Membrainwritten by fallingwthstyle - illustrated by Burnawayy, kennymcshamrock, Marie, and Anonymous
Stan is a handful of months from his 30th birthday, and hates his life and being an adult. Once a year he gets away from it and reconnects with the one thing he still has left of his childhood, the only time in his life when things made sense: Kyle. And even that connection is fading away. He would give anything to go back to those simpler days, fix a few mistakes they both made along the way, and most of all relive it and pay more attention this time. One strange night, he gets the chance to. Chapters are numbered out of order for a reason.
When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look, but it was gone,
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown, and the dream is gone...
Another meteor streaked across the star filled sky, dropping toward the pines ringing Stark's Pond before disappearing in a brilliant flash of light. Stan looked over at his once super best friend just as Kyle used his ridiculous broken Bic lighter to light a cigarette. A two-inch flame roared in Kyle's face. Stan winced as he looked away (too late) from the glare.
"Ow, Kyle!" Stan said, staring at the ground and into the brilliant afterimage that hellish flame had seared into his retina, trying and failing not to sound genuinely annoyed. "There goes my night vision for a while!."
"Oh, yeah." Stan heard Kyle exhale. He couldn't see anything around him, only that garish snapshot of Kyle's face filling his vision in sickly green and violet; blinking brightened it momentarily and he squeezed his eyes shut, hard. "Sorry about that, dude."
Stan bit down an angry retort and settled back into his chaise lounge, staring off past his Nikes. His vision slowly began to return; across the pond, pine trees rose above their own weak inverted reflections.
Kyle took another drag on his cigarette. The smell of tobacco filled the night while Stan tried to get past his annoyance. He couldn't see the stars, and Kyle had completely missed one of the brightest meteors he had seen in years. And he was being his usual antisocial, dickish self.
Then again, it had been years since one of their annual campouts to watch August's Perseid meteor showers had been anything even approaching what could be called 'fun'.
An uneasy silence descended while Kyle finished his cigarette. Stan could begin to see the brightest stars again, but there'd been no new meteors. More and more, he was realizing this would probably be their last campout together, his final link to a past he remembered fondly finally being broken. He finally spoke.
"I'm gonna get a beer." He swung his leg around, putting both feet on the ground, preparing to stand up. "You want one?"
He knew what Kyle's answer would be even before he finished asking the question. "I want to smoke another joint."
Stan looked toward the ground, Kyle's face in sickly green and neon yellow and that hellish flame still hovering just above the dirt and pine needles under his chair. "We only have one left." He really wanted to be able to get high first thing tomorrow morning, 'wake and bake' with Kyle one last time before they parted ways and returned to their lives, perhaps for the last time. "Maybe we can smoke half of it now, and save the rest for morning?"
Kyle nodded. Stan reached into his shirt pocket and removed their last joint and gave it a long look before handing it over. He remembered to close his eyes before Kyle lit it, took a deep drag and passed it. Stan took a deep toke off it and handed it back, squeezing his eyes shut tightly as the smoke burned inside his chest. They took three hits apiece before Stan leaned down to press the glowing tip against the metal leg of his lounge chair, extinguishing it and handing it back to Kyle.
"Here, put that in your cigarette pack. It'll be safer than in my pocket." The effect of the pot was just beginning to hit him, like a soft blanket being drawn over his thoughts.
Kyle took it and did as he was asked, removing another cigarette. Stan stood and looked away. "You want that beer now?"
"Sure." Behind him, Kyle's lighter lit up the night.
Stan walked away toward what was left of their campfire; his SUV and Kyle's old yellow tent were on the other side of it, barely illuminated by the glow from the dying embers. He crouched down beside the fire; a few small flames fumed above orange coals. He added a dozen small branches to the fire, sighing as he felt his buzz coming on stronger along with a wave of depression he'd been battling for two days in anticipation of tonight. He was almost certain this would be the last of their August meteor-watching campouts, and if it was, he would mourn the loss of this final connection he felt to the Elysian days of his childhood.
Once the branches began to burn, he stood up and walked to his SUV. It was a huge vehicle, a Ford Expedition, bigger than he really needed, purchased a year ago with most of the $30,000 he'd won in the lottery. His shadow fell across the back hatch as he opened it, and as he reached inside to lift the lid of his cooler it hit him: A black wall of depression he'd been trying to hold at bay crashed through his defenses and overwhelmed him. He had never felt as far from his childhood as he did right now.
He opened the ice chest and removed two cans of Budweiser. There was still over a case and a half of beer left; they might not be able to get high tonight, but they could get as drunk as they wanted to.
He lingered for a long moment, looking into the cooler and wondering how his life had come to this. It had been exactly a year since the last time he had seen Kyle. Somehow they were both still clinging to this annual ritual, one that Stan knew he was going to have to finally let go of. Ahead lay the horror of middle age, and he didn't want to think about what came after that.
Stan recalled a meteor they had seen when they were about eleven; it had been brighter even than the one he'd seen a few minutes ago, briefly lighting up Kyle's backyard like a flashbulb. They'd looked at each other in wonder, and then cheered, and hours later crawled into Kyle's tent for a couple hours of whispered conversations and broken sleep, followed by pancakes and laughter at the Broflovski kitchen table.
Stan shook his head and took out one of the unopened twelve packs and slammed the back hatch. He figured he'd save himself another trip to the cooler in five minutes. He carried the beer past the tent, past the fire which was burning brightly again and casting moving patterns of light and shadow on the nearby trees, and sat down in his chair next to Kyle. He had expected Kyle to be bored and staring off into space, but instead he was sitting up, smoking yet another cigarette and looking intently at something on the other side of Stark's Pond through Stan's binoculars.
"Look over there, Stan," Kyle said, handing him the binoculars and taking the beer Stan held out to him. Stan aimed the binoculars where Kyle had been looking. A dim orange light flickered in the pine trees off in the distance, and other, smaller white lights slowly moved near it. Kyle opened his beer. "That's a campfire...and at least two motorcycles, and I think I see a tent. It looks like there's someone else camping out over there."
Stan lay back down in his chair, opening his own beer and setting the rest on the ground beside him. He emptied half the can in three swallows. "I wonder if they've seen us," he mused, wishing he hadn't tended their own fire a minute ago.
Within moments, it became obvious they had been seen. Two pairs of headlights began weaving their way through the trees toward them as their drivers circumnavigated the pond and drew closer.
"I hope they aren't looking for trouble," Kyle said, lowering his beer can to his lap. The roar of engines grew louder as two four-wheel all-terrain vehicles approached their campsite.
"Yeah." Stan replied. A moment later, he was blinded by their headlights as the two ATVs, each carrying two people, drove up to them and stopped a dozen feet away.
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too
Their engines died; their headlights ambered and went dark. Once Stan could see again, he felt his tension dissipate immediately as he realized they knew all four of these people. Eric Cartman (sporting long dark hair and a beard) was driving the first ATV, with a very composed-looking Tweek Tweak seated behind him, blond hair longer and wilder than ever. Clyde Donovan was driving the other ATV, with Bebe clinging to his waist behind him.
"Hey guys! S'up?" Cartman said, smiling broadly. The light of the campfire glittered off the zippers of his leather jacket.
"Hey, Cartman...Tweek," Stan replied. Kyle stood up behind him. He looked toward the other ATV. "Hey, Bebe...how's it going, Clyde?"
"Pretty good so far!" Clyde answered loudly, and he and Bebe dissolved into helpless laughter, much too hard to be from just his nonsensical reply.
Stan and Kyle exchanged nervous glances. "Oh...kay," Kyle said, watching the two people who had been high school sweethearts begin to laugh themselves into a complete frenzy.
"Don't try to make any sense out of those two!" Tweek said loudly. There was something decidedly off about his eyes. "They're tripping their balls off...well, Clyde is at least...I don't know what Bebe's tripping off."
That made Clyde and Bebe laugh even harder.
"Jesus," Kyle said, watching them. A log in their campfire popped, sparks swirling toward the sky. Bebe and Clyde both turned toward the fire. "So you guys are like on acid or something?"
"Not acid!" Tweek replied; even from five feet away, Stan could see Tweek's pupils were blown wide open and realized he was tripping as well, only he was handling it a lot better than Clyde and Bebe. "They're—"
"Uh oh!" Cartman interrupted loudly. He stood up, thick legs straddling each side of the ATV. "Uh, excuse me!" He loudly broke wind, his jean-clad ass inches from Tweek's suddenly outraged face. Tweek stood up and tumbled backward from the vehicle, landing on his butt in the dirt behind the ATV.
Stan and Kyle couldn't help but laugh. "Aah! You sick bastard!" Tweek screamed, looking up from the ground behind the ATV's rear tires.
"'Ey! I said 'excuse me'!" Cartman replied, looking around innocently. Clyde and Bebe were nearly falling off the ATV seat laughing. Stan and Kyle looking at each other and shook their heads at this absurd, crass display. Another log popped.
"As my friend Tweek here was saying," Cartman continued as if nothing unusual had just happened. "Don't listen to those two black assholes." He gestured toward Clyde and Bebe, who were again transfixed by the campfire. "They ate enough magic mushrooms—"
"Psilocybin mushrooms," Tweek clarified.
"Yeah, whatever." Cartman shook his head. "Either way, those two are going to be out of it for the next six hours or so." He spotted the twelve pack of beer next to Stan's chair. "Hey, you wouldn't have a spare one of those, would you?" He gestured toward the beer. "We'll get you high!"
"Fuck yeah, Cartman!" Kyle replied happily. "One thing we have plenty of is beer." Stan crouched down to reach inside the twelve pack and offered Cartman a can.
"You're not tripping too, Cartman?" Stan asked.
"Oh hell no! I don't do that hippy shit." He cracked open his beer and took a long drink from it. "But we didn't buy enough beer for tonight, so when we saw someone else camping here, I was sort of hoping..."
"Let's go sit by your fire," Tweek said, standing up behind Cartman and brushing dirt from the back of his legs.
Clyde seemed to think that was a great idea. "Yeah...let's..." he looked around, then back at his feet where something on the ground near his front left tire seemed to fascinate him. "Look at the shadows on the ground," he said reverently.
"Jesus, Clyde!" Bebe smacked his shoulder with the palm of her hand. "I know it's all flickery, but you're acting weird about it."
"Sshsh!" Clyde shushed her, looking up again. "Okay, Bebe."
"'Flickery?'" Kyle whispered and Stan chuckled, reaching down to pick up the twelve pack.
"Yeah. Let's sit by the fire." Cartman stepped away from the ATV, walking toward the campfire, which by now was burning brightly with the branches Stan had added. They gathered around it and sat down in a circle, Kyle on Stan's left, Tweek and Cartman on his right. Bebe and Clyde settled together on the other side of the fire.
"Fire is awesome when you're tripping," Clyde said dreamily. Cartman drained his beer and crushed the can. Stan wordlessly handed him another one.
Tweek reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out two hand rolled cigarettes and lit them both at the same time, handing one to Cartman and leaning forward to pass the other one across to Clyde. The two joints made their way around the group a few times, and soon Stan thought he might be higher than he'd ever been.
Clyde was fixated on the ground again. He nudged Bebe and pointed. "Look at the shadows from the fire," he whispered, and this time she seemed as interested in whatever Clyde was watching as he was
"That must be some really good shit," Kyle commented, watching Clyde's face as the light from the flames glittered in his eyes. Tweek was the one who replied, and Stan couldn't recall ever seeing him look as relaxed as he did right now.
"It's the best man! It's way better than LSD; it...it opens up your mind in a way you can't imagine...and you never completely lose that openness afterwards!"
"Sh—yeah!" Cartman scoffed. "Your mind is going to be so open you'll be talking to the trees in an hour." He cracked open the beer Stan had given him and took a long drink, then held his can up in a toast. "This is all I want, right here. Stan, thanks for this." He took another drink, and included Kyle in his next remark. "It's good to see you guys again."
"You too, Cartman." Kyle raised his beer can in a toast; apparently in the years since they had last seen him, Cartman had mellowed into a more pleasant person to be around. "Thanks for the weed; we kind of helped each other out."
"Hey, you guys want to trip too?" Tweek asked. Clyde was holding a stick into the fire, trying to light the end of it.
Stan and Kyle looked at each other. "I don't know," Stan replied slowly, still watching Kyle. "Do we?"
"I kind of do," Kyle replied. "It's not like we haven't done it before...and we don't have to go anywhere anytime soon."
Stan hadn't heard Kyle speak as much as he had tonight in years. If they did this, he could let Kyle trip by himself and look after him. On the other hand...the two times they had tripped together some ten years ago (with actual LSD that Kenny had gotten for them, one hit each on a piece of blotter paper a quarter of the size of a postage stamp), they had had an incredible amount of fun.
Kyle had said he wanted to trip. "Yeah, me too," Stan heard himself say. "Like you said, if we stay put, we'll be fine."
"All right!" Clyde said happily. The end of the stick he was holding in the fire was ablaze and he held it up in the air, several flaming pieces of bark dropping from it and landing on the ground near his feet. "Woah...cool."
Tweek stood up and walked around the fire, crouching down behind Stan and Kyle. He reached into his shirt pocket and produced a small plastic baggie. He stuck two fingers inside it and brought out a small wad of what Stan expected to look like marijuana but instead looked like dried cow shit. He offered it to Kyle, who held it in the palm of his hand, looking at it curiously.
"It's just dried mushrooms!" Tweek said. "You'll want to swallow them as quick as you can, and have a beer or something ready to wash them down with." He laughed. "They don't taste very good." He reached back into the baggie and offered another large pinch of the dried fungus to Stan.
He looked down at it. He could faintly make out where it had once been small mushroom caps, now shriveled and tangled up with twisted gnarly stems. He thought he could faintly smell them, rancid and cloying.
"These are, like, safe, right?" Stan asked; Kyle was hesitating as well.
"Well, they're going to fuck you up!" Tweek replied happily. "But I know they're the right kind of 'shrooms. Ah...you don't have to take them if you don't want—"
"Screw it!" Kyle said, raising his palm to his mouth and quickly following what he had eaten with a large gulp of his beer. A moment later his face twisted in disgust. "Aw, Jesus..."
Tweek laughed as Kyle leaned forward as if he were about to vomit. "There you go!" Tweek said long moments later as Kyle seemed to get himself under control.
Stan looked at the brown and withered mass in his hand. Now that he'd decided to do this, he was determined to shove the whole thing in his mouth and swallow it, washing it down immediately with mouthfuls of beer. Kyle had already committed himself, so... Just before his hand reached his mouth the smell hit him even harder and he felt his throat close as he stuffed the horrid-tasting fungus into his mouth. It may have looked like dry cow shit but it tasted a thousand times worse and he forced a swallow, chugging beer to wash it down and feeling his gorge rise as the rancid mass slid past his throat and down toward his stomach.
"Oh, fuck," he moaned, not certain he wasn't about to vomit what he'd just swallowed, along with everything else he had eaten or drank in the past six hours. The nausea slowly, slowly passed and he looked up again. Kyle had straightened up as well and was smiling.
"Hell yeah!" Clyde said happily, the burning stick he was holding over his head momentarily forgotten; Bebe was staring at it, fascinated. "You guys are going to have a blast!"
