“Did you see that?”
Joel just stared through the windshield, open-mouthed.
“What?” Paul repeated, glancing sideways before returning his attention to the road. Joel continued to stare. Paul threw an elbow into his ribs. Hard.
“Dude, knock it off. You’re starting to freak me out, here.”
Joel grunted from the blow, nearly biting off the tip of his tongue when his teeth clacked shut, but Paul had managed to get his attention. His head whipped around, shifting his stare to Paul.
“You didn’t see it?”
“Dude, what’s your problem?”
Joel returned to staring out through the windshield, one hand blindly patting the air in Paul’s direction, hoping to ward off another elbow. The other hand pointed up and to the right, toward the trees lining the road.
“So you didn’t like… see something? Above the treeline?”
Paul tapped the steering wheel.
“Uh, driving here? Keeping my eyes on the road? Any of this ringing a bell?”
Joel craned about, twisting to look behind them, but without the benefit of headlights the road back there was just a black tunnel through the trees. He settled back into the seat with a “huh”, and a confused expression. The car made a sudden swerve toward the side of the road, brake lights flaring.
“That’s it, man,” said Paul. “You either tell me what you’re talking about, or you’re getting out. You can walk the rest of the way home, dude.”
“Okay, okay!” Joel made shooing motions, urging Paul to speed up again.
“I’ll talk! Just… don’t stop right here, okay?”
“S’matter?” The dashboard lights showed Paul’s teeth in a tight grin. “‘Fraid of the dark?”
“Yeah, kinda.” Joel looked uneasily out at the passing trees. “Look, we were driving along, right, and I thought I saw something in the trees for a minute. Out of the corner of my eye, you know what I mean?”
“Was it the boogeyman?” Paul’s grin grew. “Bigfoot?”
“No, man, it was up at the tops of the trees, like I said. There was something there, like, right next to us for a while. I caught it out of the corner of my eye, and I had time to see it before it sort of peeled away to the right, over the trees.”
Paul’s grin widened in the green glow of the instrument panel.
“Dude! Are you saying you say a UFO?” He started singing the Twilight Zone theme, but he couldn’t hold it together and started laughing. “Buddy, you had two beers and you’re seeing UFOs? What a lightweight!”
“No, man, no.”
Joel’s hand still hovered in the air between them, and as he looked out at the dark, dipping his head to look up at the passing treetops, he let it settle, absently, on Paul’s shoulder.
“It was, uh, it was a lady.”
Paul’s eyebrow rose in curiosity.
“Was she naked?”
Joel’s hand gripped the shoulder with sudden strength.
“You saw her?”
“Naw.” If Paul’s grin widened any more the top of his head was likely to fall off.
“Well, then how —”
“I’ve been drunk, and if I was gonna hallucinate a flying lady, I’d make her naked. I took a chance. You sure you don’t want me to let you out here? Maybe you could find her before she gets too far. I could come with you — you think you could hallucinate her a sister or something?”
Normally, Joel would have joined in on the jokes, trying to one-up his friend, but this time the thought never even entered his mind.
“It’s not funny! And no, I don’t think you’d want to meet her sister, ‘cuz —”
He fell silent looking again at the passing trees.
“Bro. Don’t make me unleash the hidden power of my elbow again. ‘Cuz why?”
Now that he was thinking about it, Joel regretted saying anything at all. Paul wasn’t going to let this one go, not now, and it was going to sound so weird.
“I — this is crazy, I know, but I’d… I’d swear I just saw Mrs. Starling fly by on a broom.”
“Starling? The school librarian? Dude, you have issues! She’s got to be, what, about a million years old?”
“Something like that. Christ, my dad remembers her being the librarian when he was in high school, and he says she was old then.”
“How many times must I tell you,” Paul began, mimicking the librarian’s rusty voice. Joel smiled and joined in for the finish.
Paul pulled to the curb in front of Joel’s darkened house.
“Your parents still away?”
“You sure you’ll be all right here all by your lonesome? You’re seeing naked old bags riding brooms. I mean, what would Freud say?”
He leaned in close suddenly giving Joel the stinkeye, his smile finally gone.
“You sure all you had was two beers at the party? You didn’t try any of the other stuff floating around back there? I don’t want to leave you here all alone if you’re all messed up on something, you know?”
Joel pushed him away.
“Two beers! That’s it — I’m fine. It was just… I’m fine.”
He got out of the car.
“See you Monday in Homeroom. Thanks for the ride.”
“No problem. Can’t wait to go to the library again. Gonna see it in a whole new light!”
Joel closed the door on Paul’s laughter and walked up to the porch, waving from the top step. Paul sped off into the night.
“I saw what I saw,” he half-shouted after the retreating vehicle.
“How many times must I tell you,” came a voice from the shadows, cracked and ancient. Joel tried to turn, but a stick (a broomstick, Joel thought) flashed out of the dark, cracking against his skull. He fell, dazed, open eyes watching a pair of naked feet, withered and gnarled with age, step into the light.
The stick came down.