So anyway, that’s why John looked inside the truck and that’s why he took the box even though for all we knew, the contents were worthless, or toxic, or radioactive, or all three. We did eventually get into the box, and considering what was inside it, they didn’t have nearly enough security around the thing. But that story will have to wait for a bit. Oh, and if you’re thinking that it was a huge coincidence that the truck happened to crash in the exact time and place where John and I were birthday tower pissing, don’t worry. It wasn’t. All of this will make sense with time. Or, maybe not.
Now let’s fast-forward to November 3rd, about …
48 Hours Prior to Outbreak
“I’m not crazy,” I said, crazily, to my court-appointed therapist.
He seemed bored with our session. That actually made me want to act crazy, to impress him. Maybe that was his tactic. I thought, maybe I should tell him I’m the only person on Earth who has seen his entire skeleton.
Or, I could make something up instead. The therapist, whose name I had already forgotten, said, “You believe your role here is to convince me you’re not crazy?”
“Well … you know I’m not here by choice.”
“You don’t think you need the sessions.”
“I understand why the judge ordered it. I mean it’s better than jail.”
He nodded. I guess that was my cue to keep talking. Man, psychiatry seems like a pretty easy job. I said, “A couple months ago I shot a pizza delivery guy with a crossbow. I was drunk.”
Pause. Nothing from the doctor. He was in his fifties, but looked like he could still take me in a game of basketball, even though I was half his age. His gray hair was cut like a 1990’s era George Clooney. Type of guy whose life had gone exactly as he’d expected it. I bet he’d never shot a delivery guy with a crossbow even once.
I said, “Okay, I wasn’t drunk. I’d only had one beer. I thought the guy was threatening me and my girlfriend Amy. It was a misunderstanding.”
“He said you accused him of being a monster.”
“It was dark.”
“The neighbors heard you shout to him, and I’m quoting from the police report, ‘Go back to Hell you unholy abomination, and tell Korrok I have a lot more arrows where that came from.’”
“Well … that’s out of context.”
“So you do believe in monsters.”
“No. Of course not. It was … a metaphor or something.”
He had a nameplate on his desk: Dr. Bob Tennet. Next to it was a bobblehead of a St. Louis Cardinals baseball player. I glanced around the room, saw he had a leftover Halloween decoration still taped to his window, a cardboard jack-o’-lantern with a cartoon spider crawling out of its mouth. The doctor had only five books on the shelf behind him, which I thought was hilarious because I owned more books than that and I wasn’t even a doctor. Then I realized they were all written by him. They had long titles like The Madness of Crowds: Decoding the Dynamics of Group Paranoia and A Person Is Smart, People Are Stupid: An Analysis of Mass Hysteria and Groupthink. Should I be flattered or insulted that I apparently got referred to a world-class expert in the subject of why people believe in stupid shit?
He said, “You understand, the court didn’t order these sessions because you believe in monsters.”
“Right, they want to make sure I won’t shoot anyone else with a crossbow.”
He laughed. That surprised me. I didn’t think these guys were allowed to laugh. “They want to make sure you’re not a danger to yourself or others. And while I know it’s counterintuitive, that process will actually be easier if you don’t think of it as a test you have to pass.”
“But if I’d shot somebody over a girl or a stolen case of beer, I wouldn’t be here. I’m here because of the monster thing. Because of who I am.”
“Do you want to talk about your beliefs?”
I shrugged. “You know the stories that go around this town. People disappear here. Cops disappear. But I can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. I work, I have a girlfriend, I’m a productive citizen. Well, not productive, I mean if you add up what I bring to society and what I take out, society probably breaks even. And I’m not crazy. I mean, I know anybody can say that. But a crazy person can’t fake sane, right? The whole point of being crazy is that you can’t separate crazy ideas from normal ones. So, no, I don’t believe the world is full of monsters disguised as people, or ghosts, or men made of shadows. I don’t believe that the town of—
*The name of the town where this story takes place will remain undisclosed so as not to add to the local tourism traffic.*
—is a howling orgy of nightmares. I fully recognize that all of those are things only a mentally ill person believes. Therefore, I do not believe them.”
Boom. Therapy accomplished.
No answer from Dr. Tennet. Fuck him. I’ll sit like this forever. I’m great at not talking to people.
