Last night I dreamt of Bogeymanland; a lifeless, endless plane of barren forests and empty snowfields. Hard howling winds toss hailstones and frost hundreds of feet into the cold air where an unbroken sheet of dark grey cloud veils the sky. A river's waters lay frozen nearby, its pike and trout and sticklebacks long since suspended in time.
A boy is crucified to the bony black limbs of an oak.
The wolves beyond the trees, feral and hungry from too fond a familiarity with human meat, taste his scent in the air but cannot find him; his bloodless skin blends too well with the snowstorm.
The Bogeyman grins deep in the blackness of his fur-rimmed hood. His hammer arm is tired, but he is warm beneath his leathers and pelts. He is pleased with himself. He has carved his numbers into the boy's bare chest: 6 and 1 and 7 and 7 and 14 and 19.
He would not be sad to lose the boy, nor would he yearn for him, yet could not leave this icy forest without one last torment. The Bogeyman reached to his back and unfurled his blunderbuss. His 3rd eye sensed the crow that his 2nd and 1st could not see, a crow that spent its morning plucking globs of jelly from the boy's eye sockets. It wheeled around in the grey skies above, barely holding its own against the hail, hungry for more of the boy's flesh yet too frightened by the Bogeyman to approach again.
The Bogeyman shot it out of the sky.
He took the crow, his hammer and his gun, and one last look at the corpse nailed to his oak before he returns to his massive sledge. Twelve skinless dogs bark and gnash at their restraints. The Bogeyman whips at his reins and they drive him off into storm. When he returned to his camp, he would stuff the bird with onions and slow roast it over his fire. He would eat the bird as the bird had eaten of the boy, and the boy would be a part of him until the next time he was due for a squat.
When I woke up it was hot again. The heat wasn't nearly as bad as it was yesterday afternoon, and it helped that someone had turned the AC on already, but I was still a sticky mess when I pulled off the bed covers. The mattress was wet underneath my ass and there was a soggy dent in my pillow the shape of my skull. My first instinct was to catch a shower, something I suspected I'd been doing a lot of down here in Florida, but I reached for my iPhone and checked my Hotmail first. I didn't find or expect anything important but there were a few folks online I kept in touch with, mostly people I met through WoW or Deviant Art. Someone named "Coco'loco'moco" sent me an email asking me when I'd buy a tablet and give my Cloaked Ryder some computerized colour. I thumbed the reply as soon as I get the cheddar.
The Wimmers had a bathroom I didn't mind hoarding time in. The floor was tiled with ligneous marble and bordered on three sides by the tub, the sink and cabinets, and the shower compartment, which they concealed by a curtain of plastic on a metal rail. Its only downside was that at 2.5x1.5 metres it was kind of small. Without windows a hot bath would fog the place up like a sauna. Maybe that was what they wanted.
I cranked the faucet and ran a basin full of water whilst I looked myself over in their bathroom mirror. Too many hours online had brought out the red in my eyes and my cheeks were sinking in a little under the bones. My hair was a sticky black tangle and I hadn't shaved since I left Rochester (not really getting a chance to on the Amtrak) so two days’ worth of stubble now ran around my lip and jaw.
Huey McKee wasn't the tastiest dish on the menu right now.
I felt better after my shower though. Soapsuds and elbow grease scrubbed the sweat off my skin, my comb and razor brought my hair under control, and by the time was done I smelt bacon on the air. Breakfast was almost ready. Brandon's door was shut so I figured he was in the dining room waiting for me, and I was about to join him (more for the food than his company) when I walked past Katy's door and I overheard a crooning falsetto;
Woke up and realized I was free To be Anything, if it was an integrity, With what I dreamed, I knew it couldn't be wrong, And would be done, I was born to be Earth's song,
I didn't mean to open his door, but my hand found the knob before my mind knew about it. It was already open a little, I just pushed it, and there he was, splayed out over his bed with his eyes closed and those big blue headphones over his ears and I stood there like a jackass watching him sing,
And I feel like I'm running, Not away, To but to take off and fly, Using this life as a runway...
One of his knees was pulled up to his waist. His shorts rode no higher than a halfway up his thigh, smooth and tanned. The silver anklet he was wearing caught the sun through his window blinds. I bit my bottom lip.
