Love in a Box

(written in October 2006)

They say that when you wake someone up from a night terror, you’re liable to hurt yourself just as much as you can hurt the person you are trying to wake up. Night terrors are usually mistaken for dreams — nightmares. Often times, when a person who suffers from one of these episodes is confronted by someone not familiar with the infliction, to that someone, the sufferer appears to be wide awake when in fact they are actually still asleep. The outsider, mistaking the sufferer for being awake and having woken up from a nightmare, will try to talk to the sleeper so that she can reassure him that everything will be okay. In actuality, everything is not okay. Far from it. And because all is not well, when suddenly ripped from the state of deep emotional distress, he who has night terrors, once awoken, may react violently towards anyone within arm’s reach of him. This includes those that he may love dearly. With all this in mind, one has to wonder what happens to the man who has night terrors but has no one to wake him up.

It usually takes me about a week or two to recall the images that invade my mind during one of these attacks. Some say it’s because a night terror can be so intense that most sufferers subconsciously shut off that part of their mind, once awoken. The part of the mind that houses childhood fears, traumatic memories, and anything else that could possibly fuck up your already screwed up existence in this world. That’s not me, though. Call me narcissistic but at the age of 45 and not getting any younger, I always try to revisit the visions. Doing everything my feeble mind can do to conjure up the hot sweat and tears that coat every second of one of those attacks. I tell myself that the day I can completely recall every minute detail of one of my attacks is the day I will be able to conquer them. Of course, that was nearly 20 years ago and, well, like I said, I’m not getting any younger.

I see black. A lot of black. Black so dark I swear a lump of coal would look like it’s blushing next to the black. But the black doesn’t keep me from seeing the boulders. What they represent isn’t important. The thing that gets me is that they’re there and they just won’t go the fuck away.

I’m flat on my back. And the boulders just hover over me. I can feel them floating there in the black air just inches away from my face, never making contact. I can taste the blackness of the air and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, reaching down towards the thick muck that covers the ground beneath me. The muck reaches back up at my neck and past my face as if trying to help me keep the boulders from crushing my body into oblivion. But I know that the boulders won’t hurt me. They never do. And then that’s it. The black world around me disappears between blinks and I’m back in my bed. Alone.

Lately, I’ve gotten used to the idea that a guy like me would never be able to find a girl who would be willing to share a bed with him. Private dick by day, public dick the remaining sixteen hours. What girl could live with that? Or more precisely, what girl could die with that? Even now, as my dry plaster-like tongue desperately tries to remember what the mouth of a woman tastes like, I can only remember the last girl I had any kind of intimate relationship with. Of course, being stalked by a desperate girl who is as lonely as she is homely is not any kind of relationship in my book.

Melanie Rose Clupea never meant anyone any harm. She just needed attention. I remember getting her call on a Thursday. I remember it was Thursday because Thursday was the day that I picked up my prescriptions from the Doc. I was just about to head out the door when the nagging of the phone stopped me in my tracks. I could have ignored its ear-splitting ring — I should have ignored it — but Old Lady Lordland had been hounding me all morning for the last three months’ rent and I couldn’t pass up the possible chance that the voice on the other end of the line could have been the sweet, soothing voice of a hefty paycheck for a job done half-assed.

Her voice was scratchy and weak, with a bit of a squeaking at the end of each sentence. I could tell by the desperation in her voice that she wasn’t so sure she should have been calling me at all. I told her that I was just on the way out the door and that I could meet her in a couple of hours. Melanie Rose agreed. As I hung up the phone, I heard Lady Lordland’s cackle in the hallway by the stairwell as she was coming to the punchline of another bad joke that she was sharing with Mitzie, the stripper that lived down in room 269. I decided to take a detour down the fire escape. As I leapt from the last metal ladder onto the ground floor, I was reminded that I owed Mitzie a couple of Benjamin Franklins, so I had better hurry over to Docs and get my medicine, then make my way over to the motel on the outskirts of town to meet with Melanie Rose.

The drive out to the Nonsequitur Inn was the usual boring drive that I had gotten accustomed to over my years as a private dick, here in the Presage Coast area, just outside of Shady Junction. If you had ever wondered how long it would take to get to the middle of nowhere, I give you my word as a detective and a gentleman that it takes an hour and twenty-three minutes. And that’s coming from any part of somewhere, somehow, and somewhy. This out-of-the-way motel was where I met all of my clients. Nonsequitur was just the right place to be if you wanted no connection to anyone else who could become a roadblock on your journey from A to B, even if that meant having to detour out to C, D, E and F’n nowhere to get there. The thing that made my meeting with Melanie Rose odd was that this time, with Melanie Rose, it was the client that suggested the locale. I prefer to be the one leading anytime I go dancing with fate but I was willing to let little Melanie Rose Clupea make one minute suggestion, since it wasn’t about to affect my life in any drastic way. And, heck, with my mind as distracted as it has been over the previous three months, it was kind of refreshing to let someone else command the dance floor.

When I got to room 175, where Melanie Rose had told me she would be, I found no Melanie Rose. But instead I found a note, carefully taped to the door. The letters were hurriedly written and smudged by what appeared to be a young girl’s right hand that had rested on the paper while writing, leaving behind the scent of coconut oil with a hint of balsam powder. The note read:

Taking a swim. Meet you at the pool. xoxo Mel

I walked cautiously down the cement steps towards the motel pool. Right outside the pool area was a hot tub left on. Its current beckoned the bubbles to float towards the center where they were swallowed under with little to no chance of staying intact, merely bursting into thin air and becoming one with the surrounding foam. I saw what looked like the remainder of wet footprints on the surface of the pavement, about six to seven inches in length. The way the prints had mostly dried up made one of the feet appear to be missing its middle toe. Then I noticed all of the left footprints were missing this toe. As I walked up to the gate of the swimming area, I wondered if this was a big mistake and maybe I should have turned heel right then and there and had gotten back to my afternoon of doing nothing and earning no money, just like I had done for the last three months.

When I opened the gate, Melanie Rose, who was doing laps around the edge of the pool, greeted me enthusiastically. The way she was waving you’d’ve thunk we were old friends. She continued to wave at me from the water, her front two teeth, which dominated her extreme overbite, glistening as the droplets ran down each tooth and back into the sparkling water. It was at that moment, as she made her way to the shallow end of the pool, that I noticed her skin-toned swimsuit. Sans the swimsuit part, that is. And as she climbed out of the water, her bony little naked body glowed bright under the hot desert sun. Something about this scenario wasn’t right to me. Don’t get me wrong. It was not part of my nature to run away from a naked girl climbing out of a swimming pool on a hot Thursday afternoon. Not at all. In fact, running was the last thing on my mind the previous time this had happened to me and not a day has gone by since then that I didn’t wonder what ever happened to the Ecstasis Triplets. But with Melanie Rose, I could only thank the Lord that she didn’t come in a three-pack.