"This calls for a toast...or something," Tweek said, sitting down behind Stan and Kyle, their shadows wavering on his face. He produced yet another joint, lit it, and passed it to Stan.
"Jesus, dude!" Kyle said, taking the joint after Stan had taken a large hit from it. He took a deep drag and passed it to Cartman. By the time it had made its way around two more times, Stan felt like his head could float away, and he lay back on the ground resting on his elbows and staring into the fire.
"We're not going to stay much longer," Cartman said a few minutes later, watching Stan and Kyle as if waiting for something to happen. "I'd love to take a couple more beers back with me when we leave though."
Stan nodded. "No problem, Cartman." He thought that perhaps the fire seemed a little bit brighter.
Fifteen minutes went by while Stan became more and more distracted by the flames; there were a few attempts at conversation but most of the time passed in silence.
The world seemed more and more off-kilter, the fire too bright, the wind rustling in the trees too loud. Clyde had become engaged in a conversation with Bebe and Cartman that Stan had mostly ignored, until Clyde said something that dragged him abruptly back into the moment.
"He wanted me to drive all the way to Denver at 4:30 this afternoon to pick up those brake shoes for him." Clyde snorted. "Heh, yeah right! I told him...I told him to eat the shit out of my peanuts." He blinked, suddenly looking confused. Realization dawned in his eyes and he laughed again and sputtered, "I mean...the peanuts out of..." He lay down on his back, staring up at the sky and howling with laughter, braying like a jackass. Bebe was staring down at him incredulously.
"All right!" Cartman said, suddenly climbing to his feet. "I think we've inflicted ourselves on Stan and Kyle enough for one night. Let's go you guys."
"Hey Cartman," Stan said, standing up and feeling the earth lurch beneath his feet. Whoa. It took him a moment to steady himself. "Come on...I've got something for you."
Cartman looked at him curiously. Stan turned toward his SUV; something about the way the firelight reflected off the metal of the vehicle fascinated him. In fact, everything suddenly seemed much more interesting. Walking intensified the effect as the world seemed on the verge of slipping into chaos. His senses felt overloaded as each insignificant detail of everything around him demanded his attention. He heard Cartman walking behind him, heavy shoes crunching through pine needles. The wind whined above, and the brighter stars winked behind the pines as they swayed overhead. Stan realized that Clyde was correct, and that staring into their campfire later tonight while tripping was going to be awesome.
It took Stan extra effort to wrap his hand around the handle of his truck's back lift gate. He twisted it and stepped back as the hatch opened; the dome light was much too bright and he winced at the glare, remembering Kyle's lighter. "Jesus Christ!" he muttered, loud enough for Cartman to hear. He laughed.
"You're starting to feel it, eh Stan?"
"Yeah...I think so." Stan squinted through the dome light's glare; it was impossibly bright and surrounded by a halo. He reached in and opened the lid of the cooler. The ice surrounding their beer glimmered like thousands of tiny diamond chips. Stan blinked and thought: Holy shit...
"You're gonna be a complete mess in an hour, Stan," Cartman told him, no longer laughing but his voice was still uncharacteristically friendly. "Don't worry...we're not gonna stick around. And as long as you guys stay put and don't try to go anywhere or do anything else stupid, you'll be fine."
Stan nodded, realizing afterward that Cartman probably couldn't see it. He reached in and grabbed an unopened twelve-pack of Busch. The ice loudly dropped away as he lifted it from the cooler, diamonds glittering at they tumbled (flickery) back into the ice chest; a few landed outside the ice chest next to the spare tire. "Here you go, dude." Stan handed him the half-case of beer. "I'm glad you guys stopped by."
"Sweet!" Cartman replied happily, taking the beer from Stan. "Hell, yeah!"
Stan wasn't sure if he was giving the beer to Cartman in payment for the weed they had smoked, or for unintentionally breaking the ice a bit with Kyle. At least tonight was going to be interesting (fuck, it's going to be hella interesting), and wouldn't end with them sullenly climbing into Kyle's old tent and passing out after a few more hours of uncomfortable silence.
He slammed the door closed and they walked back toward the fire and the four people sitting around it.
Clyde was holding a much thicker piece of wood into the flames. "Wow..." he intoned, holding the burning branch overhead, its blazing end burning like a torch. He began waving it slowly back and forth. "Look at the trails, Bebe!"
Stan could see them himself now as well, a visible shimmering wake of light following behind the burning torch as Clyde slowly waved it over his head. Kyle seemed at least as interested in what Clyde was doing as Stan was.
"Thanks again, Cartman!" Stan was having trouble organizing his thoughts to speak. "We really wanted to smoke pot tonight, but all we could get at the last minute was beer. This is going to be way better."
"Glad it all worked out," Cartman said. He said to his group: "Saddle up you guys, I have stocked up on beer. Let get back to our campsite and leave these two to trip in peace."
The small party began breaking up, Clyde helping Bebe (who seemed completely out of it) to her feet and leading her back toward the ATVs. Stan stood next to Kyle who, from the way he was staring at the fire, was obviously feeling the effects of the hallucinogenic mushrooms they had eaten as well.
"Good night you guys," Clyde said, Bebe clinging to him from behind. He started his ATV, Cartman doing the same a moment later. The night was filled with the sound of two small engines revving.
"See you guys around...thanks!" Kyle said as the two vehicles lurched forward and turned around, their headlights lighting up the night as they drove away, red tail lights receding in the distance.
Stan and Kyle turned to each other, grinning wildly. Stan spoke first. "Jesus Christ, dude!"
I wanna go back
And do it all over
But I can't go back I know
I wanna go back
Cause I'm feeling so much older
But I can't go back I know
(Monty Byrom, Danny Chauncey, Ira Walker)
They watched the two four-wheelers drive off, the noise of their engines filling the night, headlights casting amazing moving shadows and red taillights disappearing into the trees. Kyle turned to Stan. He was wobbling on his feet and grinning like a madman. Stan thought about how much he'd missed seeing that smile. He couldn't help but smile back; everything was amusing and wondrous. The muscles around his mouth were beginning to ache.
"This stuff is really hitting me hard, Stan."
No shit. "Yeah...me too." Stan was beginning to see what was so fascinating to Clyde about the shadows on the ground. Every square inch demanded his attention, the flickering shadows between each pebble and blade of grass on the ground miraculous in their beauty, the faint sound of crickets and frogs over the fading ATV motors a complex symphony. The mountains and the thousands of stars sprawling across the pitch black overhead drew his attention next, and Stan knew he couldn't possibly take it all in. "We're all right," Stan added. "We don't have to go anywhere for hours."
They stood quietly for a moment, watching the two ATVs make their way around the lake, red taillights flickering between the pines.
"Do you think you could drive right now?" Kyle asked, his smile growing impossibly even wider.
"Dude!" Stan replied, saying the first thing that came into his head. "I don't think I could even start my car right now!"
That remark seemed to hang in the darkness for a moment. Then Kyle snorted and doubled over laughing as if it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. Stan joined him a moment later as that absurd comment sank in, kneeling on the forest ground and clutching his sides. Kyle dropped down next to him a moment later as great whoops of laughter wracked them both and left them howling and gasping for breath. It seemed to go on for a very long time but was probably no more than a minute.
"Oh shit, Kyle," Stan gasped, deliberately trying to slow his breathing as his hysterical outburst finally seemed to have run its course, though it threatened to return if he thought about what he'd just said. He watched Kyle trying to compose himself on his knees beside him. A soft halo of light, flickering orange like their campfire, was emanating from his hair.
"Oh my God, Stan. I don't know why that was so funny...it just was."
Stan sat down. Dozens of pine needles pricked his palms as he leaned back and rested his weight on his arms. "I haven't laughed that hard in years. No, scratch that; I've never laughed that hard."
"Me neither. This stuff is amazing!" Their voices seemed too loud and echoed inside Stan's head.
Stan lay down flat on his back, folding his hands together over his chest and shifting around to get comfortable; Kyle copied him and they lay quietly less than a foot apart, looking up at the sky. There were too many stars to count. Stan couldn't bring his eyes to settle on any one star no matter how hard he tried, and the effect was vaguely unnerving.
"I've never seen the stars like that," Kyle whispered, his voice seeming to fill the night. Their fire was dying down again and the shadows grew deeper. Stan briefly considered getting up to go add more firewood.
"I know. I was expecting to see white rabbits and stuff, but this..." He didn't know what to say after this to describe what he was feeling. He wasn't seeing anything that wasn't really there, but everything was too detailed and chaotic. Stan watched the trees sway overhead in a light breeze that wasn't reaching the ground. Nothing seemed still; even the stars appeared frenetic as he looked up at them. Another meteor flared and dropped behind the trees.
"Woah!" Kyle exclaimed, sitting up. Stan grinned happily, a smile that felt like it would never go away. Kyle looked down at him, flickering light in constant motion across his face. "Dude..." Kyle's voice was sincere. "This is fun! I dunno, maybe this is just the drug we're on making me say this, but." He cleared his throat and reached a hand up and ran it through his hair. Sparks flowed along his fingertips like tiny orange meteors and Stan looked away, feeling overwhelmed. "I'm sorry I've been such a dick the last few years. I, ah...I don't know Stan. It like my life didn't turn out the way I thought it would; but that's not really a good excuse. I'm just sorry."
Stan nodded and was about to reply but Kyle continued, "I used to think being a grown up would be so cool. Like, I'd be able to stay up as late as I wanted, and not have to do anything that people told me to. But it's no different now! I can't stay up as late as I want to, not if I want to keep my job, and people just tell me what to do anyway." The words rolled over Stan like a train, every one ringing loud and clear and completely true. It wasn't just the drugs making him feel this way either; at least he didn't think it was. Kyle had just managed to articulate everything that Stan felt about his own life in just a few sentences.
"Life hasn't been much fun for me lately either." Stan sat up and they were silent for a while, but this time it wasn't the usual awkward silence Stan had come to expect with Kyle. This was more the kind of silences they'd shared when they were kids and they were content to be quiet together. The night was alive with sounds and the flickering orange glow of their dying fire lit the world.
"Let's not wait a whole year to get together again, okay?" Stan felt his smile grow even wider at that. "Maybe we could do something this weekend or something."
"I'd love to, Kyle!" Stan wrapped his arms around his knees and rested his chin on them, content to listen to Kyle as he spoke, hanging on each word as though his life depended on them.
"Do you ever wish you could go back...and, you know, do it all again, and this time pay more attention to how great just being a kid is?" Stan looked at him and nodded vigorously. "I mean, our childhoods weren't exactly what you'd call normal...but I'd give anything to be ten years old again. And even if my mom was yelling at me for something stupid" (Stan winced; he didn't think Kyle saw it though) "I'd just stand there and smile and say 'yeah, okay ma' and take the grounding or whatever she gave me with a smile. Because I'd still be a kid tomorrow. Does that make any sense?"
Kyle finally fell silent, waiting for a reply. Stan was tripping hard, his thoughts and everything around him a chaotic mess, but this conversation felt like the most important thing he'd ever done and he knew he had to answer carefully. Fucking it up was out of the question.
"Yes I do!" That was a good start. Stan was delighted to be having a real conversation with Kyle. It felt like the first time in years since they'd had one. "I feel that way a lot! Like..." He trailed off as a memory from a few years back stirred in him, something he hadn't thought of in a very long time. It had seemed extremely important to him then, and he wondered if sharing it with Kyle was a good idea, or if it would just seem silly and give them an excuse for another prolonged fit of laughter. At one time he could have talked to Kyle about absolutely anything. Tonight might be the last chance he ever had to do it again.
"Nickel for your thoughts, Stan." Stan looked at him curiously. "Oh...you just seemed like you were thinking of something pretty serious; maybe not?"
Stan nodded. "No...you're right, I was. I was gonna say...I miss being a kid too...and until just a few years ago, I used to think maybe I could go back and be one again." That isn't quite right, and please don't let this come out sounding stupid. "In fact, I used to think I would go back one day, because my life seemed so fucked up that I thought I had to be able to do it again. Like...the world owed me a do-over or something."
Kyle nodded, obviously taking him seriously. "Too bad no one's invented time travel yet, huh Stan?"
Stan shrugged. This was the part that was going to be hard to explain. "I kind of had that problem figured out though. I used to believe in this, ah, thing. I called it the 'membrain,' only I spelled it with a b-r-a-i-n, like the human brain, you know? And the 'm-e-m' part stood for memory, and—" How to explain this? No matter what words he used, he could never convey how important it had once been to him. "It was like this barrier I could just step through and go back, and be a kid again, and..." ...everything would be wonderful again. He trailed off, waiting for Kyle to laugh.
"That's really heavy, Stan." Kyle leaned forward, wrapping his arms around his knees. Reflected firelight danced across his fingernails like tiny sparks; Stan thought if he listened hard enough he might be able to hear them.
"Sometimes it felt really close; like if I just thought about it hard enough..." Stan sighed. "Maybe it's...I don't know."
"Not so far away after all?" Kyle suggested, looking at him. Stan cocked his head; Kyle's face was all flickering light and shadows, too much for Stan to take in. He lay down again, staring up at the night sky.
"Wow...this is really intense Kyle." He finally could focus his eyes on one star without the uncountable distractions all around drawing his attention away. "I don't just mean this conversation either, but. Yeah. That too."
Kyle lay down next to him. "You okay dude?"
"Yeah." Stan nodded even though Kyle couldn't see it. "I think in a little while I want to go sit by the fire; but for now, I just want to lay here."
They stared up at the sky quietly, and Stan realized he could no longer judge the passage of time. They could have been laying there for ten minutes or an hour, and it would have made no difference. Stan vaguely remembered Kyle smoking at least one cigarette.
Something strange and unexpected began to happen: A single ray of white light reached up from behind the horizon and flickered toward the zenith. It was quickly joined by several more, like a pure white aurora. A shimmering glow that seemed to emanate from behind the sky grew rapidly brighter, washing out the glow of the fire and lighting the world in brilliant white. Stan felt his heart pounding as he realized that it cast no shadows. Even stranger was that Kyle seemed completely unaware of it.
Stan whirled around and half-knelt to look behind him, almost losing his balance. The sky, the trees, everything was glowing with an unearthly light that came from both nowhere and everywhere. "Kyle...you don't see that, do you?" The horizon was the brilliance and color of burning magnesium; it looked like the end of the world.
"See what Stan?" His voice came very far away.
Stan could feel the light beckoning him to go toward it. He was afraid for a moment, then suddenly hopeful as he realized what it could be. Of course...he just needed his mind opened up to the possibility! He carefully stood up and began walking toward the light and away from Kyle.
"Hey, Stan...are you all right?" Stan barely heard him, and he began walking faster, away from their campsite and toward the light. It had a definite boundary now, and it was close but slowly receded as he stumbled toward it. He was distantly aware of Kyle standing up behind him.
"Stan?" He ignored him, walking faster and slowly closing in on the edge of that impossibly white light.
"Stan...where are you going?" Kyle voice was a mere echo, whispering through the trees as the earth and sky turned to white fire that had no heat. Stan knew where he was going; it was right there in front of him, and all he had to do was catch up to it and step through.
The membrain. He was going to the membrain.
He walked up to it and stopped; it was right there, no longer moving away from him. It was real, as real as the trees and sky and Kyle, a rippling wall of light (that cast no shadows) and all he had to do was walk into it.
