The Mallard God Complex (11)
11. The Genius Next-door
We drive for hours. Swamp gives way to desert, which in turn gives way to more swamp. The cycle continues, swiveling back and forth through the extremes of nature. We’ve gone further than I ever thought possible in a motor-vehicle. I traveled when I was a child, but only to the suburbs of Midland. A trip this far was only the stuff of late-night college talks between friends who had too much to drink. My mind had never seriously contemplated the concept of what lay beyond the desert.
We had often talked about leaving for good, throwing caution to the wind and just heading out into the unknown. I do recognize that there are other countries out there, but honestly I haven’t given them much thought since then. It was those long nights around the bon fire, talking about the rich mysteries of the world that I last felt truly free. The ways of the world are most definitely cruel. We are taught in college to want everything, but the second that commencement speech ends, the reality sets in. The dreams that seem so achievable are subsequently brought down by the crippling weight of debt and the grey shroud of adulthood.
Well, I finally did it. I may have violated everything that I stand for, if I stand for anything that is, but damn it all, I made it. Being out of the city is like a breath of fresh air. I haven’t thought about my parents hounding me for a minute since I left. There are no 3PM phone calls asking if I’ve found a life partner and spontaneously sprouted grandchildren and no sighs when I tell them I haven’t. Their faces when they’ve found me lying in a pile of old photographs with a bottle of wine in my hand are but a distant memory.
I may be a disappointment in some sense of the word, but in another sense I’ve gone farther than anyone in my family ever will. My father will remain at the shop until the day he dies, swearing every day that the next will be the one he sells it on. My mother will continue to swing from job to job, finding solace only for brief flickers, and forever searching for the answer to an impossible question. Neither are lives that I would choose for myself, but they have a mundane sense of purpose to them, and they’re certainly more responsible than I’ve ever been with mine.
I yawn and stare out the window some more. Thinking about my family has put me in a bad mood again. Most of the time I try to remain as emotionally distant from them as possible, only breaking the barrier for a couple of thin phone calls. Substance was a topic of discussion we abandoned long ago. Substance brings with it pain, lies, and the real world. It’s not that we’ve given up lying to each other either, but the truth has just become easier to say. “Hi mom, yup I’m drunk at 3 again, what are you going to do about it?”
“Where are we going then?”
“Well, as you have neglected to give me a destination, we’re on our way to see a friend of mine. He might be able to help us with your friend from the graveyard.” It’s the first time he’s mentioned it since we left. I thought that it had faded into the mist of the immaterial, that maybe it had all just been a dream, but him saying it made it real.
“The Candle Man?” The brakes slam on faster than I can grip the handle on the window and I fly forward. Pain blinds me as my nose strikes the visor that has been carelessly left down to block the sun. Almost immediately blood begins to fill my nostrils making breath difficult. Only after the initial pain do I hear the squeal of the tires. We have pulled off to the side of the road and Snake is looking around wildly as if he’s seen a ghost.
“Why the hell would you say that?!” He says, accusatorily, using sweeping hand gestures that would only fit a man who was as daft as he is.
“I didn’t know—“
“Of course you did! How could you not know?”
“Well, you said it earlier didn’t you?”
“Yes, when he was chasing us! At that point he already knew where we were, no point in beating around the bush then.” He sighs heavily; sweat beading down his brow, his protective barrier of emotionless stoicism breaking briefly. “Look Michael, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault, just never say that name again. I know that I’ve been a bit flippant about his presence so far, but I didn’t want to scare you.”
“Scare me? Why would he scare me? I mean, it’s not like a glowing ghost-light chased me through a graveyard shortly after I had been buried alive. Or that I had been hypnotized by a preacher who subsequently had his head blown to bits right in front of me!”
“He did deserve it.”
“It doesn’t fucking matter if he deserved it or not! The point is, if you were trying not to scare me, then you would have forgone the murder as well as the fake burial! Do you catch my meaning?!”
“Michael, if those things scared you, then I don’t know how you’ll react to this.” His voice is deadly quiet. There’s nothing joking about it anymore. He’s not off-task, he’s very focused, and he’s staring daggers at me. In his eyes there is fear, and that fear is very real to him. I can feel the heat from his heart pounding a million miles an hour, and it seeps into my own. Something has gone horribly wrong.