John studied me for a moment, then said, “Well, Dave, I think one of the neighbors comes by to put out food and water in a bowl for her. Let her out, you know.”
We snapped into silence as Drake appeared in the doorway, Amy barely visible behind him. She squeezed around him, the girl now fully dressed in street clothes and even shoes. She wasn’t going anywhere, not at this time of night and not in this weather. Must be her hosting outfit. She had chin-length copper hair that looked like she had cut herself. Something weird with her eyes. The wrong shade of green.
On top of all that, she still didn’t have a hand. As she came into the room I averted my eyes from the handless arm that didn’t swing quite right when she walked, then realized it was becoming obvious that I was averting my eyes, so I looked at the scarred stump where her wrist ended, then it became so obvious I was looking at it that she actually folded her arms, her wrist disappearing behind her shirtsleeve. She glanced past me and said, “Hi, John!”
“What’s up. This is Dave, the one you saw in your hallway. He’s not a psychotic killer or anything,” he lied.
“Oh, I know. We went to school together.”
Yes, Amy, let’s reminisce about the Pine View Behavior Disorder Program. “Remember that time they had to restrain schizo Bobby Valdez and one of the aides broke his arm! Hahahahahahaha!!!”
I said, “Hey, I’m sorry about the, you know. Almost shooting you. We just have some questions and we’ll leave you alone.”
She looked at me with the too-long stare of someone with no social skills or diminished mental capacity. Like John said, I knew she had been in an accident as a kid. Brain damage? Was that her thing? I thought about the pills on the nightstand.
She held her gaze as she said, “It’s okay!” She waved a dismissive hand in the air and smiled. “So are you guys with the police or what?”
Damn, you’re cheery. Does one of those pill bottles contain Vicodin, dear?
“Oh, no. John knows Officer Drake here and he just called us to help out. We’re, uh, sort of experts on—”
“Oh, I know,” she said brightly. “I’ve read about you guys. There’s this Web site I go to, like a News of the Weird sort of thing. I think you guys are mentioned in every other article. The thing with Jim, when Jim, well, you know. I did a lot of reading. Do you want something to drink? I have, um, cranapple juice and . . .” she spun and opened the fridge, “. . . and . . . water. And pickles.”
She closed the refrigerator and took a chair at the table opposite John and me. Drake said, “She doesn’t remember a thing. She lost about twenty hours, as far as I can tell.”
I said to her, “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Brushing my teeth. I had the brush in my hand, I had gone downstairs to let Molly out so she could pee and roll around in the snow. She likes that. I came up and was putting toothpaste on the brush and then, the light was off. All of a sudden, just like that. The toothbrush was back on the shelf and the water was off and I don’t remember anything in between. Then I heard somebody in the hall and it turned out it was you.”
“And you were on your computer, right? Before you went in?”
Hesitation. Hiding something?
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Nothing strange happened?”
“That night, the nights leading up to it.”
“No,” she said, studying my face as some bad liars do, always seeing if you’re buying it. No practice, this girl.
“Are you sure?”
On cue, John stood up and moved toward the door, saying, “I’ll be right back.” I turned to Drake and said, “Well, no crime committed here, right?”
He fixed me with a dismissive glance that told me he was the cop and that he’d leave when he damned well felt like it and not a moment sooner.
Amy said, “I’m okay, really. Just tired.”
Drake and I stared that way long enough for him to establish that he would indeed leave but that his dick was still well bigger than mine. He grabbed his hat off the counter and pulled it over his ears. “Yeah, I gotta get back.” To Amy, “But you tell me if something like this happens again. You got that?”
Emphasis on “me.”
With the slam of a door and a puff of frigid air, he was gone. I experienced the unique awkward silence that comes from being alone in the room with someone for whom you once made up a humorous nickname behind their back. Sea cucumbers, you see, vomit up their guts to distract predators, and around the third time she threw up on somebody’s desk we . . . well, I think I mentioned that earlier. Anyway.
She studied the scratched surface of the kitchen table and drummed her fingers. My eyes bounced around the room, from the calendar on the fridge (monkeys posed in Victorian costumes) to the stump where her hand should be to the sleeping dog on the floor apparently indifferent to both its own resurrection and the return of its master, to the package of plastic picnic cups on the counter and finally back to Amy’s missing hand. What the hell was taking John so long?
