In a world where days and nights last a year each, some people choose to spend their entire lives chasing the day, or running from the night.
“But then again, we’re both assholes aren’t we Pete?”
“Honestly, I don’t care what you think.”
With a grunt, J swung his pack around his body and propped it temporarily on his knee in order to lower it on the ground as softly as possible. As it reached the ground, the pan and water bottles dangling on the outside of it played a familiar tune against the hardwood floor, but then abruptly revealed the stern face of a boy standing in the doorway across the room.
“Hey Buddy! How are you?” The greeting rang through the house with an enthusiasm the boy had never heard before, causing him to wince as if his hearing might be impaired.
“You shouldn't put that there, it’s in the way and not where it belongs.” He stated softly, with an air of certainty, but lacking confidence.
“Ah, yes! You’re absolutely correct. Where exactly does it belong in then?”
The boy stepped forward into the kitchen, arms crossed and leaned over to peer down a hallway to his right. Unsatisfied with the options it provided, he marched passed J, who was watching curiously with a smile and whipping his forehead of sweat with the back of his hand. The boy looked into the living room, then opened the coat closet near the front door, only to close it right after with a huff. After repeating the process for another closet and a large cupboard, he stomped over to the pack and stared down at it with his hands on hips.
“We don’t have a place for things like this!” He was much louder this time, and clearly frustrated. “It’s too big and it stinks. We don’t need anything like it, so we don’t need to have a place for it. If I did have one, I’d probably just throw it away!”
“Hey now, that’s not fair now is it! Maybe it’s your floor that stinks!” J bent down and rolled the pack slightly to reveal some of the hardwood underneath and, with his face to the floor, took a much larger than life sniff.
“Stop that!” The boy shouted, “I scrubbed that floor myself! It doesn’t stink and I know it!”
J looked up in disgust and began to cough exaggeratedly while trying to speak. “I don’t know,” he paused and pinching his nose continued with a nasally voice, “I think your floor might have ruined my bags delicious smell of mountain valleys and river beds! I'm sure it smelled like the sun before I sat it down.”
“NO!” The boy stomped his foot and then bent down to examine the floor in question, “Your disgusting bag ruined my mother’s floor!” Nearly livid, he dropped down, smell the floor and prove J wrong for good. J smiled devilishly, then let the bag go, allowing it to roll back to it’s original position, nearly trapping the boy’s face beneath it.
“Whoops, I think you might be right!” said J, pretending to smell his hand as if letting go had been an accident, “my hand smells terrible!”
“You stupid jerk! You did that on pur-”
“Benjamin!” A woman’s voice spoke out in horror, causing both J and Benjamin to look quickly towards the front door where she stood, hand over her chest and a basket of folded laundry on her hip. “Never speak to a guest like that!”
“No excuses young man, a guest is a guest and we should always treat them with respect!” She walked purposefully past the two as they scrambled to reach their feet and make a path for her to get by.
“I apologize ma’am, I did antagonize him a bit!”
“Nonsense, he knows better. Now Benjamin, apologize to J and take this basket to your room.”
Benjamin, now on his feet and head slightly hung, took the basket and turned towards J only briefly, mumble something indistinguishably, spun on his heel and then made his way briskly towards his room.
“I just don’t know what’s got--”
“Now, there’s a kid that’s going places!” J interrupted enthusiastically. He had a youthful smile on his face that contrasted the wear that years of continuous sunlight had left on his face. Sarah had mixed emotions about the rather gruff delivery of the compliment, and decided it best to simply reply with a smile.
“How about I show you the bath. I can clean your clothes while you wash up and then you can join us for dinner!”
“Honestly, you needn’t go to such lengths ma’am, I’ve no money to pay you since my partner insists I can’t be trusted with it.”
“It’s no trouble at all, I've read about daywalkers since I was a young girl and all I ask in return is that you share a few stories of your travels with Benjamin and I.”
“Well, that’s easy enough!” And in that instant, it was as if J had lived there all his life. He stepped out of his boots with ease, and having decided he knew where the bath was, he made his way towards the door across the kitchen next to the hall, shucking a piece of clothing with every step. Before she could protest, J was in boxer shorts and staring perplexed into the pantry.
