by Don Liddick
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
conclusionI paused at this point in the story to finish off my Heineken. My audience was quiet and staring into the bottom of their drink glasses, and then as Tim filled my mug I caught him giving Dave a mawkish wink — and then they all lost it and started guffawing and laughing like the jackasses they were. I told them all to bite me, or something to that effect, whereupon Tim produced a low mocking bow and “beseeched” me to continue my “august tale.” Did I mention I really, really hated the guy? I really couldn’t blame them — or you, dear reader — for not believing my story. Maybe the idea that Bob and I actually became friends is the most difficult part to accept. But it’s true. I suppose I felt kind of sorry for him, but mostly it was because, on some level, I could identify with Bob. I knew how the world would receive him.
And so, before I tell the rest of the story, you need to know about my “little green boy” dream. I didn’t feel close enough to those guys in the bar that night to relate this part, but I think you’ll see the relevance...
I had this dream, I don’t know, maybe when I was seven or eight years old, and almost forty years later I can still remember how it made me feel, both in the dream and upon waking. The details are fuzzy, but the outline of the narrative remains stark and lucid.
In the dream, I befriended a space alien, a kind little guy of good heart, who was noticeably untainted by the flaws already extant and manifested in the petty squabbles of typical second-graders. We were friends in the way that happens only once or twice, usually in childhood, where the human ego does not come into play, but two people become more like one, in that simple and childlike way that comes easily to kids, but is almost never repeated later in life. My friendship with the little green boy gave me a warm cozy feeling, a secret feeling, as of something special, one that has never been reproduced in the waking world.
But the human race, predictably, did not think so highly of the green men from outer space. I don’t remember the details, but I do know that the falling-out was not due to anything the green race had done; it was a direct consequence of narrow-minded humans, who just couldn’t learn to live with a people whose skin was green.
In any event, I found myself in the position of either sticking with my own race or betraying my little green friend, who was, after all, so very different. So I betrayed his hiding place to a human mob, and though this detail is perhaps too horrible for me to remember, I do retain the distinct dream memory, or impression, of participating in the little green boy’s death. I remember striking out, or kicking him, and then I was fully a part of the human race.
I’ll never forget that dream and the guilt it still brings. So, you see, meeting up with Bob was an awful lot like that dream, and I would surely be damned if I repeated the mistake I’d made with my little green friend.
So, yes, Bob was my friend; and, what’s more, I think the feelings were mutual.
Anyways, I wasn’t about to bare my soul to those cackling half-wits in the bar that night, but I did continue the story — partly because I was pretty drunk, but also because it was the first time I’d told anyone about Bob, and it was kind of cathartic. So once the laughs dwindled to a few subdued giggles, and Tim finished dabbing fake tears from his eyes with a bar towel, I continued my story, without missing a beat.
* * *
Labor Day came and went, school started, and I embraced the normalcy of friends left behind for the summer. But I didn’t tell anyone about Bob, not even my other best friend, Jerry King, who moved to Fresno, California in the eighth grade. People would not have understood, and I think I’m correct in guessing that my slimy little buddy would have been in danger if the folks hereabouts knew what was residing in their midst. So to tell someone about Bob would have been tantamount to betraying a friend, and that I would not do.
I visited Bob every day after school, but always got out of there before dark. I was still only twelve, remember. Anyhow, as the leaves started to change color and we were losing daylight fast, the warm cozy feeling that was our special friendship eroded, and I became increasingly uneasy. Bob was getting quite a bit bigger, was now almost as tall as I was, and his color was more often ocher than grey or white, due to the partially digested chunks of the critters I could see through his translucent skin.
I’m afraid he wasn’t satiating himself only with opossums, squirrels, and the scraps I brought him. Neighborhood cats began to disappear — I didn’t think much of that at first, as outdoor cats come and go — but I got scared when Mrs. Jenner from up the road called up my dad and irrationally blamed us for the disappearance of her dog, Brutus. As you might guess, Brutus was pretty big, a Rottweiler, and I wondered if there had been an ocher slime trail leading from the empty dog box.
Then, right before Halloween, the real blow came. Kevin Hartzell — a kid from school who’d bullied me on more than a few occasions — disappeared without a trace. Dillsburg and the area hereabouts were turned inside out and upside down. You can imagine the uproar in a small community like ours, which was even smaller and more insular in those days.
State police helicopters searched the wooded ridges and fields for three days, and a hundred volunteers combed the countryside on foot in a two-mile radius. Of course they never found Kevin, and I suppose in some landfill you might still find old milk cartons with his picture on the back.
I know for a fact the authorities went through the old Kramer cabin — it sat only a quarter-mile as the crow flies from the Hartzell home — and I waited for the incredible news that a strange creature had been discovered, wondering how our tiny town would come off under the national news spotlight. But that news never came, and I wasn’t totally surprised that Bob had eluded detection.
For ten days I stayed away from the cabin, a nervous wreck, and then one day after school, and taking great care to avoid being seen, I took the long way round and came at the cabin from the ridge that rose in a slide of boulders and white pines above it. Maybe I expected Bob to be long gone, perhaps escaped back to the vast expanse of Forbes State Forest, but there he was, quivering in a corner of the kitchen. He greeted me with his usual haunting, mewling sound. We couldn’t talk or understand each other in words, but I swear it, I believe he’d missed me.
I think I knew all along that Bob had killed Kevin. But all doubt evaporated when I saw Bob that day, because like everyone for miles around, I had been well-informed about Kevin’s attire on the day he’d vanished, including his distinctive, red sneakers. It felt like there was a lead weight in my gut when I looked at Bob quivering like gelatin in the corner, mewling his hellos, and I could see what was only partially digested amidst his slimy mass.