"It's okay, Kyle," Stan whispered, knowing that Kyle didn't hear him and wouldn't have known what he meant by 'okay' anyway. He stumbled the last few steps into the light and the joy that he knew lay beyond it. His legs tangled up beneath him, the sky and trees and lake tipped over as the ground rushed up to meet him and he fell
down hard, landing in a snowbank. The sudden cold air struck him like a slap.
That fall should have hurt a lot more than it did.
Everything around him was completely different. The stars were gone, and the sky was pale blue and streaked with clouds, the hills to the east ablaze with sunrise. He hadn't fallen onto the pine needles and dirt of their campsite by Stark's Pond, he was laying in several inches of snow in Kyle's backyard, only the way it had looked years ago. He was wearing a heavy winter jacket, and his own hand, curled into a loose fist above the snow in front of his face was child sized. He straightened his fingers (so small!) just to assure himself it was his hand.
Most strikingly, his mind was completely clear. The frantic chaos that had been the world a few moments ago was gone, and despite the fact that everything (including his body) had changed, his mind felt sharper than it had in years.
He stared in fascination at his fingers for a moment and then brought them to his face. There was no stubble on his chin and no trace of the moustache he'd sported for the past decade; there was only smooth skin with a child's fingers touching it.
Oh, shit... He sat up and easily climbed to his feet, looking down at himself as his suddenly small hands automatically brushed snow from his jacket. Every part of his body was working in an unfamiliar yet easy way, and his mind was more clear and focused than it had been in years. He was standing beside a small shrub that had been tree-sized the last time he had seen it. The snow-covered ground was much closer than he was used to, and everything else seemed at odd oblique angles. He was at most five feet tall.
Oh SHIT. He looked around. Kyle's tent was twenty feet away, and looked brand new. The back of the house was a newly-painted green, which had faded and fallen into disrepair over the years in what Stan was already starting to think of as his previous lifetime. He knew this was no hallucination; every bit of this was real.
He could only reach one conclusion: Somehow he had actually crossed the membrain, and he was a child again.
This time he spoke aloud: "Oh shit...I did it!" He clapped his hand over his mouth, shocked by the soprano sound of his own voice. He looked around, wondering one final time if this was a hallucination that was about to come to an end, and realized it wasn't. All of this was real.
Now what? He looked around, and the answer became obvious: Kyle's tent, it's canvas sides bright yellow instead of the stained and faded yellow-brown he had seen just moments ago. He crept closer to it, his heart pounding nervously at what he'd find there. He stopped just outside and carefully eased the front flap open and looked in.
One of the two sleeping bags on the canvas floor of the tent was obviously empty (the one I must have been in until a few minutes ago). Stan shook his head and looked at the other sleeping bag; a child-sized body was completely encased by it, a few wisps of curly red hair poking from the end. Empty potato chip bags, socks, a pair of sneakers, and candy wrappers littered the narrow space between them.
Just as quietly, Stan closed the flap again and backed away from the tent. Sooner or later he would have to face Kyle (and everyone else he knew), and try to remember how he was supposed to act around them. But for now, there was the joy building inside him that he was here, and that this was really happening. Facing anyone, even Kyle, could wait for a few minutes.
He heard the sound of a car in the distance approaching, and an irregular splat ...splat ...splat...and when a car slowly drove past the Broflovski's house, he recognized it as morning papers being delivered.
He heard a newspaper land in Kyle's driveway. The car continued on, turning onto the next street and slowly driving away.
Stan hurried away from the tent, eager to be doing something other than standing still and wondering what to do next. He made his way around the side of the Broflovski's house and over to the driveway.
The person delivering newspapers had driven out of sight, and there was no one else but him outside and no sound at all on this cold winter morning. Everything looked young and new, the snow cover unblemished except for his own footprints.
He knelt down and plucked the newspaper from the snow. He wiped water and slush from the plastic bag encasing it and flattened it so he could read the date underneath: Sunday, January 26, 1986. Stan thought about that date for a moment and his eyes flew open. Oh, shit...
He knew the significance of the date immediately. It was four days before the tragedy, the worst thing that had ever happened in their lives—in Kyle's life— and two days before a disaster that had stunned the nation with horror and grief. Even as he remembered this part of his history (no, my...future), he was also thinking about what else that date meant.
"I'm twelve," he whispered, and thought: No, twelve and a quarter. Kyle will be twelve in four months...and life as he knows it is supposed to end in four days.
(And I can prevent that from happening)
A lot of things could be different; he knew he couldn't change everything, but he could change just a few things. Butters wouldn't have to die in a few years, and the tragedy that struck Kyle's family and tore a lot of their lives apart wouldn't have to happen either. This time, things could be okay for them all.
And this time around, he would fucking appreciate every second of his life instead of pissing it away waiting for a better future that isn't promised to anyone.
Stan set the newspaper back down on the driveway, stood up again and hurried away, following his own footprints in the snow around to the back yard. He slowed as he approached the tent. It was time to face Kyle, to wake him up and try to act like he normally would, at least for a while. He knew he couldn't face what was happening to him alone and would have to tell Kyle about it eventually. Kyle had once been the best friend anyone could ever have, and that Kyle was here, and Stan knew he would help him get through this while he settled back into this life again. His heart was pounding as he approached the front flap of the tent. Hi, Kyle! he thought, rehearsing what he would say first and shook his head; that was too...cheerful? It seemed weird anyway. "Hey, Kyle," he whispered, and nodded. That was better. He could do this.
He pulled the flap open and bent down to step from the snow onto the canvas floor of the tent. He stopped when he was halfway inside, realizing he needn't have worried about facing Kyle at this moment as he saw that both sleeping bags were now empty.
There was a quick movement from around the side of the tent, and before Stan had time to even begin to react, he was grabbed from behind and dragged backward from the tent and tackled to the snow. Eleven year old Kyle was on top of him laughing, wrapping his legs around Stan's and effectively pinning him.
Stan laughed. "Jesus, Kyle!" He fought back, trying to get one leg underneath himself to try to stand up, but Kyle pushed down even harder, preventing him from getting a foothold. Stan realized he could easily get out of this, but that would involve fists and hurting the boy who had tackled him, so he went completely limp instead. Kyle seemed to take that as a surrender, and they lay motionless in the snow, the only sound their own ragged breathing and laughter.
"Give up?" Kyle finally asked, his face close enough for Stan to feel his breath. So strange, hearing that voice again...He loosened his grip on Stan, those green eyes Stan hadn't seen up close in far too long watching closely. Stan nodded.
"Uh huh." He was breathing hard, and his entire body had never felt so good.
"Pussy!" Kyle laughed, pushing himself off of Stan and jumping up, taking a couple steps back in case Stan decided to retaliate. Stan rolled onto his back and looked up, grinning. He couldn't help it; being tackled by Kyle had been perfect. Far better than trying to have a conversation first thing would have been. He climbed to his feet.
"Hey, Kyle!" he said, recalling the only line he had rehearsed.
"Ah—" Kyle smirked. "Hey Stan." He watched as Stan brushed snow off of himself. "Where did you go just now? I looked all around the backyard and you weren't anywhere back here."
Stan walked over to stand next to him. It seemed like the right thing to do, and he was pretty sure Kyle was finished wrestling with him for now. "I...went for a walk around the front of your house."
Kyle shook his head doubtfully. "You 'went for a walk'? Since when do you go for walks, Stan?" He laughed. "You didn't pull a Cartman and take a crap in my dad's hedges, did you?"
Stan laughed. "Of course not...dude!" He wished he hadn't hesitated on the last word, but Kyle seemed to accept that answer.
"Well, come on." He started walking toward the back of his house and Stan fell in step behind him. Stan dreaded what he might face inside. "My mom's probably up by now and making breakfast."
Stan stopped. "Your mom?" He asked and winced at the idiocy of his question. Stan hadn't seen Kyle's mom (Sheila, his mind amended) in over a decade.
Kyle was trying not to smile. "Yeah, dude...you know. My birth giver?"
Stan laughed hard at that, and Kyle shook his head. They continued toward the house, Stan's nervousness growing with each step, knowing he'd have to face other people soon and try to act like they would expect him to.
"Yeah...sorry dude. I just woke up..."
Kyle gave him an odd look as they walked up to the back door. Kyle of course walked right into his kitchen without hesitation, and Stan had no choice but to follow him. He nearly froze at the sight of Sheila standing at the stove making pancakes, and six year old Ike sitting at the table, completely ignoring their entrance in favor of watching his mother.
"Oh, good morning boys!" Sheila said happily, sparing a moment from her griddle to turn around and greet them.
"Hi," Stan replied, feeling his face burning. He had never felt so...scrutinized before. He sat at the table with his back to Sheila, trying to remember if there was a chair he normally would have sat in. Ike was across the table still intent only on his mother.
Kyle sat in the chair next to Stan and rested his arms on the table.
Stan felt like he should say something, but was at a loss for what, but maybe just sitting here at the kitchen table without saying anything was okay too. Kyle seemed content to sit quietly while Sheila was busy cooking. Maybe no one had noticed anything strange about the way Stan was acting, although Kyle had seemed a little suspicious before they came inside. Perhaps staying silent was best; Stan stared pointedly at the table and couldn't tell if Kyle was watching him or not.
Sheila came over to the table, carrying three plates and setting them in front of the boys. Ike had one pancake, Stan and Kyle two apiece. Ike lunged for the syrup from the center of the table, poured, and began eating as if he was starving.
"Were you boys warm enough last night?" Sheila asked, turning back to the stove and returning with another plate with three more pancakes on it. Stan took the syrup from in front of Ike and poured some onto his plate, waiting for Kyle to answer.
"Yeah ma, we were fine." Stan was pretty sure they had spent most of the night shivering inside their sleeping bags, but Kyle couldn't admit that or they'd never be allowed to camp out in the winter ever again. Their fingers brushed together as Stan set the syrup on the table and Kyle reached for it.
The pancakes were delicious, but Stan made himself stop eating after three large bites, hoping he wasn't eating too quickly and drawing attention to himself. He wasn't sure what he should be doing, even though this should be a perfectly normal breakfast, something he'd done hundreds of times before. He knew Kyle's family would leave to go to Temple soon, and Stan would go home for awhile and come back in a couple hours. Maybe eating faster so he could leave as soon as possible was the best thing to do.
He had no idea what the right thing to do was. He couldn't wait to be alone for a while.
He looked across the table as Ike smeared his fork through the syrup on his empty plate and thought: In four days, you and your mother are supposed to die. She's going to be driving you to school, and you'll be rearended by a big truck while you're waiting for a traffic light. Your car blows up...and when they pull your bodies out afterward, your mom's arms are around you like she was trying to shield you from the flames—
"Can I have another pancake?" Ike asked, looking at Stan oddly, and he realized he had been caught staring. He looked down at his barely touched pancakes, feeling more awkward than ever.
"Of course you can!" Sheila replied and forked another pancake from the plate in the center of the table and set it on Ike's plate.
"Thanks mom," he said, still eyeing Stan warily. Stan looked down at his lap, feeling Ike staring at him, his face burning. He began eating again, forcing himself not to wolf his food down.
Gerald walked into the kitchen, and Stan looked up at him; he looked young and full of life, eager to take on the world. The last time Stan had seen him was about three years ago, and he was a broken down man who looked twenty years older than he should, having never fully recovered from the deaths of his wife and youngest son.
"Gerald, you should eat something," Sheila told him as he poured coffee into a travel mug.
"I just have time for coffee." He looked up and smiled at Stan, acknowledging him. "Good morning, Stanley!" His gazed shifted. "Kyle."
"Good—" Stan looked up and forced a smile. "Hi."
"Good morning, dad." Stan began eating faster.
"I'll see you this afternoon, dear,." Gerald kissed his wife's cheek.
"Okay, hon. Have a good day!"
Stan finally finished his pancakes, just a few seconds before Kyle did. He looked at Kyle, catching his eye.
"So, I guess I'll go home for a while."
"Yeah, okay dude," Kyle replied, pushing his chair back and standing up. Stan took that as his cue to do the same.
"Have a nice morning, Stanley!" Sheila told him. "We'll see you in a couple hours." Ike had dismissed him again, using his fork to spear a third pancake from the plate in the center of the table and set it in front of him.
"Thank you. You too." Stan met her gaze and found himself genuinely smiling at her. He could do this.
Stan followed as Kyle led the way out of the kitchen, through the garage, and into the back yard. The sun was just coming up from behind the hills, too bright to look at, staining the snow pastel orange and casting long shadows across it.
As they stepped further into the cold morning, Kyle turned around and stopped in front of Stan, facing him. Stan had no choice but to stop too, and look down at the ground. "Dude..." Kyle said carefully. "What's going on with you?"
Stan felt his stomach drop. It seemed that he hadn't hid his nervousness so well after all. He took a breath and said the first thing that came to mind. "What do you mean?"
"You've been acting weird since we got up this morning." Kyle's expression was a mix of concern and amusement. "It's like you're really nervous about something. Are you all right?"
Stan squeezed his eyes shut, hard. Kyle knew; but of course Kyle knew. When they had been boys, they were able to read each other like books. Kyle was doing it right now, although he had no idea what he was really dealing with.
"I, ah..." Was he all right? "Yeah. I'm okay." He still wasn't used to his voice and now he was being forced to use it. "Or, maybe...I'm going to be?" He looked up; Kyle was still watching him intently. "But right now? No, I guess I'm not really all right." Kyle's expression shifted instantly to one of concern and Stan felt a surge of hope and gratitude. "And I really need to talk to you, Kyle! But...you have to go to church...I mean to temple, soon. And I need some time to myself right now, okay?"
"Jesus, dude." Kyle's reply was immediate. "Okay, yeah. I'll be home around noon, so just come back over then." He took a step closer. "Did something happen to you last night?"
"Something happened to me this morning." He was feeling better already because of Kyle's eagerness to help. He wasn't making fun, or judging him. "It's something big, Kyle. I'll need some time to tell you about it, so let's wait until later, okay? And, ah...I really just need some time by myself right now."
Kyle nodded. "Sure...come back in a couple hours. But...you're okay...right?"
Stan understood the special emphasis Kyle had put on 'okay'. He was wondering if Stan was feeling depressed, perhaps suicidal. Stan hadn't thought about those days in a very long time. He recalled that his childhood hadn't been perfect after all.
"Yes, Kyle! I really am. And I'm going to be great. We all are! I, ah...I'll talk to you later, okay?" He turned part way around, preparing to walk off.
"All right, Stan. I'll see you." Stan was turning to leave when Kyle added, "Hey."
Stan stopped and turned around again.
"When you get home, dude...say a quick hi to your mom and go up to your room. She won't think anything about it if you do; and if you act this way around her for any time at all, she'll figure out something's wrong and you'll never hear the end of it."
Stan nodded, keeping his face impassive while feeling nearly overwhelmed with gratitude. He knew Kyle would help him through this. "Thanks, Kyle. I will." Their eyes met, and Stan felt another genuine smile on his face. "I'll see you."
He turned and finally walked off, going around Kyle's house and then up the street, making the single left turn a few minutes later that led to his own house. Sunrise glittered like a million diamonds on the fresh snow, and everything was new and beautiful looking. No one else was outside this early, and Stan had the morning to himself. Life was going to be awesome from now on.
