Vernon sat with his elbows on the chair’s armrests, his hands intertwined. Across from Vernon sat Harry West, his boss for the past two years and eight months. Behind Harry West, a landscape painting of a tropical island. A ticking from the clock on the office wall filled the room like crickets on a silent night. The ticking pounded at Vernon’s temples and with every second that passed, he felt the temperature drop and a cold sweat form. For a month, he’d been practicing how to tell his boss that he wanted to quit. After countless renditions of various melodramatic speeches, he’d set his mind on the shortest version; a page and a half of self-loathing gibberish.
“So, Vernon, what’s this about?”
“Umm… Well, I uh…” Vernon stuttered. Every time he practiced at home, it seemed to come right out; but somehow, being alone in the room with Harry West, his speech shriveled up and dissipated into a vaporous gray cloud. “Mister Harry… uh… West,” Vernon took a deep breath, “I quit.”
“You could’ve sent an email,” Harry West said unphased.
“Damn… Yeah, I could have—that probably—that would’ve been a better idea.” Vernon bit his knuckle.
“Okay, well, you still have two weeks left.”
“Dammit,” Vernon said; the two-weeks thing completely slipped his mind. “No… No. You know, what? I can’t be here for another two weeks. I need to quit now.”
“You really wanna burn your bridges, huh?”
“Mr. Harry West, sir, I wish I could say it’s been a pleasure,” Vernon stood up and shook Harry West’s hand and headed for the door.
“But… apparently, it hasn’t?” Asked Harry West who sat confused.
Just before Vernon reached the door, he turned around and awkwardly shouted, “S-Suck it!” While forming a chopping X around his groin.
“That was unnecessary,” Harry West timidly remarked.
Vernon rode his bike home, thinking about all of the things he was now free to do. What sparked his sudden wanderlust a month prior was a YouTube video which unfortunately led him to believe that he could live like royalty in a developing country for no more than $500 a month. In Uruguay, he could live like a nobleman for $300 a month. In Peru, he could live like a king for $200 a month. On a more indigenous island, he could live like a god for a few bucks. He decided on a remote tropical island somewhere in Bermuda, but he failed to read the comments which expressed how misinformative the content in the video was.
He called a family dinner—since food for his family had always been their way of celebrating accomplishments, big announcements, and even bad news—with his mother, father and older brother in attendance. They had questions but were generally accepting, considering Vernon had been the more eccentric one. “It’s a new chapter in my life… in my spiritual journey,” Vernon said in defense. His father rolled his eyes. They gave each other hugs and wished him as much luck as they could possibly muster.
The next morning, his brother picked him up and they hit the road to the airport.
“Pretty bold move, bro.”
“Yeah, you know, I’m feeling good about this.”
“Hey, Verny!” Vernon’s mother popped up from the backseat as if rising from the dead.
“You doing okay? Do you need anything?”
“Mom, I haven’t even left the city yet. Were you back there the whole time?”
“I got you an orchid. I thought you’d also like to take some cake with you for the road.”
“How did you—“
“Your dad and I aren’t going to eat it anyway—”
“Mom, I’m not gonna eat an entire cake before I board, and I can’t take the orchid.”
“At least take the cake on the plane with you, share it with somebody.”
“Take an entire cake on the plane with me?”
“You’ll figure something out.”
“I’ll take it, bro. I love the corner piece,” his brother said.
Vernon’s mother reminisced about Vernon’s history full of rash decisions and eccentric ideas; all of the stories ended with him coming back home. When they arrived at the airport, his mother kept mentioning his return.
“This time, it’s for real,” Vernon said.
“Okay, Verny,” his mother said. “Bye-bye, I’ll see you soon.”
“No, mom, I don’t think you’re getting it. I’m not coming back.”
“Dad and I will leave some leftovers for you in the oven.”
“Mom, don’t do that.”
“We’ll leave the door unlocked for you, too.”
