The guy sitting next to me, middle-aged and crown-balding, asked me what I called him. Unusually for me I wanted to answer. It's not like I wanted some long conversation or anything, but I dreamt of the Bogeyman for the first time in months last night, and to be honest, I'd been looking for an opportunity to talk about him with someone.
"The Louisiana Monk," I said.
I don't normally draw in public because it attracts too many curious onlookers and it telegraphed a bohemianism that wasn't really me, but ever since I was a kid I always drew what I dreamt of him. I only remembered the Bogeyman’s actions in pieces, but I never forgot what he looked like, that beneath the hood of his windbreaker shadows hid everything but the outlines of a face: a broad nose, hollow cheeks, and a stout jaw. He always smiled at me, and I hated him, but the Bogeyman was everywhere and everything, he was the shiver down my back and the lump in my throat, the chill in my gut and the ache in my cock.
I didn't dare not to draw him.
Brandon was back. The moment I heard his voice I put my sketchbook and graphite away, along with all thoughts of the Bogeyman; nothing I wanted him to know about. From the corner of my eye I saw the balding guy tug a little smile at me, encouraging me for an elaboration about the picture he saw, but when got none he sighed and returned to his copy of yesterday's New York Post.
Brandon sat next to me with two pizza slices in napkins and a big stupid grin on his face. "Ask me how much for these."
"Nada!" He handed me a slice. "There's nothing a fat chick and some flirting can't get you."
It was Chicago-style, like I liked. "This doesn't have onions, does it?"
"Nah, I know you hate 'um. It's pepperoni and mushrooms, extra cheese, and it's better than that hot garbage they were serving out at breakfast. The fuck did you eat again? Crab cakes?"
I wasn't really sure if we were allowed to eat in the lounge car but nobody said anything so I didn't make a big deal of it. Brandon ate a few bites of his slice (beef, chicken and peppers) and swivelled his seat toward the window. I did the same.
It was hard to tell where we were by looking outside. The landscape flashed by in a green and blue blur, one minute we were hurtling through trees, the next open fields and plains. Off at the horizon hills bobbed up and down, while the sky morphed colours by the hour. Last night I fell asleep to a cold grey sky, this morning I woke up to a warm orangey one. Brandon was so enamoured with it all you'd think he was watching a movie; but he had a thing about countryside anyway so I didn't expect any less (Amtrak had been his idea after all).
Wherever we were, it was getting hot. When nothing was left of my pizza slice but a hunk of crust in a napkin, the first thing I wanted was a little something cool to throw back.
"What drinks did they have?" I asked, working my collar loose.
"Huh? Oh shit, the bar. Yeah. Uh, iced tea, coke, lemonade, I guess. What, you want a soda?"
"I wouldn't mind. Damn it, aren't you hot?"
Brandon smirked. "Careful you don't melt down here, Iowa."
"Go swivel on one," I told him, and pulled off my jacket. I'd fallen asleep in it while we were still in New York, and that had been the better part of a day ago. The first thing I'd do when I got to his house was shower. "Looking forward to being home?"
His smile was soft then, his head taken to a place I'd yet to see... or a person. Not that I didn't know about her. "It's weird. A year ago, I couldn't wait to get the hell outta there. Now I can't wait to go back. Hometowns, huh?"
"Hometowns and the girls we leave behind?" I didn't have much of a back catalogue when it came to girls. It was the opposite for Brandon. Even at Rochester he had a kind of flair with women that most guys didn't, the first freshman in our dorm to hook up with a senior. I was nothing like that and it wasn't the only way I didn't match up to him. We were friends, but we were different. I didn't bother ignoring it.
"Am I that see-through?"
I squeezed a little space between my fingers. "Just a little."
"She won't call me back," he threw his head back and sighed. "My Mom told me long distance don't work but I thought she was just saying that to keep my mind on college. Maybe she was right."
"Dude, you fucked a philosophy major six weeks ago."
The bald guy on the other side of me coughed awkwardly.
"Which philosophy major?"
"Kathleen Weatherman," I said. "The blonde with that weird tribal neck tattoo? How can you not remember?"