Her skin was pale white covered in pink freckles that gathered themselves into clumps all over her body in the shapes of various dinosaurs or food stuffs. Her arms trembled as she pulled herself up out of the water and onto the pavement. As she turned and faced me a la full frontal style, I noticed a little limp in her walk with every other step, her body shifting to keep the weight off her four-toed foot. I was frozen, not sure if I should turn and run or stand ground and wait for the beast to swallow me alive. I winced as Melanie Rose pressed her wet, boyishly thin frame up against mine. She then gently grasped her soft fingers, wrinkled from being waterlogged, around my hand and placed it on her mosquito bite of a breast, tightly embracing herself into the palm as if asking me to hold tight to keep her life from slipping away into oblivion. Instead of appeasing her desires, I turned and sprinted across the motel yard and jumped into my car, leaving a cloud of dust behind. My 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 clunked and clacked as I pressed the pedal to the floorboard and refused to turn around in fear that if I looked back, I would be turned into a pillar of salt. The absurd image of an awkward naked beanpole of a girl actually catching up to my speeding car made me realize that I could slow down and take the rest of the drive back to my apartment more cautiously.

And cautious was exactly what my attitude towards Melanie Rose became over the following weeks as I continued to dodge her in the streets, cut her off on the phone, and in the end, going all out ballistic on her verbally the last time we met.

“Mel,” I had seen it quite a few times when I had said her name in the past: a thin strip of tears would form just below her deep brown eyes. The first few times when this happened, I buckled and allowed her a few more fleeting minutes to speak her mind. In doing so, I gave her just what she needed to fuel her infatuation with me — a few more minutes of intimate time with the man she thought she loved. This last time, though, I had grown numb to this manipulation, impatient with her constant barrage of flirtations and proposals for a lifelong engagement. More so because this last time she almost got herself and yours truly killed.

“Mel, you need help. You’re young. You’re smart. You’re beau –” I knew I couldn’t say the words convincingly. So, I didn’t. “Well, you’re young and smart. You deserve better and more importantly, you know better.” She wanted to stop me before I could say more but her desperate pleas dissipated on unhearing ears.

“Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am? Do you really think a guy could fall in love with a girl like you?” It wasn’t like I didn’t feel something for her. Much to my surprise, I had developed an odd liking for her company, even when that company was not unlike being stuck on a deserted island with a five and a half foot tall leech that could actually carry on a decent conversation if the mood was right.

“Besides, Mel, after what we just went through — cripes, woman! You’re meddling almost got us killed. And if the Howard Brothers had had better aim, we would have bought the farm. And if that were the case, there is no way in hell I would share my six foot hole with you!” I’ve gotten used to the idea that a guy like me would never be able to find a girl who would be willing to share a bed with him, let alone a grave. And even if Melanie Rose Clupea wanted to voluntarily join me there, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

That was the last I heard from Melanie Rose. Whether or not my words meant anything to her didn’t matter. The important thing was that she had finally left me alone and even when the night terrors come back and I am suddenly wishing that someone could be there to wake me up from my deep-sleep brain scrambling, I knew it’s better not to be awakened to protect myself from being hurt, but more importantly, protecting someone else from being hurt by me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            There is a thin line between someone who has narcolepsy and someone who just isn’t getting enough sleep at night. The two share similar symptoms:

  1. The inability to stay awake in almost any situation, whether in conversation with someone you love dearly or when you are in the corner of a dark alleyway, dodging bullets from the Howard Brothers, who had just hired the aide of Lawrence Fine to take you out.
  2. Seeing images that aren’t really there, from large, shapeless black globs floating in front of your face to people from your past that you wish you could forget.
  3. The sudden desire to laugh hysterically or break out in angry fits in response to not being able to control your sleep habits, or simply yelling out at someone who could have been beneficial in your life but now has left you due to your erratic behavior.

The only difference between someone who is suffering from narcolepsy and someone who just isn’t getting enough sleep is that one of them can be cured by getting more sleep. As for me, with no clients (or ex-girlfriends) helping me keep the dust off of my phone, I have been getting enough sleep (probably more than most people) but the sleeping fits keep hitting me and at the most inopportune times, hence another Thursday goes by and another trip to the Doc awaits.

The Doc has been a friend of mine for some years now. I use the word “friend” because when you have no one else in your life, anyone who will even spend more than fifteen minutes with you without asking you to leave or throwing daggers at you can technically be just that, and someone like me needs anyone he can get.

When I pull up to the Doc’s warehouse, I see his old brown 1965 Ford Galaxie parked out front, over 50% of it covered in mud. And not just your everyday one part water, three parts dirt type of mud. The glop that is covering his Galaxie 500 is a thick dark mud, almost black in color. It’s the kind of mud you can only get on your car from driving through the Supplantation Swamps south of the Doc’s warehouse. As a detective, this should raise a red flag for me. I should probably investigate it more. But as a narcoleptic private dick who suffers from night terrors, I am more concerned about getting the drugs that can keep me sane for at least another week. Besides, I would much rather have a mixture of thick black dirt and swamp water covering my car right now, rather than being dirt poor.

“Calvin! Right on schedule.” The Doc sets down his notebook and takes off his reading glasses. As he walks around from behind his lab table, I see that he has the same black mud on his shoes. He must notice me glancing down at them because he immediately starts up the usual inquisition about my love life. Or lack thereof.

“You know, Calvin, one of the great things about having a mate is that when you wake up in the morning and you’re feeling all dirty from the previous night’s brushes with the underbelly of society, you can wash it all off in the shower next to that loved one, your naked bodies being the only two things putting any pressure on each other.”

“Well, Doc, having just heard that coming from you, I’m feeling pretty dirty right now and I wish you’d quit putting pressure on me.” The Doc has always had this weird obsession with getting me hooked up with someone. Anyone who didn’t know the Doc could say he seriously cares for me and wants me to be able to live my life with someone who loves me, to have someone to go home to each night. But that would come from someone who didn’t know the Doc. For the rest of us who know better, it’s no surprise what comes up next.

“I’m just saying, Calvin. Anytime you feel like you’re just getting nowhere with the kind of riff raff you call women and want to actually settle down with someone who would love you without expecting a wad of cash on the bedside table the next morning, well, I’ve still got that niece I have been wanting to introduce you to.” That niece he has been wanting to introduce me to. I swear, each week he brings her up. Maybe if I had the smarts of the Doc I could figure out how to stop him from doing that.

“You know, Doc, for the last time, I’m not about to get hooked up with one of your relatives. For all I know, this niece of yours is just as kooky and twisted as you are and believe you me, having to deal with you each week is more than enough for any sane man.”

“Sane? Well, Mr. I’m-sleeping-with-a-stripper-for-intimacy-and-pillow-talk, kooky and twisted is about the only type of girl that would want to shack up with you. And besides, I can vouch for my niece. She’s a good girl. Been going through a lot lately but everything’s wrapping up and soon she will be looking for someone again, and with all of your problems, Calvin, I know you’re still a good person and I think you would be good for each other.”

“You know, Doc, it’s a good thing you are a doc and not a marketing guru because, well, heck, your little pitch just now sure as heck didn’t sell me on your niece.” I look at my watch and realize that I needed to follow-up with a former client about getting a bit of work. Anything to help get Lady Lordland off my back. “Look, Doc, it’s going to be another month before I can pay you for the –”

“Go on. Get the hell out of here. I know you’re good for the money. Besides, if I decided to quit giving you the drugs just because you can’t pay me, you wouldn’t be coming down to my side of town and I couldn’t badger you about my niece.”

“Thanks, Doc. I’ll see you next week.”

“Sure thing, Calvin. Now try and get some sleep, okay?”