“That’s not safe, mom… Mom… you understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”
“I know, Verny, I’m just gonna miss feeding you and going to the supermarket with you and wiping you after you—”
“Yeah—hey, hey, I know. But… look at it this way: it’d be dangerous to overwater an orchid, right? The roots will eventually turn to mush. Right now, I’m feeling a little mushy.” He kissed her on the cheek and gave her a big hug.
“Really good cake, bro!” His brother said with a mouthful of cake corner.
On his way to the departure gate, he stood on the walking escalators and exhaled in relief. But then he heard shouting from behind him.
“Excuse me!” A woman cried.
“Yes, excuse you! I’ve gotta plane to catch,” a man shouted.
Vernon turned around to see the commotion. Heading directly toward him, wheeling quite fast, was a bulky fellow in a wheelchair.
When Vernon turned around, the man in the wheelchair stopped. “What’re you lookin’ at? Never seen a guy in a wheelchair?!”
“Aw, shiet… if it isn’t Vermin Vernon himself.” Newman Stottlemire was the school bully back in 11th grade. Nobody messed with him. It wasn’t that they were afraid, it was because nobody really had the guts to stand up to a guy in a wheelchair no matter how mean he was. Vernon tried slapping a politely enthusiastic expression on his face. He didn’t know whether to be happy to see Newman, hoping he’d changed or if Newman was still a dick; which, from the use of his old nickname, he hadn’t changed a bit.
“What in the hell has Vermin Vernon been up to?”
“Just getting away. You?”
“Haven’t learned to walk yet. But I did win the Nobel Peace Prize.”
“What?!? For what?”
“I discovered the cure for this disease called cancer.”
“Are you serious?”
“It’s gotta 99.9% success rate, but it’s whatever. Oh—gotta catch my flight, so many people to save!”
“Yeah, go get ‘em… tiger!” Vernon awkwardly blurted. What the hell have I been doing with my life? Vernon thought.
The plane was a standard commercial airliner. Vernon bought a one way ticket and was determined to reach his destination in Bermuda. He stuffed his bag in the overhead compartment and took his seat.
“Verny?” A woman in her late 60s asked.
Vernon took his headphones off in disbelief of the coincidence that he would run into yet another person he knew. He scanned the woman’s face, the features looked vaguely familiar; it was the kind of face you only remembered because of how young you were at the time of being exposed to it.
“It’s Marta, member? Nanny Marta?”
It was the woman who lied on Taco Tuesday and said the tuna was chicken. He felt forever betrayed. Vernon tried smiling but he just couldn’t hide his displeasure. “Oh. Nanny Marta.” The plane hadn’t even taken off and he’d already run into a handful of people he knew. He hoped that she’d leave after the exchange of pleasantries but Nanny Marta insisted otherwise.
“Is this seat taken?” Nanny Marta asked.
Vernon looked around. “Um—I think—”
“It’s okay, I will trade seat.” Nanny Marta opened up about her life, how she’d won the lottery and was actually one of the few who used the money wisely. She’d invested in an up and coming tech start-up and was on her way to Bermuda to lead a conference at a neo-religious gathering. The conversation slowly unfolded as a pitch to get Vernon to join the neo-religious gathering, she’d pay for everything, of course. When he politely declined, her behavior dramatically changed. He couldn’t shake her or change the subject, she wouldn’t stop inviting him and kept repeating the same pitch like a batting cage. 2 hours in and Vernon knew he wouldn’t last the 9 hour flight. Vernon excused himself to the bathroom but Nanny Marta insisted on going with him like she wanted to change his diaper. Next to the bathroom was a backpack that hung underneath a sign that read: Emergency Parachute. As Nanny Marta went on mindlessly about Dianetics, Vernon nodded in acknowledgement and tied her wrists to a metal bar with his island shirt.
“Marta, hold on to this, really tight, okay?”
Nanny Marta cocked her head. “Why?”
With the parachute on his back, Vernon looked both ways, placing his hand on the vaulted red handle of the emergency exit. He took a deep breath and yanked down on the handle in full force.
Out he went with all of the napkins and styrofoam cups and the tasteless liquids and snacks. Vernon sailed through the air, dropping beneath the plane at a death defying speed, his mouth like a horse ready to get its teeth cleaned.