Going to sleep and other worlds I've seen Where my thoughts turn into things, Magical, intangible, and oh my how fresh we would be If we took our dreams seriously...
'Cause I feel like I'm running, Not away, but to take off and fly, Using this life as a runway...
I knocked the door, hard, as an attention grabber not a courtesy. Katy's eyes, that soft Wimmer grey, shot open and gaped at me. With a face full of embarrassment, he yanked off his headphones and scooted up to the wood of his headboard to straighten out his clothes. I found myself liking the way his eggshell bed sheets clashed with the black of his painted toenails.
"Sorry," Katy said, mortified. "I didn't know you were there."
"I think breakfast is ready." The bacon and eggs in the air was just so much background fuzz to me now. He said, "thank you" and I turn to leave.
I stopped. "Yeah?"
"Could you close the door for a minute?"
He meant for me to come inside. I hesitated, and I suddenly felt embarrassed, like I'd been caught stealing panties off a washing line. But what the fuck did I have to be embarrassed about? I clicked the door shut.
Katy's room was a disorderly mess. Not just untidy but cacophonous. His posters went from Fullmetal Alchemist to Drake to True Blood to a peace symbol to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to someone called 'Andrej Pejic' to The Seagull to Final Fantasy XIII and back again in the space of four walls. I saw John Steinbeck, Sam Harris, Toni Morrison, Ian Kershaw and Rumiko Takahashi all in one bookshelf. A stack of stuffed animals occupied a corner while an obelisk of old soda cans wadded up with empty chip packets and Mike and Ikes bags stood on his window-side table. Wrinkled clothes hung from the edges of everything; his chair, his sill, his bed, his desk. His TV looked like it hadn't been dusted in months and a puddle of what had to be schoolwork laid half under his bed and half under a flattened pizza box.
"I don't tidy up much," Katy said.
No shit, I thought. "It's cool. Did you want to talk about something?"
He looked at me, paused, looked away, I guess to think. It didn't irritate me. If anything, it gave me an excuse to ogle his thighs while he made up his mind. They'd look so damn good wrapped around a waist.
"Does Brandon know that you're... like me?"
Does Brandon know that you like me? For a moment I thought I misheard, and it took another moment to realize I had. He meant does Brandon know that you're a queer?
"No, he doesn't," my fist balled," and he's not going to. Got it?"
Katy smiled ruefully. "Huh. I don't even know why I'm surprised. I mean if he can't even look me in the face about it then why would he accept it from you?"
Ask me twice and I'd like to think I meant more to Brandon than that. I might've even had the courage to say that if Mrs. Wimmer hadn't knocked Katy's door then. "Kayden?" She had a big, warm voice with a kind of Southern twang to it. "Breakfast is ready. If you don't get yours Brandon will."
Katy yelled back, "I'll be there in a second, Mom."
I waited until her footsteps padded down the corridor before I spoke again. "How come she calls you Kayden?"
Katy drew his knees up to his chest, rested his chin between them, and wrapped his arms around his legs. It was cute and pathetic all at the same time. "Let’s just say she isn't as supportive as my Dad."
Breakfast was awesome. Mrs. Wimmer spent half her morning making a big breakfast platter of smoked bacon, scrambled eggs, French toast, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, around the dinner table. She left a pot of black coffee beside four cups and some milk and cream. By the time I sat down for mine Brandon was already halfway through his plate and Mrs. Wimmer was on the other side of the table clearing up her own dishes.
Savannah Wimmer was a stacked woman, older than Mr. Wimmer by seven years and taller than him by an inch but like him she only revealed her age in pieces; a stretch mark here, a wrinkle there and so of the like. She was still beautiful though. She had a big, warm oval face and wavy brown hair splashing over her shoulders. Even in that dumpy poker-dot dress she was all cleavage and peeking tan lines, the kind of body that that would still be drawing straight hot glances well into her fifties.
She said, "Morning Huey" and I said "Morning, Mrs. Wimmer". We'd already met for the first-time last night after I went to the kitchen for a glass of water and found her microwaving her leftover ribs and tater tots. She looked tired and mussed but she was cheerful with me, asked me about Rochester and Strawberry Point and my Mom and Dad. When I told her about him, she said my father "sounded like a good man" and she was sympathetic when I told her about my Mom.