“Ha, ha. If only you were as funny a comedian as you are as a doc.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            The things in the mind during a night terror aren’t always coherent. Unlike dreams or nightmares, night terror victims are haunted by objects, sometimes related to their life in some way such as a favorite toy or any other object of special value. Other times, it can be something completely random, such as a hole in the ground or a large rock. For me, it has always been large black rocks. Usually four or five of them, hovering over me for no particular reason. These rocks are never threatening because something in my head tells me they won’t crush me or hurt me. I just know they won’t. But at the same time, they scare the shit out of me and I can’t help but want them to just go away and quit visiting me in my sleep.

When the visits subside, I usually fall back asleep and forget about them. Then I start the next day covered in sweat and feeling like I just spent the night under an elephant’s ass. But there are times when I don’t forget. When I wake up and realize I just had the episode and those times are the ones that make my being alone seem so much more depressing and it almost kills me to be by myself. Tonight’s episode isn’t any different. Well, not entirely. Even though I still feel like shit after waking up, there was something different. This time, the images seemed different. More fluid. Organic. Almost as if they were changing, growing. The boulders were still there. I was still lying on my back and the boulders still hovered over me, taunting me. This time they will crush me. I can feel it. This time the boulders will put me out of my misery. I see myself staring up at the boulders and my dormant self begins to wince, anticipating that this was the end. But the end never comes and instead, I inch upwards closer to the boulders. My nose nearly touching the cold flat surface of the bottom of the boulder over me. The thick, black muck beneath me reaching past my limp body until I am almost completely covered by its dark essence. I feel the weight of the boulder push down on me but somehow know that it had not moved. Something inside me turns and I no longer recognize myself. And then I wake up. I wake up and I feel like shit and it almost kills me to be by myself. But this time, tonight, I am not alone.

Mitzie is used to these episodes and has been able to train herself to sleep through them. Or at least not be surprised by them, if awakened.

“The boulders are gone now, Calvin. Wait right here. I’ll get you some water.”

Tonight I found that instead of going back to sleep and letting the rocks fade out of my consciousness on their own, I somehow told myself, while still in my trance, that I was having the attack and talked myself awake. And oddly enough, my own doing so did not hurt me or anyone around me.

“Here you go, sweetie. Drink this down and we’ll try to get you back to sleep.” I can’t tell what Mitzie is to me. In the past, when I had money, all of her visits were very professional and I made sure to remind myself of that by having her exact fee ready for her in the morning, plus a generous tip for her being there when I woke up. When the money stopped coming in, Mitzie stopped coming by. But lately, she has been voluntarily coming over to my place more and even though I know that she is secretly doing it because she has run into some trouble and is afraid of sleeping alone at night in her own apartment, I don’t mind the company. And something tells me she doesn’t either. No matter what the Doc thinks of her, a guy like me can’t really ask for too much and for the moment, Mitzie is good enough.

“Mitz,” As I speak her name, I can tell that she is extra tired tonight and that she would probably prefer to go back to bed. But behind the deep, dark eye lashes, smeared with mascara that has mostly rubbed off in her sleep, are two genuinely concerned eyes and she decides to sit up and comfort me.

“What is it, sweetie?” Her breath is stale but comforting. I respond in an almost deathlike whisper.

“What are we, Mitz?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what are we? I like you, Mitz. I really enjoy your company and I like having you here in the morning. The mornings that you are here. But something tells me this isn’t permanent and that what we have is different from what this should  be.” I can feel her discomfort in my dead seriousness.

“Honey, I’m not so sure I understand what you mean.” The once concerned look in her eyes becomes panicked and desperate and I can almost hear her mind scrambling in her search of the right words. “I can say that having you in my life these last few weeks has been good for me and I can’t see it ending anytime soon.” Her eyes seem more awake now. Her hand gently glides onto my inner thigh and when I feel her squeeze, I know — I just know — that this is just what it appears to be and that although she is here with me now, Mitzie isn’t going to be the one pressing down on my gut-wound, praying for dear God to help hold the blood in, the day I die.

“Yeah.” It’s cold in the room and as my words come out my breath carves a path into the air in front of me and I know that I have to get out. “Yeah, alright, Mitz. But there’s something out there. Something waiting for me and lately I have been feeling it calling me. Calling me in my sleep.” Mitzie’s hand slides higher up my thigh. I shift towards the edge of the bed and she pulls away.

“Something? You mean like an animal or something?”

“No, I don’t mean something  in its most literal sense but, well, something. Someone. Whatever it is, it’s big and it’s coming and I’m the one it’s waiting for.”

“You mean the boulders? Are you talking about the boulders? Honey, you’ve lost me.”

“I’m afraid that’s inevitable, Mitz.” I can tell by Mitzie’s expression that she has no clue what I am getting at, and come to think of it, how can I blame her? I’m not so sure I know what the heck I’m talking about either.

I get out of bed and put my pants on. As I reach for my holster, I turn and face Mitzie, who is now crying. This is only the second time I have ever seen her cry. The first being when I caught Moses Howard slapping her around in the alley behind our complex. After the beating I gave Moses that night, it makes total sense why he and his brothers have not let me set foot on their side of town without a good helping of colorful metaphors with some not so friendly gunfire as a garnish. I saved Mitzie’s life that night and even though I had written the deed off as just one less token on my inevitable train ride to hell, it meant more to her than anything ever meant in her life. And the idea of me possibly walking out on her tonight seemed more than she could handle.

“Darling, come back to bed. Please.” Her lip quivers as she starts to crawl over to my side of the bed. Her hand reaching out for my shirttail, just barely out of reach, then dropping to the floor. “I know you want something more. We all do. I just don’t know if I have that to give.” Her head turns up and I see that the remaining mascara under her eyes has made a path down her cheeks and under her chin, two deep, dark black trails of tears lining her broken cheekbones. “Please come back, Cal.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Mitz. I just need to be alone right now.” I sit back down next to her and run my index finger across the scar on her forehead. Last I remember, she said that she got the scar from falling off of a table where she works. Said that the table was rickety and should have been fixed. But the handyman who had worked there had gotten himself fired the week before and it was all her rotten luck that when she was expecting to be on solid ground, the table was yanked out from under her feet and left her there on the cold hard floor. And all because some irresponsible man couldn’t be there to fix things for her when she needed fixing. She said the most humiliating part of the whole ordeal was that while she laid there on the floor, blood trickling from her forehead, everyone in the room — patrons and dancers —  stood around laughing and throwing dollar bills down at her. It was the most money she had ever made in one night but she would give it all back to forget that night ever happened. Mitzie didn’t need any more pain in her life. She definitely didn’t need any more lies. Unfortunately, she would have to settle for just one more.

“I’ll be back, Mitz. I just need to be alone right now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The drive back out to the Doc’s was quiet. There wasn’t much that the Doc could do for me in the middle of the night but I was desperate and I needed someone to talk to that didn’t have some kind of physical attraction to me. Help me sort out all of this. Sure, there was Mitzie but she was a woman and any man who has ever tried to talk to a woman knows that women all share the same inherent flaw when it comes to conversing: they listen too much. They listen to every word you have to say and they try to analyze each word, to the point that there is so much analyzing going on that they can’t really see the big picture that is right there in front of their faces — the simplicity behind the words coming out. Sometimes all it takes is just words to clean this mess up. My mind is a complicated pile of crap right now and the only type of conversing that can really help me is to find another man to shoot some shit with.

