the cannibal boy
His name was David. He lived alone following his parents’ deaths and had a wide, innocent face. Two police officers assigned to the case wanted to go in guns blazing, but we neighbors all liked David and knew he’d come peacefully. So I slid down the embankment and walked straight into his backyard, interrupting him in the act of barbecue. Smoke billowed up in huge swaths, shrouding his face, I must admit, somewhat demonically in grey. I told David he would soon be taken away and tried to make institutional life sound appealing—a bit. Then the cops moved in.
For some reason, I ended up carrying their plastic evidence container back with me. I made it to the cul-de-sac, where a busy gaggle of TV crews had gathered to report the story of the killer’s latest escape. But he didn’t escape, I said. They crowded in on me. Exclusive? I offered, somewhat mischievously. Oh, me, a youngish FOX reporter begged, jumping ahead of the queue.
I led her and her cameraman behind a barrier. With a modest dramatic flair, I announced, I’ve got all the evidence right . . . here! and revealed the leaky Tupperware container. Abruptly, I pulled out what looked like a drumstick, waving it before the shocked cameraman. Are we rolling yet? I asked.
My next-door neighbor comes over to pick up her kids in the backyard. We chat for awhile and then notice another neighbor, an elderly woman, distributing flyers through the woods. She places them intermittently at the roots of trees, in branches, and under rocks. Then she crosses down to the brook and sails them off. The flyers turn out to be playbills advertising a dramatic production from the 1940s.
I was looking for space to write in a stack of old notebooks. Most of them were used up. As I flipped over pages in one, I saw miniature paintings and sketches. Had I done these? Another notebook was filled neatly with cursive I did not recognize, but wanted to read.
So I sat down on the grassy embankment of a yard belonging to two spinster sisters reputed to be long dead. The loose sod immediately crumbled and I found myself in a quagmire of dirt, grass, and tree roots. One root turned out to be a stiff leg bone. After some fumbling around, I used the bone to pole my way downhill, leaving the books behind. I made it to the front porch of the house.
The ghosts of the two spinster sisters came out, dusting off the porch railing and eager to visit with me. They were creepy but kind and asked me to take them on a ride into town so they could see all the changes.
While at a restaurant, I saw an old blown-up photograph on the wall of an encampment of Hyena-People. These creatures had heads the size of Tiki gods and stood upright on short legs. They had carved the savannah into a natural amphitheatre with rows for seating. Stuck on poles in the center of the amphitheatre were heads of missionaries—fair skinned, mustachioed, perfectly preserved.
I went home to sleep on a moonlit night, much like tonight. Home was a crap shack off a deserted street. After tossing and turning in bed, I went outside into the cool alley where there was a dumpster—it was where I slept best.
I was dozing lightly when I heard a scuffling outside. Something making grunting noises was approaching the bin. Whatever it was, it was unable to reach high enough to raise the lid. So my curiosity got the better of me. I sat up and looked outside.
There I saw a wild child who looked much too old for the diaper he was wearing. I climbed out of the bin and asked, Where are your parents? He replied: They abandoned me years ago. Then he backed away quickly in his shuffling gait, shaking his head fiercely at my offer of help.
An epidemic broke out during my stay on a resort island. It was only a matter of time and provisions were limited, so I knew I had to get down to the beach and cross over to the mainland.
I descended the gravel road leading to the tourist area, passed by many others seeking the higher country. These vacationers looked famished. At least one man had already progressed into the more virulent stages of the disease, which caused helpless sweating and drooling.
I took shelter in a cottage where an old man and a few others were holing up. They had pooled their remaining provisions, and though I was a stranger, I was permitted to stay. Perhaps they thought I might offer them some protection from the afflicted.
I might have discussed fortifications with this man. But he was clearly resigned to the inevitable. It occurred to me then that the older people had come there to die. So I said goodbye and rejoined the forlorn travelers on the road.
The virulent were now crawling en masse. Fearing infection, I abandoned them and fought my way down the sheer rock face to the shore.
At the bottom, it was a long swim back to the mainland. But a giant tube rose from the beach and up out of sight. I sensed that it might lead to freedom and safety and so climbed in and began a spiraling ascent.
I climbed for miles, glad for the solitude. Then I heard the unmistakable slither of an infected man behind me. I hid in the folds of the tube while he passed, then started back in the reverse direction. This time I followed a different branch that became a chute down to the populated area below. Having nothing to lose, I slid down.
I emerged at a lavish pool party at a playboy mansion. A bubbling pink tub there looked like just the thing for removing grime and viruses, so I slipped into it, clothes and all. Then a giggling bunny walked over and jumped in, drunk. There was no time to warn her about contamination. She was followed by a wealthy playdude wearing sunglasses, who pointed at me with a hairy arm terminating in a Rolex. I got out and he got in.
As I left I saw the bunny, now naked, standing up in the tub to pee while the sunglass-wearing man laughed.
My daughter Rina had wandered off to play in the woods near the house. We lived in a rural area of live oaks with twisting branches that harbored snakes. I was clearing space under one, removing some kudzu, but stopped when I brushed against two half-buried boxes—possibly the graves of pets.
Rina was curious about a new family which had moved into a house in the woods. She drifted over to talk to a couple of girls near her age. When evening approached, I decided to race all the girls back to the house to meet the family. I touched the wall first.
The girls’ mother came out, surrounded by younger children, and said she would be obliged if my daughter could stay to supper. I said yes, thinking it would be a way to form a new friendship, but also put on guard by her reserved tone. The children who stepped forward to introduce themselves all had Old Testament names. One little boy of about three, with difficulty, stammered that his name was E-zekiel.
The patriarch came over and said he would like to talk to me. I followed him out to a shed. There he kept rows of scourges and whips. They covered a whole wall and looked new, as if he prepared them for followers.
A few more neighbors dropped by. The man asked us all if we had ever smoked, drank, or had a lustful thought. Just the acknowledgment we had was enough to arouse his wrath.
Some students doing research on Southern writers/the Southern Gothic were looking for books, so I scrounged around my office for titles. My colleague possessed more books than me, but he was forever in the process of clearing out his stuff and could never fill requests from the mound of dusty volumes on his floor.
I headed off to the library. En route another student stopped me. She didn’t mean to complain about the librarian, bless her heart, she just loved Kelly, she said, but she had just seen two students wheeling away whole carts of books, and no one had stopped them! I thought I should check this story out.
At the library counter, two clerks, both hardcore Republicans, attempted to make small talk with me, one asking in a drawl when we would have to put up with the next political campaign. I said three years—though I added that I hoped we might have a two-term president. He laughed. Then I looked down at my hands, with a sinking feeling, and noticed most of my fingers were gone.
A birthday party was being thrown for me in my home by a wild director friend. Many gifts, unsurprisingly, seemed to be adult-themed. Never a too-hearty partier, I took a nap. When I awoke, the wind howled outside. Many party guests still milled around though my friend had left. So I fell into the host’s role.
I noticed one mysterious young woman—very dark hair, attractive. She was intrigued by a reference book I had on witches. She opened the volume to an entry about “Wicked Lucy” and told me she wanted to borrow it because her name was Lucy, too. I asked her where she was from. She said, I’m your Anima.
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