Mrs. Wimmer went into the kitchen with her dirty dish while I sat and helped myself to some French toast. Brandon whispered, "Remember we're going out today, Iowa" and I whispered back that I "didn't forget".
I was pouring coffee into a cup when Mrs. Wimmer came back with a wooden tray and two clamshell plates and loaded them up with bacon and toast and mushrooms.
"Brandon, I know you have plans," Mrs. Wimmer took one of the cups and filled it halfway, "but Kayden is sitting the first paper of his ACTs today, so I need you to drive him up to school for me."
His silver hit the plate. "What? Oh, come on, Mom, we just got back from Jacksonville yesterday. I've got stuff to do."
"Look, your father can't do it because his back is flaring up again and if I him drove myself I'd have to open the shop late."
"Reuben could've covered for you." Brandon said.
Mrs. Wimmer bit her lip with the same awkward, sheepish look Mr. Wimmer had when Brandon brought up this Reuben kid yesterday. She looked at me like she was trying to size up what I was making of the conversation and said, "We couldn't afford to keep him on."
One kid at college and another on the way, I thought. Of course, she can't.
Suddenly yesterday's big dinner and today's big breakfast seemed excessive and showy.
"But we were gonna go see Leighann." Brandon said.
"You can see Leighann afterwards. After a whole year apart what's a few more hours? Is that alright with you, Huey?"
I nodded. "Yes Ma'am."
"Good. Then it's settled," and with a victorious grin she kissed Brandon's cheek. "I'm going to take this tray to your Dad and then I'm off to open the shop. You two have a nice day and remember to wish Kayden good luck."
Since Mrs. Wimmer left with the Ford Fusion about a half hour before Katy was ready to go, Brandon had to take his car, a '88 Pontiac LeMans. When he went into the garage and pulled the cover off, I tried (and failed) not to laugh.
"I know, I know, the car looks retarded," Brandon said. "I just didn't have the heart to tell Dad that. It was for my graduation."
I pictured Mr. Wimmer at a dealership and surrounded by cars while a slick-talking fat guy in a suit rambled on about oil changes and transmission. All boys love classic cars, sir! The good news was Mr. Wimmer only took it out when the Fusion wasn't free so it had near enough a full tank of gas. I opened the garage doors and got in the front seat then Brandon took the car out and down to the curb where Katy waited for us.
It surprised me to see him wearing the eye shadow and nose stud out in the daylight, but there he was. Aside from that hipsterish Keffiyeh and the scrimshaw pendants, his clothes were pretty normal, just some denims and a check shirt.
The silence between him and Brandon smouldered. Katy tossed his backpack into the backseat and climbed in, Brandon pulled out into the road. From time to time they would glare at each other, but they didn't say anything. I'd never seen two people be silent at each other before. It would've been awkward for me if Brandon didn't bring up Bob Dylan.
"Leighann always had him on when we made out," he smiled at the look on my face. "Yeah, I didn't get it either. But maybe I should buy her a CD or something."
He shrugged. "You know, a gift? I mean not right away, that'll just make me look guilty, but after we get, you know, re-acquainted."
We were talking about this around fifteen minutes from their house, where all the bungalows and lawns gave way to the stores and benches and churchyards of the main road, meandering its sleepy way through Tuckettsville. That's when Brandon drove us past the corner by the town hall.
You just missed my turn." Katy said.
Brandon glared at him through the rear view. "Relax. I'll drop you off after we stop at The Longshoreman."
The Longshoreman was the diner Leighann worked at, I recalled.
"Mom said to see her afterwards." Katy said.
"Oh?" Brandon frowned at the rear view again. "So now all of a sudden you care what Mom thinks?"
"Does assholishness come natural to you or do you have to work at it?"
"The fuck did you just call me-"
"Hey!" I yelled. "Other dude in the car here? Everybody calm the fuck down, all right?" I turned to Katy and asked him when his test started. He said, "ten sharp".
"And Brandon, you won't be long, right?"
He blew a breath. "Ten minutes tops. It's just a quarter-hour drive from here."