As I pull up to the Doc’s warehouse, I see something that I had never seen there before. She is about six feet tall, strong shoulders and curvaceous hips. The way the glow of the moon is coming down on her makes the light carve out each individual slant and curve on her body. Her breasts so firm that the moonlight practically bounces off of her bosom like pennies shot out of an uzi sub-machine gun pointed at a newly erected brick wall. Definitely something I have never seen before at the Doc’s.

As she draws nearer, I can see in her eyes that she’d been crying. If I were a living menu at this moment, the top two specials of the day would be Girls  and Crying. Her eyes are a sharp green color with such a penetrating stare that I can feel the green on my face as she steps out into the light. Her lips so brilliant that only the elixir of God himself could formulate the saliva that must exist on her tongue. I’d almost forgotten why I was even here and it isn’t until she speaks that I am reminded.

“Doc.” The last time I had ever heard those three letters put together and enunciated in such a way that made my naughty bits tingle was when Bugs Bunny put on a wig and a dress to trick Elmer Fudd into thinking he was a girl rabbit. But that’s juvenile and now I’m a man. A man in desperate need of the woman in front of him. Once again, it takes her seductive voice to bring me back into the real world.

“Doc, he’s…he’s…gone…” I pull my brain from out of my pants and listen to what she is saying, because apparently she knows the Doc and, um, something about him gone missing. I think. “He’s just gone…you’ve got to help me.”

“Now hold it right there, toots. You’re going to have to start from the beginning. What’s the Doc got to do with you?” I assume she’s got to be a client or a patient or something. I mean, who else could  she be? Not likely she would be that niece of his that he keeps trying to set me up with.

“I’m his niece.” Open pants, drop brain back down into them. “We were just talking and he, well, he just got mad and started yelling and throwing things. I’ve never seem him act this way before. It’s really scaring me. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

“Hold up! Hold up! Let me make sure I’ve got this straight. You say you’re his niece?” I realize that my fixation on the Doc’s niece has gotten me distracted but when I see those captivating green eyes of hers go narrow, I realize I had better fixate on the Doc. “Yes, yes, you’ve already told me that. Now, what’s this about the Doc being gone? You said he was gone.”

“No, not that he’s gone missing but that he’s gone mad. Please, you’ve got to help him. I’m afraid to go back inside. I’m afraid he’s going to hurt me.” Although this may sound completely impossible, something about the Doc’s niece rubs me the wrong way. Granted, I believe she  believes everything she is saying so I don’t think that she’s lying to me, but something about her overall being  feels…innocent. Too  innocent. Almost as if she didn’t fit in this world or somehow managed to go through her whole life without ever being touched by the infected hand of cruel humanity. But if the Doc is truly in trouble, I will have to follow-up on this misgiving later. For now, I’d better get our young guest here to somewhere safe.

“Look, I need you to sit in my car. It’s unlocked. Just sit tight and I will go inside and see what’s up with the Doc.” I walk her over to the car and open the passenger side door. I get a glimpse of her smooth, shiny legs as she leans back into the car and just as her perfectly shaped toes disappear into the shadows of the old Delta 88, I slam the door shut and lean in for one final inquiry. “The name’s Calvin. What’s yours, kid? I don’t recall ever getting it.”

A look of surprise comes across her face. Understandable, really. With everything that she’s going through, it’s only natural for her to forget to introduce herself. In a fit of embarrassment and frustration, she squeaks out, “My name is Melanie.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Inside the Doc’s warehouse, there is nothing but black. I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out my lighter. My fingers run across the engraving on the front, an engraving I now have memorized by heart and only need to feel with my fingertips:

Always look ahead. Leave everything behind.

It takes three flicks to get the Zippo to ignite but only giving birth to a small flame due to lack of fluid. I had been meaning to refuel the lighter but any extra money that came my way in the last three months ended up being used to refuel my intoxicated state. Regretting those useless hangovers, I pray that my pathetic flame stays lit long enough to make my way to the other side of the room where I see a sliver of light under the Doc’s lab door. If I make it, I will need to call up Gillian and thank her for the lighter.

On the other side of the door, I hear mumbling. I recognize the Doc’s voice immediately but as to what he’s saying, I’ve no clue. As I cautiously open the door, I see the Doc on the floor, curled up in fetal position next to his filing cabinets. His bloodshot red eyes are wide open and his lower lip equally as red from apparently biting down too deeply, dripping blood onto his powder grey beard. I hesitate approaching him, not sure what type of condition he may be in. Instead I opt to just call out to him to get his attention.

“Doc? You alright?” I get no reaction. Fortunately, his constant mutterings are a bit clearer from inside the room. With his voice being the only noise within earshot, I am able to concentrate on what he’s saying, but even then, I can only make out one word:

Thing.

I decide to stop pussyfooting around and jump headfirst into the madness. I step out in front of the Doc but even that doesn’t break his stare. Of course, at this point and where I am standing, I no longer need the Doc’s attention to realize that he and I aren’t the only ones in the room. Reflected in the Doc’s glasses is what appears to be a black blob, possibly about seven to eight feet behind me. I can tell by its motions it isn’t advancing on me so I decide to turn and face our guest.

A massive heap of who knows what sits on the floor, opposite the Doc, humming quietly. About three to four feet in length and roughly the size of a storage trunk, the Thing is covered in black finger-like hairs, waving around as if it was catching a cool breeze. Of course, there is no breeze in the air and there isn’t anything cool about the black box. I lean in a bit closer and realize that whatever it is, it’s breathing, Or at least that is what it appears to be doing. Like a big, box-shaped dog (with no head, legs, or tail) sleeping on the porch on a hot summer’s day, the Thing pulsates in and out steadily, apparently paying no attention to me.

I look back at the Doc in hopes that he may have snapped out of his crazed state since I notice that the mumbling had stopped. He is sitting up now, facing the Thing — focused on it — but not saying another word.

“This is pretty fucked up, Doc. If you aren’t going to tell me what’s going on here, I guess I’m just going to have to do a bit of detective work, eh?” My bad attempt at displaying some sort of sense of humor doesn’t seem to phase the Doc, who continues to stare at the Thing, jaw hanging open, more blood spattering on his beard. Fed up with the Doc’s being about as useful as a vegetable can be, I turn back to the Thing and decide to get even closer.

As I draw nearer, the Thing’s breathing appears to speed up and its humming gets louder. Funny, what I’m doing. If this were any other situation where, let’s say I’m at a zoo and am confronting an escaped crocodile, the last thing I would want to do is stick my face into its jaws. But I know what a crocodile can do to my ugly mug. This…this Thing, I’ve never seen anything like it before so I pretty much convince myself that it is just as likely to take off my face as it is likely to pour me a cup of Earl grey tea. But just about the moment when I am close enough to hear the Thing’s breathing and smell its strong odor of burned hair with a hint of balsam powder, I realize it’s not the Thing that I need to be worried about.

My head rings and my eyes see white as I feel my body being thrown over the Doc’s lab table. The beakers and test tubes smash in melodic unison as they hit the ground and then follow up their act with the soft squishing sound of my hands taking in all the broken glass as I try to break my fall. I want so badly to leap out at my assailant, but the Doc is going to have to wait. I frantically wrap my hands in cloth to stop the burning of whatever solutions the Doc had in those test tubes, now coursing through my veins via the open cuts in my hands.

