“What is the defining moment of your life?”
It’s a fair question. I’d have to say it was when my childhood ended.
I have this… problem. And it is both the cause and solution to what happened that day.
I call it “The Internet of Me”. Most folks just say I have a photographic memory. The smarty-farty ones call it eidetic memory. They don’t know how it works, really. All I know is that one day, Pop was showing me a funny video on the internet, and let me drive. I skipped us around the internet looking for funny things to see for about an hour. Later at dinner, I was reading one of the news articles we passed on our trip on the net, except I was sitting in front of a plate of meatloaf instead of a computer. I had no idea what I was doing, until Pop shook me out of it, and I realized by my gravy-coated fingers, that I had been typing into the mashed potatoes.
Yeah. That’s definitely not weird, right? Oh, it is? Yeah. I know.
Well, fast forward a few years, I’m sixteen now, and I know how it works …for me, anyhow. I spent what seemed like ages absorbing books of all kinds. I almost hate to admit it, but I kinda prefer encyclopedias. They’re formatted almost perfectly for my brain, so I can pull info from them up really fast. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time at the public library.
That’s when the other shoe dropped. My buddy Eddie and I had been stuck in the web for the better part of the day. He asked me a question about something that we had seen a few hours earlier, and it happened.
It was almost as if the Internet of Me had its connection dropped, what seemed like an eternity while I was attempting to access the aforementioned thing (Which is, most definitely NOT porn. Probably. Yeah.), had me standing there, frozen in place, slack-jawed.
Eddie whapped me on the back of the head and snapped me out of it. Needless to say, I was a bit shaken. I had learned Important Lesson #2 Which was:
Do not absorb info for more than a few hours at a time.
Pretty important indeed! For that reason, I started holing up in my room most of the time, save for school activities and the weekend which was either family time, or Eddie time.
Poor Eddie. He thought I was mad at him for the longest time until I could verbalize exactly what was going on inside my noggin. But he is my #1 best bud, BFF for life. So I intentionally closed off the majority of my extra-curricular contacts, so that I would not flood my memory with extraneous data. I just don’t know when I’ll hit max-capacity,
what’ll happen when I do.
So, I have become the living contradiction in terms: The Outgoing Hermit.
Good. That’s out of the way.
I arrived home exactly twenty minutes after school let out as usual, and noticed my father’s old station wagon sat parked in the driveway, looking tired and worn out. I had asked him why he hadn’t got a new one once, and he simply said, “That car has a lot of time and memories invested in it, and deserves to be used until the end.” For some reason, my father’s eyes had a haunted look as he said that, and I never had the nerve to bring it up again. For the best, I think.
I hung my bike up in the garage, and closed the door behind me. As the garage door lowered, creaking and complaining as it closed with gradual solemnity, the headlights of the wagon that had been staring at me passed out of sight. Grunting in annoyance, I entered the dining room, noting that Dad’s office door was open, spilling light into the darkened living room.
“Hey, Dad?” I asked, leaning into his office.
Looking up in surprise, his face, which had just been as grim as a funeral, split into a wide grin. “Hey, Buddy! Is it four already?”
Now, my father is an actuarial accountant, and traditionally, accountants tend to gravitate to a certain archetype: soft looking, if not outright overweight, often bald or balding from stress, which he had every right to be, since he was constantly travelling to his clients to solve the various emergencies that seemed to crop up.
However, this was not the case with my father. He stood a smidge over six feet tall, and was damn near intimidating in his musculature, if it weren’t for his mild manner and soft speaking voice, he might make an excellent action hero.
“Nah, almost. I thought you were out for the night?”
“I wrapped up early, but I just got wind of a book collection that is being opened up for sale, so I’m going to head out again.”
“Where?” I entered the doorway and leaned against the frame.
“Montana,” He said, taking a paper from the stack before him, folding it and slipping it into his jacket pocket.
“Jeeze, that’s two states away.” I sighed, knowing that distance was not a barrier to his obsessive collecting.
“Then you’ll need this.” He pulled out his wallet and withdrew his debit card, extending it to me.
