There is a bar that you end up at in Rugby, North Dakota because Rugby, North Dakota is the geographic center of the United States and if you end up drifting towards one ocean or another because something in you wants to float away, then there’s a good possibility, a well nigh one hundred percent chance that you will somehow end up at the center.
The drinks are not particularly cheap at this bar. The food is not particularly good. The atmosphere is not particularly American in that way that makes you say to yourself “self, this is America”. It is beautiful and special only in its inevitability. Unless you’re looking to meet a sasquatch, because the occasional sasquatch comes in.
I drifted there because I wanted to be near an ocean and I could not choose an ocean or someone to be. I liked the idea of Windbreakers and dufflebags and bearing the beard of a quintessential enigma. I felt ready for anyone and anything, a Lester Dent hero leading a Willie Nelson life.This was back when I was young and hopelessly wrong. Though there was some indication there may have been fear in me somewhere, it was no longer in sight.
Thing is,if you end up at this bar, when you end up at this bar, there will be someone there to meet you. It might not be a problem for you. It could be your favorite lost childhood dog, wagging his tail and eager to split a basket of potato skins. But I had no such luck. I could never have been prepared for what I saw.
When I was a kid, my mother had these three boarders that lived in the attic, drinking all night. A vampire, a mummy and a werewolf, as creepy, as hairy and as smelly as you would think they would be. They’d wake me up in the middle of the night, their breaths stinking of Old Granddad and meat and they’d pull up my covers and-
No. It wasn’t like that. They weren’t those kinds of monsters. What they did to me was bad enough to forget, but it wasn’t that. They would take me out to the backyard. And they would make me dig holes. Big holes. It was exhausting, especially for a kid who hadn’t gotten much sleep. But that wasn’t the problem. As usual it wasn’t the backbreaking labor, but the heartbreaking labor that got to me. When I was done digging the holes, they would open up the sacks. If I was a more clever boy than I was, I would have made sure to dig slowly. But I wasn’t that clever and I was young and they were monsters and I was scared. One look at the fangs of the vampire or the claws of the werewolf or the hideous rotting, dusty face of the mummy and I’d be digging faster than a child should ever dig, especially someone digging holes for what I was digging holes for.
The kids in the sack weren’t from my school. It doesn’t make it better or worse that they didn’t come from my school. It’s just the facts. I never betrayed a friend. Just kids I’d seen on milk cartons and posters. Most of them were already dead. Most of them. The monsters would sometimes throw in a live one because they thought it was funny. It wasn’t funny. None of it was ever funny.
Not when I was chopping up all those bodies with a hatchet. Hard work for a little kid. Disgusting work for anyone. For years, I had blocked it out. My mind wouldn’t let me grow up in a world where shit like that happened. But then I saw him again, and the moment I caught sight of him I remembered every tiny arm I chopped off. Every twitching, begging child that the monsters had challenged me with. The time I was brave enough to attack the mummy with that hatchet and the vampire took me over his knee and spanked me for it. I would have lived without things if he wasn’t sitting there waiting for me.
The vampire? The mummy? Some child’s ghost? No. It was worse. My true accomplice, the one who had enabled me to do the things they’d made me do, the one whose conscience had been bloodied by this most of all. My childhood hatchet. I fell to my knees and screamed at the sight of him. I should have been allowed to live without those memories. I should have been allowed to be young and adventurous and eager to reach the sea.
The hatchet had since grown an eye on the side of his blade. The eye was chocolate brown and caring but full of sadness and disapproval. The eye pitied me and hated me for what I’d done. I longed to flee the bar, but when you have drifted to the center and you know there’s a reason for being there, it’s difficult to leave. So I sat across from him and ordered us a couple of beers.
He didn’t touch his.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “that we had to do that.”
He made no indication that he accepted my apology. I had nothing to say, and neither did he so we stared at each other, each begging for permission to forget. We did this until the bar closed. We drifted together him and me only as far as Williston, where we got an apartment. He was doing nothing with his life and I was doing nothing with mine, so it was common sense.
For years, he would cry through the night. I slept with headphones on. Recently, he’s started waking me up around midnight and pressing himself to my neck. I can’t help but think “this is the end. He’ll do it tonight for sure.” But he keeps on surprising me. The brown eye tears up and he retreats back to his room to reflect on what he’s done. I keep hoping that he’ll change his mind and finish what he started. I’m not suicidal, but I long for one last chance to drift away.
Garrett Cook is the winner of the first annual Ultimate Bizarro Showdown and the author of such Bizarro works as Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective and Archelon Ranch. If he told you anything else, he would have to erase your memory. He can be found at http://chainsawnoir.wordpress.com/