As he sailed through the air, he realized that this was the first time he’d been parachuting; and if the exhilaration didn’t excite him, the liberation from people did. Complete freedom. There would be no one at this altitude, nothing beyond him except for the ground, or the sea, wherever he was. Until he saw a man in the corner of his eye. “VERN?” The man lipped. As the wind peeled back Vernon’s features, Vernon turned his head to see who it was.
“Barry Berry?” Vernon lipped.
It was the friend so nice his parents named him twice. They couldn’t hear each other but they clearly recognized each other. Barry Berry, with his big ears and burn scar; Vernon with his big snout and golden-frizzy hair. Barry Berry glided over to meet Vernon. They locked arms. He handed Vernon a styrofoam cup. Attached to the cup by string—coated with metal tubing—was another styrofoam cup. Vernon stretched his palm out and shrugged. Barry Berry pointed to his ear. After fitting the cup over his ear, Vernon heard a series of vibrations.
“I DON’T BELIEVE IT. BURNIN’ VERNON, MY MAN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” Barry Berry pulled the cup from his mouth to his ear.
Vernon spoke into the cup. “OH, YOU KNOW, JUST GETTING SOME FRESH AIR. WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?”
“THE PLANE ABOVE YOU!”
“THERE WAS A PLANE ABOVE OF US THE WHOLE TIME?”
“YES! IT WAS INVISIBLE! WE’RE TESTING OUT THE WORLD’S FIRST INVISIBLE PLANE! BUT DON’T TELL ANYBODY!”
“YOU WON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT!” Vernon stated.
“WELL, YOU LOOK GOOD, VERN! GOTTA GO! YOU MIGHT WANNA PULL UP!” Barry Berry catapulted himself back as he released his parachute. Soon after, Vernon released his.
“I’m at 5,000 feet, preparing for extraction,” Barry Berry transmitted, his finger to his earpiece. He disappeared as if a hole swallowed him up. The invisible plane fled with a sonic boom.
What’s the point of a getaway if I can’t even be alone in the air? Vernon thought. He splashed into the water and had somehow found a flotation device. He fell into a half sleep from exhaustion.
Overhead, seagulls yelped. Cool waves splashed at his body and the sun baked his skin. There wasn’t a lick of civilization. This is great, he thought, I don’t even know where I am! The idea that he’d finally reached a remote island thrilled him. Hypothetically, when he was ready to leave, he could write “HELP” in the sand and hope that he was within range of at least some stray plane cruising by. He explored a bit of the small island. Strangely, its fruits and vegetation were recognizable, quite nutritious and tasty. And this island, surprisingly, had fresh, drinkable water which streamed from a small waterfall. Vernon had to pinch himself. It was an oasis and so much more than he’d imagined. For a few hours he enjoyed the island in all of its miraculous glory. Just a few hours of enjoyment and then he heard a voice; a voice that squeezed his testicles and crushed his soul…
“Vern?” A nasaly voice from nearby said.
Vernon slapped his face. It was his ex-girlfriend from Sophomore year, Tammy Devlin. Nevermind believing I’m on a deserted island, what is my ex-girlfriend doing here? Vernon thought. But he didn’t want to find out. To avoid digging into their relationship, Vernon ran. He ran as far and as fast as he could. By the time he reached what seemed to be the other side of the island, he began building a raft without even thinking and with such ferocity that his hands bled. In fact, he hadn’t noticed he was bleeding until he passed the waves out to sea and the stick for a paddle became a bloody staff. Tammy Devlin ran to a halt, a dot on the distant beach.
“You’re gonna die out there!” Tammy Devlin shouted.
“I know!” Vernon shouted back. Vernon kicked his feet up. He wrapped his head in his shirt and laid back on his hands. Now. Now he could be at peace. He was completely and utterly alone.
An hour passed under the beating sun. No land in sight.
His raft had hit something. Another raft. “It’s only six, mom, please just one more hour?” Vernon was dreaming. When Vernon turned around, he gasped and looked about him in a frenzy.