Apparently, Bob absorbed some materials more slowly than flesh, and if you haven’t already guessed, I could still see a pair of partly dissolved red sneakers inside him.
Bob slimed his way over, mewling all the while, and with tears running down my cheeks, I touched him for the first time. His skin — although it wasn’t really skin — did not repulse me. It was warm and soft, not at all cool or clammy, as I’d expected.
A small tentacle formed near the top of Bob’s mass and touched my hand like a feather, and then I ran as fast as I could, my heart breaking. It’s not that the tentacle scared me — if Bob had wanted to eat me, he could have done so on countless occasions. Rather, I was overcome with the sudden realization of what I must do.
Bob didn’t mean any harm, was not consciously evil like some child molester or corporate swindler. He was different from us, that’s all, and his eating habits were no different from those of any lion or alligator that satisfied its hunger with what game was available.
I can’t explain our connection, and I know you think I’m nuts, but he was the best friend I’ve ever had. No arguments, no betrayals, no let-downs like with drinking buddies or wives — just unequivocal and unconditional friendship, the way it’s meant to be. The strangeness made it better, and I wish I could say that nine years with my ex-wife had ever reproduced the closeness that I felt with that creature that looked like it came from another planet.
But of course, it all had to end.
What I did was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I couldn’t go to the police with a story like that, and even if I had somehow gotten the authorities out to the cabin on some pretext, who knows what might have happened? Anyhow, I felt like it was up to me, and I can tell you, it was quite a load to carry around for a twelve-year old kid.
I didn’t sleep all that night, and I argued with my mom the next morning so that I could stay off school. I guess the big dark circles under my eyes made an impression, and she relented. Later in the morning, when she was hanging clothes out to dry, I swiped a pack of matches and grabbed a red, two-gallon can of gas from the shed where my dad kept the lawnmower.
I took the long route again — nobody needed to see a twelve-year old kid on a school day tromping down the blacktop hauling a gas can — and after forty-five minutes of trudging, sweat, and scratches, there was the cabin. I didn’t think anymore, didn’t hesitate, but as I poured the gas around the perimeter and dumped the remainder on the porch, I suddenly grew afraid as I pictured Bob’s surprising speed and remembered how big he’d grown.
The place went up fast, but I didn’t stay long to watch. I ran back home the same way I’d come, and luck was with me, because I returned the gas can and got back into my room through the back door without my mom ever knowing that I’d been gone. There was an investigation, of course, and it was ruled arson; but it was a valueless dwelling, nothing more than a shack in the woods. Nobody really cared.
About a week after the fire, I noticed a distinctive and familiar slime trail beneath my bedroom window, and I knew that Bob had survived. I wondered if he knew of my betrayal, and I wondered how he might respond. I was so scared I wouldn’t budge from the house for three days. My folks thought I was nuts when I kept trying to persuade my mom not to go in the backyard to hang out the laundry.
But there were no more slime trails, and no more neighborhood disappearances — human or animal. Maybe Bob had discovered a more reliable food source. Anyways, I eventually became convinced that he had, for whatever reason, moved on for good.
Then, suddenly, I had other things to think about, and even my very unusual friendship receded into the background of my life at home. My dad was diagnosed with leukemia around Thanksgiving and was dead by spring. My mom couldn’t hang onto the house, and the two of us lived in an apartment until I moved away for college. And she died of pancreatic cancer before I graduated. Anyhow, that’s the story of Mewly Bob.
* * *
I guess I made an impression, because nobody laughed, and for once Tim refrained from jabbing at me. I don’t know if they believed me or not, but they could see that I believed it, and that was enough.
We drained our glasses, and Tim helped Dave to his office and ensconced him on the couch — he was a relative lightweight, and it wasn’t the first time we all agreed that Dave must not drive home. Fred said goodnight and walked an admirably straight path out the door. And then it was just me and Tim.
Tim mopped up our leavings from the bar, and I almost went home myself without pursuing my plan; but I guess reliving that weird fall of thirty years previous had rekindled some old and deep emotions. I was more than a little drunk and felt bitter about my betrayal of an entity that was undoubtedly superior in every way to most human beings I’d met. I was especially bitter about the betrayals I had been subjected to at the hands of my inferior fellows.
And who’s to say it wasn’t fate that had proffered the opportunity, and my inclination, to repurchase the old family homestead after so many years? I’d even recently visited the site of the Kramer cabin, and managed to uncover beneath the weeds some ancient charred wood and foundation stones. But can you imagine my surprise, and mixed emotions, when I discovered a familiar, ochre slime trail where the cabin had once stood?
Instead of going home and sleeping off the hangover, I exited the bar, re-entered a few minutes later, and told Tim there was something I wanted him to see outside.
“I told you before, Drew, I’m not going to let you blow me again,” he offered with magnanimous good cheer. But he followed me out, and I told him he just had to see what I’d found behind the big green dumpster around the side of the building.
No one ever did find Tim, and while I naturally drew considerable suspicion — everyone in a small town knows your business — the cops couldn’t pin anything on me. Hell, they didn’t even have a body. If Dave or Fred wondered about it, they kept it to themselves, and I don’t think they shed many tears over Tim.
None of the local officials even bothered about the strange markings by the dumpster — what appeared to be a greyish-white slime trail left behind, perhaps, by the world’s largest slug. And, since there are no such things as giant slugs, they didn’t take a sample, or guess that the trail was materially related to Tim Cook’s disappearance.
For my part, I feel no guilt. And Bob, of course, didn’t really mean any harm. He was not consciously evil like some child molester or corporate crook or... Well, you get the idea. He was just being my friend, my long-lost best friend after all those years.
In fact, it feels good to have a real friend — and to have rectified a betrayal so characteristic of my own race.
Copyright © 2014 by Don Liddick