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with here, Calvin!” A lot less mumble and a lot more grumble, the Doc’s eyes glare a burning red as the wild hair jutting out from the back of his head waves in mock imitation of the Thing. I make my way back onto my feet and tie the last knot on the blood-soaked cloth wrapped around my hands, my teeth clenching to make the knot tight, tasting what could be some sort of methyl trichloride, I think, but who has any time to worry about what the technical name for this stuff is right now? The Doc reaches into his lab coat and pulls out a handgun. The Walther P-38 looks to be old and a bit rusty but I don’t wager that the gun can’t still put a nice clean hole in me. “Just leave us alone, Calvin!”

“Now look, Doc. You’re sick right now and I think it’d be best if you put down that gun and let me get you some help.”

“You’re the sick one, you fuck! Now back off or I’ll shoot!”

“Believe you me, Doc, I don’t doubt the very least that you are capable of shooting me, but that’s not what we need to focus on right now, okay?” What little time I have, I try to figure out what exactly I should be focusing on. Obviously the Doc is very worked up and is definitely out of his mind. His niece was smart to run from him. But what about the box? The Thing? Only a world class dipshit would not be able to put two and two together and know that it equals forget about the gun and let’s figure out what that Thing has done to the Doc. “Now why don’t you step away from that Thing and come over here with me?”

“You’re not listening, Calvin! The Thing is all I’ve got! It’s all you’ve got! We have to let it finish its course! For our sake! For Melanie’s sake!”

“Melanie? You’re niece? Look, Doc. I ran into your niece outside and she’s concerned about you. But she’s alright. She’s in my car and if you would just put down that gun and come with me, we can all talk to her.”

“I’ll talk to her right here! I don’t need you to tell me where to talk to my own niece! I’ll talk to her when I please! This is not your Thing and I don’t need you anymore!”

The bullet burns deep into my shoulder and the salty taste of blood fills my mouth as I bite my tongue in reaction to the bullet wound. The spark from the gunshot throws up a wave of flames from the nearby chemicals on the lab table, engulfing the Doc. His mad cries fill the room as he staggers frantically across the floor looking for any escape from his fiery fate. He falls to the floor, skin blackened and eyes covered in boils. I tell myself I’ll regret doing it as I grab an apron from the floor, wrapping it around the Doc, putting out the flames.

I fall back onto a nearby stool and breathe in deeply, even though each breath causes the broken flesh on my shoulder to burn hotter as it spits out more blood. The Doc begins to mumble again, as if whatever demon possessed him to go ballistic and pull the trigger has left him. Now he is back to his old muttering self.

“Calvin.” The Doc’s voice is weak. I can barely make out what he’s saying so I kneel down on the floor, my right hand pressed up against the bullet wound, and lean in closer in hopes that the Doc will give me something — anything — to clear up this madness. “Calvin, the Thing…”

“Go ahead, Doc. I’m here.”

“The Thing…”

 

 

 

 

“The Thing…”

 

 

 

 

“…CAN’T DIE!!” The outer layer of flesh from the Doc’s hand clings to my face as I rip his fingers off of my scalp. A trail of blood from where his fingernails dug into my eyebrow pours into my eyes and I fall back once again. I wipe the red from my eyes only to see that no matter how many more gratuitous gashes, tears, rips, and gores that are inflicted on me, I end up better off than what happens to the Doc.

Through blood filtered pupils, I see the Thing wrap its hair-like follicles around the Doc’s legs and arms, pulling the Doc in towards its pulsating box-like body. The Doc squirms to get free but the Thing seems to have quite the grip on the Doc’s limbs. The smell of burnt hair and balsam becomes even stronger but this time with the added scent of burned human flesh. I rub my eyes to make sure that what I think I am seeing is really what I am seeing. The tips of the follicles begin emitting a thick mucous-like fluid that burns onto the Doc’s skin and immediately eats away at any remaining flesh the Doc has on him. The Doc squeals an unholy squeal similar to what one would most likely hear if he took an aardvark, a flamingo, four porcupines, two armadillos, and three badgers, crammed them into an economy-sized blender and hit frappe. The only thing making the painful cries of the Doc more bearable is the loud humming now coming from the Thing, which nearly drowns out the Doc.

Whether what happens next is in reaction to the Thing’s acidic ooze making contact with the Doc’s skin or because the Doc is so desperate to get free that he would do something as crazy as this, I’ll never know. All I can say is if you’ve ever wondered what someone would look like throwing up his own stomach, intestines, and any other organs that he can vomit out, come to me and we’ll talk about it over coffee or something. In the end, the Doc’s final attempt to get free proves to make it easier for the Thing to suck him inside itself. Which doesn’t mean that the Doc’s internal organs are going to waste, because shortly after the last bit of the Doc’s head disappears into the Thing’s dark massive self, it sluggishly crawls over all of the Doc’s leftover organs and proceeds to absorb each lung, kidney, and intestine that it can find. After it swallows up the last juicy piece of Doc guts, it slows down and the humming gets softer. It is at this point I decide it best that I leave before the Thing decides to go looking for dessert in the form of a Calvin crème brulèe.

Outside, I see the Doc’s niece still sitting in my car. I move like a drunken Neanderthal competing for first place in the “Walk Like Frankenstein Imitating Egor” contest, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to run like hell to the car. Melanie sees the blood nearly covering my face and chest.

“Calvin, oh my gawd! What happened? Are you alright?” I don’t take the time to answer and instead fumble in my pockets to find my car keys. My bandaged hands decide that today isn’t going to be the day they will want to cooperate with the rest of my body in any way. I nearly drop the keys into the river as I stumble from the edge of the dock to get to my car. Apparently Melanie must have been born yesterday because I think the last thing I would do when I see a guy covered in blood, nursing two cut up hands, a gashed forehead and a bullet wound in his shoulder, is get impatient with him and continue to ask him stupid questions.

“Calvin, what’s wrong? Where’s Doc?”

“It’s like you said in the first place, toots. The Doc’s gone.” I toss my limp body into the driver seat and cram the key into the ignition. The old Delta 88 refuses to start. “Son of a bitch!”

“Calvin, I don’t like this. Why won’t you tell me what’s happened inside?” Melanie’s eyes grow puffy and I can feel the waterworks coming back on. If I never see another girl cry…

“Look here, kid. I want  to tell you about what’s happened but right now we just have  to get out of here. Once I get us somewhere safe, I’ll give you the whole kitten kaboodle, okay? So, let’s say you cross your pretty little fingers and say a prayer or two and let’s hope the Classic here starts right up this time, eh?” Melanie tries to choke back the tears and then nods. Of course, I was metaphorically speaking when I asked her to cross her fingers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t cute as pie when she goes ahead and does it anyway.

Taking Melanie’s lead, I close my eyes and pray to myself, Okay, Big Guy. You’ve pulled me out of worst messes than this, right? Just one more for old time’s sake?  I open my eyes and turn the key sideways.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            Melanie climbs out of the passenger seat while I storm off the pain coursing through my left foot. That’ll teach me to go kicking the Classic. Stupid car. How many times have I gone out of my way to make sure the thing stays running instead of driving it into a ravine like I probably should have done in the first place, to put it out of its own misery years ago? Now what the heck am I supposed to do? I’ve got the lovely young Miss Melanie here and that…that Thing…in there, which could possibly make its way out here any minute. I guess if we at least begin walking, we’ll be able to put some distance between us. I caress my sore foot one last time and begin to walk. Miss Melanie has another idea.