Brandon wiggled in his seat. "Hey, I remember, I just... didn't know what her major was. And you know what, I only screwed with her when Leighann stopped calling me so get off your high horse. Like you haven't dropped a few high hard ones when your girl's back was turned."
But then that was the thing. I hadn't had a girl to cheat on since I was thirteen, and I hadn't wanted a girl to cheat on since I was eight.
When the superliner pulled into Jacksonville Station, it was half-three that afternoon with a high sun as hot as hell. When Brandon took down our luggage from the racks overhead I changed shirts for the second time that day. A little girl pair three seats ahead got a good giggle from that (non-existent abs can do that I think).
Between the two of us Brandon and I only had four excuses for luggage; two suitcases, a laptop case and a duffle bag. He took his suitcase and my laptop while I took my suitcase and duffle and jostled with everyone else around us to disembark.
Compared to the crystalline glass, metallic framework, electronic signboards and WiFi of Penn Station, with its eleven platforms and its shopping mall of a concourse, Jacksonville Station may as well have been a drive-thru McDonalds. The platforms were tiny, and the roofing was dirty, the kind of conditions I might have spent a minute or two bitching about, but the second I saw those sun-kissed palm trees my inner critic took a breather.
This was Florida, all right.
With my shirt and shades and sandals and what I'm sure was a very goofy smile on my face, I suddenly felt a little like a tourist, but who could blame me? I'd never been south of the Mason-Dixon before, much less to Florida. But Brandon couldn't have looked more at home. He handled our tickets; waved away some Amtrak guy with a pamphlet, cut a way for us through the throng down the platform and out of the station to the car park. There was a Ford Fusion parked by a plot of trees in the bottom corner of the lot and a man sat waiting on its buffed black hood. I stood back and watched as Brandon smiled, dropped our bags, and threw himself into his arms. "Dad!"
Mr. Wimmer chuckled. "Oh, it's good to see you too, son."
I didn't have that kind of relationship with my Dad.
Back home in Strawberry Point I couldn't say there was anyone his age I really liked that much, all I remembered of those older folks were cross looks and whispers behind my back. Somehow, I'd gotten it into my head that that was an Iowa thing, up until I hit Rochester where I found freshmen doing the exact same thing to Brandon and me. That shot a little hole into the bubble of my theory. Still though, old habits die hard, and even though I wasn't a kid anymore there was this infantile, lingering piece of me that didn't trust 'the adults'. So needless to say, I was thrown when I found myself liking Mr. Wimmer a little.
We'd spoken over the phone a couple of times, so we knew things about each other; I was his son's roommate at Rochester University and he was an English Lit teacher in their hometown of Tuckettsville, but this was my first time meeting him in the flesh and I sort of marvelled at how alike he and Brandon looked. Aside from his glasses and some creeping definitions of age, the crow's feet at his eyes and those furrows through his brow, Stanley Wimmer was just an older version of his son. They had the same dusky blonde hair, the same grey eyes, the same square, dimpled jaw. He didn't look that old either. By my guess he was probably in his late thirties. No doubt he'd had Brandon young.
Once we'd put our bags in the trunk the three of us climbed into the Fusion (with Brandon and me in back) and Mr. Wimmer drove off onto what Google Maps told me was US One.
Brandon spent most of the ride down to Tuckettsville fishing for local updates. He was all, "Has Leighann been by the house lately?" and "Did Mom get me my Froot Loops?" and "How come they haven't fired Mr. Morris yet?" and "What happened to the Kirklands' Jack Russell, did they finally put it down?" and after about a half hour of it I ended up tuning him out.
I was dying for a smoke and there was a pack of Camels burning a hole in my shorts, but I didn't know how Mr. Wimmer felt about smoking (or how he felt about people smoking in his car) so I spent most of the ride down watching Jacksonville and all its dusky freight terminals, boarded-up businesses and rundown trailer parks evaporate into baking hot highways. As shitty as its 3G was I followed the trip by my iPhone; over the Matthews Bridge and down the long stretch of the Arlington Espy off onto Atlantic Boulevard. We turned south onto St. Johns Bluff Road and then onto the interstate, 295, just a few minutes later. Southbound, we took the I-295 past Beachwood and Deercreek then turned off it into Philips Highway, and west along Old St. Augustine Road, where we eventually joined the I-95. The rest of the way down to Tuckettsville was less complicated than that, just a long straight drive south beneath a throbbing hot sun.
