by Don Liddick
part 1 of 2
It’s a dark world.
And, yes, reader, I too am dark. My name is Drew Kinsey.
I believe it was Dostoevsky who queried as to how a man of introspection could ever respect himself. It’s a good question, and as a man of introspection, I have concluded that a “man” cannot.
Humans are a miserable lot, serving their own vanity even when they seem to behave charitably — the sum total of their existence characterized by a never-ending, self-serving quest to preserve and maintain their fragile ego-identities.
Do you suppose I am a misanthrope? You bet! But if you think my ruminations are characterized by elitism or hypocrisy, trust me when I say I don’t think much of myself either! It seems to me the human race is characterized by a series of mutual betrayals.
Please, don’t think me an inhuman monster. I actually have a pretty big heart; for example, like many misanthropes, I possess a strong affinity with animals. I’m not one of those animal-rights types who rationalize arson with high-minded speculations about “bio-centric equality” — the absurd notion that an ant has the same moral value as a human child! — but I did once return a most beautiful shell to the sea upon discovering that a large snail, who needed the shell far more than did I, resided in it.
Okay, okay, my story!
One night, not so long ago, I was sitting in Cookie’s Bar, as was my custom, and was just about half-lit — also customary. Tim Cook, the proprietor, was behind the bar, sipping Jack Daniels and smoking a cigar. Dave Kiner and Fred Hilbish were sitting on stools on either side of me, and as I said, we were all feeling pretty good. Jana, Tim’s barmaid, had just left, and we all admired her going. The caboose on that one!
Anyways, we had the place to ourselves and might have drunk ourselves back to sober until sometime like 5 a.m. I was — and still am — divorced, and was enjoying a sabbatical from the pretense of Dunbar College. Tim was a lifelong bachelor and player, one of those guys the rest of us envy, and, truth be told, hate a little because he gets tail so easy. Dave was also divorced, as his ex-wife declined to compete with the racetrack. And “sensitive” Fred had never married. So we didn’t have any wives to go home to, or bitch about our staying out; and no work loomed on the Sunday morrow.
Now, I should let you know straight out that I liked Dave and Fred but didn’t care for Tim one bit. He’d had an affair with my wife — ex-wife — and when I called him out, he beat me in a fair fight. I’m no weakling, but Tim had forearms like steel and a grip like a plumber’s wrench. So talk about ego damage — the guy screws my wife and then whips my ass on top of it!
So why was I drinking in his bar? Well, I’ll admit, it may seem kind of perverse, and maybe it was. But Teresa wasn’t with me or Tim. She had run off with some young twit from the Ford dealership, and that made it a little better. Tim and I even shared grudging notes, if you can believe it. I guess maybe I also didn’t want to come off any worse than I already had. If I’d just slunk away, how would that have made me look?
Anyways, we’re four guys sitting there after closing time getting hammered, and after another hour or two — when we got tired of talking about sports and women and listening to Tim boast about the beauty queens and married women he’d seduced — we started talking about some of the strange and unusual occurrences we’d seen or heard about over the years. You know, kind of the grown-up version of ghost stories around the campfire, except we had good liquor and good beer. As I said, we were pretty drunk.
“Okay, I got one for you,” I said. “You ladies might want to make sure your Depends aren’t saturated, because this will make you piss yourself. It’s a true story too, although you dimwits probably don’t have the imagination to believe it’s possible.”
Tim gave Dave a wink, turned off the television, and cupped his head in his hands on the bar, mocking rapt attention — I really did hate that guy.
Dave had just finished telling us about a UFO he’d seen over a cornfield in Freeport — obviously a load of crap — and that made me think of my “little green boy” dream. And that made me think of old Mewly Bob. So I told them this story.
* * *
This happened over thirty years ago. I was twelve years old, and fishing was still more important than girls. It was summer, getting on too close to school for my taste, that time when waking up in the morning didn’t quite have the luster it did back in June, when a summer day promised to last forever and teachers and homework seemed as far off as adulthood.
So, I wanted to get serious about catching more trout out of Poplar Run with what was left of my vacation. That creek ran ice cold the whole way through till August, and the brown trout hit a shiny hook or a dough ball as if they were starved.
It was only a five-minute walk from my house down Freeman Falls Road, and in those days you might make the trek down the middle of the blacktop and not see a single car. That first week in August, when school was too near, but not near enough to spoil my simple fun, I would pack a baloney and cheese sandwich and spend my whole day on the creek and come home with a stringer full of trout for my mom to fry up.
It was a lot of fun, all that freedom, but I was a boy after all, and after a steady week when I had all but cleaned out that stretch of the creek so that few trout remained, I found that I was bored. So I did what kids do and crossed the wooden trestle I was forbidden to cross. I trespassed on the old Kramer property, which ran up the densely wooded ridge behind the stream.
There was an old house back in there, not more than a hundred and fifty yards off the stream. I followed an overgrown trail that had once been a private drive — I could still discern some loose shale peeking through the weeds — and within minutes arrived at the small one-bedroom cabin that had been deserted for as long as I could remember. It was getting toward late afternoon, and the sun was behind the ridge, so the dilapidated structure was wreathed in weeds and shadows, and had every appearance to a boy of twelve of being haunted.