The roar of the Doc’s Galaxie 500 sends the slightest bit of hope back into my head. I see Melanie climbing out of the driver’s side and look at me like a cat who just proudly dropped a mauled field mouse at my feet. Remind me to make sure she gets plenty of scratches behind the ears later for this.

“Miss Melanie, you are a doll. Now let’s get the heck out of here.” I get inside the Doc’s car and notice that some of the black muck lining the body of the Galaxie 500 has also made its way into the car. Whatever the Doc has been doing in the Supplantation Swamps must’ve taken him days because from the looks of the layers of black muck in the car, he had been going out there several times a week, the top layer still moist and fresh, while three to four layers down has already dried and hardened onto the automobile floor. I start to lean in to get a closer look at the bit of muck that has gotten onto the side of my shoe when I suddenly realize Melanie isn’t getting into the car with me. I wipe the steam off of the windshield and see that Melanie is walking back towards the warehouse.

“Melanie, what on earth are you doing? You don’t want to go back in there!” That’s when I realize that she is in fact not  going back inside. I have to do a triple take before I realize what she is really doing.

She stops in front of one of the large garage doors on the side of the warehouse. As she leans down to grab the door handle, her soft supple bum curves outward beckoning for anyone who wishes to do so to approach it and shower it with kisses. The lines of light wrapping themselves across each cheek nearly has me forgetting the psychotic night I’ve just been through but before I can let my mind drift away into the sweet fantasies of what a night with the sweet Melanie might be like, I realize what Melanie is doing. And what comes of it completely brings me back to the present.

As Melanie brings herself upright and throws the garage door wide open, I see the massive box-shaped hair Thing lumbering itself out from the shadows of the warehouse. It stops momentarily and pulsates next to Melanie, who looks down at it then back up at me. Completely flabbergasted, I get out of the car.

“What the hell are you doing? Do you know what that Thing is?! What it can do?!” As if to get back at me, Melanie does not answer my questions and merely walks over to the car. Like a loyal basset hound gone fugly, the Thing follows behind her, humming all the way to the car. Normally, I would yell out and ask again what the heck Melanie thinks she is doing but the site of the voluptuous Melanie holding the back door open for the Thing to climb inside is as creepy as all out but oddly hypnotic. Once the Thing, now twice the size it was before, has made itself comfortable in the back seat of the car, Melanie climbs into the front passenger seat and closes her door. Not being able to conjure up any kind of exclamation in reaction to the surreal image of what just happened, I get back into the driver seat, silent. Not one word, whimper, or wisecrack to make about the whole ordeal.

“Drive.” Melanie’s voice is calm. Her eyes glow a neon-like green under the early morning moonlight. I shake my head just to make sure I haven’t fallen asleep in some car or back at the apartment. The pain burning in my shoulder reminds me that I am indeed awake. The engine grinds as I try to start the car, forgetting that Melanie has already started it. I see the Thing in the rearview mirror shudder at the sound of the grinding, then go back to merely pulsating. I look one last time at Melanie, whose expression hasn’t changed. I back the Galaxie out and begin driving, seeing the Doc’s warehouse get smaller and smaller and fading into the black darkness behind us for the last time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            Sometimes the large rocks will visit me in the middle of the day. It usually happens when I am sitting in my office, trying to make up some work, so I feel like I actually have work to do. Often times, those kinds of monotonous tasks are an open invitation for my narcolepsy to kick in and before I know it, a whole afternoon goes by without accomplishing anything. Not that I would have had any work, otherwise, since my sleeping fits are the very reason I haven’t been able to secure work these last three months, but I keep telling myself that if I just stay awake, accomplish anything, no matter how menial the task is, as long as I am doing something, I can mentally overcome the sleeping episodes, thus leaving fewer chances for the rocks to come back into my brain. But it hasn’t worked. It was three months ago that I stopped taking my medication, when I asked the Doc to start giving me the placebos so that I could try and trick my body into thinking that I am  taking the medicine. But it isn’t the body that needs the tricking. It’s the mind. And if the mind is the one coming up with the manipulation, how can one manipulate it? More importantly, why, after three months of no success, did I not ask the Doc to get me back on the real medicine? And now, with the Doc being hair glob food, what the heck am I going to do about my episodes?

I feel my head getting heavy as I watch the broken yellow lines on the highway march past the Doc’s car, one after the other, in the opposite direction I am going and I start to wonder if I am heading the wrong way. At this point, I may technically be in the driver’s seat but the Doc’s niece is leading the way. If only she knew how to drive  the car, then I could sit back and let my sleeping fit take over and whatever night terrors that wish to overcome me take me all the way. Anything in the sleep world would be better than the real-life night terror that I am going through right now.

“Doc loved you, Calvin.” She speaks. The tall, sexy silent one finally speaks. We’ve been driving for nearly an hour and whatever cryptic reason Melanie has decided to speak now is good enough for me because another few minutes of driving like this and I probably would have driven us off the road. “He loved you very much.”

“Yeah, I know that.” Of course, I know that. The guy has always been there for me and even though he was the one to put a bullet into my shoulder, he wasn’t the one to make the command. Something was wrong with him and that something is pulsating and humming back there in the back seat of his car. “I really dug the ol’ guy, too. What about you? You don’t seem to be so concerned about him now. What’s your story, toots?”

Melanie looks back at the Thing. It stops pulsating and humming long enough for Melanie to look it over, one hairy end back to the other. It starts up again as Melanie turns back to me.

“I loved him, too. I still love him. He was like a father to me.”

“You and me both, kid.”

“But he didn’t have faith in me. Thought that I needed growing up. Improving. I hated him for that. But maybe he was right. I questioned myself all the years that he told me that I would have to change in order for me to fully be a beautiful person.” I can sense the Thing getting bigger behind us. I want to turn my attention to it and change the subject. Get Melanie to tell me what she knows about it. But I have been slapped in the face enough times to know that when a woman is talking about personal, emotional details, you don’t turn your attention to any kind of box.

“Yeah, that sounds like a pretty dickey thing to do, kid.”

“Yes. Yes! And now look what’s become of me! Damn you, Doc! Why couldn’t you just let me be? Why couldn’t you just listen to me and talk to me? Instead of changing me!” I reach into my pocket and hand Melanie a blood-soaked handkerchief. She doesn’t seem to mind the blood. After she dries her tears and wipes her nose, she composes herself and continues. “I just needed his support. Just needed him to have faith in me. Maybe then, maybe when he could fully believe in me, I could have found love. I could have gotten your love.” The sleeping fit must be hitting. For a second, I thought she was referring to me. I shake my head and blink repeatedly to clear the sand out of my eyes. Good. Now maybe I can get her to repeat herself because what I thought she said would have made no sense at all.

“Whose love are you looking for, kid?”

“Yours, dammit! Calvin, why can’t you love me?”

“Now look here, kid. You’re very pretty, I have to say. Much prettier than I expected, being a blood relative of the Doc’s, and all. My apologies, but I’m sure you can understand why I would say that, right? The Doc was never any kind of looker, you know.” Melanie’s eyes are wide but the tears stop. She doesn’t say a word. I figure I best keep going. “But, you and I. We just met, kid.”