Without a breeze the air was stagnant, if not dead, and even with the windows rolled down my every inch of flesh was a sticky mess. We didn't lack for drinks since Mr. Wimmer was smart enough to bring a cooler full of sodas with him, but I spent more time rubbing ice down my neck than I did chugging Pepsi.
The traffic petered down the further we got from Jacksonville. The car was crossing yet another flyover when I saw Mr. Wimmer adjust his rear-view and fix a sudden, sharp stare at Brandon.
"You haven't asked about Katy," he said, almost gruffly.
His son winced.
"Who's Katy?" I asked.
Brandon said nothing.
"Dude," I said. "Who's Katy?"
He stared at me blankly. "It's Kayden."
I heard Mr. Wimmer sigh, even as I shrugged. "Okay, who's Kayden?"
Brandon turned to the window. "...My brother."
A year ago, I met Brandon Wimmer on a bed in our dorm, snoring underneath page 312 of The Stand. We roomed together, smoked together, drank together, studied together, watched DVDs together, bitched together; and in all that time not once did he mention he had a brother. Not fucking once.
You could've hung laundry from my jaw. "You have a brother...?"
"I 'm not talking about this," Brandon said.
And so, we didn't. Then.
I didn't remember what I was expecting coming into Tuckettsville since Brandon told nothing of the town itself, but he always called it a 'small town' so I suppose I thought it might feel a little like home. Tuckettsville turned out to be a lot of things but one thing it wasn't was Strawberry Point, Iowa.
My town sat between two straight state routes, 3 and 13, and sprawled out from there. It kind of looked like Texas on Google Maps. Tuckettsville? It just seemed to yawn out of Route 207 into a heartland of forests and fields. Aside from the long row of stores either side of the main road (in the centre of town) Tuckettsville had no shape I could make sense of. It had fewer corners than I had thumbs, but no road I saw was straight. Each street seemed like it bent into the next and gone were the glitzy palm trees that kissed me hello at Jacksonville, high-ass oaks bulwarked everything here.
And goddamn if it didn't look poor.
I didn't make a habit of talking shit about another man's hometown, at least not to his face, but Jesus did Tuckettsville look poor.
Fences were rusted, sidewalks were cracked, and if those weren't three old cracker houses at the dusty exit off Route 207, then I was a Knicks shooting guard. There was an empty canning factory just ten minutes shy of the high street. All its windows were either broken or boarded and someone had been kind enough to redecorate it with spray paint and profanity.
But it was warm, too. Not hot, because, well, this was Florida and what would Florida be if it weren't as hot as an ass fuck? This town was warm, warm in a sense that Strawberry Point never was. Where I came from no one looked anyone in the eye unless they had a snide point to score.Here, every "hello" came with a smile.
Four old black men sat on deck chairs by a barbershop, fanning themselves with folded magazines and nattering like a sowing circle. A little kid played with his collier by the steps of a church. Some painters lavished a store wall with a new coat of eggshell white while an old stereo sat pounding to 'Whipping Post' by their paint cans.
Brandon grinned through the window like a sailor on leave. "God-holy-damn it's good to be back."
"You mind your language in my car, Brandon," said Mr. Wimmer.
"Sorry Dad," The telling off didn't bother him long. "Hey look, Iowa!" he pointed to the grocery store we were passing by, tritely dubbed Stop, Shop, and Go! "That's my family's business. My Grandpa passed it down to my Mom before he died. Dad, is Reuben on shift today?"
Mr. Wimmer's shoulders tensed. Brandon didn't look like he noticed it, but I did. "No, your mother is. We had to let Reuben go."
The Wimmer Household was one of a row of sixteen white stucco bungalows arranged around a grassy hill behind the bulk of the town. It wasn't high enough to see all the town from since the oak trees were just too damn high, but you got a good view of the potato fields holding up the town's rear a mile on.
