“Oh, and don’t even get me started on her, John.” I tossed the prints aside. “I mean, did you notice that she’s not even retarded?”
Silence from John’s end, then, “Was she supposed to come back retarded?”
“They had her at that school. Pine View. The alternative school, where they put the retarded kids.”
“That would be the same facility where you went to school for a year?”
“Yes. Pine View.”
A pause on his end, then, “Anyway, I was going to stake out her place tonight—”
“—but, Steve called and he needs me and the whole crew on a job site. A chunk of roof caved in, from the ice they say—”
“John, you just made me close down Wally’s so—”
“No, listen. Guess where the job is.”
“Your mom’s ass?”
“The Drain Rooter plant. Right next to Amy’s house. We gotta be on site at five thirty in the morning.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Neither do I, but they gave Steve all these requirements about who could go where, what part of the plant we could be in. Sounded weird, all of it. Plus, I really, really need the money. They’re paying triple time. So can you stay with Amy tonight? See if anything horrifying happens?”
“John, did you read the chat log? Do you remember the—”
A glance at Marcy.
“—thing. In my toolshed? She’s not safe with me, John.”
Marcy’s eyes widened. “You mean there’s something in there other than the dead body?”
I closed my eyes and silently counted to ten.
“Dave, we’ve made it this far. What else are we gonna do, chain you up in your room? I got something else to show you. You see it, you’re gonna want in on this. You ready?”
John unfolded a white piece of paper with a color photo in the center. A printout from a color printer.
“Camera still. From two days ago.”
A grainy shot of Amy’s bedroom. Good light, early evening. Amy standing right there in the center, arms held up, bent at the elbows, one foot lifted off the floor. Motion blur.
I said, “What is she doing?”
“Uh, I think she’s dancing. But that’s not the weird part.”
I knew what the weird part was. There was a black shape behind her, standing there, in the form of a man. Like a body painted in tar, head to toe. The now-familiar image of a man who had been neatly cut from reality . . .
I closed my eyes.
I said to Marcy’s boobs, “What did Amy think?”
“To her,” John said, answering for them, “it’s just a picture of her in the empty room.”
“How is that possible, John? It’s ink on paper. Either it’s there or it’s not.”
“Wouldn’t you be surprised if I somehow knew the answer to that? Marcy doesn’t see it, either. Just you and me. Anyway, I was thinking maybe you could put on a red wig and pajamas and pretend to be Amy. Sleep in her bed, see if they’ll abduct you instead. Will you stay with her?”
Notice the subtle transition from “can you do it” from a few seconds ago to “will you do it.” If I had jumped in and answered “no” to the first one, I’d have been saying I can’t, it’s impossible. If I refuse now, though, I’m saying I won’t do it. I can, but I choose not to because I’m an apathetic asshole. Smooth.
Hmmm . . . what would Marcy’s boobs do in this situation?
“And watch out for Molly. See if she does anything unusual. There’s something I don’t trust about the way she exploded and then came back from the dead like that.”
“I gotta get back to work. Good to see you, Marcy.”
I stood, she stood. She leaned forward and, to my utter shock, threw her arms around me and squeezed.
She sat down and smiled and said, “You looked like you needed a hug.”
How about . . . NOW?!?
“Um, thanks.” I stood awkwardly for a moment, then walked away. From behind me I heard her say to John, “Where was I? Oh, yeah. I ran outside and just then realized I wasn’t wearing pants . . .”
I WENT BACK to the store and worked the rest of my shift because I’m a huge dork. Jeff came in at six, took one look at the storm that was salting the air and declared the shop closed for the day.
I stopped by the house to change and saw I had a package in the mail, a thick brown envelope, from an address unknown to me. Handwritten, blocky letters. Little kid writing.
I tore it open and found a pair of cardboard glasses with plastic lenses, a Scooby-Doo logo on the earpiece. A prize from a Burger King kids’ meal. It said “GhostVision” in spooky letters on the side. I put them on, saw a faded cartoon ghost smiling at me. There was a Post-it note inside the envelope that said, “HELP IM A GOST LOOKER 2 MOO MOO MOOOOOO FUCKASS.”
I flung it in the passenger seat of the truck, then almost fell on the ice four times on my way to my front door. I knew I needed to shovel the walk before the mailman broke his neck.
