Authors: David Zimmerman
“What’d happen? Do they send a pack of hounds after you?” I bayed like a bluetick and Logan Loy laughed.
“I don’t think they’d come looking for me, unless I pulled some stunt before I left or maybe stole equipment. A gun, say. But if I was driving too fast or something and the cops pulled me over, they’d haul my ass in. No doubt. After forty-eight hours I think they put out some kind of a bulletin.” He lowered his voice like a TV announcer. “Keep on the lookout for Logan Loy, five foot eleven inches and a hundred and fifty pounds. Blond hair and a tattoo of the word
in a heart on his left arm.”
What he said wasn’t all that funny, but it stirred up a couple happy bumblebees in my belly and set them to buzzing about down there. I laughed because he wanted me to, and knowing he wanted me to made me happy. A good sign, I thought. He ain’t afraid to sound foolish.
“What about you?” Logan asked. “You skipping out on school today?”
“School doesn’t start till next week.”
“One more week of summer, huh?” Logan laughed some more. “That was always my busiest week. I tried to cram in all the stuff I’d planned on doing during the summer but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Maybe I can come up and see you before you have to go back? What do you think? Would that be cool?”
“Yeah.” I closed my eyes and tried not to shout my answer. “Very cool.” My heart swelled—
“I was thinking like a picnic or something. You into that? It’s not too lame for you?”
“Not lame at all.”
“How does Friday sound?”
—and then it popped from sheer happiness.
had saved a really long cigarette butt for after my shower and I was about to light it up, actually had it in my mouth and was picking up the lighter, when Hayes smashed his face up against the screen door and yelled, “Lynnie, sweetie, honey!” With his nose smushed up against the screen like that, he looked like a serial killer. I didn’t say anything at first and I don’t think he could see me since the blinds were down and it was dark in there. “Whatcha doing, Little Flipper?” He made a couple of dolphin squeaks per usual. “Why don’t you let old Hayes in?”
I stayed right where I was on the floor by the coffee table. “My mom said you weren’t allowed in the house because you’re having a spell.”
“Having a what?”
“A spell. That’s what she said. Spell. S-P-E-L-L.”
“The only spell I’m having is one of unemployment. And I believe that’ll be coming to an end here shortly.”
“You get a job or something?”
“I have some prospects.”
After the accident that wound him up in the emergency room where he met my mom, she helped him get a job “managing” the pharmacy of a Drug Rite over in Statesboro. He was not actually a pharmacist, but something called a pharmacy technician, which, to my mind, seemed like the pharmacist’s equivalent to a nurse’s assistant. Maybe not even. More like a hospital candy striper. All a
pharmacist does is count pills. What does the assistant do, hold the bottle for him? Anyhow, he was fired for reasons that were never fully explained to me (hmm, let me take a wild guess).
“I heard they were hiring over at the Crispy Chik,” I said. “You know you look like a rapist with your face pressed flat like that?”
“In your dreams, Flipper,” Hayes said.
“Nightmares,” I said.
“Hey,” Hayes said, putting his hands in his pockets and rocking back and forth from heel to toe. “Just let me in there for a sec to use the bathroom and then I’ll take off.”
“Nope. The order is, and I quote, ‘Hayes is not allowed in the house when I’m not here.’ The bathroom’s in the house. So, no bathroom. Anyway, you drank the last of the cough syrup. If you really got to go, just tinkle out there behind the camellia bush.”
His face drooped when I mentioned the syrup and he said, “Come on, now.”
“I’m walking to the phone now. I’m picking up the phone. I’m dialing the nurse’s station at the hospital.”
“You go ahead and be that way, but don’t expect no favors from me anytime soon.”
When the thumps came an hour later, I thought it was Hayes back to pester me some more. I’d shut the door and locked it. There were just the two thumps, like somebody hitting the door really hard with the heel of his palm, and then nothing.
I crept to the window and peeked out. There wasn’t anybody I could see on the stoop, unless he’d pressed himself right up against the door.
I went ahead and opened it. Not a soul on the front walk or anywhere in sight. Then I saw a little bit of shiny wet on the doormat and crouched down to look closer. I touched it and rubbed it between my thumb and index finger. Red, I thought. Even then I didn’t get it. But when I turned to go inside, I saw what was there.