Mr. Wimmer pulled the Ford Fusion into the driveway and shut off the gas. Brandon tossed me his keys. "Go open the door while my Dad and me get the bags," he said. I shut the car door behind me and went to the door, separating our dorm key (which I was familiar with) from its more pertinent cousin and slotted it through.
The carpeted steps made whispers of his bare feet, but sixteen raps of sixteen steps and then he was there.
I'd like to think that I knew the moment I saw him. Is it strange to think that now? I'd like to think that he knew too, but if I'm honest, when I saw him I didn't really see him. He was a guy in the house and logic told me he was Brandon's brother. My heart didn't skip beats. The stars didn't shift. In that moment of time I couldn't have told you a damn thing about him; what clothes he was wearing or the colour of his eyes or the tint of his hair or whatever-in-the-fuck, but it was an instant. An instant of many, an instant that passed, an instant followed by the most-
"...Who are you?" He said.
"I'm Huey, your brother's roommate. At college. Didn't Mr. and Mrs. Wimmer tell you that I was-"
"Yeah, right, sorry," he shook his head and smiled. "I forgot. I'm-"
"Katy!" Mr. Wimmer yelled from behind me. "Come say hi to your brother."
He passed me by like I'd never been there. Brandon came up the driveway with his suitcase and my duffel bag. He muttered "hello" under his breath and brushed by his brother with a face so stolid you could've cut it from stone.
I couldn't see Katy's face from where I was standing but I didn't need to. His shoulders just deflated, a balloon pissing helium, and Brandon couldn't have cared less, and that was when it hit me.
Why would any sane, straight kid call himself 'Katy'?
Brandon slapped my shoulder. "Wanna see your room?"
It probably had something to do with the stucco but the Wimmer's spare room was cool. They had AC in the hallway and the living room and the dining room, but none in the bedrooms or bathroom, so I was expecting a lot of sweaty nights in here, but I was presently surprised to find otherwise. There was a foldable bed with laid out blue sheets and chest of drawers wedged into the corner opposite. A wooden table sat beneath the windowsill with some towels stacked on it. An aerosol left the smell of apples and bark on everything. It was small, but I could be comfortable here.
I was folding my clothes (mostly t-shirts, boxers and pants) into the chest of drawers when Brandon knocked the door. He caught a shower before I could mine and changed into stonewash denims over a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club shirt. Guess it was cool enough in here not to chafe.
"My Dad told me to ask you if there's anything you need," He threw himself onto the bed and stretched out. "Damn, it's good to be home."
"I'm cool. Tell your Dad thanks for the towels."
"Tell him yourself," said Brandon. "And don't get comfortable and sleep in tonight because tomorrow we're going out and getting me my woman."
"Dude, I just rode Amtrak across the fucking country."
"Well suck it up, it can't wait. You know the last time Leighann called me? Six weeks ago. Six weeks! Look Iowa, I need to know what's up with her and you gotta help me. I mean what else are we gonna do, hang around here all day?"
I knew it wasn't fair to him to bring it up, but...
Brandon scowled. "His name is Kayden, alright? Kayden-Taylor."
"So, you just kinda-sorta have this brother you forgot to tell me about?"
"It's not that I didn't want to tell you, it's just that I didn't know how to."
"So, you have a brother, big deal. But he's..."
"Queer? Yeah, okay, he's a queer. Can we not talk about it?"
"Come on, there's a shit-ton of queers in Rochester. They may as well have had a fucking gay pride parade when Obama came out for gay marriage."
"This isn't New York, Huey," Brandon looked at me like I was clueless. "You don't know what it's like down here."
"You mean Flor-ee-da, where we keep all our old folks?"
"I mean North Flor-ee-da; a hop, skip and jump from Georgia. You don't know what his shit's put my family through."
I shrugged. "Your Dad seems fine with it."
"Look, just forget about Kayden, alright? This is my fucking vacation and I'm gonna enjoy it, even if it kills me, capisce?"
"Yes sir, Sergeant Hartman, sir!"
The Bogeyman has a special relationship with faggots.
