By Mark Knight
“Dave has to die,” the little demon said from Mike’s
left eye. Tad’s faint and squeaky voice gave Mike a headache
every time it spoke. Mike could see Tad’s shadow as a blurry
afterimage as the tiny devil paced excitedly. “Kill him.
Kill him now. Kill him while he rides down the Stretch. We are
already here. Just remain on your bike and wait for him. Our
little town is better off without him.”
“The Stretch,” Mike repeated. That was what the neighborhood kids
called it. The Stretch was a two mile-long dirt road surrounded
by construction projects. Temporary security fences contained
large building equipment. Wind-blown trash lined the bottom edge
of these fences. Empty beer and soda cans, lots of them, lay
scattered beside and underneath the rows of large
dumpsters. The only sound consisted of chilly Sunday
morning air rattling a few loose gates. “But I don’t want to.”
“Dave is taking over your can recycling operation,” the demon ranted.
“You’re letting him. He must die. It’s that simple. You will
never save enough money to buy that new bike.”
Mike blinked and his eye watered a stream of puss. He wiped his
cheek with a napkin he had from a short break at a gas station.
The puss was dark yellow. He tossed the napkin aside.
With one hand on the handlebars of his bike, he reached around with his
other hand and gripped an old pencil from his back pocket. The pencil
was pocked with deep teeth marks.
“And then there is Cynthia,” Tad said, and Mike could picture the
creature with its little clawed hand on its chin, bobbing its horned
head up and down. Mike had never really seen Tad in the
traditional sense; however, Mike’s imagination had since filled in the
blanks. “Don’t you love her? Do you really think a young woman like
that would have any interest in a thirty-five year old guy riding an
ancient rusty bike with duct tape holding it together? And the
seat, Mike! The seat has springs sticking out of it!”
Mike gripped the pencil until his fingers turned white. The
pencil crackled a bit, but did not break. His mind flashed with
memories of his mother. Tad had apparently seen these images
coming and gained a burst of strength.
“You stay away from that slut,” Tad said, doing its best to mimic
Mike’s mother’s raspy-smokers voice. “Cynthia doesn’t like
you. You shouldn't be so surprised Dave harasses you so much.
You’re not making him jealous. Not with a bike like that…”
“She never said that.” Mike placed the pencil back into his pocket and
wiped his eye clean of puss with a napkin he had picked up at the gas
station. “Not the bike part anyway.”
“Why did she have that annoying habit of slamming her fists on the
armrests of her wheelchair? She did that every time she yelled at
you.” Tad, now back to his normal voice, resumed his
pacing. “We put her in that chair, didn’t we?
We bashed her neck in pretty good with a baseball bat when you were
twelve. We will have to finish the job, won’t we?”
The memory of Mike’s mother flashed away. Tad, it seemed,
had switched off something in Mike’s brain, and any feeling for his
mother dissolved as if mixed with acid.
“Now,” Tad said, and Mike heard the distinctive “click” of another
switch somewhere inside his head. Tad turned on the movie
projector again. Tad had the uncanny ability to superimpose its
thoughts over Mike’s perception of reality. If Mike placed his
hand close enough to his eye during a bright and violent film, it would
project itself right onto the palm of his hand.
“Back to business,” Tad continued. “We know Dave’s routine. Hell,
he stole yours. He’ll be riding down here any minute now on that shiny
new bike of his. It must really piss you off that he doesn’t even
need the extra money.”
Tad was right. Dave collected cans as part of a community service
program. Mike suspected Dave had been out drunk driving.
“So, I suggest getting a move on and hide somewhere.”
Mike rode down the unfinished road. The wooden box fixed over the
bike’s back tire creaked under the stress of Mike’s collection of
recyclables. Then things began to change.
Tad had created a new version of the Stretch for Mike. “To make things
more interesting,” Tad had said on previous eye screenings. The
new Stretch looked as if World War Three had taken place, complete with
burnt bodies lying partially out of the ditches, as if the craters had
been made by bombs.
Tad was in a rare creative mode today. Mike could see broken
soldiers crawl the rest of way out of the ditches and begin to slowly
move toward him. Empty, dirty faces peered up among the
rubble. Hands and bloody stumps reached for him. On more
than one occasion, he’d run over a body as it slithered its way across
the road, and Mike felt the sensation as if he were an actor in the
movie. This was a rare experience, and Mike knew it stole an
awful lot of whatever energy source Tad drew upon.
The worst thing about this particular “living” film, though, was the
sound the animated corpses made under Mike’s bike tires. Sort of
like a bag of wet leaves. Yeah, Mike decided, like riding over a
bag of freshly raked, damp leaves.