“I’m the only one out here, partner, why you lookin’ arou—oh—oh my God, Vernon?!” Said the woman. She held her hands up, in awe of the odds. “It’s Cinnamon Jones, class of ‘07?” Cinnamon Jones was voted most likely to succeed as a future gentlewoman adventurer. He almost didn’t recognize her with the large outback ranger hat shading her face. “We had independent studies together. You made that firework that exploded in Principal Jennings’ face? That was one for the books.”
Vernon eased up, turned back around and pulled his shirt over his head to cover his eyes. “Yeah, no... I remember… That was supposed to be a rocketship, it wasn’t supposed to explode…” He turned back to face her, one eye peeking from under his shirt. “What are you even doing here?”
“I’m on assignment. If I tell you anymore I’d have to kill you.”
“What’re you, some... undercover agent on a top secret mission?”
She held a knife to his throat. “Who told you?”
“No one! I swear! It was a random guess!”
She let go.
Vernon rubbed his throat and coughed.
“Just pullin’ your leg. I’m actually searching for buried treasure… 5 years ago a man told me that I’d discover the meaning of life and was destined to share it with the world. This is my final frontier,” Cinnamon Jones said, looking valiantly into the distance.
“Wow. What an epic and noble adventure,” Vernon said.
“It is. What in God’s great land are YOU doing here?” Cinnamon Jones asked.
“Trying to get away from just about everyone, and all of their success stories. My past is inescapable. By the way, where are we?”
“The Bermuda Triangle. The first and last place on earth where answers are found and then forgotten.“ Cinnamon Jones checked her map and compass, and then she double-checked her calculations. “Yes. It’s here, this is the spot.” Cinnamon Jones mumbled various hymns in ancient dialect.
A rumbling shivered the waters and a thunderous resonance shook their boats like a bellow from the stomach of a hungry giant. BWAAA! A glorious horse the size of an adult elephant rose from the ocean. Its swirly horn, set between its pitch-black eyes, nearly pierced the sky!
“It’s magnificent! At last, my quest has come to an end!”
“Wow. That’s—is that a unicorn?”
“Yes! I can feel the meaning of all life swell inside me!” She rose with the unicorn.
Vernon pulled out his disposable camera and held it up to his eye. He was so mesmerized by the unicorn and wanting to take a picture that he hardly noticed the sharks in the distance, the blood from his hands must’ve led them straight to him. “No! No photo!” Cinnamon Jones hollered. She slapped the camera out of his hands. “The unicorn is Amish!”
He gazed up at Cinnamon Jones being lifted into the sky by the luminous unicorn. “Uh—IS THERE ROOM UP THERE FOR TWO?!”
“No. The unicorn can only take one,” Cinnamon Jones said so matter-of-factly.
Suddenly, a shark sprang from the water behind Vernon, its jagged teeth within inches. Cinnamon Jones fired her dagger. SCHWING! And nailed the shark in the eye. But the rest of the sharks had only grown hungrier and swirled furiously around Vernon. She leapt off of the unicorn and nailed another shark in the head. And then another. And another! She made sushi out of the rest. One of the sharks nipped Vernon in the leg. It squirmed away but not before Cinnamon Jones took a sliver of its nose.
“Ahh,” Vernon moaned. “Ahhh,” Vernon moaned again. “Is it over?”
Cinnamon Jones cradled Vernon, tending to his wound. “Yes, it’s… it’s gone, sadly.” Cinnamon Jones looked up at the sky, only sea mist remained.
“Thank you for saving me,” Vernon uttered.
“The path to nobility must always come at a cost,” Cinnamon Jones said with discouragement.
“You’re so… heroic and… full of wisdom,” Vernon said, getting lost in her eyes.
“And you’re so… delicate and frail, like an injured lamb,” Cinnamon Jones replied.
“What’s that in the locket?” Vernon asked.
“It must’ve fallen off of the unicorn.”
On the back of the locket was an inscription: “The Meaning Of Life.”
They opened the locket, looked at each other, and then they started to giggle.