Someone had built a snowman in the front yard of one of the homes he passed, and he slowed down for a moment to admire it. He decided that, from now on, he and Kyle would build a lot more snowmen, and snow forts, and have more snowball fights. He was already trying to think of how he was going to explain what's happened to Kyle later.
He walked on, leaving the snowman behind. Everything around him was wondrous, but now he had a new challenge to face: He had arrived at his house and he hoped Kyle's advice would work and he could get upstairs to his room without having to talk to anyone.
Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life
(Bryan Adams/Jim Vallance)
Stan quietly opened the front door of his house and looked inside. He heard his mother's voice coming from the kitchen as she hummed some half-remembered melody, but there was no one in sight.
"Mommm!" Another voice called stridently. "We have to leave now!" Stan rolled his eyes and thought: Shelly. She had never learned to be patient, even after she became an adult. Stan stepped the rest of the way into the house and carefully closed the door behind him. The one he really wanted to avoid right now was Randy, and he probably wouldn't be around today. He'd been pretty scarce about the time Stan was twelve.
He looked toward the kitchen as his mom passed by the doorway without noticing him. He knew he should say something, so he put one foot on the stairs and wrapped a hand around the bannister. "Mom!" he called. His high voice once again surprised him. "I'm home."
His mother stepped back to look at him, holding a cup of coffee. She looked incredibly young (not much older than I used to be), a pale blue bathrobe accentuating the effect. Stan had a sudden urge to walk over and give her a hug, but he decided now wasn't the right time for that.
"Hi honey. Did you boys have fun?"
"Yeah, we did!" His fingers tightened around the bannister, happy with how this was going. He thought he sounded natural, and didn't think his mom was going to drag him into a long and challenging conversation, especially with Shelly trying to rush her. "I'm going back over to Kyle's in a couple hours." He suddenly felt foolish again; of course he was going back to Kyle's.
His mother didn't seem to notice though. "I know dear. Have you had breakfast?"
"Uh huh. Kyle's mom made pancakes."
"Oh, good. Well, just be home tonight in time for dinner." Stan remembered that his mom was taking Shelly to perform with the high school band this afternoon.
"Okay, mom." Stan looked away and started up the steps, feeling more at ease when he realized that nothing more was required of him at the moment. The rest of the day was his, at least until dinner, and chances are he'd be able to eat that in front of the television.
He hurried down the hall into his room. The first stop was in front of the mirror over his dresser, and he stared at the reflection of the 12 year old boy in it for a full minute. His raven-black hair hung in limp strands over his forehead, badly needing to be washed after camping out last night; best of all it wasn't thinning in the slightest. His skin was remarkably clear. I won't have to shave again for another four or five years.
"Have a good day, Stanley!" he heard his mother call from the bottom of the stairs.
"Thanks mom!" he called back, hearing the front door slam a few moments later. He smiled, relieved to have the house to himself for a while.
He knew he normally wouldn't shower now but he couldn't stand seeing his hair the way it was, so he grabbed clean clothes from his dresser and hurried down the hall to the bathroom. He quickly stripped and stared at his reflection again. The boyish face, smooth and undefined chest, and small hairless genitals were an amazing sight. He stepped over the edge of the tub and turned on the shower, putting his head under the hot water and letting it run down his body before reaching for the bar of soap on the wire rack under the showerhead. He smiled, thinking I'm a few years away yet from Axe body wash.
He took a very long shower and finally climbed out, dried off and dressed, wishing his twelve year old self had invested in hair products. He paced around his room, knowing he still had almost an hour to kill before Kyle would be home again, running over and over in his mind what he was going to say to Kyle. He knew he would have a hard time convincing him of what had happened, although he would be able to prove it beyond all doubt in two days. But he needed Kyle to believe him now; he had very little memory of what his normal routine was like, or where any of his classrooms were, and would need help getting through the next few days until he settled back into this life. But what to say? Yeah, I just arrived back here from the future, so when we go to school tomorrow, can you show me where my homeroom is? didn't seem like it would cut it.
He spotted his guitar, leaning against the wall in the corner, next to a pile of dirty laundry. Of course! He gathered up the laundry and put it into the hamper next to the closet, then sat down cross-legged on the floor, holding the guitar in his lap. The frets felt a little big for his left hand, but he confidently strummed a few chords and quickly relearned the fret board.
It was a nice guitar; his grandpa Marvin had given it to him about the same time he had given him a bolo tie. Of all the things his grandfather had left him before he died when Stan was eleven, this guitar was his favorite. Stan remembered how happy the old man had been when Stan had given him the picture he had found of Marvin, taken when Randy Marsh was just a gleam in his eye, alongside his old Border Collie. Long after Marvin had died, Stan had cherished this guitar and often played it, sometimes imagining that his grandfather was listening to him, and hoping the old man had enjoyed the picture nearly as much.
He spent the next hour practicing and reaccustoming his left hand to fingering chords again. It came back quickly; after all he had learned to play on this guitar in the first place. By the time the hall clock chimed noon downstairs he felt confident in his ability to play well enough to impress Kyle. He made his way down the stairs and out the front door, carrying his guitar under his right arm.
He felt self-conscious, his stomach twisting itself into knots as he walked up his street carrying the guitar, but no one challenged him about it; he really hoped to avoid Cartman today, as trying to have a private conversation with him seemed nearly impossible at the moment. He finally reached Kyle's front door, not sure if he should just walk in or knock. He decided to knock on the door instead of just walking in, and reached up, curling his fingers into a fist.
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
Kyle must have been watching for him through the window because he opened his front door a moment before Stan's knuckles would have rapped on it, stepping halfway outside and blocking him from coming in. "Since when do you knock, Stan? You always just walk in...you know that." Kyle spotted the guitar Stan was failing to hide behind him. "And why did you bring that over here?"
Stan lowered the hand he had been about to knock with. "Kyle..." Stan shook his head and looked at their feet. "I really need to talk to you."
Kyle's eyes narrowed, taking in Stan's obvious nervousness. He looked over his shoulder into his house, then stepped back through the door, ushering Stan inside. "All right...come on."
Stan followed him into the house, and they hurried up the stairs; he could hear Kyle's parents talking in the kitchen, but they ignored them as they climbed the steps and walked down the hall and into his room. Stan couldn't help but look around in wonder at Kyle's childhood bedroom as he closed the door behind them. It was much as he remembered it, yet there were things he'd forgotten as well: The small TV on the dresser (replaced in a few years with a much larger one); the Terrance and Phillip posters; and Kyle's desk was smaller than he remembered. Most notably, there was no computer on it.
"Okay Stan." Kyle sat down on his bed. "Talk to me. What's going on...and why did you bring your guitar over here?"
Stan was still trying to figure out where he wanted to sit, given the choices between next to Kyle on his bed, cross-legged on the floor, or in the chair in front of the desk. He thought at one time he would have chosen the bed. He finally sat down on the floor, holding the guitar in his lap like he would a large puppy. Kyle was waiting for an answer, and he dreaded having to explain this in his still-unfamiliar voice.
"Dude..." Stan winced at the sound of his own voice. "I don't know how to tell you this, except...something really big's happened to me." He looked up and met Kyle's eyes looking back at him, and looked down again; one of Kyle's shoe laces was untied. "Kyle... I don't think you'll believe me if I just tell you..." His breath hitched. Why can't I just fucking talk to him? This should be easy; he'd wanted this, dreamed of it, for years, to be back here again. Everything was supposed to feel right, but it felt completely wrong instead. He already hated how this conversation was going. And why is his goddam shoelace untied? "But I really need you to believe me right now, because I'm kind of scared, and I don't know..." He clutched his guitar tighter.
Kyle leaned forward, now obviously worried. "Stan...it's just us in here. You're acting like you're scared to talk to me. You can tell me anything, you know. You said something happened to you this morning?"
"Yeah. Um...something happened, just before you woke up."
Kyle waited for him to continue, and when he didn't he sighed. "Okay, dude...look." Kyle scooted forward and stood, leaving his bed to sit down on the carpet next to Stan, close enough that their knees were inches apart. Thank God. "Stan... whatever this is, I can tell it's serious. Do you want to talk to one of my parents or something?"
"No!" Stan said loudly, then repeated in a whisper: "No." That idea was unthinkable. Except for during breakfast this morning, he hadn't seen Sheila in over a decade; the Gerald from this morning was unrecognizable from the one he barely knew anymore in that other life. He would have no idea how to talk to either of them. "Kyle...what happened isn't really bad...but it's something huge, and it's really fucking with me right now, okay? And...I need to talk to you, Kyle. And I, ah...I'm going to need your help."
"You know I'll do anything I can, Stan."
That one sentence made Stan breathe easier.
"Kyle, look... I don't know exactly how this happened. It's something I wanted, but I didn't think it could ever really happen. Except it did...and I don't think you'll believe me if I just tell you, but...I'm gonna try and prove it, all right?"
He lifted the guitar into playing position and set his fingertips over the frets. "Uh...when was the last time I played this for you?" He strummed a simple C chord. Strangely, the frets felt as if they were the perfect distance apart; it was his hand that was a little too small, but the strings rang out perfectly. He reminded himself that this was something he could do. More importantly, this was Kyle sitting on the floor in front of him, the Kyle who had once been more like a brother to him than just a best friend, not the depressed and apathetic shell of that person he had eventually become.
"Uh..." Kyle replied immediately, not even having to think about the question. "It was like five days ago, dude. Remember? We were over at your house, and we were making fun of the time Towelie tried to play 'Stairway To Heaven'. You picked up your guitar and tried to play it." He smiled. "You didn't sound a whole lot better!" He leaned forward, looking concerned again as he set his elbows on his knees. "You don't remember that?"
Stan did, barely. Only to him it had been over a decade ago and something he hadn't thought about since the day it happened. "Okay, yeah, I do. And so...I really sucked, huh?"
Kyle laughed. "Dude...you could barely put three notes together!"
Stan nodded, leaned over the guitar and put his fingers into place on the slightly too-far apart frets, grateful to be doing something he felt confident about. "'Stairway To Heaven', huh?" he asked, and slowly began to fingerpick the beginning of the Led Zeppelin classic. His eyes darted back and forth from his right hand as they plucked individual strings to his left as he fingered individual notes.
"Holy shit," Kyle whispered; his hands rose to his lips and covered them as he watched Stan play. Stan smirked, looking up at Kyle for a moment and back down at his fingers, delighted at how well this was going. His performance was nearly perfect.
After he'd played for almost a minute, he shook his head. "Kyle..." He looked up at his eleven year old friend and smiled. "This is way too easy." He stopped playing, thought for a moment, and then began to fingerpick 'Hotel California' by the Eagles. It was the first song he could think of that the Kyle of this time and the Kyle that he knew in his old life would both be familiar with. It was also a much more difficult piece, and Stan fumbled a few notes near the beginning, but quickly recovered as his left hand grew ever more accustomed to the spacing of the frets. Kyle was watching Stan play in awe; after half a minute, Stan straightened his right leg out in front of him and began tapping the bass line of the song against the bed post with the side of his sneaker as he continued to play, and Kyle couldn't help but begin tapping his fingertips against his cheeks in time as well.
Stan smiled, knowing he had Kyle's full attention now, and that Kyle was figuring out that, even if he had practiced 24 hours a day for the last five days, there was no way he could have become this good.
Stan played all the way until the first line of the song and began to sing: "On a dark desert highway..." He stopped playing and burst into laughter, all of his anxiety about talking to Kyle suddenly gone. He never really could sing (even in the future), and the fact that the Kyle he once knew was here right now while he attempted to made him laugh even harder. He tried to gather himself up to sing one more line, strummed a chord and gasped "cool wind in my..." and broke down again in helpless laughter. He felt great...and for the first time since he had found himself in Kyle's backyard this morning, he knew everything was going to be all right.
He tried to back up and again sing "cool wind..." and couldn't because he was laughing too hard.
"Dude! Just stop!" Kyle finally cried, starting to laugh as well, while at the same time obviously trying to understand what he was witnessing. Stan clutched his guitar and laughed helplessly, giving up trying to play it. He finally willed himself to stop and looked up again. Kyle was staring back at him in awe.
"What the fuck, Stan?" Kyle looked like he had just remembered how to breathe. "What... when did you learn to play like that?"
Stan strummed all six strings once more and then muted them. "That's what I need to talk to you about." He began playing a simplified version of 'Three Blind Mice' without having to look at either hand, and just before he played the notes for 'they all ran after the farmer's wife...', he stopped playing again. "I, ah..." Here we go. "...Learned to play like that when I was sixteen, Kyle,"
Kyle's eyes narrowed. Stan could feel his heart beating faster, blood rushing in his ears.
"What...exactly do you mean by that, Stan?"
"I mean that..." He started tapping his sneaker against the bedpost. "Kyle...I grew up. We all grew up...and got older, and became adults. And...we went off and got jobs, and had our adult lives." And some of us died. He bit that down, suddenly thinking more about Butters than Sheila and Ike. What happened to those two would be easy to prevent, and what happened to Butters was nearly a decade away.
"Wait...what?" Kyle was shaking his head doubtfully.
"I...guess I figured that it would be easier to show you what knowing how to play guitar for over a decade now sounds like, than it would be trying to tell you that I traveled back in time here from the future with all my memories intact, into my twelve year old body, and back into this life. And I have no idea what I'm supposed to do, or how to act..."
"Okay...wait You...learned to play guitar when you were sixteen Stan? And we grew up..."
"Yeah, Kyle..." Their eyes were locked together, and Stan could tell Kyle was at least listening with an open mind. "And then one night years from now...only it seems like just last night to me...I had the chance to come back here, to this time again." He couldn't think of any more to say for a moment. He finally added, "And so I did. And...that's it, I guess."
Kyle leaned away, resting his back against the bed. "Um, no, that's not it, Stan. I mean...how? How did you 'come back'?" His concerned look was giving way to an angry one "Hey, look. You seem really sincere about this, but...you better not be setting me up for a prank! I mean, if you suddenly go 'na na na na nah na! I, ah..." Kyle laughed, and lamely finished: "...made you think I'm from the future..."
Stan laughed hard at that remark, and Kyle joined him for a moment, and then they both stopped at the same time, Stan once again staring at Kyle's untied shoelace.
"Kyle...I'm not making this up. I swear to you..." He looked up suddenly. "And I can prove it another way, only not for two more days; but I really need you to believe me now, and if my guitar playing isn't enough to convince you—"
"Okay, yeah... you really sucked at guitar five days ago. But you could be on stage, dude! So, all right. I sort of believe you, okay? I mean..." He shrugged. "There's no fucking way you could have gotten that good in five days, unless..." He trailed off.
Stan smiled. "Unless Occam's razor?" He clearly remembered Mr. Garrison talking about that term when they were in fourth grade, and hoped Kyle remembered that as well.
Kyle looked up sharply. "Yeah. Sure. When everything else has been eliminated..."
"The simplest explanation, no matter how unlikely, is the correct one."
Kyle was obviously still trying to process what he had just been told. "Well, that had to have been pretty cool," he said slowly. "Growing up and becoming a man? I mean—"
"No! It sucked, Kyle!" Stan replied, and added hopefully, "And...you believe me?"
"Let's just say I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt...for now. What do you mean 'it sucked', or that you could prove it another way in two days?"