“The bath is separate from the house; around the back, under the, uh, oak tree…” Sarah looked to the floor and shielded her eyes from the now almost naked man in her kitchen. Embarrassed, she chuckled softly, but quickly suppressed it so as not to embarrass her guest.
Unembarrassed in the least however, J let out a guffaw and hopped merrily back across the kitchen and towards the front door. “Thanks for that, the last time I washed with flour it didn’t end so well. I just can’t help but think it would be more convenient though. After all, seems like the tiniest bit covers everything in sight! It would make the perfect travel soap, if only it were...” Only his head remained indoors as he paused to try and figure out exactly where he was going with that train of thought. Having spent 3 agonizing seconds too long on the subject however, he simply gave up all together and just laughed his way out, inadvertently slamming the door behind him. Now fully exposed, it became clear just how hot it really was outside. The sun was high in the sky, and without any cover, his skin felt vulnerable to each individual ray.
“What in the hell are you doing J?!” An angry voice rang out across from the other side of the sun scorched picket fence. “I thought you were collecting tarps, but no. Instead, you’re running around someone’s yard in your underwear! Why is it that you can't complete even your own self appointed tasks?” Standing there with a similar pack to J’s was a man slightly younger, but with far more wrinkles, particularly in the forehead region between his brows.
“Oh, hey Pete! Yeah, didn’t find any tarps, but I’m about to take a quick bath before dinner. I’ll keep you posted if the tarp situation changes at all!” J began to practically skip as he made his way around the corner of the red house, quite happy with the current scene that Pete had walked up on.
“What? No! Stop! What are you doing? We don't have time for any of that! We’re a hundred hours behind schedule as it is, look at your shadow J, it’s practically a foot long now!” Pete screamed from the fence while adjusting his pack, preparing to drag J out the whosoever yard he had barged himself into. Just then, Sarah opened the door and looked outside.
“Oh, I’m very sorry ma’am, it seems my friend here has imposed himself on your home; he has a tendency to do that.” Having no idea exactly how much trouble J may have caused by now, he dropped his pack and let himself in through the gate, intending on collecting his half naked partner as quickly as possible. “I’ll have him dressed and out of your way in no time! J! Stop messing around!”
“Oh no, he’s fine! Why don’t you join him? You can’t expect to eat dinner in that state anyway,” Sarah suggested with a smile, shutting the door before Pete had a chance to protest.
With a sigh, Pete gazed up at the vivid blue sky where only a single small cloud, unable to provide shade to anyone this far below it,moved slowly northward. The sun was ever so slightly more to the west than they were, and at this rate they’d be caught in the twilight in less than 3000 hours. Pete feared twilight more than night, much like one fears holding a razor blade more than actually being cut. The slow, weaning hours of the light gave way to an indescribable anticipation of total darkness. That anxiety alone would drove him mad, and if he was to avoid that, they absolutely must keep moving west.
“Come on Pete! The water is cool! I promise, after dinner we’ll double down and make up for it, but for now let’s enjoy Sarah’s hospitality! Her and Benny want to hear all about our travels!”
They hadn't passed a stream in several days, so, reluctantly, Pete retrieved his pack and dropped it beside the large barrel tub. J, having submerged himself, burst from the water’s surface and with a loud sigh of relief, leaned back against the edge of the tub to take in the view. Scanning the horizon, the red house sat alone along the singular dirt path they had been following. Nothing but yellowish, half alive grass and the occasional solitary oak tree filled his view for miles.
“This is what it’s all about Pete! Enjoying the day forever!”
“That’s not what it’s all about J. It’s about survival! And I...” His voice trailed off, and as he unbuttoned his shirt and laid it across his pack, he decided not to finish the thought.
“Well, that’s why we work Pete. You keep running from the night and I’ll keep chasing the day. Don’t let me get to lazy now, or we’ll both be miserable!” Pete didn’t bother to reply, J had his head back, staring through the leaves to the sky above with an exhausting smile. A smile that said he wasn’t listening anyway. Pete stepped into the bath. It was indeed cool, hidden from the heat by the large oak tree next to it, and it did a great job in easing Pete’s anxiety.
With a slight grin, Pete said jokingly, “you’re an asshole, you know that J?”