“Just met?! How can you say that? We’ve known each other for years!” I slow down the car to pull over. The Thing continues to grow and pulsate even more. The humming gets so loud that I can hardly concentrate on what Melanie is saying.

“Years? Look, I’ve known of you for years. All the years the Doc kept trying to introduce me to you. Heck, if he would’ve been a bit more straight forward and shown me a picture of you or at least told me a bit more about you –”

“Calvin, you prick! I gave you my life! I would’ve given you anything. Anything you have ever wanted. But you didn’t give me a chance!”

“Come on, now. I said that if the Doc would have told me more about you –” but the Thing doesn’t let me finish. As I try to complete my thought, I feel the hair-like follicles wrap around my face. The Galaxie swerves back and forth until it runs itself into the gravel on the side of the road. I pull the hairs off of my face before they can get a firm grip on me and jump out of the car. I look back and the Thing continues to pulsate and hum. Melanie glares at me as if she is trying to bore a hole into my heart with her stare.

“That does it! You obviously know something about that Thing in the backseat there! That Thing that ate YOUR uncle and now is trying to kill me! What the hell is  that Thing and why the fuck are you not getting away from it!”

“Fuck you, Calvin! This Thing?! This Thing that you are so infatuated with?! Well, you can have it!”

“What?!” My head races as I try to sort out the last fifteen minutes and wonder what the heck is going on. Come on, Calvin. You’re a detective. Think about the words. Think about what they all mean.  But before I get the chance to listen to my own advice, Melanie throws me for a loop.

“You see, Calvin. It’s this Thing that you want. You’ve wanted it all along but you didn’t know it. And now that it’s here, in its purest form, you can’t keep your mind off of it. Take it, Calvin. It’s all yours.” And those are the last words I hear from Melanie. The last words to ever come out of her supple mouth before she jumps head first into the massive box-like hair pile.

“Melanie, no!”

The Thing wraps its follicles around Melanie’s body and begins to pull her inside. I see the curves and lines of her body become like liquid and dissolve into the Thing. The pulsating gets more rapid and frenetic, Melanie’s legs kicking as the Thing continues to pull her inside. Just as her feet begin to melt and become one with the Thing, I see Melanie’s perfectly shaped toes fall off and land on the seat in front of the Thing, one falling onto the floorboard and disappearing underneath the seat. The Thing reaches up to the front and gathers up the remaining toes as if it were collecting rocks from a creek bank and swallows them up. Then it stops. The Thing sits quietly in the backseat for a moment, then begins pulsating slowly again, humming. And growing very still.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            My father used to tell me that the night terrors started after my mother left when I was seven. He said that I never really cared for him the way I cared for her. She loved me very much. She made sure that I had any comfort that I needed as a growing boy. But something in her heart was greater than her love for me. Whatever it was, I never learned, but it was great enough to override any decision to stay with me. My father told me that it was because she had a cold, black heart. That she could only truly love one person at a time and although she loved me dearly, she loved herself more and when I got in the way of her dreams and needs, she left before she could have second thoughts. I never really believed that. I always figured it was because Dad was a dick and that he drove her away and wanted to point the blame on me. I told myself that she would come back one day. One day to get me and rescue me from being alone. But until the day that she would come back, I had the rocks to keep me company.

I’ve gotten used to the idea that a guy like me would never be able to find a girl who would be willing to share a bed with him. But I’m never going to be able to get used to the idea that the only thing that I would be able to have by my side from now until my dying day is a huge pulsating black box of hair. A box of hair that just ate my best friend and his confused sex-bomb of a niece. I watch the desert moon slowly dropping in the sky as I wonder what I’m to do now.

The Thing doesn’t seem to be doing much. Just pulsating and humming. Humming and pulsating. Not much else. I tried prodding it with a stick. Threw a couple of rocks at it and it just sat there. Pulsating and humming. It’ll be morning soon and maybe by then someone will have driven by and I can get a ride back home. I’m not about to get back into the car with that Thing sitting there. But until that ride comes, it’s going to be just me and the Thing.

“You know, Thing…” I can feel the sleeping fit coming on again. It must be. That would explain why I begin talking to the Thing. “It must be pretty easy being a big glob of muck and hair. Boy, do I envy your existence.”

The Thing just sits there. I half expect it talk back, being all drowsy and what not. Heck, even if I were dead on alert and not suffering from any kind of sleep disorders, it wouldn’t seem completely crazy for the Thing to talk back to me right now, would it? Crazier things have happened. But not this time. Doesn’t matter. I continue talking to myself. And the Thing.

“Yup, what it would be like to be you? If I could wake up everyday without a care in the world and just sit there and pulsate and bubble and do whatever the hell it is you’re doing right now. And not have to wonder if big stupid rocks were hovering over me in my sleep each morning or whether or not I have hurt someone else dear to me. Man, how does one get a job like that and where do I sign up?”

The Thing stops pulsating for a moment. I only half notice it, though. Then I shrug it off. It can do whatever the heck it wants to do, for all I care.

“You see, Thing. You’ve got an excuse. You’re this big, fat blob of a toupee so no one’s ever going to expect much out of you. Hell, I ain’t asking much of you. I ain’t asking much of myself. But the thing is, Thing, I don’t get to make the decisions here. Here in this world. You see, me saying I don’t need to be much of anything in this world is only a fraction of the levels of command that need to sign off on my life in order for me to be happy.” Funny, the Thing stops humming. Wait. There it goes again.

“But the cool thing about this world is as with any fallen world (and there’s got to be two or three of them out there, right? Silly for us to think that we’re the only ones that God created, huh?) it’s full of loopholes. Full of little itty-bitty legal flaws that if one knows how to read the fine print, one can really manipulate it.” I lean up against the car because I can feel my body going limp from exhaustion.

“And, you see, the way one can manipulate the order of command is by limiting how many people have a stake in one’s life. Let’s say you’re a people-pleaser. Well, if that’s the case, you’re royally fucked because there are about a gazillion people in this world and by the time you get around to pleasing all of them, you’re dead. And what do you have to show for it, eh? A bunch of semi-satisfied people who’ll forget about you when the next bloke comes along to please ‘em.” I start to feel dizzy.

“Fuck! Crap, shit, fuck!” I have to stay awake. I can’t fall asleep and have someone drive by and not know I’m here. I have to get back home.

“But what’s at home? I mean, what if you are one of the other kinds. The kind that doesn’t want to please people. The kind who wants to be left alone so that only he needs himself to sign off on his work.” The Thing stops humming again. This time, it doesn’t start back up. I had gotten so used to the humming that with it gone now, it’s too quiet out here. Quiet like the dead. I reach into the driver side window and turn on the radio. I hear a whole slew of radio DJs spouting off about their ignorant political views and attacks on bureaucracy but right now I just can’t handle that kind of noise. I find a station with just static and turn it up.

Yes, that’s better.

“But who can live like that? Live alone. Even those who want to limit how many people they have in their lives to make it easier to keep their circle happy, they need at least one someone. Just one other person to validate their efforts. I mean, if you create art and you are the only one that sees it and you believe it’s art but no one else sees it and feels like it’s art, too, do you really, truly believe for yourself that it’s art? Huh, does that make any sense to you, Thing?” The Thing doesn’t answer. It just pulsates more slowly. Slower.