Stan nodded, relieved that at least Kyle didn't outright disbelieve him; that would have to do. "Thanks, Kyle. I'm going to need your help while I get used to this again. You think I was nervous around you before? Jesus Christ, I have to go to school tomorrow, and I have no idea how to act, or where any of my classes are, or..."
"Okay, okay...Stan I can help you with that. Goddamnit, you better not be making this up though."
"I swear I'm not! And like I said, I can prove it to you, beyond all doubt, in two days."
Kyle cocked his head. "How?"
"Kyle...do you think you can pretend to be sick and stay home from school this Tuesday? And get your mother to let me come over so she can watch me, because I'm really going to be sick, and my mom has to work?"
Kyle considered the question for a moment. "Yeah, probably. Why?"
"Because something really big is going to happen in two days. It was one...or, is going to be one, I guess?" He blinked. "One of the biggest events of our lives. And the first time it happened, I was home sick, and you were in school. And I, ah...I want to be with you when it happens again."
"All right," Kyle said slowly. "What's going to happen?"
"The space shuttle is supposed to go up tomorrow morning, isn't it?"
Kyle nodded. Stan's inability to remember things like this seemed almost normal now. "Well, yeah. It's a really big deal, what with the 'Teacher in Space' thing they're doing. The school's having an assembly tomorrow to watch it get launched."
"It's not going to," Stan said simply. "It's going to be delayed...again. It's been postponed a couple times already, hasn't it?"
Kyle nodded, and Stan went on: "It's finally going to be launched on Tuesday. And...a little over a minute after it takes off—" Stan looked down at his guitar. "It's going to blow up, and all seven astronauts are going to be killed."
"Wait...really? The shuttle's going to blow up?"
Stan nodded. "Dude, it was a huge national tragedy! President Reagan cancelled his State of the Union speech because of it. It was like one of the biggest news stories of our lives."
"Wait," Kyle repeated. "Do you think maybe we should...try to stop it or something?"
Stan sighed. "I thought about that when I was walking over here. And then I realized: What do you think would happen if a couple of kids from Colorado called NASA and told them that?" He shook his head. "No one would believe us. They'll launch it anyway, and...the FBI will probably come and talk to us. It would probably bring down a huge shitstorm on us."
Kyle grimaced. "You know...I hate to say it, but you're probably right." He ran his fingertips through his auburn curls, thinking. "Damn...okay, so...we'll stay here on Tuesday and—and watch that happen; and then..." He shook his head. "Continue with the rest of our lives, I guess. Only you know everything that's going to happen in the future...wow."
Stan nodded and then chuckled. "Well, I don't remember everything that happens! But yeah...I know a few more big historical events that are coming. Oh! And I know what companies we should buy stock in over the next few years, and when to sell them all before the market crashes. Dude...if we buy as many shares of just a few stocks as we can, and sell everything by the end of 1999, we'll be millionaires by the time we're thirty!"
Kyle was visibly excited by this idea. "So, our lives are going to be pretty cool, because you know what's going to happen! What are some of these stocks we should buy?"
Stan thought for a moment about all the high-flying companies of the 1990s that he'd missed the opportunity to buy into. Not this time. "Companies like Microsoft Corporation." Kyle snickered at the name. "And Apple Computer." He realized he had years to remember them all. "A company called Qualcomm did really good. Um, another one called Yahoo..."
Kyle scoffed. "There's going to be a company named 'Yahoo'?"
Stan smiled. "Yeah...it was spelled with an explanation point at the end. Dude...people who put a few thousand dollars into these stocks ended up becoming millionaires. And, oh yeah: When I was 28? I missed winning fifty million dollars in the lottery by one fucking number! But now I know what numbers to play that day..."
"Holy shit, Stan! We really could be rich someday! Hey, maybe we should look some of those stocks up? We can look through the business section of my dad's newspaper, or go to the library. And I could talk to my dad about getting a brokerage account at A.G. Edwards in Denver, where he has one."
"Dude, we can just—" Stan had been about to say buy them online...when something occurred to him that was so obvious he didn't know how he'd missed it. "Wait...you don't even have the internet yet, do you?"
Kyle's puzzled look was the only answer Stan needed. "What the hell is 'the internet', Stan?"
"Oh my God, Kyle! The internet is..." How to explain that? "In my time, just about everyone has a computer; even kids like us! And...the internet is what people use to connect computers from all over the world together. You can 'go online'—that what going on the internet with your computer is called—and research things, or see the news, or...you can send e-mail to your friends." Kyle looked even more confused. "E-mail means 'electronic mail'. You can write a letter to someone, and e-mail it to them, and they'll have it instantly, even if they're all the way on the other side of the world. A lot of those companies I told you about were involved in developing personal computers and the internet. It's like one of the biggest things that ever happens to the world; and we're in time to get in on the ground floor of it. Kyle...we're going to be so rich someday."
"Jesus, dude...so you like know just about everything that's going to happen for the next fifteen years or so..."
"Yeah!" Stan was shaking with excitement. Talking to his super best friend was starting to feel natural to him again. Everything was going to be all right. "Like I said, I don't remember everything that's going to happen. But I know a lot of important stuff..."
They talked late into the afternoon. Stan told him about as many future events as he could remember—the fall of the U.S.S.R., the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the 1993 bombing of the world trade center... Kyle kept asking him questions about future technology; at one point Stan spent three minutes explaining (and demonstrating with his right hand curled around one of Kyle's wadded up socks) how a mouse worked, and the difference between right clicking and double clicking.
By the time the sun was shining in the west window, talking with Kyle was second nature again. Stan completely avoided the topic about what was going to happen to his mom and Ike. They had left that Thursday morning at their usual time—7:30 a.m.—and been killed less than two miles from home. All Stan and Kyle would need to do is delay their departure by five minutes and they wouldn't be at that intersection where they were hit until after it was supposed to happen.
That was still four days away; there was plenty of time.
"Dude...you should probably get going," Kyle finally said. "Your mom'll be expecting you for dinner soon." He smiled at Stan's alarmed look. "Hey...you'll be fine! Just tell her you want to watch TV while you eat; and then you can just go up to your room afterwards and not talk to anyone the rest of the night. I'll meet you at your front door at 7:15 tomorrow, and we'll walk to the bus stop together."
Stan rolled his eyes. "Tomorrow's going to be fun. I don't remember where any of my classes are..."
"Well, you're in my homeroom and first class tomorrow, AP English Literature, but we're supposed to have this assembly first thing where the whole school watches the shuttle launch in the cafeteria." Stan suddenly remembered that morning; of course! "But you said..."
"Yeah!" Stan interrupted. "But it got cancelled again! And we ended up spending the whole day hanging out in the library and playground because the teachers' lesson plans got all fucked up! Tomorrow was a fun day."
"'Tomorrow was a fun day,'" Kyle echoed back, and they both laughed. "This is going to take some getting used to," Kyle said. "But you're talking to me just fine now! You'll be able to talk to your mom when you get home too; you'll see."
"And Shelly?" Stan grinned. "I know one thing: I'm not going to take any more of her shit."
Kyle laughed. "Yeah, I bet!" Kyle walked downstairs with him and told him again once they were outside that he'd be fine once he got home. Nevertheless, as Stan walked the quarter-mile to his house, he dreaded the upcoming encounter with his family. Talking to Kyle was one thing; dealing with his mom would be quite another.
And the years rolled slowly past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends
I found myself further and further from my home
Kyle was right; Sharon actually asked Stan if he wanted dinner in the living room, and brought it in to him with only a quick question about his day. She seemed stressed, probably from spending a long afternoon with Shelly, and Stan knew reintegrating himself with both of them would take a few days. The thing he most dreaded was eventually having to deal with Randy when he came around for one of his Saturday visits.
When Stan was finished eating he carried his dishes into the kitchen and rinsed them in the sink before going over to give his mother a hug. She seemed pleasantly taken aback. "Why, thank you Stanley."
"Good night, ma. I think I'm going to bed."
"Good night dear. I love you."
"Love you too." He smiled and turned away, walking toward the stairs.
All his schoolbooks were piled up on his desk, and he spent a few minutes putting them into his dark blue backpack, taking a moment to look through his notebook and glance over what was obviously this past weekend's homework. He remembered that he and Kyle would have done it together Saturday afternoon, anticipating that evening's campout.
After stowing his homework into the backpack, he put on pajamas and climbed into his childhood bed. The fresh-smelling sheets and soft pillows quickly lulled him to sleep.
True to his word, Kyle was at his front door at 7:15 the next morning, and as they walked down the driveway, Kyle asked: "So...you think you're ready for this?"
"As ready as I'm going to be, I guess."
They approached the bus stop five minutes later, and at the sight of half a dozen other kids standing around waiting, Stan nervously dropped back behind Kyle. "Dude...come on" Kyle whispered.
Kenny and Cartman were arguing about something; Kenny barely looked up to give him a quick nod before turning back to Cartman, who didn't acknowledge his arrival at all. And why should they? They just saw me a couple days ago. The adult Cartman he had partied with two nights ago had been heavily-muscled; the twelve year old in front of him now was just plain fat.
Butters was standing a few steps away by himself, studying the ground. Craig and his group were twenty feet away, and Stan remembered that they would stay off by themselves until they saw the bus approaching.
Stan looked at Cartman and Kenny for another moment, and then looked over at Butters. He walked away from Kyle to go stand next to the blond boy, who flinched as if he was expecting to be hit. "Hey, Butters."
Stan realized he was really glad to see him right now. Butters looked up at him, an odd mixture of suspicion and friendliness on his face. He still had that odd haircut his father insisted on for him, with a platinum colored tuft on top and the sides and back buzzed short, almost military style. Stan remembered that he had been heartbroken when the Challenger had exploded, and in the weeks and months following the tragedy that struck Kyle's family two days later, Butters and Stan had become closer even as Kyle became more and more distant. His parents eagerly welcomed Stan into their home, and Stan had known even then that it was because they thought he was a better best friend for their son than Eric Cartman was.
Stan had had to fend off Butters' occasional advances over the next few years, explaining that he wasn't that way, and eventually they had settled into a comfortable best-friendship that had lasted all through high school. They'd lost touch with each other after graduation. Stan had learned five years later that Butters had died the weekend of his 22nd birthday, overdosing on a mixture of cocaine and heroin at a rave in Denver.
Something else I can prevent. I just need to make sure we stay friends after high school and keep him away from that life.
"Well, h-hey there, Stan!" He gave him a big smile when he saw that Stan was actually being friendly. Butters was still at the awkward stage where he didn't know how to respond to someone being nice to him; Stan hoped the awkwardness he felt talking to Butters would pass quickly, and resolved to himself that this was something else he could do. He would learn how to all over again in the coming days. "D'you think they're finally going to launch the shuttle today?"
Stan blinked, not sure how to reply since he already knew the answer was 'no'. "Yeah, I hope so."
Butters laughed. "They've sure tried enough times!"
"Yeah...I know." They fell into a comfortable silence and Butters looked bashfully at his feet; Stan was aware of Kyle watching them intently.
"What're you talking to him for?" Cartman asked, staring at Stan. Butters flinched at the question.
Stan glared back. "Why shouldn't I...Cartman?" The sarcasm in his voice was obvious. "He's my friend; of course I'm going to talk to him."
"Wuh-oh! Someone's got sand in their vagina this morning."
Stan turned his back on him dismissively and rolled his eyes; Butters smirked as if they had just shared an inside joke at Cartman's expense. Two blocks away, the school bus turned the corner and drove toward them. The kids at the bus stop began forming a line, and Kyle sidled up to Stan and said quietly, "You usually sit in an empty seat behind me."
Stan nodded. "Thanks." The bus groaned to a stop, the doors clapped open, and they filed up the three steps past Ms. Crabtree. There were more empty seats than students in the bus; Stan followed Kyle down the aisle and sat behind him, leaning over the back of the seat so they could talk. Stan carefully avoided making eye contact with any of the other kids on the bus.
The bus rumbled off, turning down an unpaved road that Stan knew would become the entrance of a large housing development in a few years. Right now it led into the poor part of town; Kenny normally would wait for the bus here, but he preferred walking the extra half mile to wait with his friends.
"Dude," Kyle said quietly. "You're being awful friendly with Butters."
"We became good friends later on," Stan explained. "He's really a pretty cool guy." He wondered how it would go with Butters this time around, without the upcoming tragedy that took the Kyle he knew away, to bring them closer together.
Kyle nodded, seeming to accept that answer. The bus came to a stop and the doors opened again to allow another, much larger, group of kids to board. Stan's eyes widened as he remembered something that was about to happen, and wondered why Kyle hadn't reminded him of it.
The last person to board the bus was Fosse, who belligerently pushed his way past several other people and took the seat across the aisle from Stan. A very early puberty had turned him into a hulking beast of a kid; Stan remembered that even though he obviously shaved every morning, he would still have a dense five o'clock shadow on his pimple-pocked face by lunchtime. Kyle had once called it 'Eternal Beard Syndrome' and they had all had a good laugh about it; Cartman had gone on to say it to his face once (and gotten a black eye as a result), but looking at him now as he glared back from the seat across the aisle, Stan actually felt pity for him, at the same time wondering why he had ever been afraid of him.
"You got our algebra homework, Marsh?" he asked, glaring expectantly.
Stan had completely forgotten about this daily ritual. He was expected to hand his algebra homework over for Fosse to copy.
"Yeah...about that. Give me your worksheet and I'll write the answers in on it for you."
"Fuck that!" Fosse snapped. "Just give me yours so I can copy it."
Stan stared at him impassively, not moving. "No." Kenny and Cartman had stopped arguing and turned around to watch. "If you want your homework done, you give me yours."
Fosse clenched his fists; Stan continued to watch him calmly. "What is your problem Marsh?"
"My problem is your habit of not giving me my homework back sometimes, or giving it back to me in pieces." Butters was watching them now too, licking his lips as if about to say something; and Craig's group had grown silent as well. Stan could see tiny beads of moisture popping out from the pores on Fosse's face at the sudden attention they were drawing.
"God damn it, Marsh..."
"Just give me your fucking worksheet," Stan said; Kenny and Butters were openly staring; Cartman had a feral look as if he were hoping to witness bloodshed. Kenny was watching with a slowly growing smile.
Fosse looked like he wanted to say something else.
"Just do it," Stan snapped, his patience running out. Fosse swore and finally reached into his grubby notebook and withdrew a sheet of paper, handing it across the aisle to Stan. Stan opened his notebook and flipped through the section labeled 'algebra' and removed his own completed paper. He set their two worksheets side by side on his lap and quickly filled in the missing answers on Fosse's sheet, copying his own work and doing a fair imitation of Fosse's handwriting. He handed the finished worksheet back a minute later. "This is the last time I'm ever going to do this. You can do your own homework from now on; I'm not doing it anymore."
Fosse gaped as if Stan was speaking a foreign language. "What do you mean...you're not doing my homework anymore?"
"You're not that stupid, figure it out." He glanced at Kenny and Cartman, who were still watching incredulously. "Or get someone to explain what 'I'm not doing your homework anymore' means." He closed his notebook with a loud slap. "Or find someone else to copy off of."
At that moment, Fosse represented all the assholes Stan had ever encountered later on in life who wanted to keep him back, or reap the benefits of his hard work. And, despite having been terrorized by him the first time around, Stan knew Fosse would be simple to deal with this time.