Last night I dreamt of a crumbling great shit of a world, yours and mine, all our skyscrapers humbled, our technology voided and our roads broken open. Herds of deer stomp down our tarmac while nukes rot away in missile silos spreading radiation across the earth. The sky's a black pitch speckled with bright white flashes of lightning. Fire is everywhere, everything burnt, and nothing is whole.
Welcome to Bogeymanland.
Sixteen filthy, unshaved slaves pull his cart full of onions down the black crispy roast of a highway. They're all boiling in their sweat but they lick the salt from their lips for nourishment. They're hungry and tired and ready to keel over any minute, but the Bogeyman just doesn't give a shit, he hurls his whip forward to drive them along, promising to eat the liver of the first man who dares stop in his tracks.
A flock of pregnant bitches waddle in his wake. They don't hate the Bogeyman though, oh no. They willingly open their legs to the promise of his heirs, and in the ruins of the world the Bogeyman would have himself many an heir. Oh yes he would. His word was their command, his seed their drug, his dick their idol.
But those bitches weren't the only ones who worshipped the god of Bogeymanland.
Way, way, way, way there in the back was a scrawny little boy in filthy flea-ridden rags, the Bogeyman's fuck of choice; the whimpering faggot. No one saw him, no one cared, and no one should. Watch him cry and wail and scream at night. Watch him fall and crumble, everybody. Everybody watch.
The smell of ribs was tempting me all through my shower. My mouth was literally watering when I came down to find a hot BBQ rack of them waiting for me at the Wimmer's dinner table. Smaller plates of food surrounded the rib dish; corn on the cob, grilled carrots, tater tots and garlic and herb fried potato wedges. A spoon and bowl full of thousand island dressing sat next to a pitcher of ice tea and four glasses. I wasn't a very big eater (and it showed when I was naked) but I was practically licking my lips when I sat down.
Mr. Wimmer was already cutting Brandon and Katy their share of ribs with his snail fork and his steak knife already slathered in sauce. He reached across the table and cut me mine.
The dinner table was big enough to seat six but only four places were set tonight. Since Mrs. Wimmer was working late at Stop, Shop, and Go! a plate was wrapped up for her and left it in the cooler. I sat next to Brandon on one side, Katy sat across from us on the other, and their Dad sat at its head.
Mr. Wimmer saddled his son with questions about Rochester and papers and course units. I took breaks from my wedges to remind him of things he forgot and laughed when he told outright lies (like a flood in the library forcing him to turn in an essay late).
"So Huey," I looked up at Mr. Wimmer with a cheek-full of pork meat when he called me out. "What do you study, son?"
"Political science, ecology and epistemology. PS is my major."
Brandon kicked me underneath the table.
"Oh. So you've already chosen your major?"
"...Eh, yes sir." I said.
Mr. Wimmer glared to my left. "And why haven't you chosen your major yet, Brandon?"
Brandon gave me that you're gonna catch hell for this later look but he answered his Pop all the same, "Come on, Dad, we already talked about this. I want to major in musicology, but Mom said no."
"What else do you do?" Katy asked.
"I mean I'm a grown man, right? But she's all, "there's no job prospects in that" so what am I supposed to say? And you know what it's not like I'm the only freshman without a major. Professor Maxwell told us he had sophomores who hadn't even decided yet."
I watched Katy wilt.
"Brandon," Mr. Wimmer put his fork down. "Your brother just asked you a question."
The furrows Brandon's brow drew were so deep you could run water through them. He sharpened eyes at his dad, then Katy, then he went back to his ribs and the table went silent.
"You know what, Brandon? Screw you." He said.
Katy threw his cutlery into half-eaten food and stormed off, out of the dining room, down the corridor and out the front, slamming the door behind him.
Mr. Wimmer sighed. "Are you happy now?"
"What? He knew I was coming home with a friend and he still threw on the make-up and silverware just to tick me off! I'm done playing along, Dad, and you should be too."
He looked at me then. "I'm sorry about this, Huey; we must be making the worst impression."
"N-no, it's... it's fine, sir. Siblings and stuff."
"That's nice of you to say," then Mr. Wimmer returned to Brandon. "You. Go bring Katy back here."
