I still remember the smell of the dumpster. Rotten vegetables and piss. The rotten vegetables were cabbage and leeks, mostly. To this day I can’t smell cabbage cooking without throwing up. Some of the piss was what you might imagine, the territorial markings of dogs and the occasional lazy homeless guy who’d been shaken out of the gas station down the street. Some of it was Todd’s. Some of it was Ethan’s. And, God help me, yes, some of it was mine. I’d pissed my pants, and more, and I was desperately trying to hold it together. I was lying face down in that filth, tears running down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop shaking.
It’s funny though, because I remember that so clearly, but everything else seems like a white fog. An emptiness. A nothing. There are only snapshots of it left to me now. Moments that echo in my nightmares.
I don’t sleep much anyway. Sometimes, when I’ve taken some pills or something harder, I drop away. Rising out of the haze of booze like an iceberg out of a dark sea, a few images I can dash myself to pieces on.
There was a rush, like the passing of a jet engine far too close over me, carrying a wind behind it that nearly buffeted me to the street. There was a roar, like thunder cracking in my head, but still rattling the windows and awnings. Todd and Ethan heard it too. I know that much. I remember afterwards there was laughing. Some deep malevolent chuckle, like an Olympian god rather too fond of practical jokes, but also a piping celebratory giggle. A child’s laugh, or at least a childlike laugh.
Sometimes I can almost see it, even though I don’t want to. Sinuous, like a snake, but hairy too, like someone’s rabid dog. Too big, though. Much too big to be. White, blinding white, so white that it hurt your eyes to see.
Lying in that dumpster, even with fighting against my disgust with the effluvia that pressed against my face, even against the vomit I was choking back down into my gut, I was happy to be there. Happy to feel it. As foul as it was, it was inside my frame of reference, some kind of handle to hold onto when the world came crashing down.
We got Todd back on his feet and we walked him home. He never said anything. Not one word. His mom came rushing out when we got back to the steps of his building, looking at the stains and marks that covered him. She shook him by the shoulders again and again, trying to make him say anything, but he was quiet. Always quiet. It was maybe forty-five minutes before Todd’s dad came home, dragged Todd’s mother off him and asked us what had happened.
What were we going to say? What could we say?
They took Todd out of school. I’d known him since we were three years old, and I never saw him again. I found out a few years ago that he’d ended up in an asylum up in Maine, that he’d killed himself. I never found out whether or not he said anything, let alone anything about what had happened to us.
Just one look at what had happened to Todd made it easy for Ethan and me to make a decision. We’d never tell anyone. We thought if we just kept it quiet, that it’d just go away. Sometimes we’d even fool ourselves into thinking that was true. It didn’t keep us from the child psychiatrists though, from the probing questions that wouldn’t cease even after we told everyone that it was fine, that we were fine, that we didn’t know what had happened.
I think Ethan might have broken the promise. I think he might have told the high school shrink after he was caught setting that car on fire. He swore up and down to me that he didn’t, but after that the Principal started watching us closely, and I’d catch odd looks from that counselor when I passed her in the hall.
Ethan went a little wild after that. Everything seemed so breakable, he used to say, like a movie set. A world made out of balsa wood and painted cardboard. He wanted to shake it up, tear it down, peel back the facade and make people see what we had seen. He was in and out of juvie through our teen years. Got pretty heavily involved in the drug scene. I don’t see him much anymore either. The last time was about 6 years ago. He’d OD’d. His parents had cut him off as his emergency contacts, and I guess he didn’t have anywhere else to turn. I saw him out of the hospital, posted bail for the arrest, tried to get him into a drug diversion program. It didn’t take. He stole $600 bucks from me and hit the streets, off to chase the dragon again.
Then there’s me. I like to think that I did better, but who the fuck am I kidding? I tried to stay straight edge in school, figured that if I settled down and did my best to be a “normal” kid, that it’d be easier to pretend that it was all some kind of function of overactive juvenile imagination. Lifted my grades up, went to a good college. Started writing for the newspapers. Held on even though print was dead.
God, I felt like such a fraud. I still do. Writing about all these little truths, knowing every day I’m living a lie. Hours down at the library, raiding the secondhand bookshops, trying to figure out what it was I’d seen. I even went to the bookstore that little shit ran into the day before, the one we missed on the first pass but must have been the only place he could’ve gone. That old son-of-a-bitch who ran the place might’ve known something, maybe. I always had that vibe, but whenever I’d go there, he’d hustle me out of the shop. Said I was a “bad kid”, and that I had to go away. He started keeping the place locked all the time, and after a little while, he closed up. The place became a cigar shop.
Maybe we were bad kids, but we didn’t deserve anything like what had happened to us. What the fuck did we know, anyway? We were eleven years old, and we weren’t into anything heavy. We pushed a couple of kids around. We took some lunch money, shoplifted some comics and some skin magazines, and thought we were pretty badass. But we never hurt anybody, not really and we would’ve grown out of it. We kept our curfew, listened to our parents, didn’t know anyone really from the wrong side of the tracks. We were just scared kids in a big city, and we tried to stay mellow by making ourselves feel like the big fish in a little pond.
That day, that kid we pushed around, it was a shitty thing to do. I admit that. But it wasn’t until a few years later when it all snapped together for me. That little asshole with the weird name, I heard at school that his dad remarried and that they weren’t getting along, but he still used to wear this smug little grin. Like he was the king of the goddamn world. One day, I heard him laughing at some stupid joke in a book, muttering to himself, on his own as usual. That laugh. It was the same high pitched laugh as what I heard that day in the alley. It was him.
I think he might have yelled something at us, or to us, but I’ve lost that. I just remember him laughing.
Whatever we did to him, it was nothing compared to what he did to us. What was life going to be after that? How can you deal with something that everyone knows should be impossible, but that every sense you have screams happened to you? Was he going to fucking kill us? You always hear about the weird kids at school, the losers, sitting at home fantasizing about taking out the other kids, the ones who laughed at them. Was that what he was planning? If so, why didn’t he do it?
Even more than any of that though, what was that thing that chased us? If he’d pulled a semi-automatic and tried to gun us down right there, I’d buy that. It would’ve been traumatic, it would’ve been awful, but I think I could’ve dealt with it. That thing, that thing that came out of the clear blue fucking sky, that couldn’t have existed – how could anything feel real after that? How could I sleep or eat or go to school knowing that the rules didn’t apply? That something like that could come from nowhere at any time?
He was riding the thing. God help me, he was riding it like a goddamn horse, sitting in the fucking air like something out of a fairy story. It chased us because he wanted it to. He was controlling it. Forget what it was, what the fuck was he? He got Todd and he got Ethan and some day, I know, he’s going to get me too.
My sleeping pills don’t keep the nightmares back any more. I’ve gotten older and I’ve tried shrinks and booze and prayer and every other goddamn thing imaginable, and nothing even dampens the white hot certainty and terror of those moments, those moments that I can’t even really recall. God help me if things become clearer, God help me if I truly remember it all.
Bastian Bux, man. Same middle initial too. The Devil? Some weird scientist’s kid? What did we ever do, really, that made us deserve something like that?
It’s the questions that keep me up nights. The whys and whats of it, all the pieces that I never know will never truly fit. My entire life’s become some kind of riddle with no answer, some circle line I’ll never get off, all because like millions of other kids the world over, I was a bully for six months in my elementary school. I pray that it’s not going to feel like this forever, but I know it is.
Stories like mine? They never end.