“Remember that day in November when you and your Dad were out
behind the house raking leaves? That was back when you could afford a
house, that is, and not the crappy trailer you live in now.” There was
virtually no compassion in Tad’s voice. “Twenty years ago, was
it? The old guy just flopped into the pile, rake still in
hand. He was wearing that tacky green jacket with the coffee
stains on it. I laughed my ass off when you covered him in that pile of
leaves. You casually did that for the next hour or so until only
part of dad’s head was visible. The most hilarious part was Mom
ran out of the back patio door screaming.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” Mike’s mom had said.
“You simply gazed up at her.” Tad said, and laughed his little annoying high-pitched laugh.
“I thought I must have had the allergies,” Mike replied. He
was speaking to his mother as well as Tad. Why Tad switched on
this memory, Mike didn’t want to know. Perhaps it re- fueled
Tad’s energy somehow. But Mike felt nothing. He was an
observer watching some else’s memories.
“A week later the flesh around my eye became bright red,” Mike
continued. In the back of his mind he knew the pencil was safely
tucked in his pocket. For reasons unknown to him Tad was unable
to see it, or even realize its existence. Mike hoped he did
not ever have to use it. The pencil had not been sharpened in a
few years, so he’d have to use a little extra force. Down the
middle of the shaft was carved the word “FORTAD” in small, jagged
“Yeah, you couldn’t stop scratching.” Tad finished Mike’s
thought. “By the time Dad was in the ground Mom thought you had a case
of pink- eye. There is no medication in the world that could get
rid of me. Perhaps Mom waited to see you suffer for a while after what
the paramedic had told her.”
“Heart attack,” Jim the paramedic had said, shaking his head.
Actually he had said more than that, but the details had been lost on
Mike. Jim ran a hand though his hair and just stared at the
ground. At the time Mike wondered if all paramedics did that when
telling bad news. “We got here as fast as we could…a little earlier and
we may have been able to help him…”
“Bike,” Mike replied. “Dad was going to buy me a new bike.”
And then the memory was gone, and Mike rode blank-faced down the
Stretch. His eyes darted from left to right as they searched for
a place to hide.
“There,” Tad said. “Park it behind that abandoned tank.”
“Behind the tank,” Mike repeated, and peddled toward it. For a
second, the tank image flickered and Mike could see what the tank
really was: a large dumpster with scrap wood piled in it. Tad was
serious about this war movie theme. Mike could see a few dead
soldiers lying face down in the dirt around it. There were little
rivulets of dried blood in the dirt radiating from each of them.
As Mike pulled in behind the tank, he heard music. Faint, but
coming closer. Mike turned his head and saw Dave Johnson come
speeding down the Stretch. Dave had a stereo bungee-tied to the
handlebars of his new bike. But Dave Johnson was no longer
himself. Mike’s mind, with a little help from Tad, had warped
Dave into a bike-riding skeleton. Its skull bobbed up and down
above his shoulders like a toy. Red goo leaked from the eye
sockets and across the side of the skull-head in thin streams.
The skeleton-thing moved its jaw bone down as if to talk, but nothing
came out but blue tiffs of smoke that filled the air.
“Do it now!” Tad screamed. “Do it now before he sees you. Pick up that rifle and KILL HIM!”
Mike glanced down and saw the weapon. He bent down and retrieved
it. The metal felt heavy and cool in his hand. He lifted it
high above his head and brought it down just as Dave rode by. The
force of the impact raced up Mike’s arm in one, shuddering wave.
The Dave-skeleton-thing flew over the handlebars and landed on its back.
“Are you crazy?” Dave cried, slowly getting up. He glanced at his
bike to inventory the damage. The cans he had been collecting, as
well as various electronic components, were scattered around his feet.
“You killed my stereo!”
“You idiot,” Tad carried on. “You missed! How could you miss? He was right there! I’ll have to take care of him myself.”
Mike glanced at the pipe he was holding and immediately dropped
it. It gave out a hollow metallic thud as it hit the ground.
“Hey,” Dave said, slowly transforming from the skeleton-thing to a
regular guy wearing jeans and a leather jacket. He cautiously
walked closer to Mike’s position behind the dumpster. “I know
you. You tried to kill your mother. Why didn’t they
lock you up for good?”
“Tad told me what to say.”
Dave snatched a piece of two-by-four from the dumpster. There
were long, rusty nails sticking out of it. Dave swung the board
at Mike’s left arm. Mike went crashing off of the bike as easy as
a bag of wet leaves.
“How do you like it? I’ll finish what should have happened to you in
prison!” Dave screamed, still holding the wood. Mike felt spit rain on
his face. “This is what happens to people who show no respect.”