Stuck to the door with green punch pins were two fuzzy, gray ears. I knew them for what they were right away. Terrier ears.
I thought about the man on the phone with the cigarette-burned voice. Two bluebottle flies buzzed in a circle and landed on the red, wet edge of the ears. First one, then the other. I thought to take the sad, little things down before those flies laid their maggot eggs inside, but I didn’t want to touch them.
That man, I remembered suddenly, knew Mom was a nurse at the hospital and that we lived near it. I had a sudden picture of my mom’s ears nailed to the door.
he only other person in the hospital waiting room was a great fat woman with an infected spot on her leg. The spot was greenish yellow and as big as a walnut. I tried not to look at her, but it was hard, as she kept squeezing at the lump and wiping off the drippings with crumpled-up Dairy Queen napkins. She seemed to have a never-ending supply of them in her purse.
When my mom finally came out, I saw right away she was aggravated. I found out later a boy with a jammed finger had bitten her on the arm and left an angry red mouth print.
“What do you want?” my mom said. She bit off the end of each word with a hard chomp of her teeth. “I only have a couple of minutes.”
I told her about the man calling for Hayes, which I hadn’t mentioned before because it hadn’t really seemed like all that big a deal at the time. More Hayes’s problem than ours. The husky woman on the other side of the room stopped milking her infected lump for a moment, so she could listen in. She nodded at me and clucked her tongue like I was talking to her.
“I hope to God you didn’t tell him nothing.”
“I told him he had the wrong number.”
“When was this?” Mom asked. She squeezed her lower lip with her fingers.
“Oh, a day or so ago, but that ain’t why I came over and bothered you.”
,” Mom said, although she said it all the time. “It sounds trashy.”
I lowered my voice. I told her about Hayes coming over today and then finding the ears.
“Jesus,” Mom said, her face going pale. She squeezed her lower lip until it turned yellow.
“Sorry for pestering you, but—” Watching her get worried made me feel even more scared.
“I think you should stay at Dani’s tonight.”
“What’s going on, Mom?”
“It sounds like a world of trouble to me,” the woman with the infection said.
My mom didn’t seem to hear her or pretended not to. “You go on over to Dani’s and I’ll call you. I expect Hayes just owes somebody money. It’s none of our concern.” She shook her head and frowned at my feet. “We really got to get you some new shoes. You can’t start school wearing flip-flops.”
y mom’s favorite thing in the world to do is to build model ships. Not just any ships—she likes the kind you build inside of bottles with tiny tools. She built her first one when she was eight with her grandpa. It came in a kit. We used to have a picture of her in our photo album with that first boat in a bottle. She’s standing on top of a chair with the bottle pressed up against her chest like a baby doll, wearing Mary Janes and a blue-and-white polka-dot dress. Grandpa is standing next to her with his hand resting on her head. Because of the chair, they’re about the same height. She has an expression on her face I’ve never seen in real life. She looks like someone just told her she’d become a princess, and in a few minutes, they were taking the whole family off to live in a palace. Since then she’s built dozens of these boats. She had special shelves made in the living room to hold her favorites. They were arranged by type—schooner, clipper, steamboat, frigate.
The month she turned twenty-two, the year before she got married, she won a contest for building boats in bottles. It took place in Providence, Rhode Island. It was the first time she ever left Georgia. Grandpa drove her up I-95 in his nut-colored Chevy Malibu. She had the picture of herself receiving the award framed in black plastic and hung it above her bed. It could be another person, she looks so different in it. She has on what she calls her
Little House on the Prairie
dress, a sort of long sack with a busy-looking print, frilly cuffs and a high, button-up neck. Her hair hangs to her
waist and it’s brown and shiny, unlike now. These days she wears it in a short, frizzy bob. “I don’t have the time to do anything with it,” she’d tell me whenever I’d ask her why she didn’t grow it out again. “It’s not practical for a nurse.” In the picture, her skin is smooth and she’s smiling. Her eyes are clear and unlined. She looks beautiful and happy. But it isn’t really the features of her face or the length of her hair that make her look different. It’s more like the way she uses her face. When I used to look at that picture and then looked at what she’d become, I could see how much the way you feel about yourself and the world affects the way you look. You’d be hard pressed to even recognize my mom now, if all you had to go by was that photograph. Looking at it made me wonder how much different I’d look if I was ever just-won-a-build-a-boat-in-a-bottle-contest happy. Ever since I’d come across that picture, I’d been on the lookout for my own project, my own build-a-boat-in-a-bottle.