So, I checked my watch. "Okay, then there and back you'll have, like, twenty minutes left before you sit your paper. Is that cool?"
Like he had a choice. Katy shrugged 'whatever', more aware of it than me, and I felt guilty for it. I didn't want Katy mad at me either but falling out with Brandon over this would only make it harder for me to get close to him.
Six turns and five blocks later Brandon drove us up the hill of a street called Gilford Avenue. At its top the street forked off into three different directions; one back into town, one toward the interstate, and the other down the crook of a ridge heading east. From here Gilford Avenue was more a hill than anything else, overlooking the sweep of Tuckettsville on one side and a sprawl of ferns and forestland on the other. At the root of the fork past a dirt-floored car lot was an L-shaped, ceramic-roofed diner called The Longshoreman.
Combine a homesick freshman with a long train ride home and you got yourself a bible's worth of anecdotes about a hometown. One of them was about this place. It was originally a seafood restaurant built in the 1930's by Nelson Knox, a retired fisherman and Brandon's grandfather's uncle. They sold seafood exclusively until the 90s when the St. Johns River became too polluted to fish. Under the current owner, Sal Knox, The Longshoreman expanded to a regular American menu and sold whatever seafood (crab and haddock and bream mostly) sold cheap off fish markets as day specials. Because of the family connection; Stop, Shop and Go! and The Longshoreman often traded excess stock. Sal and Savannah were only distant cousins but Tuckettsville was a small town and small towns meant small town values. 'Distant cousins' could be as close as brothers. Could be.
Brandon pulled in the mostly empty car lot and unbuckled, then glanced over his shoulder at a sullen Katy. "Stay in the car."
"Why? Don't want your fudge-packing brother embarrassing you in front of your girlfriend?"
"I don't want you embarrassing me period," he said, "Now stay inside the fucking car. Huey, lets go."
Brandon put an exclamation point on the order by climbing out and slamming his door shut. Katy looked away, misty-eyed. "We won't be long, I promise." I said.
He scrubbed his eyes. "Whatever."
When I got out of the car Brandon lead me in through a glass door and I found the nautical-theme just as prevalent inside as out. The walls were painted blue and decorated with plastic fish, barnacles, fishing nets, shark teeth and a couple of those doughnut-shaped white and red life preservers. The tables and chairs were lacquered wood straight out of a galleon captain's cable and the lampshades were all shaped like clamshells. Despite it all though, the smell in the air was all sausages and hollandaise sauce. Clearly, they were serving the breakfast menu.
Brandon waved to the man behind the counter. He was bald as a baby's ass but his jaw was cushioned by one big black blanket of a beard and his white apron was decorated in a multicolour of old sauce stains. I knew him already. Sal Knox, the owner and Mrs. Wimmer's cousin, but all the kids in town knew him as 'Big Beard Knox'.
"Brandon!" Big Beard slapped his shoulder. "Good to see you, son! Jesus, you're even taller than you were the last time I saw you! What are you know, 6.2?"
"5.9," Brandon smiled. "This is my roommate at college, Huey."
"Nice to meet you, kid," he held out his hand. "I'm Sal Knox."
"Good to meet you too," I said.
"Uncle Sal, is Leighann working today? I really need to talk to her."
He looked slightly uneasy with the question. "Her shift doesn't start until later this afternoon, kid. But now that you're here, I've got a crate of extra stock I've been meaning to get to your mother. Come help me get it."
Before either of us could even object Big Beard was in the back getting things ready. Brandon sighed. "Barely been back a day and already I'm being worked like a dog. Wait for me out here, Iowa."
Then he followed Sal behind the counter and left me to my own devices. With nothing else to do I took a seat by one of the tables and thumbed through a menu. Some of the sea-themed courses tickled me; 'Anglers Angel Cake' and 'Fisherman's Fries' and 'Seafarer's Steak', but I was bored again within a minute.
And then he came in.
When the front door's bells jingled, I thought it was Katy coming to yell at us for taking so long but what I got instead was a lean, smirking, deep tanned bastard in stingray boots. His hair, so shiny and gelled and greasy you'd think it was made of oil, was completely slicked back into a wave at the base of his skull. He wore a beaten brown bomber jacket with a pelt of cream-coloured fur around its collar and he walked in a perpetual slouch like some fucking hood from a '70's Yakuza flick.
