Wherein a certain young man takes a wrong turn on his way home from work one night, the tale of his last day on Earth…
“…AND THEN THERE are some loonies who are really ready for the straight jacket. Atlantis? Space aliens? The military experimenting with the space-time continuum? When will they give it up? Nothing the least bit unusual happens to ships that ‘disappear’ in the so-called Bermuda Triangle. Nothing simply vanishes into thin air, or disappears without a trace. I mean, it has to go somewhere. And I really doubt it was some other ‘plane of existence’ or some other sci-fi-sounding nonsense…”
Dexter MacLean sat near the back of the classroom, trying to keep his eyes open as he glared at Chris Nimrod from behind mirrorized lenses. The wrap-around shades that were his namesake, and another story altogether. Shades stretched slightly, trying to stifle a yawn as Chris paused and adjusted his spectacles, proving that apparently even his wind was not without limit.
“…repeat, nothing vanishes without a trace. The ‘Bermuda Triangle’ is just hype, it’s no different than anyplace else in this world. Things happen. Ships sink. The weather changes violently in some regions. Some amateurs probably got lost in the middle of the Atlantic. I even read that one of the most famous ‘disappearances’ was just an error in the authorities’ records…”
Shades twiddled with the silvery triangular medallion he ordinarily kept tucked under his shirt, as he often did when he was feeling antsy. Slid up the sleeve of his denim jacket and checked his watch, seeing that he would still have to put up with another five or six minutes of this. For most of the semester, the clock on the wall was stuck at 4:20; so long, there wasn’t a joke left about it that Shades hadn’t heard a thousand times before. It wasn’t so much that he was against the overbearing dork expressing his opinion— it was free country, after all— as it was that he was against the overbearing dork taking half the period to express his opinion.
Though he tried not to laugh whenever Chris made “quotation marks” with his fingers every time he said the words Bermuda Triangle.
“…no need for any conspiracies when there are so many rational explanations. Serious scientific research, and I’m not talking about one of those crackpot ‘documentaries’ about it, has shown all of these ‘Bermuda Triangle’ stories to be either exaggerated or inaccurate. People fear what they don’t understand…”
Shades sighed and told himself to just roll with it. Just a few more minutes until class was over. Just a couple more hours until school was out for the week. Just another month until he graduated. It was hard to sit still anymore; he had held off months longer than most of his classmates, but now that it was finally upon him, his was fast becoming one of the worst cases of Senioritis in the entire Class of ’95.
Yet if Chris had Senioritis, he sure as hell wasn’t letting it show. Then again, Shades suspected that the Chris Nimrods of the universe were probably immune to it. And so Nimrod carried on. And on.
“…some people like to sensationalize everything, from aliens to Elvis sightings. The only people who are trying to prove all this mumbo-jumbo are the world’s most unbalanced and gullible. There is a logical, rational, scientific explanation for everything, and one day science will unravel all of the so-called ‘mysteries’ of the unknown…”
Shades tried to take some consolation from the fact that Chris was even putting Mrs Eastman to sleep. When he looked around, he couldn’t help wondering if Chris himself was the only one paying attention to the last portion of this speech. Of course, he doubted his classmates were too broken up about it; as annoying as this sophomore prodigy could be when he went full-bore, at least his lectures didn’t come with homework. He had burned up enough class time to ensure that there would be no extra work to do this weekend.
He looked out the window at the Rocky Mountains beyond, under a sunny blue sky that offered the promise of another Montana summer.
“Anyone else?” Mrs Eastman asked, looking among her students. The US Government teacher tried not to betray her relief, or her regret. She occasionally liked to have discussions about unusual topics, but not since her college days had she seen someone who could hold forth for as long as Chris Nimrod without panting for breath.
A girl in the second row raised her hand.
Shades perked up noticeably at that name. Unlike Chris, he could listen to her all day. And he was especially keen on hearing what she had to say about a subject so near to his heart.
“I’d just like to say that most scientists are way too closed-minded about the paranormal,” Amy O’Connor remarked as she brushed some of her long blonde hair out of her face. Ordinarily content to leave the task of annoying the little know-it-all to someone else, for some reason she felt compelled to put in her two cents on this matter. “Since when did ignoring something just because it doesn’t fit in your explanation of reality solve any of the mysteries of—”
Then the bell rang.