He paused, “Don’t go crazy, OK?”
“You know I won’t.”
He grinned “I know.”
The breeze was strong and had a chill that reminded me that Autumn was indeed here to stay, the whizzing of my bikes tires, which I normally find quite relaxing, is almost drowned out by the raucous noise made by the playing cards that Eddie has duct taped to the front fork of his bike.
In a burst of speed, he blasts past me cackling, his bike buzzing like an angry hornet as he follows the curves of the path, out of sight.
The next minute or so has been edited by The Internet of Me, stripping out irrelevant information to make it easier to review later (and hopefully save memory!)
Eddie had discarded his bike, its wheels spinning lazily as they clattered to a stop.
“Dude! Checkit!” Eddie shouted, waving me over.
The clearing was buzzing with activity, the police had cordoned off the rear of the clearing, and A local newscaster had already set up shop, and was preparing to broadcast.
I thought this was somewhat strange. I mean, we had our share of crime, but generally speaking, our slice of the Pacific Northwest only ever dealt with petty theft and domestic violence. I suppose that’s why the news crew was on it so fast.
The reporter was straightening her clothes and checking herself in a mirror held by an assistant. This prompted me to drop my bike next to Eddies, and the two of us crept closer, to hear what she had to say.
“Wow,” Eddie said, as he wolfed down a king-sized slice of pepperoni pizza. “Wild animal attacks here in town. That’s pretty messed up.”
“Yeah, messed up.” I took a pull of my soda. “Say, hows about we go back and have a closer look when we’re done eating?”
Eddie belched thoughtfully, “Sure! They should have cleared out of there by then, right?”
We finished eating our pizza, and whizzed from the Walker residence back to the park, the light turning golden, as the autumn sky and its gloriously orange and red clouds touched the trees dressed in similar clothing.
As we entered the clearing, the emptiness struck me as odd. The two of us pass through this particular part of the park all the time, but it seemed hollow to me, with the police tape gently swaying in the wind, as if time had slowed down. We dismounted our faithful steeds, and walked closer, both of us inspecting the area for evidence of the attack.
Eddie dropped his bike and ducked under the tape, scanning for anything noteworthy.
“Oh gawd, it’s like someone fried up a week-dead possum, a skunk, and a can of ass.” Eddie stopped and clapped his hand to his mouth.
Clearly, that should have been my sign to stop, but my dumb ass just continued to his side.
Then the stench hit me. I like to think that I have a strong stomach, but this really, really, was the very worst thing I’d ever encountered.
The ground was covered in blood, and you know how smelly things in cartoons have those wavy lines over them? The area almost had them, just shy of the oasis effect, except with the worst smelling thing imaginable.
Then it happened. My hands shot out, typing like mad, and I was revisiting a book my father had sitting on a shelf in his office. It had seemed like an old encyclopedia volume at the time, so I snagged it when pop was out and had a read. What it turned out to be, however, was more like a fantasy art book. The Internet of Me, however, seemed to find a connection with this crime scene and a particular page in that book. Just as I was going to dig into the matter, I was whapped back into reality by Eddie, who was pulling me back towards the bikes.
“Eddie!” I said, freeing myself from his grasp. “We gotta get to my place! This is gonna be so cool!”
Not exactly sure how I made it home without zoning out but the two of us made it, panting and exhausted.
“OK, bud. The Internet is showing me something about monsters, so we’re going to bust ‘em”
Eddie blinked, “What?”
“Yeah. So my pop has a book, and that stench of awfulness made me zone out. Hard. It was hyperlinking lots of stuff from that book. From one page in that book.” I ducked into my dad’s office, and pulled out the book in question.
I flipped it open and handed it to him, before dashing into the garage. By the time I returned, holding a set of high power super-soakers, Eddie was staring at the page looking more and more confused.
“Jaime. My man. Have you lost your mind? This ain’t real.” He lay the book on the table just in time to catch a squirt cannon.
I grinned, ducking into the kitchen, “Maybe. But it’ll be fun, right?”
Eddie pursed his lips, weighing the options. “OK. I’m on board. What first?”