Fosse was staring as if Stan were some new and interesting form of insect. "You are so dead later, Marsh."
"No, I'm not," Stan replied simply. Fosse reached across the aisle to grab Stan's collar, but Stan was quicker, grabbing his wrist and shoving it away hard, striking Fosse in the chest with his own hand. Fosse's eyes widened in alarm. More people were turning around to watch; Cartman was starting to laugh uproariously.
Stan let go of Fosse's wrist. "Go sit somewhere else. You've got your homework, I'm not doing it for you anymore, so find someone else to bully into doing it. Or hey, here's an idea: Do your own fucking homework. Gee, what a concept!"
Fosse's stared angrily, but there was also uncertainty in his beady eyes. The entire bus had grown quiet; even Cartman had stopped laughing and was staring at them silently.
"Marsh, I swear to god..." whatever he was about to say was interrupted by the bus abruptly slowing down and making a sudden turn onto the street that ran by the school, bouncing and jostling the students as it came to a stop in front of the commons area. Mrs. Crabtree reached over and shoved the door handle away from her and the door trundled open.
Students began standing up and heading toward the exit. Many of them were still watching the drama play out between Stan and Fosse, whose eyes were locked together as each waited for the other to get up first. Fosse finally huffed angrily and charged toward the front of the bus, pushing his way past Kyle and Kenny.
"What the hell, Stan?" Kenny asked grinning as Stan caught up to them and they walked toward the front of the bus. "You got a sudden death wish?"
Kyle was smiling too, but his voice was serious as he said quietly, "Yeah dude. That was a bit out of character for you. You better watch it, or people might get suspicious. What if he wants to kick your ass later?"
Stan shrugged. "He won't be able to." He knew Kyle had a point though, and resolved to be more careful.
They exited the bus; a large crowd of students were filing into the cafeteria, where Stan knew there was a TV set up to watch the shuttle launch. He brushed Kyle's arm with his fingers and stopped. "Don't even bother going into the crowd," Stan said quietly. "Mr. Mackey will be out any second now to tell us it's been cancelled."
As if on cue, Mr. Mackey emerged from the doorway holding up his arms and called loudly: "Attention, students! The shuttle launch has been cancelled again, mmkay? Everyone please report to your homerooms." There was a collective groan from the students and many of them began milling about aimlessly after the announcement.
"Oh wow," Kyle said. "You were right!"
"They have no idea what to do with us now," Stan replied, laughing. "They'd planned the whole day around us being mesmerized by the teacher in space going up today." Stan grabbed Kyle's arm and turned toward the hallway that he now remembered led to Mr. Garrison's classroom, which had been their homeroom. "Let's get roll call over with; they're going to give us an independent study day; we can go to the library afterwards."
Homeroom was the expected chaos, and after Mr. Garrison had conducted a very hurried roll call, the students were dismissed to work on individual projects for the rest of the day. Stan and Kyle went to the library; there were fewer than a dozen other students there, everyone else having opted to go outside.
"So, dude," Kyle whispered from behind a book, one eye on the librarian behind her desk in the corner. "You've been back less than a day and you're already picking a fight with the school bully."
"I know," Stan replied unhappily. "I think my best bet is to just stay away from everyone for a while."
They spent the entire morning talking quietly in the library, had lunch, and the rest of the day alternating between the library and the playground. Kyle finally convinced Stan to join him in a two-on-two game of basketball against Cartman and Kenny. Just after Kyle stole the ball from Cartman and performed a successful layup, Kenny asked the question Stan knew they were all wondering about.
"What are you going to do about Fosse, Stan? You know he wants to kick your ass after school."
Stan unsuccessfully blocked Cartman from making a shot. "He's not going to, though."
"Yeah, right!" Cartman scoffed. "He's going to end you after school today."
"Shut up, Cartman!" Kyle said angrily. "He is not."
Kyle passed the ball to Stan, who fired it toward the basket and missed, bouncing it off the rim. "I'll try to keep his friends from jumping into it," Kenny offered as he went for the rebound.
"Thanks Ken." Stan wasn't even too worried about that possibility, and in fact hoped that Fosse would back down, but when the day finally ended and they were riding the bus home, Stan knew he wasn't going to. He remained on the bus after it left his stop, and stood up at the next one to disembark with Stan and his friends. He and Stan faced off on the sidewalk as the bus drove away.
"Okay, Marsh." Stan slowly slid his backpack down his arm, holding it at his side. Kenny, Kyle, Butters, and Cartman along with half a dozen other kids formed a half-circle around them. Fosse took a threatening step forward. "You're doing my homework like always, or I'm kicking your ass, right now."
"Stan..." Kenny whispered. Stan shook his head.
"That's not happening," Stan said, still holding his backpack by one strap and staring Fosse straight in the eyes, giving up hope that Fosse would back down.
"All right, Marsh." Fosse held his arms up and balled his hands into fists. "You asked for this, you fucking faggot."
He charged Stan, and as Fosse swung his fist, Stan hurled his backpack at Fosse's knees and advanced ruthlessly, easily dodging the larger boy's fist. As he'd hoped, Fosse stumbled over the backpack and went down. Stan was on him a moment later, easily pushing him face down and grabbing one of his arms behind his back, bending it painfully toward his shoulders. Fosse cried out in pain and tried to fight back, but Stan bore down, driving him to the ground and twisting Fosse's arm toward his neck mercilessly.
Cartman was laughing hysterically, and the other kids were starting to chant "fight...fight...fight..."
Fosse screamed in frustration and tried to stand up, and Stan slammed his body into him, driving a knee into his side.
"I'll break your arm, asshole." Stan emphasized this with another wrench of Fosse's wrist, and Fosse yelled in agony while Stan relished the moment.
"Come on you guys!" Fosse yelled at his two friends, who had instinctively moved back a step when they saw their ringleader losing the fight. Neither of them made a move to help.
"Yeah," Kenny said, laughing and walking over to stand above Stan. "Come on you guys!"
Stan was gratified by the sight of Cartman stepping forward next to Kenny, followed a moment later by Kyle; even Butters appeared ready to step into the fray.
"You're outnumbered, dumbasses," Stan said ominously, eyes darting from Fosse to his two friends who were still hanging back. He looked down again. "Now...if I let you up, are you going to behave yourself?"
"What?" Stan wrenched Fosse's arm toward his neck again and Fosse screamed.
"Okay! Okay! Yes...get off me!"
Stan gave his arm one more push for good measure then jumped up and backed away warily. All the fight seemed to have left Fosse, who rolled over on his back, breathing hard and fighting tears.
"Are we clear on the homework thing now?" Stan asked, and Cartman laughed. Stan edged closer to his friends. Fosse nodded, and Stan said, "good!" and turned away, moving to join his friends. Stan glanced back as they walked away; Fosse was climbing to his feet, looking humiliated.
"Holy fuck Stan, what the hell was that?" Cartman asked, laughing wildly as they walked up the street.
"Yeah, what got into you dude?" Kenny asked.
"I just got tired of his shit, that's all." Stan was walking with his eyes on his feet, hoping he wouldn't have to keep talking about this. They seemed to get the hint and the rest of the walk to their respective homes was mostly silent. Kenny departed first down the dirt road leading to the railroad tracks and his house, Cartman a few minutes later as they reached his house.
"You usually come over until it's time for dinner and we supposedly do our homework together," Kyle told him. "Wanna do that?"
Stan nodded. "Yeah dude, sounds good." And tomorrow morning, we need to talk about something real important...about your mom and Ike.
And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun
Stan was awakened the next morning by a sudden sneezing fit. He smiled as he stared up at his bedroom ceiling, breathing through his mouth because his nose was completely congested. His throat felt scratchy and raw; this was just like the last time this day had begun; only the first time around he had stayed home while Kyle had gone to school. They'd watched replays together of the Challenger exploding hundreds of times afterward, but they'd been apart when it actually happened. It was time to make a few changes, starting with where he would spend the day. He had faith that Kyle would be able to convince his mom to let him stay home; all Stan had to do was convince his mother to let him spend the day over there.
I can do this
He made his way downstairs to the kitchen, still wearing pajamas. "Mom..." Sharon turned around from the stove where she was scrambling eggs. "I don't feel good."
"Oh no, honey." She moved the frying pan away from the burner and went over to feel his forehead. "Oh, you do have a fever, and you sound stopped up."
"My throat hurts too, mom." He hoped he wasn't laying it on too thick.
She nodded. "Let me call work and see if I can take the day off—"
"Ma, Kyle's mom might be able to watch me! Kyle wasn't feeling good last night either, and Mrs. Broflovski said she was probably going to keep him home if he wasn't better by now. She doesn't work, and if he stays home sick too, she can watch both of us."
Sharon looked at him doubtfully. "Oh honey, I hate to bother her..."
"Can you just call her and ask? Please, mom?" Stan was proud of his performance; if Kyle's was half as good, they'd be watching the Challenger disaster in his bedroom together in a couple hours. "Please?"
Stan wanted to hug her again when she nodded slowly and replied, "All right dear."
"Thank you, ma!" He sat down at the table while his mother picked up the phone and left the room with it. He overheard a few words of their conversation and it sounded as if their plan had worked perfectly.
A minute later Stan's mom returned to the kitchen and went back to cooking the scrambled eggs. "Well, Stanley, it seems Kyle is sick too, and Sharon is keeping him home today. She said she would be glad to watch you." She shook her head. "I knew you boys shouldn't have gone camping in January."
Stan coughed, raising a hand to his mouth to hide his smile. "I know, mom. You were right." And there goes camping out in the winter for a few years.
After breakfast, Stan went up to his room to get dressed and Sharon drove him to the Broflovski's house. They stood on the front stoop together as she knocked on the door. Kyle, wearing Terrance and Phillip pajamas, opened it a few moments later; he was barely hiding a smirk. Sheila appeared a second later behind him. "Hello, Sharon! I see we have a couple of sick boys here!"
Stan winced, caught Kyle watching him, and looked down, hiding his smile behind his hand.
"Thank you for watching him, Sheila," Sharon said as Stan stepped through the door and stood next to Kyle.
"Oh, it's no problem Sharon." She turned to look at Stan. "You boys go on up to Kyle's room to watch the shuttle launch...and afterward, you'll be working on some homework. Just because you're home sick doesn't mean you're not going to study today!"
Stan watched Kyle roll his eyes. Even though he wasn't feeling well, he wanted to laugh.
"Okay mom," Kyle replied, turning toward the stairs.
"I'll see you later mom," Stan said as he followed Kyle up the stairs, leaving their mothers to talk in the foyer. He followed him down the hall, and a few moments later they were behind Kyle's locked bedroom door and laughing together. Kyle's TV was on, showing pre-liftoff coverage of the shuttle launch. According to a countdown timer on the bottom center of the image, there was just over an hour until the launch.
Kyle lay face down on his bed, resting his chin on his arms and watching his television, Stan easily lying down next to him. Kyle used his remote to scroll through several channels; only one was even showing coverage of the shuttle launch.
"Dude," Stan asked. "How'd you convince your mom you were sick?"
Kyle grinned. "I told her I wasn't feeling good, and when she stuck a thermometer in my mouth and left the room, I held it next to my desk lamp." He rolled his eyes. "I'm running a one hundred and two point eight degree fever."
"Jesus, Kyle, you're really sick!" They laughed.
Since there was plenty of time, they watched an episode of Terrance and Phillip, laughing at the antics of the two Canadians. Things gradually turned more serious as the time to liftoff drew closer. Kyle changed the channel back to CNN; liftoff was now twelve minutes away. Time felt like it was speeding up.
"Okay..." Kyle finally said. "If you're really telling the truth, and I think you are, when does this thing blow up?"
"A little over a minute after liftoff." Stan thought back to all the replays he had seen of this upcoming moment. "Right before it explodes, you'll hear someone at mission control say 'Go at throttle up' and then one of the astronauts says back, 'Roger, go at throttle up'. And right after that...it explodes. Those two rocket boosters keep going a little longer, and then..." He trailed off.
Kyle nodded. "And then: Boom. Well, I guess it's too late to make an anonymous call to NASA now."
They watched the rest of the countdown in silence, and before they knew it the time had arrived: It was 8:37; liftoff was in one minute.
If the hands of time were hands that I could hold,
I'd keep them warm and in my hands,
They'd not turn cold
Hand in hand we'd choose
The moments that should last
(Marilyn and Alan Bergman)
All too quickly the countdown reached zero and the space shuttle rose into the sky atop an enormous pillar of fire and smoke. Kyle was staring intently at the TV. Stan was watching Kyle; he had seen this in replays dozens of times and knew he'd be watching it many more times in the coming days. Kyle's lips were moving, and it took Stan a moment to realize he was whispering, almost too low to be heard: "Come on...come on..."
Stan was trying to ignore the sounds coming from the television; watching the shuttle disaster happen live (again) was somehow worse than seeing reruns of it. Bits of dialogue from the TV kept intruding though, impossible to ignore as the shuttle ascended into the bright blue Florida sky. "Roger...roll program." "Good roll program confirmed. Challenger now heading downrange." "Engines beginning to throttle down now...at ninety four percent" "We'll throttle down to sixty five percent shortly." "Velocity twenty two hundred fifty seven feet per second, altitude four point three nautical miles, downrange distance three nautical miles."
"It's coming," Stan whispered. Kyle looked away from the television for a moment, then looked back. One of the CNN anchormen began speaking, drowning out the voices of mission control and the astronauts.
"So the twenty fifth space shuttle mission is now on the way after more delays than NASA cares to count. This morning it looked as though they were not going to be able to get off—"
On the TV, the shuttle silently exploded, the camera angle quickly changing and pulling back to show the enormous cloud of smoke and fire, the two solid rocket boosters slowly rising above the catastrophe, the contrails they left behind slowly forming a giant letter Y.
"Oh my God!" Kyle whispered. Large pieces of smoking wreckage were falling from the giant cloud. The droning voice from mission control continued rattling off useless information about speed and altitude before stopping, realizing that something had just gone terribly wrong.
There was a scream from downstairs; Stan recognized it as Ike, followed a moment later by Sheila's cry of "Oh my God, no!"
The CNN anchorman began speaking, but Kyle's eyes were locked on Stan's. "Looks like a couple of the solid rocket boosters...blew away from the side of the shuttle... in an explosion..."
"Jesus Christ, Stan!" All the color had drained from Kyle's face, and he looked like he could be sick at any moment.
From the TV, the voice of mission control: "Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation." Kyle tore his gaze from the TV to look at Stan, who had been staring at him the whole time; he had seen these images hundreds of times before. "Obviously a major malfunction." They could hear Ike crying downstairs. "We have no downlink." Kyle was staring at Stan, all the color drained from his face. Debris continued to rain down, and even though Stan had seen this image dozens of times, the horror of this moment felt as raw as it had the first time it had happened.
("We have a report from the Flight Dynamics Officer that the vehicle has exploded.")
"Oh Jesus, dude!" Kyle whispered, his hands going to his mouth.
("Flight director confirms that. We are looking at checking with the recovery forces to see what can be done at this point.")