I didn’t know it yet, but I’d already found it.
want to do something dangerous,” Dani said. “I’m so bored, it’s giving me an all-over body ache.” As she talked, Dani clipped fur off an old stuffed elephant with toenail clippers. Fluff drifted around the basement. She started with the belly and worked up to the head. It looked like a dog after it’s been neutered.
If I’d told her about the ears, maybe she’d of felt that was danger enough. But I hadn’t. So I just asked her what she had in mind—rob a convenience store?
“It’d be better than sitting around down here in the damn bat cave.” She got tired of the elephant’s belly and began giving the end of its trunk a circumcision.
We kicked around a few other ideas. Skinny-dipping in Water Oak pond, going bowling in Statesboro. At last I suggested the barn.
Dani tossed me the elephant and sat down at the computer. “I thought you hated going out to Wayne Keegan’s barn.”
“It was just a suggestion.” I picked up the elephant and stroked its sad, bare belly. “They’re probably not even out there.”
“No, they’re out there,” she said. Then she made a sharp little squeak. “We already got mail.” She turned and screwed up her mouth.
“We only made the new Game e-mail address the other day. Only us and Wynn and Logan know about it. Is it from him?”
Dani shook her head.
I leaned over her shoulder. Sure enough, there were two e-mails 2in the inbox. Both were from someone called [email protected]. The first had a message line that said nothing. The second said, “The angry eyeball has you in its sight.”
“You open them?” I asked.
Dani shook her head again.
I clicked open the first message. It was a single sentence in a weird font.
Your days of
“It’s impossible. Wynn said people can’t track you down like this, remember? I asked him about that guy who said he saw us through the webcam and he told me it was B.S. Are you pranking me, Dani?”
“No,” she said, “I swear.” From the quaver in her voice, I knew she wasn’t lying. “Do you think it’s from the …” She stopped, but I knew who she meant.
“Professor Carrot? No, and I don’t think he was any professor either. Probably works the deep fryer at Krystal’s.”
“He might not be that far away from us. He said he meant to drive from Chicago to Florida. The man could be here already.” She winced at me and squeezed her lips together with both hands like she was fixing to eat them.
“If he had a fast car,” I said, trying to calm her some with a bad joke.
It didn’t go over.
“Shit,” she said, “shit, shit, shit.”
I turned back to the computer and opened the next message. It read:
I know your face. I know your
know what you do.
Today you wore a yellow shirt. Tomorrow you’ll wear a frown.
Dani let out a shriek. I covered her mouth with a hand and looked up at the ceiling, where her mom had been pacing across the kitchen talking on the phone. When she made that noise, the pacing stopped. Dani wore a blue T-shirt with a Spam label printed on the front. Nothing yellow about it. I shook her sleeve.
“See, this ain’t yellow, Dani. I didn’t wear yellow today. Whoever this is doesn’t know shit. They’re just trying to scare us.” I smiled, feeling a bit relieved.
“No, no,” Dani said in a high-pitched whisper, “I wore a yellow shirt this morning when I went jogging.”
“I’ll send the fucker a message he won’t forget.” As I leaned across her lap to type, Dani grabbed my hand.
“No, Lynn, that’ll just get him wound up even more. That’s what he wants. To get a rise out of us.”
I tried to soothe Dani’s nerves by helping her pick out an outfit. She always said she didn’t know how she felt until she knew what she’d wear. Once she’d calmed down, we decided on telling Wynn about the eyeball messages tomorrow. For tonight, Dani decided, we’d go to Wayne Keegan’s barn.
“So wait,” I said, now regretting the hell out of my suggestion, “how do you even know those boys’ll be out there?”