I decide that if I keep standing out here, I’m going to be out cold before anyone shows up and just the thought of myself falling asleep in the middle of the highway for some semi-truck to run over my head, as tempting as it may sound, isn’t how I would like to go. I get back into the car and turn the key while the engine is already running. The engine grinds again and the Thing shudders. I pull back onto the highway and head back towards town.

“You see, Thing. I wasn’t always alone. Got married once. To a dame in Vegas. She was a cutie, I tell you. Had the hottest little body a twenty-two year old could have and a brain to match. Damn, she was smart. Alas, even the smart ones have a brain fart on occasion. For Gillian, her brain fart was getting involved with me. She quit college to marry me. Of course, I’d convinced myself that it was because of love. Why would someone as smart as she was want to be with a guy like me? Love sees through all sorts of shit, right? Even a bombshell like Gillian could be with a nutcase like myself if she loved me, right?” I hear something behind me so I turn off the radio static. It appears our old friend, the Thing, is humming again. Softly, but humming still.

“Well, it was all butterflies and bluebirds for the first few years, but then she couldn’t deal with my symptoms. I embarrassed her many a time with my sleeping fits. But she could handle that. She wasn’t ashamed of my narcolepsy. But it was the night terrors that got her. She couldn’t handle the night terrors.” I honk the horn a few times and slap the back of my head. Wake up, you stupid ass! Wake the hell up or you’re going to die!  There still isn’t another soul in sight. Just me, the Galaxie 500, and the Thing. If I do fall asleep, at least with no one else out here, I’ll only be killing myself. And the Thing, if it can die, that is.

“I tried to overcome the episodes. I tried seeking professional help, but they would just prescribe me the drugs. But, once again, I get a hand in what happens in this world. I can get the prescription and I can pick up the drugs. Heck, I can even open the bottles and put the pills in my hand. But I can also choose to flush them down the toilet or throw them out the window at the last minute, if I choose.”

“But that’s what I shouldn’t have done. They said I needed the drugs and I said I would take them. I promised Gill that I would  take them. And she believed me. She believed me each night. Up until the night I nearly strangled her to death when she tried to get my attention during one of my episodes. I don’t even remember it happening. I woke up the next day, in bed, by myself. I didn’t get to say sorry to her, to her face. I didn’t get to see the bruises on her neck. Everything was communicated to me through officers of the law and her bloodsucking lawyers.” I look back into the rear view mirror and see that the Thing had gotten smaller. Still pulsating and humming. The smell of burned hair and balsam powder gets stronger once more and actually helps keep me awake.

“A few years after the divorce, I learned that prior to my having nearly killed my wife, we had conceived a child. Two of them. I heard that the twins were staying with Gill’s grandmother just outside of Vegas. I wanted to meet them. I wanted to see the only two things in my life that I did right.”

“But when I got to the casino where Gill was working, she called security on me. She wasn’t mad at me anymore and she really didn’t want to not  see me. But the boys. She had been working double shifts to make enough money to ensure that the boys get to go to and finish college. She said that she couldn’t let anyone — not even their father — get in the way of that education.”

I smell gas. I assume that it’s coming from the Galaxie since it was such an old car but being a detective, I figure it out pretty quickly. It’s coming from the backseat. From what I can see in the rearview mirror, the Thing appeared to be getting even smaller and was emitting some kind of smoke. But the humming keeps getting louder.

“I found out that Gill had named the twins Calvin  and Maximilian. Pretty cruel joke, eh? The two names I had to see each day as I went back to my office and read the black print on the glass of the door. She wouldn’t talk to me that day. The day the security guards dragged me out of the casino. As they carried me out the back door, I told her she could keep the names. I really wasn’t doing any good with them. It wasn’t until she came outside to stop them from kicking me anymore in the back alley that she finally said a few words to me:

“I believe in the names, Cal.” As I spit blood onto the asphalt, I looked up at her for the last time. “I just don’t believe in the man behind the names.”

“So you see, Thing. No one can make it alone in this world. Not even a pulsating hairy Thing like you. But that’s the one thing I cannot manipulate. I can desire to at least have one someone in my life but I cannot make that one someone be  in my life. So where does that leave me? With no one wanting to be with me. No one but Melanie Rose.”

There is a hissing noise accompanying the humming as the smoke fills the backseat of the car. I jerk suddenly at the steering wheel when I realize my dozing off is distracting me from my driving.

“Since Gill, the only person who would even give me the time of day was a desperate young girl who stalked me because I wouldn’t agree to spend time with her. But the crazy thing is, looking back, as sick as it may sound, having her stalking me was the most attention I have ever gotten and I found myself not minding it. In fact, the last time she approached me, before I blew up in her face, I felt something drop out of my life. I thought a weight had been lifted knowing that I would not hear from her again but now I realize that was not a weight lifted from my shoulders but a large part of my heart ripped out of where it belonged. And now all that’s left is just me and you. The last person I am going to fall asleep with is a big, black hairy, humming box-like Thing.”

Suddenly, the humming becomes louder than ever. I feel the sleeping fit overcoming me and before I completely blank out, I see the Thing oozing its way over the passenger side seat. Only a fraction of its original size remains. My eyes become narrow and as the Thing begins to wrap itself over my right arm and then onto my face, the hum at a deafening level straight into my ears, I find myself only recalling a stupid joke that seems fitting for the moment.

“You know why hummingbirds hum, huh, Thing?” The follicles run down my arm then across my hands onto the steering wheel. My face is completely masked by the Thing’s embrace. I mumble my final words, “Because they don’t know the words. The little fuckers don’t know the words.” And with those words, everything goes black.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I turn the key in the ignition and hear the engine grinding once more to remind me that it is already on. I wedge the crowbar under the seat and against the gas pedal and pull the stick shift to DRIVE  and jump out of the old 1965 Ford Galaxie 500. I turn over on the desert floor just in time to see the numbers 175-MRC  on the license plate of the Doc’s car as it disappears over the edge of the cliff and into the ravine below. The explosion is loud and if it weren’t out in the middle of nowhere, I’m sure someone would be calling the cops. I try to pick myself up from the ground but the bullet wound in my shoulder keeps me from being able to prop myself up onto my feet.

“Here, let me help you.” Her hands are smooth and soft as she lifts me up off the desert floor and brushes the dirt off of my back. I see the last of the remaining black-hair-like follicles fall from her fingertips as she turns me around and places her hand on my face. I use my good hand (the better of the two, that is) to gently slide her limp red hair out of her face and let it blow in the morning breeze behind her. Her prominent two front teeth reflect the morning sunlight back into my eyes. I wince to get a better look at her. Her body long and slender. She moves gracefully in an awkward sort of way as she pulls me closer to her. The smell of balsam powder helps wake me up and I smile at her.

“Are you sure about this?” I ask her. She takes my hand and guides me to the edge of the cliff. The Galaxie spits out flames and smoke and one final explosion shakes the earth, causing the side of the ravine to collapse and avalanche down on top of the old car. Four large boulders break away a mere hundred feet or so from where we’re standing and fall on top of the Doc’s car and puts out the last of its flames, engulfing the car and the large rocks in dark, grey smoke. As the fire dies down, the darkness of the ravine swallows what’s left of the Galaxie. I ask her once again, “Are you sure about this?”

Melanie Rose looks back at me and smiles.

“Yeah, sure. This is good enough.”

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