Though Shades was looking forward to hearing her views on the paranormal; he had never dreamed he would ever hear her speak about such a bizarre topic. Now he wished he had said his piece earlier, perhaps he could have filibustered Nimrod and delivered his classmates from terminal boredom, but what was done was done. In middle school, he had written his first “practice” term paper about the Bermuda Triangle mythos; it was an easy extension, research-wise, of his favorite reading material. Though Mrs Eastman sometimes chose weird topics for her tangents, this was the strangest subject he could recall— a whole high school class (mostly Nimrod) spending forty-odd minutes discussing the Great Unknown.
Shades shoved his US Gov text into his backpack as he stood up. Throwing one strap over his shoulder, he turned and gave Amy the victory “V” for her upset against Nimrod. And she again gave him that quizzical tilt of her head, as she always did when he saluted her.
“Don’t forget, there’s a paper on the Civil Rights Movement due Monday!” Mrs Eastman called after her students as they filed out the door. More efficiently, she noticed, than they did anything else in her class. “Have a nice weekend!”
Shades caught the tail-end of that as he strode down the hall to catch his friend Arthur at his locker. He and Eastman got along alright, but she was more of a traditionalist in many ways, and being able to wear his specs in her class at all was a feat of persuasion he would never have accomplished without Arthur’s help. After all of his previous years debating with faculty (I won’t insult your intelligence, or the memory of great civil rights leaders, by comparing myself to Martin Luther King or Gandhi, but would you entertain Socrates?… he had to admit, Arthur was quite the speechifier), he had little trouble with most teachers anymore. Through a combo of a clean record, good grades, and (when necessary) a little passive resistance, he had won the right to wear his shades.
It had definitely been more of an uphill battle than his name. It took a couple arguments, but his moniker of “Shades” was settled before he was out of middle school. Which was fine with him, since he had always hated the name Dexter. For those too formal for nicknames, it was Dex or MacLean. Or nothing; he refused to acknowledge anyone unless they addressed him by his chosen name.
One of his teachers had once remarked that he had more pairs of sunglasses than Elton John, though he only had three of four pairs. Others claimed he had a pair for every occasion. When he was a freshman, a group of upper-class students had a running bet about what color his eyes were, but it was never resolved, as no one ever got to see him without them.
Down the hall and up the stairs, simply letting others slip around him in all directions. He didn’t need to be in near the same hurry as them. Because he carried all of his books and gear in his backpack since his sophomore year, he no longer needed to stop at his locker. Blissfully unaware that the days of backpacks in classrooms were drawing to a close.
It was in front of his old locker that he found his friend. Shades had no more use for it, had even forgotten the combination. Arthur LaRoch, on the other hand, had so much gear among his various extracurricular activities that he couldn’t even fit it all in one locker, even after he got burnt-out on football. Not to mention some ridiculously long runs between some of his classes and his own locker. In exchange for a few favors, Arthur got to have some extra storage space, along with a more strategic stop-over between classes.
“Yo! Arthur! You still with us tomorrow?”
“ ’Fraid not, Shades,” Arthur replied, digging out books for his next class. Tall and powerfully built, Shades’ friend towered nearly half a foot over him. Sitting atop the pile of texts was the cap that ordinarily covered his short blond hair outside of school, the hat he often insisted the student of the future would be able to wear in school without taking any crap from administration. And had so far out-debated every teacher he had ever engaged about the matter.
“Oh. Why not?” Arthur was originally invited out to the mountains with him and his friend John.
“Gotta fill in tomorrow,” Arthur told him. “No one else available. Maybe next time.”
Ever since they entered the wide world of employment, things seldom went according to plan. The two of them had been friends since they were in the fourth grade, and back then the only place they ever got to hang out was at school; Shades lived in Lakeside and Arthur lived just south of Kalispell, barely in the same school district. Now they had the money and the transportation, but seldom had the time to go anywhere or do anything.
“I’ve got to get going, Shades. Catch ya later.”
And he and Arthur parted in opposite directions.
On the way to his next class, Shades stopped at a fountain. Just listening to Nimrod for over twenty minutes made him feel parched. He would have preferred something other than water, but with some of his projects these days, he just didn’t have the money to squander on vending machines.
“Hey Shades!” someone shouted as he came up behind him at the fountain. Shades never caught his name, but remembered him from math class. “Ya better watch out, man! Carlos is really pissed! I think you shouldn’t’ve laughed at him.”
“Like it’s my fault he says stupid things. It’s not like I was the only one laughing.” Shades shrugged. This was nothing new; Carlos Adams had harbored his mysterious grudge against him ever since they were in the sixth grade. Though he had to admit that it had been a long time since Carlos had done anything, he had sometimes feared there might be one more round before graduation, and the clock was ticking down.
“Just thought I’d tell ya,” the guy said as he took off and Shades continued on his way.