"Dad, I'm eating."
So I stood up. "Why don't I talk to him? I could use the fresh air."
It must've looked weird for me to volunteer like that. I think if Katy had been a girl then Mr. Wimmer would've seen through me right there and then. Whatever his thought he didn't stop me, he didn't even say anything to me, but the whole thing between Brandon and Katy (or perhaps just Katy himself) was probably too embarrassing for him to hash out any further.
"Don't be a hero, Iowa." Brandon said, but I just told him to stay away from my tater-tots and went out the front.
It was night now. The sky was so clear and dark you could see the colours in the stars. I hadn't seen a night sky that beautiful since I left Strawberry Point a year ago. There was too much light and pollution in New York to see a good one.
I found him sitting on the curb with his head in his arms. Most of the bungalows had their lights on but we were the only ones out on the street. It was just a quiet night besides the crying. Katy stirred when I sat next to him, but he didn't say anything, and neither did I, so I took the matches from my pocket and lit a Camel. I offered him one, but he said he didn't smoke.
"...He can be a real fuck sometimes." Katy said.
It was true. Live with a guy for a year and you'll learn something about him. If I learned anything about Brandon Wimmer it was that he could hold a grudge. "He's not trying to be a prick; he just can't deal with it. My hometown's small too, I know what it's like."
Katy made a noise too bitter to call a laugh. "You don't have a clue."
There was a clique of gay freshman back at Rochester I always thought of as the Folsom Street Gang, skinny guys in dungarees, pink highlights and baby tees. Clouds of them walked the quad with espressos and satchels, fangirling about Hung and Whole Foods and Nicki Minaj in their high pitched, mincing voices. You called them queers and they called you queer chasers. And do you cum with some lube and a reach-around? I used to think at night why they did that, why they were so fucking candid about it, and it wasn't hard to figure out. College came with freedoms that high school didn't. The Folsom Street Gang just wanted to hit the ground running.
I met one of them in the library once. His name was Billie; a boy from Owensboro with a face full of freckles and eyes like almonds. We needed the same book for our assignments, the library's last copy of Ellen Grigsby's Analysing Politics, so we spent the afternoon sharing it, and eventually we started talking. He told me about his ultra-Christian parents and how 'cool' it was to finally meet people like him. He made me laugh a couple times. Then he smiled at me and gave me a piece of paper with his dorm number on it.
I didn't have the guts to go.
Nearly a year later and I still think about it. What would've happened? What would we have done if I did go that day? In my fantasies (and I fantasized about it a lot back then) I see Billie pull that warm Kentucky smile at me as he pops open the buttons of his shirt, one by one. I kiss his lips and his neck and his nipples and I taste apples. His skin is so tight and milky that every bite leaves him a rosy red hickey, everything I do has him mewling like a kitten, and the sex is always amazing. Sometimes I imagined his throat bobbing up and down my cock, other times I'm shooting a wad over his chest. Sometimes I'm fucking him so hard he faints. Whatever we did it was always perfect. I'm not afraid, he's not afraid, everyone cums and everyone cums hard. But then I wake up or I stop daydreaming and I'm alone with a guilty little stain in my bed. Reality sets in.
Two months after I stood him up, I found Billie on Facebook. He had a boyfriend by then, some black sophomore from Jersey. There was a picture of them kissing at an off-campus house party, fag-friendly, apparently. I spent the better part of an hour blowing cigarette smoke at my laptop thinking he could have been mine and that could've been me. But I didn't cry though. Not because I didn't want to but because I couldn't. My Mom had stolen away every last drop of my tears years ago. I don't believe in souls but if they were real and I had one then mine just didn't run that deep anymore.
"I get it," I told Katy. "I do."
He looked at me then, and I looked at him back. Wet black tracks of mascara ran down his cheeks. Moonlight glinted off his silver nose stud. I held his eye for as long as it took him to see what I was, why I understood, and he did. Eventually. He looked surprised at me, then he smiled, then he looked away, but I didn't.
I wouldn't be a coward this time.
This is an original work of fiction, all characters belong to me. Any resemblance to person(s) living or dead is purely coincidental, etc...