But bored boys of twelve are curious. Even without a friend along to impress, I tiptoed up the slimy wooden stairs that led to an open porch. There was a screen door with no pane or screen hanging half open, and the moldy worm-eaten entrance door displayed a one-inch slit of gloom that was all I could see of the interior.
Crickets were sounding their desolate chirp, the shadows back toward the stream lay long, and the whole scene came across as eerily surreal, although I didn’t yet have the capacity or words to grasp that. All I knew was that suddenly I was scared, so I did what any red-blooded American boy would do in that situation and pushed the door open.
It was a dank mess, gloomy and moldy-smelling. A wet portion of the living room ceiling had caved in and was hanging in a mass of brown plaster and insulation. I guess maybe the bank had foreclosed, and the occupants just walked away, and then the bank couldn’t sell it because there was still the musty remains of a former life in the place.
Rotting magazines and books were scattered about the hardwood floor. Through an archway, I could see ceramic teacups left in a cupboard in the kitchen and some old plastic toys lying about. It’s weird the things you remember, but after thirty-plus years I can still see one of those round yellow things with an arrow and a string, that when you pull it the arrow spins and lands on a duck or cow, and then a goofy two-year-old squeals with delight as the toy announces Ducks go QUACK! I almost pulled on the string to see if the toy still worked after untold years, and then there was a loud crash from the kitchen. I’m not ashamed to say I squirted a little pee in my Fruit-of-the-Looms.
A fat white opossum scurried across the filthy tile of the kitchen and disappeared through a hole in the floor. I laughed at myself and exhaled in a big whoosh and then turned to examine the rest of the living room.
That’s when I first saw Mewly Bob, who had been squatting or standing — I don’t really know how to describe it — in a dark corner of the room. He’d been there all along, quietly and curiously watching me, I guess, and when I laid eyes on him that first time, my pants did get a real dousing.
Should I say him, though? You know, I really can’t say what its gender was. I suppose I naturally projected my own sex onto it as a means of making what was so utterly alien somehow a little more familiar. It was about three and half feet high, grayish-white in color, with no visible appendages, mouth, or eyes. In fact, I can’t really say that it had a head separate from what we would think of as a trunk or body. Did you ever watch The Addams Family? Do you remember Cousin It, the hairball that talked in that unintelligible string of squeaks? Well, it was like that, only it wasn’t brown; it was grey-white, and it didn’t have any hair. It was slimy-looking.
I must have screamed, although I don’t remember, because it quivered and seemed to draw back farther into the corner. I think I scared it! Anyhow, that’s what I thought, and that’s why I didn’t run the hell out of there and not stop until I was home watching my mom make supper in the sane world.
A strange sound started up, and it took me a moment to realize it was coming from the thing. It sounded like a kitten and a baby crying at the same time, a kind of mewling, and right then and there it got its name. Adding “Bob” to the “Mewly” was my way of making a bad joke out of the situation, so weird and otherworldly was the scene.
I guess it was my need to make what was unfathomable a little more acceptable to my human psyche — otherwise, they might as well have taken me right then and there up to Torrance State Hospital and put me in a padded room with edible crayons and a coloring book.
Anyways, that mewling continued, and I felt sorry for it. I took out half a Baby Ruth I had in my pocket — pretty melted — and threw it on the floor between us. Mewly Bob didn’t walk because he didn’t have legs, but he did glide and slither forward pretty rapidly, and I stepped back quickly. Then a long ocher-colored proboscis came out from about the midpoint of the undulating mass, grasped the candy bar, and pulled it into itself.
Understand me: there was no mouth: the tentacle simply retracted into the main body and took the chocolate with it. I could still see it for a minute or two inside Bob, a brown chunk in the middle of all that white and grey, and then it dissolved.
For a short while the whole thing turned more ocher than grey-white. Maybe it was some chemical process related to digestion. And then Bob resumed what I supposed was his usual skin tone.
I said, “I’m glad you liked that, Mewly Bob.” Then I ran the hell out of there.
Now, it’s going to sound strange, but over the next few weeks, between summer’s last hurrah and the arrival of the yellow school bus to carry me off to purgatory, I struck up what I would call a friendship with the thing I half-jokingly called Mewly Bob. Each day I would tell my mother I was going off to fish — which I did — but the lure of the trout occupied my mind partially at best, and always I was drawn back to the dilapidated cabin in the woods.
Bob wasn’t always in the cabin, but usually on toward the evenings, which had become increasingly cool with the approach of fall, I would find him in some shadowy corner or other, whereupon he would greet me with his strange mewling call that resembled both a cat and a baby. I never failed to bring him a treat, whether it be a leftover hot dog or a candy bar, which he gratefully absorbed with that long, slimy proboscis.
I suppose it would have been natural for me to imagine or dream of that long, snaky tentacle coming for me, but the truth is, I never got the feeling that Bob was a threat. I even started to spend more time in the cabin, investigating cupboards and closets for the detritus left by the long-vanished, human tenants.
One time, Bob did startle me when he suddenly appeared behind me in the cabin’s only bedroom, and I wondered how he had gotten there so quickly and quietly. But he had presented no threat, and honestly I think he just wanted to be near me.
Another time, I saw firsthand just how quick Bob could move when he glided on his torso — the whole thing was a torso, really — and a grey-white tentacle shot out and snatched the opossum that had crawled up through the hole in the kitchen floor. But that didn’t bother me; he had to eat, didn’t he, the same as you or me?
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Don Liddick