"Oh Jesus Stan!...oh my God. It really did blow up..." Kyle's expression was bordering on maniacal. "Just like you said it would." He retched and buried his face in his hands, swallowing several times in rapid succession
("Contingency procedures are in effect")
"It's okay, Kyle," Stan said quietly, moving to sit closer. Stan was trembling, not at all sure what he should do. After a moment, he put his arm around Kyle's shoulder. It must have been the right thing, because Kyle looked at him gratefully and shook his head.
"At least..." Kyle whispered. "At least they died quick."
Stan's lips tightened to a thin line at that and he shook his head. "No." His eyes narrowed. "They didn't, Kyle!" Kyle's face was unreadable, staring at Stan as he continued. "When they pulled them out of the ocean weeks later..." Stan looked around Kyle's bedroom. "Or...I mean, weeks from now, I guess..." His eyes settled back on the TV, which was already beginning to show replays of the explosion. "They found out that at least a couple of the astronauts lived until they hit the ocean, like three minutes after it blew up."
If anything, Kyle's face grew even whiter as the implication of that set in. Stan's own vision swam out of focus for a moment as he realized that's happening right now.
There was a commotion outside Kyle's door, which suddenly burst open. Ike ran into the room and threw himself against his brother, hugging him. "Kyle!" he wailed. "It blew up!"
Stan stood up alongside the bed, letting Kyle give his complete attention to his brother.
"I know, Ike." Kyle hugged him back. His eyes were still locked on Stan's with that same unreadable look in them. Sheila appeared in the doorway a moment later.
"Boys!" She seemed about to enter the room, but then stopped herself. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, my god, mom!" Kyle said, awkwardly clutching Ike, who was sobbing miserably against his chest. His eyes kept darting back and forth between her to Stan.
Stan felt most comfortable watching the TV, trying to ignore what was happening in the room.
"This is just awful," Sheila said, finally taking a couple steps into the room. Ike turned to look at her for a moment, then buried his face in Kyle's pajama shirt again.
They stayed that way for a long moment, Stan watching awkwardly as Kyle tried to comfort his younger brother. Sheila finally walked all the way into the room, put her hand on Ike's shoulder and led him away.
"Okay...dude." The color was slowly returning to Kyle's face. "Obviously you are telling the truth. It happened just the way you said it would."
"Kyle..." Stan sat down on the bed beside him. He had no words to add, and they quietly watched television together.
The next few hours passed awkwardly. CNN showed replays of the disaster over and over again, finding more and more footage of the same event, filmed from many different angles. Sheila brought them sandwiches for lunch and left them alone, her vow of making them do homework forgotten.
Eventually the shadows outside began growing longer and crept into the window, and it was time for Stan to go home. Sharon picked him up and Stan and Kyle said an awkward goodbye to each other in the driveway as he climbed into his mother's car.
It wasn't until after Stan had eaten dinner, this time with Shelly and his mother sitting on either side of him while they watched the news, that he realized that, with all the drama surrounding the disaster, he still hadn't talked to Kyle about the tragedy that would kill his mother and brother in two days unless they stopped it.
All right...first thing tomorrow morning I have to talk to him about it. It's too important to put off any longer.
Where do the children go
Between the bright nights and darkest day?
Where do the children go?
And who's that deadly piper who leads them away?
(Eric Bazalian/Rob Hyman)
Stan was up and dressed for school before his alarm clock went off the next morning. He hurried downstairs and wolfed down the waffles and bacon his mother had made for breakfast, rushing away from the table as soon as he'd answered her questions about how he was feeling.
Two minutes later he was hurrying up the street, going over in his mind what he was going to say to Kyle.
Kyle, I have to talk to you. Something terrible is going to happen tomorrow unless we prevent it. Your mom and Ike are going to be killed in an accident while she's taking him to school. It happens a mile from here...if we can just stall them so they leave five minutes later everything will be okay.
It seemed like a foolproof plan: Perhaps Kyle could hide his mother's keys and then pretend to 'find' them after enough time had gone by.
He turned the corner onto Kyle's street and stopped. It was another gorgeous winter morning. The sun was just rising in a clear blue sky, and fresh snow glistened in the orange light. Stan took a deep breath, enjoying a moment of peaceful solitude. Life was great again, and it was only going to keep getting better. He was already having an easier time talking to his mom and Shelly, and he knew that after spending more time with his other friends, behaving normally around them would start to get easier as well.
He took a step and staggered as he felt the earth move under his feet. What? We're having an earthquake here? He looked around anxiously, and was struck with terror as suddenly everything began to go horribly wrong.
All the color seemed to be draining from the world: The snow, the sky, the houses... everything was fading to a lifeless monochrome gray. It was as though the sun was going out, and soon everything would be in darkness.
He shouted "No!" and started running toward Kyle's house. He didn't get more than a dozen steps before the world went completely dark, all the strength left his legs and he stumbled forward and
sprawled across the hood of a large black SUV which was parked in the woods alongside Stark's Pond. He would have fallen to the ground if it hadn't been there. He straightened up and looked around.
It was late morning. Kyle's tent was gone, and there were no signs that the two of them had camped here recently. His legs felt impossibly heavy, and he was six feet tall again.
"Oh...no," he whispered, and slowly sank to his knees beside the SUV's front left tire. He instinctively knew this vehicle was his. It was enormous and appeared brand new, and even though he didn't recognize it, he knew it was the type of vehicle he would have bought for himself if money were no object...
"No..." He squeezed his eyes shut, fighting back tears. He couldn't believe what was happening; just like that it was over, and he was an adult again. Making matters worse was the fact that he had absolutely no memories of how he had gotten to this moment, on his knees and leaning against the front fender of an SUV that he knew belonged to him but didn't remember buying. He sat down on the ground next to the tire, despair engulfing him as he cried.
After several minutes he forced himself to stand up and open the door of the SUV. The new car smell inside was comforting somehow. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys he didn't recognize but wasn't surprised to find that one of them fitted into the ignition slot on the steering column. Once he started the engine, he realized he had no idea where to go from here.
A wallet was lying on the dashboard. He picked it up and looked inside. The first thing he saw was an enormous wad of cash, and thumbing through it, he estimated there was over $2,000 there. There were also half a dozen credit cards (including an American Express Platinum card). I must have won that lottery jackpot. He finally found what he was looking for: His driver's license, with a picture of himself he had no memory of ever seeing before. The home address beneath his name was one he didn't recognize.
He put the truck in gear and drove to a convenience store and purchased a large coffee and a city map. He found the street his license said he lived on; it was in an upscale section of South Park. He drove off, following the map, and couldn't help but whistle when he found what apparently was his house. It was a veritable mansion, rivaling the one Token had grown up in.
He pressed the button on the remote control clipped to the visor above the windshield, and the garage door of the house obediently trundled upward. Stan would have driven inside, but there was no room, the entire garage taken up by a boat on a trailer, a jet ski, an ATV, and enough weightlifting equipment to open a gym.
He parked in the driveway and walked inside. Nothing in this garage was familiar to him...but he knew this was what his garage would have looked like if he could afford to buy anything he wanted.
He made his way through the living room, past a ridiculously large flat screen TV connected to an elaborate theater system, up the stairs and through the first door he came to that he was sure was his bedroom. He walked past the king sized waterbed and made his way toward the desk and computer, and was about to turn the computer on when he saw two framed pictures on the wall above the desk.
One was a photocopy of a lottery ticket, showing all six of his winning numbers; the other was a picture of Stan standing before a backdrop with a 'Colorado Lottery' banner, holding an oversized souvenir check made out to Stanley Marsh in the amount of $50-million dollars. These confirmed his suspicions. I won the lottery; what else did I do that I don't remember?
He turned the computer on. When a 'my portfolio' icon appeared, he double clicked it.
His eyes widened as he scanned through the numbers on the spreadsheet that appeared. His investments were worth nearly $30-million, spread around in various investment and money market accounts at the First National Bank of Denver.
That confirmed that he indeed had won the lottery jackpot; next was trying to figure out the rest of his life, and he knew where the best place to begin to find answers to those questions would be.
He searched the web for 'Kyle Broflovski' and found a local address for him, which he scribbled down on a scrap of paper, and clutching that, he headed back outside to his truck.
It's been sixteen years
And it don't seem more than sixteen days
As the years roll by, does the time really fly
Did I lose my way?
Don't pass me by
Don't pass me by
Where does it go? Where does the time go?
Where did it go? Where did the time go?
(Dan McCafferty, Pete Agnew)
If this was Kyle's house, it was in a neighborhood more rundown and dangerous-looking than the one Kenny had grown up in.
Stan parked in the weed-filled front yard since there was no driveway and walked up to the front door. After a long hesitation he raised his knuckles to the peeling paint of the door and knocked.
He waited, knocked again and was about to leave when the door was opened by a disheveled-looking man in a dirty wife beater and torn jeans. He rubbed at his eyes, obviously having just woken up. Stan's heart sank as he realized that this unshaved human wreck with bloodshot eyes was Kyle, and from the blank look in Kyle's eyes, he didn't recognize Stan.
Recognition dawned in his eyes a moment later though, but Stan's relief was short lived. Recognition went to murderous fury in about two seconds, and Kyle stepped onto the front porch menacingly.
"You!" Kyle said angrily, advancing on Stan. "What...what the fuck are you doing here?"
Stan took an alarmed step backward, certain he was about to be punched. "Kyle?" He had seen Kyle angry countless times, but he had never seen him with this much hatred and rage in his eyes.
"WHAT?" At least he had stopped advancing. "What the fuck do you want?"
"I—I need to talk to you—"
"Oh, hell no! Get the fuck out of here Stan, or I swear I'll go back inside and get my gun and shoot you."
Stan's insides were on fire. "Kyle, please! Give me...give me five minutes, okay? I really need to talk to you." If I have all this money, why is he living here like this? And why does he hate me enough to want to kill me?
Kyle glared at him, seeming to consider what Stan had said. Stan hoped he didn't offend him when he added, "Just give me five minutes, okay? I'll...I'll pay you."
"Oh! The rich man wants to pay me for my time?" He leaned his back against the house and folded his arms, suddenly interested. "I can't imagine how my time could be worth anything, but what the hell. How much are we talking about here?"
Stan raised his arms in an I don't know gesture. "Um...five thousand dollars?"
That seemed to get Kyle's attention. He nodded slowly, not quite succeeding in keeping his face impassive. "Five thousand dollars, for five minutes." It wasn't a question. "Okay, sure. Start talking."
Stan wasn't sure where to begin. "Ah...why are you so mad at me?"
This seemed to set Kyle off all over again. "Are you fucking kidding me? Wha...why am I so mad at you? Jesus Christ—"
Kyle exhaled long and loud. "Did all that lottery money buy you enough drugs to fry every brain cell in your head?" he asked sarcastically. Stan kept silent, waiting. "Fine. You're paying me for this, so whatever. I'm so mad at you, Stan, because you fucking knew, just like you knew the shuttle was going to blow up, that Ike and my mother were going to get killed and you LET IT HAPPEN! You could have stopped it! You—"
"Kyle!" Stan said loudly. "I swear to you, I..." He fumbled for words. "I don't remember what happened! I...I was walking over to your house the day after the Challenger blew up, and I was going to tell you what was going to happen so we could figure out a way to prevent it. Kyle, I..." Christ! "Before I got to your house, I got sent back here, to this time. I just got here an hour ago Kyle. I swear to you, I don't remember anything about my life, from that day until..." He sighed and finished lamely, "an hour ago."
Kyle was watching him, his eyes narrowed down to slits. The moment dragged on, and Stan thought they were finished talking now and that he needed to leave. Kyle abruptly straightened up, unfolded his arms and turned toward his door. "Come on in."
Oh, thank god. Stan followed Kyle into his house. The inside of Kyle's home was much nicer than the outside, furnished with obviously secondhand furniture, but there were pictures on the wall and toys scattered across the living room floor. Kyle led him through the living room into a kitchen that also betrayed evidence of poverty, yet the room was clean and well-kept. From the boxes of kid's cereal on top of the refrigerator and the cereal bowl with Bugs Bunny characters adorning it resting upside down in the dish drainer, Stan concluded that Kyle had at least one child who was probably in school right now.
Kyle dragged one of the chairs back from the kitchen table. "Sit." He walked over to the refrigerator. "You want a beer? You look like you could use one."
Stan sat down and folded his arms on the table. "Yeah. Thanks."
Kyle pulled two cans from the 'fridge and sat down across from Stan, opening his own can (Pabst...yuck) and setting the other one in the middle of the table. Stan reached for it, opened it, and tried not to wince at the taste.
"All right, so," Kyle began. "You're telling me that the day after the shuttle blew up, you got yanked back here to this time again, and don't remember anything about your life." It wasn't a question; Kyle sounded like he was trying to process new information.
Stan nodded. "That's it, Kyle. I was walking to your house, imagining this whole wonderful future we were going to have where Ike and your mom weren't in that accident, we bought all the right stocks at the right time and I won the lottery and we got rich, and I got to live my childhood all over again. Instead...here I am."
Kyle sighed. "Well, you have your work cut out for you trying to figure it out. I don't know how much help I'm going to be able to be. You're not exactly my favorite person in the world."
Stan looked down at his hands. "I can understand that. Kyle...I know there's no way I can make up for what happened to your mom and Ike; but can we try at least? Starting with this house...I'd like to help you."
Kyle scowled. "Look: I've never wanted your help before, not after what happened when we were twelve. I don't know if I want to change that or not." He looked at the clock on the wall over the kitchen sink. "And I have to go pick my son up from daycare in a few minutes. So...you need to leave now. You had your five minutes and more, but I have things I have to do." He fumbled a cigarette from the pack on the table and lit it with shaking hands. "Ah...call me in a few days, and we'll talk some more. But I just can't right now."
Stan nodded. "All right..." he almost said dude and amended himself at the last second. "Kyle. I'll get that check to you, and...I'll call you, okay?"
Kyle nodded, making no move to stand up. Stan rose and offered his hand, which Kyle shook after an awkward moment when Stan thought he wasn't going to.
Stan drove around town aimlessly, finally deciding his next stop should be at the South Park branch of the First National Bank of Denver. He wasn't sure if the answers he sought would be there, but at least it was a place to start. He realized he should have expected the reception he got when he walked inside, considering he was probably one of this bank's largest depositors.
"Good morning, Mr. Marsh!" One of the bank's employees called from behind the row of teller windows. Stan had barely stepped into the lobby. Another one similarly greeted him, and from the corner of his eye he saw someone stand up from a desk behind a glass walled office and step into the lobby. Stan rolled his eyes when he recognized Craig Tucker, standing next to a sign on the glass reading 'C. Tucker, Branch President'.
"Stan! Hello! Come on back." He took a step backward into his office in obvious invitation, and Stan crossed the lobby, sitting down in a plush leather chair in front of Craig's desk a moment later.
"What can we do for you today?" This was not the Craig Stan remembered from school; he was extremely well-groomed and professional, and was treating Stan with the utmost courtesy. Thirty million bucks must buy a lot of respect. "Would you like some coffee?"
"No, thanks. I, ah, have a couple of questions. And I want to send a pretty large check to someone." He hoped this was a fairly routine request.
Craig seemed to take it in stride, picking up a pen and waving its tip over a legal pad. "Sure. How much do you want it to be for?"
He thought about the amount he'd promised Kyle and decided to add a zero, and that this would only be the beginning. "Fifty thousand dollars."