Amy leaned forward and said, “So, like, what’s the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen?”
I thought, then said, “I was at Cracker Barrel the other night. And two tables over from me, there’s this group of four old women. They’re all wearing big, red hats. Red hats and purple coats. I keep glancing back at them and they’re all there just drinking coffee, not eating. So I get up to leave, right—”
“You were eating by yourself?”
“Yeah. So I get up to leave, right, and I pay, and on the way out the door I see another table and there’s another group of women there in red hats. Purple jackets.”
Amy thought about this for a moment, then said, “Weird.”
She looked down at the table, then said in a low, conspiratorial whisper, “Have you ever heard of spontaneous combustion?”
“I have a friend, Dana, who was in the grocery store one day, and her arm, like, bursts into flame. Just like that. Just her arm. And she’s screaming and waving her arm around and around, flames shooting everywhere. Finally the cops showed up and arrested her.”
“Arrested her? Why did—”
“Possession of an unlicensed firearm.”
A great, heavy silence settled over the room. She looked down at the table again, a smile playing at her lips, looking extraordinarily pleased with herself.
I said, “You know, in the Middle East a woman can be flogged for telling a story like that.”
John burst in at that moment, carrying a plastic squeeze bottle that used to hold dishwashing liquid but now held a clear, thick substance that might have been mistaken for hair gel, though if you did you would likely never have the chance to mistake anything for hair gel again.
I stood up, John next to me. Interrogation mode.
“Okay,” I began, “we know you knew something was going on. You knew something was coming and you had your room wired up to catch it on camera.”
Long, long pause from Amy.
Finally she said, “It’s happened before.”
She nodded. “At least half a dozen times, that I know of. I’m sure it’s more. Little things, starting probably two weeks ago but who knows, you know? I’d turn on bathwater, blink, and it’s all over the floor, the tub overflowing in two seconds. Once I woke up in a different room, another time I was suddenly in bed, my shirt turned around, backward. I had been up watching TV and then a second later there I was, lying down.”
John said, “And you never see anything?”
I said, “What do you think it is? UFO?”
“No, no. No. Sleepwalking, you know. Blackouts. I thought something with the medication maybe.”
I’m sick of your lies, scumbag!
I said, “John?”
He pulled a saucer from a strainer in the sink. He squirted some of the fluid from the bottle onto it, then found a spoon on the counter.
He said to her, “Imagine something. A physical object.”
She actually smiled, amused, ready to play along. She pushed her hair from her forehead and I noticed that, tragically, her bangs were the exact length to fall right into her eyeballs. She squinted into an almost comical expression of concentration. The gel in the saucer began to bubble and rise, twisting and spilling upward like the wax in a lava lamp. At the top it slowly spread outward, like a mushroom. After a moment it held the shape of a tree, six inches tall, like one of those little crystal sculptures some old people keep on their shelves.
Amy was impressed. “How . . .”
“We have no idea,” I said. “Somebody mailed it to me. Guy said he worked for an oil company and they found the stuff stuck to the end of a drill bit that had been about a thousand feet down. They thought it was lubrication or something, like they had a leak. Until the stuff killed one of them.”
The tree was already beginning to melt and puddle back into a gel pool. John held the spoon just above it and said, “Yeah, it’s pretty impressive that it can do anything at all, considering it’s just a big faggot.”
The gel turned bloodred. The shape shifted, grew a hole in the center. Spikes emerged from the edges. Teeth.
“Ooh, you don’t likes that, do ya?” John taunted. “I’ve seen gel that could make shapes twice the size of you. If you’re so special why don’t you go out and get a job, you pus—”
With a blur and a clink, half of the spoon was gone. The gel creature had it in its jaws, bending it and crunching the metal shard like a dog on a bone. A chair clattered to the floor and suddenly Amy was standing, arms wrapped around her abdomen.
“Just wait,” John said. “It always calms down after a second.” The color of the thing faded from crimson to pink and back to clear again. It eventually settled into a puddle, the chunk of bent spoon wading in the pool.