After a minute or so I said, “Just … to be clear, what’s said in this room doesn’t leave this room, right?”
“Unless I believe a crime is about to be committed, that’s correct.”
“Can I show you something? On my phone? It’s a video clip. I recorded it myself.”
“If it’s important to you.”
I pulled out the phone and dug through the menus until I found a thirty-second clip I’d recorded about a month ago. I held it up for him to see.
It was a nighttime scene, at an all-night burrito stand near my house. Out front was a faded picnic table, a rusted fifty-five-gallon drum for a trash can and a whiteboard with prices scrawled in dry erase marker. Without a doubt the best burritos you can possibly get within six blocks of my house at four in the morning.
The grainy shot (my phone’s camera wasn’t worth a damn in low light) caught the glare of headlights as a black SUV pulled up. Stepping out of it was a young Asian man in a shirt and tie. He casually walked around the tiny orange building, nodding to the kid at the counter. He went to a narrow door in the rear, opened it and stepped inside.
After about ten seconds, the shot shakily moved toward the door. A hand extended into frame—my hand—and pulled the door open. Inside were some cardboard boxes with labels like LARGE LIDS and MED. PAPER BAGS—WHITE along with a broom and a mop and bucket.
The Asian man was gone. There was no visible exit.
The clip ended.
I said, “You saw it, right? Guy goes in, guy doesn’t come out. Guy’s not in there. He’s not in the burrito stand. He’s just gone.”
“You believe this is evidence of the supernatural.”
“I’ve seen this guy since then. Around town. This isn’t some burrito shop Bermuda Triangle, sucking in innocent passersby. The guy walked right toward it, on purpose. And he came out somewhere else. And I knew he was coming, because he did the same thing, every night, at the same time.”
“You believe there was a secret passage or something of the sort?”
“Not a physical one. There’s no hatch in the floor or anything. We checked. No, it’s like a … wormhole or something. I don’t know. But that’s not even the point. It’s not just that there was a, uh, magical burrito door there, or whatever it was, it’s that the guy knew what it was and how to use it. There are people like that around town.”
“And you believe these people are dangerous.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ, I am not going to shoot him with a crossbow. How can you not be impressed by this?”
“It’s important to you that I believe you.”
I just realized he was phrasing all of his questions as statements. Wasn’t there a character in Alice in Wonderland who did that? Did Alice punch him in the face?
“Okay. I could have faked the video. You have the option of believing that. And man, if I could have that option, like if I could buy it from you, I’d pay anything. If you told me you’d reach into my brain and turn off my belief in all of this stuff, and in exchange I just had to let you, say, shoot me in the balls with one of those riot control beanbag guns, I’d sign the deal right now. But I can’t.”
“That must be very frustrating for you.”
I snorted. I looked down at the floor between my knees. There was a faded brown stain on the carpet and I wondered if a patient had once taken a shit in here in the middle of a session. I ran my hands through my hair and felt my fingers tighten and twist it, pain radiating down my scalp.
He said, “I can see this is upsetting you. We can change the subject if you like.”
I made myself sit up and take a deep breath.
“No. This is what we’re here to talk about, right?”
He shrugged. “I think it’s important to you.”
Yes, in the way that the salt is important to the slug.
He said, “It’s up to you.”
I sighed, considered for a few beats, then said, “One time, early in the morning, I was getting ready for work. I go into the bathroom and…”
… turned on the shower, but the water just stopped in midair.
I don’t mean the water hovered there, frozen in time. That would be crazy. No, the spray was pouring down about twelve inches from the nozzle, then spreading and splattering as if the stream was breaking against something solid. Like an invisible hand was held under the showerhead to test the temperature.
I stood there outside the shower stall, naked, squinting in dull confusion. Now, I’m not the smartest guy under normal circumstances but my 6 A.M. brain has an IQ of about 65. I vaguely thought it was some kind of plumbing problem. I stared stupidly at the interrupted umbrella-shaped spray of water, resisting the impulse to reach out and touch the space the water couldn’t seem to pass through. Fear was slowly bubbling up into my brain. Hairs stood up on my back. I glanced down, blinking, as if I would find a note explaining all of this taped to my pubic hair. I didn’t.