I snagged a bucket and garden shears from under the sink.
“Yeah. My aunt planted the stuff all around the house. It’s supposed to ward off evil. It was used in religious ceremonies since, well the beginning.” I ducked back into the kitchen and grabbed the juicer, a gift from Grandma Emma that was gathering dust in the pantry and plopped it on the table.
“What you waiting for, an invitation? Fill that bucket! …ah, but try not to leave huge holes. Dad would get pissed.”
Eddie threw a sloppy salute, “Roger that, Cap’n.”
A few minutes later, we had an aromatic arsenal at our disposal. We duct taped some flashlights to the tanks, and slung them on our backs, ready to hunt us a monster.
Referring to an almanac I read early in the year, I noted that the sun sets a bit shy of seven-thirty today, giving us a bit more than a half hour before the sun set.
Eddie was the first on the scene, as usual, he unslung his weapon, primed it with a few pumps, and clicked on his flashlight.
“Hey, found something!” Eddie shouted, waving the beam of his flashlight around.
“What’s that?” I said, catching up with him.
“The ground! It’s… shiny?”
Sure enough, our flashlights were catching what appeared to be big patches of what appeared to be slug slime.
Eddie gagged, dropping his super-soaker, as a green mist rose from the ground.
As I reached out to him, a blur from my left side knocked me to the ground. By the time I could gather my wits, and get a look at what had jumped me, I caught a whiff of it, and being right on top of me, I vomited a majestic plume of half-digested pizza into the air, which rained back down on me, like the …OK, I don’t have a good analogy. It was the single grossest thing I’ve ever had to endure.
So I lay there, pinned to the ground by what appeared to be an anorexic, naked hobo with a mouth full of fangs. If It weren’t trying to bite my face off, I would have definitely tried to analyze it better, but since I was also drowning in my own vomit, I feel I should get a pass on that.
Eddie gaped at the two of us grappling and finally snapped into action. He grabbed his gun that now swung free on its sling, and let loose a fragrant jet of lavender infused water.
When the stream hit the beast, it was as if it were hit by a bolt of lightning. It leaped off of me, let loose an unearthly screech and skittered away. Unwilling to let his advantage slip away, Eddie charged after it, hosing it down as he went.
I struggled to my feet and slung the vomit from me as best I could, following Eddie. By the time I reached his side, the monster lay prone, its skin smoking and cracking as it struggled to escape. I joined Eddie in hosing it down thoroughly until it lay still. It’s stench still potent, I staggered away and sank to my knees.
“You OK, buddy?” Eddie nudged me with his toe, clearly not wanting to get my vomit on him. I blinked my eyes, stinging from the vomit and what the hell ever slime that thing was coated with.
“Gah,” I managed to say brightly.
“Get down!” A deep voice shouted.
I looked up, towards the voice, and saw a huge man, wearing a bizarre leather mask which had a huge beak, making him look somewhat like a bodybuilding bird clad in leather thundering towards us, holding a wicked looking axe. Too stunned to move, He hurtled passed us, his footsteps shaking the earth, and lashing out with a solid kick that landed square in the chest of the monster, sending the monster to the ground with the stranger pinning it to the ground with one heavily booted foot. With a well-practiced move, the man swung, and the axe neatly cut the monster’s head off. He kicked it a few feet away before turning to the two of us.
I scrambled to my feet, backing away from the very big man with an equally big axe.
The man looked back and forth between the two of us, the beak swinging as he took us in.
“What the hell?” He finally said, pulling off the mask. “Where are your weapons? Not even a pointy stick! How do you expect to finish it off? Aromatherapy?”
We both fully gaped.
My father stood there, clad in heavy leather clothes, armed like a barbarian, scoffing at our choice of weaponry.
“Dude, your dad is a mutha-fuckin-badass!” Eddie squealed.
My father pointed his axe at him, “Language!”
“Sorry!” Eddie meekly replied.
My father sighed.
“Looks like you get the full story about the family business a few years early.”
Eddie squealed again.
“But first, we run you through a car wash.” My father laughed, clapping me on the shoulder.