Even then, before I even knew his name, I couldn't stand him.
His eyes shot around the restaurant for something he couldn't find until they settled on me. He approached me with a smirk. "You look like you're from outta town. You see a guy come in here a minute ago; blonde, my age?"
He knows Brandon. "Who's asking?"
"Heh, heh, heh, heh," he snickered. "Are you for real?"
Brandon and Big Beard came out from back with the crate between them. They were laughing at something one of them had said a minute ago before Brandon saw the boy in the bomber jacket and stopped cold. I saw my best friend's face twist with anger so deep it almost scared me.
"Jamie," he spat.
"Well, well, well," he turned from me to Brandon, grinning. "If it ain't Sex in the City. I heard you were back in town. So, what happened, Bran? Did New York get gut sick of you too?"
"You ever try not having your head up your ass, Jamie? Just for kicks?"
Sal moved to Brandon's side. "I don't want any trouble here, boys."
"And there ain't gonna be none," Jamie stepped into Brandon's face. "Unless this fuckwad here wants to start some."
"I'm here for Leighann."
Jamie pulled a smile too wide by half. "Riiiight, I forgot! You're the guy she used to date."
"Jamie, that's enough," said Sal.
I knew Brandon well enough to know what hurt him and what didn't. That hurt him. It didn't matter who it came from. "What do you mean used to?"
"What, you didn't hear? She's traded up, son. Got herself a whole new man."
"Jamie!" yelled Sal. But it was too late to stop this. Brandon looked on, angry and confused and blind to the taunt. "...Who?"
Then Jamie closed what was left of the space between him and Brandon with three raps of his stingrays, grinning all the way, and poked his thumb at his chest. "...Me."
When I was a kid my Dad was too broke to buy me a PS2 or an Xbox (and there were no arcades to speak of in Strawberry Point), but I used to go to my friend Ralph's house and play his Dreamcast. We played the hell out of Garou: Mark of the Wolves and I got as good with Khushnood Butt as any shoto-scrub could, so it's not like I'd never seen someone throw a punch before.
But damn if Brandon didn't deck Jamie hard.
One-minute Jamie was pointing at himself then there was a flash of knuckles and blood and the next thing anyone knew he was planted ass-first into the chequered tile floor. There were sightless weights holding me down until that moment, and then I was up and pulling Brandon back, steeling myself against that cold, angry look in his eye. Sal dragged Jamie up to his feet but held him back as he screamed "Get the fuck off me! You and me, motherfucker, let’s go!"
But Big Beard was bigger and older and stronger than any of us. He shoved Jamie back and held his collar tight, and threw a meaty, warning finger in Brandon's face. "Stop it, both of you! I'm trying to run a damn business here!"
"He started it, Sal!" yelled Brandon. "Just like he always does!"
A rope of blood ran from Jamie's nose to his lip. "He hits me and it's my fault? He's full of shit, Sal, that's why Leighann's with me!"
"You even look at her again and you're dead meat!"
"I SAID THAT'S ENOUGH!" Sal roared it so loudly I froze in my sneakers. "No small wonder what the girl sees in either of you, now knock it off! Brandon, you and your friend take that case to your mother right now. Jamie, sit down and cool off or I'll call your uncle down here and let him deal with you."
He punctuated that with a shove that set Jamie on his ass in one of the cubicles by the counter. Equally angrily, Sal picked up the crate and shoved it at Brandon and me. I wasn't looking to stay any longer anyway. Brandon held the case while I pulled him toward the door. Jamie sat stewing behind Sal's shoulder with eyes full of dark promises.
We left The Longshoreman behind and put the crate into Pontiac's trunk then climbed in either side. I overheard Katy asked one of us what the hell happened, but I can't remember which of us he asked because I was shaking.
We took Katy to his old high school ten minutes before his test, rode the Pontiac to Stop, Shop and Go! and dropped off Sal's crate for Mrs. Wimmer then went back to the house. Brandon was silent the entire time and so was I.
When Jamie stared at me and questioned me and laughed at me, I couldn't say anything. When he pestered Brandon, I couldn't do anything. Then Brandon hit him, and I found my legs.
Why I am such a fucking coward?