Mike could feel the bones in his arm grind together as he tried to get
up. Pain had just begun its crawl up his arm and shoulder when
Tad quickly turned off the proper receptors in Mike’s brain. His
arm was broken a few places, but Mike now felt nothing. Dave
continued to beat him with the board. Mike realized his intention
was not to kill, as the nails sticking out of the wood faced the other
direction. When Mike felt on the verge of blacking out, Tad beat
on the inside of his skull.
“Don’t give up so easily, Mike!” Tad tried to
cheer him on in what appeared to Mike as a loosing battle.
With his good arm Mike reached around and retrieved the pencil from his
back pocket. He held it in his hand like a dagger. He sat
cross-legged on the dirt and leaned against the dumpster. He held
the pencil in front of his face. FORTAD. How long ago had he
carved that? Six years ago? Ten? Had he carved it at
all? It didn’t matter anymore. He was going to end it. He
took a deep breath and angled the chewed tip toward his eye. This
is for you, Tad. Been fun. Time to close the movie house.
“Get up freak!” Dave kicked Mike in the gut. The pencil went flying out of his hand. “We’re not finished yet!”
“I’m afraid I am forced to agree with Dave,” Tad said. With a
very slow, controlled voice Tad ordered Mike to get up and finish the
job by whatever means necessary. It was Mike’s last chance, Tad
informed, or the demon will start flipping switches on and off at
random and really scramble Mike’s brain.
Mike obeyed and rose to his feet. The pencil lay a few yards to
his left. It floated in a small puddle of what looked like
oil. Dave stepped back and breathed heavily.
“KILL HIM!” Tad shrieked. The scream was so intense it made Mike’s skull vibrate. “Kill him before it is too late!”
“No,” Mike said and dove for the pencil. “I will not!”
This time Mike did not hesitate. He shoved the pencil into his
eye and hurriedly pulled it out again. He felt no pain; Tad had
switched off his ability to feel. Light, bright and warm,
radiated from the puncture.
A few seconds later the light faded and Mike fell to his knees.
His eye throbbed with breaking pressure. The eyeball grew in and
out of its socket like a balloon. Black fluid squirted out of the
bullet-sized wound with every pulse.
“What can I say?” Tad huffed, and Mike had the strangest sensation of a
door closing and the sounds of keys clanging together in his head.
“It’s been great. Glad to know you. Oh, by the way, I killed your
dad. Well, not directly. He just wouldn’t take.
Not compatible. So I chose you instead. Now if you
will excuse me…”
Mike’s eye exploded.
Black streams of matter flew into the air. The force was powerful
enough to knock Dave to the ground, but not injure him. Dave got
to his feet and began to tremble. He tried to move but realized
he was paralyzed. What the hell? Mike was clearly dead,
Dave saw, as half of his head was missing and part of his brain lay
next to him.
The black streams of matter still fluttered in the air above.
They circled around Mike’s body like party streamers caught in a dust
devil. One by one they congealed together until they formed a
solid, twirling mass.
Dave, still frozen in place, could not take his eyes away from it.
Many of them. All different kinds of eyes. Animal, human,
insect…they all poked out of the little twists and turns of the
impossible creature. Then it was gone. It squashed in on
itself and kept mashing down into an invisible hole a few feet above
Dave felt his heartbeat all the way down to his toes. His whole
being throbbed. If his hair had contained blood it, to, would
Slowly Dave glanced down at Mike. Dave would come to realize
later, during the worst of the nightmares, that Mike’s other eye, his
right one, was gone. It may have flown out of the skull during
the explosion, but Dave did not think so. Dave believed the thing
took it. As a souvenir.
The pencil was still clutched in Mike’s hand.
Dave reached down and grabbed the pencil. He didn’t know
why. He should be on his bike and riding away as fast as he
could. He didn’t need any more trouble with the
police. He’d just witnessed the strangest thing, his mind
was spinning, and any cop would think he was on drugs. For awhile
there in his life, he had been.
A guy he hardly knows sticks a pencil in his eye and his head
explodes. How would he explain this to the police, should he be
placed at the scene? No one will find the body, Dave reasoned,
until the construction work around here started up again on Monday.
He glanced at the pencil. It was clean. Of course, it wasn’t in the guy’s eyeball long enough to get messed up.
“FORTAD” the pencil said in small, jagged letters. He
absent-mindedly placed the pencil in his back pocket. Dave wondered at
the meaning of the pencil carving as he casually mounted his bike and
rode the rest of the way down the Stretch. During the ride the
most persistent little insect kept trying to land on his face. It
had managed to bite him in the corner of his left eye. When he
pulled up onto his driveway his eye itched like crazy. Only two
thoughts were on his mind when he rode into the garage: where had he
stored his old baseball bat, and most importantly, where the hell was
E-mail: Mark Knight
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