Craig didn't even blink as he wrote the number down. "And...who do you want it payable to?"
Craig began to write down the name, then stopped. "Kyle...there's a name I haven't heard in a long while. How's he doing?"
"Um...he's okay." Or he's going to be, if I have anything to say about it.
"He kind of dropped off the radar years ago," Craig said, looking up and losing his professionalism for a moment. "You guys were best friends when you were kids."
"Yeah. I guess life happens, you know?"
Craig nodded and lowered his eyes back to the legal pad. "Pretty small check for one of your friends. Guess you two are just getting reacquainted or something, huh?" He looked up again, his eyes narrowing. "That probably wasn't really appropriate; I'm sorry about that."
"What do you mean?"
Craig sat back, obviously worried he'd offended Stan. "Ah..."
"Hey, Craig...don't worry about it, okay? But I'm, well, sort of dealing with a lot of shit right now, and if you could answer one question for me, it would really help."
"I'll try, Stan."
"It's a pretty simple question, really. What happened when I came in here after I won that money in the lottery?"
Craig toyed with his pen. Stan realized the question probably made him sound insane, but he didn't care.
"Well, that day you came in here you wanted us to cut a bunch of checks for a quarter of a million dollars each, remember? You wanted something like twenty checks for the same amount sent to different people...including me, which surprised the shit out of me. You said you wanted everyone you were going to give money to to get the same amount, so no one would be jealous of anyone else. You don't remember this?"
"Just humor me, okay? Do you remember who some of those people were?"
"Well, yeah, a few. You gave half a million apiece to your parents, and the quarter million checkss went to, ah, Kenny McCormick, Wendy Testaburger...Eric Cartman. We had a good laugh about that one, remember?" Stan smiled and nodded, pretending to enjoy a memory that simply wasn't there. Craig continued, "Token, Tweek, Clyde, uh... Bebe Stephens, Butters Stotch—"
"Wait," Stan said, leaning forward. "I sent a check to Butters? When was this again?"
"One year ago last August tenth," Craig replied immediately. "It was the biggest day this bank ever had in money transfers." He laid his pen down on the desk. "Stan...are you all right?"
Stan sat back, not sure what to think. Sheila and Ike had died, but Butters was still alive. How?
"I'm fine, Craig, thanks." He took a deep breath and smiled. "In fact, you've helped me more than you know. Ah...where do I get that check?"
"We can mail it for you if you'd like," Craig replied. "I'll take it to the post office personally and mail it overnight with the usual tracking information and he'll have it tomorrow." He cocked his head. "That is...unless you want to take it to him yourself?"
"No, that'll be fine." Stan used this opportunity to stand up. "And thanks, Craig." He held out his hand and Craig shook it. "You've actually helped me quite a bit."
He left the bank and drove around aimlessly for an hour pondering his next move. He was considering driving back to his 'house' (he really couldn't think of that enormous mansion as 'his' yet) when he spotted a sign above a business in a small strip mall.
He smiled as an insane idea suddenly came to him. He parked underneath the sign and walked up to the front door. The windows of Tweek's 'coffeehause' were adorned with drawings of dozens of coffee cups on merry-go-rounds, painted in a technicolor caricature style. It looked like the art Tweek used to doodle in his notebooks.
There were about a dozen people in small groups scattered throughout the brightly lit café where there was room for fifty. Stan made his way to an empty table near the counter and as far away as possible from the other customers. One of the baristas—a teenaged girl wearing a smock decorated like the windows—caught his eye and started to walk around the counter to take his order when Tweek stood up beside her and caught her arm.
"The usual, Stan?" Tweek called out, and Stan nodded, curious what his 'usual' order here was. He hoped it was a large black coffee with sugar.
Tweek brought Stan's coffee along with a second cup for himself and sat down across from him. Stan raised his cup (heavy ceramic, also hand-painted like the windows) and took a sip: black with sugar. His eyes reflected back at him in the steaming liquid.
"What brings you in today Stan?" Tweek asked. Stan was taken aback by Tweek's appearance; he looked like an old hippy in a young body, his hair falling over the shoulders of a bright purple tee shirt with his coffee shop's logo on the front. He had an air of easy-going confidence about him as he sipped from his own cup, regarding Stan curiously.
"Well," Stan leaned across the table, closing some of the gap separating them and said quietly. "I was hoping to maybe get something you don't normally serve to most of your customers."
Stan hoped his request wouldn't anger Tweek and possibly get him kicked out. But Tweek just smiled softly and replied, "Sure, Stan." He looked around. "Maybe we should go back to my office and talk about that though, okay?"
Stan nodded, and Tweek stood, leading the way behind the counter and through the kitchen where a couple of teenagers were washing dishes; neither of them seemed the least alarmed at the sudden appearance of their boss. Tweek led Stan down a short hall on the other side of the kitchen and into a small dark room that Stan thought for a moment was a closet until Tweek flipped a wall switch and the lights came on.
He was inside the most bizarre office he had ever seen. Tweek sat behind a large desk with no less than three computer monitors arranged on it, gesturing to the chair in front of it. The walls and ceiling were painted in the same style as the front windows, only some of the cups had faces and were driving clown cars while other walked small coffee cup shaped dogs on leashes.
"So, Stan." Tweek's eyes were piercing as he gazed at Stan, studying him. There was no sign of the nervous, twitchy kid that Stan had once known; this Tweek had an air of confidence about him that Stan had only seen in a few people. "You went on a nice trip the other night, huh." It was a statement, not a question. "Maybe took a little trip through time?"
Stan's expression was all the answer Tweek needed.
"Yeah...I thought so. I saw it in your eyes the moment you walked in here." Stan felt the blood rushing from his head.
"How...how did you know that?"
"Like I said: I could see it in your eyes," Tweek answered immediately. "You have kind of a thousand yard stare thing happening." He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a small plastic baggie and set it on the desk. "So tell me: When did you end up? What happened?"
When did I end up? "Ah..." Stan replied carefully. "Back in January of 1986? I was in the seventh grade...and, uh..."
Tweek laughed. "I'm sorry! I should have been clearer. What I meant to ask was what big historical event happened around the time you went back?"
Stan closed his eyes, feeling dizzy. "Ah..." How did he know about this? "Okay...the space shuttle disaster."
"Which one?" Tweek asked immediately, then appeared to think about his own question. "You said 1986, so you mean the Challenger disaster?"
"Yeah," Stan replied. Which one? What? "How did you know?"
Tweek smiled. "I'll tell you in a minute, okay? But let me guess: You went back in time, tried to change some things from your past, and found your reluctant way back here again. And you have no memory of how you got here this time."
Stan leaned forward, fighting a sudden wave of nausea. Apparently Tweek knew the answers to every question Stan had, and would give them to him in his own good time. The nausea passed and Stan opened his eyes and sat up. "Yes. Please tell me how—"
"Because I've done it, too; and so have eight other people that I'm aware of, from all over the world. You're the first one I've ever met in person though."
"Oh, Jesus...Tweek how...?"
"None of us know. Millions of people all over the world trip on psilocybin mushroom, but only ten of us have ever traveled through time while doing it. Something about us makes it possible, but we haven't figured out what it is."
"I thought I was going to get to live my whole life over," Stan said sadly. "And everything would be wonderful, and I'd pay more attention and enjoy every moment of it. But it only lasted three days!"
"I know," Tweek replied sympathetically. "That's what just about everyone else I've talked to about it says."
"When you went back...how long did you get to stay?"
"Ah, Stan. This isn't going to be easy for you to hear. I...came back ten years ago, and never went back again; and I was 82 years old and dying when someone gave me some of the 'shrooms and told me to think about the happiest time of my life. As far as I can tell, I'm here permanently."
Stan's eyes widened, and he felt more than just a touch of jealousy. "What...why did you get to stay?"
"It seems to have something do to with the desire to change things from our past. Of those eight other people I've spoken to that have gone back, only three of them have managed to stay, and those were the ones who didn't try to make big changes because of what they knew about the future. I'm guessing you wanted to save Kyle's mom and brother, right?"
Stan nodded miserably.
"Apparently, however this thing works, we're not allowed to make large changes, especially ones that involve other peoples' lives. It seems more forgiving of small changes though—"
"But I won the lottery, because I knew what the winning numbers were going to be!" Stan cried. "That's a huge change!"
"Not really, when you think about it. All you did was fill in a different number on a lottery play slip. The universe doesn't seem to care about us shifting large sums of money around, which is what you did." He laughed. "Which is a good thing, or else I probably wouldn't be here. But preventing the deaths of two people who were destined to die in an accident in a few days? That's the kind of thing that seems to upset the process. And it's probably what brought you back to this time."
"So I couldn't have saved Sheila and Ike, even if I tried—"
"I didn't say that. I said you couldn't make large changes...at least not without consequences. If you had had weeks or months to work on it, you might have been able to."
"Wait...then how did I save Butters?"
Tweek smiled. "Who says you did?"
Stan blinked. "Huh?"
"Stan...I came back ten years ago, and became 19 again. We don't get a choice of when we get to arrive, it just always seems to be near the time of a big historic event. We don't know why, but anyway. It was much too late for me to do anything about Sheila and Ike. But Leo was a different story. We became friends...and eventually we became more than just friends. Leo's one of the sweetest, kindest men you can ever hope to meet, and I'm lucky to be able to share my life with him. All I did was take him to London for his 22nd birthday, and he was 5,000 miles away from where that party was that he overdosed."
Stan nodded. It all made sense now, at least as much sense as this bizarre situation could possibly make. "I want to try again...has anyone ever gone back twice?"
"Not that I know of; but I guess there could be a first time for everything." He picked the baggie up from his desk and handed it to Stan. "Just don't be too disappointed if it doesn't go right this time either...that is, if it even works at all."
"I have to try, Tweek."
Tweek nodded. "I know. Listen...if it doesn't work out, come see me again. I, ah, can't tell you too much about what happens in the next sixty years because I want to stay here in this time; but let's just say things get pretty ugly in the next couple of decades. I might have some... suggestions for you to make the rest of your life a little better."
Stan studied the plastic baggie in his hands, already dreading the awful taste of the dried fungus. "Thanks, man. I will. Um...do I owe you anything for this?"
Tweek laughed. "Ordinarily that would be fifty bucks. But call it a gift, okay? I really hope things work out for you, Stan. I just hope you understand when I say I don't think they will though." He stood up. "I should get back to the shop."
Stan rose and they shook hands. "Thanks again, Tweek."
Stan drove home, eating some of the foul-tasting contents of the baggie a minute before he pulled into his driveway, choking the horrible tasting mass down with gulps from the large coffee Tweek had sent him home with.
He went inside, put on some music and sat down on his couch. Half an hour later, he was tripping again, and the world once again disappeared into an impossibly bright and pure white light.
"Kyle..." he whispered as his living room slowly faded away. He thought he should be standing for this, and so he stood and locked his knees so he wouldn't fall this time, and as the light flowed around him and through him, he looked down at the carpet and
a newspaper landed in the wet icy slush at his feet. "Hey, sorry kid!" Stan looked up again at the car that had just driven past Kyle's driveway, the man who had just tossed the paper out of his car window looking guilty as he drove slowly past. "I didn't see you standing there."
Probably because I wasn't here a moment ago
Stan nodded and waved, and the man smiled and drove on down the street. Stan bent down to pick up the newspaper, once again wiping snow from the plastic bag so he could read the date: Thursday, January 30, 1986. His eyes widened. He realized this was it, and even without a watch to tell him what time it was, he knew this wasn't just the day, this was the moment, right now. He looked around. The color was already draining from everything, even the snow, and the sky was growing dark. He had minutes, maybe only seconds, before he would be yanked back to the future again.
He looked around desperately. There was no time to run to the house, knock on the door, talk to Kyle, and find a way for them to delay Sheila and Ike's departure; the sky was already the color of twilight. And Stan knew Kyle's front door would open any moment and Sheila and Ike would walk outside on their way to destiny.
There's no more time...no more time
But he thought there might be a way. It could be awkward and might mean losing everything, but...he knelt down beside the car next to the right rear tire, looked around quickly, and then unscrewed the cap from the tire's valve stem. He used his thumbnail to press on the metal pin inside the valve and was rewarded with a loud hisss of air being released. He was frightened by how loud it was and tried to cup his hands around the valve to muffle the sound.
Stan watched the tire slowly go flat as the world went dark. By the time Sheila could find someone to change the tire (or made arrangements to use Gerald's car), they would arrive at the intersection where she and Ike were supposed to be killed late enough to avoid the collision this time.
The last of the light faded away and just before it was gone completely, an even darker shadow fell over him. He looked up into the outraged face of Gerald Broflovski, whose angry voice seemed to come from a million miles away.
"Stanley! What the hell are you doing?!"
And the darkness overtook him.
The scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far
Did you lose yourself somewhere out there
Or did you get to be a star?
Don't it make you sad to know that life
Is more than who we are?
You grew up way too fast
And now there's nothing to believe
Another meteor streaked across the star filled sky, dropping toward the pines ringing Stark's Pond before disappearing in a brilliant flash of light. Kyle looked over at his brother Ike, who was looking back at him, eyes full of awe and grinning hugely. "That was a nice one, Kyle!"
"Hell yeah it was!" He looked away from Ike and back up at the stars, which were shining fiercely tonight. That meteor had been amazing, one of the brightest he had seen in years, and as they did every year at this time, Kyle couldn't stop his thoughts from turning to Stan, wondering where he was and how he was doing; and if he even remembered that tonight was the Perseid Meteor shower, or if he was even still alive.
Kyle wondered if somehow, beyond whatever years and miles separated them, Stan might have seen this very same meteor.
Three weeks later Stan reappeared in the same place, this time seated behind the wheel of his vehicle. Dawn was just beginning to light the sky behind the trees on the other side of Stark's pond.
He looked around. He was behind the wheel of another luxury SUV: Check. His wallet was on the dashboard and he opened it and wasn't at all surprised to find another large amount of cash inside, along with the platinum American Express card. He'd won the lottery again. Check.
He looked at his watch. It was 7:05 A.M., which was about what he expected. What he didn't expect to see was the date: Sunday, September 9, almost three weeks after they had camped out to watch the meteor shower. Three weeks? Why not a year and three weeks? He tried to visualize a calendar for this year and couldn't, and realized he'd have to go buy another newspaper to make sure he had returned to the right year, 2001.
Don't die with your music still inside you
(Wayne W. Dyer)
This story has been a very long time in the making; in fact, it's been stuck in my head for over half my life. I initially planned to write it as an original novel, but the complexities of that proved discouraging over the years. When I realized that, with a few modifications, it could work within the South Park Universe and that I could write it as a fanfic (and get some nice artwork by writing it for the big bang) I finally got motivated to finish it.
A big thanks to howtodisappearcompletely for beta reading this.
And to everyone else who's made it this far: Thanks for reading!
Chapter Tracks – Title and Artist:
9. Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
10. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
11. I Wanna Go Back – Eddie Money
2. Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams
3. Running On Empty – Jackson Browne
4. Against The Wind – Bob Seger
5. Time – Pink Floyd
6. The Hands of Time (Brian's Song) – Perry Como
7. Where Do The Children Go? – The Hooters
13. Time And Tide – Nazareth
14. Name – Goo Goo Dolls