs and cheese.”

     “That it?” Steven asked.

     “Seems so,” Ash said. “Fiona made the list right? She didn’t seem to put much on here.”

     “Yeah, she’s not that good at groceries. Rod usually handles that. If you can think of anything while we’re here, go for it. Who knows when we’ll be able to shop again.”

     “Well, there’s coffee on the list,” Ash said, “so I should grab some cardamon. And since I’m going to be staying with you for a while… maybe I can get some things I’m more familiar with? I happen to make a killer stuffed pepper….”

* * *

Placing his last Morely between his lips, Carlton reached for his lighter. As he flicked the flint, he suffered an intense coughing fit. The lighter fell to the floor of the truck as be heaved, hitting the bare metal floor with a hard thock.

     As his lungs began to calm down, he could faintly taste the menthol on the butt of the filter filter. He reached down to the floor to grab the lighter, and–bringing it back to the cigarette–flicked the wheel once again. Only this time, there was no flame.

     Well fuck me. He flicked it again, and again it failed to light. Staring down at his dash, he gazed at the cord plugged into the port–the one for the lighter that had been missing for about three years. He sighed, and raised the old lighter back to the cigarette, once again flicking the flint and failing to produce a flame. “Fantastic.”

     “Need a light?”

     Carlton turned his head to see the young man peering into his truck with glassy eyes. The man had professionally dyed red hair, a slender face and an old, badly healed burn mark under his left eye; he looked familiar, but Carlton could not place him.

     “Yeah, I think so.”

     “Let me see,” the young man said.

     As he reached into the cabin, his hand jerked, something that caught Carlton’s eye immediately–it wasn’t a twitch or tremor, just an exaggerated and deliberate twist of the wrist, which the young man seemed to have been trying to suppress for at least a moment before it happened.

     “Tk-kit, tk-kit, tk-kit, tk-kit.” The sound burst from the young man’s mouth, causing him to jerk his head ever so slightly to his right with each syllable. Carlton forced himself to ignore it–it was clearly a tic, and he didn’t want to seem freaked out by it. Instead, Carlton handed him the cigarette, and watched as the young man studied the lighter, flicking the flint repeatedly.

     “I think it’s out of–”

     With one last flick, a flame appeared. The young man lit the cigarette and handed it and the lighter back to Carlton. “Just needs a little love, is all,” the young man said. The young man turned back without another word and began to vigorously walk toward the store.

     “Hey thanks!” Carlton shouted out. As another coughing spell took hold, he held the cigarette between his finger and clutched his chest. As soon as it passed, he took a deep breath, pausing only to gaze at the lighter.

     The plastic was cracked. There was no way he could have gotten it to work–all the butane had leaked out. As he stared hard at the metal top, he noticed that it was warped, and placing his finger on the side he could still feel the heat. It was impossible.

     What the unholy fuck?

     For a few minutes he let the absurdity of the situation sink in, puffing gently on the cigarette and studying the lighter. How the hell had he gotten it to light, and how did the lighter get hot enough to warp the metal? As he puzzled it, Carlton caught a flash of red light out of the corner of his eye. Wasting no time, he leaped from the truck and grabbed an attache case from under the back seat.

  1. Carcharocles

    So yeah, something’s very wrong with Carlton. He should quit smoking. And I’m not so sure Ash is dealing with previous events as well as he should. A diet change isn’t so bad, but when you’re abandoning a religious custom you were raised on, a little more thought should go into it, don’t you think?

    There’s a bit going on here calling back to a previously written, unpublished work. Without going into spoiler territory, let’s just say that this red-haired young man has some history with a certain dead poacher.

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