Drawing dogs was easy for me because my high school art teacher, Mr. Neitt, showed me how to after school once. I could get good definition on the torso and the teeth were convincing enough; they were sharp enough to look dangerous but small enough not to overwhelm the mouth. Drawing the sledge that the Bogeyman rode was much harder. My dreams only left me with impressionist visuals of it and when I did an image search for 'sledge' on Google I found nothing of the like. In the end I re-imagined what the Bogeyman rode as a chariot and drew him whipping at his dogs' reigns while waving his blunderbuss through the air.
It was the early evening and nightfall cooled Tuckettsville down so fast that the Wimmers turned off the AC. Mr. Wimmer's back was well enough for him to come for dinner; fried steak, baked fries and greens. Mrs. Wimmer dominated talk around the table. She asked me how I was settling in, how Katy made out with his test, and how Leighann was doing. Until then Brandon was only picking at his food but after that he was gone, excusing himself from the table. Mr. Wimmer let him go.
Mrs. Wimmer looked my way. "He found out about Jamie, didn't he?"
She knew? "You knew?"
"It's not really a secret, Huey," she said. "I don't like it but maybe it's for the best."
You mean so he can drop his high school sweetheart and focus on college? I smiled to myself and kept quiet. The food was good, and I didn't feel comfortable talking about my best friend's business behind his back. Brandon would still be brooding after dinner, I knew, so when I was done, I didn't bother him and went straight to the spare room.
I was sharpening one of my graphite pencils when Katy knocked on my door. I told him to come in. He came in barefoot and smiling lightly and he planted himself at the edge of my bed. My gut tickled me.
"What are these?" Katy asked, spreading his fingers over the pages torn from my sketchbook. Each sheet was another sketch of the Bogeyman from a different scene in my dreams. Some were of him throwing flint spears at deer in a post-urban Des Moines while in others he pulled a cart of onions down a long stone pavilion in the middle of the Mojave.
"Drawings," I said.
He smiled. "Drawings of who?"
"Creeping Daddy," I said, blowing the excess off my pencil. "He's the Creeping Daddy."
"Look," I didn't want to talk about the Bogeyman with Katy, "can I ask you something?"
He shrugged. "Shoot."
"What is it between Brandon and Jamie? I mean why do they hate each other so much?"
Katy's eyes, that distinctive Wimmer grey, rolled to the left of me. It was a sensitive question, I realized, but he pushed on anyway. "They used to be really close. He and Jamie Durkin were best friends for as long as I can remember. They did everything together."
"So, what happened?"
He tucked a wave of blonde behind his ear. "I came out three years ago. And um, yeah... it was pretty horrible. Then a couple weeks later Jamie's brother Junior caught me behind the gym and he..."
I frowned. "He what?"
"He tried to kiss me," Katy looked away again. "I ran home and I told Brandon and I begged him to tell Junior to leave me alone, but he went to Jamie instead and let’s just say he didn't take it well."
I knew what whispers were like in small towns. Brandon probably went to Jamie instead to keep it quiet, but him being the sort of guy he was he wouldn't like lightly to Brandon accusing his brother of being a fag.
"Junior cornered me and beat me up," Katy blurted. Part of him is probably relieved to get it all off his chest, I thought. "The next day, I mean. I told my Mom and Dad and they got Junior suspended. But back then he was going for a football scholarship at Miami U and when he didn't get it, Jamie blamed Brandon and me."
And Brandon blames you for costing him his best friend. I knew it. The bitterness Brandon had for Katy had to be about more than the queer thing. I didn't know what to say to that except "I'm sorry you had to go through that."
Katy smiled at me.
And I loved Katy's smile. It was small and slow but so damn warm and cute. Everything about him was cute. How many dudes could you say that about? I don't know how long we sat there staring at each other with nothing and everything to say, I didn't even notice, not until Mrs. Wimmer yelled for "Kayden" from the lounge.
He stood up. "I better go."
"Yeah." I scratched my skull. "Listen, thanks for talking to me. I appreciate it."
"No problem," Katy said. "Come knock on my door sometime."
Thx for reading!
This is an original work of fiction, all characters belong to me. Any resemblance to person(s) living or dead is purely coincidental, etc...