Sure. The shovel’s right back there in the toolshed . . .
ABOUT AN HOUR later I emerged from the hardware store with a brand-new snow shovel. It was getting late so I went straight to the Sullivan place.
Amy opened the door with the too-happy-too-see-me look I associate with crazy people and dogs. She wore thin wire-framed glasses—she didn’t have them last night but I guess she didn’t wear them to bed—and seemed to have put a lot of work into her hair. Jeans and bare feet with tiny red toenails. It made me cold just looking at them. I observed that she still didn’t have a left hand.
“Hi!” she sang. “Come in!”
Molly was standing in the entryway, looking at me with utter disinterest. Amy turned around and gestured to me, said, “Look, Molly! David’s here! You remember David!”
The one who made you explode!
The dog turned and walked away, making a sound that I swear was a snort of derision. Amy led me through the living room. The television was on, displaying nothing but the face of a white-haired old man staring quietly at the camera. PBS, probably. There was a picture on the wall, a black velvet Jesus painted in comic-book tones. There was only a lone table lamp in the room, which left about half of the space in shadow.
Of all the creepy places to spend a night . . .
She said, “You look tired! Your eyes are pink.”
“Eh, I haven’t been sleeping. Got a headache.”
Feels like elves tugging on fishhooks in my brain . . .
“Be right back!”
Amy vanished into the kitchen, almost bouncing.
I sat on the couch and glanced at the TV again, same old guy. Odd-shaped face. He leaned over, whispered to someone just out of frame, then looked back toward the camera again. Weird, because he seemed to be looking at me.
Amy bounced back in, a green Excedrin bottle in her hand and a red Mountain Dew bottle in the crook of her elbow. She nodded her head toward the TV and said, “Cable’s out. I hope you brought something to read.”
I looked at the old guy, looking right back at me.
The screen blinked, went to black, then came up on MTV. Some reality show with teenage girls screeching at each other.
Amy set the bottle in front of me and said, “Hey, it’s back! I got that cherry Mountain Dew. John said you liked it so blame him if it’s not . . .”
It’s not cherry, dear. It’s RED.
“No, it’s fine, thanks.”
I studied the television. Nobody home but the screeching girls.
Amy said, “It comes and goes. John says that he saw a bunch of birds on the lines and they were flapping their wings but couldn’t take off because their feet had frozen there.”
Without breaking my gaze with the TV, I said, “To John, something being funny is more important than being true.” I glanced at a grandfather clock that was ticking but was off by approximately seven hours.
The television blinked back off, switching to snow.
Amy said, “See?”
I said, “When the TV goes out, it’s just snow?”
“Never anything else? Like—other programming?”
I shrugged. She couldn’t see the old man.
By responding to her attempts at small talk with nothing but ambiguous grunts, I was able to drive Amy back upstairs to her room. I glanced at the grandfather clock . . .
. . . realized again that it was utterly useless, then looked at my watch instead:
This was gonna be a long damned night. I thought absently that maybe if Amy got taken at midnight again I’d be able to duck outta here and go sleep in my own bed. Nobody would notice.
There was a coffee table in front of the sofa and I noticed some magazines resting on a shelf on the end of it. I sifted through them. Cosmo. I picked up the top one and flipped through the pages. Topless woman. Another woman, naked, except for some whipped cream on her naughty bits. Two more pages, a naked man’s ass. I had seen less nudity on Cinemax. I glanced up at the velvet painting and suddenly felt sacrilegious ogling naked models. I stuffed the magazine back in the coffee table and nodded an apology to Badly Drawn Jesus. I looked at my watch again.
I leaned over on the couch and put my feet up. Like lying on a pile of felt-covered bricks. I wondered if I could set all of the clocks ahead to midnight, maybe fool them into coming early.
John and I had looked into the case of a Wisconsin guy who spontaneously combusted while driving his green Oldsmobile last year. We had one witness who claimed the flames formed a huge, satanic hand at the moment of explosion. We went up there, talked to a few people, came up with nothing. Eventually we get a call from a goth kid up there who was heavily into Satan worship. The kid said he had made a pact with Satan to kill both of his parents, then backed out of it when his mom unexpectedly bought him a video game console. The kid, as it turned out, also drove an olive-green Oldsmobile.